Book Review: Prayer by Philip Yancey

Prayer – Philip Yancey (Zondervan, 2007)

I’ve read several books by Philip Yancey now and I keep coming back to his work because I truly appreciate his honesty, humility, and willingness to admit what he doesn’t know.

In this book Yancey tackles the subject of prayer. (Probably could have guessed that.) What is prayer? Why does it matter? How should we do it? Does it make a difference?

If you’ve read Yancey’s work then you’ll know not to expect a heavy duty theological deep dive or a firm answer. Instead, he writes in a readable fashion, drawing together personal stories, testimonies, and the wisdom of other Biblical scholars.

As Christians, we are instructed to pray and the Bible is filled with examples. There is Hannah who prayed so fervently for a child that a priest thought she was drunk or Abraham who argued with God for the lives of those in Sodom and Gomorrah. There is Jacob who was physically injured after he wrestled with God and there is Paul who sang praises while in prison. And of course there is Jesus who prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane until he sweat blood. Jesus also very clearly instructed his followers to pray, giving the example that we now know as the Lord’s Prayer.

So we are clearly instructed to pray. But why? Does God need us to pray? Does he need our help? What we see of an omnipotent God in the Bible tells us pretty clearly, no, our prayers are not needed. Do we pray for the benefit it provides to us instead? What is that benefit? Can it be measured or quantified?

Yancey dives into all of these questions, keeping his focus on a Christian audience, one who presumably already sees some value in praying or at least accepts the Biblical directive to “pray without ceasing”. For me, the book was an interesting and simple read and a helpful reminder of the importance of prayer in the Christian life. I wouldn’t say I learned a lot of new information but I did particularly appreciate Yancey’s focus on relationship with God and how simple and uncomplicated prayer can be.

For non-Christian or non-religious readers, this probably isn’t the book to start with if you’re interested in learning more about prayer. I think it could be a great choice though for Christians feeling unsure in their prayer life, needing some encouragement, or simply wanting to know more about what the Bible tells us when it comes to prayer.

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