Posts

Prayer

PrayerVictims may approach a relationship with God with distrust and a lot of questions. Philip Yancey is the kind of author that communicates well to such an audience. This book on prayer is not the standard instructional manual nor the straightforward encouragement to pray. As Yancey does in his other books, he takes the questions and objections of others seriously, and admits to his own doubts and struggles. For that reason, this book may be more “in tune” with the Christian who wonders how God didn’t seem to answer a cry for help or healing. Some other books on prayer are written with solid faith that never questions and ponders before arriving at the biblical truth. Hurting people may find that reading Yancey will remove some painful barriers to prayer.

I struggle with two common assertions about prayer. Some people credit prayer “working” when, in truth, God did all the “work” as a response to prayer. Admittedly, the Bible speaks in a similar way when it says, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16 NIV). And neither the Bible nor Philip Yancey can be accused of treating prayer as though prayer has a mystical power and God is not the receiver of prayer.

The other assertion some Christians make is that prayer is how you get to know God. Not: pray and learn about God from how he answers your prayers. Not: read what God says in the Bible and get to know God as you meditate on what He says. Sometimes writers assert that you pray and God speaks back to you, and you get to know God from this conversation. Yancey makes this assertion at the beginning of Chapter 5: “The main purpose of prayer not to make life easier, nor to gain magical powers, but to know God.” Isn’t prayer our side of the conversation with God? Doesn’t God’s side of the conversation come from the revelation about God on the pages of the Bible, and from experiencing how that revelation applies to our life? Yancey admits that he has not heard God’s audible voice. He admits that prayer often seems one-sided. Prayer is one-sided (unless it is defined as meditation on Scripture). Again, I admit that Yancey doesn’t define prayer as God talking to us as we talk to Him. He quotes Tim Stafford’s book Knowing the Face of God,

I am cautious in interpreting my impulses and feelings as messages from God. I do not want to take the Lord’s name in vain. I do not want to say, “The Lord told me,” when in reality I heard a mental recording of my mother’s voice. I have spent any number of hours talking to God, and he has not yet answered back in a voice that was undeniably his (page 56).

He talks about the experience of prayer as learning to speak to God about the world from his perspective, aligning our will with his as we pray. We begin to understand God, to know God as our prayers shift from what we want to what He wants. But I still question the statement that the “main purpose of prayer [is] . . . to know God.” Yancey doesn’t place this “knowing God” in the Scriptures, and without that explanation, will readers view prayer as the way to know God and as a result grow frustrated in the silence that follows their prayers?

To be fair to Yancey, and to challenge those who might not read his book because of such criticism (of a tiny part of the book, much counter-balanced by other statements he makes), Yancey examines prayer in such detail that many who have a simplistic view of prayer need to read his book so they stop making other false statements out of ignorance which also could frustrate those who struggle and seek God’s help. Yancey examines many questions such as the effect of a positive attitude or faith on recovery. His conclusions are far more nuanced and directed by Scripture and faith in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, than those who dismiss all discussion of how the body fights disease when teaching about God’s answers to prayer.

Yancey‘s kindliness to the suffering Christian who does not feel grateful, who is angry, resentful, and full of complaints was particularly moving. His consistent expressions of such grace may prove helpful and encouraging to those who have met rejection and frustration from Christians when they cry out in their pain. He mentions a mother who rejoices in the full time care of her invalid child, but then says, “By mentioning this woman I do not mean to compound the guilt of a mother who might wake up every day resenting the demands of her child . . .” (page 280). On the pages of this book, those who still struggle may find hope for their situation in the grace of God and in God’s promises. I was struck by this comment, “If I nurse a grudge and have not the strength to forgive, I present to God that wound, along with the one who inflicted it, and ask for strength I cannot supply on my own. (Could this be why Jesus prayed, ‘Father forgive them . . .’ from the cross rather than pronouncing, ‘I forgive you?’)” (page 313). This statement is followed by a story of a woman who interpreted praying for our enemies as applying to praying for the man who molested her daughter. She said she struggled daily to forgive and worried that by forgiving she’ll minimize the pain and suffering she caused. This example of what Yancey is talking about helps those who struggle to look closer at what Yancey just wrote about asking for strength to forgive.

The book contains many inserts—stories and comments by others that illustrate the point being made in that chapter, or provoking further thought. The inserts acted as a stimulus while reading each chapter, providing alternate voices to the authors.

A vast number of classic books have been written on prayer and Yancey catalogs many of the most famous. While I have a couple of other favorites, I would recommend this book to anyone who, having been deeply harmed by someone, has a spiritual struggle or feels estranged from God. I’ve not encountered a book that takes this pain as seriously as this book, and provides helpful and healing responses directed at hearts that have been betrayed.

Buy Now
Author: Philip Yancey
368 pages

Reviewed by: James Behringer on June 9, 2015

On the Threshold of Hope

On the Threshold of HopeThis book is written by one of the leaders in the Christian community when it comes to understanding and counseling childhood sexual abuse (CSA). While Langberg speaks to survivors in this volume, it is also helpful reading for called workers, friends, relatives—anyone who is serving as a support system for those who have been affected by the sin of CSA.

Langberg not only has 25 years experience (as the book’s writing) of counseling CSA survivors, she also has a deep understanding of Scripture and a profound appreciation for the healing power of God’s Word.

Throughout the book she points to the Savior, Jesus Christ, not only as the Redeemer who lived for us and died for sin, but also as One who understands the pain of abuse. She writes,

You live in a world where you have encountered evil people. So did he. Some of you have known violence because of other’s twisted need to gratify themselves. So did he. He, too, has encountered darkness, chaos, and trash. He went to hell—the place of greatest darkness and chaos. He who is sovereign over all knows what it is like to have hideous things happen and not be in control. He who is our refuge knows what it is like to be unprotected, not only from the fury of the enemy but also from the wrath of God. He knows what it is like not to get what you need. He had no place to sleep. He who created food and water went hungry and thirsty (p. 165).

As the author walks the survivor through the healing process, she make it clear that the road to recovery is long and painful. Yet as the title implies, she indicates that there is a hope. This books helps survivors finds such hope, practically and spiritually.

If this sin has affected you, read this book. If you are a pastor, teacher, or staff minister, read this book. If you have a friend or family member who is helping someone who was sexual abused as a child, read this book. If you are a Christian counselor or social worker, read this book. You will learn what not to do and also what you can do to help victims of CSA become survivors.

Buy Now
Author: Langberg, Diane Mandt.
217 pages

Reviewed by: John D. Schuetze on July, 2015

Read the review by Sheryl Cowling, LCSW, BCPCC, BCETS

Rid of My Disgrace

Rid of My DisgraceRid of My Disgrace – Hope and Healing of Victims of Sexual Assault

As a Christian psychotherapist, I found Rid of My Disgrace to be a very well-researched, thorough analysis of the issue of sexual assault from both a clinical and biblical perspective. This is likely a reflection of the co-authors, John Holcomb, a pastor and professor, and his wife Lindsey Holcomb, who has counseled victims of sexual assault and trained leaders to care for them.

They quickly establish a tone that is compassionate, supportive, encouraging and Christ-centered to victims of sexual assault. I appreciated their emphasis on how “God restores, heals, and re-creates through grace” (p. 15) in contrast to secular notions of healing based on self-help, self-healing and self-love.

The book is divided in to three parts. In Part One, titled “Disgrace,” the pair provides a thorough, detailed definition of sexual assault that emphasizes the traumatic nature of such an experience for both female and male victims. They offer facts and statistics that put the epidemic of sexual assault into a sobering, somber perspective. The authors detail potential biological, psychological, social and spiritual injuries that can result from sexual assault. Again, I appreciated that they draw the reader back to God’s ability to heal when they write,

What grace offers to the victim experiencing disgrace is the gift of refuting distortions and faulty thinking and replacing their condemning, counterfactual beliefs with more accurate ones that reflect the truths about God, yourself, and God’s grace-filled response to your disgrace” (p. 45).

In Part Two, titled “Grace Applied,” the pair offer vignettes written by both female and male victims of sexual assault. These testimonies convey emotions and experiences that grab the reader’s attention and empathy. They then write about denial, distorted self-image, shame, guilt, anger, and despair. These are approached from a perspective that seamlessly combines sound clinical information with scriptural references. They do note how forgiveness is different than reconciliation, although I wish they would have expanded upon this even more, as often the two are considered one, which can be a significant hindrance to forgiving. The pair consistently point the reader back to Christ and Scripture as the source for all comfort and healing.

In Part Three, titled “Grace Accomplished,” the authors talk about how sexual assault is the result of sin—against the victim and against God. “In addition to being a sin against others, sexual assault is also a sin against God because the blessing of sexuality is used to destroy instead of build intimacy” (p. 170). They note how sexual assault can change how victims relate to other people, and also how they relate to God. They go on to detail grace in the Old Testament, emphasizing that, “Not only does God hear, God also sees. And out of hearing and seeing, God knows the suffering of people” (p. 180). The authors end with a chapter about grace in the New Testament that focuses on the redeeming work of Christ on the cross. “The work of Christ is to deliver us from suffering, corruption, and death, as well as from sin” (p. 207).

Overall, I found the book to be very informative and thorough. Its strengths seem to be in the details about what sexual assault is and how it can impact victims, along with the need for Christ for complete healing. Pastors and loved ones of victims may find this especially beneficial.

The book may leave some victims wanting more detailed strategies about how to heal, as it is not a workbook with exercises that might help one to apply the knowledge contained in it.

Buy Now
Author: Holcomb, Justin S. & Holcomb, Lindsey A.
288 pages

Reviewed by: Sheryl Cowling, LCSW, BCPCC, BCETS February 2015

On the Threshold of Hope

On the Threshold of HopeThis book is written by one of the leaders in the Christian community when it comes to understanding and counseling childhood sexual abuse (CSA). While Langberg speaks to survivors in this volume, it is also helpful reading for called workers, friends, relatives—anyone who is serving as a support system for those who have been affected by the sin of CSA.

Langberg not only has 25 years experience (as the book’s writing) of counseling CSA survivors, she also has a deep understanding of Scripture and a profound appreciation for the healing power of God’s Word.

Throughout the book she points to the Savior, Jesus Christ, not only as the Redeemer who lived for us and died for sin, but also as One who understands the pain of abuse. She writes,

You live in a world where you have encountered evil people. So did he. Some of you have known violence because of other’s twisted need to gratify themselves. So did he. He, too, has encountered darkness, chaos, and trash. He went to hell—the place of greatest darkness and chaos. He who is sovereign over all knows what it is like to have hideous things happen and not be in control. He who is our refuge knows what it is like to be unprotected, not only from the fury of the enemy but also from the wrath of God. He knows what it is like not to get what you need. He had no place to sleep. He who created food and water went hungry and thirsty (p. 165).

As the author walks the survivor through the healing process, she make it clear that the road to recovery is long and painful. Yet as the title implies, she indicates that there is a hope. This books helps survivors finds such hope, practically and spiritually.

If this sin has affected you, read this book. If you are a pastor, teacher, or staff minister, read this book. If you have a friend or family member who is helping someone who was sexual abused as a child, read this book. If you are a Christian counselor or social worker, read this book. You will learn what not to do and also what you can do to help victims of CSA become survivors.

Buy Now
Author: Langberg, Diane Mandt.
217 pages

Reviewed by: John D. Schuetze on July, 2015

Read the review by Sheryl Cowling, LCSW, BCPCC, BCETS