Category Archives: prayer

When You Don’t Know Any Prayers

“He began crawling toward the dark hallway arch. Ozzie had never taught him or Diana any prayers, so he whispered the words of religious Christmas carols…”

From the novel Last Call (1992) by Tim Powers

Southern Church Gossip

Southern Christians don’t gossip, but their prayer requests sure spread quickly. 

My Politically Incorrect Guide to Confident Public Speaking (and Life)

When You Don’t Have A Prayer

They didn’t help.

Prayer and sound doctrine and even more prayer weren’t working.

I was sitting at the front of the church, dreading the duty I had signed up for, this occasion being just a few years ago.

I had come to expect prayer and right-thinking would allow God to take care of any personal problem, as long as I was sincere.

I was scared to death, and I had volunteered to read a read “Prayers of the People,” a sort of call-and-response type of prayer, albeit a rather reserved and formatted call-and-response favored by white people and Anglophiles.

I had to read the prayers from the center of the aisle in the church. When I’m that scared, I can’t get the force of breath to speak loudly. I was standing in a large sanctuary with high ceilings. Later, an elderly friend would complain he couldn’t hear me during the prayers. I’m sure he wasn’t the only one.

I remember being terrified at the front of the church on more than one occasion. In robes, with my throat nearly collapsed from fear, I pushed a near-whisper into the microphone through my part of a special series of readings. For a split second, I thought I was going to run out of the sanctuary (I probably would have tripped on the robe). The next man who came forward boomed his voice into the microphone, clear and confident, and in the moment, it certainly felt like a backhanded comment on my delivery.

Statistically speaking, humans are more afraid of public speaking than death or spiders. Pause on that for a sec. That’s pretty crazy. I’m no fan of spiders. “Let this tarantula crawl across your arm, or speak to this auditorium of 2,000 people.” I’ll decide as soon as you loan me your pistol; I’ll just need one bullet.

Whatever contrary impression I might give these days, I was having a very difficult time back then admitting to myself I would have to find something other than prayer and fine-tuned beliefs to tackle my problem.

That seemed like the end of faith itself.

Socially scary as well as metaphysically scary.

To this day, I don’t know what to make of the success of self-initiated action instead of faith, even though prayer and theologically good thoughts didn’t work and didn’t work some more. I didn’t “wait upon the Lord.” I failed at faith.

In the months that followed those church readings and prayers, I didn’t get better. I got much worse. The problem was expanding, and seemed to be going deeper.

Eventually, I bought When Panic Attacks by Dr. David Burns. I had benefited from Burns’ Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy in the past because it taught me how to think about my feelings. Burns is one of the pioneers in cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Unfortunately, years ago, I had feared something about Feeling Good was at odds with my Christian faith, like the book wasn’t ultimately accurate, just a temporary crutch until I got my faith right enough to be whole and healed. Worse yet, I was a terribly A.D.D. and slow reader, so getting through what I attempted to read was a challenge. I could only get so much of the good method of thinking into my head.

But in my more recent struggles, I had one basic complaint about When Panic Attacks, related strictly to that particular moment in my life: the book was, largely, a workbook. I had used Burns’ writing and worksheet techniques before with Feeling Good, and they were useful. So I still appreciate Burns’ methods, and for whatever my opinion is worth, I highly recommend them.

At the particular moment, however, I felt like I really needed to understand things in a broader context. So the idea of doing worksheets and writing down and sorting through momentary problems—none of that appealed to me at the time. I needed something more foundational. I needed more of an integrated worldview, not a technique for managing flares of panic and anxiety.

I had brought When Panic Attacks with me to London. My in-laws were working over there for about three years, and they generously invited us over. (I secretly suspect their granddaughters are more interesting than their son-in-law.) I was in a small downstairs bedroom in their two-level rented flat (not far from Waterloo Station) when I noticed one of the blurbs on the back of When Panic Attacks, a blurb by Dr. Albert Ellis, who was, as the back cover said, author of A Guide to Rational Living.

Rational living — that sounded more like a worldview.

The Books That Saved Me From Myself

A Guide to Rational Living is not a philosophical counterpoint to a religious worldview. It’s not about rationalism versus faith.

A better definition of this kind of rational living comes from Margaret R. Graver, who once told me in an interview about her book, Stoicism and Emotion:

“The fact that human beings respond with fear and sadness to what we see as bad, and with desire and delight to what we see as good, is just part of our nature, imparted to us by the intelligent design of the universe. So there’s nothing wrong with that. But those responses still need to be examined in light of a correct understanding of what kinds of things are truly good or bad for a person. The essential ethical principle of Stoic thought is that only those things that are under a person’s own control are properly considered good or bad for that person.”

We’re talking about that kind of rational living.

Understand what you can control. Think about how you can control those things. Realize how pointless it is to attempt control over others’ perceptions and thoughts. Don’t worry about the rest.

After my visit to London, I ordered and began reading A Guide to Rational Living by Ellis while also reading Of Human Freedom, a Penguin Great Ideas edition of works by the ancient Stoic philosopher Epictetus.

The two books complemented each other spectacularly, brilliantly, near-perfectly.

Oddly enough, while Ellis walked me through his psychological philosophy with examples for every kind of scenario, Epictetus illustrated the irrationality of a musician who is terrified of performing in front of an audience.

So I was hearing from an ancient philosopher and a contemporary psychologist, both of whom were attacking the same issues from different angles.

Meanwhile, I had also begun reading Roger Ailes’ book, You Are the Message.

Combine a corny, self-help title with the news media’s most controversial personality, and you’ve got the recipe for an instant turn-off, at least among most of the people I know.

In which case, I’m both sorry and happy to say: It’s a brilliant book.

You Are the Message was the third leg of the stool.

Maybe you have to chalk Ailes’ magic up to the same dark forces he summoned to make Fox News a financial and ratings success story.

Either way, here’s his magic: He made me feel genuinely more confident. I don’t even know how he did it. That’s why I’m talking magic here.

With the magic, he also brought reasonable, graspable techniques and insights.

And like any good book, he opened my eyes to elements I can research on my own. For example, last year, I listened to a podcast—possibly one by Scientific American (if memory serves), maybe “30-Second Mind” — about research on the speed of one’s speech and how that relates to persuasion. That’s just one of the things Ailes’ book prepared me to be aware of; he put the topic on my radar.

Politically Incorrect?

I’ve said two things here that will anger cultural warriors of two distinct stripes.

  1. Prayer didn’t help with emotional matters.
  2. Fox News mastermind Roger Ailes wrote a great book.

But instead of getting bent out of shape about either politically incorrect statement, just read those three books.

Go to the library and hide the Ailes book behind the latest edition of Southern Living if your friends are so ideologically thin-skinned as to shun you Puritan-style for what you read.

Read those three books, and you stand a good chance of becoming a confident public speaker with a confidence that’s thorough—philosophically, psychologically, and technically.

‘Dear Lord, help me become a minister and a psychiatrist…’

“…so I can always fall back on my prescription pad.”

A meditation on prayer

Deborah Reed, Pushcart Prize nominee, writing in LiturgicalCredo:

Prayer, although an extremely complex concept, can be defined in a few simple words. Prayer is talking to God. Now, talking is something we do all the time. We use our vocal cords to make sounds that other people receive in their ears and then interpret with their brains. The difference between “praying” and this other type of talking is that the other person has ears, has a brain; we can see them (or hear them if we are on the phone) while we are talking. We get concrete feedback from them; they answer our questions with talking of their own.

But none of these things are true when we talk to God using prayer. We don’t see Him, we don’t get concrete feedback, we don’t even know if He is listening or not. So this talking to God is much more difficult to understand than the talking we do to other people.

Talking to God becomes even more complicated when done silently. We can’t even talk to other humans this way. Our thoughts stay inside our heads; they don’t go anywhere. They aren’t translated into sound waves that others can pick up. So how can this type of prayer even exist? How can our thoughts get to God when they can’t even get to the person in the same room with us?

Read the full essay.

A stranger’s prayer at the altar rail

I spent Saturday afternoon agonizing about something that I’ll call an unseen idol. It was something I valued, but something unhealthy that I knew I needed to get out of my heart and mind. I prayed about it and thought about it and tried to write down the core of the matter.

On Sunday morning, my church was completing a three day event that led up to a renewal of baptismal vows. The event involved a team of fellow Episcopalians from outside the parish. We were invited to come to the front for prayer, and ministers from our church and the team, in groups of two or three, prayed for everyone in the long line.

When I came up, two strangers from the team, apparently a husband and wife, prayed for me, and every word the man said was directly related to my thoughts, prayers, and writings from the previous day. Nothing in the prayers left me feeling chastised. I felt an assurance that God heard my prayers and was helping me. I was encouraged. I told the man who had prayed for me that his words had come from some of my own prayers.

I trust that God expects us, as fallen beings, to fail and to have failings. It has taken me some time to realize that the only real trick is asking Him for help, and to expect great things not from ourselves, but from Him.

-Colin Foote Burch

Chinese authorities re-arrest Christian bookstore owner

A bookstore owner in Beijing has been re-arrested for publishing Bibles and Christian literature after he had been released in January due to “insufficient evidence.” Shi Weihan, a 37-year-old father of two, was re-arrested on March 19 and has been held without any family visits allowed, according to his wife Zhang Jing. Shi was first arrested on November 28, 2007, and held until January 4. His wife said she had received no word on her husband’s condition, and she has been prohibited from bringing him any food or change of clothing since his re-arrest. Zhang said she is “very concerned” about her husband’s health, as he has diabetes. Public Security Bureau officials have been known to use deprivation and torture to force detainees to reveal information about others. Another bookstore owner, Zhou Heng, was arrested and detained in Xinjiang province on August 3, 2007 for receiving a shipment of Bibles. Zhou revealed last week that he had been cleared of charges and released from prison on February 19.

-Compass Direct News, our affiliate news service

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