The Manifold Problems of Prayer

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As I write this book, a vivacious twenty-­three-­year-­old in our church is facing a terminal diagnosis. Understandably, each day she swings between faith and terror. We’re praying like crazy, but we all know what happens if our prayers don’t work. When one of my relatives heard about this book, she broke down in tears. Her struggle is with chronic fatigue syndrome, a condition that has sapped her energy since leaving university twenty-­five years ago. She is sometimes unable to lift even a small bag of potatoes, gets exhausted after any serious conversation, and hasn’t been able to work for years. I met a man in Belgium who had received a clear word from God to abandon his safe career and launch out in business. Three years later, he was bankrupt, homeless, and his greatest loss was the ability he once had to take God at His word with brave and simple trust.

Maybe your problems are less obviously painful than such scenarios. You’re probably reading this because, like me and Captain Scarlet, some of your prayers simply aren’t working and you want to know why. Maybe God seems a million miles away and your prayers are bouncing off the ceiling. Maybe you took a risk, stepped out of the boat, and sank. Maybe you’re tired of praying for healing. Maybe miracles seem to happen for everyone else, but never for you. Maybe someone you love is rejecting God, no matter how hard you pray. Maybe you need a word from heaven, but God is on mute and the remote seems to be buried down the back of some cosmic sofa.

Pre-order Pete Greig’s book, God on Mute from our store today.

Thousands of us carry the heartbreak of unanswered prayer in our hearts. Occasionally, we continue to wonder why God does not respond to our requests, but mostly we just get on with life, brushing our disappointments and questions under the rug, trying to trust in Him regardless. But it truly doesn’t have to be like this.

There’s a bit of a misconception out there that when it comes to unanswered prayer, there are no answers and we just have to walk blindly through the veils of mystery and hope we don’t trip up. Of course, it’s true that there can be no easy explanation when it comes to the ultimate problems of suffering, but to the vast majority of questions, there are, in fact, answers—­good ones—­that have helped millions of people for thousands of years to navigate disappointment without losing their way.

When my wife was first rushed to hospital, we looked in vain for a book that could help make a little sense of the chaos. Sammy couldn’t face a heavy theological tome on the problem of suffering and neither did she want some trite Christian paperback full of pithy quotes and sentimental allegories to wish away our pain. What she wanted—­what she needed—­was an honest, practical book that had done the hard work for her while fitting on her bedside table between her phone and a cappuccino.

I waited five years, trying to find the words, the time, and the courage, to write the book that Sammy had been looking for, recognizing the need for it, but feeling intimidated by the prospect of exposing our most intimate pain and private doubt to public scrutiny. I also felt daunted intellectually. My desk is piled so high with books about suffering and prayer written by some of the cleverest people who’ve ever lived, that it’s starting to resemble the Manhattan skyline.

Most of these books are brilliant. If you want to grapple with the issue of suffering intellectually, then I’d encourage you to go straight to the great teachers: St. John of the Cross, Elie Wiesel, Shūsaku Endō, Jürgen Moltmann, C. S. Lewis, and, more recently, people like Henri Nouwen, Dorothee Sölle, and Philip Yancey. God on Mute inevitably draws from their insights, but mainly it’s an altogether simpler book about the practicalities of prayer: How it works. Why it doesn’t always work. How to get better at it. How to navigate the disappointments without losing your faith.

And so here it is: an honest book about unanswered prayer that will fit between your phone and a cappuccino, written to help anyone who is hurting to find a little comfort and a few answers. It’s not going to answer all your questions, but I think it will help answer some of them. It takes the form of a journey through the four days of Christ’s betrayal, death, burial, and resurrection.

The journey begins on Maundy Thursday in the garden of Gethsemane where Christ’s “soul is overwhelmed with sorrow,” and His cries for help go unanswered. It continues through Good Friday where Christ considers Himself forsaken by the Father in His hour of deepest need. Next we traverse the gloom and confusion of Holy Saturday, asking “Where is God?” when Jesus Himself lies dead and buried. Finally—­inevitably—­Gethsemane, Golgotha, and the garden tomb are engulfed by the good news of Easter Sunday.

The things that Sammy and I have suffered don’t merit special telling. Plenty of people fight similar battles, and much worse. But the incomparable story of Christ’s agony, abandonment, and eventual resurrection—­that story remains the greatest hope for a hurting world.

When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!
(Hebrews 12:2–3 MSG)

What do you do when God is silent? Writing out of the pain of his wife’s fight for life but also the wonder of watching the prayer movement they founded touch many lives, Pete Greig wrestles with the dark side of prayer and emerges with a hard-won message of hope, comfort, and profound biblical insight for all who suffer in silence. God on Mute: Engaging the Silence of Unanswered Prayers releases late September, 2020.

Perfect for:

  • Small groups or Sunday school classes
  • Anyone with honest questions about prayer
  • Any time of the year, but especially Lent

Get it from our store here.

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Pete Greig is a writer, church-planter, pastor and bewildered founder of the 24-7 movement. He heads up Emmaus Rd, in Guildford with his wife Sammy, serves as Vice-President for the NGO Tearfund, teaches at St Mellitus Theological College and was part of the senior leadership team at HTB in London for seven years. Pete's publications include Red Moon Rising, God on Mute and The Prayer Course, and his latest release Dirty Glory. You can find out more about his writing projects at www.petegreig.info. He loves art galleries, live music and knocking down walls. Pete tweets regularly @petegreig

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