Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?

Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?

Victims 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.

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Author: Philip Yancey
368 pages

Reviewed by: James Behringer on June 9, 2015

On the Threshold of Hope

On the Threshold of Hope

This 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.

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Author: Langberg, Diane Mandt.
217 pages

Reviewed by: John D. Schuetze on July, 2015

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

On the Threshold of Hope

On the Threshold of Hope

I found On The Threshold of Hope to be an excellent guide to healing for survivors of childhood sexual abuse. The author, Diane Mandt Langberg, PhD, is a highly respected Christian psychologist who has successfully cared for many childhood sexual abuse survivors for several decades in her private practice. It is clear that she has learned much from listening to, and valuing, the stories shared with her by clients.

There is an attitude of hope and healing through Jesus Christ that is established early and that continues throughout the entire book. “Whatever your story is, there is no darkness he cannot banish, no depth he cannot plumb, no devastation he cannot redeem. I know, for I have seen him do it” (p. 7). Then she refers to Jesus, and the author incorporates Scripture references throughout as encouragement.

The book is divided in to five parts. In Part One the reader is given wise counsel about how to proceed in reading the book, such as to read in small amounts and to journal thoughts and feelings raised by the topics that were addressed.

In Part Two, “Dealing with the Abuse,” the author notes the importance of telling one’s story, as childhood sexual abuse often has a way of silencing the survivor. Sexual abuse is defined, as are the terms triggers, flashbacks, nightmares, and dissociation. One of the most powerful components of the book is found in a section about “The Battle with Evil.” Dr. Langberg writes, “Fighting against the enemy of our souls is a battle” (p.78). She encourages the survivor to find compassionate and caring individuals who will pray with them and for them through the journey to healing.

In Part Three, Dr. Langberg explores what sexual abuse damages—the body, emotions, thinking, relationships and spirit of the survivor.

Then in Part Four, she gives salient counsel about healing each specific type of damage. Dr. Langberg addresses each aspect by writing, “Let me remind you that there is hope. Healing will come. Healing will come through the power of the Redeemer” (p. 139, 149, 159, 167, 177).

Finally, in Part Five, Dr. Langberg addresses finding others who can help in the healing process. She offers considerations when looking for a competent counselor. I appreciated her reminder that “Scripture tells us that life ultimately comes from the Spirit. So while you may learn and grow from a counseling relationship, redemption comes from God, not from therapy” (p. 194). She also addresses the loved ones of a child sexual abuse survivor, and ways that they can care for themselves while supporting the survivor.

In summary, I found the book to be a very thorough, hope-filled, Christ-centered approach to healing the damage caused by childhood sexual abuse. I would definitely recommend it to both survivors as well as for those walking beside them in their journey of healing.

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Author: Langberg, Diane Mandt.
217 pages

Reviewed by: Sheryl Cowling, LCSW, BCPCC, BCETS on April 2015

Read the review by John D. Schuetze

Counseling Survivors of Sexual Abuse

Counseling Survivors of Sexual AbuseDr. Langberg is one of the leading figures in the Christian community when it comes to counseling childhood sexual abuse. At the time when she wrote this book she had about twenty-give years of experience in counseling those who have been sexually abused as children. She not only understands the process of helping victims become survivors, but she addresses it from a Christian perspective. What is more, she is able to connect with the counselor and offer valuable and practical insights about what to do and not do to help victims. Even though much new information has been discovered and added to the field of trauma counseling in the past several decades, this book still has much to offer.

The book is divided into seven parts. In the first part Langberg writes about “Foundations to the Treatment of Sexual Abuse.” With the help of a case study, she walks the reader through the process of child development and how the trauma of sexual abuse can interfere with this process. She also provides definitions and explains the process of therapy. Her theology is markedly Evangelical, so the Lutheran reader will note that she reflects an Evangelical understanding of the image of God. Yet often her spiritual and biblical insights are helpful and the Lutheran reader will learn to appreciate her emphasis on the power and importance of the Word.

In the next three chapters the author works through the three phases of therapy and gives much practical advice. Langberg notes that a key part of the healing process is sorting out truth and lies, something that can be very difficult for victims. They may have been fed one lie after another by their perpetrators. In a sense their experience of abuse has taught them the lies that God does not care, that he does not answer prayer, that he is not all-powerful. Langberg notes,

When confronted with evil or terrible suffering, we find our faith in the goodness, love, and power of God to be profoundly shaken. As the survivor confronts her life without pretending, she will have to rework her faith so that her relationship to God is not predicated on denying the truth. Is God good, loving, and powerful even though the evidence in her life appears to scream to the contrary? In part, the crisis of faith is whether or not truth will be derived from life’s circumstances or from God’s Word (page 197).

Part five deals with some special considerations: dissociative disorders, false memory syndrome, and male survivors. This is helpful information for those who care for those who have been abused.

In the last two parts Langberg addresses the person of the therapist and the profile of a compassionate church. The final section is especially helpful for pastoral counselors as the Christian community has not always been a comfortable place for victims or survivors of CSA. The author provides a lengthy list of survivor’s needs and another of potential hindrances to effective helping.

This book demonstrates that while a pastoral counselor will want to refer a wounded member to competent clinical care, he will also want to provide the appropriate pastoral care that will help the hurting person make the transition from being a victim to a survivor of sexual abuse. Both play a vital role in the healing process.

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Author: Langberg, Diane Mandt
299 pages

Reviewed by: John D. Schuetze on 5/20/2015

Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault

Rid of My DisgraceAs 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.

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

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

Mending a Shattered Heart: A Guide for Partners of Sex Addicts

Mending A Shattered HeartIf your world has been turned upside down and your heart shattered from finding out that your loved one whom you have trusted has lied and deceived you and is suffering from sex-addiction, this book was written with you in mind. The collection of writings from various authors who wrote this book seek to help you as you work through the questions and confusion you must be feeling.

The book is divided into two parts. Part One: “For All Partner of Sex Addicts” addresses eight questions, the answers of which are “intended to support you as you begin to learn about sex addiction and what your options are as a partner of a sex addict.”

Part Two: “Specific Situations” contains “specific information about sex addiction based on your particular situations. Not every chapter will apply to you. Concentrate on what you need to know and leave the rest.” Examples of material in this section are (9) What you would choose to tell the kids depending on their age; (10) What if my partner shows an interest in minors; (12) Straight guise; and (14) Can we make it as a couple?

This book does not seek to give spiritual direction. Its reference to the twelve step model with the term “spiritual awakening” does not refer to Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit but returning to the “core integrity” of the person. The book presents sex addiction as a disease and does not address sin.

The appendage of the book includes “The Twelve Steps Sex Addicts Anonymous,” “Resource Guide,” “Recommended Reading,” “Notes on each chapter,” and “Biographical Sketches of the Authors.”

Personally I would recommend the book to a counselor, pastor, or person well-grounded in our Christian faith as a resource since the book does address questions a person may have that I might not even think of. The authors do suggest ways to approach and discuss the problem of addiction. The importance of sin and grace need to be supplied. The support of God’s grace and forgiveness is the only way to mend the shattered heart.

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Editor: Carnes, Stephanie
220 pages

Reviewed by: Elsa Manthey, April 2015