I was very pleased to be asked to write a review for a new book, Ten Prayers that Changed the World, by Jean-Pierre Isbouts (National Geographic Society, 2016). The first thing that caught my eye about the book was the choice of prayers that Isbouts chose:
- The prayers span thousands of years.
- All but one of the prayers has Judeo-Christian roots.
- The one prayer that lies outside of the Judeo-Christian tradition is Ghandi’s Prayer for Peace.
- The prayers of two women, Joan of Arc and Mother Teresa, are included.
Isbouts takes each of these ten prayers and does an excellent and engaging job of writing about the historical significance without personal, political, or theological commentary. Something I find impossible to do.
For me, a follower of Jesus, some of these prayers are wonderful and others are despicable. Some, like the Lord’s Prayer, bring unity to the church and world. Others, like Luther’s Hymn, divide and splinter the very bride of Christ. Some reflect the teachings of Jesus, including Ghandi’s Prayer for Peace. Others, like the Prayer for Bastogne, call for war and the deaths of enemies forgetting completely that Jesus taught us to love and forgive our enemies.
Did these prayers have positive outcomes? Well, it depends on which side of history you claim. Abraham’s prayer led to violent divisions between Jews and Arabs. Constantine’s prayer forced Christianity upon the masses at the threat of the death. Martin Luther’s prayer divided the church. Jesus taught against all of these things. How history might have been different if those who spoke them had embraced the teachings of Jesus!
Isbouts concludes his book by saying that the Divine, if there is one, works through many different religions and in many different ways. I am not sure this set of prayers—mostly Christian—warrant this conclusion. For me, the conclusion I come to is that not all prayers are equal. Some are not spoken with the knowledge of God’s great love for humanity. Some are selfish and self-serving. Simply because we pray, simply because we get what we ask for, doesn’t mean God is behind the outcome.
April Love-Fordham describes herself as a Red Letter Christian who writes about scripture and spiritual disciplines. See her latest book, James in the Suburbs: The Disorderly Parable of the Epistle of James. You can follow her blog by clicking on the three stripes (or dots) in the upper right hand of this page and scrolling down.