I was recently provided with an advance copy of “Ten Prayers that Changed the World”
by Jean-Pierre Isbouts to review for this blog. Because my wife absconded with the book immediately upon arrival, today’s entry is a guest post by Rebecca Hitt.
When was the last time you prayed a prayer so beautifully worded, so breathtakingly, artistically crafted that as a result of your prayer, the world would be forever changed? Take a moment to think about it. This can’t be just any prayer, now. No simple prayer for sunshine during vacation or for the gas in your car to last a few more days until pay day. Not even one that rendered a profound effect on your life. This has to be one that radically and dramatically changed the lives of countless others both in the world around you and in the world to come, for generations… people you would never meet, people seemingly unrelated to you save that one thing… that one change, that one difference that came about a result of that intimate moment between you and the divine. People would listen to or read the words of your prayer and find themselves inspired, humbled, touched, revolutionized. Changed.
Do you have that memory? Do you have the number of how many times you have prayed like that in your life?
True to its title, “Ten Prayers that Changed the World” by Jean-Pierre Isbouts explores ten prayers, stretching over time from Abraham to Mother Teresa, that somehow altered not only the world of the supplicant but the world for all time. Each chapter consists of a different prayer and most importantly, starts off with the story behind the prayer. Isbouts places the reader right there in the thick of the action. Historical background is seamlessly provided so that the reader understands what is going on and the exact nature of the situation without any feeling of obtrusion to the narrative. If you are a history lover like me, you will appreciate the blend of spirituality and history. (Although my one slight annoyance Isbouts’ historical summations was that I felt he very much glossed over the circumstances and events leading up to and during the Hundred Years’ War between the English and the French in the 14th and 15th centuries. Though I totally understand that he had to condense a very complex situation into a few paragraphs so that a broad audience could understand. And that Joan of Arc, and therefore the French, had to without a shadow of a doubt appear to be in the “right.” That just happens to be one of the time periods that I have researched a good bit about so it’s easy for me to be nitpicky.) I became engrossed each person’s story. I worried with them. I hoped with them. And when it came time for the person to articulate to God their pleas, their hopes, their needs, their thanksgivings—I was right there with them, saying “YES! AMEN! THAT’S PERFECT! GOOD JOB! THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT YOU NEED TO SAY!”
And their prayers are good. I mean, really good. Beautifully worded. Not a word too much or a word too little.
I can’t pray like that. A good many of my prayers don’t even have words.
For me, the book pushed me to examine my own prayers. When I was little, I thought that when I prayed, I had to use my absolute best grammar, with the most flowery language possible. Maybe with a few thee-s and thou-s thrown in there for good measure. Because isn’t that what God desires? Isn’t that what He deserves? And aren’t the well-worded prayers the ones that God answers? As if I could just craft a prayer good enough, maybe He would hear. Maybe He would answer. As I grew older, I realized that prayer wasn’t about me presenting God with a pretty turn of phrase. It’s not about me and what I can do. I could never plead my case good enough to get anything or change anything. That prayer is about a moment of connection with my God. When I cry out to Him without words, silently pleading with Him to work through me whatever it is that needs to be done because I don’t have the faintest clue, He hears me. When I beg Him to give me whatever it is in my life that He decides I need because I don’t even know what it is I should ask for, He answers me.
The ten people in this book didn’t set out to write a good prayer. Not even a half-decent one. They opened their hearts and their mouths to God and just spoke. Sincere, honest, heartfelt words. Their prayers are not profound because they are exceptional writers. They are profound because the authors, in a vulnerable and exposed time reflected in their words, remind us of ourselves.
So if you are looking for a few of the prayers and stories that altered the course of human history, this is the book to place at the top of your to-read list.
ï Hardcover: 272 pages
ï Publisher: National Geographic (March 1, 2016)
From time immemorial, prayer has provided comfort in our darkest hours, stirred us to action beyond what we thought possible, and shown us the way through seemingly insurmountable challenges. In this engaging tour of world history, author and historian Jean-Pierre Isbouts takes us on an inspiring tour of ten prayers that played a pivotal role in world eventsófrom the divine inspiration of Joan of Arc to Martin Lutherís powerful hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is our God”; from†Abraham’s poignant†plea to save his son; from George Washington’s prayerful words to the newly formed American states to the horrors of Auschwitz; from Constantine the Great’s prayer before battle to Gandhi’s deeply moving “prayer of peace.” Ten Prayers That Changed the World delves into the moments in history where faith and prayer intersected with the course of mankind.
Jean-Pierre Isbouts is a bestselling author, historian, and award-winning director of documentary and feature films. A humanities scholar and professor at Fielding Graduate University of Santa Barbara, California, he has published widely on subjects in art, history and archaeology, and directed films for Disney, ABC, Hallmark, History Channel and other studios and networks. He has also produced a broad repertoire of classical music with ensembles in New York, Los Angeles and Amsterdam.
Find out more about Jean-Pierre at his website.