I looked at the bare patches on the ski runs—ground showing through where the snow had melted—a result of some mild weather. I thought about my daughter, due to arrive for her spring break, who wanted to ski. “Lord, please let it snow,” I prayed.
The morning before she arrived, I woke to my phone buzzing. A notification came up with the overnight snowfall: nine inches. Only one or two had been forecast. The next day: nine inches. Then: seven inches. And: eleven inches.
Was it divine intervention? Had God answered my prayer?
Is there someone in heaven who governs what happens on Earth? This is the opening question in Jean-Pierre Isbouts’ book Ten Prayers That Changed the World.
Of course, my answer as a Christian would be yes, because I believe in the providence of God; the creator taking care of his universe and for those in it.
Isbouts’ hope is to illustrate that God does intervene in our lives. He presents the stories of ten influential people who have helped shape history through a specific prayer and their spiritual experiences.
Isbouts does not profess to be a Christian, or of any particular faith for that matter. He states he is not a theologian. Instead, he is a historian and for this reason I thoroughly enjoyed his latest book.
Never a history buff at school, which I have come to regret, I lapped up Isbouts fascinating accounts of the dream of Constantine, the voices of Joan of Arc, Martin Luther’s hymn, George Washington’s prayer, the prayer of St. Francis, the prayer for Bastogne, Gandhi’s prayer for peace and Mother Teresa’s daily prayer. I have often wanted to know more about these prominent characters and important turning points in history. This book gave me that opportunity. The standalone chapters make the history easily accessible and ideal for going back to and reading again.
I was perhaps more critical when reading the chapters on Abraham’s plea and Jesus’ prayer to Abba.
Ten Prayers That Changed the World begins with Abraham’s appeal to God to release him from the command to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Although I am unable to find this prayer in the book of Genesis, Isbouts’ narration of the story gives a fresh perspective on the setting for Abraham’s life. For instance, Isbouts says Terah, Abram’s father, was most likely a merchant. When the family left Ur, because of invading Amorite tribes, they travelled along the principal trade route between Ur and the Mediterranean that ran along the Euphrates River. So often as Christians when reading the Bible we can lack historical context.
The chapter also emphasizes Abraham as the father of the Muslim, Jewish and Christian faiths. There is much to consider in this fact and from it how we should learn a biblical and healthy respect for those whose faith is different from our own.
The Lord’s Prayer, Isbout’s points out in the second chapter, was usually the first Christian text to be translated and is the one prayer all Christians can recite. Although, I don’t think Isbout shares my view that Jesus is the Son of God, again the historical information of the political and socio-economic situation during the time of Jesus’ ministry will help me read the Gospels not just through western eyes. The miracle of feeding the five thousand using barley loaves is an indication of the socioeconomic crisis in Galilee. Barley was grown as animal fodder.
The book finishes with two fundamental issues we face today—spiritual pluralism and religious tolerance. We must recognize the moral superiority of spiritual pluralism, says Isbouts.
As a Christian, I believe salvation comes through Jesus Christ.
However, as the author states, we must recognize the great civic virtue of religious tolerance. There is no doubt in my mind—we must be more tolerant. Our neighbors are often fine people of different religious beliefs . We must not discriminate or be bigoted. Those who build walls often come across as ignorant.
What Ten Prayers That Changed the World does highlight is God does not limit his activity to those we consider just his own people. If we look at the Bible, God gave Pharaoh a dream (Genesis 41:26). God responded to the cries of Hagar, an Egyptian slave and her baby (Genesis 21:17). God used Cyrus, the Persian ruler, to free the Jewish people from captivity so they could return to Jerusalem (Ezra 1:1-11). God can move the heart of Gandhi as he did Constantine or Martin Luther.
When you read this book, you can be challenged to think theologically or just enjoy the inspiring historical stories.
• Hardcover: 272 pages
• 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 events—from the divine inspiration of Joan of Arc to Martin Luther’s 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.
About Jean-Pierre Isbouts
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.