October 26, 2012

What Book Are You Reading?

The senior Russian government official paused for a moment when I asked him what book he was reading during nonwork hours.

With a faint smile he said softly, “I’m reading a book called About Prayer.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. “What?”

The official, whom I’ll call Sergei, repeated the title. He said About Prayer contained a thought-provoking collection of prayers from such notable people as Leo Tolstoy, Mother Teresa, and U.S. presidents; and that he was really enjoying it.

Never before had a government leader given me such an easy opportunity to bring God into a conversation. Wondering how to respond, I sat across from Sergei at a restaurant table, speechless and praying.

2012 1530 page27Let me back up for a moment and explain how it came to be that I asked Sergei about his choice of reading material. Whenever I have the opportunity to interview political and business leaders, one of my favorite questions is to ask which books they are reading. Solomon was right when he said, “Of making many books there is no end” (Eccl. 12:12), and I’m always looking for people who can point to the best of the thousands of available book titles. The results have been fascinating, with several people in recent months mentioning Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson, and others naming books as diverse as The E-Myth Revisited, by Michael Gerber, and The History of Knowledge, by Charles Van Doren.

But never had a leader acknowledged to reading a religious book. So when Sergei said he was exploring the notion of prayer, I found myself in a quandary.

As Sergei continued to describe the book, I wondered how to respond. I tried to remember whether I had a favorite book about prayer in my apartment that I could offer to share. But I couldn’t think of a title. I considered asking Sergei whether he prayed. But the question sounded strange to me.

The moment passed.

For the rest of the day I beat myself up over what seemed like a lost opportunity. Surely God had given me a perfect opening to share my love for Him, but I had failed. Perhaps I should have prepared for such an eventuality and drafted a short speech. After all, Peter said, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15). But on the other hand, Sergei had never asked me about my faith, so perhaps this advice didn’t fit the situation.

With these confused thoughts rolling around in my mind, the Sabbath arrived. My Sabbath school class tackled the question: How are we supposed to evaluate the effectiveness of our witnessing? I could not wait to hear the answer, and we found the astonishing truth in Deuteronomy: “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deut. 10:12).

The only thing I have to do is search my heart to see whether I am abiding in God and aligned with His will through obedience. If I do that, God will take care of the rest.

My prayer now is that I can be so close to God that everyone around me sees Him, and not me in everything that I do, even those things that I often fail to do. As John the Baptist said concerning his relationship with Christ: “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30).

That advice comes straight from the best book in the world. 

Andrew Mc Chesney is a journalist in Russia. This article was published October 25, 2012.