Meet Patricia Raybon
author of I Told the Mountain to Move
Raised in a strict, church-going family, award-winning writer Patricia Raybon was shocked to find herself struggling in adulthood with a lifeless marriage and an unsettling distance from God. She set out to rebuild her prayer life, searching for a connection that would transform her household and impact others. But as her prayer journey took off, life interrupted with a mountain of hard, personal challenges. Suddenly in the "school of prayer," the Christopher Award-winner and popular college professor found herself not only on her knees praying, but at her desk--writing this powerful, inspiring, funny, personal, brave, redemptive account of her quest to rediscover, in the midst of modern-day challenges, God's greatest lesson on life-changing prayer. Let’s listen in on an interview with Patricia Raybon. Happy Reading!
GGBC: The reviews of this book have been awesome. Publishers Weekly called it “glorious” -- “a powerful and personal book about prayer.” Why would a book on prayer by an African American woman who sits in the pew – who’s not even a minister or evangelist -- create such excitement?
PR: Maybe when a real Christian stands up from the pew and says, wait a minute, with all respect, is God always silent and cold or does he really mean for my mountains to get moved, people pay attention. As a real woman struggling with a discordant marriage, conflict with my grown daughters and a deep personal secret that I had buried for years, I was frustrated by my failure to pray mountain-moving prayers. When I took time to learn to pray real prayers, I discovered things that not only moved my mountains -- they rocked my world, just turned it upside down.
GGBC: You’re a journalist, a published author, and you teach journalism at a large state university. How did you decide to write for the Christian audience?
PR: I have great respect for what we as Christians are trying to do – to be in the world but not of the world. I wanted to be part of the conversation on how we do that. So I wrote this book first for other Christians, to ask: How do I, as a real Christian, move my mountains?! Now others are showing interest.
GGBC: So other folks have these same questions?
PR: It seems this struggle to learn how to pray real prayers has touched a deep nerve. At least people tell me that they can’t put the book down. But prayer is compelling because prayer is about God. Trying to figure out what God wants from prayer turns out to be a fascinating journey. I feel so blessed that people are relating to this book.
GGBC: Should someone like you, a Christian from the cradle, have had a handle on prayer years ago?
PR: Like many, I confused being in church with being in Christ. For example, when I was a child growing up, I heard adults say if you ask Jesus whatever you want, it will be given to you. But Jesus said: “If you abide in me and my Word abides in you, ask whatever you will and it will be given to you.” Therefore, many of us have been taught wrong from birth. I wanted to find out what was right in God’s eyes. The things I discovered have changed my life.
GGBC: How did Tyndale House, a big Christian publisher, find out about your book and decide to publish it?
PR: That’s a good question because Christian book-writing is a ministry, but it’s also a business. So I had to make the real choice to leave my former agent, who works in New York City publishing. She’s a wonderful person. But I had trouble sharing my vision with her to speak to Christian issues and to Christian audiences. Then a writing friend recommended a Christian literary agent, who was well known in Christian publishing.
GGBC: She wasn’t planning to take on a new author. But she liked my writing and I traveled to meet her and we “clicked.” When I finished my book proposal, she and her partner sent it around to Christian publishers. In the end, two publishers made great offers. But part of Tyndale’s offer was to promote the book, through its SaltRiver imprint, with the African American church-school publisher Urban Ministries Inc. in Chicago. That sold it for me. Urban Ministries has a large client list of black churches all over the country. They’re very smart Christian business owners. Like Tyndale, they understood my book and what I was trying to say in it. So I signed with Tyndale/SaltRiver and Urban Ministries came on board, and I believe that God will bless this partnership across races and places and time zones!
GGBC: You’re in the Mountain Zone? Now, that is interesting!
PR: Yes, I live near Denver. In fact, I grew up in Colorado. My father is from Mississippi and my mother is from North Carolina. They married and moved to Colorado when I was a young child. So I grew up with big mountains looming close by.
GGBC: So how did you learn to pray right, to move your big mountains?
PR: First, by asking to be taught. As we know, that’s what the disciples did. When they saw Jesus healing and performing miracles, they saw his power was directly related to his praying. So one of them finally asked him: “Lord, teach us to pray.”
But look out! When you enroll in the school of prayer with Jesus, you will never be the same!
GGBC: What do you mean?
PR: Spending time with God changes us. Then when we change, so do our prayers. Like when my book jacket was getting designed, we went through 9 or 10 designs. I lost count! I was losing sleep over it. Then I finally prayed, “Lord, just give me peace about this.” Right then I knew I had prayed a prayer that God could answer. Within a day, all the problems over the book jacket were solved. So God is true to his word. As I John 3:22 says, “Whatsoever we ask we receive of him, because we keep his commandments and do the things that are pleasing in his sight.”
GGBC: So prayer is less about getting and more about becoming. As we become God’s friends by spending time with him, our prayers change. I’m a witness that those changed prayers get answers.
But what about praying “in the name of Jesus”? Doesn’t that work?
PR: Praying “in the name of Jesus” means I have modeled my life after his character. The Message Bible says: “From now on, whatever you request along the lines of who I am and what I am doing, I’ll do it…I mean it. Whatever you request in this way, I’ll do.” (John 14:13-14) Well, that’s a lot different than just saying the words “in the name of Jesus.” It’s about right-living.
GGBC: Is confession necessary, too?
PR: When I wrote the Confession chapter in my book, I begged God: Please don’t make me write this chapter. But the book wouldn’t be complete without the confession. People who’ve read the book tell me that the Confession chapter is going to bless a lot of people. I believe that it will. But, after all, Scripture says: “Confess your sins, one to each other, and pray for each other.” Then it says right after that: “The fervent prayer of a righteous person brings about great results.” So I had to come clean.
GGBC: So why don’t more Christians take the time to learn to pray?
PR: One preacher estimated that 75 percent of Christians don’t have a real prayer life. But look at Jesus. “After a hectic day of healing, Jesus got up early to pray” (Mark 1:35). He got up early to get quiet with God -- to “practice the presence of God.” In fact, I was surprised to learn that praying is about listening -- listening to God the Father. Jesus clearly was strengthened by this. If Jesus needed to listen to God everyday to move mountains, surely we need to do the same thing. Thank God that our Father is willing to teach us the secrets. Our Heavenly Father says in Jeremiah “Call to me, and I will answer by revealing what is hard and hidden, what you do not know.” (Jeremiah 33:3) So I thank God for sharing his mountain-moving truth about prayer, and I pray my story becomes a mountain-moving blessing. In fact, I hope it stirs up a mighty army of prayer warriors, coming out of pews and down from pulpits to move mountains for the glory of God!