instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Thursday, May 10, 2007

One book to say yes to

A number of bloggers have already posted on Anthony DeStefano's new book, Ten Prayers God Always Says Yes To.

There has been some talk on how gimmicky the title is, but I prefer to say that it is precise. The title isn't The Ten Prayers God Always Says Yes To, as though it's supposed to be a complete list. It isn't Ten Prayers God Always Says Yes To Immediately and Just the Way You Expect, as though God were a fast food restaurant. And it's not Ten Prayers God Always Says Yes To Or Your Money Back, as though the prayers are formal contracts with Him.

That there are prayers God always says yes to is indisputable, but He has ways of saying yes that we don't much care for or understand. It's true, for example, that if you ask God to increase your faith, He will, but explaining that in too upbeat or offhand a way (e.g., "...and in no time at all, you'll be sure to feel His grace working in your life to bring about a change!") won't do much good for (and likely will do some harm to) someone whose experience is of asking God to increase their faith without any apparent effect.

I was happy to find that DeStefano works very hard at not explaining things in too upbeat or offhand a way. He comes right out in his introduction and says:
God does say "no" to us an awful lot.
No fair reading of the book will give the impression he is arguing that certain prayers are magical or wish-fulfilling.

The question is, will people who read it -- especially those who think God always says no to them -- give it a fair reading? Will they see that it isn't preaching a Gospel of Spiritual Prosperity in Ten Easy Steps, will they properly weigh the caveats and cautions that accompany each prayer? Perhaps most importantly, will they understand these prayers as prayers, and not as foolproof magical formulas?

So while I think this would be a great book to give to someone who's having problems relating to God in prayer, if you do that I think you're obliged to follow up with them. If someone reads the book, prays to God for peace that night, and the next day says, "Well, that didn't work," then they need someone to talk to them about what they did, what they think it would mean for it to work, and so on. (And, as it happens, there's an official study guide to the book.)

Putting it more briefly, I guess I'd call Ten Prayers God Always Says Yes To a work of instruction and exhortation, rather than a handbook or guide.

I did think there were some weak spots to the book. I think he overstates how much day-to-day comfort belief in the existence of a benevolent God necessarily entails. And I think there are problems with pretty much the whole chapter on generosity, which I may get into in a later post.

On the whole, though, I think it' a fine treatment of an important topic. It's also a very practical treatment, written to and for the people who want to use what they learn from reading it.

And I will admit to being intrigued by the endnotes. DeStefano references dozen of Scriptural verses, but rarely quotes them directly. Often it's pretty obvious what sort of verse he has in mind, but sometimes there's no way to guess short of looking it up. I'd guess it would be a good exercise for a book club to take the time to look them all up and see how he's incorporated Scripture into a sentence or paragraph without simply relying on a direct quotation or allusion to carry all his weight for him.

Oh, and there were also a couple of good images that I intend to steal for my own use. In particular, I liked the one comparing how God talks to us to waking up in the morning. First, there's the faint and gentle scent of bacon and coffee drifting up from the kitchen. Then there's the increasingly bright daylight. If none of that works, there's nothing for it but the sudden jarring buzz of the alarm. (Then we ask ourselves, "How could someone who loves us wake us up with an alarm clock?")

Here's hoping we all learn to wake up to God when He still has time to use gentle means.