Friday, October 02, 2009

"Ten Prayers God Always Says Yes To" (Anthony DeStefano)

Title: Ten Prayers God Always Says Yes To
Author: Anthony DeStefano
Published: NY: Doubleday, 2007 (197pp).

Anthony DeStefano rose to fame on the strength of his previous book, A Travel Guide to Heaven published in 2003. In that book, he excites readers to anticipate a heaven that is filled with joy and perfection. Four years later, he released another book that deals with prayer, something that a loving Father is more than willing to answer. Refreshingly, DeStefano deals with 2 struggles Christians generally have.
  1. Why are some prayers answered and others not?
  2. How does one pray according to God's will?
 The author invites the reader to bravely anticipate answers from God.
"God loves to say yes to us. Not only to 'small' prayers, but to big, practical, and profound ones as well. It's just that we don't usually think about these prayers because they are not of the 'consumer' variety. We don't realize that if we simply made certain basic requests of God, they would be granted automatically. In fact, our lives would be a hundred times more exciting and passion filled than they are now, and a hundred times less stressful and anxiety-ridden." (6-7)
DeStefano even guarantees that once the reader gets to the last page of the book, his/her life will be changed. That is indeed compelling. Essentially, DeStefano is daring us to pray. Only when we dare to pray in his will, will we find the divine answers to the most difficult problems we encounter.  He leads us through 10 basic issues that deal with both the wrong way and the right way to pray.

1) "I Wish I Could Believe" vs "God Show Me That You Exist"
This is a prayer in which all of us need to pray, especially when in doubt. Don't waste time debating about God philosophically. Ask God himself. Why argue when God's existence can be shown to us?
  • "Whatever kind of sign he gives you, one thing is certain - you will recognize it as a sign. Some thing is going to happen to you after you say this prayer - something that has never happened to you in your life before. And when that something happens, the thought is going to pop into your head: that couldn't have been from me." (17)

2) "Why Should I Get Involved" vs "God, Make Me An Instrument"
In this prayer, DeStefano guarantees that the answer will be immediate. The simple act of praying to God to show us someone in need will result in a speedy response. {I often wonder whether we are the problem ourselves. How many of us pray with willing mouths but unwilling hearts?}

Apart from the psychological benefit of learning to look beyond our selfish tendencies, this prayer also helps us experience a profound sense of fulfillment that we are helpful agents in this world. We can make a difference. By solving other people's problems, God scratches our back even as we do the same for others.
  • "Don't be surprised if, after saying this prayer, your own affairs begin to straighten themselves out. Don't be surprised if you get some angelic assistance when it comes to dealing with your bills, your marital difficulties, and your problems at work. Don't be surprised it you start running into people who are suddenly interested in helping you, the same way you are helping others. In many ways, it's the 'what goes around comes around' dynamic in reverse." (37)
3) "What's In It For Me?" vs "God, Outdo Me In Generosity"
The author highlights two deficient views about material prosperity. He compares and contrasts the poverty gospel with the prosperity gospel. The former frowns on money, while the latter pursues riches.  Both miss the mark because they overemphasize only a narrow aspect of Scriptures.
  • "On the contrary, money can be good - very good. It can even be a means of achieving holiness and bringing greater glory to God. And this is the key to understanding the relationship between God and the rich: it is always conditional. It is always based on an if-then statement: money will be beneficial to your spiritual welfare only if you are generous with it." (46)
I like the way DeStefano describes the posture of receiving riches from God: with an open palm of generosity. Easily receive, easily give. Unfortunately, for many, we receive loads gladly but give a little grudgingly.

4) "I Can't Take It Anymore" vs "God, Get Me Through This Suffering"
DeStefano gives a practical advice when dealing with suffering moments.
  • "No, the best thing to do when you're in that kind of situation (ie suffering) is to concentrate on holding the steering wheel steady, controlling the speed of your vehicle, and keeping your eyes peeled for turns in the road and for other traffic. In other words, the best thing to do is to focus your energy on getting through the storm. There will be time enough later to figure out why you got caught up in the bad weather, or - if you're interested - to take up the study of meteorology. But while the storm is actually raging, the most important thing to do, always, is to make it through, safe and intact." (60)
Helpfully, DeStefano reminds us that the difference between atheists and believers on the matter of suffering is that the believer goes through it with hope in the horizon.

5) "Am I A Terrible Person?" vs "God, Forgive Me"
Using the image of a little boy determined to fight a big bully, DeStefano points out the need for us to be like that little one to relentlessly come to God seeking forgiveness. A good Christian is not one who never sins, but one who consistently seek forgiveness each time he does a wrong. He even defines a 'successful life' as one when the number of times one seeks repentance EXCEEDS the number of sinful acts.

  • "Lord, I know I did something terrible, and I feel awful. But I'm not going to let it discourage me. I'm sorry. I'm going to try not to do it again. But if I fail, I'm going to get right back up and try again. I may break the world record for committing this particular sin, but I'm also going to break the world record for repenting of it! And God, I promise to do my best to forgive everyone who offends me. After all, if you can forgive me after all the times I've disobeyed you, I can at least try to be merciful to others." (92)

6) "This Stress is Killing Me!" vs "God, Give Me Peace"
Peace is not externally derived but internal. It is not independent on God. If peace is only possible to be given by God, then any kind of 'peace' outside of God is short-term truce or not true peace. Using the story of Peter walking on the water, two things threaten the peace. Firstly, when one looks toward the trouble. Secondly, when one looks away from Jesus. True peace comes only through that single-focus on Jesus. The person who prays must also be aware of any sins and wrongs committed that needed to be addressed.

7) "Okay, I Admit It, I'm Afraid" vs "God, Give Me Courage"
The author points out that the devil is always trying to deceive people into fear. The antidote to such kinds of evil is courage. {Indeed, sometimes we become victims of fear that we go around looking for reasons to fear and fear more.}

  • "Ultimately, that's why we need to pray for courage. All the things in life we want to hold onto - our possessions, pleasures, and feelings of security - as well as the fears we have about losing them, are secondary to our struggle with evil. As we've seen, the evil can be on the outside, in the form of a great social injustice, a natural catastrophe, a building on fire, or a neighborhood bully; or it can be on the inside, in the form of a phobia, an addiction, or a crippling physical ailment. Whatever the particular evil happens to be, we have to be willing to relinquish all our fears in order to face it and, hopefully, conquer it." (127)

8) "Sometimes Being Smart Just Isn't Enough" vs "God, Give Me Wisdom"
Sometimes, our problem is that we try to get wisdom by figuring things out for ourselves. We forgot that there is a better way, which is asking God. {Indeed, we often see things either as short-term, medium-term or long-term. We forgot that God sees things as all-encompassing and ALL-TERM.}

  • "Inspiration, clarity, focus, knowledge - all of these are the fruits of wisdom. Yet it's very important to understand that none of them is the same as sanctity. Indeed, one of the all-too-common side effects of these gifts is great pride. You can have the most inspiring insights in the world and yet do things that make God very angry. True wisdom, in contrast, always leads us to please God. Thomas a Kempis, who wrote the spiritual classic The Imitation of Christ, said: 'What does it matter if you understand the profound mysteries of the Holy Trinity, and then displease the Trinity? " (138)

9) "Will I Ever Be Happy Again?" vs "God, Bring Good Out of this Bad Situation"
Many self-help techniques have a common basis. They insist that things are only bad because people 'think' they are bad. Thus they try to change one's perspective to substitute 'problems' with 'challenges;' and 'trouble' with 'opportunities.' No. True happiness is in spite of whatever has happened, one remains hopeful and grateful. Perceptively, the author says that often we see the benefits only AFTER the pain is gone. Our prayers during times of pain and suffering is to help us see the good out of bad situations, even if we only get to realize it after the suffering.

10) "Why Am I Here Anyway?" vs "God, Lead Me To My Destiny"
Here, DeStefano gives a nice refreshing view of calling and destiny. Everyone of us has a destiny. We are like special keys that can fit unique locks of life.

  • "There's a reason that God doesn't always tell us our destiny right away but prefers instead to reveal it to us little by little. It's because he's interested in not only what we're going to accomplish but also what kind of person we're going to be at the time we accomplish it. And sometimes the 'journey' is what helps mold us into better human beings." (179)

My Comments
In Summary, this book tries to help the reader pray in a manner that is from God's perspective rather than self-indulgence or self-gratification. It makes much easy and pleasurable reading, with occasional flashes of brilliant insights. However, I feel that sometimes it is not as convincing for the following reasons. Firstly, it is a victim of its own accusations. For example, when the author points out the self-help industry being more focused on psychological change of perspectives, from me to we, or power of positive thinking,  the very kind of prayers recommended are also within the mental change paradigm. Secondly, some of its prayers are too closely related, like prayers #4 and #9 can be easily merged as both talks about suffering. Thirdly, there is a tinge of arrogance as well in terms of 'guaranteeing' a change of attitude. If the whole book places the focus on God, shouldn't God be the one to guarantee any changes? Finally, this book is written for a wide and general Christian public, and should appeal to the casual reader. It may not fill the ravenous appetites of theologically trained individuals or Christians who have some foundation of Christian education.

Although this book talks about prayers, it is not exactly a prayer manual. It is a book about prayer ideas that begin with an important first attitude. It deals with the need to adopt the right attitude before any prayer. I will suggest that the book be retitled: "Ten Prayers That God loves to Answer."

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars.


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