Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Surprised by Prayers

Ten Prayers God Always Says Yes To: Divine Answers to Life's Most Difficult Problems
by Anthony DeStefano
... One thing that you learn as you progress in the spiritual life is that God is a God of perfect timing. Since he is able to see the "big picture," he knows just when you should move on and when you should stay where you are. And sometimes before you move on he has to "arrange" a thousand different details in order to make that move possible. That arranging takes time.

People who travel frequently on airplanes know just what I mean, because they have experienced the frustration of "circling." Usually this happens near the end of the flight, just when you're most anxious to get off the plane ... you've gone into the dreaded holding pattern... The point is that, despite the frustration of the passengers, and despite the pilot's ability to freely control his aircraft, another entity -- air-traffic control -- has made an over-riding decision to prevent the plane from landing. And there's just nothing that anyone can do about it.

The very same thing often happens to us in life. We can decide what we want to do and where we want to go, but God is still in charge of "air-traffic control." He sees everything on his omniscient radar screen -- the weather, the airport, all the other planes in the area. Sometimes, for reasons he may or may not disclose, he decides that the best thing for us to do is remain in a "holding pattern." While we're busy circling, he's busy clearing obstacles, solving problems and moving people around until things are just right. Then and only then does he permit us to come in for a safe, smooth landing.
I received Ten Prayers God Always Says Yes To: Divine Answers to Life's Most Difficult Problems by Anthony Destefano in the mail about a week ago. At first glance, the title made me think it was another of those "Gospel of Prosperity" books. You know the sort I mean. The ones that tell us if we only pray this special prayer or act in a certain way that God will reward us with piles of money and riches.

I almost didn't pick it up.

In my insular way, actually my way of protecting myself, I didn't like the fact that it was endorsed by Christians I'd never heard of, except for Cardinal Martini who I had heard of but not for anything that I liked in the way of interpreting scripture.

This raised my alarm level even more.

However, I recalled the many times that I have almost rejected a book that I later found to be full of spiritual riches, so I ventured to read the introduction. Looking in vain for scriptural references in the text (another alarm bell going off), I flipped to the back where I found an entire section of end notes consisting of nothing but one scriptural citation after another. After that was a bibliography. True, it did have a Rick Warren book listed (yet another alarm bell clanging) but many more references were to writings by St. Augustine, C.S. Lewis, and others who I trusted to be sound spiritual advisers if taken properly in context. Additionally, looking through the acknowledgments section, I saw that Destefano's parish priest who he admired greatly was Fr. Pavone who I also trust to be a sound guide.

Somewhat reassured, I gingerly began reading, fully on alert and ready to toss the book at a moment's notice if my fears of being led astray came true.

What a pleasant surprise to discover that this was not only engagingly written but decidedly on track in terms of leading us to God through what God wants for us instead of the other way around. In fact, by chapter two I was reading with a pen nearby to mark significant sections and telling Tom that, so far, I wanted him to read it ... and the book club ... and everyone I knew.

It takes an extraordinary book to turn my fears into such enthusiasm in a short time. I soon realized that all the things that rang my alarm bells, beginning with the title, were specifically designed to call out to the very people who tended to be attracted by the "Gospel of Prosperity" books. In fact, I could think of two people who this book would be perfect for as it take those "I want" impulses and turns them outward so that we are focusing on what God wants instead of what we might think is best.

I had a couple of things that I thought might be problems for those reading the book and wanted to bounce them off of someone else. Luckily, Tom was interested and began reading it. He is about halfway through and the really interesting thing is that our various objections were things that the other person always thought were not a problem. For instance, I was somewhat amused that the chapter about the prayer "God, outdo me in generosity" talks almost exclusively about ... money. DeStefano does point out that God may repay you in other ways than monetarily but he always comes back to the cold, hard cash in the end. However, Tom didn't have a problem with this as he thought the author had adequately offset possible moneygrubbing with talk about intentions and motives.

Tom, on the other hand, was bothered that he didn't know what authority the author was basing his claims on. This was among the things that had sent me early on to the end notes and bibliography which had greatly reassured me. Furthermore, as I read on with increasing approval I never found anything that went against the Church's teachings. (So, for what it's worth, it has the "Julie D." stamp of approval.) Tom didn't have anything specific to mention on this front, just that he wanted to know where these ideas were coming from (I told you he's Catholic to the bone, haven't i?). By the way, this book was specifically written to be able to be used by Christians in general, not simply Catholics. Any Catholic comments found within are simply in reference to the author's own experiences or some similar situation.

All in all, we could find nothing wrong and a great many things right in this book. Furthermore, Tom also could think of a couple of people right off the top of his head that might benefit from it. (As can The Anchoress; check out her review.)
So often the dreams we have are all about us and our desires and insecurities and vanities. They don't take God's wishes into the slightest account. Everyone has heard stories about unhappy movie stars, drug-addicted rock stars, disgraced public officials, and suicidal authors. All these folks achieved their dreams and yet they all came to the same unfortunate end. Why? One of the reasons is probably that their dreams did not coincide with their real purpose. They wanted something so badly -- maybe it was fame, maybe it was riches, maybe it was power -- but they failed to consider that perhaps this was the last thing they really needed, the last thing God had destined them for. Instead of trying to ascertain God's will through prayer and discernment, they essentially "forced" their key into a lock it was never meant for; they twisted it, struggled with it, pushed and jammed it -- until finally it broke off.

There's no need for that ever to happen to us. God knows the deepest desires of our hearts. He knows what will give us the greatest pleasure and the most profound happiness. Remember, he's the one who created us -- he's the one who crafted the key -- so he knows best what kind of lock it will fit into.

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