His first book took readers on a guided tour of heaven. As if that weren’t bold enough, Anthony DeStefano is now goading people to pray. And it’s working. His Ten Prayers God Always Says Yes To (Doubleday), a recent Register Book Pick, was only released in early May but is already selling briskly. DeStefano, who is executive director of Staten Island-based Priests for Life, spoke with Register senior writer Tim Drake.
Your new book is quite bold. You make the case that there are prayers that God says Yes to all the time.
All I’ve done is taken the promises or commands that God has made in Scripture and put them into prayers. God doesn’t make a promise unless he intends to keep it. He doesn’t give a command unless he gives us the power to follow that command. He can only be true to his word. That’s the basis of the book.
While God wants us to have faith in some invisible being, he’s not some cosmic joker all about playing hide and seek with us our whole lives. He can be counted on to act in certain ways at certain times within certain parameters. I’ve been bold in my language to show my confidence. I want people who have never prayed before to give it a try.
You argue that many of us get too caught up in prayers that don’t work. Why is that?
For a few different reasons. As I say, our society has a very consumer-oriented mentality. We have a tendency to think of God as a supermarket clerk and our world as a big Wal-Mart. If we’re all about instantaneous gratification, that’s a distorted way of looking at prayer.
God is about giving us what we need, not what we want. He’s about trying to get us to heaven, so he evaluates all the requests we make in light of that global objective. The point is, a lot of times, we may ask for something that’s not in our best interest. It may be something we don’t need, or it’s not in accordance with God’s will. We think he’s not answering us. There’s a saying that God’s delays are not God’s denials.
Another reason is we’re not listening. We live in such a busy culture with so many distractions, sometimes we just have to turn off the cell phone, the computer, the iPod, and say No to our families and friends and be still and silent. Jesus very rarely raised his voice in the Gospels, so there’s no reason for him to do so now. We need to listen.
Many of us look at God as some sort of cosmic vending machine, don’t we?
Mother Angelica used to say that there were too many of these “gimme prayers.” It’s not wrong to pray to God for little things. It shows a childlike trust. But we shouldn’t be so disappointed and start doubting God’s existence when he, in his providence, says No to those requests.
You also say that, of the 10 prayers, the one that God will answer the fastest is: God, make me an instrument. Why is that?
Because it feeds into so many spiritual laws and God’s great commandment to love your neighbor. When you ask God to make you an instrument to help people, you’re asking God to do something he has already told us to do. Of course he’s going to say Yes to you. He doesn’t have to perform any great miracles to say Yes to this prayer. All he has to do is send a few suffering people our way.
There are suffering people all around us. The question is: Why should I say this prayer? If God is going to use you as an instrument, he’s going to fashion you into the best possible instrument. So, while you’re busy helping other people, he’s going to be busy helping you in your life.
I couldn’t help but notice that the book has nothing on intercessory prayer. Why is that missing from the book?
Well, there’s nothing in the book on prayers of praise, thanksgiving or intercession. It’s a book of petitionary prayer — the first, most basic step. My primary audience is people who are not against God and religion, but who are not praying, who may be lukewarm or fallen away. My whole goal is to get people praying.
At the end of the book, you make a compelling case that, by nature of our very existence, we have already overcome overwhelming odds. Therefore, God clearly has a purpose for us.
Before I wrote this book, or conceived that chapter, I knew I wanted to put together that theology and science. For a human being to be born, he or she has to overcome overwhelming odds, and the odds get more and more overwhelming as you look at all the different things that had to happen.
First, there’s the scientific fact of 500 million sperm cells in a race to connect with that one ovum. Five hundred million potential beings could have been born other than you, yet you were born. When you consider all of the other variables — your parents meeting and conceiving you at a particular time and place, the odds of you making it through the gestation period and your childhood — you see that the odds are so stacked against us that all of us really are champions.
I’ve seen that in personal-development books, but no one has ever connected it with God or theology. When you look at Scripture, it’s clear that God knew who we were before we were born and before the world was created. That all points to the fact that there is a reason why we were able to overcome such odds. God obviously has some plan for us.
Tim Drake is based in
St. Joseph, Minnesota.