God Moments (21): Does God Answer Selfish Prayers?

[This is the twenty-first article in the series of God Moments in My Publishing Life.]

One if the questions most of us have asked is, “Will God answer my selfish prayer?” The answer you have probably received is that he will not. Yet we have an amazing God, whose grace is higher than the heavens, so at times he acts in ways that seem contrary to the rules we have set for God. Let me share some God Moments that exhibit God’s grace.

Through eight years at Moody Press I repeatedly experienced God Moments, his grace-filled answers to prayer. Every so often I’d look at the books we had scheduled for the next season and realize we had none with what I called sizzle.

To give our list the attention it deserved I knew we needed to have at least one book that stood out as a sure seller for buyers at bookstores. I’d ask the Lord for two sizzlers that would excite bookstore buyers—and inevitably they would arrive “over the transom.” In a God Moment he led me to Dr. Viggo Olsen and his book became Daktar: Diplomat in Bangladesh, an instant bestseller. In another one he led me to Zola Levitt, whose Satan in the Sanctuary and The Coming Russian Invasion of Israel, with Tom McCall, became bestsellers.

Fast forward. I learned to pray a similar prayer as I headed for Christian writers conferences as a literary agent. Some years ago I was asking the Lord for a key author contact as I headed for a Write to Publish Conference in Wheaton, IL During a lunch hour I experienced a God Moment as I set my tray of food on the table opposite a man I had never met. I discovered he was a pastor, who had started a church that had grown to nearly 2,000 attendees. He had written a book for small group leaders that had been published by a curriculum house. We talked about what he would like to write and he confessed that prayer was on his mind.

The Prayers God Answered

21 Most Effective Prayers of the BibleBy God’s grace Dave Earley signed on as a client. He told me he had been praying the prayers of the Bible and wanted to write on his experience seeing God answer when he prayed those prayers in his life. He came up with The 21 Most Effective Prayers of the Bible. I sent out the proposal. Rejection after rejection arrived. After all, there were many books on prayer and Dave was not yet a household name. A Barbour editor saw potential and signed up Dave Earley’s book idea.

Barbour sent the book to Choice Books, who put it on their racks as The 21 Most Effective Prayers of the Bible. Within six months 60,000 copies had been picked off racks in airports, supermarkets, laundromats, hotel lobbies. Barbour had Dave Earley write book after book for that market. They also repeatedly repackaged the original edition of The 21 Most Effective Prayers of the Bible, and it continues to bless readers. It was also sold into bookstores and is available on Amazon.com.

A Fast with a Long Life

I distinctly remember praying that I’d find marketable book projects at a conference in Kansas City sponsored by Heart of America Christian Writers Network, not even dreaming I’d find three publishable book projects of real significance.

Kristen Feola presented my biggest surprise. When she told me she was working on a book presenting the Daniel Fast I asked, “What’s a Daniel Fast?” since I had not heard of it. She patiently explained it was a vegetable fast practiced in her large church and in other charismatic churches.

The Ultimate Guide to the Daniel Fast book coverNot yet comprehending the significance of her book project, I asked what would make it stand out. She explained she had set up a mini photo studio in her kitchen to photograph the 100 dishes she was preparing. She also was including the recipes for each dish. She had written three chapters on the Fast and was writing 21 devotionals to go with the 21-day Fast. Now I was intrigued and quickly agreed to represent the book project.

In a God Moment Kristen’s book proposal arrived at Zondervan when they were anxious for a competitor to an existing book by another publisher. They rushed the book to press. Sales of more than 60,000 copies and three successful online January fasts validate the decision to publish The Ultimate Guide to the Daniel Fast. Her marketing efforts rewarded her with a successor book, Spiritually Strong, which combines Kristen Feola’s expertise in physical fitness, nutrition, and spiritual disciplines. An online Bible study by Kristen is providing an opportunity to showcase the book.

A Christian News Reporter’s Dream

thewonderwithinyouA former news anchor and currently a weekend Fox News reporter, Carey Wickersham dreamed of providing a resource for pregnant women that would also benefit the Right to Life proponents. She approached me at the Kansas conference with her dream of a book that would include a meditation, a medical tip, and a photo of a new baby every week of a new pregnancy, taken with amazing 3-D ultrasound images on a new ultrasound equipment operated by a highly skilled technician. She wanted web links and QR codes in the book that would lead to dazzling videos of a baby’s growth and new movements every week as it grew.

I did not hesitate. I wanted to represent this dramatic new way of helping future mothers with both information and visual presentations of what happened in a pregnant woman’s womb. Publishers did not share our enthusiasm, until it got front and center attention at Focus on the Family Books. With Tyndale House as distributor, Focus on the Family Books got the technical help needed to produce The Wonder Within You, a stunningly beautiful hardcover book.

A Discipler’s Amazing Tool

As president of Here’s Life Publishers I had assisted into print a one-on-one discipling book by a staff member of Campus Crusade for Christ. It had sold four times as many copies as our marketing people projected, most likely because it had 17 endorsements on the back cover, including some by well-known names. But Kenneth Erisman’s book on one-on-one discipling was different. For starters, he had text in various colors. It could be used with new believers or veteran believers who had never studied basic Bible doctrines that could deepen faith. But what stunned me were his endorsers, people like Dr. J. I. Packer, Jerry Bridges, Bruce K. Waltke, Rebecca Pippert, Joni Eareckson Tada, all well-known by Bible students. Where did he get the clout to enlist their support? It had to be what he had written—and it was.

Finding a publisher for Grounded in the Faith required patience, since conventional wisdom among marketing people is that evangelism and discipleship books do not sell. After 18 months I had no publishing prospect. Then in a God Moment, Baker Books hired a new editor—and he loved Grounded in the Faith and convinced the team to publish it. Sales have been stronger that even I expected.

This reveals a sampling of God responding to what even I would admit were selfish prayers. But God had the long view—he knew there were books being written that would immeasurably bless people. All he had to do was create a desire to pray for him to arrange the connections needed.

My next installment will depart from a citation of God Moments to illustrate how conventional wisdom in publishing can result in serious blunders. Why? Because conventional wisdom looks back instead of forward to God’s possibilities.

Copyright, 2015, Les Stobbe

2 thoughts on “God Moments (21): Does God Answer Selfish Prayers?

  1. Great post! I believe the nature of God’s grace is that we receive so much more than we deserve. Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourself in the Lord; And He will give you the desires of your heart.”

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