Monday, June 22, 2015

Book Review: Finding Favor with the King

A Fair Trade Book

Title: Finding Favor with the King

Author: Tommy Tenney

Author's web site:

Publisher: Bethany House

Date: 2003

Length: 219 pages

Quote: “What could be better than formally reminding God of His promises and claiming the benefits of those promises according to His Word?...The truth is that you hardly have to whisper, “Abba...Daddy” before He responds in tender love: 'What do you want, son?'”

Maybe the easiest way to review this book is to begin with what some readers will hate about it. In Finding Favor with the King, Tommy Tenney discusses the Bible story of Esther, the secretly Jewish Queen of Persia, not just as an intriguing bit of ancient history but as a lesson in prayer. Tenney describes himself as one of those men who openly let their wives and children wrap them round their fingers, because, although these men often think they are or ought to be or would like to be dominant leaders, they just love that “melting” sensation they get when a child learns to look up at them and say “But Daddy...” Many of us don't like that kind of men, or that kind of relationships; we don't want to be or be married to or even work with that kind of men, or have that kind of relationship. Tenney suggests that prayer might become that kind of relationship between a believer and God. Not just in passing; it's a main theme of his book.

There was, Tenney admits, nothing especially godlike about King Ahasuerus, or Achashverosh, or Xerxes...“Xerk the Jerk,”modern readers might end up calling him after studying his history and habits. Well—to put it as charitably as possible—a great monarch in those days had to be constantly on the alert, ready to give other potential attackers a warning by dealing brutally with any potential attack on his position. Probably his uncivilized hordes would have lost respect for Xerxes if he'd snapped his fingers and had his soldiers throw people into prison to await trial. So he didn't. He snapped his fingers and had his soldiers kill them without a trial. 

So it's easier to read guerrilla strategy into the story of Esther than it is to read romance. Esther may well have decided she wanted to be queen before she met the king. I believe it's a mistake, and Tenney admits it's an exaggeration, to describe her as a peasant—as a young girl in a feudal society she would have got her status from her closest male relative, which was her cousin Mordecai, who was a Palace Person, a middle-level servant to the king, quite possibly the highest-ranking Jewish man in the Persian feudal system. Esther might well have spent her teen years praying for a chance to climb just a tiny bit higher up the ladder than her beloved cousin. Some cousins are like that; teenaged ones who have to depend on slightly older ones for money, perhaps, more so than average. But it's hard to imagine that Esther felt romantic about Xerxes. He wasn't lovable.

Attention male readers! There are some people who honestly enjoy constantly “self-monitoring,” “code-switching,” and generally learning to associate expressing some part of what they're thinking or feeling with making noises that please you. They are a minority, and although of course they do tell the truth sometimes, they are people with a special talent for lying. You're probably safer learning to appreciate people who say what they think, who may honestly like you, or appreciate your work, or laugh at your jokes, but who don't make any effort to pretend they feel any of those things if they don't. And if you train children to anticipate that they can get what they want by batting their eyes at you and saying “I wike to be wif Daddy” before saying “Can I have the $200 shoes, pwease Daddy?”, you should at least be planning the defense you'll probably have to make when Daddy's little charmer goes to jail.

Esther undoubtedly did flatter Xerxes, because how else could anyone have got close to him, and she probably did flatter the chamberlain Hegai, who probably did share with her some tips for pushing the king's emotional buttons. I'm not sure, however, that this is a valid analogy for the pure love and adoration a devout believer might feel when contemplating the glory of God. Flatterers do not feel pure love and adoration. Flatterers feel, like Scarlett O'Hara, that anyone who's fool enough to fall for a smile and “How wonderful you are!” deserves whatever he gets.

There is nothing wrong with trying to make our company pleasing to other people, beginning with our parents when we are toddlers, if possible. There is nothing wrong with liking to be with Daddy or with noticing that Mother looks beautiful. There is nothing wrong with the cat's purring and rubbing against you before pointing to the door or the food bowl, rather than yowling or scratching things, to let you know that it wants to be fed or let in or let out...but if the cat could speak English, and it escalated its bids for attention from “Hello, dear friend, I'm here, and this is what I want” to “How wonderful you are! How clever! How pleasant-smelling! How well dressed! How intelligent! How witty! um...perfectly paginated!”, I personally would be inclined to put it out of my home. I like and trust people who say what they think. I neither like nor trust flatterers.

So although I think it's possible that God may be pleased by the adoration of the devout, I'm underwhelmed by the comparison between God's Wisdom and a conceited young man's folly. I kept thinking as I read Finding Favor with the King, “Please, Tenney, choose another metaphor.” Perhaps a better analogy to Esther's schooling in palace protocol might be Christians' practicing the discipline of obedience, rather than flirting or flattering.

God, Christians believe, knows what people are really looking for before they begin to pray. God knows whether we're saying “Praise the Lord” as a way of expressing the emotions of joy and gratitude, practicing the discipline of reciting a formal prayer, or imagining God to be the kind of foolish fellow who might blow out his whole bank account to set up a nice flat where his kept woman can entertain other men if she tells him he's wonderful. Some of us might hesitate to “praise” a fellow mortal whose work we actually appreciate, even admire, because we don't want to be mistaken for flatterers. We can trust that God won't make that mistake. If we feel sincerely moved to linger on a phrase like “Thy great and marvellous works” and continue privately praying for every plant and animal we can think of for the next hour, God will understand. And if we're faking it because we imagine that faking it will trick God into giving us our latest whim...God will understand that, too.

Which brings us (at last) to what I do like about Finding Favor with the King. In recent years, a variety of evangelical Protestant publishers have printed stacks of “Christian fiction,” reams of psychological counselling with a Christian flavor, and truckloads of evangelical treatises. This material has given lots of attention to petitionary prayers, Positive Thoughts, and occasionally thanksgiving, but it has left room for outsiders to wonder whether evangelical Protestants ever simply worship God, in the classical tradition of “We give thanks to Thee for Thy great glory.”

They do, of course. Not because anyone seriously believes that God demands praise in the way a spoiled six-year-old might do, but because for a believer to contemplate God is to contemplate glory, in the same way that to express joy is to praise God and to express happiness is to thank God. These are not the easiest emotions to explain to the world—most of us sensed long before science proved that some people out there don't develop “spirituality centers” in their brains. Even good Christian writers tend to take it for granted that every reader who's capable of understanding these emotions already does, in the same way that every reader who's capable of understanding the concept of marriage already does.

While Tenney's focus on the image of Esther seducing her pagan king for the good of her people might not be the most inspiring call to contemplate the great glory of God, it does at least document that evangelical Protestants encourage what some of the more rarefied sects teach is the only “real” or valuable kind of prayer. Evangelical Protestants have focussed so much attention on restless, pushing, striving, ambitious would-be yuppies in a declining economy that it may be hard to recognize, but underneath the suggestions that yuppies try flattering God, there does lurk the suggestion that possibly, some yuppies can stop acting extroverted and goal-oriented long enough to contemplate what prayer is.

Finding Favor with the King is a Fair Trade Book.

Last week a writer's assistant asked whether this web site is interested in new books by writers whose older books I've discussed as Fair Trade Books. Of course we are! I myself may or may not have read the new books, and the writer's assistant correctly guessed that the first few hundred reviews I've written for this web site are reviews of books I've bought, read, and decided to resell rather than they tend, like this one, to be perhaps too honest. (I do think every book reviewed here has merit and should appeal to some readers. Writers, and perhaps more often publicists, who want every review to contain words like "genius... brilliant... stupendous... masterpiece... future classic" may be disappointed that mine contain words like "has merit" and "worth $5.") In any case, this web site is about supporting authors, though not via flattery, and does post announcements and links when we receive notification about new books. We also invite publicists to purchase advertorials where they can describe new books in whatever terms they choose. And we also link to authors' blogs and web sites.

In any case, the fact that it's a Fair Trade Book tells you that we think secondhand copies (certified in good condition) are worth $5 per book + $5 per package, out of which total of $10 we send $1 to the writer, while living, or a charity of his or her choice. (If you order two copies that can be shipped in one package, you pay only $15, but Tenney or his charity gets $2.) To purchase it online, e-mail salolianigodagewi @