Paul Prather

Paul Prather: God's timing comes when it's good and ready

Hourglass on a Sand Dune
Hourglass on a Sand Dune Getty Images/iStockphoto

I operate under an assumption that God has his own timing for most every good event in our lives. The problem for me is that his timing rarely is the same as mine.

Here's a small event, but one I've been mulling over.

At least as far back as 2006, I set out to write a book about the Christian idea of grace, the spiritual subject that has fascinated me most, and about which I hold forth here occasionally.

Last week, I finished the book's first draft. It came in at 124 double-spaced pages. That's a very short book. A primer, really, which is all I intended.

It took me eight years, then, to write just 35,000 words.

This attempt was my third, actually. I'd started the manuscript twice before, beginning in 2006, only to abandon it in frustration. This go-around, at least I've committed all my views to paper, disjointed and clichéd as they might be.

I'm still a long, long way from holding a finished book.

A first draft isn't much more than a jumble of rough ideas. It leads to a second draft and then a third. You chip and polish. You add new thoughts only to cut them. Then you reinsert them. You tinker and groan.

Once you're done, you realize you have to find a publisher, a journey with countless opportunities for rejection and despair. If you do sell your manuscript, there's more editing, as well as designing and promotional strategizing. And waiting.

When the finished book finally comes out, black ink on white pages between two covers, you still have to get it into the hands of breathing readers.

King Solomon said the making of books was wearisome; he was correct.

However, finishing a first draft is a milestone on the trek.

I'd thought this first draft would be much easier than most I've written.

I thought writing it would be pure joy. I've been preaching about grace for nearly 35 years now. In one shape or another, it's about the only subject I do preach about.

I've refined my arguments over three decades, heard and (to my own satisfaction) rebutted every imaginable counter-argument. I've polished my similes and anecdotes and illustrations. And from the get-go, I meant this book to be exceedingly brief.

So how much trouble could it be to knock out a little manuscript? I could do that in my sleep.

That's what I thought in 2006, anyway.

It didn't turn out that way. My first two attempts felt as if I were running at full speed and butting my head into a cinder-block wall every day. A lot of headaches. Not much progress. The concrete blocks wouldn't budge.

What I can say about this third try is that the wall suddenly cracked, then fell, and I came tumbling out the other side. At last. I wrote with speed and near-obsession and blew through that manuscript in no time.

I still have a long way to go.

But my question when these sorts of breakthroughs do happen is: Why now? I don't know anything important about grace I didn't know eight years ago. And I'm no better a writer. A subject-verb-object sentence is still a subject-verb-object sentence.

But I couldn't write this book and couldn't write it and then — boom — I could. I wrote like a dervish and happily typed "The End."

You've probably experienced some variety of this in your own work, whether you're selling cars or opening restaurants or building houses. It happens in romance or childrearing, too. Even life-changing spiritual insights can arrive this way.

You ram the wall, but nothing happens.

You get disgusted and quit.

You find yourself unaccountably re-energized and so you slam into those blocks some more.

Nothing. You grow disgusted and quit again.

Then one day, out of the blue, you give it a thump — and the wall breaks, as if somebody knocked it down for you, or at least chipped out mortar during the night.

There's no accounting for it. Why not years ago?

My pet theory, as I said, is that God has his own timing. Maybe, if we're lucky, he's the one who planted the initial vision for a project, that excitement, in our soul. We want to write a book. We want to build a beautiful house. We long to rekindle our marriage. We hope to figure out the secret to praying more effectively.

Maybe it's not just a good idea, but a God idea.

But maybe now isn't the best time. Maybe there's somebody on the other end of the equation God's working on, too — the eventual publisher or the potential readers. The car buyers. The electrical subcontractor. Your husband or wife.

Maybe he's still working on you or me, preparing us. We think we're ready. He knows we're not.

So nothing happens. Until one day, suddenly, it does.

We shake the concrete dust out of our hair, grin, climb to our feet and go skipping down the road. Until we reach that next wall.