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5 short books

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I enjoy reading long books – I like to get fully immersed in a writer’s thoughts and feelings. I’m always a little sad to get to the end of a really well-written book – whether it’s a book about theology or discipleship, or a novel in which not very much happens. I have a friend who will not touch a long book. For her, reading is a chore rather than a treat, so I’m trying to encourage her to read short books that will encourage her heart but not feel burdensome.

Short books can offer a good introduction into a topic for those who don’t want to get lost in all the details. Some manage to be comprehensive – all that needs to be said is said in a few short chapters. Here are a few of my favourite short books. All stand alone – no additional reading is required to engage with the topics. Perhaps you’ll have time this summer to try one or two.


July’s Books: 5 short books

  1. Before you open your Bible by Matt Smethurst
  2. The freedom of self-forgetfulness by Tim Keller
  3. Enjoy your prayer life by Mike Reeves
  4. Heaven, how I got here by Collin Smith
  5. The everyday gospel by Tim Chester

 

Before you open your bible: Nine heart postures for approaching God’s word

bibleIf you struggle to read your bible with joy and anticipation, if your bible reading has become dry or routine, let Matt Smethurst help you. In short, easy-to-read chapters, he teaches us how to approach God’s word rightly – with hearts and minds that are prepared to hear and respond to God’s voice. This book is fresh, creative and packed with practical wisdom. Matt works through nine heart postures we should adopt before reading the bible, but these are not intimidating, or time-consuming. Rather, they lead us to read with expectancy and wonder. They help us connect with the bible in deep and thoughtful ways. They draw us into its truth and prepare us to be transformed by it. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. If you only read one from this list, make it this one!


The freedom of self-forgetfulness: The path to true Christian joy

freedomDo you ever worry about what people think of you? I’d guess most of us do to some extent. Whether it’s a fear of under-performing in work or ministry, under-achieving academically, or under-whelming those we want to impress, it’s easy to be driven by fear. These fears often result in self-focus and introspection rather than joyful serving. Tim Keller’s solution is the gospel: “When a heart is truly captured by the gospel, the result is a life that is transformed from self-focused to one that is self-forgetful.” In this short, practical book he shows how the gospel grows humility and frees us to think of ourselves less – and others more. It frees us to care more about people – not just their opinion of us. And it leads to great joy.


Enjoy your prayer life

EnjoyPrayerThis is not a guilt-inducing book. Rather, it is a refreshing reminder of the privilege of communicating with a loving Father whose favour is not increased or diminished by our consistency or confidence in prayer. Mike Reeves is honest about the problem of our prayerlessness. He identifies a false thinking: prayer is something we must do rather than something we can enjoy. And he shows how our prayer life reveals how we think and feel about God – how much we depend on him, how much we delight to be in a relationship with him. But, while it’s challenging to face up to our prayerlessness, this is a hope-filled book. Prayer is an expression of faith in Christ, so the way to grow in prayer is to look at him. Mike helps his readers to do just that. In particular, he reminds us how Jesus prayed. “Prayer is learning to enjoy what Jesus has always enjoyed.”


Heaven, how I got here: The story of the thief on the cross

heavenCollin Smith is a great communicator, and this is a great book. It records the story of the hours leading up to the crucifixion, written from the perspective of the thief who died next to Jesus and was reunited with him in heaven.  Collin writes in a dramatic, compelling style. Even though I have read the crucifixion accounts hundreds of times I was gripped by this biblically-informed imaginative retelling. More significantly, I was overwhelmed by the extravagant grace of God. The crucified thief is proof that salvation is not earned – either by good works already done or the promise of future faithfulness. Jesus’ offer of life is for all who will come to him – he will turn no one away. This is an encouraging read for Christians, and an ideal book to give to unbelieving friends. I have bought a copy for my neighbour.


The everyday gospel: A theology of washing the dishes

gospelThere are hundreds of ordinary activities we engage in every day – from food shopping to folding laundry, driving to work to drying dishes. How does the gospel impact these daily tasks?  In a few short chapters, Tim Chester shows his readers how the everyday moments are opportunities to both serve Jesus and share Jesus. There should be no divide between the sacred and secular parts of our lives; each moment can be holy when the Holy Spirit infuses them with the presence of Jesus. We can reflect God and point to his goodness and grace as we work in the very ordinary spaces of life. And we can find joy in the most mundane activities when they are done out of love for God and love for others. This book will encourage you – even as you wash the dishes.


Further recommendations:

The glories of God’s love by Milton Vincent

True Friendship by Vaughan Roberts

5 things to pray in a global crisis by Rachel Jones (& all the books in this series)

Can I really trust the bible by Barry Cooper

Why bother with church by Sam Allberry

Keeping the heart by John Flavel

Enough by Helen Roseveare

Unbreakable by Andrew Wilson

Where was God when that happened? by Christopher Ash

God of Word by John Woodhouse

A tale of three kings by Gene Edwards

Suffering and singing by John Hindley

The joy of service by Julian Hardyman

You don’t get your own personal Jesus by J. D. Greear

And so to bed… by Adrian Reynolds

The yellow wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (just because I’ve read it recently and found it both fascinating and disturbing in equal measure)

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Top 5 books of 2019

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The last couple of months have been especially busy for me. I’ve started working on a new book – a project with The Good Book Company – and it’s left me with little time for blogging. But I’m still reading loads so I thought I’d share my favourite reads of 2019. (I’m aware there are few weeks of the year left, but I’m confident these books will stay at the top of my list.)

This year I’ve tried to focus some of my reading on specific areas of discipleship I want to grow in. I’ve discovered writers and thinkers I hadn’t come across before and have enjoyed engaging with their work. One has pointed me to another and, together, their writing has challenged, encouraged, corrected and inspired me in my daily discipleship.

In my list of further recommendations I’ve included a couple of fiction writers I’ve discovered in the last couple of years – Leif Enger and Marilynne Robinson. Both write beautifully. Favourite biographies/memoirs are William Wilberforce: The life of the great anti-slave trade campaigner by William Hague, and Adorning the dark by Andrew Peterson.

I really want to include 6 top books this time – but I am a rule-keeper! Teach us to want by Jen Pollock Michel is one of the most beautifully written non-fiction books I have read. Every page is refreshing and thought-provoking, and it’s the perfect complement to James Smith’s You are what you love. But Jen’s writing style won’t appeal to everyone and I want my top 5 to be books that will be practically helpful as well as inspiring. Here they are…

November’s Books: Top 5 books of 2019

  1. The Dignity Revolution by Daniel Darling
  2. Practices of love by Kyle David Bennett
  3. You are what you love by James K. A Smith
  4. Confronting Christianity by Rebecca McLaughlin
  5. All that’s Good by Hannah Anderson

 

The Dignity Revolution: Reclaiming God’s rich vision for humanity

digrev2I’ve already written about this book here. I read it early in the year and have been thinking about it since. Its premise is that every human being – regardless of who they are, where they are, what they have done or had done to them – possesses intrinsic dignity and worth because they are made in God’s image. Dan Darling helps us think through the implications of this truth – how we, as Christians, demonstrate respect and care for those whose dignity is under attack; how we use whatever power or influence we have to advocate for the most vulnerable in our society; how we engage with the ethical issues facing us today. This book is a faithful guide for those seeking to obey the command to love our neighbour as ourselves. Don’t read it unless you’re prepared to be challenged!

 

Practices of love: Spiritual disciplines for the life of the world

P LoveDan Darling pointed me towards this book which I’ve also written about in a previous post. Together with The Dignity Revolution it’s the book that’s had the most profound effect on my thinking – and, I hope, my actions. Kyle Bennett challenges his readers to reconsider the purpose of the spiritual disciplines – to view them as tools that equip us to love our neighbour as ourselves. He shows how understanding and practising the disciplines rightly enables us to use the mundane routines of everyday life to glorify God by loving others. This is a challenging read. Kyle Bennett exposes many of the subtle ways in which we oppress rather than bless our neighbours. He shows how we, often unconsciously, hinder rather than help their flourishing. But this is also a hopeful book – the vision of renewal is both compelling and realistic. I would love for everyone in my church to read this.

 

You are what you love: The spiritual power of habit

smithJamie Smith is another writer who challenges my idol of comfort in a humble, gentle and winsome way. This book is based on Augustine’s insight that we are shaped most by what we love most. Jamie Smith provokes his readers to ask, Do we love what we think we love? It’s an uncomfortable question as we are shaped by culture more than we realise. But Smith doesn’t leave us in our discomfort. With wisdom and insight, he helps us explore what it is we should love, and how we can learn to love what we should. The key is that we learn to love rightly through worship and liturgy – discipleship must be centred in and fuelled by our immersion in the body of Christ. He shows how the practices of Christian worship help us unlearn the habits of the rival kingdom, and acclimatise as subjects of God’s Kingdom. This is a book I will re-read regularly.

 

Confronting Christianity: 12 hard questions for the world’s largest religion

confrpontThis is a great read for anyone who feels intimidated by our culture’s strongest objections to Christianity, or who lacks confidence to answer tough questions and correct common misunderstandings about what the bible says. It’s a great read for anyone – Rebecca McLoughlin is an exceptional communicator. Here, she tackles the 12 biggest objections to the Christian faith comprehensively, convincingly and compassionately. She does so in the context of the meta-narrative of the bible – helping the reader view each question/objection in light of the redemption drama. Throughout, she points to the unparalleled kindness, justice, goodness and love of the God of the bible. For me, reading this book was a worshipful experience. I recommend this for any Christian who wants to engage with the questions our culture is asking, and for those exploring the claims of Christianity for themselves. 

 

All that’s good: Recovering the lost art of discernment

goodHannah Anderson is one of my favourite writers. She is able to communicate deep truths in simple, yet beautiful, language. Her second book, Humble Roots, is one of my favourite “Christian living” books, so I had high hopes for this one. It didn’t disappoint. It’s easy to spot brokenness in the world. And it’s easy to despair. Hannah invites readers to join her in developing an instinct for recognising and embracing beauty. Weaving together story and scripture she teaches us how to look for God’s pure, lovely, redemptive work in his world. She shows how the good and beautiful things draw us beyond themselves to the greater reality of the One who is the source of all that is good. She offers a corrective to the popular teaching that discernment is simply about avoiding what is bad. The lost art of discernment is learning to embrace what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy.

 

Further recommendations from this year’s reading:

Teach us to want by Jen Pollock Michel

When Harry became Sally by Ryan T. Anderson

Even Better than Eden by Nancy Guthrie

Real by Catherine Parks

Teach me to feel by Courtney Reissig (available from January 2020)

The pursuit of holiness by Jerry Bridges

Enjoying God by Tim Chester

Life in the wild by Dan de Witt

Is this it? by Rachel Jones

Perfect Sinners by Matt Fuller

William Wilberforce: The life of the great anti-slave trade campaigner by William Hague

Adorning the dark by Andrew Peterson

Home by Marilynne Robinson

Virgil Wander by Leif Enger

Middlemarch by George Elliot

 

 

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How to be content with our circumstances

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‘I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.’ The Apostle Paul, Philippians 4

Is it really possible to be content ‘whatever the circumstances’? To be as content in times of hardship as in times of ease? To be content while knowing illness, injustice, depression, divorce, betrayal, bereavement, loneliness, longing?

Paul learnt how to be content in every situation because he had lots of opportunities to practise. He lists some of the more difficult circumstances he faced in his letter to the church at Corinth:

‘Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have laboured and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.’ 2 Corinthians 11:24-28

It’s quite a list. But, in addition to all this, Paul also struggled with an on-going trial – his thorn in the flesh (2 Cor. 12:7). We don’t know exactly what this thorn was but it was a source of distress to Paul – he prayed three times for God to take it from him. God’s answer, however, was not to take away the thorn. His answer was not to change Paul’s circumstances, but to renew Paul’s perspective.

‘But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.’ 2 Cor. 12:9-10

If I’m honest, “My grace is sufficient for you” sometimes seems like an insufficient answer to suffering. But that’s because my view of grace is small, insufficient. Jesus says his grace is enough in every circumstance. And it is.

His grace brings us joy in sorrow, peace in pain. It enables us to face the most difficult circumstances with hope rather than despair. It teaches us to view our weaknesses as opportunities for Christ to reveal his power. That’s why Paul boasts in his weaknesses – not because the weaknesses themselves are praise-worthy, but because they showcase the glory of Christ’s power.

We often want to hide our weaknesses or struggles. But Paul was content to let people see the difficult circumstances he faced, his physical weaknesses, his discouragements. He was content with weaknesses, because he knew Christ’s power would strengthen him in them. He could say,

‘For Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.’ (2 Cor. 12:10)

This is super-natural contentment. It comes from knowing Christ; from experiencing his grace and his power. It comes from trusting that God has a purpose for our suffering – Paul knew his thorn was given to keep him from becoming conceited, to stop him boasting in himself. And it comes from being confident of Christ’s return and the glory that is ahead for those who are in him. It’s only possible to delight in weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and difficulties if we know they are temporary – if we’re confident something far more glorious is ahead.

‘For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.’ 2 Corinthians 4:17-18

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5 Books about men, women & the church

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A few months ago I took part in a question panel at my church’s women’s conference. As usual, some of the women submitted questions about the role of women in the church. Their questions were thoughtful and sincere. They reflected the desire of these women to serve God in a way that honours his word, and their confusion about what his word actually teaches.

I reminded my friend Susie – our speaker for the weekend – that we answered the same questions on a panel at a women’s convention 15 years ago. That was the first occasion I taught formally on the role of women within the home and church; I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve taught on it since. Susie has also taught extensively on this issue over the last 15 years. She’s spoken on national television, and has been publicly criticised for her unwavering commitment to the bible’s authority. I’m so grateful for her example of courageous faith.

As we chatted together, we shared some of the discouragements we’ve experienced as we’ve engaged with this issue. Not from brothers and sisters with egalitarian viewpoints, but from complementarian ministry friends who, either quietly avoid the issue and hope the women in their churches won’t cause a problem, or who confidently assert viewpoints they can’t adequately defend from scripture.

As women who speak on this issue, we read widely and study carefully so we can teach clearly and helpfully. And we’re heavily invested in getting it right. As I, perhaps rather dramatically, blurted out during our conversation, “We’ve betrayed the sisterhood!” It does sound dramatic, but it’s also true. We know that by believing and defending a complementarian viewpoint we deeply offend women we’ve grown up with, studied with, worked with, and even served in ministry with. When non-Christian friends find out what we believe we risk friendship. It’s costly to hold to this counter-cultural position.

We understand why some of our complementarian brothers may feel less equipped to engage with the issue (there are so many issues that require deep thought and study), but it’s frustrating when there appears to be no desire to dig deeper. Comments such as, “I don’t know why but I’m just not comfortable with women doing that,” aren’t an acceptable response to years of study and, in Susie’s case, a lot of flack! We need to be patient with our friends as they wrestle with the issue. But they do need to wrestle with it. Not to satisfy us, but for the good of the church – so women and men may flourish as they serve with the gifts God has given them. And so he is glorified as his good design is celebrated and displayed to a watching world.

So this month I’m recommending 5 books about God’s design for men and women, and how they relate within the church. The books vary in detail and style, but all are helpful in thinking through the issue. I’ve also recommended a couple of books that present alternative viewpoints. I’m not persuaded by the arguments in these books but it’s helpful to understand where others are coming from.

I know there are some notable absences from my recommended list of complementarian books – I just don’t agree with them! Too many complementarians go beyond what the bible teaches and present implications that aren’t justified from scripture. This is unhelpful at best, damaging at worst. So, while those books may contain sound doctrine, I believe the ones listed below are more helpful. Why not put one on your Christmas wish list and read it in the new year?

December’s Books: 5 Books about men, women & the church

  1. God’s Good Design by Claire Smith
  2. God’s Design For Man & Woman by Andreas & Margaret Köstenberger
  3. Different By Design by Carrie Sandom
  4. Women & God by Kathleen Nielson
  5. Women in the Church (3rd Edition) by Andreas Köstenberger & Thomas Schreiner

God’s Good Design

claire smithIf you’re only going to read one book about God’s design for men and women, this is probably the most helpful. Claire Smith teaches through seven key bible passages about men and women and how they should relate to each other. She addresses common objections thoroughly, and presents truth with depth and clarity. She applies the bible’s teaching practically, showing how relationships within the home and the church should reflect God’s good design. This book is thoughtful and comprehensive, and models faithful handling of God’s word – in context, and without adding or subtracting from its teaching. It will challenge men as well as women, complementarians as well as egalitarians. Claire Smith writes as one who has wrestled deeply with these issues herself, and her example of humble and joyful submission to God’s word is refreshing.

God’s Design for Man & Woman

kostenbergerMost books about the roles of men and women focus on a few key passages; this book traces the pattern of male and female relationships throughout the Old and New Testaments. It’s rigorous, compelling, and thoroughly biblical in its presentation of complementarianism as God’s good and wise design for men and women. It is a more academic study than some of the other books but is pastoral and practical in application. By working systematically through the bible’s teaching on this issue, readers will be equipped to understand more fully the significance of being created in God’s image and how this truth must inform our relationships, our corporate worship, and our mission.  There are two issues that aren’t dealt with comprehensively enough in my opinion (and I’m often wrong!), but this is still one of my favourite books on the issue. I read it in a weekend because I couldn’t put it down. If you’re looking for a detailed study this is a great book.

Different by Design

carrie 2This is the book I’ve returned to most often when thinking about or preparing to teach on this issue. Carrie outlines the bible’s teaching on the roles of men and women clearly and graciously. She shows how men and women are designed to reflect God’s own nature – the equality, order, diversity and unity we see at work within the Trinity. She explains how western culture in particular has redefined equality as sameness, and how this has impacted family relationships and relationships within the church. Carrie provides practical wisdom for living out God’s design as men and women but, unlike some complementarian writers, she doesn’t go beyond what the bible says. This book is immensely helpful for women and men, single or married.

Women & God

KathleenKathleen Nielson’s writing reflects her speech – warm, clear, compassionate, gracious. In this book she seeks to show the wisdom and beauty of God’s plan for women throughout history. She begins with creation and the fall, then works through some of the gritty Old Testament “Texts of Terror” to show God’s tender-hearted care towards women. She invites her readers to wrestle with hard questions about God’s design and purpose for women, and points to the beautiful truth found in his word. I’ve read books that offer a more comprehensive treatment of the topic, but what makes this one particularly encouraging is Kathleen’s enthusiastic and persuasive conviction that God is good, and that embracing his design for women brings joy and fulfilment.

Women in the Church

schreinerI know this won’t appeal to everyone but I believe it’s an important book. Its authors offer an in-depth study of 1 Timothy 2:9-15, carefully analysing the context, grammar, and sentence structure of Paul’s statements.  They engage with a variety of viewpoints, clarifying issues and evaluating evidence thoroughly and graciously. The last chapter focuses on practical application of the text and includes contributions from a variety of women and men. It’s worth buying the book just to read that chapter, but you’ll appreciate it so much more if you’ve read the previous work. Of course, not everyone will agree with the authors’ conclusions, but it’s clear this book is written out of deep love for Christ’s bride, and sincere passion to see her flourish in the way God intends. I’m very grateful for that, and challenged to make sure I share this motivation in my studies.

Further recommendations:

Jesus, Justice & Gender Roles by Kathy Keller
(It’s helpful to note that male non-elders don’t preach at Redeemer Church, NYC. I agree that, in her context, Kathy Keller can – and should – use her gifts in any ministry area open to male non-elders. That isn’t the case in my context. However, the issue has prompted some lively conversation with my pastor!)

Radical Womanhood by Carolyn McCulley

God’s Design for Women by Sharon James

Bourgeois Babes, Bossy Wives, & Bobby Haircuts by Michael F. Bird
(This book presents an alternative viewpoint arguing a case for gender equality in ministry. I didn’t find it rigorous or persuasive, but it’s good to read a different perspective.)

Two Views on Women In Ministry (Revised Edition) edited by James R. Beck

Hearing Her Voice by John Dickson
(John Dickson argues that women should not hold the office of elder but are permitted to preach sermons in formal church gatherings. I don’t agree with his conclusions, but it’s an interesting read and I appreciate his gracious tone.)

Women, Sermons and the Bible edited by Peter G. Bolt & Tony Payne
(This is a series of essays written in response to John Dickson’s book, Hearing Her Voice.)

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Praying for my husband’s wicked wife

prayer handsFor the last few years I’ve tried to block out some time each week to pray specifically for my husband and children. I’ve always tried to pray for them every day but, most days, I find myself praying the same things and I often focus my prayers on the issues facing them that day rather than intentionally bringing each area of their lives to the Lord. Now, as well as praying for the smaller day-to-day details, I also have time to pray some big-picture prayers – for their spiritual growth, their sin struggles, their friendships, fears and futures. It’s a precious time.

As part of my prayers for Richard, I use Prayers Of An Excellent Wife by Andrew Case (you can buy it here). It’s a great book that turns passages of scripture into bold, faithful prayers a wife can pray for a husband. I find it helpful to start my prayers for Richard with God’s own words – it’s too easy to come with a list of self-serving requests, and this book helps me focus my prayers so they are biblical and consistent with God’s desires for him.

I’ve prayed through the book a few times now but, when I started again a couple of weeks ago, I was caught a little off-guard by the third prayer:

‘Grant him continual patience and forbearance to live with me, a wicked wife.’

Really? I can’t be that wicked – I’m spending the afternoon in prayer for my family!

‘For I have sinned against you; I have acted very corruptly against you by forsaking my duty to help my husband lead our home in righteousness and the fear of you; I have not kept your commandments, your statutes, or the rules that you commanded your servant Moses.’

Hmm. Maybe.

‘Give him boldness and wisdom to rebuke and exhort me when I am unfaithful to your word, when I neglect prayer, fail to redeem the time, speak carelessly, walk foolishly, fail to hope in you, seek great things for myself, become anxious about tomorrow. Do not let him cease praying for me when I am beset with the fear of man, the cares of the world, or the love of money. May he never lose confidence that, in spite of my many iniquities and shortcomings, I am your servant whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand.’

This is me. I am a wicked wife – perhaps not by the standards of the world; there’s always someone doing a worse job. But faced with the holiness of God, I see myself as I am – so naturally inclined to sin that I can’t, and won’t, choose righteousness unless God’s Spirit moves me to do so. I am unfaithful to God’s word. I neglect prayer. I waste time, speak unkind words, seek glory for myself. But, by his great power and strong hand, God has redeemed me. Despite my ongoing sin, I belong to him. And he hears my prayers – not because I am faithful and not because my prayers are perfect, but because of the faithfulness and perfection of the one who is in heaven to receive them.

It’s humbling to be reminded that I am in great need of God’s mercy – and my husband’s patience! It’s good to remember I need Richard’s prayers at least as much as he needs mine. And it’s precious to know that,

the great and awesome God who keeps his covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, has his ear attentive and his eyes open, to hear the prayers of his servants who delight to fear his name.

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Just a Season?

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“It’s just a season!”

If you’re a mum, you’ve probably heard that expression a lot. People often say it to encourage new mums – struggling with the exhausting demands of their babies and preschoolers – to look ahead to the easier season that is coming. A few weeks ago, I found myself repeating this phrase to a friend after she’d been called out of our Bible study and into the creche…again! I wanted to encourage her that one day she will be able to take part in the study without distraction, without wondering when she’ll being called away to her crying toddler. And I think those words were encouraging to her in the moment. But I don’t think they were the greatest encouragement I could have given. They offered temporary comfort but didn’t serve to remind her of the wonderful reality of her present circumstances.

We can spend a lot of time anticipating the next season of life – hoping it will be easier, calmer, more fulfilling than the season we’re currently in. When we are discontent in our present circumstances we comfort ourselves by day-dreaming about the next season. We become obsessed with the season that is coming instead of embracing the season we’re currently in. We dream about the things we’ll do when we are less tired or have more time or less responsibilities. We tell ourselves we will be able to serve more, give more, learn more in that season We give ourselves permission to drift through our current season because, we believe, we’ll make up for it later.

But we forget that every season is a gift from our good and wise Father. And our response to his gifts should be thankfulness and a desire to glorify him with them. Every time we complain about our current season of life, every time we compare it to another, every time we covet a season that hasn’t been given to us, we reject God’s good and generous gift to us. We are ungrateful children – sulking because we didn’t get the present we were hoping for, envious of our friend who has what we want.

We need to remember we are currently in the season God has ordained for us. Whether we’re studying or approaching retirement, caring for small children or supporting aging parents, single or married, this season is a gift from our loving Father. Our goal is not to get through it as quickly and painlessly as possible. It’s not “just a season” – a time to be endured, rather than embraced. Our motivation to persevere in it is not the hope that it will soon be over and that the better season is coming. This is the season God has given us. Our goal is to honour and glorify him in it.

So how should I encourage my friend as she struggles with the demands of motherhood? What truths can I speak to my heart when I’m tempted to compare my circumstances with someone else’s? What will help us embrace our current season of life rather than coveting a season we’ve not been given? Our circumstances may be varied, and our challenges and struggles are different. But, if we are in Christ, our encouragement is this: we are all in a season of GRACE, we are all in a season of HOPE, we are all in a season of OPPORTUNITY.

A season of GRACE

Every day is a gift of God’s grace. Every day is an undeserved opportunity to live as God’s people – in his world, under his rule and blessing. Because of our sin we deserve death. Because of grace, we have life. We get to live in God’s world – without shame, without fear of condemnation. Adam and Eve hid from God in the Garden of Eden – afraid and ashamed because of their sin. We approach God’s throne with confidence, knowing there is mercy and grace for us. We are unashamed – because our sins have been forgiven, the record of our debt against God has been nailed to the cross, and we are in Christ! We live every day knowing we are free from slavery to sin, redeemed by Christ’s blood, sealed by his Spirit, and anticipating our eternal inheritance. Our mundane moments are transformed as we remember we have received grace. Our perspective on our challenging circumstances is changed as we view them in the light of God’s grace. We enjoy grace in the present, and we live with hope for the future.

This is a season of HOPE

We live in a season of hope. We live this side of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and we joyfully anticipate his return and our eternal future with him. We struggle with the difficulties and disappointments of life in a fallen world. But we do so with hope that one day Jesus will return and restore this world and everything in it. We live with hope that our bodies will be resurrected to become like Christ’s glorious body – no more pain, weakness or sickness. We live with hope that our relationships will be restored – no more comparison, coveting or conflict. We live with hope that our hearts will be completely undivided, our service eternally joyful, and our worship perfectly acceptable. We live for a short while in this broken world with hope that we will live forever in the New Creation – finally free from the presence of sin and able to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. And we are on a mission to share our hope with the people God has placed around us, because we also live in a season of opportunity.

This is a season of OPPORTUNITY

Jesus is coming back – soon! And we can announce his coming – to our friends, to our family members, to our neighbours, to our work colleagues, to the nations. Every day is an opportunity to “declare the praises of him who called us out of darkness and into his wonderful light.” Every day is an opportunity to invite others to join us in worshipping King Jesus. Every day is an opportunity to share the good news that he has triumphed over sin and Satan by his death and resurrection. Every day is an opportunity to extend his offer of life to people who are dead in sin. In every season we can share the joy of knowing our sins are forgiven, the peace of knowing God is sovereign over every part of our lives, and the delight of being in an intimate relationship with him. In every season we can witness to the grace of God in our lives and the hope we have in him. Every season is a season of opportunity.

So when we’re discontent in our current season, when we’re tempted to covet a season someone else is in, when we find ourselves day-dreaming about the better season that’s ahead, we can remind ourselves there is no such thing as “just a season.” Because we are in Christ, every season is a season of grace, a season of hope, and a season of opportunity.

Create or Consume?

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A few weeks ago I listened to a conversation between Dan Darling and Jonathan Rogers in which they talked about the tension between consuming and creating. To create something beautiful – whether it’s words, music, art or anything else – necessarily involves a degree of consumption. Ideas are mostly inspired and shaped by what we see, hear or experience. It’s often seeing or hearing what others have produced that inspires creativity of our own.

Humans need to consume because we are not God. We are not all-seeing, all-knowing, ever-present, so we need to hear and learn from those who know more than we do. But, as Dan Darling says, part of being an image-bearer means that we can’t always consume. We must also create. This is how we image a creative God. We don’t simply consume creation; we cultivate it. We create new things with it. It’s helpful – even necessary – to read, listen and absorb promiscuously (to adapt a phrase from Karen Swallow Prior), but there has to be a point where we stop consuming and start creating.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I completed a book manuscript a few months ago and, for a while, I’ve felt depleted of any creative thought. The juice has run dry. I have no words left to share. I understand this is not unusual, and I’m happy to take some time to feed my thoughts and imagination with input from others. But at some point, I need to output again.

This is harder than ever in our social media-saturated age where every App feeds the temptation to consume. Faced with endless opportunities to discover, learn and gather information, we take in more than we can begin to process. Output slows until we’re almost standing still, exhausted by endless input.

As I try to rebuild some creative rhythm, Jonathan Rogers is helpful:

“The internet should be an interruption to work, not the other way round.”

In other words, creating is the norm; consumption a short interruption to aid the work. I’m still thinking about what this should look like for me, but I’m trying to be more aware of how much I consume compared to what I produce. Today that’s looked like putting the commentaries away and actually writing my bible study. Other times it’s meant turning off Spotify or YouTube and practising my own arrangements on the piano.

The activity of creation is much harder than the passivity of consumption. But there is joy and satisfaction in imaging our Creator God as we cultivate the gifts he has given and walk in the works he has prepared (Ephesians 2:10). Our goal is worship. In all our creativity, we seek to worship God ourselves, and reflect his goodness to others so they might worship him too. Remembering this goal is a powerful motivation to create rather than consume.

So perhaps there’ll be more on the blog this season. And maybe you’ll join me in looking for ways to reflect our creative God each day.

Introducing Jesus (from Colossians)

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A couple of years ago I memorised the book of Colossians. It’s a short letter but it is packed with rich truths that both encourage me and spur me on to love Jesus and his church with all my heart. One of the things I especially love about this letter is that it is so full of Christ. He is the answer to every question, worry or doubt the Colossian believers may have faced. And he is the answer to ours too.

Below are some of the ways Jesus is described in Paul’s letter to the Colossians. Why not take some time this weekend to meditate on our Saviour and praise him for who he is?

Jesus Christ is:

  • the Son of God, loved by him
  • the image of the invisible God
  • the firstborn over all creation
  • the creator of all things: in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, thrones, powers, rulers and authorities
  • the one all things were created for
  • the one who is before all things
  • the one in whom all things hold together
  • the head of the church, his body
  • the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead
  • the one who reconciles us to God
  • the mystery of God
  • the one in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge
  • our Lord
  • the fullness of the deity in a body
  • the head over every power and authority
  • the one who has triumphed over the powers and authorities
  • seated at the right hand of God
  • our life!

Debts cancelled!

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Writing my book has left little time for regular blogging here, but it’s almost finished so I hope to be more active again. In the meantime, here’s a short devotional piece I wrote for Servants of Grace last week.

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. Colossians 2:13-14

If a friend asked you to summarise the heart of the gospel message what would you say? Paul does it here in two verses. He reminds the Colossian believers—and us—of our condition before God intervened. Then he stuns us with a detailed account of God’s work on our behalf.

Paul reminds us that before God saved us we were dead. We didn’t realise it—just like our friends and neighbours don’t realise that they are dead. Our hands and feet moved, our vital organs functioned, and blood flowed through our veins. But our souls were dead. Dead in sin and dead because of sin. We were dead not only as a result of specific sins we had done but also because of our sinful nature—the natural disposition which prompts us to sin. It’s an unflattering truth but one we must face if we are to truly grasp the immense and glorious change that God has brought about. We were once dead—but now we are alive! This is a miracle only God, the divine surgeon, could perform. Through Christ’s death we have been brought to life. Life in all its fullness.

This is reason enough to celebrate but there is more. Paul reminds us that we have not only been raised from death to life, but we have also been delivered from the guilt of our sin. Our guilt was like a record of debt—a debt we owed God because of our rebellion against his rightful rule. The more we sinned, the greater our debt became. And the record of our debt stood against us—it testified to our guilt. But Christ took this record of our debt on himself. It was charged to him—and he made the payment by his death on the cross. The record itself has been nailed to the cross along with Christ. The document that condemned us has been taken away. God has put it out of sight—forever!

We are now free from guilt and the sentence of death has been lifted. The record of our debt can no longer condemn us. God has forgiven all our sins—the long list of every sin we have ever done or will ever do. And because our sin has been removed from us, nothing stands in the way of worship. There is nothing we need to do to make ourselves—or our worship—acceptable to God. He has done it all. We can now sing with confidence:

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part, but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

(This article was first published at Servants of Grace)

Remaining in Christ

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So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. Colossians 2: 6-7

It’s easy to be impressed with people who seem to have it all together. I can think of Christian leaders I have admired because of their charismatic personalities, creative presentations and clear perspectives on issues that I had to wrestle with. But, sadly, it’s not uncommon to hear of the moral failure or serious character flaws of such leaders. They may have appeared to be credible, but they have been shown up to be frauds.

The believers in Colossae were in danger of being impressed by people who appeared wise and knowledgeable, and who claimed to know how to attain a deeper spirituality than the Colossian Christians. Paul wants to protect the Colossians from being tempted away from the gospel by these people. As we have seen, he reminds them of the glorious gospel they have received, the supremacy of Jesus, and his sufficiency to supply all their spiritual needs.

Verses 6 and 7 of chapter 2 summarise Paul’s teaching in the rest of the letter. Those who have received Jesus Christ as Lord must learn to live under his Lordship. We have been saved through Christ’s death, and given life in him. We must now continue to live out our new life in him.

Firstly, Paul reminds his readers that they—and we—have received Christ Jesus as Lord. Receiving Christ is more than simply accepting him. It means receiving the teaching about him—the “true message of the gospel that has come to you” (Colossians 1:5-6). It means acknowledging him as the one who fulfils all the prophecies and promises of the Old Testament; agreeing that he is the only way of salvation; submitting to him as Lord and King—the ultimate authority over our lives. If we want to stay spiritually safe, if we don’t want to be swayed by false teaching or seduced by sin, we must continue in the same way we were saved—in Christ.

What does this mean? Paul tells us in verse 7.

We must remain rooted in Christ

Like a plant whose roots are embedded in good, rich soil, so our roots must be embedded in the good soil of Christ himself. Only then will we grow and mature. Only then will we be secure. Jesus told his disciples, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15: 5). As the life of the vine flows into its branches, so the life of Christ flows into those who are in him. The deeper our roots in Christ, the more fruitful our lives will be.

We must be built up in Christ

Paul switches metaphors from a plant to a building. He’s making the point that being rooted—or planted—in Christ is not enough; the Christian life is about growing up in him. God’s people are being built, together, to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit (Ephesians 2: 22). Our foundation is Christ—we are rooted in him. And our lives must be spent becoming a building worthy of such a great foundation. We don’t do this on our own, but together with our new family.

We must be strengthened in the faith

The Colossian believers may have been tempted to move on—or graduate—from the gospel they had received into a more mystical faith. But Paul wants them to remember what they have been taught. For the Christian, growing up doesn’t mean moving on. It means becoming more secure and confident in the gospel of Jesus Christ. We must not “move from the hope held out in the gospel” (Colossians 1:23), but continue in it, “as you were taught.” This doesn’t mean just increasing in our knowledge of Christ; it means growing in trust and dependence on him. It means growing in our love for him.

We must be overflowing with thankfulness

Gratitude is a key weapon in our war against wandering. And gratitude is also a mark of our spiritual health. Like a spiritual thermometer, it indicates how healthy we are. A lack of gratitude reflects a heart that has forgotten the grace of Christ and the privilege of being “in him.” When we forget who he is and what it means to be in him, we are vulnerable to being pulled away from him. But when we treasure him as our King, and live in joyful submission to his rule, we will not be tempted to exchange the delight of being in him for lesser glory.

Jesus is a perfect Saviour. He has done everything necessary to atone for every sin. Just as we have received him as Lord, we must continue “in him.”

(This article was first published at Servants of Grace)

Watch out for dogs!

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“Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh” Philippians 3:2-3

False teaching steals joy because it pulls us away from Christ—the source of true joy. The believers in Philippi are beginning to experience this. False teachers are adding to the gospel by saying that the Gentile converts must be circumcised if they are to be included in the people of God. They are putting these believers under the old covenant—with its rules and regulations that no one could keep fully.

Under the old covenant, circumcision was an important ritual for the nation of Israel. It distinguished them from the other nations as God’s special, chosen people—along with their dietary restrictions and cleansing routines. But Christ’s death fulfilled the meaning and purpose of circumcision (Colossians 2:11-12). God’s people are no longer identified by their own efforts to keep the law, but by their union with Christ—the one who fulfilled it perfectly. They are free from the anxiety of wondering whether their obedience—or performance—is sufficient. They can rejoice in the certain knowledge that Christ has accomplished all that is necessary to secure salvation.

Paul warns the Philippians about the false teachers who threaten this joy—they are dangerous. He calls them dogs, evil doers and mutilators of the flesh. Like wild dogs that prowl around devouring the vulnerable and spreading disease, these teachers rob believers of joy by spreading a false gospel of “Salvation through Christ—plus human effort.”

We are no less vulnerable to this kind of false gospel than the believers in Philippi. We may be influenced by people who insist that baptism or communion or church membership are necessary for salvation. Or we may strive to earn God’s favour or approval by our good works or “spiritual disciplines.” Bible study, prayer, fasting, sacrificial giving, or serving can become ways to impress God or make amends for sin—rather than ways of enjoying intimacy with him.

Like the Philippians, we must be on our guard against a false gospel of Jesus-plus. Like them, we must rejoice in the transforming work of the gospel.

“For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh.”

Circumcision symbolised a cutting away of the sinful heart and a setting apart from the world to serve God. This is what believers in Jesus have experienced inwardly—our hearts have been circumcised by the Spirit (Romans 2:29). We have been set apart to serve God by his Spirit. Only those whose hearts are circumcised can truly worship. Only they can glory in Christ—only they can joyfully boast in who he is and what he has done.

Paul wants the Philippians—and us—to resist the temptation to rely on anything other than Christ for salvation. We put no confidence in human activity or human ability; we rely solely on him. The Spirit enables us to live in joyful dependence on him and with joyful confidence in him. This is what will distinguish us as God’s set-apart people.

(This article was first published at Servants of Grace)

Choosing joy

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Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. (Philippians 3:1)

I choose joy

My friend spoke these words through tears as she relayed the story of her husband leaving her—and their 3 children—for another woman. It sounded like an implausible choice given her circumstances, but my friend knew what the Apostle Paul also knew: the source of true joy is Christ.

Rejoice in the Lord!

It’s not a helpful suggestion but a command. Paul is not telling the Philippian believers that they can rejoice if they feel like it. He’s saying they must rejoice—whether they feel like it or not. And we must rejoice too. But what does this mean? What will it look like to “rejoice in the Lord?”

Think about some of the things that cause you to rejoice. Maybe your sports team winning a match or your political party winning an election. A family member’s academic achievements or your own successes and accomplishments. Encouragements in your church ministries or stories of people becoming followers of Jesus. All of these things—and many more—give us reason to rejoice. But, because so many of these things are temporary and changeable, the joy we derive from them is inconsistent—it ebbs and flows like an ocean tide.

Joy that endures is found in Christ alone. He is the source of true and lasting joy. Unlike our ever-changing circumstances, he is unchangeable, unshakable and unfailing. This is why Paul commands the Philippian believers—and us—to rejoice in him.

We rejoice in who Christ is and what he has done for us. We rejoice in his love, his compassion, his grace, his presence with us by his Spirit. We rejoice in his perfect life and death on our behalf, his resurrection and triumph over death, his ascension to the right hand of the Father, his eternal rule and reign. We rejoice that he intercedes in heaven on our behalf, that he is coming again to judge the world in righteousness, and that we will live and reign with him for eternity in the New Creation.

All Christ is and all he has done on our behalf should thrill our hearts so that they overflow with joy in him. He is worthy of the unending delight of our souls. What’s amazing is that, as we rejoice in the Lord, he also delights in us! (Zephaniah 3:17)

So we rejoice in the Lord because he is worthy of our rejoicing. But Paul gives the Philippians another reason to keep rejoicing in the Lord—he says it is a safeguard for them. Why do followers of Jesus need a safeguard?

The believers in Philippi were under attack from false teachers who were adding to the gospel—we’ll see in the next few verses how their false teaching might lead the Philippians astray if they do not guard themselves from it. We are just as vulnerable as the Philippians. We are easily distracted from the gospel by the dazzling attractions of the world. Our hearts are divided—between God’s glory and our own. Our idols of comfort, status, respectability and power pull us away from living solely for Christ and his Kingdom. Like the Philippians, we are in danger of falling away from grace—and experiencing the suffering that ensues. So we need a safeguard.

Paul says our safeguard is to rejoice in the Lord. This is something we must actively do—not something that will just happen to us. Christ is the source of joy, but we must direct our hearts and our minds to experience his joy. This is what my friend understood, even in her suffering—to rejoice in the Lord is an act of will. It is to declare our steadfast hope in him, our humble trust in his sovereignty, and our unwavering confidence in his goodness—regardless of our circumstances. It is to choose the deep, rich, secure, infinite joy offered to us in Christ over the fickle and fading promises of this world.

This doesn’t mean that life will always be full of laughter and lightness. One of the great paradoxes of the Christian life is that great sorrow and deep joy can co-exist. The presence of joy does not mean the absence of tears. But, even through tears, we rejoice in the one who will, one day, wipe every tear away. We rejoice that we are eternally united to the Triune God, and that he is working things out for our good and his glory.

(This article was first published at Servants of Grace)

Words of hope for worried parents

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Back to school can be a worrying time for parents – especially for those sending Christian children into secular schools. It’s natural to be nervous about what they will be taught, how they will be treated, and whether they will stand firm as followers of Jesus. If you’re feeling anxious about sending your kids back to school – or to school for the first time – here are a few of Jesus’ words to encourage you as you pray for them:

‘All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.’  John 6:37-39

‘I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.’  John 10:14-16

‘My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.’  John 10:27-30

‘Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him.’  John 17:1-2

‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’  Matthew 28:18-20

‘Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.’  Revelation 22:12-13 

 

Spiritual disciplines are for others

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I’ve always been part of the reformed evangelical church. Most of my Christian experience has been in fairly conservative spaces. I’m grateful for those who taught and modelled before me a right reverence of God – an understanding of his holiness, and a sense of awe in relating to him. I’m also grateful for teachers who encouraged me to learn the spiritual disciplines of bible-reading, prayer, meditation, giving, fasting, etc. Practised regularly and sincerely, these disciplines enhance spiritual growth and foster greater intimacy with Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But what if their purpose is not only, or even primarily, to enhance relationship between us and God? What if their aim is broader? What if the disciplines are designed to enhance our horizontal relationships with others, as well as deepen our vertical relationship with God?

In Practices of Love, Kyle David Bennett turns the disciplines sideways. He shows how our everyday practices of feasting and fasting, speaking and listening, working and resting, owning and giving can be expressions of love towards – and for the benefit of – our neighbours. It’s easy to focus on the first great commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength,” and to ignore the second great commandment, “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Kyle Bennett argues that the spiritual disciplines are how we learn to obey both.

God loves our neighbours. If we love God, we will love what he loves too. The disciplines can help us. Practised frequently and thoughtfully, the disciplines correct the harmful ways we do many of our mundane, daily activities. We are often blind to the ways in which we oppress, neglect and ignore our neighbour – through our owning, our consuming, our working, our resting, and our socialising. I confess I have been blind to the ways in which I unintentionally mistreat my neighbours – at church, in my community, even within my own home – through selfish daily living. The disciplines reorient us so we learn to live life outward.

‘We can either lift ourselves up with our daily deeds, or we can love our neighbour through them. We can either do them selfishly, or we can do them sacrificially. We can either help others with these activities, or we can harm them through ignorant, negligent, or oppressive ways of doing them. We can either positively impact our shared world with our neighbour, or we can negatively impact it. We can either do these things in ways that benefit us, or we can intentionally, strategically, and creatively do them in ways that are advantageous to our neighbour.’

Practices of Love has shown me how spiritual disciplines can benefit those around me as well as myself – how they can be expressions of love towards those God has placed in my life, as well as to God himself. My times of solitude and reflection are not only for my benefit. Their purpose is not only to orient my heart towards God and to hear from him – to give me a spiritual boost or pick-up. They should also benefit my neighbour as I reflect on my words, actions and attitudes towards others, as I consider how my presence and absence, my engagement and withdrawal impact our shared life together. As an introvert, it’s a challenge for me to remember that my solitude must be limited and purposeful – that it should equip me to live better in community.

My mind, my stomach, my hands, my feet, my tongue must be disciplined for the purpose of loving God by loving my neighbour, to bring life and light into the shared spaces I inhabit, to pursue justice, to work towards the common good of society. The disciplines show the way to live out this vision carefully and consistently.

‘The Christian life is a consistent and integrated life. It is one in which piety is inseparable from public justice, spirituality is inseparable from ethics, devotion is inseparable from deeds, worship is inseparable from fellowship, and evangelism is inseparable from discipleship.’

I usually read books pretty quickly but this one has taken some time to digest. Each chapter has rebuked and encouraged me in equal measure. Each one has challenged me to consider the everyday moments of life, and how they can be lived with and for my neighbour. Each one has given me a hopeful vision – renewal of the mundane moments for the glory of God and the benefit of his creatures. Viewed sideways, the spiritual disciplines are tools for God’s “agents of repair” – those on mission to rebuild the ancient ruins and raise up the age-old foundations (Isaiah 58:12). I want to practise them for the good of my neighbours.