January has required of all of us a degree of restraint that’s probably healthy, but may be hard to muster in the moment. A wise woman once said that the secret to growing old gracefully is to remember that I need not share my opinion on every topic nor at every opportunity.
Oh, how I want to be gracious!
Have you started the new year with some good intentions around your use of words?Whether you enter every room mouth-first or just struggle with an angry outburst from time to time;
Whether you habitually turn the prayer chain into a gossip group or just lapse occasionally into insecurity-fed flattery;
Wherever you fall on the sliding continuum of the blab-o-meter, you’ve undoubtedly wished, at some point in your life, that you could un-say something. In the digital age, our fingers can do the talking for us, making it even more urgent that we recognize when it’s time to be quiet.
The challenge of establishing any spiritual discipline is two-fold. There is the old behavior which needs to be cast off, and there is the new Christ-exalting behavior which, by the Spirit, we are empowered to put on (More on that later!). In maintaining a mouth that glorifies God, not only must we be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” We must also be quick to use “gracious words [which] are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”
Whatever new habits you are trusting God to establish in 2021, reading is a good one and books are almost always a safe topic of conversation, so I’ll get the ball rolling with my January reviews.
I’d love to hear about your winter reads! What do you recommend? Do you set reading goals at the beginning of the year? If you’ve written a blog post about your reading life, be sure to drop a link in the comments.
The Expulsive Power of a New Affection
My resolve to read more old books in 2021 perfectly coincided with Crossway’s decision to publish The Expulsive Power of a New Affection by Thomas Chalmers as part of its Short Classics series. A Scottish pastor, Chalmers based his classic sermon on I John 2:15:
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”
He posed the question, “How shall the human heart be freed from its love for the world?” and then suggested two possible routes to freedom:
- Embrace the unworthiness of the world as a foundation for hope;
- Awaken a stronger affection for God to “expel” the former affection.
Chalmers argued for #2 based on “the constitution of our natures,” or the way the human heart works: “Such is the grasping tendency of the human heart, that it must have a something to lay hold of–and which, if wrested away without the substitution of another something in its place, would leave a void and a vacancy as painful to the mind as hunger is to the natural system.”
Join me, then, in pondering a better strategy in the fight against sin than you may have employed in the past. Instead of battling one sin with another (gluttony with vanity; sloth with pride), let’s ask God for a stronger affection, a greater desire to know and to love God, to experience the blessings of obedience as our greatest treasure and highest goal.
Hearts on Pilgrimage
Poets have a way of seeing the world, and my favorites find a poem hiding behind every green tree and through every open door. They continually encounter the transcendent in the ordinary and according to Dorothy Sayers, “can’t go to bed without making a song about it.” Thanks be to God for that persistent song-making, especially when it shows up in wonders like Jody Collins’s Hearts on Pilgrimage: Poems & Prayers.
Organized around the seasons of the year, the collection offers a generous five dozen poems in four scenes plus a curtain call. When Jody asks, “What can you hear in a winter sky?” my heart responds by listening hard into the “sound of sunlight” with its “accompanying chill” that today has superseded even the woodstove’s best efforts. (30)
Collins’s poetry bears witness to a generative life off the page, a mind invested in pondering “the possibility of God placing each speck of us just so,” (46) and a face poised for “the sloppy kiss of a two-year-old.” And since “thanks is always the correct reply,” (53) I’ll say it now:
Thank you, Jody!
52-Week Devotional Journal for Women
One of my dearest hopes in sharing books and thoughts from my own life here at Living our Days is that women would become Christ-followers and students of God’s Word. I know Deb Wolf shares in this goal, and she has created a resource rooted in her own learning process, a 52-Week Devotional Journal for Women drawn from her own sure and steady journey of surrender to God.
With 52 devotionals, each accompanied by four journal prompts, Deb invites readers into an exploration of Scripture and prayer over the course of a life-altering year. Readings from both the Old and New Testaments encourage women to turn pages and search beyond the focus verse, to connect the dots between God’s good promises and the miraculous way he shows up in their own lives. At the end of a year of reflecting and connecting with God, this journal will serve as a rich record of God at work–a firm foundation for a growing faith!
This Hallelujah Banquet
When Eugene Peterson was promoted to heaven in 2018, I mourned the loss of his voice and his writerly influence. His thinking has been formative in my understanding of the Bible, so I was thrilled to discover Waterbrook’s posthumous release of This Hallelujah Banquet: How the End of What We Were Reveals Who We Can Be based on a sermon series Peterson preached at his church in Maryland in 1984. As with all his books based on Scripture, it is best read with an open Bible nearby and a pen for note taking.
Peterson encourages a reading of Revelation less focused on charts, predictions, and future events and more attentive to the revelation of these events’ “inner meaning.” The God who “makes all things new” (21:5) will be present in the events described in Revelation’s headlines as he is present today, and as he longed to be fully present in the hearts and minds of the seven churches addressed in John’s letters.
For the believer, the Hallelujah Banquet at the end of all things can be a continuation of the boisterous praise begun today. The Revelation is God’s great invitation to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. It is God’s great invitation to you and me as well, and it was no surprise to find that Peterson’s exploration of Revelation’s major themes beautifully amplifies the sound of it.
Litany of Flights
Winner of Paraclete Press’s 2020 poetry prize, Laura Reece Hogan offers in Litany of Flights a call to prayer and a call to “winged movement, steady, forward.” (3) My joyful response to her writing felt connected to her descriptions of nature, the beauty of common grace, and the sacrament of the seasons. At the beginning of a new year, Hogan invites readers to a realignment with mercy in which we forget “the winter, the drought, the fire, and the hunger” (37), and then allow poetry and grace to do their work in our hearts.
It’s been a beautiful month of reading, and I look forward to talking books with you!
Praying for you in 2021,
The challenge of establishing any spiritual discipline is two-fold. There is the old behavior which needs to be cast off, and there is the new Christ-exalting behavior which, by the Spirit, we are empowered to put on.Tweet
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