The January Book Talk Where Everyone Begins Again

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:

  1. Embrace the unworthiness of the world as a foundation for hope;
  2. 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.

On the Third Thursday of every month, I send biblical encouragement and newsy insights to newsletter subscribers. You can sign up using the handy (and only slightly annoying) pop-up form or simply click here to subscribe.

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I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees. If you should decide to purchase any of the books I’ve shared, simply click on the image, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

58 thoughts on “The January Book Talk Where Everyone Begins Again”

  1. Sometimes those old classics are still the best (I suppose that’s the reason why they’ve endured!). I haven’t heard of The Expulsive Power of a New Affection but the title itself gave away some age. 🙂 Sounds like a good one. I would do well to read more poetry too. And I’m certain Jody’s book is a great one.


  2. Michelle,
    Thanks so much for visiting!! I love red too and I really so enjoy using it in my Kitchen!! Stay safe, healthy and happy!!


  3. Your words are always pointing me on a clear path of godly thinking and living. The opening of this about what we say fits well with what I wrote about today about “right words.” The books you highlight are added to my reading list. One of them (This Hallelujah Banquet) was a Christmas gift from my husband that only arrived (finally) yesterday and I look forward to jumping into it soon. I finally finished Run with the Horses by Peterson that I took a long time to read because he gives so much to savor and reflect upon. I felt sad to finish the last page.

    I just finished reading the historical novel Lady Clementine as I tend to always have a good novel going in the mix of my reading if I can find one. I am reading Anne Lamott’s book, Small Victories: Spotting Improbably Moments of Grace, and just started Peterson’s Reversed Thunder which should go nicely with The Hallelujah Banquet as a follow-up.


  4. As always, Michele, you and your words so graciously challenge and offer encouragement…help finding excellent resources…especially from the word.

    As i read the first part of this post, Florence Littauer’s book, Silver Boxes, sprung to mind. I would that my insight into when to speak and when to ‘zip my lip’ would be clear and that i would only follow His leading. Could my words be placed into a ‘Silver Box’ (a gift from Him or His word) or will they hurt; damage; and not be of Him.

    Thinking that i should revisit Littauer’s work. Thank you. God’s peace and grace in abundance, dear sister.


  5. Amen Michele, Your words are always so insightful and encouraging. Geeze, I love your reviews. I’m going to have to look up some of these books ( and add to my growing stack of books to be read shelf).
    😉Blessings to you.
    Visiting you today from Let’s Have Coffee.


  6. I wrote a blog post a few years ago about “doing” rather than just “don’ting”–sometimes when we focus on not doing a thing, it’s still in the forefront of our minds. But if we pursue good rather than just avoiding evil, we have the positive to focus on. That sounds something like Chalmer’s promise, or maybe a subset application. Ultimately if we grow in our love for Christ, the lesser things will fall away. I’ll have to look into that book.

    Poetry can be hit or miss for me. I guess, like anything else, certain personalities or ways of expression will resonate with one but not so much with another. But when poetry hits that sweet spot of intersecting truth, beauty, and relatability, there’s nothing like it.


  7. I’m going to check out that 52 week devotional!
    Yep… I’m really working on & praying for God to help me stay CALM when speaking about things that anger me. I tend to not listen & want to snap back fast. I need to learn to keep a calm, consistent voice & think clearly before speaking. It’s my goal for 2021… its going to be ONLY God that does this through me!


  8. I am so impressed that your resolve for 2021 was to read even MORE books. I already consider you a prodigious reader. I had not heard of the Eugene Patterson book. I must put that one on my list. And thank you for the good reminder about the judicious use of words. There have been many I wished I could take back.


  9. Thank you for these book recommendations to explore, Michele. */ I think we can all learn to be more gracious these days as I have been disappointed by much of the discord and hate I see on social media. I don’t think that is helping the world become a better place, that’s for sure! We need more prayer and tolerance.
    I have to say that the Nubble Lighthouse in your first photo is among my favorite lighthouses and I was so happy to have visited it once.


  10. I did set a reading goal this year. Last year I managed to read 116 books and I’d love to round that up to an even 120 this year but I’m not sure that will actually happen as I already feel behind! LOL.


  11. I came across this quote years ago and it has helped me keep my mouth closed more than a few times (although there is still room for improvement!): “To air one’s views gratuitously is to imply that the demand for them is brisk”–William Strunk, Jr. (Ouch!) As for your book recommendations: so many worthy titles! MUST purchase Jody’s poems, am intrigued by Deb’s devo journal as well as Eugene Peterson’s fresh viewpoint on Revelation. Adding them to my list. Thank you, Michele!


  12. Thanks for the book recommendations. I have added some new titles to my “want to read” list.

    My goal is to read 3 books a week (156 books in 2021).

    If you need more recommendations, I have an entire category dedicated to book reviews on my blog.

    Barb -IMM #9


  13. I love this: The secret to growing old gracefully is to remember that I need not share my opinion on every topic nor at every opportunity. I think I´ll pin that on my bulletin board. #SeniSal


  14. Oh my, we need this, “forget “the winter, the drought, the fire, and the hunger” (37), and then allow poetry and grace to do their work in our hearts.” Also love the part about fighting sin with a stronger affection for Jesus. We can’t just stop one thing and not start something different. We need to replace one with another.


    1. That idea from Chalmers has been nudging me for so long, I finally had to read the book, and I’m glad I did. We are so prone to swap one sin for another and then think we are “managing” well.


  15. I’ve decided that 2021 is the year that I just smile politely and just walk away from comments and people who upset me, there is little point wasting my time on them.
    Thanks for linking up with #pocolo and hope to see you back tomorrow


  16. Thank you for sharing at #OverTheMoon. Pinned and shared. Have a lovely week. I hope to see you at next week’s party too! Please stay safe and healthy. Come party with us at Over The Moon! Catapult your content Over The Moon! @marilyn_lesniak @EclecticRedBarn


  17. I had a bit of a giggle with your blab-o-metre sentence – love it. We’ve been taking things very much one day and moment at a time this January, rather than setting any particular goals. That being said, this week I’ve promised to indulge myself with more reading time. There’s nothing like the gift of a written word. Thank you for joining us for #MischiefAndMemories

    Liked by 1 person

  18. As I sat down to write some goals for this year, I found my goals for 2020 and had done none of them! I think last year showed the world not to be too hard on yourself but reading is something that will always be there for us! Thanks for linking up with #MischiefAndMemories


  19. Michele, what a wonderful reminder to all of us to mind our words a little bit more. I think we often lose sight of how much power our words carry, good or bad. I try to keep my words focused on the good things as I have always adhered to the idea that if you can’t say something nice, it is usually best to keep quiet. I have been trying to read more these past few months. I just finished reading two wonderful books about Norwegian pioneers who settled in the Dakota territory in the mid to late 1800’s. Just reading about pioneer life during that time gave me such beautiful perspective to be grateful for all of the conveniences we have today even in the midst of a global pandemic. Thanks for linking with me!



  20. Michele, I am thrilled to see TWO books of poetry mentioned here–mine as well as Laura’s. Isn’t it spectacular? (I have an interview coming up with her in a journal this year.)
    Anyway, thank you for including my book in your “Book Talk” round up and introducing Hearts on Pilgrimage-Poems & Prayers to your readers.


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