What I have been reading: winter

Here is a selection of books that I’ve read over the last few months – including those I saved for the Christmas holidays to enjoy at a relaxed pace.

pete-greig-dirty-glory-highDirty Glory
By Pete Greig

I have read Pete’s previous books, so was eagerly anticipating this one. The follow on from Red Moon Rising, which charted the first five years of the 24-7 Prayer movement, this book picks up where that one left off and comments on the subsequent 15 years.

Pete is extremely honest in this book, in which he shares the struggles, miracles and insights both he and others in the 24-7 team have learned.

This is a real faith-building book, as it is full of inspiring stories – often in the unlikeliest of places. As Pete himself said: ‘There are stories in this book that will fry your noodles!’

Pete talks about how they have remained faithful to their calling through extremely difficult times, such as his wife’s illness and those moments when pioneering was no longer exciting. He also shares some of his insights into what prayer actually is, and how important it is to be real with God.

I learned a great deal from this book, laughed and cried – and bought it for friends for Christmas. It’s definitely a life-changer.

listening-to-godListening to God
By Joyce Huggett

Another book on prayer, this is a classic that I had never actually read before. Pete Greig actually endorsed the 30th anniversary edition that I read – saying that there are many books on talking to God but few about listening to Him. That is so true, and I found Joyce’s disarming honesty about her own journey so helpful and compelling.

Joyce offers much practical advice for anyone who is stirred to journey further with God, to understand how to better listen to Him. This is another book I would recommend to anyone who hasn’t read it before.

becoming-reverend-front-cover-hi-res-imageBecoming Reverend
By Matt Woodcock

This is an amusing, heartfelt, honest – and sometimes irreverent – book charting Matt’s journey from journalist to vicar. Written in diary form, the reader journeys with him, as he expresses all the highs and lows of following his calling – and what that means for him and his family. (Some may be offended by his opinion of ‘vicar school’, as he calls it – just a little warning!)

At the same time as attending theological college, Matt and his wife were struggling with infertility, and the failure of IVF. The book includes the gut-wrenching pain they went through – as well as the soaring celebration when they finally got pregnant and then gave birth to twins (although there were still struggles to come).

Being married to a pastor myself, there were moments that really resonated with me. If you like quirky, comedic but also really honest writing then I would suggest you might like to try reading this book.

barefootBarefoot
By Sharon Garlough Brown

Wow. Just wow. I LOVE Sharon’s writing, having already devoured her previous two titles in the ‘Sensible Shoes’ series that this is a part of. I really feel like I know the four main characters, Mara, Hannah, Charissa and Meg and so was desperate to find out what happened next in their intertwined lives.

Sharon is a spiritual director, and she uses the fictional stories of these four women to share real wisdom and insight into journeying with God through the real ups and downs of life. She tackles issues such as divorce, unfulfilled dreams, dealing with the difficult choices a daughter has made and makes the characters so ‘real’ in their responses. As they each discover spiritual exercises for themselves, Sharon also provides further details for the reader – I have found those really helpful.

It is actually some of the dialogue between characters and God, or with each other, that have affected me most profoundly – I have written out quotes from them in my journal and go back to them time and time again.

If you haven’t already read Sensible Shoes, the first in the series, start there – and then devour the three books just like I have. This is definitely the most spiritually forming and instructing set of fiction books that I have ever read. I am excited (but also saddened as it means the series is coming to an end) that there is one more book to come.

knowing-annaKnowing Anna
By Sarah Meyrick

This is a really interesting and unusual book, which starts just at the moment when the title character dies of cancer. She asks her close family and friends to embark on a pilgrimage after her death, and we pick up the story as they begin walking the Pilgrims’ Way towards Canterbury. Each one has memories and aspects of themselves that they wrestle with, and the various chapters focus on different characters. The priest that is leading them offers up reflections for their moments of silence each day, and the way that the individuals respond to that provides much more depth to the story.

This isn’t the sort of book I read usually, and I was intrigued by it. I found I turned the pages quickly, eager to find out what happened. There were a few elements that I found slightly unnecessary, but that’s just a personal thing (such as the language, and certain parts of people’s stories). But, overall, it was a book that kept my interest, and also made me think.

sinister-student-photoSinister Student
By Kel Richards

This is one that I saved to read during the Christmas holidays, as it seemed like a nice light read. I loved the fact that the main characters included C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. It is a murder mystery – and I discovered that it is one of a whole series of books with C.S. Lewis acting as an aide to the police’s investigations.

I did enjoy this book, but I was actually a little put off by the sub-plot. All the way through, the other main character, Morris, who is an atheist, had an ongoing debate with the others about how gruesome he felt the cross is as a symbol for Christianity. Now I’m all for writing fiction that subtly addresses issues of faith so that it reaches a wide audience, but this was not subtle at all and I found myself annoyed when it interrupted the flow of the story. If a Christian like me is annoyed by it, I cringed to think how those who do not share my beliefs may respond to this aspect of the book. Better than I did I hope! I had intended to check out the rest of the series – but I’m now in two minds about doing so…

alabastarAlabaster
By Chris Aslan

One of the discoveries that I have made, since I started reviewing books and therefore am sent a whole variety of genres, is that I enjoy biblical fiction. When I first started reading this book, I thought it was based in biblical times, and had used biblical stories as inspiration. It took me a while to realise that it was a retelling of an actual biblical story! Having realised, I then wasn’t sure about the back story that has been created. It is very imaginative, but I’m still hesitant. I definitely empathised with the characters, and the book did give a different perspective that challenged my preconceived ideas and made me look at the story afresh. So, in that sense, I guess the book has done its job. It’s certainly beautifully written and I was fully immersed in the story, eager for free moments to read more.

 

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What one thing has God asked you to do today?

If you don’t know the answer to that question then perhaps, like me, you are a little too goal-orientated and focused on achieving rather than slowing down long enough to hear from God.

lady surrounded by technology

Often our priorities are not God’s, our ‘good ideas’ not ones that He’s dropped into our minds. I was really convicted by a daily devotional I read today, in which the author described herself as someone who is too busy to be interrupted. Too set on being productive and ‘useful’, she isn’t able to deal with the stress and emotions of her own life, let alone those of others.

I gulped. And then admitted to myself that she could have been describing me. So often people comment that I must be extremely busy helping others. As a pastor’s wife I do get my fair share of burdened people wanting a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on and someone willing to pray with them. And I consider that a privilege.

The problem is, I have my own ideas about what I should focus my time on, which means that the hours my kids are at school are taken up with work. Of course, the majority of us have to work in order to live, so I don’t feel that that’s a problem. What is, though, is that niggling feeling I sometimes get. The feeling that tries to tell me I don’t need to work quite so much…

To read the rest of this article please click here.

Is He getting through to you?

I have become uncomfortably aware that God is obviously trying to get through to me, and using any means possible because I haven’t been listening too well recently. Everywhere I’ve looked, through conversations I’ve had – and even in my kids’ toddler bible notes – I’ve been hit with the story of Martha and Mary again, in particular of being too busy to hear God. Throw in some comments on keeping a lid on those careless words that can come out of our mouths so easily and that about sums up the simple, but exceedingly important, message He’s been trying to get me to listen to. A horrific morning with my kids (while my husband enjoyed a church men’s breakfast of course!) really brought things to a head – I found myself screaming at my daughter and then breaking down and I realised the way I handle my kids when they push all my buttons is not healthy in the slightest. After we’d worked through it, I’d said my sorry and they’d apologised for the things they’d done wrong we sat down for a late breakfast and yes, that’s when the Martha/Mary story appeared again. I can find it quite ironic now my writing work has picked up, that I’m writing pieces about spiritual disciplines/prioritising so God isn’t pushed out and yet I’m getting less and less time to spend with Him myself. Surely He’s the source of everything – where all my ideas and creativity should be coming from. And yet… trying to keep up with all the news, online debates and deadlines means He often gets pushed to the back, becoming a spectator in my life rather than the driving force behind it. I am fascinated by some of the really huge debates that people have been grappling with recently – and they have certainly made me think (particularly when I don’t think I have a coherent enough answer in my head for why I don’t agree with some of the postings). But I have this little voice nudging at me every so often, making me realise that to be able to say anything of worth both in these debates and in my writing I need to take a step back and mull things over with God Himself. It is crazy that sometimes I feel like I just don’t have the time to do that – but that’s honestly what has gone through my head at times. This week I read Jill Briscoe’s comments about how hard it was when her kids were young and Stuart was travelling so much – and about how bitter she got. And that resonated with me. Not because my husband is away from home – the positive difference it has made to our family life with him becoming a pastor rather than sticking with his record producing career has been incredible. But I can get fed up and, yes, bitter at times when I see others being able to go to conferences at the drop of a hat, being able to network more than I can yet and also when my husband can just focus on one thing and shut everything else out when my office door always has to be open to our kids whatever deadline I am up against. And yet this is my life, my path – the things I believe God has called me to. So why can’t I learn to stop fretting and trying to do it all in my own strength and spend a little time drawing aside with God so that He can give me the grace – and everything else I need – to do it to the best of my ability?