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Tim Challies

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christian living

9 years 1 month ago
Growing up Christian is not as easy a task as one might think. There are dangers and temptations unique to growing up within a Christian family and within the church and sadly these difficulties are often downplayed or misunderstood by those who have been converted later in life. Growing Up Christian seeks examine these issues, which, as a person who grew up in a Christian home (ie a “church kid”), are near and dear to my heart. The book is targetted primarily at church kids, though their parents would do well to read the book with them. The author, Karl Graustein, is a church kid himself and is now a principal at a Christian school, so is intimately aware of the issues at stake.

The book is divided into three sections. The first lays out the blessings and the dangers of growing up in a Christian family. “Growing up in a Christian home is a wonderful privilege. We have been given so much: godly parents, training in the Word of God, friends from Christian homes, support from a Christian church community, and most importantly an opportunity to know God at a young age. Throughout our lives, we are repeatedly taught about the love of God, his plan of salvation, ways to recognize and resist sin, and living for the glory of God” (page 21). He goes on to recount other benefits of being raised in a Christian environment, pointing out that while we are given so much we are also protected from so many dangers.

“Church kids face some unique challenges…Though surrounded by the things of God, we can still be drawn to sin and live double lives. We can easily assume that we are saved even if we are not; or we may be driven by a desire to be popular more than a desire to live according to biblical values. While it is a great blessing to grow up in a Christian environment, if we are not careful we can make some dangerous assumptions about ourselves, which have serious consequences” (page 22).

I can testify from my life that I have seen both the privilege and the danger of growing up in a Christian home. I am ever thankful to God that He blessed me with discerning parents who, though they did not understand from their own experience what it is like to be a church kid, were unrelenting in sharing the gospel with us. Their efforts have been blessed as all five of their children know and serve the Lord. But as often as I have seen this type of blessing, I have seen the opposite, where the children of Christians fall away or live lukewarm at best, always assuming but never knowing that they are saved.

The second section teaches kids how to think biblically. Graustein speaks of the importance of cultivating humility, of growing in gratefulness, of loving Scripture and of trusting God. He also covers what I might consider the most important topic in the book: developing personal biblical convictions. On the front cover of the book are the words, “Have you taken ownership of your relationship with God?” Just this weekend I was discussing this topic with my friend Doug and I suggested that this is exactly what the children of Christians need to do. For many years we coast along under the umbrella of our parents’ faith. We do what they do and say what they say simply because that is what we have been taught. But there comes a time of crisis and decision. This is a time I remember from my own life. I do not know whether this is the moment I became a Christian or whether that was much earlier, but I do clearly remember the day that God allowed me to make my parents’ faith my own. It was a day of transformation in my life. It is a day that I suspect all church kids have at some point.

The final section deals with living biblically and the author discusses battling sin, the spiritual disciplines and stewardship of God-given talents. Much of this section draws upon and is consistent with the excellent teaching ministry of Don Whitney and his book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. Other clear influences on the author through this section and others are J.C. Ryle, John Piper, Jerry Bridges and C.J. Mahaney. Graustein is clearly a man who has spent much time in the Word and much time learning from sound teachers.

All-in-all this is a fantastic book and one which I wish I had been able to read while I was a teenager still wrestling with my faith. To echo the endorsement of Tedd Tripp, “Karl Graustein gets it! He understands the pitfalls and dangers that track with the privilege of growing up in a Christian home. He addresses all the standard temptations…This book has a look and feel that young people will appreciate.” Growing Up Christian is a book I would unhesitatingly recommend to any and all Christian parents and teens.

This is a bit unusual, but I’d like to make special mention of the person who designed the cover for this book. It is very well done and I suspect this book will sell quite a few copies to those who judge a book by its cover. Well done! If there are awards for this type of thing I hope you receive consideration.

  Evaluation Support
Theology/Accuracy
Strong, consistent, challenging, Bible-based theology throughout.
Readability
Should make for enjoyable reading for both parents and teens.
Uniqueness
I know of nothing like it, save a few writings from J.C. Ryle.
Importance
A critically-important topic for the children of Christian parents.
  Overall
This is a very good book that I recommend without hesitation.
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9 years 2 months ago
The subtitle to Invitation to Solitude and Silence by Ruth Haley Barton is “Experiencing God’s Transforming Presence.” Had I been the editor, I might have suggested something a little more appropriate. Perhaps “A Textbook in Eisogesis” or “Constructing Complex Theology From Non-Supporting Scriptures.” And really this book is an adventure in poor use of Scripture and unsupported statements.

Let me say from the beginning that I believe silence is important. I believe solitude is important. Both are important parts of a healthy spiritual walk. I also believe in the importance of meditation, albiet meditation in a Puritan sense rather than an Eastern sense of the word. While these are good and necessary parts of a healthy spirituality, they are also dangerous if misused, and particularly dangerous if used in ways not only unsupported, but forbidden by Scripture.

In Invitation to Solitude and Silence, Ruth Haley Barton seeks to lead the reader to prayer beyond words. “Much of our faith and practice is about words - preaching, teaching, talking with others. Yet all of these words are not enough to take us into the real presence of God where we can hear his voice. This book is an invitation to you to meet God deeply and fully outside the demands and noise of daily life” (from the back cover). This objection to vocalizing prayer is an undercurrent running throughout the book.

The reader will doubtless not be surprised to learn that the primary Bible passage used to support Barton’s theology of silent prayer is 1 Kings 19, where Elijah hears God’s still small voice or a small sound or thin silence or a low whisper, depending on the translation. From this single passage, Barton draws out a complex theology of silent prayer wherein we will only fully experience God if we engage in this practice.

According to Barton there are two primary reasons to enter into the silence. The first is to commune with God. She indicates that while words are useful, we sometimes use them too often and we can use them to express everything but matters of the heart. She encourages the reader to distinguish between heart and mind and to reduce the number of words in prayer while focusing instead on just being in prayer. The second reason to engage in silent prayer is to listen to God and receive guidance from Him.

When discussing guidance Barton writes, “The fact that we can’t see God makes it easy to slip into a pattern of doing all the talking ourselves. Is it too much to expect that God might speak back to us, not only with expressions of love but with guidance that is trustworthy and wise? Is it grandiose to believe God might actually interact with me in such a person and timely way? And if I do hear something, how do I know it is God’s voice and not just my own thoughts masquerading as something more spiritual?” (page 118). The answer, of course, is that we do expect God to speak to us and to do so in a deeply personal way. Yet Scripture does not tell us that we should expect the type of personal revelation this book advocates. God speaks to use as the Holy Spirit applies Scripture to our hearts. This may be unsatisfying for people who desire to experience God in their way, in their time and on their terms, but this is what the Bible clearly teaches.

There is great danger in allowing supposed personal communication from God to become normative. For example, Barton tells about God calling her to vocational, ordained ministry through her times of silence. Yet the Bible teaches with utmost clarity that women are never called to this type of ministry. She allows her personal experience to supercede the clear teaching of Scripture.

While the book focuses primarily on a theology of silent prayer, each chapter concludes with a “Practice” section in which Barton practically applies what has been taught. Early in the book she suggests finding a sacred space and perhaps an icon or object to help focus on God. Here is an excerpt from a later chapter. “Take a few moments to allow your body to settle into a comfortable yet alert position. Take several deep breaths as a way of entering into the silence and making yourself present to the One who is always present with you…In your time of listening today, ask God to bring to your heart a moment in the last couple of days where you were most grateful…Is there any way God may be guiding you to choose more of what gives you life?”

I was disappointed to see that Barton did not discuss the potential dangers of silent prayer. After all, this type of prayer is practiced in most of the world’s religions. Many Christians believe, and with some justification I think, that entering the silence is the same for Christians as it is for Hindus or Muslims or adherents to any other system of religion. Surely it would be due diligence for Barton to warn that people may encounter forces other than God while in the silence.

It should come as no surprise that I do not recommend this book for any reason. The teaching Scripturally indefensible and potentially very dangerous. The author would have us believe that we can only truly commune with God and receive His clearest guidance if we engage in this practice. Yet she is unable to prove this with Scripture and so we must toss this teaching on the ever-growing heap of unbiblical nonsense masquerading as Christian theology. If you want to learn to pray, turn instead to Bryan Chapell’s Praying Backwards.

9 years 2 months ago
Wicca, and witchcraft in general, have seen a great resurgence in interest over the past few years. There are several factors that have contributed to this, not the least of which is the success of the Harry Potter books and movies. Witchcraft is widely-regarded as “just another religion” - one that is not much different from any other. But what sets Wicca apart from the alternative systems of religion is the attraction it has to young people, and young girls in particular. Teens are turning to witchcraft in droves, proudly adopting a system of religion that they feel allows them great freedom.

In What’s the Deal with Wicca, Steve Russo, who cohosts Focus on the Family’s weekly teen raidio show, Life on the Edge, and who speaks to thousands of teens around the country every year, offers an examination of the beliefs and practices of Wicca. He also presents a biblical perspective on this religion, and any other that rejects the truth of Scripture. While primarily targetted at teens, the book is written in such a way that it will appeal to readers of any age.

On the whole Russo does a satisfactory job of explaining the draw and the dangers of Wicca. He devotes great detail to explaining the beliefs and tools of the craft. There is much to learn if we wish to understand what makes this religion such a popular alternative to Christianity, especially among teens who have been previously exposed to the Bible. Russo shows that at its heart Wicca is a selfish religion where a person can worship in whatever way makes him feel best. “When you step back and look at the big picture, you realize that the power Wicca offers is very self-centered, self-reliant and limited” (page 61). He goes on to provide pointers on how to tell if a person is involved in Wicca and suggests ways of respectfully challenging their beliefs.

The downside to the book is that it really could have used some better editing. It is always a temptation for an author to cram as much detail as he can into a book, but in many cases it is best to focus only areas of particular importance. At times I felt that What’s the Deal with Wicca became bogged down in detail and I found myself wondering if I was learning what was most important, or if I was learning minor, unimportant details. There were also times where the book seemed to lack direction and focus.

Those small complaints aside, this is a valuable book and one that is an appropriate title to give to a teenager who may be seeking spiritual fulfillment outside of Scripture.

  Evaluation Support
Theology/Accuracy
Quite strong and biblical throughout.
Readability
Easy to read, though it sometimes wanders.
Uniqueness
It is unique to my collection, at least..
Importance
The type of book parents of teens may want to read.
  Overall
It’s not perfect, but it will equip believers to recognize and deal with Wicca.
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9 years 3 months ago
I have long-since learned that when an actress launches a career in music it is best to avoid her album. Similarly, when a musician tries her hand at acting the results are usually painful. It seems the same is generally true when an author of novels tries his hand at non-fiction. So it was with some trepidation that I opened The Slumber of Christianity, a book written by Ted Dekker, an author known for his heart-pounding thrillers. This represents his first attempt at writing a non-fiction book. Thankfully, it turns out that he is a gifted writer who is able to express himself in either genre.

“It seems that the lives of Christians are pretty much the same as the unchurched. We face the same challenges, the same heartaches. And, just like the rest of the world, most of aren’t happy” (from the back cover). Frustrated with the lack of joy he sees in those who profess Christ, Dekker came to see that many believers have fallen asleep to some basic truths that could forever change their lives; they have lost their hope for heaven. They have lost their obsession for life after death.

“We have here in this life many foretastes of the bliss that waits us, but unless we know what those foretastes are of, they will never satisfy us. Unless we become desperate for the bliss of the next life, we will never enjoy this life” (page 11). Many Christians have opted to live a life of worldly Christianity. “It’s a form of godliness, stripped of the power of hope. In so many teachings and books designed to prod us into successful Christian living, there’s a preoccupation with life on earth rather than the life to come” (page 75). Christians have opted to seek pleasure not in the promises of God for the world to come, but in the foretastes of glory God has provided to us now. No wonder, then, that so many Christians are dissatisfied! They continually wonder if this is all there is even when the Bible is filled with admonitions to look to the life to come. “The fact is, nothing in this life can satisfy unless it is fully bathed in an obsession for eternity. Nothing. Not a purpose-driven life, not a grand adventure, not the love of a dashing prince of the hand of a beautiful maiden…These all will fail our need for unencumbered happiness. We will always be torn and frustrated, no matter how much rejoicing we do this side of death, unless we awaken to a new passion for heaven on earth” (page 11-12).

Having adequately and eloquently described the condition of the church, Dekker turns to a prescription of the cure. Unfortunately, this is where the book loses steam. He suggest three ways of reawakening the heart to heaven: meditation, reading and corporate exercises. Sadly, the mediation he suggests is not the type that was often practiced by the Puritans, who focused their thoughts and hearts on a particular subject, but the type taught by Richard Foster and Henri Nouwen. The sections on reading and corporate exercises were moderately better, but still quite unsatisfying, often backed by sloppy use of Scripture.

So what are we to say about this book? It is an admirable attempt to bring sense to condition that is evident within the church. Why is it that so many Christians speak of a joy that they do not display in their lives? Why do we speak of faith, hope and love, yet show so little hope? Dekker provides much wisdom in explaining how this has happened and in explaining the danger of such a mindset. But when it comes to his solution, I was left unsatisfied, unconvicted by his use of Scripture. As half a book it is wonderful. As a whole book it is somewhat disappointing.

  Evaluation Support
Theology/Accuracy
A strange mixture, but with more good than bad.
 
Readability
More difficult than his fiction, but still easy enough to read.
Uniqueness
Quite a unique take on an oft-diagnosed condition.
Importance
It is helpful to awake Christians to their slumber.
  Overall
Good at describing the condition. Not so good at proposing a cure.
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9 years 3 months ago
Abortion, gay marriage and euthanasia are just three of the issues facing our society at this very moment. As Christians we have strong opinions on each of these issues, believing them to be in direct contradiction with the will of God. So how do we go about discussing such difficult topics in our pluralistic society. The truth is that we often shy away from such discussions rather than risk offending others or appearing intolerant. Yet as Christians it is our responsibility to share what we know to be true. Talking About Good and Bad Without Getting Ugly, written by Paul Chamberlain, director of the Institute of Christian Apologetics and professor at Trinity Western University, offers a solution to this dilemma.

Chamberlain believes that meaningful dialogue on the difficult moral questions is not only a possibility but is a responsibility. It is crucial that Christians engage the culture with this issues for two reasons. First, this allows us to hone our own positions on these issues. It is easy to think we have all the answers, but a good challenge can benefit us by forcing us to think through the deep and difficult issues. Second, this can be our way of contributing to our culture as it struggles with new questions of morality. “My hope is that this book will be something of a map, or should I say an atlas, to help us talk about good and bad without getting ugly; a guide for engaging issues that so often leave us confused and exasperated” (page 13).

Through fictional dialogue, clear examples and strong teaching, Chamberlain leads us toward that goal. He shows how the spirit of relativism that pervades our age has undermined the very moral foundations our nations were built upon. “The wide acceptance of this moral perspective has not only left us with few firm moral principles to guide us through the tough moral questions we face, but it has also produced a generation of people who not only have trouble distinguishing right from wrong but who actually question whether such standards exist at all” (page 28). In short, we have been thrown back to a type of moral stone age.

Chamberlain covers difficult topics such as the nature of truth, tolerance and truth in an age of pluralism, subjective versus objective standards of morality, the foundational truths of relativism and the battle for change. In the final chapter the author holds up William Wilberforce, a crucial role in the abolition of slavery in Britain, as an example of a man who had a profound influence upon his country simply by standing for an absolute standard of morality. He shows how Wilberforce achieved his goal and the moral foundation that kept him strong.

On the whole this was an excellent book and one I can highly recommend. Chamberlain is clearly a gifted teacher and he does justice to his topic. He provides the framework to an apologetic that any Christian can follow to understand the issues and provide a defense. He does so in a short format (126 pages), and with grace and clarity. He uncovers the tough issues and shows how we can discuss them without “getting ugly.”

  Evaluation Support
Theology/Accuracy
There is not a lot of theology, but what is present is solid.
 
Readability
Makes a difficult topic as simple as it can get.
Uniqueness
Unique in the author’s ability to explain the issues.
Importance
Every Christian should read at least one book about this topic.
  Overall
A very good book and one I recommend to any believer.
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9 years 4 months ago
I have had the mixed blessing of reading several of the titles in the LifeChange series. Some have been good, some have been awful. But I guess that is to be expected when the authors represented range from C.J. Mahaney to Pat Robertson; from John Piper to Bill Gothard. Of the titles I have read, none has been better than The Cross Centered Life.

In his book The Discipline of Grace Jerry Bridges wrote, “The gospel is not only the most important message in all of history; it is the only essential message in all of history. Yet we allow thousands of professing Christians to live their entire lives without clearly understanding it and experiencing the joy of living by it” (The Discipline of Grace, page 46). C.J. Mahaney would have us remember that sometimes the most obvious truths are the very ones we need to be reminded of the most. The Cross Centered Life is just such a reminder.

This is a small book, weighing in at a mere 89 pages. But its small stature is no indication of the weighty content inside. Throughout the book Mahaney calls the Christian to look only and always at the cross, and to find there the power to live a life that is pleasing to God. He reminds us of the great truths of the Christian faith: the truths of the objective nature of justification and the ongoing responsibility for our sanctification. He provides practical guidance on living each day so that it is centered on the cross. He tells us to memorize the gospel, to pray it, sing it, to review its power in our lives and to study it, that our understanding may foster greater passion for it.

Mahaney’s love for the cross shines through on each page. His passion is contagious, leading the reader to rejoice in the completed work of the Savior and to depend on His power in every area of life. “Name the area of the Christian life that you want to learn about or that you want to grow in. The Old Testament? The end times? Do you want to grow in holiness or the practice of prayer? To become a better husband, wife, or parent? None of these can be rightly understood apart from God’s grace through Jesus’ death. They, and indeed all topics, should be studied through the lens of the gospel” (page 76).

A book that seems poised, and rightly so, to become a defining point in Mahaney’s ministry, The Cross Centered Life is a wonderful, challenging little book that I am glad to recommend. It will do exactly what Mahaney wanted it to do: help you keep the gospel the main thing.

  Evaluation Support
Theology/Accuracy
Strong, biblical and challenging throughout.
 
Readability
Easy to read and understand.
Uniqueness
Many books call us to the centrality of the cross, though few so adequately.
Importance
This is a book that will benefit every Christian.
  Overall
A wonderful little book that will bless you. Treat yourself or buy it as a gift for someone else.
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9 years 4 months ago
It is a tragic fact that many, and perhaps even the majority of students who proclaim to be Christians when they begin college, no longer make such a claim when they have finished. Four years of college, four years of being away from the presence of parents and church, leads many to abandon the faith they once professed. To combat this ongoing problem, David Wheaton, radio host and one-time tennis professional, has written University of Destruction. This book is targetted squarely at the teenager who is about to depart the comfort and safety of home to set out on his own, beginning with a college education.

To explain how so many young people can fall away during their tenure at college Wheaton differentiates between professors and possessors. Everyone who claims to be a Christian when he begins college is a professor, for he professes faith in Christ. But only a few are possessors, those who actually possess a living and active faith. Clearly it is only those who possess the indwelling Holy Spirit, and are thus possessed by God, who can expect to remain strong through their years of higher education.

Wheaton goes on to introduce what he calls the Pillars of Peril that every student will encounter. They are sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. Sex refers to all forms of sexual deviance and activity outside of God’s divinely ordained plan that sex be restricted to the marriage bed. The author emphasizes abstinence and allows no leeway for any type of sexual activity outside marriage. He also warns of the dangers involved in dating. While he does not directly advocate a courtship model, he does encourage young couples to date under the authority of their parents and to only date people with whom they can foresee a marriage.

Drugs refers not only to the recreational drugs that are all too common at colleges, but also to alcohol. Wheaton encourages students to avoid alcohol altogether, not only because most college students are underage and drinking is thus an offense against the governmental authorities, but because it may represent a poor example to unbelievers. He suggests that students “Commit to a higher standard - don’t drink alcohol…period! Take it out of play; remove it completely from your life…I can think of no positive reasons for drinking alcoholic beverages” (pages 74,75).

The third Pillar of Peril is rock ‘n’ roll, by which the author refers not to music, but to what rock music exemplifies - rebellion against authority.

Having introduced the pillars of peril, Wheaton goes on to help the student put together a game plan for addressing and overcoming each one of them. He concludes with helpful teaching about the importance of choosing friends wisely and choosing the right college.

Throughout the book Wheaton continually refers the student to the Bible, affirming the power and supremacy of the Scriptures. His teaching is consistent with historical Protestantism and will surely reap great benefits in the lives of those who read and heed his teachings. He is deliberate in showing that the greatest sin on campus is not the acts themselves, but the erosion of Christian worldview, without which there is no authority, no right or wrong.

This is a book I would not hesitate to provide as a gift for any student who is planning on attending college. It would be an excellent title for the student to read and study with his parents. I definitely recommend it.

  Evaluation Support
Theology/Accuracy
Strong and biblical throughout.
 
Readability
Appropriate for the target audience - teens!
Uniqueness
Not many books of this nature address issues from so biblical a perspective.
Importance
A great way to prepare students for the peril they will surely face.
  Overall
The book took me by surprise with its solidly biblical doctrine and personal application. Highly recommended.
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9 years 5 months ago
A friend of mine, who is far more qualified than I am to make such judgments, tells me that Philip Ryken is among the top two or three preachers in the world today. That is quite a claim, but one I am more willing to believe as I continue to read Ryken’s work. Until a few weeks ago I knew little about the man, having encountered him only as co-author of a book he wrote with James Boice. But then I read his book City on a Hill and so enjoyed it that I almost immediately turned to He Speaks to me Everywhere.

During evening services at the church he pastors, Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Ryken delivers not only a sermon, but also a short cultural reflection. He Speaks to me Everywhere is a compilation of fifty of these commentaries divided into nine broad categories. Topics range from Muslim dress code, to pressing theological errors of our time; from sports and recreation to the acts of terrorism on September 11th; from the Church Mothers to Intelligent Design. These commentaries show a man who knows the issues that people in our culture, believer and unbeliever alike, struggle to understand.

A pastor who is wholly disconnected from our culture (and I have known many who are) will have less to offer our world than one who heeds the admonition I have heard attributed to many pastors or theologians - that a good pastor keeps the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. I once sat through a sermon where the pastor lamented the state of the church, exclaiming that now “even the church has its own rocks and its own rolls.” It is sad when Christians keep themselves so far removed from the world. A pastor who coaches a team in the community, who keeps up with what is popular in the culture and who knows what people read, watch and listen to, will have a superior ability to build bridges with unbelievers.

But Ryken does not examine culture simply for the sake of keeping up. No, he does so to show that theology is not an obscure, irrelevant pursuit. Instead he shows that the Bible, through which we study God, is relevant to every area of life. Far from being mere personal opinion, these commentaries continually point to the Word of God as the key to understand all that happens in the world around us.

While I do not consider this book required reading, I very much enjoyed it and am happy to recommend it to anyone. It is easy to read and is divided into chapters only two or three pages in length, so can be read in short increments. Ryken provides a great model as to how we, as believers, can be in the world, but never of the world. We can know, understand and appreciate aspects of our culture, while still maintaining strong, biblical standards. And most of all, we can find in the Bible all that is necessary to react to our culture and to stand strong in the faith. This book is practical theology at its strongest.

  Evaluation Support
Theology/Accuracy
Very solid, biblical and relevant throughout.
 
Readability
Both easy and enjoyable to read and understand.
Uniqueness
A unique book with its short cultural meditations.
Importance
A good primer to understand how to practically apply theology to cultural issues.
  Overall
I unreservedly recommend this book.
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9 years 5 months ago
Not too long ago I began to pray that God would teach me to pray. A bit of an odd request, is it not? Obviously I already knew something about prayer if I was praying about it in the first place, but my concern was that despite my prayer habits, which are sometimes good and sometimes bad, I have often felt that I just don’t really understand what prayer is all about. When I pray I’ve often wondered just what the point is. I’ve often wished that I was better at praying and that maybe God would answer a few more of my prayers if I just learned to pray like a Spurgeon or another great preacher of days gone by whose words to God can still stir hearts even today.

I believe God answered my prayer through Bryan Chapell and his book Praying Backwards.

For many Christians, and especially those who were raised in households that emphasized prayer, the words “in Jesus name, amen!” are prayer mainstays. They close prayer and for most of us mean something along the lines of “well that’s done, open your eyes!” or “I really mean it!” Chapell premises his book on taking “in Jesus name” and placing it at the beginning of the prayer (hence “praying backwards”). This was a lesson I learned a short time ago through a wonderful article written by Jim Elliff. He taught the same - that from the beginning of our prayers we need to emphasize that we are praying in the name of Jesus, and not coming before God with a view to our own sufficiency or merit. Even if we do not verbalize the words “in Jesus name” as we begin our prayers, we need to commit never to pray a prayer that we could not pray backwards. In other words, we need to test the motives of our hearts before we begin to pour out our petitions to the Lord and ensure that we are praying prayers that honor Him and not ourselves.

Further topics Chapell writes about are praying in Jesus’ way, praying without doubting, praying in the Spirit (which I have written about recently, praying boldly, praying expectantly, praying persistently, praying in God’s will and praying in God’s wisdom.

Many books are “front-loaded” with the best chapters at the beginning of the book and the weaker ones at the back. This book has two of the strongest, most challenging chapters right near the end. There are two chapters that discuss praying within God’s will. Chapell challenges the reader to praying within two fences, the fence of righteousness and the fence of Christian prudence. Through these chapters he provides a primer not only on praying in God’s will, but also discerning His will. The fence of righteousness ensures that we are only praying for what God does not condemn in His Word. We can discern His will by asking Him for the wisdom and courage to abide by His Word, and can then move forward with confidence as we examine multiple options. If we need additional insight, God may prompt us through His Holy Spirit who is our internal witness. Chapell is careful to guard against allowing subjective feelings to become the standard of right and wrong or good and bad.

The final chapter warns against hindrances to prayer and then concludes with a thought that greatly expanded my understanding of prayer. There are those who see prayer as a dialogue, where we speak to God and He speaks to us. This is not biblical. There are those (like I did) who see prayer as a monologue, where we speak to God and He merely listens. Chapell teaches that prayer is, in reality, a dynamic monologue where it is almost as if God is speaking to Himself. “In this speaking to God, the Spirit of heaven stirs the spirit of the believer to speak to the heavenly Father. The intercession of the Son carries this prayer to the ear and heart of the Father. Then in deference to the voice of his Son with whom the believer is united, the Father lovingly responds. He causes the thoughts and inclinations fo the believer both to engage the divine will (to accomplish God’s purposes) and to inform the human will (to desire and perform God’s purposes). When we speak to God, his words in us create the world before us in which He is working” (page 177). As we work out our salvation, our hearts are transformed by the Spirit to make us more like the Son so we can desire that which is pleasing to the Father. Thus we ask for what God lays on our hearts through the work of His Spirit through the Word.

This book was such a joy to me. It removed a burden I have so often felt in prayer, that I need to say, feel or know just the right things in order to make my prayer effective. But I had never fully understood the Spirit’s role in prayer, that He intercedes in every prayer, taking my limited, far-too-human perspective, and presenting to the Father a prayer that is beyond time and space - a prayer that is formed through the Spirit’s omniscience. No wonder, then, that God can and will answer prayer! I know now that my role is not to feel the need to pray great prayers, but it is to continue to grow in godliness - for even the simplest prayers can be pure and sweet to the Father - that I may more and more resemble the Son to whom I am united.

Before I conclude I wanted to mention a couple of features in this book I found particularly helpful. Each chapter concludes with a Key Thought. Each of these key thoughts summarizes the content of the chapter in just a few sentences. This helps the reader formulate his thoughts and ensure he has retained the important points before moving to the next topic. I found this immeasurably helpful. Following each Key Thought is a prayer which puts into practice the cumulative teachings of the book to that point. This is also a very helpful feature.

Praying Backwards was an answer to prayer. The subtitle to this book is “Transform Your Prayer Life By Beginning In Jesus’ Name.” I truly feel that Chapell’s teaching, drawn directly from the Scriptures, will transform the prayer lives of many of God’s people, and for that I am most thankful. I simply cannot recommend this book enough.

This may just be the best book I’ve read in 2005. I would love to hear some further opinions of it, so if you do read it, please drop me a note to let me know what you thought of it. Incidentally, while the book does not officially release until July, for some reason it is already available at Amazon.

  Evaluation Support
Theology/Accuracy
Strong, consistent, challenging, Bible-based theology.
 
Readability
Easy to read and understand. The Key Thoughts are very helpful.
Uniqueness
There are hundreds of books on prayer, but few so Biblical and convicting.
Importance
Few things are more important than prayer!
  Overall
I unreservedly recommend this to anyone and everyone. Read it, absorb it, live it!
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9 years 5 months ago

One thing that keeps book reviewing an interesting task is the sheer variety of the books I am privileged to read. In the past month I’ve read biographies, theology and devotionals. I’ve read about marketing the church, reclaiming the church and new ways of doing church. And now I’ve read about singlehood, admittedly a topic I know little about. Because my wife and I began dating when I was eighteen and we married when I was twenty-one, I have difficulty relating to the situations of men and women who find themselves single or single again in their late twenties, early thirties and beyond. Because of this I assumed that Single Servings by Lee Warren would have little to offer me. But it turns out that I was wrong.

Single Servings is a devotional book targetted at single adults. Author Lee Warren ministers to singles as a columnist for Christianity Online. He has been published in several other publications and often travels to speaking engagements. He is well-qualified to write a book to challenge and encourage other singles.

I must admit that because my schedule did not allow me to spend 90 days on a single book, I read the entire book in just a couple of days. I felt afterwards like I had eaten 90 single servings in only a couple of sittings. While I enjoyed it, I know I would have been able to digest more of the book if I had been able to read it the way it was intended.

The book is divided into nine parts: Community, Completeness, Emotional Health, Physical Desires, Longing For Love, God’s Timing, No Fair, Expectations and Embracing Life. Each of the 90 chapters follows a typical devotional format. It begins with a verse of the Bible and that is followed by the author’s reflection. There are also five questions that help apply that day’s text.

A chapter that especially caught my attention is one entitled “Our Spiritual Act of Worship,” in which Warren discusses the satisfying of physical desires. He writes, “Why then do we as singles dwell on what we’re missing? God’s people have no rights over their bodies. We have no right to demand that our physical desires get met. God is happy to do so within the context of marriage, and someday he may choose to give us a spouse. But until then we can show our love for him by laying our physical desires on the sacrificial altar as an act of worship. And in so doing, we will experience the joy and contentment that always come from sacrifice” (page 95). Insights like that are as valuable to a married man as to a single man. There are plenty of similarly valuable reflections throughout the text.

There are a couple of areas I might suggest some improvement. I would liked to have seen some serious interaction with Paul’s statement about those who are given the gift of celibacy and how these people differ from those who are single because God has not yet seen fit to bless them with a spouse. The author also writes quite often about hearing God or listening to God’s voice, but without indicating whether this is to be done only through Scripture or whether he refers to hearing God’s voice through subjective impressions and so on. Clarity in this matter would have been useful. An index of Bible passages would also be welcome for later reference. And while I’m putting together a wishlist, the gratuitous mention of Mother Teresa on the last page could also disappear without harming the book’s impact.

I found this to be a valuable book, not only in edifying me, but also in helping me to understand the unique challenges faced by singles. Warren works well within a restrictive format. He is transparent without being exhibitionist, vulnerable without being whiny. He does not back down from presenting a serious challenge to single adults. At the same time, he does not offer them false hope or allow them to bemoan their condition. He rightly sees singlehood as an opportunity for great blessing and unrestricted service to the Lord. Singlehood, while it may be difficult, can and should be a great blessing to the church. And Warren clearly hopes that all singles who read his book will accept this challenge. I am happy to recommend this book.

  Evaluation Support
Theology/Accuracy
The theology is generally strong and the author seems to be quite conservative.
Readability
This book is written to be accessible to just about anyone.
Uniqueness
I honestly don’t really know how many similar books there are.
Importance
I would suggest it is quite important to the target audience.
  Overall
I recommend this book to believers who are single, and especially those who are struggling with being single.
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