I was torn yesterday morning between believing, as I do, that throughout this last week the Spirit was guiding my preparations to preach from the letter of James, and, at the same time, desiring to say a word about the events of the last weekend within this nation – events centered in Charlottesville, VA – and what that says about our nation, and about other evils that have transpired throughout the world this last week, in places like North Korea, and what that says about this world.
And so, before turning to the letter of James, I briefly addressed these matters.
In our time together last Sunday morning, we spent quite a bit of time examining the book of Job and the book of Ecclesiastes – two of the books of wisdom found in the Old Testament. Not so much the proverbial wisdom of the book of Proverbs – meaning principles for wise living – but rather the contemplative wisdom that tries to respond to the brokenness of this world where things don’t go the way they should.
Tightly related to the contemplative wisdom of Job and Ecclesiastes are the songs of lament found throughout the Bible. Cries to God asking one of two questions: “Why, O Lord,” or, “How long, O Lord?”
Not, “Why have these things happened?” That’s not the question, for it’s evident why: the hearts of men and women are corrupt and full of evil (Gen 6:5) – the evil of pride and hate – hate for anyone who is different from yourself, thus exalting yourself in your own eyes.
Hate-filled pride – this is the root of racism, nationalism, and terrorism. The question is not, “Why have these things happened”, but, “Why, O Lord, have You allowed them to happen,” and, “How long, O Lord, will You allow this evil to continue?”
What answer do we find in the books of Job and Ecclesiastes, or the songs of lament? God does not explain Himself. He instead draws our attention to the ways that He has already proven His wisdom, goodness, and power in the things He has made, and in the works of redemption that He has performed. He asks us to humbly trust Him.
In the letter of James, God offers us wisdom, if we will ask for it in faith. If we are willing to lay aside our complaints against the way that He is ruling this world, He will grant us the wisdom to see His proven character and to trust Him for what we cannot see and do not understand.
It is right for us to lament and to ask ,“Why, O Lord,” and, “How long, O Lord”, granted that we do so in faith, humbly submitting to His purposes for this world and asking for the wisdom to trust Him. Let us do so now.
Father, we cry out to you, with hearts burdened by the brokenness and the evil that surround us.
We yearn to know things that we cannot know – to know why, and how long.
Lord, help us to hold fast to what we do know: We know of your wisdom, your goodness, and your power, for you have proven these in sending your Son to live, to suffer, and to die in our place, so that undeserving sinners such as us may be forgiven our sins – though we deserve death.
Lord, grant us the wisdom to see you so clearly that we are then empowered and inclined to trust you for what we cannot see.
We plead with you, Lord, that the most vile, proud, and hate-filled men and women of this world would cease from their reign of terror and would be given new hearts transformed by your love, as our hearts have been transformed by your love. We pray that you would glorify yourself in their salvation, as you have glorified yourself in our salvation, and that you would spare others from any further suffering at their hands.
Lord, help us to see the ways that we can confront hate-filled pride wherever it may be found, especially if it be found in us.
Lord, by your Spirit, help this family of faith to be a beacon of light in the darkness – a picture and foretaste of the diverse gathering of the saints in heaven where people from every race and culture and nation and language will worship before the throne and before the Lamb forever (Rev 7:9).
In and for the name of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior we pray, Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria,
Since I read One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, I’ve been extra wary of even small threads of mysticism that find their way into the fabric of a book dedicated to teaching others how to live the Christian life. One might suspect, then, that I wouldn’t readily choose to review a book endorsed by her . . . but I did. By the end of this review, I think you’ll understand why I’m glad I read Long Days of Small Things by Catherine McNiel.
Perhaps my main reason for selecting this book to review is the subtitle, “Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline.” For better or for worse, as I stand on the precipice (hopefully) of my own foray into parenting, I wanted to know what she meant by this. The spiritual disciplines of Scripture reading and meditation, prayer, worship, service, fasting . . . these are familiar to me. I wondered how the author would nestle motherhood into this list of soul-sanctifiers. I found my answer on p. 4: “Pursuing a deep spiritual life is simply not possible in this season [of motherhood], at least not in the ways we were taught. It seems the spiritual quest is one place where mothers, at least, cannot go.”
Turns out, she didn’t intend for motherhood to fit in that list of traditional disciplines of the Christian life. ” . . . my responsibilities [as a mother] rarely allow me to take a shower, much less sharpen spiritual practice. Silence and solitude? Never, ever, day or night. Prayer? Harder than you’d think after years of sleep deprivation” (p. 4). McNiel makes a few references to things she heard from the pulpit, things like to “have a genuine commitment to knowing God, we must spend at least an hour each day in silence and solitude” (p. 4). Were these pages typed in response to legalism, or to a standard she felt she couldn’t meet? In the first chapter alone, I took away three things:
- The author seems to view herself as a victim.
- She is willingly replacing the traditional disciplines with something else (to be determined at that point in my reading).
- I didn’t suspect that I would finish this book.
I made it to p. 25 before giving up the ship. Here is why.
- On p. 11, the author recommends emptying the mind as a good way to practice redemption. First of all, I don’t even have a category for how these two things are connected. Second of all, Scripture never tells us to empty our minds; it tells us to fill it with the Word and meditations on it.
- Many times in the first chapter, the author suggests that you do physical things to connect with God. An example: Be aware of your steps, the way your feet connect with the ground, the movement of your muscles in each step. Scripture says that God speaks to us, connects with us, through His Word, not the muscles contracting in our legs.
- This quote: “If, in becoming human, God somehow blessed the very act of being human, isn’t it possible that in all these daily acts of living he left a sacred residue as well?” (p. 25). What?
I’ll be honest; at this point, I began skimming. Quickly, and mostly the “application” sections. The mystical qualities of each chapter’s introductory text made little sense to me, and seemed tenuous and threadbare. I chose to skip those paragraphs.
I think, ultimately, the author had small, but valuable, jewels of truth buried in the pages of this book. But you have to dig, and the two tools you need to unearth them are discernment and a solid grasp on what God requires of those who follow Him.
- We should slow down and live intentionally. I agree, but I think McNiel and I believe that intentional living serves different purposes. Best I can tell, the author prescribes intentional living for the purpose of being present in every moment, and that being the end, in and of itself. I would take that a step further; we must be present in the moment, such that we can discern how best to glorify God in any given situation. On p. 32, she urges, “Keep your mind on the task.” But the task is empty, not life-giving. In these moments of folding laundry and sweeping floors, can the mind not settle on the Lord in prayer? turn over verses of Scripture that have been buried in one’s heart?
- We should use challenging circumstances as opportunities to grow. Again, I agree. But it should be remembered that the author asserts substituting things like driving, cooking, working, and sleeping for the traditional spiritual disciplines, as motherhood (according to her) does not afford one the time to pursue them. I am uncomfortable with this. If circumstances do not cause us to lean harder on the Lord and call out to Him in prayer, then are we not walking in our own strength?
- We should remember our position as image-bearers of the Creator God. Yes and amen. But each time I encountered this concept in the book, it felt like a sweater that doesn’t fit correctly. I could be misunderstanding the words on the page, but it seems that the author’s reason to do this is to look at oneself for the miracle that one is. Yes, each human being is a miraculous creation of God! But creation should point to the Creator, right? And in seeing the Creator, one should desire to know if she, as an image-bearer, is reflecting His character properly to the world (turning to Scripture, of course, to know the depth and breadth of His character, such as a human on the earth can do).
I could go on, but I think the point is made. I am glad I read this book, because now I know not to recommend it to other women. The small bits of truth are not plentiful or readily available enough for consumption.
Soli Deo gloria,
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale House.
When I selected this book to review, I did so because my heart was pricked regarding my lack of praying for the nations of the world. My habit has become to pray for the nations in which I have friends working and living. Is this bad? Certainly not. But, to me, it does feel a bit neglectful. Alas: An Insider’s Guide to Praying for the World, by Brian C. Stiller of World Evangelical Alliance. Overall, this book is a great help in cultivating a spirit of prayer for the gospel’s spread around our planet.
The book is organized into 52 devotionals, each about 4-5 pages. Each devotional is organized into five sections:
- a box with general country information, including population and religion statistics
- a narrative portion, titled “Dispatch,” that includes on-the-ground anecdotes
- a Scripture reading
- items for specific prayer
- a written prayer
Though this book did broaden the countries for which I prayed, I found that I eventually only accessed three sections: the box with general information, the Scripture, and items for specific prayer. Honesty betrays that I began omitting the “Dispatch” section simply because I didn’t like the author’s writing style. If you do, then you might find that section more meaningful. I skipped the written prayer because I wanted to pray in my own words. Again, that’s just a personal preference in this context.
In this world of smartphones and apps and instant updates on social media, I think this book’s main shortfall is how it can’t be updated quickly and efficiently. Conversely, the Operation World website is exactly that—a fast, profitable way to obtain up-to-date information with a few screen taps (or mouse clicks).
An Insider’s Guide to Praying for the World does what you expect it to do: It provides a well-structured guide to praying through the nations. I think it is helpful for the church in that regard.
Soli Deo gloria,
*In exchange for my honest opinion, I received a free copy of this book from Bethany House.