As a pastor’s wife, I always have one eye open for devotional books that are easily accessible, theologically sound, and deeply encouraging to people fighting the battle that is the Christian life. I found such a one in this book by Michael Branch.
“True Stories” is a delightfully convicting treasury of devotionals, which draw on the author’s life experiences and the truths about God that he finds in them. I think this is Branch’s elegance as an author: He sees through the messiness of life, fixes his eyes on Jesus, and magnifies the Savior by masterfully preparing a banquet of words for the rest of us to feast on.
The book is structured as such: Each narrative is preceded by a Scripture verse. After using a surprisingly small number of words (for the conviction wrought) to point the reader to Jesus, the author then offers a small word of challenge or encouragement for the day, along with a brief statement that reveals a pertinent facet of the gospel. Each story is quick—I took my time and rarely spent more than two or three minutes on one. I think this makes “True Stories” an excellent accompaniment to one’s quiet time—or a great book to keep on hand for down time throughout the day.
In particular, I was most spiritually challenged by the sections entitled “True Freedom” and “Hurting, Hoping, Heaven”. These sections stayed with me the longest, perhaps due to their vulnerable nature and my own experience with suffering. They forced me to linger on the hard questions they ask. When you buy this book, anticipate being moved by these accounts.
If you are in the market for a solid, joyful, Gospel-centered devotional to enliven your daily walk with the Lord, this is the one.
Being an extremely decisive person, it is uncommon for me to go very long without forming an opinion about something–particularly a book. It bothers me loads when this happens. I realized today that, sometimes, worldviews are slightly varied such that I can’t fully reject what an author is saying, but I also can’t agree with everything the book says. That’s where I’ve landed with Still Waiting by Ann Swindell.
I googled Ann to learn a little more about her; she seems like a fabulous gal! I believe that she loves the Lord and His Word. I believe she wants to apply it to her life in the most honest way possible. She has struggled for decades with trichotillomania, which is “a mental disorder that involves recurrent, irresistible urges to pull out hair from your scalp, eyebrows or other areas of your body, despite trying to stop.” (Mayo Clinic). I can completely understand why she would seek deliverance from this issue, though the reasons are likely different from why I would seek to be rid, once and for all, of Lyme disease. Both circumstances offer their own set of life challenges.
But, out of the gate, I think we are coming from two different angles.
While I suspect the author would agree that God is the great (and only) Heart-Changer, the majority of the book focuses on her desire for two things: relief from the desire to pull (behavioral change) and physical healing. She mentions very early in the book that anxiety was the onset cause of her trichotillomania. Anxiety . . . a heart issue, not a physical issue. (One could argue that a predisposition to anxiety is genetic, which could be true; but I would counter by wondering, if one predisposed to anxiety were removed from the environment containing the pre-exisiting anxiety, would he still struggle with anxiety? Is it nature or nurture that brings anxiety bubbling to the surface?)
I waited and waited for the chapter that told about the author’s experience in repenting of this anxiety (with which she continues to struggle) and finding freedom to live within the freedom that comes from that (even if she still pulled). But it never came.
Please don’t read that I am judging her heart; that’s not my place. I don’t know her and can’t know what she is thinking and feeling, aside from what I just read. She probably has asked the Lord to relieve her anxiety. But since that one chapter (an important one, in my mind) is missing from this book, I can’t fathom giving it to someone who struggles with anxiety and has claimed it as her identity (e.g., “I just have an anxious personality.”). I wouldn’t feel right having someone come away from a book without being encouraged to address the root of the issue. In my experience, when I am anxious it is because I have stopped trusting the Lord for some reason or another. There is no permanent, medical solution for anxiety; but there is a God who is able and trustworthy, and Who commands us not to be anxious.
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?[g] 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6)
Again, I think we’re just coming at this topic from different perspectives. With that issue out of the way, I can say that I did find valuable truths in these pages. It certainly encouraged my heart many times, with regard to waiting. (We’re doing a bunch of waiting these days!) I just can’t get super excited about this book.
So . . . I’m not willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but I recommend reading it less as a self-help book (that’s not what it is), but with an eye for the truths about God that will encourage the soul.
Soli Deo gloria,
For a number of reasons, I’m excited to share this book with you! I always like a book that tackles well the topic of suffering, and this one fits the bill. The actual meat of Finding God in the Hard Times consists of less than 70 pages (five chapters). But not to worry—Matt and Beth Redman, writers of the popular contemporary worship song “Blessed Be Your Name,” make efficient use of the space.
The book is organized into four main sections, once you get past the forewords and introduction: five chapters of material, complete with reflection questions; a small group discussion guide; an appendix that lists Scriptures quoted throughout the book; and a final appendix of recommended books on suffering.
I found the chapters to be full of gospel truth that point the reader to Christ at every turn. The Redmans are straightforward; sometimes, what they have to say is a hard, but necessary, truth. The brevity of the book doesn’t allow time to touch on the theology of why suffering occurs, but that’s okay. That’s really not the purpose, in my opinion. This would be a great book to read before you’re in the throes of suffering. (I recommend a different book for when one is in the valley.) It’s a quick read (though packed with truth)—one that is very accessible. I read it in about an hour, but I can see the value in reading it with a discipleship partner or with a small group. The discussion questions in the back of the book serve to bring the reader deeper into an investigation of the concepts covered in the chapters. I think they would do just that; they definitely sparked more contemplation as I pondered them.
All in all, I would recommend this book to just about anyone who might encounter suffering (which is everyone). Priced for Kindle and paperback at under $7 (at the time of this post), you have nothing to lose!
Soli Deo Gloria,
*In exchange for my honest opinion, I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers.