Prayers don’t have to be long. We can learn and grow from the short prayers of the saints. Hymns don’t have to be boring. Hymns can be timeless and enriching moments even for the youngest of Christians, dare I say, especially for the youngest of Christians.
Hi, my name is Terence and I’m your host for Reading and Readers, a podcast where I review Christian books for you. Today is a double feature. I review two books for you. The first is the Faithlife free book of the month for March, “Short Prayers to Change Your Life” at 176 pages, published by Harvest House Publishers in 2020 and the second is “Timeless Hymns for Family Worship” by Joni Eareckson Tada and Bobbie Wolgemuth. 80 pages, published in 2021, also by Harvest House Publishers.
Short Review for Short Prayers Book
Why did I feel the need to review two books in one podcast? It’s because the first book, the free book, the short prayers book is really, really short. It’s 176 pages but one page may have one or two sentences. The very first prayer is from Mother Teresa:
Everything starts from prayer. Without asking God for love, we cannot possess love and still less are we able to give it to others.
And that prayer is the whole page. The next page is a prayer from Martin Luther:
Pray, and let God worry.
The entire page consists of those five words. Pray, and let God worry.
In this book, all the text is stylised: big fonts and coloured. The short prayers are catchy, in social media terms, they are Instagram worthy. I don’t mean that in a dismissive way. I think quotations, and so short prayers, can be formative.
When I was growing up, my father would share with me – this was a time when sharing was not a button you clicked in Facebook or Instagram – my father would get little motivation posters in the mail and give them to me.
I taped one on my wall, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” I remember a young me thinking it was a profound statement. That little quote gave me a big picture view of the little steps I was taking. It was through quotations like these that I gained an appreciation for wordcraft, the punchy, often profound phrasing that tickles the mind.
So, as a reader, I don’t dismiss this book, “Short Prayers to Change Your Life”. Young readers might grow to appreciate a good turn of a phrase. They may even read up on the life of Mother Teresa, Martin Luther and others who are quoted here. For older readers, this book can be a welcome respite from heavier reading. Most importantly, the purpose of a book on short prayers is to encourage people to pray. Sometimes what we need is not E. M. Bound’s “Power Through Prayer”, which is the best book on prayer I know, sometimes we just need a small nudge. Sometimes all we really need to hear is: Pray, and let God worry. An Instagram-worthy nudge. And this book, “Short Prayers to Change Your Life”, is a book of nudges in the right direction.
I could prolong this review but it would be me just trying to fill up the time. I’d rather end the episode. But if I end the episode, I feel like I’m short changing you. So that’s why I’ve decided to make this episode a double feature.
Free Book + 5 Discounted Books
Every month Faithlife gives away a free book but you may not know that along with that free book, Faithlife offers five other books at a discount.
This month the discounted books they offer are:
- Love to Eat, Hate to Eat: Breaking the Bondage of Destructive Eating Habits by Elyse Fitzpatrick,
- Mama Bear Apologetics Guide to Sexuality by Hillary Morgan Ferrer and Amy Davison,
- Sweet Like Jasmine: Finding Identity in a Culture of Loneliness by Bonnie Gray,
- Timeless Hymns for Family Worship by Joni Eareckson Tada and Bobbie Wolgemuth
- Dare to Be: God is Able, Are You Willing by Charlotte Gambill and Natalie Grant.
I bought Timeless Hymns for Family Worship. The list price is USD22.99 but for February it’s available from Faithlife for USD5.99. All other books I listed are at a similar discount.
Timeless Hymns for Family Worship: Bringing Gospel-Centered Moments into Your Home is written by two best friends. Tada and Wolgemuth had also written the four-book Gold Medallion bestselling series Hymns for a Kid’s Heart.
Timeless Hymns has 18 hymns, each with its own chapter. We have obvious favourites; Amazing Grace will make any list of timeless hymns. The list starts with “Holy, Holy, Holy” and ends with “Praise God, From Whom All Blessings Flow”. The hymns are not structured in any particular order, whether alphabetical, chronological or thematic. And that’s fine because each chapter is a stand alone, just flip to the hymn you like and enjoy the reflection, story, painting and song.
I was expecting the reflections to be more focused on Joni Tada’s life or personal thoughts. For those who don’t know who Joni Tada is, she is an artist and writer. She has 1000MW smile and is a great encourager in the Christian faith. She is God’s blessing to many who suffer. Suffer? You see, when Joni Tada was 17 years old, she had a diving accident and became a quadriplegic. She is paralysed in four limbs.
I would like to read the entire foreword to this book. You will see how she writes and why this book was written. I quote:
When I was your age, my parents taught me the old hymns of the Christian faith. We sang these hymns around the campfire or while hiking or even at the dinner table after we finished our meal. We sang them so often that I easily memorized all the words.
It was a good thing. When I was a teenager, I dove into shallow water, broke my neck, and became paralyzed. When I learned I’d be in a wheelchair all my life, I felt sad and anxious. But when my family visited me in the hospital, they always cheered me up by singing our favorite hymns!
These hymns comforted me because they reminded me of God’s greatness. And they also shared great truths about God and His love for me. After hospital visits were over for the day, I sang these hymns at nighttime when I couldn’t sleep. While I sang, I focused on the wonderful themes of trusting God’s Word, holding on to His promises, and looking toward heaven. Soon my sadness and anxiety disappeared.
That all happened a long time ago, but I’m still singing all my favorite hymns, and now I’m sharing them with you in this book. You can imagine how happy I am that you now have a chance to sing hymns with your family. I’m hoping you’ll sing them so often that you too will learn all the words by heart. And I pray that each word of every hymn will comfort you as it has me!
Reading the foreword, I was expecting a memoir type of book: “Amazing Grace has helped me”, “Holy, Holy, Holy is special to me”, “Praise God, From Whom All Blessings Flow is my favourite because…” but it’s not.
In one chapter, she speaks of Jehoshaphat, his big choir of singers, leading the army into battle. In another chapter, it’s the story of Corrie ten Boom who was tired of the praises she was getting. Corrie found a solution. Every compliment and praise she received, she gathered them like a rosebud and in the evening, she would present this beautiful bouquet of flowers and offered them to the Lord. To God be the Glory.
For Your Family
It’s not that Tada or Wolgemuth don’t talk about themselves, they do. But the way they set it in this book, is they are just part of a bigger family of Christians: it’s not about me, it’s about us. They have all these stories to tell, and they tell them to help your family come in to the hymns.
Some say that hymns are so old, the lyrics are so difficult to understand, the music is so alien to us today, maybe we should move on from them. This is a complicated topic. There are two extremes to be avoided, hymns-only and never-hymns. Remember Joni Tada’s foreword. How the hymns help her. Instead of arguing against the idea that hymns are difficult and alien, making a court case argument, she writes to the family. On the Amazing Grace chapter, she explains grace. Wonderful grace. She explains what grace is as if to a child. To your child. The hymns are a blessing to the church, to the family, she believes it and in this book, she makes them beautiful.
In addition to the reflection or devotion, there is a small box that tells the origin story of the hymn or an anecdote of the composer. I have found knowing the origin of the songs to help me better appreciate the lyrics and music.
In addition to these writings, every hymn is adorned with a painting. I can imagine children, even adults, brushing aside the paintings because every day, every app and social media is trying to hook you in with an image or a video. And I think we have lost the ability to just look and ponder. Here, it’s good to remind the family that Joni Tada is quadriplegic. Show the children a video of her painting. She can’t use her hands. She uses her mouth. Your children may do a double take on the paintings in this book. Wow. She did this. This is beautiful. The paintings are beautiful without Joni Tada’s story but Joni Tada’s story will help people stop and ponder.
We have beautiful words, beautiful stories and beautiful paintings for the purpose of bringing out the real stars of the book which are the beautiful hymns. Every chapter includes the song sheet and lyrics. You have a pianist in the home. She can play the hymn. Let everyone sing and praise the Lord, for he is good, so very, very good.
The Meaning of Songs and the Church
After I finished the book, I reflected that all of us have a story to tell of our favourite songs. When I say songs, I include hymns and contemporary Christian music. So we all have meaningful songs but sometimes, in contrast to Joni Tada and Bobbie Wolgemuth, we are not able to convey the meaning of our beautiful songs well.
Churches used to and I believe still have worship wars. People wanting very much to have their songs sang because it is more meaningful to them than other songs. I suggest that if people could convey why the songs are meaningful, something like how this book has done, I think the temperature in these worship wars can go down.
We don’t say, be considerate to one another, as a way to manipulate others to give us what we want. One way to help us be more considerate is to hear how songs have ministered to people’s lives, people that God has commanded us to love. Then there must be a way forward, that conveys the beauty of God’s love and our love for one another.
Consider Joni Tada’s story. Right now, if you are 17 years old and had an accident, you can’t walk, you can’t use your hands, all your hopes and dreams just vanished and you don’t know how the future will be, can you sing? Do you have a reservoir of songs to sing? The hymns are powerful, not just because of the lyrics or the hundreds of years of consecration but because the old grandfather, the old grandmother in your church, in your family can sing with you. A Mighty Fortress is Our God.
Can that old grandfather, grandmother sing a contemporary song? Yes, it’s not wrong to sing a contemporary song and I think it is good but we can only give what we have. And what we offer are the songs that comforted us before. If we can see God’s purpose for music in the church, I truly think worship wars will be worship pillow fights.
The Meaning of Songs and the Worshipper
My second reflection after reading this book is I want worship leaders to read it. I’m also talking to the pimple-faced teenager who leads youth group worship. I would like the people who are choosing songs to think about the songs they sing. Worship leaders know the songs have to glorify God, that the theology is correct, but I suspect that exercise becomes checking the theological boxes. “If all the boxes are ticked, then I can sing it. I really want to sing this song because it sounds so good.” Is there another way of choosing songs?
People say you should think about the songs you sing but what does thinking about songs mean? This book can help produce a meditative, reflective, deepening worshipful life. The examples are classical hymns but you can learn and meditate on modern hymns and also, contemporary Christian music. Instead of being labeled as the stubborn traditionalist or the shallow trend-follower, we produce worshippers who reflect on the songs we sing not just to tick the right theological or confessional boxes but also in the context of Jehoshaphat, Corrie ten Boom, introducing or explaining Amazing Grace and so much more. Worship leaders, song leaders, if you are not a reader, “Timeless Hymns for Family Worship” is an easy book to begin a reflective approach to music.
Don’t Get the E-Book
After hearing my recommendations for this book, if you are thinking of buying this book through Faithlife, don’t. I kind of regret getting it, even though it’s a great deal. Through Faithlife it’s USD5.99, in Amazon Kindle it’s USD17.49. I’m going to suggest, if you can afford it, to get the hardcover which is currently sold at USD20.49 in Amazon, especially if you are buying this book for your family.
Imagine this picture. The father, mother and little children all squeezed together to read the words and look at the paintings. After reading the chapter on Amazing Grace, the father asks, “Do you now know what God’s grace means?” The children hesitantly re-read the text and put together an answer, waiting for the father’s approval. The family turns to the last page in the chapter, and together sing Amazing Grace. The mother closes in prayer.
The family may finish reading the book together or it may not because you know, life interrupts. But one day, many years later, in God’s wonderful providence, a young lady tidies up the shelves and she spies this book, takes it out and looking at the paintings, she recalls the story of the painter. She remembers her family squeezing together, to read, sing and pray. And she takes that book, sets it on the piano, turns to the song sheet and plays Amazing Grace, for her little baby by her side.
As much as I love digital books (the premise of this entire podcast Reading and Readers is I review free ebooks every month), there are some aspects to physical books that are irreplaceable. A book anchors a reader or a family’s memory in the feel, sound, smell of flipping pages. If you are going to read this book as a family, I strongly suggest you get the physical copy. If you are going to read it by yourself, then Faithlife’s deeply discounted ebook is good enough.
This is a Reader and Reader’s Review of “Timeless Hymns for Family Worship” by Joni Eareckson Tada and Bobbie Wolgemuth. Earlier in this episode I also reviewed “Short Prayers to Change Your Life”. Both books are published by Harvest House Publishers.
Let me make a short and timeless appeal: Encourage someone to read. The two books reviewed today are breezy, no commitment books. Children and adults can enjoy them. One of the reasons I do this Reading and Readers podcast is I want to see more people read good books. For I believe a good book can nourish the soul. Until next time, keep reading.