Hi, my name is Terence and I’m your host for Reading and Readers, a podcast where I review Christian books for you. Except today I’m not reviewing any books because this is a special behind the scenes episode.
These are the last days of December and I’ve decided to start a tradition. You are listening to the first ever Reading and Readers Year End Reflection episode.
The Desert Shall Rejoice and Blossom like the Crocus
As I look back to April this year, which is when I started this podcast, I remember the trepidation of releasing my first six episodes. In Episode 6, I shared the genesis of Reading and Readers and the meaning behind the cover art. Leaves, river and desert. What has that got to do with reading? Isaiah 35.
The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus; it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the LORD, the majesty of our God. (Isaiah 35:1–2, ESV)
These verses express the refreshing, soul-invigorating experience of reading a good book. Reading could be described as an investment with sure profits, a journey into another world or some other imagery.
Back when I was trying to think of a name for this podcast, these verses just clicked. And when life becomes dry, a good book is an oasis. Remember that God wants everyone to be a reader, even if it’s a reader of one book, the Good Book. I humbly suggest that if we read more books, we become better readers of the Bible.
The podcast is titled Reading and Readers. In every episode, my attention is on the reader: young, old, beginner, avid, sinner, saint. What would convince you to start this book? What would stumble you from completing it? What other books could I recommend to you? Today, instead of speaking as a reviewer, I’ll share as a reader, how the books I read have impacted me.
Chanting the Fruit of the Spirit
“Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit: Growing in Christlikeness” by Chris Wright proved to be a foundational stepping stone in my Christian walk. It’s not flashing with marvellous insights. You will not be captivated by the author’s wit and way with words. It’s rather understated in what it achieved and I wonder whether it would have the same impact on others.
In the first chapter, Wright describes how John Stott prays for the fruit of the Spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-Control everyday. That daily prayer just stuck with me until today.
I don’t know about you but before this, I never bothered to memorise the fruit of the S pirit. I remember the first three and if forced to recite the rest, I would mumble my way through. With a little bit of effort inspired by Chris Wright’s book, I am now the proud owner of a mind that can remember nine words in sequence. Yay, for small victories. But did I succeed to pray them every morning like I wanted to?
Yes. I was consistent for a few weeks. Then momentary lapses. And three months later today, no. I don’t pray them in the morning.
However, I chant them.
The word chant evokes casting a magic spell or just mindlessly repeating phrases over and over again. Maybe you would suggest the word meditate instead of chant but chant is the more accurate word. It’s like this.
Something upsets me. Maybe wife, kids, work, church, the news or whatever it may be. Then if I am alert and self-aware, I’ll intentionally go through the fruit of the Spirit in my head. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. And I just repeat it over and over again. I don’t meditate and wonder “What is God’s love? How do I love? How am I loved?” I don’t do that. I am just ‘mindlessly’ repeating the verse in my head to short circuit the bad thoughts that threaten to come out as unkind words or regrettable actions.
I don’t just recite them when angry. When I am washing the dishes or taking out the trash, sometimes I sing a song, my favourite currently is “His Mercy is More” by Matt Boswell and Matt Papa. But often times, I would just recite the fruit of the Spirit. If I don’t, I realise my mind would stray towards money, or work, or perhaps some issue somewhere. There is a time and place to think such things but I think more than a solution I need the fruit of the Spirit.
Because it’s on my mind often, it’s something I talk about with my children too. Self-control especially. And sometimes I lead my family in prayer through them.
Efficiency and ROI in Reading
This is an example of how a book can nurture the mind and soul.
Am I able to summarise Chris Wright’s book? No, I can’t remember most of what I read, nor do I try to. I don’t think the point of reading is to remember the whole book.
The John Stott story is told in the very beginning of the book. Since I gained the most from that story, wouldn’t it be more efficient to just read that story rather than the whole book and gain the same effect? But if I didn’t read the whole book, I wouldn’t get the same effect.
When you read a book, your brain is not downloading data. When you read data there is a network effect. The network effect is what happens when you have more people using the product or service. If you are the only person with a phone, the phone is useless. A phone becomes more useful when others have phones.
As you read a page, you are consciously or subconsciously connecting that data to other data stored in you.
For example, when you read a story like John Stott praying the fruit of the Spirit and that’s all you read, you could possibly, maybe, perhaps get the same soul-enriching experience I had. But if I read the same story on a tweet, I wouldn’t gain much from it.
That story was hammered deeper in my soul because Chris Wright went through chapter by chapter, for example: how God demonstrated love, and how we are to reflect God’s love. So my mind was fixated on the fruit of the Spirit for an extended time under the tutelage of an expert.
So instead of considering the Return of Investment based on how many percent of the book I remember or apply, it’s more helpful to consider who I was before the book compared to after the book.
Public Disagreements Stick in the Brain
Another thing I learnt this year was by disagreeing with a book, and publicly stating that disagreement, the idea occupies a bigger space in the mind than it should. To give just one example, All Things New by Pete Hughes.
Hughes says that God doesn’t have statues in his Temple because we are his living statues. In my review, I questioned the wisdom of describing ourselves as living statues because statues carries undertones of idolatry and we tend to make much of ourselves than of God.
Six months later, I still think I am right but interestingly because of that book, I am more aware of Imago Dei, that we are created in the image of God. I am especially attentive to this when I listen to sermons, read the Bible or read other books. Is All Things New by Pete Hughes a book that I would heartily recommend to others? No. I would easily recommend people read Providence by John Piper over that book.
However, I have not given the doctrine of Providence as much attention as the doctrine of Image-bearing. Perhaps this proves my point, we tend to think of ourselves more than of God.
If All Things New made think more about a subject, there is a set of books that helped me not think about a subject.
Monsters are Scarier in the Dark
One of the most popular episodes here is my review of Fault Lines vs Cynical Theories vs Ministers of Reconciliation. When I read the book, Critical Race Theory seemed to be spreading, exploding and threatening the church. I noticed I was growing anxious. Instead of taking a pill for my anxiety, I decided to read some books. This might not be the best treatment for everyone. You might end up more anxious after reading Baucham’s Fault Lines.
I’m sure there are other books, better books: more even-handed, better researched, better written, but at the end of it, after reading Fault Lines, Cynical Theories and Ministers of Reconciliation I had a starting point to interpret all the news, articles, tweets and books that come my way. I am not an expert on Critical Race Theory and related matters, but I now know enough to have conversations, to ask better questions and to not feel so anxious. A monster is less scary in the daylight than in the dark.
So far I have shared how a book inspired a chanting habit, how another book got me attentive to the image of God teachings and how a set of books brought clarity on Critical Race Theory and the church.
When the Reading Gets Tough, the Tough Gets Reading
My last reflection for today on a category of books, let’s call them tough books, that I didn’t think listeners would have cared much for. It’s easy to understand why people listen to my reviews on Paul David Tripp or Eric Metaxas’ books. The books are written for a mainstream audience. Big, big pool.
It’s a surprise when there are as many, if not more, listeners for my reviews on tough books by Walter C. Kaiser Jr., or D.A. Carson or Gordon Wenham. If you go to Amazon or Goodreads and just look for reviews on the Young Christian by Jacob Abbott, it is a desert. So the fact that there are many listeners to my Jacob Abbott review for example, suggests that some are willing to be stretched in their reading. You may not have read those tough books, but your willingness to listen to the review of these books, is a step in the right direction. Let me explain.
I once read a reading tip. The advice is to read many books at our comfort reading level, to read some books below our reading level and to read a few books above our reading level. When I read below my reading level, for example children’s books like the Green Ember series by S.D. Smith and the Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson, I am reminded that great stories and big truths come packaged in different sizes.
The difficulty is reading above the reading level. I admire people who can read tough books like Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin, Freedom of the Will by Jonathan Edwards or Mortification of Sin by John Owen. When John Piper advises Christians to read less books more deeply, I believe he was referring to such classics.
Aside from the classics, another source of tough books is the Logos Free Book of the Month programme. When I started this podcast, I did not expect to review many Logos books. I thought many of the books as beyond me, better suited as reference and I didn’t have the time or ability to do a review. If you listen to the podcast’s earlier episodes, you can hear how intimidated I was.
In this year end reflection, I find myself surprised at the tough books I have managed to not only read but also review. In case you don’t know, because I didn’t initially, reviewing is a lot harder than I thought. In the time it takes to do one review, I could read another book or two!
Let me tell you which was the toughest book to read. Recovering the Unity of the Bible by Kaiser and Hebrews by Owen were both hard to read but the toughest was Scripture and Truth, a collection of 12 essays edited by D.A. Carson and John Woodbridge. It’s a good thing it’s a collection of essays because with a platter of goodies, you can munch on what you like and ignore the ones that cause indigestion.
There are a couple of essays in that collection that if turned into a full book, would be too philosophical and complex for me, at least for my reading level now.
Let Me Have It
Overall, I’m satisfied with my reading journey for the year and how Reading and Readers have progressed. Since it’s the end of the year, I invite you to share your own reading journey. How do you find the podcast? Please send me your feedback via email, or Twitter or the website’s contact form. You can find all the contact details in the website at www.readingandreaders.com. That’s www.readingandreaders.com.
Before I end the final episode for 2021, I just want to thank everyone who listens to the podcast. For you it’s a click of a play button, for me it’s affirmation that what I offer has value to someone. Also I want to give a shoutout to Esther from Boston for helping to offset the costs of running this podcast. She was an early supporter and her early feedback remains an encouragement to this day.
Let me end with a quote from Henry Alford (1810-1871) who made this prayer 200 years ago for New Year’s Eve.
O eternal God, in these last hours of another year we come before you with our praises, and we would humble ourselves in your sight.
We thank you for our preservation during the year that is gone, and for all your mercies in providence and grace; for all your dealings with us that we knew to be blessings; for all in which you have blessed us, though we did not know it.
We praise you for your chastisements, for our bereavements, for our sicknesses, for our disappointments and trials.
We would also humble ourselves before you, O Lord. We are frail and sinful. We are dust and ashes. We cannot so much as lift up our faces to you, who are the Holy One, of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, who inhabits eternity and does not change.
But blessed be your name for that refuge that you have provided from your wrath, for that fountain that you have opened for sin and uncleanness. We flee to our Redeemer to hide us. We rest upon your everlasting covenant with us in Him, and we are safe. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
And as we now lie down at the end of the year, committing ourselves to your protection, so may we lie down in peace at the end of life, knowing whom we have believed, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
This is a Reading and Readers Year End Reflection. May the Good Lord bless you for the new year ahead. Remember to send any comments or feedback. You can consider that a kindness to end the year or to start the year. Contact details at www.readingandreaders.com. That’s www.readingandreaders.com. Thank you for listening.