Sabbatical has been an opportunity for me to be more intentional about reading all those books that have been sitting on my shelf. One of the ways I am adding to my reading time is to include a book as part of my morning devotionals. It is surprising how quickly you can get through a book when you read and think about just a few pages each day. I started by focusing on reading books by old dead guys - early church fathers, missionaries, Puritans, etc. I started with Hudson Taylor's Spiritual Secret and found his insights and conclusions to be as relevant today as they were in his time and place (late 19th century in China!).
"I am no longer anxious about anything, as I realize this; for He, I know, is able to carry out His will, and His will is mine.....So, if God should place me in serious perplexity, must He not give me much guidance; in positions of great difficulty, much grace; in circumstances of great pressure and trial much strength? No fear that His resources will prove unequal to the emergeny! And His resources are mine, for He is mine, and is with me and dwells in me."
Hudson Taylor's Spiritual Secret, page 165
In Thomas Watson's The Great Gain of Godliness I have been struck by the same relevance to our day. The subtitle of this book is "Watson's Practical Notes on Malachi 3:16-18". Here is a quote from near the beginning of the book that kept me reading on:
"2. To be holiest in evil times is an indication of the truth of grace. To profess religion when the times favour it is no great matter...But to own the ways of God when they are decried and maligned, to love a persecuted truth, this evidences a vital principle of goodness. Dead fish swim down the stream, living fish swim against it. To swim against the common stream of evil shows grace to be alive."
The Great Gain of Godliness, page 6
Swimming against the stream of culture is no new thing- this book was first published in 1682!
I found Memoirs of An Ordinary Pastor, The Life and Reflections of Tom Carson by Donald A. Carson (his son) to be an honest and challenging view into the life of a Pastor who faithfully served God in obscurity, coping with many discouraging situations and yet holding fast in his faith and persevering in ministry. It is really a missionary story and who doesn't love a good missionary biography?
For women in particular I would recommend Kathleen Nielson's Women and God: Hard Questions, Beautiful Truth. She addresses fundamental issues of our identity as women in such a loving way that I could share in the beauty of being female and glory in the truths of God's plan. Here are some chapter titles to pique your interest:
How we got here, Genesis 1
Strong Women, Judges 4-5
Women, Sex, and a Question of Double Standards, Deut. 22, Hosea 1-4, John 7:53-8:11
Women's Bodies, Psalm 139, 1 Samuel 1-2, Luke 1
Women and the Church, 1 Cor. 11, 14, 1 Tim. 2:11-15, Titus 2:3-5, Romans 16
The Scars That Have Shaped Me: How God meets us in suffering by Veneetha Rendall Risner, was brought to my attention when I attended a workshop at The Gospel Coalition Women's Conference this past summer and heard her testimony. This book is written in short but powerful chapters recounting how God has not just enabled her to persevere through her trials but has caused her to rejoice in how He is working in her life to strengthen her and enable her to trust Him more and more. I think this is a valuable book for anyone who is in the midst of a trial to feed on day by day and share in the encouragement that she provides in each chapter as she unfolds God's working in her life. And even if life is relatively calm at the moment, I have found this book to help me have a better perspective on accepting trials as they come, with a view to how God will use that trial rather than with a sense of dread.
I am just about to finish up Glittering Vices by Rebecca DeYoung, the book Steve Langdon used in the class on Vices. This is a convicting yet not overly discouraging book. While it has definitely revealed that I cannot lightly dismiss any of the vices as irrelevant to me, it has not left me without hope. First of all, hope in Christ, knowing I am already forgiven. But also hope that I am growing in grace - just the fact that I can recognize sin for what it is in my heart and life is a sign of life!
Two other books I am in the middle of: Caring for Others by Ed Welch is a great little summary of a bigger book by the same author and is a great help in showing us ways that we can build meaningful relationships in the Body of Christ. And I am really enjoying Nancy Guthrie's Even Better than Eden, an introduction to Biblical theology as she traces the stories of God's image, clothing, the Bridegroom, Sabbath, and other themes through the entire Bible. This book is building my confidence in Scripture as one story and is enriching my appreciation for the unity of Old and New Testaments.
Oh, one last recommendation. I am using a little book called The Early Church Fathers edited by Nick Needham as part of my devotionals. This has introduced me to men of the past whose articulation of truth has challenged me almost every morning. Each entry is short and pithy, and each month brings readings from a different Church Father. This would make a great stocking stuffer!