I've been reading several books lately that are tearing up my heart, in the very best way. The other week I wrote about dreams that were stirring in me after a long, dry few years. The Lord has been using these books to stir and churn me. If I am honest about my spiritual state the last few years, it often has been me just doing the best I can, knowing Christ is real and victorious, but not often living it. Knowing that He is the treasure in a field for which a man sells all his possessions, yet attempting to buy the field and keep my treasures. Um, maybe I could take out a loan?
When I got back from India in 2007, my heart was broken. In many ways, my faith in the God of my fathers was shaken. Was God good? Were His redemption and transformation realities to bank on in the darkest depths of this Earth? Did He have any purpose for my life?
So I came home to Missouri, and I think part of the way I chose to handle all that hurt was by just hiding it away and returning to normal. Normal doesn't peel scabs off tender skin. Normal doesn't grapple with faith in a dirty, sweaty boxing ring. Normal finds a niche in mainstream culture and just does its thing. But the devastating truth is, normal doesn't follow Jesus like He calls us to follow.
God is graciously bringing me to a place where I can see this. A place where I ache to really know Him and make Him known. A place where I am willing to load everything that I have filled my heart with since India and put it on the garbage barge and send it out to sea. Anything that is not Him, I want to go.
Here are the books. I tell you about them because they have encouraged/and are encouraging me greatly. Nothing can replace the power of God's Word, and if you only have so much time to read, read the Word first! But if you can fit a little extra reading material in, I recommend these.
#1 - Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream by David Platt. I resisted reading this book at first, because it seemed like everyone in Christendom was reading it. Aaron's friend gave it to him, and for a few months I saw it every now and then on Aaron's nightstand, and I would hide it under some other books or knock it behind the bed or you get the picture. I just really did not want to read it. I knew enough about the book's premise to know that if I read it, I would have to change some things in my life. Finally, I picked it up. And it is rockin' me, friends.
"I found myself faced with two questions. The first was simple. Was I going to believe Jesus? Was I going to embrace Jesus even though He said radical things that drove the crowds away? The seccond question was even more challenging. Was I going to obey Jesus? My biggest fear, even now, is that I will hear Jesus' words and walk away, content to settle for less than radical obedience to Him...You and I can choose to continue with business as usual in the Christian life and in the church as a whole, enjoying success based on the standards defined by the culture around us. Or we can take an honest look at the Jesus of the Bible and dare to ask what the consequences might be if we really believed Him and really obeyed Him."
#2 - The Triumph of John and Betty Stam by Mrs. Howard Taylor. I bought this biography of John and Betty Stam, missionaries to China in the 1930s, at a book sale in college. I think I read pieces of it in college, but I read the whole thing through in about two hours last week. John and Betty were martyred by Communists and after their death, their little baby girl was found by friends in their village. The witnesses of their death testified that they went to the execution without fear or sorrow. That is not the product of a moment's decision! That is the result of years of trusting Jesus and finding Him to be faithful! I want to know Christ in such depth that when death arrives, it is but a page turn to the sweetest chapter.
As a student at Moody in the middle of the Depression, John wrote the following, which I found to be prophetic to our age too:
"This bewildered age needs to know that only 'the foundation of God standeth sure.' Many a man is being torn loose, these days, from the things to which the heart has clung. It is ours to show the incorruptible riches which bank failures and economic conditions cannot touch. It is ours to show, in the salvation of our Lord Jesus Christ, and in personal communion with Him, a joy unspeakable and full of glory that cannot be affected by outside circumstances."
#3- They Found the Secret by V. Raymond Edman. My mom told me about this book, and she even lent it to me. Well, I was busy, and so I gave it back a few months later without cracking it open. Then, I found it at a garage sale not too long after. I figured it was a sign. :) It's a compilation of 20 short biographies of men and women who "found the promise of life more abundant to be true."
From the chapter on Hudson Taylor:
"It is the abiding life that is fruitful...the life that is Christ is abiding and abounding, it is satisfying and overflowing. How then shall a Christian bear fruit? ...There must be
a full concentration of the thoughts and affections on Christ
a complete surrender of the whole being to Him
a constant looking to Him for grace."
#4 - A Chance to Die by Elizabeth Elliot. I haven't read this book lately, but it is one of my top 5 favorite books. It is a biography of Amy Carmichael, a missionary to India in the late 1800s. The title sums up Amy's heart: she saw her whole life as a chance to die for Christ, whether that was in her life work of saving girls from temple prostitution or in her later bedridden years when all she could do was write. How many Christians do you know today whose life theme is "a chance to die"? How odd that is to our culture, where success and comfort are top pursuits and everybody wants to live as long as they can.
To sum up what these books are collectively speaking to me, it is that "Jesus it the treasure." Jesus and His glory made known are what matters. He is enough. He is more than enough, He is life spilling over. Following Him hard matters. It is obedience to Him and His life revealed to the world.