BOOK REVIEW: FREE TO THRIVE — How Your Hurts, Struggles, and Deepest Longings Can Lead to a Fulfilling Life 

by Josh McDowell and Ben Bennett (Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2021)

The authors, well-known author and apologist Josh McDowell, and pastor and speaker Ben Bennett have joined forces to examine why so many Christians struggle through life rather than thrive as children of God. Due to their own experiences and their years of ministry, they believe most believers are suffering due to unmet needs in their lives.

McDowell and Bennett make the case that God has designed all people with seven basic needs:

  1. Acceptance — to be included and approved of, as you are, no matter what.
  2. Appreciation — the longing to be thanked and encouraged for something we have done.
  3. Affection — the longing to be cared for with touch and genuine emotional engagement.
  4. Access — the longing to have the consistent emotional and physical presence of key persons.
  5. Attention — the longing to be known and understood by someone who enters into your world.
  6. Affirmation of feelings — the longing to have our feelings validated and confirmed by others.
  7. Assurance of safety — we need to feel protected and provided for emotionally, physically, and financially.

The authors contend that hurting Christians with unfulfilled longings suffer because they try to satisfy those longings themselves or with other earthly things or people. But God placed those longings in us so that we might always go to Him with our needs.

McDowell and Bennett are unusually open and honest in sharing their own unmet longings and the adverse effects those had in their personal lives and ministries. Writing as fellow strugglers, they encourage readers to understand that they are not unusual in trying to satisfy their longings without God and give practical steps to begin looking to God for help and comfort. The book concludes with helpful appendices of the Longings Table and websites and books for further ongoing support. I heartily recommend this book.

BOOK REVIEW: WHEN PRAYER IS A STRUGGLE: A Practical Guide for Overcoming Obstacles in Prayer by Kevin P. Halloran (P & R Publishing; 2021)

Minister, author, and blogger Kevin Halloran has written an eminently helpful and encouraging book on how to handle the most common difficulties with prayer. He covers prayer problems such as being at a loss of what to pray, being hindered by guilt or shame, unable to focus, being too stressed or too busy. Halloran writes on nine of the most common obstacles to prayer reported by laymen and clergy alike as a fellow struggling pray-er so that the reader does not feel either belittled or unusual for needing assistance in developing a healthy and consistent prayer life.

The author begins the book by demonstrating through Scripture why prayer is essential, and the benefits to every believer for persevering through the difficulties often found in praying to God in any kind of meaningful and fulfilling manner. Readers will probably recognize themselves in more than just one of the difficulty areas described and are encouraged to skip around if they wish. Each of the chapters provides doable action plans that are thankfully not very complicated. At the back of the book, Halloran offers a listing of psalms to pray grouped by topic and verses to find the prayers of the Apostle Paul. Finally, he lists many recommended books for those who want to go deeper into the subject of prayer. This is one of the most practical and approachable books on prayer I have read. I highly recommend it!

BOOK REVIEW: 30 DAYS TO GROWING IN YOUR FAITH — Enrich Your Life in 15 Minutes a Day by Max Anders Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2021)

The well-known author and Bible scholar Max Anders has produced another helpful and encouraging resource for Christians with 30 Days to Growing in Your Faith. Using the same format he used in the classic work, 30 Days to Understanding Your Bible, this present book consists of 30 short chapters meant to be read in 15 minutes or less and to read one chapter each day for better retention of the material.

Anders directs this book to both newer believers and more seasoned disciples of Jesus, who might feel that their spiritual lives have stagnated or lack passion and energy. This volume builds its knowledge base for the reader in three parts: First, the person has certain fundamental truths they must know to be a Christian. Second, the person takes this knowledge they have gained about God and themselves to be the person God wants them to be. Third, the person is then in the position to live out God’s plan and do the things He has called them to do.

As a skilled seminary professor, Anders uses many tools such as repetition, fill-in-the-blanks, and thought-provoking questions to help the reader more fully engage with the content covered in the book. And he covers a wide range of issues that every Christian faces in their spiritual growth, such as the battle between the inner man and the outer man, renewing the mind, trials and suffering, self-discipline, prayer, trusting God, and discerning God’s will. This resource is one that a reader will actively work with and will want to return to multiple times. Highly recommended!

THE PARABLES: Jesus’ Friendly Subversive Speech by Douglas d. Webster (Published by Kregel Academic: 2021)

A BOOK REVIEW

The Parables: Jesus’ Friendly Subversive Speech is a new book designed especially for pastors to get deeper insights into how Jesus used His parables to communicate the gospel message to His listeners during His earthly ministry. However, this book is written in such a manner that Sunday school leaders, small group leaders, and others who engage in teaching the Bible will gain much wisdom and helpful suggestions in how to make the parables more meaningful to others.

As suggested by the subtitle of the work, Webster posits the view that Jesus used parables to communicate the gospel to the crowds on two levels: On one level, they were entertaining stories that drew in the listeners and made immediate impacts on their hearts because Jesus drew the stories from everyday life and situations. But on a deeper level, these parables could teach the subversive truths of the gospels in ways that sophisticated listeners like the Pharisees could take as insults, but the spiritually hungry in the crowds could take as a balm for their souls.

Webster states that many commentators tend to be too analytical in their analysis of the parables and thus miss the impact of the parables on their original audiences. So, he aims to be mindful of the pastor in the pulpit and the person in the pew to bring out the meaning and applications of the parables that he covers in this book. And Webster has chosen to cover the parables that appear in the Gospel of Matthew and Luke because these two accounts are the most systematic in using the parables of Jesus to illustrate His teachings on important topics; such as the true nature of salvation and discipleship, the kingdom of heaven, perseverance in faith, the value of hospitality, and the importance of the inclusion of women and the poor in the kingdom.

This volume is written in a straightforward and easy-to-follow manner that will prove useful and valuable to both clergy and layman alike. Highly recommended!

** A free electronic copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review of the contents. **

Growing Toward Christlikeness

BOOK REVIEW
AN INFINITE JOURNEY by Andrew M. Davis (Ambassador International; 2014)

An Infinite Journey is written by author and pastor Andrew Davis. Davis also heads up a ministry called Two Journeys, which focuses on the two journeys of the Christian life, which are the outward journey of the advancement of the gospel message and the inward journey toward sanctification. This book, obviously, focuses on this vital inward journey for every Christian.

Davis begins this book by making the case that sanctification is always tightly bound up with justification — indeed, sanctification is only possible after we have been justified and indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Then, the majority of the book covers the aspects of the believer that grow and mature in sanctification: knowledge, faith, character, and actions. As Davis delves into each of these aspects that set believers apart from the world, he draws upon his experiences and skills honed over years as a pastor and seminary professor. The result is a book on what could be an overwhelming subject to one that lovingly and encouragingly draws readers to better understand spiritual growth and then to actively desire it and pursue it.

It is sad that more churches do not make sanctification more of an emphasis and provide more specific directions and exhortations toward growth. But this book does a very admirable job in filling this gap and is approachable for any believer in any stage of their Christian walk. Highly recommended!!

LEARNING TO LOVE THE PSALMS: Book Review

Learning to Love the Psalms by W. Robert Godfrey (Reformation Trust Publishing; 2017)

In this most enlightening and informative book on the Psalms. Godfrey laments the fact that this vital part of holy Scripture which played such an important role in the life of the Jewish community for thousands of years, as well as for the Christian church for almost 1800 years has now fallen into a theological corner. In this book, Godfrey hopes to spark a new interest in the use the Psalter, both in corporate worship services, and in the personal devotions and prayers of believers everywhere.

Learning to Love the Psalms is neither a commentary or a devotional —- technically speaking. Yet the author both explains the occasions and use of the Psalms in ancient Israel —- like a commentary; but also shows how the theme of each psalm discussed can be used as a devotional and as a springboard to prayer and communion with the Father.

Godfrey describes the make-up and apparent theme and aim of each of the five Books that make up the Psalms in our Bibles today. After that description, the author details more of the interesting facts behind the psalms described (over 80 in all), how they tie into the overall theme of the Book in which they are found, and how modern-Christians can better understand and make more practical and spiritual lessons contained in each psalm. The book is written in a clear and entertaining manner, making it very accessible to the general reader; but with enough theological and expository insight to be very useful for pastors. Most highly recommended!

Devotions for Men by Men

BOOK REVIEW: STAND STRONG by Our Daily Bread Ministries (2020)

This is a devotional designed for men that provides a short Scripture passage, followed by an applying devotion — enough for each day of the year. The contributors to this devotional are all seasoned pastors, seminary teachers, and writers for Our Daily Bread. Men will find this devotional full of bite-sized wisdom a help to start their days in line with Jesus.

How to Accomplish More and Stress Less

WIN THE DAY: 7 Daily Habits to Help You Stress Less & Accomplish More by Mark Batterson

Win the Day is the latest book by pastor and author Mark Batterson, and I predict this book will be as popular and helpful to people as his other books, such as The Circle Maker and Chase the LionIn this book, Batterson read a large number of secular and Christian books on leadership and productivity to deliver this book on how to redeem each day to its maximum extent…but without making yourself frantic and stressed out. This is a big goal, but Batterson accomplishes his purpose in this helpful and thought-provoking book.

Batterson makes a compelling case to discipline our minds to stay in the present and not waste time ruminating on the past. The author contends that only by focusing on the goals and tasks for each day on a one-day-at-a-time manner can a person maximize their efforts with the least amount of stress.

The book is divided into three parts. First, to win the day, we must bury our dead yesterdays. In Part 2, Batterson gives the main habits and tips necessary to win the day. Finally, in Part 3, he discusses how important it is to have God-sized dreams for the future to help get through the daily grind. Like an athlete who pushes her body to the limit daily with purpose, but all done so that they can win the gold medal at the Olympics.

I am a facts/history/little-known things nerd, so I really enjoy reading Batterson’s books because, in this one, he uses all kinds of unique and unknown facts of science and history to make his points more memorable. I highly recommend this book for anyone who is tired of driving in neutral and ready to make the most of each day and year the Lord gives them.