February. A month synonymous with cold and dreary. If she’s anything like her twin sister January, I expect her to live up to her reputation in 2018. The ever-optimist in me, however, stubbornly refuses to acknowledge the bad in a situation (sometimes to my detriment) and look for the good . . . and I found one. Gray, snowy weather outside calls for fuzzy blankets, hot tea, and a good book inside.
Multiple good books, actually. Here’s a quick synopsis of the first six titles I read or listened to last month while swinging on my indoor hammock, pretending it’s summer.
Never Give in: The Extraordinary Character of Winston Churchill by Stephen Mansfield
To understand the lessons of leadership Churchill has to teach, we must first understand the life Churchill had to lead and the fascinating manner in which his personal history reinforced his character of leadership.
As you know, I worked my way through a 700-page biography of Churchill last year, then while home for the holidays watched “The Darkest Hour” in theaters, which only heightened my fascination with this famous British Prime Minister. So naturally when I saw this book sitting on my parent’s shelf, I couldn’t pass it up.
The book is divided into three sections: The Character of Leadership, which covers his military and political successes; The Pillars of Leadership, a look at his personal life and character; and The Legacy of Leadership, which examines his lasting legacy in Britain and around the world.
While I’ve read differing opinions on whether Churchill was a Christian or not, Mansfield takes the position that he was, pointing to the early influence of his childhood Anglican nanny as well as statements he made in later years acknowledging the God of the Bible. He certainly held to Christian values. While I’ve yet to form a complete opinion on the matter, that doesn’t keep me from appreciating the man’s work ethic, sense of duty, sacrificial leadership, and comical personality. If you’re not up to reading a biography as thick as a Bible, this book is a great choice.
Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes Your Soul by Hannah Anderson
We are not called to embody Jesus ourselves; He has already been incarnated and is still even now! No, we are not called to be Jesus; we are called to fall at His feet and worship Him.
I love how the back cover describes this beautiful book, “Part theology of incarnation, part stroll through fields and forests, Humble Roots reveals how cultivating humility–not scheduling or increased productivity–leads to true peace. By remembering who you are and Who you aren’t, you can discover afresh your need for God and the rest that comes from belonging to Him.”
Pastor’s wife Hannah Anderson invites us on a journey toward humility by exploring the ways wild flowers, healing herbs, and other growing plants resemble gospel grace in our lives. It is a beautifully written personal story of one woman’s pursuit of rest found by living as an image bearer–humbly dependent on her Creator.
The chapter that stood out the most to me was “Field of Dreams,” in which she tells of her discovery of how God gives us desires and uses them to bring us pleasure that is simultaneous with His glory. We don’t have to smother our personal dreams or interests, rather, “part of submitting to God also means recognizing that even our desires originate from Him.” She goes on to say, “Ultimately, when you acknowledge your desires and risk owning them, you are agreeing with God about who He has made you to be . . . And ultimately, this leads to rest.”
God is using this book to do a work in me. I found much freedom in knowing that my desires are God-given and not something to be squashed. This doesn’t look like selfish pursuits. Rather, when clothed in humility, going after our God-given desires can be a sweet aroma of praise to our God.
A Song Unheard by Roseanna M. White
This was a free book sent from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for a review. I’m not familiar with the author but chose it strictly because it was about a violinist set in World War I. What I didn’t know at the time is that it’s the second in a three-part series, although that didn’t seem to matter too much.
This novel was a nice change of pace from the heavy, thoughtful books I typically read. The characters were interesting, the story line was both suspenseful and slightly romantic (not overwhelmingly so) and there was just enough references to historical events to keep me happy. It was not your typical plot (a thief for a heroine?) which made it slightly less predictable. But only slightly.
One side note: I’m not sure when I last read a Christian novel, (and by that I don’t mean a novel by a Christian author) but this book, though a nice, easy read, reminded me why I rarely do. To me, including words like “prayer” and “God’s plan” and a vague definition of salvation just feels forced, like they had to write in Scripture-quoting characters to make it “Christian.” I’m not saying it can’t be done well, I’m just saying it’s difficult. In general it’s more likely for a book to come across as cheesy than as a herald of the gospel message. Although this book wasn’t terrible in that sense, I’d rather have a riveting, complex story that quietly weaves in themes of forgiveness or grace (think Les Miserables) over one that screams “Christian!”
The Green Ember by S. D. Smith
If you aren’t angry about the wicked things happening in the world, then you don’t have a soul.
Here is a perfect example of what I was just talking about. This children’s book is written like an allegory, akin to Lord of the Rings, or so I hear. (I’ve never actually read Tolkien.)
The Green Ember is a sweet story of bravery and humility, love and devotion, betrayal and sacrifice. Yes, it’s about rabbits and wolves, and yes, it’s written for children. But even grown adults will enjoy the life lessons and adventures of little Picket and his sister Heather as they discover the history of the Green Ember and their role in saving the kingdom of King Jupiter.
Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi
I lay prostrate in a large Muslim prayer hall, broken before God. The edifice of my worldview, all I had ever known, had slowly been dismantled over the past few years. On this day, my world came crashing down. I lay in ruin, seeking Allah.
Wow, this is such a compelling story of God’s irresistible grace at work. Listening to the audiobook with the author reading is the way to go, as only the author knows the proper inflections (and correct pronunciations of Arabic words) to accurately tell his story. (Sadly, I just learned that this author died from stomach cancer last September.)
The whole narrative is extremely captivating, and toward the end I simply could not stop listening. I got chills hearing his account of coming to a full realization of the depth of his sin against a holy God . . . followed by his understanding of the incomprehensible sacrifice this same God made in order to redeem him and remove this sin from his life, something that Allah could not and did not do for him.
Reading a first-hand account of someone raised in an Muslim family was eye-opening. There is so much I didn’t know about Islam, nor how they Muslims perceive westerners and Christianity. Makes me want to further explore their culture–and be ready to better explain my faith in Jesus.
Refresh: Embracing a Grace-Paced Life in a World of Endless Demands by David and Shona Murray
None of us should feel guilty about filling our energy tanks if it’s with a view to serving God and others better.
This book was the right message at the right moment, though I naively did not expect that upon taking it up. I was, in fact, amazed how relevant and needed it was. I’m not even living a crazy-paced life right now–I couldn’t if I wanted to, due to my physical limitations–but much of what sent me over the edge physically last summer is addressed here.
The importance of sleep, of limiting technology, of daily, weekly, and annual moments of rest, of regular exercise, of investing in relationships, of resting the mind as well as the body . . . this and so much more are what Scottish couple David and Shona write about from their personal experiences with burnout and depression.
Their words and example have challenged me to establish better rhythms in my life, helping me to see that God still wants me to be faithful with what I do have–my time, my resources, my energy–even in a season when my daily accomplishments are little and seemingly insignificant. I found this reminder to be hopeful and life-giving.
What are you reading? What’s on your to-read list? I’m always on the lookout for new, good books to read and would love to know what you recommend!