Last year, I learned a very important lesson that helped shape everything I did, although with challenges here and there. It was from a Christian book appropriately titled, Embracing Obscurity: Becoming Nothing in Light of God’s Everything, by, you guessed right, Anonymous. There’s a lot of speculation regarding who the author is with some convinced it’s Francis Chan. Whoever the author is, they did a
hell of a tremendous job shaking me up!
I spent the better part of 2014 battling insignificance. The book was prophetic and timely, looking back I can see God led me to the book in preparation for what was to come. 2015 if I didn’t know better, I could say it was the year I fell from grace. Everything points to that, health, education, family including the church. The reality was this; God wanted me to embrace obscurity.
Anonymous had wonderful advice for me:
[red_box] When we accept that our value is not dependent on what we do or accomplish, we are ironically liberated to do much for Christ. Not “much” in the ways for which we’ve striven up to this point, but “much” in terms of fulfilling the two greatest commandments : loving God and loving others (Matt. 22: 34– 40). It makes sense, doesn’t it? How can we possibly love God or love others from a pure heart while we’re chasing after frivolities to confirm our value? [/red_box]
This is why I love books, if the writer willingly submits to God, their words can become a beacon of life to people they have never met. I came to Christ after reading a book by a German evangelist, Reinhard Bonnke. For that reason, I hold good Christian books in high regard.
There’s nothing I cherish more in Christian books than finding lessons that can draw me closer to God and aid me in experiencing the glory of the Father in the Son. This is why I continue to read and strive to be a better writer.
Although 2015 was a tough year for my family and me, there are some important lessons that I learned from my reading that I believe would be helpful to you in 2016 and the years to come.
4 Lessons I learned from Christian Books on Prayer
1. Even the heroes of faith struggled in hearing God’s voice
Although Karen Dabhagian’s Travelogue of the Interior explored the application of the book of Psalm as a tool for retelling our stories and pouring out our hearts to God in praise and lament, with doubt and faith, a quick side note on the faith of the heroes of faith blew my mind. When we think of Abraham as the father of faith it is easy to assume that when God called him it was loud and clear. This might not be true. God could have called him through a still small voice that was easy to dismiss.
2. When I don’t pray it’s not because I don’t feel like it. It’s because I don’t trust God enough
I do not agree with Donald S. Whitney’s assertion in Praying the Bible, “Genuinely Christian people— often do not pray simply because they do not feel like it. And the reason they don’t feel like praying is that when they do pray, they tend to say the same old things about the same old things.” Praying The Bible could be a great prescription of a misdiagnosis. What do I mean? The proposed technique helps against unbelief, which I think is the root of prayerlessness. When you pray the Bible you build up your faith as the word of God dwells in you richly.
3. The best way to learn how to pray is by starting to pray
It might look narcissistic to include a lesson from my own book. I have read The Secret Place numerous times and each time I have learned something new. The reason we don’t pray enough is because we do not pray. A prayer life is like a catalytic chain reaction, once it starts it doesn’t stop unless you take away the catalyst or the reacting substances. The Holy Spirit is our catalyst. Prayer is not a subject to be mastered or an area demanding expertise, but a practice that one needs to engage in daily.
4. If you see Jesus enough, you too would like to pray like him
The health of your prayer life is determined by the loftiness of your God concept. True prayer proceeds after a paradigm shifting encounter with God. The kind that destroys everything you believed about him replacing it with an authentic panoramic view of his glory, majesty, power and wisdom. R.C. Sproul in The Prayer of the Lord contends that the disciples so the link between Christ’s power and his prayer life. So, they asked, “Lord, teach us to pray.”
5 Lessons I Learned from Christian Books on Preaching
5. Christian bloggers and authors are also preachers
How you view your writing determines how you blog. It never occurred to me that as a blogger and author I was a minister of the word. In Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism, Timothy Keller wrote. “Christians who are presenting biblical teaching are not to be simply expressing their own opinion but giving others “the very words of God.”… And if they explain the meaning of the Bible faithfully, listeners will be able to hear God speaking to them in the exposition.” Therefore, as a blogger every article I write should reveal God’s voice clearly.
6. The problem with my blog is not the method, but the message
I made a mistake of thinking that my blogging skills would help me improve my blog’s reach, resonance, and reactions. I followed all the blogging advice, avoiding boring headlines, writing short paragraphs, adding pictures, search engine optimization etc., it worked for a while, but never gave a lasting impact. Trevin Wax gave me the best blogging advice in Gospel-Centered Teaching: Showing Christ in all the Scriptures, “I’m convinced that the method is not what matters most anyway; it’s the message. Get the message right, and God will work through a variety of methods. But miss the message, and the best methods in the world won’t bring about transformation.”
7. A good preacher/blogger knows their audience
In blogging, articles that are shared the most have high resonance with the reader. Unfortunately, resonance is often mistook for relevance. For example, churches, especially youth ministries think making the gospel cool will make them reach more young people. Resonance is established when you deliver a message that is sensitive to the listener or reader without compromising the integrity of the gospel. In Preaching the Whole Counsel of God, Julius J. Kim advised ministers of the word to follow Paul’s leading, “Paul engaged in careful audience analysis to discern his listeners ’ spiritual and cultural state so as to present the gospel of Jesus more effectively. Knowing your audience influences the text you select.”
8. Prepare the heart more than the head
Robert Murray McCheyne diary entry on February 21, 1836 described perfectly how I approached blogging for long, “Preached twice at Larbert, on the righteousness of God. Rom. 1:16. In the morning was more engaged in preparing the head than the heart. This has been frequently my error.” This also has been my error, I prepare the head more than the heart. Sometimes, I even neglect the heart and watch it drift away as I continue in my obsession with knowledge and intellectual elitism. John Piper’s The Supremacy of God in Preaching attacks the error at its core, “The goal of preaching is the glory of God reflected in the glad submission of the human heart. And the supremacy of God in preaching is secured by this fact: The one who satisfies gets the glory; the one who gives the pleasure is the treasure.”
9. I am a spokesperson for God
J.I. Parker defined ministering of the word as ‘the event of God himself bringing to an audience a Bible-based, Christ-related, life-impacting message of instruction and direction through the words of a spokesperson.’ From this basis, Greg R. Scharf argues in Let the Earth Hear His Voice, “Success in preaching is defined by the extent to which the message gets through to the intended listeners in a form they can recognize as a word from God himself.” He added, “A faithful steward sees to it that all the treasure entrusted to him gets to its intended recipients in good condition.” Therefore, a good messenger cares for the Master, the message, the receivers and the method, in that order.
5 Lessons I Learned from Christian Living Books
10. God wants me to be happy
I have always believed that joy is more reverend than happiness. “It’s not just okay to be happy; it’s right to be happy… If we’re not experiencing happiness in God, then we’re disobeying and missing the abundant life Jesus came to give (John 10:10),” wrote Randy Alcorn in God’s Promise of Happiness. Nothing is as liberating as knowing that God’s happiness is not entirely dependent on my actions or inactions, “We flatter ourselves by imagining we are the primary source of God’s happiness, tilting him one way or the other by what we think, do, and say.”
11. Agreeing with the Word of God is good, but might not help you, at all
You and I both agree that the reason we are spiritually stunted, do not pray more better, are not fruitful and effective in the knowledge of God is because of unbelief. God is good all the time, God loves us, God is omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient; we know this to be true, we agree with this and yet… Barnabas Piper writes in Help My Unbelief, “Belief that collects knowledge and acknowledges something to be true but doesn’t transform one’s actions is the mere mental-assent part. Christianity is built on transformational belief.”
12. Your redemption narrative is a tapestry of God’s grace
“A life story doesn’t just say what happened, it says why it was important, what it means for who the person is, for who they’ll become, and for what happens next,” writes Julie Beck in The Atlantic. Lee Strobel interviewed Christians across the US from different economic and social backgrounds in The Case for Grace revealing how Christ’s goodness transforms people by giving them a new identity. From former drug addicts to infamous warlords, Strobel showed that facts and events do not craft a person, instead, “contributes a piece to the grace puzzle, showing how grace goes beyond forgiveness to acceptance and even adoption by God; how it restores hope when none is left; how it extends to the most heinous circumstances; and how it allows us to forgive those who caused our most intimate wounds — and even to forgive ourselves.”
13. Suffering people don’t need your sermons, they need you
Have you ever heard people say Christians are a bunch of pretentious liars? If you haven’t it’s probably because you haven’t hanged around people who are suffering. I will be praying for you, tell me when you need anything, all things workout for the good, it is God’s will: these are some of the clichés we use to harass people who are suffering. In Just Show Up, Kara Tippetts who went home after a long battle with cancer advised, “But when we show up for one another we invade each other in love, and become witnesses to the truth that trials and sickness and pain are not the whole story.”
14. You win the battle against sin by turning to God and not yourself
Our spirit is regenerated, we renew our minds daily, but our bodies are not yet sanctified. This means the battle against sin is real, even though we might want to deny it. Fleshly desires is left untamed, give birth to temptation and when temptation is fully ripe leads to sin. How can we lay aside all the weights, especially the sin that easily ensnares us? “If turning from God to our own ways is the core of sin, then salvation involves the very opposite. Instead of turning our backs on God and defiantly choosing to sin and be estranged from him, we turn around to face God and submit to him,” advised A.C. Chukwuocha in The War Within: Christians and Inner Conflict.
3 Lessons I Learned from Christian Books on Productivity
15. I don’t have to be productive
The reason I am always trying to do a lot of things; blogging, writing books, both on science and Christianity, research, graphic designing etc, isn’t that I am very talented, but I long for significance and recognition. In the groundbreaking book on Gospel-Centered productivity, What’s Best Next, Matthew A. Perman had a paradigm shifting view on productivity, “The only way to be productive is to realize that you don’t have to be productive.” I want my boss to know that I am smart enough, so I work extra hard, but I don’t have to. I want WordPress to honor me by featuring me on Discover, so I write good headlines, post regularly and write engaging unique content, but I don’t have to. I want to write a book on Writing in 2016 hoping it sell more copies, but I don’t have to. I want my blog to have at least 10,000 followers by the end of 2016, but I don’t have to. What I truly need is to glorify God through faithfully stewarding for the good of my family, friends, community and church.
16. It’s okay to say no
I’m a yesman. I find it difficult to say no to other people, except myself. In the end, I deprive myself of rest or moments of reflection. It takes faith to say no. Tim Challies quotes Randy Alcorn in Do More Better, “The key to a productive and contented life is “planned neglect”— knowing what not to do and being content with saying no to truly good, sometimes fantastic, opportunities. This happens only when you realize how truly limited you are, that you must steward your little life, and that of all the best things to do on the planet, God wants you to do only a miniscule number.” And adds, “You haven’t begun to live a focused and productive life until you have said no to great opportunities that just do not fit your mission.” I believe saying no is an act of great faith and I should do it more often.
17. I am not perfect and I shouldn’t waste my time trying to be a perfectionist
I have a big problem with perfection. I am a perfectionist and it’s a big problem considering it might have caused me thousands of dollars in the emergency room. Anxiety attacks, depression and so forth. The cause of perfectionism for me is acceptance and fear. I have wrongly wired my brain to think that people accept me because of the greatness and exceptionality of my work. On the other hand I am afraid of failing. Daniel Hochhalter was a PhD candidate in England. After many years of study he failed and gave some important advice in Losers Like Us, “Achievement, I thought, brings status, and status brings value. I feared that when achieving ceased, my status would crash and my value would evaporate.”
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I’m learning a lot and so will you.