I’m sure y’all have been sitting around wondering what in the world happened to my Book Stack posts (because you have nothing better to do, ha!). As you probably know, I am currently working on my own book, so most of my writing time this year was devoted to that. I promise I have still been reading, though! Since I just finished my first draft, I thought I’d take a little break and share a quick recap of what I’ve read so far in 2022.
I usually share these book stacks as I read them, which means they are mixed up together. But since I am eight months behind and I have no idea in which order I read them, I think it will be more beneficial for all of us if I just share them according to genre!
Let’s start with my Spiritual Growth Stack:
Come and See by Tina Reale
In this unique devotional, Tina Reale (a fellow hope*writer!), leads us through reading the four gospel accounts in 90 days. There is so much I love about this book!
First, I love that we actually read the Bible and don’t just read someone else’s ideas. At the top of each day is the “assigned reading”— one chapter a day, consecutively carrying us through Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Below the reading assignment, she focuses on one or two verses, and then proceeds to give background information with personal application on those verses. I love how she goes to great lengths to maintain the integrity of each passage. Finally, I love that she follows each devotional with a reflection question and a prayer, enabling us to not just be “hearers of the Word” but also do-ers.
Many devotionals are either too shallow or too theologically deep (and boring) for women who really want to grow their relationship with God. Tina Reale finds the perfect balance of spiritual depth and interesting commentary, all while centering the entire thing on God’s actual Words, and not just her own. And since you are reading through the gospels, you can’t help but know Jesus better at the end!
I highly recommend Come and See, especially to anyone who wants to read their Bible but maybe feels intimidated by where to start and wonders if they will understand it. Let Tina be your guide as you embark on a journey with Jesus!
Also, if you’re on Instagram, you should give her a follow: @tinareale
Growing Slow by Jennifer Dukes Lee
I actually read this book along with a group of friends as part of a book study in my home. I had it on my shelf for awhile, and after the craziness of our boys’ basketball season, my heart was desperate for a little slowing down. Not only that, as an author, there is all kinds of pressure to try to build a platform and add followers if one ever hopes to be considered by a traditional publisher. While I would love to be traditionally published one day, the whole platform-building thing gives me the “icks.” I am much more inclined to a process of growing slowly and organically, so this book seemed like a great fit.
It was! Jennifer Dukes Lee seems like someone I would love to sit down with over a cup of chai and chat with for hours. She shares her faith-based, hard-earned lessons through the lens of life as a farm-wife, and it is truly endearing. There are so many take-aways from this book! I especially love that she ends each chapter with a meaningful quote, a few reflection questions, and a space for readers to remind themselves of what they hear God saying as they read.
Lee’s personal stories flow throughout each chapter like water in a creek bed, adding humor and refreshment. Her vulnerability encourages honest introspection and made it easier for us to share as a group. While readers might not relate to every chapter, every reader will find themselves somewhere in this book.
In our overly busy, success-oriented society, this book is a must-read for anyone seeking to slow down. (Spoiler: you might just find it’s easier to hear the Lord when you do!)
Journey to His Heart by Becca Gunyon
My sweet friend, Becca Gunyon, wrote this book. It is a love story of sorts between herself and the Lord, in which she invites her readers to join her on a journey to the heart of our heavenly Father. Using creative imagery and packed with Scripture, Becca encourages her readers to let go of the false impressions they have of themselves and the Lord, and move intentionally into the depth of His love and kindness.
The second half of the book contains a 30-week guide of reflection questions, Scripture, and weekly principles to help draw the reader into closer intimacy with the Lord. My favorite thing about this book was how my sweet friend’s compassionate heart and love for the Lord shone through so clearly!
Tactics by Gregory Koukl
I don’t usually read books like this, so I enjoyed it simply because it was different. Several online apologetics groups I am part of recommended Tactics, so I put it on my 2022 Reading list. I think it would be a fantastic book to work through with a small group or to include in a college course curriculum.
Greg Koukl shares several different “tactics” for engaging in conversations with people who are unchurched or even hostile to Christianity. Since we live in a culture currently flooded with controversy that defaults to debating (aka slamming and disrespecting the other person) over social media, Christians can certainly learn a lot from Koukl. I appreciated that it was not a book filled with trite answers, but instead, a book intended to make people think. The goal is not about winning an argument; it’s about learning to listen, exposing false thinking/belief systems, and compelling people to think through what they really believe.
This book reads a little bit like a text book. And though it’s not the author’s intent, it is certainly possible for people to use these methods to treat people like a “spiritual project” rather than responding to others with a heart of compassion. So while I highly recommend it, I encourage you to use it as merely one of many resources to help you engage with those who don’t share your beliefs.
Gentle and Lowly by Dane Ortlund
Though I am not quite finished with this book, I have read enough to share my thoughts. Few books in my stack came as highly recommended as this book. For about six months, it seemed like this title was popping up in all my circles with people raving about how it changed their life. So of course, I quickly added it to my Amazon cart and couldn’t wait to read it.
Honestly, it is underwhelming to me. For all the hype, I really expected something more impactful! It’s not a bad book; I just wouldn’t call it a good book, either. The overall premise is refreshing in that Ortlund demonstrates the dance that exists between all of God’s various characteristics. While our current culture defines justice and mercy as opposites, Jesus beautifully embodies both at the same time. For Him, they are not conflicting, but complimentary—which is a little mind-blowing for us, if we’re honest.
In each chapter, Ortlund paints a picture of our sinful unworthiness and how Jesus, though He has every right to turn away or smite us, instead comes toward us, “gentle and lowly,” offering us grace, kindness, and healing in the midst of our mess. Perhaps it’s because I already view God in this way, but this was not earth-shattering for me. In addition, I found the reading tedious. The author includes an abundance of sources and plenty of Scripture, but it seems to just drag on. This book is going slowly for me; I find myself constantly counting how many pages are left in each chapter.
Do I recommend this book? Maybe. If you like theological books and if you come from a more legalistic, God-fearing (as in actual fear, not awe) faith background, this book may completely transform how you relate to Jesus. This was not my position, nor was it my experience with the book, but I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, as the saying goes!
The 40-Day Sugar Fast by Wendy Speake
Any other Sugar addicts out there? Good gracious, this is a challenge for me. I have learned that once or twice a year I need to do a detox by cutting sugar and gluten completely out of my diet, simply to reset my hormones and get myself back on track. I know most people talk about how they feel so much better when they cut out sugar and switch to whole foods, but I have to be honest—I hate it. It is painful for me! And it takes me a LONG time before I start feeling better. Mostly I just feel miserable!
Enter Wendy Speake’s devotional, The 40-Day Sugar Fast. I actually picked up this book because I wanted to be more intentional with some spiritual disciplines this year, and fasting was at the top of my list. The fact that fasting is not a normal (or even semi-regular) practice for me is not something I’m proud of, but the reality is, I love food and no one really modeled fasting for me or taught about it much during my early years of spiritual formation. So when I saw this book, I was intrigued by the idea of doing my no-sugar diet as a fast to the Lord rather than just something I had to suffer through.
Simply shifting my mindset to a “fast” instead of a “diet” made a tremendous difference. But this book— wow! Wendy does not mess around. Her daily devotionals were integral in not only focusing my heart on Christ, but enabling the Holy Spirit to reveal so many other areas I was harboring idols (not just sugar). If you are willing to do the heart work, this book could truly be life-changing!
Here is a quote from John Piper (A Hunger for God) that had a profound impact on me and helped prepare my heart for what the Lord wanted to do:
“If you don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because you have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Your soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great. God did not create you for this. There is an appetite for God and it can be awakened. I invite you to turn from the dulling effects of food and the dangers of idolatry, and to say with some simple fast: ‘This much, oh God, I want you.’”
She has also authored a similar book entitled, “The 40-Day Social Media Fast.” That one is sitting on my nightstand, waiting for me to commit. One of these days…
Well, that’s it for this first book stack! Watch the blog next week for part two of the spiritual growth books I’ve read so far this year. I also have a stack of fiction and and a stack of YA Fantasy, so stay tuned. In the meantime, I would love to know if you’ve read any of these books, and if so, what were your impressions?
Plus, I’m always looking for new recommendations.
What’s on your nightstand?