Every Season Prayers – A Book Review

every-season-prayersPrayer is conversation with God. Good conversations should be two-sided with both parties dialoguing and exchanging thoughts. The thing about conversations, especially the hard ones, is that it can sometimes be difficult to get them started. That’s where Scotty Smith comes in.

 

Scotty Smith’s book “Every Season Prayers is a fairly exhaustive volume of prayers for different occasions that we may encounter in life. Health concerns. Life change. Prodigal children. If you can think of a situation, chances are, Scotty Smith has covered it in this volume.

 

In the introduction, he states that his intent for this book, “is to equip God’s people to pray, not do their praying for them.” These are supposed to help people get their prayers off the ground, and in many cases, give them words that they are struggling to find in the middle of circumstances that have left them speechless. Smith is giving words to the wordless and helping them articulate what’s going on inside.

 

The prayers within this book are saturated in Scripture. The subtitle for the book is, “Gospel-centered prayers for the whole of life” and he does a great job infusing the Gospel into every prayer throughout this book. The prayers are also filled with honesty and genuineness. There are prayers that are so raw and emotional for moments when one’s own emotionality may dominate so much that they are incapable of thinking clear thoughts and articulating just how they are feeling. Into those moments, Smith gives clear and concise prayers that can easily help someone to find words in the struggles.

 

This book is not meant to be read from cover to cover. Instead, it can be used as a guide and resource, a tool to help people through the various seasons in life that they find themselves. There are short and simple prayers. There are prayers for various seasons in the church such as Lent and Advent. Smith encourages the reader to go beyond the prayers in his book, recommending that they be a springboard into an understanding of the importance of prayer.

 

While I’ve not been fond of using others’ prayers in my own life, I can see how this book would be helpful for those who struggle with knowing just what words they need to use in conversation with God. If you find yourself in that place of struggling for words in prayer, this may be a good starting point for you to move towards finding a place of comfort and security in your times of prayer.

 

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

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America at the Crossroads – A Book Review

america-at-the-crossroadsA look at the headlines and the polls will be a clear indicator that all is not well with the United States. We are living in a volatile time where divisions seem to be growing wider and wider as ideologies grow further and further apart. Conservatives attack liberals, liberals attach conservatives. Moderates do their best to pretend that they want no part in any of it while trying to offer a third way. We are living in the moment, but as we live in the moment, we often take our sights off of where we’ve been and where we are going. George Barna offers an alternative with his book “America at the Crossroads.”

As he writes in the introduction, “America has become a culture that seems more interested in being “in the moment” than one that focuses on understanding the connections between past, present, and future, and how people’s choices can and should influence the future.” As the founder of the Barna Group, a leading research group that specializes in faith-related surveys, Barna offers recent data and organizes it throughout the book to lay out the current landscape of America. Barna does not hesitate to be candid and transparent in revealing that his is a Christian standpoint, but he is quick to offer his own apologetic for objectivity by saying, “I am not arguing for a theocracy or for Christianity to be instituted as the state-sanctioned religion of the land. I am, however, suggesting that when people embrace God’s principles and hold themselves accountable to them, everyone is better off.”

Barna shares his data on topics such as faith and spirituality, government and politics, and lifestyle and perspectives. He digs deep into the spiritual state of America as he reveals what people think about God, the Bible, church, and other matters of spirituality. He reveals that whereas Christians once stood in contrast to their worldly counterparts regarding behavior and morality, the dividing line is less pronounced and much more difficult to distinguish. Churches have begun to look at factors to quantify growth that only give superficial pictures of the reality that lies beneath the surface.

Barna shares data about the distrust that people have in financial institutions, churches, the government, and even the police. He also shares about the move towards political correctness in our society, a move that has vastly diverged from the initial values on which the country was founded. He says, ““In contemporary America, truth is whatever we say it is. We have adopted the mind-set that everyone must determine their own truth, and nobody can legitimately question the veracity of that perspective for that individual. The notion of embracing absolutes is anathema to most Americans.” Gone are the days of absolutes as we enter into a relativistic society where anything goes and beliefs become so personal that the only time you can attack them is when they conflict with the majority.

As he continues in “America at the Crossroads,” Barna describes an America that is shifting far away from absolutes and Christian values, an America that is not necessarily taking steps towards betterment like they may be thinking, but is instead heading down a path that will not lead to positive growth but towards demise. With this move away from absolutes and an absolute truth and a move towards political correctness and an “anything goes” ideology, we are heading into dangerous territory. He writes, “When Americans are no longer free – or no longer feel free – to hold or express opinions that conflict with the perspectives promoted by certain vocal or activist sectors of society, we are headed down a dangerous path.”

While the data that Barna shares is sobering, especially for those who espouse a similar Christian worldview and ideology, he isn’t simply a doomsday prophet speaking doom and gloom upon the world. Why offer problem without solutions? Barna asks the reader to, “imagine what would happen to the United States if all the people who are truly devoted to knowing, loving, and serving God…were to consistently live like Jesus.” He may be revealing the flaws of the country overall, but his call to action is to those who espouse Christianity, those whom he thinks can make a significant difference should they begin to live in such a way as to distinguish themselves and live and act as Jesus did.

“America at the Crossroads” is an honest and sobering book, describing an America that lies beneath the headlines, one that is not destined for the greatness that many think. It could be easy for Barna to get caught up in his data, but he shares it succinctly, connecting it in context to reveal its relevance for the matters at hand. His chapters are well-organized, sharing the data, summarizing the results, and then offering his own interpretation of the findings. While he is not without bias, it does not seem that he is doctoring the data to only reveal what he wants it to reveal.

Regardless of your worldview or ideology, “America at the Crossroads” is a good read, worthwhile and challenging. While you may not agree with Barna’s worldview, there is no denying that all is not well in America and a change is necessary. What kind of change is the point of divergence, but Barna offers a logical, practical, and viable approach for those who call themselves Christians.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Home – A Book Review

home - fitzpatrickOver the past few years, there has been an overabundance of books and movies published and produced about heaven. If you walk into any Christian book store, you will see the shelves lined with these books and movies. Some of them have even gone on to garner more expansive attention. While I haven’t seen the movies and I’ve only read or perused a handful of the books, I’ve gotten the basic idea of the premise behind them, and that idea is rarely about meeting Jesus face to face. Instead, it seems that these books have focused instead on the fact that a) death isn’t the end and b) we’ll get to see our loved ones in heaven.

 

Those may not be the worst conclusions, but they certainly aren’t the best conclusions either. If heaven is simply about escaping hell and seeing the people we love, I think we’ve missed the point. Couple that with the fact that many of the conclusions in these books are based not upon the Bible but on a person’s own dreams or near-death experiences. There may be a place for fiction and dreaming, but we still need to rely on what God has given us in order to determine, to know what is to come. If our only basis of what we know about heaven comes from these books on movies, we may have the tendency to be driven by an emotionalism rather than something more concrete and reliable.

 

Into this landscape comes Elyse Pitzpatrick’s book “Home.”

 

There is a sense in all of us, writes Fitzpatrick, an unfulfilled desire and unmet need for home that cannot be fulfilled. No matter what we try to do to fill those desires, Fitzpatrick suggests that this desire in us is meant to create in believers a dissatisfaction that can only be filled by our real home, which is not the earth. She writes, “Perhaps one of the reasons why God chooses to leave us in this terribly broken world with its various disappointments is to create in our souls a certain dissatisfaction, an insatiable hunger for home.”

 

As Fitzpatrick weaves her way through “Home,” she continually relies on the Bible and the writings of theologians and others. She continually points back to the Bible to frame what we know and what we can expect. She acknowledges the discomfort of living in a world ravaged by sin but reminds the reader that God’s intention for creation was something so much more than that.

 

Fitzpatrick shares her own experiences as well as the experiences of others. As I read some of the accounts of her friends, my heart ached for them. There is no question that this world is not as it should be. But in the midst of it all, Fitzpatrick points to the hope that we should have as followers of Christ. While things are bleak, disheartening, and somewhat depressing at times, the ache we feel inside is for what is to come. She suggests that the more we let the thought of our true Home slip away, the more difficult it will be for us to hold on to hope.

 

The humility with which Fitzpatrick writes is a winsome quality of this book. She honestly confesses that her life has not been filled with many of the struggles of others. While she hasn’t been without difficulties, she acknowledges that things have been fairly good. She writes with a sense of comfort to point those whose experiences haven’t been quite as joyous and carefree to the hope of which she writes. Even when she’s done, she humbly concludes with these words, “All that we have been through in these pages filled with black lines, all the drawing, erasing, and redrawing I’ve done for you are at best pencil sketches by a woman in a dungeon, trying to sketch a world I’ve never seen, seeking to employ words I’m not skilled enough to arrange, trying to create for you something more than a child’s stick-figure drawing.”

 

For me, “Home” was a refreshing read. It was evident that Fitzpatrick had done her homework in scouring the Bible as well as the writings of those who have studied the idea of heaven in the past. While there were moments when I felt like she was lost in the prose, the material which she was writing is so necessary to remind us all of what is to come.

 

There are much more scholarly works written about heaven, some of which Fitzpatrick makes reference to within her book. “Home” is an easily accessible book that is helpful to point people towards what is to come, not based on emotions, feelings, dreams, and other things, but based on what God has given to us as a revelation of himself and what he is bringing to us. This book is worth the read, especially for those who might be struggling most with finding hope in the midst of the brokenness that they are experiencing in this world.

 

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Bethany House Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)