Book Review: “Waiting for Wonder” by Marlo Schalesky

waiting-for-wonder-pkWe’re all familiar with the story of Abraham and Sarah … how they were blessed by God to be the blessing for future nations and generations. Of how Abraham, the great man of faith, on hearing God’s instruction to leave home, grabbed his family and did just that, not knowing where the Lord was leading them. But in Marlo Schalesky’s marvellous book we hear from Sarah, we gain insight into her perspective, on being Abraham’s wife and being wholly favoured by God not because she was a wife but because she too was the Lord’s beloved.

I liked how Ms Schalesky set out each chapter: we start with a Scripture from Genesis which sets it up, then a short introduction before we “hear” from Sarah herself, well, the author’s thoughts on what may have been going through Sarah’s mind at the time, then a section “Waiting for Wonder” where the author explores what’s to be discovered in the waiting and then finally “Who is this God?”, a short section bringing back to the greatness and goodness of God.

Yes, there is some repetition across 14 chapters of exploring “waiting”, however, there are some outstanding insights to be gleaned from the author’s interpretation of Sarah’s story that makes this book such a worthy resource on the subject. As Sarah and Abraham journeyed through many years of waiting the Lord drew them increasingly towards Himself, to a deeper intimacy and new devotion. This is what He calls each of us too. And that’s the wonder of “waiting”: our Creator woos us. To Himself in order that we discover our Lord in ways we could never have imagined and in so doing fresh perspectives on ourselves and His beloved.

I also appreciated the point that even when they received the blessing (yes, Sarah received it specifically too) from God of a child in a year’s time, they were again tested. And again they initially struggled because of their inherent fears that had always inhibited them. “Sometimes we must go back in order to go forward. We must face the sin, the lies we live, those in ourselves and in the people close to us.We cannot receive the fulfilment of promises to bless the world when we are stepped in old fear, old deceptions, old sins.”(loc 1357)

This so spoke to me. The Lord has something more for us but first of all we need to let go of the past and all its muck, whatever form it may take.

If you’re presently in a season of waiting then buy this book. Ms Schalesky wrestles with Scripture and overlays aspects of waiting in her own life to provide an excellent insight into the wonders that can be gained from waiting.

Note: A special thank you to Abingdon Press and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

You can discover more about “Waiting from Wonder” on the Litfuse Blog Tour site.

“Fight Back with Joy,” Margaret Feinberg

book2“Joy is one of those words that has been overused, distorted into a cliche.”

I nodded in agreement as I read that statement in the first few pages of this book. I confess I’m one of those people who doesn’t really understand it and too often relates it to happiness and/or my circumstances. Besides Margaret’s brilliant Biblical teaching, I was drawn to read her latest book to better understand “joy.”

Margaret drew me into her 18 month battle with cancer. We visit her doctors, the wards at the hospital, her standing in front of the mirror to inspect the surgeon’s handiwork and the downtime spent with her husband and puppy, Hershey. My eyes were never far from tears as my heart cried out for her but always awestruck at her bravery at sharing such details of the battle.

As I read this inspirational book I was constantly reminded of Brene Brown’s words, “Numbing the pain numbs the joy” as I believe that is how I’ve lived much of my life. Margaret stepped into her battle mindful of this and sought to discover joy. “No one is immune to sorrow, and only those who learn to grieve well can recapture the healing it brings.” and “Running from sorrow will only take you to scary places.”

Embracing our pain and sorrows enables us to experience joy. The sense of being intentional about experiencing joy was a key point I took from the book. Whether it’s in choosing to be alert to how we numb our pain, to loving intentionally with simple gestures as “thank you” and “I’m sorry,” or something grander like giving everyone in the hospital ward a red balloon as Margaret did, grabbing a hold of joy is a choice we make.

Often a challenging read, this is one of the books that lingers long after you’ve read it. As you’d expect, it’s full of relevant Biblical illustrations, Margaret’s sense of whimsy and brave storytelling. It also comes with some added extras at the end including tips on what to say to people going through a battle when you don’t know what to say and from Leif, her husband, on how a caregiver should care for themselves.

“Killing Lions,” John Eldredge & Sam Eldredge

killing-lionsIt was very special to be able to ‘participate’ in a conversation between a son and a father as they chatted about the key matters that impact a man’s heart.

Sam, the 25 year old, recently married and wanting some everyday wisdom on how to approach marriage, his vocation, his faith, friendships, and how to cherish his wife provides the context. His dad, John, asks as many questions as he ‘listens’ to Sam and provides his views based on his experience as a 53 year old. Being a trained counsellor and coaching men in life provides John with greater depth as he is able to relate other mens experiences in addition to his own.

If you’ve read John’s other books much of the content will not be new but being a witness to their conversation provides greater clarity and practical insight.

Particular highlights for me were Chapters 8 (A Few Questions about God) and 10 (Racing Toward the Unknown). Reading John share how he came to realise Jesus really is the way, the truth and the life is a very powerful witness. Then in the final chapter he raises a core question for all men: will I remain open to fathering?

The book also includes three of the Eldredge prayers: The Daily Prayer, Prayer of Guidance and Sexual Healing. All very useful to add to one’s prayer arsenal.

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I also bought the accompanying journal which enables the reader to explore each chapter on their own terms plus provides practical tips on additional reading, movies to watch, and questions to ask other men. It’s a fabulous resource and I’d encourage everyone to buy it and work through it as you read the book.

“God took me by the Hand,” Jerry Bridges

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Photo courtesy of NavPress

This was a delightful read of a very humble man who is able to look back at his 80+ years and see how God has His hand on so many small and large happenings during those years.

I haven’t read any of Jerry’s books and felt led to read this for some reason and am so glad for it.

There are so many takeaways from this short memoir of sorts, a few of which I’ll mention in this review. Jerry is an example of a person the world would least expect to make such an impact; he was born with a number of physical shortcomings and grew up in a very unassuming home. It reminds me how God loves taking the unassuming and use them to do great things for His Kingdom.

Jerry is a disciple of the Navigator Scripture Memory System and throughout this book he demonstrates how important the memorisation of Scripture has been in his life. As he says, if there are no verses hidden in your heart, what words can the Spirit nudge you with when He wishes to make a point? I love that.

Jerry’s idea of “dependent responsibility” which I believe is a theme through many of his works is a great concept. As he writes:

“We are responsible for sanctifying our lives but we cannot make one inch of progress in the Christian life apart from the enabling power of the Holy Spirit.” (p 75)

And finally, Jerry attributes his greatest period of fruitfulness to the last 20 years of his life. That gives me great hope that there is still much I can do that can bear fruit for the Lord.

I’m so appreciative of having read Jerry’s memoir and I will be sure to start working through some of his other books in due course.

“A Beautiful Defeat,” Kevin Malarkey

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Image courtesy of HarperCollins Australia

My pastor said recently: “the Kingdom of God only prospers through an atmosphere of warfare and violence.” It reminded me of this book that I’ve just finished for the second time in quick succession.

This is an excellent practical and Scripture-based guide on how to ‘take up our cross everyday.’

Malarkey starts out exploring why it is so difficult to live a surrendered life and in so doing has a good look at the nature of sin concluding there are three key influencers to why we sin: the world, the flesh and Satan. He provides useful illustrations clarifying the three.

The rest of the book provides guidance of how to practically surrender on a daily basis. He gives a good airing to acknowledging we are in a battle and how to appropriately prepare to survive and in fact prosper through it. There is a great chapter when he compares the preparation to what a Navy SEAL has to do in their line of work having interviewed one as part of his research for the book.

Each chapter ends with an action to take an honest assessment of yourself and a prayer to commit the key learnings to the Lord.

I took many notes as I read through it and am sure I’ll be referring back to those in the days to come.

If you’re grappling with the state of your walk with the Lord, you may find some super insights in this book that will help give you some sound perspective.

Highly recommended.

“The Heroic Path,” John Sowers

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Image courtesy of Jericho Books

Sowers explores his sense of manhood through sharing his journey from growing up fatherless whilst examining Jesus’ own journey from being the son of Mary to his coming out as the Son of God.

Throughout this marvellous book, I thought Sowers was in my head. Many of the scenes, feelings and thoughts he described I could personally relate to: the sense of not being manly enough and not fitting in with the perceived worldly expectations of men. In that regard, this was such a blessing that I am able to realise I am not alone in such thoughts.

Yes, this does have a ‘traditional” wilderness experience that many coming-to-manhood books also describe, however, even though Sowers encourages such a journey I believe he considers the definition of “wilderness” to be far and wide. Any experience that leads us to step outside our traditional comfort zones can have the same impact as confronting a huge bear as Sowers did.

“The way to the wild masculine follows the wind trails of Jesus as He walked into manhood, as He was called, initiated, empowered, and sent by the Father. This is the heroic path.” (pp90-91)

I love that quote. Holding onto Jesus to discover all that He has for us is what defines the pursuit of manhood, just as it was for Him as He walked those last three years of His time on the earth.

Sowers challenges us to go deep with God. Bathe in the Word allowing it to transform us because that is what it does when we get enough of it. Chapter 10 is fabulous in outlining a training plan for combating the enemy who will do everything he can to derail our objective and keep us drowning in self-condemnation and fear. Sowers takes us through how Jesus combated Satan when He completed His 40 day fast.

“Sacrificial love is the heart of manhood.” (p191)

Sowers sums it up in those seven words. Jesus, our Saviour but also our Example. This is how He lived His life and He lived the most manly life we can ever imagine or dear to live.

Well constructed and easy (but challenging content) to read, Sowers has written a quality book that will sit comfortably alongside others of its ilk, such as John Eldredge’s “Wild at Heart”.

I’ll be recommending “The Heroic Path” to all those men, young and old, who are yearning for more.

“Extreme Prayer,” Greg Pruett

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Photo courtesy of Tyndale House Publishers

This short book took a different approach to a lot of prayer books I’ve read. It focuses on the “whatever you ask” passages in the Bible that Jesus promises to answer. By providing specific examples from his own ministry Pruett was able to demonstrate how his prayer life developed over the years where increasingly he was able to relate answers to specific prayers he and his team had prayed.

Pruett introduced me to a new prayer acronym: ACTIVE, that is an extension to one many of us know: ACTS. It stands for:
A doration
C onfession
T hanksgiving
I ntercession/Supplication
V anquishing Satan
E xtreme Prayer

In outlining the elements of “Extreme Prayer” with practical examples, both Biblical and from his own experience, Pruett demonstrates prayer’s power. He suggests too many of us impose our own strategies to achieving certain outcomes and minimise prayer when venturing out. As prayer is a dialogue with God if we walk through our days with unceasing prayer we are far more likely to produce God-inspired outcomes.

I particularly appreciated Pruett’s emphasis on the power of unity in community (‘when two or three are gathered…”), specificity of our prayers and actively listening with pen in hand.

Highly recommended. This book gets you praying with added fervour and specificity.

“Can you Drink the Cup?” Henri Nouwen

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Photo courtesy of HenriNouwen.org

There’s something very soothing about Nouwen’s writing. His humility, wisdom and love for God are always reflected in his words. This small book is no exception.

Even though it’s easy to read, it’s important to allow his words and the messages he brings to percolate in your heart, so don’t rush this one.

The book reflects on the question Jesus asked James and John who perhaps answered a little too quickly in the affirmative. They were grappling for prominent positions within the disciples ranks and wanted to demonstrate their willingness to do anything Jesus asked.

Nouwen explores the question and the significance of the Cup using the three stages of drinking something: holding the cup, lifting it and, finally, drinking from it. It is a symbol of life that comes full of joys and sorrows.

In using examples from his own life caring for the disabled, Nouwen provides a wonderful outline to what drinking the Cup means and how to go about fully experiencing it.

Highly recommended.

“Living in Christ’s Presence,” Dallas Willard

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Image courtesy of InterVarsity Press

I find it difficult to fully express my appreciation for this wonderful book. It’s a summary of a series of talks that Willard gave in his final conference before his death in 2013 and features a number of conversations with John Ortberg who participated in that particular conference.

Willard (and Ortberg) always leave the reader with much to stew on. Ortberg describes Willard’s way of communicating the Gospel so aptly when he writes: “… every word is used with a precision that most of us don’t have.”

The authors cover a number of different topics about how to live experiencing the Kingdom including: the power of the Trinity, the importance of knowledge and how spiritual disciplines equip us with power. I particularly enjoyed the discussion around spiritual disciplines. They outlined the difference between “training” and “trying” re: adopting spiritual disciplines in our lives. Many of us think we “try” to incorporate them when we should more think it’s about “training” in running the race of life. We need to train so we gain the power to live well in the Kingdom.

This relatively small book left me wanting more of Willard’s teaching. I doubt it will be long before I start another one of his much loved books.

Highly recommended.

“Soul Keeping,” John Ortberg

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Image courtesy of JohnOrtberg.com

I believe we reflect less on the soul these days, however, as Ortberg outlines, the Bible talks a lot about it.

This beautifully written book helps the reader to understand the soul’s significance and how to care for it. It starts with an important and revealing analogy, one I’ve heard a few times, The Keeper of the Stream. It is with this backdrop that Ortberg soon jumps to the core of the book: “Your soul is what integrates your will (your intentions), your mind (your thoughts, feelings, etc) and your body (your face, body language, and actions) into a single life” and hence, “It’s the most important thing about you. It is your life.”

The book is split into three sections:

1. What the Soul is
2. What the Soul Needs
3. The Soul Restored

I found greatest benefit in the first two sections and particularly appreciated the sections that dealt with sin and how it wages war against the soul: “Sin fractures and shatters the soul.” It is in our fallen natures that our soul’s are needy, needy for God, but often we seek other alternatives which constitutes idolatry.

Ortberg shares his own struggles with keeping his soul set on God and provides some pointers through his own daily experience of how he has developed the habit of walking through his day interacting with God. Dallas Willard has played a pivotal role in Ortberg’s life and understanding of how to care for one’s soul. Throughout the book we are given the opportunity to share in many of their conversations on the topic which I enjoyed immensely.

Ortberg has a very readable style, however, this is a book that challenges and provokes the reader to draw closer to the Lord as it is only “with God” that we can find true contentment.

Highly recommended.