Finished this month:
The Law of Christ by Charles Leiter
OK. If you’re going to buy a book – get this one. Ohhhh I LOVED this book! On a couple of occasions it actually made me so joyful in the Lord it made me want to jump up and down and shout Hallelujah! This book lays before you the supreme excellence and glory of Christ, and it is so freeing, and so beautiful!
“The way of holiness is ultimately a love relationship with Christ,
empowered by the Holy Spirit.” (p. 220)
How is one to understand the law? Is the law of Moses and the law of Christ the same thing? How do they relate? What does it mean when the Scripture says that we are “free from the law” (Romans 8:2) or are no longer “under law” (Gal 5:18)? In sum: How should we live out this Christian life? Charles Lieter does a wonderful job exploring these questions, showing from the Scriptures how we should live in light of the example and commandments of Christ. We are indeed set free from the law and “in-lawed to Christ” (1 Cor 9:21). Throughout Scripture we have contrasts: flesh/spirit, law/grace, Moses/Christ. “It is not that the law of Christ overthrows the ‘holy and righteous and good’ law of Moses. God forbid! Rather, it fulfills and surpasses it!” (p. 94) We actually live by a higher standard – Christ! Over and over he emphasizes, our standard is Christ, and it is in light of the New Covenant and the supreme law of love that we interpret and “keep” the law. It’s not by rules, it’s by walking in the Spirit, by walking in love. Charles writes, “The Christian lives in a realm of glorious freedom, a freedom that brings with it the responsibility to serve others through love” (p. 104). It was convicting of course… how short I fall of Christ’s example to love!!!
If you have questions about this area, about what the law means or how you should be living out the Christian life and applying Scripture’s commands you need to read this book! If you are a Christian this will SO encourage you! There’s also a whole appendix in the back with some further discussion as well as a whole bunch of “frequently asked questions” which Charles does a fabulous job answering!
You can buy this book for just $11 (plus some shipping) here: http://www.grantedministries.org/law-of-christ-book-charles-leiter/
There’s a great summary of the book on this page as well. And on the same website you can get the e-book for $8.
OR – for a free download of a 3-part message on this topic from Charles Leiter see here: http://www.grantedministries.org/law-of-christ-charles-leiter/
This month I also read four books on prayer. It was interesting to compare, but also learn from each of these authors:
Answers to Prayer by George Muller
This one was less teaching and more just stories of answered prayer. At some point I want to read George Muller’s 2-part Narrative, but this little book gave a number of its highlights. In it you also find a section on how George Muller “found” (discerned) the will of God and how he knew what to pray for. Great little book that will give you great encouragement in your prayers!
The Prayer Life by Andrew Murray
In this book Andrew Murray very seriously addresses the sin of prayerlessness. Prayerlessness is really self-dependence and pride. We think we can control or change the situation so why pray? But at the heart of Christianity is the need for humility and dependence on God, thus we pray. Andrew Murray also address the importance of realizing one’s position in Christ. Thus he spends several chapters discussing sin and our need for Christ, and how our salvation secures for us victory over sin, assurance and enables us to pray with boldness. The relationship with Christ must be cultivated though and the Christian must learn to abide in Christ if he/she is to have a strong and effective prayer life. We must pray by faith, in dependence on God and with full surrender. There are one or two things in this book that I didn’t really like – but it was mostly phrasing… for clarity. Some do not like Andrew Murray for his association with Keswick, but for him (and I would agree) Keswick theology was simply emphasizing the truth that God can be trusted to keep us – we simply need to trust Him to do it and seek to abide in Him instead of relying on our own efforts.
“Nothing, nothing but the constant nearness and unceasing power of the living Christ can make it possible for you rightly to understand what sin is and to detest it.” (p. 59)
“Prayer is not merely coming to God to ask something from Him. It is above all fellowship with God and being brought under the power of His holiness and love…” (p. 40-41)
Draw the Circle by Mark Batterson
This is one of those books that within Reformed circles there is much criticism. I can understand why, but I will start off by saying that this book did challenge me. It challenged me to pray more boldly, more specifically and to not be afraid to pray (which is really doubt). The chief complaints from critics about this book (which would also include Mark’s first book The Circle Maker) involve two things: Mark’s use of Scripture (how he often makes a point, and then uses Scripture to back it up when we should normally be doing the opposite – Mark’s sermons, from the few I listened to are the same way), and his mysticism. Mysticism can be hard to define. There are many examples of extreme mysticism and many false religious are big on mysticism, thus naturally we should be wary of it. However, I am of the opinion that we can also go too far to the other extreme and become rigid in our religion and lose all passion. Christianity is in a sense a "mystic" religion - it is spiritual. How easy it is to simple believe in a sovereign God and become apathetic. I do love what Mark says, “In His omniscience and omnipotence, God has determined there are some things He will only do in response to prayer. The Bible puts it bluntly: ‘You do not have because you do not ask God.’ If we don’t ask, God can’t answer.” (p. 96, emphasis his). I would probably say I’m about 25% mystic, but this book is more like 50% mystic… less theologically precise and more experiential. That said, I would read this book with some caution. I would NOT give it to an unbeliever or even a Christian who was not very grounded in their walk with the Lord or in their knowledge of Scripture. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I read it and there are sections in this book that I loved (like I put exclamation points and a yes! next to it). His thoughts on prayer and fasting were really good, and throughout I was inspired and encouraged in a God who does indeed answer prayer – even the ones that seem impossible. He talks about how the answer to prayer is not the goal, the process is, because that’s often what changes us. He also shares how God’s answer to our prayers may be a no – and we need to be willing to accept that. But, if we are praying something that is His will then He will answer – although in His time and in His way. I love this quote:
“Our biggest problem is our small view of God. God is so much bigger than our biggest problems. God is so much better than our best thoughts. He is infinitely wiser and more glorious and powerful than anything we can imagine.” (p. 206)
Personally, my biggest problem with this book was that I was left with this question: How does one discern the will of God? How do we discern if what we want, what we feel is the will of God? Also, if we think we know what it is, how do we know that’s what it is? Where do we cross the line into presumption? These are important questions and unfortunately Mark does not really address them.
There are some who sharply criticize this book as a “name-it-and-claim-it” type of praying but I do not think this is accurate. This quote will sum up Mark’s view of prayer nicely:
“Drawing circles is a metaphor that simply means ‘praying until God answers’. It’s a determination to pray as long as it takes, even if it takes longer than you ever imagined. Drawing prayer circles isn’t some magic trick to get what you want from God. God is not a genie in a bottle, and your wish is not His command. His command better be your wish. If it’s not, you won’t be drawing prayer circles, you’ll end up walking in circles. Drawing prayer circles starts with discerning what God wants, what God wills. And until His sovereign will becomes your sanctified wish, your prayer life will be unplugged from its power supply. And getting what you want isn’t the goal; the goal is glorifying God by drawing circles around the promises, miracles, and dreams He wants for you.” (p. 119)
Amen! So, go ahead and draw circles around your prayers if that will help you grow in your prayer life!
A Praying Life by Paul Miller
If you're going to read a book on prayer though, this one should probably be it. This book was excellent! Immensely practical with helpful stories and it covers so many things in the area of life and prayer! Many of us tend to separate our real life from prayer – as if they exist in different realms, but in reality prayer is to be a part of our reality! Paul Miller has had his share of suffering and through this he really has learned how to have a praying life.
There were a number of similarities to Mark’s book above… like this quote: “Prayer is simply the medium through which we experience and connect to God” (p. 20), and his emphasis on asking God for the dreams and things on our hearts – even if they seem unrealistic or impossible: “We can dream big because God is big” (p. 206). In contrast with Mark’s though, it is much more Scripturally precise and also more practical. There’s a whole chapter on “hearing God” and how to discern what He’s saying to us. It was excellent – I rather wish he’d write a book just on that chapter! One criticism or weakness is where Andrew Murray is strongest – out identity and position in Christ gives us great boldness in prayer. Yes, we are to come like children, but we are also called to become mature. But he had such great thoughts on the reasons we don’t pray, the number one being cynicism, and writes on how we can guard and fight against these false ideas. It gave me so much to think about! He is very practical and very wisely answers questions that many have in the area of “unanswered” prayer. There were so many beautiful thoughts in this book! It drew me to adore my Savior more, and to be more aware of times when I should/could be praying instead of resuming I have it under control. Towards the end of the book he gives some practical advice on how to have a prayer time that is organized so that you can pray specifically.
“Prayer is strikingly intimate. As soon as you take a specific answer to prayer and try to figure out what caused it, you lose God. We simply cannot see the casual connections between our prayers and what happens…The only way to know how prayer works is to have complete knowledge and control of the past, present, and future. In other words, you can figure out how prayer works if you are God.” (p. 128)
“The great struggle of my life is not trying to discern God’s will; it is trying to discern and then disown my own.” (p. 157)
“When we don’t receive what we pray for or desire, it doesn’t mean that God isn’t acting on our behalf. Rather, he’s weaving his story.” (p. 187)
Conclusion: Each of these 4 books emphasizes that the driving force behind having a life of prayer is summed up in one word: Abiding. Each of them encouraged me to seek the Lord, to pray and not rely on myself. Again, I would say that if you want a book on prayer, I’d definitely recommend starting with the “A Praying Life”. The others are fine additions if you want to read further and for other recommendations, I’d also recommend the following: “A Treasury of Prayer” by E.M. Bounds, edited by Leonard Ravenhill, “The Power of Prayer in A Believer’s Life” by Spurgeon, “A Hunger for God” by John Piper, “Rees Howells Intercessor” by Norman Grubb, and any of George Muller’s books on his prayer life. For Tim Challies top 5 recommendations see here.
Plugged In: Proclaiming Christ in the Internet Age by Marie Notcheva (This is a newly-released book I will be reviewing in a separate post – look for it in about 2 weeks!)
Additional books I want to read this next month:
Found in Him by Elyse Fitzpatrick
How to Live Right When Your Life Goes Wrong by Leslie Vernick