Without the constant travel to our church, library, playground, etc., I’ve had a little extra margin time in my day. While life is still busy—working from home while entertaining a toddler and serving three meals a day—I’m thankful that I’ve gotten the chance to make a dent in the pile of books sitting on my nightstand since Christmas. Here are a few books that I’ve read while in quarantine, and if you have a little margin, too, these days, I highly recommend you add any of these to your list.
Suffering is Never for Nothing by Elisabeth Elliot
I read this short but potent book in only two hours, but as I closed the final page, I felt like I was closing a chapter in my life. Since last fall when we faced grief over challenges with our adoption and over a miscarriage, God had been teaching me about suffering. For much of my life, I had a wrong theology of suffering, and that was reflected in my conditional hope in him. While Elliot’s book is not a comprehensive theology of suffering, she so eloquently writes what God had been teaching me about suffering in the last six months. When I finished the book, I believed the Spirit finally enabled me to say along with Elliot, “I need pain sometimes because God has something bigger in mind. It is never for nothing. And so I say Lord, in Jesus’ name, by Your grace I accept it.”
There is, in fact, no redemptive work done anywhere without suffering.
Elliot profoundly defines suffering as “having what you don’t want or wanting what you don’t have.” Throughout her book, she walks you through the mysterious purposes of God for suffering. She doesn’t admit to having all the answers, but she says that answers do not comfort anyway—only the presence of our God is true comfort. Whether you’re currently walking through suffering or not, I suggest you read her book to remind your heart and mind that, “There is, in fact, no redemptive work done anywhere without suffering.”
Jesus, Continued: Why the Spirit Inside You is Better Than Jesus Beside You by J.D. Greear
My discipleship group studied the book of Acts this past fall, and it stirred in me a greater desire to understand the Holy Spirit. I saw the Holy Spirit’s work among the early church, and I knew that the same Spirit had been given to me, but I often don’t feel connected to him. This book is a great introduction to the Holy Spirit, especially for those in denominations that do not emphasize the work of the Spirit. Greear names the main problem—that often we have functionally replaced the Spirit with the Word of God in the Trinity, “But the Spirit and the Word work inseparably. One without the other leads to a dysfunctional Christianity.”
You will never be full of the Spirit so long as you are full of yourself.J.D. Greear
While I was looking for a book with a more systematic theology of the Holy Spirit, Greear makes many practical applications to personal growth and calling. Greear writes, “Working for God is not about what we can do for God in the world; it’s about faithfully doing what God’s Spirit leads us to do.” He spends much of the book describing how God uses the Holy Spirit in our lives to direct us to his calling and empower us to fulfill that calling. I was challenged at the end of the book when he reminds us that, “You will never be full of the Spirit so long as you are full of yourself.”
Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You by John Ortberg
This book sneaked its way to the top of my pile when it was assigned to me to read as part of my church’s women’s leadership team, and I am so glad it did! During the quarantine, it feels like my schedule has been upended, and even with the “extra” time not spent in a car or at events, it’s become more difficult to maintain the regular rhythms of spiritual disciplines. This book reminded me why it is so important to live intentionally in the presence of God.
Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day. You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.Dallas Willard
In the book, Ortberg quotes his mentor Dallas Willard as saying, “Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day. You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.” Culture is constantly telling us to do more during the quarantine (or in any time of life)—plant a garden, start a new business, make bread from scratch. When the busyness was taken from our life by shelter in place orders, we still maintained the hurry in our souls. We often cannot control how busy we are, but we can control how hurried we let our souls become. “Being hurried is an inner condition, a condition of the soul. It means to be so preoccupied with myself and my life that I am unable to be fully present with God, with myself, and with other people. Busy-ness migrates to hurry when we let it squeeze God out of our lives.”
(A)Typical Woman: Free, Whole, and Called in Christ by Abigail Dodds
Only pages into the book, I knew it would rank in my all-time top ten. I wish that every woman (and man) would read this powerful book on biblical womanhood. It’s honestly not my favorite topic to read about, and when God kept leading me to add this to my Christmas book list, I was a little hesitant to pick it up. Yet Dodds uses simple but profound writing to walk us through truths that guide our understanding of what it means to be a Christian woman, not by the standards of culture (even Christian culture) but by our Creator’s design. I have often found that books on Christian womanhood are overly prescriptive or too abstract, but Dodds places her book in the middle, grounded in Scripture.
Being a Christian and being a woman are both gracious, given, God-spoken, unchangeable realities.Abigail Dodds
Instead of focusing on passages explicitly pertaining to women (which she admits are important), she walks us through the overarching truths of Scripture and how women are uniquely created—in body and in soul—to fulfill its commands. “What makes real men and women is the fact that God made us men and women, just as what makes us real Christians is that God made us Christians by making us alive in Christ. In both cases, we don’t earn it or achieve it or feel our way to it.” I cannot become “more” of a woman, but as I pursue life in Christ, he makes me more into his image distinctly as a woman.
Humility by Andrew Murray
I’ve heard this book recommended so many times, and when I finally got it, I was surprised by its size. At only a hundred pages, every word of this book leaves a profound impact. In fact, I had a harder time deciding what not to underline. I think the greatest lesson I took from the book is that humility is not a characteristic we create within ourselves but a posture we have before God. Murray says humility “is not something that we bring to God, or that He bestows; it is simply the sense of entire nothingness that comes when we see how truly God is everything.” Humility is not trying to make myself less but seeing God for who he really is.
[Humility] is simply the sense of entire nothingness that comes when we see how truly God is everything.Andrew Murray
As a perfectionist, I am even tempted to try to be “perfectly” humble on my own, but this only leads to pride or despair. “Every seeker after holiness needs to be on his guard lest unconsciously what was begun in the spirit is perfected in the flesh, and pride creeps in where its presence is least expected.” Instead of pursuing humility, we pursue God himself. “There is none holy but God; we have as much holiness as we have God.” While this book took a day to read, it took many days for me to process (and I still am processing) the truths Murray expounds on humility.
All of these books are relatively short, and some should only take you a few hours to read (though longer to absorb). Download one on your phone and choose to fill whatever margin you have with words that point you to God’s beautiful truths of suffering, humility, womanhood, and more.