By Tony Tench
These past weeks, we have had to “slow down” in our household. My surgical experience to repair an injury to my arm, as well as an infection that spread across Janet’s face, forced us to change our normal pace and wait for recovery and healing. We are doing well, now, and moving in the right direction.
“Slowing down” during these days has served to give us a chance to be thankful because the days have brought us reminders of many of life’s blessings. We have been thankful!
- Thankful for the love and provisions of food and encouragement that have been dropped off at our door.
- Thankful for the many cards, letters, texts, calls, emails that have come to lift our spirits and to assure us of the prayers of God’s people.
- Thankful for the dedication of doctors and nurses who have reached into our lives with compassion and skill.
- I have been thankful for the constant care and loving presence of my dear wife to accompany me through the healing process.
- Thankful for the time to follow the Apostle Paul’s example and ask for my books to be brought to my side! (2 Tim. 4:13)
My recuperative reading has included pages that brought joy to my soul, pages that challenged my thinking, and pages that moved me to tears. Such reading is needed for this life of ours because we are not able to move through the variety of life’s stages, seasons and struggles on our own – we need companions. Companions, yes, who bring food and send cards and offer prayers and bags of ice for the swelling and conversations to bless the time. But, too, we need companions for the mind and heart because the inner life requires refreshment and nurture if we are to set our sights on the places the outer life is to go! As 19thC pastor Henry Ward Beecher once said, “A library is not a luxury but one of the necessities of life.”
These last days brought reminders of how vital disciplined reading is for the journey.
Life under God’s creative design is far too rich and meaning-filled to be unimpressed by the witness that writers offer from their interaction therein. We are encouraged through life’s pilgrimage by the lives of others; and, their writing gives us a chance to receive their words, wisdom, warnings, and wonderings to consider as we walk on.
My recuperative reading these past weeks included:
- Completing my read of The Beautiful Word Coloring Bible from Acts to Revelation: I received this Bible from Janet on my birthday in 2019 and I have been meditatively reading it with colored pencils in hand while filling the margins with notes from the study of God’s Word. A Bible reading discipline fills our hearts and minds with the presence of the “words of real life” that will shape the days we live.
- Jurgen Moltmann’s, The Spirit of Life: This work about the Holy Spirit, written originally in German, blessed me during this Lenten season by his rich description of the atonement of Christ. “The God who himself endures the God-forsakenness of the sinner,’ he writes, “is the atoning God……for the atoning Christ is the revelation of the compassionate God…The divine atonement reveals God’s pain. But God’s pain reveals God’s faithfulness to those he created, and his indestructible love, which endures a world in opposition to him, and overcomes it…It is a single movement of love, welling up out of the Father’s pain, manifested in the Son’s sufferings, and experienced in the Spirit of life.”
- While recovering from surgery, I was glad to read Moltmann’s word about God’s presence in healing and disability. I was reminded of God’s healing grace which is always at work in our bodies to give us health and to respond to trauma. Watching the healing of the incision in my arm has been a daily physical reminder of the healing presence of God. Moltmann writes, “Jesus heals the sick by restoring their fellowship with God. He restores to the sick their community with God through his solidarity with them…In the passion of Jesus God has assumed sick, weak, helpless and disabled human life and made it part of his own eternal life. God heals the sickness and the griefs by making the sicknesses and the griefs his sickness and his grief.”
- Matt Alley’s, Make Your Marriage Work: Loving with Purpose: As I read my Son-in-Law’s work I was thankful for the many biblical examples he raised to illustrate God’s desire for our marriages even as he addressed many practical and caring areas of encouragement for couples along their way. His attention to the “family mission vision” is insightful direction as families love each other and serve the Lord together.
- Robert P. Jones, White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity: The book’s proposition is simply stated: “It is time – indeed, well beyond time – for white Christians in the USA to reckon with the racism of our past and the willful amnesia of our present.” Jones’ work reveals “unsettling truths about what white Christians actually believe” and it is based on the historical record we have left behind even as it calls for the “unavoidable moral choice” that looms before us.
- Mike Harland, Worship Essentials: Growing a Healthy Worship Ministry: His very practical ideas are undergirded by a desire to see “worship discipleship” develop in congregations. He argues for “an altar worship experience” to lead the way where “a filling station worship experience is one where you go to get something – it’s about you. But, an altar worship experience is one where you go to give yourself for something – it’s about the glory of God.” Worship is thus a “spiritual discipline above any and all preferences.” I appreciated his comments about the Psalms, the hymnal of the Hebrew Scriptures. We have 150 songs’ lyrics recorded there but no tunes are preserved. Why? His answer: “Perhaps one reason God did not preserve the tunes was so each generation could join him in creating the music.”
- John Baillie’s, Diary of Private Prayer, gives thirty-one days of morning and evening prayers for use as a spiritual prayer discipline to guide our hearts. His very confessional tone and insightful pleas hit me as the very real experiences of prayer that we need to bring before the Lord.
- I also completed Kristin Hannah’s novel, The Nightingale in which she writes with such clarity and emotion that it is just not possible to be anything but heartbroken by the ways we humans treat one another when nations go to war. There’s no measure of romanticizing or chest-pounding or even justification that can overcome the reality of pain she so aptly describes. And yet, the sheer power of heart that allows grace to determine the way a person responds to evil treatment is nothing short of miraculous. The courage of the women she writes, and the emotional choices she describes, move the heart to embrace life’s pain and to admit the vulnerabilities we all have to face.
But, of all the reading that can be read, it is the reading of Scripture that most blesses our lives and reminds us of the source of life’s strength and purpose, that’s for sure. Paul said it well, “I thank God every time I remember you.” And, with Paul, Janet and I are so thankful for the care others have sent our way these past weeks. Thankfully, too, as I came to the end of my reading of Peter’s first letter in the New Testament, I arrived at these verses which have come to remind my heart of a Doxology for Everyday Life. There’s a lot that we face in this life, but there is a truth that gets us through every one of those experiences. Peter put it this way:
The God of all grace…will himself restore you
and make you strong, firm and steadfast.
To him be the power for ever and ever.