Best Book of 2014: Prayer by Tim Keller


In a previous post I promised a review of “Prayer” by Tim Keller, so here it is! But I couldn’t just review it without also listing it as the “Best” book of 2014. A quick definition of what I mean by that: not only was it well written, researched, presented, etc. It was also the most personally impactful book of the year. I enjoyed many other books I’ve read this year, but I was transformed by Keller’s book and for that reason it captures this spot for 2014.

91wDmVN6shLKeller’s newest book “Prayer” is stunning. In the introduction he states that books on prayer seldom “combine the theological, experiential, and methodological all under one cover” (1) and states that he intends to cover all three. A bold aim! And yet he accomplishes it skillfully and excellently.

The book’s structure is fairly simple: Keller moves from the abstract to the concrete, beginning with why we should pray (Desiring Prayer) and moving to what prayer is (Understanding Prayer) and then to practicing prayer (Learning Prayer), growing in prayer (Deepening Prayer) and practical suggestions and ideas for prayer (Doing Prayer).

Throughout the book Keller leads the reader to previous giants of the faith: Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Owen, Edwards, etc. He passes on their insights and teaching on prayer in a summarized and readable (*cough* Owen *cough*) manner, providing access to their works to many who might not otherwise have been able to read them.

An annotated bibliography gives the reader dozens of “next steps” in learning about prayer and the extensive footnotes reflect a level of mastery by Keller of the current and ancient material on prayer that is simply astounding.

So the book has something for everyone. If you have no idea where to begin with prayer, if you are looking for a deepening of your prayer life, or if you are looking for a way to ignite a passion for prayer that you either never have had or have lost, this is the book for you. If someone asked me what the ONE book on prayer is that they needed to read or to give as a resource for someone else, this would be my immediate and excited recommendation.

A final note is that this book has genuinely (already!) changed my prayer life. As someone who tends to live in the realm of the mind, thoughts, facts, and information, prayer has always been a struggle and a weak point where I’ve desired but rarely achieved growth. The methods and the teachings Keller presents in the book have been helpful, but above all else his insistence that prayer is something that must engage the mind AND capture the heart has been incredibly impactful! This book has already been (prayer-)life-changing and I’m sure the insights gleaned and lessons learned will continue to bear fruit in my life and the lives of countless others.

This is my book of the year for 2014, is Keller’s best book so far, and would get six out of five stars if I were able to give it. However you can, get a copy of this book and read it soon!

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My Top Seven Books of 2014


This year I read a lot of books. As such, I decided it was a better idea to write a blog with a list of my top seven books of 2014 instead of everything I read this year. These are not necessarily books published in 2014–though several were–and these are not in any particular order. Instead, it’s simply a list of my favorite books that I read in 2014. I’ve broken them down into a few categories and included some thoughts on each. Enjoy!

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1. Words of Radiance-Brandon Sanderson
I previously reviewed this book on my Goodreads account. Here’s an excerpt:
If you already have read some or all of Sanderson’s other books, rest assured-this is his best yet. But if you consider yourself a fan of fantasy (from Tolkien to Jordan to Martin to Rothfuss) and yet DON’T know about Sanderson-FIX THAT NOW! You will NOT regret it…Sanderson picks up all the threads he left them at the end of book one [of the series] with confidence and aplomb and deftly spins them out into gripping, surprising, and inspiring webs that reveal the true purpose and history of the Shattered Plains. Couldn’t recommend this book enough, even if I were to go on for several thousand more words, so I’ll leave it at this. Read this book!
That was how I felt back in March and it’s still how I feel now. This book is emblematic of why Sanderson is my favorite currently-living fantasy author. One of the most well-balanced, exciting, and just plain quality fantasy books I’ve ever read.

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2. The Lions of Al-Rassan-Guy Gavriel Kay

Again, here’s an excerpt from a previous review (this time from this very blog):

The Reconquest of Al-Rassan is at hand. The three hundred year golden age of the caliphate’s rule is ending, and three characters-a Jaddite commander named Rodrigo Belmonte, a Kindath doctornamed Jehane, and an Asharite poet and soldier named Ammar ibn Khairan-are caught in the middle. The world is changing and they must find their place within it.

I thoroughly enjoyed the story, the writing, and the characters. If you’re looking for another new fantasy author, look no further.

Theology/Devotional

51G4bZO8VML._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_3. The Cost of Discipleship-Bohnoeffer
Perhaps one of the most challenging books I’ve ever read. And not just challenging, but paradigm shifting. In examining the difference between cheap grace and costly grace, commenting at length on the Sermon on the Mount, defining the believer’s part in this, and painting a vision of what the church should look like, Bonhoeffer answers the question of “what can the call to discipleship mean to-day?” (38) I already know I will be revisiting this one often.

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4. Celebration of Discipline-Richard J. Foster
Again, from a previous blog review:
[In reading this book] I found myself continually challenged and stretched in the best way possible. This is a book to read slowly and savor. Time and time again I found myself setting the book down to reflect or pray. Both a helpful book to read straight-through and also to serve as a reference in the future as a refresher.

51xmLGfqceL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_5. Evangelism in the Early Church-Michael Green
Evangelism in the Early Church is a superb introduction to, resource on, and portrait of the early Church’s evangelistic endeavors. Green is both careful and skillful in his analysis, presentation, and application of his insights on the state of the early Church. While it is not for everyone and while it has its areas of weakness, those who are dedicated enough to the material will reap rich rewards from his study on the message, messengers, and methods God used to spread the gospel and grow the Church in the first few centuries. As our culture increasingly reflects the circumstances the early Church encountered in the ancient world, it is a more timely set of lessons than ever. May we as the Church and the successors to the earliest believers rise to Green’s challenge of being willing to pay the price to return evangelism to the place of first importance that it held for them. (**I may post an extended review of this book in the future**)

91wDmVN6shL6. Prayer-Tim Keller
Disclaimer: As of the writing of this post, I haven’t fully finished the book. That said, this just might be the most important book on prayer written for quite some time (and certainly that I have personally read). I will CERTAINLY be reviewing this book in more detail in the coming days/weeks, but I couldn’t post this list and exclude this book. It’s just that good.

Biography

amazing-grace7. Amazing Grace-Eric Metaxas
I previously said that this book is “a heroic story about an amazingly humble and incredibly influential individual that is masterfully told by Metaxas. I can’t recommend this book highly enough!” As with my previous reviews, I’m sticking to my guns. This is the best biography I read this year. There’s a reason that Abraham Lincoln and David Livingstone (among countless others) considered William Wilberforce to be one of their heroes. An invaluable look at the life of a great man of faith.

Runners Up:

I initially wanted to include these books but will simply list the links to my reviews elsewhere for those who might be interested.
What about you? What were your top three or five or ten books that you read in 2014? I’d love to hear your recommendations for my to-read list for 2015! Sound off in the comments to join the conversation.

Book Review: The Daring Heart of David Livingstone by Jay Milbrandt


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In the past year or so I’ve been drawn to stories of great men of faith. This has led to me reading biographies of Hudson Taylor, Bonhoeffer, Jim Elliot, William Wilberforce, and others. It is inspiring to read of the paths these men walked in their faith, the challenges they faced in their lives, the sacrifices they made for their King, and the hope that drove them ever onwards. So when I had the opportunity to read a book about David Livingstone, I jumped at the chance. How would his testimony add to and compare with these other men?

In “The Daring Heart of David Livingstone” Jay Milbrandt focuses on the latter half of Dr. Livingstone’s life from 1857 to 1874. Milbrandt’s thesis is that “traditional biographers have largely overlooked [Livingstone’s] advocacy for abolishing slavery. In so doing they have missed the real story…If David Livingstone pursued one purpose, it was freedom from the African slave trade” (xi).

How does Milbrandt support this thesis? First of all, he paints a very impartial and (as far as I know) accurate picture of Livingstone. There’s no hero worship or whitewashing of sins here but there’s also no demonizing or unfair blaming. Milbrandt shows Livingstone to be a complicated man with many failings but many strengths as well. Livingstone was a poor leader, a failure as a missionary, unsuccessful in many of his scientific expeditions, and a largely absentee husband/father. But he was also a visionary, relentlessly determined, and passionately convinced of God’s providence in his life and the lives of others. This honest and fair treatment of Livingstone gives Milbrandt much credibility and reveals an imperfect man’s struggle to serve his Lord in spite of his failings.

As far as Livingtone’s purpose being the ending of the African slave trade, Milbrandt presents some convincing arguments and evidences, including Livingstone’s own words.

“If the good Lord permits me to put a stop to the enormous evils of the inland slave-trade, I shall not grudge my hunger and toils. I shall bless his name with all my heart. The Nile sources are valuable to me only as a means of enabling me to open my mouth with power among men. It is this power I hope to apply to remedy an enormous evil [in the East African slave trade].” (210)

As a result of his fame, Livingstone had a platform on the world stage and he used this platform to successfully galvanize the world to move towards ending the East African inland slave trade. Whatever else you think about this man, you cannot ignore his part in advancing the cause of freedom.

There’s much more to say about the book, but suffice to say that I enjoyed it and, while not perfect by any means, I give “The Daring Heart of David Livingstone” 4 stars out of 5.

Disclaimer: BookLook Bloggers has provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an impartial review.

Monday Morning Music-“I Celebrate The Day” by Relient K


And I, I celebrate the day
That You were born to die
So I could one day pray for You to save my life

Christmas is a celebration of the fact that “He who was the Son of God became the Son of man, that man … might become the son of God” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies). What a wonderful truth! For our sake He lived the perfect life that we never could have lived and died the death that we never could have escaped in order to bring us into the family. Glad tidings of great joy indeed!

This week take time to rest in the gift that Emmanuel’s life and death and resurrection on our behalf is to us all. And Merry Christmas!

The Top 5 Posts on MisterJoshuaRay in 2014


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2014 has been a year of big changes for me. One of the smaller changes was moving my blog here to wordpress from blogger. I had been blogging on and off for years but I had fallen into another inactive season and felt a fresh start was appropriate, necessary, and reflective of where I found myself in life. So I migrated here, started a new venture, and here we are eight months later already! Pretty soon this “new” blog won’t be so new anymore but I’ve somehow managed to remain fairly consistent in updating these past eight months. Here’s hoping that continues!

In an effort to keep producing new content and finish the year strong, this is the first in a few blog posts that will look backwards over the past year. The subject this time is the top 5 most popular posts here on the blog. I won’t set them up with much fanfare or anything other than to say thank you for reading 🙂

1. Golden Gate Bound–a personal update about Lauren and myself moving to Mill Valley for me to attend Golden Gate Seminary. Far and away the most popular post so far.

2. Hymns and Praise Choruses–What’s the Difference?–something of a dark horse, this post snuck into the top 5 on the strength of the anecdote. Whether you prefer hymns or contemporary music, you’ll find something to smile and/or laugh at in the story.

3. When is a Deserter Worth Dying For?–in which I pull the ol’ bait-and-switch/Jesus juke on the dear unsuspecting reader

4. All Wars, Even Civil Wars, Must End–among other things, 2014 was not kind to my favorite bands. This particular update was about both the Civil Wars and Gungor.

5. An Expanded Vision for Worship–another surprise for me. Are we thinking about worship just in the context of the church building or is our vision for worship larger than that?

Again, thanks for reading the blog! I hope 2015 continues the trend of consistent updates as Lauren and I continue our challenging adventure here in Mill Valley.

Monday Morning Music: “The Earth Stood Still” by Future of Forestry


Original Christmas songs aren’t usually that great. There are only a handful that grab you and demand a place alongside the standards and classics.

This song is one of them.

“Love came down and the earth stood still”

[And if you haven’t, check out Future of Forestry’s other Christmas songs/albums. You won’t regret it!]

The Blog Awakens


The hills around our apartment are greener than ever following all the rain we've gotten lately
The hills around our apartment are greener than ever following all the rain we’ve gotten lately

Hello All!

It’s been a crazy few weeks as my first semester here at Golden Gate has wrapped up. Life’s been full (in mostly good ways 🙂 ) but one of the things to fall by the wayside has been this here blog.

I’ve got a nice break between this semester and the next, however, and some ideas for new blogs have been building up even though I haven’t been posting. I’ve got some new book reviews, top _____ of 2014 lists, thoughts about OT stories, and more in the pipeline. Just like the hills around our apartment have sprung to life after the deluge, look for new updates to spring up here soon!