After three years of significant growth the last 12 months has seen a little dip on my blog. I’ve certainly had less capacity for writing, and have slowed down my posting and focus. This has had an impact. But then, hasn’t everyone slowed down and felt unfocussed in some form or another at times this year?
I have certainly written less in the past 12 months, less that I have in the last five years. Both my public and private writing has suffered, and as a result I feel like I’ve suffered because of it too. This is not to be dramatic, but it is a result of decreasing in a habit that I find great joy and satisfaction in. Since writing less I have found myself to be less reflective, and in turn less reflective on my heart and soul. You see, there is something about writing that causes us to slow down, to reflect, to take stock, to gather thoughts, and to be precise about what we think and say. Writing enables better thought-processes–all things I have had little capacity for these past 12 months and wish to get into once again.
Having said this, while posting less may have meant less people have wandered over to my part of the internet I am still very thankful that people do read what I’ve written. It surprises me how many people wish to read something I’ve written, and who may even post a comment about it on my social channels. And so I’m very grateful that I get to share something of my life and faith through this site.
Aside from the statistics there is a particular satisfaction I have in writing and publishing posts. Reading posts I wrote a number of years ago is like going back and looking at sermons you’ve written, a harrowing and embarrassing experience. To see the quality of my writing increase in these last few years has been pleasing. And this is reflected in the top posts for the year 2020, which you can read below.
Like any pursuit, creative or otherwise, there is a certain satisfaction in finishing a post and seeing it ‘out there’ on the inter-webs. It is an accomplishment and and encouragement at the same time. As with life and faith, which this blog is all about, writing and blogging require me to plod along. The quality of these things are built on small steps and increases in habits each day, week, month, and year.
So, here’s to another year of writing, hopefully a bit more consistently, and with something that might be of value to you!
I’m getting in early this year by releasing my list of top reads a few weeks before we see the back of 2020. For the last six years I’ve posted about what I’ve read each year and I might as well continue the tradition into a seventh.
I’m not sure whether it was because of what 2020 became but I have smashed any reading goals I had this year. Each year I aim to read, on average, one book per fortnight, that’s 26 books per year. By the end of May I had reached that goal. What this meant was that I had plenty of time to read more over the coming months, and as it stands today I’ve read 53 books for the year. This is really pleasing and definitely my best reading year ever.
Throughout I’ve read a range of genres – sport biography, missions history, theology, politics, church leadership, fiction, biblical theology and commentaries, a couple of books my daughter is into, and more. There is a sense my reading this year was a bit more balanced than other years, which was also pleasing.
So, without any further ado, I present below a list of books I thought were 5 out of 5 stars. And if you’re interested in reading my top reads from previous years you can do so here too: 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019).
I started off the year wishing for more rest, space, and slowness in my life. This book articulated the importance of rhythms and rest and Sabbath, and many other spiritual practices that help ground us in life in God. I found this an excellent book, and it’s probably time to read it again. As I look at my bookshelves I do notice it missing so it evidently was kept by someone who borrowed it! Good books always disappear. In any case, this is a helpful book that gives rise to habits and systems in life that contribute to sustaining a life-long, well-paced, Christian life.
The best fiction book I’ve read, this year at least and possibly ever; although who can top The Partner by John Grisham–I digress. This is a serial killer crime thriller, one of Patterson’s first ever novels published in 1983. The suspense and the build up is terrific, and there’s a great twist at the end which gets you. It’s violent and disturbing, but what do you expect from this kind of genre? Top shelf fiction.
Improving in my vocation and my particular role as pastor is always high on the priority list each year. And this book was certainly a big help in doing so this year. I really appreciate everything Alistair Begg shares, his sermons, conference messages, and witings. Here he partners up with his former mentor-pastor Derek Prime and they take you through the theological and practical of operating as a pastor. I found this immensely helpful to think about in my role and in developing others in the ministry. It also provided many tips to help in areas of preaching, pastoral care, time management, and the like. This along with some broader chapters dealing with calling and vocation as a whole were useful.
The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis
Once we got into lockdown for a second time I became obsessed about re-reading the Chronicles of Narnia. Since finishing the series again I have been listening to the theatrical audio series produced by the BBC and others. I’ve been listening to them as audiobooks while in the car and doing chores, and they were easily found on YouTube. They’re so good. Anyway, a particular shout out to The Horse and His Boy and also The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (my favourite of the series). If you’ve never read this series of seven short books that detail the story of Narnia then do yourself a favour. Lewis is such a good writer and his illusions to the Christian life are throughout.
I’ll admit, there was a theme in my reading regarding spiritual practices. This was another of at least 3-4 I read overall this year. Warren really writes in an engaging way, she’s so good. And here in The Liturgy of the Ordinary she writes in the intersection of ordinary life and the Christian faith. She takes big theological understandings and helps us see their relevance in the mundane everyday practices and rhythms of life. Whether it is waking up and making your bed, to preparing food and eating with others, or doing the dishes after a meal, each has relevance to the Christian life and at times it’s a mindblow. I highly recommend getting your hands on this, I even borrowed it from the local library!
Each year I usually read a few biographies and this year I landed on John Owen. Owen is a Puritan from the 17th century, and extremely influential in the Reformed and Presbyterian church. This book details his life alongside the theological contributions he has made to the faith. Owen is well-known for his writings and sermons, particularly around the doctrines of the Trinity, communion with God, and sin and sanctification. For example, when writing about communion with God he says:
“When the believer has a taste of this communion with his Savior, sin is bitter on the tongue. Furthermore, says Owen, the believer is on guard against sin, lest it should interrupt and disrupt this sweet communion he enjoys so much with his Savior. Owen writes: When once the soul of a believer hath obtained sweet and real communion with Christ, it looks about him, watcheth all temptations, all ways whereby sin might approach, to disturb him in his enjoyment of his dear Lord and Saviour, his rest and desire. How doth it charge itself not to omit any thing, nor to do any thing that may interrupt the communion obtained!”
I hung out reading the Sermon on The Mount for most of the year. It goes hand in hand with the themes of spiritual disciplines and grounding faith in action, among other things. And so to help understand the various sections of the sermon I read Carson’s commentary on it alongside. Carson is always clear, concise, and compelling. He’s one of the best commentators in the world and is highly regarded. This was originally a series of lectures turned into a brief commentary. Whether devotionally like me, or for preaching and teaching, I’d recommend dipping into this one.
Anyway, there’s my list for this year. Let me know what you read and enjoyed this year, I’ll add it to my list!