My Top Books of 2022

‘Tis the season for book lists. I’ll join the party.

To be honest, 2022 wasn’t a great reading year for me. Maybe it had something to do with a major life change (retirement), but I had a hard time focusing and concentrating. Maybe it was because I kept picking bad books. All I know is, I gave up on more books than ever before. I managed to plow through 28 books this year, which is about half of my usual. Here are my top five.

5. Surrender to Love, by David Benner
My word for 2022 was “hesed”, the Hebrew word for love. I thought to myself, “I’m going to learn how to love. I’m going to become a more loving person. I’m going to get this love thing down.” Then I read Surrender to Love and everything shifted. My quest to become a better lover had to start with learning how to be a better receiver of the Father’s love. When I tried to imagine God thinking about me, I usually assumed He was somewhat frustrated and disappointed. I began contemplating the fact that God bursts with love for me, and that love swells in His heart when He thinks of me. I don’t know if I got any better at loving other people this year, but I did find a deeper appreciation for the length, width, depth and height of His love for humans, including me.

4. Reforesting Faith, by Matthew Sleeth
Trees were a major theme for me this year. I read books about trees, I listened to podcasts about trees, I listened to sermons on trees. And I spent a lot of time walking in the woods. I read Matthew Sleeth’s book in January and thought about it all year. He points out, “Other than God and people, the Bible mentions trees more than any other living thing. There is a tree on the first page of Genesis, in the first psalm, on the first page of the New Testament, and on the last page of the Revelation. Every significant theological event in the Bible is marked by a tree.” His comparison of human lungs and tree roots still blows my mind.

3. Deeper, by Dane Ortlund
Dane Ortlund’s book, Gentle and Lowly was my 2020 book of the year, so I was eager to read his next offering. It did not disappoint. He addresses the broad idea of what it means to grow in faith and mature in Christ. Then he gives practical advice on how to do that without becoming formulaic. I turned many of his ideas into prayers: “Lord, help me to trade in my snorkel and face mask for scuba gear that takes me down into the depths I’ve never peered into before.” (I can’t find my copy. If I lent it to you, could I please have it back?!) ūüôā

2. How It Went, by Wendell Berry
My absolute favorite fiction book series is Wendell Berry’s Port William novels. I read all of them in 2017 and it was pure joy. I’ve been thinking about re-reading the series, just because I miss the characters and Berry’s way of writing about them. So imagine my delight when I saw a new addition! I couldn’t push the “Buy Now” button fast enough. At 88 years old, Berry still has the ability to write words that make me ache and smile all at once.

1. The Songs of Jesus, by Tim Keller with Kathy Keller
My 2022 book of the year is The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms. This book saved my life this year. I’ve never spent an entire year in one book of the Bible, but God knew this was exactly what I would need in 2022. The Psalms became my anchor, my refuge, my strength. Along with reading the short passage, reflection and prayer each day, I made notes and highlighted key words in my Illuminated Scripture Journal book. But mostly I prayed the psalms. They gave me words I didn’t have, expressed emotions I was afraid to feel, and taught me the language of praise.

As Dane Ortlund states in Deeper, “The Psalms are the one book in the Bible addressed to God. In it God takes us by the hand and gives us words to speak back to Him.” The Psalms did indeed take me deeper into the heart of God. They will continue to be my lifelong companions.

I discovered more resources that kept pouring the richness of the Psalms into my heart and mind.

  • In The Lord I Take Refuge podcast, by Dane Ortlund
  • Hidden Streams podcast, by Chad Bird
  • Treasury of David, Charles Spurgeon’s commentary on the Psalms
  • Music by The Corner Room, The Psalms Project, Poor Bishop Hooper and many others

‚ÄúWe cannot bypass the Psalms. They are God‚Äôs gift to train us in prayer that is comprehensive and honest. That‚Äôs it: open your Bibles to the book of Psalms and pray them ‚ÄĒ sequentially, regularly, faithfully, across a life-time. This is how most Christians for most of the Christian centuries have matured in prayer. Nothing fancy. Just do it.‚ÄĚ — Eugene Peterson, Answering God

Here’s to a prosperous reading year in 2023!
Sing some songs of Jesus in the year ahead!

Resources
My Word for 2022
Be Like a Tree
Tree of Life
Fruitless
10 Things I Learned in January
The Bible Project, Tree of Life series: https://bibleproject.com/explore/video/tree-of-life/
Inexpressible: Hesed and the Mystery of God’s Lovingkindness, by Michael Card

Be Like a Tree

When I was a young girl, I used to love the apple tree that was in the horse pasture by our house. It had a low hanging branch that made it easy to climb. I would take my Nancy Drew book, jump over the fence, and then hoist myself up to sit on a limb, resting my back against the trunk. Reading a book while sitting in a tree was magical.

These days, I might sit under a tree with a book, but my climbing days are over. Still, trees hold an allure for me. I’d take a walk in the woods over a stroll on the beach any day. (Unless it’s February — then a stroll on the beach can’t be beat.)

The opening song in the Hebrew book of prayers, Psalm 1, tells me to learn from the trees.

“…be like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither…” Ps. 1:3

There are some instructions on how to be this kind of tree:

  • Get planted in a good place
  • Be still to let living water saturate the roots
  • Pay attention to the seasons
  • Graciously share what develops
  • Stay refreshed and vibrant

So I’m asking myself some questions:

  • Where do I plant myself most days? In ungodly counsel and in the seat of mockers (Ps. 1:1), or in God’s Word, meditating day and night (Ps. 1:2)?
  • What am I soaking up? Fresh springs of living water from the Lord, or the lifeless stagnation of worldly advice?
  • Am I willing to accept seasons of dormancy and stillness, or do I constantly push for peak productivity?
  • During times of prosperity and growth, will I be generous and eager to share, or will I hoard the bounty for myself?
  • As I grow older, how will I keep myself from withering up and being blown away like chaff (Ps. 1:4)? Will I abide in the Vine, remaining in Him, bearing much fruit (John 15:5)?

A children’s Sunday school song runs through my mind every time I read Psalm 1.

I’m gonna be like a tree, planted by the water,
Trusting in the Father to keep me strong.
I’m gonna be like a tree, planted by the water,
Trusting in the name of the Lord.
The deeper the roots grow, the better the fruits grow,
The blessings bloom out for all to see.
The deeper the roots grow, the more my life shows,
That Jesus is the Lord of me.

Integrity Kids Worship

What kind of tree will I be?
With over 60,000 species in the world,
there is plenty of room for variety.

I have no visions of becoming
a tall pine
or a stately oak
or a majestic redwood.
I would like to be an apple tree,
with a low hanging branch,
in a green pasture,
inviting small ones to crawl up
and sit a while with a book,
munching on the sweet fruit
of a life lived in Jesus.

God’s Prayer Notebook

The biggest and best thing I have learned so far during this year of exploring prayer is that God has His very own prayer notebook. It’s called the book of Psalms. He put it smack-dab in the middle of the Bible so it’s easy to find. God provided 150 prayers right in the Holy Book so we could have words to pray back to Him. The Psalms are God’s gift to train us in prayer!

I’ve read the book of Psalms.

I’ve studied some of the psalms.
(Remember For the Flock — a 15 day study on Psalm 23?
And The Long Song — a 6 month study of Psalm 119?)

I’ve even sung a few psalms.

But it took me this long to catch on to the fact that I’m supposed to
pray the psalms.

Here in the pages of God’s Word
I have found my school of prayer.
This is where I’m learning how to pray.

I used to think the book of Psalms was a good place to find a bit of comfort, a word of assurance or a little inspiration.
Now I’m learning that I’m supposed to live in this book, using the ancient poetry in my own conversations with my Father.

I used to occasionally open to a handful of my personal favorite go-to psalms, depending on my mood.
Now I’m learning that I’m supposed to be nourished by all 150, on a regular basis, even when I don’t feel like it.

I used to believe that these songs belonged to King David, predating Jesus by hundreds of years.
Now I’m learning that Jesus dwells in the lyrics, and that He Himself often quoted from this beloved hymnbook, even on the cross.

I’m learning.

“The Psalms are the perfect prayers
for they are God’s words to us
that become our words back to God.”
Chad Bird, The Christ Key

Next: Time to Pray

Waiting Room

waiting roomI think every church should have a Waiting Room.¬†¬†I don’t mean¬†like the ones in hospitals, clinics or offices; certainly not with Muzak and outdated magazines.¬† A Waiting Room — a place for people to go who are waiting¬†for God to answer a prayer, to move in a situation, or ease a pain.¬† It would have to be an awfully big room, though, to¬†fit us all in.¬† Hmm…maybe we should just use the sanctuary.¬† While we’re waiting, we could do a little worshipping, a little singing, share some¬†burdens and lift each other up.¬† It’s better not to wait all alone anyway.¬† Since we’re all together, let’s have some coffee and doughnuts and visit awhile.¬† That’s the kind of waiting room I have in mind.¬† After all, we are all waiting for something, aren’t we?

There’s a lot of waiting going on in the book of Psalms.¬†Those old Hebrew poets had a big advantage over us¬†— they had a much wider choice of words at their disposal.¬† Our measly English word “wait” doesn’t come close to the array of expressions the psalm writers used.

For instance, one could wait expectantly.¬† It’s the picture of someone leaning forward,¬†keeping an eye out and¬†anticipating what is surely¬†just around the corner.¬† (“Morning by morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.”¬† Psalm 5:3)

There is hopeful waiting, which implies confidence¬†combined with a sense that the answer may be down the road a ways.¬† What’s required here is sticking around long enough to see it through.¬† (“We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield.” Psalm 33:20)

Of course, there is anxious waiting, which is the one we probably practice most.¬† This is a whirling, trembling, worry-filled type — you know the kind.¬† It takes all of your energy and leaves you exhausted.¬† (“Be quiet before Yahweh and wait for him.¬† Do not fret…”¬† Psalm 37:7)

And¬†then there is a special Hebrew word for when the waiting is especially¬†long.¬† It means to have patient endurance, to linger before God with all the pain exposed, to depend on Him alone.¬† Sometimes this kind of waiting goes on for years until the longed for answer comes.¬† (“I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.” Psalm 40:1)

Waiting is part of God’s plan.¬† He sits by us in the Waiting Room, takes our hands and says, “I will wait with you.”

“Lord, I wait for you;¬† you will answer, Lord my God.” ¬†Psalm 38:15

Rewriting the Psalms

I love the book of Psalms. It’s the first place I turn when I am sad, burdened and in need of comfort. Sometimes I go to familiar verses, the ones I can count on time after time to express exactly how I am feeling. Sometimes I am surprised by a new thought that never occurred to me in a new verse I’d never noticed before.

In an effort to really understand the depth of these beautiful writings, I decided to rewrite the Psalms. The Book of Psalms According to Dinah. Phrase by phrase, I had to think about each word and how I would express the same thought. For instance, Psalm 30:1-5 says,

“I will exalt you, O Lord, for you lifted me out of the depths and did not let my enemies gloat over me. O Lord my God, I called to you for help and you healed me. O Lord, you brought me up from the grave; you spared me from going down into the pit. Sing to the Lord, you saints of his; praise his holy name. For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” NIV

Now the DPR version (Dinah’s Personal Rendition): “Because You lifted me up out of the hole I was in and kept others from kicking me when I was down, I will now hold You up for all to see. Here’s how it happened: I cried ‘help’ and You made it all better. Honestly, Lord, it’s like being buried alive and having someone dig you up just in time. This calls for some singing and praising, everybody! God may show a flash of anger from time to time, but what rules the day is His loving acceptance. I can cry a river at night, but as sure as the sunrise, things will look better in the morning.”

I hope David doesn’t mind me putting my own twist on his poems. I’m not attempting to change them, just relate on a deeper level. Just trying to get into the psalm writer’s head and get the ancient words into my heart.

Psalm 59:0

Before Psalm 59 actually begins, the composer jots down some notes:

For the director of music. To the tune of “Do Not Destroy”. Of David. A miktam. When Saul had sent men to watch David’s house in order to kill him.

This interesting side note is not assigned a verse number, but it sure sets the scene. David is peeking out between the curtains at night and sees King Saul’s gangsters are back again. They are like mad dogs, lurking in the shadows, waiting for a chance to attack. David knows he is on the top of Saul’s hit list and that the thugs are there to assassinate him. 1 Samuel 19:11 verifies the story: “Saul sent men to David’s house to watch it and to kill him in the morning.”

So what does David do? What any man would do in that situation. He picks up his pen and journal and writes lyrics to a song that’s been going through his head all day! Instead of sharpening his sword and forming an escape plan, David writes. He sets down before God everything that is on his mind. “Deliver me! Save me! Protect me!” and “Bring them down! Consume them in your wrath! Show no mercy!” His fear and his desire for revenge pour out in complete honesty. Once all that is off his chest and he has cleared his head, his heart is able to speak: “I sing praise to you; you, O God, are my fortress, my loving God.”

That’s what I love about David. He always comes back around to praise and worship. Even when his house is surrounded by hit men sent by the king, he finds a song to sing. Even when his life is in utter chaos, David is confident in his God.

I need to remember David’s example when all my worries howl at me in the night and nip at my heels. After I’ve cried and complained to God, I need to remember to come back around and wrap it all up with praise. And when I can’t come up with praise-filled words of my own, I’ll borrow some from David.