I am not normally a big fan of devotional books. Many of them are shallow, superficial, and don’t interact with the Bible enough.
That might sound harsh, I get it.
But, I have read and used two recently that have been excellent. One of them was Remember and Return by John MacArthur. (You can read Chrys’ review.) This is an excellent devotional. It is MacArthur at his finest. But, this post is not about that book, it is about Explore By The Book: John 14-17, Romans, and James. This is a part of a devotional series from the Good Book Company.
Chrys has written a different type of review on this you will want to check out. He gives an overview of the book and what the strengths of it are. Let me just agree with him about how I love that it forces you to get into the Bible for yourself. The text the book coversis not found in the book so you either have to open your Bible or have the warm glow of God’s Word on your face from your phone.
I am not going to cover the whole book in this review, but I did want to focus specifically on the James portion of it. I have been reading and studying the book of James on my own for a little while now so when I received an email to review it from Cross Focused Reviews I jumped on it, as did Chrys!
Since this is not a book that really gives content but is meant to help the reader study their Bible better I wanted to share how it personally affected me. There were times as I was reading through James as instructed by the book that I was humbled. James is a tough book to begin with, but as I was guided through it by Sam Allberry I began to see how woefully inadequate I am in myself. James has a high standard, God’s. He says that if I do not have works then my faith is dead because my works are an evidence that I have faith. He says I am not to prefer the rich over the poor. He tells me that I am to count it, or consider it, all joy when I meet trials of various kinds.
But, when I read through the book prayerfully and asking the Holy Spirit to help me understand and obey, I saw so many areas of my Christian life that needed improvement, where I needed to be holy.
Bear with me for one example. I already referenced that James writes about counting our trials as joy. In parenting lately I have experienced more trials than anything. And to be honest it is not because our girls have changed, but that I was sinning more. Parenting can be a trial (and all God’s children who are parents said Amen!) but I should count them as joy. In my sin I was counting my trials as deficiencies in my children and not as joy. Allbery wrote in the book on this passage:
God will use trials to make us rounded Christians-to grow us into the very people we were created and saved to be. So trials are the spiritual equivalent of growbags-faith grows by learning to persevere in hardship. Difficulties are opportunities to cling on to the promises of God.
So we are not to be joyful about suffering; but we are to be joyful in suffering, because we know what God can and does do for us through suffering.
When my children are being difficult or disobedient make no doubt about it, it is a trial. My faith is tested in those moments. But in those moments I should remember that God is using them to make me into a person that glorifies and enjoys Him.
Emphasis on Prayer
There are certain parts of the Bible, to me, that seem to be no brainers to pray through. To be honest James was not one of those books. But with the guidance of Allberry I now see how I can turn what is written by James into a prayer back to God. There is a heavy emphasis on praying to ask God to help us to obey what is written in His word, to change our thinking, or to confess sin when we fall short of what James writes about.
The Puritans were insistent that Bible reading, prayer, and meditation are all connected. You will find that emphasis in this book.
Tips For Using This Devotional
I want to offer a few tips for using this devotional.
- SLOW DOWN! We have all rushed through our Bible reading at times because we view it as something we check off at the end of the day. If we read our three chapters a day we feel pretty good. But, how often do we remember what we read? I know too often when I rush I don’t remember much, if anything. If you use this, and I encourage you to, slow down. Follow the directions and TAKE YOUR TIME! The benefits you receive from slowing down will be well worth it.
- Pray. This is emphasized throughout the devotional but we all know it can be easy to just skip over the prayer section .When asked to pray, do it. Prayer is essential if we are going to understand the Bible, and is essential in relying on the Holy Spirit for understanding.
- Enjoy it. Enjoy using this devotional. You have trusted guides, Tim Keller and Sam Allberry, and their desire is for you to understand the Bible. Studying the Bible, working hard at it, is not a detriment to joy but a source of it. Have fun, you are getting to know God through His word and there is nothing more enjoyable than that.
I encourage you to get a copy of this, or any in the series. As Chrys said, if you are needing a boost to your devotional life this is a good one because it forces you to get into the Bible for yourself. And when you get into the Bible for yourself the Word of God will do the work of God, conforming you to the image of Jesus.