“Books don’t change people;” John Piper has said, “paragraphs do, sometimes even sentences”— which helps explain why the books I read in 2021 really did work in me, because I crept along in them. I didn’t read pages at a time, but paragraphs, even sentences.
Over in the Author Conservatory, we’ve been talking about the lost art of thoughtful reading, where you don’t just read a book then shelve it, but you read it again and jot notes in the margins and bring your questions about it to other people and ask, “Is this true? Is this helpful? Does this change me?” When you sit with questions like those long enough, you find that a book really does change you, because you let it work on you in paragraphs and sentences.
After all, the way God chose to change his people was with a Book, yes, but a Book made up of lifegiving paragraphs and sentences.
I’ve been thinking more about this after reading an article by Scott Hubbard last week, titled, “Endangered Attention”:
“An abundance of wisdom processed rapidly makes for distracted, superficial souls;” he says. But “a limited amount of information processed slowly makes for knowledge and that increasingly rare quality so lauded in Scripture: wisdom.”
So, he says,
“Read less, but read better. Learn less, but learn better. Listen to less, but listen better. You cannot eat all the apples in life’s information orchard; you would be foolish to try. So make peace with your gloriously limited humanity, and learn to choose and savor just a few.” [i]
This is all to say that I read a lot of books in 2021, but the books didn’t change my mind and heart. The paragraphs in them did, even the sentences, and I’ve collected just a few of them here…
“That God is rich in mercy means that your regions of deepest shame and regret are not hotels through which divine mercy passes but homes in which divine mercy dwells.
“It means the things about you that make you cringe most, make him hug hardest.
“It means his mercy is not calculating and cautious, like ours. It is unrestrained, flood-like, sweeping, magnanimous.”[ii]
~ Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly
“If one wants real merriment, let him go into a new-mown field, where all the air is full of summer odors, where wild-flowers nod along the walls, where blackbirds make finer music than any band, and sun and wind and cheery voices do their part, while windrows rise, and great loads go rumbling through the lanes with merry brown faces atop. Yes, much as I do like dancing, it is not to be compared with that; for in the one case we shut out the lovely world, and in the other we become a part of it, till by its magic labor turns to poetry, and we harvest something better than dried buttercups and grass.”[iii]
~ Louisa May Alcott, Debby’s Debut from L.M. Alcott: An Intimate Anthology
“You fuss over life with your clever words, mulling and chewing on its meaning, while we just live it.[iv]”
~ Mary Oliver, Goode-Bye Fox from A Thousand Mornings
“The Scripture emphasizes that much can come from little if the little is truly consecrated to God. There are no little people and no big people in the true spiritual sense, but only consecrated and unconsecrated people. The problem for each of us is applying this truth to ourselves: is Francis Shaeffer the Francis Shaeffer of God?”[v]
~ Francis Shaeffer, No Little People, No Little Places
“I fear that Christians who venture to stand on earth on only one leg will stand in heaven on only one leg too.”[vi]
~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, cited in Bonhoeffer
“Be sure to get an interest in Christ, if you intend to mortify any sin; without it, it will never be done.”[vii]
~ John Owen, The Mortification of Sin
“They went down the road and up the long Green Gables lane but just before they reached the yard gate, they both paused as by a common impulse and stood in silence, leaning against the old mossy fence and looked at the brooding, motherly old house seen dimly through its veil of trees. How beautiful Green Gables was on a winter night!”[viii]
~ L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Windy Poplars
“When they speak of being ‘in Christ’ or of Christ being ‘in them,’ this is not simply a way of saying they are thinking about Christ or copying him. They mean that Christ is actually operating through them; that the whole mass of Christians are the physical organism through which Christ acts— the fingers and muscles, the cells of his body.”[ix]
~ C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
[i] Scott Hubbard, “Endangered Attention: How to Guard a Precious Gift,”DesiringGod.org, 2022, Jan 4, (https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/endangered-attention)
[ii] Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers. (Crossway, 2020: Wheaton, IL), 179, 180
[iii] Louisa May Alcott, L.M. Alcott: An Intimate Anthology. (Doubleday: New York, NY), 270
[iv] Mary Oliver, A Thousand Mornings. (Penguin Books, 2012: New York, NY), 14
[v] Francis Shaeffer, No Little People. (Crossway Books, 1974: Wheaton, IL), 25
[vi] Eric Metaxes, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. (Thomas Nelson, 2010: Nashville, TN), 456
[vii] John Owen, The Mortification of Sin. (Christian Focus Publications, 2002: Scotland)
[viii] L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Windy Poplars. (Bantam Books, 1987: New York, NY), 148, 149
[ix] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity. (HarperCollins, 1952: New York, NY)