I have a problem.
Do you ever find yourself buying books but never quite getting around to reading them? It’s a dilemma I’m all too familiar with.
Of course, it’s not every book on my shelves, but a good number of them. Countless visitors have walked into my office, glanced at my bookshelves, and exclaimed, “Wow, have you read all of these?” Unfortunately, the answer is no. I do want to read them all, but time always seems to slip away.
During the Christmas season, when I take a break, I bring along a few books. However, I must confess that I don’t always finish them.
A few weeks ago, as I spun around in my desk chair to select some titles for the break, my eyes landed on the most general section of my books – “Popular Christian.” These are the books you’re supposed to read from cover to cover, unlike commentaries that most people use as references. I reached out and grabbed “Pointing to the Pasturelands: Reflections on Evangelicalism, Doctrine, and Culture” by the late J. I. Packer. I had picked it up at the last T4G Conference in 2022 but hadn’t found the time to read it.
The first part of the book comprises short columns that Packer wrote for Christianity Today, each no longer than a few pages. Packer, like an all-pro teacher, has a captivating way of drawing the reader into a story about his life or the happenings in the world, leaving you with profound thoughts that will take you and the Holy Spirit the next month to untangle.
2023 wasn’t the easiest year for me. I battled depression, anger, fear, and a myriad of other unpleasant emotions, leaving me unhealthy and unhappy for a significant part of the year. Much of 2023 had me questioning what God was doing and what He was trying to teach me. Honestly, I’m still trying to untangle it all while receiving a master class in humility and patience.
Chapter 3 of “Pointing to the Pasturelands” is entitled “A Bad Trip.” Packer recounts a journey in which he says God “gave me a refresher course in patience.” The tale takes the author from his current home in Canada to his home of origin – England. The travel was miserable at every step, and he shares the various poor attitudes and sinful responses that got the better of him on the trip. In typical Packer style, this little tale is both humorous and sobering. However, a few words really caught my attention:
“Patience means living out the belief that God orders everything for the spiritual good of His children. It’s not just grinning and bearing things stoically but accepting them cheerfully as therapeutic workouts planned by a heavenly trainer resolved to get you up to full fitness.
Therefore, patience treats each situation as a new opportunity to honor God in a way that would otherwise not be possible and acts accordingly.”
I just sat there, stunned at what I had just read, and prayed, “Lord, thank you for not letting me read that book until today. You knew back in April 2022 that I would need these words, and in your providence, you kept me from reading it until just this moment when I needed it most. I’m glad that your ways are not my ways and that you do everything you purpose to do.”
So, if you ever feel guilty about not getting to all the books on your shelf or stacked up in your Kindle, never fear. Your God is sovereign even over the book you take on vacation this year. Just as He feeds the sparrows and waters the lilies, He is taking care of you in a million different ways every moment.