The Best Books I Read in 2013

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It’s that time of year again, time to share my top lists of the year. Monday, I shared the top sermon downloads from Revolution Church. Tuesday I shared the books that almost made my “best of the year” list. And yesterday I shared the albums that almost made my “best of the year” list.

To see my list of favorite books from past year, simply click on the numbers: 200920102011 and 2012.

To make this list, it does not have to be published in 2013, I only needed to read it in 2013. As always, this list was hard to narrow down, but here are the top 13 books of 2013. Buckle up book worms:

13. How to Deliver a TED Talk | Jeremy Donavan

If you speak for a living or are a pastor, this is a must read book. Donavan takes the best and worst of TED Talks and breaks them down into do’s and don’ts for speakers. You can read my review here.

12. Innovation’s Dirty Little Secret: Why Serial Innovators Succeed Where Others Fail | Larry Osborne

I love Larry Osborne’s stuff. It is so simple and straightforward. In this book, he looks at why some churches and organizations works and others don’t. His chapter on mission statements is worth the price of this book. You can read my review here.

11. Eat Move Sleep: Why Small Choices Make a Big Difference | Tom Rath

Health books are everywhere. Good health books are hard to find. This is one of the great ones. Two things stood out in this book: One, every choice we make matters. They all impact every part of our life. Two, Tom Rath looks at how to eat, move and sleep so that those choices make the most positive impact in our lives. You can read my review here.

10. Sex & Money: Pleasures that Leave You Empty and Grace that Satisfies | Paul David Tripp

There are some authors you should read everything they write. Tim Keller is one of them and Paul David Tripp is another one. No matter the book, you should read their stuff. Tripp takes the two biggest temptations and sins in our culture and shows how they leave us empty. Definitely a convicting book. You can read my review here.

9. Boundaries for Leaders: Results, Relationships, and Being Ridiculously in Charge | Henry Cloud

The primary message of this book for leaders is you get what you create and what you allow. You can read my review here.

8. Chasing Francis | Ian Cron 

I read this book one Saturday night, one of those hard, dark Saturday nights many pastors have. I could not put this book down as it resonated with me on so many deep levels. So, when you have that dark night, this is a book to read. Here’s my review of it.

7. The Pastor’s Justification: Applying the work of Christ in Your Life & Ministry | Jared Wilson

This book is very similar to Paul David Tripp’s book Dangerous CallingA challenge to pastors to apply the gospel they preach to their own lives and hearts. A great book for doing the deep dive for a pastor and confronting their idols. It also helps that Wilson is hilarious in this book. You can read my review here.

6. Discipleshift: Five Steps that Help Your Church to Make Disciples who Make Disciples | Jim Putnam, Bobby Harrington, & Robert Coleman

The effects of this book will be felt at Revolution for years to come. As we’ve moved more and more towards a missional community model, this book has helped us hone our system of making disciples. This graph has been huge for us. You can read my review here.

5. Give them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus | Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson 

If you are a parent or will be a parent, this is the one parenting book you have to read. It shows you how to parent to your child’s heart, which is the only way to change a child and see them become who God created them to become. You can read my review here.

4. Leadership as an Identity: The Four Traits of Those Who Wield Lasting Influence | Crawford Loritts

What set this book apart was that it had very little “here’s what a leader does” advice. This book is all about what influences and shapes a leader. Ultimately, what shapes a leader will eventually come out in their actions. You can read my review here.

3. A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World | Paul Miller

This is the book on prayer.  So good. I love the idea of prayer cards and have since created them on Evernote to use. You can read my review here.

2. In Search of Deep Faith: A Pilgrimage into the Beauty, Goodness, and Heart of Christianity | Jim Belcher

This book almost made the jump to #1, it was close. This book is part parenting book, part history, part travel, and faith. It shows the roots of Christianity and how to bring those into your family. One thing Katie and I want is for our kids to know the history of Christianity and that it is not a faith that just appeared in the last 100 years. You can read my review here.

1. Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action | Simon Sinek

I love leadership books, so it makes sense that one of them is #1. A leadership book was #1 last year too. This book was insanely good. If you are a leader, this is the one book you have to read in 2014. So good. You can read my review here.

Tomorrow you’ll get my last list of the week: the top 13 albums of the year.

A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World

bookI have had Paul Miller’s book A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World (kindle version) on my iPad for a couple of years. I heard about how great it was from other pastors. Katie read it and it changed how she prayed and connected with God dramatically. Yet, I never got around to reading it. I felt like my prayer life wasn’t great but it wasn’t horrible, so I put it off.

Then, as I was preaching through the book of John at Revolution Church, I got to John 17 and decided that as I was preparing those sermons and looking at how Jesus prayed, I needed to up my game in a big way. So, I finally read A Praying Life. 

I’m really sad I waited this long to read it.

What I appreciated most about this book was how easy to read it was and how helpful it was. Most books on prayer simply make you feel bad because you don’t pray enough or correctly. I don’t need to be reminded of that. That’s why I’m reading a book on prayer. I never got that feeling from Miller in this book.

A big part of this book is understanding what it means to ask God for things as a child would a parent. That a child asks relentlessly, they have no filter, anything is possible and they ask til they see movement. As adults, we don’t ask God in prayer for things like this. This is one reason we miss the relationship with God we were created to have.

Miller says:

A praying life feels like our family mealtimes because prayer is all about relationship. It’s intimate and hints at eternity. We don’t think about communication or words but about whom we are talking with. Prayer is simply the medium through which we experience and connect to God. Oddly enough, many people struggle to learn how to pray because they are focusing on praying, not on God. You don’t experience God; you get to know him. You submit to him. You enjoy him. He is, after all, a person.

Almost every book on prayer is based on some kind of “system” or way of praying. This book is no different.

Miller challenges the reader to use prayer cards instead of a list.

I got some three-by-five cards, and on each one wrote the name of a family member, along with a Scripture that I could use to shape my prayers for that person. I began developing a stack of prayer cards that allowed me to pray through my life—for loved ones and friends, for non-Christians I’m building relationships with, for my church and its leaders, for missionaries, for my work and my co-workers, for character change in my own life, and for my dreams. Here are the overall guidelines I use when creating a prayer card.

  1. The card functions like a prayer snapshot of a person’s life, so I use short phrases to describe what I want.
  2. When praying, I usually don’t linger over a card for more than a few seconds. I just pick out one or two key areas and pray for them.
  3. I put the Word to work by writing a Scripture verse on the card that expresses my desire for that particular person or situation.
  4. The card doesn’t change much. Maybe once a year I will add another line. These are just the ongoing areas in a person’s life that I am praying for.
  5. I usually don’t write down answers. They are obvious to me since I see the card almost every day.
  6. I will sometimes date a prayer request by putting the month/ year as in 8/07.

Why use a card over a list? Miller answers:

A prayer card has several advantages over a list. A list is often a series of scattered prayer requests, while a prayer card focuses on one person or area of your life. It allows you to look at the person or situation from multiple perspectives. Over time, it helps you reflect on what God does in response to your prayers. You begin to see patterns, and slowly a story unfolds that you find yourself drawn into. A list tends to be more mechanical. We can get overwhelmed with the number of things to pray for. Because items on a list are so disconnected, it is hard to maintain the discipline to pray. When I pray, I have only one card in front of me at a time, which helps me concentrate on that person or need.

This may not work for everyone, but it has been working in our family and life and I found this book to be extremely helpful and winsome when it comes to prayer and connecting with God.

Two Life Impacting Books

I love to read. Every week I review a book that I’ve read. I do this to help my readers find good books, know which books to avoid and to share what I’m learning. Most of the reviews are a way for me to remind myself of what I’ve learned in a book and help to think through it.

Recently, I read 2 books that were incredibly impactful that I wanted to highlight.

bookThe first one was A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World (kindle version) by Paul Miller.

Miller shares his insights and conclusions about how to connect the broken pieces of your life and allow prayer–even poorly delivered–to fill the gaps with meaning and substance. Miller’s down-to-earth approach and practical nature will help you see that your relationship with God can grow and your communication with Him can get better.  Parents will find Miller’s family-life experiences especially helpful.

What I found most helpful was the section on how to pray at the end, the use of prayer cards instead of using a prayer list. I’ve begun making prayer cards in evernote for the people and things I’m praying for.

Incredibly practical and helpful.

bookThe second book was In Search of Deep Faith: A Pilgrimage into the Beauty, Goodness & Heart of Christianity (kindle version) by Jim Belcher.

Grappling with his own questions, Jim Belcher set out on a quest to see how the Christian faith faces the challenges of the modern world and answers the cries of the human soul. Seeking renewal after a draining season of life, he and his family spent a year traveling through Europe, exploring the faith that has shaped civilizations throughout the centuries. They rediscovered key figures, places and events in the history of Christianity, from C. S. Lewis’s life at Oxford to Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s death in a concentration camp. Through the experiences of William Wilberforce, Vincent Van Gogh, Corrie ten Boom and others, Belcher saw glimpses of insight, beauty and courage that transcended human limitations. He found himself surprised by joy and compelled by faith.

Part history book, part biography of the great’s in history, part travel book, part parenting book. This book had it all. I could not stop reading this book and found myself stopping on every page to contemplate what I just read and how it touched me.

I can’t recommend these books highly enough. Put them on your Christmas list, read them over the holidays and allow them to make an impact on your life.

How to Pray for your Wife

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Here is some helpful advice for husbands from Paul Miller in his book A Praying Life:

When men do pray, they often simply want their own lives to be pain free. Men will work at making money, keeping the yard neat, or helping the kids in sports, but many don’t work or think about things that last.

A husband will rarely ask God for his wife to become more like Jesus. Let’s say she is critical of him. When he tries to talk to her about it, she says, “I wouldn’t be so critical of you if you didn’t have so many problems.” By raising the issue, he just got more criticism, so his heart quietly shuts down. He just doesn’t care anymore. She is who she is. So he moves on with life and flips on the television.

Without realizing it, he has become cynical about the possibility of real change in his wife. A childlike spirit seems naïve, like a distant memory. He is wise as a serpent, but he’s not harmless as a dove. He is surrounded by idiots, and his only choice, like the Greek stoics, is to tough it out. Low-level evil has worn him down.

To engage God in prayer about his wife’s attitude feels like opening up an old wound. Just telling this to God is frustrating because it feels so hopeless, the spiritual version of banging your head against the wall. It is simply easier not even to think about it. Mixed in with his frustration is guilt. Some of what she says is true. He isn’t sure where her sin ends and his begins.

The husband also hesitates to pray because he’s been told that he shouldn’t try to control his wife. But the point of prayer is shifting control from you to God. Moreover, doesn’t the Father want all of us to become more like his Son?

Where should the husband begin? Like a little child, he should ask God for what he wants. It might help to write down in a prayer notebook or on a card what he wants changed in his wife and to find a scripture that describes Christ in her. Then he could start praying that scripture for her every day and also invite God to work in his own heart.

This prayer request will become a twenty-year adventure. The adventure begins with asking God, Do I have a critical spirit too? Do I respond to my wife’s critical spirit with my own critical spirit? Usually, what bugs us the most about other people is true of us as well. By first taking the beam out of his own eye (see Matthew 7:1-5), the husband releases in his wife’s life the unseen energy of the Spirit. The kingdom is beginning to come.

The husband can let God use his wife’s criticism to make him more like Jesus. Instead of fighting what she says, if at all possible he can do it. We can’t do battle with evil without letting God destroy the evil in us as well. The world is far too intertwined.

Deep down, we instinctively know that God works this way, and we pull back from prayer. Like Jonah outside the city of Nineveh complaining about God’s mercy, we say, “God, I knew you would do that. As soon as I started praying for her, you started working on me.”

By taking his wife’s criticism seriously, the husband might feel he is losing his identity, becoming a Christian codependent, mindlessly trying to be good. He is not. He is simply following his Master, who “rose from supper . . . laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him” (John 13:4-5). Jesus’ love is so physical. Our love must be as physical as his.

The husband is not “under his wife’s thumb”; he is entering into Jesus’ life. The husband can’t believe the gospel unless he is also becoming the gospel. In other words, once you’ve learned that God loves you, you need to extend his love to others. Otherwise, the love of God sours. By extending grace to his wife, the husband is being drawn into the life of the Son. He will become Christlike.

The husband can’t leave a vacuum in his heart either. He must replace his critical spirit with a thankful spirit. One of the best ways of doing that is writing out on a card or in a prayer notebook short phrases of how he is thankful for her. By thanking God daily for specific things about his wife, he will begin to see her for who she is—a gift.

At first glance this feels like the husband is whitewashing reality. Life feels uneven, unfair. After all, the wife is the one with the critical spirit; not only is he putting energy into reflecting on his tendency to be critical (which isn’t half as bad as hers), but he’s also working at being thankful for her. The only thing he has going for him is his pitiful little prayer.

A thankful heart is constantly extending grace because it has received grace. Love and grace are uneven. God poured out on his own Son the criticism I deserve. Now he invites me to pour out undeserving grace on someone who has hurt me. Grace begets grace. This husband is taking a journey into the heart of God.

Welcome to the life of God! That’s what a life of grace feels like, especially in the beginning. That pitiful little prayer is tapping into the power center of the universe. If the husband hangs in there, he will be amazed at the creative energy of God. Grace will win the day.

Praying steadily for his wife will help him to become more aware of her as a person. Peter challenges husbands to treat their wives with “honor . . . since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered” (1 Peter 3:7). You can’t separate prayer from love.

Watch what happens over time. By getting his ego out of the way, the husband makes room for the Spirit to work in his wife’s life. God will start doing things far more effectively than the husband ever could. No one teaches like God.

Over time the husband might discover that his courage and wisdom are growing. He’ll find the best phrasing, the best timing to be gently honest with his wife. He’ll move from trying to win a battle to loving a friend. The kingdom is coming!

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