Everyday Matters: A Biblical Approach to Productivity (A Review)

This is a book review on Every Day Matters by Brandon D. Crowe.

It is no secret that we live in a world that praises hustle culture and the bustle of life. But if we are being honest with ourselves, that kind of lifestyle can be quite draining and not sustainable. Brandon D. Crowe wonderfully crafted in his novel what it looks like to be productive from a biblical standpoint. Crowe breaks down the need for productivity by connecting it back to Scripture while also providing the reader with their own actionable steps to take.

Once I started this book, I could not put it down and read it all in one sitting. Therefore, this review will be mostly positive. I think anyone who reads this book will walk away with a new outlook on productivity and realizing the importance of making sure each day matters.

BASICS

This book depicts how to steward our time in a way that displays peak productivity and honors God. Crowe helps the reader understand that productivity lies in more than just checking things off a to-do list.

THE FOUNDATION OF PRODUCTIVITY: PROVERBS VS. ECCLESIASTES

By looking at both Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, Crowe helped lay the foundation of what productivity is. I liked how he showed the difference between both books in reaching the ultimate intent behind productivity:

“Whereas Proverbs deals with applying the law of God in daily life, Ecclesiastes wrestles with the purpose of life.” – Brandon D. Crowe

Proverbs is the way we get practical wisdom for how to lead a productive life by showing that the wise are diligent in their work. Ecclesiastes, on the other hand, helps us recognize our limitations and that even though there are seasons we go through, each one can be used for the glory of God.

PRINCIPLES OF PRODUCTIVITY

The latter half of the book is more practical as Crowe gives the main principles of productivity. The ones that stuck out to me were: priorities, goal setting, routines, and rest/repent.

PRIORITIES

To know what our priorities are, we must look to Scripture to guide us. By identifying our Scriptural priorities, it opens up the door for us to identify our areas of responsibility.

“You need to identify the overall purpose of your life, in accord to Scripture, and be sure that your daily actions line up with it.” – Brandon D. Crowe

GOAL SETTING

In this section, Crowe emphasizes that the best way to reach our goals is by taking small steps. Another important idea he introduced was having S.M.A.R.T goals. These are goals that are: Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic, and Time-bound. Setting your goals up this way ensures you the best way to complete your goals. For instance, in the novel, Crowe makes the point that if a goal of yours is to “live a healthier lifestyle”, make it more specific and say “workout twice a week.” or “eat one healthy meal a day.”

ROUTINES

As someone who loves a good routine, this section was probably my favorite. Crowe touched on the importance of not just having a single routine, but rather have a personal routine that focuses on your spiritual well-being and physical health. As well as a work routine if applicable.

Crowe also stressed the importance that as seasons and time goes on our routines will look different, referencing back to Ecclesiastes. It is okay that our seasons/means of productivity will change. It is all a part of the flow of life.

“There is an occasion for everything and a time for every activity under heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:1

REST, REFRESH, + REPENTANCE

While it seems like working all the time helps reach peak productivity, that is simply not the case. Rest is an important part of maintaining a productive lifestyle.

“To maintain an effective, productive lifestyle, you need rhythms of rest built into your schedule. Instead of working longer hours each day, you should aim to maximize your time devoted to working so that you have time to recover before the next day.”-Brandon D. Crowe (page 84.)

THE BEST PARTS

One part of this book I loved is that at the end of each chapter, Crowe had action steps based on what the chapter was on. This is great because even if you understood what the chapter was on but was not sure where to start, Crowe had a list of practical steps waiting at the end of the chapter.

I also enjoyed that even though this was an easy read, there was so much wisdom packed inside. I took many notes while reading.

Crowe did a great job also with helping the reader understand that this process to live a productive life will not happen overnight and not to beat yourself up if you slip up. But rather have grace with yourself and have weekly or quarterly evaluations to see what may need to change in your routines/lifestyle.

THIS BOOK IS FOR EVERYONE

All in all, no matter where you are in life: a student, a professional, single, married, etc., this book is for you. Crowe takes this broad idea of productivity and breaks it down in a way that leads you back to Scripture while also giving practical wisdom and application.

I know I will take what I learned from this book and implement it into my life. Pick up Every Day Matters to see that a productive life is more than what meets the eye, while also leading you back to the principles God has set for his people as it relates to living a balanced life of work and rest.

Confronting Injustice Without Compromising Truth- A Review

This is a book review for Confronting Injustice Without Compromising Truth by Thaddeus Williams

You don’t have to be on social media long to realize that what is called justice today often includes counter-productive outcomes of anger, hatred, bitterness, and wrath. Rarely do those calling the loudest take a breath to reflect on the wisdom of their words. Echo chambers mean we are quick to point fingers along partisan lines and rebuke those who violate man-made standards of righteousness.

This idea of “social justice” is typically either uncritically embraced or vilified within the church, but rarely defined or explained. Confronting Injustice Without Compromising Truth takes a step back from the madness to provide clarity to the conversation. The author doesn’t make the mistake of minimizing our need for justice or flatly dismissing claims to oppression. Instead, he provides a nuanced, even-handed analysis of today’s hot button issues.

“The most pressing cultural and political issues of our day are, fundamentally, worship issues.” – Thaddeus Williams

The book aims to and succeeds in providing the reader with a perspective on justice firmly rooted in Scripture. It distinguishes between two kinds of social justice—Social Justice A (the kind Christians have always practiced by helping the poor, honoring widows, reaching the least of these) and Social Justice B (the kind widely promoted in culture today). This second kind of social justice is critiqued through twelve questions, such as: Does it distort the gospel? Does it take seriously the godhood of God? Does it embrace divisive propaganda? Does it value group identity over identity “in Christ”?

This book’s greatest strength is that it repeatedly emphasized that justice without God is actually injustice, reaffirming that “all injustice is a violation of the first commandment.” Everybody wants to call themselves pro-justice. However, when people become their own arbiters of truth, their vision of justice becomes distorted as well.

By providing examples both from history and modern-day, Thaddeus Williams broadens our scope beyond the particulars of specific issues, hitting on the worldview assumptions at the heart of our debates.

The Highlights

Helpful appendixes
The end of the book included seven appendices labeled A-F addressing the issues of abortion, race, socialism, sexuality, helping the poor, fragility, and the culture wars. These were useful for going in-depth and illustrated how to apply the biblical principles outlined in the twelve chapters.

Enjoyable writing style
Though the book features heavy topics, the writing makes it enjoyable to read. Thaddeus Williams’ style is personable and witty, and his humor can be disarming when dealing with touchy issues. I also appreciated the relatable explanations and situations he included throughout which put tougher to understand concepts in an everyday context.

Well-researched
The end of the book includes 30 pages of research documentation. As different topics are addressed throughout the chapters, books going deeper into the issue are consistently referenced. By the time I had finished reading, I had a list of new books to check out next. These recommended resources make this book an even better jumping-off point for interested readers.

Inclusion of personal stories by contributing authors
The contributing authors were one of the reasons I initially decided to check the book out. I have learned and benefited from the writing and work of Neil Shenvi, Monique Duson, and Samuel Sey. I appreciated the inclusion of their stories and of others towards the end of each chapter. These short insights into their lives functioned as a powerful reminder that we are still dealing with real people, not mere statistics or ideas. Many of these stories gave me a new perspective, as they were outside of my normal frame of reference, like Suresh’s experience under the Hindu caste system and Becket’s experience in Hollywood.

Addressing seldom discussed issues
Thaddeus makes sure to address the biggest injustices of our day, things that typically get swept under the rug like exploitive porn, sex trafficking, children from split homes, lives lost to abortion and women exploited by the industry, religious persecution, and the victims of socialism. This reminds Christians not to simply jump on the trending issues for the sake of looking virtuous. Most of all, it reminds us that we need the gospel above all else.

Gracious in argumentation
Maintaining a humble attitude is difficult when your convictions are strong and the stakes of debate are high. Thaddeus’ respectful treatment of those he critiques is in-line with his early statement to “take aim at ideas, not people.” He keeps the gospel central and doesn’t get caught in the weeds.

What could have been better

There is very little to critique in this book, both in style and content. For an introduction to social justice from a Christian perspective, it is everything I could have asked for.

While this is a highly accessible book, some knowledge of social justice ideology is helpful for getting the most out of it. The ideology that lies behind many modern-day conversations–theory originating from scholars such as Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, the Frankfurt School, and Karl Marx–is touched on but glossed over. This book would pair well with something touching on the deeper philosophical issues behind social justice ideology, like Ratio Christi’s booklet on Engaging Critical Theory & The Social Justice Movement.

Recommendation

Confronting Injustice without Compromising Truth is a very approachable and comprehensive overview of some of the biggest issues we face in culture. Few Christian books have taken the time to address social justice from a biblical perspective, so this book fills a unique void. For me, that was a breath of fresh air. Every Christian should read it to equip themselves to speak the truth and do justice in a culture that misunderstands both. I hope those who do pick it up will be encouraged to tackle difficult problems and go into the culture with the courage to bring light as past generations of Christians did when they rescued discarded babies in Rome, worked to abolish slavery and stood up for the downtrodden.

The Possibility of Prayer: A Review

This is a book review on John Starke’s The Possibility of Prayer

As a pastor in the heart of New York City, John Starke is well acquainted with the busyness of pastoral ministry in an achievement-driven culture. Rather than providing keen insight on how to increase efficiency, Starke takes a less beaten path by discussing prayer. He begins by laying a foundation for the difficulty, yet simplicity of the practice of prayer. After the groundwork has been established, he provides seven practices that believers should cultivate in the normal rhythms of their life.

Since I often struggle to practice rhythms of rest and prayer in my own life, I found this book extremely helpful and enjoyable. Therefore, the majority of what I have to say is a positive discussion of a meaningful and well-written book.  Regardless of the personal application, I do not know any Christian who would not leave this book refreshed, challenged, and encouraged. My aim in this review is not to tell you the advantages and the disadvantages of the book, but rather to beg you to read this book by presenting the basic premise and the highlights of it.

The Groundwork

In order to establish and cultivate patterns of prayer in our lives, we must first correct our often limited and incorrect view of these habits. Starke skillfully guides the reader to a right understanding of the three most fundamental disciplines: prayer, scripture reading, and confession.

Prayer

Far too often, Christians naively view prayer too narrowly. Sometimes even to the extent that we essentially see prayer as an act of making requests to a genie who can make our wishes come true. 

Starke defines prayer as “the business of conquering territory within us: territory that we think is ours but which God claims for himself.” I absolutely love this. With this understanding, prayer becomes an act of God getting more of us, rather than merely us getting more from God.

Scripture Reading

In the same way, many find themselves viewing scripture reading simply as an act of collecting information. In an extreme sense, Christians may avoid reading God’s Word because they do not want to engage with the text intellectually.

Contrarily, Starke corrects our incomplete view of the Bible by saying,

“If you read the Bible, you will see that God’s Word is often compared to a sword, and His presence, fire. These images teach us that the Word of God and His presence are not always comfortable. Swords pierce deep and cut away; fire burns and purifies.” – John Starke

The author’s point here is to say the Bible can and should deeply change and challenge us. When we read God’s Word, we do not only engage the text with our minds, but with our hearts. The Scriptures impact not only the thoughts of our mind but the desires of our heart.

Confession

Similarly, Starke exposes the “laissez-faire spirituality that boasts of weakness but is safe from criticism and reproof.” The point of confession is not merely to receive acceptance, but to be rescued. Unfortunately, many of us view confession only as a time to acknowledge our shortcomings and forget that this is about experiencing transformation. An element of confession is clearly missing if we do not see the depth of our sin and begin to turn away from it. 

Cultivating Rhythms of Prayer

As the book takes a turn towards more specific practices, there are a few that I would like to highlight.

Meditation

As Starke discusses Scripture meditation, he writes,

“We’re not just reading the text to find examples to follow but mercies to receive.” – John Starke

Far too often, I find myself inclined towards viewing the biblical text as a self-help book that exists to make me a better version of myself. While there is merit in seeking to apply the Scriptures, Starke reminds the reader that this isn’t the only purpose. He goes on to write,

“Meditation is the discipline that lights the fuse between the understanding of the mind and the tasting of the heart — the knowledge of God and the joy of his presence.” – John Starke

This is huge. In my own personal life, I have found meditating on the Scriptures to be the bridge we all need between our time in prayer and our time in studying God’s Word.

Fasting and Feasting

In my article, “How Fasting Forms the People of God,” I argued that fasting was one of the least practiced spiritual disciplines in Evangelical Christianity, yet we should still teach ourselves how to fast. After building an exegetical foundation for the practice of fasting, Starke writes,

“So, yes, we ought to practice the regular rhythm of fasting but stabilize our souls with feasts, too.” – John Starke

Growing up in Texas, we certainly had our fair share of “feasts.” Yet Starke uses the word a bit differently than I initially would have thought. When I think of feasts, I do think of lots of food, but Stark paints a much more vivid picture by writing, 

Gather friends for a meal everyone is involved in making. Come prepared. Take a nap or sleep longer the night before — no one goes home early from a good feast… Set phones at the door.

For Starke, a feast is less about the abundance of food on your plate, but more about the enjoyment of relationships that God has provided.

Corporate Worship

All of the practices mentioned in this book – communion, meditation, fasting, feasting, solitude, and sabbath – culminate in corporate worship. As I am writing this, my county has been under a stay-at-home order for over a month. 

We are unable to practice the discipline of corporate worship in the way we previously have and therefore expectantly long for the day when we can gather in-person with our brothers and sisters to worship together. Yet, Starke defines corporate worship in a way we can participate in, even during the unexpected times we are currently living in. Starke writes, 

“Corporate worship uses deeper mechanisms of change because it is not a habit that aims directly at self-improvement but at enjoyment. Worship is a command to enjoy an object.” – John Starke

Though we are unable to meet together in the way that we have before, worship is about enjoying God. We can worship God in our living rooms with our family. We can worship God through our zoom calls with our community groups. Just because have to take a break from the way we traditionally view corporate worship does not mean we have to take a break from worshipping and enjoying God.

Read This Book

I do not know how to make it any clearer: you want to read this book. The way Starke pastorally corrects the misunderstandings and misconceptions surrounding spiritual practices is challenging yet encouraging. If the point of this book was to make you love Jesus more, Starke has surely accomplished his goal.