Sunday, June 26, 2011

‘Pressing into Thin Places: Encouraging the Heart toward God’ by Margaret Harrell Wills, Ed.D – Book Review

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In this world, there will be troubles; the Lord assured us in John 16:33. We often need hope when we are hurting. In her book, ‘Pressing into Thin Places: Encouraging the Heart toward God,’ Dr. Margaret Harrell Wills helps us to get through troubled times.

Here is the synopsis of this book:

Life is neither easy nor simple. A quick survey of today’s headlines reveal that ours is a world full of hardship, grief, and pain, and it does not look to be getting any easier anytime soon. Yet we do not have to despair. Instead we should be empowered by the truth that there is a God who loves us and wants the best for us. This book encourages us to rest in this love, to seek it out, to press close to its source, to worship its giver, and to hold fast to its promises during times of sorrow.
Through historical anecdotes, personal memoir, observation, prayer, and a mixture of prose and poetry, Dr. Margaret Wills allows the reader to join her on her own search for peace, hope, and meaning in the midst of loss and pain. She also encourages praise and appreciation at all times, for God’s heart toward his children is unchanging.
With honest and intimate relevation, she explores the “thin places” where God’s presence is deeply felt when the veil is momentarily lifted: the storms of life, including damaged relationships, the death of a loved one, personal confusion, and gripping sorrow. Dr. Wills considers the character of God, our Father and King but also the greatest servant and the wisest teacher, relating to the quiet victories and the unending challenges of everyday life. She invites you to celebrate in the struggle and ultimate triumph of faith founded in Jesus Christ, the beauty and diversity of creation, and the hope to be had in this life and the next through saving grace.

Here is the biography of the author:

Dr. Margaret Harrell Wills is dedicated to the ministry of encouragement, helping people experience hope, wisdom, and faith in their spiritual journey. Dr. Wills grew up in Phoenix, Arizona. She received her undergraduate degree from John Brown University, a master’s degree from Arizona State University, and received her doctoral degree in higher education with a teaching field of history from the University of Arkansas. She taught American History at the University of Arkansas in Fort Smith, Arkansas.
A writer and a poet, Dr. Wills is dedicated to the ministry of encouragement and helping people experience hope, wisdom, and faith in their spiritual journey. She has written for a number of publications, including The Journal of the Fort Smith Historical Society and Issues and Inquiry in College Learning and Teaching. She previously served on the board of the Arkansas Community Foundation as an appointee of Governor Mike Huckabee. She has been a guest lecturer in the Leadership and Ethics Program at John Brown University and has spoken on the topic of “Leaving a Character Legacy.” She is a graduate of Chuck Colson’s Centurion Program for Worldview Leadership, an intensive and demanding education program that prepares Christians to articulate and live out their faith with authenticity and to lead effectively in the marketplace of ideas. Her home is in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains in Fort Smith, Arkansas, where she lives with her husband, Paul.

In the Introduction, Tim Boswell makes an important point:

There are two common myths that have taken unfortunate root in the hearts and minds of many Christians, and they are two of the most dangerous lies to believe. The first is that once you give your heart to Jesus Christ, your every problem will be solved and your life will be easy and pain-free. The second is its close kin – the belief that if trouble, hardship, or sorrow enters your life, then you must have fallen out of God’s favor and wandered away from His plan for you.
While God does at times use discipline or tribulation to correct or guide, to believe these lies – that your life as a Christian should be a carefree romp through the daisies, and if it isn’t, that God is no longer smiling down on you – is to risk overwhelming fear, discouragement, and a loss of peace and joy that we are meant to have at all times, even times of trial.
The truth of the matter is that we live in a fallen world, a world of pain and heartache; even Christ and His disciples had to pass through storms. It is this world and these storms that Margaret Wills writes, and it is to you and to me, making our way through the storm while the deck of the boat pitches beneath us and the cold waves threaten to take us under. Margaret reminds us that if we are safely in the boat with the Captain at the wheel, we can let go of our fear and trust the One who can still the waves with a word. (pp. xix-xx)

It is vital that we understand the troubles we go through are not caused by God. I have a memory of me at a young age asking a catechism teacher if God brought sickness on us. I don’t remember where I came up with that idea, but I do remember that the teacher explained that God did not cause sickness. I really needed to hear that at that point in my young life.

Dr. Wills shares with us this wonderful promise:

We are graced with thin moments from time to time, some profound, some subtle. They sneak up on us. So let us keep our eyes open for the gift of the thinning of the veil as we walk on the mountains. And then let us remember the truths in the flatlands and in the valleys. (p. 17)

Dr. Wills gives us her perspective on forgiveness:

As I mulled the verse [Matthew 18:21-22] over in my mind, it suddenly dawned on me, maybe we are supposed to forgive the same sin seventy times seven. It’s not a onetime deal. That makes it even more of a challenge. Forgive over and over again? Let go of it? Yes, God is able to deal with another person. I concluded that Jesus was telling us, “Yes, it’s hard for you to forgive but I’ve had mercy on you and forgiven you over and over again and you must do the same. And you will need two things: My grace and your choice.” You will be set free, but beyond that, God will give you wisdom on how to best deal with difficult situations or relationships. We can weep but we cannot get bitter. (p. 33)

She provides us with this encouragement about our future:

Our future is one of hope and infinite possibilities. A couple of years ago, my husband gave me a card. On the front it said, “A Love Story.” When I opened it, it read, “Together. Forever. The End.” In a way, that card sums up our relationship with God. Life is short. Written between the lines there is joy, sorrow, and a lot we don’t understand. But life is a love story between us and God, together forever with no end. (p. 47)

She shares this observation on faith:

We must have faith. The Bible says that he who comes to God must believe that He is. I visualize Michelangelo’s painting on the Sistine Chapel where there is the picture of man in all his glory and God in all His Glory, both reaching out. Their arms are extended toward each other, their fingers almost, almost, but not quite, touching. To me, the gap represents faith. The bridge between us and God is our faith, faith for our salvation and faith for our daily walk. Our faith in Jesus bridges the gap between us and Him. What challenge are you facing that is an opportunity to experience the reality of God in your life? When you are tired and confused and don’t know where to go or what to do, go to Jesus. He will either step in your circumstances or give you grace and peace to walk your appointed path. Jesus came that we might know our God. God is good and God love us. (p. 131)

This book includes some tender and heartfelt poems from Dr. Wills. I liken some of them to David’s psalms in the Bible. Here’s a sample:
        Lead me into your sanctuary
        Where I take courage and my dust-born
        thoughts are silenced
        Where Your Word centers the
        meditations of my mind
        And Your Spirit examines the motivations
        Of my most inward part.
        Incline my spirit to holiness and
        “heaven’s will on earth.”
        Counsel me on my glorious destiny and
        Remind me that I do not walk on a slippery path
        Or stand on a water-soaked sandy cliff.
        I am anchored in the Rock of my Sovereign Lord
        In the shelter of a most high mountain
        In the sanctuary of unseen evidence
        Where thoughts are clarified and courage renewed.
        (pp. 34-35)

This makes a lovely gift book. It is small in size – perfect for a nightstand or a purse – and a lovely hardback with a dust cover. It would probably be more appropriate for women than for men, but I think some more gentle men would appreciate it as well! I plan on referring back to it often for inspiration and encouragement, and I thank Dr. Wills for sharing this beautiful book with us.

You can order this book here.

This book was published by Brown Christian Press and provided by The B & B Media Group for review purposes.

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