Rosalie Marshall

9 August 2023

Let me say from the start: I’m not a great reader. I’m quite slow, and left to myself, not particularly disciplined. Goodreads is about as foreign to me as Strava. Yet I live in a community that deeply values the written word, and rightly so. The greatest story of our lives is preserved and presented to us as a book of books.

If you had to picture yourself reading, I wonder what scene enters your mind? For me, it’s a quiet corner or comfy couch, in the sun or under blankets. Just me, alone with some words on a page. Unfortunately, that’s also my ideal napping scene. It’s crazy how often these two practises coincide.

Yet I know that reading, particularly Christian reading, is so much more than my pre-nap routine.

In January I began another attempt to read the Bible in a year. I’m only about 70 chapters behind schedule, but hey, it’s not December yet! And I’m learning to cherish a brief Psalm reading some days, and bask in a full five chapters on others.

I read the Bible because it is the most foundational text of our Christian faith. It’s where we meet Jesus, and we situate ourselves within God’s creative and redemptive story. It’s the book we go back to for correction and exhortation— for the blueprint of what it means to be a Christian. God uses Scripture in a truly marvellous way to shape our character and conviction.

Yet sometimes – often – I need help to bridge the circumstances of Scripture with my own. I need help exploring a particular aspect of Christian life in light of God’s revelation. And my forgetful heart needs fresh encouragement to see how the Spirit is working in and through believers, even today.

This is why I read other Christian books.

I’m slowly learning that reading is not necessarily alone time, but listening time. When I read, I join the conversation of a community that spans across countries, cultures, and more than twenty centuries. The depths of the wisdom and knowledge of Scripture is more than I could decipher in my lifetime, so I benefit from the insights and reflections of other believers— from the Apostle Paul to Peter Adam.[1] I’m inspired to live faithfully by sisters who persevered to the end—from Perpetua, the 3rd century martyr, to Corrie ten Boom, who exemplified Christian love, hospitality and forgiveness across the horrors of a Nazi concentration camp.

My reading is not limited to Christian authors; God graciously teaches me – and gives me enjoyment in – the stories and insights of those who don’t know him as well. But there’s something incredibly special about reading and celebrating my brothers and sisters in Christ from different times and places.

I wish I read more and remembered more of what I read. One benefit of studying at Bible college this year is that I have a looming deadline motivating me to read extensively on a particular Bible passage or topic, and to produce reflections on that reading that makes sense to others. But here are a few other things I’m trying to help me participate in that international, intergenerational conversation with Christian family:

1. Read with others.

    Last year, I joined forces with two friends from university to conquer John Stott’s The Cross of Christ. It took us the whole year, but we made it! I found it helpful to set monthly goals with these friends and to work through simple discussion questions together. Maybe there’s a book you’ve been wanting to read for a while. Why not put it out there to see if anyone else at church is keen to read it too?

    2. Utilise technology to bring reading into my schedule.

      I’m not a huge fan of e-reading or audiobooks, so I only recently tried listening to one during my commute. I may not take in quite as much as I would when I am reading a paperback, but this is one more voice that I probably wouldn’t have heard otherwise. And a brief ride on the tram is just enough time to scroll through another Vine, Trellis, and Crow article— what a great way to start the workday!

      3. Embrace the hard toil of a healthy habit.

        I’m still working on establishing a regular and sufficiently varied reading routine. Whether that involves a sometimes reluctant early rise to work through my Bible reading plan, or committing to switch off technology twenty minutes early and read a few pages before bed. These are little sacrifices of effort for what I am convinced is great gain. May God remind me of this truth at 6:45am tomorrow morning!

        4. Pray old prayers.

          Another recent discovery for me was a second-hand copy of the Valley of Vision that has sat unopened on my bookshelf for too long. It’s a collection of puritan prayers from the 19th century—those brothers and sisters really knew how to pray! The “thees" and “thous” aren’t everyone’s language preference, but every now and then I’ll read and rewrite one of their prayers, allowing the gift of their words to become my words to God in that moment. Just working through one page from a 200-year-old fellow believer broadens my perspective and my prayers.

          Book recommendations

          I needed some help collecting book recommendations, so thanks to our trusty staff team for coming through with some of their favourite reading related to the Vine, the Trellis, and the Crow:

          Invitation to Silence and SolitudeRuth Haley Barton

          ‘Framed around 1 Kings 19:1-19 where Elijah has a little nap and some cake and is restored 😊 An introduction to forming a practice of silence and solitude as a means of communing with God with practical questions at the end of each chapter to help the reader.’

          Difficulty: Easy Read (Hayley Bell)

          The Ruthless Elimination of HurryJohn Mark Comer

          ‘The book’s central point is as Jesus’ disciple, follow his lifestyle. It talks about principles on how to live like him in a culture that is all about hurry and busyness: 1) Silence and Solitude, 2) Sabbath, 3) Simplicity, 4) Slowing.’

          Difficulty: average (Abigail Gunarso)

          The Spirit of the DisciplinesDallas Willard

          ‘High level thinking on spiritual disciplines. Describes the delight in disciplines as a gracious gift of God. Doesn’t cover everything but examines the heart behind spiritual disciplines.’

          Difficulty: Advanced (Pat Donohoe and Dom Macaluso)

          The Hole In Our HolinessKevin DeYoung

          ‘How can we, as sinful people, possibly live up to God's call on us to be Holy as he is Holy? In the church, there often seems to be a greater focus on either personal depravity or moral liberalism rather than on the pursuit of holiness. Kevin DeYoung provides an excellent theology of grace and partnership with God, describing how can work out our salvation with fear and trembling.’

          Difficulty: Average (Steph Hill)

          The Things of EarthJoe Rigney

          ‘In James 1:17 we’re told that “every good and perfect gift is from above” - from a Heavenly Father who wants us to enjoy his creation. Often, however, we get lost in our pleasures, finding our satisfaction purely in the gift and ignoring the Giver. This book seeks to connect the two, helping you see just how loving and loveable God is. Made my heart sing.’

          Difficulty: Average (Luke Nelson)

          Desiring GodJohn Piper

          ‘”The great business of life is to glorify God by enjoying him forever.” Piper helps us to truly delight in the Lord we worship.’

          Difficulty: Average (Neil Castle)

          Finding Faith Naomi Reed

          ‘Each chapter records the testimony of a sister or brother from around the world coming to faith in Jesus. Deeply encouraging, and a reminder that we worship the Lord who brings people from every tribe and language and nation to himself. Read it right through or flick to any chapter. Not directly related to spiritual practices but an opportunity to celebrate our spiritual community.’

          Difficulty: Easy Read (Rosalie Marshall)

          How to PrayPete Greig

          ‘Pete pioneered the 24/7 prayer movement, and therefore has loads of stories, teaching and practical advice on how to pray and fall in love with Jesus through prayer.’

          Difficulty: Average (Joel Deacon)

          A Praying LifePaul Miller

          ‘About how to pray. I just found this book unbelievably helpful... My favourite Christian book aside from the Bible… the suffering and challenge he’s experienced in his life sets his writing on fire.’

          Difficulty: Average (Zac Hodgkinson)

          Into His Presence Tim Chester

          ‘Adapted from Puritan prayers and prose, this book is comprised of eighty theologically rich and beautifully written prayers and reflections. The prayers are thoughtfully organised into categories and soaked in scripture and teach a deep devotion to God. Great for personal and corporate prayers.’

          Difficulty: Average (Carmen Milic)

          Be Thou My Vision DevotionalJonathan Gibson

          ‘A clear cut, liturgical approach to devotions with written prayers of confession and illumination, catechism and reading plan. A lot of structure… it’s given my prayer and study time a structure I desperately needed!’

          Difficulty: Average (Daniel Hernandez)

          [1] Check out Andy Prideaux’s article, ‘I Read the Bible… with Dead People!’ (TGCA, 2020).

          Rosalie Marshall

          Rosalie is an Associate Minister for City on a Hill, Melbourne East, where she has fellowshipped since the start of 2018. She is slowly working through an MDiv at Ridley College, and served previously with AFES at Monash University Christian Union. Rosalie enjoys learning languages, cooking, and spending time near water and trees. She is passionate about seeing the global church well-equipped to know Jesus and make him known in their different contexts, and is prayerfully considering serving in cross-cultural mission in the future.