Need to jumpstart your New Year's resolution to spend more devotional time with God? Although it's designed to be picked up anytime (not just the New Year), Rebecca Barlow Jordan's 40 DAYS IN GOD'S PRESENCE: A Devotional Encounter might be a good place to begin.
If you're a reader who likes structure, these devotions will be your cup of tea. Each devotional reading follows the same format. First, Jordan chooses a biblical character or event to center the devotion on. In "The God of Visual Lessons," the reader learns about God's control and design for the world and his ability to speak through object lessons as she tells the story of the prophet Jeremiah watching a potter and his wheel. Sometimes, she weaves in a contemporary story, as when she writes of Caleb urging the Israelites to face the giants, and then tells of a young woman overcoming the "giants" of multiple physical handicaps. Jordan sometimes adds personal anecdotes, although they can be a little vague (she alludes to a rocky time in her marriage, but doesn't get more specific than this). Her tone is consistently conversational, warm and friendly.
One of the most heartfelt devotions centers on the term of endearment "Abba," with which we are invited to address our heavenly father. Jordan deftly weaves both biblical context for the usage and contemporary story together to give the reader a new appreciation of the love God has for his children.
Another, centered on Job, may inspire some discussion over her final conclusion that "Sometimes in the presence of God, silence may well be the best policy," which is a little confusing and perhaps debatable. It might be argued that there's nothing wrong with asking God hard questions (as David did in the Psalms) as long as we recognize we may never have answers in this life that we understand. (God knows our questions anyway!) Perhaps the key point she makes is that we can always approach God and find grace for our circumstances. A good reminder.
At the end of each four to five page devotion is a "Personal Truth" that neatly summarizes the point of the devotion, followed by a "Personal Prayer" that the reader is invited to pray to apply the devotional truth. Then Jordan asks a "Personal Question" designed for reflection. "When was the last time you had a true God encounter? Is there someone God wants you to speak to, or something for which you need to take a stand? When do you most enjoy God?"
New Christians or those unfamiliar with the Bible will find that Jordan usually does a good job giving background on her characters or events, although sometimes the reader will need to do some additional reading for context (in one devotion, for example, the Sermon on the Mount is referenced but not explained).
Unfortunately, the temptation to use cute sayings crops up, which may put off more serious readers ("When it rains, it pours. But when he reigns, the Son shines" or about Bathsheba: "her pregnancy test turned up pink. But David suddenly didn't feel in the pink.") She also cites some examples that need endnotes (such as the woman who left her toddler in the car, or the twin volleyball players). However, many of the writers quoted and referenced by Jordan are well-chosen (Brother Lawrence, Richard Foster, Oswald Chambers) and many readers will appreciate her cheerful, upbeat tone.
Christians looking for short, scripture-based devotions with personal applications will enjoy this volume. Those who find it helpful will be able to follow it in July 2006 with Jordan's 40 DAYS IN GOD'S BLESSING.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on January 2, 2006