Your Future Self Will Thank You - A Review

One of the most challenging questions for Christians to ask themselves is whether they are more Christlike today than they were a year or even a decade ago. Even among those of us active in our local churches on a regular basis, this question can lead to awkward silence and, perhaps, even prevarication. If we are brutally honest, most of us cannot claim to be more Christlike today than we ever have been and that should give us some pause to think.

It’s not that we should be perpetually living on some sort of “mountain top” spiritual experience. Christlikeness has very little to do with how we feel, but it has a whole lot to do with how we live.


And the question of how we live is not a question of our avoidance of sin. Most of us don’t drink, smoke, chew, or hang with girls that do. This isn’t simply about ethics. The question of spiritual progress has a great deal more to do with the normal advance that takes place as we mature as Christians. Unfortunately, for many of us, that advance looks less like progress and more like a slow slide backward or an attempt to tread water while pretending to be moving ahead.

Every year we make new resolutions. We are going to pray more, lose weight, memorize Scripture, and be more diligent in a hundred different ways. However, it seems that a few weeks later our will-power has failed and we have slid back to where we started.

Drew Dyck’s recent book: Your Future Self Will Thank You: Secrets to Self-Control from the Bible & Brain Science, is, despite its clunky title, a very helpful book. It is a quick read, but well-written and robustly researched. This book belongs in a reading list with other books on spiritual disciplines.

The basic topic of this book, as the subtitle indicates, is self-control. This seems to set the volume up for two potential errors: legalism and self-reliance. Dyck is careful to avoid both. He does this by reminding readers that self-control is a biblical virtue (e.g., Prov 25:28, 1 Cor 9:25) and by noting that self-control is a fruit of the Spirit (e.g., Gal 5:23). We cannot earn salvation by being more self-controlled, but growth in godliness should result in greater self-restraint.

The Bible points us toward the need for self-control as a sign of and means to pursue spiritually maturity, but that leaves those of us who struggle with the virtue pondering why we can’t just be better. That’s where the science comes in.

As someone who struggles with self-control, Dyck set out on a quest to figure out why. This took him through a year or so of reading the literature available in the field of psychology and brain science. He has helpfully distilled the results in this book and carefully balanced those findings against the wisdom of Scripture. What he finds is much like the argument Christian Miller presents in The Character Gap: human character can be shaped, there are practical ways to do so, and that those practical means of forming our character look a great deal like traditional Christian devotional practices.

Having explained why we so often fall short of our goals of being more self-controlled, Dyck also helps explain how we can get better. He goes well beyond the usual Sunday School response: read the Bible, pray, and attend more church. These are all a part of the formula, but without a little more meat on the bones, such admonitions leave us asking why we haven’t gotten any holier in the past decade.

The basic formula laid out in Your Future Self Will Thank You is that we need to incrementally build new habits. Dyck sifts through research that shows that the problem with most of our self-improvement attempts is that we try to change too much too quickly and without the appropriate incentive structures. Dyck uses recent scientific research to show that will power is a finite resource. It can be developed over time. However, our self-control is subject to fatigue. When we are tired, stressed, or distracted we are much more likely to fail in our attempts at self-control. Not coincidentally, this happens to match what Scripture teaches. This is why Sabbath is built into the pattern of Scripture. This is why Proverbs focuses so much on patterns of life.

Interspersed with the explanations of why we fail, Dyck has included helpful steps to begin to develop better habits. His examples tend to focus on things that should matter to us as Christians: physical health, stronger prayer lives, more consistent Scripture reading. This is a long way from self-help book designed to unlock ten secrets to build a better you. This is a book that can help provide practical mechanisms to get Christians to develop better habits that lead us toward holiness.

Dyck’s book will benefit those who already have a good understanding of spiritual disciplines. For those that don’t, it should be paired with a book like Andy Davis’s, An Infinite Journey: Growing toward Christlikeness or Don Whitney’s, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. In fact, Dyck’s book fills out some of what is absent from traditional books on spiritual growth because it helps explain why we fail and what, practically, we can do to fail less.

NOTE: I received a gratis copy of this volume from the publisher with no expectation of a positive review.

The Puritan Practice of Biblical Meditation

In his 2014 book An Infinite Journey, Andy Davis notes, 

Meditation on Scripture is essential to gaining a deep understanding of the truth of its words. Without meditation, the words of our daily reading can flow through our minds like water in a pipe and make no impact. But by means of meditation, we give the word a chance to settle in our minds and do its work.

Similarly in the recently published Prayer, Tim Keller writes, 

Many have written about the hyperactivity of today’s contemporary society and our cultural attention deficit disorder that makes slow reflection and meditation a lost art. Nonetheless, if prayer is to be a true conversation with God, it must be regularly preceded by listening to God’s voice through meditation on the Scripture.

Both of these men are pointing in the same direction, a return to a spiritual discipline that often eludes believers in an age of constant connectivity. Both Keller and Davis spend a few pages on the topic with some basic instructions, but there is a room for a great deal more practical instruction in the practice of Christian meditation. David Saxton provides such instruction in his recent book, God’s Battle Plan for the Mind: The Puritan Practice of Biblical Meditation.

It may be that the focus on the Puritans will turn some readers off from the beginning. However, that is a thoroughly unfair bias. As Leland Ryken shows in his book, Worldy Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were, there is a lot more to the Puritans than Max Weber and Nathaniel Hawthorne allow. In fact, while we cannot adopt everything the Puritans espoused wholesale, the contemporary Christian can benefit greatly by exploring the deeply scriptural worldview they developed.

As such, Saxton’s book really is helpful. Saxton is, in essence, bringing the Puritans forward to a contemporary audience and summarizing their perspective on a neglected spiritual discipline. While extremely beneficial to read, the Puritans are often quite prolix at times. This makes books like this a welcome addition to an arsenal of texts on Puritan theology.

God’s Battle Plan for the Mind is a short book at 138 pages of text. It is divided into twelve short chapters and a conclusion. In a very practical manner, Saxton presents an apology for biblical meditation, differentiates it from unbiblical forms, and demonstrates some of the times that biblical meditation is most helpful and necessary. Thankfully, the book does not leave the reader at the theoretical, but pushes into practical methods for meditation on the Word.

The last six chapters deal with the practical aspects of mediation. Saxton presents some specific instructions on how to choose subjects for meditation, how to be motivated to meditate, what benefits to look for in meditation, and ways to recognize enemies of meditation. The final chapter is an even more basic primer of how to get started developing the habit of meditation.

If you love Puritan theology, you will thoroughly enjoy this volume, which is well stocked with Puritan quotes. If you want to deepen your walk with Christ, you will find this book very beneficial, because it points readers toward practices which are important for becoming more Christlike. If you need encouragement in your walk with Christ, this short text will provide ample exhortation. It is worth your time to read it.

The most significant weakness of this volume, in my mind, is a bias toward Christian separatism. Saxton rightly notes the distraction which our entertainment saturated society can find, but he goes on to cite ungodly friends, by which he means unspiritual ones not merely ruffian acquaintances, and a “failure to decisively separate from the world” as major obstacles to meditation. While these latter factors may negatively impact spiritual disciplines if we never separate from worldly amusements and spend all our time among non-Christians, Saxton seems to be proposing an intentional withdrawal from culture. This may be helpful for maintaining a focus on Christ, but it also removes opportunities for evangelization and influencing a culture which is need of both salt and light. This is not a major emphasis in the book, however, so the value of the volume is not diminished.

Buy the book, apply the technique. There is little doubt that meditating on the Word of God is both biblical and necessary for growing in the knowledge of Christ.

Note: A gratis copy of this book was provided by the publisher with no expectation of a positive review.

I have previously reviewed Andy Davis' book, An Infinite Journey for Themelios, the academic journal of The Gospel Coalition. Click here to read the review.

Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God

If you are Christian that struggles with prayer, then Tim Keller’s recent book, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, is for you. Of course, this means that I am recommending this book to every Christian on the planet because we all struggle with prayer at some point in our lives.

I like Keller’s stuff. I have read most of his books and have listened to many of his sermons. This is, perhaps, his best book so far. That is really saying something.

Despite my appreciation of Keller’s work, I wasn’t sure what I was going to get when I picked up this book. Most books with the word “prayer” in the title end up being glorified self-help books that present a moralistic vision that guilts the reader about not praying enough or not praying correctly. Other books provide simplistic formulas for prayer that may be helpful in the short term, but which fall short of helping the reader construct a theology of and methodology for personal prayer.

Prayer is a masterpiece on this very important spiritual discipline. In a world filled with a myriad of views on the nature of prayer, the methods of prayer, and the efficacy of prayer, Keller’s book stands above the rest.

This book critiques the most common popular errors about prayer. Keller disabuses his readers of the notion that an omnipotent, omniscient, sovereign God would not expect his people to pray. Keller writes:

“If we believed that God was in charge and our actions meant nothing, it would lead to discouraged passivity. If on the other hand we really believed that our actions changed God’s plan––it would lead to paralyzing fear. If both are true, however, we have the greatest incentive for diligent effort, and yet we can always sense God’s everlasting arms under us. In the end, we can’t frustrate God’s good plans for us (cf. Jer 29:11).”

With arguments like these, Keller eradicates the notion that theology–-understanding what God is like––is unimportant to prayer. This book convicts the reader of the importance of prayer, but reminds the reader of the reality and availability of grace.

Keller seeks to present a vision of prayer that is theological, experiential, and methodological in one book. He does this well.

The theological frame for this volume is built from Scripture. Keller emphasizes that the Psalms are largely a collection of prayers. They provide examples of how God’s people have prayed in the past, which can be appropriated by God’s people today. Keller also explores what great theologians of the past have written about Prayer. Augustine and Luther both wrote letters to parishioners on the topic of prayer. In The Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin has an excellent treatise on prayer. Keller summarizes and shares the pith of these pastor-theologians’ writing on prayer. The depth and breadth of the research are part of what makes this new volume a classic text.

The experiential aspect emphasizes the nature of prayer as a conversation with God. We speak to the God who hears and he communicates to us. Contrary to more theologically enigmatic perspectives on prayer, Keller rightly acknowledges that “if prayer is to be a true conversation with God, it must be regularly preceded by listening to God’s voice through meditation on the Scripture.” In other words, Keller’s vision of prayer is more holistic than others, because it includes substantial reflection on the Word of God as an essential part.

This book would be incomplete if it did not provide some helpful specifics that teach the reader to pray. He has chapters dedicated to theological and practical discussion on prayer as worship, as communion with God, and as a means of seeking help from God. Keller also provides some down to earth suggestions for making progress in this important spiritual discipline.

In a world where being Christian and popular at the same time often requires compromise, Tim Keller has managed to shatter the stereotype. Keller’s books sell well because they are well-written, thoughtful, and deal with culturally important topics. Keller’s books are worth owning because they winsomely communicate orthodox truths with depth and accuracy. This book is no exception on either count.

Note: A gratis copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher. There was, however, no expectation of a positive review. All opinions above are my own.

Some additional helpful links:

1. A 1990 sermon by Keller on Prayer from Redeemer Presbyterian.

2. A host of resources on prayer from Redeemer Presbyterian.

3. An index of Tim Keller resources from Steve McCoy's personal site. Multiple linked sermons, interviews, articles, etc.