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EFAC Australia

Resilient: Your Invitation to a Jesus-Shaped Life.
Sheridan Voysey, Discovery House, 2015

The art of pairing a wine with a meal is supposedly a relatively recent phenomenon. Historically, local food would be matched with local wine without much room for choice, but the luxuries of modern life have birthed a booming industry in the search of paired perfection and the ultimate dining experience.

I wonder if we do a lot of the same when it comes to pairing the right devotional commentary to Scripture. Does the devotional content enhance the experience of God’s Word? Is it a helpful companion or a distraction? Is the overall result more nourishing or vainly exotic? What is the ultimate Bible dining experience? What a luxury to have so many good books available to us that we can think in this way!

Thankfully with Sheridan Voysey’s devotional book Resilient, it is easy to see that Scripture came first and his reflections flowed secondarily. The book came about because he committed to reading the Sermon on the Mount every day for a month, an experiment that tripled in length, and captivated his journaled thoughts enough to make the ninety short reflections that comprise it.

The book is organised into 6 sections and roughly follows the flow of the Sermon on the Mount: Your Invitation, Your Calling, Your Relationships, Your Practices, Your Choices and Your Resilient Life. In that sense, the clear theme of resilience only climaxes towards the end, just as it does with Jesus’ closing analogy of building a house on the rock. Yet the resilient life is consistently built up every step of the way.

The whole collection is meant to be read slowly. This is a good thing, drawing us back to the Sermon that our wayward hearts love to ignore. The extreme challenge of each individual instruction from Jesus is hard to embrace, let alone to absorb it all at once, so to be guided deliberately through it by Voysey’s awareness of the implications is helpful. This slowing down gives space for new insights into our present context and stops the powerful ethical impact from getting lost in the rush. He raises the challenge of Jesus by helping us see it more clearly.

Far from being a harsh call to a self-reliant holiness of living, the book is full of grace. He writes with a compassion that can only come from someone who knows the transforming work of the gospel and he works hard to make sure the reader doesn’t miss the grand narrative of God’s love. It is the kind of thing that comes from someone who has actually done the hard yards of sustained reflection on the glorious Word of God and the lived experience of a Jesus-shaped life.

Voysey has a knack for sensitively navigating topics that many Christians have strong opinions on. People are very quick to give up on a devotional if it starts to push controversial buttons at whim (I should know, I’ve lost track of how many such books are on my shelf with their unsubtle agendas left unfinished). Voysey writes carefully, respectfully, is informed by good scholarship and acknowledges a variety of Christian experience. Typically this is achieved by leading with a story rather than leading with an assertion and it is an effective strategy that builds trust and respect with the reader.
My main worry about the book is the title. I read it because anything to do with resilience draws my attention these days out of a fascination with the buzzword it has become. The Western cultural narrative seems preoccupied with the silver bullet of resilience as it seeks desperately for anything that will plug the hole of widespread anxiety and fragmentation. There is nothing wrong with the word and what it represents, only that the book deserves to last longer than the buzzword is likely to and I hope it doesn’t detract from the impact it should have once we’ve all jumped on the new flavour of the month.

Both endeavours of pairing wine with food and devotionals with Scripture are notoriously difficult. One might find that they have found the textbook perfect combination only to hear scathing critique from the person sitting next to them. Welcome to subjective taste and personal preferences! Nevertheless, I think this is a satisfying, enlivening and ultimately productive combination. Bon appetit!
Mark Juers, Vic

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