When I was in high school, I had a friend who was a magnificent singer who often competed in solos and ensembles—the high school 90’s equivalent of “America’s Got Talent.” He had sung all four years before the exact same judge and each year she would have the paper in front of her, making various comments about his performance—his entrances, intonations, phrases, vocal quality, etc. His goal for the first three years was to get a “first” and he did. But this year, he wanted to do something altogether different. He wanted to be so good, that she put her pencil down because there was nothing technically wrong with it, it was so beautiful that it was beyond comment, she could just put the pencil down and enjoy it. Suffice to say, he accomplished his goal, something I still marvel at a couple of decades later.
Dane Ortlund’s, Gentle and Lowly, is the authorial equivalent. Rarely do you find a book that is intellectual and emotional, theological and experiential, observational and introspective, but Ortlund does just that. You don’t want to write a review of it, you simply want to close it, ponder the contents therein, and experience God through it—a very rare feat for any author.
Ortlund begins his book by defining his audience as “the discouraged, the frustrated, the weary, the disenchanted, the cynical, the empty. Those running on fumes” (p. 13). From that point on, he invites the reader on a journey into the heart of Jesus Christ. In all of Scripture, Christ only describes his heart once as “gentle and lowly” (Matthew 11:29). Using the Puritan Thomas Goodwin as a guide, he takes us into how Christ feels toward us. Oftentimes, we think of God being displeased or frustrated with us, like a parent trying to write a book review with a child who keeps interrupting! But no, instead, we find a God who delights in being merciful to us, who “never tires of sweeping us into his tender embrace. It is his very heart. It is what gets him out of bed in the morning” (p. 23). Chapter by chapter, he pulls us into the embrace of Jesus, so that he is no longer a mere theological construction—instead, a loving friend who is quick to cheer on, support, love, give grace, and offer mercy. Ortlund knows his audience, and writes as a pastor-theologian, one who knows the God of his theology intimately, but who also knows his people and what they need to remember.
In our time of moral upheaval, the fear of the future pounding on the door of our minds, the omnipresent tyranny of the urgent demanding attention, with the all-too-close shadow of the unknown looming, it is necessary for us to refocus and remind ourselves who Jesus is. While He is coming to conqueror, it is good to be reminded that He is also the compassionate King who cares for His people in ways that we can wrap our minds and hearts around.
If you are struggling right now, you need to read this book. If your faith feels small and you feel like God is indifferent or angry with you, you need to read this book. If you find that Jesus has become so familiar that remembering His heart for you has become difficult, this book is for you. As I read this book, I found that I was able to see God again with new eyes, to remember that he is not far away at all. In fact, He is far closer than you and I could ever imagine.
Unlike the judge in my friend’s talent show, I can’t put my pencil down and just bask in the song, but this book gave me permission to pause and marvel at the God who loves me.