The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson: Praying Big

“God is great not just because nothing is too big for him; God is great because nothing is too small for Him.”

The Circle Maker, page 113

“When you pray regularly, you never know when God will show up or speak up. Today could be the day. When you live in prayer mode, you live with holy anticipation. You know that coincidences are providences. Any moment can turn into a holy moment. God can invade the reality of your life at three o’clock one afternoon and change everything.”

The Circle Maker, page 65

I mark up my books. Mostly with underlines, sometimes with a star or asterisk to the side. It drives my husband crazy, but it helps me to learn. It helps me to not miss the message woven in the writing that I most need to hear in that season of reading.

Without a doubt, the book I’ve marked up the most recently is Circle Maker by Mark Batterson. Inspired by a first-century BC man who drew a circle of prayer in the middle of a drought and refused to leave until the rain came, Batterson describes a method of prayer that completely circles around and through our requests. The book, which is an entire testimony to the prayer walk of Batterson and his congregation, introduces believers to a different mindset to prayer.

Now, I need to pause here.

The premise of the book is not to literally draw a circle and to sit in it while you pray. Actually, it’s a book about persistence and patience. It’s about perseverance and boldly seeking a heavenly kingdom, even here. The book invites us to participate in a walk with the Lord marked by bold and faithful prayers, and requires a kind of stubborn faith that is dedicated to the practice of praying until the end.

I almost couldn’t stop underlining, and there’s so much that could be said about this book. But for today, let me leave you with 3 main takeaways.

3 Takeaways

001: “It takes 10,000 hours of practice to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert.” Circle Maker, page 86

I think one of the woes of living as a sinful human is that prayer is hard. It just is. It’s hard to find focus, to sit down to it, and to be faithful to showing up to it. I don’t know that I’ve ever met a believer who admits to having a perfect prayer life without any flaw.

Taken from research on world class athletes, musicians, and writers, Batterson brings up that it takes 10,000 hours to develop world-class mastery. Drawing from the implied practice and determination it takes to get there, he makes the point that prayer is the same.

No, it’s not about logging hours. It’s not that when I reach my 10,000th hour of prayer that I’ll be some expert. No, not even close. But he is saying that a solid prayer life takes time. His point remind us, “It is a habit to be cultivated. It is a discipline to be developed. It is a skill to be practiced.”

This gives me hope. I’m just as broken as the person who seems to pray so effortlessly and often, and the difference between me and that person is simple. They’ve committed themselves to the practice of prayer. That’s it. They’ve taken the plunge of faith it takes to show up to pray to an unseen God every day. They have stretched their patience, focused on the Lord, and continued meeting with Him.  

They practice prayer. And it’s not always easy, but they do it in anyways.

And you know what, anyone can get in on that. The only failure in prayer is to stop praying. Establishing a prayer rhythm isn’t happenstance, and that means that all of us have the power to start healthier prayer habits and approaches even today.

002: “When you know you are praying the promises of God, you can pray with holy confidence.” Circle Maker, page 91

Did you know that conservative estimates say there are more than 3,000 promises in Scripture? And because of the work of Jesus, those promises belong to those who believe in Him.

James 1:5, ours.

1 John 1:9, ours.

Psalm 37:4, ours.

Romans 8:28, ours.

Did you hear that? God made Scripture. God made incredible promises. And we have permission to approach Him with those promises.

Some of the Christians I most respect and look up to have talked about praying Scripture right back to God. Hey, if He wrote it then surely it is the most reliable set of words we can read back to Him. Batterson coins it as “God’s grammar.” It’s His own language and set of terms. Why wouldn’t we bring that up in our talks with Him? Not to mention the words He promises are beautiful and plenty to sustain us.

We can read our way through the Bible, but prayer through the Bible plants its words deep within us. We learn how to cling to His promises by heart when we’re speaking those words back to Him, counting on Him to come through with it. My faith in Him heightens when He answers. And He will answer because He’s God and it’s not in His nature to break a promise.

003: “You’ll never achieve the goals you don’t set.” Circle Maker, page 176

Something I started praying about and seeking earlier this year are goals for the coming years. I sat down more than once to my Bible and a composition book that I’ve deemed as my Life Goals journal. This inspiration came from the He Restores My Soul podcast by Jani Ortlund, where she unpacks the value and how-to of casting vision.

One of the final chapters of Circle Maker, “Life Goal List,” could have not have come at a more appropriate time. Just like Jani, Batterson also unpacks the value of setting goals, why it’s important to prayer, and 10 steps for writing them down.

In his goal-setting guide, Batterson walks us through the practical elements of a good goal while above all recognizing that the chief end of a good goal is make God’s name famous. Not only does he give us practical steps for setting a good goal, but the entire list hinges on prayer. Beginning, middle, and end.

The rest of the book aside, this chapter alone was enough to remind me that we are not made to live on auto-pilot. We have been given opportunities and imagination that we’ve barely tapped into. One of the greatest opportunities of goal-setting is getting to marvel at the goodness of God to not only let us dream so big, but to provide incredible ways for those dreams to unfold. The bigger we pray, the more God’s name is magnified when He answers.

Batterson’s passion for prayer is contagious. He believes deeply in the power of prayer, and loves to tell the stories of how the Lord has provided for him; it’s evident on every page.

If you are looking for encouragement as to why you should be praying more and creative ideas on how to do that, you will enjoy this book. Batterson shares some incredible, specific stories in which the Lord came through for him. I loved reading his narrative on how he prays, and was moved to believe that anyone can do this. It just requires practice. Anyone can pray with this level of faith. You just have to start and see it through.

If you are looking for a highly academic, scholarly discourse then this is probably not the book you want to read. Certainly we can all glean some inspiration from this work, but I think it’s important to come in with this mindset that this is ultimately a narrative of one man’s testimony of how he has seen prayer make a difference in his walk.

I have to add that caveat because I think it would be very easy to be disappointed by this book if you come in with the wrong expectations. Instead, I encourage you to start with this simple question: what does a life of prayer look like and how can I practice it?

Much of what Batterson describes are practices and rhythms that I have heard other Christians I look up to say and do. And I feel like if I have heard this message, or similar to it, from the mouths of multiple, well-trusted people, then I can listen to Batterson’s message too.

The heart of Circle Maker is that 100% of the prayers we don’t pray don’t get answered, and if we want something to change, we have to do something different. Batterson’s message is simple: try a new thing. Try a new prayer model. Try a different mindset. Whatever it takes to get closer to seeing the kingdom of God unfold in our world, try it.

Ultimately, are any one of us going to damage ourselves further by praying more? Are any of us going to waste our time by finding different ways to refresh our spirit in Christ? Is anyone really going to be reprimanded for coming to God and saying, “This might look crazy, and it’s sacrificing new portions of my energy, and I feel a little clumsy about it, but it’s worth it because I just want to be nearer to You.”

You’ll never know if you don’t try.  

“There are higher heights and deeper depths in prayer, and God wants to take you there. He wants to take you places you have never been before. There are new dialects. There are new dimensions. But if you want God to do something new in your life, you can’t do the same old thing. It will involve more sacrifice, but if you are willing to go there, you’ll realize that you didn’t sacrifice anything at all. It will involve more risk, but if you are willing to go there, you’ll realize that you didn’t risk anything at all.

Take the risk.

Draw the circle.”

Circle Maker, page 34

24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week by Tiffany Shlain: a Message About Rest

I do not have a great relationship with technology.

I either surpass my screen time limits for social media, or I just avoid social media altogether. I’ll attempt to take notes or make lists on my phone, but then get tired of looking at the screen and revert back to paper – making a mess of keeping multiple things in multiple places. I take too many pictures, attempting to get the right angle, and then waste time trying to muddle through them later. I usually feel more like a social media stalker than I do socialite. And I usually leave a long day at the office with groggy eyes from staring at the screen for hours.

But, I’ve also been able to use my phone to reserve books at the library and find my way without getting lost. I’ve often taken out my phone to document a sunset or a coffee date with a friend, moments that will later go in an album. I’ve heard wonderful sermons, songs, and podcasts that have changed an entire day for me. On the days when I do make the calls I know I need, I always feel encouraged.

Technology has been both good and bad for me. A blessing and a curse.

Technology is a language I am struggling with.

If I’m very honest, I struggle with knowing how to use technology to the glory of God.

I often feel like a slave to something I barely understand. I see the ways its value, but I also see its power over us. Like, I feel so overwhelmed by my usage, and fear that I am wasting it. Wasting the resource, and wasting my time on it.

It’s 2020. I – we – cannot avoid this conversation. We have a responsibility to seriously consider the tension of technology in our lives, because it is has woven itself into every piece of our lives, and is changing the way we live. So better get to it: how can I wisely use technology, in a way that doesn’t consume or beat me?

What if the solution I’m looking for is to deeply rest and reset by turning it off?

What if we really could just…turn it off? What if we could step away from the demands of notifications, the onstream of emails, and the never-ending roll of newsfeeds? Relinquishing my screens sounds both simple and seemingly impossible.

Tiffany Shlain, a filmmaker in California, understands this tension all too-well. She believes that developing a healthier self and relationship with technology is that simple, yet seemingly impossible answer: turn it off. For 24 hours every week.

No cell phones, not even for GPS or music. No TV shows or movies. No reminders or emails. And in the place of rings and notification pings, is a quiet that has allowed Shlain and her family to invite friends over for dinner, go on hikes, read books, journal, and ultimately, reset. Every. Single. Week.

It’s wild that such a simple action is a bold approach, but in her novel 24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week, Shlain takes us on the journey of unplugging one day a week and the extreme benefits she has found over the years. She digs into the science behind tech’s affects on us, and outlines how to use it better.

It was easy for me to enjoy this book, because I am very curious about healthier boundaries and screen time limits. I couldn’t mark enough of this book. One, because it’s the library’s copy and I wish I had my own. Two, because every page had something to say. A couple weeks after reading it, here is what is still sticking out to me:

One. We’re Addicted and Our Brains are Literally Changing

I hate to be the one to break this news, but every engineer behind our screens – every app, every service, every little icon and notification – is designed to “monetize our eyeballs.” We are literally placed on an endless loop that is made to make us lose track of time and place. Like slot machines and nicotine, our desire for stimulation has been fed the overwhelm, instant feed of the web and still feels lacking. How did they do this? Because they know how addiction works.

The developers behind our screens have not intended to make us our healthiest and best selves, although they’ll market that because it sells. The more time we’re on our screens, the more money they get. And they’ve got us because we just can’t look away.

We are no different than an addict and the web is our dealer. Our addiction to screens, like any other addiction, rewires us. It changes our attention span, our level of focus, our memory. It affects the way we connect with others, down to our ability to even maintain eye contact. Shlain gets into a lot of the research and study behind this in 24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week, and it blew me away.

This takeaway is big for me, because it re-centers me. It reminds me that my usage of technology, if left unchecked, will produce damaging effects to my life goals and relationships. Shlain writes,

“The human brain is constantly developing. Everything you do and experience is reshaping connections in your brain, strengthening some connections while weakening or pruning others. This also holds true for your online life: every link you follow, every post you read, every comment you make, is shaping the wiring of our brain.”

The freakiest part about this is not only do I suffer, but my relationships do too. When I constantly choose my screen over faces, I am saying that my screens are more important to me than connection and community. Deep in my soul though, I know that’s untrue. It’s up to me set up a different routine though.

“Fifty years ago, people turned to cigarettes at the exact times we now turn to our phones: waiting, standing in line, when feeling anxious or bored, first thing in the morning with a cup of coffee, last thing at night, after sex. Perhaps the big difference between smartphones and cigarettes is that usually you could start a conversation with someone by asking for a light, as opposed to the group parallel play we all seem to do today: head down, no connection with the person next to you.”

Tiffany Shlain, 24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week, page 42

Two. Deep Rest Comes in the Quiet

Shlain’s anecdote for the busyness of tech is the quiet of solitude. In one of my favorite chapters of the book, she gets into our deep need for silence, arguing that the best way to control our technology is by making its silence a part of our life’s rhythm.

When we make “silent sanctuaries” for ourselves, we are giving our brains the time to process the overstimulation of notifications, conversations, podcasts, lectures, music and everything else we’ve heard. Literally, we are making healthier bodies that will live longer and stronger brains that will continue positively developing. Shlain delves into the science of how people who rest in the quiet are literally healthier.

Lower blood pressure. Better memory. Longer lives. And all it takes is turning off the noise, and being brave enough to let my mind wander.

I didn’t know this, but I shouldn’t be surprised. God wants us to sit in solitude and quiet with him. Of course our bodies would feel tremendous health benefits when we obey that. Of course God knows us best, and knows that the noise of the world is damaging when it’s all we hear.

I crave his solitude. I really do.

I worry for us all, that we would become so encumbered on our screens that we would rob ourselves of the healthy minds and bodies Christ has given us. I really feel for the church. I fear that my Christian brothers and sisters will grow to love our screens so much, that we will forget how to hear the voice of God and feel his presence in our lives. I fear that we could forget how to sit in solitude with a God who can easily feel far away, and that with every phone pick up, we will distance ourselves further from him. I deeply fear that we would forget how to pray fervently and be students of the word, because we could let our addiction to screens overtake us.

Three. Everyone Needs This

Here is the craziest thing: Shlain is not a Christian. She’s of Jewish descent, but does not practice. She doesn’t read the Bible or claim any relationship with Jesus. But she has picked up on something that is wired in the very depth of our souls, and that is the need for rest. Not just sleep, but deep, soul rest. She has taken an element of Jewish culture – a Sabbath, which is a day of rest – and made it set a part. She’s consecrated it to the renewing and healing of her body by trading in the noise and busyness for solitude and community.

This speaks volumes to me. This confirms that God has designed us to be off one day every week. He’s made us to work and create and hustle most of the time, but then to have a time to reset. He’s made us to take note of our limitations.

Not just Christians. All of us.

I used to think that taking a Sabbath simply meant not working, which could include watching Netflix, Instagramming, playing Tetris (literally the only game I have on my phone). Then, several months ago, I started turning my social media off on Sundays. I’m not always perfect at it, but what I discovered is how much richer my days feel when I’m not looking at an endless roll of everyone’s highlight reels.

And as I go deeper still, I’m learning that rest requires more than doing nothing. It requires positioning ourselves to receive what is good for us. Things like dinner with friends, hiking a trail, journaling about the week, praying – those small acts strengthen our souls in ways that picking up our phones again cannot.

I know how it feels to take a day’s hike to an incredible lookout over a river, or the warmth of curling up with a good book. I know how loved I feel when I sit with a friend, and she never once picks up her phone, because the conversation with me is enough. Seeking intentional quiet is good for our bodies and souls. I know why; this is the plan.

It’s 2020. We’re all humans. None of us can avoid this message because (1) we all use technology and (2) we’ve all been made by a God who set designed these patterns within us all the same.  We might be at different journeys and levels of understanding, but none of us are excluded from the need to rest and the implications of our tech-filled society.

Final Thoughts: I Highly Recommend

At some point during reading this book, I realized that my habits make up my life. If I want to live a creative life, I have to make space for that. If I want to spend less time on my screen, I have to set limits for that. If I want to be real with people and live in community, I have to practice it.

And none of those goals will be achieved by refreshing the scroll again or binging Parks and Rec.

I have deep concerns for where we are headed as a society on screens; I have deeper concerns still for the church. We were made for more than life on a screen. 24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week showed me that my concern is well-founded, and gave me a blueprint for how to begin the arduous process of change. This book showed me that the lingering desire to do more in my life than stay on a screen, and to find deep rest to recover weekly, is not crazy; it’s innately woven within me. Within us.

If we’re not careful, we’ll live on auto-pilot. We’ll consume, but won’t create and when the time comes to sit, we won’t know how to. We’ll run ourselves dry to the bones, but friends, we were made for something so much richer. The book reminded me of that, and put words to a feeling I’ve not been able to describe.

I’m not yet on a 24/6 lifestyle yet. I am moving and preparing myself to get there though. 24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week has been my launching pad, a guide of sorts to help me begin the process. Even if you’re not quite ready for that radical change in lifestyle, I highly recommend this book.

You might surprise yourself with the ideas that come to you when you choose to turn off the tech for a day.  

“When I was living 24/7, life was flying by. Quantity ruled. More hours meant more productivity. More value. More worth. When my family and I started taking that day off, I saw that it allowed the best memories to linger. And it’s no coincidence that most of those best memories fall on my screen-free day. Partly, that’s because it’s happening when I’m doing my favorite things with my favorite people, but it’s also because I’m receptive to it. I’m actually going to remember what happens that day because the impression won’t be replaced by the tweet I saw, the stressful headline that I can’t stop thinking about, or an email that requires my focus.”

Tiffany Shlain, 24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week

None Like Him by Jen Wilkin: Marveling at God

None Like Him | Author: Jen Wilkin | Genre: Christian, Nonfiction

Paperback: 163 | Publisher: Crossway (2016) | ISBN: 978-1-4335-4983-0

In None Like Him, author Jen Wilkin describes 10 ways God is different from us, and why that’s actually really good news for us. These “10 ways” are actually 10 attributes, or personality traits, of God. By devoting each chapter to a different attribute, Wilkin teaches readers the intimate details of who God actually is by using scripture and experiences.

Not only does Wilkin discuss God, she discusses how and where we – people – fit in all of this. She graciously points out that we are limited by nature, and how at the root of our every sin is a desire to be God. The only problem is we’re no God-experts. We try to be like him, and we fail. We hurt others or ourselves. Although we desire it, we cannot possess these 10 attributes of God as our flesh attempts.

Here’s where the good news is: God has already displayed himself with glory. His entire being is glory. And though we do not measure up like him, there is actually a great amount of peace in that truth. In this journey of marveling at the wonder of God, we learn to see how our limitations can actually glorify God.

In None Like Him, Wilkin teaches readers about a magnificent God, and paints a picture of what true freedom in him looks like when we people recognize our small-ness in light of his glory; she turns our eyes upwards toward him. And that is a journey we can’t afford to miss out on.

“Knowing who God is matters to us. It changes not only the way we think about him, but the way we think about ourselves. The knowledge of God and the knowledge of self always go hand in hand. In face, there is no true knowledge of self apart from the knowledge of God. We cannot understand our human limitedness rightly until we see it compared to the limitless of God. By learning truth about him, we learn truth about ourselves. But how much do we know of him? Because he is limitless, the knowledge of who he is stretches to infinity.”

Jen Wilkin, None Like Him, page 33

Written for Devotion

Friends, I’ll be honest: it took me months to complete this book. And I had to restart it twice.

It’s not that the writing was bad – quite the opposite.

It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the book – actually, I loved it.

But, I wasn’t prepared for how deep this book would take me on a soul search.

None Like Him is written devotionally and is intended to give readers space and time to reflect. This is not a “cozy up on a rainy Saturday and read this in a day” kind of book. This is a “grab your coffee, pen, and journal, and pull up a chair, because we’ve got work to do” kind of book. I have to tell you that because I did not realize until I reached the end of the first chapter. I had to change my reading pattern for this book, instead of plowing through it like I’d originally expected to do. I had to do some prep work and make space for the time and thought this book asked of me. And really, I wasn’t ready for that the first time I picked it up.

Each chapter hones in on a study of one attribute of God. At the end of the chapter, Wilkin provides a few Bibles verses where we can see this, and encourages readers to write them down to meditate on.

Then, there are 4 reflection questions. These are not simple yes or no questions. Actually, these questions offer plenty of room for dialogue with God; Wilkin wastes no opportunity to spur on our thoughts and to challenge our hearts.

Finally, each chapter ends with a prayer model, in which readers are encouraged to write a prayer to the Lord. These prayers are sweet, because readers get to sit in awe of God and confess where we have attempted to glory like him.

For me, it took me roughly a week or so to complete a chapter. So a couple months to completely finish the book. I would read and reread the chapter. I’d set aside a day every week to read the chapter, and then use a day to meditate on the Scriptures, and yet another day to answer however many questions I had time for. I used this in conjunction with my Bible reading, but gleaned so much from it throughout the weeks by focusing on 1 attribute for several days.

If you’re going to read this, and I highly recommend you do, you have to be prepared for the time it will take to devote to this.

3 Reasons You Should Take the Time to Devote Real Study to This Book

One. Wilkin speaks to women with rich theological truth and application.

This is not an easy, frilly Bible study; our full attention and heart are required to grasp it. One reason is that Wilkin does not express these truths quickly or by cutting corners. She esteems our God-given ability to consider and meditate, and really hones in on it.

The examples of God’s attributes she offers? Well thought-out, and providing more than one angle of him. Wilkin gets into specific, relevant examples of how we might be might attempting to outshine God himself, and I really appreciated that.

The scripture she references and meditates on? Some are short verses, others are passages of several verses. And not all of them are those feel-good, Pinterest board ones, if you know what I mean. Wilkin clearly has started with and esteemed the Bible throughout this book. She obviously believes it wholeheartedly.

The reflection questions? Certainly not yes or no questions, but real questions of us. Questions that require thought and muddling, and open important doors of conversation between us and God.

The prayer models? These walk us through adoring, confessing, thanking and asking of him. These are not simple prayers, but these are honest. Real. Bold.

The prayer and study that Wilkin has poured into this book are obvious on every page; not a line is wasted. This is not just someone telling us what she thinks. None Like Him is the product of true study that we, too, can be a part of. How beautiful it is that God has made us to think.

Two. You are not too good for this book.

Honestly, one reason I thought I’d breeze through this is because I’m familiar with the attributes of God. After all, I have a degree in theology. I know this stuff, right?

I might be familiar with his attributes, but as Wilkin shows us, we can never exhaust our potential to reflect on the wonder of God. Just when I think I might really understand him, another angle of him is revealed to me. This is the beautiful part of walking with him: there is always room to wonder and always something more to uncover.

I needed this if only to be humbled, and to be reminded that I don’t have it – life or him – all figured out and why it’s all okay. I needed to be reminded of my own limitations. It felt as though the exact personality marker of God that I was learning about had shown up in my life in unhealthy, sinful ways at the same time. Having light shed on that was tremendously helpful in helping me navigate bearing his image, and get rid of some junk and messiness in my soul and practices.

Three. The conversations you’re going to have with God are worth it.

I’ve probably scared you away from this, talking about the challenges and all that. However, here’s a wonderful not-so-secret: Jesus is not hard to find. If you come to be with him, he is thrilled to host you. If you can put aside yourself long enough to see how this God of Ages has been loved and preached by generations, you will be amazed. If you’re willing to put in the time and work, this book could change you.

My hands have filled dozens and dozens of journal pages because of the journey None Like Him took me on. It seemed that each chapter I read came at a perfect time, and spoke to a sin or misplaced desire in my heart at that very second. Most of all, I received wisdom from God to rid myself of burdens and hindrances in my walk while journeying through these pages of None Like Him.

That gift of understanding and communion of God is something I desire for not only myself, but everyone I might come across – family, friends, enemies. We all need this message. We need to know who this God of the universe really is. We do need help in making sense of him.

Final Word

You can do this. You can know God. As we seek to walk as women of the Word and full of wisdom, would we start here: in knowing that we live for a God who is all we could ever hope for – perfectly, without flaw or failings. We are not victims, but are empowered to celebrate his self-existent, self-sufficient, eternal, immutable, omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, sovereign, infinite, and incomprehensible Being. We can actually find great peace in our limitations, and great joy in Who he is.

No matter where you stand with God, I would deeply encourage you to give this book a try, because God is all over these pages. And I know he’d want nothing more than to meet you there.

“Though I do not know him fully, what little I do know is cause for the deepest love the human heart can produce.”

Jen Wilkin, None Like Him, page 38

Side Note

A friend and I sat on her porch in the mid-summer heat. It was barely 8:00 AM, and already, the humidity wrapped itself around us; heaviness on our skin. We clutched warm coffee mugs in our hands, and allowed the stillness of the moment to help our bodies recover from our early morning yoga.

During this summer, she and I had made a little pact between each other to get involved at church. One step we made in this decision was attending weekly Theology classes. So for several Tuesday nights, she and I would ride together and study the Word well into the evening. The other women seemed to fit in so comfortably in that room, but for us, it was a stretch of out of our comfort zone. We were glad to be there.

We’d been studying the attributes of God in this class by using Jen Wilkin’s None Like Him. And as my friend and I sat on her porch that morning, reflecting on what God had been working in our lives that summer, she offered me her copy of the book.

These were days marked by growing friendship and stepping into the often awkwardness of community, and it was all so beautiful. And what else can you do, but humbly receive such a gift?

So, thank you to my dear friend. You know who you are.