About halfway through GOOD NEWS FOR THOSE TRYING HARDER, Alan Kraft offers an illustration that perfectly sums up the book's premise. Borrowing from John Lynch, a Phoenix pastor, Kraft suggests readers imagine two paths in life --- one designated "Pleasing God" and the other "Trusting God." "Which path do you choose?" Kraft asks. "You may not like the choice because you want to do both, but you can take only one path."
Your decision will determine the quality of your spiritual life and the measure of peace you can expect to enjoy throughout your life. The pathway of pleasing God, Kraft maintains, leads to a lifetime of effort and striving. Journeying down that road requires continual questioning and self-examination: "What must I do to keep God pleased? How do I keep God happy so that my life works?"
The second path, the one labeled "Trusting God," is what Kraft's book is all about. It's a path of brokenness and humility, one in which the focus is on Christ, His sufficiency and the fullness of His grace rather than on you and what you can do for God.
Kraft provides stories from people who made "effort" the centerpiece of their life with God and found the results to be wanting. Some were ready to quit church; others were ready to quit Christianity itself --- and that, Kraft writes, is what we can expect if we continue running on the treadmill of "striving" that leads us nowhere.
There isn't much difference between the message in GOOD NEWS and that found in the abundance of books about the tension between works and faith that have been written in the past. The difference is in the presentation of that message; Kraft writes in a way that is concrete, practical and helpful for people who may not even realize that they are trying to please God rather than trusting Him. He calls on Christians to abandon what he calls "Avis spirituality" (Remember their slogan? "We Try Harder") and learn to rest in Christ instead. In doing that, Christians will find freedom from the performance mentality that characterizes so many of their lives.
In offering practical help, Kraft gets specific. In a chapter on the Bible, he guides readers through the process of meditating on Scripture and provides specific passages as "practice" pieces. Then he asks readers to reflect on their response to the text, in essence giving them a flexible pattern for meditating on their own. It's that kind of practical guidance that makes the book so valuable.
GOOD NEWS FOR THOSE TRYING HARDER will no doubt resonate with those who feel as if they are spinning their wheels and digging a deeper and deeper rut that only keeps them stuck. Readers who have an interest in the perennial "works versus faith" debate will find a great deal of food for thought here as well.
--- Reviewed by Marcia Ford