When it comes to the practicalities of my Word of the Year, I leave a lot of the work up to God: I let Him guide me in the word selection itself, and I trust Him to use the word to shape and grow me over the subsequent twelve months.
But even as I let God do most of the heavy lifting, I do put forth some effort into claiming and adopting my annual Word. One huge way I’ve done this in the past couple of years is through intense study—specifically, via a Word-related book each season.
Back in January, when I chose Wonder as my One Word for 2021, I began compiling a list of books that could help me in my understanding of this subject, and Astonished was right at the top of my list. I’ve had this book sitting on my Kindle since Mike Erre was the lead pastor at my church, way back in 2014, and I’m glad I waited to read it, because this book met me at exactly the right time.
If you are not familiar with Mike Erre, you should know that his teaching is totally outside the box—and intensely transformational. Mike has a knack for digging into the nitty gritty details of Scripture, examining familiar stories through the lens of their original cultural and theological contexts, and bringing “old truths” to life in some surprising ways. During Mike’s time at our church, God’s Word came alive for me as Mike demonstrated how to stop taking the Bible at face value, dismantling it from the cultural layers imposed upon it in order to discover what it really says. Mike’s weekly messages never failed to inspire wonder with Scripture and with the Messiah at its center.
Though I’ve since encountered similar styles of teaching, Mike Erre’s sermons were my first exposure to this type of mind-blowing Biblical examination, and I continue to benefit from Mike’s Biblical deep-dives on his weekly podcast. With Astonished, Mike brings much of what I loved about his sermons to the page, introducing readers to a side of God that many of us have never experienced.
In a nutshell, Astonished is about “the wildness of God and the adventure of faith.” Throughout the book, Mike illustrates how Jesus should get bigger the longer we walk with him. Unfortunately, many followers of Jesus become so consumed by doctrines, traditions, institutions, and policies that we take our gaze off of Christ and soon grow bored. Our domesticating of Jesus—done in the name of Christianity—ultimately subverts our vital, Biblical faith. In Astonished, we are reintroduced to the wonder, awe, and mystery of life following a God who surprises us in the most unexpected places and in the most astounding ways.
The book’s first section is dedicated to helping us understand the nature of a God who is not at all predictable, and not always easily recognized. In what I found to be the most revelatory portion of the book, we examine reasons why God may sometimes choose not to reveal Himself to us. We also take a deep dive into some of the reasons God may seem hard to find, despite His obvious presence. Throughout this section, Mike exposes the lies behind the consumerist mindset prevalent in the modern church, reminding us that life with Jesus WILL be fulfilling, but it is certainly not guaranteed to be easy. In fact, God may even use our unanswered prayers for comfort and healing to draw us closer to Him.
In Part Two of Astonished, we explore the nature of faith, particularly why faith is so difficult for so many of us. We see that genuine faith requires mystery, desperation, and surrender—none of which we are culturally conditioned to tolerate, let alone embrace. Only when we lean into the discomfort of a God who defies classification and who refuses to take the backseat to our own comforts are we able discover the God who is worthy of our wholehearted devotion. (This section pairs well with Barnabas Piper’s Help My Unbelief, which explores this topic even further.)
The book’s third and final section looks at the nature of the faith-filled life. This type of life involves a genuine waking up to God’s presence and work all around us. Mike is honest about the ways this faith-filled life might not look exactly like we expected or hoped it would: it is filled with joy but also sorrow and lament; it requires trust in the presence of fear; and it demands that we humbly relinquish our image management and our worldly obsession with success, strength, and power so that Christ’s glory may be displayed through us.
So did Astonished live up to its subtitle of “recapturing the wonder, awe, and mystery of life with God”? ABSOLUTELY it did! This book highlighted the ways that my dissecting and analyzing of God and His Word have hindered my ability to experience God’s wonder. I was reminded that we follow a God who is beyond mortal comprehension. In His gracious loving-kindness, our God desires for us to know Him at a deeply personal level—and this knowingness requires a relinquishment of expectations, perceptions, and obsessive searching for answers.
I experience the Wonder of God when I humbly hold knowledge and mystery together in tension, relishing relationship with the Lord while also acknowledging that I will never have Him fully figured out. As my faith grows, so will God. And so will my wonderment with Him.