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“Searching for Grace” Book Review

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Searching for Grace: A Weary Leader, a Wise Mentor, and Seven Healing Conversations for a Parched Soul by Scotty Smith and Russ Masterson. Tyndale Momentum. 256 pages. 2021

Russ Masterson was a 35-year-old pastor who had just planted a church, and was attempting to keep his life under control. He was asking “How did I get here? and “How does this get better?” He attended a retreat and heard Scotty Smith speak, and Scotty’s words pierced his soul.
As his church grew, Russ’s questions and anxiety continued to grow as well. A year and a half after that retreat, Russ wrote Scotty and asked if he would mentor him, which Scotty agreed to. Russ tells us that Scotty came into his life at the intersection of head knowledge of the gospel and his anxious heart. As they met, Russ would take notes in his journal about what Scotty told him. During their monthly conversations, Russ would ask questions, and as Scotty and Russ talked, it was like time stood still. These were holy moments for Russ.
Russ wanted others to hear what he was hearing from Scotty so that they could live more peaceful lives. Learning how to live in the peace of God, through these seven conversations, is what this book is all about.

Throughout the book, Russ and Scotty tell their stories. Russ writes of performing and Scotty of hiding. Russ takes us through the pain and anxiety of leading his new church and suffering after the suicides of two friends. Scotty story is shaped by chapters of loss and by the fear of abandonment. Those that have read Scotty’s books, particularly Objects of His Affection: Coming Alive to the Compelling Love of God, one of my favorite books, will be familiar with some of the aspects of his story that he shares in this book.
This is a unique book that grew out of the mentoring relationship and conversations between Scotty and Russ. Having enjoyed Scotty’s books, daily prayers and two classes at Covenant Seminary, I have some idea of what it might be like to be mentored by Scotty. The book is primarily written in Russ’s voice, with Scotty contributing his own narratives throughout. All writing by Scotty is entitled “From Scotty”, including helpful “Prayerful Contemplation” questions at the end of each chapter.
The book features both authors being open and transparent about their stories. As such, it can at times be difficult to read about their pain. Among the subjects addressed in the book are vulnerability, marriage, friendship, ministry burnout, pain, abuse, healing, suffering, peace, prayer, success, work, contentment, relationships, death, stress, anxiety and busyness.
There is a corresponding Searching for Grace podcast about the seven conversations in the book, featuring Paul Tripp, Scott Sauls, Andrew Peterson, Dan Allender, Sandra McCracken and others.
Below are 20 of my favorite quotes from this excellent book:

  • Who we are matters to God more than what we do. Our calling is to be worshipers, not workers; present, not impressive. Our truest identity is found in being God’s beloved sons and daughters.
  • When you work hard to build a pain-free life, you never succeed. The pain will get repackaged and show up in other ways.
  • Seek to live with gospel astonishment wherever God places you.
  • The goal of the Christian life isn’t to get over stuff but to grow through it. Jesus’ promise of an abundant life doesn’t just include an abundance of things we enjoy but also an abundance of things that will make us more like him.
  • The way of grace is a healing path, breaking the power of shame and offering the hope of resurrection.
  • Biblical hope is an expectation of something to happen in the certainty of God. Our hope can be certain because it isn’t attached to a particular outcome but to God himself.
  • We need presence in pain; we need the constant God who comforts those who have been broken, just as he was broken. God never promises explanation, but he does promise his presence.
  • Sovereignty is comforting not because it gives me answers, but because it gives me God.
  • No matter what we achieve, no matter what people think of us, we are always the same souls needing God’s tenacious grace to carry us along.
  • Ministry-generated burnout is deceptive. We spin it as though we’re “sacrificing for God.” But in reality, with few boundaries and little accountability, vocational idolatry is a genuine threat.
  • You perform, and I hide, but it’s really the same thing. It’s just a different strategy. We avoid our shame, fear, and pain while at the same time ignoring our beauty and worth. We say to our world, ‘Come close, but not too close. Notice me, but don’t know me.’”
  • I have learned the hard way that trying to strong-arm God with our concerns only leaves us tired. But when we surrender our concerns to God, we find ourselves on a path of freedom and peace.
  • Shame’s unrelenting declaration is: You aren’t enough. You aren’t welcome. You aren’t loved.
  • Prayer is any time the heart and the mind are moving toward surrender with God.
  • Prayer is relationship, not transaction.
  • Suffering comes not just in the original event but also in the reaction to the event.
  • The acceptance we long for is not self-acceptance, or even others – acceptance; it’s divine acceptance – a welcome and delight freely given to us by the one who created us.
  • Of all the enemies of peace, shame is at the top. Only the grace of God can possibly begin to rewrite our shame.
  • Any religion based on rule keeping sabotages the notion of a loving relationship. I believe this is the primary perversion of the gospel.
  • If we assume that our deepest fulfillment and satisfaction can be found in work, romance, kids, possessions, or anything else other than the love of God, we’ll put expectations on those things that they can’t deliver. And we’ll never find the peace God made us to experience.

Author: Bill Pence

I’m Bill Pence – married to my best friend Tammy, a graduate of Covenant Seminary, St. Louis Cardinals fan, formerly a manager at a Fortune 50 organization, and in leadership at my local church. I am a life-long learner and have a passion to help people develop, and to use their strengths to their fullest potential. I am an INTJ on Myers-Briggs, 3 on the Enneagram, my top five Strengthsfinder themes are: Belief, Responsibility, Learner, Harmony, and Achiever, and my two StandOut strength roles are Creator and Equalizer. My favorite book is the Bible, with Romans my favorite book of the Bible, and Colossians 3:23 and 2 Corinthians 5:21 being my favorite verses. Some of my other favorite books are The Holiness of God and Chosen by God by R.C. Sproul, and Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper. I enjoy music in a variety of genres, including modern hymns, Christian hip-hop and classic rock. My book Called to Lead: Living and Leading for Jesus in the Workplace and Tammy’s book Study, Savor and Share Scripture: Becoming What We Behold are available in paperback and Kindle editions on Amazon.

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