A review of the first 2 books in the new 'The Art of' series by Matthew Porter

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A review of the first 2 books in the new 'The Art of' series by Matthew Porter

Matthew Porter is passionate about developing discipleship habits in our lives that transform us, and by extension, those around us. In the first of two books in the new The Art of series, Matthew unpacks how practising the art of giving and journalling brings us closer to God in an accessible and practical way. Drawing from personal experience and biblical teaching, practical pointers and exercises are included to encourage us to mature in our faith.

Having served churches in Sheffield and York and been an Honorary Chaplain to the Monarch, Matthew Porter is now the Bishop of Bolton.

Bishop Matthew, can you tell us a little about yourself?

I’m the Bishop of Bolton, one of three Anglican bishops in the Manchester area. I’m married to Sam and we have five grown-up sons. I like architecture and good design, music and films, reading and writing. As well as being called to be a follower of Jesus, I’ve also been called to be a leader in God’s church and an author of books.

Why did you decide to write The Art of Giving and The Art of Journalling?

I’m convinced that if we’re going to live well in the world, we need to develop healthy habits. This is true for every human being, and especially for followers of Jesus. That’s why Jesus encouraged people to develop what we sometimes call spiritual disciplines which are foundational to our formation as disciples of Jesus. Giving is the good habit behind being generous, and journalling is the discipline behind being reflective.

Who have you written these books for?

The giving book is for anyone who wants to learn to be more generous in life. It’s full of stories and very practical so it should help those who want to grow in generosity, especially in these days of tight budgets. If you’re a church leader it will help you think through how your church can become more generous in giving money for resourcing, as well as time for serving, love for caring, energy for transforming, and people for planting.

The journalling book is for anyone who wants to learn how to journal better. There are many journalling aids on the market these days, but few talk about why and how to journal. The book takes people through a five-step process where we record, reflect, rejoice, remember and repeat, in order to get the most out of this wonderfully powerful habit.

Why have you called this series The Art of…?

That’s because these disciplines are to help us in our discipleship, and discipleship (as I say in each book’s Preface): ‘is more an art than a science. Its not a technical process, based on logic or analytical deduction. Its not about rigidly adhering to laws or rules about behaviour or piety. Its more like learning a musical instrument, or discovering how to paint, both of which require patient practice. You have to give yourself to it: particularly your energy and emotions, as well as your time and talents. This is the stretching and adventurous life of discipleship into which followers of Jesus are invited, empowered by the Holy Spirit.’

What makes this series different to other books on discipleship?

First, they are particularly focused. Most books on discipleship try to cover too much ground; in this series each book concentrates on just one discipleship habit. Second, they are particularly practical. Each chapter takes the reader through the next step in a process that can be followed to help develop the discipline. Third, they are particularly story-based. An inspirational true story begins each chapter, and many other stories are told throughout the books, showing the formative and helpful nature of the habit.

You are passionate about discipleship – why is this so important to you?

I believe that discipleship – the daily practice of following Jesus – is not only the best way to live, but an exciting adventure empowering us to transform the world. Sometimes the church has made discipleship rather dull, but if we really follow Jesus as he asks, we’ll soon discover that there’s nothing boring about believing!

Talking about giving can often make us feel awkward – how have you approached the topic?

I’ve just tried to be authentic and open. We all love generous people, and we’d all like to be more generous. We also need money to live and human nature tells us to hold tight to what we’ve been given, but I’ve discovered that The Art of Giving is all about being willing to let go and give. The only way to find out if there’s benefit in that, and that you’ll be OK if you do, is simply to start. So, I tell something of my story and the journey I’ve been on. I don’t do that because I’m an expert – as I’m sure there are many others much more generous than me – but because I think I’ve learned much about giving over the years, and still am. It’s part of the exciting adventure of discipleship!

Journalling has been a real blessing to you – can you just give us one example of how it has really helped you in your faith journey?

On the last day of each year I re-read my journal for the year. I now look forward to it so much because it’s always really encouraging! I think like most people, I often forget many of the good things that have happened in life. So even though there will have been tough times in the previous year, when I re-read my journal I see loads of good things that I’d forgotten about, and I find myself overflowing with thanksgiving. Sometimes I even see prayers that I forgot I’d prayed in the first of the year answered in the second half!

What was the most challenging element of writing these books?

I thought The Art of Giving would be easy to write, as I’ve spoken on giving many times but it was actually much harder than I thought. That’s because as I studied in preparation I saw some things more clearly than I had before and I needed time to think about them and find a way to express them. One of the most important was this: that we learn generosity from observing the generous giving of people in poverty. The poor widow who gives her everything (in Luke 21:1-4) is one example. Another is the church in Macedonia, that Pauls praises because ‘In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity’ (2 Cor. 8:2). In both books I share quite a bit of my own journey with these disciplines. By doing that I’m sharing much of myself and making myself vulnerable. That’s not always easy, but I hope I’ve done this helpfully and humbly. Some might misinterpret or misunderstand that, which of course is the risk of writing!

And what was the most rewarding element of writing these books?

The thing I like most about writing is when people tell me a book has helped them. That’s the reason I write. Not to make a name for myself. Not to make money. It’s because I believe I’ve been given something to say that will enable, equip and empower others. If that wasn’t the case I wouldn’t write.

Have you learnt anything new about your own personal journey with God while writing these books?

Yes, much! Writing about giving has helped me see that giving is a key discipline for God’s kingdom that many in the West have still to learn, but when we start giving we begin to see its latent potential. Giving money in particular unlocks doors in our hearts to other forms of giving, as the Antioch church learned as they gave money in a cost-of-living crisis (in Acts 11) and then people for planting (in Acts 13). Writing about journalling has helped me see much more strongly how important it is to write things down. This includes my thoughts and feelings, as that can be a form a therapy. But it also includes stories, which can be fascinating and powerful when retold.

What do you hope readers will most get out of reading these books?

I hope readers will have a go at some of these habits and begin to see how good they really are. We all need to start somewhere, and I think God honours our stumbling efforts. I hope readers will find them so helpful that they can’t help telling and teaching others, so the goodness is passed on!

In one sentence, how would you describe The Art of series?

The Art of series is a series of six books on life-changing habits that help everyone, especially Christ-followers, grow as people and impact the world.

These are the first two books in this series – can you tell us what you are working on next?

I’m already working on the 3rd in the series: The Art of Fasting, which is about becoming more prayerful. After that (No.4) will be The Art of Reading, which will be about becoming wiser.

Is there anything we can pray for you?

Thank you. Well, I would value prayer for my role as a bishop, as I seek to encourage and influence the church in the Manchester area in its mission and ministry. I also am one of a number of national champion-bishops for missionary discipleship, as the Church of England prioritises ‘becoming a church of missionary disciples’ going ahead. Please pray that The Art of books help in this.

Authentic Media

Authentic Media is a UK Christian publishing house committed to delivering quality Christian books, music and film to help people on their journey of faith. They are based in Milton Keynes.

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Products mentioned in or related to this blog post
The Art Of Giving (Paperback)
Matthew Porter
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The Art Of Journalling (Paperback)
Matthew Porter
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