Sally Lloyd-Jones and Jago, Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012. 224 pages. $16.99.
The next logical publishing step for the team behind perhaps the most popular children’s Bible being sold in the United States today would be a children’s devotional. But the very things that attracted fans to The Jesus Storybook Bible might initially deter them from this new book. After all, wasn’t the strength of The Jesus Storybook Bible its comprehensive narrative, emphasizing God’s plan of redemption and the centrality of Christ as seen in every chapter of the Bible? Why devote time to another devotional that expands on a single verse when context is crucial?
Readers harboring such fears should be relieved after a cursory glance at the bibliography and sources section at the end of this book or the acknowledgements page at the beginning, where we learn that author Sally Lloyd-Jones draws her devotions from the writings of heavyweights like Charles Spurgeon, Jonathan Edwards, D. L. Moody, John Calvin, A. W. Tozer, Corrie ten Boom, and Amy Carmichael, just to name a few. Lloyd-Jones’s devotions aren’t simple musings based on one verse alone, but rather concise, child-friendly summaries of complex theological principles more likely being studied by the parents of readers. Lloyd-Jones tackles issues like the stages of sanctification, free will, spiritual depression, and, most frequently, the gift of grace. These devotions, then, are a perfect initiation for family discussions, especially since most of the ground being covered can’t be fully explored or explained in the small space the book allows.
A good example of what’s being tackled here is the devotion titled “Already . . . But Not Yet!” in which Lloyd-Jones beautifully describes both the accomplished and the continuing nature of salvation. She writes, “Jesus has ALREADY rescued us from the punishment of sin. . . . But the world is still broken. We still sin.” Accompanying the text is an llustration of a train bursting from the steam that fills the page, its headlights beaming toward a destination off the page—a beautiful visual conveying the dynamic reality of salvation. While the accomplished and yet-to-come nature of redemption has received in-depth coverage in books for adults, its sweet and simple truths come through on this single page. Lloyd-Jones accomplishes the difficult task of conveying complex truth in a basic yet compelling text.
Question and Answer
The question and response style in many of the devotions invites young readers into these seemingly adult conversations. In “Foolish Fish!” Lloyd-Jones addresses human free will with reference to Gerhard Tersteegen’s fish illustration, asking readers, “What if a fish one day decided, ‘I’ve had enough of being told what I can and can’t do and only being allowed in water. I want to be FREE! I’m going to find my fortune on land!’ and then jumped out of the water and onto the riverbank? How far do you think that foolish fish would get?” Children, who will naturally jump in to answer the question, will also find it easy to follow the author’s poignant conclusion: “The fish is not built for land. And we are not built to be away from our Heavenly Father.”
While there’s so much more to say, these snapshots lay the groundwork and begin to address some of the most important questions children will encounter as they grow in their faith. Besides exploring theological principals, Lloyd-Jones highlights biblical themes congruent with her comprehensive view of the text in The Jesus Storybook Bible. In the devotion titled “But God!” she points out that those two words appear up to 3,930 times in the Bible and that each time they prelude God’s saving intervention. Readers are reminded of Adam and Eve’s story, of God remembering Noah when he was about to flood the world, and of God redeeming those helpless to save themselves. “When everything looks like it’s over, when there’s no hope—But God! God does something. He turns it all around. Those words are like a fire engine rounding the bend. Help is on the way!” In a single devotion, the author is pulling multiple portions of the Bible together. Plus, given that children love patterns and learn through repetition, this devotion effectively conveys God’s mercy in a way that will surely have children interrupting Bible readings to point out the “But God” phrases.
This book’s strength is its reliance on similes and metaphors, both in the art and the text, as it provides strong visuals for children to grasp. In “Charge!” sin is compared to a runaway horse “charging at full speed away from [God],” accompanied by an illustration of a medieval knight on the back of a rearing horse. To clarify what is meant when the Bible says God is our comforter, Lloyd-Jones compares God to the figure of Bishop Odo in the Bayeux tapestry of 1066. “Is Bishop Odo giving [his troops] nice fluffy quilts?” she asks. “No. Look! He’s prodding them from behind with a stick! NOT comfy. But Odo is spurring them on, encouraging them, urging them to keep going and not give up. Because comfort in the Bible doesn’t mean ‘to make comfy.’ It means ‘to send help.’” Thoughtfully using correlations to both provide truth as well as to correct wrong ideas, the analogies are often refreshingly creative and insightful.
In contrast with The Jesus Storybook Bible, for which the illustrations acted more as a mirror for the narrative, the art in Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing is allowed the job of most picture book illustrations: to expand and deepen the meaning of the text. Jago presumably had a great deal more freedom in illustrating this text as he was not confined to a biblical setting, and his work jumps off the pages. Readers encounter illustrations styled to look like wall frescoes, comic strips, and photographs; medieval garb and modern apparel appear on Jago’s figures. Vibrant bands of color brighten one page while muted color palates soften the next. Reminiscent of “I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold,” the style of the “But God!” illustration conveys God’s nearness in times of trouble with its boldly shaded lines of perspective originating in the middle of the page propelling the red fire truck out at the reader. Points of view appropriately vary depending on the text, from expansive landscapes, emphasizing the smallness of created beings, to close ups, like that of the shepherd tucking a lamb to his chest. Jago’s illustrations are so varied, dynamic, and beautiful that they add much meaning to the text and arrest the reader’s attention while also maintaining it through each page turn.
Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing is a satisfying follow-up to The Jesus Storybook Bible, filled with a surprising amount of deep theology and dynamic visuals that will propel family discussions. Parents unfamiliar with the referenced works may find some of the devotions too simplified or vague to recognize the bigger idea being conveyed, but there is nonetheless much here that is compelling in its poignant simplicity.