We refer to them as “spiritual disciplines,” and then we stiffen our upper lip — all the while fumbling tentatively for our boot straps. Then, we proceed to dismiss the more rigorous of the lot (fasting, meditation) as pertinent only to high-power spiritual giants, and it turns out that we’ve got the wrong idea after all, says David Mathis in Habits of Grace, in which he examines the spiritual disciplines as a means of enhancing the believer’s enjoyment of Jesus, a gift that comes through these grace-empowered practices.
With a goal of simplifying his readers’ approach to the pursuit of holiness, Mathis organizes habits of grace according to three broad principles by which one may walk in the path of God’s grace:
- Hearing God’s Voice;
- Having His Ear;
- Belonging to His Body.
Hearing God’s Voice can involve a limitless array of potential practices — reading, studying, memorizing, or meditating on Scripture. However, rather than offering formulaic advice, David Mathis invites the reader to find a regular time and place, to block out distractions, and to “put your nose to the text.” I appreciated the advice to go for “breadth in reading” — covering the biblical landscape on a regular basis — but to go for “depth in study” by asking questions, stopping to ponder, and consulting resources. At this point, study may segue into one of the mightiest means of God’s grace for His people: meditation or “deep thinking on the truths and spiritual realities revealed in Scripture for the purposes of understanding, application, and prayer.” The helpful pattern offered for application of Biblical truth is to read for understanding of the words as they were received by the original audience, to consider how they relate to Jesus’ person and work, and only then to make personal application.
Because I am so thankful for the impact that Scripture memorization has had on my own spiritual journey, I loved the author’s description of this habit of grace:
“When we memorize lines from the Bible, we are shaping our minds in the moment to mimic the structure and mind-set of the mind of God.”
It is at this point that spiritual disciplines become a spectrum of relating to God at each level: read, study, memorize, meditate, and by resting the mind on the things of the Spirit, the gap is bridged between hearing from God and speaking to Him.
Enjoying the gift of Having God’s Ear emphasizes the truth that the speaking God not only has spoken, but He also listens. We set our sights far too low in prayer, asking for things, when God wants to give us Himself. Relating to Him in terms of who He is will have a momentous impact on the praying life:
“He is holy, and so we worship (adoration).
He is merciful, and so we repent (confession).
He is gracious, and so we express appreciation (thanksgiving).
He is loving and caring, and so we petition Him for ourselves, our family, our friends, and our world (supplication).”
Prayer is prescribed as the perfect remedy for a lack of desire for God, for prayer is the context for relationship in which we come to God not as servants, but as friends.
Fasting is included under the principle of Having God’s Ear, because, as Matthew Henry has said, fasting serves to “put an edge upon devout affection.” Basic to Christianity, fasting intensifies prayers’ earnestness: “We fast from what we can see and taste (food, media, etc.), because we have tasted and seen the goodness of the invisible God – and are desperately hungry for more of Him.”
Journaling can be formal or informal, an aid to prayer or a record of study and meditation, but primarily, it is a “way of slowing life down for just a few moments, and trying to process at least a sliver of it for the glory of God.” Silence and solitude are also habits of grace that enhance listening to God’s voice and responding to Him in prayer.
Belonging to His Body is commonly referred to as “fellowship,” but is far deeper and more purposeful than the casseroles and hot wings that first come to mind. This partnership in the Gospel and speaking truth into the lives of fellow believers is a means of grace and is best practiced within a body of committed members in the local church. Worship, an end in itself, is most magnificent when it happens in corporate preoccupation with the risen Christ, His person and His work. Mathis unpacks Psalm 73 in a stunning call to the church to press into corporate worship as a means of fulfilling the soul’s search for joy.
With clarity and grace, David Mathis upholds the Sunday sermon and the ordinances of baptism and communion as events that bring God’s presence near to His people. I was challenged to open my mind to the role that rebuke plays in the life of sisterhood — that it is a reciprocal blessing spilling over onto giver and receiver alike!
Finally, the trio of mission, money and time reveals the object of our heart’s affection with uncomfortable clarity. We manage all three only as stewards under the God who dispenses grace to and through us in their employment.
Habits of Grace is unlike other books I have read about the spiritual disciplines because David Mathis, with elegant prose, has managed to do away with the check-list and bring the practice of godliness into our everyday life along with the cluttered desk, the sticky kitchen table, the overflowing inboxes, and the cranky toddlers (or teens). We never arrive in our journey God-ward, and it is in practicing the habits of grace that we become most aware that even in this small and tentative movement toward righteousness, we are fueled by God’s empowering grace.
This book was provided by Crossway in exchange for my review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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