Beginners All Our Life

The rhubarb has made its wrinkled and deep green appearance, and it’s time for me to plant the peas, the annual spring gamble for this risk-averse gardener.  I’ve driven stakes into the warming soil, because when I opened the package, I realized (too late!) that I had purchased seeds for a variety that requires a supporting structure for its vines.  Since this is what the seeds promise, this is what will –most certainly — grow.  After twenty-six years of spring plantings and fall harvests, this is no surprise to me, and yet it’s strange that there are days when I plant discontentment, impatience, and faithless talk, dark seeds into the soil of my heart, and then watch in hope for the “peaceable fruit of righteousness” to appear like spring violets.

Philip Nation makes this wise statement in the introduction to Habits for Our Holiness:

“The things we plant in our lives are the things that grow in our lives.”

Spiritual disciplines, then, are part of our planting, a means to the desired end of a mature faith.  Not an end in themselves, they are (to veer abruptly into another metaphor) tools in God’s hands for molding the believer.  What prevents the practice of spiritual disciplines from becoming stuffy and legalistic is love, for “as the central discipline of the Christian life, love is what propels habitual holiness . . . Internal transformation manifests itself in external action.  It doesn’t work the other way around.”  Habits for Our Holiness is an invitation to begin again in this life of obedience to — and love for — Christ’s commands.  Thomas Merton said:

“We do not want to be beginners, but let us be convinced of the fact that we will never be anything else but beginners all our life.”

With that in mind, Philip Nation presents the disciplines of worship, Bible study, and prayer as the foundation by which we declare that God owns our hearts, that we will resist temptation, cynicism, and passiveness through immersion in Scripture, and that we will take delight in the “Great Conversation,” the my-life-for-yours of intercessory prayer, the mystery of approaching the throne of God.

The spiritual practice of fasting provides an interruption to our lives that reveals a deeper hunger for something that is eternal.  For establishing God-centered living, for a revelation of what truly controls us, and for confirmation of our dependence on God, fasting forces us to acknowledge what we love the most.

Fellowship is not typically included in a list of spiritual disciplines, but its interlocking mechanism of face-to-face togetherness (like Legos!) is simple but effective.  By allowing one another deeply into our lives, we experience a sort of growth that will not occur in the safety of solitude.

The practice of rest (or Sabbath) is a physical expression of a spiritual reality:  the work for our salvation has been accomplished by Jesus.  Furthermore, the book of Hebrews offers insight into the deeper significance of an eternal reality — the ultimate satisfaction and heavenly rest of which our single day is merely a shadow.

Simple living is actually a lived-out choice of contentment over craving.  Philip zeroes in on stewardship, a well-known biblical attitude toward possessions, and introduces “shunning” as a path to simplicity:  “avoiding those objects, thoughts, and even places that remove us from God.”

Philip Nation helps his readers to understand servanthood, the ministry of the mundane, via the juxtaposition of two New Testament bowls of water:  (1) Jesus’ attitude toward service as holy privilege when He washed the disciples’ feet in the upper room; (2) Pilate’s hand-washing refusal to enter into the messiness of Jesus’ situation.  Of course, the only acceptable motive for entering into another’s mess is the love of Jesus.

From Jesus’ example, we learn true submission, and we understand that it occurs in the context of relationship (practiced even within the Trinity).  From the agony of Jesus’ garden prayer, we learn the lesson that comes as no surprise:  submission is hard.

The introduction of spiritual leadership and disciple-making as habits for our holiness sets Philip Nation’s book apart from other books on spiritual disciplines* that I have read this year, for it is not only for the purpose of growing up that God has given us the means of grace to come into relationship with Him.  It is also because He intends for us to be drawn together — and then sent out into bold, others-centered obedience that results in a public faith and a Great Commission life style.  Not only are the disciplines not a solitary all-about-me affair, they are also best viewed in relationship to one another.  I counted at least six instances in which Philip Nation prefaced a description of one of the habits for holiness with the phrase, “As with all the spiritual disciplines . . . ”  From this insight, we see that “all of the disciplines”:

  • are intended “to express our love to God and experience His love for us.”
  • involve “truth, the gospel, and God’s character at work within us.”
  • are “intended to keep us from a mediocre expression of faith.”
  • find fullest expression when practiced in community.
  • “require intentionality.”
  • “reflect an ethic that the lost will thoroughly question,” which brings us full circle, back to my seed planting, for not only do the spiritual disciplines encourage plantings of righteousness in our own lives.  Their presence in the life of a believer is salty and bright and leads to the all-important “why” — which opens the door to spiritual conversations, deeper relationships, and a public faith that is lived with love as the centerpiece.

//

This book was provided Moody Publishers 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.”

*For further reading, I have recommended and reviewed the following books on one or more of the spiritual disciplines:

Habits of Grace by David Mathis
The Radical Pursuit of Rest by John Koessler
The Listening Life by Adam S. McHugh
Disciplines of a Godly Woman by Barbara Hughes
The Cultivated Life by Susan S. Phillips
The Making of an Ordinary Saint by Nathan Foster
Monk Habits for Everyday People by Dennis Okholm
Lectio Divina – From God’s Word to Our Lives by Enzo Bianchi

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I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

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Published by

Michele Morin

I am a teacher, blogger, reader, and gardener who finds joy in sitting at a table surrounded by women with open Bibles. I have been married to an unreasonably patient husband for nearly 27 years, and our four children are growing up at an alarming rate. Nonetheless, two teens still remain at home, and along with an incorrigible St. Bernard, we laugh, make messes, clean them up, and then start all over again. I love hot tea and well-crafted sentences, poems that stop me in my tracks and days at the ocean with the whole family. I lament biblical illiteracy and advocate for the prudent use of "little minutes." I blog at Living Our Days because "the way I live my days will be, after all, the way I live my life." You can connect with me on Facebook or Twitter.

38 thoughts on “Beginners All Our Life”

  1. Michele, this is so full of wisdom and insight. Sounds like a wonderful book. This is so true (I had it the other way round before I came back to trusting God): “What prevents the practice of spiritual disciplines from becoming stuffy and legalistic is love, for “as the central discipline of the Christian life, love is what propels habitual holiness . . . Internal transformation manifests itself in external action. It doesn’t work the other way around.”

    And this, so true: “Of course, the only acceptable motive for entering into another’s mess is the love of Jesus.” And so true that both intentionality and living in fellowship are vital. I’ve gotten to know my Heavenly Father so much better through fellowship with His Body, fellowship woven together in the (sometimes painful, but also freeing) truth of God’s Word.

    Thank you for this beautiful review.

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  2. Love these words right here… “Internal transformation manifests itself in external action.” Letting God develop the spiritual disciplines that He has gifted us with takes time, patience and the ability to be cultivated, much like the spring planting that you do every year. Thank you for sharing another deep, insightful book review. Hope your week is blessed.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Michele, I love your intro! So true … what we plant is what we see later in our lives. I cannot expect the peaceful fruit of righteousness when I have planted things totally different than that. This book sounds like a good one. I did a study a few years ago by Jan Johnson on spiritual disciplines. This one sounds equally as good. I may check it out! Blessings on your day!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dianne, thanks for reading. That was one of the thoughts that stood out to me most in the book. The other was the importance of practicing spiritual disciplines in community.

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  4. Michele, you pack more into a book review than anyone I know. You are a master at it!

    Thank you so much for sharing, I feel like this pushes all my spiritual “hot buttons.” The topic of spiritual discipline is at the forefront of what God has been speaking to me lately. I appreciate your addressing things we don’t often thinks of as disciplines like fellowship and rest.

    I’m afraid I’m going to have to get every one of these books …

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    1. I really appreciated Philip’s treatment of some of the areas that we know are important (fellowship, service, simple living) as spiritual disciplines because it does give them gospel-oriented meaning. Jerralea, you are such an encouraging reader, and it means much, because, since you are a fellow blogger, you know just how much time goes into one of these little posts. Thanks for being so appreciative.

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  5. I love your thoughts here, Michele: Our practice of spiritual disciplines are how “we declare that God owns our hearts.” And while I hadn’t thought of fellowship as a discipline before, it gives my introvert self words to ponder.
    Thank you for sharing another great read. : )

    Liked by 1 person

  6. You always add great books to my to read pile, Michele :). I could use help in all of these spiritual disciplines. I’m really trying to work on simple living right now. My home is stuffed full of unnecessary possessions. The thought of “shunning as a path to simplicity” is really interesting.

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    1. Yes, I had never heard it called “shunning” before, and have to assume that it’s original with the author, but it sure is a picturesque way of talking about a much-needed discipline!

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  7. Hi Michele,
    We’re neighbors at Coffee for your Heart today — nice to see you! 🙂 I loved how you talked about your garden and the seeds — I’m so inspired by those who can actually grow things! The book you reviewed sounds like it had a lot of good truths and new ways of looking at what’s in our lives!

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  8. This truly looks like a wonderful book, full of wisdom and insight to help our spiritual growth. I loved this: “The practice of rest (or Sabbath) is a physical expression of a spiritual reality: the work for our salvation has been accomplished by Jesus. ” Wow! God has been challenging me to grow in this area, leaving off work because I trust Him.

    Interesting that leadership and discipling others are included as spiritual disciplines.

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  9. How rich is the review and the material within it! Your book recommendations have yet to disappoint. The opening lines had my mouth watering for fresh rhubarb stewed and standing alone or in a pie! Thanks so much for the comprehensive way you review a book. I am enriched by the relationship we have been developing.

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  10. Hi Michele! So blessed by your post/book review. I love your thought about what we plant in our hearts “when I plant discontentment, impatience, and faithless talk, dark seeds into the soil of my heart”, then expect peaceful fruit to grow! The things that we plant are, truly, the things that will grow. Blessings to you!

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  11. My grandmother always had a huge garden every year. We would go over and help her in it and while we were there she used the garden as a teaching method on what we planted in our lives would come up. How we watered and fertilized those plants were just like feeding the things in our life. What goes in, will come out. This sounds like a very good book, Michele. Thank you for linking up with Thankful Thursdays.

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  12. You give such great book reviews, Michele! This looks like a great book. It does take discipline to practice growing in our faith, hence the term spiritual disciplines. I love the analogy to gardening. You can’t expect to grow a flower when you’ve planted something else. And yet as Christians, we often wonder why God feels distant and it’s usually because we haven’t been communing with him and other believers. “Spiritual disciplines, then, are part of our planting, a means to the desired end of a mature faith.”

    Like

  13. I’m glad there is more material available now on the spiritual disciplines. Love this: “Not an end in themselves, they are (to veer abruptly into another metaphor) tools in God’s hands for molding the believer. What prevents the practice of spiritual disciplines from becoming stuffy and legalistic is love.” Yes! We don’t need more rules to follow, but do need more habits of grace (I appreciated David Mathis’ approach in his book too). Thanks for sharing this one, Michele. I’ll be on the lookout for it.

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  14. I love this quote: “The things we plant in our lives are the things that grow in our lives.” How true, but I need to be reminded of this truth so often. This book sounds great.

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  15. Michele it’s so true the things we plant in our lives are what grows in our lives. Great book review and yes it takes discipline every day.

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