A Year of Orthodoxy

It may have been my footsteps, or perhaps it was a slight disturbance in the breeze — imperceptible to me, but enough to set off a flurry of motion and a rustling of black feathers in the bare tree branches. The birds rose as one, and then, without hesitation cut to the north and rose higher, perfectly synchronized, beautifully fluid.

How did they know?

Who decided on that sudden change in course, and how did she communicate it? 

On that same walk, I was puzzling over a “situation” with our house. Furnaces, roofing, windows, and doors have come and gone in the past 24 years of life on this country hill, but this time the jarring news from the carpenter is that there’s a problem with the foundation. The repairs needed will not add a whit to the beauty of our home, but are, nonetheless, essential for its health and stability.

A Foundation of Orthodoxy

And thus, together, our family-fixer-upper and those well-choreographed birds played a role in setting my direction for 2018 and in helping me to choose a focus word for the year:  Orthodoxy.

Orthodoxy is not a path to lock-step uniformity in which we all move as one, but it may result in a harmonious unity that is freedom itself and is beautiful to behold in the Body of Christ.

Orthodoxy is the foundation to everything. It governs the way I understand and interpret Scripture; my comprehension of God and His ways; and even the practical application of Truth in my homeschooling, dish-washing, laundry-folding, floor-vacuuming, Bible-teaching, and blog-writing life.

There, under the clear, blue winter sky, I decided it was time to return to G.K. Chesterton’s classic book, Orthodoxy, which has been on my Kindle for a couple of years (and which I’ve started multiple times and then stalled).

With nine chapters and 239 pages in the edition I have, that will mean reading and interacting with approximately 20 pages or around three fourths of a chapter per month, and it is likely that I’ll be reporting on that pondering here in this space. If you’d like to join me on this year-long journey, you are most welcome, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts along the way.

From his vantage point of the early 20th century, Chesterton described his book as a “slovenly autobiography,” so his quirky personality will, apparently, be evident in his writing. Orthodoxy is not an apologetic work, but rather, a collection of Chesterton’s musings as he attempts “an explanation, not of whether the Christian Faith can be believed, but of how he personally has come to believe it.”

The Anchor to Orthodoxy

Of course it is, ultimately, the Word of God which anchors us in Truth and in right thinking. To chart my progress in this at the outset of 2018, I’m making a fresh start with two brand new journals, both my gratitude journal and my all-purpose-catcher-of-random-thoughts having filled up by the end of 2017. Reviewing entries from past years is always either an encouragement or a rebuke, and I need both from time to time.

A Year of OrthodoxyTherefore, I was happy to discover Deborah Haddix’s Journaling for the Soul. Her handbook of journaling methods is a thorough and very accessible resource for anyone who wants to embark upon the exercise in soul care that journaling has become for me.

Deborah urges her readers to loosen up and enjoy the process of putting the pen to the page. This was reassuring for me because a few years ago I started keeping one journal for just about everything in an effort to live a one-piece life. So if I have an answer to prayer that I want to remember, an insight from my reading of the book of Jeremiah, or a great quote from a podcast, I scribble them all into the same pages. It’s also where I maintain a list of all the books I’m reading. Therefore, when I re-read journal pages, it’s enlightening to note all the different things that were feeding into my thinking at the same time.

One of the challenges I’ve heard women express about journaling is that they want to record their thoughts about prayer and Scripture, but they either don’t know where to begin, or they run out of steam at some point and abandon the discipline. Journaling for the Soul provides a collection of methods and approaches that can serve as an encyclopedia of options. I recommend that anyone who is not sure how to proceed just work their way through the book and try each method until they find an approach that resonates for them, and feel free to change as needed. List-makers and chart-lovers may gravitate toward inductive studies while creatives may find that color coding and verse mapping work well for them.

A journal is a tool and maintaining it is a means to an end:  deeper communion with God. It should not become the main thing, but rather a means for documenting the main thing, which, of course, is a living and active relationship with God. When I read The Journals of Jim Elliot, I was amazed at how much mundane (and even sort of bombastic) wool-gathering there was in its pages. “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose” is Jim’s brilliant statement of a spiritual principle, but, rest assured, he did not spout such riches on every page — and neither will we. Our journals are home base to the space we create to be with God, and we will be wise to take lots of grace in our stumbling steps toward intimacy with Him.

Deborah Haddix offers words of encouragement to us all as we drill down into orthodoxy in 2018:

“Stay with it. Journaling for the Soul is a discipline that requires perseverance. When its newness wears off, when you don’t feel like it, when you are going through the ‘hard,’ press on. Ask God for His help and strength and energy to keep going in this worthwhile endeavor.”


This book was provided by the author 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.”

Photo by Rowan Heuvel via Unsplash

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Sacred Ordinary/Ordinary Sacred

Annie Dillard has (famously) said, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”  This is a cautionary saying for those of us who live our days as the sandwich-makers, the sock sorters, and the finders of misplaced library books.  Therefore, Liturgy of the Ordinary has landed upon my reading list like a benediction, for in Tish Harrison Warren’s words, I hear the husky contralto sound track of Peggy Lee’s musical question “Is That All There Is?” Thanks be to God, Tish arrives at a resounding “No!”  The daily, mundane tasks that comprise civilization and self-maintenance on this planet are clearly not “all there is.”  On the contrary, they are shot through with the sacred — even all the repetitive and seemingly Sisyphean tasks that, while admittedly are sacrificial, seem hardly to be sacramental.

Liturgy of the Ordinary pushes back against the dualism that differentiates between answering emails and writing sermons, between talking theology over coffee and talking science fair project over milk and cookies because, for believers, ministry and everyday life are “intrinsically part of one another,” (p. 89).

Trish celebrates the reality that the spiritual disciplines that sustain the following life are quiet, reflective, and homely.  The trappings of devotion, even the elements of the Eucharist, can be found in any North American kitchen, and the inhale and exhale of communion with God around a verse of Scripture can, literally, be done with one’s eyes closed.

Since liturgy is, by definition, “the work of the people,” the faithful have been commissioned to do whatever is needful in the name of Christ.  Tish’s liberating thesis works itself out in the unfolding of the ordinary day of a wife, mum, ministry professional, and friend, a woman who chafes against the routine, who longs for a good night’s sleep, and who delights in the simple beauty of a vanilla steamer alongside a great novel.

The Glory of the Embodied Life

When we wake, no matter how  we wake (instantly bolt upright or groping toward consciousness), we begin our day beloved by God, and the staggering truth is that nothing we do in the course of each day will either magnify or diminish that standing.  Beginning each new day echoes that “first gleam of dawn” which characterizes “the path of the righteous” (Proverbs 4:18) at the outset of the Christian life.

Careening toward the age when it takes twice as long in front of a mirror to look half as good, it is a joyful thing to be reminded that “what we do with our bodies and what we do with our souls are always entwined,” (p. 39).  In taking on flesh, Christ decimated the false notion that the body is an evil burden and not worthy of respectful treatment and conscientious care. 

“Because of the embodied work of Jesus, my body is destined for redemption and for eternal worship – for eternal skipping and jumping and twirling and hand raising and kneeling and dancing and singing and chewing and tasting,” (p. 48).

capture

Tish Harrison Warren writes of the believer’s “everyday work of shalom”; of the “third way” in which we are neither Mary nor Martha, but are delighted to find our worship and our work as one; of the ministry of friendship, the sacrament of coffee, as well as the gift of rest.

I hope that you will click on over to Englewood Review of Books to finish reading my thoughts on this remarkable book in which Tish draws a clear line of connection between the activities of her daily routine and the pursuit of holiness.

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This book was provided by IVP Books, an imprint of InterVarsity Press,  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.”

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

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.

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.

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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

Subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from Living Our Days delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

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.

Memorizing the Mind of God

“I want to keep it handy in case I need it,” she said, matter-of-factly.

She wasn’t talking about a flashlight.

Not a package of tissues.

Not a cell phone – they hadn’t been invented in 1978.

She was talking about Isaiah 55.

“I liked it,” she went on.  “So I memorized it.”

“Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and you will delight in the richest of fare.”

The words poured from her lips, because they were, indeed, handy, and although the pale yellow V.W. Rabbit continued on its way south down Route 1, I had been stopped in my tracks at the miracle of memorization.  My friend had captured for herself the treasure of thirteen verses of exquisite beauty and stunning promises — mountains and hills bursting into song and trees clapping their hands – all for the LORD’s glory and renown.

There is no way she could have known that my view of Scripture would be forever changed on that bumpy pot-holed ride, for I saw clearly that, in my friend’s mind, the Words of God were a banquet — all delightful — and she would have devoured them all given the time and opportunity.

I decided to start in the Psalms, words of praise to fill a mouth that was unpracticed in the exaltation of a majestic God.  I knew that I was supposed to “appreciate His attributes” and “thank Him for His blessings” in prayer, but a dusty list of multi-syllabic theological adjectives caught in my throat and felt forced, unnatural.  However, borrowing the words of Psalm 103, thanksgiving pours from my heart even today, because God:

“. . . forgives all my iniquities, heals all my diseases, redeems my life from destruction, crowns me with loving kindness and tender mercies and satisfies my mouth with good things so that my youth is renewed like the eagle’s”

Tired and empty, I find that Psalm 63 frames my soul’s thirst “in a dry and thirsty land where no water is, to see [His] power and His glory. . .  because His lovingkindness is better than life.”

This is more than just having good theology or thinking God’s thoughts after Him.  Memorizing Scripture forces the mind to turn over the words, to consider their order, to linger over their meaning, and to recognize patterns and parallels.  This is allowing Truth to change the folds and creases of my gray matter so that my every thought is impacted.  Could this be what my wayward heart needs in order to stand with Paul in “bring[ing] every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ?” (II Corinthians 10:5)

When I go for a walk, it is not unusual for me to carry a few 3×5 cards in my pocket so that I can review verses that I am working on, because even my pocket isn’t near enough when my thoughts need adjusting, when my outlaw heart starts hammering itself an idol out of scraps and trinkets, or when I hear the hiss of lies about the basis of God’s love for me.  When this happens, the Truth that holds me in the faith is a reset button to “set my mind” on the things of the Spirit (Romans 8:5), on things above (Colossians 3:2).

Like any spiritual discipline, memorization creates space in my life for God. It heightens my awareness of His scandalous grace, deepens my listening to the voice of the God who has spoken into space and time, and puts my mind into a posture of intent to obey and to follow.

Living and powerful, His thoughts sift and winnow my own,

revealing motives that I would rather not see.

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Through Scripture, I am able to absorb the intimate vocabulary of worship, the raw expressions of lament, or the wisdom of instruction that sets me on a right path – not because I’m racking up points on an “Extreme Discipleship Scorecard,” but because in the process of memorizing Scripture, I find the true meaning of learning the Truth by heart.

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This post first appeared as part of The Word Works Series with Bethany McIlrath on First and Second Blog.

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Photo credit

Subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from Living Our Days delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

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 enjoy reading the work of some fine writers and thinkers.

A.W. Tozer: Thoughts on Prayer

So many books.  So little time.  Tozer is my “undiscovered author,” and it’s not as if I haven’t delighted in brief quotations of his words — a mix of the understated and the profound.  It is even true that portions of his sermons read online have jolted me awake to God’s holiness and drawn me closer to the rosy glow of truth.

Now, thanks to W.L. Seaver, I’ve spent some focused time with Tozer’s writing, for he has compiled Tozer’s insights on prayer from sixteen of his books and several sermons.  Prayer:  Communing with God in Everything is a skillfully curated scrapbook that captures Tozer’s knack for portraying the majesty of God in all things.  While prayer is portrayed in all its efficacy and mystery, it is still abundantly clear to the reader that “God will never be other than Himself, no matter how many people pray, nor how long, nor how earnestly.”

Having said that, Tozer urges believers to:

  • “pray past the ordinary into the unusual;
  • enter the prayer chamber filled with faith and armed with courage;
  • bring his will into line with the will of God so God can do what he has all along been willing to do.”

Three features of these collected insights are most helpful:

  1.  Mr. Seaver has organized the material so that excerpts concerning the correction of common misconceptions about prayer are grouped together, as are motivational excerpts for making the most of one’s prayer life.  Each  chapter has been labeled with its source and date of publication for ease of future study.
  2. For readers who are new to reading theology, W.L. Seaver’s commentary following each chapter will be a confidence builder, answering the question:  “Did I get the point here?”  For the teacher who needs resources to fuel a class on prayer, the work of compiling material, writing questions for reflection, and making application with specific Scripture passages has already been done.
  3. Tozer’s sermon transcripts reveal his pastoral heart and his deep conviction of the enduring truth of God’s Word.  Step-by-step and story-by-story, principles and examples from Scripture become recommendations from an older and wiser friend who is in awe of God, who has seen with his own eyes that “God will make iron swim,” and who challenges his listeners to join him on their knees.

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This book was provided by 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.”

Subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from Living Our Days delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

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.

The Practice of Listening

Students had assembled for an October chapel service as several dozen faculty members strode to the front of the Great Hall  bearing symbols of their work — a laser in the hands of a physicist, clay in the hands of an artist, spreadsheets borne by an economist.  Each offering was placed on the stage, transforming it into an altar.  Prayers of blessing consecrated each symbol of the professors’ work and communicated a valuable lesson to the student body on that day:  All work is holy work when the worker is listening for the voice of God.

A Spirituality of Listening is Keith Anderson’s argument that listening to the voice of God, paying attention to the rhythms of obedience, discipleship, and worship, mark the beginning of “living what we hear.”  All of our spirituality is “grounded in ordinary life experiences.”  In the process of sharing from his own life and the deep well of his reading and thinking, principles of listening practice emerge that are based in the author’s understanding of spirituality: “learning to pay attention to the speaking voice of God in everything; paying attention to God’s active presence and seeking to stand in that place.”

Listening fosters spirituality in its simplest form, for God shows up in time and space.  During Old Testament times and in the time of Christ, interaction with the Word of God happened through listening.  Life in an oral culture gave weight to the words of Genesis 1:  “God said . . .”  It is not for nothing that Jesus made his point eight times in the Gospels:  “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”  Therefore, for the one who believingly follows the speaking God, listening must be an intentional “emptying of distractions and noises that gives [the] soul space to hear what is there.”

A Spirituality of Listening was written on the fly — not in a quiet office, but in moments snatched in a crowded ferry terminal and in noisy places Keith Anderson inhabits each day.  His writing an exercise in attention itself, he offers his thoughts on filtering and classifying sounds on a continuum from white noise, through business sounds, sounds that trigger emotions, the endless chatter of one’s inner storyteller, and, finally, “meaning sounds where you are making sense out of the storyteller in your mind.”  Paul emphasizes the importance of the everyday life, urging his readers to make even our listening into a spiritual discipline, to train the ears and the heart to work together in finding the voice of God in everyday, ordinary life.

The idea that story matters is central to Anderson’s thinking.  God has given the biblical narrative as a guide for truly hearing our own life’s story, and even so, we live in the midst of an unfolding plotline that yields, at times, more questions than answers.  Keith Andersons’ wife suffers from the constant pain of idiopathic neuropathy, and so he queries:  Where is God in this?  Listening, he sees that the answer will not be an audible defense, but instead a gradual, unfolding story to which he and his wife must keep listening.

God’s “be still” in Psalm 46:10 is His invitation to persist in one’s trajectory of faith, for God is in the business of speaking —  but is also a Listener whose ears are tuned to the language of lament.  Coming down with both feet on the position that lament is an act of bold faith, Keith Anderson asserts that lament makes for good theology.  God’s Old Testament prophets reinforce that justice is a core value to God — not merely in their lament, but also in their statements about God and worship.

As Jesus listened to the words of Torah, active listeners today tune their ears to His words in the Gospels.  Listening comprises both “Remember” and “Observe,” because it will be our humble voices that carry the Divine Voice to future generations through our words and our deeds.  Both community and solitude have their impact upon the listening life today (even as they did in the earthly life of Christ), and the example of Jesus teaches that the voice of God may be heard in “unexpected voices and surprising places.”

Wendell Berry (one of the many excellent writers quoted in A Spirituality of Listening) is at his wisest when he yields the podium to Jayber Crow who said:

“Telling a story is like reaching into a granary full of wheat and drawing out only a handful. There is always more to tell than can be told.”

This is the nature of all story-telling, and is especially true when we are listening for God.  There is always more.  Keith Anderson’s writing emphasizes the absolute other-ness of God while, at the same time, exalting the truth that incarnation has made sacred every little thing.  Knowing that I am heard by the-God-who-speaks-and-the-God-who-also-hears draws me into active and expansive listening, waiting for the heart of another to be unmasked — or for whatever God might choose to reveal.

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This book was provided by IVP Books, an imprint of Intervarsity Press, 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.”

Subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from Living Our Days delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

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.

Habits of Grace

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:

  1.  Hearing God’s Voice;
  2. Having His Ear;
  3. 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.

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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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