I love New Years resolutions. I guess I should clarify. I love making New Years resolutions. I'm not as big of a fan of keeping them. Usually by mid-January I've given up on most of them.
I begin this post by saying that for two reasons. First of all, this post is a result of a resolution for 2020. My goal is to post one book review - a book blurb I'm calling them - per month. But secondly, because the book I'm recommending has to do with the resolutions that many of us make. Spiritual disciplines.
The book I'd like to recommend this month is Habits of Grace by David Mathis. The subtitle to the book explains what Mathis aims to help us accomplish: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines. I appreciated this book for several reasons. First of all, I liked the perspective on the spiritual disciplines that is found throughout the book, and stated in the title: habits of grace.
Now, I have no problem with the term spiritual discipline. And I think that maybe Christians today could learn a little bit about disciplining our lives for spiritual gain. But I also like the title habits of grace. First of all, it reminds us that in order for a resolution to gain traction for the long haul in our lives it must become a habit. But it also reminds us that all of our spiritual discipline depends on grace. Grace to actually do them, but then also they are dependent upon grace to receive what we hope to receive from them.
Mathis reminds us in the introduction: "the grace of God is gloriously beyond our skill and technique. The means of grace (spiritual disciplines) are not about earning God's favor, twisting his arm, or controlling his blessing, but readying ourselves for consistent saturation in the roll of his tides." (p. 21)
Later on in the introduction he writes this:
"I can flip a switch, but I don't provide the electricity. I can turn on a faucet, but I don't make the water flow. There will be no light and no liquid refreshment without someone else providing it. And so it is for the Christian with the ongoing grace of God. His grace is essential for our spiritual lives, but we don't control the supply. We can't make the favor of God flow, but he has given us circuits to connect and pipes to open expectantly. There are paths along which he has promised his favor...we can routinely avail ourselves of these revealed paths of blessing - or neglect them to our detriment." (p. 25)
Mathis admits that he is offering nothing new. The disciplines that he highlights are ones that the church has practiced since it's foundation. However, he groups the disciplines in a way that I thought was helpful. He labels them as voice, ear and body.
In the first section labeled "Hear His Voice" Mathis focuses on disciplines of the Word. Referring to God's Word. The disciplines of Bible reading, memorization and meditation all have chapter devoted to them. All of these are practices that we know are to be a part of the life of a Christian, but we all need to be reminded of them and encouraged to practice them.
In the second section, Mathis looks at the disciplines that have to do with prayer or "Having His Ear". As he does with all the spiritual disciples, Mathis begins by reminding us of the joy it is to be able to have the ear of God. He writes in the opening chapter of this section: "The great purpose of prayer is to come humbly, expectantly, and - because of Jesus - boldly into the conscious presence of God, to relate to him, talk with him, and ultimately enjoy him as our great Treasure." (p. 95)
One of the more interesting chapters for me centered on solitude. This has long been a spiritual discipline observed by the church, but perhaps more than any other generation, one we need to be reminded of more than ever with the constant noise we are surrounded with. This is one area, among many, that I leave Mathis's book wanting to implement immediately in my own life.
The last main section of "Habits of Grace" focuses on fellowship. Or as Mathis puts it - Belong to His Body. You might not think of fellowship as a spiritual discipline. Our focus is often that discipline is something we do alone. And while we practice the spiritual disciplines ourself - no one can do them for us - we don't do them by ourself. Fellowship is an important aspect of Christian life that is needed for our spiritual growth.
I love the visual that Mathis gives us (especially as we are approaching this event on our cultural calendars):
True fellowship is less like friends gathered to watch the Super Bowl and more like players on the field in blood, sweat, and tears, huddled in the backfield only in preparation for the next down.
In addition to simply admonishing us to be together on Sunday, Mathis reminds us of what our gatherings accomplish in us, and how to maximize them in our lives to the fullest. He gives practical advice on how to approach corporate worship, how to listen to sermons, even how to think about baptism and communion. All of these are means of grace that God has made available to us for our good and his glory.
Let me encourage you as you begin New Year: form habits that will shape your life for good, not just in this world but for eternity. And as a help to that end, I would recommend to you Habits of Grace by David Mathis. May 2020 be a year where all of us find ourselves "enjoying Jesus through the spiritual disciplines."