My friend Stacy gave me Sacred Rhythms, by Ruth Haley Barton, after talking about it pretty extensively on her blog. It’s basically a book about spiritual disciplines, although Barton presents a very different view of the disciplines than I’ve ever really considered.
I’ve had a number of books on spiritual disciplines recommended to me before, and I know there are quite a few really good ones out there: Books describing the different disciplines in the Christian life that promote growth, usually things like daily time in the Word and prayer, Scripture memorization, usually fasting or something in that area. Personally, I have kind of a love/hate relationship with the idea of spiritual disciplines. I’ve found most of the common ones necessary to my own growth and even sanity, but I also have a strong reaction against the idea that our spiritual life fits into some kind of formula: Do this and this and you will grow. Ultimately, what I want to d o is draw nearer to Jesus and become more like Him – that’s what makes any of the disciplines worthwhile, they’re worth very little on their own. We so easily categorize the disciplines as “have to” or “should”s, when they are actually “get to”s.
That is the premise of this book. The subtitle is: “Arranging our lives for Spiritual Transformation.” She approaches the disciplines as rhythms we incorporate into our lives that make us available to the Lord, and that send us to Him for our deepest needs.
I loved this entire book, but the first chapter was my favorite. It’s called, “Longing for More: An Invitation to Spiritual Transformation.” Barton’s view of these rhythms is that we need to approach the Lord from the point of our need. This almost seemed wrong to me at first – after all, life is not about me, it’s about Jesus, and the glory of God. As an application in this first chapter, Barton walks through the story of Blind Bartimaeus in Mark 10. I pictured myself in Bartimaeus’ position, helpless and hopeless, then noticed by the Lord Himself (He SEES me!). I spent a lot of time wondering how I’d answer the Lord’s question in that story: “What do you want Me to do for you?”
I wonder how much of the dryness I experience in my spiritual life is because I have developed the habit of just shouting truth at the deepest needs of my heart, rather than actually naming them before Jesus and then listening for His answer. After all, when I’m lonely, feeling unwanted or unimportant, facing failure or rejection, it’s one thing to just tell myself over and over that I’m never alone, I’m wanted and important and accepted. It’s entirely another thing to sit with the reality of my feelings before the Lord and consciously look to Him to meet my needs. I’m all about speaking the truth to myself, but I think the difference is my focus. It’s got to be on Him and Him alone.
So the “rhythms” described in this book are all approached from the standpoint of turning our focus deliberately to Jesus as the center of our lives and meeter of all our needs. She covers
- Solitude (creating space for God)
- Scripture (Encountering God through Lectio Divina)
- Prayer (Deepening our intimacy with God)
- Honoring the body (Flesh-and-blood spirituality)
- Self-examination (Bringing my whole self before God)
- Discernment (recognizing and responding to the Presence of God)
- Sabbath (Establishing rhythms of work and rest)
- Creating a rule of life (cultivating rhythms for spiritual transformation)
I found each chapter rich and freeing (she’s as far from legalistic about these things as you can get – we’re not earning anything from the Lord). However, I was really surprised by my reaction to some of these rhythms. For example, I didn’t really want to consider how solitude and Sabbath make room for the Lord to transform me, because both of those require some hard decisions that I’d just as soon avoid. But I’d prayed in the beginning that I’d have a listening heart and I do desperately want space in my life to listen and interact on purpose with the Lord. This book held my hand through some of that process, encouraging me to make some changes in my daily schedule in particular that have really been a blessing. I’d highly recommend it, and would love to hear from you if/when you read it: What do you think?