Author: Gordon MacDonald
This year I’ve done something exciting! I’ve been accepted into the C.S. Lewis Institute’s Fellowship program. The point of the program is to encourage Christians to live every day for God as a testament to His might and will. This involves rigorous study, closely knit group work, an urban plunge project, and lots and lots of reading.
The introductory reading of the program starts attendees off with numerous articles and Ordering Your Private World by Gordon MacDonald. At first, MacDonald’s story comes off as merely common sense: if you don’t have strong underpinnings in your true self, you’ll eventually crumble, just like a house built on a foundation of sand. But, as the book goes on, the common sense becomes, well, less common and MacDonald gives readers some excellent tips and tricks that highlight sacred truths.
MacDonald starts out with his own implosion. Many of us, especially in a world of social media where we can easily tailor our own stories, have a strong external presence. Many of us look successful or happy and fulfilled, at least to the outside world. But, when you start to look closer, when you start to apply pressure, it becomes obvious that the emperor has no clothes. This is what happened to MacDonald. He was so into looking the part, that he said yes to everything, was the priest everyone needed to the exclusion of his family, his wife, his mental rest and recalibration, and of the God centric-thoughts and studies he needed in order give his congregation help and support. MacDonald collapsed, weighed down by too much, admitting that he couldn’t keep on going. That’s when he started to look back at what went wrong. Outwardly, it looked like everything was ok. Inwardly, he was a frustrated, overwhelmed mess.
The point? Many of us are. Many of us are used to living externally and putting on the
mask that we expect everyone wants to see. This gets into issues of drivenness. We must achieve more, be seen to do more, work longer, work harder to be seen as successful, to keep progressing up the rungs of a career or of life. There is no time for getting our ducks in a row, for contemplation, for study, for listening to God in the silence. Speed up or leave the race, the world says. Of course, the world has forgotten the moral of the tortoise and the hare.
From here, MacDonald breaks Ordering Your Private World into chapters focusing on time management, on valuing what is truly important, on journaling and thinking to find out your true thoughts and assumptions. He talks about true resting (and not just doing “leisure”), thoughtful prayer, acquiring true friends, the joys of reading and study, and of doing little, slowly, and concentrating on quality over quantity. Much of it is common sense, but it is a certain sense that is lacking or at least undervalued in our world of “hurry up, do more, do it faster, build that story, impress that person.”
More importantly, this is a very edifying read. I found myself slowing down. Normally, I rush through books. It’s partly out of love. Honestly, all I ever want to do is read. But it’s partly out of obsession, out of an inability to slow down, especially when a book is an “assignment,” and I am part of a program. But passing a test and speed aren’t the point here. I took MacDonald’s quite testimony to heart. It all rang true. I read a chapter a day and stopped there, just spending the day thinking about what MacDonald had said, about how I could integrate his suggestions into my life. Where is God calling me? Am I fruitlessly striving just to strive, just to make a check mark against a column or to impress others?
Where do I have real substance, and where am I just pretending to have substance? Where am I using real rest time to prepare my inner world for the struggles and joys of the world, so I am fresh to respond in a Godly way, as apposed to doing leisure activities that may be fun, but never allow my soul to sabbath and retrospect?
Some of the suggestions are easier than others. Journaling has never been my thing and honestly, that’s because I don’t want to spend the time on it. I want to do my own thing or have my own obligations – which gets right back to MacDonald’s point of making time for the things that matter and slowing down. Well taken. Maybe I do need to put pen to paper for myself more often.
The ideas of true rest and the advice on prayer were the most helpful to me. I’ve always had trouble with prayer, either avoiding it or approaching it like a route assignment, making it into a chore instead of a joyful talk with God.
As the book moves on, I felt the Spirit moving me to pause, to really think. I stopped feeling guilty about not doing enough fast enough and started to think about God, about what truly matters. I stopped being Martha and was instead Mary (see Luke 10:38-42 for the reference.) My prayer life has already improved. I’ve felt called to slow down and think about the things I am doing and feeling and why. I’ve started to ask myself, is this a worldly pressure or a Godly calling? If it’s worldly, do I really need it, or at least, do I need to take it quite so seriously?
Every Christian should read this book. It’s so easy to get swept into the fast pace of life, to put up an outward front of competence and stop there, building our lives, our faith, and our hopes on the sand. MacDonald offers some good, real, and practical advice for starting to create our own inner world – not rapidly, not over night, but one moment at a time. Highly recommended.
– Frances Carden
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