Every year, over 200,000 new books are published in the United States alone.
So, in other words I’m already behind.
It only raises the importance level of finding someone or someway to discern what you should read next and what you should avoid in order to read something else.
Unless you’re not a reader, then that’s a different discussion.
I see, purchase, and sometimes borrow new titles on spiritual formation all the time and I find myself wondering if we’re all looking over each other’s shoulders. Everyone’s cheating off of Richard Foster and Dallas Willard (which we are, because they’re worth it) and everyone’s finding new ways to say the same thing (which we should, so that everyone will hear it in their own way).
“Pastor, I have a problem… I accepted Jesus into my heart a few months ago and it is wonderful. I go to church every Sunday morning. But in the evenings I have wild promiscuous sex...I have accepted Jesus into my heart, but how do I get him into my penis?” (17)
You may be offended by that quote, but please understand that as crass as this statement sounds it is the fundamental question of Christian spiritual formation. Truly, it is the same story but Tom Smith is being thoroughly original.
This question, or whatever variation fits your (or my) own personal struggles is why I write this blog.
Why I do spiritual direction.
Why I read what I read.
This is the often-missing half of the Gospel - the Gospel of transformation into Christlikeness without which we wither, die and become bitter. We live a life that we pray doesn't turn out to be eternal.
Smith, former pastor of Claypot in South Africa and founder of Rhythm of Life (a spiritual formation consulting group) writes with grit, energy and challenge that pulls you in from the first page. (That is, if the illustration above hasn’t already done the trick.)
With a balance of reverence for Christ and irreverence toward the culture - which is balance, in my book - he draws attention to the various ways that we have in front of us to pursue the shaping, nourishing and enriching of the souls God has so generously given us.
The book is structured around seven invitations that the Claypot community accepted and pursued (20):
1. To develop healthy images of God as number one in our lives
2. To plug in daily
3. To journey with other people
4. To discover our piece of the puzzle and gift others with it
5. To place ourselves in other people’s shoes
6. To commit toward downward mobility and servitude
7. To see our working lives as an essential expression of our with-God life.
Each chapter covers one of the invitations, and gives insight both practically and theologically to how we live by grace and synchronize all the various parts of our lives under the raw and beautiful spirituality that Jesus taught and modeled.
Each of the invitations is to a “rhythm,” a way of living and working that Tom calls “training naked.” In order to accept the invitations and move in to the live rhythms that help us become like Jesus, we have to strip off the things that hinder or distract us from that rhythm. “Training naked” is a vivid and potent metaphor in the book, and it serves as the practical exercise at the end of each individual chapter.
The high point is the various ways Tom is able to illustrate the principles from his own experience. Being a pastor in a country that was once ravaged by apartheid, his chapter on being in “other people’s shoes” is both convicting and energizing. The initial invitation of developing healthy images of God echoes James Bryan Smith’s The Good and Beautiful God and the need for us to develop “true narratives” (understanding the God Jesus knew and loved) instead of “false narratives” (the God of constant unrelenting wrath who basically tolerates you until you fail Him and He smites you). Smith rightly corrects that idea, saying
“Drawing healthy pictures of God takes place when we pay attention to Jesus. When we listen to Jesus we develop healthy pictures of the one God.” (41)
The drawback to Smith’s book, however, is the same as the strength. The very localized, boots-on-the-ground nature of the book provides great application but it can easily be relativized to say “Well, that works for you but that would never work here (wherever here might be).”
This is only a drawback to those who would choose not to take the multiple nuggets of grace and richness from this book and find a way to bring them to life in their own particular world, but I do think the reader needs to be prepared to fight the instinct to let this be “true for them, but not true for me.”
I believe you should invest your time in this book, over and above many of the other 200K that will emerge this year, because if you do you will find great riches for your life and family. Enjoy.