Monday, February 15, 2016

BookPastor >> "Habits for Our Holiness" (Philip Nation)

Spiritual disciplines are meant to help us to practice holiness that God be pleased. It is not some self-serving endeavor to feel better inside. This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on November 12th, 2015.


TITLE: Habits for Our Holiness: How the Spiritual Disciplines Grow Us Up, Draw Us Together, and Send Us Out
AUTHOR: Philip Nation
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2016, (192 pages).

We have books on spiritual disciplines that help us grow our spiritual lives. We have many resources on contemplation and meditation to cultivate a deeper level of holiness and spirituality. We have discipleship programs to enable individuals to develop their Christian lives. The sad truth is this: Many of our programs are more man-cantered than God-centered. The purpose of spiritual disciplines is not about us becoming more 'spiritual' as opposed to worldly, but more godly as becoming more like God. Author Philip Nation provides several reasons why we need disciplines.
  • Not an end in themselves but tools for God to hold us
  • Learning to serve rather than to be served
  • Greater intimacy with God
  • Loving God and loving people
  • Becoming a witness for Christ

God is not passive but very active and the disciplines are meant to help us be aware of God's activity around us and inside us. The moment we see spiritual disciplines as some kind of a retreat away from the world, we are practicing a form of dichotomy that separates the physical from the spiritual. In ancient times, this is Gnosticism or dualism. Philip Nation is Director of Content Development with the Resources Division of LifeWay Christian Resources as well as the Teaching Pastor for The Fellowship and Assistant Professor of Leadership and Biblical Studies for Houston Baptist University. In twelve chapters, he covers a lot of ground. He begins with the story of creation, the original garden of God's love. With flashbacks to the Garden of Eden and Gethsemane, he connects readers' attention to Christ. He tells us about the practice of worship in which our natural disposition makes us want to worship God. Whether we are singing, praying, reading, walking, or any activity we do under the sun, we declare God's great worth both individually and in community. Pointing out the scope of worship, readers learn that worship needs to "spill into everyday language." In Bible study, he believes that real study involves the merging of head and heart. He gives several tips on how to study the Bible: 1) Recognizing themes; 2) Understanding contexts; 3) Asking the right questions like:
  • What does the verse/passage tell us about God's character?
  • How is the passage showing us God's redemptive plan?
  • What does the passage mean to the ancient people?
  • How does the truth affect my own relationship with Christ?
  • How have I rebelled against the Word?
  • What is the impact of the passage on the Church?
He takes another look at prayer, calling it the "Great Conversation," and one of the three "foundational disciplines." The others are worship and Bible study. Going through the different forms of prayer, he comes back to the essence of prayer being one of love for God. Our love for God propels us to do whatever it takes to seek God, including the practice of fasting. If eating is our daily socializing, fasting is our spiritual equivalent of longing after God like a hungry man longs after a good meal. In fellowship, we see it as a spiritual party that lifts us out of our individualism and ushers us into a culture of hospitality and sharing.

Our culture is a typical fast-paced and busy scheduled one. The antidote is learning to pause, to slow down, and to rest in God, the Sabbath. As we give our bodies regular rest, we intentionally make room for God to speak to us. In the practice of simplicity, we learn to say no to the accumulation of mammon and to distinguish between contentment and craving. The former is stewarding while the latter leads to hoarding. Servanthood is also a spiritual discipline. From the towel to the bowl, serving one another is a precursor to serving others in the world. In doing so, we demonstrate spiritual growth in serving God. In Submission, we learn to yield, to surrender, and to trust God. Interestingly, Nation lists spiritual leadership as one of the disciplines. Gradually, readers will understand as this discipline is used in terms of the larger purpose of the Kingdom of God. Instead of seeing leadership as some kind of a personal elevation of spiritual status, leadership in this chapter means being motivated by the Kingdom of God; being a participant in observing the covenant, and to be missional in our lives. Finally, there is disciple-making, which is a good way to sum up the whole role of the Christian.  

So What?

The single most important principle in this book is this: Spiritual disciplines are not to be an end in themselves. They are simply tools to help us love God and to love our neighbour; to serve God and to serve all; to grow and to help others to grow as well. While the twelve disciplines seem to be a whole lot of work, we need to let God lead us each step of the way. There is no strict rule to start from chapter one right through to the end. We can begin at any chapter. For those still new in this area, I would recommend starting right from the beginning. The author explains it very clearly with biblical examples and practical applications ready to be used.

In a way, this book tries to emulate the classic book on spiritual disciplines, Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline. It is a fresh re-look at the disciplines so as to challenge the jaded soul. I like the way Nation paraphrases the disciplines with Bible study as a journey from "the head to the heart";  Fellowship as "partying people"; Prayer as "Great Conversation"; Fasting as "Hunger for the Unknown"; and resting as "driving in the slow lane." They are vivid and easily understood by the modern person. The most impressive chapter by far is the one on Bible Study. Frankly, that chapter alone is worth the price of the book. If there is a critique, I would say that this book is too ambitious. How can anyone possibly cover twelve disciplines in one book? I would suggest that future editions also include a study section for further research and discussion.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Moody Publishers and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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