Book Report: Spiritual Disciplines Handbook

Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun

A shepherd at heart, Adele lays a beautiful foundation for more than sixty spiritual disciplines. New believers and seasoned saints alike will benefit from these ways of “making space in your overwhelmed and preoccupied life for God to show up and master you.” If the vast array of choices seems overwhelming, never fear: readers are invited to meander thoughtfully through the practices that most speak to them, finding Scriptures, ideas, and journaling questions to help them along. Adele writes to antsy disciples, “Remember that your goal is not to master all of these disciplines. You are simply to make a beginning.” Though I had long considered purchasing this book, Tim Keller’s glowing review* settled the matter. I’m so glad it’s become part of my library—the depth and wisdom available in these pages was a gift.

A few of my favorite quotes:

God is more concerned with who we become than what we accomplish.

Willpower and discipline alone can never fix your soul. Striving, pushing, and trying harder will not recover your life. Unforced rhythms of grace depend on something more than self-mastery and self-effort. The simple truth is that wanting to keep company with Jesus has a staying power that “shoulds” and “oughts” seldom have.

A true Christ-in-me self is deeply at home in God and in its own skin. Such a self humbly receives its identity as a gift and feels no need to justify its existence.

We are meant to live sane lives that partake of a deep and playful holy leisure. There is enough time in each day for all that God requires of us. And part of what He requires is rest.

The world is filled with reasons to be downcast. But deeper than sorrow thrums the unbroken pulse of God’s joy, a joy that will yet have its eternal day. To set our hearts on this joy reminds us that we can choose how we respond to any particular moment.

You are not called to control all that disrupts your life.

Afraid of being late, we rush from the past to the future. The present moment becomes a crack between what we did and what we have yet to do. It is virtually lost to us. We don’t get to our futures any faster if we hurry. And we certainly don’t become better people in haste. More likely than not, the faster we go the less we become.

My biggest takeaway from this book is how to think about prayer. “Intercession is not a means of manipulating heaven into doing our will. Rather it is a way we become aware of God’s prayer for a person and join in that intercession.” As I pondered this concept, the Spirit brought to mind an event from earlier in the week: Pippa’s first art project. I had dabbed glittery paint globs onto a page and put it in a plastic baggie for her to smoosh around while keeping her hands clean. The result was a messy collaboration (and the first masterpiece for our refrigerator). Sure, if I had wanted a more controlled kind of beauty, I could have made something by myself. But partnering with my baby girl enabled the first of many fun memories of practicing creativity together. So it is with prayer. Adele makes me think God might be in it for the process just as much as for the outcome. And if I pray without sensing an answer? “When God trusts you with His silence, don’t give up on Him. He hasn’t given up on you.”

Ten questions based on the text I’ll need to journal through:

  • How do I want/need to be with God in this season?
  • How can I leave others with the fragrance of Christ wherever I go?
  • What sort of friend am I to God? to others?
  • How can I become clearer, more distilled as a person?
  • What themes do I see in the Lord’s work in me over the last six months? How should I attend to them?
  • Where do I protect myself from receiving love from God and others?
  • How can I live as though the present moment has no competition?
  • How easy is it for God to get my attention?
  • Where have I complicated my life with the Lord?
  • How do I keep my finger on the pulse of what is happening in my soul?

*Keller writes, “I have long profited from Adele Ahlberg Calhoun’s gifts in the field of spiritual development, and I am delighted that she has compiled her experience with spiritual disciplines into book form. I highly recommend it and I look forward to using it as a resource at our church.”

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