Monday, October 21, 2013

Ordering Your Private World (Book Review)

Ordering Your Private World by Gordon MacDonald. Nashville:Thomas Nelson, 2003. 212 pages. Reviewed by Buddy Overman

Summary
After years of neglect, MacDonald realized he could no longer live without organizing his inner world. At the age of 30, and after “hitting the wall,” MacDonald resolved to put his inner world in order. Ordering Your Private World represents years of personal insights regarding how to order the inner life. MacDonald notes five sectors that must be cultivated: (1) motivation; (2) use of time; (3) wisdom and knowledge; (4) spiritual strength; (5) restoration.

MacDonald’s drive to succeed motivated him to maintain his outer world at the neglect of the inner. Now, he is motivated to live as a called person, one who is aware of his life’s mission and who manages time in light of it, including time for intellectual growth and the pursuit of wisdom and knowledge. Likewise, a called person will carve out time to develop spiritual strength. Specifically, MacDonald suggests four spiritual disciplines for which to make time: (1) silence and solitude; (2) listening to God; (3) reflection and meditation; (4) prayer and intercession. Speaking of the necessities of spiritual disciplines, MacDonald writes: “If we are ever to develop a spiritual life that gives contentment, it will be because we approach spiritual living as a discipline, much as the athlete trains his body for competition” (p.140).

Finally, MacDonald argues that the inner life cannot be brought to order without recapturing the essence of the Sabbath rest. Here, MacDonald makes a convincing case for restoring the inner world by withdrawing regularly from normal routines for rest and worship.

In sum, Ordering Your Private World is a treasure trove of wisdom and practical insights for achieving peace and order in the inner life. However, the wisdom in this book is useless unless the reader is unwavering in his pursuit of these disciplines. As MacDonald says, “We escape into the space of the inner world only when we determine that it is an activity more important than anything else we do” (p.211).

Critique and Application
Throughout the book, MacDonald demonstrates clearly both the need for ordering one’s inner life and how to bring it into order. This is the strength of the book. MacDonald does not give the reader a simple list of practical steps to follow; rather he first shows the desperate need for ordering the various sectors of one’s inner world before moving to application. Case in point is sector two, where MacDonald begins by illustrating what happens to unmanaged time; it flows toward weaknesses; is dominated by domineering people; and it surrenders to the demands of every emergency—especially those that are not true emergencies. The solution is to schedule essential matters, such as spiritual disciplines, rest, family time, and the core of one’s vocational work far in advance and stick to the schedule, for such things are non-negotiable (pp. 87-100).

From beginning to end, Ordering Your Private World engages the reader with the pressing need to organize the inner life, and skillfully shows how to accomplish this worthy task. This book is a must read for anyone preparing to enter full-time vocational ministry, or for pastors who feel overwhelmed in their current ministry. To these men especially, this book will add perspective to their situations and provide direction for how to proceed.

Going forward there are two applications I wish to incorporate into my life. First is finding silence and solitude every day, followed by journaling as a means of listening to God. Like MacDonald, solitude and stillness make me uncomfortable, but like he says, “We must be willing to soundproof the heart against” the loudness of life in order to hear from God (p.151). In the past week I have integrated times of silence and journaling into my daily routine, and these times have proven fruitful. Secondly, I resolve to schedule regular intervals of genuine rest. This is difficult, for there is always something that seems to need my attention. Sadly, I admit that I often find it difficult to put aside my work without feeling guilty. This book has impressed upon me the fact that the world can get along just fine without me for a day, regardless of how much work I think needs to be done. From this point forward I resolve to “…lay aside other work for the purpose of enjoying God’s gift of special time” (p.205).

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