The Life God Blesses
The Life God Blesses by Gordon MacDonald
'If you want to think through the subject of the life God blesses, then go to the soul, to the deepest parts of "inner space" where God is most likely to visit with a person, whisper His secrets, establish convictions, heal spiritual wounds, generate hope & courage.'
After the hugely popular 'Ordering your Private World', Gordon MacDonald is back on fine form in this second text, 'The Life God Blesses'. The central question: how does one cultivate a soul that can weather the storms of life?
The Life God Blesses: Weathering the Storms of Life
MacDonald sets us off with a parable - that of the foolish yacht builder. He writes, 'as he built, the foolish man outfitted his crag with colourful sails, complex rigging, and comfortable appointments and conveniences in its cabin. The decks were made from beautiful teakwood; all the fittings were custom-made of polished brass. And on the stern, painted in gold letters, readable from a considerable distance, was the name of the boat, the Persona' (p.23). The point of this story? Well, despite the many onlookers cheering the maiden voyage of the Persona, the second the boat was caught in a squall at sea, it was in deep waters, quite literally. When the boat capsized, MacDonald notes, 'in a moment when a well-designed keel and adequate ballast might have saved the ship, they were nowhere to be found. The foolish man had concerned himself with the appearance of things and not enough with resilience and stability in the secret, unseen places where storms are withstood' (p.27). Crucially, the builder had forgotten to give weight to what was below the waterline; hidden and secret, yet all important in rough seas.
A Wise Builder
Of course, many versions of this story exist. Once a foolish man built a house, a career, a marriage, a life... (cf. Matthew 7:24). Yet MacDonald's point is as profound as ever; the human person does not stop with what is visible, tangible, understandable. That which is below the waterline, as he likes to say, is of fundamental importance. Yes, fundamental importance. It is likely the driver of our passions, our desires, our convictions, and our secrets, wounds, and courage. As such, MacDonald sets off on a wonderful venture in this book, staking out the terrain of how to tend to the soul; in moments of quiet and calm, and in storm and tempest.
His central question is one of spirituality: what do people of deep spirit look like? And as such, how do I know the difference between superficial and authentic spirituality? The first thing to be sure of, he assures us, is that storms happen. MacDonald lists at least four ways in which the LORD can use disruptive moments to speak to us: crisis, wonderment, ageing, and spiritual discipline. Crucially, MacDonald reminds us that 'the one who would get in touch with the soul must do so with diligence and determination. One must overcome feelings, fatigue, distractions, errant appetites, and popular opinion. One must not be afraid of silence, of stillness, or of entering the overpowering presence of divinity with a humble spirit' (p.79). Powerful stuff! The conclusion he winds up with is a quote from Richard Foster: 'the desperate need today is not for a great number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people'.
Arguably, silence is front and centre in this matrix. MacDonald is fearful that 'noise has intruded itself far beyond our ears and has reached the level of the soul and has polluted that part of us' (p.115). If spirituality is 'taking one's cues not from the world around but from the inner world out of which bubbles heavenly discernment, convictions, and decision' (p. 85), then it goes without saying that silence and other spiritual disciplines will be key to ordering this part of our inner world. For MacDonald, this also means ardently pursuing spirituality, in its earthy, organic, and persistent forms, rather than empty and often deflating moments of spiritual experience.
Another Story, Another Culture
There is much more to say - not least in the perceptive questions MacDonald aims at the soul rather than the mind (Who am I trying to please? What insecurities am I pampering? Who am I competing with? What rewards am I seeking?). Suffice to say that the book ends with another parable - that of a yacht called the Christos. The keel on this boat was not only strong enough to keep it steady in the tempest, but also to steer and save others lost at sea. His principle is key: there must be more weight below the waterline than there is above it (p.33). It is only in this construction that a capsized boat will correct itself in the battering conditions of a storm.
***** Readability (5/5): a short, concise text
**** Application (4/5): wonderful examples and images to help us latch onto
**** General Appeal (4/5): highly recommended for all young professionals embarking on their journey
** Commitment (2/5): Weekend read or major commitment? A short, accessible read
*** Challenge (3/5): an honest read that demands us to think through our priorities
***** Recommendation (4/5): Looking for a good winter read? Pick this up!