28/04/2017

The Life You've Always Wanted (by John Ortberg)

I’ve very much appreciated and also enjoyed reading all the books I’ve come across by John Ortberg. He’s an American pastor with a refreshingly honest and down-to-earth style. In the absence of any of his new books, I’ve started re-reading some of the ones I haven’t read for many years.

I last read ‘The Life you’ve Always Wanted’ in 2006, and rated it very highly. Subtitled, ‘Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People’, it might look rather daunting at first glance. But this is far from the case. Ortberg has a great deal of admiration for ascetic, disciplined Christians, but realises how difficult it is for most of us to emulate them.

He points out, too, that discipline of any kind is not supposed to be an end in itself. People train to lose weight, perhaps, or to become fit enough to run a marathon; they don’t train for the sole purpose of saying that they train every day. Likewise, while spiritual disciplines such as prayer and Bible reading are important, and a good thing to do, they should not become rigid or stressful. The point of spiritual disciplines is to help us become more Christlike, so that we can grow and reach out to others. If Bible reading causes us to become more judgemental or rigid, then perhaps we need to take a different tack entirely.

The book is divided into thirteen chapters, each of which is a good length for reading at one sitting. Ortberg starts to talking about the transformation that is (or should be) our aim - our ‘morphing’ into people of God, seeing gradual growth towards love, joy, peace and so on. He talks, too, about allowing the Holy Spirit to enable change rather than being determined to try hard, and then being discouraged by setbacks or failures.

The bulk of the book then looks at different disciplines which the author recommends: slowing down, praying, confessing our wrongs, and more. Again, he takes a relaxed approach, giving excellent reasons, Scriptural and practical why these things are important - but reminding us, again, that they have a purpose rather than being ‘rules’ or absolute requirements.

Each reader will approach this differently; those who are already thoughtful, able to take a steady and prayerful pace through the day, may not find much of use in the chapters about slowing down or finding a few moments to pray. Those who regularly attend traditional liturgical church services may find no problem confessing sins and moving forwards in grace and freedom. Yet in each chapter there is much to ponder.

Ortberg includes anecdotes about himself and his family, including some where he gets things entirely wrong. He writes with a self-deprecating style that’s heart-warming and very encouraging. If a pastor who’s also a popular writer can make this many mistakes, and struggle with so much of the Christian life, then perhaps there’s hope for the rest of us.

As with the last time I read this, I thought it immensely helpful and thought-provoking, and would recommend it highly.

Note that in addition to the main book there are study guides and participants' guides available.

Review by copyright 2017 Sue's Book Reviews

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