Providing weekly Christian resources for spiritual depth and intellectual vigor.

There is so much joy in reading and learning through the insights of others. This blog has been created as a service to the Christian Community worldwide. The books reviewed here are current Christian books published in the West. The primary areas of focus are books on global, cross-cultural issues, spiritual growth, discipleship, and mission. Each review is only a paragraph or two and then the highlights of the book are summarized in 3-4 pages (There are a few exceptions for books which are harder to access like Frontline Women by M. Kraft).

Purpose of these Reviews
The purpose of each review is to give readers a chance to think about some of the key concepts in that book, recognizing that few people have a chance to read a book a week anymore. Therefore I don't expect people to buy all these books but to find food for thought in the highlights I include for each review. There is also a critical analysis of the book itself. These reviews were originally written for TEAM (The Evangelical Alliance Mission) missionaries worldwide but their issues mirror Christians' issues for growth and service worldwide. Hence this blog was created to get the reviews out to a wider audience.
Happy Reading! Dr. Mary Lou

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Resilient Life by Gordon MacDonald

Book Review : A Resilient Life   Gordon MacDonald,
Thomas Nelson, 2004.

Gordon MacDonald is a gifted writer.  In this book, in which he celebrates the gift of a coach in his own life, he becomes a coach for all his readers who want their life to count for God.  He says: “In the great race of life, there are some Christ-followers who stand out from all the rest…They seem to possess these spiritual qualities –                                        
                                    They are committed to finishing strong.

                                    They are inspired by a big-picture view of life.

                                    They run free of the weight of the past.

                                    They run confidently, trained to go the distance.

                                    They run in the company of a ‘happy few.’”  (p. vii.)

MacDonalds’ book is devoted to helping Christians possess and maintain these five spiritual qualities.  He shares openly and vulnerably from his own life, backing up his main points with numerous scriptural examples and quotes from a wide variety of writers.  This gives the book relevance, depth and breadth. 

MacDonald acknowledges the struggles and difficulties of life that can distract, derail or actually destroy those who do not have a resilient faith in Christ.  He acknowledges the training and discipline required to develop the spiritual qualities he describes.  In fact, the dominant metaphor in the book comes from his own rigorous training toward excellence demanded by his high school cross-country coach.  Despite MacDonald’s own lapses and tendency to give up or settle for a lower standard, he admits he would not have become all he is (even 50 years later) without the principles the coach built into him.  He says “The race of life is a race of distance, not a sprint.  I must cultivate a spiritual life that covers the entire distance and never lose sight of the race leader, Jesus.” (p. xviii). This, he says, requires resilience.   

His analogy of life as a “great race” is apt.  Perhaps none know this more than missionaries and Christian workers who are not only dealing with the normal struggles of life but also with forces in the spiritual realm that buffet them and seek to pull them out of the race or impede their progress.  Obedient Christians look to Christ as their leader, model and source of empowerment through the Holy Spirit.  But they need resilience and strength from one another to press forward “and not allow the common adversities in one’s life to cripple or shrivel one’s soul” (p. 33).  They need resilience. The Dictionary says resilience is the ability “to rebound readily when stretched, to be buoyant and cheerful.”  Since life has many stretching and even wrenching experiences, this book is a must-read, especially for missionaries but also for all Christians who want to live a life that counts for God.                        
Here are a few highlights from MacDonald’s book.

1.      Resilient people are committed to finishing strong.”  That concept may seem most applicable for those over 40.  In fact, MacDonald notes that “resilience for us has, in most cases, more to do with lasting and thriving in the spiritual way in the second half of life”(p.19).  But he maintains that the patterns we build into our lives in the early years set the tone for what we will achieve in the later years:  “Every yesterday informs the todays of life and every today formulates consequences that will become influential for the tomorrows …they all network and interface with one another” (p. 19).

2.      “Resilient people are inspired by a big picture of life. They have a sense of life direction…They  begin with the biggest possible picture of things they hear God speaking into their lives…and live each day in pursuit of that big picture” (pp.42, 45). They “open their hearts to the presence of God… and have a filled up soul” (pp. 189, 191).

3.      “Resilient people cultivate Christian character.  Character is the person I am over the long haul of life, the person who emerges in the most difficult, challenging moments.  Character defines the attitudes, convictions, and resultant behavior that distinguish my life…Character must be monitored and if necessary redirected and rebuilt... It involves…growth, transformation and maturity…based on values that spring from a life grounded in Scripture”  (pp. 61-62, 65).

4.      “Resilient people run free from the weight of the past - “we keep memories in a state of good repair lest unhealthy ones gain control of today’s attitudes and behaviors…If our memories are filled with unresolved issues, then our resilience is diminished…We need to live the way of repentance, practice the discipline of forgiveness, the life of gratitude, and search for wisdom” (pp. 106, 110, 115).   “Gratitude is sweeping one’s memory for recent and not so recent events where there is a need for saying thank you” (p. 134). [Wisdom is gained as] “resilient people …wring from their past all the insight and power needed for the moment…They ask: ‘What is to be learned here? Why was there success or failure? Where does this [next move] lead?’ The resilient person is a reflective person  (pp. 141, 140, 136).

5.      Resilient people train to go the distance…to have self-mastery.  It is the pathway of struggle… There are mental barriers to be overcome...They insist that their bodies behave in accordance with willpower and not simple convenience…They grow their minds, (‘intentionally pursuing intellectual vigor and spiritual depth p. 35)…They harness their emotions…and act when their emotions are an accurate reflection of the moment…It is a fact that every time a man feels a noble impulse without taking action, he becomes less likely ever to take action.” (pp 152- 180).  Resilient people trim their egos, i.e, tame them and put them in submission to the purposes of God…They understand that ego has an insatiable desire for enlargement.” [MacDonald calls it ‘ego creep’.]  “We discipline the ego by meditating each day on our brokenness in life and the redemptive work of Christ to mend it back together again. Humility is…the root and foundation…of all good things” (pp. 183-186).

6.      “Resilient people run in the company of a ‘happy few’ – [ i.e,] people in our inner circle who will walk through life with us and make an inestimable contribution to the developing of our resilient life…Living resiliently cannot be done alone” (p. 211, 217). ..Often my perceptions of what someone has said or done, what is truly important in the world, what is the best response to a situation, are woefully inadequate until I have listened to others whom I trust. Only then do I stand on firmer ground about what is ‘truly true’… [With our ‘happy few’] we make special things happen together that we could not have accomplished ourselves or done as well. It’s called synergy” (pp.221, 224). “These ‘happy few’ enable us to be what we have never been before.  We shall never truly know ourselves unless we find people who can listen, who can enable us to emerge, to come out of ourselves, to discover who we are.  We cannot discover ourselves by ourselves….From these ‘happy few’ one derives continuous strength for the race [of life]” (pp.226-227). 


In light of these principles, MacDonald asks his readers: “Who coaches you?...Who stretches your mind?…Who listens and encourages your dreams?...Who will protect you?...Who are those who share your tears?...Who rebukes you?...Who plays with you when refreshment of body and soul is the chief priority?...Who seeks after God with you?” (pp. 228-236). 

Important questions to be answered intentionally if one wants a life that “stands out from all the rest” (p.vii).

Reviewed and briefly highlighted by M.L. Codman-Wilson, Ph.D.  2/22/12




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