Unhurry Your Life: a review of John Mark Comer’s ‘The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry’

JMC The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry
John Mark Comer, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry (Waterbrook, 2019)

I still remember the time I read a line that changed my life: “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”[1] I was a pastor in urban Milwaukee, working with college students. I was reluctantly leading student leaders through a study of John Ortberg’s popular book, The Life You’ve Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People (Zondervan, 2002). I say reluctantly because I had—and probably still have—a natural aversion to anything that seems widely popular. You can call it a failing, because it probably is, but it’s there all the same.

When I read that phrase, I realized two things. First, Ortberg’s work was so attractive because we all can relate to the way he talks about spiritual growth in our everyday lives: we want it, but it sometimes seems so out of reach. Second, Ortberg had a mentor of great depth in Dallas Willard, author of many weighty books on spiritual growth such as The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life with God, who spoke that powerful line about hurry into Ortberg’s life. In fact, John Ortberg would go on to sometimes describe his ministry and The Life You’ve Always Wanted as “Dallas for Dummies,” which appropriately helps us understand how challenging some of Willard’s writing can be, but probably undersells the significance of Ortberg’s work.

After encountering Willard’s advice to Ortberg about ruthlessly eliminating hurry, I immediately began to consider what that would mean for me at that time as a husband, a father of three young children, and a college pastor burning the candle at both ends. I made some changes then, and a good part of it was based on what I read by Dallas Willard and Richard Foster while new in my faith and during my own college years. One thing I figured out was that I would need to continually learn and re-learn what it means to live at a slower pace than the world around me in order to walk with God and minister out of the overflow of my own life with God.

eliminate hurry.001Fast-forward to this past year, when I posted that same quote from Willard on Twitter and a friend reached out to ask me if I had read John Mark Comer’s recent book The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry: How to Stay Emotionally Healthy and Spiritually Alive in the Chaos of the Modern World.  Truth be told, I had not heard of the book, but was familiar with Comer, author and pastor for teaching and vision at Bridgetown Church in Portland. I picked the book up and discovered what was already obvious from the title, that Comer was influenced by Ortberg toward a deeper encounter with writers like Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, and others.

Comer’s book is divided into three parts: part 1 – the problem; part 2 – the solution; and part 3 – four practices for unhurrying your life. There is also a small interlude between parts 2 and 3 about what spiritual disciplines or spiritual practices—Comer calls them “the habits of Jesus” (106)—are and why this is important to eliminating hurry. The third part offers an exploration of four practices to help us enter into life with God in the midst of a harried culture: silence and solitude, sabbath, simplicity, and slowing. Throughout the book, Comer astutely combines wide-ranging research on the challenges to eliminating hurry with a depth of insight about how to bring spiritual practices meaningfully into connection with our life.

I confess that when I first began reading the book, I wondered whether it would really be worth it. After all, I’ve read nearly everything Willard and Foster have written, and I’ve read Ortberg’s book The Life You’ve Always Wanted more times than I wanted to with student leaders over the years. However, as time went on, I discovered something very helpful within Comer’s book. He had taken that familiar materials and placed it so close to the changing culture we live in that the practical suggestions and application were rich and profound. For example, Comer connects classic works on spiritual disciplines with deep works on Old Testament biblical studies to talk about sabbath both as rest and worship, as well as sabbath as resistance.  I also imagine you will enjoy Comer’s list of twenty suggestions for bringing the practice of ‘slowing’ into our lives in a fresh and meaningful way. We all need someone to make old things feel new and Comer does an outstanding job of that with this book.

While I would hate to say, “Hurry up and read this book!”, let me encourage you to take advantage of our present moment to give thoughtful engagement with John Mark Comer’s The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry.


[1] This comes from chapter 5, “An Unhurried Life: The Practice of ‘Slowing’”, in The Life You’ve Always Wanted (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), but also can be found in Ortberg’s article “Ruthlessly Eliminate Hurry,” Leadership Journal, July 4, 2002, https://www.christianitytoday.com/pastors/2002/july-online-only/cln20704.html.

What is the Dark Side of Leadership?

fullsizeoutput_ac8Here is another excerpt from  Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership by Gary L. McIntosh and Samuel D. Rima. In this brief portion of chapter one, “Blinded by the Dark Side,” the authors provide an overview of what they mean by “the dark side of leadership.”

The dark side, though sounding quite sinister, is actually a natural result of human development. It is the inner urges, compulsions, and dysfunctions of our personality that often go unexamined or remain unknown to us until we experience and emotional explosion…or some other significant problem that causes us to search for a reason why. Because it is a part of us that we are unaware of to some degree, lurking in the shadows of our personality, we have labeled it the dark side of our personality. However, in spite of the foreboding mental image the term dark side creates, it is not, as we shall see, exclusively a negative force in our lives. In almost every case the factors that eventually undermine us are shadows of the ones that contribute to our success.

At times the dark side seems to leap on us unexpectedly. In reality it has slowly crept up on us. The development of our dark side has been a lifetime in the making despite the fact that the assault by these powerful emotions, compulsions, and dysfunctions can be sudden. Like vinegar and soda being slowly swirled together in a tightly closed container, our personalities have been slowly intermingled with examples, emotions, expectations, and experiences that over a lifetime have created our dark side.

If not tended, the mixture will ultimately explode with great ferocity. For some, the lid can be kept on for quite a period of time before the explosion finally occurs. Others sense the strange stirrings and ominous bubbling deep inside, and not knowing for certain what is taking place, they periodically release a little of the pressure by lifting the lid in a solitary act of frustration or some other form of emotional release. Yet for others, those foreign stirrings deep within are denied, ignored, explained away, and even completely repressed until finally the container can expand no more and it explodes in a sudden and massive moral failure or some other unexpected, shocking, or bizarre behavior. This denial and repression along with the resulting emotional explosion are particularly common among religious leaders who feel the constant need to be in total control of their lives so they can minister effectively to others. Regardless of how sudden the explosion may seem, it has been in the making since childhood.

This description reminds me of John Ortberg‘s wonderfully challenging message, “A Leader’s Greatest Fear,” which was later turned into the brief book Overcoming Your Shadow Mission.

Recovering Holiness

HolinessAs I continue to reflect on the nature of pastoral ministry, ministry in the North American evangelical church, and questions of ministry integrity, I find myself returning often to the topic of holiness. Even writing the word holiness makes me feel a little bit “old school.” However, if I hold the tension of that uncomfortable feeling for a bit, I cannot help but think we may need to be a little “old school” right now on this issue.

So, I turned to a voice from an earlier time, J. C. Ryle, whose classic book Holiness has been highly regarded for years, with pastors like J. I. Packer and D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones urging Christians to read it. Let me share a brief excerpt from his introduction to this book, which, I believe, puts some perspective on where we stand today in North American Christianity.

I’ve had a deep conviction for many years that practical holiness and entire self-consciousness to God are not sufficiently attended to by modern Christians in this country. Politics, or controversy, or party spirit, or worldliness have eaten out the heart of lively piety in too many of us. The subject of personal godliness has fallen sadly into the background. The standard of living has become painfully low in many quarters. Immense importance of “adorning the doctrine of God our Saviour” (Titus 2:10), and making it lovely and beautiful by our daily habits and tempers, has been far too much overlooked. Worldly people sometimes complain with reason that “religious” persons, so-called, are not so amiable, and unselfish, and good-natured, as others who make no profession of religion. Yet sanctification, in its place in proportion, is quite as important as justification. Sound Protestant and evangelical doctrine is useless if it is not accompanied by a holy life. It is worse than useless: it does positive harm. It is despised by keen-sighted and shrewd men of the world, as an unreal and hollow thing, and brings religion into contempt. It is my firm impression that we want a thorough revival about scriptural holiness, and I am deeply thankful that attention is being directed to the point.

As Ryle continues his introduction, he outlines a series of issues related to holiness, some of which apply to our own day and some of which seem more bound to his own time. It is, however, his first point that I find particularly relevant to our own context. In the midst of our heavy emphasis on grace in North American Christianity, we have at times veered off into various versions of antinomianism, where there is no place – or at least disregard – for God’s law and obedience. As with the work of Dallas Willard, sometimes simplified in the writings of John Ortberg, we find Ryle grappling with the tension between faith and work, between earning God’s favor and application of effort to honor God. On the subject of holiness, he writes:

That faith in Christ is the root of all holiness; that the first step towards a holy life is to believe on Christ; that until we believe we have not a jot of holiness; that union with Christ by faith is the secret of both beginning to be holy and continuing holy; that the life that we live in the flesh, we must live by the faith of the Son of God; that faith purifies the heart; that faith is the victory which overcomes the world; that by faith the elders obtain a good report – all these are truths which no well-instructed Christian will ever think of denying. But surely the Scriptures teach us that in following holiness the true Christian needs personal exertion and work as well as faith….Justifying faith is a grace that “worketh not,” but simply trusts, rests, and leans on Christ (Rom. 4:5). Sanctifying faith is a grace of which the very life is action: it “worketh by love,” and, like a mainspring, moves the whole inward man (Gal. 5:6).

What Ryle emphasizes, and we rightly need to recover, is the emphatic coupling of justifying grace with sanctifying grace. We need to recover the truth that our unearned salvation by grace through faith in Christ overflows into a holy life strenuously lived as worship unto the Lord through obedience. I cannot help but think that one of the things we most need to recover today in North American Christianity is holiness.

A Leader’s Greatest Fear

This past Tuesday at our staff meeting at Eastbrook Church we watched an outstanding message on leadership drawn from the book of Esther by John Ortberg, Senior Pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church.

Ortberg’s message explores what he calls the leader’s shadow mission, or what others have called the dark side of leadership. I believe this is one of the most important, yet often neglected, aspects of leadership. It is important because our shadow mission can subtly ruin us and our ministry. It is neglected because of the humility and painful effort required of us to face our darkest, hidden brokenness.

Watch it here.

A Leader’s Greatest Fear from ehdesign on Vimeo.

Remembering Dallas Willard: 1935-2013

Photography by Dieter Zander
Photography by Dieter Zander

I heard the news yesterday that Dallas Willard, a great writer on life with God and spiritual formation, passed away after battling pancreatic cancer. Willard was a professor of philosophy at the University of Southern California while also writing and speaking as a Christian on issues of cultivating life with God. He is perhaps best known for his work, The Divine Conspiracy, and his influence on many well-known evangelical Christians, such as John Ortberg (who sometimes refers to himself as “Dallas for Dummies”). You can read John Ortberg’s fine reflections on Dallas Willard’s life and legacy, “Dallas Willard, a man from another ‘Time Zone'”, here.

I first encountered Dallas Willard’s work through a professor of mine, Jim Wilhoit, who introduced me to Willard’s seminal work, The Spirit of the Disciplines. In that work, Willard opens up the concept of discipleship in a way that is much larger than many normally think. Discipleship is not just about imitating Jesus at certain moments (like WWJD) but is rather approaching all of life in the way that Jesus approached life. This is what Willard calls “the secret of the easy yoke,” referencing Matthew 11:29-30. He writes: “the secret of the easy yoke…involves living as Jesus lived in the entirety of his life – adopting his overall life-style” (5). That book is a profound – and dense! – exploration of spiritual practices that enable us to live like Jesus in “his overall lifestyle.”Read More »