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.

The Weekend Wanderer: 11 January 2020

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

114587“After Soleimani’s Death, Iran’s Christians Brace for ‘Tsunami of Disaster and Opportunity'” – Last week, most of the international attention was on the events and rising tensions between the US and Iran. One of the questions that rose in my mind immediately was, “What does this mean for the astounding movement of God, brining many Persian-background people to Christ both inside and outside Iran?” Well, it seems from this report by Christianity Today, it brings both potential disaster and opportunity. I hope you will join me both in reading this article and praying for our brothers and sisters.

 

journal-fountain-pen“In-Depth Answers to Ten Big Questions About Spiritual Formation” – When I first surrendered my life to Christ, I pored over Scripture and any writer I could find who helped me understand the life with God better. I was so hungry for God that anything someone else recommended would immediately become a part of my discipleship practice or reading.  I encountered Christ through the charismatic movement and so one influential stream of my spiritual life was charismatic Christianity. However, I grew up in a Presbyterian church so another one of the influential streams of my spiritual life was very Word-centered. Sometimes, these streams seemed to run in opposite directions, but when they converged it was a beautiful thing. It was Richard Foster, and those working with him with Renovaré, who first helped me see how valuable it could be to have different streams of Christian tradition come together in our lives as part of an overall spiritual formation trajectory with God. This article hosted at Dallas Willard’s website talks about the nature of spiritual formation in the Christian life around ten big questions we grapple with on that topic. Some of this may seem a bit dated, but it is still helpful in considering what is important in our growth with the Triune God.

 

Notre Dame“Notre Dame Cathedral ‘not saved yet’ and still at risk of collapse” – One of the biggest stories of last year in terms of architecture and church life was the devastating fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in April 2019, as well as the billions of euros pledged to rebuilt it. This past week, however, the French general, Jean-Louis Georgelin,  assigned to oversee the task of rebuilding said, “The cathedral is still in a state of peril.”

 

114509“United Methodist Church Announces Proposal to Split Over Gay Marriage” – Another monumental story in religion around the world came in March 2019, when the global gathering of the United Methodist Church, in a highly conflicted vote, affirmed the traditional view of marriage. Since that vote, discussions have arisen to part ways between the more progressive western church and the more traditional church in the rest of the world. This past week, plans emerged for a mutually agreed upon parting of ways that has widespread support from all parties, at least preliminarily, with more details to emerge on January 13. So long to the “United” Methodist Church as fault lines emerge in various denominational bodies over these sorts of issues.

 

Lois Irene Evans“Funeral of Lois Evans, wife of Tony Evans, set for their Dallas church” – Lois Evans, wife of Bible teacher and pastor Tony Evans, passed away on December 30 after being diagnosed with biliary cancer. Lois Evans was married to Tony Evans for 49 years and was the founder of Pastors’ Wives Ministry, author of many books, and leader of Christian ministry in various settings. The celebration of Lois’ home-going is viewable online here, including many moving tributes and worship led by Kirk Franklin.

 

rabbi-chaim-rottenberg“Rabbi who survived machete attack has a unifying message” – From CNN: “The New York rabbi who survived an attack at his home during Hanukkah urged people to put aside differences and ‘work side by side to eradicate hatred.’ Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg, leader of Congregation Netzach Yisroel, made his first public comments since the December 28 attack during a celebration on the seventh day of Hanukkah in the hamlet of Monsey. Five people were injured, including his son.”

 

Music: Donny McClurkin with Richard Smallwood, “Total Praise,” from Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

Five Quotations on Prayer

Power in Prayer Series Gfx_App Square

This past weekend, I concluded a preaching series at Eastbrook Church called “Power in Prayer: Learning to Pray with St. Paul.” Through the series, I shared quotations on prayer throughout the series, and several people asked if I could share them. There were a few that I had in my notes that I never mentioned, so here they all are.

 

Baron Friedrich von Hugel: “The decisive preparation for prayer lies not in the prayer itself, but in the life prior to the prayer.”[1]

John Wesley: “God does nothing but in answer to prayer.”[2]

John Stott: “So, the major preoccupation of children who come into their Father’s presence in prayer is not that we may receive what we need but that He may receive what He deserves – which is honor to His name, the spread of His kingdom, the doing of His will.”[3]

Richard Foster: “The primary purpose of prayer is to bring us into such a life of communion with the Father that, by the power of the Spirit, we are increasingly conformed to the image of the Son.” [4]

Dallas Willard: “Prayer is, above all, a means of forming character.”[5]


[1] Baron Friedrich von Hugel, The Life of Prayer, 30.

[2] In Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline, rev. ed. (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1988), 34.

[3] John R. W. Stott, Sermon: “Growth in the Prayer Life,” 20 August 1989.

[4] Richard Foster, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home (San Francisco: Harper, 1992), 57.

[5] Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy (New York: Harper Collins, 1998), 250.

 

Bibliography on Prayer

Throughout our series, “Great Prayers of the Bible,” we looked at passages of Scripture in which prayer is the central activity. Along with study of those specific Bible passages, I turned to the wisdom of many authors far more brilliant than me and from many different eras for help. At times people ask me whether I have books I recommend alongside of certain preaching series. I find that a difficult question to always answer briefly, so here is a bibliography I have been gathering (and reading) over the last twenty years on the topic of prayer.

Bibliography on Prayer:

Ruth Haley Barton. “Prayer.” In Sacred Rhythms. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2006.

Anthony Bloom. Beginning to Pray. New York: Paulist Press, 1970.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Prayerbook of the Bible. DBW, vol 5. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1996.

E. M. Bounds. Power Through Prayer in The Complete Works of E. M. Bounds. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1990.

Brother Lawrence. The Practice of the Presence of God with Spiritual Maxims. Grand Rapids, MI: Fleming H. Revell, 1967.

Walter Brueggemann. Great Prayers of the Old Testament. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008.

George A. Buttrick. Prayer. Nashville: Abingdon-Cokesbury, 1944.

David Crump. Knocking on Heaven’s Door: A New Testament Theology of Petitionary Prayer. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006.

Ronald Dunn. Don’t Just Stand There, Pray Something. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1992.

Jacques Ellul. Prayer and Modern Man. Translated by C. Edward Hopkin. New York: The Seabury Press, 1970.

Richard Foster. Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1993.

Ole Hallesby. Prayer. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1931.

James Houston. The Prayer (previously title The Transforming Friendship). David C. Cook, 2007.

Joyce Huggett. The Joy of Listening to God. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986.

Timothy Keller. Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God. New York: Penguin Books, 2014.

Kenneth Leech. True Prayer: An Invitation to Christian Spirituality. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1980

C. S. Lewis. Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer. New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1964.

Richard N. Longenecker, ed. Into God’s Presence: Prayer in the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002.

Paul E. Miller. A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World. Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress, 2009.

Andrew Murray. Teach Me to Pray. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1982/2002.

Eugene Peterson. Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1989.

________. Tell It Slant: A Conversation on the Language of Jesus in His Stories and Prayers. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008.

J. C. Ryle. A Call to Prayer. Moscow, ID: Charles Nolan Publishers, 2002.

Baron Friedrich von Hugel. The Life of Prayer. New York: E. P. Dutton & Sons, 1927.

Philip Yancey. Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006.

Prayer of Surrender: Two Quotations

In my message this past weekend, “Prayer of Surrender,” I shared two different quotations related to ways in which we need to relinquish our life to God. The first came from Richard Foster, in his book Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home:

Struggle is an essential feature of prayer…Jesus’ prayer struggle [in the Garden of Gethsemane] – replete with bloody sweat – lasted long into the night….All the luminaries in Scripture struggled as well: Abraham as he relinquished his son, Isaac; Moses as he relinquished his understanding of how the deliverer of Israel should function; David as he relinquished the son given to him by Bathsheba;…Paul as he relinquished his desire to be free of a debilitating ‘thorn in the flesh.’[1]

The second was a story taken from Adrian Rogers‘ book The Incredible Power of Kingdom of Authority. While I cannot necessarily speak to the entire book, in one particular section he records a conversation he has with Romanian pastor, author and president of the Romanian Missionary Society, Dr. Josef Tson. Tson had survived persecution and exile under the Communist rule. Rogers asks Tson what his perception of American Christianity is, and he responds:

Well, Adrian, since you have asked me, I’ll tell you. The key word in American Christianity is commitment….When you make a commitment, you are still in control, no matter how noble the thing you commit to. One can commit to pray, to study the Bible, to give his money, or to commit to automobile payments, or to lose weight. Whatever he chooses to do, he commits to. But surrender is different. If someone holds a gun and asks you to lift your hands in the air as a token of surrender, you don’t tell that person what you are committed to. You simply surrender and do as you are told….Americans love commitment because they are still in control. But the key word is surrender. We are to be slaves to the Lord Jesus Christ.’[2]

 


[1] Richard J. Foster, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home (New York: HarperCollins, 1992), 50.

[2] Adrian Rogers, The Incredible Power of Kingdom Authority (Nashville: B&H Books, 2002).