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.

Why Does God Seem Distant?: The Holy Pursuit of the Hidden God

Distance of God

There are times when God feels distant. There are moments, particularly in times of suffering, when God seems silent. To enter into the stillness of God and to attend to the silence of God requires patience.

God is not a Labrador retriever who comes when we call. God is sometimes like the rain that comes when it will, whether the grass is green or the crops are failing.  Jesus told us that if we ask it will be given, if we seek we will find, and if we knock the door will be opened (Matthew 7:7-8), but the timing of the giving, the finding, and the opening is not ours to demand. That God will answer prayer happen is guaranteed, but when God will answer is not determined by the one who asks. The timing is in the hands of the One who gives, reveals, and opens.

I believe this is at least part of the meaning behind Psalm 40:1, which says: “I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.” There is waiting in prayer and with God, who sometimes seems still and quiet from our perspective. This is echoed in 2 Peter 3:8-9, which addresses the timing of the parousia:

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

It is actually God’s patience that causes the apparent delay here; a patience motivated by love for human lives. This reminds us that God’s distance, whether measured in minutes or miles, aims to stir something up within us.

Waiting on God.001

Sometimes that distance of God that we feel personally as waiting is an effort of God to bring a change within our lives, situation, or world. The Hebrew word most connected with the idea of change is shuv, which throughout the Hebrew Bible means to return to God (Hosea 14:1-3; Zephaniah 2:1-3). It is a highly relation concept, often paralleled by the word repentance, conveying that something is wrong between two parties that needs to be repaired; a breach that needs to be retraced through return. The distance of God, even the apparent hiddenness of God, is not random, as we often experience it, but has intention behind it. God aims to stir up our lives toward change and a longing for Him that outpaces anything else. It is a longing that should grip us so deeply that we feel dry and deadened without God. This is why the psalmist describes his longing for God in terms of dehydration in Psalm 42:1-2:

As the deer pants for streams of water,
    so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
    When can I go and meet with God?

“Clouds and thick darkness surround him” (Psalm 97:2) not in order to keep us away but in order to incite our desire for Him even more. It is a desire marked by fervent longing that is evident throughout the Psalms (e.g., 42, 63), but it is also more than that.

When we wait upon God in His apparent distance, we often find ourselves feeling increasingly helpless. Our crutches are stripped away and we become more and more in need. God is bringing us back to the humble naivety witnessed in a child who is not even aware of its utter dependence upon an adult. The psalmist once describes the soul as “a weaned child with its mother” (Psalm 131:2), and Jesus called His followers to receive God’s kingdom “like a little child” (Luke 18:15-17).

Waiting on God.002

While it may not feel like it, waiting on God—looking for God in His apparent distance—is a work of grace from God. In a world where we used to believe we were capable and held power in the palm of our hands, God’s distance brings us into the necessary desperation by which we recognize our utter need (2 Kings 5; Luke 8:40-56; 17:11-19; 18:35-43). We spend a good deal of our life trying to avoid recognizing our utter powerlessness and only God, the almighty One, has both the power and tenaciousness to work us into the place of facing into our need. It is in that place, where we recognize that nothing and no one else can satisfy our deepest desires. When God taps into this hungry need it keeps us awake at night, singing songs of longing for God (Psalm 77). It eventually burns us with awareness of our sin that sends shivers of regret through our broken souls that rises in longing for wholeness (Psalm 51, 80). This longing burns brighter and stronger, making even the smallest taste of God more satisfying than all other goods or pursuits in life (Psalm 84:1-2, 10).

The distance of God and the waiting we experience is a gracious gift that leads us back to an encounter with the living God. It is the promise of God’s glorious presence ahead of us that spurs on in these times:

You make known to me the path of life;
    you will fill me with joy in your presence,
    with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

It is this longing that sets us on a journey with a focused destination. Over time the destination becomes less about a place and more about a being; that is, God Himself. As in the Psalms of Ascent, we are spurred on from faraway lands to return to the center of all our hopes and joys, which are only satisfied in a holy God, who is both loving and sometimes apparently hidden. All the distance, all the stillness, all the silence cannot hold us back from giving all for the sake of that holy pursuit.

Senior Pastor Video Update in the Time of COVID-19 (May 6, 2020)

Here is my latest video update for Eastbrook Church as we navigate the time of COVID-19. I will continue to re-post these weekly video updates here at my blog for those who have not seen it or who are not part of our church but could use the encouragement. You can watch it here or at the Eastbrook Church Vimeo channel.

In this update I reference Mark 1:35 in reference to Jesus drawing away to a solitary place:

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. (Mark 1:35)

This theme of Jesus’ engagement in solitude to meet with the Father pervades the gospel accounts. Here are a few examples:

When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. (Matthew 14:13)

At daybreak, Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them. (Luke 4:42)

But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. (Luke 5:16)

If this piques your interest, you may also enjoy reading a few other posts here on my blog on these themes:

Senior Pastor Video Update in the Time of COVID-19 (April 8, 2020)

Here is my latest video update for Eastbrook Church as we navigate the time of COVID-19. I will continue to re-post these weekly video updates here at my blog for those who have not seen it or who are not part of our church but could use the encouragement. You can watch it here or at the Eastbrook Church Vimeo channel.

In my video update, I mention Eastbrook’s Holy Week services and experiences for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. You can access it all here, and I encourage you to look at some of the resources and experiences ahead of time so that you can utilize them at home on that day.

For Maundy Thursday:

  • resources for older and/or younger children
  • recipe for unleavened bread and communion service
  • foot-washing ceremony
  • simple seder meal  instructions

For Good Friday:

  • resources for older and/or younger children
  • fasting
  • observing silence from 12-3 pm
  • experiencing the Passion

You could also participate in an online “Way of the Cross,” a virtual walk through Jesus’ final moments..

Senior Pastor Video Update in the Time of COVID-19 (April 1, 2020)

Here is my latest video update for Eastbrook Church as we navigate the time of COVID-19. I will continue to re-post these weekly video updates here at my blog for those who have not seen it or who are not part of our church but could use the encouragement. You can watch it here or at the Eastbrook Church Vimeo channel.

At one point, I mention the opportunity to join in with 24-7 Prayer Movement here in the city of Milwaukee throughout the month of April. You can find out more information here.