AN ANALYSIS OF: ORDERING YOUR PRIVATE WORLD by GORDON MACDONALD
In order to both appreciate and apprehend order, the consequences of disorder must be acknowledged. Gordon MacDonald attempts to point out the discrepancies of a lack of order, while conversely building an argument for a properly disciplined life in his burgeoning classic: Ordering Your Private World. With a though provoking style that exposes weaknesses that the majority of Gordon’s readers possess in one form or another, this easily read work becomes an enticement for the transformation of the inner life. In the business of the modern world’s Helter Skelter pace, this is indeed a refreshing look at matters that can loose a place of importance in the increasingly chaotic speed that life demands. The external world may demand a rapid pace, but the inner man needs time to be reflective if a place of balance is to be achieved. This is the lesson of most professions, particularly in the professional ministry.
At its heart, this book is really all about the procedures that are necessary for the creation of internal living space that relates to the soul and is dedicated to creating space large enough to grant the disciple of Christ enough room to have meaningful quiet times, solitude and peaceful rest, that facilitates worship of the Creator and Savior, Jesus Christ. MacDonald has fashioned a surprising book that endeavors to address the Christian bodies’ inability to find order in the midst of chaos, while advancing answers that he has found to be practical and capable of being implemented with some concentrated effort. Finding time to walk the path of quietness is difficult at best, in a world that is dominated by high-speed connections to the super highway known as the Internet. Life simply isn’t slow any longer.
The inner jackets sleeve draws attention to MacDonald’s thesis in the form of a question: “Are you driven or called?” Drawing on his own personal experiences as a young pastor with significant responsibilities, MacDonald focuses his attention on the lack of internal comportment to the true matters of faith that many leaders have neglected within the realm of the modern churches existence. Although this isn’t a book about theology as a point of order, when the message of the book is truly grasped and embraced, theologically impacting events become the primary beneficiaries in the life of the reader. Rather than being exhausting or bringing the reader to a place of frustration, Ordering Your Private World is a liberating book, refocusing all who enter its portals. This is the genius of bringing order to inner private worlds’. There is a universal
application that will enhance any believer’s personal relationship with the Lord, if a disciplined life that embraces hidden order is undertaken. By drawing attention to the primary impulses of motivations, drawing attention to the pulsating rhythm of being called or driven, MacDonald offers a thought provoking query into the personal reams of the heart’s journal.
When this message is heeded, an amazing shift can become readily discernable, as sanity is instilled into the lives of those who attempt to employ the disciplines that shaped the incarnational aspects of Jesus as man, who also was God. As the modern world becomes increasingly complicated in a technological sense and relational complexities abound due to the disconnection of societal networks and business, the call to simplify faith’s focus becomes more imperative than ever. The challenge to ‘dial down’ is found in the five primary sections that are presented as gateways to private order: Motivational factors, time management, the acquisition and implementation of wisdom and knowledge, spiritual strength and the power of restoration form the five essential ingredients of MacDonald’s premise. What seems to be the most compelling aspect of the author’s argument is his personal candor which exhibits openness and candor in very complicated matters. MacDonald writes from the perspective of one who is in the troughs of change on a personal level. In other words: he is still mastering the principles he advances, which will always be the case when the Spiritual Disciplines are addressed.
This angle of honest appraisal allows for a sense of unintentional mobility to rise out of this excellent book. By openly exposing his own mistakes and lack of mastery, a symbiotic, cathartic experience is enjoyed between the reader and the author, as the author’s transparency allows the reader to more readily appropriate the lessons presented in this volume. Truthful divulgence makes it easier to accept the argument that is advanced. If for no other reason, it is easier to receive correction from the lessons learned by mistakes made on a personal level, then to attempt to warn others about the pitfalls of walking down a pathway that has yet to be traversed. The presentation of cerebrally challenging, yet sterile examinations of principles devoid of experience can become tedious. The power of the personal is, indeed, a potent place to teach from.
The use of personal stickum notes found printed in the text which are written to the disorganized is an effective means MacDonald utilized in the driving home of the salient points to each chapter. These poignant bits of advice are practical and readily available for assimilation into the annals of the heart. This propensity of Ordering Your Private World toward an analysis of mistakes that are commonly made by the clergy and those whom they intend to inspire toward a deeper walk with Jesus and then offering ways to overcome the confusion of disorder makes this a very beneficial book. The beauty of MacDonald’s approach is found in his ability to alleviate the sense of failure and desperation that many works of the self-help genre fosters in an unwitting way. When there is just a list of platitudes found in an orchestrated recipe, sterility is often the fruit that is produced. As such, there is a practical dimension to this book that can often be a rarity in its typical scope of influence.
Prior to taking aim at the internal disorder most believers live in the midst of, the author attacks rather effectively, the societal problems that have risen to create the devaluation of internal order. By equating the modern realm with Floridian sink holes (pp. 10-16) with the problem of the lack of internal order, MacDonald strikes a resonating chord within the collective consciousness of a culture that has lost its moorings. When internal order is neglected, the propensity to have personal sink-holes of life is exponentially enhanced. This stands in direct contrast to a western culture that extols the virtue of external order. Appearance, possessions and power exist as the fulcrum of life for most of those who have embraced modernity’s hustle and bustle.
This emphasis works well as long as the unexpected occasions of life’s difficulties are kept at abeyance. However, when tragedy does visit the life of those who are only externally ordered, the lack of internally fortifying components such as prayer, meditation, journaling, reading, etc. leaves the soul in a position that is ready to collapse into the lack of subterranean strengthening influences. The emphasis MacDonald places on broad understanding is ingenious. By encouraging his readers to read across a wide swath of topics, MacDonald enters into territory few Christian authors dare to tread. This section alone is a just reason for reading this book, as it advances a challenge that dares the reader to look beyond the narrow confines of the churches walls as the exclusive point of inspiration and to then engage others on an intellectual plane who may perceive reality differently. This altered perception may even stand far apart from the prototypical churchman’s normative sensibilities. Rest assured, MacDonald is quite a distance removed from the advocates of an ‘ignorance is bliss’ posture.
The hypothesis that the inner person must be strengthened for purpose to be implemented is very practical, which fits well into the simpler style of this tome. Without proper reinforcement, collapse is inevitable at some stage in life. Difficulties are bound to occur, this is the nature of being human, so it is more than appropriate, to adequately prepare for the factors of life that erode away the inner sanctity of internal tranquility. Otherwise the resulting collapse in one or more areas of life is sure to follow, be it in the compartment of the souls’ emotional well being, the area of physical well being, or in the area of external relationships.
By reading broadly, replenishment occurs as the struggles of life are grappled with and viable solutions are found when confronting life’s periods of testing. The challenge to read outside of the comfort zones most Christian’s erect is
telling. This is particularly appropriate in Mac Donald’s consideration of the fast starter in life versus those who slowly gain steam in life’s areas of advancement (pp. 27-65). It is appropriate to read material that may have been constructed in a position that is contrary to a valued personal stance or conviction. Truth, or truths’ defense, can appear in many guises and forms if there is willingness and openness to explore the realm others may inhabit who see the world differently. Life really is a constant series of barriers that must be navigated if success is to be achieved on an advanced plane of existence.
Becoming competent in people skills requires the ability to step outside of the pristine walls of self importance through the process of living in the realm of the other. The experiences that are catalogued in the annals of good books found outside the confines of traditional Christianity can help the believer in Christ to become an interactive listener, relating to people in various strata of life, without necessarily sharing common experiences. It is in this field of expansion that the individual who grew up in the pews of suburbia can relate to the person whose life experiences consists of Inner City turmoil, drugs, gangs and prison life, particularly when one of the individuals lived a rather harrowing existence prior to a life changing cathartic experience.
An excellent example of this is the accounting of one of the founding members of the notorious Black street gang known as the Crips, who is now facing the death penalty in San Quintin Prison, California. Regardless of personal positions concerning the Death Penalty, Stanley “Tookie” Williams vivid accounts of life’s most disparaging moments is inspirational in his book: Life in Prison; written with an intentional message that attempts to dissuade youths’ from gang involvement. This is particularly powerful considering the source, as Tookie Williams Both grew up in the slums of Watts California and is the co-founder of the notorious South Central L.A. gang, the Crips.
Works like this not only reinforce a justification for reading outside the limits, they also provide a powerfully persuasive reason to journal, which is one of MacDonald’s main forms of internal fortification. It is in the logging of life events, the chronicling of experiences, which makes allowances for literary works to be birthed. Although most journals turned into publishable manuscripts won’t be awarded the Nobel Peace prize as was Williams, most will find an audience that will receive benefit from the labor, even if it is modest at best. The pen is a potent collaborator and should be kept within reach at all times, as inspiration can be as fleeting as the morning mist. This transitory nature of inspiration is why journaling is an important addendum to the individual’s lifestyle.
Most have regretted at one point or another the momentary lack of recording utensils at church, in a meeting, at an airport, or in the shower, when the elusive thought appeared for a momentary glimpse, only to retreat into the mind’s haze, never to be re-captured again. Readiness is the key word to successful writing skills, logging the thoughts as they occur. This view is a definite expansion beyond the usual restrictive acceptance of journaling’s parameters. Journaling in this format can be seen as stepping far beyond the boundaries of simply recording daily duties, prayer concerns and the answers to prayer, which is the normative approach to the task of the journaler. Significant thoughts are worth recording through the medium of journaling, no matter what form they may take.
Although MacDonald carves out a section of his ruminations with the specific intent of addressing the private disciplines of the spiritual person, it could be argued that his entire book is a mandate toward the Spiritual Disciplines. It is indeed ironic, that those who dwell in the age of the Electronic Super Highway, have need of a SPD (Soul Positioning Device), based on the ancient pathway of becoming spiritually adroit through spiritual disciplines that call for a slowed down pace, if true direction is to be received, isn’t it? And what better navigational system is there, than the literary writings that have been dubbed the Works of Wisdom and found within the biblical text? James, Solomon, Paul, and David: all share commonalities and traits along with other notable biblical recorders like Daniel and Jesus, who utilized the noble traditions of faith enacted through practical application.
This reassessment of the value of a discipline life is invaluable. Whether it is in the act of effective management of time, or in the practice of becoming small through silence and solitude, modern neophytes need to submit to the tutelage of sound, practical advice that makes faith meaningful through its existential implementation. Disciplines are more than great ideas, and real disciples simply cannot be composed of thinking entities as an end to itself. Good thought patterns must yield themselves to the fertile soil of action, if the internal garden is to ever produce a crop of fruit of spiritual sorts. Paul’s admonition to the Church at Galatia to understand that: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5: 22, 23),” can truly only be born in heart soil that has been sprinkled with the discipline’s life producing spiritual moisture.
But, an ordered garden has a proven result: a spiritual quality of life that knows no bounds. Disarray will lead to a restriction of the gardens yield, however. MacDonald astutely points out this inevitable discrepancy as he chronicles the resultant problems of an undisciplined life by point out that if there is an unwillingness to yield to the tutelage of the disciplines:
- We will never learn to enjoy the eternal and infinite perspective that the Spirit gives birth to
- There will always be a lack of a vital, life giving friendship with Christ
- A lack of accountability to God will constantly exist
- A lack of specialness and value as sons and daughters of God will be propagated
- A lack of reserves for crisis will subsist
In order to maintain a balanced approach to our spirituality, and to truly reap the maximum benefits of the relational qualities that can exist with right relationship with God, the disciplines must be appropriated and implemented. Discipline is the pathway to Spiritual strengthening.
Ordering Your Private World has a heart felt message that emanates from its core. This memorandum is profound yet simple. Live a disciplined life that outfits itself with principles and disappointments’ power will be lessened. The blows that will always come in a life that exists in a fallen world engulfed in sins power can surely be lessened through a reliance on grace’s display and disciplines practice. Among the principles advocated by MacDonald, great fruit will be produced, if the disciplines of a sacred disposition are effectively incorporated into the personal structure of life. Whether it is the fact that business isn’t always the by product of God’s activity, driveness focuses on the external components of life while conversely ignoring the private worlds important junctures, busyness cannot be allowed to lead into a period of neglecting the inner life, solitude and time alone with God are vitally important, or that Jesus used His time with supreme effectiveness, MacDonald lays out a brilliant strategy that is potent.
Called people do have characteristics that are personally enhancing. The called can take concrete steps toward the disciplining of the mind. Prayer and intercession for others will always be important. This is a book that should be read multiple times through life, in order to reinforce the messages content.
 Williams, Stanley, Life In Prison, Morrow Jr. Books, 2001