There have been many books written about spiritual disciplines in the last few years, Habits of Grace has taken a different approach. It is essentially a book about practising spiritual disciplines as a means of receiving God’s grace. The grace of God is essential for every Christian. It is by His grace that any of us repent and believe and receive new life in Christ; and it is his grace that sustains and transforms us. In this book, Mathis distils the myriad spiritual disciplines and proposes that God extends His grace to His people in an ongoing way through three regular channels – hearing his voice (the bible), having his ear (prayer) and belonging to his people (fellowship). All throughout the book Mathis suggests and encourages all Christians to ‘position’ ourselves in these channels in such a way as to receive maximum grace; in other words, to practice spiritual disciplines as a means of receiving God’s grace.
The book is divided into four parts: The Word, Prayer, Fellowship and CODA. In the first chapter of each part Mathis lays out a helpful definition and general principle of the main topic. Each subsequent chapter fleshes out the established principle through various subtopics. For example, the first part deals with both reading and study of God’s word, meditation, personal application, memorisation and resolutions of lifelong learning. It is in these subsequent chapters that the book becomes helpfully practical. While nothing is prescribed as right or wrong, the author gives some suggestions as to how these habits of grace could look in the daily life of the reader.
ACCESSIBLE YET UN-COMPROMISED
Mathis, by his own admission, has drawn heavily on Piper, Whitney and Keller and any reader familiar with those authors will notice it very early in the book. I would not want to offend the author in any way by saying that I have found this book to be “Piper-light”. I do say it, but I mean it as a compliment. I have enjoyed the lighter tone of this book. In some wonderful way it makes the profound thinking and insights of Piper, Whitney and Keller much more accessible to those of us who struggle through the more complex style of writing, without compromising any of the content. The point of difference, and where I feel this book really comes into its own, is the third part; Christian fellowship as a mean of grace. There is a school of thought amongst Christians that says ‘I don’t have to go to church to be a Christian’ or ‘I can have church at home’ (a seemingly viable option in an age of streaming and podcasts etc.). Mathis makes clear at the very start of the section that ‘the deepest, most durable form of fellowship is covenantal.’ (pg. 149). All Christians should be fully and formally committed to a local church. It is only here, in Christian fellowship, that we can be both the recipient and source of God’s grace to others. In His word and in prayer, grace comes from God to us, individually. In fellowship, God’s grace can come to others through us! Mathis defines fellowship in a way that may transform your attitude to church, then goes on to discuss being an active part of corporate worship, being together under the teaching of the pulpit, the sacraments and church discipline. I can honestly say this section was personally the most challenging and also most rewarding.
There are many other spiritual disciplines that Mathis does not address in this book, believing that all disciplines must flow from the three he discusses through the book, but as a final word he deals very briefly with evangelism, money and time. The short chapters do not allow for an in depth discussion. Rather they encourage every reader to use what’s gone before to evaluate their personal evangelism, time-management and giving. And as ever, they are immensely practical and thought-provoking.
If you have never read a book on spiritual disciplines before, I do recommend this as an excellent starting point to frame both your theology and practical approach to develop excellent habits as a means of receiving God’s ongoing grace to you.