The Best Book I've Never Read

Eugene Peterson wrote a book called Long Obedience in The Same Direction. (He also wrote The Message version of the bible -- which makes him a pretty smart guy.) The first time I heard about Long Obedience In The Same Direction it struck me as a powerful -- and counter-cultural --- title. I mean, is there anything more antithetical to today's mindset? Today it's all about speed, ease, 15 days to this,  30 days to that, tipping points, and going viral.

I'm not saying that's bad in every situation. When it comes to clearing up my skin, getting my whites whiter, or filing my taxes, I like speed. Unfortunately, for the most part, that's not how it works with joy.  I say "for the most part" because there are, in fact, a few simple ways to move our minds and hearts toward joy. Things like counting our blessings (read my "Joy Jolt" blog for more on this) or seeing something in nature that just astonishes you or watching a movie where true compassion wins the day.

But deep, all-pervasive joy is, I believe, born out of habits and disciplines that we develop and lean into over an extended period of time. When I started to write The Joy Model: A Step-by-Step Guide to Peace, Purpose and Balance, I knew there was no way it could be a pithy little 20-page book with pictures to go on your coffee table or in the doctor's waiting room. It would be possible to write a book like that and have it be inspirational, but not transformational.  I want transformation for people.  

So what are the disciplines and habits that lead to the type of joy that transcends circumstances?  Here are 10:

1. Slow down:  Busyness sucks the life out of us.  Legend has it that when asked "What's the key to the spiritual life?" Eugene Peterson, John Ortberg and Dallas Willard conferred for a minute or two and replied "Aggressively eradicate hurry from your life." I've gotten into the habit of leaving a 15-20% buffer in my calendar daily.  It gives me time to be more thoughtful about my work... and provides the flexibility to respond to the inevitable phone call or person that pops up needing help.  

2. Dig Into the Bible. Read it. Study it. Listen to it. Pray about it. Switch up the versions you're reading: Read the King James one day and The Message the next. www.biblegateway.com is an excellent tool for this. Commit to doing it daily.  It doesn't have to be first thing in morning. During your commute, during lunch, during your workout, or before you go to bed is just fine.  If you miss a day or four, don't freak out. Just get back at it again. 

3. Read and listen (gotta love www.audible.com) to the best Christian books out there. Permeate your brain with the Truth not the drivel of TV.  I love Ortberg, Keller, Tozer, Willard, Nouwen, Blackaby, Eldredge, Chan, Munroe, Yancey...

4. Train your brain to laugh and lighten up.  Enjoy people more. See the humor in things. Goof around a little bit now and then with friends and co-workers.

5. Notice the mistakes you make and cut people some slack when they mess up. This has been a great discipline for me lately. The other day I was moving a bed frame with my 18 year old son and strongly warned him not to bang it against the wall. 10 seconds later, I banged it against the wall ;-) 

6. Find the motivation to get yourself in the best physical shape ever.  Why not do this? Don't make a big deal about it. Don't put a ton of pressure on yourself to do it. Just commit to it and go have fun doing it. Check out www.faithfulworkouts.com for simple, inspiring tools and videos.  I hear the girl who runs that is cute. (P.S. It's my wife ;-)

7. Find a cause in the world that you could live or die for and get involved. This takes sustained discipline because most people don't have a clue about their life purpose. It takes discipline to discover your calling. And ongoing sensitivity to the spirit of God to know when He's calling you to something new.

8.  Get your finances in order. Getting your budget and your heart aligned with what scripture has to say about money takes discipline. Take your eye off of your earning, saving, spending and giving disciplines for a year and you'll find joy eluding you.  

9. Encourage people and serve them. Some peoples' love language is Words of Affirmation. Catch them doing something great -- big or small-- and let them know that you notice. Others' love language is Acts of Service.  Look for ways to make their lives easier and help out in creative ways.  Read Gary Chapman's book The 5 Love Languages to learn more. (See my blog on "You Catch More Flies with Honey" for more on this.)

10. Most importantly, stay A.L.I.V.E. -- Always Living In View of Eternity.  You are forgiven of sin. Free from the compulsion to sin.  Loved and liked by God. Free from regret. Inseparable from God. And nothing crumby on earth can outweigh the peace we have available to us now or the awesomeness we'll have in heaven.

Long obedience In The Same Direction --  One of these days I'll actually read that book.;-)  

Jeff Spadafora5 Comments