At the time of my first reading, I was a stay at home Mum with two very small children. Both our mothers were unwell, we'd had to move unexpectedly within a few months of Steph's birth, our tiny income had fallen even further. Bob was coming to the end of his theological studies, and we were starting to look for the church where he would be the Pastor [yet another house move] and there were just so many things causing external stress. I really was struggling with all the pressures of life.
This book helped me to get things into perspective, to realise that if I got myself sorted out and back to some sort of spiritual equilibrium, I would be able to cope better.
I looked forward to reading it again - these last two years have seen major upheavals for me - giving up my various teaching posts in Leicester, moving house, leaving old friends and making new ones, helping my daughters through significant changes in their lives...So yes, it was probably time to dust off this book and read it again.
MacDonald divides his way of ordering one's Private World, maintaining a strong and healthy 'Inner Life' into five sections
1 motivation 2 use of time 3 wisdom and knowledge 4 spiritual strength5 restorationThe book is peppered with quotes from Christians and non Christians alike, and full of anecdotes about those who have succeeded, and those who admit to failure, in managing themselves.
I don't think I disagree with any of the points he makes, or feel they are not valid. It is good to remind ourselves that we need
- to step back sometimes, to say NO to the demands which others unfairly make on our time, [I have to realize that there is nothing wrong with laying aside other work for the purpose of enjoying Godʼs gift of special time]
- to listen for God's still small voice directing our actions.[Make a commitment to have time with God early in the morning and do not compromise it]
- to take a Sabbath, [A rest-less person is a restless person.]
- to be intelligent, thinking people.[ Some Christians appear to be afraid to think.]
- to develop habits of Christian Mindfulness [God wants us to be mindful people, not mindless people. Mindfulness is a matter of discipline and hard work. Mindlessness is the result of laziness and fear]
Which I suppose it was. It was telling the reader to step back from the relentless 24/7 treadmill and get some peace with God, inner calm amidst the raging turmoil.
And the contemporaneous anecdotes he shares reflect that - but he also has a penchant for quoting old hymnwriters, missionaries and preachers from a century or two ago. In some sections it feels almost 'quaint' now. Too many of these names would seem irrelevant or unknown to people today. I suspect he is also aiming at preachers and Bible students who would be more tuned in to the references to characters from Church History.
Furthermore MacDonald was writing in a pre-Internet age. He doesn't cover the impact on our inner calm of social media, easy access to inappropriate websites, or the relentless tones of the mobile phone, tablet or laptop, telling us someone wants our attention through text, email, or Facebook. Because those things just weren't there when he wrote the book.
The book was updated in 2003, again to good reviews. It would be interesting to see what the author has added [although I note from here that the chapter titles remain unchanged] But even the update is 14 years old now, and life [and technology] has moved on even further.
There is an excellent piece [based on the original book] which summarises the chapters and gives salient quotations. Read this if you want to get a better idea of the book and its contents.
CONCLUSION - I think I would want to rate it just **** - back then I might have said 5*. I am not sure that now it would be my first choice to lend to someone. So this one, whilst it is good, and did prove helpful to me 30 or so years ago, is actually not going to make the ABTIK list after all.