I have read dozens of books that analyze what Jesus did during his life on earth and how it applies to us. This is the first book I have ever read that considered HOW he lived.
Here’s the concise version: He was never in a hurry.
More straightforward: He moved slowly.
Talk about countercultural! Can you imagine telling that to a friend when s/he comes to you for advice, asking how do I solve this problem? How do I fit this in my schedule? How do I fix this broken relationship? What would that friend say if you said to slow down?
Should we tell these hungry people to go find some food before the markets close? Oh no, just give them something to eat from what you have. Should you really stop to help the bleeding woman when a girl has died across town in her house? Stop and heal the woman. The girl will still be there. But you will come right away when Lazarus is dying, your good friend? No, you rest for three days. Then go and raise him from the dead.
Or say you’ve been baptized and heard God say “This is my son, with whom I am well pleased.” Wouldn’t you race out to do the ministry the world has been waiting for as soon as possible and at breakneck speed? No. Better to go battle the devil in the wilderness for forty days.
There’s some famous quote about some famous historical pious person who would pray for three hours every morning. Three hours. Someone asked him how he had time to pray. The response was “I’m too busy not to pray.” I was told this in order to learn the lesson to put God first, to let him direct the days, to remember that without him the days are disordered.
“What do I need to do to become the me I want to be?” (To John Ortberg this meant, what do I need to do to be the follower of Jesus I want to be?)
Willard’s answer: “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life...There is nothing else. Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day. You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.” (18-19)
I read this and remembered my time as a new mother, when I had just quit my job and scooped my six-month old daughter out of daycare and set both of us on a new schedule. That was a scary time. How would I order our days? How would I know I was the mom she needed me to be? And yet, as we proceeded through a combination of naps and playtime and singalongs and walks in the stroller, I remember commenting to someone that,
“Everything works out as long as we’re not in a hurry.”
I anticipated my daughter’s needs (she was the kind of baby who made her needs clearly known). I arrived early for events and appointments. I prioritized sleep above everything. Life was predictable and gentle and joyful, and really, I attributed it to our pace of living.
All to say, I see Comer/Ortberg/Willard’s point.
But now what? Now, how do I live like that while juggling the matrix of my four children’s needs? While juggling household duties? While juggling my own aspirations? How do I now fight the cultural pull to do as much as possible as quickly as possible at the highest level possible?
And indeed, Comer points out that “to choose to live an unhurried life in our day is somewhat like taking a vow of poverty in earlier centuries; it is scary. It is an act of faith.” (xiv) How can we reconcile the world’s demands with the Bible’s teaching, “we urge you, brothers and sisters...to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life”? (1 Thessalonians 4:10-11, emphasis mine)
Comer has some suggestions, some that sound insurmountable, but some that sound possible. I’m guessing we start with the possible and then work on it. Because he’s not the kind of pastor to let you off the hook if you’re in a busy season of life. He urges you to pursue this slowdown (though at a gentle pace!) no matter your season, which feels a bit jarring. His aim is this goal:
“The good of being delivered from hurry is not simply pleasure but the ability to do calmly and effectively -- with strength and joy -- that which really matters.” (xiii)
“If you want to experience the life “to the full” of Jesus, his nonstop, conscious enjoyment of God’s presence and world, all you have to do is adopt not only his theology and ethics but also his lifestyle. Just follow his way. / That’s it! / Just take his life as a template for your own. Take on his habits and practices. As an apprentice, copy your Rabbi’s every move. After all, that’s the whole point of apprenticeship.” (86)
How do we live like him then? How do we slow down and prioritize our relationships with God and others?
Comer returns to these spiritual practices: silence, solitude, Sabbath, simplicity and slowing (the last of which he acknowledges is not a traditionally recognized spiritual practice).
Regarding the practices of silence and solitude, he reminds us that “the wilderness isn’t the place of weakness; it’s the place of strength.” (125) and “the busier and more in demand and famous Jesus became...the more he withdrew to his quiet place to pray.” (130) These practices “create an environment for attention and connection to God” (135)
Regarding the Sabbath, I think Comer has a great take on what this day was supposed to be when God spoke it into being. However, he skims over centuries of misinterpretation that left generations of people, children especially, repeatedly annoyed at how the Sabbath limited their enjoyment of free time. I think there is still a lingering hangover from this Puritanical phase of the Christian journey, and it’s up to each of us to bring back and renew the narrative of the Sabbath.
Sabbath, Comer writes, is meant to “mitigate against the chronic restlessness of our condition and culture and [tap] into Jesus’ rest for our souls” (148) God commands the Sabbath in the Old Testament, first in Exodus as rest and worship and later in Deuteronomy, as resistance to the “culture of more” from Egypt, which ties into the next practice of simplicity.
I had heard/read a lot of Comer’s examples before -- about how our post WWII economy intentionally created a consumerist culture, and how once you’re in the middle class, more money doesn’t buy happiness. But I wondered, what does all of that have to do with hurry?
Comer offers this connection: “One of the many reasons that happiness is dropping in the West even as the Dow is rising is because materialism has sped up our society to a frenetic, untenable pace. / As Alan Fadling insightfully said, / “The drive to possess is an engine for hurry.”” (190, Alan Fadling, An Unhurried Life: Following Jesus’ Rhythms of Work and Rest, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2013, emphasis mine).
I like this interpretation of what it means to have healthy eyes because it reminds us why simplicity is important, how it helps fix our eyes on what matters most:
“In Jesus’ day, if people said you had a “healthy eye, [referring to Matthew 6:22-23], it had a double meaning. It meant that (1) you were focused and living with a high degree of intentionality in life, and (2) you were generous to the poor. When you looked at the world, you saw those in need and did your best to help out. An “unhealthy” eye (or as the King James Version has it, an “evil” eye) was the exact opposite. When you looked out on the world, you were distracted by all that glitters and lost your focus on what really matters. In turn, you closed your fist to the poor.” (196)
Lastly, Comer shares some ideas on the practice of slowing, like driving the speed limit, arriving early for appointments, setting phone limits, and cooking his own food, all times he intentionally “cultivat[es] patience by deliberately choosing to place ourselves in positions where we simply have to wait.” (221, quoting John Ortberg, The Life You’ve Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People, 83)
In the end, he reiterates that the practices themselves are not the end goal. “The end isn’t silence and solitude; it’s to come back to God and our true selves. / It isn’t Sabbath; it’s a restful, grateful life of ease, appreciation, wonder, and worship. / It isn’t simplicity: it’s freedom and focus on what matters most. / It isn’t even slowing; it’s to be present, to God, to people, to the moment.” (247-8)
How do we know we should practice these things? Because Jesus lived this way. Jesus spent time sleeping, praying, observing Sabbath, going off for (long) periods of solitude.
If you think you might not have time to read this book, consider this: Comer writes with a near breathless pace -- in short 1-2 sentence paragraphs because he knows his readers don't have the attention span for more. It’s easy reading, but above all, I recommend this book for its refreshingly new view of Jesus: the Jesus who lingers, lounges and loves steadily.
Here you will find a catalog of my writing and reflections.