“It is in this endless sea of his grace that we walk the path of the Christian life and take steps of grace-empowered effort and initiative” (pg. 24). The effort and initiative within the Christian life is not to earn the grace of God but a result of the grace of God. While knowing that our good works are like dirty rags (Is. 64:6) and are not meritorious of God’s favor in themselves, we recognize that God’s calling to conform to Christlikeness occurs mightily when spiritual disciplines become a pattern of our life.
An honest self-assessment by any believer would reveal a lack of appearance by spiritual disciplines within a person’s life. Even discontentment with the status quo is not sufficient enough motivation to make them a priority. What is? By the grace of God for the glory of God through gladness in God. With this premise, author David Mathis hopes to aide Christians by shifting the focus of spiritual discipline to the enjoyment of God’s grace in his book Habits of Grace.
David Mathis is not only a pastor in Minneapolis, but also an executive with Desiring God and adjunct faculty of Bethlehem College & Seminary, both born out of the ministry of John Piper. From the outset he tells readers of Piper’s influence in the completion of this book. While a reading of the book may reveal a similar ethos to Piper, Mathis’ writing is distinct to his own style and thoughts, able to stand on its own merit.
The author takes readers on an expedition to show that spiritual disciplines are more than another checklist task in the Christian life, but are actually a means to enjoying the grace of God. In doing so, Mathis helps reform a person’s view from an ‘I have to’ attitude to an ‘I want to’ attitude. Spiritual disciplines become a means for enjoying God as the fulfillment of the gospel. To make his points, he has organized the book into three sections focusing on Scripture, prayer, and fellowship. Recognizing there are other aspects of the Christian life that can be covered, Mathis adds a fourth section that briefly covers the Great Commission, giving, and stewardship of time, but he acknowledges this is not a book meant to cover every aspect. Therefore, his primary focus centers on the first three disciplines.
While only recently released as a book in February, the project began as a series of articles that were previously published elsewhere. At the encouragement of others, Mathis began to assemble and edit them to produce something that was available to readers in one place. At times this contributes a lack of connectivity throughout the book. From one chapter to the next, readers must take on the task of making connections between chapters or between chapters and the overarching topic. Most of these relationships are easy to connect if one is not a newer believer, but it does add to the work that readers must undertake in reading the book.
Despite the disconnected aspect of the book, the book’s concepts are easily accessible for readers. Almost immediately upon entering the text, readers should be struck by three things about Mathis’ writing:
- It’s easy to read: The book is incredibly easy to ready. The author writes with conciseness and clarity that means readers are not having to consistently reread to gain understanding.
- It’s filled with Scripture: I’ve known authors (and you probably know them to) who have had wonderful books rejected because they contained too many Scripture references. Yet it is attention to Scripture that allows us to evaluate the truthfulness and worthiness of any other writing.
- It is practical: Much of the book is outlined to explain the importance of something, especially how it can cause a person to enjoy God, and then gives practical insights of how to put them into practice. Problems with consistent prayer? Allow God to convict you through David Mathis’ writing and then allow him to help you with tips.
Because of these three features, the return on investment of your time in reading this book is immense. The author has put together a book sure to provide help in your walk with our Lord.
There is an additional aspect that can be added to David Matthis’ writing that readers will find benefit. He does not simply reuse the same insights that have been repeated from author to author. Instead he offers a unique perspective that, in my opinion, is far more convicting as to why this topic is so important. As way of example, the importance of memorizing Scripture is reiterated often with the same reasons as always. Yet, Mathis directs our attention differently by suggesting the following:
When we learn Scripture by heart, we’re not just memorizing ancient, enduringly relevant texts, but we’re listening to and learning the voice of our Creator and Redeemer himself. When we memorize lines from the Bible, we are shaping our minds in the moment to mimic the structure and mind-set of the mind of God (pg. 68).
How powerful it is to bring forth such a perspective! It is with such God-centered profundity that Mathis approaches the habits of grace.
Habits of Grace is a book that should be afforded a place in everyone’s library, assuming that it is read and enjoyed and not simply filling up shelf space. Being that these are areas that every believer struggles with, readers are sure to find the book to be foundational in their own walks. After reading the book, I would make one suggestion to others though: read it after or in conjunction with John Piper’s work God is the Gospel. Together, the books build off one another to form an impressive and potent result in your daily walk with God for the glory of God.
You can purchase either of the two books mentioned here by clicking the following links:
- Habits of Grace by David Mathis
- God is the Gospel by John Piper (A PDF version of this book is also available for free at desiringgod.org if you don’t prefer a hardcopy book).