Title: Authentic Faith
Author: Gary Thomas
Length: 253 pages
Synopsis: In this book, Gary Thomas attempts to illuminate the rhetorical question on the book’s cover: “What if life isn’t mean to be perfect but we are meant to trust the one who is?” Thomas discusses ten spiritual disciplines: selflessness, waiting, suffering, persecution, social mercy, forgiveness, mourning, contentment, sacrifice, and hope and fear. He places each discipline in its scriptural context by providing chapter-and-verse. He also places each discipline in its context in the Christian classics to illustrate that each discipline has a basis in antiquity. Lastly, he provides modern day examples of how the disciplines work in the world in which we live. This is a contemplative book, but one that has a basis in practicality, as well.
My Thoughts: Gary Thomas is my favorite writer of devotional literature. After I read Devotions for Sacred Parenting, I knew I had to read more of Thomas’s works. I picked this one up because I was in need of a little encouragement and yes, discipline, in the new year. This book delivers, for sure. The subject matter of this book is heavy, but in light of eternity, our immortal souls, and God’s purpose for us on this earth, it is worth being made to feel uncomfortable to achieve eternal fruit. Thomas’s style reminds me a little bit of Philip Yancey’s style, so if you appreciate Yancey’s works on faith in the modern world, you might like Thomas’s writing, as well. In one sense, I almost felt like I was reading “Christian Classics for Dummies” (which is no reflection on the author, but rather, on me and my ignorance), but this book did whet my appetite to read some of these works for myself. His allusions to Christians writers run the gamut from C.S. Lewis to John of the Cross, John Calvin to Augustine. This is one of those books I think I need to go back and read every few months.
I was in the van the other night after I had finished reading this book (it is one of those books that really stays on your mind) and the song “Slow Fade” by Casting Crowns came on the radio. Although this song can be taken to mean many different things (for example, the video deals with the dissolution of a marriage, etc.), it really hit home to me how easy it is to become lax in our relationship with God. It really is a “slow fade.” Watch this video and stir yourself up to have an authentic faith like the one about which Gary Thomas writes.
Thomas says so many quote-worthy and thought-provoking things, I can’t resist sharing (quite) a few quotes. These quotes are for my benefit as much as they are for yours, my readers, so feel free to pick and choose among these to read the ones in which you’re most interested, or skip them all together and just read the book for yourself. You won’t be sorry!
On friendship with God and our need for these disciplines:
On a deeper level, I believe many of us are hungry and thirsty for a faith based on sacrifice instead of on self-absorption and simplistic denial. We don’t want to become Christians in order to become an improved man or woman, but an entirely new man or woman–people who live with a different outlook on life, who find joy while others pursue happiness, who find meaning in what others see as something to simply be overcome or cured, who want to drink deeply of life–with its mountains and valleys, twists and turns–rather than to “rise above it.” (11)
This is the defining difference in Paul’s life. He didn’t improve on his morality after meeting Christ, because Pharisees went out of their way to live blameless lives. Paul didn’t pray more as a Christian, because Pharisees were devoted to regular and public prayer. Paul didn’t fast more, because Pharisees were masters of spiritual discipline. The only real difference in Paul’s life is that he became centered on the freedom of Christ’s provision, which enabled him to love God by serving others instead of being obsessed about his own religious achievements. (21)
The spirit of waiting is the spirit of godliness; it’s a combination of contentment, gentleness, and humility–three key Christian virtues. The plain truth is that we are not given all we want on this earth. Regardless of how much God blesses us in this life, if we are spiritually in tune with the Holy Spirit, we will live in perpetual waiting and anticipation, in a holy but peaceful anxiety for the better life that is to come in eternity. For us it always just past Christmas Eve but never quite Christmas morning. We can smell the turkey basting, we can see the presents under the tree, we can anticipate teh joy on our children’s faces, but the full celebration is just miutes beyond our reach: “Here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14). (41)
[Thomas] Watson [a seventeenth-century Puritan pastor who ministered in London and wrote A Divine Cordial] goes on to call afflictions the “medicine that God uses to carry off our spiritual diseases,” while they also conform us to Christ. They loosen our hearts from the world–an experiential crowbar, of sorts, reminding us that we are not tomake our home here–and they even make us happy, if we respond to them by drawing near to God. (63)
On social mercy:
As our young people form their life plans, choose their majors in college, and begin preparing for their vocations, will we urge them to go after just the top-paying jobs, or wil we encourage them to lay their gifts at the feet of Jesus and see where he leads them? They may still end up on Wall Street–but some may also be called to inner-city Los Angeles. (121)
I’m suggesting that we gain a new respect for the discipline of mourning–that we let ourselves mourn our sins, mourn our losses, mourn the rebellious state of the world, surely not to the extent that we forget joy and grace and renewal, but enough so that we recognize the discipline of mourning as a legitimate tool, a true blessing that God provides for us as fallen people in a fallen world. (164)
When a loved one dies, when a friend moves away, when something in our life changes, we can choose to thank God for the joy he gave us in the past, or we can wallow in misery over the joy we think we will be denied in the future. The choice is ours. (179)
Social situations often assault our spiritual integrity. We face external and internal pressures every day that ruthlessly challenge our commitment to relationships and mission integrity. Until we value obedience over affirmation, integrity over achievement, and relationships over “success,” our souls are literally in peril. Contentment is a safe harbor, a true shelter, from the desires that would destroy all that we hold as most precious. (190)
The obsessive rewriting of our desires and expectations can drive us and those around us crazy. There is a place of rest, a time to cool off, snuggle in, and be what god wants us to be. In this blessed place called contentment, ambitious strivings are replaced by firm resolution, daydreams of glory-filled service give way to patient and humble obedience, restlessness transforms itself into peace, and the wormwood of bitterness becomes the life-giving elixir of thanksgiving. (191)
What makes sacrifice so difficult is that we don’t get to choose our crosses[. . .]God has placed us in settings where certain sacrifices are necessary. The only thing that can make these sacrifices precious is recognizing where the sacrifice is pointing. To repeat the wisdom of de Sales, “The more a cross is from God, the more we should love it.” We’re not maschists; we don’t enjoy pain for its own sake, but we value obedience to God and the intimacy it builds over any pleasure that takes us further away from enjoying his presence. In this light, God’s invitations to sacrifice are not April Fool’s pranks; they are February’s Valentines, if we receive them in this spirit. They become precious because of the One who sent them to us. They marks us as his, and thus we wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world. (200)
I think many Christians stand at [. . .a] crossroads. In years past, we were excited about our faith. We sacrificed for it, disciplined ourselves to cultivate a prayer time, risked our reputation by engaging in evangelism, and generally did the things Scripture calls us to do. But now we’ve reached a plateau. We think we’ve passed through sacrifice and come out on the other side, but I think we’ll find [. . .] that sacrificing for our faith is something we need to do. The reason we feel disillusioned about our life and faith is not because Christianity isn’t fulfilling, but because we’ve stopped thinking and acting like a Christian–someone who has sold all she has for the pearl of great value, someone who considers everything a loss compared to the greatness of knowing Jesus Christ. Without this opportunity to suffer, we will [. . .] become undisciplined robots who think that relief is found in leisure and irresponsibility when in fact it comes from being wholly devoted to God’s kingdom. (203)
And I could go on and on, but at the risk of republishing the whole book here on my blog, I’ll stop. If you want to be challenged in your faith, and as odd as this sounds, simultaneously comforted, read this book.