Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Jesus Life (A Book Review)

Last May I painted a group mural at a retreat. When it was dry, we each tore off a piece or two of it to take home. The piece I wanted disappeared quickly, so I grabbed a section with this word:

I wasn’t sure then why that word grabbed me, but I took that part anyway.

Around that same time, I received an update that Steve Smith, a personal acquaintance of mine, had finished the manuscript for his newest book about Jesus’ life. I remembered him mentioning to me that living life as Jesus did was an abundant life and that is exactly what He offers to us as well.

I started using the piece of the mural to pray more often for everything related to The Jesus Life, including the needed revisions, the final steps with the publishers, and the release. It released today, and I’m excited to offer you a review of this book!

The Jesus Life is about recovering our life, and not us alone. Jesus shows us how.

My first thought after the first paragraph of The Jesus life was, Dang, Steve. You aren’t messing around! And I’m so glad. So glad that the abundant life talked about in this book isn’t just about having our sins forgiven or creating a list of add-ons to Christianity.

Each of us can name what’s not working in our lives, and I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of the simple answers of “just read your Bible more” or “go to church” that are most often given when we look for help.

These responses are not adequate, and there’s a reason—it’s not what Jesus did. There is so much more to the way of transformation. This is what the author uncovers, specifically eight ways that Jesus lived that we can too.

In the pages of this book, we discover that Jesus lived His life with rhythms. He didn’t try to balance more or always be available to everyone. He lived an ordinary life, day to day and year to year. What would our lives be like if we stepped into similar rhythms?

The good thing is that the author offers some practical ways to do just that. At the end of nearly every chapter, there are ideas for experiencing life in the same that Jesus did. Rather than feeling a new set of tasks, I found that I am already doing some of these things, such as birthday celebrations to honor our family members and fostering good conversation with my kids around the dinner table. You may be already doing some of the ideas too!

On the flipside, I found there is also much to keep in mind as I move forward in my days. I felt a bit “undone” after each chapter. The authenticity and intentionality with which Jesus lived His life is beautiful. He lived this way because He knew firmly who He was.

Recovering our lives means staying tuned in to things like how our families spoke or didn’t speak, as the case may be, into our identities. Jesus knew all about that as well. His family included half-siblings and everyone in his hometown probably knew what happened with Mary and Joseph prior to his birth.

Jesus also knew about companionship. He chose twelve individuals in particular. We can’t do our days alone. We weren’t meant to, yet Steve reminds us that our abundance is found first in Jesus as we navigate relationships in our lives. He helps us dismantle our disillusions that others can live up to the expectations we create for them. I wonder what that means, not only for our one-on-one friendships, but also for our church groups?

The hardest chapter for me to read was “The Way of the Table.” I am not naturally gifted in hospitality. I love the relational aspect of getting together with friends or family, but then my heart sinks when I remember I should also feed them when we gather, a feat that many enjoy but sends me into anxiety. This chapter offers release to do something simple when we gather, such as setting out a pot of soup around a table. A multiple-course meal is not the point. A great quote:

…it’s never really about the food; it’s about the life around the table that matters. (page 144)

One of my other favorite chapters was “The Way of Suffering.” Not one of us can say we aren’t acquainted with suffering. Unfortunately, many of our Christian communities treat hard times as something to “get over” and move on from. At the beginning of this section, Steve states,

We’d prefer escape. We think a good life is a life immune from suffering. What’s striking to realize is that the very life of Jesus began in sorrow and suffering. (page 197)

Then, after sharing some examples from his own life, the author says these comforting words,

The God who is with us is also with us in our pain. God does not turn His head as we live in agony. It is inconceivable to think that God is indifferent in our suffering. We live in the assurance that God notices our tears. (pg 213)

What an amazing thought! This is the way of Jesus. This is the way we can choose to live, noticing that Jesus paved the way and that He stands ready to walk us through our own days and years.

I have to admit I had a hard time writing this review. Not because the book is lacking. In fact, I can’t think of a single criticism to offer. I had a hard time writing this review because there are so many good, truthful, and encouraging quotes I want to mention.

I can’t share them all, so I will simply have to urge you to get a copy of the book yourself. It’s a perfect thing to read as we move into Holy Week, a time when we ponder Jesus’ life, remember His death, and celebrate His resurrection.

The Jesus Life is a great way to discover and share His ways. Won’t you let Him show you what it means to live an abundant life?

Stephen Smith and his wife, Gwen, are the founders of Potter's Inn, an intentional ministry devoted to spiritual formation and the care of the soul. Steve has also written several other books, including Soul Custody: Choosing to Care for the One and Only You (another one of my favorites!), The Lazarus Life: Spiritual Formation for Ordinary People, and Soul Shaping: A Practical Guide to Transformation.

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