John Ortberg. The Life You Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997, 2002.
Someone recommended this book to me years ago. He said that the title was a bit cheesy, but that it is a really good book that he found to be helpful to him in his Christian life. Years after my friend’s recommendation, I decided to read the book, probably because I was looking for guidance on how to see and to live the Christian life.
Writing from my current perspective and where I am, I found the book to be all right. Ortberg is well-read, and that comes out in his writing. Have I decided to make any significant changes to my life after reading this book? Well, mostly no, but I am open on some things.
Let me share a bit with you about myself. Over the past four years, I have prayed each day for at least ten minutes. At first, I just talked to God, sharing what was on my mind. Later, I was finding my prayers to be rather aimless and self-centered, so I decided to incorporate the reading of Scripture into my ten-minute prayer time. I initially felt that I had to comment on the Scriptural passage I was reading for most if not all of those ten minutes. Then, I got to the Book of Psalms and found that I had a hard time finding something to say about the Psalm passage I was reading, so I just read the passage then commented on whatever I wanted (usually my life) for the rest of the ten minutes. I did not want to fall into a pattern of not absorbing the Scripture, however, so I decided that I would read a passage, say at least something about it, and then talk about what I wanted. My ten minute prayers currently vary. Sometimes, I interact with the passage during all of the ten minutes. Usually, there is a mix between commenting on the passage and commenting on other things. When I find that I have nothing to say, I look at a list of people to pray for, which my church provides every week, and pray for people on that list. But don’t think that I don’t pray for people otherwise: I do.
I tend to have a sense of accomplishment when I get through a book of the Bible. On hard days, or days when I am enthusiastic about God or my reading of Scripture, I may add another ten minutes of prayer time, or another. Moreover, my reading of Scripture is rather academic. It consists of me noticing puzzling details and looking up commentaries to see how they iron those details out, or drawing conclusions about the ideology of the writers of the biblical books, comparing it with the ideologies of other biblical writers. I would say that the Bible seems rather human to me when I read it, not as inerrant. Yet, it also appears to me to have a divine power or authority to it, but I cannot quite pin down where the human ends and the divine begins, and vice versa. Do I get any guidance from the Bible on how to live my life? I would say yes, on some level: I struggle with practical ramifications of biblical passages, and I learn about humility, discipline, and love and compassion for others.
Overall, I would say that I am satisfied with my current practice of doing devotions. Or, at least, I am hesitant to change. Ortberg gave me things to think about: about not being afraid to go slowly through biblical or devotional readings if one feels a divine encouragement to linger, to talk with God for five minutes each day about whatever, etc. On the first suggestion, I will probably continue my practice of meeting a schedule in my biblical reading. Still, I do wonder: I go through these biblical books so fast, and I forget pieces of what I read and learned. I read Leviticus a year or so ago, and I cannot tell you what I learned from that reading. Is there a place for being slow and steady in my reading of Scripture? Ortberg talked about chewing on a single verse or passage throughout the day, especially if that passage is relevant to what one is concerned about. I am open to that.
In what ways was I challenged or encouraged to change in my reading of Ortberg’s book? Well, I am encouraged to ask the Holy Spirit for guidance on how to interact with people before I interact with them. I also know that I have a problem with approval addiction, desperately craving acceptance from others. Ortberg says that is a problem because that can prevent people from speaking truth to power, or saying things that people do not want to hear. I am not particularly concerned about that, at least not right now. I just do not want to feel like garbage when I am rejected or ignored by others.
The book also had good stories. Ortberg referred to a psychologist, Milton Rokeach, who wrote about his attempts to deal with three people who thought they were the Messiah. Ortberg wrote about this in his chapter on humility, on realizing that the universe does not revolve around us personally!
These are my thoughts about how I interacted with the book, from where I am right now. Others may have a different experience. I may even have a different experience with it were I to reread it years later. I will not linger in it right now, though, but will move on to another book!