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Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines Hardcover – February 29, 2016
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“This book is about grace-empowered habits, and Spirit-empowered disciplines. These are the means God has given for drinking at the fountain of life. They don’t earn the enjoyment. They receive it. They are not payments for pleasure; they are pipelines. All of us leak. We all need inspiration and instruction for how to drink—again and again. Habitually. If you have never read a book on ‘habits of grace’ or ‘spiritual disciplines,’ start with this one. If you are a veteran lover of the river of God, but, for some reason, have recently been wandering aimlessly in the desert, this book will be a good way back.”
—John Piper, Founder, desiringGod.org; Chancellor, Bethlehem College & Seminary
“Simple. Practical. Helpful. In Habits of Grace, Mathis writes brilliantly about three core spiritual disciplines that will help us realign our lives and strengthen our faith. In a world where everything seems to be getting more complicated, this book will help us to downshift and refocus on the things that matter most.”
—Louie Giglio, Pastor, Passion City Church, Atlanta; Founder, Passion Conferences; author, The Comeback
“Although this little book says what many others say about Bible reading, prayer, and Christian fellowship (with two or three others tacked on), its great strength and beauty is that it nurtures my resolve to read the Bible and it makes me hungry to pray. If the so-called ‘means of grace’ are laid out as nothing more than duties, the hinge of sanctification is obligation. But in this case, the means of grace are rightly perceived as gracious gifts and signs that God is at work in us, which increases our joy as we stand on the cusp of Christian freedom under the glories of King Jesus.”
—D. A. Carson, Research Professor of New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; Cofounder, The Gospel Coalition
“Most people assume that disciplined training is necessary for attaining any skill— professional, academic, or athletic. But for some reason, Christians do not see this principle applying to their Christian lives. In his excellent book, Habits of Grace, David Mathis makes a compelling case for the importance of the spiritual disciplines, and he does so in such a winsome way that will motivate all of us to practice the spiritual disciplines of the Christian life. This book will be great both for new believers just starting on their journey and as a refresher course for those of us already along the way.”
—Jerry Bridges, author, The Pursuit of Holiness
“David Mathis has more than accomplished his goal of writing an introduction to the spiritual disciplines. What I love most about the book is how Mathis presents the disciplines—or ‘means of grace’ as he prefers to describe them—as habits to be cultivated in order to enjoy Jesus. The biblical practices Mathis explains are not ends—that was the mistake of the Pharisees in Jesus’s day and of legalists in our time. Rather they are means by which we seek, savor, and enjoy Jesus Christ. May the Lord use this book to help you place yourself ‘in the way of allurement’ that results in an increase of your joy in Jesus.”
—Donald S. Whitney, Associate Dean and Professor of Biblical Spirituality, School of Theology, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; author, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life and Praying the Bible
“So often, as we consider the spiritual disciplines, we think of what we must do individually. Mathis takes a different approach that is both insightful and refreshing. Along with our personal time of prayer and reading, we are encouraged to seek advice from seasoned saints, have conversations about Bible study with others, and pray together. The Christian life, including the disciplines, isn’t meant to be done in isolation. Mathis’s depth of biblical knowledge along with his practical guidance and gracious delivery will leave you eager to pursue the disciplines, shored up by the grace of God.”
—Trillia Newbell, author, God’s Very Good Idea; Enjoy; and Fear and Faith
“This is the kind of book I turn to periodically to help examine and recalibrate my heart, my priorities, and my walk with the Lord. David Mathis has given us a primer for experiencing and exuding ever-growing delight in Christ through grace-initiated intentional habits that facilitate the flow of yet fuller springs of grace into and through our lives.”
—Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author; Bible teacher; host, Revive Our Hearts
“There is not a Christian in the world who has mastered the spiritual disciplines. In fact, the more we grow in grace, the more we realize how little we know of hearing from God, speaking to God, and meditating on God. Our maturity reveals our inadequacy. Habits of Grace is a powerful guide to the spiritual disciplines. It offers basic instructions to new believers while bringing fresh encouragement to those who have walked with the Lord for many years. It is a joy to commend it to you.”
—Tim Challies, blogger, Challies.com
“When I was growing up, spiritual disciplines were often surrounded by an air of legalism. But today the pendulum has swung in the other direction: it seems that family and private devotions have fallen off the radar. The very word habits can be a turnoff, especially in a culture of distraction and autonomy. Yet character is largely a bundle of habits. Christ promises to bless us through his means of grace: his Word preached and written, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. Like a baby’s first cry, prayer is the beginning of that life of response to grace given, and we never grow out of it. Besides prayer, there are other habits that grace motivates and shapes. I’m grateful for Habits of Grace bringing the disciplines back into the conversation and, hopefully, back into our practice as well.”
—Michael Horton, J. Gresham Machen Professor of Theology and Apologetics, Westminster Seminary California; Host, White Horse Inn; author, Core Christianity
“David Mathis has given us a book on the spiritual disciplines that is practical, actionable, and accessible. He speaks with a voice that neither scolds nor overwhelms, offering encouragement through suggestions and insights to help even the newest believer find a rhythm by which to employ these means of grace. A treatment of the topic that is wonderfully uncomplicated and thorough, Habits of Grace offers both a place to start for beginners and a path to grow for those seasoned in the faith.”
—Jen Wilkin, Director of Classes and Curriculum, The Village Church; author, Women of the Word; None Like Him; and In His Image
“I am drawn to books that I know are first lived out in the messiness of life before finding their way onto clean sheets of paper. This is one of those books! David has found a well-worn path to Jesus through the habits of grace he commends to us. I am extremely grateful for David’s commitment to take the timeless message in this book and communicate it in language that is winsome to the mind and warm to the heart. This book has the breadth of a literature review that reads like a devotional. I am eager to get it into the hands of our campus ministry staff and see it being read in dorm rooms and student centers across the country.”
—Matt Bradner, Regional Director, Campus Outreach
“David Mathis has provided us with a gospel-driven, Word-centered, Christ-exalting vision of Christian spiritual practices. Furthermore, he understands that sanctification is a community project: the local church rightly looms large in Habits of Grace. This book is perfect for small group study, devotional reading, or for passing on to a friend who is thinking about this topic for the first time. I give it my highest recommendation.”
—Nathan A. Finn, Dean, School of Theology and Missions, Union University
About the Author
David Mathis serves as the executive editor at desiringGod.org, pastor at Cities Church, and adjunct professor at Bethlehem College & Seminary. He writes regularly at desiringGod.org, and he and his wife, Megan, have four children.
John Piper (DTheol, University of Munich) is the founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and the chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. He served for thirty-three years as the senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and is the author of more than fifty books, including Desiring God; Don’t Waste Your Life; This Momentary Marriage; A Peculiar Glory; and Reading the Bible Supernaturally.
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Mathis’ approach is to speak of “means of grace” in place of “spiritual disciplines.” The means of grace, he explains, are meant to become habits of grace in the life of the Christian. These habits of grace then become means of joy through which God is glorified and the Christian is edified. He defines three means of grace that together form the foundation of Christian life and growth: hearing God’s voice through Bible-reading, having God’s ear through prayer, and belonging to his body through fellowship. “My prayer for you,” he writes, “is that you would find the means of grace to be practical, realistic, and desirable in your pursuit of joy in Christ. I hope that there are many things here beneficial to a general Christian audience, but that there will be a special appeal to college students and young adults who are learning to fly for themselves for the first time in the various rhythms and practices of the Christian life.”
The book is structured around those three means of grace and each of them receives six short chapters. A short “coda” offers a brief look at three related practices that are sometimes considered spiritual disciplines: evangelism, stewardship of time, and stewardship of money. The simplicity and consistency of Mathis’ format is echoed in the chapter titles which all begin with a verb: Shape Your Life with the Words of Life; Read for Breath, Study for Depth; Warm Yourself at the Fire of Meditation; and so on. Many of the chapters also follow a consistent pattern where Mathis introduces a topic, provides biblical support for it, and then concludes with a series of practical tips or steps. Examples of these practical elements include Five Tips for Bible Memory, Twelve Gospel Passages To Soak In, Five Principles for Lifelong Learning, and Five Suggestions for Secret Prayer. This proves an effective format.
One element I found especially valuable in Mathis’ approach is its simplicity. By narrowing all the habits or disciplines into just three means of grace he makes these practices seem possible, even for those for whom this is new territory. Where many books can seem overwhelming, Mathis says “My prayer is that you will not come away exasperated that you simply don’t have time to put into practice all that this book commends. Rather, in its very structure, the book aims to help you see how realistic and life-giving it can be to integrate God’s means of grace into daily habits of life.” In that regard he succeeds well. This book really could set you up for a lifetime of enjoying God through the means he provides.
Mathis also succeeds in giving new enthusiasm to those of us who already have well-established patterns of participating in each of these means of grace. I read the Bible and pray daily; I am committed to my church and heavily involved in it. Yet Habits of Grace still challenged me to continue to grow in each of these ways. The biblical support was challenging and the practical tips were illuminating. Both gave me ideas and information for modifying and improving my commitment to those all-important means of grace.
Allow me to conclude with the blurb I wrote when I read the book for the first time many months ago: There is not a Christian in the world who has mastered the spiritual disciplines. In fact, the more we grow in grace, the more we realize how little we know of hearing from God, speaking to God, and meditating on God. Our maturity reveals our inadequacy. Habits of Grace is a powerful guide to the spiritual disciplines. It offers basic instructions to new believers while bringing fresh encouragement to those who have walked with the Lord for many years. It is a joy to commend it to you.
While not necessarily part of the scope of the work, it would have been helpful for Mathis to include a few more remarks about hearing God's voice in the Word (perhaps as an appendix). Whenever someone says "hear His voice," people usually think about an audible voice instead of reading Scripture. Some additional comments about this would also be helpful in light of other spiritual discipline books that advice "listening for God's voice in meditation."