I first read Gordon MacDonald’s Ordering Your Private World when it was originally released in 1984. He had been our pastor at Grace Chapel in Lexington, Massachusetts, for the prior two years where everyone affectionately called him Pastor Mac. Today, he is the chancellor at Denver Seminary. When the book was released, I was in the midst of frantic, high-pressured seminary training preparing for a life of ministry; which he had inspired me, and many others, to undertake.
I pre-ordered the 2017 release because it was promoted as “newly revised and updated,” and that is exactly what it is. Gordon MacDonald expertly weaves 34 more years of successes, failures, and lessons-learned into this version. He also updates or removes dated references and illustrations.
This book is about the need each of us has to bring order to chaotic, busy, external lives because exterior busyness often results in an empty interior soul. The author writes, “There is a temptation to ignore the existence of our private world because it does not shout quite so loudly when neglected. It can be effectively shortchanged for large periods of time before it gives way to a sinkhole-like cave-in,” when the neglected private world can no longer hold the weight of our external worlds.
Too many Christians are running on empty. Too many pastors are pumping from a dry soul. And the rest of us are just exhausted and forced to do the next thing that someone demands; whatever that happens to be. Too many lives are out of our control, and too many of us have suffered burnout unnecessarily. Gordon MacDonald was not immune. He experienced his own sinkhole.
Drawing from extensive examples, the author explains how he, through trial and error, learned to bring his public and private worlds into order. He learned which spiritual disciplines deepened and enriched his daily relationship with Christ, and which work strategies carved out time for meaningful relationships with his family. His personality type didn’t make this easy for him, but he forced himself to do it anyway.
The author’s experiences and timeless insights can help us learn to effectively deepen our relationship with Christ in the midst of demands that constantly pull us in different directions. Ordering Your Private World can help us to live a life that is devoted to Him in action because our hearts are devoted to Him in love.
I wish I had read the first release more slowly because it is only now, with my own 34 more years of experience, that I see how I glossed over some of the more spiritual practices in the last third of the book. Ironically, I glossed over those because I was too busy, too driven, and too proud to slow down and take someone else’s advice—even the advice of someone I respected. My daily devotions have always been a critical component of my Christian walk, even in those busy seminary years. Over the past six years, however, I’ve been on quest to find the deeper spiritual and practical life dynamics that work best for me. In this latest read of Ordering Your Private World, I was a little amused that over the years I’ve unknowingly incorporated most of the same practices that the author describes, and alludes to.
Gordon MacDonald is one of those few profound writers that come along every now and again. He has made some colossal errors in his life that he has written about elsewhere, but even from those we can learn. I encourage you to read this book slowly and with self-reflection. The key to an ordered private world, as Gordon describes it, is an open and surrendered heart to God.
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Dr. Rob Oberto is the award-winning author of “Intimacy With God: Extraordinary miracles that opened a skeptic’s heart to God” available from Amazon.
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