Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Mansions of the Heart: Book Review

Mansions of the Heart: Exploring the Seven Stages of Spiritual Growth 

by R. Thomas Ashbrook 

Ashbrook shows that there can be much more to being a Christian than church attendance, prayer, Bible reading, missions, service, and tithing, as vitally important as all of those things are.
There is also the opportunity for a deep, deep relationship with God. Drawn from Teresa of Avila’s classic, The Interior Castle, written in the 1500’s, Mansions of the Heart guides the reader through deeper spiritual growth.
First, Ashbrook defines each of the seven mansions, which allows the reader to see where he currently resides. Here’s a list of the mansions:
Outside: Lost; not yet a Christian
• First Mansion: New beginnings
• Second Mansion: Between a rock and a hard place (Here’s where a lot of Christians shipwreck and either go back to their old ways, or remain Christians, but don’t progress
• Third Mansion: Following Jesus
• Fourth Mansion: Discovering the love of Jesus
• Fifth Mansion: Longing for oneness with God
• Sixth Mansion: The passion of God’s love (Here’s where Ashbrook described the Dark Night of the Soul)
• Seventh Mansion: A life of love in the Trinity
After describing each of the stages (which are fluid), Ashbrook suggests ways to progress into further mansions, thereby deepening our relationship with God. Within each chapter, Ashbrook touches on the following areas with respect to the mansion in which we currently reside:
• “Your Heart’s Desire” in relationship with God
• “Key Activities” in response to God
• “Changing Patterns of Prayer” in communication with God
• “Jesus’ Initiatives” to draw us into a deeper intimacy with God
• “Schemes of the Enemy” to try to destroy our growth in God
• “Keys for Growth” that help us cooperate with God
Mansions was not a quick read. In fact, I expect to be working with it for a long time to come. But it was just what I needed at this time, along with a number of other books that I have recently discovered.
If you feel you are being called into deeper intimacy with God, this book is a great addition to your spiritual library.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Organizing your Prayer Closet: Book Review

I’ve read a number of books on living a spirit-filled Christian life over the past several months. Several have dealt specifically with prayer. When I ran across Organizing your prayer closet: a new and life-changing way to pray by Gina Duke, I hate to admit it, but I was somewhat put off by the title. Not by the prayer closet aspect of it, after all, Jesus told us to pray in secret:
But you, when you pray, enter into your closet, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father which is in secret; and your Father which sees in secret shall reward you openly. Mt. 6:6.
Oddly enough, it was the word, “Organizing” that put me off. Being someone who strives to be organized, you would think I would’ve bought this book the moment I learned about it.
It took me nearly a week to buy it, but during all that time, while I was also reading a book on Christian mysticism (Mansions of the heart: exploring the seven stages of spiritual growth by R. Thomas Ashbrook–which I will review next week)–God kept prompting me to take another look at it, maybe buy it. 
When I did, I found, not surprisingly, that it is a wonderful tool for organizing our prayer life. It is indeed a method that, if followed, would revolutionize nearly anyone’s prayer life. It will revolutionize mine, for sure.
After reading brief, introductory chapters that explain (and give scriptural references) for Gina’s reasons behind her organizing strategy, the rest of the book offers templates to fill in your own daily prayer requests. 
Gina suggests beginning by offering “Praise and Thanksgiving,” followed by “Freedom and Forgiveness.”
Freedom and Forgiveness is where we speak with God about our struggles with sin and bad habits.
Then there is a category called “Prayer Petitions,” where we intercede on behalf of others. There’s an area for “My heart/My passion,” where we talk about the desires God has put into our hearts. Generally, these are the talents God has given us, which we are developing and using in some way.
There’s a section called “Ambassador Notes,” where we we write about instances in which we were able to share our faith. There’s a section called “Insights & Updates,” where we examine our prayer life and see what God is doing with our prayers.
There’s a section where we record God’s Answers to our prayers. And a section called, “At the Right Time,” where we record when the prayer was answered.
There’s a section called “Ears to Hear,” where we record instances where God speaks to us through the Word or through spiritual mentors, or in other ways.
Finally, there is a section called “Faith & Follow-through,” where we record instances where we felt prompted by God to do something special for someone. Here we record what we felt prompted to do, as well as what our follow-through was. Or if we did not get to it this day, what we intend to do, soon.
I am very excited about this new plan for organizing my prayers. Over time, I will have a record of how God has been working in my life, as well as the lives of those people for whom I pray.
Do you pray in an organized manner such as this? Do you find the idea appealing? 
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