At the rural retreat center where we stayed, sun lingered among the bare tree limbs before bidding farewell to the day. In the quiet of that gentle hour, I turned for prayerful reflection to the account of Matthew’s call in Matthew 9:9-13. As I entered the drama unfolding in this story, what struck me with great force was this observation, unique to the Gospel of Matthew: “it happened that a number of tax collectors and sinners came to sit at the table with Jesus and his disciples” (Matt. 9:10). What was it about Jesus that drew these outcast and despised people to him? What beauty shone in his face, what welcome whispered through his presence, what kindhearted love echoed in his manner of speech?
Grace. How ingeniously and fruitfully God employs the small things of daily life—a meal, a conversation, a glance—to place before us the great invitation to come, to be fully accepted and healed, and then to follow. To the tax collector and sinner in me, Jesus offers an approach without fear of rejection or recrimination: “It is not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick” (Matt. 9:12). And to the Pharisee in me, Jesus presents the great challenge of the spiritual life: “Go and learn the meaning of the words: ‘What I want is mercy, not sacrifice’” (Matt. 9:13).
Is it too great a stretch to suggest that this rhythm of approaching Jesus and then taking up his challenge is the heartbeat of a publishing ministry devoted to spiritual life resources? These resources too are among the small things of daily life. It seems to me that all our books on prayer, meditation, Bible study, and other spiritual disciplines offer pathways into a transforming encounter with Jesus. Some show us the way to his dwelling place (John 1:35-39) by offering guidance through what theologian Karl Barth called “the strange new world” of the Bible. Some present the wisdom of spiritual writers from across the ages or train the eyes of the heart to see the beauty of Christ shining in every corner of Creation. Other books encourage us to spend time in Christ’s presence simply watching how he is with people and learning first hand what it means that he is gentle and humble in heart (Matt. 11:29). Yet others help us cultivate the art of listening to him (Luke 9:35) through lectio divina practiced alone or in small groups. Some books on aspects of discipleship in light of contemporary issues may even lead us further by preparing our hearts to be the good soil which, receiving his words deeply, bears fruit a hundredfold (Mark 4:8).
Grace. How characteristic of God to make a personal story, a short phrase, a familiar metaphor on the page of a book suddenly come alive with consequences for our understanding and action. An unanticipated challenge to our vision of how things are, an undeniable claim upon our energies and resources, a profound reordering of our priorities, a new appreciation for the beauty of the Lord sends us out from the presence of Jesus with a new mandate: “Go and learn the meaning of my words by testing them in the daily activities and relationships of your life. And fear not, for I am with you always.”
Which spiritual life books have assisted you in this movement into Christ’s presence and out into the world?
John S. Mogabgab is the Special Projects Editor at Upper Room Books.