Monthly Archives: October 2014

Book Review: The Making of an Ordinary Saint, by Nathan Foster

A few years ago I was introduced to “A Celebration of Discipline” in a small-group study, and found it very helpful and was intrigued and encouraged by the pictures it painted, and the various threads of spiritual life that were all woven together and yet distinctly different, and differently practiced.

So I looked forward to reading this book by the author’s son, and found it not only a good “refresher” on the disciplines themselves, but a personal journal of sorts from someone who dedicated a few years of his life to integrating them into his spiritual life.

The book is divided into 12 sections that cover each one of the spiritual disciplines: submission, fasting, study, solitude, meditation, confession, simplicity, service, prayer, guidance, worship, and celebration. Each section is introduced with a very condensed version of the discipline from the original chapter by Richard Foster. Then we get to hear Nathan Foster’s take on each one, and get to hear about his struggles and triumphs in practicing them, and other observations he makes along the way.

I appreciate his honesty and the fact that he doesn’t sugarcoat things. I know there is a lot that he’s left out, by desire and necessity, but he isn’t afraid to identify his own brokenness and failures in the process. He certainly doesn’t *have* to tell us about arguments with his wife, or bad thoughts he has about people, but he does, and usually finds good applications and lessons to take out of them when he does choose to share specifics like this.

Granted, this is just one person’s take on things. He probably does not practice all of these disciplines in the same way others would, since we all have our own baggage and personal limits. But I appreciate that, despite the personal nature of what he shares, he doesn’t allow his observations to get too small. In the introduction and the conclusion, he keeps coming back to the greatest commandment: love. God’s love is seen as the driving force and fuel behind all of this, and joy in Him as the ultimate reward.

I also appreciate that Foster doesn’t take himself too seriously. He needs these disciplines to help him draw near to God, not to puff himself up. He says,

“In recent years I’ve been coming to the conclusion that I have very little idea what’s going to be good for me. I think I know what I want, but historically, some of the best things for me I never would have chosen.”

Thus the very real need for discipline, for all of us.

These are very personal accounts, and won’t follow the same way for everyone, but the book is not all about one person. He knows there’s something bigger out there, and sees these disciplines as a way to connect with God. But, I was encouraged by the personal stories he shares – of the times he practiced a discipline well, or found he had to change his actions or attitudes before he could really even start to get it right.

At the end of each chapter is a brief blurb about someone in history who was known for that particular discipline, which I found interesting too.

I also found the two “interlude” chapters to be vital to the larger story: “Discipline Hazard #1: the Self-Hatred Narrative,” and “Discipline Hazard #2: My Inner Pharisee.” Some of us may identify with one of those more than the other (or both!), but in the midst of learning what discipline is and is for, it is also SO important to be reminded of what it is *not*, and once again the author is honest and willing to admit his own failures in order to help us get a better perspective.

Overall, I found this book to be a great follow-up to Richard Foster’s “original,” and I think this could easily be read even by those who have never read “A Celebration of Discipline,” though it will hopefully point readers in that direction. I may not agree with everything the author says, and we are different enough people that I can’t relate with everything he experiences, but he captures enough of our common human faults and desires that there were many many parts of the narrative that I related to quite well, and I’m sure others will have the same experience. He is also a very good, clear, succinct writer, and I found myself picking this book up again even after I’d put it down, and even knowing that it was probably better to be sampled in “small bites” because each chapter contains so much to think about.

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255