Book Review: Ordering Your Private World by Gordon MacDonald

Many years ago I picked up a book, thinking it was about organization and time management. I remember being surprised by the subject matter. I also recall the spiritual nature of what I thought was to be a practical book. So, when I received a message from Handlebar Publishing, asking if I wanted to review the revised and updated version, I agreed. By way of disclaimer, I did receive a copy of the book at no charge but received no other compensation for my review. All opinions are my own.

I found myself a bit torn as I read this book. It was originally written in 1984 and updated for 2017. I  wrote down many useful quotes from the book as I read. Other references disturbed me as they were slightly ambiguous. I was almost finished with the book when I decided to research the author a bit. I found that his response to two major incidents in his life since the first writing differ greatly from my personal value system and what I believe to be Biblical truth. However, I am doing my best to be unbiased and review the content only.

The premise of the book can be summarized by the quote by Ezra Pound on the inside of the front cover: “If a (person) has not order within him,  He cannot spread order about him.” Pastor MacDonald maintains that our private world is the world of our spirit/soul and must be cared for first before we can order any other part of our lives.

Some of the lessons I gleaned from this book:

  1. A person with an ordered private world is called, not driven. Drivenness isn’t always a good thing. If MacDonald is correct, it almost never is. He says, “…an inner life fraught with unresolved drives will not be able to hear clearly the voice of Christ when He calls. The noise and pain of stress will be too great.” I never want to get so busy and focused on achieving my goals that I crowd out His voice.
  2. A person with an ordered private world doesn’t hold on to their work as their own or feed on the praise of anyone but God. He writes, “Called people never assume ownership of their work or the people of that work.” He also speaks of John the Baptist and his rise to fame and subsequent fall when he was beheaded for his stand. “If there was a moment when the crowd’s praise became thunderous, the voice of God from within John was even louder.”
  3. A person with an ordered private world is cautious about social media. This quote led me to reevaluate my time online and, practically, to delete a lot of unnecessary items on my accounts: “Social networking….too often cheapens the art of conversation, destroys people through electronic gossip, and oversaturates us with a Niagara of information.”
  4. A person with an ordered private world focuses on the relationship with God rather than external busyness. Speaking of saints of another era, MacDonald writes, “They were never hurried; they did comparatively few things, and these not necessarily striking or important; and they troubled very little about their influence.” He also quotes Bridget Herman about them, “Their sainthood lay in their habit of referring the smallest actions to God.”
  5. A person with an ordered private world is careful about friendships and leisure time. The author gives criteria for choosing Godly friends and defines the difference between rest and leisure. He warns, “Leisure and amusement may be enjoyable, but they are to the private world of the individual like cotton candy to the digestive system.”

I am glad I revisited this book. While I’m not sure what all the revisions were, I feel like I have spiritually matured since the first reading. I am a bit more cautious about some of the references which could appeal to a group of people wanting to cross present day Christian theology with pagan practices disguised as new psychology. However, I am glad for the lessons learned from the book.

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