Author: John Mark Comer
Publishing Date: October 29, 2019
Pages: 304 (Hardcover)
What if hurry, busyness, and resulting distraction are the biggest challenges facing our spiritual lives today? That is the question John Mark Comer addresses in his book The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry. The title comes from a quote by Dallas Willard, who was a philosopher at the University of Southern California and author of many books about the spiritual life; Willard once advised, “Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day. You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”1
For many of us, life has slowed a lot or a little over the past nine months. This presents an opportunity we would do well to recognize. I know that COVID-19 has had many negative impacts—all of us have lost a lot since mid-March. We shouldn’t minimize that; in fact, I think we should name, acknowledge and grieve those losses, both our own and those of the people around us. However, with the cancellation of so many events and in-person meetings, most of us find ourselves with more free time than we are used to—and also with more angst. The easiest way to spend that time is online or in front of the TV…but what if there is a better way? What if we could use some of that extra time to “unhurry” our lives, to face down our distractions, in order to know Jesus better? Comer’s book can help.
In the first part of his book, Comer makes the case that as a society, we are pathologically busy. He describes a time in his own life when he was overwhelmed by busyness, overscheduled and overcommitted as pastor of a multisite megachurch. He also shares a grim picture of our society’s problem with hurry. Dallas Willard was neither the first nor the only one to pinpoint the problem of hurry. Comer writes, “Corrie ten Boom once said that if the devil can’t make you sin, he’ll make you busy.”2 He quotes psychologist Carl Jung as saying, “Hurry is not of the devil; hurry is the devil.”3 And he shares a comment from his therapist that “People are just too busy to live emotionally healthy and spiritually rich and vibrant lives.”4 Catholic writer Ronald Rolheiser would agree; he wrote, “We are more busy than bad, more distracted than nonspiritual….Pathological busyness, distraction, and restlessness are major blocks today within our spiritual lives.”5
After naming the problem of hurry, Comer describes many of the negative consequences it can have. He gives a history of how life became so fast and proceeds to outline ten symptoms of “hurry sickness,” including irritability, hypersensitivity, restlessness, and nonstop activity.6
So. We have a hurry problem—what can we do about it? In the second section of his book, Comer argues that rather than wishing for more time, we need to slow down. As a Christian, the best way to do that is to read the gospels and notice how Jesus lived his life. He did not live life in a hurry. He was “fiercely present”7 in his life. He prioritized time alone with God, even when crowds jockeyed for his attention.
You may remember when “WWJD” bracelets were a thing. The letters on the bracelet were a reminder to ask “What Would Jesus Do?” That question is helpful to a point, but Jesus lived in a different place and time. A better question, says Comer, is “How would Jesus live if he were me?” We need to extrapolate, of course, because many aspects of our situation did not exist in the first century in the Middle East. But as we read the stories in the gospels and see how Jesus lived his life, we are given some good clues. Jesus focused on what really mattered. He lived his life present in the moment and connected to his Father. Though he was God, he was also a man who lived within the limitations of his human body and within the limitations of time.
Jesus’ life was characterized by specific practices that are most often referred to today as “spiritual disciplines.” Comer simply calls them “the practices of Jesus,” or “the habits of Jesus.” These latter terms help underline how earthy they really are, directly impacting our bodies and minds. The point of these practices or habits is to enable a fuller, richer relationship with God; when they become an end in themselves, we veer into legalism.
These habits of Jesus, which we can learn to imitate, are for a purpose beyond the change we can work on our own; rather, “They are how we open our minds and bodies to a power far beyond our own and effect change.”8 They make room for the Holy Spirit to work. Comer quotes Dallas Willard’s definition of a spiritual discipline:
The disciplines are activities of mind and body purposefully undertaken, to bring our personality and total being into effective cooperation with the divine order. They enable us more and more to live in a power that is, strictly speaking, beyond us, deriving from the spiritual realm itself.9
When the habits of Jesus are cultivated as rhythms and routines in a person’s daily life, together, they create a “rule of life.” That term, used already in the sixth century by Benedict of Nursia, sounds boring and restrictive. But look at this gorgeous description of a rule of life in the context of our life with Jesus:
The word rule comes from the Latin word regula, which literally means ‘a straight piece of wood,’ (think: ruler), but it was also used for a trellis.10 Think of Jesus’ teaching on abiding in the vine from John 15, one of his most important teachings on emotional health and spiritual life ….What’s underneath every thriving vine? A trellis. A structure to hold up the vine so it can grow and bear fruit.
What a trellis is to a vine, a rule of life is to abiding. It’s a structure—in this case a schedule and a set of practices—to set up abiding as the central pursuit of your life. It’s a way to organize all of your life around the practice of the presence of God, to work and rest and play and eat and drink and hang out with your friends and run errands and catch up on the news, all out of a place of deep, loving enjoyment of the Father’s company.
If a vine doesn’t have a trellis, it will die. And if your life with Jesus doesn’t have some kind of structure to facilitate health and growth, it will wither away.11
In the third and final section of his book, Comer describes four specific practices from the life of Jesus. In each case, Comer reminds readers that the way he specifically incorporates these practices into his life is not necessarily the way others should do so.
Silence and Solitude. According to Comer, this is the most important practice. The silence refers to external silence, but also the internal silence that comes from quieting your mind. Solitude means to be alone with God and your own soul, experiencing a sense of inner fulfilment. Silence and solitude can be difficult, because in the quiet we must face worries and fears that we may not have had courage to face before.
Sabbath. The weekly observance of Sabbath helps us practice a spirit of restfulness. It is a time to rest and worship—more than just a ‘day off’. When filtering activities for the Sabbath, Comer recommends “anything your heart toward grateful recognition of God’s reality and goodness.”12 Sabbath can also be an act of resistance, a way of saying we have enough in the face of our society’s constant clamor for more. Sabbath provides necessary rest—which, ironically, takes effort and intentionality to achieve. We ignore our need for rest at our own peril, since emotional, physical and mental health suffer when we push ourselves too hard for too long. Comer comments, “Sabbath is coming for you, whether as delight or discipline.”13 In other words, accept the gift of rest now, or you may be forced into an unwanted rest later due to burnout.
Simplicity. Jesus lived simply, with very few material possessions. He also made some very striking statements about wealth and possessions that were difficult to hear. But what if (for those of us not living in poverty) less really is more? Though Comer initially fought the idea, he eventually decided to try living with less and found it to be a freeing and joy-filled road to contentment. In the book, he shares twelve principles that now guide his approach to purchases and possessions.
Slowing. For the fourth practice, Comer talks about the spiritual discipline of slowing. Again, he acknowledges that the practices he lists are not prescriptive. But he encourages us to find ways to approach this spiritual discipline by turning it into a game. He lists 20 ideas he uses to practice slowing, by deliberately choosing opportunities to wait (e.g. drive in the slow lane; join the longest checkout line in a store) and to break the hold of digital devices (e.g. remove most apps from your phone; put your phone away at regular, set times).
All four of the practices Comer suggests are ones I had previously reflected on, explored, and written about. However, they take on new meaning when viewed within the framework of learning to live, love, and abide like Jesus did. Earlier in his book, Comer comments that, except for prayer, Jesus did not command that his disciples follow his practices. “For Jesus, leadership isn’t about coercion and control; it’s about example and invitation…He simply set the example of a whole new way to ‘carry life,’ then he turned around and said, ‘If you’re tired of the way you’ve been doing it and want rest for your souls, then come, take up the easy yoke, and copy the details of my life.”14 This could transform your life in the best way possible…are you ready to slow down?
Note: I highly recommend that you read this book. But whether or not you do, if you are interested to experiment with these four practices, John Mark Comer’s website has a free “How to Unhurry” guide with practical suggestions.
John Mark Comer, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, p. 18. ↩
Ibid, p. 20. ↩
P. 20. ↩
P. 21. ↩
P. 26. ↩
P. 48, 49. ↩
P. 91. ↩
P. 108. ↩
P. 111. ↩
According to a pastor-theologian friend of mine, the original word for ‘rule’ comes from the Greek word ‘canon’ that meant ‘trellis.’ Either way, the image is the same. ↩
P. 95. ↩
P. 162. ↩
P. 159. ↩
P. 114. ↩