A youth minister’s perspective on Randy Harris’ “Soul Work: Confessions of a Part-Time Monk”.
I don’t read as much as I should. As such, I encouraged my partner in ministry here at Westhill, Clyde Slimp (my friend and pulpit minister), to suggest a book we could read through together and discuss on a weekly basis. Even before this conversation, he had bestowed “Soul Work” to me for my 28th birthday. Since I hadn’t picked it up yet, he immediately suggested we read and discuss this book.
I’ve heard Randy Harris speak on multiple occasions. Randy is a well known Church of Christ speaker and professor at Abilene Christian University. I’ve really enjoyed his lectures. Randy has a certain unapologetic frankness that makes lofty theological discussions more conversational, and therefore more readable. Having never read Randy Harris’ works before, I began this book with no preconceived notions about his writing. I wasn’t even 100% what it was about. “Soul Work” as a title seemed pretty generic and ambiguous.
Most of his chapters seemed to be directly related to the topic of prayer. Randy draws upon his life experience as a minister, a Christian college professor, and a 40 day prayer quest with hermits in South Texas to address some misconceptions serial church goers have about what prayer should be. He discusses the lack of silence built into the lives of Christians today and our addiction to busyness. One of my favorite quotes from his book about busyness and the church is, “We would get healthier if we committed to fewer things over longer periods of time. Churches ought to be steel when it comes to their mission and plastic when it comes to their methods.”
Our society’s value on staying busy may not be a new concept, but seeing a full day as the reason to slow down even more is something novel that Randy writes on. His suggestion is that somewhere in our day we attempt a 15 minute period of silence. My first thought was are we talking about meditation or prayer? 15 minute long prayer is pretty rare for me unless there’s a crisis looming. I simply don’t have that much to say to God. Which leads me to probably the greatest truth I got out of this book.
He writes about how when we spend time with someone we love deeply there are several extended periods of time were no words are exchanged. There are times when one is with their spouse or a close friend and there’s no agenda set on what’s going to happen when we are with each other, we simply want to BE in the presence of each other. This is an approach I’ve never applied to my prayer life. Every time I’ve come to God in prayer there is an agenda, a request, a confession, an expectation. Randy writes that this is his favorite way to pray; to sit in silence and just spend time with God, go on walks with God, just be with God. He writes he tries to be quiet before God and say to Him,”I don’t have any agenda. I don’t have any demands. I don’t have any expectations. I’m not asking you to heal anybody. I’m not asking you to fix any problems. I’m not asking you to give me anything. I’m not even spending my time thanking you for anything. I’m not in adoration mode. What I’m wanting to do, God, is just sit here and be with the one I love because that’s enough. And if there was nothing else in the world besides sitting here with you, that would be enough.” This notion was a very liberating one to me. I’ve always known there were different forms of prayer but I had never considered that God might just want to spend time with me too instead of just listening to me drone on and on.
“… you should not pray the way you think you should, you pray the way you can and God honors that.”
So much of this book touched on pursuing humility, rejecting worldly values disguised as acceptable norms for Christians, and truly recognizing the submission our lives should reflect to our God. It really challenged me to introspectively question my preconceived notions on prayer and the merits of keeping busy. I’d say Randy wrote this book to ministers but I see value for any serious Christian person. The book is written in a very easy to read way. I was concerned that the points he was drawing from hermits, monks, and saints (not to mention Jesus himself) were going to be a little too grandiose but he translates their radical nature to a very realistic expectation even a youth minister can apply.
I plan on reading Randy Harris’ two other books in this series, “Life Work” and “God Work” in the near future.