There are a LOT of how-to books in the discipleship space, and I’m glad for that. Just like many of us go through dozens of high school teachers, we might really only connect with one or two. The trick is that you have to go to class. This might be one of the ones that really helps me. Maybe not. Take a deep breath, go in, and give the teacher a chance.
I’m glad I attended Joe Barnard’s class in this book because it actually provides what his title promises: a way forward. I’ve read and continue to read the Bible enough so that I often hear the thoughts of others and think something along the lines of “I’ve heard this before. Nothing new here.”
But then the Lord brings truths like the one revealed in Jeremiah 6:16 to mind—there’s value in the ancient paths. As a matter of fact, that’s where the good way forward lives, and it’s where maybe I’ll be able to find some rest.
Joe’s book delivers. My first breath of fresh air was feeling like he reached out to me just five pages in, “If I had to write a life narrative, the overarching theme would be distraction….” Yes! I know what I need to do. I even do it more often than not. But peace is elusive, and I don’t remember ever feeling like I’m doing enough.
Joe continues with clarity, “I am writing this book to help other guys like me get out of the wilderness.” Yes! I feel just like that! Alive, moving, and even able to feel productive and joyful at times, but also unsure if I’m going to make it as far as I planned, realizing I’m feeling isolated, and even more deeply unsure if maybe I should just call for help, sit still, and wait for someone to come find me. Almost always, though, I choose to just keep plodding along, hoping for the best but not really expecting that outcome.
Over the next 40 pages or so, Joe walked me through what seemed a museum of my life, a list of “seven factors that contribute to the stunted spiritual growth of men.” Some of them are more present than others in my life. Some are stronger and some are weaker. Some I’ve overcome more than once, but some I never have. I imagine this is a taste of what the woman at the well in John 4 must’ve felt as Jesus told her everything she ever did (John 4:39). It’s an experience that links being deeply unsettled with excitement and relief in a unique way. Maybe I’ve been found!
Only the Spirit’s gift of encouragement, which I believe Joe must possess, is both able and willing to challenge and validate a soul simultaneously. “To be captivated by Christ is not to be finished with sin. Yet to be captivated is to long for the day when Christ sweeps the last crumb of leaven from the heart.” Yes! I think I’m captivated with Christ, but the presence of sin, in me and in the world around me, leaves dark edges around the light. I KNOW I’m loved and saved, but I NEED to hear it. Most men, none that I know, admit that often, readily, clearly, and well. Joe’s book has helped me live one step closer to being a man that does.
The rest of the book is the “how,” the way forward. “There’s nothing new under the sun,” Solomon’s wisdom rightly declares, but Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, clarifies what God wants us to DO with that truth: “Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; then you will find rest for your souls” (Jeremiah 6:16). Joe’s book is a good guide that shows the way forward.