Ordering Your Private World

Ordering Your Private World

by Gordon MacDonald


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In this updated classic Ordering Your Private World, Gordon MacDonald equips a new generation to live life from the inside out, cultivating the inner victory necessary for public effectiveness.

Has anyone seen my time? I’ve misplaced it. We have schedule planners, computerized calendars, smart phones, and sticky notes to help us organize our business and social lives every day. But what about organizing the other side of our lives—the spiritual side?

One of the great battlegrounds is within the private world of the individual. The values of our Western culture would have us believe the busy, publicly active person in ministry is also the most spiritual. Tempted to give imbalanced attention to the public world at the expense of the private, we become involved in more programs, more meetings. Our massive responsibilities at home, work, and church have resulted in many good people on the verge of collapse.

“With much enthusiasm I recommend this book to all of you who, like me, need order in your private world.”

Charles Swindoll, Chancellor, Dallas Theological Seminary

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780785288640
Publisher: Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
Publication date: 05/20/2007
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 499,675
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Gordon MacDonald has been a pastor and author for more than fifty years. He serves as Chancellor at Denver Seminary, as editor-at-large for Leadership Journal, and as a speaker at leadership conferences around the world. His books includeBuilding Below the Waterline, Who Stole My Church, A Resilient Life, and Ordering Your Private World. Gordon and his wife, Gail, live in New Hampshire.

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THE RESIDENTS OF A FLORIDA APARTMENT BUILDING AWOKE TO A TERrifying sight outside their windows. The ground beneath the street in front of their building had literally collapsed, creating a massive depression that Floridians call a sinkhole. Tumbling into the ever-deepening pit were automobiles, pavement, sidewalks, and lawn furniture. The building itself would obviously be the next to go.

Sinkholes occur, scientists say, when underground streams drain away during seasons of drought, causing the ground at the surface to lose its underlying support. Suddenly everything simply caves in, leaving people with a frightening suspicion that nothing — not even the earth beneath their feet — is trustworthy.

There are many people whose lives are like one of Florida's sinkholes. It is likely that at one time or another many of us have perceived ourselves to be on the verge of a sinkhole-like cave-in. In the feelings of numbing fatigue, a taste of apparent failure, or the bitter experience of disillusionment about goals or purposes, we may sense something within us about to give way. We feel we are just a moment from a collapse that will threaten to sweep our entire world into a bottomless pit. Sometimes there seems to be little that can be done to prevent such a collapse. What is wrong?

If we think about it for very long, we may discover the existence of an inner space — our private world — about which we were formerly ignorant. I hope it will become apparent that, if neglected, this private world will not sustain the weight of events and stresses that press upon us.

Some people are surprised and disturbed when they make such a self-discovery. They suddenly realize that they have spent most of their time and energy establishing life on the visible level, at the surface. They have accumulated a host of good and perhaps even excellent assets such as academic degrees, work experience, key relationships, and physical strength or beauty.

There is nothing wrong with all of that. But often it is discovered almost too late that the private world of the person is in a state of disorderliness or weakness. And when that is true, there is always potential for the sinkhole syndrome.

We must come to see ourselves as living in two very different worlds. Our outer, or public world, is easier to deal with. It is much more measurable, visible, and expandable. Our outer world consists of work, play, possessions, and a host of acquaintances that make up a social network. It is the part of our existence easiest to evaluate in terms of success, popularity, wealth, and beauty. But our inner world is more spiritual in nature. Here is a center in which choices and values can be determined, where solitude and reflection might be pursued. It is a place for conducting worship and confession, a spot where the moral and spiritual pollution of the times need not penetrate.

Most of us have been taught to manage our public worlds well. Of course, there will always be the undependable worker, the poorly organized homemaker, and the person whose social capacities are so immature that he becomes a drain on everyone around him. But most of us have learned to take orders, make schedules, and give directions. We know which systems best suit us in terms of work and relationship. We choose proper forms of leisure and pleasure. We can choose friends and make those relationships work well.

Our public worlds are filled with a seeming infinity of demands on our time, our loyalties, our money, and our energies. And because these public worlds of ours are so visible, so real, we have to struggle to ignore all their seductions and demands. They scream for our attention and action.

But there is this private world in every one of us, a world that may be as infinite in size as we perceive our public worlds to be. But often the private world — like the depths of the ocean — remains unexplored, full of surprises, ambushes, emotions, and dreams.

In a past season of the popular television series Survivor, one of the finalists, Gerry, talked about the pressures she faced as she tried to avoid getting voted off the island. When asked if she had surprised herself in her drive to win the million-dollar prize, she said, "Honestly? I had no idea that this was going to be as tough as it is. I have woken up in the morning and gone through an entire day wondering who I am. Things come out of my mouth in frustration and hunger and ... stress that, after they come out, I want to suck them back in because it's not the same thing I would normally say or [do] ... so, yeah, I've surprised myself in a lot of ways."

Although Gerry describes life in a contrived (made-for-TV) world, she speaks like a fast-tracker. As life heats up, she seems amazed to discover traits of personal character that she really didn't want to own.

In a real world similar to Gerry's, there is a temptation to ignore the existence of our private world because it does not shout quite so loudly when neglected. It can be effectively shortchanged for large periods of time before it gives way to a sinkhole-like cave-in.

Oscar Wilde, author and playwright, was one who paid scant attention to his private world. William Barclay quoted Wilde's confession:

The gods had given me almost everything. But I let myself be lured into long spells of senseless and sensual ease. ... Tired of being on the heights, I deliberately went to the depths in search for new sensation. What the paradox was to me in the sphere of thought, perversity became to me in the sphere of passion. I grew careless of the lives of others. I took pleasure where it pleased me, and passed on. I forgot that every little action of the common day makes or unmakes character, and that therefore what one has done in the secret chamber, one has some day to cry aloud from the house-top. I ceased to be lord over myself. I was no longer the captain of my soul, and did not know it. I allowed pleasure to dominate me. I ended in horrible disgrace.

When Wilde wrote, "I was no longer the captain of my soul," he described a person whose inner world was in shambles, whose life was caving in. Although his words reach great heights of personal drama, they are similar to what many could say — many who, like him, have ignored their internal existence.

I believe that one of the great battlegrounds of our age is the private world of the individual. There is a contest that must be fought particularly by those who call themselves practicing or observant Christ-followers. Among them are those who work hard, shouldering massive responsibilities at home, at work, and at church. They are good people, but they are very, very tired! And, thus, they too often live on the verge of a sinkhole-like collapse. Why? Because although their worthwhile actions are very unlike those of Wilde, like him they become too public/world-oriented, ignoring the private side until it is almost too late.

Wayne Muller wrote:

The busier we are, the more important we seem to ourselves and, we imagine, to others. To be unavailable to our friends and family, to be unable to find time for the sunset (or even to know that the sun has set at all), to whiz through our obligations without time for a single mindful breath, this has become the model of a successful life.

Our Western cultural values have helped to blind us to this tendency. We are naively inclined to believe that the most publicly active person is the most privately spiritual. We assume that the larger the church, the greater its heavenly blessing. The more information about the Bible a person possesses, we think, the closer he or she must be to God.

Because we tend to think like this, the temptation is to give imbalanced attention to our public worlds at the expense of the private. More programs, more meetings, more learning experiences, more relationships, more busyness; until it all becomes so heavy at the surface of life that the whole thing trembles on the verge of collapse. Fatigue, disillusionment, failure, defeat all become frightening possibilities. The neglected private world can no longer hold the weight.

I bumped into a man who had claimed Christian faith for several years. During our conversation, I asked him one of those questions that Christ-followers ought to ask one another but feel odd in doing so.

I said, "Tell me, how are you doing spiritually?"

He responded, "Interesting question! What's a good answer? Oh, I'm okay, I guess. I wish I could say I was growing or feeling closer to God. But the truth is that I'm sort of standing still."

He gave the impression of wanting to pursue the matter, and so I threw in another question.

"Are you taking time regularly to order your inner life?"

He looked at me inquisitively. If I had used an old Christian term such as, "How's your quiet time?" he would have known exactly how to answer. That would have been measurable, and he could have responded in terms of days, hours, and minutes, systems and techniques. But I had asked about the order of his inner life. And the key word is order, a word of quality, not quantity. Now he showed discomfort.

"When does a guy ever get to order his inner life? I've got work piled up to keep me going for the rest of the year. I'm out every night this week. My wife is after me to take a week's vacation. The house needs painting. So there's not too much time to think about 'ordering the inner life,' as you put it."

He paused for a moment and then asked, "What is the inner life anyway?"

Now that's a showstopper of a question. Think of it! Here is a professing Christ-follower who has "done church" for years, has gained a Christian reputation for doing Christian things, but has never pondered the possibility that, underneath all the action and well-meaning religious noise, there has got to be something solid, something dependable. The fact that he sees himself as too busy to maintain an inner world, and that he is not sure he knows what it is anyway, tells me that he may have missed, by a significant distance, the central point of a life in touch with God. You could say that we had a lot to talk about in the following hour.

Few people wrestled with the pressures of a public world more than Anne Morrow Lindbergh, wife of Charles, the famous aviator. And she jealously guarded her private world and wrote some insightful comments about it in her classic book The Gift from the Sea:

I want first of all ... to be at peace with myself. I want a singleness of eye, a purity of intention, a central core to my life that will enable me to carry out these obligations and activities as well as I can. I want, in fact — to borrow from the language of the saints — to live "in grace" as much of the time as possible. I am not using this term in a strictly theological sense. By grace I mean an inner harmony, essentially spiritual, which can be translated into outward harmony. I am seeking perhaps what Socrates asked for in the prayer from the Phaedrus when he said, "May the outward and inward man be one." I would like to achieve a state of inner spiritual grace from which I could function and give as I was meant to in the eye of God.

Fred Mitchell, once a leader in the world missionary movement, used to keep a motto on his desk that read, "Beware of the Barrenness of a Busy Life." He, too, understood the potential collapse that follows when the inner world is ignored.

The Florida sinkhole is a physical picture of a spiritual problem with which many Western Christ-followers must deal. As the pressure of life continues to grow, the lives of more people will resemble a sinkhole, unless they gaze inward and ask themselves, Is there a private world beneath the noise and action at the surface? A world that needs to be explored and maintained? Can strength and resilience be developed that will bear up under the growing pressure at the surface?

In a lonely moment in Washington when John Quincy Adams was overwhelmed by homesickness for his Massachusetts family, he wrote them a letter, addressing comments of encouragement and counsel to each son and daughter. To his daughter he wrote about the prospect of marriage and the kind of man she should choose to marry. His words reveal how highly he regarded an ordered private world:

Daughter! Get you an honest man for a husband and keep him honest. No matter whether he is rich, provided he be independent. Regard the honor and moral character of the man, more than all other circumstances. Think of no other greatness but that of the soul, no other riches but those of the heart}



A FRIEND WAS ONCE AN OFFICER ABOARD A UNITED STATES NAVY nuclear submarine. He related to me an experience that happened one day while the sub was on duty in the Mediterranean. Many ships were passing overhead on the surface, and the submarine was forced to make a large number of violent maneuvers to avoid possible collisions.

In the absence of the captain, my friend was duty officer, in charge of giving the commands by which the submarine was positioned at each moment. Because there was such a sudden and unusual amount of movement, the captain, who had been in his own quarters, suddenly appeared on the bridge asking, "Is everything all right?"

"Yes, sir!" was my friend's reply. The captain took a quick look around and then started back out through the hatch to leave the bridge. As he disappeared, he said, "It looks all right to me too." With just a few words and the abrupt exit, the captain conveyed his unqualified confidence in the duty officer's leadership.

That simple, routine encounter between a naval commander and one of his trusted officers provided me with a helpful picture of the order of one's private world. All around that submarine the potential danger of collision was lurking. It was enough to make any alert captain show concern. But that danger was outside. Down deep inside the sub was a quiet place where there could be absolute control of the ship's destiny. And that was where the captain instinctively headed.

On the bridge, the center of command, there was not a hint of panic, only a calm and deliberate series of actions being carried out by a highly trained crew of seamen doing their jobs. Thus, when the commander appeared on the bridge to assure himself that everything was in order, it was. "Is everything all right?" he asked. Assured that it was, he looked about and agreed, "It looks all right to me too." He had gone to the right place and received the proper answer.

That is how the captain organized his sub. The appropriate procedures were practiced a thousand times when there was no danger. Thus, when it was time for action in a precarious situation, there was no need for the captain to overreact. He could anticipate an excellent performance from the people on the bridge. When things are in order there, the submarine is secure no matter what the external circumstances. "It looks all right to me too," says the captain.

But there have been cases in which those procedures have been ignored, perhaps left unpracticed. Then there can be disaster. Then ships collide and sink, causing great loss.

And so it is with human life when there is disorganization on the "bridge" of the inner world. The accidents that occur there have names like burnout, breakdown, or blowup.

It is one thing for a person to make a mistake or even to fail. We learn our best lessons of procedure and character under such conditions. But it is another thing to watch human beings disintegrate before our very eyes because there were no resources of interior support in the midst of the pressure.

The Wall Street Journal once offered a series of articles entitled "Executive's Crisis," and one story featured Jerald H. Maxwell, a young entrepreneur who founded a hi-tech company and immediately led it to high profitability. For a while he was celebrated as a managerial genius. But, unfortunately, just for a while. A sudden downturn in the economy changed everything. The company's stock cratered, as they say, and the board of directors was forced to take drastic action:

The day is etched into Jerald H. Maxwell's memory. His family will never forget it either. To them it is the day he started weeping in his room, the day his exuberant self-confidence ended and his depression began, the day his world — and theirs — came tumbling down.

Maxwell had been fired! Everything in his life seemed to fall apart, and he appeared to lack the inner resources to handle the situation. The Journal continued:

For the first time in his life, Mr. Maxwell was a failure, and it shattered him. His feeling of defeat led to an emotional breakdown, gnawed away at the bonds between Mr. Maxwell and his wife and four sons and pushed him to the brink. "When things fell apart, they felt so bad I was ashamed," Mr. Maxwell recalls. He pauses and sighs, then goes on: "It says in the Bible that all you have to do is ask and you will receive. Well, I asked for death many times."

Most of us have never wished for death as Maxwell did. But more than a few of us have experienced the same pressure from the outer world, crowding in on us to such an extent that we wondered if some sort of death would be desirable. During such moments, we ask ourselves about the strength of our reserves — whether we can keep going, whether it is worth it to keep pressing, whether it may be time to "cut and run." In short, we are not sure that there we ask ourselves about the strength of our reserves — whether we can keep going, whether it is worth it to keep pressing, whether it may be time to "cut and run." In short, we are not sure that there is enough spiritual, psychic, or physical energy to keep moving at the pace we are presently trying to maintain.


Excerpted from "Ordering Your Private World"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Gordon MacDonald.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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Table of Contents

Author's Note ix

Preface: The Day I Hit the Wall xi

1 The Sinkhole Syndrome 1

2 A View from the Bridge 9

3 Caught in a Golden Cage 17

4 The Tragic Tale of a Successful Loser 32

5 Living as a Called Person 43

6 Has Anyone Seen My Time? I've Misplaced It! 62

7 Recapturing My Time 73

8 The Better Man Lost 87

9 The Sadness of a Book Never Read 101

10 Order in the Garden 118

11 No Outer Props Necessary 127

12 Everything Has to Be Entered 143

13 Seeing Through Heaven's Eyes 150

14 Friends 167

15 Rest Beyond Leisure (Sabbathing) 174

Epilogue: Courage, Appreciation, Depth 195

Study Guide 198

Notes 219

About the Author 225

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