Have you every experienced seasons of your spiritual life that were . . .not so fresh? Where you are going through the motions of the Christian life but inside you is cesspool of destructive emotions: anxiety, self-doubt, anger, distrust.
Chris Hodges, the senior pastor of Church of the Highlands in Birmingham Alabama has written a book to help bring a ‘breath of fresh air’ into your life. He aims to help us steer a course out of ‘the doldrums’– that lifeless and dull slump where there is no wind in our sails to propel us forward–so we catch the breeze and go to all the exiting places God has in store for us.
How do you beat the doldrums? [SPOILER ALERT: God is Involved]. Hodges wants you to cultivate a relationship with God, and his people, which will help you live an exciting, connected and not-at-all-dull life. He urges us to allow fresh air into all areas of life but especially the following areas:
- Live with Eternity in mind: focus on heaven and invest your life in what has lasting significance.
- Adjust your attitude by focusing on ‘the positive’ and going to God with all your worries.
- Read your Bible with an eye to where it propels your life forward.
- Have a prayer life which focuses on building a loving and trusting relationship with God.
- Worship God expressively.
- Become involved in a supportive community of faith (i.e. church).
- Trust God in the areas of our finances.
- And develop rhythms of rest (Sabbath) in the midst of your work and vocation.
But Hodges ultimately says making room for ‘fresh air’ is about making room for the wind of the Holy Spirit to blow in our lives. It is the Spirit of God who leads us into all truth, commissions us and empowers us for witness and the exciting life God wants for us.
Hodges says a lot which I think is helpful and I love that he uses relational language to talk about God (and not formulaic techniques). I also appreciate that in the end, his answer to what brings spiritual vitality is not what we do, but the Spirit’s work. This is fundamentally correct and well worth noting. Nevertheless while reading this book I had several problems which give me pause:
- Hodges tells people in the ‘doldrums’ to choose to have a better attitude. This is good advice for a lot of people, but not for people who suffer from clinical depression who despite not wanting to be as anxious, self-abasing and down-in-the-dumps as they are, cannot ‘choose’ to focus on the positive without some sort of medical intervention. If this is you, thank God for chemistry and good counseling and please avail yourself to it. There are certain parts of this book, which made me wonder if they would hurt people in a particular mental state.
- While Hodges ultimately sees Christian witness as the outflow of life in the Spirit, there is little emphasis through out this book on the mission of God. Honestly, my big advice to people who sit in a smelly room looking bored is find out what God is doing in your neighborhood and community and get involved. If true religion involves care for widows and orphans, find out who they are around you and find ways to love them in risky ways. This might not make you happy, but you won’t be bored. For Hodges, we get involved with God’s Mission when we spend time with him and are changed into the sort of witness who overflows with the love of God. I don’t disagree with him, but I would add that as we take risks to become part of God’s mission in the world, God changes us as we step out. The way is made by walking and I wish this book took a more missional focus.
- Lastly I wonder a little bit about the ‘self-help’ tone of this book. No doubt I want a satisfying spiritual life myself, but the focus here seems highly individualistic. Even in his description of community, Hodges talks about how we need supportive people to experience fresh air in your life. I agree, living in community makes me better and I love the wisdom, encouragement and challenge I have received from others. What I also love, but don’t often appreciate is how life and community means I have to die. Other people in the church do not exist to aid my journey of self actualization. They are there for me to love, and sometimes love sacrificially.
With these concerns, I am not so much disagreeing with anything Hodges has said, but wishing for fuller picture of the Fresh Air life he describes. He says good stuff here, but some of it seems too safe for me. I would give this book a 3/5 and certainly believe that it can be read fruitfully and will likely encourage a lot of people. There is a discussion guide available online, making it an appropriate choice for a church small group.
Here is Chris Hodges talking about his book in his own words. Feel the excitement:
Thank you to Tyndale House Publishers for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for this review.