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Just in time for the season in which we feel like we have everything on our plates. Here is a good reminder of what “everything” we really need.

The cost of following Jesus is high. This is not news. People have been struggling with doing what the Lord asks since before Jesus was born. (See Micah 6.) That said, we might think that a new book about the price of Christian discipleship, and how God honors all who pay it is unneeded.

While humanity’s inner war of serving self vs. serving God has not changed throughout the centuries, the landscape of the battle has. Technology, discovery, communication, relationships, the church, etc. change with each passing generation (or day, in some cases). We need fresh perspectives on age-old dilemmas.

Enter Mary DeMuth’s new book Everything: What You Give and What You Gain by Becoming Like Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Thomas Nelson, 2012). With scripture, personal testimony, pertinent anecdotes, and good, old fashioned sermon-esque writing, the author empathizes with and challenges her audience. Wanna live a godly life? It requires releasing and giving to God the title of the book – everything. If this were easy, we wouldn’t use words like “cost” and “sacrifice” in reference to the life of Christian faith.

Mary DeMuth felt defeated in 2004. A two-and-a-half year church planting tenure in southern France was not bearing visible fruit. Life for the DeMuths in Europe and in the US had been less-than-smooth during that time. Financial troubles, the challenges of acclimation and learning a new language, the worry of uprooting three children, the loneliness of being a foreigner, and, oh yeah, the ups and downs of evangelism took their tolls. A frightened, broken and torn-up woman now stood where the once-vibrant, outgoing, and brave Mary once did.

It is out of this and other such darknesses that her own and everyone’s spiritual growth burgeons, DeMuth writes. And yet, Christians of all ages often do not grow in their faith. DeMuth’s curiosity about this conundrum drove her to write Everything:

As I’ve pondered my journey and mined the pathways of Everything Christians—those who learned the secret of giving Him every part of their lives—I’ve realized something. Some folks grow while others stagnate. Why? What causes growthlessness? What, on the other hand, makes people more Jesusy—more like Him? My exploration of the whys behind that kind of radical change forms the framework of this book.[1]

The book is structured in three sections, each bearing the name of what we need to give to God to be Everything Christians – head, heart, and hands. DeMuth rigorously engages scripture throughout the book. She presents the Word of God as edification to console and boost readers who may feel afraid and be hurting. She teaches by offering biblical texts, and allows scripture to expound upon her points. And sometimes, refreshingly, DeMuth tenders the Word and steps out of the way. In doing so she enables the Holy Spirit to breathe life into the reader.

St. Ignatius of Loyola

St. Ignatius of Loyola (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Everything is an eclectic theological gathering, and this is a strength. DeMuth extends hospitality to Christians of varying denominations and influences by opening wide Everything’s theological umbrella. Traditional evangelical thought dominates, to be sure. DeMuth mentions the importance of giving one’s life to Jesus, of telling others about him, and of understanding that Jesus died for us in atonement for our sins. Additionally, she broadens the theological scope with Pentecostal and even Catholic views. Much like the biblical books of Luke and Acts, the Holy Spirit’s presence is everywhere throughout Everything, as are tales of the Spirit’s power and works. In chapter twelve, DeMuth introduces the Examen, a spiritual discipline for self-awareness created by St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), Catholic priest and founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits).

Ironically, the author lost me with a theological metaphor. Chapter nine (in the “Heart” section) is entitled “Embrace Holy Inebriation”. It is exceptionally well written, as DeMuth carries the metaphor throughout the chapter and expands it appropriately in each subsection. While DeMuth argues that scripture suggests a correlation of behavior between intoxication and being filled with the Holy Spirit, I am unable to follow her. I have previously heard and understood the term “drunk with the Spirit”. I appreciate the inference, as well as the attempt to rework a term that typically carries a negative connotation. (Specifically, I applaud Ms. DeMuth for reclaiming and spinning anew her own experiences with intoxication.)

However, I for one do not favor the intoxication/Holy Spirit link. Typically when a person gets intoxicated, she or he is attempting to dull or annihilate (potentially unnamed) emotional pain. The substance to which this person turns to accomplish this feat is a means to an end. At best I hesitate to consider the Holy Spirit as a simple tool to aid someone in neither acknowledging nor feeling that which God can and desires to heal.

Nonetheless, I would recommend Everything to an individual reader, book clubs, and small groups alike. Each chapter concludes with questions for reflection that would work well in personal devotion and group discussion. All of the questions are good and have the potential to spark spiritual growth.

Mary DeMuth’s voice is one of a sibling pilgrim – an every day Christian like everyone else who has walked the road of despair through darkness and, by the grace of God, into God’s marvelous light. Ms. DeMuth does not claim to know everything. Nor does she boast that she has once-and-for-all given everything to God, and therefore that she struggles no more. She writes as an empathetic prophet of sorts, sharing her journey in service of God who desires to give us everything we need (not want), and exhorting us to give everything to God.

After all, beyond living completely for God, nothing else matters.

[1]   Mary DeMuth, Everything: What You Give and What You Gain by Becoming More Like Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Thomas Nelson, 2012), xiv.