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Book Review: The Joy of Following Jesus

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J. Oswald Sanders, The Joy of Following Jesus. Chicago: Moody Press, 1990. 156 pages. (aff link)

I have always enjoyed reading Oswald Sanders. Formerly a missionary executive, he spent many years teaching leadership principles as well as lessons on the Christian life. Perhaps his best-known book is Spiritual Leadership. When I was starting out in my own leadership journey, this book was deeply impactful on me. It actually was the title my father and I chose when we wrote our own book on leadership. This particular edition is a revised edition produced for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. I believe I received it will speaking at the Cove a while back.

I always enjoy reading the “older” writers on the Christian life. They seem to have a keen insight into as well as reverence for God’s word along with a penchant for practical application. Though I try to keep up on the latest influential books of our age, I am increasingly drawn to the “classics” of years gone by.

I am increasingly drawn to these shorter books of under 200 pages. They present plenty to think about while not overwhelming the reader with more material than they can handle. What drew me to this book was twofold. First, it is a strong biblical exposition on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. This is a subject I am currently focusing on and will be writing on myself. Second, it highlights the joy we experience when we do follow Jesus.

Sanders notes that the word “disciple” is used 269 times in the New testament, while the term “Christian” is only used three times (8). The word “Believers” is only used twice. He also points out that the word disciple means “learner” (25).

I will not take time to summarize all that sanders teaches in this book. He makes a number of memorable statements and provides a refreshing look at what it meant for the disciples to follow Jesus. He claims: “The Lord did not make the comfort of the messenger the deciding factor” (27) and “The Lord offers us no security except in Himself” (35). He also states: “The business of living the Christian life as it should be lived is too lofty in its ideals and too exacting in its demands for us to engage alone. We desperately need a partner with adequate capital to make it a success” (49). Sanders adds: “But is God so unreasonable as to make impossible demands and then hold us responsible for our failure?” (50). He also states: “The Holy Spirit will not consent to be a sleeping partner, although He may be a secret partner” (52).

Sanders occasionally makes some thought-provoking statements, such as: “Only twice in Scripture is Christ specifically stated to be our example. . . He was only manifesting in time what he had always been in eternity” (58). Here are a few other quotations that caught my attention:

“A pessimist will never be an inspiring leader” (60).

“Perhaps God is not so economical and utilitarian as we are” (71)

“We tend to become like those we admire” (76)

“A glance at Christ will save, but it is the gazing at Christ that sanctifies” (76)

“The presence or absence of spiritual maturity is never more noticeable than in one’s attitude to the changing circumstances of life” (77)

“Our enemy chooses his timing shrewdly” (79)

“In reality there should be no such thing as an undisciplined disciple.” (85)

“They seldom soar above past experience or natural thought. How seldom we pray the unprecedented, let alone the impossible.” (99)

“God delights to answer daring prayers that are based on His promises” (99)

“It is shameless persistence that comes away with full hands” (101)

“The only right a Christian has is the right to give up his rights” (106)

Sanders also humorously quotes someone who stated, “He was so crooked he could hide behind a corkscrew!” (133).

Two statements I might challenge are these. First, he stated that Jesus was lonely (121). Perhaps he would have explained that there were times his earthly companions could not understand, or go with Jesus. However, it is clear that Jesus always enjoyed fellowship with His Father as well as the Holy Spirit. This probably just to make a point, but it could have been explained better. Should a Christian be lonely? Should God’s presence in our life be enough? It would seem that Jesus was constantly seeking to escape the crowds so He could enjoy solitary time with His Father.

Secondly, Sanders cites the example of William Carey who was providentially delayed from leaving for the mission field and, as a result, his wife ultimately decided to accompany him to India (109). Sanders was a missionary leader and so he would have found comfort in the story. However, the rest of the story is that Carey’s wife ultimately went insane, trapped on the other side of the world with her missionary husband. Anyone who is familiar with that history would have been reluctant to use that particular illustration to make Sanders’ point.

That said, I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to others. It always does one good to draw close to Jesus and His disciples and to see the enormous possibilities when we follow Jesus. Here is a prayer Sanders included:

“O God, that I might have towards my God a heart of flame,

Towards my fellow men a heart of love,

Towards myself, a heart of steel.” (85).

Rating: 4

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