Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Book Review: In His Steps

I was reading one of my favorite websites, Patrick Mead's tentpegs, and he recommended the book In His Steps by Charles Monroe Sheldon. I looked about on Amazon, and lo and behold, the Kindle edition is free! I couldn't resist free, so I downloaded it and read it fairly quickly. It's an excellent classic that I can't believe I had never heard of before now. As Patrick Mead said about the book, when you read it, it may change your life. You've been warned.

The book was first published in 1897, so it's a classic to say the least. This book is basically "What would Jesus do?" before WWJD was cool. Way before WWJD was cool. Or a bracelet.

The book begins with a homeless man who is out of work and desperate to feed his family. He rings the doorbell at Henry Maxwell's house one Friday. Henry Maxwell is the preacher at the First Church of Raymond, and a fine preacher at that. The First Church is wealthy and comfortable and among its congregants are members of the highest of society in Raymond . Maxwell is behind in his preparation and had already been interrupted several times this Friday. He answers the door. He's polite enough, but doesn't actually do anything for the homeless man. He sends him away and the tramp continues to go door to door begging for work.

Sunday, the same tramp shows up at the First Church and begins to tell his story to the congregation. He's very respectful, calm, and polite. He waits until Reverend Maxwell is finished speaking to address the congregation. As he is telling his story, he collapses there in front of the congregation. Rev. Maxwell takes him into his care, and he dies just a few days later, before his family can arrive.

The following Sunday, Reverend Maxwell is obviously affected by the past week's events. He is changed. He challenges his congregation to do nothing, absolutely nothing, without first asking the question, "What would Jesus do?" Several members accept the challenge, and take it very seriously. The rest of the book follows the characters who take the challenge, and the difference they make in the lives of so many in the town of Raymond, and then the movement spreads to Chicago where more lives are changed.

It's a beautiful collection of stories of selflessness. There are characters who resist the challenge. Others take it but do not follow through. Those who take the challenge seriously are changed forever in ways they wouldn't have imagined.

And this isn't just the trite, "Would Jesus steal that candy? Would Jesus smoke that cigarette? Would Jesus take that drink?" No, it isn't just about what Jesus would NOT do, though the characters absolutely conclude that there are things they are doing daily that Jesus would not do. This book is much more about what characters actively DO for others.

A newspaper editor risks his fortune and loses a lot of it because he refuses to print sensational stories and prints positive ones instead. A foreman at the railroad improves the working conditions for his employees and arranges for them to know Jesus. An extremely talented singer foregoes singing in front of crowds of wealthy people and instead chooses to use her beautiful voice to draw poor and hopeless people to Jesus. A reverend leaves his position at a wealthy church to risk his life and serve his community in the roughest part of town. A group take on the political challenge of closing the saloon. What if every Christian really took this challenge seriously? Would the world be a markedly different place? Would we see the kingdom come and God's will being done on earth as it is in heaven?

I'll be honest. This book has caused me to lie awake at night. I realize that I have found it too difficult to honestly ask and answer the question, "What would Jesus do?" It's not so much guilt and shame as it is a sense of helplessness. I'm praying that I will have the courage to do what Jesus would do. To have the courage to help others, to relieve their suffering when I am able and to suffer with them when I am not. I'm praying that I will be made more like Him, as were the characters in this book. If you've read the book and have some encouragement for me, please, contact me.

No comments:

Post a Comment