Spiritual Rhythm by Mark Buchanan

imageIn the opening pages of Spiritual Rhythm, Pastor Mark Buchanan rehearses with us of the closing verses of Psalm 88. The closing verse especially–“the darkness is my closest friend.”—speaks to a spiritual darkness nearly as black as the afternoon at Golgotha. All that the psalmist had, or thought he had, is gone, and he cries to the darkness to explain why God has abandoned him here. Most Christians can identify with the bleakness evoked in that scripture, of knowing that moment when life has crashed down and crushed our souls. As our fingers weakly reach from the rubble for the hand of the Father, none is found. We find ourselves in a season of winter.

Buchanan echoes a well known theme similar to the conclusion drawn by the author of Ecclesiastes, that our lives can be viewed as a cycle of seasons. Just as our moods and behaviors differ from season to season as the weather changes, so also should our spiritual lives mirror the life-season we find ourselves in. An important distinction that the Pastor draws in the analogy is a difference in the length of the seasons. According to the calendar winter will last precisely 90 days; a spiritual winter may last an achingly long time or pass in a few weeks. This variability demands that we prepare for the eventuality of a sudden transition into a new season before it arrives.

Spiritual Rhythm combines a pastoral sensitivity aimed at helping the believer identify the spiritual cycles and a teacher’s heart for training the disciple. In the same way that we anticipate the season to follow our present experience and prepare for it, Buchanan suggests that our spiritual disciplines should prepare for us the coming seasonal transition. Without this preparation, he says, we may find ourselves cursing the darkness rather than being able to thank God for it.

Pastor Buchanan engages the reader in the book as he has in his previous volumes. With a pastoral sensitivity and an ear for the proper personal interlude, Mark speaks to the reader as closely as your own pastor would and in a way that only a trusted associate can. He does not speak from the lofty pulpit of theological precept. Rather, he leads us to search the scriptures to find the nuggets that may not preach well but become the pearls that we jot in our journals or remember long after the book is returned to the shelf. Men will be particularly touched by the volume as Buchanan willingly visits and revisits the heart-rending pain of the lost of his friend and co-pastor Carol, expressing his pain and sorrow with complete abandon that many men strive to hide beneath layers of false machismo. A man who is especially observant will also never forget the name Abishai again.

Spiritual Rhythm is a volume that reads fast, but is one that you will want to linger on and savor. The temptation will be strong to turn this into a small group curriculum, but this material and the spiritual exercises lend themselves more to personal practice. Unless all of the members of a cell found themselves in the same spiritual season at the same time, the needs of all of the individuals would more often than not find themselves in conflict. Spend time with this book on your own and align your actions to your current season. Never again will you be anxious at an approaching transition.

I’m grateful to Zondervan who graciously provided this copy for review.

Psalm 88–The Darkness is My Closest Friend


Your wrath has swept over me; your terrors have destroyed me.

All day long they surround me like a flood; they have completely engulfed me.

You have taken my companions and loved one from me;

the darkness is my closest friend. (Ps 88: 16-18)

The psalter contains numerous pleas for restoration, salvation and redemption but none as bleak as this. The psalmist lives a life, as it were, knowing only the dark side of God’s presence. Unlike Job who once knew a life of blessing, the psalmist here describes a life of pain and affliction from birth to the day he pens this scroll. The tragedy of his life is of such a degree that it is finally responsible for driving away even his loved ones and companions as he lives with one foot constantly at the edge of the grave.

The casual bible reader will quickly sift through these verses, reading forward to find more uplifting passages, but this would be a mistake.

Individual purpose is never easy to discern with our limited mindset. Why God would burden one of his beloved with such difficulty without respite is beyond our ability understand. And yet, we are called by the scriptures to endure, and even find joy in our travail, trusting that our pain and the darkness we inhabit has a larger purpose in His plan. Our response often echoes the despair that rings in these verses.

But I cry to you for help, O Lord; in the morning my prayer comes before you. 

Why, O Lord, do you reject me and hide your face from me? (vv 13-14)

This is a familiar frustration, that of the prayer that does not reach its audience. We plead and cry out but silence and pain are the only responses we receive. The Tempter whispers in our ear to surrender, to give up the belief that relief is at hand and to curse the One who visits it upon us. We come close, but we cannot do it. God will redeem this pain and bring light to this darkness. It may not be until we have left this plane, but it will occur. So we continue, like the psalmist, to raise our voice…

I call to you, O Lord, every day; I spread out my hands to you. (v9b)


Grace and peace to you.

image Ozan Ozan