Book Review: Making All Things New by Henri Nouwen

There are only a few books that I would recommend to every lay leader, pastor, and follower of Jesus. Making All Things New by Henri Nouwen is certainly one of them. This book is in my short stack of recommended discipleship reads for everyone. This book, now a classic, is short and simple read, that strongly communicates a contagious vision of a life lived well by spiritual discipline. Nouwen uniquely invites the reader into self-awareness, allowing them to grasp complex concepts with simple clarity, and identifying where personal transformation is needed in our lives and culture.

In Making All Things New, Henri Nouwen points out that; “worrying has become such a part and parcel of our daily life that a life without worries seems not only impossible, but even undesirable…Our worries motivate us to work hard, to prepare ourselves for the future, and to arm ourselves against impending threats. Yet Jesus says, “Do not worry.”…With this radical and unrealistic counsel, Jesus points to the possibility of a life without worries, a life in which all things are being made new.”[1] Undoubtedly, our spiritual lives are distracted when taken over by our worries.

Also often preventing us from accepting a deeper invitation into a spiritual life is also our busyness; as “our days as filled with things to do, people to meet, projects to finish, letters to write, calls to make, and appointments to keep…In fact, we are almost always aware of being behind schedule. There is a nagging sense that there are unfinished tasks, unfulfilled promises, unrealized proposals. There is always something else that we should have remembered, done, or said…Thus, although we are very busy, we also have a lingering feeling of never really fulfilling our obligations. The strange thing, however, is that it is very hard not to be busy. Being busy has become a status symbol.”[2] We like being busy, and seemingly those things we stay busy with become priorities in our lives, much more than we prioritize discipling our lives to spiritual matters.

Sadly, because we “have only a vague inner feeling of discontent with our present way of living, and only an indefinite desire for things spiritual, our lives will continue to stagnate in a generalized melancholy.”[3] In that we give into resignation rather than pursuit, displaying apathy rather than passion. Nouwen points out that “it is this mood of resignation that prevents us from actively searching for the life of the Spirit.”[4] We are left with a journey in which “our occupations and preoccupations fill our external and internal lives to the brim. They prevent the Spirit of God from breathing freely in us and thus renewing our lives.”[5] However, Jesus extends to us an invitation to experience a transformed way of living.

Henri Nouwen released Making All Things New in 1981. Forty years later, his invitation to the spiritual life still stands as a short, simple, and strong teaching on what it means to encounter God’s peace and Holy Spirit, through a life focused on spiritual disciplines and seeking a life obediently surrendered to the Kingdom of God. A life that sustains us through worry and busyness. He makes the point that “a spiritual life requires discipline because we need to learn to listen to God, who constantly speaks but whom we seldom hear.”[6] Spiritual disciplines train us to live spiritual lives with an “active presence of God’s Spirit in the midst of a worry-filled existence.”[7] It is in disciplines that we experience God’s peace.

Disciplines help us discover that “a spiritual life requires a change of heart, a conversion.”[8] Through that conversion we find ourselves with a renewed purpose and propulsion from our encounters with God’s scriptures and presence; a renewed purpose and propulsion that helps us move past our occupations and preoccupations, to a life that is purposed with a mission to see “our lives become a continuation of Jesus’ mission.”[9]

Nouwen is committed to seeing the church disciplined in such a spiritual life that we live a life that “is indeed a life in which we are lifted up to become partakers of the divine life.”[10]  This book simply helps us grasp that it is “through the practice of a spiritual discipline we become attentive to that small voice and willing to respond when we hear it.”[11] As I said earlier, it is a guide to finding “the active presence of God’s Spirit in the midst of a worry-filled existence.”[12]

Henri Nouwen’s writings continue to inspire, and this work is surely at the top of his forty-plus books on spiritual formation. An ordained Catholic Priest, he also obtained a doctorandus in psychology and taught at Notre Dame, Yale, and Harvard. His writings have gained ecumenical respect, and he might next best be known for pastoring L'Arche Daybreak - where people with intellectual disabilities and their caregivers live together in community.

I highly recommend this book. Take a minute to discover my favorite quotes and notes from this book.


[1] Henri J.M. Nouwen, Making All Things New: An Invitation to the Spiritual Life (San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row Publishers, 1981), 15-16.

[2] Henri J.M. Nouwen, Making All Things New: An Invitation to the Spiritual Life (San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row Publishers, 1981), 23-24.

[3] Henri J.M. Nouwen, Making All Things New: An Invitation to the Spiritual Life (San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row Publishers, 1981), 22.

[4] Henri J.M. Nouwen, Making All Things New: An Invitation to the Spiritual Life (San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row Publishers, 1981), 22.

[5] Henri J.M. Nouwen, Making All Things New: An Invitation to the Spiritual Life (San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row Publishers, 1981), 28.

[6] Henri J.M. Nouwen, Making All Things New: An Invitation to the Spiritual Life (San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row Publishers, 1981), 67.

[7] Henri J.M. Nouwen, Making All Things New: An Invitation to the Spiritual Life (San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row Publishers, 1981), 93.

[8] Henri J.M. Nouwen, Making All Things New: An Invitation to the Spiritual Life (San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row Publishers, 1981), 57.

[9] Henri J.M. Nouwen, Making All Things New: An Invitation to the Spiritual Life (San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row Publishers, 1981), 56.

[10] Henri J.M. Nouwen, Making All Things New: An Invitation to the Spiritual Life (San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row Publishers, 1981), 54.

[11] Henri J.M. Nouwen, Making All Things New: An Invitation to the Spiritual Life (San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row Publishers, 1981), 66.

[12] Henri J.M. Nouwen, Making All Things New: An Invitation to the Spiritual Life (San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row Publishers, 1981), 93.

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