My oldest daughter and I were talking the other day and comparing our experiences of being in high school as a Christian. In many ways, our experiences could not be more different. Where they are similar was in our hunger to be stretched and pushed. Because we were both pretty low-drama teenagers, it was easy for us to be overlooked in some ways because more attention is usually given to the drama, whether by choice or necessity. So we got kudos for being “nice young ladies” with leadership gifts instead of being challenged to be set apart for more than being “nice young ladies.”
I shared with her the ways I began growing in my relationship with Jesus. Apart from being with God in His Word, one of the ways God stretched me most was by putting me in the company of big souls. Some of that meant pursuing time with more mature people who would speak into my life. More often, it meant reading books by people with big souls who would stretch me and cause me to think beyond my limited experience and small circle of influence. So really, if you were to ask me who some of my mentors have been, it would not be a lie to include C.S. Lewis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Amy Carmichael or Richard Foster. As our conversation was wrapping up, she said, “Mom, send me a list of the most spiritually formative books in your life.”
In mentioning this to other folks, I realized that a syllabus of sorts is a pretty welcomed commodity. I get that not everyone is a reader, but I encourage you to pick one book and let it sharpen you a bit. As we get older, many of our ideas and beliefs become solidified. That’s not a bad thing unless the ideas and beliefs are based on preference instead of Truth (and yes, I believe there is absolute Truth). My prayer is that some of these books will allow you to abandon some of your pet theologies that are built more on culture or upbringing and less on Scripture. Order one or two, carve out a little time and put yourself in the company of a big soul.
Each of the following books has molded me in specific ways. I have read some of them so many times that their pages are worn and marked.
Knowing God J.I. Packer
This book challenged me to move from knowing about God to knowing God.
“For some unfathomable reason, God wants me as His friend, and desires to be my friend, and has given His Son to die for me in order to realize this purpose. We cannot work these thoughts out here, but merely to mention them is enough to show how much it means to know, not merely that we know God, but that He knows us.”
Celebration of Discipline Richard Foster
If you are stuck and hungry to grow, this book offers ancient and practical disciplines that will grow your faith immeasurably.
“God intends the Disciplines of the spiritual life to be for ordinary human beings: people who have jobs, who care for children, who must wash dishes and mow lawns. In fact, the Disciplines are best exercised in the midst of our normal daily activities. If they are to have any transforming effect, the effect must be found in the ordinary junctures of human life: in our relationships with our husband or wife, our brothers and sisters, our friends and neighbors.”
John G. Paton: Missionary to the New Hebrides, An Autobiography
Living among constant dangers and death threats, battling against illness and enduring great personal loss and sacrifice, John G. Paton labored on and showed great love for the island peoples. You will be riveted by his story.
“Being entirely at the mercy of such doubtful and vacillating friends, I, though perplexed, felt it best to obey. I climbed into the tree and was left there alone in the bush. The hours I spent there live all before me as if it were but of yesterday. I heard the frequent discharging of muskets and the yells of the Savages. Yet I sat there among the branches, as safe as in the arms of Jesus. Never, in all my sorrows, did my Lord draw nearer to me, and speak more soothingly in my soul, than when the moonlight flickered among those chestnut leaves, and the night air played on my throbbing brow, as I told all my heart to Jesus. Alone, yet not alone! If it be to glorify my God, I will not grudge to spend many nights alone in such a tree, to feel again my Savior’s spiritual presence, to enjoy His consoling fellowship. If thus thrown back upon your own soul, alone, all alone, in the midnight, in the bush, in the very embrace of death itself, have you a Friend that will not fail you then?”