THE 15 BOOKS THAT SHAPED MY SPIRITUAL LANDSCAPE
These are the books that I still go back to. Only two are fiction. The majority of the 15 authors represented here have written a lot of other books which have also affected me deeply. I thought it made sense to only list 15 “different” authors instead of a list of 30 with multiple books by the same author. Here are the specific reasons I chose these particular books which have aided me on my own spiritual journey and they are in no purposeful order:
- Kingdoms In Conflict by Chuck Colson. I have always struggled with the tension between the secular and the sacred or the church and the world. We make a huge mistake by camping out stubbornly on either side, as Christians are supposed to influence or impact the world, instead of hide from it. This book is authored by the man who went to prison due to Watergate where he sincerely met Christ and converted to Christianity. I was impressed how Colson used secular examples to bring out spiritual principles. For example, Colson mentioned the book Lord of the Flies leading to the question “Where does evil come from?” Within. To me, this is a great manual regarding how to become a “thinking” Christian. So desperately needed today in our skeptic world.
- Disappointment With God by Philip Yancey. After reading this, while going through my own spiritual disillusionment, I have taught from this book and I have given this book away as many times as I have re-read it. I never dreamed of finding, much less reading a book that captured the thoughts I had about life and God and questions that no one dared whisper much less talk about.
- The Search for Significance by Robert McGee. As the south was literally frozen during the perfect storm in March of 1993 dropping over 20 inches of snow, I was simultaneously thawing out emotionally for two weeks on a psych ward at West Paces Ferry Hospital, in Atlanta, Ga. The triple threat of another soured relationship with a girl, loneliness and family dysfunction had taken its toll. As I got settled in my hospital room, I was given this book. In fact, every patient there was given this book. This classic heralds that my worth or my significance does not come from my performance, no matter what the world declares or how I feel on the inside.
- Come Before Winter by Chuck Swindoll. Grateful that this author signed my diploma from Dallas Theological Seminary for my graduate degree in Christian Education before he returned back to the Pastorate. I am also thankful that God led me to this book. Swindoll describes it best: “People who occasionally find themselves in depressing places of confinement or restraint, with no sense of purpose or direction. I call such experiences the winter of our lives.”
- Wild at Heart by John Eldredge. I love the great outdoors like hiking and camping on the Appalachian Trail. I will never forget riding a horse up to the top of an inactive volcano in Guatemala or swimming in Lake Atitlan in that same country. There was the experience of learning how to rapel off of a 70′ drop in the Blue Ridge mountains on the property of The Cove in Asheville, North Carolina during my college summer camp Counselor days. As a man, God wants to take me on an adventure that involves risks. The real rugged Christian Life is far from boring. Eldredge writes: “But it’s going to take risk, and danger, and there’s the catch. Are we willing to live with the level of risk God invites us to?”
- This Present Darkness by Frank Peretti. No, I am not a big fiction reader like my wife, but this one got me. As I read it, I found myself remembering weird situations I had either observed or been involved in that could not be explained away. Looking back, it was clearly spiritual warfare. That topic is still taboo for some people, but no one can deny the existence of evil in this ‘ol world. However, folks get a little nervous when asked if evil has an author. I have experienced spiritual warfare and I pray specific warfare prayers as I continue my own journey. It took this “fiction” to make it real to me.
- Traveling Light by Max Lucado. I love it when well-known folks share their authentic raw story and in the context of this devotional (about Psalm 23) Lucado does. Letting God have our baggage and our issues is huge! If I don’t drop my junk and let God carry it, then I indirectly make the people in my life carry it.
- The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp. From the girl who witnessed her sister die tragically, to the teen cutting herself, to the woman who later gave her broken self to others as part of her healing, did more than inspire me. This author influenced me to not only tell my raw story, but to write my story. Choosing a favorite quote from Voskamp is almost like choosing one of your children over another. “God’s mercies are new every morning–not as an obligation to you, but as an affirmation of you.”
- The Ragamuffin Gospel by the late Brennan Manning. This book is like combining the practical Christian life and the reality of being human and all the messiness in between. Learning of Manning’s alcoholism makes the following quote even more real, “To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side, I learn who I am and what God’s grace means. As Thomas Merton put it, “A saint is not someone who is good but who experiences the goodness of God.”
- Waiting by Ben Patterson. Why are the best books the smallest? This is the best book on the peril of waiting, hands down! This 170-page book I have given away more than once. The following is taken from this book which shows why I am crazy about the way this author writes: “I know her well, this wife of mine. I’ve stood beside Lauretta at the birth of our four children. I can often tell what she will say before she says it. Her moods, her profile, the way her eyebrows arch when she talks seriously, her inability to remember the punch line of a joke, the way she bounces up on her toes when she runs, her icy feet on the back of my thighs when we get in bed-I know these like I know myself. But there are times when it is as though I’m seeing her for the first time. Like the night we sat up late and talked. A warm rain was falling outside. The air was heavy with the smell of freshly mown summer grass. I don’t recall the subject of the conversation, but I’ll never forget how the mystery of her washed over me. Where did she come from? How on earth did I ever end up with her? Who is she, really? God! I’m glad to be with her! She will always be Eve to this Adam. I didn’t plan on her. In all the years I waited for her, I never once asked God to give me this particular woman. Sometimes I look at the knuckles on my right hand. There is no sign of the damage I did to them so many years ago as I smashed them into my dashboard out of frustration over a lost love. I thank God for all the times I’ve prayed for silver and he’s said no-and made me wait so he could give me gold instead.”
- Windows of the Soul by Ken Gire. I remember the room I was in where I read this. After reading this book, I got up and closed the door and got down on my knees and wept. I didn’t want anyone to hear me as I did not just cry, I sobbed.
- The Shack by William Young. Yep, I received a lot of interesting comments from my Christian “friends” on Facebook because I liked this “fiction.” The second and final fiction on this list. As I read this book in its entirety on the beach one summer, I felt the undescribable love of God for “me”. That is why I was genuinely sad when this book ended. Oh how we forget that God can use anything, anyone, any book to reach people, even this controversial fiction!
- Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer. Being in the position of either figuring out what your vocation should be or being in the position of questioning your current vocation is not easy.
- Messy Spirituality by Michael Yaconelli. This tiny book speaks volumes about the messiness of following God due to our humanness.
- My Utmost For His Highest by Oswald Chambers. I was given this small red book (published in 1935) as a high school graduation present. Back in the late 70’s and early 80’s there were not many devotionals to speak of or read, other than maybe Streams in the Desert. Each 1-page meditation is short but not sweet as the conviction the Holy Spirit still uses through the late Oswald Chambers is utterly amazing!