I’m doing a new series for the next five weeks about books that have changed my life. This week we’ll look at 10 Amazing Spiritual Growth Books.
Before we do, I need to say this: I don’t adhere to everything said in every book, nor do I agree with everything. I read books with discernment, test them by Scripture, and make an informed decision about their content. I have no doubt that if it were possible to gather all these authors in one room, they would disagree on matters of theology and practice. I would hope they’d invoke a higher theology of love, though, and warmly embrace the other despite differences.
Real Love for Real Life by Andi Ashworth. This is a beautifully written and wonderfully lived book. I loved it so much, I wrote about it on my blog right after I read it. Her words ring true to me today when I realize that true community comes with skin on. Consider this quote:
“We were created to respond to voice, touch, and physical presence, yet our society is increasingly voiceless, faceless, and untouchable. We can bank, shop, put gas in the car, buy groceries, and make business calls without once interacting with a live person. Most of the time it’s convenient, many times it’s frustrating, but all of it contributes to the loss of human connection in daily life.”
How I grew: This book helped me realize that the frenetic pace of my life was unsustainable, and that people were far more important than my to do list. Andi’s rich text beckoned me closer to Jesus and His people.
Approaching God by Lisa Borden. I met Lisa when we lived in Europe, and immediately saw her word talent. She has a way about the way she weaves phrases that make you ache inside for Jesus. I wrote about the book briefly here.
She wrote, “Our job is not to tell Him in what manner our healing should come, but to expect Him to use the form He leads us into.”
How I grew: Similar to Andi’s book, I had such a divine sense that Lisa lived her words, which made them all the more powerful and winsome. It produced in me a longing for the heart of God, a realization that my pace was too swift (Hmmm, do you see a common thread here?).
The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence. I first read this book in college, and it changed me utterly. I realized that to be joyful in the mundane, I only had to become more aware of Jesus’ presence with me.
He said, “that it was a great delusion to think that time set aside for prayer should be different from other times, that we were equally obliged to be united to God by work in the time assigned to work as by prayer during prayer time.”
How I grew: I realized that how I lived my life showed how much I truly communed with Jesus. I hungered afresh for His presence even while I did unnoticed things. And I prayed more fervently throughout the day, wanting to practice that ongoing, uninterrupted conversation with God. That habit has continued to this day.
Red Moon Rising: How 24-7 Prayer is Awakening a Generation by Pete Greig and Dave Roberts. I’ve had the privilege in participating in prayer rooms, and I’ve witnessed the power of prayer. This book is one of those inspirational kick-in-the-behind kind of books that re-alerts us to the importance of prayer. The authors write:
“I think there’s a danger spiritually, for many of us, that if God packed up and left town today we might not notice until tomorrow, or worse. We have strategies and structures that can easily bypass the Holy Spirit, strategies for funding, strategic ways of prioritizing time and advancing the kingdom which were ignored completely by Jesus. He allowed the woman with the issue of blood to divert His 911 call to a dying girl’s bedside. He never established a Bible school and never even thought of a name for His ministry. He prioritized people without influence, offended those with power, and apparently missed major ministry opportunities in order to picnic and pray”
How I grew: Oh dear. I’m re-reading that quote again and feeling convicted afresh. As an author, I walk in the realms of platforms and “getting noticed.” And yet, Jesus looked at the overlooked. He dignified the undignified. This book reminded me that God’s economy is not mine. And amen to that.
Praying for Strangers by River Jordan. This is a recent addition to my spiritual growth tomes. Here’s a post I wrote about the book. This book reminded me of how broken this crazy world is, and how stopping my life for a moment with a heart bent toward prayer could change everything.
She writes, “I wasn’t meant to be alone. That very thing that I’ve craved and longed for, believed maybe I was destined for, and have not fulfilled, was never my calling. My destiny was that elderly face in the car window, the child on the bus, the woman on the passing train. I was born to lose myself in humanity and that’s no easy thing for me.”
How I grew: To be honest, this is aspirational for me. Cordoned behind a computer, I tend to live in the safety of distance. I do have amazing friends and of course I interact, but I’ve forgotten how beautiful Jesus is on the faces of strangers. Again, His call is to others, to love them well.
Disciple by Juan Carlos Ortiz. I first read this book in college after I heard Juan Carlos Ortiz speak at a leadership retreat in Malibu (Young Life camp in British Columbia). For the first time, I understood what it meant to be free in Jesus, to live a Spirit-enlivened life. I’d made rules my god, so afraid to disappoint my Savior.
He wrote, “Some people fool themselves by seeking the Spirit’s gifts instead of His fruit. Even though we appreciate the gifts, we must be careful where we put the emphasis. Jesus never said, ‘You will know them by their gifts.’ He said, ‘You will know them by their fruits’ (Matthew 7:20).”
How I grew: I learned the importance of love, both for Jesus and others. I fell in love with Jesus who was so much more than I thought. He loved me! He died for me! And I realized that my Christianity wasn’t worth much if I didn’t take that raucous love Jesus gave me and extended it to others.
The Calvary Road by Roy Hession. Like the book above, this one is hard to find and out of print. But it’s worth the digging. I read this book in college as well, and it ROCKED MY WORLD. It still does. My friend Heidi reads it every year, and I try to do the same. Hession shares about life after he experienced the East African revival. And his message was the power of brokenness. He writes:
“It is so often self who tries to live the Christian life (the mere fact that we use the word ‘try’ indicates that it is self who has the responsibility.) It is self, too, who is often doing Christian work. It is always self who gets irritable and envious and resentful and critical and worried. It is self who is hard and unyielding in its attitude toward others. It is self who is shy and self conscious and reserved. No wonder we need breaking. As long as self is in control, God can do little with us, for the fruit of the Spirit (enumerated in Galatians 5) with which God longs to fill us is the complete antithesis of the hard, unbroken spirit within us and presupposes that self has been crucified.”
How I grew. This is a linchpin book for me. Whenever I’m tempted to get a big head and think I’m all that, I read this book and realize that Jesus is all that. My strength doesn’t come from wherewithal, but from my weakness married to Jesus’ strength. Reading this book, I realize my need for Jesus. That if left up to myself I would honestly be a complete utter wreck. Oh how I need Him!
Money, Possessions and Eternity by Randy Alcorn. I read this in the early years of our marriage as we tried to live on less and yet maintain a kingdom perspective. Alcorn reminded me that this kingdom on earth isn’t the same as what would happen in heaven. Was I living for my own comfort and earthly rewards, or was I paying it forward, hoping for a reward in the afterlife. This book continues to inform the way we give.
Alcorn writes, “Like many of God’s servants in the early Church, Paul was neither healthy or wealthy. It’s clear that God didn’t intend for him to be healthy or wealthy. Paul is now enjoying perfect health and wealth for all eternity. But when he was on this earth, it was God’s higher plan that for much of his life he would be poor and sick.”
How I grew. In so many ways. Alcorn placed the real gospel before me, the conundrum gospel where when we give away stuff we understand the kingdom better. He helped me see that how I spent my money and time directly reflected how much I loved Jesus. He redirected my thoughts toward outrageous generosity instead of stingy hoarding. And I realized that as I suffered physically or monetarily, God had a much higher purpose in mind, one I might not see this side of heaven.
Surprised by the Power of the Spirit by Jack Deere. I read this book while my husband attended seminary. I appreciated Deere’s theological approach to the power of the Holy Spirit. This book is Deere’s journey toward letting go of control and welcoming the power of the Holy Spirit. While I don’t agree with everything he says, I appreciated the humility he used as he took his journey.
He writes, “Not only do we have to become like little children to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 18:3), but we have to continue in the humility of a little child if we want to progress in the kingdom (Matt. 18:4).”
How I grew: I learned that I had to let go of what I expected God to do, and be okay with the power of God in whatever way He saw fit to work. I fell in love with the Scriptures afresh, realizing that God is the hero of the Story, and I’m just so thankful to play a very small part. I realized my smallness and His bigness. The God who parted the Red Sea, who defeated Satan in the wilderness, who raised the dead, was the same God today. Wow.
My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers. My friend Johnny Blincoe introduced this to me while he was in college and I was a relatively new believer in high school. Then my roommate Amy bought me a copy. It’s a white paperback, quite disheveled and worn. And often read.
One of my favorite quotes: “I am called to live in perfect relation to God so that my life produces a longing after God in other lives, not admiration for myself. Thoughts about myself hinder my usefulness to God. God is not after perfecting me to be a specimen in His show-room; He is getting me to the place where He can use me. Let Him do what He likes.”
How I grew. It’s hard for me to quantify this. Chambers always messes with me. He points me back to self sacrifice and keeping Jesus as supreme. He digs deeper than most books written on spiritual growth way down to the heart of the matter. And no matter how many times I’ve read a particular devotion, I come away perplexed, challenged and encouraged.