Helpful Hints: A Spiritual Reading List
I was talking with my brother this week and he mentioned how he wished that the Lord would direct him clearly, through literature. He said he wished the Lord would just give him a particular list of books to read - which would enable him to know the things He wanted him to know, and therefore excel in the things He wanted him to excel in.
Although literature itself doesn't change us, the Spirit of the literature can. The Scriptures, for example, were divinely inspired - literally "breathed out by God" (2 Tim. 3:16). No matter how far we advance as a society, they will never become "old news." God is timeless. Therefore, His words are timeless, "living and active" (Heb. 4:12). That's how it's always been and that's how it's always going to be.
The physical Scriptures, as mere paper and ink, will wither and fade, but the Spirit of the text "will stand forever" (Isa. 40:8). The Spirit is the substance of reality. It is intimately aware of "the depths of God" (1 Cor. 2:10), and it presses on us to know the depths of God as well, who is Reality Himself. The Spirit does this through the revelation of the Word of God in written form.
I also believe though that there are some men and women who have expounded upon the truth of reality with such precision and with such eloquence that we take up the Word of God afresh from that point on, noticing truth in the pages that we never noticed before. These men and women have also been inspired by God - not to add to the Scriptures, but to illuminate them in such a way that we can grab hold of the Spirit as we read, live, and hope in the Word of God.
So here is a short reading list of the particular books that have allowed me to engage with the Spirit more fully:
In this book, Oden elaborates on the emotional nature of man and his relationship with time - particularly, his emotional response to the quality of reality as defined by personal values. Because we are valuing beings and because our consciousness is confined to the present moment, we can look back to the past and feel grief because our values weren't actualized. Or we can look forward into the future and experience anxiety because our values may be threatened.
Although the present is all that exists, we rarely live in it. And if by chance we do, we experience boredom because we are not living in proximity to our desires. So we're always grieved, bored, or anxious - unless, that is, we stop placing a messianic expectation on our values and turning them into idols. When we can live in the present, in the midst of forgiveness (which is the Christian response to grief) and hope (the Christian response to anxiety), we can live fully satisfied, because God is present only in the present.
This little book, in my opinion, expounds on the relationship between the Father and the incarnate Son better than any book I've ever read. Frank Laubach ran an experiment on himself to see if he could hold God in his mind every second of every day - to feel Him in every action, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant. I can't think of anyone else who heeded the life of Christ the way he did, with such child-like curiosity. He desired in every way to make the words of Jesus a reality, when he said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise" (Jn. 5:19).
In his book, Steindl-Rast speaks of all of life as gratuitous, freely gifted to us. We rarely see life as a gift, but often as a series of monotonous activities, hopefully leading up to something we may perhaps be fond of. If we were to see life as a gift, though, it would provoke surprise in us. We would be surprised by what we would call the trivialities of life. "Even the predictable turns into surprise the moment we stop taking it for granted" (p. 9).
Here is one of my favorite passages: "Too easily are we inclined to imagine that God created this world for a purpose. We are so caught up in purpose that we would feel more comfortable if God shared our preoccupation with work. But God plays" (p. 73). Life was always meant to be good. Free. Enjoyable. The author really gets to the heart of what God wants - and what He wants is for us to enjoy each moment with Him.
This is a short, quick reading list. But I encourage you to let these books shape the way you think. Don't just read them to check them off of your list. Read slow. Digest. Meditate. And allow these books to connect you with the Spirit in a greater measure.
Director of Youth & Discipleship
Riviera Baptist Church