You might want to read Pastor…Are You Reading Too Much of The Same Thing? before you go further.
In my office next to big comfortable chair I sit on when spending time with God is my stack of quiet time tools. I have a Bible, a notebook for journaling, and a notebook for writing my prayers. I have a small pad of paper to write things down that I don’t want to forget, things that might pop into my mind and distract me. In addition to these, I always have a book I am reading devotionally for spiritual formation. Some of these books are considered spiritual classics, and some of them have been written by contemporary authors who focus on the inner life. Francis Bacon wrote, “Some books are to be tasted, others are to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.”
Over the years there have been many books that I have chewed and digested for the purpose of spiritual formation. Here are some examples:
- A Monk’s Alphabet by Jeremy Driscoll
- The Seeking Heart by François Fénelon
- The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence
- Devotional Classics, Selected Readings for Individuals and Groups edited by Richard Foster and James Bryan Smith
- Any volume from the Rekindling the Inner Fire series edited by David Hazard
- Shepherds Balm by Richard Earl
- The Wisdom of the Desert arranged by Thomas Merton
- My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers
- A Simple Path by Mother Teresa
- The Essential Wisdom of the Saints edited by Carol Kelly-Gangi
For the really, really serious reader:
- Interior Castle by Saint Teresa of Avila
- Dark Night of the Soul by Saint John of the Cross
- Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ by Jeanne Guyon
My two favorite books on the spiritual disciplines:
- Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster
- The Life You’ve Always Wanted by John Ortberg
My favorite spiritual writer of all time is Thomas Merton. In all my years of reading, no single writer has had more influence on my spiritual formation than Thomas Merton. Merton said, “For there are people one meets—in books and in life—with whom a deep resonance is at once established” and their books “open up a new road” for you. For some reason, Merton has been one of those people for me. If you are unfamiliar with Merton, the book Seeds, edited by Robert Inchausti, is a great introduction to his writings, and is, in itself, a great book to use devotionally. I always recommend Seeds to those who want to start reading Merton. When Merton was alive he endorsed A Thomas Merton Reader for those interested in getting to know him and his work. Both are excellent introductions.
Here are some helpful questions to ask to determine if a book is a spiritual classic, or a spiritual-formation-focused book, that can serve the inspirational category of reading:
Does this book have anything to do with church growth, church management, pastoral skills, philosophy of ministry, biblical commentary, Greek or Hebrew word study, or leadership development? If so, it’s not what I’m talking about.
Does this book have an obvious focus on spiritual formation, spiritual disciplines, personal intimacy with God or going deeper in one’s relationship with God? If so, then it probably is what I’m talking about.
Is the book trying to make you more knowledgeable or more spiritual? If the focus is more on education than formation, then it’s not what I’m talking about.
Is the author still living? If so, then there’s a 50/50 chance it’s not a spiritual classic.
Questions for reflection:
- Do I read more for education, recreation, or inspiration?
- What type of input do I need more of: education, recreation, or inspiration?
- Which books on the recommended reading list have I read?
- Which books on the list would I be interested in reading?
- Which of these could I buy today?
- What’s stopping me from buying it?
The above article is an excerpt from my book: Mile Wide, Inch Deep: Experiencing God Beyond the Shallows, Soul Care For Busy Pastors and the Rest of Us. Find your copy here.