Confession: I’ve always been more of an escapist reader than a educational reader.
My love of reading focused solely on fictional books that allowed me to travel to another world and get lost in its story.
It’s not so much that I want to flee from my life. Instead, reading has always been a safe space where I can quiet my mind.
At some point in college, my love of reading started to expand to nonfiction books. That desire grew after college since I wasn’t being buried in required readings of the dry-textbook variety.
I’ve been steadily increasing my nonfiction reads alongside my diet of fiction reads for almost a decade now. And I have to say, it’s been a joy.
In that time, I’ve discovered 5 specific books that have deeply influenced my heart, mind and walk with God over the years.
In many ways, they changed my life. And I think they could change your life, too.
Here they are, in no particular order.
1. “Celebration of Discipline” by Richard Foster
By the time I read this book, I had been a believer for years. But I had always struggled with the spiritual disciplines of prayer, meditation, fasting, reading Scripture (and others).
They hung over me not on a list I like to call “things-I-should-be-doing-but-am-not-so-I-feel-guilty.”
This book changed all of that for me.
Foster framed the entire book upon the premise that while God can meet us anywhere with His grace, He has promised specifically to meet us in these disciplines.
This thought transformed spiritual disciplines from a burden on my to-do list into good gifts from a Father who desires to connect with His child.
So when I read the Bible, pray, meditate on His Word, etc., I can know that God is providing His grace to me through those practices. Even if I don’t have any warm, fuzzy feelings, He is present and working.
It’s been a while since I read this book, so I may be reducing some of its key points. But I do know it revolutionized how I approached my spiritual walk and, in particular, my devotional time.
I still struggle to incorporate spiritual disciplines into my life. However, they no longer feel onerous.
They instead continue to remain as a gift that allows me to experience the grace of God I need so desperately each day.
2. “The Cost of Discipleship” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
This book is a tough — but good — read.
It’s difficult because Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s intellect runs circles around mine. Additionally, his writings tend to be on the drier side.
However, Bonhoeffer’s unfolding of “cheap grace” and the call on our lives as believers made a deep impression on my heart in my early 20s.
I began to see how easily we as believers can abuse the gift of grace, as well as how high the cost of following Christ is. I often think of the quote:
“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
There are many verses in the Bible saying the same thing, but it hit home in a deeper way as Bonhoeffer discussed what true faith looks like.
Living as a Christian goes far beyond recognizing Jesus as your Savior. It calls us to daily faithfulness, daily dying to ourselves, and daily seeking to bring glory to God.
This is meant to be lived out in our lives all the time and in every way (through the power of the Holy Spirit, since we cannot do this on our own). We don’t do this to win our salvation, but because that is the cost of discipleship.
At the time I read it, it caused me to rethink the trajectory of “my life,” understanding that I gave up any rights I had to my life when I committed to following Christ.
3. “Boundaries” by Henry Cloud and John Townsend
If you consistently battle feelings of guilt and fear, I heartily recommend this book.
It talks a lot about what influences our decisions, particularly in relationships, as well as how often we say yes to people when we really want to say no.
The focus is on learning to take responsibility for your own actions and emotions. And allowing others to take responsibility for their emotions and actions.
When I read it a few years ago, I was astounded by how often I said yes to people out of guilt or fear.
I would say yes when I wanted to say no. Then I’d simmer with resentment. Many times, I would eventually get fed up and cut friends off without any explanation.
Suddenly I started to understand that I was not a helpless victim in those situations. Instead, I was the one with the problem! I needed to learn to set kind, well-thought-out boundaries with others — even if it hurts their feelings sometimes.
Because, as this book reminded me, I’m not responsible for their feelings. Yes, I’m responsible to be considerate and kind. But ultimately I cannot take on the burden for how someone feels.
I’ve exercised the freedom of boundaries over the past few years with a huge payoff.
I rarely struggle with resentment toward others now. I feel more free to say no.
Additionally, I also feel more motivation to extend myself. I offer help more easily. I’m able to give more deeply than I did before.
Since I can say no without guilt, I also find myself saying yes more often in different ways.
Sure, there are times of self-sacrifice when I say yes without feeling warm fuzzies inside. But I try to make sure I’m not saying yes or doing things out of guilt or fear.
If I sense there will be resentment if I do something, I often say no, asking God to change my heart if this is something I need to do.
4. “Introvert Power” by Laurie Helgoe
This book was a breath of fresh air for my introvert heart.
While I’ve always known I’m an introvert, this book took me on a deeper journey of understanding what that means. It also revealed how deeply extroversion is ingrained into our culture.
Take, for example, parties. I do not typically enjoy them. Yet I always feel pressure when I’m invited to go to a party, or even to grab a bite after work with a large group of co-workers. After all, this is fun, right? Why don’t I want to have fun?
Reading “Introvert Power” helped me feel less weird about the fact that I don’t like parties — and a host of other things.
I may still go to a party or do other extroverted-oriented activities from time to time to stretch myself. Sometimes I even do end up having fun!
However, this won’t change who I am at my core. And I now feel a lot freer to tell people: “That’s just not typically my idea of a good time, but I’d love to go grab a cup of coffee with you to catch up on life.”
5. “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis
This was also a post-college read, and one of my first more theologically-minded books.
And it was a great choice.
I had read “The Chronicles of Narnia” series, and even parts of “The Space Trilogy” series, but I hadn’t touched any of his nonfiction pieces up to this point.
Lewis was a brilliant thinker, and this shows clearly in “Mere Christianity” as he goes through a number of facets of the Christian faith with clear, rational thinking.
In fact, many people use his arguments of why Christianity can be trusted without even realizing it. Case in point: His statement that Jesus was either the Lord, a lunatic or a liar. This is still widely used by Christian apologists, among many of his other works.
I most appreciated this book for how it helped me to think through many parts of the Christian faith I had always simply accepted as true without ever pondering why. Reading this book helped fill in some of the gaps of what I had learned up to this point, and it provided a spring point for more learning.
These are just a few of the books that I’ve grown to love over the years. I’m excited to read similar books in 2019. In fact, I even made a list!