Throughout my career in ministry, I have read countless books. Many were required reading, some were just ok, others were great at the time but had a short shelf life, and a few were so impactful I have read and re-read them many times over. The lasting few served to fast-track me on a pathway of discovery—who I am, who God is, and what will bring me the most fulfillment in life.
At the beginning of my career as a minister, the first impactful book I read was Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline. Foster’s book highlighted a path to spiritual growth, and age-old spiritual practices such as meditation, prayer, simplicity, service, confession, celebration, and more. It opened my eyes to a depth and richness in my faith I had not known existed before. Foster’s book was a quick and enduring hit with me, as well as with many others. After it’s publication in 1978, it was immediately hailed as a modern classic, and has been read by millions of people around the world.
“If everybody in the country could read—and heed—this book, what a difference it would make to the planet.” – Madeleine L’Engle
“Foster has challenged us to see Christian faith … as a life of spiritual transformation.” – Brian D. McLaren, author of A New Kind of Christian
“This seminal work on the practice of spiritual disciplines is never outdated.” – Relevant Magazine
“The best modern book on Christian spirituality… No other book apart from the Bible has been so helpful to me in the nurturing of my inward journey of prayer and spiritual growth.” – Ronald J. Sider, executive director, Evangelicals for Social Action
The second book was actually one that Foster claimed to be the book he had been looking for his entire life, Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy. As I read it, at the time ten years into my career as a minister, I was thrilled by how Dallas masterful weaved biblical insights with pop culture, science, scholarship, and spiritual practice. Every page was an exciting exploration in ways one could experience God’s tangible guidance on a daily basis. It made my faith feel so relevant and dynamic, rather than separate, static, and dogma-ridden. I could go on and on about what an impact Foster and Dillard made upon me. Suffice it to say, they awakened something deep within me, and pulled me further down a pathway of transformational formation that is hard to put into words.
In 2010, close to twenty years into my ministry career, my friend Fred Grewe recommended Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation. I ordered it, and once it came in the mail I devoured it. It was more than just reading material, it was a meal, a FULL meal, a banquet of Psalm 23 proportions! Since the first reading, I have gone on to read it many times over and have eagerly shared it with friends who have likewise devoured it. But in the end, books are books, and reading will only take you so far. It’s in the practicing of what you’ve read that the real excitement takes place! What made these books so impactful for me is that they made me want to set them down so I could get on with personally exploring and experiencing all they spoke of, and to live out my own version of their writings. Now, twenty plus years later I get to write of my own journey—imperfect, messy, thrilling, and far from dogmatic and static. I can only hope that I do so in a way that prompts readers to set my writings on the night stand, get out of bed, and LIVE!
In two weeks, Fred and I are meeting in Kentucky to spend a day at Thomas Merton’s Abbey. It feels very full-circle for me, and I’m sure the same for Fred. What I will feel when there, and what will stir in my mind and heart, I can only guess. One thing is for certain, life (physical and spiritual) is a journey. And the only way to take a journey is by putting one foot in front of the other. Turning pages is important, but putting one foot in front of the other is vital! I’m excited to see where the next twenty years will take me.
For now, I’ll leave you with this quote from Foster: “The classical Disciplines of the spiritual life beckon us to the Himalayas of the Spirit. Now we stand at timber line awed by the snowy peaks before us. We step out in confidence with our Guide who has blazed the trail and conquered the highest summit.”
P. S. I’ve been to the literal Himalayas, and now I’m off to Gethsemani, KY. I’ll keep you posted of my journey as it continues to unfold…