I went into 2012 with a focus on spiritual disciplines. Striving to practice specific disciplines of faith so as to better facilitate spiritual formation in my own life.
For 12 weeks beginning in September, after seeking to be intentionally diligent with these practices all year, I unpacked a series of Sunday morning messages at WE in order to bring us to these fundamental Christian disciplines. “Tuning in to God” was our theme. For the first 2 weeks all I did was set up the reality that with all of the noise and static of our lives, the voice of God becomes drowned out. As a result we find ourselves stretched so very thin, not doing anything (that matters) well, and spiritually depleted. Then for the next 10 weeks, we considered the key spiritual practices of: prayer, study, fasting, silence, Christian community (both macro-Christian community, ie. communal worship and micro-Christian community, which we established as core discipleship), denying self, humility, compassion, simplicity, and contentment.
I’m still wrestling. I’ve not mastered all of these disciplines! But I firmly believe that the practice of these fundamental disciples facilitates our hearing the voice of God and being mastered by Him.
I say all of that because much of what I’ve been reading this year has centered upon spiritual formation and discipline.
The below listed five books are what I would affirm are indeed my “best reads” of 2012.
1) Discovering Our Spiritual Identity: Practices for God’s Beloved, by Trevor Hudson
My friend, Jim Martin, gave this book to a discipleship group I was a part of in 2012 that met monthly in Waco. It is a brilliant work centered upon living a holistic and holy life. Knowledge of God. Openness to God. Practicing the presence of God. All keys facets woven into the tapestry of the text. While Hudson doesn’t have near the audience that the remaining authors do, if he keeps writing like this, he will!
2) Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life, by Henri JM Nouwen
Anyone familiar with Nouwen knows the depth and quiet simplicity of his work. In Reaching Out, Nouwen calls the disciple to a life encompassed in complete fidelity to God in Christ. The three movements Nouwen pursues are 1) “From Loneliness to Solitude” (Reaching Out to Our Innermost Self), 2) “From Hostility to Hospitality” (Reaching out to Our Fellow Human Beings), and 3) “From Illusion to Prayer” (Reaching Out to Our God). Brilliant!
3) The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives, by Dallas Willard
Last Spring the boys came running into the house after going to a garage sale a few doors down from our house. “Dad, dad, they’ve got books by guys you like!” “Who?” I asked. “Dallas somebody.” “Dallas Willard?” “Yes!” “What book?” “Spirit of the Disciples”? “Spirit of the Disciplines”? “That’s it!!! And the other one is by the one who’s daily devotional you read!” “AW Tozer?” “Yea, that’s it!” “Well go buy them!” They came back grinning from ear to ear.
The Spirit of the Disciplines is vintage Willard. Involved. Detailed. He covers a lot of ground in 260 pages. What I love is how he sets up our need for solace and discipline and then proceeds to gently call the believer into allowing God to fill one’s life through spiritual practices.
The daily devotional the boys were talking about is Tozer on the Almighty God. I read it every morning. If you are looking for deeply spiritual devotional thoughts to start your day, you won’t be disappointed.
But the book that they came back with from the garage sale was Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy. And it’s a definite “best read.” 23 essays by Tozer. All centered upon the nature of God. All centered upon developing a greater understanding of who God is and what He is about. All originating out of the desire to not merely know about God but to truly know Him. To live in His presence. Stand in awe of His holiness. And bask in His wonder.
5) Living Jesus: Doing What Jesus Says in the Sermon on the Mount, by Randy Harris (with Greg Taylor)
Anything that comes from Randy Harris is solid. When I go to Summit I sit in on every session he shares, and I always leave saying, “That’s exactly what I needed.” Living Jesus is Harris’ newest book. He and Greg Taylor take the Sermon on the Mount and pursue each passage, bringing to life the spiritual formation to which we are called by our Savior at every turn. The book opens with: Doing What Jesus Says, and closes with: Living the Sermon. I read the book while preaching the messages focused upon spiritual discipline. It’s amazing how the spiritual practices and the Sermon on the Mount fit so wonderfully together. Perhaps a focus on Matthew 5-7 at WE will come about in 2013?
I’ve been sick and on vacation (what a combination!) this last week and re-read Harris’ book Soul Work: Confessions of a Part-Time Monk again (any book that’s worth reading is worth reading at least 3 times – I’ve probably read Soul Work 6 or 7). Living Jesus is brilliant, powerful, humbling, encouraging, challenging stuff. I’ll be coming back to it over and over again!
Well, there you have it! 2012’s top five “best reads.”
Glory to God!