One of the more important spiritual disciplines in my life is good old-fashioned devotional reading. I’m definitely not talking about the “devotional” section at your average Christian bookstore. Most of that stuff isn’t worth reading. I’m talking about the discipline of allowing myself to be caught up in the spiritual reflections and ecstasies of those who have known God better than me.
Of course this kind of reading ought always to be coupled with the more fundamental discipline of meditating on Scripture, but many great saints have walked with God before us, and through their writings blazed a trail for us to walk on as we imitate their devotion. In this post I simply want to briefly highlight several devotional resources that have been important for me in the past few years. I hope it is helpful for you in your own pursuit of greater love for Christ and his kingdom.
First up is The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas á Kempis. I have the Hendrickson Christian Classics edition and found it easy to read. Some of the translations are a bit antiquated.
Eugene Peterson has noted that, considering that it was written for monks-in-training in the 14th century, “it is amazing how well its medieval monkishness carries over into the modern world.” It reads like a training manual in Christian spirituality, or a prayer journal even, alternating between prayers from “The Disciple” and answers from “The Voice of Christ.” The wisdom contained in this book is staggeringly deep. Here are a few quotes from “The Voice of Christ” sections, selected at random:
Not every desire is from the Holy Spirit, even though it may seem right and good.
My child, he who attempts to escape obeying withdraws himself from grace.
It is foolish and useless to be either grieved or happy about future things which perhaps may never happen.
All is not lost when things go contrary to your wishes.
My child, patience and humility in adversity are more pleasing to Me than much consolation and devotion when things are going well.
Do not think, therefore, that you have found true peace if you feel no depression, or that all is well because you suffer no opposition.
Next we have Andrew Murray’s classic collection of talks and writings, Absolute Surrender. This book seems to be a collection of essays and sermons directed mainly toward Christian workers.
It had a profound impact on me, bringing me to deeper levels of surrender in my own life as I realized that this was the key to experiencing the kind of life Jesus describes in the Gospels, and that we see lived out in the pages of the New Testament. “The condition for obtaining God’s full blessing is absolute surrender to Him,” Murray writes.
Many people seem to think that a life of constant, abiding joy in Christ (despite circumstances) is unattainable, but this book helped me see that it is indeed possible, and significantly advanced me on that journey.
The love of God is always the love of God in its entirety, in its fullness as an indwelling power, a love of God to me that leaps back to Him in love, and overflows to my fellow-men in love–God’s love to me, and my love to God, and my love to my fellow-men. The three are one; you cannot separate them.
And how can I learn to love? Never until the Spirit of God fills my heart with God’s love, and I begin to long for God’s love in a very different sense from which I have sought it so selfishly, as a comfort and a joy and a happiness and a pleasure to myself; never until I begin to learn that “God is love,” and to claim it, and receive it as an indwelling power for self-sacrifice; never until I begin to see that my glory, my blessedness, is to be like God and like Christ, in giving up everything in myself for my fellow-men. May God teach us that! Oh, the divine blessedness of the love with which the Holy Spirit can fill our hearts! “The fruit of the Spirit is love.”
I have recently begun to find a lot of inspiration in the reading of spiritual biographies. One such book is Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret, by Dr. & Mrs. Howard Taylor.
It details the life of Hudson Taylor, pioneer missionary to China. Some of his early experiences of faith and provision are wonderful to read, but the highlight of the book is probably the chapter “The Exchanged Life,” which is in large part a letter he wrote to his sister outlining an experience he had with the Lord that completely transformed his life (and this was many years after seeing fruitful ministry in China), teaching him to rest in the finished work of the cross, and freeing him totally from anxiety and worry.
Reading Taylor’s testimony of God’s work had a strong effect on me, causing me to begin to pray for a similar ability to see Christ at work in everything, and to stop worrying and simply abide in Christ minute-by-minute.
Another biography I’ve just begun is The Autobiography of Charles G. Finney. I’m only a few chapters in, but it has been wonderful to read of his conversion experience, in which “it seemed as if I met the Lord Jesus Christ face to face.” He broke down and wept and confessed his sins for a long time. Afterward he describes returning to the front office of his law practice, and describes the following:
But as I turned and was about to take a seat by the fire, I received a mighty baptism of the Holy Ghost… the Holy Spirit descended upon me in a manner that seemed to go through me, body and soul. I could feel the impression, like a wave of electricity, going through and through me. Indeed it seemed to come in waves and waves of liquid love, for I could not express it in any other way. It seemed like the very breath of God. I can recollect distinctly that it seemed to fan me, like immense wings.
No words can express the wonderful love that was shed abroad in my heart. I wept aloud with joy and love; and I do not know but I should say, I literally bellowed out the unutterable gushings of my heart. These waves came over me, and over me, and over me, one after the other, until I recollect I cried out, “I shall die if these waves continue to pass over me.” I said, “Lord, I cannot bear any more;” yet I had no fear of death.
He begins to preach shortly afterward, and gets himself into a lot of trouble with the religious establishment along the way. It’s a fun read.
There are a few other books that I will give “honorable mention” to:
- The Pursuit of God, by A.W. Tozer.
- The Training of the Twelve, by A.B. Bruce
- A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, by William Law
- Letters by a Modern Mystic, by Frank Laubach
What devotional resources have you found helpful in your walk with God?
Dan O'Day says
I like using the "Treasury of Daily Prayer" as a devotional. It is mostly just daily scripture readings, but it also has a short devotional writing and a short prayer, as well as a devotional format to follow for daily prayer. I don't follow it strictly, but I like using it.
I also really like "Every day will I bless thee: Meditations for the daily office" by Burnell F Eckardt. It is a daily scripture reading and a meditation on that passage.
Also, the "Jesus Freaks" books by DC Talk are really good at firing me up. They are just short stories about missionaries who died as martyrs for the faith worldwide. There are two volumes that I am aware of.
Ben Sternke says