Over the past several weeks various friends have coincidentally asked me the same question: What spiritual formation resources would you recommend? After hearing all these repeated requests, I’ve decided to share my favorite soul-shaping resources with you. Journey through this list with your own spiritual journey in mind — there are a wide variety of books here to address various spiritual interests and needs.
• The disciplines: For me, exploring spiritual formation began with two classic texts, Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster and The Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard. These texts dig deep into the roots of Christian spiritual disciplines so they’re a great starting point. The Life You’ve Always Wanted by John Ortberg also explores classic spiritual disciplines in language and stories that’s a bit more light and conversational — it really depends on the tone you’re looking for.
• Toot-toot! I’m going to toot my own horn for a moment. Though I loved and highly recommend the books on the disciplines above, I must confess that when I began reading one of them I eventually closed the book in utter frustration. As a new mom balancing maternity-leave/work/family-life/church, etc., I just could not find myself in the pages of that book. It was so NOT my life. I needed a resource for women that addressed the realities of motherhood/wifedom/self . . . and the above books were all by men several decades older than me and in a totally different life stage. I searched and searched and couldn’t find the book I needed . . . so I wrote it. You can join in on my own journey through the spiritual disciplines, written through the lens and daily reality of a work-from-home mom, in my book The Busy Mom’s Guide to Spiritual Survival. It basically explores all the classic spiritual disciplines but gives them a “mommy makeover.” (I also wrote Faith-Filled Moments to provide family-oriented ideas for practicing spiritual disciplines with children.)
• From nice ideas to how-to: A truly excellent “how to” resource is The Spiritual Disciplines Handbook by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun. “How to” sounds like a lame description, doesn’t it? But this book inspires me profoundly. This resource describes over 60 different spiritual practices, drawn from Scripture and church history, and pairs them with our spiritual needs and desires. In other words, you can go to this book during a particular spiritual season in your life and find very specific ideas for how you can connect with God in familiar or in new ways.
• Traditions, habits, ways of being: Two resources that explore spiritual practices and habits in a truly beautiful and thought-provoking way are Practicing Our Faith, edited by Dorothy C. Bass, and Mudhouse Sabbath by Lauren Winner. Practicing Our Faith is a series of compelling chapters on the soul-shaping power of practices like singing hymns, forgiving others, and even how we care for our body or manage household finances. This book sticks with me and I’ve returned to it again and again. In Mudhouse Sabbath, Lauren Winner (a convert to Christianity from orthodox Judaism) pairs Jewish celebrations and practices with their Christian counterparts, describing and exploring spiritual issues in honesty and beautiful imagery.
• The Bible: Okay, so duh!, right? Of course I recommend the Bible, but here I want to recommend a very specific one: the Everyday Matters Bible which is available in NLT and KJV. I got to serve as the general editor for this Bible and it is jam-packed, I mean brimming full, of articles and essays (alongside the Scriptural text) exploring spiritual disciplines and practices in powerful depth. The authors are very insightful and I felt very inspired and convicted by the material.
• Tinies: There’s one ultra-tiny book that’s been ultra-powerful in my own spiritual life: The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence. The “simple” ideas in this short book comprised of letters and conversations with a French monk in the 1600s may be the single-most profound influence on my spiritual life to date. Huge spiritual ideas sometimes hide in tiny books! I’ve also found the “Upper Room Spiritual Classics” series to be awesome – very tiny books that are excerpts of the best work of powerful writers from Christian history like Catherine of Sienna and Teresa of Avila.
• Renovaré resources: Devotional Classics and Spiritual Classics are great resources for personal “Bible study” or small group discussion. Filled with readings from significant Christians throughout church history, these resources help translate critical spiritual ideas into practical soul-realities in our everyday lives.
• Imagine Scripture with Walter Wangerin, Jr.: I was privileged to take my senior year creative writing course with National Book Award winning author (and pastor) Walter Wangerin, Jr. Needless to say it was a life-shaping semester. When Scripture seems too familiar to me, after a lifetime in the church, I refresh my perspective by reading Wangerin’s powerful fictional retellings of biblical accounts. His stunning use of empathy, imagination, and wordcraft bring the Bible to life for me and will for you too. I heartily recommend to you Jesus: A Novel, Paul: A Novel, and The Book of God: The Bible as a Novel.
• Re-imagine time: And one more beautiful book to conclude with: Receiving the Day by Dorothy C. Bass. This lovely book is another I return to over and over – to recalibrate, to re-center, to re-imagine this one and only life God has given to me. Receiving the Day explores the idea of Sabbath and helps us realize that the time we are allotted daily is God’s gift to us. This book challenges me with questions that, without exception, prompt me to let loose all the superficial worries and concerns that plague me and find my true self in God once more.
What resources have helped to shape your own faith? Have inspired you in spiritual practice and discipline? I’d love to hear your recommendations.
P.S. This month, the theme on my blog will be Cultivate Your Character to complement the release of my new book by the same title. But that discussion of virtue and how we can grow in it will start next week – stay tuned!