One of the ways the Lord grew me early in my Christian walk was through introducing me to good literature written by Christians with weighty things to say. Through college and beyond, the Lord used the words on these pages to help me see him more clearly in scripture, to sharpen my thinking, and to shape my character. In case you haven’t read (any or all of) them, here’s a list of the top books I can still remember as life-changing, even now.
1. The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer
“This book is a modest attempt to aid God’s hungry children so to find Him. Nothing here is new except in the sense that it is a discovery which my own heart has made of spiritual realities most delightful and wonderful to me. Others before me have gone much farther into these holy mysteries than I have done, but if my fire is not large it is yet real, and there may be those who can light their candle at its flame.”
If you only read one book on the list, this is the one. I read it first as a sophomore in college, and several times after that. Tozer’s classic was simply the loudest voice in my thought life outside of scripture, and it continually bore good fruit. Read it, and get ready to have your heart searched out, as you explore what it really means to seek God.
2. The Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer
“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God. Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God.”
This short book consists of 23 quick chapters, each on one of God’s attributes. It is some of the best theology you can find, and comes with all the warmth and fire Tozer is known for–it would make a great devotional. Early in my Christian walk, it set me on the path of “thinking rightly about God.”
3. Shadow of the Almighty: The Life and Testament of Jim Elliot by Elisabeth Eliot
“I walked out on the hill just now. It is exalting, delicious. To stand embraced by the shadows of a friendly tree with the wind tugging at your coattails and the heavens hailing your heart–to gaze and glory and to give oneself again to God, what more could a man ask? Oh the fullness, pleasure, sheer excitement of knowing God on earth.”
Along with The Pursuit of God, no other book affected me or brought me back for subsequent reading more than Elisabeth Eliot’s presentation, from his own journals and letters, of her martyred husband’s devotion to his God through high school, college, and on into the mission field. Seriously, whether you ever end up on a distant shore or not, it will challenge you to press in to know God more deeply.
4. The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge.
This is a reference book, not a book to sit and read. But it became the one resource I used more than any other to help me learn the scriptures for myself. Look up your verse in question, and it will take you to all the other verses which help you understand your verse, through the entire bible, as you learn to let the bible interpret itself. Think of it as a center column reference on steroids. More recently, Nelson has published an updated version of it (which I’ve never used) called Nelson’s Cross-Reference Guide to the Bible.
5. Paths to Power by A.W. Tozer
“If we are to advance we must have power. Paganism is slowly closing in on the Church, and her only response is an occasional “drive” for one thing or another—usually money—or a noisy but timid campaign to improve the morals of the movies. Such activities amount to little more than a slight twitching of the muscles of a drowsy giant too sleepy to care. These efforts sometimes reach the headlines, but they accomplish little that is lasting, and are soon forgotten. The Church must have power; she must become formidable, a moral force to be reckoned with, if she would regain her lost position of spiritual ascendancy and make her message the revolutionizing, conquering thing it once was.”
This book is tiny. I lost count of how many times I read it, and my friends and I used to joke that everyone should read it once a year. You’ll be able to read it in one sitting; but have your bible close at hand–you’ll probably need to go do some talking with God.
6. The Mackintosh Treasury by C.H. Mackintosh
“No human language can set forth the importance of having a divinely settled authority for our path. All we want is to be absolutely and completely governed by it, to have it hidden in our hearts, acting on our consciences, forming our character, governing our conduct in everything. To give the Word of God this place is one of the marked characteristics of the Christian remnant.”
Mackintosh took over my reading-thought life somewhere towards the end of my college years. He’s like reading Spurgeon, if you distilled Spurgeon down to his essence and reduced his word count by about 70 percent. All you have left is gold–and yes, this C.H. is that good. I have never read anything by him without being solidly blessed. The “Treasury” is a big (green) collection of all kinds of short essays on various topics. The best place to buy it is in the Calvary bookstore, but you can get all his writings free online here.
7. A Passion for Holiness in a Believer’s Life by Charles Spurgeon
“Sin is a domineering force. A man cannot sin up to a fixed point and then say to sin, “Up to here shall you come, but no farther.” It is an imperious power and where it dwells it is hungry for the mastery. Just as our Lord, when He enters the soul, will never be content with a divided dominion, so is it with sin—it labors to bring our entire manhood under subjection. Therefore we are compelled to strive daily against this ambitious principle—according to the working of the Spirit of God in us we wrestle against sin that it may not have dominion over us.”
I read this as part of a set of meetings for high school students I was “helping” with while I was in college. Suffice it to say I was doing more learning than teaching, and Spurgeon was challenging me to see how absolutely essential holiness was.
8. Why this Waste? by Watchman Nee
“Have our eyes been opened to see the preciousness of the One whom we are serving? Have we come to see that nothing less than the dearest, the costliest, the most precious, is fit for Him?”
This little booklet (really it’s just a stapled pamphlet) was another frequent re-read for me for a few years. I’ve got it here in front of me right now, and I think I need to revisit it yet again. Ask Josh in the bookstore for a copy, and tell him we should carry it if he doesn’t have to sell you. If you ever start to feel like just being with Jesus, and then serving him out of love, is a waste…
9. The Christian Book of Mystical Verse by various writers, compiled by A.W. Tozer.
“Lord, what shall earth and ashes do?
We would adore our Maker too;
From sin and dust to Thee we cry,
The great, the Holy and the High.”
Tozer didn’t write this book. It’s a collection of what he calls “mystical verse,” which adds up to a whole book of some of the most alive hymns you’ll ever read. It became a constant companion of my post-college years after I discovered it. Like all good writing, it’s full of food for worship and thought.
Well, there it is. Three things occur to me as I sit here finishing this list.
First, just looking through these books, I’m remembering all kinds of things that passed between me and the Lord in those days. To my friends among you who’ve walked with the Lord for years–sometimes, maybe it’s good to go back and remember those first days–the days when newness was a chief characteristic of life with Christ. Personally, I may need to revisit some of the paths in these books again sometime soon.
Second, I can’t help but think of every house window I drive past with that blue light of the T.V. shining on the wall. So many are wasting so much time. One thing we can do to redeem the time on cold winter nights when everyone is indoors is read.
Third, I when I sat down to write this list, I did not expect it to be so Tozer-heavy. But then I remembered how much of him I was reading. I left a few off that could have made it, too. Which is fine…It would be a good thing for the church if a whole new generation of believers discovered him.