Here are three books that have given me more faith as a Christian and all have an inspiring message. If you are looking for a book to read for the New Year or for a Christmas present for a family member, I highly recommend any of these. You should be able to find these three books at your local Barnes and Noble. Merry Christmas.
Book 1: "Soul Survivor: How Thirteen Unlikely Mentors Helped my Faith Survive the Church" by Phillip Yancey This book is a collection of brief biographies of people that influenced Phillip Yancey to stay a Christian and that God is real, despite his doubts in college. Each chapter is devoted to a different individual, both unorthodox and orthodox Christians, but many people who have lived out their faith in non-ministry professions and pastors who have unique stories.
This book functions like a mix CD. When I make a mix CD, I always hope that my friend "gets into" one of the bands you've placed on the CD. I always hope my friend is intrigued enough not only to just like that one song, but buy the album or ask me for more. Phillip Yancey's book gave me a taste of Tolstoy and then I wanted more. Yancey writes about Russian writer Leo Tolstoy. He carefully describes Tolstoy's attempts to make peace with himself about coming from a wealth in the midst of a poor Russian society. This quote by Tolstoy was on my bedroom wall for about 2 years: “I want movement, not a calm course of existence. . . I feel in myself a superabundance of energy which finds no outlet in our quiet life.” Yancey gave me many of Tolstoy's best quotes without having to work super hard to read Tolstoy. After reading about Tolstoy in Yancey's book, I attempted to read "War and Peace" the possibly the largest novel on earth. I only made it about 200 pages in and quit. It was hard to read. I do not have the patience for that book------but at least I had Yancey's chapter on Tolstoy to give me the greatest hits!
Who would enjoy this book? It's a good way to check out many "fringe" Christian thinkers like Henri Nouwen, Annie Dillard and Fyodor Dostoevsky without having to read a gigantic biography or read an entire book. Because of this book I've read 3 Annie Dillard books. This book is perfect for anyone who is searching for stories of Christians who suffered through hard times and wrestled with doubts. I believe this book would be perfect for college students who are spiritually seeking answers and/or role models. There are many great role models in this book.
Book 2: "The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr." by Martin Luther King Jr.
I got a deeper understanding of Martin Luther King Jr. from reading Yancey's book (above) in 2004 as a college sophomore at UNCW. There was a chapter devoted to him as one of Yancey's "unlikely mentors." I was fascinated by how much of a factor Martin Luther King Jr.'s faith was in his character and life direction. Reading about him gave me a new interest in his personal and public life. Yancey suggested his autobiography, which lead me to finally start read his autobiography.
MLK is one of those American figures that can become more of a myth than a real man. Every year we hear 10 second clips "I Have a Dream" speech in January on the news on MLK day. He can become this man who did good deeds, spoke about against discrimination and lead some protests back in the day. He's one of those American historical figures who you can know little facts about them, but they can almost feel like a worn out cliché and hearing their name they just sort of blur into the background noise of everyday life. But that's until you read about individual stories, specific things they did---then they become someone you want to become like.
Reading what "A Letter from Birmingham Jail," (which is a chapter in this book), I was stunned at how easily he weaved theological ideas (ideas about original sin) and Bible verses into his writing about social and national issues, specifically about racism. He's very good at stating people's views who oppose him in an honorable way and then explaining why you should agree with him instead------- a master at avoiding the straw man fallacy. He understands how rhetoric works.
His autobiography has one particular story that talks about how he thought about giving up fighting for Civil Rights because of the threats his family suffered. Yet he kept going in faith believing God would give him strength and direction in times of extreme stress. When he wanted to quit, he prayed by himself for mental strength and to know what the right thing to do.
Martin Luther King Jr. did not exactly live the American Dream. He lived a very serious and intentional life that was dangerous. He went to jail numerous times for protesting. He saw many of his friends killed. He was assassinated. So while this book is inspiring because of his mental toughness and bravery, this is a very serious book. In fact it's taken me a long time to read the book because it is emotionally heavy at times. But it has been worth reading, since I am amazed at his sober-minded state of mind in spite of all the opposition he experienced.
Who would enjoy this book? I think anyone who is looking for a deeper understanding of history. Along with anyone who wants to see what formed and shaped the life of devoted pastor and great leader. We live in an age that puts scientific leadership and technological innovation as a priority. I think more of us need to think about the kind of moral leadership that King provided as an example.
Book 3 One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are by Ann Voscamp I grew up hearing people saying how important it is to be thankful. It often sounded like a desperate piece of advice that was thrown around when something bad happened. Like an attempt to be optimistic when things were headed for the worse.
My pastor Bill Goans gave me this book to read a few years ago. If you look at the cover, it looks like a Christian book for women. I thought "that looks like a mom book." Don't judge a book by its cover. It turns out Ann Voscamp has a style of writing which bucks those cliché ideas of thankfulness and gives is a fresh perspective. She writes like a poet and the poet's job is always to bring a fresh meaning to an old truth. That's exactly what she does in this book. This book teaches the idea that God is doing miraculous things in the everyday. This book completely changed my view of how to be thankful.
Voscamp's tells the story of writing down specific things she is thankful for Her goal is to write down 1,000 gifts from God. For her gratitude is not just a phrase to throw around, but something to be practiced by writing things down. Some of the things she writes down: "663. Opening jars of preserves." and "891. Earthly aroma of the woods." She numbers each thing she is thankful for.
Who would enjoy this book? Voscamp says in her book, "Are stress and worry evidences of a soul too lazy, too undisciplined, to keep gaze fixed on God? To stay in love? . . .Isn't joy worth the effort of trust?" She argues that a habit of thankfulness pushes back against stress and anxiety. Anyone who struggles with intense stress and discontentment would be find this book helpful. I sure did.