Bookworm’s Top 5 Picks!
As you might guess from this article’s title, I am a bookworm and have been for as long as I can remember. For more reasons than I can name, books have been one of the most important things in my life. They have brought me to faith, shaped the way in which I view the world and remain one of my greatest sources of joy, strength and inspiration.
I often get asked about my favourites and for the purposes of this blog, I’ll describe five (5) that have greatly contributed to my spiritual growth. While there are countless others, these are the ones I can recommend to everyone regardless of their specific literary tastes.
The Hiding Place: Corrie Ten Boom
I adore history and highly recommend it as a hobby, because it answers (for me) the question of whether evil really exists. Few instances in history reveal human depravity to me the way the Holocaust does.
In the book, Corrie Ten Boom and her sister Betsie are sent to a concentration camp as punishment for hiding Jews during World War II. There, they experience terrible cruelty at the hand of the Nazis while also striving to shine the light of the gospel to their fellow prisoners. Corrie goes from detesting to pitying the evil she sees in her captors and the simple lessons of love, forgiveness and God’s unconditional love learnt in her childhood shine all the greater in this pit of darkness and despair.
What moved me about “The Hiding Place” was that it showed that evil is fought, not only through international policy or among world leaders, but by the simply courage and love found in simple people. As middle-aged, childless spinsters (a situation most women today would abhor!) Corrie and Betsie were able to impact their community, even a concentration camp community, with love and grace. I wondered, after reading “The Hiding Place”, how many Jews might have been saved had more Christians been willing to put their safety on the line to assist them.
Book Quote: “When He tells us to love our enemies He gives, along with the command, the love itself.”
The Pilgrim’s Progress: John Bunyan
This is THE Christian classic! It’s amazing how well Bunyan understood the Christian life, and how real spiritual things were to him. He was a mere tinker (mender of pots and pans) and yet was able to produce the greatest allegory in the English language. I first thought it a child’s story, but Bunyan was able to relate such clarity through figures like “Mr. Legality”, “Mr. Worldly Wisdom” and “Faithful” that I saw them in their true form in my own life and even in my own heart. I too, have been captured by the “Giant” named “Despair”, only to remember that I hold the key called “Promise” that opens the doors of “Doubting Prison”. Who hasn’t fallen into the “Slough of Despond” (a slough is a swamp) or crawled through the “Valley of Humiliation”? Blessed however, is the Christian who finds their “House Beautiful” in which rest and edification is given. Perhaps the greatest gift of this book is the reminder to constantly keep the “Celestial City” (heaven) in our minds throughout our earthly life, as our present sufferings cannot compare to the glory promised there.
Book Quote: “I seek a place that can never be destroyed, one that is pure, and that fadeth not away, and it is laid up in heaven, and safe there, to be given, at the time appointed, to them that seek it with all their heart.”
Disappointment With God: Philip Yancey
Have you ever wondered if God was unkind, unfair, unjust or needlessly distant? Do secret doubts plague you in times of suffering that you’re afraid to voice in church? Are you ever frustrated with God for not making Himself more visible to an unbelieving world? Yancey, more than any other writer I’ve yet encountered, is genuinely concerned about the secret struggles that affect believers and non-believers alike. In this book, he takes us on a journey to the Old Testament and looks at instances in which God made Himself visible through mighty miracles, swift victories and His chosen prophets. Yet these displays did not always bring about perfect obedience or unfaltering faith in those to whom He revealed Himself (remember the golden calf? Those people saw the Red Sea part. Enough said). Obedience, Yancey shows us, springs from faith, not miracles and those who witnessed the greatest wonders were not necessarily those who believed best. Tenderly, the author reminds us of a God Who allows suffering but Who also did not exempt Himself from it for our ultimate salvation. I closed this book with tears in my eyes, greater kindness towards my sometimes skeptical heart, but most of all, with the greatest assurance that God can be trusted.
Book Quote: “We tend to think, 'Life should be fair because God is fair.' But God is not life. And if I confuse God with the physical reality of life- by expecting constant good health for example- then I set myself up for crashing disappointment.”
Further reading: Other fantastic Yancey books include “The Jesus I Never Knew”, “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” and “Where is God When it Hurts?”
Through Gates of Splendor: Elisabeth Eliott
I had to include at least one missionary book here, because it is one of my favourite genres of Christian literature. The lives of Amy Carmichael, Hudson Taylor, William Carey and countless others have been invaluable sources of nourishment to my spiritual life and have affected me in immeasurable ways. These are people who joyfully gave up the comfort of home and family to meet spiritual and social needs in far off lands, long before the world was connected via the Internet. In the case of some (like Amy Carmichael) it meant never returning home.
In “Through Gates of Splendor”, the journey is told of five young male missionaries who were eventually murdered at the hands of the Aucas, a violent Ecuadorian tribe they were ministering to, leaving their five wives without husbands and their children fatherless. One of the widows, Elisabeth Elliot wrote the book in tribute of their lives and faithfulness. A bittersweet tale, it serves to show how for these remarkable individuals, the call of God and His work were worth a great and costly sacrifice, even death (and they certainly knew that death was indeed possible).
Books like these remind us that suffering is a part of life and we are not excluded from it, even in obedience. They show that patient and courageous suffering, with the understanding of God’s sovereignty, can be transformed into glory.
Book Quote: "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose."
Further reading: “Passion and Purity” is a lovely story of Elizabeth’s courtship with her future husband, Jim Eliott and of their shared commitment to honour God in that season. I read it multiple times during my own courtship and I highly recommend it.
Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe:
Now before you roll your eyes at this “children’s story”, please hear me out! One of the most wonderful things about literature, particularly fantasy literature, is its ability to reopen your eyes to the wonder of lovely things that have become familiar. “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” does just that; it imagines another world in which Christ appears in another form, as the lion Aslan. Aslan helped to make the Christ of the Bible real to me in various ways. One of the most profound was the description of him, several times, as “not a tame lion”. It made me realise the bigness of a God that cannot be placed in a box, described through a simple analogy or reduced to what I would like Him to be. Furthermore, when Aslan *SPOILER ALERT* gave his life for a traitor, my eyes were opened to the unfairness of the Cross. Our salvation at God’s expense is not like a knight rescuing a damsel in distress from a dragon; it’s more like a noble king sacrificing himself for a treacherous traitor! Narnia helped me to better understand how unmerited grace really is and for that I am ever indebted to this author, who has also shaped my faith and mentored my mind more than any other individual.
Book Quote: “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
Further reading: “Till We Have Faces” and Lewis’ space trilogy are my favourite of his works, but require some concentration on the reader’s part. “Mere Christianity” is a modern classic and if you can get one, read it!