Spiritual Growth Reading List
- 1 Where Do I get Started?
- 2 General Spiritual Growth and Disciplines
- 3 Contemplative Spirituality
- 3.1 Desiring God’s Will
- 3.2 The Way of the Heart
- 3.3 Can you Drink this Cup?
- 3.4 The Only Necessary Thing
- 3.5 The Reflective Life
- 3.6 Toward God: The Ancient Wisdom of Western Prayer
- 3.7 Sacred Reading: The Ancient Art of Lectio Divina
- 3.8 A Guide to Living the Truth: Saint Benedict’s Teaching on Humility
- 3.9 A Testament of Devotion
- 3.10 Open Heart Open Mind
- 3.11 The Way is Made by Walking
- 3.12 Letters from the Desert
- 4 Personal Maturity (Identity, Emotional Growth)
- 5 Community
- 6 Reflections on Christian Leadership
- 7 Books by Eugene Peterson
- 8 Reflections on prayer, Scripture and spiritual direction
Where Do I get Started?
To some of you this list may look daunting. I have read dozens of books I did not list above. It is hard to make a start here list, for I am not sure where you are on the journey.
Here is, hopefully, some guidance for you. No matter what, read these:
- Desiring God’s Will by David Benner, then read The Gift of Being Yourself and Surrender to Love. Benner is outstanding – simple and penetrating.
- Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen. Eventually you must read The Way of the Heart, The Return of the Prodigal Son and onto anything else he has written!
- Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
- Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero.
- The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane and Katie Dicamillo.
- Chasing Daylight by Eugene O’Kelly.
- Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton and The Sacred Way by Tony Jones.
If you need freshness in your spiritual disciplines read Tony Jones, Gary Thomas, and Ruth Haley Barton. Stephen Smith’s titles are also most helpful. Bringing Deeper Spirituality into Your Ministry/Work Life:
- Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, Barton
- Eugene Peterson’s books
- In the Name of Jesus by Henri Nouwen
- Crossing the Unknown Sea, Whyte
- Let Your Life Speak, Parker
If you are ready to go deeper into contemplative spirituality – really sink you teeth into silence and solitude:
- Michael Casey’s works.
- The Reflective Life, Ken Gire
- Letters from the Desert – Carretto
- Benner’s stuff is super helpful. Barton and Jones discuss these topics as well.
General Spiritual Growth and Disciplines
The Sacred Way
by Tony Jones ISBN 0310258103, Zondervan.
A look at spiritual disciplines, some outside of mainstream evangelicalism (why do Catholics cross themselves and what is up with relics in the Orthodox church?) from a creative and very practical manner. I highly recommend this book to help you expand the ways and means of facilitating your spiritual growth.
Sacred RhythmsISBN 0830833331, Zondervan
A wonderful look at various spiritual disciplines. The chapter on solitude is right on target- we are fractured by our current lifestyles. The last chapter helps you think through a personal rule of life.
Embracing Soul Care
by Stephen W. Smith ISBN 0825436702
The subtitle is “Making Space for What Matters Most.” This is an extremely practical book, full of short 2-3 page chapters followed by 3 questions to help you reflect and apply the topic of the chapter. A very helpful book for taking steps in learning how to tend to your own inner life.
The Lazarus Life
by Stephen W. Smith ISBN 1434799956
Subtitled Spiritual transformation for ordinary people, this is a wonderful reflection on Jesus’ raising of Lazarus. The chapter on the Lingering Jesus is extremely insightful.
by Gary Thomas ISBN 0310329884 Zondervan.
Subtitled Discover your souls path to God, this is a very helpful book that looks at the ways our unique personalities find connection with God. Some folks find deep connection while in nature, some while in deep study, some are contemplative need silence and solitude. Many of us need multiple arenas. This book describes numerous ways and provides a helpful self-assessment to confirm yours and then suggestions. This book will help insert creative and fresh means of connecting with God in your journey.
A Hunger for God
by John Piper. Crossway Books, 1997. ISBN 9780891079668
Subtitled Desiring God through fasting and prayer. Unlike any other book you have read in the subject. This book actually caused me to look forward to fasting. It added depth and meaning to this discipline in my life and expanded my Biblical understanding on the subject.
Shaped by the Word
by M. Robert Mulholland Jr. Upper Room Books, 1985, 2000. ISBN 0835809366.
Mulholland offers some penetrating thoughts on surrendering to God’s formational work and practical ideas on spiritual reading of the Scriptures. This can be a helpful book in your own interaction with the Word of God. It is a must read for anyone with the gift and ministry of teaching. (Chapters 4-7 are rather technical).
by Eugene O’Kelly. ISBN 0071499938
Riveting! O’ Kelly was a successful CEO of one of the largest accounting firms in the US. Then he was told he had 3 months to live. He quit his job and this book tells what he learned of what is important in life the last months he was alive.
Come Be My Light
by Mother Teresa. ISBN 0307589234
I am not sure how to describe this book. I honestly have not read anything like this outside of the Apostle Paul’s writings. I have experienced little of what this woman lived. Mother Teresa is deepening my theology of suffering and concept of spirituality. She is mentoring me as I process this book. Well written. Some may find it repetitive. I found it enthralling.
by Alicia Britt Chole. ISBN 0785298398, Integrity Books.
A reflection on why God would become man and then spends 90% of his life in obscurity, and what God is doing with the obscure elements of our lives. What is God up to when no one sees or knows us? Short chapters, easy to read, very reflective.
Champagne for the Soul
by Mike Mason, ISBN 1573833908.
Mason undertook a 90-day experiment to be willfullyjoyful. This is what he learned in his study and experience. 90 2-3 page chapters (1 per day if you want to do the same experiment) are very insightful and reflective. Being a person who is reserved emotionally, this book schooled me. I learned I have to cut it loose a little more - I actually squelch joy in my life!
Gift of the Red Bird
by Paula D’Arcy, ISBN 0824519566.
This is D’Arcy’s story from crushing loss (a tragic car accident) to a walk with God, burnout in ministry, to a truer walk with God. Easy to read, written in first person, it will invite you to ponder your own pace of life and why you do what you do (pp. 54-55).
Suffering and The Sovereignty of God
Edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor. ISBN 1581348096.
This is a collection of talks given at the 2005 Desiring God National Conference. These are deep looks at the what’s and why’s of suffering. This book will comfort you and challenge you at the same time. The Appendix entitled “Don’t Waste Your Cancer” is worth the book alone. You could remove the word “cancer” and insert any adversity you are experiencing (divorce, unemployment, MS, etc.) and the principles will apply. God in His wisdom included suffering in the economy of our spiritual transformation.
Books on prayer, solitude, contemplative and centering prayer
Desiring God’s Will
by David Benner, IVP. ISBN 0830832610.
This short book belongs to the trilogy of titles that includes The Gift of Being Yourself and Surrender to Love. All are must-reads. Benner’s succinct writing is penetrating and, if one’s heart is open, revolutionary. God’s will is not primarily behavioral but rather relational. Our growth comes from being in His presence, not doing all the right stuff. Read these three titles.
The Way of the Heart
by Henri Nouwen, Harper Collins, ISBN 0345463358
Subtitle: Desert Spirituality and the Contemporary Life. A very short book looking at the disciplines of silence, solitude and prayer.
Can you Drink this Cup?
by Henri Nouwen, ISBN 1594710996
Reflections on Jesus’ question to John and James. We are called to drink the cup God gives us to drink, and drink it to the full.
The Only Necessary Thing
by Henri Nouwen, Crossroad 1999, 0824524934
A collection of Nouwen’s thoughts on the topic of prayer taken from his many books over his lifetime. Well compiled and presented in a multiplicity of subtopics (solitude, community, etc.).
The Reflective Life
by Ken Gire, IVP 1998, ISBN 085476805X
Gire invites us to slow down enough to learn to observe God’s constant presence and work around us. Important habits for people who desire to discern God’s work in other’s lives as well as their own.
Toward God: The Ancient Wisdom of Western Prayer
by Michael Casey, Ligouri/Triumph, ISBN 0892438908
Casey is a Cistercian Monk in Australia. His writing is fluid and fresh. I really enjoyed this and the next title. But again, there are things in here that I still have not personally experienced. Casey is helping to deepen my understanding and patience in walking with God. Try this quote on for size, Prayer is strange as an activity where no success is possible (p. 24). I am so very comforted to read a monk write that!
Sacred Reading: The Ancient Art of Lectio Divina
by Michael Casey, Ligouri/Triumph, ISBN 0892438916
Lectio Divina is Latin meaning ‘sacred reading.’ It is the practice of contemplative interacting with the word of God developed by Ignatius of Loyola. For those seeking to learn more about silence and solitude as well as a reflective interacting with the word of God, Casey is most helpful.
A Guide to Living the Truth: Saint Benedict’s Teaching on Humility
by Micheal Casey, ISBN 0764807390
The book draws upon Benedict’s chapter 7 in the Rule. It will be of great encouragement to you in your own journey.
A Testament of Devotion
by Thomas R. Kelly, Harper Collins 1969, ISBN 0060643617
A classic. A penetrating look at a life lived for God. This is a book that will give you pause on every page. Read it slowly and reflectively.
Open Heart Open Mind
by Thomas Merton
In the realm of contemplative prayer, this has been one of the most practical and encouraging books I have ever read. Merton not only deals with the how to’s but also extensively deals with the reality of rampant thoughts while trying to be still and quiet. He encouragingly says that it is not realistic to expect one to not have thoughts, even lots of thoughts. The issue is how you respond to them. Read this to grow in your ability to pray contemplatively and attentively to God.
The Way is Made by Walking
by Arthur Paul Boers, ISBN 0830835075
This is about Boers’ personal pilgrimage walking the Camino de Santiago in Northern Spain. Reading about the experiences of the pilgrimage is fascinating in itself. But I found the reflections on the pilgrimage motif for ordinary life encouraging. Not the best book on this list, but if pilgrimage is something you have been thinking about, or if you want to do such a hike yourself, a very good resource. I liked the book.
Letters from the Desert
by Carlo Carretto, ISBN 1570754314
The purpose of life is to be transformed into divine love, writes Carretto. At the age of 44, Carretto entered the Little Brothers of Jesus in North Africa. This book comes from his personal lessons and growth from those years. This is not an easy read, but well worth it - numerous chapters are beckoning me deeper into God’s heart for the poor and His love for me.
Personal Maturity (Identity, Emotional Growth)
Life of the Beloved
By Henri Nouwen, ISBN 0824519868
This book deals with our true identity, which enables us to be and do as we were made. A must read.
The Return of the Prodigal Son
By Henri Nouwen, Image 1994, ISBN 0385473079
A reflection upon the biblical story and the painting by Rembrandt – insightful and penetrating. I am the younger son and the older son. God invites me to grow into becoming the father.
Emotionally Healthy Spirituality
By Peter Scazzero, ISBN 0849946425
I think Scazzero is onto the biggest issue hindering our spiritual growth – emotional immaturity. If I am emotionally immature, I cannot relate well, and isn’t the spiritual life all about relating to God and others?! Some will find this book rudimentary, I think you have to read it. And then you need to give a copy to everyone on your team and every person you are investing in and start talking about it.
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane
by Katie Dicamillo, ISBN 076364367X
I begin this list with a beautiful children’s book. It is a story, as the dust jacket states, of love, loss and learning to love again. Wonderfully told, beautiful art work, it will mess you up. Read it first, then read it to your kids or grandkids. See David Benner titles above (Gift of Being Yourself and Surrender to Love)
by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, ISBN 0060608528
A classic and a must read. The topic is about community, but so much more. There are some all-time classic quotes in here. I’ll let you find them. A short but penetrating read. Mine is so underlined and falling apart that I almost can’t read it anymore.
Experiencing the Trinity
by Darell Johnson, Regent College Publishing, ISBN 1573832162
Likely the best explanation of the mystery that is the Triune God. Wonderfully insightful, easy to read, and inviting relationally. We are invited by the Spirit to join in the communion of the Father and the Son.
Worship, Community, and the Triune God
by James Torrence, ISBN 0830818952
This will be a theologically stretching book for many, but I recommend it for your expansion. Torrence always has amazing insight into current trends and theological implications.
Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry
by Ruth Haley Barton, ISBN 083083513X
This book is directed to leaders, but will have application to anyone in a role of influence (like parents). Barton looks at how significant times with God in Moses’ life mark him and transformed his leadership. Two chapters toward the end on leadership community and group discernment are extremely unique and insightful – well worth the book. I do not recall reading on these topics anywhere else.
In the Name of Jesus
by Henri Nouwen, Crossroads 1998, 0824512596
Reflections on Christian Leadership
Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity
by David Whyte, Riverhead Books, ISBN 1573229148
In a book store you will find this book in the business section. Whyte writes in a very penetrating manner. He is a poet by trade (some of his poetry is outstanding – try House of Belonging). This book will have you reflecting on how you do your work, and the type of person you are while you do it. Well written. I heard Whyte speak recently. I walked away likely having just experienced the best public speaker I have ever heard in my life. I was drop-jawed.
Books by Eugene Peterson
Here are two titles to begin with. This brother constantly reminds me of the type of life-ministry I want to live – unhurried, with depth, purposeful, connected.
The Contemplative Pastor
Eerdmans, ISBN 0802801145
Addressing some of the problems of pastoral ministry and seeking a more purposeful ministry life. A great place to begin in Peterson’s many writings.
Working the Angles
Eerdmans, ISBN 0802802656
Reflections on prayer, Scripture and spiritual direction
Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation
by Palmer Parker, ISBN 0787947350
Parker is a Quaker. Unfortunately (in my estimation) he allows new age influences to creep into an otherwise rich spiritual heritage. His writings are exceptionally insightful into the deeper truths of life (seasons, identity, formation, etc.). This is a short, easy read, but one that needs to be read slowly and reflectively. The book starts out a little weak (and flakey - New Agey) but the last three chapters are gold - he shares what he has learned from personal bouts of depression, the need to go deep in our struggles, and the truths to be learned from nature’s seasons.
A Poetry Handbook
Mary Oliver, ISBN 0156724006 Oliver is in her 70’s. She expresses faith in God, but I am not sure of her spiritual moorings. Her poetry is fabulous. It has caused me to look at creation and my own life more reflectively and thoughtfully. Two of her works I heartily recommend are (she has dozens more)
Thirst (2007) and Red Bird (2008)
David Whyte – Irish born and raised Whyte now lives in the Pacific Northwest US. His poetry is more symbolic and looks at elements of our identity. Having been churched raised, there are many Scriptural and spiritual images. Start with House of Belonging (Many Rivers Press), ISBN 0962152439.
The Poems of St. John of the Cross
Translated by Willis Barnstone, New Direction Paperbacks, ISBN 0226401103
St. John of the Cross is often considered one of the great mystical poets ever out of Spain. His writings are indeed mystical and insightful. Some of the verses deeply stirred me and gave insight into my own journey.