Read Great Books, Part 2
From the series Good to Great in God's Eyes
It’s true - you are what you eat. Both in your body and your mind. What you feed your mind and soul will determine your spiritual health. If you want to experience a fresh spiritual vitality and begin to see lasting life change, join Chip as he finishes up the six advantages of reading great books.
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About this series
Good to Great in God's Eyes
Ten Practices Great Christians have in Common
Are you tired of the status quo Christian life? Do you long for a spiritual breakthrough? Are you looking to go to the next level or get a fresh infusion of faith and spiritual passion? Great Christians live out their faith with purpose. In Mark 10:43, Jesus says, whoever wants to become great among you must - what? You'll explore the idea that there are certain practices available to every believer, at every maturity level, to move us from good to great, in God's Eyes. ACSI approvedMore from this series
We read books, first, that broaden our world. Second, to sharpen our mind. And, third, read great books that inflame your heart. That inflame your heart. I remember the first book, ever, to inflame my heart was E.M. Bounds. It was called: The Power of Prayer. Don’t read that one, unless you’re, psychologically, in a good state of mind. In the early part of his book – this guy has written a zillion books on prayer, and all of them, when you get done, you just want to wilt and say, “I am so guilty. I am so lacking. I am such a spiritual worm.” But it's kind of good for you. Just not too much.
But he says, in that book, “What the world needs is not more men, not more money, not more machinery, not even people who think about prayer, not people who talk about prayer, not people who can explain prayer. What God is looking for is men and women who pray, who really pray, who believe that God is real, and bring the needs before Him, and believe that He will answer. That is what God's looking for.” It is the hardest discipline in the world. Because I believe prayer is the barometer of genuine humility. And my self-sufficiency, and my honest evaluation of how much I need God, or don't need God, can be measured by the quantity and the quality of my prayer life.
Let’s do the math. There's an all-knowing Being. He knows what's going to happen at the end of the day, the end of history. He has unlimited power. He calls you His child. He has saved you. He has redeemed you, made you a part of His family, has told you He wants to guide you, He wants to bless you. He's a good God. He has a great plan for your life. He wants to prosper you. He wants to use you. He has a plan for your life. He has supernaturally gifted you. He put His Spirit in you.
And He wants to do all these things in your life. And we get up in the morning and say, “You know, I don't really have time to talk to You, because I basically know what to do with my life, and how to do it.” And then, we say, “Because I didn’t have time.” What? What? And so, we think that riding in the car now and then – Lord, thanks…we do the little quickie prayers: Thank You, Lord. Thank You, Lord. Now, you know what? I want to practice the presence of God. I want to have quickie prayers. I want to pray in the car. I want to pray as I walk. But you have to develop the discipline of times that are blocked off, where you meet with God, and you open your heart, and you get honest, and you get real, and you intercede. And E.M. Bounds – bang.
And so, as you can tell, on rare occasion, I've had an opportunity to get intense and mildly out of balance. Could anyone imagine a personality type like me going this direction? So, I read E.M. Bounds, and now I'm a Christian four years, five, maybe. And I'm coaching, going to grad school, and teaching high school. And I've got a little thirty-five-minute commute. And so, I read E.M. Bounds, and I decide I'm going to pray an hour, every day, before my quiet time.
So, I get up at some ungodly hour, and I pray for an hour. It's really hard, but I do it. And I'm pretty legalistic about it, which isn't good. This is not a really great story about how godly I am. This is kind of like how dumb I was. But something good came out of it. And so, I prayed for an hour. Then, I read my Bible. I had my quiet time. Memorized a couple verses. And then, I went and coached, and then came back and did ministry on the campus, drove to grad school, did a few little things. And I did that for about six months.
At the end of six months, by praying for an hour, before I did anything else, you know what happened? I ended up in the hospital. I had a doctor who looked at me and said, “Man, tell me about your schedule.” And then, he looked at me and said, “You may be the dumbest guy I've ever met.” Really. I had some sort of virus. He said, “You couldn't throw off anything.”
And what I learned was, prayer is about a relationship. What I learned was, God wanted to meet with me. It's not about duty. It's not about being a soldier. It's not measured, always, by how long, and what you do and this and that. It's about my heart, and that I need to block off time, and I need to be disciplined. And I'm glad I went through that, because it developed some discipline.
And then, I had to back away, and learn how to pray out of relationship, and out of grace. But you know something? There's something to be said for learning to do our duty for a brief season, to develop some things in your heart, in your schedule, in your life. But it inflamed my heart.
I remember Andrew Murray, a tiny, little book, The Beauty of Holiness. I don't have a lot to say about this one, other than, have you ever thought of God being humble? I still remember – I don't know what it was – maybe I didn't like to read, so all the books I read were almost all really thin paperbacks. It had an aqua cover, and it had the picture of a shell that was real shiny, with the pearl in the middle of it. And it said, The Beauty of Holiness.
And the book was simply about the majestic, awesome beauty of the King of all the universe, and how beautiful it is that He took on human flesh, and what it would be like to need never serve a person, but to choose to lower yourself and serve. And the book said, “The greatest delight, the most Godlikeness you can ever be, is when you understand humility is a sacred privilege, where you get to follow in the steps of Jesus.”
And, you’re talking about a highly-driven, “I want my way; I'm going to do my thing – by the way it's nice to have God on my team” attitude. And that just, it inflamed my heart. It cut to my soul.
Calvary Road is a book that says, basically, the Christian life is a journey to the cross. You must die. Remember the words of Jesus? You don't hear them preached all that much. “If any man will come after Me, let him” – what? – “deny himself, take up his cross” – how often? – “daily.” Why do you take up a cross? It wasn't a religious symbol, even for the first three, four hundred years of the Church. It's an instrument of death.
“Take up your cross,” your will, your agenda, your dreams, your “got to have it your way” – “take up your cross and die, daily, and come follow Me.” And that little book is the journey, with the great ray of hope at the end that says, “Unless you die to yourself, you never experience resurrection life.” See, there's never a resurrection without a death.
But, what I found, in my Christian life, I spent an inordinate amount of energy trying to control, trying to take care of, trying to – “Okay, I’ll get financially secure here. I'll line this up over here. Everything's got to be okay here. Now, my day has got to go like this, and if it doesn't go like this, then I'm really upset, and my emotions go down, then they go up. It's got to be my way.” And then, I have all kinds of verses, and sophisticated Christianese that I say, that sort of excuse all that.
And God brings suffering, and heartache, and inconvenience, and problem people, and wayward children, and struggles in marriage as acts of grace, so that you can learn to die, just die, to where you surrender. And you say, “I can't do this marriage.” “I can't live this life.” “I can't be this dad.” “I can't be this kid.” “I can't handle this financial pressure.”
And you die to yourself, and you say, “But I will allow You to live Your life through me, at whatever level You want, God. I’m desperate.”
And I bet we could take a microphone around this room, and we could talk about times when you've come to the very end of the end of the end of your rope, and how God has met you, right? Haven't there been those times? You've exploded, and experienced grace. When do you experience it? You experience it when you're dead. You experience it when you can't handle it, you can't make it happen. And that's why God, in His grace, allows some of those things to happen.
Well, I've put a couple other titles there that have been helpful to me, and maybe The Pursuit of God, or True Spirituality, will be ones that will be helpful to you. But let me go to the fourth one. We read great books that, first, broaden our world, then they sharpen our mind. Third, they inflame our heart. And fourth, to develop your skills.
I was not a Christian. And I’m not necessarily recommending this book; it’s probably out of print. But what I want you to get is: read books that develop your skills. I didn't know how to be a dad. I had a really nice mom and dad; they just weren't Christians.
And here, all of a sudden, now I'm a dad, and I've got two little boys. I don't know how to have family devotions. I don't know how to pray with them. I don't know how to discipline them. And there was a little book called The Christian Family, by Larry Christenson. And I just read it, and I did what it said. It must be a good book, because I've got great kids, and a great wife.
Communication: Key to Your Marriage. My dad and my mom weren't believers. Theresa's parents, as she grew up, weren't. Her dad was an alcoholic. My dad was an alcoholic. So, people say, “We've got baggage.” Well, we've got baggage. I think that's why, when I speak on marriage, and parenting – I think the reason it resonates, on the radio, is, people say, “Now, that guy's really messed up, just like me. Maybe there's hope.”
But I think that's how God ministers, out of our weakness. But we sat down with Norman Wright's book, Communication: Key to Your Marriage, and we read it, chapter by chapter, did the questions at the back – which I hated. I don't read directions, either.
And then, we sat down and talked about it. And then, he came out with another book. It was sickening – more Communication: Key to Your Marriage. And so, we went through that one.
You have to develop skills. I didn't know how to communicate. I didn't know how to express anger. I didn't know how to do any of the kinds of things you're supposed to, as a dad, or as a mate. But you know what? God has produced great resources to help people like us, whether it's your marriage, or whether it's parenting, or, for me, learning to lead.
The CEO of FedEx, Fred Smith – his dad was a pastor in a tiny, little Methodist church. He wrote a little book, called Learning to Lead, for pastors – it’s like gold. Another book that I read, The Effective Executive – it wasn't a Christian book, but you're a pastor and, all of a sudden, something starts to grow. I didn't have a clue, the difference between being efficient versus being effective. Peter Drucker's little book, The Father of Modern Management – man, that is just a little gold book about developing skills to lead your life well.
And then, Basic Theology, by Charles Ryrie, is just something that, I want to develop my skills, where I can think theologically, think through the issues of salvation, think through the issues of Christology. Big word, but we could use a few of those. Everyone's so apologetic: “I don’t want to use a big word here. People won't understand that.” We've figured out how, in the last twenty-five years, to dumb down the Church so low, we don't have anybody that thinks theologically. We don't have people that recognize air. You're leaders; you're people of influence. We need to develop our skills, broaden our minds, inflame our hearts. How do you do it? You read great books.
The fifth type of book is: read great books that heal your soul. Heal your soul. I was on an airplane, and really wrestling with a big decision about whether to marry Theresa. Some of you know our history and our background. It was really big. And I have learned to relate to people pretty well, but I learned, in looking back, the reason I learned to relate to people pretty well is because I was so fearful of rejection, I could sort of read groups and figure out. So, the tough guys, you're supposed to act tough, and to the parents, you're supposed to be the all-American boy: “Ma’am, sure good to see you. Yes, Cindy Lou will be home right on time.” And the basketball guys, in the locker room, “Hey dude. Get out of here. Get out of my way.” So, I could figure out how to act with whoever. And I was just a chameleon, and I was a people pleaser.
And now, I had the biggest decision of my life, and I had one group of people saying, “We think you ought to do this,” and another group of people I respected doing this. And then, I'm just going, “Ugh!”
And what I realized was, instead of making a decision based on God's Word, and what the Scripture said, I did all this study, it was really pretty clear. I was so afraid of disappointing people, and being rejected, that I didn't have the sheer courage to step up and be a man, and make a decision and say, “You know, if this is right, good. And if it's wrong, Lord, I want You to know, when we get to the Judgment Seat of Christ, I'm going to step right up to the plate, and I'll receive whatever You want to give me, bad or good.
But there's a time when you can't ask everyone else what you ought to do. There's a time where it all doesn't line up and get really easy. There's a time where you be a man, you be a woman, you trust God, based on everything you know, and you take a step of faith, and you don't care, with holy regard, about what other people think. And that little book, The Ins and Outs of Rejection, by Charles R. Sullivan, is what I was reading on the plane, on my way to California to a conference, when I realized, That's the issue in my heart, and God gave me clarity. But He began to heal my soul.
Another book – again, probably out of print – is called The Strong and the Weak, by Paul Tournier. He's a Swiss psychologist, a believer. I happened to be pastoring. Twenty-eight years old and had this opportunity to go out into a little country church. In fact, the metropolitan area had no stoplights, forty-five hundred people total, and then the church was about fifteen minutes outside of town. One little white building, and we had some rodents that would run across the back. We had thirty-five people in the church.
And there was a group of business people that all had businesses in Dallas, and were kind of the upper middle to really upwardly mobile. And they wanted to have a good, strong Bible-teaching church, about thirty miles outside where they lived.
And, so, we created a little church, and it had its ups and downs. I think I was the eighth pastor, in about four years, so they definitely had some ups and downs. And I think when they got me, they thought they might have some more downs, you know? And I didn't have any idea what I was doing. But it was like a little country church, but then, you'd go into one of their houses, and Southern Living would be here, and it would be super nice. And I was overwhelmingly intimidated. And I had never been around people with money before. Both my parents were schoolteachers. And, boy, I just thought they were way up here, and I'm a little pygmy down here, and I was nervous.
And then, I pastored there for a couple years. And when I got to know them, I found out some of these very wealthy, powerful people that own big businesses, and drive downtown to Dallas and walk into big, shiny buildings, and everyone thinks they're wonderful – man, they've got really big problems in their marriages, and some of their kids are going through some really bad stuff. And pretty soon, I'm realizing, They're just like me.
And then, at the same time, I read this book called, The Strong and the Weak – and I'll save you a whole read. The thesis of the book is, everyone in the world is desperately insecure. Thousands of hours of counseling, godly Christian man – this was: everyone is desperately insecure.
Some people demonstrate their insecurity with strong reactions. They power up. “I've got so many zeroes. Here's my portfolio. This is what I drive. Look at that watch. You know how many letters are behind my name? Hey, you'd better get out of the way.” And they intimidate people, and they're strong and powerful. You know what they do? It produces distance. Why? Because now, that distance keeps the real them from being exposed, and they're desperately insecure. And I learned, when I saw people like that, instead of being intimidated, I thought, Oh, wow. That guy's really insecure, just like me. He probably needs some help.
And the other group masks their insecurity with weak reactions: “I could never do that. No, no, no. Well, I just, no, well, I have a hard time looking up. I like to gaze at my navel, most of the time. And I'm a victim.” And you know what they are? They're just insecure, like me.
And you know what happens? I read that book, and I thought, Everyone's wearing a mask, so, what the heck. I just think I'm going to rip mine off. What you see is what you get. You like it, you like it. You don't, you don't. I've learned, in the last few years, who I am in Christ is what matters. What He thinks of me is what matters. And when people power up, I can kind of look beyond that and say, “Boy, I've sure done a lot of that myself,” and have compassion.
And when people are shrinking back, you can say, “You know something?” You can put your arm around them, and also challenge them to say, “I don't want to be critical here, because I know you tell this story, and it works for a while because you get a lot of affection and attention, but sweetheart” – or “brother” – “what you need to do is get your eyes off yourself. You really have something to offer, and you not believing that is pretty arrogant, because God says you do. So, why don’t you get your eyes off yourself. You've got struggles. I've got struggles. Even that guy you're intimidated by, he's got struggles too.”
See, there are books that can heal your soul. In my forties, I think – late thirties and forties, especially, I think you go through a time where you start – you know when your kids are starting to get older, and your parents are starting to get older, and you're right in the brackish water – the salt water and the fresh water. You’re at that stage of life where your kids are getting older, and you're trying to figure out about parenting, and all of a sudden, your kids are starting to say and feel some things that you've felt about your parents, and your parents, right now, are not looking really near as dumb as they did about ten years ago. You know that place you get? And then, you're working through some identity issues, and then you realize, Gosh, my dad wasn't perfect. My mom wasn't perfect.
And sometimes, depending on your background, you can spend anywhere from a decade, or a decade and a half, internally, even if you do not do it not externally, you can whine about all that you didn't get: “My dad never told me he loved me.” “I came from a very difficult family.” “My mother and I didn't really bond and connect.” “My sister did this, and we did that. And this happened, and this happened.” And you can spend a lot of energy focusing on all that you didn't get. And there is a period of a time when you need to get a window, and get some insight, but, boy, that's a bad way to live. It's a very unfruitful way to live.
And I remember reading Nouwen's book on the prodigal, and Abba Father by Brennan Manning. And those two books have one very simple message: God loves me, and God loves you, at this very moment, as much as you will ever be loved, ever, ever, ever. There's not something you could do to get Him to love you. There's not something you could do that will stop Him from loving you.
He doesn't love you “if,” and He doesn't love you “because.” While you were yet a sinner, He loves you. You are the object of His affection. And as you read, and grow in Christ, what you'll find, especially among those who've spoken much about the spiritual life, and growth – it all boils down to receiving and accepting the unconditional love of God as your real, own identity, and then having the freedom, because of that, to love and accept other people. And we all wrestle with that. And those are issues.
Every family – they talk about families, and dysfunctional families. My theory is, there are really, really dysfunctional families, not quite so dysfunctional families, and mildly dysfunctional families. And that has all of us. So, everybody's got issues. So, you need to read books that will heal your soul.
And, finally, what I want to say is, first and foremost – I saved it for last. Some of you are thinking, Is he ever going to get to this one? First and foremost, read the Bible. Don't ever let books written by men substitute the Book written by God. Set your mind on the things that are above. Allow your mind to be renewed. This Word, Moses would say, is your very life. “Man will not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the Father.” This isn't, read a chapter to keep the devil away.
This isn't, have a little list so that you've done my devotionals, and check that off. “Let's see. I've worked out. I took my juices that are good for me. I've read my Bible. I've prayed my twelve to fifteen minutes.”
No, this is about, this is about God saying, I sent My Son, and you, now, as My child, have My Spirit in you. And I will take that Spirit that bears witness with your spirit, that cries out to Me, “Abba, Father,” and I will take the written Word, and I will allow it to become, in your life and experience, the living Word.
And the God who spoke, and all the world and all the galaxies came into existence, invites you, and invites me, and He will speak to you. And He will encourage you. And He will share things from His Word, and they will leap off the page, at times, that will so convict you that you’ll just – there have been times that I've just thought, Lord, I've been a Christian thirty years now. That attitude is so ugly. I didn't think I was capable of that bad of an attitude and a thought. I have so far to go. And there’s other times where you will open it, and you will hear God's voice, through his Word, love you and affirm you, when there's no other person that understands, in ways that will be beyond your wildest dreams. And He'll guide you, and He'll direct you.
But I believe that the greatest decision I made – and I praise God for Dawson Trotman, because Dawson Trotman lead someone to Christ, who lead someone to Christ, who lead someone to Christ, who lead someone to Christ, who lead a bricklayer to Christ, who invested seven or eight years in me. And he came down to my dorm room every Tuesday morning – and I didn't want to meet with him. And I didn't want to get up. And he taught me how to have a quiet time.
And, for two years, just so you know – for two years, man, I just could not get out of bed. And a long quiet time was, like, six minutes, me and God: “Read four verses,” and, “How You doing God? I’m doing fine. Catch You later.” Why? Because I was arrogant. I had no idea what was available, and I had no idea the depth of my need.
And for a while, then, I finally took my alarm clock, and I put it in the bathroom, so I at least had to get up out of bed. Finally, I had to get a roommate to help me. I was in college. I knew I wanted to be in God's Word. I could not discipline myself. I was so undisciplined. And I got my roommate, who was a heavyweight wrestler, and I said, “Bob, I'm trying, I'm trying, I'm trying. I make it, like, two mornings out of seven. I know I've got to be in God's Word. I want to, but when the alarm goes off, my will is gone.”
And Bob said, “Chip, do you really want help?” I said, “Bob, I do.” He said, “Chip, now, don't mess with me. You really want help?” I said, “Bob, we've been roommates. Man, I want help.” He said, “Chip, no matter what, do you want help?” I said, “Bob, I want help!” He said, “Okay. Tomorrow morning, you'll get in God's Word.” I said, “All right.”
So, I go to sleep. Alarm goes off. I put my head under the covers. Bob goes, “Hey, Chip. Time to get up.” “Hey, Bob. I'll read later this afternoon.” “Hey, Chip, remember?” “Bob, leave me alone.” He comes over, takes my covers, throws them off, leaning over me like this. “Bob, what are you doing? Would you just get out of here? I'm freezing, man.” He said, “Chip, are you coming?” I said, “I'm not getting up.” So, I take the pillow over my head.
He goes out, gets a glass of water from the drinking fountain, comes in: “Chip, you getting up?” “No.” Throws a little water – splash! Now I'm ticked! And he's in trouble. I’m about a hundred and fifty pounds, and he's about a hundred plus that. And it never entered my mind to do anything, except, “Get out of here.”
And – gospel truth – he goes to the end of the bed, and grabs my ankle, and lifts me up. And now I'm upside down. This is for real. And he walks in – remember the dorms where they had the big, local showers? We go out our door. He opens that one. He turns the shower on. He says, “Chip, do you want to get up?” Now I'm trying to do sit ups. And he takes me in and he just, Shhhhhh. He lays me down. He said, “Chip, I'll meet you back in the room.” And he said, “If you want more of this, this is every day.”
Can I tell you something? I thank God for Bob Meyers. It started as a duty – ten, twelve, fifteen, eighteen minutes – got to where, Lord, at least I'm in the Word. I can't tell you the ooey-gooey feelings, and God things. A lot of times, it was like eating a good breakfast. I’m sure it was good for me, I just can't remember what I ate. And, little by little by little, I just made a covenant with God: No Bible, no breakfast. You will be the first Person in my life. You will be the most important Person in my life. I will meet with You, and I will talk with You, and I will ask You to speak to me. And I covenant with You, that's what I'm going to do.
Now, have I gone into legalistic times? Of course. Does God love me any less when I miss a morning? Absolutely not. But I had to focus my heart. I had to set my heart on doing what God wanted me to do.
And I want to tell you. After about four, five, or six years, God spoke more and more. The greatest, delightful, most wonderful hours of my day are in the morning. And I just get to meet with Him, and He talks to me. And I have all these struggles, and all these problems, because I'm insecure, and I came from a dysfunctional family, just like you. But there's a God who loves me and accepts me, just like I am. And He knows what's going to happen today.
And He just keeps speaking and loving. And, for about thirty years now, that pattern has been the most transforming event in my life.
Read great books. Why? Because you don't want to be conformed to this world. You want to be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that your life could prove, or demonstrate, what the will of God is, that which is good – I want a good life – that which is acceptable, that which is well pleasing.