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One of my favorite coffee mugs has this quote on it by Thomas Jefferson, “I cannot live without books.” I love books. Notice how I didn’t just say I love to read, which I do. I also love books that you can fold, highlight, and stack on a shelf. If you ever catch me with a tablet or a digital book, you have my permission to rebuke me in the name of Jesus!
I’m excited to share how these five books have impacted my life, but before we talk about that, I would like to give a few disclaimers. First, I would like to say I have not been reading long and I wouldn’t consider myself a well-read person. My love for reading started when I became a Christian my Junior year in High School. Even though my love for reading was high, my pace was slow. I am sure there are great books I will fail to mention. This list is not the ‘only’ top five books, just ones I chose to share.
Second, this list is personal. What I am presenting is a list of books that have impacted me personally. I always say the best book to read is the one you are interested in at that time. These books came at just the right time in my life, which I will explain in detail later. Therefore, please don’t take this list as something you must conquer in life. I am simply sharing about what has impacted me on my spiritual journey and if you feel like one of these books would be helpful for where you are in life right now, then that is great.
Finally, I would like to remind you that this is a ‘Jaakan’ list and not a ‘Bible Chapel’ list. The only book we can accept fully is the Bible. The Bible is written by men, INSPIRED BY GOD, and preserved for us! Therefore, we can take everything that is said in the Bible to the bank, as the saying goes. Translation: you can believe everything in the Bible, but we can’t say the same for other books. This calls for discernment and wisdom on the reader’s part. That being said, I hope you enjoy this list of impactful reads!
#1 Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis
“A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice.”
I became a Christian when I was a junior in High School, and one of the first books I read was Mere Christianity. Anyone who knows C. S. Lewis knows that he isn’t the easiest to read. Even though reading his books can be a challenge, I quickly fell in love with Mere Christianity, and I believe many people would say the same. This book helped me to gain a better understanding of my new faith. Not only did it help me deepen my understanding of Christianity for myself, but it also helped me share my new faith with all my friends in my school. Instead of trying to explain the entire creation account, the history of Israel, and the prophets with my friends on the basketball court, this book helped me to sum up Christianity well and share what C. S. Lewis simply calls Mere Christianity. I will repeat what one person said about the book, “If you are a new Christian, read it; and if you already read it, read it again.” He sums up certain parts of the Christian faith well, and he does a good job of answering deep questions or concerns that people may have about Christianity. I also love the book because it was a short read!
#2 Why We Can’t Wait by Martin Luther King Jr.
“We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be coworkers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.”
Being black in America can be a challenge at times. I write that statement carefully yet truthfully. I don’t mean to offend, but I do want to share my reality. I remember the first time I encountered hate simply because of the color of my skin. I was hurt, confused, and scared. I was scared because I realized my skin color was not something I could change. I could educate myself, talk differently, work extremely hard at first impressions and take a different route home, but I soon realized that all that didn’t matter because I couldn’t change my skin color.
I didn’t speak much about it growing up; I just quietly processed my experiences. The college I attended was predominantly white. It was here where I couldn’t escape some of the realities in my own heart as well as within the hearts of my brothers and sisters. I will spare you the details, but I remember asking myself, “Where did all this come from, why am I experiencing this in Christian circles, and what can I do to help?” I decided to educate myself.
The first book I picked up was Why We Can’t Wait. I love this book because first and foremost it is short! Secondly, it gave context to some of my thoughts and feelings. Most importantly it gave me a sense of urgency. For years I never did anything or said anything regarding race relations. This book helped me to realize the urgency of the matter and why MLK fought so hard and so fast. I understand that many people have different views about Martin Luther King Jr. I also understand that many people have different views on past and current race relations in America. I recognize that this is a hot and touchy subject. But, if you want to understand a little behind some of the passion, urgency, righteous anger, and heart behind some African Americans today then I suggest you start with this book.
#3 Called to the Ministry by Edmund P. Clowney
“To learn how you may serve Christ tomorrow, you must serve him today. Stir up your gifts and Christ’s call will be made clear.”
“What has God called you to?” This was the most debated and sought-after question in my Bible college. For some reason, the common consensus was that you were not mature enough if you didn’t know what God called you to. Therefore, you had one of two options, lie about it and then go to one of the several ‘prayer closets’ on campus and confess, or avoid the conversation like it was the plague! What I did was much worse – I tried to do both at the same time. I would lie as if I knew what being called to a certain vocation meant and then I would run away mid conversation! It was bad. Let’s just say I got real acquainted with that prayer closet!
My last paper in college was on calling to ministry. This book not only helped me write my paper, but it guided my understanding of calling and my pursuit towards vocational ministry. Edmund P. Clowney describes well what it means to be called to the ministry, and when I say “well,” I mean biblically. Although towards the end of the book he focuses on pastoral ministry as a vocation, for the majority of the book he is talking to all Christians. I believe this book does a good job of clearly teaching what it means to be called as a Christian in general and to pastoral ministry in particular. When I talk to someone who speaks of a desire for pastoral ministry, my first instinct is to give him this book. It is a great place to start when thinking about the subject. Oh, did I mention that it’s a short book too!
#4 Knowing Scripture by R. C. Sproul
“It is important to note that the theme of this book is not how to read the Bible but how to study the Bible. There is a great deal of difference between reading and studying. Reading is something we can do in a leisurely way, something that can be done strictly for entertainment in a casual manner. But study suggests labor, serious and diligent work. Here then is the real problem of our negligence. We fail in our duty to study God’s Word not so much because it is difficult to understand, not so much because it is dull and boring, but because it is work. Our problem is not a lack of intelligence or a lack of passion. Our problem is that we are lazy.”
I loved to read Scripture. The church where I became a Christian was huge, and we had a couple hundred kids in the youth group. I remember the first time my youth pastor walked in with a box of Bibles. Nobody wanted them because they looked ugly – purple and black New King James Bibles – but regardless of what everyone else thought, I was so happy to get a FREE Bible. I read that thing every day, and I still have it! I loved to read Scripture, but I didn’t know how to study Scripture.
R.C. Sproul’s book introduced me to the importance of Scripture and how to study it. One verse that was held high at Moody Bible Institute was 2 Timothy 2:15 which says, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth (NASB).” Sproul did a good job of presenting you with the tools to help in your study of Scripture as well as guide you on best practices for hermeneutics. If you don’t know what that word means, he explains it in the book! I encourage those who want to go deeper with the Word and progress from reading to studying to start with this book. And, I probably don’t have to say it, but I will anyway; it is a short book!
#5 Teaching to Change Lives by Howard Hendricks
“The effective teacher always teaches from the overflow of a full life. The Law of the Teacher, simply stated, is this: If you stop growing today, you stop teaching tomorrow.”
“The good teacher’s greatest threat is satisfaction – the failure to keep asking, ‘How can I improve?’ The greatest threat to your ministry is your ministry.”
“Kids aren’t looking for a perfect teacher, just an honest one, and a growing one.”
You won’t read about him on any of the famous Christian websites. You won’t see his books in Barnes & Noble. You won’t find his lectures as most viewed videos on YouTube or any other social media page. You won’t even know who I am talking about when I say his name, but man was he the best professor I ever had. His name was Peter Whorral. If you want to know why I question everything everyone says and why I think so much, it is because of him. I don’t do it because of arrogance (most of the time), but because Mr. Whorral taught me how to learn and learn well.
In one of his classes, the textbook was Howard Hendricks’ Teaching to Change Lives. I fell in love with the art of teaching after reading this book. The principles are practical, timely, and powerful. You will literally highlight the entire book! Twice! Anyone who speaks of Dallas Theological Seminary will speak of Howard Hendricks. Allow me to use a different tone for a second; Howard Hendricks was a beast! Applying the principles in this book helps me put heart behind my techniques and lesson planning. It helped cultivate a love for teaching, and it encouraged me that teaching well is possible and works! This book is for anyone who teaches the Bible to anyone on any level. Oh, and take a wild guess…. Yep, it’s a short read!
So, there you go! My top five books that have influenced my life, my walk with Christ, and my path to vocational ministry. I hope this list was encouraging to you. And one last thing, if you have a list of books that have impacted your life, I’d love to hear from you! Share it with me because I am always looking for new books to read!