It's hard to believe I'm 25 today. No, not in chronological years (don't I wish!), but more importantly -- spiritually.
Not everyone knows their spiritual birthday. I believe you can be truly saved without knowing the exact moment you passed from dark to Light. But I had the privilege of growing up in a house where I was taught about Jesus Christ, and the simple, true story that all people are fallen, and need a Savior. It was told to me time and time again at home and in church.
So, at a very young age, I distinctly remember sitting in church one Sunday evening at Metropolitan Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee, listing to our pastor, Randy Ray deliver a sermon. I was young, to be sure. But I realized that I didn't want to spend an eternity separated from Jesus. About all I knew then was that He was Love. And I wanted to be secure in that love for all time.
So I tugged at my daddy's sleeve and told him I wanted to be saved. Those were the days of walking the aisle and making a public profession of faith. That's gone out of fashion now, but I confidently walked that aisle with my parents at my side, and spoke with a dear saint whose name, sadly, I don't recall. What I do recall was how she simply explained the gospel to me -- that Jesus came to earth as a man, lived a perfect life that only He could, and rose again to gain victory over sin and death. And that if I would pray and ask him into my heart, he would come in and live there forever and be my Savior and my Lord.
I prayed a simple child's prayer. That's all it took. No more knowledge at that moment. Nothing I could do. I just asked. And He did what He promises He will always do. He saved me.
That sweet saint in her wisdom shared with me something, no doubt directed to a child, but that has stayed with me ever since. She asked me to hold out my hand and remember one thing. A promise He makes in His word. One word for each finger -- Jesus. Will. Never. Leave. Me.
And he hasn't.
Like any lifelong friendship, I've failed him more times than I wish. But I always found a loving place right back in my Father's arms. I've looked at prayer as a burden, when it's really a blessing. I've preferred self and the comforts of this world over my King and his Kingdom. And all the time, He has been faithful. I have learned and grown and made the faith my own, "working out my salvation with fear and trembling." I have experienced great victories and times of closeness with my God. I have sat under many more great men as pastors and mentors and teachers. I have read and questioned and faltered and strengthened again.
But Jesus has never left me.
I have so far to go. The beautiful thing is that I have a whole lifetime, and then eternity for this long race called sanctification. But I'll admit I'm a little sad to say sometimes I've been saved for 25 years. I feel I should be farther along.
So, it's in that spirit that I've decided to take a little self-inflicted course in Christianity. When I was young, my spiritual birthday was always marked in my house. I got a cake with my favorite verse written in frosting, and a present of a book or some music (most often a CD by my favorite, Steven Curtis Chapman) or a new Bible. So this year, I'm marking my birthday with a project.
I am a reader. The way I learn best is often by reading what others wiser than me have written. I've spent the last month jotting down some of the spiritual classics -- some I've read, many of which sadly I have not.
I plan to spend next year reading 25 of the Christian classics -- one for every year I've been saved. There were so many more that could have been on this list. I brainstormed, perused my own shelves, asked my spiritual mentors, searched in other books, blogs, and for friends' recommendations. At the end of the day, this was an extremely hard task. When there were cuts to be made, I erred on the side of cutting those I had already read, or had read recently, so this list is fairly personal to my year. But I truly feel that all 25 of these are classics and sure that they deserve a place on the shelf of any Christian's library.
I plan to read these 25 this year, as well as through the King's James Version of the Holy Bible. [I have read through the Bible-in-a-Year before in both the NIV and HCSB versions, which are fantastic for modern accuracy and ease, but there is something so poetic about the language of the KJV that I would like to experience.]
So, without further ado, here's the list of 25 books that I have settled on for 2012-2013:
- A Celebration of Discipline by Richard C. Foster
- Confessions by St. Augustine*
- The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
- Desiring God by John Piper**
- Foxe's Book of Martyrs by John Foxe*
- The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom*
- Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis
- In His Steps by Charles Sheldon*
- The Jesus I Never Knew by Phillip Yancey
- Knowing God by J. I. Packer
- Listening to Your Life by Frederick Buechner*
- Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis*
- My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers*
- On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius
- Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton
- Paradise Lost by John Milton*
- Pensees by Blaise Pascal
- Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan
- Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence
- Saint's Everlasting Rest by Richard Baxter*
- The Saving Life of Christ by Major Ian Thomas
- The Search for Significance by Robert McGee
- A Shepherd's Look at Psalm 23 by Phillip Keller
- Six Hours One Friday by Max Lucado
- Through Gates of Splendor by Elizabeth Elliot
*Selection I have read at some time in the past, but plan to read afresh again.
**I read Desiring God only this year, but felt it absolutely deserved a place on this list, so I plan on substituting another of John Piper's writings. You can't go wrong with any Piper any day.
Which books would you have included? Which classics have I overlooked?