The Way of a Pilgrim
“By the grace of God I am a Christian, by my actions a great sinner, and by calling a homeless wanderer of the simplest origins, traveling from place to place. ”
My life as a Christian began six years ago, which is astounding to me because it all still feels so new. I wake up some mornings and see the cross on my wall, the Bible on my bedside table and I smile that I’ve actually become someone I once couldn’t imagine.
In the last six years, I’ve read much about Christianity and amassed a large library of related works on the shelves in my closet (that have spilled over into three large boxes.) For some reason I’ve not posted much about what I read. I suppose I like to keep the titles to myself because my Christian friends sometimes send me private messages that I shouldn’t be reading this or that in fear that I might be misled or corrupted by certain denominations or pastors. Their concern is much appreciated, of course, but what interests me in these titles is not so much the messages or the actual content as the brilliance of the writing, the uplifting feeling the words give me, and the encouragement I find in the authors’ travails in their walks with the Lord.
So, for the first time, I thought I’d share with you five books that can help you deepen your Christian faith:
1) The Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson
To give you an idea of how important this book is to me, as I sat down to write this paragraph, I made sure I knew where my copy was because I hadn’t seen it in some time. This book was recommended to me early in my faith walk and I didn’t expect much from it because the works I’d read by Christian authors at that time were terrible. I was surprised at what a deep impression this story had on me: a nonfiction account of a country pastor who hears a call to go to New York and start a ministry for street gangs. David Wilkerson became famous for his work in turning gangsters such as Nicky Cruz from lives of hard drugs and unfathomable street violence to the love of Christ. Wilkerson founded Teen Challenge as a result from his work with these young men. My favorite aspect of the story is the way the Lord speaks to Wilkerson and how he continually follows God’s call. After reading this book, I made sure to keep it in my backpack whenever I went out on the streets to hand out food or Bibles to the homeless in Kansas City. Why? I don’t know. Maybe for inspiration. Here’s an exchange between Nicky and Wilkerson that shows you the man he was:
Nicky Cruz: You come near me and I’ll kill you!
David Wilkerson: Yeah, you could do that. You could cut me up into a thousand pieces and lay them in the street, and every piece will still love you.”
2) The Way of a Pilgrim by Unknown
This is the most recent book I’ve read, so it feels strange to mention it on this list. But this short work has already transformed my prayer life. The author is unknown and no one is certain if the text is a direct account of an actual pilgrim wandering the Russian countryside in the 1800s or if it’s completely fiction. Either way, the story centers on one man who sets out to learn the prayer of the heart — also known as the “Jesus prayer” — and how the practice transforms his spiritual life. The book is written in the plainest, most eloquent language similar to other Russian literary greats of the era. The first sentence grabbed me and pulled me in: “By the grace of God I am a Christian, by my actions a great sinner, and by calling a homeless wanderer of the simplest origins, traveling from place to place. My worldly belongings are a knapsack that contains some bread, and a Bible in my breast pocket. That is all.”
3) My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers
This is another choice from early in my walk with the Lord. Meant to be read as a daily devotional, I first tried to consume pastor Chambers’ work one page after the next until I realized the depth of the truth he was revealing required more time to digest. The entries were collected by his wife, who selected and organized the content from many of Chambers’ own sermon notes after his untimely death at age 43. Here’s a powerful portion from the April 2 entry: “The lasting characteristic of a spiritual man is the ability to understand correctly the meaning of the Lord Jesus Christ and his life, and the ability to explain the purposes of God to others. The overruling passion of his life is Jesus Christ. Whenever you see this quality in a person, you get the feeling that he is truly a man after gods own heart.”
4) The Story of a Soul by St. Thérèse of Lisieux
A biography of a French nun who was later canonized as a saint, this book has some of the most beautiful writing I’ve ever read. Sister Thérèse writes about her orneriness as a child that led to her entry into a nunnery. At times her words are like music. Here’s a passage I will never forget:
“Jesus deigned to teach me this mystery. He set before me the book of nature; I understood how all the flowers He has created are beautiful, how the splendor of the rose and the whiteness of the Lily do not take away the perfume of the little violet or the delightful simplicity of the daisy. I understood that if all flowers wanted to be roses, nature would lose her springtime beauty, and the fields would no longer be decked out with little wild flowers. And so it is in the world of souls, Jesus’ garden. He willed to create great souls comparable to lilies and roses, but He has created smaller ones and these must be content to be daisies or violets destined to give joy to God’s glances when He looks down at His feet. Perfection consists in doing His will, in being what He wills us to be.”
5) The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton
This is the second biography on the list. Thomas Merton was a brilliant man who had the unique ability to share his insights with equally brilliant — and often simple — words. Here he shares his story starting out as a restlessness young man whose search for peace and faith leads him, at age 26, to take vows in one of the most demanding Catholic orders: the Trappist monks at the Abbey of Gethsemani. Some refer to this as a modern-day Confessions of Saint Augustine, which is another title that earns honorable mention for my list. But without question this book is one of the most influential religious works of the twentieth century. To be fair, I’ve read from several of Merton’s works, including A Book of Hours, which is a selection of his best quotations. I’ve chosen this book because it tells his full story and introduces you to the man. Here’s a brief excerpt on suffering: “The more you try to avoid suffering, the more you suffer, because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you, in proportion to your fear of being hurt. The one who does most to avoid suffering is, in the end, the one who suffers most.”