My Top 5 Classics of Christian Devotion

Many people ask me for book recommendations to help them to grow spiritually. I usually recommend one of the classics of Christian devotion that have influenced me so much. Here are my “Top 5” Classics of Christian Devotion with an appetizer from each.

Right now you can be let the Holy Spirit use a short excerpt from an old book to renew your faith!

You may want to buy one of these classics of Christian devotion so I also offer my brief personal comments on how each book has impacted me, why it is essential for Christians today, and what you need to keep in mind as you read it. Also, I share a favorite quote from each book.

You may not have read any of the five classics of Christian devotion that I recommend below—most Christians haven’t. But if you read any one of them cover to cover, prayerfully and seeking God to help you make application to your life, you will experience profound transformation in Christlikeness!

1. Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ by Jeanne Guyon in 1685

How this Book has Impacted Me

Guyon taught me that reading the Bible isn’t enough – I need to pray the words of God, letting them form my heart and life to be more like Jesus.

Why this Book is Important for Christians Today

All of us – educated or not, in professional ministry or not, an avid reader or not, highly disciplined or not – can go deeper and farther with Christ. Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ is available for anyone who is thirsty for the living waters!

Many people I talk with, especially pastors and leaders, share my propensity to get too busy and move too fast. Guyon woos us into a better life of intimacy with Christ through praying Scripture and submitting to our Lord in all that we do.

Leaders today say, “The Church is a mile wide and an inch deep.” This would no longer be true if we’d let Jeanne Guyon show us how to experience the depths of Jesus Christ!

How to Read this Book

Don’t just read Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ – savor every word till your reading becomes praying. Then you’ll learn to read the Bible in the same way and you will begin to see that being transformed more into the glorious image of Christ is possible for you.

My Favorite Quote

“‘Praying the Scripture’ is a unique way of dealing with the Scripture… Be careful as you read. Take in full, gently and carefully what you are reading. Taste it and digest it as you read…

“You may then want to take that portion of Scripture which has touched you and turn it into prayer… In this new way of reading with prayer, you must become as the bee who penetrates into the depths of the flower. You plunge deeply within to remove its deepest nectar” (SeedSowers Publishing: 1981, p. 7-8).

2. A Simple Way to Pray by Martin Luther in 1535

How this Book has Impacted Me

Luther showed me that when I memorized a Psalm or other Bible passages I could use it at anytime like a “pocket lighter” to warm my heart for prayer.

Why this Book is Important for Christians Today

Most of us admit it’d be good if we prayed more often and more earnestly than we do. One reason we don’t is because we make prayer too formal and too complicated. Martin Luther’s barber asked him for help with prayer and the great theologian and reformer responded with a pastoral letter illustrating his own simple way of praying, meditatively and personally, through the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments.

Some days we may allow ourselves to get too busy for a standard “quiet time.” But even in that case we can find empty spaces in our day (like driving our car, waiting in line, or brushing out teeth) in which we can use a Scripture passage as a pocket lighter.

Luther shows us that the Ten Commandments apply to us today – they are beautiful and useful for meditation, personal examination, and praying to become the kind of person who is ready to obey each of God’s commands.

How to Read this Book

Read A Simple Way to Pray as if you are Luther’s barber and you’re reading the pastoral letter he’s written to help you. Set aside a couple of hours to read it in one sitting and then to experiment with using Luther’s simple approach to prayer. What will God do in my life if I memorize a Psalm and keep returning to it for meditation, prayer, and intercession for others? (Or if I pray the Lord’s Prayer everyday in this new way? Or if I use the Ten Commandments as a regular examination of conscience?)

My Favorite Quote

“With practice one can take the Ten Commandments on one day, a psalm or chapter of Holy Scripture the next day, and use them as flint and steel to kindle a flame in the heart” (Westminster John Knox Press: 2000, p. 56).

3. A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life by William Law in 1728.

How this Book has Impacted Me

I read William Law because my mentor Dallas Willard recommended it to me. Wow! What a treasure! No book has inspired me more with the beauty and attainability of being authentically devoted to the Lord, showing my love for him in how I live my daily life and how I treat the people around me.

Why this Book is Important for Christians Today

Do we really love God? Has the grace of God through Christ really taken effect in our life? Then we’ll obey his laws. But as soon as we set out to do that we’ll find that we can’t! We need help to become like Christ. William Law shows us many practical examples of what it looks like go into wholesome holiness training with Jesus.

The Ten Commandments and the law generally are not just part of the Old Covenant – they are for New Covenant Christians today.

Many Christians think that grace is opposed to the law. William Law echoes the Psalmist by showing us that the law is a grace to us; it restores our souls; it shows us what a good person looks like. If we want more of God’s grace active in our lives then we need to practice obeying Jesus in our everyday life, relying on his Spirit to help us.

How to Read this Book

When you read A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life don’t let the yeast of legalism work it’s way into the dough of your life. He’s not trying to get us to add a bunch of new regimens to our lives as much as he’s trying to shift our attitudes about how we’re living; he’s teaching us to integrate our relationship with Christ into our daily life so that we learn to please God in all of our actions.

My Favorite Quote

“If you will stop here and ask yourself why you are not so devoted as the primitive Christians, your own heart will tell you that it is neither through ignorance nor inability but purely because you never thoroughly intended it… If [devotion to Christ] generally existed among Christians it would change the whole face of the world” (Westminster John Knox Press:1955p. 22).

4. Letters by a Modern Mystic by Frank Laubach in 1937

How this Book has Impacted Me

Frank Laubach showed me even a worrier and a workaholic like me could learn to keep turning my thoughts onto the risen Christ in my midst. I began doing this to express my love for the Lord and to live in closer relationship with him. Along the way I realized that I wasn’t worrying anymore and wasn’t so driven by ambition. I discovered that it’s really true: God is enough for me!

Why this Book is Important for Christians Today

Appreciating God’s presence and participating in what he is doing right now is the source of love, joy, peace, discernment, creativity, and power.

The Christian life is all about being with Jesus to become like him. Frank Laubach shows us practically how to do this in our day-to-day life.

Sadly, some conservative Christians write off Christian “spiritual formation” as being “New Age” or “too introspective.” They haven’t read Letters by a Modern Mystic and the story behind it: this great Evangelical missionary to Muslims was used powerfully by God because he learned to find delight in submitting his will to God moment-by-moment.

How to Read this Book

Letters by a Modern Mystic, as the title says, is a compilation of letters that Frank Laubach wrote to his father. Read it like Frank’s father did: one letter at a time. Look forward to opening your mailbox each day and getting a fresh report of Frank’s delight in the nearness of God. Then take that day and join Frank’s experiment, his “game with minutes” (which is the title of his companion booklet). Venture out on God as you do whatever you’re dong that day and see what God will do in your life as keep re-calling God to mind in the ways that Frank illustrates.

My Favorite Quote

“Two years ago a profound dissatisfaction led me to begin trying to line up my actions with the will of God about every fifteen minutes or every half hour.  Other people to whom I confessed this intention said it was impossible.  I judge from what I have heard that few people are really trying even that.  But this year I have started out to live all my waking moments in conscious listening to the inner voice, asking without ceasing, ‘What, Father, do you desire said?  What Father, do you desire this minute?’

“It is clear that this is exactly what Jesus was doing all day every day.” (Purposeful Design Publications: 2997, p. 3-4).

5. The Way of a Pilgrim and the Pilgrim Continues his Way by the Anonymous Russian Pilgrim in 1858

How this Book has Impacted Me

The Anonymous Russian Pilgrim’s story showed me that by integrating the simplest of prayers into everything I do – “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me” – God’s love and power could overflow from me. Inspired by his example I have been doing something similar by with little prayers in Jesus’ name that are inspired by lines from the Psalms.

Why this Book is Important for Christians Today

Praying the Jesus Prayer over many years transformed the Anonymous Russian Pilgrim from a depressed and reclusive man to a joyful and loving pilgrim! It healed his hurts. It gave meaning to his life. It flowed through him to bless and heal many other people. It can do the same for you and I.

Making a plan for spiritual formation in Christ is important, but not sufficient. We also need to learn to be spontaneous and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. This may look and feel like wandering until you are farther along on your journey and can look back and see the unfolding of God’s plan.

The Anonymous Pilgrim learned to pray by meeting with a Staretz (Russian spiritual director). Those who are wise do the same.

How to Read this Book

Enjoy! Let yourself be caught up in the Spirit of this charming, true story. Then walk it out in your own life: carry your Bible on your heart and the Jesus Prayer on your lips everywhere you go.

My Favorite Quote

“By the grace of God I am a Christian man, by my actions a great sinner, and by calling a homeless wanderer of the humblest birth who roams from place to place. My worldly goods are a knapsack with some dried bread in it on my back, and in my breast-pocket a Bible. And that is all.

“On the 24th Sunday after Pentecost I went to church… I heard these words: ‘Pray without ceasing.’” (Harper & Brothers: 1952, p. 1).

Why I Wrote this Article

Reading Classic Devotional Books over the years has been an essential discipline for my growth in Christ so I love to invite others into this practice! Additionally, my inspiration for writing this particular article was being asked by Renovare to help them write, 25 Books Every Christian Should Read. This is a great resource!


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