One of the things that renews our soul, quickens our minds and refreshes our spirits is reading godly material, especially God’s Word. Paul said, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2 (NIV)
While on sabbatical, I found that taking long periods of time to read had the possibility of rejuvenating me… if I read the right things. If I read books about church growth, leadership principles, or articles about being an awesome pastor, I found myself getting very tired! In fact, when I read most things that had been written in the last 25 years, I found myself comparing myself to the author. I would think things like, “Wow, I wish I could be as insightful as that guy!” Or I would say, “Sheesh, this sounds just like something I would say. This is no help at all!” If I wasn’t comparing myself to the author, I found myself making mental notes about all the things I needed to do when I got back from my sabbatical to make my church better and ministry more effective. And that did not make me feel rested!
So here are the kinds of things I read during my sabbatical that helped me draw near to the Lord. You will notice that most of these were not written in the last century. It helps us as Christians, to see that God’s timeless grace, love and wisdom has been poured out on Christian men and women for the last 2000 years, not just the last two decades. Our Christian brothers and sisters had the same problems we have, in fact often their lives were much harder than ours. But their approach to trials, questions and the Christian life in general, often challenged my 21st century, American Christian way of thinking.
I highly encourage you to read primary sources. By primary sources, I mean to read the words of the Christians themselves, as translated from their original works, rather than reading other people’s ideas about their works. These primary sources can be found as single volumes of the author’s works or in collections of notable Christians thoughts and writings.
I also encourage you to read biographies of godly men and women from the time of Christ until today. Seeing how Jesus has worked in the lives of other men and women across time, greatly encourages me. It shows me that the Holy Spirit who lives in me, lived in them as well. He taught them similar things he teaches me. He worked in them in ways that are similar to how he works in me. But it also challenges me. In many of these people, I see a work of holiness and godliness that I would like to see in my own life. Of course I see their flaws too. But even that is encouraging. It makes me aware that I have flaws, and that God can use me as well.
One other category I list, are books dealing with church history. To better understand the men and women you read, it is good to understand the times in which they lived and other contemporary Christians and challenges that were around in their period. So getting a good overview of church history is very helpful.
Having said all this about reading the writings of men and women who have known Christ through the ages, I want to say one thing more. If you only have time to read your Bible or the works listed below, read your Bible! God’s word is living and active! (Heb 4:12) Jesus said the work that he spoke our spirit and they are life! (John 6:63) The words and those pages of Scripture are truly inspired by God himself in a way that no other writing has ever been. (2 Tim 3:16)
Suggested Spiritual Readings for Sabbatical
listed in historical, chronological order
The Apostolic Fathers in English, Nov 1, 2006, by Michael W. Holmes and Michael Holmes
Confessions (Oxford World’s Classics), Feb 15, 2009, by Saint Augustine and Henry Chadwick
Athanasius : The Life of Antony and the Letter To Marcellinus, Jan 1, 1979, by Athanasius and Robert C. Gregg
On the Incarnation, part of The Fig Classic Series on Early Church Theology, February 16, 2013, by Athanasius of Alexandria (Author)
Bernard of Clairvaux: Selected Works (The Classics of Western Spirituality), 1987, by Bernard of Clairvaux (Author), G. R. Evans (Translator, Foreword), Ewert Cousins (Preface), Jean LeClercq
Of the Imitation of Christ, Apr 1, 2005, by Thomas à Kempis
The Practice of the Presence of God, Jun 1, 1982, by Brother Lawrence
Writings of John Bradford Volume 2, October 30, 1979, by John Bradford
The Pilgrim’s Progress (Dover Thrift Editions), February 10, 2003, by John Bunyan
A Burning and a Shining Light: English Spirituality in the Age of Wesley, January, 1987, by David Lyle Jeffrey (Editor)
John and Charles Wesley: Selected Prayers, Hymns, Journal Notes, Sermons, Letters and Treatises, Jan 1, 1981, by John Wesley and Charles Wesley
Collections of Primary Sources
Famous Conversions: The Christian Experience, December 13, 1994, by Mr. Hugh T. Kerr (Editor), Mr. John M. Mulder (Series Editor)
From the Library of C. S. Lewis: Selections from Writers Who Influenced His Spiritual Journey, Jun 5, 2012, by James Stuart Bell and Anthony P. Dawson
Devotional Classics: Revised Edition: Selected Readings for Individuals and Groups, June 28, 2005, ed.by Richard J. Foster and James Bryan Smith
Spiritual Classics: Selected Readings on the Twelve Spiritual Disciplines, November 13, 2007, by Renovare (Author), Richard J. Foster (Editor), Emilie Griffin (Editor)
Glorious Companions: Five Centuries of Anglican Spirituality, Dec 20, 2002, by Richard H. Schmidt
Love’s Redeeming Work: The Anglican Quest for Holiness, Jan 1, 2004, by Geoffrey Rowell and Kenneth Stevenson
Church History Overviews and Secondary Sources
Water from a Deep Well: Christian Spirituality from Early Martyrs to Modern Missionaries, Jun 21, 2010 by Gerald L. Sittser and Eugene H. Peterson
Ireland’s Saint: The Essential Biography of St. Patrick, Sep 1, 2008, by J. B. Bury and Jon M. Sweeney
The White Horse King: The Life of Alfred the Great, Nov 2, 2009, by Benjamin R. Merkle
Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography, 1987, by Iain H. Murray
George Whitefield and the Great Awakening, 1972, by John Charles Pollock
A Heart Set Free: The Life of Charles Wesley, Mar 1988, by Arnold A. Dallimore
Out of the Depths, May 8, 2003, by John Newton
Jay Fowler, Executive Director of the Midwest Region of PastorServe
Since joining the PastorServe staff in September of 2014, Jay has connected with hundreds of pastors in Kansas City and beyond. He grew up in Prairie Village, Kansas, and graduated from the University of Kansas with a Bachelor of Science and Secondary Education in Mathematics. He received his Master of Divinity from Virginia Theological Seminary, and has been in full time ministry for 34 years. He is an ordained Anglican priest in the Anglican Church of North America. He has been married to his wife Janine for 30 years and has a son and two daughters.