It is that time of year. Time to, once again, go through the few books that have utterly shaped my life. (My Bible is a given - read daily. I read two chapters in the Old Testament, one Psalm, the Proverbs chapter that corresponds to the day of the month, and one New Testament chapter every day...well, 90% of all my days. This has been my habit for many years now, and nothing has served me more than this daily reading, that almost always turns to meditation, and then prayer.)
Other than God's word, there are only a handful of books that have shaped me. You must bear in mind (please) that I am a voracious reader, who easily completes a small to average-length book every week, sometimes more than one. Therefore, it is saying something for me, who has read probably many hundreds of books in my adult life, to be able to so easily identify the books that have forged my spiritual shape , as the anvil shapes red-hot iron.
You and I are different. (I have such a firm grasp of the obvious!) So I never expect that the same book that deeply affects me will do the same for you. You and I are two very different souls, with different histories, and different rates of growth in grace. But, once in awhile, I do get asked which books have influenced me most - and I always want to know the same about my own spiritual leaders and heroes and heroines...incidentally, I do have a few. Everyone oughtta have a few men and women in the faith, past and present, to whom they look for inspiration. We are all a product of our input, and what we most admire, we tend to become. I am careful about who I admire - as are you, I am sure, if you are wise.
I am even more careful about the books I allow to shape me.
Once again (I mentioned this in a previous post) the best books are re-read. You read the best books more than once. In all subsequent readings, you always underline. Then you annotate. You digest and doodle and date the pages. Your best books then become a sort of journal, where your spiritual growth is chronicled.
Some underlined bits from Watchman Nee's "The Release of the Spirit":
"Our mental strength is limited. If we exhaust it on the things of the flesh, we shall find ourselves mentally inadequate for the things of the Spirit."
"Before your outward man (Note: in Nee's context, this means our will, emotions, the "self") is broken, you are occupied with your own things. You walk in your own way. You love your own people. If God wants to use your love, in loving the brethren, He must first break your outward man. Your love is thereby enlarged."
"All that comes to us is allowed by God. To us as Christians, nothing is accidental."
"You cannot use your independent mind or personal feelings to discern people."
"Whatever is left untouched in us, will be untouched in others. We cannot help others in areas which we ourselves have not learned the lessons before God."
"The more we spare ourselves, the less will be our usefulness. If we have spared something in ourselves, we cannot touch it in others. Our spirit is released according to the degree of our brokenness. The one who has accepted the most discipline is the one who best can serve."
"Wherever we save ourselves, it is at that very place where we become spiritually useless."
"You may learn ten years' lessons in one year, or you may take twenty or thirty years to learn one year's lessons. Any delay in learning means a delay in serving."
While I would not hand this book to anyone struggling with legalism, it nevertheless is a work that has utterly undone me, over and over, with unfailingly positive results. As I read, and each time I read, the fear of the Lord settles fresh upon my spirit, I trust my "natural self" less and less, I trust God's breaking in my life more and more...and life springs forth.
With all gentleness and as much meekness as I have learned of Christ up to this point in my journey, I ask you: In what areas do you permit yourself to have your own opinion? Do you pick and choose your obedience to God's Word and ways? Can you pinpoint an area in which you are constantly "preserving" or "saving" yourself? Are there situations in which you consistently say, "I can't do this"? And then you truly do not do it? Do you indulge your own weaknesses?
We all do it, dear one. But marvel not, and make no mistake: God is after that very thing. And He is relentless. You can experience ten years' growth in a year, in that very area. Or you can take twenty years to grow, when it could have taken but one. Grace says the choice is yours to make. The Father will love you all the same. But God will order your circumstances, and bring you back and back and back again until you decrease, and He increases - until you are less "yourself" and more like Him - until you stop sparing yourself the pain, and you choose to lose your life, that you might find it.
If this leaves you feeling a little undone...join me in allowing it. You are utterly secure, and your obedience to God doesn't make Him love or accept you more. But your obedience does release the Spirit of God to burst forth from your broken vessel, and the fragrance of Christ permeates your atmosphere, and the lives of others are blessed. Isn't that what love is all about? Oh beloved! It is NOT about us. It is about HIM. Let's let the breaking of our outer man happen.
"He being dead, yet speaketh." Thank you, Mr. Watchman Nee.