I love to read books in a variety of genres – theology, biography, sports, leadership, faith and work, professional development, etc. I’m pretty sure I got my love of reading from my parents, who both loved to read.
Previously I’ve shared 10 books that I think every leader should read. Now, I would like to share my 5 all-time favorite books, other than the Bible, of course. These are books that I go back to and re-read from time to time. Here are my top 5 books and my previously published reviews of them:
- Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper
- The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul
- Crazy Love by Francis Chan
- The Prodigal Son: An Astonishing Study of the Parable Jesus Told to Unveil God’s Grace for You by John MacArthur
- Chosen by God by R.C. Sproul
Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper
I have read this book several times since it was published in 2003. It’s a book that would be good to read each year. Like Crazy Love by Francis Chan, it’s a book that always gets me out of my comfort zone.
Tammy and I always look forward to picking out our “vacation books”. This book was my “vacation book” for a trip to Orlando a few years back. This is a powerful and life changing book. In this extended look at the book, I will try to focus on the use of the concept of a wasted life. My recommendation to you is to READ and meditate on this book!
In the “Preface” to the book, Dr. Piper writes: “It was not always plain to me that pursuing God’s glory would be virtually the same as my joy. Now I see that millions of people waste their lives because they think these paths are two and not one.” “Please know that I am praying for you, whether you are a student dreaming something radical for your life, or whether you are retired and hoping not to waste your final years. My joy grows with every soul that seeks the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Remember, you have one life. That’s all. You were made for God. Don’t waste it.”
Dr. Piper tells his story in the first two chapters of this book so the reader can know what he means by glorifying God. “Compounding the problem was that many who seemed to emphasize the glory of God in their thinking did not seem to enjoy Him much. And many who seemed to enjoy God most were defective in their thinking about His glory. But now here was the greatest mind of early America, Jonathan Edwards, saying that God’s purpose for my life was that I have a passion for God’s glory and that I have a passion for my joy in that glory, and that these two are one passion.” “God created me – and you – to live with a single all-embracing, all transforming passion – namely, a passion to glorify God by enjoying and displaying His supreme excellence in all the spheres of life. Enjoying and displaying are both crucial. If we try to display the excellence of God without joy in it, we will display a shell of hypocrisy and create scorn or legalism. But if we claim to enjoy His excellence and do not display it for others to see and admire, we deceive ourselves, because the mark of God-enthralled joy is to overflow and expand by extending itself into the hearts of others. The wasted life is the life without a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples.”
Piper, who is not ashamed of his affection for Jonathan Edwards, writes, “I thank God that Edwards did not waste his life”. Later in that same chapter, “We waste our lives when we do not pray and think and dream and plan and work toward magnifying God in all spheres of life.” A few pages later, in writing about loving
people, he writes: “Every good work should be a revelation of the glory of God. What makes the good deed an act of love is not the raw act, but the passion and the sacrifice to make God Himself known as glorious. Not to aim to show God is not to love, because God is what we need most deeply. And to have all else without Him is to perish in the end. The Bible says that you can give away all that you have and deliver your body to be burned and have not love (1 Corinthians 13:3). If you don’t point people to God for everlasting joy, you don’t love. You waste your life.”
In discussing the single passion for which we were made, he writes: “God created us to live with a single passion to joyfully display His supreme excellence in all the spheres of life. The wasted life is the life without this passion.” Later in that chapter, “Life is wasted if we do not grasp the glory of the cross, cherish it for the treasure that it is and cleave to it as the greatest price of every pleasure and the deepest comfort in every pain.”
In discussing the passion of the apostle Paul, Dr. Piper says, “Nobody had a more single-minded vision for his life than Paul did. He could say it in many different ways. He could say: ‘I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God’ (Acts 20:24). One thing mattered: ‘I will not waste my life! I will finish my course and finish it well. I will display the Gospel of the grace of God in all I do. I will run my race to the end”.
In discussing the God-glorifying life, he writes: “Therefore every enjoyment in this life and the next that is not idolatry is a tribute to the infinite value of the cross of Christ – the burning center of the glory of God. And thus a cross-centered, cross-exalting, cross-saturated life is a God-glorifying life – the only God-glorifying life.
All others are wasted.
Dr. Piper mentions that the book that “set fire” to the faith of thousands in his generation was The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonheoffer. “Probably the most famous and life-shaping sentence in the book was, ‘The cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise God-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die’. Fleeing from death is the shortest path to a wasted life.
On that same page, Piper continues with” “A life devoted to making much of Christ is costly. And the cost is both a consequence and a means of making much of Him. If we do not embrace the path of joy-laden, painful love, we will waste our lives. “If Christ is not made much of in our lives, they are wasted. We exist to make Him appear in the world as what He really is – magnificent. If our life and death do not show the worth and wonder of Jesus, they are wasted. That is why Paul said that his aim in life and death was “that…Christ be honored”.
In discussing running from pain, he writes: “This design for the Christian life is so crucial that we should open our eyes to see how extensively the Bible speaks about it. Untold numbers of professing Christians waste their lives trying to escape the cost of love. They do not see that it is always worth it. There is more of God’s glory to be seen and savored through suffering than through self-serving escape”.
In discussing the promise and design of God, he writes: “But when all is said and done, the promise and design of God for people who do not waste their lives is clear: ‘All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted’ (2 Timothy 3:12). A few paragraphs later, Dr. Piper continues: “What a tragic waste
when people turn away from the Calvary road of love and suffering. All the riches of the glory of God in Christ are on that road. All the sweetest fellowship with Jesus is there. All the treasures of assurance. All the ecstasies of joy. All the clearest sightings of eternity. All the noblest camaraderie. All the humblest affections. All the most tender acts of forgiving kindness. All the deepest discoveries of God’s Word. All the most earnest prayers. They are all on the Calvary road where Jesus walks with His people. Take up your cross and follow Jesus. On this road, and this road alone, life is Christ and death is gain. Life on every other road is wasted.
In a chapter on risk (which has since been expanded into a short book titled Risk is Right), the author writes: “If our single, all-embracing passion is to make much of Christ in life and death, and if the life that magnifies Him most is the life of costly love, then life is risk, and risk is right. To run from it is to waste your life.” “But what happens when the people of God do not escape from the beguiling enchantment of security? What happens if they try to live their lives in the mirage of safety? The answer is wasted lives.” “On the far side of every risk – even if it results in death – the love of God triumphs. This is the faith that frees us to risk for the cause of God. It is not heroism, or lust for adventure, or courageous, self-reliance, or efforts to earn God’s favor. It is childlike faith in the triumph of God’s love – that on the other side of all our risks, for the sake of righteousness, God will still be holding us. We will be eternally satisfied in Him. Nothing will have been wasted.”
He concludes the chapter with: “Therefore, it is right to risk for the cause of Christ. It is right to engage the enemy and say, ‘May the LORD do what seems good to Him.’ It is right to serve the people of God, and say ‘If I perish, I perish!’ It is right to stand before the fiery furnace of affliction and refuse to bow down to the gods of this world. This is the road that leads to fullness of joy and pleasure forevermore. At the end of every other road – secure and risk-free – we will put our face in our hands and say, ‘I’ve wasted it!””
In his chapter on “Gladly Making Others Glad in God”, Piper begins with: “Don’t start raising objections about the hard cases. I am talking about a spirit, not a list of criteria for when we do this or that. Nor am I talking about wimpy grace that can’t rebuke or discipline or fight. The question is, do we lean toward mercy? Do we default to grace? Do we have a forgiving spirit? Without it we will walk away from need and waste our lives”. “Forgiveness is essentially God’s way of removing the great obstacle to our fellowship with Him. By cancelling our sin and paying for it with the death of His own Son, God opens the way for us to see Him and know Him and enjoy Him forever. Seeing and savoring Him is the goal of forgiveness. Soul-satisfying fellowship with our Father is the aim of the cross. If we love being forgiven for other reasons alone, we are not forgiven, and we will waste our lives.” “By gladly pursuing the gladness of others in God – even at the cost of our lives – we love them and honor God. This is the opposite of a wasted life.”
In the chapter entitled “Living to Prove He is More Precious than Life”, the author writes: “To make others glad in God with an everlasting gladness, our lives must show that He is more precious than life. ‘Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you’ (Psalm 63:3). To do this we must make sacrificial life choices rooted in the assurance that magnifying Christ through generosity and mercy is more satisfying than selfishness. If we walk away from risk to keep ourselves safe and solvent, we will waste our lives. “Oh, how many lives are wasted by people who believe that the Christian life means simply avoiding badness and providing for the family. So there is no adultery, no stealing, no killing, no embezzlement, no fraud – just lots of hard work during the day and lots of TV and PG-13 videos in the evening (during quality family time), and lots of fun stuff on the weekend – woven around church (mostly). This is life for millions of people. Wasted life. We were created for more, far more.”
In writing about television, Dr. Piper writes” “Television is one of the greatest life wasters of the modern age. And, of course, the Internet is running to catch up, and may have caught up. You can be more selective on the Internet, but you can also select worse things with only the Judge of the universe watching. TV still reigns as the great life-waster.”
Late in that chapter, he writes: “At these moments, when the trifling fog clears and I see what I am really on earth to do, I groan over the petty pursuits that waste so many lives – and so much of mine. Just think of the magnitude of sports – a whole section of the daily newspaper. But there is no section on God. Think of the endless resources for making your home and garden more comfortable and impressive. Think of how many tens of thousands of dollars you can spend to buy more cars than you need. Think of the time and energy and conversation that go into entertainment and leisure and what we can and what call “fun stuff”. And add to that now the computer that artificially recreates the very games that are already so distant from reality, it is like a multi-layered dream world of insignificance expanding into nothingness.”
After quoting a passage from James Bradley’s Flags of our Fathers, he writes: “As I read that, I thought of all the things that high school kids think is cool. I sat on the porch where I was reading and thought, O God, who will get in their face and give them something to live for? They waste their lives in a trance of insignificance,
trying to look cool or talk cool or walk cool. They don’t have a clue what cool is.”
“Of course, we do not use the word cool to describe true greatness. It is a small word. That’s the point. It’s cheap. And it’s what millions of young people live for. Who confronts them with urgency and tears? Who pleads with them not to waste their lives? Who takes them by the collar, so to speak, and loves them enough to show them a life so radical and so real and so costly and Christ-saturated that they feel the emptiness and triviality of their CD collection and their pointless conversations about passing celebrities? Who will waken what lies latent in their souls, untapped – a longing not to waste their lives?
In the chapter on work, Dr. Piper writes: “In this way we fellowship with God, listening to Him through His Word and thanking Him and praising Him and calling on Him for all we need. It is an honor to God if you stay in your secular job “with God” in this way. This is not a wasted life.” When you work like this – no matter
what your vocation is – you can have a sweet sense of peace at the end of the day. It has not been wasted.” “So the third way we make much of God in our secular work is by having such high standards of excellence and such integrity and such manifest goodwill that we put no obstacles in the way of the Gospel but rather call attention to the all-satisfying beauty of Christ. When we adorn the Gospel with our work, we are not wasting our lives.” “We honor God by earning our living because this clears the way for non-Christians to see Christ for who He really is. Aimless, unproductive Christians contradict the creative, purposeful, powerful, merciful God we love. They waste their lives”. “Jesus calls us to be aliens and exiles in the world. Not by taking us out of the world, but by changing, at the root, how we view the world and how we do our work in it. If we simply work to earn a living – if we labor for the bread that perishes – we will waste our lives. But if we labor with the sweet assurance that God will supply all our needs – that Christ died to purchase every undeserved blessing – then all our labor will be a labor of love and a boasting only in the cross.”
As he concludes the chapter on work, he writes “…secular work is not a waste when we make much of Christ from 8 to 5. God’s will in this age is that His people be scattered like salt and light in all legitimate vocations. His aim is to be known, because knowing Him is life and joy. He does not call us out of the world. He does not remove the need to work. He does not destroy society and culture. Through His scattered saints He spreads a passion for His supremacy in all things for the joy of all peoples. If you work like the world, you will waste your life, no matter how rich you get. But if your work creates a web of redemptive relationships and becomes an adornment for the Gospel of the glory of Christ, your satisfaction will last forever and God will be exalted in your joy”.
In his chapter on missions, Dr. Piper writes: “….so He raised up leaders for the Layman’s Missionary Movement who spoke up with such prophetic power that thousands of laymen caught the vision for God’s global purposes. The leader of the movement was not a missionary and not a pastor. He was a businessman. The
partnership that emerged between students, who were going, and businessmen, who were sending, was profound, because there were God-centered visionary leaders in both groups. Both were moved by the same passion not to waste their lives.”
In the final chapter, he prays: “O Father, grant your church to love Your glory more than gold – to cease her love affair with comfort and security. Grant that we seek the kingdom first and let the other things come as You will. Grant that the firm finality of our security in Christ frees us to risk our home and health and money on the earth. Help us to see that if we try to guard our wealth, instead of using it to show it’s not our god, then we will waste our lives, however we succeed”.
He concludes with this prayer:
“Forbid that any, Lord, who read these words would have to say someday, “I’ve wasted it.” But grant, by Your almighty Spirit and Your piercing Word, that we who name Christ as the Lord would treasure Him above our lives, and feel, deep in our souls, that Christ is life and death is gain. And so may we display His worth for all to see. And by our prizing Him may He be praised in all the world. May He be magnified in life and death. May every neighborhood and nation see how joy in Jesus frees His people from the power of greed and fear”. “Let love flow from your saints, and may it, Lord, be this: that even if it costs our lives, the people will be glad in God. ‘Let the peoples praise You, O God; let all he peoples praise You! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy.’ Take your honored place, O Christ, as the all-satisfying Treasure of the world. With trembling hands before the throne of God, and utterly dependent on Your grace, we life our voice and make this solemn vow: As God lives, and is all I ever need, I will not waste my life…”
I cannot recommend this book too highly. How we so not want to waste our lives.
The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul
The Holiness of God was the first book of R.C. Sproul’s that I read back in the mid-1980’s. I have since gone back and read it multiple times, and prior to his recent death heard him speak about this material several times. This book, and Sproul’s ministry, has had a profound impact on my spiritual growth. Here’s some of the most significant parts of the book.
He tells us that the one concept, the central idea he kept meeting in Scripture, was the idea that God is holy. He states that how we understand the person and character of God the Father affects every aspect of our lives.
The author tells us that only once in Scripture is an attribute of God elevated to the third degree and mentioned three times in succession. The Bible says that God is holy, holy, holy.
He uses Isaiah’s experience in Isaiah 6 to show that for the first time in his life Isaiah really understood who God was. At the same instant, for the first time Isaiah really understood who Isaiah was.
He waits awhile before defining what he means by the word holy. He tells us that when the Bible calls God holy, it means primarily that God is transcendentally separate. God is so far above and beyond us that He seems almost totally foreign to us. To be holy is to be “other,” to be different in a special way. He tells us that when we call things holy when they are not holy, we commit the sin of idolatry. To worship an idol involves calling something holy when it is not holy. What God does is always consistent with who God is. He always acts according to His holy character.
A famous quote of Sproul’s is that sin is cosmic treason. It is an act of supreme ingratitude toward the One to whom we owe everything, to the One who has given us life itself.
Many believe that there is an inconsistency between a harsh God in the Old Testament and a loving Jesus in the New Testament. But Sproul disagrees, indicating that far from being a history of a harsh God, the Old Testament is the record of a God who is extremely patient. He tells us that the most violent expression of God’s wrath and justice is actually seen in the New Testament, in the Cross.
The author writes that one of our basic problems is the confusion of justice and mercy. He states that it is impossible for anyone, anywhere, anytime to deserve grace. Grace by definition is undeserved. We will receive only justice or mercy from God. We never receive injustice from His hand. He tells us that the struggle we have with a holy God is rooted in the conflict between God’s righteousness and our unrighteousness. He states that God is just, and we are unjust. This tension creates fear, hostility, and anger within us toward God.
He writes that to be a saint means to be separated, but more than that. The saint also is to be involved in a vital process of sanctification. We are to be purified daily in the growing pursuit of holiness. Saints are people who are at one and the same time just, yet sinful. He tells us that God counts the believer as righteous even when in and of ourselves we are not righteous, and that this is the gospel.
He writes about the wrath of God, stating that a loving God who has no wrath is no God. Instead, he is an idol of our own making as much as if we carved Him out of stone.
He states that the failure of modern evangelicalism is the failure to understand the holiness of God. Helpless sinners can survive only by grace. We can love Him only because He first loved us.
Throughout, Sproul explains theological concepts in a way that is easy to understand. He also utilizes his gifts of story-telling and humor. This edition of the book includes helpful questions at the end of each chapter to help you reflect on what you have just learned.
Crazy Love by Francis Chan
I have written a good deal about this book in the past. It is one of the books that has had the greatest impact on my life. Each time I listen (this book got me started on my passion for audiobooks) or read it, it always challenges me to move out of my comfort zone. I’ve probably listened to it or read it six times since its release in 2008.
The book has sold well over 2 million copies to date. A revised and updated edition was released in July, 2013, five years after the original release. The new edition includes a new Preface and an additional chapter, in which Chan writes about what has happened to him in the five years since the book was published. Among the many changes in his life, the most significant has been that he left Cornerstone Community Church in Simi Valley, California and is now ministering in San Francisco. The new edition of the audiobook contains about 31 minutes of new content. In addition to reading or listening to the book, I would recommend watching some of the corresponding videos for the book, especially “Just Stop and Think”. You can find them at http://www.crazylovebook.com.
The Prodigal Son: An Astonishing Study of the Parable Jesus Told to Unveil God’s Grace for You by John MacArthur
This book was originally published in 2008 at A Tale of Two Sons. It changed the way I thought about the best known of Jesus’ parables, the parable of the prodigal son, and is one of my favorite books.
The author, a respected pastor, states that of all of Jesus’ parables, this one is the most richly detailed, powerfully dramatic, and intensely personal. He tells us that the central message of the parable is an urgent and sobering entreaty to hard-hearted listeners whose attitudes exactly mirrored the elder brother’s. He tells us that the lesson of the elder brother is often overlooked in many of the popular retellings, and yet it is, actually the main reason Jesus told the parable.
MacArthur tells us that the central lesson of the parable is that Jesus is pointing out the stark contrast between God’s own delight in the redemption of sinners and the Pharisees’ inflexible hostility toward those same sinners. Themes included in the parable are grace, forgiveness, repentance, and the heart of God toward sinners.
The author tells us that there’s a good reason this short story pulls at the heartstrings of so many hearers – we recognize ourselves in it. For believers, the prodigal son is a reminder of who we are and how much we owe to divine grace. For those who are conscious of their own guilt but are still unrepentant, the prodigal’s life is a reminder of the wages of sin, the duty of the sinner to repent, and the goodness of God that accompanies authentic repentance. For sinners coming to repentance, the father’s welcome and costly generosity are reminders that God’s grace and goodness are inexhaustible. For unbelievers (especially those like the scribes and Pharisees, who use external righteousness as a mask for unrighteous hearts), the elder brother is a reminder that neither a show of religion nor the pretense of respectability is a valid substitute for redemption. For all of us, the elder brother’s attitude is a powerful warning, showing how easily and how subtly unbelief can masquerade as faithfulness.
MacArthur tells us that throughout Luke 15, Jesus is describing and illustrating the celebratory joy that fills heaven over the repentance of sinners. That is the single, central theme and the major lesson that ties all of Luke 15 together.
The elder brother in this tale symbolizes the Pharisees. The parable is a rebuke of the attitude of the religious leaders who resented Jesus’ ministry, which was done for the joy of God. Jesus told the parable of the prodigal son primarily for the Pharisees’ benefit and as a rebuke to them. The parable demands repentance from prodigals and Pharisees. The elder brother’s most obvious characteristic is his resentment for his younger brother. But underneath that, it is clear that he has been nurturing a secret hatred for the father. Both sons were far away from the father. In the end, they both came home—but with totally different attitudes and to very different receptions. This firstborn son clearly had no affection for his younger brother, but the father was the one whom he most resented. The elder son is a perfect emblem for the Pharisees. He had no appreciation for grace because he thought he didn’t need it. But the truth is, this son was secretly much more of a rebel than the Prodigal had ever been.
The parable ends without a conclusion, MacArthur writes that everyone who hears the story writes his or her own ending by how we respond to the kindness of God toward sinners. This is a wonderful book about a parable that you think you may know well.
Chosen by God by R.C. Sproul
Chosen by God was the second book of R.C. Sproul’s that I read back in the mid-1980’s, following his classic The Holiness of God. This book has been used to convince many that the Reformed view of election is indeed the biblical view. The great Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon famously stated that Reformed theology is just a nickname for biblical Christianity.
John Calvin did not invent the doctrine of predestination. The author states that predestination is a doctrine that is plainly set forth in the Bible (Romans 8:28-30; Ephesians 1:3-11), and that virtually all Christian churches have some formal doctrine of predestination. The question is which view of predestination to embrace. This book asserts that the Reformed view of predestination is the biblical view.
The author writes “The Reformed view asserts that the ultimate decision for salvation rests with God and not with man. It teaches that from all eternity God has chosen to intervene in the lives of some people and bring them to saving faith and has chosen not to do that for other people. From all eternity, without any prior view of our human behavior, God has chosen some unto election and others unto reprobation. The ultimate destiny of the individual is decided by God before that individual is even born and without depending ultimately upon the human choice.”
When we speak of divine sovereignty we are speaking about God’s authority and about God’s power. Human freedom and evil are under God’s sovereignty.
Grace is undeserved. God always reserves the right to have mercy upon whom he will have mercy. God may owe people justice, but never mercy. The saved get mercy and the unsaved get justice. Nobody gets injustice.
The author states that in the Reformed view of predestination God’s choice precedes man’s choice. We choose him only because he has first chosen us. He encourages us to not merely assume that you are not elect, but to make your election a matter of certainty.
He states that no true believer ever loses his salvation. To be sure, Christians fall at times seriously and radically, but never fully and finally. We persevere, not because of our strength but because of God’s grace that preserves us.
The author covers such weighty topics as man’s free will, sin, evil, grace, original sin, the Fall, double predestination and TULIP (Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace and the Perseverance of the Saints), all in his characteristic easy to understand manner.
The final chapter of the book is comprised of questions about predestination. Each chapter ends with a concise summary of the main points from the chapter as well as scripture verses for further study.
These are my 5 all-time favorite books. Do any of them surprise you? What are your favorite books?