Lent is a major period in many Christians’ lives—a time for fasting, praying, and contemplating God as the weeks lead up to commemorating his sacrifice on the cross. Well-written Christian books can be a great part of that spiritual process. The following list of books is designed for people who formally practice Lent and those who don’t use it more as an optional season to refocus spiritually. Some of these books talk directly about Lenten practices. Others talk about practices that naturally come up more often in Lent (like deeper Bible study). Still others deal with ideas that fit Lent’s somber, reflective season.
Table of Contents
- 5 Books for Lent about Spiritual Practices
- 5 Books for Lenten Devotions
- 5 Books for Lent to Study the Bible
- 5 Books for Lent about Suffering
- 5 Fiction Books for Lent
5 Books for Lent about Spiritual Practices
Since Lent is a time for using spiritual practices like fasting and praying to refocus on God, it’s a good time to read books about spiritual practices. These books consider the power of (good and bad) habits and what changes when Christians seek healthy spiritual habits.
1. Celebration of Discipline by Richard J. Foster. Discipline may sound like a harsh word, but in this context, it means “practice.” Richard J. Foster shows how the spiritual life has great surprises but should also include life-giving habits. Properly used, spiritual disciplines are freeing, pulling us away from “the stifling slavery to self-interest and fear.” Foster guides readers through disciplines that are inward (like fasting), outward (like serving others), and corporate (like worshipping with other believers). Each seeds practitioners with spiritual substance, preparing them for an ongoing walk with God.
2. You Are What You Love by James K.A. Smith. James K.A. Smith pushes readers to see that whether they realize it or not, they build their lives around habits that shape their worldviews. From where they buy groceries to what they watch, people’s habits say a great deal about their priorities. Smith uses this truth to challenge readers to build intentional habits (worshipping God, spending time with other believers) that center them in God’s ways.
3. The Way of the Heart by Henri Nouwen. The desert fathers, a group of early Christian hermits who pursued God in solitude, are a particularly good topic for Lent. Henri Nouwen shows how most Christian ministers can’t live as the desert fathers did, but they can learn from their practices. He takes readers through what the Desert Fathers practiced (solitude, silence, and prayer) and shows those practices can lead to a new perspective that ministers need to combat contemporary societal issues.
4. Experiencing God by Eberhard Arnold. A German theologian whose writings provoked the Nazis to raid his Christian community in 1933, Eberhard Arnold was never afraid to live out a countercultural faith. His five-volume series, The Inner Land, calls for a spiritual life that addresses society’s problems without following its sins. Experiencing God is the third volume, outlining how spiritual experiences can renew us, show us how God’s grace is something we don’t deserve, and motivate us to practice Christian love and peace with others.
5. Every Moment Holy Volume I by Douglas Kaine McKelvey. While liturgical prayers said in church services can feel formulaic, the best ones have substantial ideas that continue to convict and inspire readers over and over again. As anyone who has read a collection of classic prayers knows, well-written prayers can be used throughout the day to help readers recenter on God. Douglas Kaine McKelvey gives a variety of prayers for different occasions—from getting up in the morning to studying for exams to waiting in line. Each helps readers consider their activity’s goal and how to worship God at that moment. Readers who want to go deeper into this process may enjoy Every Moment Holy Volume II, which focuses on prayers for moments of suffering and struggle.
Further Reading: Good, True and Beautiful Books
Books for Lenten Devotions
Since Lent is a reflective time, it’s a good time for reading new devotional books. These books help readers meditate on various biblical ideas, from famous psalms to the nature of God’s love.
1. The Book of Common Courage by K.J. Ramsey. Ramsey guides readers through Psalm 23, meditating on each phrase’s lessons and how they connect to other biblical passages. She then provides a series of prayers, poems, and photographs that encourage readers to reflect on the lessons. What makes this book especially Lenten is how Ramsey references her own life—struggles with chronic illness, struggles to forgive flippant or dismissive Christians, and finding grace even in terrible pain. In doing so, she shows how “the Lord is my shepherd” and promises God is with us even in times of trouble or lack.
2. The World As I Remember It by Rich Mullins. A well-remembered songwriter who penned “Awesome God” and other modern worship classics, Rich Mullins was also a gifted storyteller. In this collection of short articles originally written for Release magazine, Mullins talks about his growing relationship with God, learning to love what God loves, and other key spiritual insights. His words are intriguing yet compact, great for devotion and reflection time.
3. A Gospel Primer for Christians by Milton Vincent. Milton Vincent argues that the gospel message—the core message so often summed up in the “Romans Road”—is not just life-changing. It is life-sustaining. Christians find the freedom to stop trying to earn their salvation each day, resting in the knowledge of God’s grace when they remember the gospel message. Vincent provides two summaries of the gospel message—a prose summary and a poem, each easy to read every morning.
4. Devotional Classics edited by Richard J. Foster and James Bryan Smith. Foster and Smith provide an anthology of Christian writers, from C.S. Lewis to Teresa of Ávila, who have written about living the Christian life well. The entries cover inner concerns (prayer, pursuing holiness, listening to the Holy Spirit) and practical concerns (studying the Bible, living out Christ’s commands about living in community and helping the unwanted).
5. Pastor Potter’s Points by Ellis Potter. Ellis Potter has been many things—including a Zen Buddhist monk, a missionary behind the Iron Curtain, and a Christian apologist. When the pandemic meant he had to pastor his church remotely, he began writing a series of thoughts about topics (“Peace,” “Forgiveness,” “Evil”) for his congregants to consider. This book collects the first 100 thoughts, each 100 words long. The format makes it a great book for reflecting on what it means to have a Christian worldview and how to pursue closer intimacy with God. Readers who finish this book can continue with Pastor Potter’s Points II.
Further Reading: 20 Great Books on Christian Music
5 Books for Lent to Study the Bible
Lent is not just about contemplating our lives; it is about remembering the God we love and drawing closer to him. These books show readers how to read the Bible in new ways, enabling us to better understand God as we fall in love with him.
1. A Visual Theology Guide to the Bible by Tim Challies and Josh Byers with Joey Schwartz. This book uses a variety of graphics to discuss the Bible’s composition, main themes, and organization (what books fit into which testament, etc.). The visual approach makes it a great book both for visual learners and anyone wanting to understand the Bible’s structure better.
2. This Book is for You by Tricia Lott Williford. Tricia Lott Williford observes that many Christians struggle not so much with studying the Bible (memorizing the information) but with loving the Bible (seeking it as a good book written for them). She combines explaining how the Bible is a love letter to readers with discussions about moments in her life where she learned to understand God is a god of love.
3. Misreading Scripture with Individualist Eyes by E. Randolph Richards and Richard James. A companion to Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, this book reminds readers that the Bible’s events happened in a very different world. Most notably, all the societies mentioned in the Bible were collectivist societies, where the good of the many and concepts like honor and shame defined people’s worldviews. Richards and James show how these values play out in key Bible stories, unveiling new layers of meaning.
4. Four Portraits, One Jesus by Mark L. Strauss. Some wonder if the four Gospels provide contradictory accounts of Jesus’ life. Mark L. Strauss shows how the four books together tell a complete story. He summarizes each Gospel’s events, unique details, and emphasis (Jesus as a Messiah, as a friend to the least wanted, etc.). He also shows how academic pursuits like the search for the “historical Jesus” affect our views on Jesus today.
5. Saints and Scoundrels of the Bible by Linda Chaffee Taylor, Carol Chaffee Fielding, and Drenda Thomas Richards. The Bible is full of surprising characters. Some behaved honorably, others not so much. God used both groups of people… which is a great comfort, especially for Lent, when we reflect on our lives and become more aware of just how fallen we are.
Further Reading: Why Is the Bible Called the Holy Bible?
5 Books for Lent about Suffering
Since Lent involves considering our sins and recognizing how little strength we have to live holy lives, it’s a season to consider our limits. It pushes us to realize that we are not as powerful as we think and that to trust in God, we must believe he is there even when all else has failed. These books on suffering help readers understand this truth and gain the best hope: hope that recognizes the darkness but says there is something beyond.
1. Living in Bonus Time by Alec Hill. A veteran of Christian publishing, Alec Hill was used to discussions about suffering… but nothing quite prepared him for being diagnosed with cancer. He describes his recovery journey and the spiritual lessons he learned the hard way—especially whether the Bible gives a clear answer to the problem of evil.
2. God on Mute by Pete Greig. Pete Greig wasn’t sure what to think when his wife got a brain tumor. When it didn’t go away despite continued prayers, he had to consider what it means to believe in a good God when prayers aren’t answered (or the answers seem to be “no”). His insights into what it means to have faith after a disappointment help readers show readers how to trust God even after life takes a dark direction.
3. This Too Shall Last by K.J. Ramsey. Ramsey discusses a different angle of her spiritual journey than in The Book of Common Courage. She guides readers through her struggles with chronic illness, what she learned as she learned to trust God as the pain continued, and how she answered Christians who mistakenly assumed God takes away every pain if someone just prays enough.
4. The Making of Us by Sheridan Voysey. Sheridan Voysey wasn’t ready for the realization that he and his wife couldn’t have children, nor for all the doors to foster parenting and adoption to close. Recognizing that his life has taken a new turn, Voysey takes a pilgrimage hike in the footsteps of medieval monk Cuthbert. As he hikes with a friend, they discuss how we trust God when life changes in ways that can’t be reversed.
5. With Or Without Me by Esther Maria Magnis. Raised Christian, Esther Maria Magnis wasn’t sure what to think about God when her father contracted untreatable cancer. She outlines her journey—from craving God’s healing to hating God when the healing never came to finding faith again—without sugar-coating anything. She provides a heartbreaking yet hopeful story that shows it’s possible to refind trust in God even after a life-changing tragedy.
Further Reading: Why Does God Allow Suffering?
5 Fiction Books for Lent
Sometimes we learn a spiritual idea best not by someone explaining it but by hearing it conveyed in a story. These books discuss a variety of Christians (some real, some based on historical figures) who learned spiritual lessons amidst great trials. Their stories provide Lent-appropriate lessons about trusting God even when such trust seems ridiculous.
1. Fiction from Tegel Prison by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Most people know Dietrich Bonhoeffer for his theology, his involvement in a Hiter assassination plot, or his letters written in prison. During his time in prison, before being relocated to a concentration camp and executed, Bonhoeffer also wrote a short story and an incomplete play and novel. The fiction has many autobiographical elements, making it an interesting selection to read alongside his letters written in prison.
2. Saint Julian by Walter Wangerin, Jr. Pastor and writer Walter Wangerin, Jr. was best known for his fantasy novel Book of the Dun Cow, but he also wrote historical fiction. This novel considers the life of Saint Julian the Hospitaller, whom legend claims spent his life trying to outrun a prophecy that he would murder his parents. Wangerin turns this sad story into a meditation on whether we can ever do enough in our strength to become good.
3. Godric by Frederic Beuchner. Frederich Beuchner reimagines the life of medieval hermit St. Godric of Finchale as a man who finds it disturbing anyone would call him a saint. When a young monk is sent to interview Godric for a biography, the story of Godric’s life—his early years as a thief and pirate, his adventures in the First Crusade, his late conversion to Christianity—slowly unveils itself. It becomes clear that Godric has spent many years trying to be holy because he has committed sins he can’t forgive himself for… but has God forgiven him?
4. Silence by Shūsaku Endō. Silence looks at a dark period in Japanese history, but in a surprising way. Set in the seventeenth century, when Christianity was banned in Japan (and would stay that way for over 200 years), it follows two priests who come undercover to find their lost mentor. As they travel, the priests try to help the “hidden Christians” and understand how the authorities force people to deny Christ. Endō turns this heartbreaking story about persecution into a discussion about whether God’s grace truly extends to every sin.
5. By Water by Jason Landsel, Sankha Banerjee, and Richard Mommsen. Stories about martyrs aren’t anything new, but many American Christians probably aren’t familiar with the Anabaptist martyrs. The graphic novel By Water tells the story of Felix Manz, a priest’s illegitimate son who grows up in 16th-century Zurich. Manz joins Ulrich Zwingli’s rebellion against the Catholic church but slowly moves in a different direction than his mentor. As power struggles threaten Zurich’s new Protestant government, Manz realizes he may not be able to agree to disagree with Zwingli.
Further Reading: 100 Christian Novels You Haven’t Read Yet
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/brebca
G. Connor Salter is a writer and editor, with a Bachelor of Science in Professional Writing from Taylor University. In 2020, he won First Prize for Best Feature Story in a regional contest by the Colorado Press Association Network. He has contributed over 1,000 articles to various publications, including interviews for Christian Communicator and book reviews for The Evangelical Church Library Association. Find out more about his work here.