A book can save someone’s life

I admire the Gideons and their faith, for theirs is the belief that just by picking up a Bible and reading it a life can be saved. For many Christians, the Bible is a powerful source of inspiration. It is God’s Word.

For folks throughout Christian history, however, the Bible is not the only book that has the power to save. Many have discovered God’s presence in the pages of a well-worn monograph. Consider that some classics, such as “Streams in the Desert” and “My Utmost for His Highest,” have defied the test of time as inspirational literature throughout the world.

I had several such experience with books in my life, but one in particular that I reminisce about every winter.

Every year about this time, I get more melancholy than usual. It must be the cold or shorter days.  It might be all of the burdens that build up from the past year.

In one such winter–2004 to be precise– I faced more than melancholy. It was full-blown depression.

That particular year was a pivotal one for me. I graduated from a master’s program but couldn’t find full-time work. I took a graduate exam (twice) for a PhD, but utterly bombed the math section. I was at a crossroads, and I did not know the direction God wanted me to go in. I had my first child–a wonderful event for sure–but experienced paternal postpartum depression as a result (yes, there is such a thing).

There is nothing like depression: the feelings of meaningless and lostness, the random bouts of tears, and lack of appetite. I felt the absence of God for months. I spoke with several folks in my family and community, but it was hard to describe my illness.

One person with whom I spoke was my grandmother-in-law, Granny. Granny is an incredible person of faith. She is one of those prayer warriors who wear out chairs by the sheer number of hours she spends praying.

When I mentioned that I did not feel very close to God, she told me about an author–Henri Nouwen–of whom she became very fond. She purchased one of his books for me–“The Way of the Heart.”

The first time I read it, it seemed that God had dropped the book in my lap at the perfect time–His time.  Since then, I have read it so many times, it is now a beat-up, stained, bent, and stretched relic.

“The Way of the Heart” is about God’s way of conforming us into a more prayerful people.  God’s way is often through the wilderness of solitude–a metaphor for those vacuous, deserted places in our spiritual lives we often avoid.

In it, Nouwen highlights certain saints–the Desert Fathers and Mothers–who mastered prayer in a wilderness place of spiritual growth. For them, the wilderness “was a furnace of transformation” and was the “place of the great struggle and the great encounter.” Solitude stripped them of all comforts, and they were forced to look into their own hearts (struggle) and to rely solely on God for sustenance (encounter).

It was the wilderness that exposed the lingering darkness in their own lives, and forced them to surrender to the light of God’s grace-filled love.

In solitude, we come into contact with God’s silence–not a silence of absence but one of magnificent presence. It’s the type of relationship in which words become unnecessary.

Every time I read that book, I have to stop, reflect, and pray.  I connect with the text, and I am reminded that books hold a kind of power in which God’s Word, found in the unlikeliest places, can steer us into His wonderful, consoling presence.

Trinity Baptist Church and I wish you a Merry Christmas.  If you are experiencing grief this season, know that you are in our prayers.

Published by Joe LaGuardia

I am a pastor and author in Vero Beach, Florida, and write on issues related to spirituality, faith, politics, and culture.

9 thoughts on “A book can save someone’s life

  1. I’ve read your blog for about 4 weeks now and I’ve asked you this question already. Youve spoken of different times in your life, winter of 2004, high school and college. Were you born again in the midst of the trials you were experiencing?

  2. Thanks for reading and taking time to comment.

    I started to have a relationship with Jesus when I was very young–in my childhood. I made the decision to make Him Lord of my life (the center of my life rather than One who stood on the periphery) when I was twelve. My rebirth in Christ did not happen all at once, but over time–like a narrative arc that included some rather intense coming-of-age experiences, many of which are the subject of my articles and sermons.

    Perhaps you should go to my website if you’re interested in anything biographical. It’s unusual to have this type of personal correspondences over a “comment” thread, especially when they have little to do with the articles. (This is why I did not respond to your comments right away.)

    My website is on the sidebar of the blog.

    There is also a little about me on our staff page at Trinity Baptist Church, http://www.trinityconyers.org.



  3. A pastor’s peer learning group to which I belong asked us to clarify and write up a list of our personal core values (with scriptures attached), so I took the liberty of revising and lengthening my autobio on my website just for you (and my peer learning group). Enjoy.

  4. I read your bio and this sentence really struck me:

    By believing in Christ, a person has an opportunity to have a saving relationship with a God…

    I remember being taught as a child that being born again happens right away, the moment you believe and put your trust in Christ. The way you stated it seems to say: you may get saved over time. Can both of these be right? I was taught that the thief on the cross next to Jesus went to heaven. I know the Jeh. witnesses dispute this with me when they knock on my door. Which happens alot – they wont seem to leave me alone.

  5. Max,

    To answer your question, assuming that your question refers to the one “Born Again?” proposed is that I have other obligations than this blog, and I check in a couple times a week. Also, I’m still not sure what the questions have to do with the article.

    Born Again?,

    I think salvation does happen when one decides to ask Jesus into his or her heart–Romans 10:9–like taking a wedding vow, so to speak.

    But there is a relationship that unfolds over time, like the marriage relationship itself, that comes after the vow: “Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation–if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Pet. 2:2-3).

    There was never a time (that I can remember) when I did not know God or know that God sent Jesus to die for my sins; but it was at twelve that I made God Lord of my life–As I said, God moved from the periphery of my life to the center. So for me, that relationship was a saving one; can we be saved without beginning any type of relationship with God? I don’t think so.

    So when I refer to a “saving relationship,” I am saying that the point we receive God’s salvation, it is tied up into a relationship with Christ. We must grow in Christ and, yes, at times “work out our salvation with fear and trembling,” as St. Paul admonished the Philippians to do.



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