I stood outside the shop, nervous about stepping over the threshold. I’d never been in an establishment like this before. Pushing open the door, a troubling ‘ding’ announced my arrival, but my anxiety was quickly calmed by the reassuring smile from the lady behind the counter. “How can I help you?” she beamed. “I’m, err, looking for a book,” I stammered, which was a stunning revelation, seeing as I was in a bookshop. A Christian bookshop.
It was fear that motivated my visit. As a new Christian, I’d heard that God had a plan for my life, which was both exciting and terrifying. It was thrilling to think that I could walk in his purposes, but I was afraid that I might take a wrong turn and mess everything up. And so I was in search of a book that would help me to discover God’s will, having first prayed about which book about the will of God it was God’s will for me to read…
Yes, I was very confused. But it was a well-written volume that delivered me from my paranoia. It’s been said that books are the compasses and charts which others have prepared to help us navigate the seas of life. Over the years, the printed page has prodded, comforted, confronted, relieved, motivated and equipped me.
Asked about my all-time favorite book (apart from the Bible, obviously), I would like to praise one of the ‘weightier’ tomes that have impacted my life. I’d like to say my Christian journey was forever changed by reading Calvin’s Institutes, the winsome words of Tom Wright or St Augustine’s Confessions. But the book that has most impacted my Christian journey was not written by someone who lives in a university, chats with their wife in New Testament Greek, or is dead. It is: The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass aged 37 ¾ (Zondervan) written by, you guessed it, Adrian Plass.
The Sacred Diary came out in 1988, flying off the shelves for a very good reason: Plass touched a nerve. A raw, funny, self-deprecating piece of fiction that chronicled the joys and pains of navigating life as a Christian, Plass opened a window and let some air into the musty room that was (and sometimes is) the Church. He drew back the curtains, let in the light and revealed some of the pomposity and madness that goes on in the name of Jesus Christ. Countless souls breathed a sigh of relief, and I was one of them. The book sold more than a million copies.
The author was – and is – a flawed yet smiling soul, with doubts and temptations, big follies and little triumphs, mixed motives and pretensions. What grabbed me by the heart was his wonderful brand of selfdeprecating humour. I devoured the book, laughed out loud and cried with relief. Suddenly, as someone still very much under construction and therefore very imperfect, I felt included. I was refreshed, prodded, provoked and hugged through Plass’ pioneering bravery, and I’m grateful to this day.
The American writer Christopher Morley once said: “When you sell someone a book, you don’t sell them twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue – you sell them a whole new life.” So do yourself a huge favour. In a world where ideas are often boiled down into short shouts of 140 characters or less, go ahead and buy, read and digest some Christian books. Find some likeminded friends to share the reading experience with. Take a look at thebigchurchread.co.uk if you’d like some help. And pray for and support those who write, edit, publish and retail Christian books. Because of their passion for the published word, it’s life that’s on offer.