We Brits are used to dark summers. Ever the optimists, we don our flip flops, shorts and sunglasses at the slightest hint of the sun, then shelter together under shop fronts and in bus stops when the rain inevitably catches us by surprise. British summer is rarely a story of success, but minus a little controversy called Brexit and the speedy exit of a prime minister, this summer seems to be going pretty well. The temperature reached 32 degrees and a Brit won Wimbledon!
So, as you bask in the heat of the sun – on British or foreign sands – why not bury your head in one of these Christian classics? True, they're not typical summer reads. But much better to risk a few tears and ask some tough questions when the sun has brought joy to your heart than in the months when the sun sets before you've left the office. And, really, we've all had enough of Christian romance and books telling us how great we are, haven't we? We're not that great. We want reality. The dark, gritty, at times hard to face truth. The British summer of books, if you will – top quality, but not quite the sunshine you'd expected. Who's with me?
Here are six books you should read this summer:
1. The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom
If you read just one book this summer, read Corrie ten Boom's The Hiding Place. In a time of political and national uncertainty, we could do much worse than to follow the example of this extraordinary ordinary woman. Admittedly, a book about the holocaust is no light-hearted read, but ten Boom's story will stay with you in times when life is considerably less sunny, and inspire you to live those days for God.
She's an unlikely hero. An unmarried, middle-aged woman, living a simple and ordered life with her sister and ageing father in a little house above a watch shop. And yet, God used her faith and courage, and the faith of her family, to save hundreds of Jews during the Second World War. This book is an amazing testament to the truth that God is at work even at the darkest of times, and that he can use anyone.
(Dislaimer: it will make you cry. Sorry.)
2. The Screwtape Letters, CS Lewis
It's about demons – hence the dark – but it's also very funny. Written as letters of advice from demon Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood, The Screwtape Letters makes you question what's going on behind a lot of what we take for granted as purely our own battles – without considering the spiritual element – in the Christian life. It will also make you laugh. Want to explore your spiritual journey from the dark side? Lewis' satire is the book for you.
3. Redeeming Love, Francine Rivers
Opening with a child being sold into prostitution, this retelling of the book of Hosea is at times hard to endure. It is also one of the most amazing stories you will ever read, because it speaks so powerfully of God's love for us – His broken, lost, untrusting people.
Rivers has a gift for breathing new life into stories from the Bible. Redeeming Love will break your heart and then put it back together again.
4. Red Moon Rising, Pete Greig
When I told my parents I was writing this article they were both adamant that Pete Greig's Red Moon Rising should be in there. I know I shouldn't, but I find prayer tough – and I am sure I am not alone. That's why I am taking their advice and recommending Red Moon Rising, the story of the amazing 24:7 Prayer movement. There are heart-breaking moments in there, including Greig's wife Sammy's struggle with cancer and seizures. But there is also the inspiration to carry on praying through those tough times – when you see God and when you don't.
If you want to get excited about prayer – give some time to this book this summer. If you don't want to revive your prayer life, steer clear!
5. The Cross and the Switchblade, David Wilkerson
Wilkerson's best-selling book is a true story that has everything you never knew you wanted from a summer read – gangs, drug crime, violence and a Christian missionary. There's the drama that inevitably comes with working with some of the most dangerous people in New York City, and the amazing testimonies of lives transformed because one man in the 60s followed an unexpected and scary call from God. If you want the courage to do something risky for God, and potentially turn your life upside down, read Wilkerson's story. If you don't, read it anyway, and be inspired by the way God can transform the lives of some of the most unexpected people.
6. The Shack, Wm Paul Young
It's a controversial one, sure. But, without doubt, The Shack can give an invaluable insight into the nature of God as three persons – by actually showing God as three real, wonderful people, working perfectly together. The Shack is the story of one very broken man struggling to come to terms with the murder of his six-year-old daughter, and the embrace and love of God in that brokenness.
Whether you take it as a work of fiction or of non-fiction, Young's book has the power to reach into your mess, wipe away your tears and show you that, in the end, everything is covered by God's goodness.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, CS Lewis
I recently met a Christian who hadn't read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I know, I was shocked too. Talk about darkness.
Yes, yes, it's a children's book, and it's pretty wintry – there's snow, and Father Christmas. But does that mean you shouldn't read it today? No. And in fact, you could read it today. This beautiful book is so easy to read and so short you'll find yourself absorbed and finished before you know it. It's a magical depiction of Jesus' sacrifice for humanity and a must-read. So if you haven't read it, now's your chance.