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Five Books That Shaped My Life
by Lieutenant-Colonel Doug O'Brien


I have hundreds of books in my personal library – all of which are important to me. Usually it is not a book, but a line or a thought, a chapter or concept in that book that has impacted me. This is true for the selection I am sharing with you today.


1.  “Echoes and Memories,” Bramwell Booth


I have always sensed that “Echoes and Memories,” was a great eye-witness account of The Salvation Army’s early days. The chapter titled, “Signs and Wonders” was remarkable to me for its shock value. I grew up in the San Francisco Citadel Corps, the various rooms of the corps were physically located in the territorial headquarters building. I thought my corps was the standard expression for Salvation Army life. Corps that were not like my corps should be working to become like my corps. So Bramwell Booth’s description of meetings in the early Army were eye-opening and startling. I learned that Salvation Army meetings may have been a whole lot more Pentecostal than anything I might have imagined. Some would say that The Salvation Army – and many other Protestant denominations – intentionally stepped away from these kinds of experiences, preferring to emphasize Christian character. This chapter taught me that I should be open to an Army that might be very different from my own experience. 


2.  “Miracles,” CS Lewis


Few books have reassured me as much as this one. The phrase from the book that stuck with me over the years was: God was doing “what he has always been doing.” In the book, CS Lewis explained that God is always multiplying the wheat in the field and the fish of the seas. This provided context for Jesus’ miracles of the feeding of the multitudes and the multiplication of the loaves and fish. God was simply doing what he had always been doing – this time he did it a little more quickly. The book helped me to contextualize what I knew about God. When I need to explain or understand God’s role in some incident or experience in my life I think about who God is – what is his nature? What is God always doing? In what ways can we depend on God to act?


3.  “We need Saints,” Chick Yuill


When I was in high school, my dad had helped me get a part time job at The Salvation Army’s San Francisco Evangeline Residence. During some moments when I just needed to be available, I picked up a War Cry and read an article about holiness. I didn’t have a clue about holiness – but the article peaked my interest. Why had I sat in a thousand Holiness Meetings and still didn’t understand what this was all about? After many conversations, after reading many books, and after both a seminary education and training college experience I picked up “We need saints.” In a series of simple illustrations, Chick outlined perspectives of holiness in a way that anyone could understand and retain. Of course those illustrations and the book’s narrative don’t answer every question. But the book provided a helpful foundation from which to discuss holiness and to encourage people to live like saints.


4.  “Churches and the Working Classes in Victorian England,” K. S. Inglis


This book is probably unknown to most people. I would never have discovered it except for Commissioner Denis Hunter who was visiting Diane and me in Colorado Springs, CO. After the Commissioner’s return to England, he sent me this book because he felt it provided insight into the Army’s early growth and development. In the book, Inglis referenced an 1891 survey published in the “Political Science Quarterly” that analyzed the experience of the Army in its first 25 years.


“Its arrival creates a great ferment; during the first few months it gains a band of adherents, and there are some wonderful instances which cannot be gainsaid, of moral reform. But then the progress of the Army in this particular place comes to an end. Its services are still held; but adherents are now added one by one at long intervals, and the ‘Corps’ is as little likely to affect the regeneration of the ‘residuum’ in that district as any of the surrounding religious bodies. Hence the growth of the Army in numbers has not been a steady and sustained growth in their earlier fields of labour: it is the result of constant establishment of fresh corps in new places.”


During my lifetime, the period of most dramatic growth in the USA Western Territory came as a result of the Mission 2000 effort. Many new corps were opened and many new people attracted to Christ through the Army. Several years into the Mission 2000 initiative I remember seeing some challenging territorial statistics. The stats confirmed that the growth of the territory had been directly and entirely related to new corps openings. What had been described in 1891 proved to be true a hundred years later – and that experience may provide insight for our next hundred years.


5.  “The Celtic Way of Prayer,” Esther de Waal


I sort of fell into collecting books about Celtic Christianity and Celtic life while I was at the International College for Officers. This book – the first of many others I have collected  - introduced me to a group of Christians who really seemed to infuse their daily lives with the presence of God.


Here’s a prayer offered by a dairyman:


Bless, O God, my little cow,

Bless, O God, my desire;

Bless Thou my partnership

And the milking of my hands, O God.


Bless, O God, each teat,

Bless, O God, each finger;

Bless Thou each drop

That goes into my pitcher, O God!


Here’s a prayer that any of us could offer:


God with me lying down,

God with me rising up,

God with me in each ray of light,

Nor I a ray of joy without Him,

Nor one ray without him


Christ with me sleeping

Christ with me waking,

Christ with me watching,

Every day and night,

Every day and night.


God with me protecting,

The Lord with me directing,

The Spirit with me strengthening,

For ever and for evermore,

Ever and evermore, Amen.


Understanding that God wills to be part of every activity and believing that God is beside me everywhere – is a message well received.








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