When I was growing up I was not into reading at all. I would much rather play sports or sit in front of the television with a controller in my hand. I thought reading was a boring waste of time that was reserved exclusively for “nerds” who had no social life. I would even make fun of my dad who was somewhat of an avid reader. But something happened–I had an encounter with God! The Lord began to draw me through certain people who were sharing the gospel with me. As this was happening I felt a strong desire to read the Bible so I went to the local Christian bookstore and picked up a KJV Scolfield Study Bible. I began to read the book of Acts, and by studying Paul’s life it had a profound impact on me. I thought I was a Christian in spite of the wicked life that I lived, but by reading about the life of Paul I realized that there was something missing in my life. Paul had an encounter with Christ and he was different. It was through reading God’s word that I finally realized that I must repent and trust in Christ alone for my salvation. After this happened I continued to read God’s word more and more. It wasn’t long before I discovered the value in reading books by godly Christian scholars who have provided the church with resources to guide them in their studies. By God’s grace I was introduced to books by John MacArthur, John Piper, R.C. Sproul, and J.I. Packer. One of the ways that I knew that I had been converted was that I had an appetite to read.
I believe that reading is a neglected discipline in our society. This should come as no surprise, but it is a little troubling to find the same negligence in the church. There are a number of excuses for this. We simply do not have the time to read. I find this argument ironic because we spend countless hours watching television or satisfying the lusts of the flesh. When we say that we do not have time to fit reading into our busy schedules what we are really saying is that we do not value reading and we do not find it important. When this becomes the case it is indicative of where we are spiritually. I want to argue that reading is infinitely important. Reading is the primary way the God as chosen to reveal Himself to us. Many Christians spend a great deal of time trying to receive a word from God without spending significant amounts of time reading their Bible. This was not the attitude of the biblical authors. When the children of Israel were preparing to enter the promise land God told Joshua “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it” (Joshua 1:9). The apostle Paul believed that studying God’s word was important right up to the time that he took his last breath. The last letter that Paul wrote was 2 Timothy. It is a letter that Paul wrote from a Roman prison near the end of his life as he was awaiting execution. What was his last request? “When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments” (1 Timothy 4:9). Paul was essentially on his deathbed and he wanted the books and parchments. Obviously he valued reading.
I want to make myself clear at this point. I am not suggesting that reading is the only spiritual discipline that is important and undervalued. We could say the same thing about prayer. Prayer is also essential to a fruitful Christian life. It is also very neglected. I know that this is true even in my life. But I think that prayer and reading go hand and hand. We should never pick up God’s word without praying. We should never really pick up any book without praying for discernment. I am also not suggesting that we should just lock ourselves away from the world and study like we are a part of a monastic community. We should be involved in the work of ministry. There are many areas in life which require our faithfulness such as, family, ministry, prayer, church, work, and study. The reason that I am singling out reading is because I believe that in the midst of our busy schedules reading (and prayer) is the easiest thing to neglect. I want to offer some suggestions that I have found helpful that I hope will make your reading more fruitful.
1. Set aside blocks of time everyday for reading.
This is the first step in developing a healthy reading diet. Time is a lot like money. You have to budget your time. If you do not budget your time you will end up wasting a lot of it. It is essential to set aside specific amounts of time everyday for specific types of reading. Like a money budget this does not mean that there will not be unexpected things that come up from time to time that alter your budget. There will be days when you have to depart from your schedule. But it also does not mean that you are limited to just the time that you have set aside. When you have additional free time use it to read. Instead of turning on the TV open the book that you are trying to finish. When this happens it is extra, do not let it replace the time you have carved out for reading. When setting aside time in your schedule for daily reading it is best to set aside 20 minute blocks. Even if you are a slow reader (like I am) you can get to where you can read 10 pages in 20 minutes. Also remember to set aside time for specific types of reading. Set aside 20 minutes for Bible reading, and 20 minutes some other time in the day, like when you are on your lunch break, for reading other books.
2. Read your Bible every day.
I mentioned this under point one, but I want to emphasize it again. There are Christians who enjoy reading, but do not read their Bibles on a daily basis. They would stay up all night reading a mystery or romance novel, but would never stay up all night wrestling with Paul’s letter to the Romans. This happens when reading becomes purely entertainment. I think reading is fun, but as Christians we read for more than just entertainment. We read for God’s glory. If we are not reading our Bibles then we should not read anything else. The Word of God is our first and foremost priority.
3. Supplement your Bible reading with study helps.
I maintain that picking up the Bible and reading it is the most important thing that we should do, but it can be dangerous to pick it up and misread it. I want to be clear, I believe that a person can pick up a copy of God’s word, read it, understand the gospel, and by God’s grace apply it. But it is also true that we can pick up God’s word and misinterpret portions of it because we simply do not have an accurate understanding of the culture and context in which the text was written. The Bible was written thousands of years ago in languages that we do not speak. God has given the church gifted scholars who are able to help us in these areas. If you are desiring to do in depth study then reading commentaries and Bible dictionaries can help. There are some excellent one-volume commentaries and dictionaries that are easy to use. Examples include The MacArthur Bible Commentary and The Holman Bible Dictionary. There are also good study Bibles that are available. But always remember that commentaries and study notes are secondary and are fallible.
4. Read books on Church History.
Studying church history can be very encouraging. I once heard about a Seminary professor who began his Church History course by telling the class that “something happened between Jesus and your grandmother, and it matters.” There is a lot of truth in this statement, but most of us do not know what happened between Jesus and our grandmothers. Studying church history can help us to see the way that God has preserved his church up to the present time. One of the best introductions to Church History that I have read is A Summary of Christian History. You may want to start with something like this, and then read some books that focus on the history of your own tradition. It would also be wise to read books that were written by those who have gone before us. Read Calvin, Wesley, Luther, the Puritans, etc.
5. Read Christian Biographies.
It has been my experience that reading biography is some of the most fruitful reading that I have ever done. When I moved to Louisville to go to school it was difficult. Especially after about a year of being here. I picked up a short biography of Francis Schaeffer and it was very helpful. I read about Schaeffer and the similar struggles that he had. I also love to hear about how God has worked in people’s lives to change the world, and biography is the literature to go to for this.
6. Read books on Christian doctrine.
There are a number of good theology books available for study. Again, the Bible is our primary source for doctrine, but I have tried to demonstrate much can be learned from other books as well. There are several books on systematic theology. These books cover all major Christian doctrines. The best systematic theology book to start with is Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology. This is a big book and can seem intimidating. But it is well written, easy to reference, and is even devotional. The book also comes in a number of abridged versions as well. The same is true for other recent Systematic books such as Michael Horton’s and Millard Erickson’s. Systematic Theology books are good for surveying all major Christian doctrines, but there are also many good books available that deal with just one specific doctrine.
7. Read books that are devotional .
There is a danger for people who, like me, read a lot of books that are somewhat academic. Many of these books tend to be dry and are not concerned with application. Thankfully there are a number of good devotional type of books available. There are books with devotions designed for morning, some for evening, some for teenagers, some for married people, and so on. There are also Bible commentaries that are geared to devotion and application. The point is to not burn yourself out with books that are a lot of heavy reading. Take time to read something devotional.
8. Read books on the beliefs of others.
This is crucial for the thoughtful Christian who is seeking to reach others with the gospel. Currently I am reading James White’s new book What ever Christian Needs to Know About the Qu’ran. White’s book is a great introduction to Islam. It should be required reading for anyone who is interested in Muslim evangelism. Learning what others believe is very important. How can we expect others to study our beliefs if we are not willing to read what they believe? It is also a good idea to read about what other Christians believe.For example, if you are a Calvinist you should spend time reading the best books available on Arminianism. If you are Arminian then you should read what Calvinists have to say. Any healthy reading diet should allow time for reading books that you may not agree with. This is a great way to strengthen your beliefs.
9. Realize that you do not have to read every word in a book to benefit from it.
I like to read carefully. I am one of those people who will actually read the footnotes in books. There is certainly a time and place for this kind of reading, but do not feel like you have to read every word and footnote. I use to become discouraged because I couldn’t read every book that I wanted to. But I realized I didn’t necessarily have to. When I get a book the first thing that I will do is look at the table of contents. After looking at the table of contents I will read the introduction or maybe the first chapter. Here what I am looking for is the author’s thesis or stated purpose in writing the book. Finally, I will skim each chapter to see the headlines and to see how the author develops his thesis. By doing this I can understand what the book is about even if I do not have time to read it. It also allows me to be able to reference the book later even if I haven’t read it through. One final benefit of this practice is that when i do have time to read the book then I will already be familiar with it. Even books that you are taking the time to read through do not feel like you have to get bogged down in sections that are overly wordy. Let’s face it some authors are overly wordy. Sometimes when the author has developed his point but is belaboring it too much I will begin skimming, or I will just skip ahead. Over time I have gotten better at skimming, and now I can absorb quite a bit by doing it. This does not mean that you should always read this way. There are times where you will want to slow down and really digest a book. Obviously, this is the most effective kind of reading. It is also important to realize that different books are going to require a different kind of reading. You will learn when to speed up and when to slow down.
In this article I have attempted to provide the reader with insights and pointers that I have learned in my home reading time. It is my prayer that this will encourage Christians to become more diligent readers.
Post written by: Matthew Gay