The Spiritual Discipline of Reading

Guest Author: Carl Jenkins

Reading should be a fundamental practice in the lives of Christians. It is a book, the Bible, that the Father, in His perfect wisdom, has chosen to be one of the primary ways that He reveals Himself, His story, and His actions towards His fallen creation. Clearly God views a book as an invaluable resource. We might also consider the words of Carl Sagan, who said, “What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny, dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.”

Reading just seems to come easy to me, and I count that as a blessing. For many though, reading doesn’t come easy. Maybe you just aren’t interested in it. Maybe you struggle with reading in general. Maybe you don’t know what you should read. Maybe you try, but don’t seem to gain anything from the reading. Well, that is what this post is all about. Being an active seeker of God through reading outside of scripture is a practice that takes patience and self-control, even for those that enjoy reading. Like other disciplines, reading can yield an unlimited amount of growth as we pursue God.

Read books that interest you

Make an Amazon or Goodreads list of books you want to read. There are some times where we may have to read a book that we really don’t want to read, but when you make the decision to read, you’ll have a much easier time staying motivated to read it. There is rarely a book that I read that I don’t WANT to read. Why do I choose to pick my books this way rather than maybe go through some list of recommended reading, or just the top rated book on a topic? Well, the easy answer is, “I trust in God to provide.” It seems a bit simplistic, but really if I am praying for knowledge, and asking God to help me in this, wouldn’t I believe that He can providentially provide books that will interest me? Ultimately, disciplines are about turning our lives over to God, and learning to rely on Him. Just as we pray for knowledge (James 1:5-8), should we not believe that God will provide? Maybe you’ll respond that that deals with reading the scripture, but I disagree, and that leads us to the next thing we can do.

Read things you disagree with

You simply won’t be challenged as long as you only read things that tell you that you’re right. That isn’t to say that there is anything wrong with reading things that you’ll ultimately agree with, but there is much to be said for reading books with something else to say. Reading things you may disagree with is going to challenge you to better defend your position. If you find something you disagree with, hopefully, it will provoke you to spend some time making sure they are wrong, rather than just dismissing it. It could also help you learn that maybe you are wrong about something, or at least have some room to grow and better understand an issue. Most importantly though, this practice will help you better understand and relate to others. If we only read things that we agree with, then we can only understand that point of view. On the other hand, if we are willing to branch out, then this allows us to be able to see things from a different perspective, without assuming the worst about someone. I think of Paul at the Aeropagus speaking to pagans, and his ability to quote from their own poets and authors. Clearly Paul was familiar enough with their writings to the point that he could quote them in the proper context, while also drawing lessons about God from them. The more varied my reading has become, the more I find that I am able to find the wisdom of God in many places though they might not be conventional. There are many things that have prompted a deeper study, have given me new illustrations, and have helped me to effectively reach out to those who disagree with me simply by expanding my reading.

While this discipline is good, it can’t be left unsaid though to be careful. Before you get too deep into reading different authors and viewpoints, make sure that you have a good foundation in Christianity. Paul was one who was raised in Judaism, and had a top of the line teacher in Gamaliel, and so while having knowledge of differing beliefs, his focus was first and foremost on what God had already explicitly revealed to him through what we call the Old Testament. I can’t help but think of Paul’s closing remarks to those in Thessalonica, where he wrote, “but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil” (I Thes 5:21-22). Before we can hold fast to what is good, we have to know what IS good, and what is not.

Read for entertainment

I’ve met some Christians that feel that reading books that are not spiritual, or strictly about the Bible and God are a waste of time, but I would disagree with that. Even Jesus tells stories in the scripture than engage our imagination! Reading for entertainment, whether it be some historical non-fiction, your favorite fantasy series, a horror novel, or graphic novel can have a number of blessings. It acts as a Sabbath rest amidst the discipline of reading. As I write this, I had to stop reading a book on prayer because I just couldn’t focus. I’ve been reading more books for information lately, and my mind needed a rest, and so I’ve begun reading ‘Rosemary’s Baby.’ Why? Simply to give my mind a moment of relaxation. God has blessed us with rich imaginations that give us the ability enter into another world, and we should not allow that to go to waste. Should we spend all of our time in another world? No, but doing so can certainly help our minds to rest, and glorify God by using all of the abilities He has given to us in our minds.

The more I read, the more I am convinced that it is truly an essential aspect of growing as a Christian. Not only does it help us to learn, but it challenges us concerning how we deal with those that see things differently. It can also be a time of Sabbath rest as we allow our minds to enjoy imagination. Remember from earlier that “writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs.” But unlike Sagan I wouldn’t argue that reading is just magical, but that it is also divine.

Carl Jenkins is currently one of the ministers at the Lanett church of Christ in Lanett, Alabama. He is married and has a son and a daughter. He is a graduate of the Memphis School of Preaching, and in his free time enjoys (obviously) reading, spending time with his family, and gaming.

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1 Comment
  1. […]      Since I was a guest blogger on the Start2Finish network today for a post about reading (Here ya go), I figured I’d read a book, and it just so happened to be one from Start2Finish. I guess […]

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