Read for the Benefit of Others
Christians are called to read.
That may sound bold, and even alienating to those who do not enjoy reading, but it is a true statement.
Think about it: Christianity has always been defined as a religion centered on reading words. Christianity was birthed from the story found in the words of the Old Testament. The revelation of God to Israel was written down in words. In John 1:1-3, Jesus is described as the Word incarnate. The story of Jesus was preserved not simply orally, but through written words: in fact four whole books that we call the Gospels! Later religions, such as Islam, called Christians, "the people of the book."
Thus, Christians need to read. It is through reading the words of Scripture that we see and hear God. Our priority to reading should then be the reading of Scripture. And to that end, I especially recommend reading large chunks of Scripture in one sitting, what I call Wide-Angle Bible Reading. But after that, we should be reading good books of all types.
Now I recognize not all like to read (I will forgo pointing out the irony that you are in fact reading this blog...), but I would urge especially those in this camp to take up the hard task of reading. Even if you think that you read slow or don't like reading, you would be surprised how much you can accomplish in a year. As John Piper once said:
Suppose you read about 250 words a minute and that you resolve to devote just 15 minutes a day to serious theological reading to deepen your grasp of biblical truth. In one year (365 days) you would read for 5,475 minutes. Multiply that times 250 words per minute and you get 1,368,750 words per year. Now most books have between 300 and 400 words per page. So if we take 350 words per page and divide that into 1,368,750 words per year, we get 3,910 pages per year. This means that at 250 words a minute, 15 minutes a day, you could read about 20 average sized books a year!
Now admittedly, I love reading. But there are all sorts of things that I must do in life that I don't readily enjoy doing, yet I know that it is good for me to do. And perhaps more importantly, it benefits others when I do these things.
For instance, I don't enjoy fixing broken objects in our house. (In fact, many can testify that neither am I good at fixing...) But there are certain things I have had to learn simply because my family depends on me. I cannot call someone to help me every time something is broke (though it is tempting!).
Ten years ago, I bought a manual for a Volkswagon Jetta that we owned. I hated reading that book. I hated even more so working on the Jetta. But I saved our family quite a bit of money when I could fix small issues that came up on the Jetta (but ask me about the time I broke a screw off in the engine head...). My family needs me to learn how to fix certain things. This is a responsibility I have toward my family.
So if you don't enjoy reading, I am sympathetic; there are many things I don't enjoy doing too.
But as a Christian, you need to grow in reading. Here are three reasons why:
One: Reading Expands Your World. It is through reading that we are exposed to new ideas and new ways of thinking, that is, reading enlarges your world unlike anything else. It introduces new perspectives to you that perhaps you had not considered. Likewise, it helps you understand the view of those who disagree with you, humanizing others rather than viewing them as the "enemy."
Two: Reading Keeps You Humble. Reading guards us from becoming consumed by our own thoughts and our own faulty assumptions. Reading helps you see that your viewpoint may not be the only legitimate viewpoint. It forces us to keep digging to find real answers, not just defending our preconceived answers to all of life's greatest questions. Reading reminds us that we really don't know everything!
Three: Reading Helps You Shepherd Others. Are you a parent? Are you an elder? Are you a teacher? Do you have influence over anyone? Then you need to be reading. Especially if you are a leader of any kind, God has called you to grapple with the issues of the times and apply the Scriptures to them. How do you do this? You read; you ponder the thoughts of others who have thought much longer about these issues than you have. How can you help others grow under your guidance if you are not yourself growing and expanding through reading?
So I urge you: do the hard work of reading. Read for the benefit of others, not yourself. Tomorrow, I will provide some suggestions for reading in seven broad genre areas: Biblical Studies, Culture, Theology, History, Biography, Christian Life, and Literature.