It’s been a long day. You’ve completed your daily tasks at work, ate your dinner, enjoyed time with your family and put the kids to bed. Now, it’s your “me time.” What should you do? Find a new series on Netflix? Play a new video game?
Imagine sitting in a crowded waiting room at the doctor’s office. Judging by your past experience and the number of people waiting to be seen, you know you’re going to be there a while. Almost naturally, you pull out your phone and peruse social media to help the time pass.
May I suggest another option for these situations and many like them we often face? Instead of turning to your TV or phone first, perhaps use that time to read.
For many, the mere thought of reading elicits the same response as nails scratching a chalkboard. While it might seem like a long lost art, the value of reading has been recognized all throughout human history. I believe there should be more emphasis on reading in our society as a whole, but specifically for Christians.
Here are 6 reasons Christians should be readers:
BECAUSE GOD HAS REVEALED HIMSELF THROUGH THE WRITTEN WORD
The way you and I know about God is through the Bible. Without it, we can’t know who Jesus is and the great news of the gospel! We wouldn’t know about God’s amazing grace, his hatred for sin, and the sobering truth that we all deserve death. We would be ignorant of the great hope that God has prepared a place for those who trust him; a place where there will no more sin and suffering. He has revealed himself to us and given us the Word that we might read, study, memorize and reflect on it.
However, fewer evangelicals are reading the word. There are certainly many factors that account for this, but it seems one of them is the simple fact that fewer people read.
I like to run. When I’m running regularly, I can go out and run five miles at a comfortable pace with no problem. However, if I attempt five miles after not running for several months, I’m likely to pass out. Why? Because I’ve gotten out of shape. My body can’t handle such stress, so I have to work hard to get back to the point where I can handle such strenuous activity.
I’ve found something similar to be true with reading. If I go through a season where my reading is replaced with TV shows and/or video games, then diving back into a book can be difficult. I need to retrain my mind and develop endurance in my attention span that has over-indulged in easy, visual images instead of the harder work of reading. I enjoy a good Netflix series or video game just like anyone else; the point isn’t to bash these things, but simply to correct our over-dependence on them to the neglect of reading.
If believers are not in “reading shape,” then our ability to read and study God’s word will certainly be affected.
BECAUSE READING IS A FORM OF DISCIPLESHIP
Our society’s individualism has crept into our thinking to the point that we think that our spiritual walk is “between me and God.” However, the Bible teaches a more communal form of Christianity where we all make up one body. We need each other for encouragement, rebuke, love, help, and teaching.
One way we might learn from others is by reading books. When we read, we are declaring that we don’t know everything and we are willing to learn from someone else. God has gifted many men and women to write and blessed us with the opportunity to learn from their study of Scripture and experience.
Confused about the Trinity? Check out Delighting in the Trinity. Want a deeper understanding of God’s attributes and holiness? Check out The Attributes of God and The Holiness of God. Feeling busy and overwhelmed? Consider reading Crazy Busy. Dealing with an anger problem? Take a look at Good and Angry. Don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations from someone you know who reads a lot! I enjoy getting book recommendations from friends and blogs that keep me up to date on the newest book releases.
BECAUSE LANGUAGE IS IMPORTANT
In his book Lit!, Tony Reinke argues the need for both visual images and language in any given culture. However, our culture has leaned more toward visual images often to the neglect of language. While both are necessary, language is more precise and can communicate abstract or unseen realities (such as God, heaven, angels, guilt, conviction, etc.). Images also communicate but they are limited; a picture of a man crying might sadden me, but I don’t know why he’s crying without words. Hearing the story behind a picture often makes it more powerful, but that can’t be done without language. Reinke states, “Language is the basis of our relationship with God, and a deeply personal means to experience him” (42).
If Christians are not readers, we will slowly lose the ability or the patience to find meaning in words. Images are easier and require less work, which often causes us to flock to the TV rather than a book. As Reinke says, “The difficult work required to benefit from books is at odds with the immediate appeal of images” (49). Therefore, the “concern is whether Christians will be patient enough to find meaning embedded in words, or if we will grow content with the superficial pleasures offered to us in the rapidly shifting images in our culture” (43). Even the Oompa-Loompa’s in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory warn of the danger of too much TV:
It rots the senses in the head!
It kills imagination dead!
It clogs and clutters up the mind!
It makes a child so dull and blind,
He can no longer understand,
A fantasy, a fairyland!
His brain becomes as soft as cheese!
His powers of thinking rust and freeze!
He cannot think – he only sees!
We must be able to do more than just see, we must be able to think and use language. After all, the gospel is a message to be declared!
BECAUSE READING HELPS US THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX
We are all products of the place and time we live and the worldviews that surround us. We easily develop presuppositions we’re not aware of. Getting out of our context often reveals such presuppositions and helps us see beyond ourselves.
This is why it is helpful to read and read widely. Read people from other cultures. Read people from other time periods. Read people who think differently and have different views. Reading widely challenges the weaknesses in our thought process and allows us to consider issues from another angle.
BECAUSE READING HELPS US SEE NEEDS AND EMPATHIZE WITH OTHERS
It can be difficult to understand or empathize with certain people or positions because we are limited by our experience. Reading gives us a glimpse into the struggles and experience of others. As Tim Challies said: “Books allow you to grow in your understanding of the challenges, the joys, and the experiences of other people. This, in turn, allows you to grow in your compassion and in your ability to love.”
I may not know what it’s like to struggle with infertility, but reading Longing for Motherhood by Chelsea Sobolik or Walking Through Infertility by Matthew Arbo might help me empathize with those who do. Because I don’t see human trafficking in my daily life I might be blind to what’s happening, but reading Vulnerable by Raleigh Sadler might open my eyes to its awful reality. I might have forgotten many of the struggles of singleness, but reading 7 Myths About Singleness by Sam Allberry can help me relate and minister better. On many different topics, books open doors that have been shut by my inexperience.
BECAUSE READING CAN INSPIRE US
Whether it’s a fictional character like Frodo who defied all odds to overcome evil, or a real-life example of bravery in a well-written biography, we are all inspired by stories. Life is difficult and we often struggle to see beauty in the midst of pain, but sometimes God uses an inspiring story to give us the encouragement we need to persevere.
Christian, let us love the Lord our God with all our mind! Let us be ever-growing in our hunger to know more of who he is and what he has done. Bask in the Scriptures daily and soak in God’s majesty. Learn from the wisdom God has taught other believers by reading their books. Dive in the deep works of theology or helpful books on Christian living. Examine the viewpoints of others by reading their arguments; stretch your imagination by reading fiction; and, learn from the past by reading history. As you do so, more and more reading will become a delight! As Dr. Seuss said, “Oh, the places you’ll go” if you’ll only take time to read!