This is an article about reading. If you don’t like reading, you will not likely enjoy this piece. Then again, if you don’t like reading, you are probably nowhere near this article in the first place! So for those of you who are still with me, let me make the case for the importance of reading.
First a few quotes to whet your appetite, and to introduce a bit of levity into the discussion:
“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.” (Groucho Marx)
“I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.” (Groucho Marx)
“When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.” (Erasmus)
And a number of more serious quotes can be added here. Somerset Maugham spoke of his addiction to reading: “Like the dope fiend who cannot move from place to place without taking with him a plentiful supply of his deadly balm, I never venture far without a sufficiency of reading matter.”
Harold J. Ockenga, who took a suitcase full of books on his honeymoon, said this: “Read to fill the wells of inspiration.” The Apostle Paul of course could tell us to “give attendance to reading” (1 Tim. 4:13). And he could plead with Timothy, “Please bring with you … the books, especially the manuscripts.” (2 Tim. 4:13, Phillips)
And of course the writer of Ecclesiastes could offer this bit of advice – and warning: “Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body” (Ecc. 12:12).
Reading is a vastly important aspect of developing the Christian life. Read any good biography of some past man or woman of God, and more often than not you will find that they were voracious readers. Many of the saints of old had large libraries. The value of reading cannot be overestimated.
Sanders on Reading
J. Oswald Sanders knew about the importance of reading. The New Zealand-born man of God (1902 – 1992) was for many years director of the Overseas Missionary Fellowship, and was an elder statesman of the faith. He wrote over forty books on various Christian themes.
In 1967 he wrote the now classic volume, Spiritual Leadership (Moody Press). I picked up this volume in Chicago a few years after my conversion to Christianity. In fact, I purchased it on November 5, 1974 in River Forest, Illinois, to be exact!
(I always record the place and date of my book purchases, along with my name, in the inside front page. Once when living in Holland as a missionary, I read through the masterful 8-volume History of the Christian Church by Philip Schaff. Somewhere there he mentions how one great leader of the past (a Reformer, or a Puritan, I forget which) had the exact same practice. ‘I am in good company,’ I thought at the time.)
Anyway, I digress. The book by Sanders should be read by all believers. It deals with the vital need, calling, and qualification of Christian leadership. Thus he speaks about the spiritual leader and his time, his prayer life, his character, and so on.
But of interest is chapter 12: “The Leader and His Reading.” This ten-page chapter contains a lot of insights and spiritual firepower regarding the necessity of reading. He writes, “The man who desires to grow spiritually and intellectually will be constantly at his books.”
He mentions as an example John Wesley who “had a passion for reading, and most of it was done on horseback”. Sanders continues, “He read deeply and on a wide range of subjects. It was his habit to travel with a volume of science or history or medicine propped on the pommel of his saddle, and in that way he got through thousands of volumes.”
He notes that next to the Greek New Testament, three volumes especially fed Wesley’s soul: The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis; Holy Living and Dying by Jeremy Taylor; and A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life by William Law.
What Sanders says next is a real eye-opener: “He told the younger ministers of the Wesleyan societies either to read or get out of the ministry.” Sounds like pretty good advice for today as well. He goes on to say:
“The determination to spend a minimum of half an hour a day in reading worthwhile books which provide food for the soul and further mental and spiritual development will prove richly rewarding to those who have been inclined to limit their reading to predigested or superficial books.”
Sanders then offers five reasons why leaders should read: for spiritual quickening; for mental stimulation; for cultivation of style; for the acquiring of information; and to have fellowship with great minds. He offers this bit of advice from Spurgeon:
“Master those books you have. Read them thoroughly. Bathe in them until they saturate you. Read and reread them, masticate and digest them. Let them go into your very self. Peruse a good book several times and make notes and analysis of it. A student will find that his mental constitution is more affected by one book thoroughly mastered than by twenty books he has merely skimmed. Little learning and much pride come of hasty reading. Some men are disabled from thinking by their putting meditation away for the sake of much reading. In reading let your motto be, ‘much, not many’.”
He concludes by referring to an Australian rural minister he knew who was a great lover of books. Says Sanders, “Early in his ministry he decided that he would aim at developing a biblically and theologically literate congregation. He succeeded in conveying to members of his church his own love of books, and introduced them gradually to spiritual works of increasing weight and depth. The result is that in that district a number of farmers have accumulated libraries that would be no disgrace to a minister of the gospel.”
Wow! Would that this was the situation found in pastorates today. As Sanders remarks, “Today, the practice of reading solid and rewarding spiritual and classical literature is seriously on the wane.” He reminds us that we have more leisure time now than ever before, so we are without excuse for this serious deficiency.
In sum, we must get on with a serious course of reading. We need to become lovers of books, and lovers of ideas. Not as an end in itself, but to further deepen us so that we might further extend the Kingdom. Chesterton once said that “A room without books is like a body without a soul.” Can I suggest that a Christian who is averse to reading will likely be a shallow and less than effective follower of Jesus Christ?