The Discipline of Reading and Christian Growth

IMG_0047 Who has time to read? It seems like more than ever our plates seem to be running over with things to do. Not only do we think of ourselves as quite busy, but we have constant distractions in our lives. Our smartphones do not help as we are constantly responding to emails, facebook, and even playing a game of angry birds. Who has time to read anymore?

One of the disciplines in my life that has fueled the most spiritual growth in my life is the discipline of reading. First and foremost, this starts with the Bible. It is vital for a Christian to read and study God's word and to be molded and shaped by its wisdom. However, reading other great Christian non-fiction books have made a huge impact in my life.

1. Reading Teaches Me to Think

This is one of the greatest benefits to my own personal reading. It forces me to stretch my mind and think through difficult issues. A great author is not only someone with a great thesis, but one walk me through his reasons for holding it. As a result, reading well argued books teaches me how to think through my own arguments.

2. Reading Exposes Me to New Ideas

There are some ideas and concepts my mind would never automatically think about. Reading books on a variety of subjects forces me to be a life long learner as I am exposed to new ideas.  As a pastor, I don't want my reading to stop after my formal education is over.  We tend to get mentally lazy after we are finished with school, and reading solid books stretches us and keeps us learning long after we get that diploma.

3. Reading Allows Me to Be Mentored by Great Authors

Each and every one of us have a desire to learn from someone else who is much older and wiser than us. You can glean a lot form someones personal experiences and the lessons they have learned. Reading books by great pastors, theologians, and authors gives me an opertunity to be mentored by some of the greatest. As I read Preaching Preachers by Martyn Lloyd Jones, I am given the opertunity to be mentored by arguably the greatest preacher in the 20th century. Books allow us to be trained by some of the best, so therefore, books are incredible gifts to us.

4. Reading Gives Me Discernment to Truth

Truth can be found in any situation and in any book. After having developed a Christian worldview, I am now able to read any newspaper article, any business book, and any novel through a Christian worldview. I am able to discern truth in the most unexpected places, and I am able to reject those ideas that are not truth. The discipline of reading has allowed me to critically engage with other worldviews and keeps me from falling captive and becoming influenced false philosophys and modern cultural trends.

Make Reading a Priority

I hope in your own life you make it a priority to spend time reading godly books that teach us and build us up in our faith. The great thing is that there is a plethora of books both new and old that a ripe for us to begin sinking our teeth into. We have time for reading but unfortunatly it is just not a priority for most of us. Finding time to read is not as hard as we may think, all it takes is to turn off some distractions and making TV a priority. It might mean waking up earlier to spend 30 minutes reading. It might mean reading during your lunch break rather than goofing off on facebook. It might mean turning off the TV in the evening and opening up a good book. We have time to read, we just need to make it.

If you are a Christian who wants to learn more about why reading is so important there is a great book that I just finished called Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books by Tony Reinke. It is a quick and easy read, but it will help you understand why it is so important to read and how to get the most out of your reading. Very practical and rooted in biblical truth, I commend this book to you. Here are a few of my favorite quotes to give you a feel of the book:

Christian book reading is never a solitary experience, but an open invitation to commune with God. By opening a book we can stop talking and we begin listening. We can turn from the distractions of life. We can focus our minds. Sometimes we can even lose all sense of time. Although it’s difficult to protect, this reading environment can be the atmosphere that sustains the life of interaction with God. (p. 37)

God’s command is protective. A culture that must express its gods in visual images cannot know God accurately. And a culture that cannot know God accurately cannot communicate God’s substance truthfully. For the Christian, media forms carry ethical consequences. (p. 42)

as a word-centered people we must learn to prize language in a visually-dominated world. If our hearts prioritize images over language, our hunger for books will erode. (p. 47)

So the point of this chapter is simple: the difficult work required to benefit from books is at odds with the immediate appeal of images. As Christians living in an image-saturated world, we must guard our conviction about the vital importance of words and language. For it is words and language that best communicate meaning. (pp. 49-50)

Truly, many Christians today measure their reading success with nothing more than a purely utilitarian gauge, either by how many book pages they can burn through, or by the amount of information they expose themselves to in the process. Too often we fail to read simply for pleasure. (p. 103)

When we set out to read important books, we can expect opposition from our hearts. Reading is a discipline, and all disciplines require self-discipline, and self-discipline is the one thing our sinful flesh will resist. (p. 131)

For many of us, reading is more a lack of of desire than of a lack of free time. C. S. Lewis wrote, “The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavorable. Favorable conditions never come.” The same is true of reading. Favorable conditions for reading books never come. There are always interruptions and other things to do. We can all find excuses for why we cannot read: we’re too busy, we’re too tired, we’re too burned out from the day, we’re too _ (you fill in the blank). But we all find time to do what we “want” to do. The problem is not that we don’t have time to read, but that we don’t have the desire to read. So learn to love reading—because it’s easier to find time to do what you love to do. (p. 132)

True learning and true wisdom are the fruit of long-term diligent study and meditation, benefits that we cannot get from books unless we are willing to slow our minds, mute distractions, and carefully think about what we are reading. (p. 143)

7 Things We Can Learn from the Life of Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan-EdwardsI just finished reading Jonathan Edwards and the Ministry of the Word by Douglas A. Sweeney.  If you are looking for an introduction to Edwards' life and thought I highly recommend you pick this book up.  It is a easily readable biographical and theological summary of his life.  Jonathan Edwards has been an object of intense personal study the past year, and I am planning on taking a course on his theology this summer.  He has been hugely influential not only in his day but in ours also. At the very end of the book Sweeney lists seven theses for discussion on what we can learn from Edwards' life and ministry.  I list those seven theses here to encourage you to pick up the book and to stir your mind about what we can learn from Jonathan Edwards.

  1. Edwards shows us the importance of working to help people gain a vivid sense, an urgent impression, of God's activity in our world. 
  2. Edwards shows us that true religion is primarily a matter of holy affections.
  3. Edwards shows us the advantages of keeping an eschatological perspective on our lives.
  4. Edwards shows us how God uses those who lose their lives for Christ.
  5. Edwards shows us that theology can and should be done primarily in the church, by pastors, for the sake of the people of God.
  6. Edwards shows us that even the strongest Christians need support from others.
  7. Edwards shows us the necessity of remaining in God's word.

You can pick up this book here.

Other great books on Jonathan Edwards are:

Book Recommendation: "Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart"

I just finished reading J.D. Greear's latest book, Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart: How to Know for Sure You Are Saved.  The book does something very few authors can pull off.  The book is deeply theological, extremely practical, easily readable, and concise! The book attempts to provide a pastoral discussion on assurance.  How can we know that we are truly saved? What does it mean to be a converted? This book seems to follow the current trend in Christian book publishing dealing with conversion and discipleship.  However our of those books I've had experience with and a few sitting on my shelf waiting to be read, this book here seems to be the most helpful and lastingly beneficial to the church.

Greear did such a good job with this little book that I think I'm going to pick up a few extra copies to keep around just to be able to pass out to people who might be struggling with assurance.  The book is helpful for anyone, especially those who might struggle with the question, "Am I really saved?"  If you ever asked yourself that question (and what honest Christian hasn't?) be sure to pick this book up and give it a read.  It is well worth your time.  You can pick it up at Amazon by clicking here.

Here is a video of J.D. Greear discussing some of the issues dealt with in the book


The Bible is not an Encyclopedia

Here is an excerpt from Paul Tripp's Book, Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands.  It is a wonderful book that I commend to you.  Here is what he writes on how Christians often handle the Scripture.

Many Christians simply don't understand what the Bible is.  Many thing of it as a spiritual encyclopedia: God's complete catalog of human problems, couple with a complete list of divine answers.  If you turn to the right page, you can find answers for any struggle.  A more sophisticated variation views the Bible as a systematic theology textbook, an outline of essential topics you must master to think and live God's way.  In either case, we tend to offer each other isolated pieces of Scripture that seem to fit the need of the moment.  What we think of as ministering the Word is little more than a spiritual cut-and-paste system.

This Kind of ministry rarely leads to lasting change because it does not bring the power of the Word to the places where change is really needed.  In this kind of ministry, self is still at the center, personal need is the focus, and personal happiness remains the goal.  But a truly effective ministry of the Word must confront our self-focus and self-absorption at its roots, opening us up to the vastness of A God-defined, God-centered world.  Unless this happens, we will use the promise, principles, and commands of the Word to serve the thing we really love: ourselves.  This may be why many people read and hear God's Word regularly while their lives remain unchanged.  Only when the rain of the Word penetrates the roots of the problem does lasting change occur.

Bonhoeffer on Cheap Grace

While sermon prepping for today, I opened up Dietrich Bonhoeffer's book "The Cost of Discipleship".  As I was thumbing through it looking for a quote I needed, I looked through all my highlights and remembered just how challenging this book is.  One of my favorite chapters in the whole book is the first one called "Costly Grace".  In this chapter he calls "Cheap Grace the deadly enemy of our Church" and defines cheap grace and costly grace as follows:

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession.  Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living incarnate.

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has.  It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods.  It is the kingly rule of Christ, of whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.  (44-45)

If you have yet to read this Christian classic do yourself a favor and go pick it up on amazon today.