In 1 and 2 Timothy Paul refers to a discipline that too many ignore, the discipline of reading. In his first book to Timothy, his son in the faith, he counsels Timothy in 4:13 to give his attention to reading. The clear implication is that Paul isn’t speaking of Sports Illustrated or someone’s latest novel, rather the scriptures. In his second letter, incidentally the exact same chapter and verse, 4:13, he requests that Timothy bring him his books, and especially some special writings he referred to as parchments, when he came to visit his mentor.
Reading books, especially the Bible, has become a seemingly lost practice due to the pace of our culture and the diversity of ways in which we receive information. This is the Information Age, and the information highway called the Internet, has sped up “late breaking news” and reduced many stories and events to sound bites. As a result of the speed of life and the way we process information, our attention spans are getting shorter, and our to-do lists are getting longer. Reading is like most things in life; we must schedule time to actually do it, and we must make reading quality material a priority. Junk reading, much like junk mail, takes up unnecessary space, and most of it is trash. There’s nothing wrong with light reading for pleasure, but Paul’s exhortation to Timothy was to feed his mind with the nourishment that comes from ruminating on God’s Word, along with a moderate portion of historical and contemporary Christian authors.
I admire people who can boast of a Bible reading plan that guides them through the Bible every year; however, this isn’t the practice of the rank and file Christians. Many get lost in the wanderings of Israel in the wilderness or the Levitical laws or the “begats,” and quickly give up. My challenge is to choose a plan that is do-able and that feeds your soul. Your goal isn’t volume, rather spiritual insight and nourishment. Clearly Paul exhorts us to study God’s Word, which requires more time and effort than a devotional meditation. However, the Bible is to be enjoyed as the Word of Life, not the Word of Law that places the discipline of study as a weight of guilt that comes from a legalistic demand to “read it daily so that God will give you points earned in heaven.”
Two of the questions I often ask people are, “What books are you reading?” and “Who are your favorite authors?” I’m often surprised to hear the names of authors with whom I’m unfamiliar. The next thing I ask as a follow up is, “Why the author(s) and why the book(s)?” I’m learning there are subjects and authors which are inspiring my colleagues and friends that I might consider. I’m the kind of guy that when I find a food I really like, I’ll eat it and eat it and eat it. After a while, though, this gets old, and the taste can become bland. So, when it comes to reading, variety is the spice of life. Since leaders are readers, it’s my opinion that I should read books that differ from my own world view, in order to be an effective leader. It helps me to understand people who are coming from a very different place than I am, and their perspective is one I need to consider.
Are you wondering about some of my favorite authors? John Ortberg, Phillip Yancey, and Henri Nouwen are a few at the top of my list. You might notice all of these are men, and I realize I need to start branching out to include women authors who may see the world differently than I do. What are some of the books I’m reading? John Ortberg’s The Life You’ve Always Wanted, Henri Nouwen’s Finding My Way Home, and Good Vibrations, by Brian Love, a member of the Beach Boys, are all current reads. Yes, I know the last one isn’t laced with Bible verses and “four principles for becoming a better disciple of Jesus.” But it does give me some insight into the world of a famous artist that shaped my generation, who lived for sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Since this wasn’t my world, I never fully understood it, and consequently was ineffective in reaching these people for Christ.
So, what or who are you reading and why? If the Bible isn’t part of your reading plan, why not start by reading the Gospels, with a special focus on the red words? Those are the words of Jesus, and they’re words of life, which will give you good vibrations.