For me, reading had become a crucial life discipline that exercises the mind and enriches the soul. Every year I try to choose a selection of fictional and nonfictional works to supplement my reading of the Bible, theology and other devotional literature.
Because we live in the age of information technology, we can easily let ourselves settle into watching some type of audio-visual media, whether big screen or little screen. Merely “watching” doesn’t stretch and challenge that great mental muscle called our mind.
Luke 10:27 challenges us to love God with our minds. To effectively love God with our minds, our minds must be as sharp, alert and active as possible.
During this past year, as the unpredictable nature of my pastoral responsibilities has interrupted my regular reading routine more than usual, I have noticed that my mind has been “hungry” due to being undernourished. When I am deficient in appropriating my study time and my reading time, my mind gets lazy, my memory short-circuits, and my creativity is stifled. When I protect my study time and reading time, I find that my mind is sharp, my memory is remarkable, and I am a better pastor and a better preacher.
I have not always had a faithful discipline of reading. In high school, since I worked an after-school job, I often read summaries of the books on the required reading lists. But about halfway through my university experience, my English instructors inspired me to read. One instructor, in particular, encouraged me to start three or four books, reading alternately from each as though I were engaging three to four partners in a conversation. All of these years later, I find myself starting several books and reading them alternately until I have completed them.
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Now, I am concerned when I see students and adults spending more time watching television, staring at computer screens and preoccupied with iPhones than the time invested in reading. Reading just causes me to think and reflect and imagine on a deeper level than audio-visual observation.
For Christians, I think reading should be listed as one of our spiritual disciplines. Hand in hand with prayer, Bible study, meditation, worship and stewardship, reading enriches my soul. Regular reading from a variety of genres tends to keep me informed and engaged. Novels, biography, history, poetry and documentary all expand my knowledge of God’s world and the interesting inhabitants of it.
There are several things that are important to my physical, spiritual and emotional health: My prayer and devotional time, a balanced diet, my exercise routine and time spent with friends. One of the most crucial is my ongoing discipline of reading.
Barry Howard serves as senior minister at the First Baptist Church in Pensacola, Fla.