What – Me Read?

I just received this e-mail from Jon, a twenty five year old worship leader who will soon be taking on a new position at another church.

One facet of your site that is always of interest is your list of books you are currently reading. In addition to your devotional Scripture reading, how much time in a week do you set aside for reading? Do you schedule reading time into your day? As I contemplate the different ministry responsibilities that I will have, my concern is that the time to read will be slim. So, any helpful suggestions from your own experience are greatly appreciated.

A while back I posted on the topic of musicians and reading books. Jon’s questions give me an opportunity to fill out what I wrote there.

I have friends who put me to shame by the number of books they read. C.J. Mahaney is one of them. He is constantly reading theology books as well as books on biography, history, business, sports, and more. I think Al Mohler reads between 5-10 books a week. And he seems to remember most of what he reads. Tim Challies is a voracious reader, and provides insightful reviews as well.

But even if I don’t read as many books as others, I read. If I’m not reading, I’m relying on my memory. Which seems to be decreasing daily. So I read. I once heard someone say that books don’t change people – sentences do. If I glean two or three sentences from a book that affect the way I think and the way I live, that’s time well invested. So I read. Books give me the opportunity to learn from and about godly, bright, insightful people I’ll never meet. So I read. What I know will always be dwarfed by what I don’t know. So I read. Books help me become more effective at what I do. So I read.

What I’m saying is that I know I’ll be learning by reading for the rest of my life. That compels me to find time to read. Even if reading seems dry at the moment, I know that at some point I’ll find something insightful, engaging, or potentially life-changing. Without the inner drive and conviction that there is always more to learn, I stop reading. And when I stop reading I usually find that I drift and/or become complacent.

Julie and I almost always read for 15-30 minutes at night before we go to bed, no matter how late it is. Those books can be any topic. I just finished The History of Jazz by Ted Gioia and started one last night called Where are They Buried? How Did They Die? by Tod Benoit. It’s a book I picked up years ago on a bargain rack. It’s a sobering reminder of the brevity of life and in many instances, the consequences of sin.

I read on vacation, sometimes during my devotions (if it’s a book that directs my heart to God’s Word), and sometimes during the day, if the topic of the book relates to theology. I don’t have a set amount of time I read each week. I just make sure I’m always reading something. I try to set a goal each time I read whether it’s a chapter, a certain number of pages, or until I can’t keep my eyelids open. I read to learn, to laugh, to understand, to appreciate, to grow, and to remind myself that God’s world is much bigger than I’m aware.

I underline everything that impacts me, and have started to dog-ear pages with quotes I want to remember. When I review the book, I’ll turn to those pages. That way I have a better chance of benefiting from what I’m reading. I probably forget 99% of what I read. But if I didn’t read books, I wouldn’t get the 1%. I don’t always agree with everything I read in a book. But I almost always find sentences that are helpful.

Here are a few of the sentences that have impacted me recently.

One striking find is that in every society of which we’re aware, music and dance are inseparable…It is only in the last five hundred years that music has become a spectator activity – the thought of a musical concert in which a class of “experts” performed for an appreciative audience was virtually unknown throughout our history as a species. And it has only been in the last hundred years or so that the ties between musical sound and human movement have been minimized. (This is Your Brain on Music, 251. Written by a non-Christian, this is a fascinating look at how music affects us.)

The multiple reinforcing cues of a good song – rhythm, melody, contour – cause music to stick in our heads. That is the reason that many ancient myths, epics, and even the Old Testament were set to music in preparation for being passed down by oral tradition across the generations. (ibid., 261)

God isn’t nice. God isn’t safe. God is a consuming fire. Though He cares about the sparrow, the embodiment of His care if rarely doting or pampering. God’s main business is not ensuring that you and I get parking spaces close to the mall entrance or that the bed sheets in the color we want are – miracle! – on sale this week. His main business is making you and me holy. (Your God is Too Safe, 33. While I don’t recommend this book wholeheartedly, Buchanan’s writing style is creative and often insightful.)

From the side of God, the worship of the church is the communion of the Holy Trinity with us his people. We are inclined to view worship as what we do, but if we follow our argument, it is first and foremost something the triune God does, our actions initiated and encompassed by his. (The Holy Trinity, 416. A comprehensive survey of biblical foundations and historical development of the doctrine of the Trinity.)

The Psalms do not explicitly reflect the full range of Trinitarian revelation, and so cannot be the sole diet of the church without truncating its worship. (ibid., 422).

Please feel free to leave thoughts on how you motivate yourself to read and anything you’ve found helpful in terms of scheduling time to read.

Update #1: Chris Watson Lee over in the UK did a fine series on reading, including a post with many recommended reading lists.

Update #2: Al Mohler posts helpful thoughts on reading .


8 Responses to What – Me Read?

  1. matt blick August 21, 2007 at 7:49 PM #

    It ‘s not a motivation to read as such but I underline every book I read & then write an index of my own of key quotes and insights in the back. If I go back to a book I haven’t marked it feels wasted, like I never read it in the first place.
    Also about every 4 or 5 books I try to re-read or at least skim a great book i’ve read before.

    I’m looking forward to ‘colouring in’ your book when it comes out Bob!

    ps the ‘someone’ in your post was John Piper:

    “Books don’t change people; paragraphs do. Sometimes even sentences”

    It’s on p.13 of “A Godward life book 1″ – I was able to find it because I underlined it!”

  2. Brian Megilligan August 21, 2007 at 9:52 PM #

    “It is only in the last five hundred years that music has become a spectator activity – the thought of a musical concert in which a class of “experts” performed for an appreciative audience was virtually unknown throughout our history as a species.”

    That statement caught my attention. I don’t believe it is historically accurate–or at least I don’t think it is biblically accurate. I Chron. 25 talks about a skilled set of musicians set aside for specific musical purposes. I would imagine it was for as much a spectator event as anything, though I could be wrong.

    Anyway, as far as reading goes, I am such a grazer. I have several books I am trying to read at one time and rarely get into the flow of a book. I have many interests too so it’s hard to avoid starting new books! I, like you, have decided that pre-bed time is the best time to settle in and read at least a chapter or two of what I’m working through. At least I know I am going to sleep every night, so scheduling reading is a little like brushing my teeth before bed time!

  3. Natsai Maveneka August 22, 2007 at 2:08 AM #

    Well the reason why I read is because i believe that God is always speaking…he speaks through the books i read (he speaks in everything actually)… so i love reading!! Books open up your mind to the greatness and vastness of God as well.
    *whats not to love about that*

    I read in the Bus on the way to work and sometimes at home if the book is AMAZING. Books help me get up in the morning!

  4. Lisa August 22, 2007 at 9:50 AM #

    Like Brian, I tend to be a “grazer.” There is a long, depressing list of books that I’ve started, gotten bored with (a weakness in me — I allow myself to get bored too easily), and haven’t finished. What has really helped me is a little accountability (telling my husband and a few other folks that I wanted to work on this area), and a simple table I printed where I can list each book I’ve read all the way through and the date I completed it. It’s a great motivator and a great running record of what books I’ve actually read, not to be confused with the books I want to read.
    (I’m not meaning to imply that grazing is necessarily bad, but for me, it indicated a lack of discipline. It was awful for someone to ask me, “Have you read such-and-such book?” and only be able to say, “Well, sort of…” or “I started it…”)
    Thanks for another great post, Bob! 8^)

  5. Craig Johnson August 22, 2007 at 11:30 AM #


    This is Craig Johnson from Southern Seminary. I am now in Independence, MO at Sycamore Hills Baptist Church. In the book, “Brothers, We Are Not Professional”, John Piper wrote to attempt to read in 20 minute segments -morning, afternoon, and night. If you do this, you should read at least a book a month at a normal pace.

  6. Eve August 22, 2007 at 1:08 PM #

    Great suggestions and inspirations, Bob and bloggers.
    I keep a book I’m working on by the door and even in the car (some spiritual, some not — some just to laugh and keep a merry heart.) When I find I have to go for medical visits, it’s my waiting room reading material, or waiting for a child to finish with a sport practice, music rehearsal, etc…
    Embarassing but true, I keep a basket in the bathroom…I have some wooden crates in by MBR as a bookcase and keep good reads there. Truth be told, I hated reading as a child…mind wandered, text books were so dry, reading assignment homework seemed an insurmountable chore…I was always behind. Then one day I got married…and I NEEDED answers, I needed to learn how to love unselfishly; and I became a parent, and I NEEDED answers, and read about how to love unselfishly, how to train up a child with grace, so I read, and still read to keep learning these smae things! And as it says in Shadowlands — the film about C.S. Lewis — “we read to learn we are not alone;” and “pain is God’s megaphone…” He has certainly gotten my attention, and now I can READ! (I also stuff inspirational mailings, or lengthy web articles that I print, into my bag – good for a workday lunch break, or on the run, or while in line at the store. Blessings!

  7. Dave August 22, 2007 at 2:25 PM #

    What are your thoughts on paper format versus audio format? (whether audio means an audiobook, or a recording of some event or lecture).

    As far as reading goes, I’m big into using post-it notes (the smaller version of their page markers). It provides a convenient index to books that highlighting or underlining (by itself) doesn’t while preventing damage to the book from dog-earing pages. It also allows you to gradually unmark “sufficiently digested” material, leaving only the most important stuff.

  8. Sam VanBuskirk May 6, 2008 at 1:00 AM #

    The older I get the more I realize how important and crucial reading is. When I was in high school I hated reading. But since I have been in college I have realized the joy and fulfillment in reading. I now realize that I really enjoy reading and find it relaxing and inspiring. One of the things that is really good about reading, I believe, is that, depending on what you are reading, it can break the egocentric thought patterns that so easily arise within us. Reading allows us to enter into a realm that is beyond ourselves and as a result of entering into that realm we discover more about life, God, others, and eventually ourselves. Books allow us to expand our view of God as well. And to have a correct perspective on God is absolutely crucial to worship; I agree with A.W. Tozer when he talks about this in his book “Knowledge of the Holy”, we must have a correct or at least progressive perspective on God, for if our perspective of God is too limited and finite we wont be worshiping God at all, but a god that we have made up. Reading helps broaden even our perspectives on God.

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