Are You on a ‘Junk Food’ Diet?: On Developing Your Mental Muscles9 Sep 2017
By Joel Mason
For us as Christians spending time in the word of God is essential, it’s the most important spiritual discipline that we can cultivate. The word of God is the primary way in which we hear God speaking to us. Through the power of the Holy Spirit the word comes alive to us, it shapes us, it transforms us. The Apostle Paul asserts that all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).
If we are in agreement with Paul, that all of scripture is the very word of God and all of it is useful, we must agree that it is of great benefit and importance to us. Sadly, Unesco estimates that there are still over 750 million adults who are illiterate. When we think about this it means that there are 750 million people who cannot approach the word of God for themselves.
If you are reading this right now you are one of the privileged in the world. However, often we don’t view reading as the immense privilege it really is. In our modern world we have in large part abandoned the discipline of sustained, critical reading and instead settled for a ‘junk food’ type diet of easily digestible and readily available content, more often than not found on social media.
Without realising it we are lowering our capacity for the thoughtful, sustained and intellectual analysis that much Biblical text requires of us. Consider the book of Romans for example, a cursory reading of this text will not help us to mine the depths of its riches in a significant way.
What I am suggesting is this; we as Christians who value the word of God and value spiritual growth must cultivate the ability to study the word of God in a manner worthy of it. This is also true for other excellent Christian writings. We must realise that this ability does not come easily and it takes some work and some time. However, purposefully cultivating the habit of reading well can have great benefit in our spiritual lives. So my challenge is this; log out of Facebook, come out of Buzzfeed, read the suggestions below and begin spending time in some good books.
Start reading. It sounds very obvious, but in reality you just need to begin somewhere. Ask for some recommendations on good books and begin reading.
Consider the source. Who is the author? What is their reputation? What do they believe? One of the issues with the internet and social media is the huge pick n mix variety of content that we can consume without ever considering the reliability or integrity of the source.
Plan your reading. Why not plan a reading list for the year? Which books would you like to finish in the next 12 months? Having a plan like this can help to keep you on course, as well as giving you a real sense of achievement at the end.
Set realistic goals. If you are not a big reader don’t start off with an intimidating 600 page volume. Six months down the line you will end up feeling discouraged. Instead begin with some manageable reads and develop the discipline slowly.
Having said that, do try to challenge yourself. Try to finish a book within a month, if you take too long to complete a book you can begin to forget what the start of it was all about and its impact on us is lessened.
Read critically. Only the word of God is infallible and we need to remember that even the best human authors get things wrong. Line everything up to the word of God. If it doesn’t sound right it probably isn’t.
Engage with the text. Take a pen (unless you have borrowed the book!) and underline the things that stand out to you. Put a question mark next to things you are unsure about. Look up words that you don’t understand. Re-read what doesn’t immediately sink in. The aim is not to read a book in the shortest time possible, it’s to come away with a good understanding of what the author is trying to communicate.
Read diversely. We all have our favourite subject areas, and so challenging yourself to read books on different subjects is important if you want to be stretched. Don’t just stick to what you know or subjects you feel comfortable with.
Set aside time to read. If you don’t, a week will typically go by without you even taking a book from the shelf and dusting it off. Find the time of day that works for you. For me it’s early in the morning, that is when my mind is sharpest and the house is quietest. If I leave it to the evening I can read a page five times over and not take in a word. Everyone is different however, so experiment until you figure it out.
Enjoy it, there is great pleasure to be found in reading and great satisfaction in learning.