Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Role of Reading in the Life of the Busy Believer

After the recent post on my visit to the majestic Mohler museum and library, a friend emailed me the following question:

I have many friends who are passionate followers of Jesus, who do and have worked in the market place for years, and who feel tremendous guilt when they read about Mohler's reading habits.  Personally, I believe that there are people who waste five or six hours a day doing other things and that this can be redeemed by reading.  However, I would postulate that reading in and of itself has become in scholarly circles and many Christian circles a type of idol that people devote inordinate amounts of time to when they could be actively involved in people's lives.  I fully embrace a view of reading that Paul had (Ephesians 3:4-5) and one that can be extrapolated from the wisdom literature concerning walking with the wise.  I also realize that immersing oneself in various literature can inspire and prepare you for untold opportunities to speak into other people's lives. That being said what place in the average believer's life do you think reading should have?
Great question, and one that deserves an answer. The following is my response (with some minor additions and/or clarifications to our original interaction):
Short Answer
For the average believer, whether one reads or does not read is not the issue as much as the importance of developing a lifestyle of learning and growing and pursuing Christ in all areas of life, instead of passively wandering through the motions of the Christian life.  With great audio books, sermons, and interviews, reading as a means of Christian growth is not as critical as it once was.  The question becomes, are people passionately pursuing Christ and taking advantage of the available resources for growth?  Long commutes or time on the treadmill can easily be turned into 30 minutes a day of rich mentoring and resourcing through audio content and books that are so readily available.  Reading should serve and help, and balance must be sought in this pursuit (I Cor. 6:12).  For instance, a man in his 30's with a job, wife and kids should use whatever free time he has to grow in his Biblical leadership in those areas, making sure to prioritize them along with his own growth as a follower of Christ. The temptation for many men in this stage of life is to become overly focused on the 'job' part - taking time from the other areas and attempting to justify their neglect of their family. I would encourage any man to take a good hard look at their calendar and see if they are truly carving out the time they need to really learn and grow and lead their family well, whether that means reading or not.
Other Thoughts
When reading about Mohler's habits, the temptation for some is to feel guilty about their own habit. However, some have the opposite response to Mohler of being inspired by his example. I find myself being inspired, rather than laden with guilt, because I realize I could be much more productive with my time.  I also remind myself that Mohler certainly has a gift for reading and consuming information.  I cannot read 3 books a night like Mohler, but neither can I dunk a ball like Lebron (or anybody for that matter).  That does not mean I shouldn't lace up the sneaks and try to improve my jump shot occasionally and likewise try to improve my reading skills.
It is also important to note that for Mohler and other teachers, reading is more than just a sharpening tool, it is almost a requirement of their work.  It is really at the core of his job.  He turns around and spits back out everything he reads on his blog, on the radio, in the pulpit, in book reviews, in articles, in books he writes, and to faculty and staff at the seminary all day long.  He is essentially paid to read.  That should remove some of the guilt for some.  Though I would say that those in the market place could likely do more reading in their field (and I'm sure they would agree).
There is a difference between guilt and healthy pressure.  It's ok to feel pressure to do something if one should be doing more of it.  It is not ok to feel guilty for doing something that we should not be doing (or an activity that should be considered optional).  The issue that all believers should feel a healthy pressure about is growth in the area of expertise that the Lord has given to us.
Of course anything can become an idol.  Reading can become an idol for sure, as can the act of avoiding reading.  But I believe that many people, especially men, have not really tried to learn to really love reading. But this can change.  Just last year I watched a man go from abhorring reading (A college jock type - awesome basketball player) to a place where he recognizes how important it is and cannot stop reading now.
On a personal level, reading has always been my favorite hobby.  Nothing calms me as much (maybe lifting weights is a close second).  So anytime I have free time, I'm reading.  TV stresses me out, so we don't have one.  Reading calms me.  However everyone is wired differently.

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