The earliest memories I have of my parents involve my mum reading over me through illness or my dad making up hilarious stories on the fly, filled with so many memorable characters that even as teenagers, my friends begged him for a retelling. Either way, since the very beginning I was given a love for reading and a love for stories that has only grown over the years.
It was late this year when I read a paragraph that explained the exact reason why my love for reading has flourished as much as it has. This is an excerpt from William D. Mounce’s essay on ‘The Pastor and his Study:’
At the 1998 national meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in Orlando, Florida, John Piper was invited to speak on the topic “Preparing the Next Generation of Preachers and Missionaries’. At that point in time, many in the audience – about fourteen hundred college and seminary professors, graduate school students, and some pastors – did not know who John was.
John’s opening message was this: ‘The greatest need of every pastor and every missionary is to know God better than they know anything and to enjoy God more than they enjoy anything.
This is the fuel behind a love for reading: that my greatest need and your greatest need is to know God more than we know anything and to enjoy God more than we enjoy anything. More than intellectual curiosity or a drive for self-improvement, the impetus behind reading deeply and widely is to harvest insights from men and women far wiser and experienced than I may ever be in order that I may know God more than I know anything and to enjoy God more than I enjoy anything.
The list below of assorted advice and titles have been important lessons that have both aided my reading and stirred my affections for God. I hope that the lessons learnt and re-learnt are helpful tools in driving you to know and enjoy God more and more, to His glory.
Avail Yourself of History
One of the greatest gifts I was ever given is the challenge to read outside my own time period. It is absurd how often the struggles we most readily identify are experiences our friends from centuries earlier not only knew extensively about but wrote from deep wells of experience and wisdom on.
From the Catholic G. K. Chesterton (Orthodoxy, 1908), Puritans John Owen (Mortification of Sin, 1656), Richard Sibbes (The Bruised Reed, 1630), John Bunyan (The Pilgrims Progress, 1678) and Jonathan Edwards (Religious Affections) to the founder of the China Inland Mission Society, Hudson Taylor (The Spiritual Secrets of Hudson Taylor, 1937), 2017 has been about being filled up with the spiritual insights of those who have gone before me.
Learn the lessons from those who have taken the same journey as ourselves and gleaned insights from their experiences, even when it is difficult and uncomfortable to be diagnosed from someone outside your own century. Don’t fall into the trap that we know more than those who went before us – it’s nothing more than chronological snobbery.
Read What You Enjoy – But Finish What You Don’t
In the month of August, the only thing I read was Matt Reilly or Jeffrey Archer – action adventure and political drama – neither of which are particularly heavy or difficult reads. They aren’t intellectual juggernauts, they’re just fun to read.
There’s an unwritten mental rule for many of us that the only kinds of books we can read are heavy theological tomes or literary classics that other people determine worth reading. Find what you enjoy reading and enjoy it more and more to the glory of God.
But let me add one caveat. If you begin a book that you do not enjoy, please try to finish it.
That is not to defend every book – some are not very good – or to encourage you to read something obscene. But, if you give up on a book the moment you don’t like a plot development, the unpacking of an idea or the path where the story is headed, you are simply going to miss out. The highest calibre of writing is an immersive experience, demanding of time and patience. Let us respect those who write well by finishing bad books in the hope that we discover they are goods books with bad beginnings.
Read Widely and Outside Your Comfort Zone
The list below is littered with theological titles (37 of them, to be exact) but a focus this year has been not only to read those whose work I have already come to appreciate but those who fall outside my own tribe. From the works of Orthodox Rabbi Jonathan Sacks on confronting religious violence, Attractional Church experts in Bobby Harington and Jim Putman to Mark Greenwood and his advancement of Wesleyan Perfectionism theology, 2017 has been a journey in reading books outside what I would consider my own tribe.
Read books that fall outside your favourite theological and cultural palate even if only to be challenged in blind spots you never knew you had. The only thing to be feared from a good thought is the loss of our own bad thoughts.
Read, Re-Read, Repeat
The essence of quality writing is that the words have not only been written from a place of deep thought but experienced to an extent worth writing on the page. There is simply not enough time in one reading to absorb everything a writer pours out onto the canvas and therefore it is important to re-read and deep dive into quality books.
A well-written book will age with us as we learn more and more about the world and bounce new ideas off old thoughts until the create something far greater than the sum of their individual line of thinking. From re-reading Desiring God (John Piper) to the Weight of Glory (C.S. Lewis), Radical (David Platt) to Orthodoxy (G.K. Chesterton) there is great worth in re-reading the fondest of books.
Make Reading an Enjoyable Habit
Reading has been a favourite habit of mine from the time I was young and I’ve been lucky enough to have that passed one by my parents. I can’t remember a time in my life where I didn’t have a book in my hand – from Harry Potter to J.R. Tolkien to John Piper – they have all been faithful companions. That’s part of what makes reading so enjoyable though, it has been not a task from the beginning but a sort of lived history, in which the writers have become a part of what makes me, me.
It was never a dreary task or book report that led me to read widely but for the love of reading. That’s what I wish I could pass on to people – that the secret to reading more and more is simply to enjoy reading more and more. Don’t chase novels because you want to keep up with the latest intellectual fad but to enjoy them and in turn, enjoy the God who made them. Find whatever helps you most enjoy reading and dive in.
Top Five Reads of 2017
Hudson Taylors Spiritual Secrets – Frederick Taylor (1937)
“His love is unfailing, His Word unchangeable, His power ever the same; therefore the heart that trusts Him is kept in “perfect peace.” … I know He tries me only to increase my faith, and that it is all in love. Well, if He is glorified, I am content.”
“It doesn’t matter, really, how great the pressure is,” he used to say; “it only matters where the pressure lies. See that it never comes between you and the Lord—then, the greater the pressure, the more it presses you to His breast.”
Old Paths, New Powers: Awakening Your Church through Prayer and the Ministry of the Word – Daniel Henderson (2016)
“He is worthy. I am needy.” I have concluded that the more we seek the Lord, with a passion for His worthiness, the more we are gripped with our neediness. Adoration cultivates desperation.”
“In an awakening, the Spirit of God does not typically do a ‘new’ thing: he simply pours greater power upon the ‘normal’ things faithful Christians are already doing. Prayers become more intense; worship becomes more joyous; repentence becoems more sorrowful; and the preached word yields greater effect. The Spirit of God multiplies the effectiveness of our ‘normal work’ of seed-planting, bringing a bountiful harvest. And he does more in a moment then we can in a lifetime.
You Are What You Love – James K. Smith (2016)
“Thus Scripture counsels, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Prov. 4:23). Discipleship, we might say, is a way to curate your heart, to be attentive to and intentional about what you love. So discipleship is more a matter of hungering and thirsting than of knowing and believing. Jesus’s command to follow him is a command to align our loves and longings with his—to want what God wants, to desire what God desires, to hunger and thirst after God and crave a world where he is all in all—a vision encapsulated by the shorthand “the kingdom of God.”
Mortification of Sin – John Owen (1656)
“The vigour, and power, and comfort of our spiritual life depends on the mortification of the deeds of the flesh.”
“Try yourself by this also: when you are by sin driven to make a stand so that you must either serve it and rush at the command of it into folly, like the horse into battle, or make head against it to suppress it, what do you say to your soul? Is this all – “Hell will be the end of this course; vengeance will meet with me and find me out”? It is time for you to look about you; evil lies at the door (Genesis 4:7).
Paul’s main argument to convince that sin shall not have dominion over believers is that they are ‘not under the law, but under grace’ (Romans 6:14). If your contendings against sin are all on legal accounts from legal principles and motives, what assurance can you attain to that sin shall not have dominion over you, which will be your ruin.
Yea, know that this reserve will not hold long. If your lust has driven you from gospel forts, it will speedily prevail against this also. Do not suppose that such considerations will deliver you when you have voluntarily given up to your enemy those means of preservation which have a thousand times their strength. Rest assuredly in this, that unless you recover yourself with speed from this condition, the thing that you fear most will come upon you. What gospel principles do not, legal motives cannot do!”
The Rider – Tim Krabbe (1978)
“In interviews with riders that I’ve read and in conversations that I’ve had with them, the same thing always comes up: the best part was the suffering. In Amsterdam, I once trained with a Canadian rider who was living in Holland. A notorious creampuff: in the sterile art of track racing he was Canadian champion in at least six disciplines, but when it came to toughing it out on the road he didn’t have the character.
The sky turned black, the water in the ditch rippled, a heavy storm broke loose. The Canadian sat up straight, raised his arms to heaven and shouted: ‘Rain! Soak me! Ooh, rain, soak me, make me wet!’
How can that be: suffering is suffering, isn’t it?
In 1910, Milan—San Remo was won by a rider who spent half an hour in a mountain hut, hiding from a snowstorm. Man, did he suffer!
In 1919, Brussels—Amiens was won by a rider who rode the last forty kilometres with a flat front tire. Talk about suffering! He arrived at 11.30 at night, with a ninety-minute lead on the only other two riders who finished the race. The day had been like night, trees had whipped back and forth, farmers were blown back into their barns, there were hailstones, bomb craters from the war, crossroads where the gendarmes had run away, and riders had to climb onto one another’s shoulders to wipe clean the muddied road signs.
Oh, to have been a rider then. Because after the finish all the suffering turns into memories of pleasure, and the greater the suffering, the greater the pleasure. That is Nature’s payback to riders for the homage they pay her by suffering. Velvet pillows, safari parks, sunglasses: people have become woolly mice. They still have bodies that can walk for five days and four nights through a desert of snow, without food, but they accept praise for having taken a one-hour bicycle ride. ‘Good for you.’ Instead of expressing their gratitude for the rain by getting wet, people walk around with umbrellas. Nature is an old lay with few suitors these days and those who wish to make use of her charms she rewards passionately.
That’s why there are riders.
Suffering you need; literature is baloney.”
The List of 2017
- Erasing Hell (Francis Chan, 2011)
- Honour Amongst Thieves (Jeffrey Archer, 1993)
- The Weight of Glory (C.S Lewis, 1943)
- Brothers, We Are Not Professionals (John Piper, 2002)
- Orthodoxy (G. K Chesterton, 1908)
- 7 Ancient Wonders (Matt Reilly, 2005)
- People To Be Loved: Why Homosexuality Is Not Just an Issue (Preston Sprinkle, 2015)
- Hudson Taylors Spiritual Secret (Frederick Howard Taylor, 1937)
- Discipleshift: Five Steps to Help Your Church Make Disciples (Bobby Harrington, Jim Putman, 2013)
- Reformation Thought: An Introduction (Alastair McGrath, 1988)
- Letters to a Young Calvinist: An Invitation to the Reformed Tradition (James K. Smith, 2010)
- Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book about a (Really) Big Problem (Kevin DeYoung, 2013)
- Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves (Matthew Reilly, 2011)
- Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream (David Platt, 2010)
- Life on Life: 15 Principles To Get Started as a Disciplemaker (Harold Harper, Luke Harper, 2014)
- The Book of Basketball: The NBA According to The Sports Guy (Bill Simmons, 2010)
- Old Paths, New Power: Awakening Your Church through Prayer and the Ministry of the Word (Daniel Henderson, 2016)
- Humilitas: A Lost Key to Life, Love, and Leadership (John Dickson, 2011)
- The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters (Sinclair Ferguson, 2016)
- Is God Anti‑Gay? And Other Questions about Homosexuality and the Bible (Sam Alberry, 2013)
- The Plausibility Problem: The Church and Same-Sex Attraction (Ed Shaw, 2015)
- The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey into Christian Faith (Rosario Butterfield, 2012)
- A Lamp Unto My Feet (Elisabeth Elliot, 2004)
- You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit (James K. Smith, 2016)
- Signs of the Spirit: An Interpretation of Jonathan Edwards’ Religious Affections (Sam Storms, 2013)
- Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die (Chip Heath, Dan Heath, 2006)
- Scarecrow (Matthew Reilly, 2003)
- A Prisoner of Birth (Jeffrey Archer, 2008)
- Prayers for the Assassin (Robert Ferrigno, 2006)
- The Four Legendary Kingdoms (Matthew Reilly, 2016)
- Ice Station (Matthew Reilly, 1998)
- Mindhunter: Inside the FBI Elite Serial Crime Unit (John E. Douglas, 1995)
- Ask a Pro: Deep Thoughts and Unreliable Advice from America’s Foremost Cycling Sage (Phil Gaimon, 2017)
- The Rap Year Book (Shea Serrano, 2015)
- Pro Cycling on $10 a Day: From Fat Kid to Euro Pro (Phil Gaimon, 2014)
- The Rider (Tim Krabbe, 1978)
- Humpty Dumpty: The Fate of Regime Change (William R. Polk, 2013)
- The Pilgrims Progress (John Bunyan, 1678)
- When I Don’t Desire God: How To Fight For Joy (John Piper, 2004)
- The Mortification of Sin (John Owen, 1656)
- In the Heart of the Sea (Nathaniel Philbrick, 2000)
- When Santa Learned the Gospel (Simon Camalieri, 2017)
- Not In God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence (Jonathan Sacks, 2015)
- The Bruised Reed (Richard Sibbes, 1630)
- Gospel Fluency: Speaking the Truths of Jesus Into the Everyday Stuff of Life (Jeff Vandersteldt, 2017)
- Contest (Matthew Reilly, 1996)
- None Like Him: 10 Ways God Is Different from Us and Why That’s a Good Thing (Jen Wilkin, 2016)
- Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry (Paul Tripp, 2012)
- For the Fame of God’s Name: Essays in Honor of John Piper (Sam Storms and Justin Taylor, 2010)
- Calvin on the Christian Life: Glorifying and Enjoying God Forever (Michael Horton, 2014)
- Awe: Why It Matters for Everything We Think, Say, and Do (Paul Tripp, 2015)
- Perfect Sinners (Matt Fuller, 2017)
- Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (Carol Dweck, 2006)
- The European Reformations (Carter Lindberg, 1996)
- Extreme You: Step Up. Stand Out. Kick Ass. Repeat (Sarah Robb O’Haggen, 2017)
- The Glue: Relationship As The Connection For Effective Youth Ministry (Mike Stevens, 2017)
- Martyn Lloyd-Jones: His Life and Relevance for the 21st Century (Christopher Cartwood, 2015)
- Loving Jesus More (Phillip Ryken, 2015)
- A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War: How J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-1918
- Awake to Righteousness (Mark Greenwood, 2017)
- Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist (John Piper, 1986)
- Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus Through the Spiritual Disciplines (David Mathis, 2016)