Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life: Reading
Reformed Free Publishing Association
Some two thousand years ago, the imprisoned apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, “The cloke that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments” (II Tim. 4:13). John Calvin’s comments on this passage are instructive: “It is obvious from this that although the apostle was already preparing for death, he had not given up reading…But we should note that this passage commends continual reading to all godly men as a thing from which they can profit.”
The Bible commends reading. Reading is a discipline of the Christian life.
Reading as a spiritual discipline is not the same as reading in general. Certainly, reading books on history, science, wars, animals, and economics (the list goes on) is to be recommended, providing they are wholesome. But reading as a spiritual discipline is more focused on explicitly Christian literature, Reformed literature—in short, biblical literature: the Standard Bearer, Beacon Lights, Reformed Free Publishing Association (RFPA) publications, and so many other books and periodicals that promote our growth in godliness. Of course, we read the Bible, too, and that ought to be our main book—but the reading of scripture has been treated in past articles on devotions.
It is no secret that our technology-crazed world makes reading difficult. Technology, not wrong of itself, robs us of the time required for reading, and even the ability to read well. The incessant checking of Facebook, the constant updates on Twitter, the endless games, and the most recent alert from Snapchat present a very real danger to many disciplines of the Christian life, but especially to reading. Who has time anymore to read, at least to read more than a sentence here or there on a social media platform, or a quick news story? Soon enough, the reading of a substantive book on church history, or even working through a Standard Bearer article, becomes a daunting task.
Why do we read? Why do we read when Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, podcasts, Snapchat, and games seem so much more exciting, real life, and convenient? I provide three reasons below, readily recognizing that these reasons can be multiplied.
First, we read to sharpen our Reformed, biblical worldview: a worldview that includes doctrine, application of doctrine, and history. Do we not want to learn more about the signs of Christ’s coming, or justification by faith alone (two recent RFPA publications)? Do we not desire to evaluate world events through a Reformed, biblical lens (“All around Us” rubric in the Standard Bearer)? Do we not love our brothers and sisters overseas, longing to become better acquainted with them (recent article on Myanmar in Beacon Lights)? What do we believe? Are we anchored in it? Are we able to teach it to the generation following? Reading is crucial!
Second, and closely related to the first, is that reading is a means God uses for growth in godliness. Whatever we take in shapes our thinking. How blessed is the man, then, who enjoys a steady diet of sound, God-glorifying literature! These books and magazines edify, instruct, warn, comfort, and encourage. Reading holds an integral place in our life of sanctification.
Third, we read to become better readers of the Bible. Reading more makes us better Bible interpreters. This is not to minimize the work of the Holy Spirit, but only to say that reading helps our ability to comprehend words and thoughts, sharpens our grammatical skills, and improves our critical thinking. If only for this reason, reading is important!
A few reminders about reading are in order.
Be persistent. Remember: a discipline is a habit. Reading good books is no exception. Do not give up after two books. Read, and read, and read some more (even if at first it is not the highlight of your day). Soon it will become an activity you enjoy immensely! Make a reading schedule and stick to it. Scribble down notes while reading, to stay engaged. Even reading with others is helpful: moving chapter by chapter through a book with a friend or a group keeps everyone accountable. Good readers are not developed overnight—which is why this is a discipline of the Christian life.
Do not grow discouraged. It does not matter how many books you read in a year. Perhaps you have seen reading programs that call for the reading of x number of books in one year, and, because you do not or cannot read that many in a year, you become discouraged. The number of books is not as important as simply reading books, and understanding what you read. Set your own pace.
Train your children. Parents, we do well to cultivate in our children, starting already with our young children, and continuing with our teenagers, a love for reading good books. If this training is lacking at home, it is far less likely that our children will immerse themselves in Christian literature after they move out. Hand them a Beacon Lights, tell them to read two articles on a Sunday afternoon, and discuss the articles with them. Give your high schooler an RFPA book, and check periodically on his progress. And, parents, let’s have our own book in hand, so that we can be an example before our sons and daughters. As with so many of the other spiritual disciplines, parental involvement is key.
Read, dear reader! Such is a discipline of the Christian life.
 From John Calvin’s commentary on II Timothy.
This post was written by Rev. Ryan Barnhill, pastor of Peace Protestant Reformed Church in Lansing, Illinois. If you have a question or a comment for Rev. Barnhill, please do so in the comment section on the RFPA blog.