Letting God Lead, Reading Thematically and Being Brave (Reading Well – pt. 2)

Reading for me is a deeply spiritual thing. How could it not be? The ideas and topics I choose to allow into my heart and brain stay with and shape me long after I put the book down. So, as a follower of Jesus, I sometimes pray about what I should read. Not all the time. I sometimes read things for no other reason than I am interested in a topic -and I often read just for pleasure. (Rachel Ray’s magazine is my guilty pleasure)

But I have also learned to listen for a bump in my heart when I come across certain titles and topics. I recognize that during different seasons of life, I am more tender and open towards certain topics. Therefore, I let Jesus have some say in what I choose to read, as it becomes a very important place of spiritual interaction for me. As I interact with powerful ideas and new vocabulary, of course they work their way into my prayer life. I don’t want to be the person who goes to the nutritionist for help and then tells them what I am going to eat, regardless of their advice. I want Jesus to have a place to speak into those things that speak into my life. How could the books I read not be included in this?

In light of this,

4. I tend to read thematically. I get interested in a topic that captures my imagination and will often read several related books in a row. In fact, my bookshelves are arranged thematically, because that is how I tend to read.  Sometimes the author is the theme and I’ll read several by a particular writer. When this happens, I am learning to recognize it as God’s way of getting my attention and asking me to focus for a while. Maybe the topic is prayer, or a biography, or missions, or marriage or a particular spiritual theme related to something in my life. Maybe it is a topic way way outside of my comfort zone or knowledge base – and I need to be aware of it. Either way, sometimes, though not all the time, I will spend a few months (or longer) exploring a particular topic. It is like my intellect itches – and I read till the itch is scratched.

This does a few things for me. One, it allows me to interact with a topic for a while, and some topics need time to be properly absorbed. Second, I don’t read books that just say the same thing. I read different authors on a topic, different sides of a discussion, different views and perspectives. This means that…

5. I am willing to read authors I don’t completely agree with. A while back, I hosted a party where a guy I didn’t know (he came with a friend) walked over to my (beloved) bookshelves and said, and I quote, “I wonder what sort of heresy you have over here.” I sort of hope he got his undies all in a bundle over some of the titles I own because he was a jerk. How is one expected to have any intellectual heft if one only reads one side of an argument? How can one come to their own deep-set theological convictions if they never have to defend them or think deeply about them? Just because one reads authors from the metaphorical other side of the fence doesn’t mean I agree with them. It just means I want to know what they know, to be open to discussion, because it helps me figure out truth in a deeper way, owning it in my heart in a deeper place. And who knows – I am open to the fact that I may be wrong. One thing I know is that I don’t know everything. Heck, I am willing to admit that I don’t know much. So while I definitely weight my reading within the stream of Christianity in which I comfortably swim, I don’t live in an intellectual ghetto because I am afraid of what others may think of me . Or alter my reading because I am afraid I am not smart enough to recognize truth when I read it. Or live in fear that God won’t speak to me about the truth of a topic if I explore alternate explanations. If iron sharpens iron, I think reading across the spectrum, carefully and with wisdom, can do the same thing. But it requires a willingness to be brave. As I discuss books with others, unfortunately, I often find folks who read from fear rather than courage.

Talking and Planning (Reading Well – pt. 1)

If you’ve read Intersections previously or know me personally, it should come as no surprise that I am a reader. An avid reader. I love books and am constantly reading something. I have for as long as I can remember. On the blog, I write reviews every summer to highlight some of the most impactful books I’ve read over the course of the year. I quote them often. And I am periodically asked about the books I read and which I would recommend. I believe it was Howard Hendricks who said that one of the greatest things that can shape who you are is the books you choose to read. I am living proof of the veracity of this statement.

In light of how I love books, I wanted to spend a few posts and discuss how I choose the books I do, how I interact with them and their content and offer some suggestions on how to get the most from them. Full disclosure – I am a devoted follower of Jesus and primarily a non-fiction, spiritual topics reader. While I do read across the spectrum of topics, genres and themes – and believe that good reading habits apply to all sorts of books – the majority of the reading I will be talking about in the next few posts will center around books of the faith – those written by fellow followers of Jesus describing some aspect of how to know and love Him more. Of course I read the Bible regularly, but it is in a category all by itself. How to read It is a topic for its own blog series at a later time.

1. I talk with people about books. A common question discussion starter for me is to ask people what they are or have recently read that they found particularly interesting or helpful.Especially those whom I respect and look up to. (It doesn’t always have to be a book either. In today’s world, what we read online can be just as impactful.) When I go into people’s houses or offices and there are bookshelves, I inevitably find myself walking over to have a look. The books I am reading percolate in my head and heart for a while. They change my vocabulary for a season as I absorb and interact with their content. So it is only natural that the books I am reading enter my conversations. It is a great way to move from talking about nothing to talking about something, revealing something of who I am and what moves my heart, while sometimes opening a beautiful window into who someone else is and what moves their heart.

2. I keep an active “To-read” list on Amazon. As different books come across my radar through my conversations and interactions with other readers, I make a note of them. Then I research the book on Amazon, read reviews for it or peruse it at Barnes and Noble. If I want to stay aware of it, I put it in my queue on Amazon. It allows me to remember those books I want to read later, when it is time, when my heart is receptive to its content (more on this later), when I have the intellectual space to spend with its content. The recommendations I receive from others about the books they’ve read are too important to me to lose track of on the back of an envelope or receipt. (Often, my normal note-taking material.) And there are many wonderful books out there that will never appear on best seller lists or get highlighted at a store. The only way I will find them is through the recommendations of others (including Amazon’s recommendations) – and the only way I will remember them is by listing them somewhere. Amazon is my tool to do so.

3. I often map out my reading months in advance. This practice came from my time in Europe, where my access to English books was limited. I visited America once a year, so my trips to the bookstore while stateside needed to be well planned out. I would spend months sometimes researching what books I thought would be most beneficial, which authors I needed to read to be current, what topics I would enjoy or find useful. Evenings on Amazon, doing research, is sort of fun for me. (nerd alert) As such, I spent time thinking about my reading months ahead of time. While I have relaxed this a bit now that I live back in the states, I still think through my reading ahead of time. I typically buy my books 3-5 at a time and spend a few months working my way through them. Towards the end of that time, I begin researching what direction to take my reading next.

Life is too short to read bad books. And there are so many of those out there. I don’t leave what I will read to chance, so I am intentional – inviting others into the process of helping me choose which direction to take my reading time.