Last week we considered Charles “Tremendous” Jones’ statement, “You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.” Last week I reflected on how we are changed by the people we meet; today, I want to consider how we are changed by the books we read. In America, education is easily accessible, but consider the limitations of an illiterate (or pre-literate) community, like some African refugees in my city. How many of us neglect the gift of reading and its transformative power?
Reading nourishes our minds, generates fresh ideas, stimulates creativity, sharpens thinking, expands horizons, challenges assumptions and probes the great complexities of life. Consider how reading can redefine you according to Proverbs 23:7: “For as he thinks within himself, so he is.” Books give us access to the greatest minds and leaders from every culture throughout history. You can explore what motivates business leaders like Peter Drucker, Jack Welch and Steve Jobs, or discover the thoughts of spiritual giants like Jonathan Edwards, C.S. Lewis and Billy Graham. Books are keys that can unlock magnificent doors to knowledge and wisdom.
In Paul’s final days, he wrote a letter to Timothy: “When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments” (2 Timothy 4:13). Certainly, Paul was referring to the Old Testament scrolls, but scholars speculate that he was also including works of Jewish history, interpretations of the law and prophets, and works of the poets he often quoted. Paul was a reader and student to the end of his life—what about you? The opportunity to capitalize on this benefit is more compelling and reliable than an inside stock tip or a confirmation of oil reserves on your property!
Let me briefly address the questions of what to read and how to read. Oswald Sanders wrote: “If a man is known by the company he keeps, so also his character is reflected in the books he reads.” With the proliferation of e-books and electronic newsstands along with traditional book stores, it can be overwhelming to choose from the vast number of available titles. You will not be surprised to know that the most important book I read is the Bible—mainly because it is more than a book–God’s revelation of Himself–authenticated by rigorous historical and literary tests. I approach the Bible with the anticipation of Psalm 119:18, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” I find guidance (Psalm 119:105), counsel (Psalm 32:8), discernment (Hebrews 4:12) and encouragement (Colossians 3:16) as I re-read the ancient text in modern translations. Meditate on the profound statement in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” Doesn’t your mind need to be instructed, adjusted, and refreshed?
Next to the Bible I find that digesting a broad assortment of literature enriches my soul and spirit. Knowing God by J.I. Packer has given me a strong understanding of who God is. Prayer:Finding the Heart’s True Home by Richard Foster has provided a biblical framework and practical guide for conversing with Him. Good to Great by Jim Collins has affirmed my conviction that biblical principles really do apply to business. Just a few of the biographies that have informed the way I live and do business are those of William Wilberforce, Dawson Trotman, Deitrich Bonhoffer, Oswald Chambers, Chick-fil-A’s Truitt Cathey, and Starbucks’ Howard Schultz. Hundreds of books have enhanced my understanding of the Scriptures. A wide array of journals and magazine articles have assisted me in developing strategies for my business and non-profit work. Classic literature and contemporary fiction have deepened my grasp of divine virtue and human nature, or simply help me relax and view life through a humorous lens.
Reading will move you toward the growth and change you desire, but you need to know how to make it a priority and get the most you can from it. These four simple steps may increase the effectiveness and enjoyment of reading more:
1. Plan. Decide exactly what you are going to read over the next year, quarter or month based on your goals for personal and professional growth. Acquire or assemble those books in advance (Now the library has electronic books to check out).
2. Schedule. Include a regular reading time into your day, even 15 to 30 minutes. Don’t worry about how slow or fast you read—maintain the pace at which you can comprehend and retain information.
3. Take Notes. Always have a pen when you read. Highlight. Underline. Circle. Make notes in the margin or a reading journal. Summarize key takeaways in the blank pages in front or back of your books. (Now there are bookmarking and note taking tools in digital formats, too.)
4. Discuss. Talk with others about what you are learning from books. God desires for us to grow and change in community, sharing life’s treasures and spurring each other along.
Exciting knowledge and transformative truth await you!
Serving Him with you in the marketplace,
Lord, You have given me the incredible gift of a mind that can receive and process information and truth; yet, I have often taken this gift for granted and failed to nourish it. I am asking You to feed my hunger for knowledge and wisdom, first from the pages of Your Word, then through the writings of others You’ve inspired. Thank you for preserving all of these things and multiplying their use in this generation more than any other before it.
“My main spiritual sustenance comes by the Holy Spirit from reading. Therefore reading is more important to me than eating. If I went blind, I would pray to have someone read to me. I would try to learn Braille. I would buy books on tape. I would rather go without food than without books.”