Summer reading is important to the book trade because publishers know people like to take a book on holiday. Perhaps the latest thriller or a beginner’s guide to a new hobby will make it into the travel case. Or maybe this will be an opportunity to finally finish the book that has been lying on the bedside table for months.
There is a wealth of good reading material available for Christians and perhaps now is the time to turn the tide on that widely recognised problem amongst today’s believers – that we don’t read enough. Of course, the fact that you are reading this means you are not one of the great unread. Nevertheless, when did you last read a Christian book?
This article is not a list of recommended titles but a gentle reminder that as well as seeking recreation for mind and body, the Lord’s people ought to feed their souls. Of course, preaching and Bible reading are the prime sources of Christian edification, and to that end, while on holiday, we should seek opportunities to meet with believers and encourage them in their worship and witness.
However, books are also a source of spiritual help. Holiday breaks are God’s gift to us and should be used for his glory as much as anything else.
In our increasingly busy lives it is often not possible to find time to reflect, meditate or concentrate on the bigger issues and more important questions of life – questions like the state of our relationship with Christ, or how we spend our time here on earth. Sometimes a week or two’s break is the only opportunity we have to really think.
Can books help? Christian biography is a great way to discover how the Lord has worked in the lives of others. Occasionally we might wish that biographers were less prone to hide their subjects’ warts, for they remind us we are all earthen vessels in need of spiritual filling. God never works identically in any two believers, yet we all experience common trials, hardships and blessings in this life. Seeing his hand in the lives of others both comforts and inspires.
What we see of ourselves in Bible saints such as Joseph, Peter and Martha, we can trace in the lives of God’s people throughout history. Times may change but we have the same need of grace today as our brothers and sisters in Christ who have gone before. And Jesus Christ has not changed either. He is the same, yesterday, today and for ever.
Sometimes we need to settle our minds on a doctrinal issue or problem. A truth we have been taught, accepted and espoused has suddenly been challenged and shaken. We need to sit down with the Word of God and work through its teaching.
Perhaps insights will be gleaned from others who have wrestled with similar questions. For example, ‘For whom did Christ die? Why do some say everyone, and others only the elect?’ Or again, ‘Did God use evolution to create life and man, or are life and man special un-evolved creations?’ Are such issues important or can we ignore the problems they raise?
Theology is the study of God, and every child of God has the privilege and responsibility of learning what God has done and said of himself.
Principally, true theology is the study of the Lord Jesus Christ, the God-man, our Creator, Lord and Saviour. If we want to know the truth we must get to know Christ. ‘And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent’ (John 17:3).
Have you time to meditate upon the Lord Jesus? Have you spent an hour looking for the Saviour in one of David’s psalms or musing upon each of the Lord’s sayings from the cross? Holidays give time for doing things we don’t usually do and quiet contemplation on the Saviour is time well spent (Hebrews 12:3). If we do have time, there are helps along the way – books that point us to the Saviour that we might ‘consider him’.
Again, have you ever actually read a sermon? No? Then you don’t know what you are missing. Our Lord has blessed his church with gospel ministers through all church ages, and the writings of many of these men are available to us still.
The sermons of Spurgeon and Ridley and the deep experiential insights of John Newton and the sublime poetry of William Cowper draw out our souls in thanksgiving for what the Lord has done for us. This is our commonwealth, our Christian heritage and we ignore it to our cost.
Reading for others
There are some who find reading difficult and books daunting. So those who personally benefit from Christian literature can in turn inform, direct and suggest suitable material to those who feel uncertain about where to start. Read to lead, and others will benefit from your reading too.
There will always be problems in churches and crises in believers’ lives. It is unlikely that any problem is unique. Becoming aware of the Bible’s teaching on a subject, such as divorce or bereavement, can help a congregation deal constructively with issues that arise suddenly – and deal with them to the benefit of all concerned.
Books also prepare us to handle the attacks of Christ’s enemies who would deny the truth and deceive the unwary. False teachings emanating from Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Roman Catholics, Emergents and New Agers – not to mention atheists, agnostics and modernists – all have their roots in the rejection, misconstruction or perversion of the Word of God.
Books can not only prepare us with an understanding of their errors, but can also be put into the hands of those who are misled and be a mighty and converting witness for the true gospel of Jesus Christ.
Reading to others
Recently a young mother stood up at a Christian conference and explained how she was introducing her own young children to Christian material by reading good books to them. Many of us remember being read extracts from Pilgrim’s Progress by parents or grandparents, and the stories and images of Christian, Faithful, Giant Despair and Doubting Castle have remained with us ever since.
Reading to an older person, or someone who is sick, is a ministry in its own right. Let us become familiar with the finest of material published for the benefit and edification of the church, and be prepared to drop a word in season. A pertinent extract can say in a sentence what we’d struggle to say in a speech.
This year, as we look around for a book to take on holiday, perhaps we will alight on something that will not merely stimulate our minds but will also comfort and inspire us in our faith. Lives have been changed by reading a book. So whether it’s a biography, a work of theology or apologetics, a doctrinal study or something contemplative on the Lord, let us take it up with joy and anticipation.