First of all, there must be some caution when it comes to reading. Solomon says that in making many books (and presumably reading them) there is much weariness; reading needs to be purposeful and focused.
The problem with reading Christian books can be as follows: reading books on prayer will increase desire for prayer, but won’t necessarily bring action; reading books on faith will increase your appetite for faith without necessarily causing faith to increase; reading books on evangelism may make you knowledgeable on the subject, but “knowledge puffs up” – it’s love in action that is needed. There is a real danger with reading of “always learning and never coming to a knowledge of the truth”; our reading, as with all our activities, needs to be subjected to the Lordship of Jesus.
Secondly, in the way of caution again, many wonderful men and women have little in the way of book learning and some indeed, none; so, reading for some people is not necessary. Smith Wigglesworth was wholly Bible taught.
Thirdly, here is a nice quotation from 18th century German ‘divine’ Gerhard Tersteegen:- Love prayer more than reading. But the childlike prayer of the heart is what I mean. Read also more with the heart than the head,and, therefore, only such writings as can nourish and strengthen the heart.
However, some of us have been readers from childhood up and others need to become readers if they are to fulfill God’s purposes; people with a lot of education may need to keep reading in the Christian sphere, and those with little education may need to educate themselves. For those who are going to read we can identify at least the following reasons for doing so – selectively!
1. Teaching. The Bible is not necessarily an easy book to read! It often seems to be a sort of shorthand that needs unpacking. It is often true that the truth we find for ourselves is the most valuable, but we also find help from those who are more experienced; why not avoid the pitfalls? Related to this is that we have often fallen into pits and need a way out! Firstly as a child and then as a young man I found the book of Romans more than difficult; as a child it seemed incomprehensible, because I didn’t know the theological language Paul uses – I needed to be taught; later I was confused because what I was taught the book is about (how to be saved) is not at all the subject – reading is what sorted it out for me, corrected the mis-teaching.
2. Information. In many areas we need to be properly informed; Jesus knew his scriptures exceedingly well. We need to really know our stuff whatever our area. Things have changed, but when I went to university it was commonly felt that the purpose of a university education was that you emerge knowing what you know but more importantly knowing what you don’t know, so you know when to zip it and when to speak! What a sad need there is for this in our new world of uncensored information. The sort of areas where we might need accurate, which often means alternative, information might include topics like Islam, homosexuality, psychology, not to mention Christian doctrine and all that is involved with that.
3. Devotional/ inspirational. There may be a need to study the Bible and there are fine ways to enhance this. Also, reading works by deeply spiritual people will impart their spirit. Certain books, notably, for example, Healing the Sick by TL Osborn will convey faith for healing as surely as good preaching. Personally, I have less frequently received in public meetings; I often do much better at home with a book. The bulk of my reading is devotional.
4. Entertainment, relaxation. These days I am more likely to relax by taking a bicycle ride or working in the garden, but there have been times when the escape of a good book has proved the best antidote to mental depression. Surely reading a book must be better than watching the television! Where does it say ‘do not be righteous overmuch’? (Eccl 7.16) For myself, I also enjoy language study so reading in foreign languages has been a great pleasure and is one of the best ways to absorb the milieu of another tongue.
No doubt there are other reasons to read, but we should do all things “in the Name of Jesus”!