This weekend I spoke to a group of men down here in Nashville, Tennessee. The pastor asked me to speak to the men about reading and, specifically, why Christian men need to be readers. While what I prepared was directed specifically to men, it is applicable to both men and women. Here are four good reasons to read good books: To know, to grow, to lead, and to love.
Read to Know
The best reason to read books is to know God. We believe, of course, that each of us can and will meet God in his Word, but this does not mean that he reveals himself to each of us in equal measure. We can and should benefit from what others have learned and we do that through books. Books are an important part of our lifelong task of coming to know the person and works of God.
There are many people who are intimidated by reading theological works. However, we are well-served with entry-level and mid-range books. It doesn't matter who you are, there is a book written at your level. One of the problems with allowing ourselves to be intimidated away from difficult books, books that are just a bit beyond us, is that we can begin to believe we’ve got God pretty much figured out. But here’s the thing: You may capture and box up the God of Joel Osteen, but then you read John Calvin or Jonathan Edwards and are utterly humbled by just how little you know of this God.
If you do not read, you deny yourself a great way to learn who God is and how he acts in this world. There is no study more satisfying and more enlarging than this.
Read to Grow
Reading is a means through which we initiate and maintain personal growth. We read to know God and we read to grow in our ability to honor him in every area of our lives. There are three kinds of growth I want to point you toward: Growth in areas of weakness, in areas of strength, and in areas of responsibility.
Identify areas of weakness and read books to strengthen yourself there. This may be weakness of knowledge, weakness of character, or weakness of understanding. If you have too low a view of God, read The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul. If you are struggling with parenting, read Gospel-Powered Parenting by William Farley. If you struggle with making decisions, read Decisions, Decisions by Dave Swavely. If you don't know where you are weak, read a book on humility. Whatever your weakness, there is almost definitely a book that answers it specifically and well.
Identify areas of strength and read to grow all the more. Here is where you push yourself to grow beyond the basic principles and move to advanced works. If you are comfortable with Gospel-Powered Parenting and all its principles, then move on to God, Marriage, and Family by Andreas Kostenberger. Move to books on the fatherhood of God or books on the Trinity that allow you to study the relationship between the Father and Son. If you are very comfortable with Decisions, Decisions or Kevin DeYoung’s Just Do Something, go to Decision Making and the Will of God which is about five times longer.
Identify areas of responsibility and read books to strengthen you there. Wherever your responsibilities are, find books that will allow you to fulfill them with greater skill and greater understanding of biblical principles. Pastors need to make books on preaching and pastoral ministry a regular part of their reading diet. Parents ought to read books on parenting, bosses or owners ought to read books on leadership, and so on. If you are the one who manages your family's finances, read the occasional book that provides a biblical perspective on money (perhaps Randy Alcorn’s Managing God’s Money). If you are a member of a church, read Thabiti Anyabwile’s What Is a Healthy Church Member?.
Tip: Biographies can be very helpful in each of these areas. A biography of a great leader will allow you to be a better leader; a biography of a great leader who was a terrible father will teach you how to avoid succeeding in one area but failing in another.
There are many ways the Lord shapes us and causes us to grow. I do not mean to downplay the value of sermons, personal Bible study and even circumstances. Still, books are a very significant means of the Lord’s grace to us.
Read to Lead
Every man is called to lead in some area of life, whether that is leadership in the home, in the workplace, in the church or elsewhere. Good leaders are good readers. There is, of course, lots of anecdotal evidence to prove that the great men of history were readers--find me a great man whose mind was shaped by television and I'll find you a thousand who were shaped by books--but we need more than anecdotal evidence. Help came from Al Mohler and a chapter in The Conviction to Lead titled "Leaders are Readers."