In Thirsting for God, Gary Thomas, who recently spoke at Pleasant Valley, wrote a chapter on spiritual reading (his phrase is “pious readings”). In that chapter, he encouraged us to read (or listen to) Christian books with our hearts as well as our minds not to learn more facts but to nourish our souls. If that idea is a new one, we may need some coaching on reading for our souls, especially in deciding what we should read.
Let’s begin with what spiritual reading is or is not. Spiritual reading is one of the ways God feeds believers. It is not a replacement for reading scripture or for Bible study. Instead, well-chosen, well-read spiritual writings supplement God’s Word. They carry God’s truth into our everyday lives. They give us ideas and thoughts which the Holy Spirit can use in forming our hearts. These readings open us to the wisdom of contemporary and past Christians.
But spiritual reading is more than picking up something by a Christian author and reading it (and more than reading a daily devotional). In fact, it is more than a matter of reading or listening. Spiritual reading may inform us, but the purpose is to form us. So we read and re-read letting the Spirit speak, letting Him help us apply the truth we discover.
Again, how do we begin this soul work? Here are some thoughts on getting started in spiritual reading.
Pray. Since you are providing “ammunition” for the Holy Spirit to use in your mind, begin with prayer. Pray that He will give you hunger for what He wants to provide and that He will lead as you face the bewildering number of books and authors available to you.
Think. What sort of encouragement or inspiration you need? What sort of knowledge would help you grow in Christ? Don’t be stampeded into reading books simply because they are popular today or are written by someone you’ve heard of. Ask other believers what they are reading that benefits them. (At the end of this devotional is a list of some 20th-and 21st-century authors who have been recommended to me as good places to begin spiritual reading.)
Explore. Books are expensive, so borrow them from libraries, Christian friends. Then if the writings are helpful, you can purchase you own copy. Also, many classic Christian writings are on line and can be read without charge.
Pause. Not every book is for every time. You may find that a highly recommended book is not for you. As you read, it is simply words on a page. Stop reading it. Different books speak to us in different seasons of our life with the Lord. Don’t be afraid to set a book aside for the present. Later the book may be meaningful.
Stop. Spiritual reading may find a place in your daily time with the Lord. Many readers have found that a good way to direct the mind when we seek a time of quiet with Him is to begin to read. When a line, a phrase, a page touches us, we can put down the book and turn to our Savior.
Thomas noted, “every Christian needs other Christians to point out new possibilities of faith and growth.” You may find some of those “other Christians” among the authors listed below.
Here are some authors you may find helpful.
J. I. Packer
A. W. Tozer
C. S. Lewis
Nancy Leigh DeMoss