Why I Read Books

There is a periodic thought that rolls through my mind that I think at times is stimulated by something nostalgic.  Nostalgia is often a feeling that comes to us when we think about the distant past.  That thought has to do with my affinity to books.  I am incredibly thankful that I grew up in a home where reading and books were highly promoted by my parents.  My brother and I were latch-key kids in a time when culture did not seem to be nearly as confused and violent as it is now.  Around the time I got in the seventh grade, our parents let us stay home during the summer and sort of keep up with ourselves.  I am certain that there were those occasional times of sibling rivalry and bickering that naturally goes on between brothers but it is hard to remember any instances of that at this point in my life.  What I do remember are the Saturday visits to the church for visitation and door knocking which was followed by a trip to the local library which in turn was followed by a trip to grocery store.  The time frame was the mid to late 70’s where life seemed to be much slower and certainly more innocent.  Obviously, there was no internet, smart phones, twenty-four-hour stores and all of the other things that put us on the fast track now.  One of the greatest blessings of my life was growing up without a television in our home because of religious reasons.  I know that can seem like a shocking thing in our times but our church expressed a need for a clear-cut separation from the world and that was one of the things that my parents practiced.  So, I grew up without all of the popular sitcoms of the 70’s and 80’s that now seem so benign compared to what is piped into homes today.  Because of that “lack” (blessing!), we read books. 

I remember very clearly that there were days that I would wake up around 9:30 or so and start moving through the day.  We would cook boxed pizzas and the like for our lunch.  Canned soups warmed on the stove because there weren’t any microwave ovens back then.  We would do the occasional chores and then much of those hot summer days would be spent reading books.  I have read the whole series of the Hardy Boys (some of them twice), all of Louis L’Amour’s westerns, a lot of westerns by ZaneGrey, the Black Stallion series, Duane Decker’s sports books, the LeatherStocking series by James Fenimore Cooper, the Silverchief series, a host of biographies for kids, and many more that escape my mind.  I would read books on the forty-five-minute bus ride to and from Rehoboth School.  At the time, no one thought anything about boys reading books although there were far more girls who read books than the guys.  Books became an integral part of my life very early.  As I aged, the scope of my reading widened out and I began to find new writers.  Stephen Ambrose, Rick Atkinson, David McCollough, and a multitude of others.  In retrospect, I wish that I would have kept up a book journal of sorts to remember all of the books that I read during my lifetime.  Being able to read is a great gift!

When I began to acknowledge a call to the ministry, it wasn’t too long I started realizing the value of reading Christian books.  It did take a bit to find a niche of Christian writers but I stayed at it and now I can say that I would be lost without my personal library.  It started very small but has continued to grow although I have gotten far more judicious with my book purchases than when I first started.  Without the early influences of Joe Patterson, Ernie Jolley, Kelsey Griffin, J. R. Ensey, A. B. Keating, John Harrell, and a few other ministers, I am not sure that I would have found some of the very valuable writers that I did.  Each of these men affected my reading patterns that remain with me to this day. 

Another thing has changed over the years as well; that is the practice of writing in the margins of the books and using highlighters.  I know that book purists would almost faint at the thought of writing in their books but it has become a way for me to see how much growth that has taken place in mind, spirit, and soul as the pages open before me.  Another of the reasons that I started writing in my books has to do with something another pastor, Doug Walker, shared with me about his children.  He said that years down the line he wanted his children to see what he had written in his books so they could know what he was thinking as he studied.

Books uniquely have an ability to shape the intellect and the direction of our morals.  One of the things that makes a book very powerful is the ability to read and then stop and mull over what has been covered.  I will never forget the day I bought a copy of Pilgrim’s Progress at the recommendation of Brother Harrell.  I started reading it and was literally thunderstruck at the layout of the story and how that a book written in the 1600’s could be so relevant in 2003.  I was already aware of the Puritans due to the advice of Brother Jolley but John Bunyan’s exposure of the Christian journey being a walk and a war further cemented my view that maybe the best books were the old ones.  A book can cause us to deeply think about matters of the soul and of eternity. 

I also read books because they are some of the most treasured friends a man can have.  There are books that I have which have led me to a deeper level of prayer while others have motivated me toward fasting.  Some volumes left me almost in awe of the power and holiness of God and I cannot even begin to tell you the grip that Randy Alcorn’s commentary on heaven placed on me.  I read it while my mother-in-law was in the final stages of her battle with cancer.  When I read through Alcorn’s systematic and biblical description of heaven and what awaits us, I was left in awe of what God really has prepared for the faithful who finish their race.  Historical biographies of George Whitefield bear out that he would read the commentary of Matthew Henry while he was on his knees at a prayer bench along with a Greek New Testament.  Good books are incredible friends! 

I read books because of the examples that I find.  One of the earliest biographies that I remember reading in the 80’s was the autobiography of Charles Finney.  Whether you are for or against him, the fact remains that he was a man who was fully invested in advancing a great awakening that fostered revival in many areas in the mid 1800’s.  That biography records accounts of prayer meetings and his personal preparation that took place prior to him getting involved in revival meetings.  He was a man who stressed the importance of an active consecration and need for personal holiness.  Along with this book, I found much encouragement when I read Iain Murray’s biography of Jonathon Edwards.  Murray would become an author that I tried to purchase as many of his books as I possibly could.  His book on Edwards proved to me the seriousness of the need for pastoral study.  Edwards was a man given to grasping the Word.  He probably designed the first journaling Bible of his day by sewing in extra blank pages between those in his own Bible.  He would then write copious notes on the pages.  There are some who would say that they do not have the time to be involved in that kind of study but I would encourage you to take a long look at your evenings and see what happens when you come home.  Much spiritual progress can take place with books and time set aside to meet with the Lord through the grace of the written page. 

I can honestly say that I am forever indebted to those long summer days when I was still in a childhood that allowed such exercises to take place.  Read books as if your life depends on it and as you read, more lanes, avenues and thoroughfares will open themselves up to you. 

Thanks for reading. . .                       


James Bigelow said…
Most interesting. Many similarities to my boyhood reading trends, and I was fascinated by the same books. My sisters were avid readers as well but I don’t recall my brothers spending time with books. The only material I recall dad reading was his bible, Sunday school teachers manual, Matthew Henry concordance, and the monthly Readers Digest. I’m now 76 and still enjoy reading a variety of books and other publications, especially those with Christian themes. I have voluminous sermon and bible study notebooks, many handwritten, that I wrote during the 70s, 80s and early 90s. My wife and 4 of our 5 children also read a lot and over half of our 16 grands have the same propensity.

Forgive my ramblings. Thanks for blogging.

James Bigelow
Rick said…
I enjoyed this article and it induced some nostalgia for me, for sure. I grew up reading The Hardy Boys series every second I could spare, and got something of a reputation for having my nose in the books all the time. I hardly looked up from the time I got on the bus in the morning until I got to school. I'm thankful for parents and teachers who encouraged frequent reading and a love for books. It has made a profound impact on my ministry and life.

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