You’ve heard it said that “leaders are readers.” I probably heard my parents and teachers utter that phrase at least 100 times before I ever picked up a book of substance to read on my own without an assignment or consequence directly tied to it. Reading was never a passion for me, and really, it was more of a nuisance. Why read the book when I could watch the movie?
When I became a Christian, my stance on reading changed. Sure, the Holy Spirit’s presence in my life created within me a desire to know God through the Bible. That was step one. But I also began longing to know the deep, theological truths of the Scriptures. I grabbed a John Piper book here, a Jerry Bridges book there, and before I knew it, I had become a reader of theology. My new life in Christ did not just affect my passion for complicated theology, though, because I also found a love for good fiction. Whether it was J.D. Salinger’s classic, The Catcher in the Rye, or a John Grisham novel, I found myself enjoying the actual process of reading (not just the finished product of having finished a book).
Reading for some is like breathing or eating. You just do it without a great deal of planning or thought. Reading for others is like getting a root canal. You know it may be necessary, but unless there’s immediate benefit you’re probably not going to spend the time or money to put yourself through the pain.
I think of reading like I think of a door. Doors open and close, but it’s what is behind the doors that motivate us to open them. Some doors lead to a pantry full of our favorite snacks, while other doors lead to long halls that connect to other doors. Reading is no different. While some books provide immediate enjoyment or benefit, others prime the pump so that we are motivated to read other volumes for more details or insights into certain subjects.
COVID-19 has forced us into isolation, and for extroverts like me I am not doing well with a lack of person-to-person contact. However, this time of seclusion presents a wonderful opportunity to get back into the habit of reading or to start the discipline of reading from scratch. I have not read every good book ever written, but I have some book suggestions that may help you plan your reading time as we continue to distance ourselves from social interactions. These five volumes vary in lengths, and they cover different subjects. There are not necessarily my favorite books, but I highly recommend them all.
To the Golden Shore: The life of Adoniram Judson by Courtney Anderson
I love missionary biographies because they motivate, instruct, encourage, and inspire. Some books contain good theology, solid stories, or a call to action, but in missionary biographies you get all of the above. Courtney Anderson’s classic on the life of Adoniram Judson, pioneer missionary to Burma (now Myanmar), will keep you up at night wanting to know what happens next. In the end, it’s impossible to read this biography without coming face-to-face with the call to live for the glory of Christ every day that God gives us.
Knowing God by J.I. Packer
There may not be a more important book written in the last 75 years. Packer helps his readers to know God, not just to know about God. He puts deep theology into easily digested bites, and he leaves his readers with a zeal to know God personally and intimately. Packer’s understanding and articulation of the fatherhood of God will potentially change the way you approach God forever. If you have never read Knowing God, I think it’s one of the few modern books that fits into the must-read category.
The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
Every book that C.S. Lewis penned is worth reading, but this fictional work is my favorite. The book deals with the demonic and the temptations that Christians face. Lewis uses this novel to uncover theological and apologetic themes that help Christians live with an awareness of the demonic and the ways that temptations creep into our lives without us noticing. Screwtape is a senior demon who writes letters to Wormwood, his nephew and a junior demon. Though published in 1942, the perception of Lewis to see what temptations modern Christians would face is uncanny.
Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper
John Piper argues that the greatest tragedy in the modern church is not the persecution of Christians around the world or the death of missionaries (thought those are tragedies), but rather he sees the real tragedy as a wasted life. Rather than living for retirement or for Saturday’s softball tournament, the Christian life is to be spent for the glory of Christ among all nations. I think this book deserves to be read by every Christian, but especially students and middle-aged adults that are reaching retirement.
The Unsaved Christian by Dean Inserra
This is the most recently published book on my list, but it’s such a helpful critique of what many in the Deep South view as Christianity that it deserves inclusion. Dean Inserra is a pastor in Tallahassee, Florida, and he understands the difference between the actual gospel of Jesus and what often passes off as Christianity. This accessible book will help Christians do some real soul-searching, but it will also help churches identify a possible mission field within their communities—the unsaved “Christians.”
COVID-19 has pushed many of us away from friends, family, and coworkers. Netflix and Disney+ provide entertainment, but why not use some of your isolation time to work through a helpful book? Author Ray Bradbury once said, “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” Let’s build a culture of reading during this time of social distancing.
To the Golden Shore: The Life of Adoniram Judson by Courtney Anderson