There are lots of great books and lots of great reasons to read them. There are also lots of terrible reasons to read them. And your “why” matters when it comes to reading. If your “why” is not to honor God and help people, you could read yourself straight into hypocrisy. So let’s look at four really good (and really bad) reasons to read books.
As a disclaimer, this post is primarily written with non-fiction books in mind (i.e. biographies, self-help, theology, spiritual, etc.). I think the conversation may change slightly when we talk about fiction, though some of this applies to both.
1. To grow closer to God, (not your tribe).
We should read regularly for the purpose of deepening our relationship with God. But be careful that you don’t fall into the trap of reading to impress the people in your tribe.
2. To be a better person, (not a hypocrite).
When we read, we are challenged to do better—to be more disciplined, more loving, more consistent, more sacrificial. As you read, be careful that you are not thinking about who else needs this book and how you need to share it with other people. What a shame to have gained so much new and helpful insight but never apply it to your own life.
Becoming smarter simply for the sake of having more information in your repertoire will only do you harm because God will hold you accountable for everything you know that you don’t act on. Don’t read a book without prayerfully striving to let it change you.
3. To change your mind, (not someone else’s).
We should read books on topics we don’t know a lot about, or even disagree with, in order to grow in our knowledge and be confident in what we believe. I have changed my mind many times on many topics, and a big contributor is my reading list.
I’m reading a book on the death sentence right now called “Just Mercy,” and it is challenging how I think about the issue.
The danger is that we might only read things we agree with to prove others wrong, instead of reading something that challenges our own thinking because we might need to change our mind. It’s much easier to only read from authors we agree with, but what if the other person actually has a very good reason for believing what they believe, but we are not even willing to listen?
4. To help others, (not to impress them).
Some people are struggling with hard questions that no one else has been able to answer. We should want to help them. Sometimes we don’t read for ourselves, but for the sake of others—to help answer their questions.
But when you learn something new, especially for the purpose of communicating it, you have to be careful that your goal is to help others, and not impress them with your superior knowledge.
It’s not the number but the posture.
How many books you read is irrelevant. The question is, why are you reading this particular book and what will you do with what you learn? Reading even one book for the wrong reason may only serve to puff up your pride by increasing your knowledge without changing your life. It is a complete waste of time. The parameters should not be how many books you read, but the extent of your ability and willingness to absorb what you read and apply it. I read a quote once, (I don’t remember who the author was): “There is a difference between couch reading and reading with a pen in hand.”
Ecclesiastes 12:12-14 – “Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body. Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.”
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