One key habit that is worthwhile for ministry, education, leadership, or any professional development is reading. We live in a day and age when reading is mostly digital or watched through “videos.” We find ways to save time with audiobooks or podcast/radio shows. While this form of media has its place, it is old-fashioned reading text on paper that has the best benefits.
Studies have shown that reading increases intelligence, vocabulary, and sentence length; reduces stress and anxiety; improves analytical thinking, writing skills, creativity, and discipline; and activates the mental processes in general.
Another unique reason to read is plainly for personal education. Education so often is defined by the end goal and requirements of a degree, being mere evidences of having gone through a program. But the main benefit of true education is to enjoy the content of the information and then having the ability to digest it uniquely in your own way.
When it comes to the spiritual disciplines, reading is of utmost importance. There is nothing like reading—and good reading—that expands the mind and soul together.
To modify what an old mentor told me: read seven books (she said five, but I add two more). You may be thinking, what? I can’t even read one! Keep reading below.
For some, reading all these books at the same time will be difficult. So read one at a time. For others, reading all seven will prove to be challengingly entertaining. I circulate between two to four books at once and cycle through the five, while keep the first two consistent. Here they are:
1. Read the Bible. There is nothing like the Word of God, the holy Scriptures, to strengthen the mind, to sharpen the intellect, and to ennoble the spirit. It is a full course of education all by itself. ‘Nuff said.
2. Read the Spirit of Prophecy. Especially PP, PK, DA, AA, GC (also known as the Conflict of the Ages series). If they are too much, try Steps to Christ first. If you have read all these, then read Ed, MH, COL, TB, and EW (you should know what these letters stand for). If you have read all of them (wow), then proceed onward to the Testimonies to the Church, volumes 1-9, but know the context the sections are coming from (very important)!
These jewels range from education to biology, history to philosophy, parenting to finances. How much more practical can you get?! And they were written in English (and translated into other languages)! This wonderful gift to the church should be read and treasured more!
3. Read ten books in an area where you want to specialize in. This is essentially what we are paying university professors to do for us. By the tenth book, the information should be familiar to you. You will be very knowledgeable in that field. You should ask yourself the question, What do I want to be known as, and read accordingly.
4. Read one really hard book. So difficult that you may not finish or understand it. The point isn’t to master this one; it is to merely stretch your mind. You are bound to have picked up something, some idea or observation, or some vocabulary word.
5. Read a random book. Once I read a book on Iran which immensely helped my Christian witness to a government official. There were others I read on the Supreme Court, the education of Asian-Americans, poetry, and the rise and fall of Roman emperors that have been so beneficial to my thinking in general, has ameliorated (learned this word from #4!) my conversational skills, and peaked my curiosity and knowledgeability in other things.
If you are wanting suggestions, try this:
- Subscribe to one world magazine, and read it religiously for a whole year.
- Memorize all the names of every country, capital, and leader, and read a book on the one that interests you the most.
- Learn another language.
- Acquire new skills from a book—photography, computer coding, etc.
- Choose a random Wikipedia entry, and read a book from its bibliography.
- Ask your mentors to recommend something random.
6. Read one book that you enjoy. Whether it be a magazine, special interest, or true storybook. With all the heavy-lifting above, one needs to cultivate the enjoyment of reading as well. Make sure that this one is really short so that you enjoy the experience of having finished a book!
7. Read a biography. There is nothing like a non-fiction story of an individual that inspires. It being a real-time historical story makes the lessons innately adaptable to your life. There are pitfalls that can be avoided, and the pragmatic life lessons are very real. Here are some suggestions (not all personally read or even Christian):
Augustine of Hippo: A Biography by Peter Brown
Saint Thomas Aquinas — “The Dumb Ox” by G. K. Chesterton
Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther by Roland H. Bainton
Spurgeon: A New Biography by Arnold Dallimore
John Calvin: A Biography by T. H. L. Parker
William Tyndale: A Biography by David Daniell
A Life of John Calvin by Alister E. McGrath
Jonathan Edwards: A Life by George M. Marsden
George Whitefield: The Life and Times of the Great Evangelist of the Eighteenth-Century Revival by Arnold Dallimore
Defending the Faith: J. Gresham Machen and the Crisis of Conservative Protestantism in Modern America by D. G. Hart
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The First Forty Years, 1899-1939 and D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The Fight of Faith, 1939-1981 by Iain H. Murray
William Carey and the Missionary Vision by Daniel Webber
Gandhi: An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela
Rabble-Rouser for Peace: The Authorized Biography of Desmond Tutu by John Allen
The Story of My Life by Helen Keller
Night by Elie Wiesel
Mother Teresa: A Complete Authorized Biography by Kathryn Spink
Rosa Parks: A Life by Douglas Brinkley
20 Years at Hull House by Jane Addams
Perfect Hostage: A Life of Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s Prisoner of Conscience by Justin Wintle
Through Gates of Splendor by Elisabeth Elliot
Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis
The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom
Tortured for Christ by Richard Wurmbrand
Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas
The Life and Diary of David Brainerd by Jonathan Edwards
Spiritual Autobiography by William Barclay
Jonathan Edwards: 1703-1758 by O. Elizabeth Winslow
End of the Spear by Steve Saint
Hudson Taylor by J. Hudson Taylor
Autobiography of George Müller by George Müller
John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace by Jonathan Aitken
Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners by John Bunyan
Amazing Faith: The Authorized Biography of Bill Bright, Founder of Campus Crusade for Christ by Michael Richardson
Walking with the Giants: A Minister’s Guide to Good Reading and Great Preaching by Warren W. Wiersbe
Life Sketches of Ellen G. White by E. G. White
“There is more encouragement to us in the least blessing which we receive ourselves than in reading biographical works relating to the faith and experience of noted men of God. . . . Let us keep fresh in our memory all the tender mercies that God has shown us—the tears He has wiped away, the pains He has soothed, the anxieties removed, the fears dispelled, the wants supplied, the blessings bestowed—thus strengthening ourselves for all that is before us through the remainder of our pilgrimage.”—Ellen G. White, Our High Calling, p. 135.
It’s the Christian biographies that are the best. It’s one way to communicate with the dead saints of the past (one way only, that is) as well as get an idea of who we may meet in heaven in the future!
Do you have any other suggestions?