I love books.
Even as I write this I am surrounded by books. Books on people, God, culture, history, finances, productivity, on and on the list goes. However, I not only love books, I love to read books. I love to learn and discover new things. I love to have my mind stretched and typical thinking challenged over the ideas I consume while reading books. In some ways, reading is intellectual candy to me. The more I read, the more I want to read. Because of this, last year (for the first time ever) I decided to set a "reading goal" — a number of books I would read in one year’s time. I found this incredibly helpful. I became more disciplined in how I used my leisure time and even found creative ways I could read while doing other activities (like listening to audiobooks while driving or working out — and yes, I consider that reading). Overall, it was one of the best decisions I've ever made for my personal development.
Yet perhaps the greatest thing I gained from that endeavor was not something I learned, but something I discovered. While attempting to be a disciplined reader and rigorous academic, I discovered that my affections were changing. Jonathan Edwards defined the affections as "the more vigorous and sensible exercises of the inclination and will of the soul" (see p.96 of The Religious Affections). In other words, the affections are a part of your soul that move you towards or away from something. An example of this would-be music. There are some songs that you hear that leave you indifferent and stagnant while there are other songs that you hear that leave you passionate and moved. The affections are the sails of the soul. They direct and stir your heart to or away from things.
It was while I was striving to reach my reading goal that I discovered my affections, the sails of my soul, had changed. This discovery came late in the year when I had sat down like I had most mornings that year to open my Bible and read. I read my Bible (like any other day), shut my Bible, got up from my chair, and began to get ready for my day. It was shortly after this that it hit me: I just read God's Word like a syllabus.
Over time, without me realizing it, I had developed a greater desire for books than the Bible. I was more excited to sit down and read a book than I was to read the Word of the Living God.
If you have ever read a syllabus before, you know what I mean. When you read a syllabus, you don't read it with high expectations. You aren't expecting to encounter anything that will inevitably transform your life. In fact, most people (I'm guilty) just skim the syllabus for "necessary information" and then put it back in a folder. This was how I was reading the Bible. I wasn't reading the Bible with heart-filled expectancy and longing to see the glory of Christ and be changed, I was reading the Bible to check a box and move on to what I considered practically helpful reading — books. Over time, without me realizing it, I had developed a greater desire for books than the Bible. I was more excited to sit down and read a book than I was to read the Word of the Living God.
It is easy to become well-versed in knowing about the Bible while never actually reading the Bible.
I have a feeling I'm not alone.
This change in affections is a dangerous, subtle slide for all Christians who love the Bible and love reading. It is dangerous because it is easy to become well-versed in knowing about the Bible while never actually reading the Bible. It is subtle because you can deceive yourself into thinking that because you know so much about the Bible it's okay that you never read the Bible. And as we learn from Psalm 1, when you begin to neglect the Bible your soul shrivels. So, what do you we do? How can we change the affections of our hearts so that we love the Bible while we read books? Three things:
1. Remember the gospel.
Have you ever considered that if it weren't for God saving your soul the Bible would be rubbish to you? In fact, without God you can't even read the Bible correctly because "the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God" (2 Cor. 4:4). If it weren't for Jesus dying and rising for our soul, you would never be able to say with the Psalmist, "Oh, how I love Your law!" (Psalm 119:97). Remember that God saved your soul, and gave you the Holy Spirit, so that when you read the Bible you "with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into His image from one degree of glory to another" (2 Cor. 3:18).
2. Understand books to be a tool and the Bible to be a treasure.
The Bible is a treasure. Not because it is an instruction manual that helps us live a better life, but because it shows us the glory of Christ — who He is, what He has done, and what He will do (John 5:39). Books are a gift of God. Even the thought that God created us in such a way that we can formulate thoughts and articulate them so that other people understand them should lead us to worship because we are made in His image (Ge. 1:27). But like any gift of God, they can be turned into an idol when we expect them to give to us what only God can give. When we look to books to change us, comfort us, and give us meaning we will always be left wanting. But if we look to the Bible to change us, comfort us, and give us meaning (ultimately in Christ) we are then freed to enjoy God's gift of books with a right heart framework. Books can be a tool that God uses to instill joy into our hearts, but they will always pale in comparison to the joy-filled, Christ-exalting Holy Scriptures. Never forget that.
When we look to books to change us, comfort us, and give us meaning we will always be left wanting.
3. Remind yourself daily that one day all books but one will cease to exist.
C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity.
John Piper's Desiring God.
Jonathan Edwards' Religious Affections.
A.W. Tozer's Knowledge of the Holy.
What do these books have in common? All are classics and all will one day cease to exist. The only book that will stand the test of time and will last forever and ever (amen!) is the Bible. "The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever" (Isaiah 40:8). When you sit down and open your Bible, silently remind yourself that the Book you are holding will still be around when you, your children, your grandchildren, and your great-grandchildren pass. Why? Because the Bible is more than a book. The Bible is the very Word of God. And that, friends, is worth reading and rejoicing in forevermore.
I am a Husband to Clarissa, Lead Pastor Resident at College Park Church in Indianapolis, 'Tweeter' at @brad_merchant, and avid reader of books.