The number of times I have lost count of books reflects perhaps my lack of numeracy, but also sometimes the fear that if I totted up my reading, it wouldn’t be that impressive. So I’m painfully conscious that I just have a couple of hundred books on my GoodReads account, when I know that I have read far more than that (haven’t I?). Then I went through that phase at university where I became ‘familiar’ with so many texts by reading ‘about’ them, that I wasn’t really sure if I had read them or not.
This half-term I have been reading some vintage children’s texts, for example. I was not sure if I had read ‘Moonfleet’, by John Meade Falkner, or not – but I had not, and it was a super read, full of sentiment, of impulsive, foolish behaviour and stitched together meticulously into an excellent tale, well constructed to the final page. Quite tricky for the Year Eights I was thinking of, but perhaps some patient and talented readers might try it. I have Treasure Island lined up too, which again I am not confident I have read (and unlike many of my readers I have not seen the Muppet version…sigh). I have picked up Little Women, too, and I am quite enjoying this. The sentence, for example, referring to the girls’ mother and saying that she was not really handsome, but that ‘to her children a mother is always lovely’ strikes me as quite true. The other reads, in case you’re interested, are The Happy Prince and other Tales, Oscar Wilde, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, by Joan Aiken, The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis, The Machine Gunners, Robert Westall, and Carrie’s War, by Nina Bawden.
But my blog title refers more than to simply what we are reading. The truth is that so much more of what we read today is ephemeral: and how do we keep ahold of it? I was moving a bookshelf around this week, and it’s always a reminder of the books I had forgotten (including several that need to go back to their owners…). Perhaps I should keep a list of all the books I own, in case of fire or theft. Or that in bothering to write down the titles, I might think ‘What AM I doing with this book?’, and get rid of it.
For the last six months or so, I have been following Professor Horner’s scheme of reading the Bible, which includes reading about ten chapters a day. I’m not claiming that I haven’t missed the odd day (there’s no way I’d know), and I wonder how I get away, day after day, with saying to myself ‘Well, I’ve got this really important thing to do today, so I’ll start with that, and I’ll read my ten chapters later.’ How much later, I wonder? Today, for example, I still haven’t read them! How can anything else be more important than making time for my Maker? His Word is living and active, and cuts through ALL my pretense, and ALL my own ways of thinking.
Last night, however, I suddenly felt that my reading scheme has made the Bible somewhat mechanistic. Rather than breathing the Bible, I am approaching it as a task. Don’t get me wrong, I love my every reading session with the Bible: it is particularly good when I get round to jotting down particular passages and the connections between them. For example, 1 Peter 4, on suffering – when I am preparing a sermon on 2 Corinthians, which is SO much about suffering itself. Yet, just taking down The Message yesterday, and meandering through 2 Corinthians in the Message, is such a different experience from doing my ‘chapters’. We need to make our Bible reading count in more than one way. What ways can we do that?
We need the systematic reading, as I have been doing, otherwise we run the risk of ignoring huge swathes of Scripture, and that is a colossal danger. But we need the lover’s reading, the lingering over the pages, the ‘I don’t want to be anywhere else or doing anything else’ reading. Otherwise known as meditation. This needs to be a regular habit of ours – it is too precious and too valuable for the daily walk to leave to retreats, or anniversaries, or vacations. We need this in our week.
We also need the intercessory reading: the declarations of those powerful sword swings of scripture that slice the devil’s influence into ribbons and topple the strongholds of deceit in our minds. I am adequate. I am healthy in Christ. He supplies all my needs. I have the wisdom of Christ. I rejoice in every circumstance. He in me is greater than He in the world. (How many declarations can you make without looking? There’s a challenge – because then you can declare them wherever you are). We need the studied reading, the comparing of versions, the checking out of the original languages, the reading of commentaries and devotionals through books of the Bible – how could we manage without those? I am enjoying a vast paperback tome ‘Unlocking the Bilbe Omnibus’ by David Pawson which unpacks facts and detail about every book of the Bible, as I follow Horner’s reading scheme.
Also, we need the reading on our knees, through tears, that wrenches our heart and that shows us that we are not hungry enough, not obedient enough, we haven’t prayed enough, or listened enough. That we could not watch and pray one hour, even. That brings us anew – joy of joys – to the realisation that we are tenderly and passionately loved, and that His embrace is much more valuable to our Father than our legalistic attempts to please Him.
Somewhere, I guess, the Father is counting our reading. Some of it will never count into eternity. But we build with silver and gold when we read His Word.