Wasteful Reading ||
What if there is a right way to read a book, and a wrong way to read one?
What if there’s a way in which we approach our reading, that causes us to either waste our time reading or maximize it?
If you’re reading this article, you probably don’t need to be convinced of the importance of reading. Whether you’re a pastor or church planter, a leader in the corporate world, or a parent raising a family, you know “there is no substitute for effective reading when it comes to developing and maintaining the intelligence necessary to lead” as Al Mohler words it.
And though we believe it’s important that we read, do we hold in equal importance how we read?
That said, we are grateful that the reading and writing of books is encouraged in the Reformed community. And we are grateful that this generation has continued the commitment to deep theological study and the reading of difficult (but rewarding) books – disciplines modeled well by the Puritans before us.
This is likely because we are frequently exhorted from the pulpit to read good books and biographies. We constantly review and recommend books to each other on social media. And our conferences gift us with suitcases full of new books that we struggle to carry home.
However, as our libraries continue to grow and our nightstands pile up, we are increasingly tempted to read for the sake of reading — reading any and every book that is recommended to us.
Every newly-released book catches our eye and we are quick to put down the five books we are currently reading to start the new one.
We aren’t discouraging the desire to read!
Not at all.
Rather, we simply want to balance that desire with an equal desire to read well.
The hundreds of hours we spend reading will ultimately go to waste if we don’t ask ourselves this question:
How can I read in a such a way that maximizes my learning for the sake of the Kingdom?
Do You Feel the Pressure?
We’re convinced that one of the reasons we aren’t reading well is because we all struggle with the unspoken pressure to keep up with the next person.
Hardly a day goes by without our scrolling past a Facebook image of the stack of books a friend is reading or a blog post with a list of books we must read. We barely get through half of the one book we just bought before we’re recommended another two books that need our (immediate) attention.
And as we wade through this endless sea of books, we only feel more inadequate when we read articles and learn that:
Timothy Keller reads 3 books a week.
Charles Spurgeon read 6 books a week.
Rick Warren reads 7 books a week.
D. A. Carson reads 9 books a week.
Albert Mohler reads 7-10 books a week.
So, we push ourselves harder to read more books, more quickly… so that we can smile and nod affirmatively when we’re inevitably asked, “have you read this book yet?”
As a result, we find ourselves always reading a hundred books, trying to keep up.
We wonder how Carson and Mohler can possibly read that many books each week, and still claim to be human.
And we conclude that we’re not as gifted, or as disciplined as them. Or that we don’t have as much time as they do.
But what if it’s because we’re reading the wrong way?
What if it’s not about reading more quickly, but more strategically?
Reading Books in Exile
We suspect the call for Christians to read more books, without an equal charge on how to read them, has kept Christians from learning as effectively as possible.
With the limited time we’re given on Earth, the question we must ask is not “How can I read more?”, but rather “How can I read more effectively?”
Instead of merely making our way through our pile of books, we must ask ourselves: How can I steward my time on Earth as an exile and maximize my learning, as not to waste my time reading ineffectively?
David Mathis puts it well when he says: “Without apology, I ransack books for what I can get in the little time I have in this season of life. I don’t read simply to retain; I read to be changed for the better.”
To that end, we’ve listed 5 ways you might be unwittingly wasting your reading — and we present a solution that we’ve built for you.
1) Reading for Reading’s Sake
Reading for its’ own sake is a sure way to waste your reading. To read something simply to accomplish the task of reading it is meaningless.
Instead, we must always read with a goal in mind. To gain the most from our reading, we must constantly be thinking critically, asking questions such as:
- What arguments does the author use?
- How does he/she develop these arguments?
- What are the counter-arguments? Do I agree or disagree?
- Why does this matter to me?
- What does this mean for my life? For my family? For the world?
Asking these question as we read — perhaps even writing them down — allow us to maximize our reading. Without intentional processing, we tend to forget what we’ve read. By asking these questions, we force ourselves to remember that we are reading for a purpose; we are reading in order to think deeply, and in order to do something about it.
2) Reading Every Recommended Book
Setting a goal of reading all the books that have been recommended to you is a waste of your reading. Of making many book lists, there is no end; We simply will not have the time to read every important book recommended to us. Therefore, we must discern which books would be the most useful for our current God-given calling. Knowing that our time is limited demands thoughtfulness not just in how we read a book, but which books we read.
3) Finishing Every Book You Start
Attempting to finishing every book we start is yet another way to waste your reading. When we fall into the trap of reading for the sake of reading, we feel obligated to finish every book from start to finish in order to mark it as complete. However, doing so is not the best use of our time. For this section, we’ll borrow from the thoughts of David Mathis, Tony Reinke, and Al Mohler:
“You should read a book or article only for what it is worth. If you find that the book is not contributing to your life and leadership, set it aside. The world is filled with books and other reading material. And in this respect, time is more valuable than money. Is the book making you think? Do you find that it is sparking new thoughts and reflections as you read? If so, read on. If not set it down and move on.” Al Mohler
“The path to wisdom is not accelerated through speed reading, or by endless study. It’s a skill of discerning true wisdom from the NYT bestselling alloys.” Tony Reinke
“I often read by the 80/20 rule: 80 percent of what most non-fiction books have to offer can be found in about 20 percent of the pages. So without apology, I ransack books for what I can get in the little time I have in this season of life. I don’t read simply to retain; I read to be changed for the better.” David Mathis
4) Reading as an Identity
“Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh” (Ecc. 12:12).
Reading as a way to build your identity is a sure way to waste your reading. This section is a bit different than the other four, but we felt compelled to include it as a way to certainly waste your reading, and ultimately, your life.
When reading is no longer a means to an end, but an ultimate end in and of itself, then reading becomes an idol. We rarely talk about this because it is so subtle — a “respectable sin” as Jerry Bridges might’ve called it. It masks itself as a godly endeavor to grow in knowledge, but reveals itself quickly.
When you read for your identity, you’re uncomfortable with the thought of not knowing something. You learn and read books as badges of merit, looking down on others who haven’t read as much as you, and envying others have read more. In other words, when you measure others by the size of their library, reading has become an idol — and you will waste your reading, wear out your soul.
5) Reading for Information, Not Insight
Reading merely for information collection is a way to waste your reading. While reading for the sake of gaining information may be useful in Jeopardy preparation, it is not the goal of the Christian. Insight, not information, is the ultimate goal of reading. Information on its own does not shape the heart. It is when that information is processed, seen, and understood through the lens of our Christian worldview that it becomes life-shaping insight. Insight is the goal of reading.
“An ounce of heart knowledge is worth more than a ton of head learning.” – Charles Spurgeon
Insights in Seconds
With the aforementioned principles in mind, we built Accelerate, a tool that helps leaders read well. Accelerate takes eight theology books every month and identifies the key insights and core arguments, presenting them not only as text summaries, but also as animations, infographics, and audio clips to help you grasp the concepts more quickly.
We built Accelerate to make sure we didn’t waste our reading; we built Accelerate as a tool to learn more effectively for the Kingdom.
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Accelerate doesn’t serve to replace the reading of books, but exists to inform our reading. With Accelerate, we can quickly determine whether or not a book — or topic — is one worth exploring further, at our current season of life.
And if you’re reading this before July 14th, there is still a chance for you to reserve one of our 1000 Early Bird Memberships that lock-in the discounted monthly rate of $9.99, before the regular price returns! Additionally, as an Early Bird Member, you will have early access to our current BETA test, joining our private BETA Facebook Group to help shape the development and vision of Accelerate.
As one of the 1,000 EarlyBirds, you will:
- Lock-in a discounted monthly subscription rate for life(including every future upgrade!) (Offer is valid until July 14th, when rates will go to normal)
- Get free access to our Beta Testing (starting tomorrow)
- Get a chance to receive one of 500 John Piper Bobbleheads! (That we also have unfortunately decided to never make again … because, let’s just say, the Bobblehead-making process isn’t a walk in the park.)
- Get our Digital Theology eBook Collection for free including
- Power of the Puritans
- Calvin’s institutes
- Religious Affections
- A.W. Pink
- Christian Dating Simplified
- and more