How much do you read on a daily basis? The answer might surprise you.
When I first started writing this post, I worked off the assumption that reading has largely declined in Western civilization, but after I finished, I began to rethink everything I had written. Consider how much time you and I spend on screens each day (computers, tablets, phones, televisions) and how many words we are required to read. Even flipping through the channel guide, what are we required to do? Read! Far from declining, the amount we read has continued to grow. The screens to which we are all so addicted have developed in us a “need to read.” But as the quantity of reading has increased, the quality of reading has dramatically decreased. Our “need to read” has become a problem, not because of how much we read but because of what we read and how we read it.
Though we read more than any other people in history, we process information differently than they did. Firstly, we are not as selective in what we choose to read. Ads, banners, commercials, and social media bombard us not only with images, but with words. One of the unintended consequences of screen time is that we read what others want us to read, rather than choosing our own reading material. In turn, those words (and images) gradually shift our thinking in the desired direction(s) of advertisers, even if we remain unaware of what is happening. Secondly, how we read is very different than others in the past. When glossing over social media posts, tearing through short devotionals, and skimming internet articles, we fail to engage intellectually; we do not pause to consider what we are reading and why. For us, it is not “Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink”; it is, “Words, words everywhere, though we never stop to think.”
Our patterns of reading are not altogether unprofitable, but they do not offer the same benefits as do focused, purposeful efforts to interpret and to comprehend the words on a page. Truly to read something requires time, effort, and attention to detail. It is demanding. The best type of reading does not allow for multi-tasking (sorry, no audio books!) but has an inherent opportunity cost – other activities must be sacrificed so full attention can be given to the task at hand, reading. Yet the cost(s) of focused, purposeful reading are not without profit. Alertness, short-term and long-term memory, imagination, logic, problem-solving, creativity…All of these things (and more!) will improve when a person reads attentively and regularly.
I believe the greatest benefit of focused, purposeful reading is that a person learns to think for himself. “Think” encompasses the benefits I already mentioned, but “for himself” goes above and beyond those benefits. A reader must begin by thinking about what he is going to read and why. Once he begins reading, a reader must think about how to deal with the information at hand – will he accept, accommodate, or reject the author’s ideas and intentions? Rather than thoughtlessly reacting to the material, he can thoughtfully reach a well-reasoned conclusion. The more a person engages in this process, the more he will be prepared for the difficult, unexpected choices of everyday life. Therefore, focused, purposeful reading, challenges a reader to “think for himself” while he evaluates and wrestles with thoughts that are different and perhaps contrary to his own. And as God’s people who are beset on every side, Christians are commanded by God to read (and live!) in this way.
Conversely, most people today do not think for themselves, but live by “my truth.” The average person now authors his book, My Truth, on his social media account. Unlike the literary masterpieces that have stood the test of time, My Truth has no central plot, though it does have a never-ending concatenation of exhilarating experiences. The main themes (or “morals”) conflict with each other, though the author says they are equally true for him. The characters randomly appear and disappear, seemingly for no other reason than the author’s emotional need for them. The author of My Truth does not produce any new material of his own but plagiarizes the material of other authors writing their own versions of My Truth. After the first few chapters, it becomes clear to the reader that My Truth is nothing more than “my opinion(s) I thoughtlessly adopted from someone else” or “my emotional reactions to my life circumstances.” The reader grows tired of the edition by Mr. Everything-Is-Wonderful so he begins reading Mr. Self-Absorbed’s version of My Truth. Perhaps even worse, the reader begins competing with both. He knows that others have the “need to read” so he figures why not write his own version?
Reading different versions of My Truth is not inherently wrong or sinful, but what is wrong and sinful is that far too many people now satisfy their “need to read” with the wrong material. Too many Christians now neglect reading the Bible itself because they prefer to read the chapter of My Truth that describes “what God’s word means to me.” Should it surprise any of us that the massive shift in what and how we read has now led to the popularity of My Truth, even in our churches?
Thinking for yourself as a Christian is the exact opposite of My Truth. A Christian should enthusiastically set aside the most recent copy of My Truth so he can saturate his mind with and evaluate all things according to the truth of God’s word. And to do this, he needs to read the Bible! He needs to be transformed by the renewing of his mind (his thinking) and have in himself the mind (again, the thinking) of Christ Jesus! How can he do so if he never reads the Bible, God’s own thoughts recorded in his written word?
To bring this article full circle, how do you feed your need to read? Do you satisfy yourself by mindlessly scrolling through the latest copy of My Truth, or do you have a hunger for the well-balanced, wholesome nutrition of God’s word? Brothers and sisters, I pray you will read, meditate upon, and value God’s word every day. Even if you do not feel the need for God’s word, trust me – you need to read it.