Pastor John, here’s a very common question that we get emailed to us by friends who listen to this podcast. It goes something like this: “I don’t like to read, period. It has nothing to do with the Bible, I just don’t like reading. How do I stay motivated then to read every day?”
Let’s start this way with six very short, and I hope, very obvious statements that have huge implications about reading:
- The Bible is a book.
- It is inspired by God.
- It is all true and profitable for our faith, our salvation, our holiness.
- It lies dormant and useless unless it is read. Reading is the only key that unlocks writing, even inspired writing.
- Therefore, we must have this message either by our own reading, or through the reading of another.
- So if we do not read — and millions, of course, can’t read quite apart from whether they want to or not. Millions can’t read yet. They are preliterate — then we must avail ourselves of others’ reading, namely by live or recorded reading of the word.
Reading by Listening
This is probably why Paul said to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:13, “Until I come, devote yourself to the reading of Scripture.” Now almost all the translations say public reading of Scripture. And that is probably right. He was telling Timothy, “Be sure the Scriptures are read every gathering. Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.” Many, probably, among the new believers couldn’t read. Yet they were dependent on the reading.
So today we can listen. For example, the ESV Study Bible — I was just using it the other day at the gym — has a part to its app that can read what you are looking at — it reads it to you. And the reading is good. I like this guy and the way he reads to me. And it scrolls as you read. So you can let him do the reading, while you actually look at the words. So that is my compromise answer to the question. The word of God going into our minds and hearts day and night is essential. Meditate on the law of the Lord day and night. It is essential if we are going to be like trees planted by water when the desert winds are blowing from all around us (see Psalm 1:2–3). So if you can’t bring yourself to read, then, by all means listen to the word of God every day.
Questions to Encourage Your Reading
But before I quit, I have to ask a few questions to our friend. God might use these questions to stir you up to more freely and joyfully make the effort to read. So here are my questions.
1. Do you consider reading a pathway to Jesus?
First, have you seriously considered that God himself has appointed reading as the way to know the mystery of Christ, that God himself — no fluke of history, no conspiracy of intellectuals — decided that it should be so?
Consider Ephesians 3:3–4: “The mystery was made known to me,” the apostle says, “by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this” — it is a participle — “you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ.” That is amazing. God has appointed reading as a pathway into the mystery of the living Christ!
2. Do you perceive reading as a gift?
Here is the second question: Have you considered that there are millions of people around the world — and there have been millions in history — that would have given almost anything if someone would teach them how to read? They have intuited that not being able to read makes a person a blind man in a world of light.
In other words, have you thought seriously about the gift you have? You probably got it in the third grade— what a gift you have, that you simply can read, a gift that many would almost die to have.
3. Do you believe your reading can turn into a pleasure?
Here’s the third question: Have you considered that the greatness of what you read really can turn reading into a pleasure, even for those who don’t like the act of reading itself? For example, would you enjoy reading a letter that begins, “Dear Sir, you are the beneficiary of a million-dollar inheritance. Please read on.” Seriously. What would happen to your pleasure factor in reading? Or here is another question: Would you find pleasure in reading a note from your doctor telling you your surgery was completely successful? The cancer is entirely removed and the likelihood of it returning is virtually zero. How would you feel as you read on through the paragraph? Would reading be a burden?
Would you find pleasure in reading a letter from your long-alienated son telling you that he has trusted in Christ and would like to come home? Would it be a burden to read the rest of that letter? Would you enjoy reading an affidavit from your attorney explaining that the legal suit against you and your business has been dropped? Would that be a burden? Would you find pleasure in reading that letter? In other words, it is possible that if you saw enough glory, enough beauty, enough thrilling news in what you were reading that you would have the motivation to do it with joy.
4. Do you pray for motivation to read?
And, lastly, I would ask: Have you prayed? Have you asked for the illumination and motivation that you need?
But I will end where I began. I don’t want to make it impossible: Don’t let your disinclination to read stop you from taking in the word of God. Listen with your phone in the bathroom. Listen in the car. Listen when exercising. Listen, listen, listen. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).