“Write this down,” said God to Moses and various prophets, as recorded in Holy Scripture. If He wanted His story written, God surely intended it to be read.
The sharpest people you know are readers; the dullest never crack a book. My parents both read constantly. There was never a time in my growing up years when we did not take the newspaper, and sometimes more than one. In 2007, when God took our Dad the family had to cancel a half dozen subscriptions to magazines he was taking. He was nearly 96.
At the moment, my bedside table holds books on history, politics, music, and westerns. Every couple of weeks I go through those I’ve read and ship some off to family or make a delivery to Goodwill. Otherwise, we would be running over with books around here.
And I love it.
In her book, Leadership in Turbulent Times, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin tells how several presidents came to develop their gifts for influencing others and leading the nation. Early on, with Abraham Lincoln, there was a love for books.
Left on his own, Abraham had to educate himself. He had to take the initiative, assume responsibility for securing books, decide what to study, become his own teacher. He made things happen instead of waiting for them to happen. Gaining access to reading material proved nearly insurmountable. Relatives and neighbors recalled that Lincoln scoured the countryside to borrow books and read every volume “he could lay his hands on.” A book was his steadfast companion. Every respite from the daily manual tasks was a time to read a page or two from Pilgrim’s Progress or Aesop’s Fables, pausing while resting his horse at the end of a long row of planting.
Then, Goodwin says about his technique:
Some leaders learn by writing, others by reading, still others by listening. Lincoln preferred reading aloud in the presence of others. “When I read aloud,” Lincoln later explained, “two senses catch the idea: first, I see what I read; second, I hear it, and therefore I remember it better.” Early on, he possessed a vivid sensibility for the music and rhythm of poetry and drama; he recited long stanzas and passages from memory. When the time came to return the borrowed books, he had made them his own.
The Apostle Paul told young Pastor Timothy, “Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture.…” (I Timothy 4:13). Since people typically were unable to own scrolls and parchment in those days, they had one way and one way only to know Scripture: When they came together, someone opened a scroll and began reading. This is why we’re told, “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17).
Read it well, worship leader!
One of the best things a worship leader can do in a service is to read the Word of God aloud. But they should work hard at doing it well. This requires thorough preparation, careful enunciation, and treating these words as the jewels and treasures they are. We remind pastors that what they read from God’s Book is far more important than what they will say about it!
Historian Goodwin spoke of Theodore Roosevelt and his love for reading:
While asthma weakened young Roosevelt’s body, it indirectly spurred the development of an already precocious mind. “From the very fact that he was not able originally to enter into the most vigorous activities,” his younger sister Corinne, noted, “he was always reading or writing” with a most unusual “power of concentration.” There was nothing ordinary about his intellectual vitality, his curiosity, or his ambitious dream life. Under the guiding eye of his father, who ceaselessly encouraged his son’s intellectual and spiritual development (as opposed to Abraham Lincoln’s father who would jerk a book from the boy’s hand and rebuke him for wasting his time–Joe), Teedie became a ferocious reader, transporting himself into the lives of the adventurous heroes he most admired–men with extraordinary bodily strength, who were fearless in battle, explorers in Africa, deerslayers living on the edge of the wilderness. When asked years later whether he knew the characters in James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales, he laughed: “Do I know them? I have bunked with them and eaten with them, and I know their strengths and weaknesses.”
Whereas Lincoln had to scrounge for books, young TR had no trouble there….
Few young children read as broadly or had such access to books as young Roosevelt. He had only to pick a volume from the shelves of the vast library in his family’s home or express interest in a particular book and it would magically materialize. During one family vacation, Teedie proudly reported that he and his younger brother and sister, Elliott and Corinne, had devoured fifty novels! Thee (the father’s nickname) read aloud to his children in the evenings after dinner…. The effortless way Teedie secured hundreds of books provides stark contrast with the six-mile trek of Abraham to borrow Kirkham’s English Grammar, a comparison made brutal by superimposing Thee’s constant endeavors to feed Teedie’s reading with the image of Thomas Lincoln tearing books from Abraham’s grasp. Yet, however dissimilar their upbringings, books became for both Lincoln and Roosevelt “the greatest of companions.” Every day for the rest of their lives, both men set aside time for reading, snatching moments while waiting for meals, between visitors, or lying in bed before sleep.
A friend who visited the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library in West Branch, Iowa, gifted me with a biography of this interesting man (Hoover: An Extraordinary Life in Extraordinary Times). Like most people, I had seriously underestimated Hoover, unable to get past the poor leadership he provided the nation during the early years of the Great Depression. But prior to his presidency, Hoover, who had come from nowhere and nothing, vigorously remade himself into an overachiever of the first order. Biographer Kenneth Whyte speaks of young Hoover’s reading:
Miss Gray (his teacher) invited Herbert to the Salem lending library, an adventure he readily embarked on…. He began to see literature as a living thing, and he would develop a serious lifelong reading habit, growing up to quote Milton: “A good book is the precious lifeblood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life.”
In his book on the American spirit, David McCullough reports that in delivering the baccalaureate address at the University of Massachusetts, he urged the audience to get a copy of University President William M. Bulger‘s book While the Music Lasts: My Life in Politics if for no other reason than to read one paragraph on page 19. I bought the book for that passage–
A second seminal influence was the fact that I came into great wealth at an early age: I discovered books. Almost from the beginning of that windfall, that unguided adventure, when I had to read with a dictionary open beside me to look up the words, I was deeply moved. I realized I had found something of the greatest value. What began as an infatuation rapidly escalated to an almost febrile addiction. (Look it up! –Joe) The more I read, the more I wanted to read–trivia, trash and classics, the lot; it was all one to me at the start, some of it utterly useless, much of it beyond my ken…. I have rarely relied on spirits to raise my spirit, but I know what drunkenness is, because I became drunk on books, an intoxication from which I never sobered, nor ever wanted to.
Books took me to worlds never hinted at by Father Dwyer. They often disturbed me and made me long for something I could not identify or perhaps someone I had yet to meet. They produced a contrapuntal sense of exhilaration and optimism.
Sometimes I found that books filled my head with vast and stunning thoughts. They seemed so novel that I wondered whether anyone else had ever thought such thoughts before. They came like storms whirling through my mind, leaving me uncomfortably embarrassed when normality returned.
And now, a word to those who have not developed such a great love for books….
–Give yourself a chance. Even if you did not read as a youth, perhaps you have reached a point in life where you are now ready.
–At the public library, browse through the stacks. Pull a few books off the shelves at random and sit at a table reading the first ten pages, just to get a feel for them. It’s perfectly fine to leave them on the table when finished; the librarians report of those books to people who wonder if these facilities are being used.
–Take a half dozen books home with you. Feel free to read a few pages and then decide that one is not for you. Never feel a compulsion to finish a book. (My practice with a novel is usually to give the author a hundred pages. If I’m not hooked by then–I don’t care for the characters or have no interest in anything that’s happening, that’s it.)
–If your church has a library or media center, visit it. Encourage others to use it also.
–Have a couple of books in your car for those times when you are stuck in traffic, when you have an hour to kill waiting for someone or something, or when you need a great lunch companion.
–Read widely. Don’t be put off by people who say novels are a waste of time because someone made up the story. Often a work of fiction contains more truth than a history book.
Enjoy. Oh, and one more thing. Don’t be telling others what you are doing–some will hear it as bragging–for the first year or so. Just do it.
And do not neglect reading Scripture, most of all.
I have three suggestions–
- If you have never read through the entire Bible, find a plan for doing so in one year and get started. Have a fine-point pen and highlighter handy so you can mark it up. Personalizing your copy of Scriptures will make it a legacy for those who love you.
- A plan many people live by is to read 5 Psalms and one chapter of Proverbs each morning first thing. That will take you one month. Then, do it again. And again. And once more, have your pen and highlighter handy. Eventually, some of those key verses will become as much a part of who you are as your bones and tissue.
- Depending on how much you already know of your Bible, I suggest you focus on the four Gospels and read them repeatedly over a year. Learn their message, learn the ways they are alike and how they differ, and get the story of Jesus firmly fixed in your mind and heart.
You will be forever blessed.