One of the questions that I often get asked is “How can you read so much, you’re already so busy, how do you find the time?”

This question usually comes after people hear that for the last five years I have set myself the challenge of reading 5 books a month. This wasn’t and isn’t an easy task and two of the biggest reasons that I can read so much is because 1) I get very little sleep and 2) I started to discipline myself to read.

Let me tell you a little unknown fact about myself… …When I was younger I hated reading. But before you say “no, that can’t be true”, let me stress that again, I HATED reading. I found it boring, tiresome and just annoying. But during my time at Bible College I was on a months placement, and I had no choice but to read. I was in a remote town in the highlands, no TV, no phone signal and no movies on my laptop. The only things that I had with me were the books that I had taken for research for my dissertation.

That is when I came to realise the benefit of reading. But the distaste for it didn’t leave right away, I had to discipline myself. After Sabine left for work in the mornings and before my classes started I had a 30 minute window, and I forced myself to sit and read. I turned off Facebook, I put my phone away and whether I felt like it or not I read for that whole 30 minutes. And after a few days (and the right book!) I actually started to enjoy myself. Then I started to be able to read faster and I was able to retain much of what I was reading.

Reading is not just a hobby and it isn’t just a time-killer, reading is a tool that we can use to grow in our intellect, grow in our knowledge of God and grow in our spiritual maturity.

Here are 5 principles that changed my ‘reading life’…

  1. Read the right books
    Don’t just start with any old book, or the one that you feel guilty about not having read yet. Start with a book you’ll enjoy and get reading it! Find out what you like, for example I don’t read novels because 1) I have a big library full of theology books that are waiting to be underlined; and 2) because I’m able to relax and enjoy reading theology books (weird, I know). So pick the book that appeals to you and read. 

    Or, if you aren’t new to reading a good number of books, don’t just pick ones that you agree with. Reading books that you know you won’t agree with, or you’ll find questionable, is good because it stretches you. I try to read a book that I disagree with about once every month or two months. That kind of pattern helps me know what others are reading and how to argue for or against an aspect of theology. 
    Read the right books.

  2. Read for your spiritual benefit
    Reading is a hobby, it is relaxing (I think), but it can help us spiritually. Reading material that stretches our minds, lifts our eyes to Jesus and helps us see the magnificence of God, that kind of book is worth it! If you come across something in your personal devotions that you’d like to research, read a book on it. If you are wrestling with an aspect of theology, read a good book that expounds what the Bible says on that topic. Reading like this can help you get away from the ‘oh no, I have to do some reading’ mindset and help you enjoy books that you maybe wouldn’t have picked up at first glance. I have tons of books that this happened with. You look at the cover and judge the book (we all do it, don’t lie), but after a few pages or chapters you’re actually really enjoying it and you’re learning so much about God and His Word. Read books that make your heart yearn to know God more, books that encourage you to give Him glory, and read books that will benefit your soul!

  3. Read for your enjoyment
    I’ll tell you a secret: you can also just read a book for enjoyment, shocking I know. You don’t always have to read a book and think about how to argue for or against it. You don’t always have to be looking for that perfect sermon quote. You don’t always have to read theology because ‘that’s what a good Christian should do’ – you can read a book for fun. There is no point dragging your way through a book that you know is going to be hard just because you feel that you need to. Not every book is a cover to cover kind of book. I enjoy reading theology, but I’m not going to pick up a massive systematic theology and read it from cover to cover in under a week. Especially at the start pick books that you know you’ll be captivated by. One of those books that I read this year was Enjoying God by Tim Chester. I devoured that book because I enjoyed it. I learned more from it because I enjoyed it and I remember it well because I enjoyed it. Read good books that you will enjoy reading. 

  4. Read whenever you can
    One of the things that I learned a few years back was how much people sit around doing nothing. We wait at bus stops and on buses, we wait in line and in Doctor’s surgeries, we do a lot of standing around. Therefore, I started to carry around a little book with me. That way I can pull out my book instead of mindlessly scrolling through social media. You can either get smaller books, 10ofThose & The Good Book Company sell tons, or you can get a kindle or the kindle app. That way you always have a book with you and even if it’s only 5 minutes, use that time to read. Also carry a pen. I started taking notes in my books and underlining about a year ago and it’s really improved how I read and my memory when I flick through a book again. 

  5. Set aside time to read
    Last but not least, set aside time to read. Whether it’s 10 minutes in the morning or for half an hour before you go to sleep, set a little bit of time aside a day just for reading. Habits don’t create themselves (or at least the good ones don’t), but you need to work on them, and it is no different with reading. Setting a predetermined time aside everyday is helpful because it becomes a routine and before you know it you’ll be doing it without even thinking. Another helpful thing to do is creating a ‘reading place’. It may sound silly but I have found that if I sit on the arm chair in the living room which faces away from the TV then I want to read. It’s like I’ve trained my brain to read there. I’m not saying that this is a scientific thing, because I have no idea, but this is what has worked for me.

So, how can you improve your reading in 2019, there are 5 principles that I have found helpful and that I hope you too will find helpful. Pick up and read and join the bookworm club!