Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Reading as a Ministry (Part 1)

Reading as a ministry? Wha . . .!? Don't we read for personal pleasure? How on earth could reading be considered a ministry?

I admit I didn't really think of it as being a ministry at first. After all, it doesn't seem to fit the definition of serving others very well. Reading takes time and focuses your attention on things other than laundry, dishes, regular bouts of hospitality, one-on-one attention to the children, etc., etc., etc. I thought of reading as something I pursued for my own personal pleasure. It is my escape from life. It doesn't exactly feel like reading draws me TO life and to service and ministry to others.

But wait.

Two things.

1. When I read (at least for me personally) I'm testing my thoughts and beliefs. I'm debating truth within myself. Yes, I am being entertained in a way that I enjoy, but reading makes me think (as well it should!). I test the author's world view against my own. I see if what the author has to say matches up to what the Bible says is true, honorable, pure and good. I think (or I try to) a great deal while I am reading. (Hence I titled this site Reading to Know.)

What I think inside my head and what I believe is true (or not) will play out in my actions to others. What I put inside of me either ministers to me or it tears me down. Again, whatever I put inside of myself will come out. If I take the time to choose books well and wisely, then I have greater chance of being a blessing to others as I act out what is good and right. If I am blessed and inspired towards truth and accurate love, then I will be able to share the same with others.

No, I'm not trying to justify my reading time at all. I don't think I have to. What I internalize I will externalize in my treatment towards you and others. It behooves you and me both to find quality reading material for me to spend my time on. Time well spent on reading is well-spent elsewhere when I began applying whatever truths I took in, processed, and acted out.

Because I believe that what we read (watch on tv., the company we tend to keep) will influence our attitudes, actions and behaviors, I DO think reading can be a ministry to others as we seek to learn, grown and mature in life.

1 Corinthians 15:33, spelled out in various translations (Yes, I recognize that it is specifically addressing human companionship but if your companion is your television set or your bookshelf then me thinks it doth apply!):

Stop being deceived: "Wicked friends lead to evil ends." (ISV)

Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners. (AKJV)

Do not be tricked by false words: evil company does damage to good behaviour.

2. I believed all of the above but didn't really think of it in a hard fast word called "ministry" until a friend of mine sent me an e-mail to ask me if there was a book I could recommend to her that would help encourage her spirit and build her up. Having recently read a few titles I thought she would enjoy and would be "just the thing" for where she was at - I sent her my recommendations and she followed up on them. Then, in relatively short time frame, another friend of mine asked me for information on blogs and blogging in relation to books. I had a little bit of experience and was able to tell her what I knew. It was helpful to her and exciting to me.

Now, I don't share either of the above instances to puff myself up. At all. I'm not thinking along those lines. What I mean to explain was that it took those two instances, one after another, to get me to really shift my thinking to including "reading" under the header "ministry". What was a foreign concept, suddenly seemed to be quite obvious.

Reading does encourage spirits. It distracts in time of need. It fosters good relationships. Knowing what books are worthy of time and attention and which ones are not worth the time of day can assist others in finding the answers that they need and want in an efficient time period.

There are plenty of books out there in this world. We're all aware of this. However, there are not as many writing talents as there are books, if you catch my drift. Having the time, energy and interest to sort through the stacks of books is a help to those who have less time and/or interest in doing so. Furthermore, developing the skill of being a discerning reader is equally important in this ministry. Thinking clearly and accurately is a skill worth developing. (To understand my reasons for thinking so, read my review of The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment.)

I think it's important to be a thinking reader. I don't think we have the option, really, of not being one. Reading "light" books/fiction or whatever is certainly a blessing and a joy at times and I begrudge no one that bliss. Fiction is just as important as non-fiction. I'm not making distinction here between genres as I am between the reader's approach to any book. We cannot simply turn our brains off when we read. It is a disservice to ourselves and to those immediately within our sphere of influence. As a reader we bear the responsibility of filtering books, thinking about them, talking about them, BLOGGING about them, promoting the good and shunning the bad. (Note: I did not say banning, I said shunning.)

My mother-in-law wrote down the following quote and I really don't know who to give proper credit to:

"You'll be the same person that you are now in five years, except for the people you meet and the books you read."

Books and relationships go together. They build us up individually and as a society and tear us down in the same way. It's important to think about what you are reading and let things influence you properly. When that is said and done, then you'll truly be ministering to others.

At least, that's my opinion, goal and hope.

That all said, I hope my personal question to myself upon picking up a book is, "How will this affect me and my ministry to others?"

It's a valid question, don'tcha think?


Katrina said...

Good thoughts, Carrie. I recently received an email asking for book recommendations. The sender was going through a particularly difficult time, and I was thankful that I could recommend some books that I believe will help her. I hadn't thought of it as "ministry" at the time're right. Our reading can certainly contribute to our ability to minister to others.

Ronnica said...

I have had a post brewing in my head on sorta these lines (title: Is Fiction Just Fiction)! I agree with what you've said, but I think there's also another aspect.

I also think of reading as a ministry in that I can share the gospel through book discussion. In most books, there's something to pick up on: the depravity of man, the hopelessness of life without Christ, all good things coming from above. Since books are often reflections of their authors, they often reflect a depraved being searching for meaning, purpose, happiness, love, etc. Or, perhaps the book reflects redemption, grace, salvation, or our needs for these things.

Barbara H. said...

I was thinking of that quote your mother shared! I think you're right on. People who know I love to read will sometimes ask me for a good book on various subjects.

I have seen, though, on Christian message boards where someone will say they talked to so-an-so about a problem and "all they wanted to do was throw books at me." I was shocked. I never feel that way when someone recommends a book. I know sometimes we need a more immediate answer, but usually in such a conversation I'll share whatever the Lord lays on my heart to say and then recommend a good book that goes further on the subject.

But whether we recommend a specific book or share what we learned by reading one, what we read does make up the thoughts and illustrations we can share with others. I hadn't thought of it in terms of ministry, either, but it is that.

Janice Phillips said...

TOTALLY can be a ministry if you have the right attitude/theology about it.

As for the feels Jeffersonian to me but could not be attributed on the Monticello site...still, a quotable quote to be sure!!

Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

I agree that the discipline of reading can be a ministry(bibliotherapy or biblioministry, perhaps?), but I usually find that not many people among my acquaintances and friends are as moved by books as I am. I suppose it's just our bent to be that way.

Annie said...

Wow. I'm just in silence (the good kind) from the clarity and wisdom here and blessed by this post so much. I got to your blog after reading a post at 5MinforBooks (about 101 dalmations!) and now I'm just drooling on my keyboard and hopping from post to post on your site.
I'm an avid reader, have been since I learned to read around age 4. I love sharing books and knowledge with others, but I never looked at it in the context of ministry. Thanks for sharing this, so much.

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