In a recent article, I discussed reading spiritual books; specifically study helps, biographies, and devotionals. I believe good books are a gift from God and that each of these genres has its purpose and its benefit. However, as sinners, there are a lot of ways we misuse God’s gifts, books included. We can read in a way that produces pride, dissatisfaction, laziness, and even distance from God.
Once we begin to dig into Christian reads and uncover volumes of information and encouragement, it is easy to start speeding through the pages. Sometimes we take in more than we can really apply, and soon we find ourselves with piles of new knowledge, a big head, and no real benefit. Rushing through Christian books only produces pride. Spiritual books aren’t supposed to be read like a novel or a textbook. They are meant to point us to God, to teach us about Him, to capture our affections, and to spur us on as we follow Him. We should read slowly, carefully, looking for God on every page.
Good books also become dangerous when we replace the Bible with them. I made this mistake within months of becoming a Christian by substituting a devotional book for the Bible during my quiet time. It was a truthful, clear, encouraging book, and I enjoyed reading it. I found it easier to take in the already-processed truths in the book rather than dig into the Bible and find them for myself. After a few weeks of not studying my Bible, I was bored with spiritual things and had little desire to seek the Lord. Good books are beneficial, but they cannot support the Christian soul, and they are an unsatisfactory substitute for God’s word.
Other issues can arise when reading biographies. We admire the Christians in those books (who the authors often portray as nearly-perfect saints) and enjoy learning about their lives. Perhaps we read more of their books, find some good quotes from them, or even buy a mug or a t-shirt with their face on it. Sometimes the person and their particular traits can impress us more than the image of Christ we see in them. Admiration is not the goal of a well-written biography. Admiration must lead to action. If the Believer in the story lived a praiseworthy life by the grace of God, let us follow their example and obey the Lord.
Another problem with biographies arises when we become dissatisfied with our own circumstances after reading about the heroic life of another Christian. We can think, “If only I could do more for God like So-and-So did,” which sounds rather pious and humble, but it really is a statement stemming from pride. We think that we’re important and deserve to be used in big ways in the Kingdom rather than being content to work for God where He has us now. This is selfish ambition. We want to be important and noticed rather than trusting and obeying the Lord
Good books can help us in our daily walk with the Lord. They can also cause great harm if we abuse them. If we are not careful, we can puff ourselves up with knowledge about God while failing to obey Him, substitute a book for the Word of God and find ourselves distant from Him, or become bitter with the Lord after reading a biography. Let us approach good books humbly and carefully, always aiming to use them for His glory.