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Getting More out of Your Reading

Little learning and much pride come of hasty reading. Books may be piled on the brain till it cannot work. Some men are disabled from thinking by putting meditation away for the sake of much reading. They gorge themselves with book-matter, and become mentally dyspeptic. Books on the brain cause disease. Get the book into the brain, and you will grow.
Charles Spurgeon 1

Already in our Training Resources posts we’ve argued that reading is an important activity for leaders, but today we want to add a corollary: reading a lot and not processing what you read is something like eating a lot of food and not digesting it. This is true of reading the Bible as well as other resources. James told us not to be hearers of the Word only, but also doers of the Word (James 1:22). In an information-rich age, we particularly need to heed his warning.

If you feel like you’re always reading but rarely are impacted by what you read, or if you just want to get more out of your reading, here are a few ideas to maximize the value of your exposure to the written word.

  • Whenever you read a passage of Scripture, pause briefly and ask yourself, “What is the main idea of what I just read, and why might God be showing me this right now?” 2
  • Mark in your books, and when you finish reading each one, go back and write insightful statements on index cards you can review. Ryan Holliday, a voracious reader and widely read book reviewer, advocates for this practice.
  • Tell somebody what you’re learning from your reading and how you are implementing those lessons.
  • A particular challenge for bibliophiles: every time you buy or receive a book, give a book away. This will spur you to be generous and make you think twice before accumulating material you know you won’t read. (Thanks to Tim Challies for this suggestion.)

How do you get the most out of your reading? Leave us a comment and we’ll be glad to reply.

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1 From Spurgeon’s Lectures to my Students; cited at From the Pastor’s Study.

2 For a great helpful model of mediating on biblical text, see Timothy Keller’s Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (New York: Dutton, 2014), 252–253. Emphasis quoted.

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