I’ve been mindful of the spiritual classics since my Regent College days. Many old gems remain largely unread, untouched, and undiscovered. In a world that tends to prefer the new, the latest, and the greatest, it’s pure foolishness to become so infatuated with the advancements of the present and ignore the wisdom of the past. This pertains to what we read. As technology makes it easier for us to communicate in snippets (and to read only the juicy parts of our lives and our friends’ lives) it’s a good reminder to return to the basics. We can take a cue from the wisdom of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism:
1. Set aside time on a regular basis for spiritual reading. It does not need to be a long time. Consistency is the key.
2. Prepare yourself for reading. Quiet your heart. Approach God in prayer. Ask that he would help you see the truth, and have the courage to follow through on its implications for your living.
3. Read slowly, seriously and attentively. Take time to pause in your reading. Focus intently on the truth of a passage. Allow it to sink into your heart. Open your heart to the enlightenment of God’s grace.
4. Intersperse your reading with short prayers to God. Make note of helpful sayings or sage pieces of advice. Memorize them or write them down. You may want to share them with a friend.
5. Conclude your reading with a short prayer to God. Ask that seeds sown in your heart would bring forth a rich harvest of obedience and devotion. (Adapted from Mark Harris’s Companions for the Spiritual Journey, Regent College Publishing, 1999, p124.)
In spiritual reading, one needs REGULARITY (Point 1). It’s of no benefit to do reading as a one-off exercise. Like exercise, it’s more beneficial to do a short 10-minute exercise daily, rather than to tough it out for more than one hour in the gym once a week. The human body behaves better in consistent practice instead of one-time intense activity.
The second point, PREPARATION, is useful especially in an age where we’re easily distracted. Silence the cellphone. Quiet your heart. Go to a quiet place in order to read and to pray.
Third, reading must be INTENTIONAL. Sometimes readers tend to assume that to read means to read from beginning to end. Otherwise, they deem their reading expedition a failure which can discourage them from beginning it in the first place. No! Reading can be short or long. The main thing is to be intentional. Maybe read one chapter. This is especially relevant for reading spiritual classics, like Augustine’s Confessions or St Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises.
Fourth, reading and praying are RHYTHMS necessary for spiritual reading. Like breathing, we cannot exhale all the time. We need to inhale sometimes, exhale at other times. The better we are at managing the rhythm, the better we are at controlling our overall stress level.
Finally, close with a concluding PRAYER. This is a wonderful acknowledgment that whatever we have read has its own measure of application and significance. Ask the Spirit to guide you into all truth, and to practice the truth. Ask God to help you discern, and to put into practice what you’ve learned.
Spiritual reading and prayer work together. We should read prayerfully, as well as pray mindfully. Reading the Bible—along with other rich spiritual works—and prayer, form a unique and firm bond for your heart and mind. —submitted by Conrade Yap, Canada