Summer time always brings a sense of a positive letdown. I mean by this that the days are longer, the weather is warmer, we spend more time outside in more relaxing activities, and we take a vacation. Last summer was the exception as we were in the midst of covid, but hopefully this July and August will be more normal for us all.
My grandchildren are getting ready this week to take a week’s vacation to the beach in New Jersey. One essential stop before packing was to the library. I think my grandson took out about a dozen books to read. Some to read in the car on the trip down and back, others to read at the beach or in the evening. He also told me that he can’t wait to show me the little bookstore they discovered on their last trip to Cape May.
Ah summer reading. Lois always picks out a particularly long book for our vacation, something like “War and Peace” or “Infinite Jest.” I on the other hand usually find myself falling asleep with the book on my chest. As a result I shy away from the big volumes that are easier to read at a desk then at the beach. I don’t usually pack more than a couple of books when we go on vacation because one of the things I plan to do is find some used bookstores and spend an hour or so trying to discover that next book that I didn’t know even existed. That usually becomes my vacation reading.
I also have discovered the older I get that I am less interested in reading something new than I am in rereading what I have already enjoyed. And as most of you know by walking past my office, I already have a sufficient number of books to last me a lifetime of vacation reading. So I am planning to take a couple of previously read gems and reacquaint myself with them this summer.
The first one I am taking off the shelf is “Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading” by Eugene Peterson. Its title comes from the Bible. There were three individuals who reported that God presented them with a scroll or book in a vision and were told to eat it. The first was Jeremiah (Jeremiah 15:16), the second Ezekiel (Ezekiel 2:8-3:3), and the third John (Revelation 10:9-10). It reminds me that the most important book to read is God’s word, the Bible. This reading is “not primarily informational, telling us things about God and ourselves, but formational, shaping us into our true being.”* The proper way to read the Bible then is to approach it not as a textbook but as a relational letter. Consequently, “the most important question we ask of this text is not, ‘What does this mean?’ but ‘What can I obey?’ A simple act of obedience will open up our lives to this text far more quickly than any number of Bible studies and dictionaries and concordances.”* This is exactly what Jesus said to the religious folk of his day who were questioning what he was teaching. He said, “If any one chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own” (John 7:17).
I say all this in order to encourage your summer reading to include a new approach to Bible reading. Yes, it is a big book. So if you are like Lois and want a lengthy tome to work through as you sit at the beach drinking ice tea, this can be your book. Or if you are more like me and prefer shorter volumes, then choose just one of the books in the Bible and read and reread it this summer. Make it your goal to become familiar with what is in each chapter. But remember, it isn’t simply information that Bible reading is to provide, it is spiritual formation which only happens as we look to apply and obey Scriptures directives. It was the Lord’s brother James who wrote, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in the mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it – he will be blessed in what he does” (James 1:21-25).
May your summer reading be enjoyable, refreshing, inspiring, and profitable. See you in Worship.
* Eugene H. Peterson, Eat This Book (Eerdmans, 2006), p. 24 & 71.