How to Make Reading a Habit
For a few years growing up, my contemplative blowing-out-the-candles birthday wish was to own the entire collection of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures. Eventually, I moved on to collecting Major League Baseball cards, sorting and re-sorting them as I added new ones. Over the past decade, I have started collecting books—classic literature and Christian books, specifically. But you don’t have to collect books to become an avid reader.
If you’re like many people, perhaps you aren’t reading much because you haven’t set any goals to direct your reading. So establish some goals for yourself, and start with the Bible. The Bible should be the first reading priority in the life of a Christian, as it provides the foundation for understanding and discerning other books we read.
In Lit: A Christian Guide to Reading Books, Tony Reinke shares that his reading goals are: to know and delight in Christ, to kindle spiritual reflection, to initiate personal change, to pursue vocational excellence, and to enjoy a good story (95).
If these goals don’t resonate with you, then dedicate time to define your own reasons for reading. But I encourage you to base your goals, and anchor your reading, in the Word of God.
In Lit, Reinke provides six ways to find and protect time for reading—of which goal setting is one. These six truths can be very helpful as you seek to cultivate a regular habit of reading literature. Let’s look at the remaining five to gain helpful insight.
1. Expect resistance from your heart
Reading is a discipline, which is why you should expect resistance from your heart. “All disciplines require self-discipline,” Reinke writes, “and self-discipline is the one thing our sinful flesh will resist” (131). Our flesh deceives us into believing that we should be in control of the self, but self-control is actually a fruit of the Spirit. So we must live according to the Spirit if we want to make progress in reading books that enrich our spiritual growth.
2. Make time to read, not excuses for why you don’t read
Once we are in the habit of setting our minds on the Spirit, we are in a position to recognize when our desire for self-indulgence should be won over by the self-discipline required to read. There are always a hundred things we could be doing, but we can set small goals like reading for ten minutes before watching our favorite TV show or scrolling through social media apps. Or maybe we should simply stop watching TV or spending time on our phone and read instead.
Sometimes we simply lack the desire to read because we are too tired or too busy, yet we always find time to do the things we really want to do. Intentionally add reading to your list of priorities. Remember that reading is important and make time to do it.
3. Cultivate a hunger for books by reading (and rereading) great books
If you’re not sure what to read, ask a pastor or a friend for suggestions about the books that have impacted them the most. At College Park Church, we have a Resource Area that provides great options. I encourage you to utilize similar options at your church or to look for books from trusted Christian publishing companies at your local library.
4. Stop doing something else in order to make time to read
Sometimes we simply lack the desire to read because we are too tired or too busy. But the truth is that we always find time to do the things we really want to do. I encourage you to intentionally add reading to your list of priorities and then make time to read.
5. Try reading three (or more) books at a time and take advantage of your environments
It sounds counterintuitive, but if you’re struggling with finding time to read, try reading three books at a time. As Reinke suggests, “Different genres are suited for different times, and having three books gives greater flexibility in capturing fragments of time throughout the day” (134). Keep a book in the bathroom, a book by your bedside, and another one in your purse or car. Then you can read while you’re in the Starbucks drive-thru line or the backed-up carpool line, or even while stuck in traffic. When we plan ahead for reading, we are better able to make the best use of the time we have (Eph. 5:16). We set ourselves up to follow through on our goals to grow spiritually through a regular habit of reading.