Seasons. We see them in nature; there is winter, summer, spring, and fall. Having been born and raised in New England I am very familiar with the seasons. During each of them the weather changes. In fact, many people travel to New England at certain times during the year because of the changes that take place. People like to go to Cape Cod in the summer. Here they can spend time near the ocean. Others like to head up to Vermont or New Hampshire in the fall to see the foliage when the leaves are changing color.
We also experience seasons in life. Those who are young tend to be strong and able to move about freely. Over the course of time our weight, height, and features change. Those of us who are older may find that we are not as strong and quick as we used to be. We may also find that our memory is not as good as it was. As time goes on things change, this is true both in nature and in our physical bodies.
As believers in Christ there are also changes that take place in our spiritual lives. When I was growing up I was not much of a reader, but once I became a genuine believer that changed. I began to do some reading and I continue to read today. However, as I have looked back over my life I have noticed that my reading habits have changed. Back in the mid 1970s when I read the Bible I usually read the New Testament. I also read some books in which people shared their testimonies. During this time the Charismatic Movement was very strong and a lot of people were receiving the baptism in the Holy Spirit. This was fascinating to me because I cannot recall hearing anything about this in the church I was raised in. I am sure Acts 2 was read on Pentecost and 1 Corinthians was read at some point during the year but that is about it. I don’t think there was an extensive teaching on the charismatic workings of the Spirit. Back in the 1970s there were some significant books in which people shared their stories. I also became aware of some books about the Holy Spirit. This was a new world, which I was first exposed to in an ecumenical Charismatic community that met on the grounds of a local Catholic church. But at this time I do not believe I had much of a biblical library. I think I had Halley’s Bible Handbook, and perhaps one of Merrill Unger’s books, either the handbook or the dictionary, a couple of William Barclay’s commentaries, and maybe a few other books but not much else.
As the 1980s began my reading habits changed. The major reason for this was necessity. At that time I went to study at a Bible school. This meant I had to give more attention to the Old Testament and I had to read books that involved serious Bible study. When I was in this school I took courses on the Old Testament and the New Testament. In addition to these courses I also studied church history, evangelism, biblical geography, and the cults. I took four courses in systematic theology. One interesting note on the theology courses, whenever a biblical reference was mentioned in one of the textbooks the student was required to go to the Bible and read the reference. For example, if I was reading and saw (Eph. 2:8) I had to get my Bible and read that verse. At least some of those theology courses had two textbooks so I looked up a lot of Bible verses! I also had a few other courses that I have not listed by name. Needless to say I read more academic type books during this time.
In 1990 I began pastoral ministry. This also kept me reading academic books. I did this for two reasons, first, because I was interested in them and second because they were necessary for me to carry on my work. One thing that made them necessary was that at times I preached through biblical books. I did this on Sunday mornings. I preached through the gospel of Matthew, the book of Acts, and a few other books as well. In the course of preaching through these books it was necessary for me to consult the experts. I needed the insights that the authors had gained from years of study. Also in the 1990s Craig Keener began to have books published. I appreciated his writing. In some of his books he addressed controversial subjects, issues that are debated in the Christian church. I liked the fact that though his books were scholarly they were easy to understand.
In the late 90s I decided to go to seminary to pursue a master’s degree. This brought me even further into the world of books. Some of my professors were authors. I took courses on a variety of subjects: research and writing, urban ministry, the Pentateuch, the Life and Teachings of Jesus, Paul’s urban churches, 1 Corinthians, Revelation, Greek, exegesis, Mentored Ministry, and a number of systematic theology courses. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in seminary. Both the faculty and the students were diverse, both ethnically and denominationally. It was a great learning experience.
I served as a pastor in one church for twenty years. I left that church in January of 2011, I have not been in pastoral ministry since that time. However, I continue to preach and teach and writing has occupied more of my time. I also continue to read. I read the Bible and other books. I think it is important to keep learning. In the last few years I have noticed a change in my reading habits. I don’t read as many academic books now. The majority of my reading now focuses on the Holy Spirit, missions, and Christianity in other nations. I am sure that part of the reason for this is that I have made a number of trips overseas. I have been to both Africa and Asia, so I have seen Christianity in other parts of the world. And I will tell you it is vibrant in both places! Being a Pentecostal I naturally have an interest in the Holy Spirit and His gifts. But I also see a connection between my reading about the Holy Spirit and missions. Jesus said “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8 NIV). The Holy Spirit plays a vital role in the task of world missions, He is the driving force of missions. I have also read a number of books about Christianity in other nations. Most of this reading has been about nations that are hostile to the gospel. I have read about the church in Iran, North Korea, and China. Eugene Bach and Paul Hattaway have written books that tell the story of Christianity in these lands.
The Bible says “Of making many books there is no end” (Eccl. 12:12b NIV). This is definitely true! The same biblical book also tells us “There is a time for everything” (Eccl. 3:1a NIV). I think there are seasons for different kinds of reading in the life of a minister. But we are not all on the same reading plan. We must believe that these changes serve a purpose. If you notice that your reading habits have changed do not let it concern you. It may be just what the Lord has for you in this season of life and ministry. The new and different books may be helping to round you out as a person. If you see this happening in your life don’t be afraid to “turn the page on reading.”
Scriptures quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ®, NIV ®
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About the Author
John P. Lathrop is a graduate of Zion Bible Institute and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and is an ordained minister with the International Fellowship of Christian Assemblies. He has written articles and book reviews for a number of publications including the Pneuma Review, the Africanus Journal of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Christian Trends Magazine, in India, and Berita Mujizat and Jurnal Jaffray, both in Indonesia. He is also the author of four books.