ANIMALS cannot do what you are doing right now. One out of every 6 humans has not learned to read—often because of the lack of opportunity to attend school—and of those who have, many do not do so regularly. Yet, your ability to read the printed page allows you by this means to travel to other lands, to meet people whose lives can enrich yours, and to gain practical knowledge that will help you cope with the concerns of life.
The ability to read influences how much a young person gets from his schooling. When he seeks employment, his reading ability may influence the kind of work that he is able to get and the number of hours that he has to work in order to make a living. Housewives who read well are better able to care for their families with regard to proper nutrition, hygiene, and prevention of sickness. Mothers who are good readers may also exercise a very positive influence on the intellectual development of their children.
The greatest benefit that comes from reading, of course, is that it can enable you to “find the very knowledge of God.” (Prov. 2:5) Many of the ways in which we serve God involve the ability to read. The Scriptures and Bible-based publications are read at congregation meetings. Your effectiveness in the field ministry is greatly affected by the way you read. And preparation for these activities involves reading. For that reason your spiritual growth depends to a large extent on your reading habits.
Make Good Use of the Opportunity
Some who are learning God’s ways have had a limited education. They may need to be taught to read in order to improve their spiritual advancement. Or they may need personal assistance in improving their reading skills. Where there is a local need, congregations endeavor to organize literacy classes based on the publication Apply Yourself to Reading and Writing. Many thousands have benefited greatly from this provision. Because of the importance of being able to read well, some congregations arrange for reading-improvement classes to be held in conjunction with the Theocratic Ministry School. Even where such classes are not available, a person can make good progress by taking some time each day to read aloud and by regularly attending and participating in the school.
Sadly, comics and television, among other things, have pushed reading into the background in the lives of many people. Television viewing and limited reading may hinder the development of a person’s reading skills and his ability to think and to reason clearly and to express himself well.
Publications that help us to understand the Bible are provided by “the faithful and discreet slave.” These make available a wealth of information concerning vital spiritual matters. (Matt. 24:45; 1 Cor. 2:12, 13) They also keep us abreast of important world developments and their meaning, help us to become better acquainted with the natural world, and teach us ways to cope with issues that concern us. Above all, they focus on how to serve God acceptably and gain his approval. Such wholesome reading will help you to develop as a spiritual person.
Of course, the ability to read well is not a virtue in itself. The skill needs to be used in the proper way. Like eating, reading must be done selectively. Why eat food that offers no real nourishment or that may even poison you? In like manner, why read material, even casually, that can corrupt the mind and heart? Bible principles should provide the standard against which we measure whatever reading material we choose. Before deciding what you will read, have in mind such scriptures as Ecclesiastes 12:12, 13; Ephesians 4:22-24; 5:3, 4; Philippians 4:8; Colossians 2:8; 1 John 2:15-17; and 2 John 10.
Read With the Proper Motive
The importance of the proper motive in reading becomes clear upon examination of the Gospel accounts. In Matthew’s Gospel, for example, we find Jesus asking well-versed religious leaders such questions as “Have you not read?” and “Did you never read this?” prior to his giving them the Scriptural answers to their crafty questions. (Matt. 12:3, 5; 19:4; 21:16, 42; 22:31) One lesson we learn from this is that if our motive for reading is improper, we can draw incorrect conclusions or miss the point altogether. The Pharisees were reading the Scriptures because they thought that by means of them, they would get everlasting life. That reward, as Jesus pointed out, is not granted to those who do not love God and accept His means of salvation. (John 5:39-43) The intentions of the Pharisees were selfish; hence, many of their conclusions were wrong.
Love for Jehovah is the purest motive we can have for reading his Word. Such love stirs us to learn God’s will, for love “rejoices with the truth.” (1 Cor. 13:6) Even if we did not enjoy reading in the past, loving Jehovah with our “whole mind” will move us to apply our minds vigorously to take in the knowledge of God. (Matt. 22:37) Love awakens interest, and interest stimulates learning.
Consider the Pace
Reading goes hand in hand with recognition. Even as you are reading right now, you are recognizing words and remembering their meaning. You can increase the pace of your reading if you broaden out the area of recognition. Instead of stopping to look at each word, try to see several words at a time. As you develop this ability, you will find that you more clearly understand what you are reading.
When reading deeper material, however, what you derive from your efforts may be increased by using a different method. Counseling Joshua on his reading of the Scriptures, Jehovah said: “This book of the law should not depart from your mouth, and you must in an undertone read in it.” (Josh. 1:8) Speaking in an undertone is often done when a person is musing. Therefore, the Hebrew term that is rendered “in an undertone read” is also translated “meditate.” (Ps. 63:6; 77:12; 143:5) When meditating, a person thinks deeply; he does not rush. Reading in a contemplative manner allows God’s Word to have a greater impact on the mind and heart. The Bible contains prophecy, counsel, proverbs, poetry, pronouncements of divine judgment, details regarding Jehovah’s purpose, and an abundance of real-life examples—all valuable to those who want to walk in Jehovah’s ways. How beneficial to read the Bible in a manner that allows it to be deeply impressed on your mind and heart!
Learn to Concentrate
As you read, put yourself in each scene being described. Try to see the characters in your mind’s eye, and participate emotionally in the experiences taking place in their lives. This is relatively easy when reading an account such as the one about David and Goliath, recorded in 1 Samuel chapter 17. But even details in Exodus and Leviticus about the construction of the tabernacle or the installation of the priesthood will come to life when you visualize the dimensions and materials or imagine the scent of the incense, the roasted grain, and the animals presented as burnt offerings. Think how awe-inspiring it must have been to carry out priestly services! (Luke 1:8-10) Involving your senses and your emotions in this way will help you grasp the significance of what you are reading and will serve as a memory aid.
If you are not careful, though, when you try to read, your mind may wander. Your eyes may look at the page, but your thoughts may be elsewhere. Is music playing? Is the television on? Are family members talking? If possible, it is best to read in a quiet location. However, the distraction may come from within. Perhaps you had a busy day. Alas, how easy it is to replay the day’s activities in your mind! It is good, of course, to review the day’s events—but not when you are reading. Perhaps you start out with your mind focused, or you may even open your reading session with a prayer. But then as you read, your mind begins to drift. Try again. Discipline yourself to keep your mind focused on the material you are reading. Gradually, you will see improvement.
What do you do when you come to a word that you do not understand? Some unfamiliar words may be defined or discussed in the text. Or you may be able to discern the meaning from the context. If not, take the time to look the word up in a dictionary if one is available, or mark the word so that you can ask someone the meaning later. This will broaden your vocabulary and contribute toward your reading comprehension.
When the apostle Paul told Timothy to continue applying himself to reading, Paul was specifically referring to reading for the benefit of others. (1 Tim. 4:13) Effective public reading involves more than simply calling out words from a page. The reader needs to understand the meaning of the words and comprehend the thoughts they express. Only when he does that can he convey the ideas correctly and reproduce the emotions accurately. This, of course, requires thorough preparation and practice. Hence, Paul exhorted: “Continue applying yourself to public reading.” You will receive valuable training in this skill in the Theocratic Ministry School.
Make Time to Read
“The plans of the diligent one surely make for advantage, but everyone that is hasty surely heads for want.” (Prov. 21:5) How true that is with respect to our desire to read! To get the “advantage,” we need to plan diligently so that other activities do not crowd out our reading.
When do you read? Do you benefit by reading early in the morning? Or are you more alert later in the day? If you can set aside even 15 or 20 minutes each day to do some reading, you will be amazed at how much you can accomplish. The key is regularity.
Why has Jehovah chosen to have his grand purposes written down in a book? So that people can consult his written Word. This enables them to consider Jehovah’s wonderful works, to tell these to their children, and to commit to memory God’s practices. (Ps. 78:5-7) Our appreciation for Jehovah’s generosity in this matter is best shown by the way that we apply ourselves to reading his life-giving Word.