"If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak! We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. --C. S. Lewis
The beach, by God's providence, has been a part of my personal culture for most of my life. I live in Hawaii, a land where both Hawaiian and Kama'aina (those of us non-Hawaiians who share the land with the locals) also share our love for the ocean. Fishermen, sailors, surfers, boogie boarders, bodysurfers, "suppers" (stand up paddlers), windsurfers and plain 'ole beach lovers continually keep attuned to the weather patterns, especially looking for wind directions. We have tradewinds, variable winds, "victory at sea" (high winds), both on and off-shore winds. Surfers favor light off-shore breezes and the beloved "evening glass off."
Lewis, well-known for his brilliant mind and sharp metaphors once said that one of the best ways to keep our spiritual senses sharp is to, "keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds. This can only be done by reading old books." He wasn't saying that "old books" are the only source of reading that will refresh our souls, but to supplement our diet on a regular basis by reading books from centuries past.
Most heresies arise when the Scriptures are misapplied by someone who either does not or will not read and heed the writings of those who have gone before. The independent "God told me" (some 'new truth' ) has been the mantra of every cult leader, false teacher and religious whack job that has ever soiled the straight and narrow highway. If they would have simply kept in mind to whom, when, and why a text was written and see through the eyes of the original readers, the early church fathers, Reformers, revivalists and scholars throughout history, they would have been less inclined to fall into error. There is a body of truth that all true believers through the centuries are told to know and "contend for," called "the faith which was once for all entrusted to the saints."(Jude 3).
We stand on the shoulders of giants and we must read what these giants had to say. Wesley warned his preachers that "No one could ever be a deep preacher or even a thorough Christian without extensive reading." "No man in the eighteenth century did so much to create a taste for good reading and to supply it with books at the lowest prices than John Wesley." * Hans Nielsen Hauge changed the nation of Norway by his incessant promotion of Bible reading and Christian books over a period of 30 years. Jesus is the Divine "Logos" - the "Word" in human flesh. Why did God use the word "Word" to describe Jesus? Because God is a Communicator and words communicate! No wonder OM founder George Verwer said "Readers make leaders."
Treasures Old and New
John Robinson, one of the early American Pilgrim Fathers, announced upon arriving in New England that "God would have much more light to break forth from his Holy Word." Young Robinson and every pioneer in every age had experienced light breaking forth out of God's Holy Word for their generation. Martin Luther, whose writings led Wesley to Christ, said, "If you preach the Gospel in all respects but to fail to address the issues of your time you are not preaching the Gospel at all."
God spoke a contemporary word to the new generation of Israelites approaching the promised land but encouraged them that, in addition to listening to what God was saying now, were told to, "Ask your fathers and they will tell you, ask your elders and they will explain it to you" (Deut. 32:7). Jesus also encouraged the blending of the old with the new when he said, "Every scribe which is instructed into the kingdom of heaven reaches in and brings out of this treasure things both old and new" (Matt. 13:52).
Readers Make Leaders
So along with these exhortations to healthy reading from both old and new sources, let me suggest a few practical ways to let God's fresh sea breezes blow through your soul and be the spiritual equivalent of a day on the beach, complete with wind blowing through your hair, salt air in your nostrils and sand between your toes!
Deal with distractions - Our time is a precious gift God has given us. We are told to "redeem" the minutes and hours of everyday (Col. 4:5). There may not be anything intrinsically wrong with television, movies, video games, Facebook, Twitter, and other "innocent amusements" (Charles Finney's term), but these things can be severe distractions to our spending time at the spiritual beach. We need to deal with them ruthlessly. Having a case of severe ADD, I have learned to put my laptop in another room while I'm having my quiet-time, lest I feel compelled to have to look at the latest Facebook offerings of my "friends" (I now have nearly 2000 of them!), rob myself of "God-time" and thereby make mud pies.
Read a variety of "genres" (types of books ). Early Fathers (i.e. Irenaeus, Athanasius, Tertullian), medieval and modern mystics ( Thomas A'Kempis, Teresa of Avila, Madame Guyon , Brother Lawrence, Andrew Murray), Reformers (Calvin, Luther, Zwingli, Knox), Revivalists (Wesley, Whitfield, Finney, Moody), missionary biographies (William Carey, Hudson Taylor, Amy Carmichael) and great saints of the past (William and Catherine Booth, Wilberforce, Spurgeon), Bible commentaries (Stott, Wiersbe), specialty books (books revolving around your passions--(i.e. for me evangelism, missions and spiritual discipline), and devotional classics (Pilgrims Progress, Mere Christianity, My Utmost For His Highest etc.)
Read "on-purpose," Read intentionally, for instance, books on reaching the world for Christ, whether missionary biographies, strategy, history or basic Missiology. I would propose that in our Discipleship Training Schools, for instance we take more of a spiritually militant stance and read books that have to do with our task of making disciples of all nations. Ron Boehme's recent book, The Fourth Wave is an excellent example of what I have in mind. In a well written 200 page volume, Ron has compiled missions history, strategy, challenge, and emphasis on youth. I would recommend his book to any DTS.
* Read books from outside your culture. As an American I can be blind to American slants, blind spots and cultural bondages that exist in my nation, as in all other nations. Writers like Vishal Mangalwadi (India), Ajith Fernando (Sri Lanka), Orlando Costas (Costa Rica), John Mbiti (Kenya), Bong Rin Ro (Korea) and many others have refreshed my soul much like the salty air of the Pacific. Asians should read Latin Americans. Africans should read Pacific Islanders etc. You get the point.
The prophet tells us to "Look into the book of the Lord and read..." (Isa. 34:16) while Paul told Timothy to give attention to "reading"( 1 Tim. 4:13). So use your imagination. Put away your computer games, Christian romance novels, obsession with "reality" TV and relentlessly pursue real reality. Drive to the ocean, place your beach chair in the sand, have a seat, close your eyes and let the gentle sea breezes of God's spirit and the wisdom of the ages blow through your soul. You'll be glad you did. Don't waste your time making mud pies. You'll not only get your hands dirty but you'll also lose a lot of ground!
* Encyclopedia Britannica