Wednesday, July 13, 2011

John Wesley's Advice on Spiritual Reading

John Wesley (1703-1791)
I have been mindful of the spiritual classics since my Regent-College days. Many old gems remain largely unread, untouched, and undiscovered. In a world that tends to prefer the new, the latest, and the greatest, it is pure foolishness to become so infatuated with the advancements of the present and ignore the wisdom of the past.  One aspect is reading. As technology makes it easier for us to communicate in snippets, and to read only the juicy parts of our lives, and our friends' lives, it is a good reminder to return to the basics of reading. We can take a leaf from the wisdom of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism.

John Wesley’s Advice on Spiritual Reading
  1. Set aside time on a regular basis for spiritual reading. It does not need to be a long time. Consistency is the key.
  2. Prepare yourself for reading. Quiet your heart. Approach God in prayer. Ask that he would help you see the truth, and have the courage to follow through on its implications for your living.
  3. Read slowly, seriously and attentively. Take time to pause in your reading. Focus intently on the truth of a passage. Allow it to sink into your heart. Open your heart to the enlightenment of God’s grace.
  4. Intersperse your reading with short prayers to God. Make note of helpful sayings or sage pieces of advice. Memorize them or write them down. You may want to share them with a friend.
  5. Conclude your reading with a short prayer to God. Ask that seeds sown in your heart would bring forth a rich harvest of obedience and devotion.
[Adapted from Mark Harris’s Companions for the Spiritual Journey, Regent College Publishing, 1999, p124.]

My Comments
In spiritual reading, one needs REGULARITY (Point 1). It is of no benefit to do reading as a one-off exercise. Like exercise, it is more beneficial to do a short 10-min exercise daily, than to tough it out for more than one hour in the gym once a week. The human body behaves better in consistent practice, rather than a one-time intense activity.

The second point about PREPARATION is useful especially in an age where we are easily distracted. Silence the cellphone. Quieten our hearts. Go to a quiet place in order to read and to pray.

Thirdly, reading must be INTENTIONAL. Sometimes, readers tend to assume that to read means to read from beginning to end. Otherwise, they deem their reading expedition a failure which can discourage them from beginning it in the first place. No! Reading can be short or long. The main thing is intentional. Maybe, read with one chapter in mind. This is especially relevant for reading spiritual classics, like Augustine's Confessions or St Ignatius's Spiritual Exercises.

Fourth, reading and praying are rhythms necessary for spiritual reading. Like breathing, we cannot exhale all the time. We need to inhale sometimes, exhale at other times. The better we are at managing the rhythm, the better we are at controlling our overall stress level.

Finally, close with a concluding PRAYER. This is a wonderful acknowledgment that whatever we have read, may or may not have immediate application or significance. Ask the Spirit to guide us in all truth, and the practice of the truth. Ask God to help us discern, and to put into practice what we have learned in accordance to His Time.

The other point I am impressed about is the consistent emphasis on prayer. Spiritual reading and prayer works together. We read with our minds prayerfully, as well as to pray mindfully. This is why reading the Bible and prayer forms a unique and firm bond to the heart and mind.


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