The books on my shelf speak to me. I can hear them whispering. Some of these books have been speaking to me for more than a decade. Our conversations are scribbled in the margins, and we often meet for coffee as I sit in my chair underneath the lamplight. These books answer questions, lead me to prayer, make me laugh and speak truth into my life.
It has become apparent to me that many people, especially young Christians seeking maturity, desire for someone to come alongside them and mentor them. I myself have profited immensely from sitting underneath the godly influence of men of faith. I believe it is a noble and holy thing to seek out men and women of faith that may speak truth into your life. You can pursue these people through getting involved in community and service. As you meet seasoned saints, you can ask them to carve out time to meet with you. However, in a church context where we have significantly more young people desiring a “mentor” than we have people who have walked through a long life of faith in God, we must be aware that there will not always be men and women of this stature at our disposal.
We hope that a mentor will share their life with us, speak truth, lead us to pray and worship, share with us a greater knowledge of Scripture and offer insight into living a godly life. I believe that a great book can do some of these things. Your shelves can be overflowing with mentors.
We live in a day where there is greater access to Christian resources than ever before. Long gone are the days where monks would hand copy a single book that was reserved for the wealthiest landowner in the county. Websites will deliver books at low cost right to your door. You can immediately download sermons from preachers across the globe, and seminaries have made excellent content freely available online.
If you have been struggling with finding a mentor, let me give you three suggestions:
- Pick Up a Book
Whether you buy, download or borrow—you need to get your hands on great books. Don’t know where to start? We have a whole page on our website of recommended resources.
If I am thinking about how I can grow as a godly husband, I might schedule an appointment with Paul Tripp, who I have met with many times (though he has no idea), and have him ask me, What Did You Expect? When I find myself struggling with understanding the nature and effects of sin, I meet with my friend Wayne Grudem and his Systematic Theology. The margins of my friendship with Grudem are scarred with a thousand conversations. I pray with the Puritans in The Valley of Vision, wrestle with Calvin in the halls of the Institutes of The Christian Religion and marvel at The Glory of Christ with Owen.
- Have a Conversation With the Author
When an author writes a book—a good book—he has started a conversation; one that he hopes you will join. When I begin reading a good book, I shed ink across the page like a wounded soldier in the midst of a battle. I want to leave my books bloody or be left bloody by the work of the book.
Use the margins to ask questions. Underline what you like and highlight what you love. If you disagree with the author, go to battle with him in the margins. When you begin to discuss the book with yourself, you transition from reading for information accumulation to spiritual formation.
Al Mohler has written an excellent article, “The Reading of Books,” that can serve as a useful resource when learning to have a conversation with an author.
- Reflect, Apply and Discuss
Most people hate reading because they aren’t listening. They see words on a page instead of hearing a conversation. Don’t just read a book; listen to it. Reflect on what the author is claiming, arguing or asking. Ask questions like, “How does this look in my life?”
After reflecting on the book, attempt to apply what you found most helpful. If you are reading a book on worry and the author tells you that prayer is a key tool in trusting Christ during seasons of anxiety, put the book down and pray. You don’t have to wait until you finish to begin applying its insights.
As you begin to practice what you’ve read, do so in the light of Christian community. Let those Christian brothers and sisters that you share your life with know that you are going to be reading a book on fasting as you begin to exercise this spiritual discipline. Talk to your friends about the book you are reading on purity as you struggle with porn addiction.
My shelves are full of mentors—faithful friends who never replace the community of the local church, but serve to supplement my growth as I participate in the family of God. My shelves are full of mentors; would you like to borrow one?