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How to Read a Hard Book in 2023

By Pastor Mark Hallock, Calvary Church Englewood (Englewood, Colorado)

Never stop reading hard books…it’s worth it! Here are 11 simple things I have learned (and am learning) over the years of reading many hard books:

1. Take your time and read slowly….this is not a race.
2. Read thoughtfully…make sure your mind is engaged as you read (if you are sleepy, it’s probably not a good time to read a hard book).

3. Read prayerfully…talk to God and process with Him while you read and think.

4. Stop regularly and chew on what you just took in… hard books take more time to digest. Chew and savor each bite.

5. Be OK with just reading a paragraph or two if that is all you can “get down.” Again, it’s not a race.

6. Keep a dictionary handy to help you out…it’s OK if you don’t understand every “big” word. (I don’t care how many degrees you have, we should ALL be expanding our vocabulary constantly.)

7. Try to read a little bit everyday. Don’t let too much time pass between readings.

8. Highlight key phrases or sentences. If you don’t like to permanently mark up a book, use an old school pencil to underline (my personal preference).

9. If there is something you just don’t understand, call a friend, a teacher, a pastor, or someone else who can help you out! The goal is to understand the content you are reading, first and foremost.

10. Apply what you are reading. As you spend time in a hard book, regularly ask yourself: “how does this, or how should this, apply to my life?”

11. Enjoy it! Reading hard books is a gift that will often stretch you and grow you in ways nothing else can.

So, go for it! Read a hard book. Trust me, it WILL be hard, but it will be more than worth it. For your growth!

Four recommended books from Pastor Tedd and some personal habits

Here are some habits I practice that may help you read serious books. I’m a printed version kind of guy, so you e-books folks will have to adjust accordingly.

When I was younger, I was a fast and avid reader, but it was mainly fiction I was devouring. Today when it comes to reading serious books, I’m much slower. I break the rules of reading silently to myself and mouth or quietly speak the words. And yes, sometimes in the evening Dawn will get an outburst from me as sentences or paragraphs tickle my fancy.

I read with a pencil in hand and underline what I believe are pertinent statements. If a sentence or paragraph brings great conviction or joy or understanding, I will often place three exclamation marks next to it in the margin (years later, this has proven to be helpful when I’m looking for those gold nuggets of truth!!!).

Occasionally, when I don’t understand, or don’t think I agree with a statement, I will pencil in a question mark in the margin.

For folks reluctant to mark up a book, I’d suggest having a notebook or writing pad upon which you can write your observations or questions being gleaned from the book. It’s helpful to write the page number from which your own response came from.

Below are four books I believe would benefit you:

Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen. Written 100 years ago Machen makes the argument that religious liberalism that has infiltrated churches throughout America the past 150 years is an altogether different religion than historic Christianity. Keep in mind as you read Machen that religious beliefs are upstream from legislation. Religious liberalism has been the ‘salt and light’ that has influenced political liberalism of the past 75 years.

Knowing God by J.I. Packer. Published in 1973, Packer shows from Scripture that not only is God knowable but those who rightly know Him will give specific evidence of that knowledge. As a young Christian, this helped me anchor my mind in the God who is knowable (in a world of religious liberalism that rejects that reality).

If There’s a God Why Are There Atheists? By R.C. Sproul. Full disclosure: I’ve yet to read this. From the back cover: For the believer who is troubled by doubts or who wants to respond intelligently to unbelievers, this book offers clear, thought-provoking discussion. For the unbeliever who has an open mind, it offers stimulating debate, worthy of time and thought.

The Apostle: A Life of Paul by John Pollock. This is not a difficult book to read in terms of academic language or theological terminology. But if you are not used to reading long books it will be a challenge (but a sweet and worthy one!). It is the biography of the Apostle Paul and author Pollock is not dry and dusty. He not only is a master of his subject, he loves to tell the story he personally has come to love.

An offer to sweeten the pastor
These can also be purchased online (Amazon). Books have become rather spendy, so remember to look for used copies online. If you need help or have questions, for a fresh-baked homemade chocolate chip per book, I will offer my services.

“In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through,
but rather how many can get through to you.”
– Mortimer J. Adler


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