How many books have you read so far this year? How many of those really changed the way you think and live as a follower of Jesus? Sometimes when I close the cover of a Christian book that I raced through, I don’t feel like it made much of an impact. Of course, God may be working anyway—we don’t always have to experience an epiphany for a book to have shaped us.
But I do think there’s something we often neglect, to our detriment, when we’re reading: prayer.
Why does prayer matter as we read an ordinary book? I think of Paul’s words in Philippians 2:12–13: “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
Depending on what kind of book we’re reading, we’ll have a different purpose. Maybe we’re reading to learn more about God, dig deep into particular book of the Bible, address a sin issue in our lives, or cultivate a certain virtue. God is ultimately the one who works in our hearts to bring those changes. Prayer is necessary for any lasting fruit to come from our reading, and it’s also an act of humility. We come before our Father and plead with him to use this book as a means of grace in our lives, by the working of his Spirit.
Here are a handful of strategies I’ve found helpful for incorporating more prayer into my reading routine. Pick whichever ones make sense with the book you’re reading, and mix it up to keep your prayers from becoming rote.
Pause to pray. My number one tip is to never resist the impulse to pray. Sometimes when I’m reading a book I’ll feel convicted by or thankful for a certain truth. While I might jot that sentence down in my notebook, I often avoid stopping long enough to pray because I want to keep reading. But more and more I’m challenging myself to never quench this impulse. Put the book down and pray straight away—even if it only takes ten seconds, it’s worthwhile to come to God in prayer.
Pray through your notes. If you take notes or annotate a book as you go, these can serve as helpful prompts for your prayer. Pause at set intervals (perhaps at the end of each chapter) to look over the notes you made and pray in response. I also like to flick back through the whole book once I’ve finished it, to refresh my memory and pray about any major takeaways.
Use the book materials. Some books include Scripture passages, discussion or reflection questions, or even prayers at the end of each chapter. Make use of this opportunity to reflect on what you’ve been reading instead of speeding on to the next chapter, and build prayer into that time.
Pray with others. When you have the opportunity to pray with others, whether at Bible study, prayer meetings, or in individual friendships, I hope you already share prayer points based on what you’ve been reading in the Bible. But you can also include what God has been teaching you through books, and ask for prayer to live out what you’re learning.
Read together. Read books with others and discuss the chapters, making sure to share your takeaways and pray for each other. This also provides an opportunity for accountability. If there was a particular point you prayed for one week, the friend or group can follow it up the next time you meet.
Record your prayer points. If there’s something you’d like to pray about on an ongoing basis, write that down wherever you record other prayer requests. For example, I recently read A Place to Belong by Megan Hill. A few insights from that book have made it into my prayer binder so I bring them before God frequently, like valuing the diverse members of the body and being encouraged by gospel partnership in my church.
Keep a book wherever you pray. You might have materials you keep handy in your favourite spot for prayer—devotionals, a notebook or binder, missionary support updates, and of course a Bible. I also include a book I’ve recently read. I’ll either scan the contents page for something relevant, or just open up anywhere, read a paragraph or two, and pray in response. If you’ve previously underlined sections that stood out to you, that makes it even easier. I find this is a helpful way to keep my prayers rich and varied, not just about my latest worldly needs.