I entered the exhibit hall and saw one of my favorite things. Just past the main doorway was the largest selection of Christian books that I had seen in a long time. Three years to be exact. The Urbana Student Missions Conference takes place every three years in St. Louis and Intervarsity Press runs the bookstore for this event. I look forward to this place for so many reasons. The books are well curated, there is an incredible selection and all of them are on sale from 30-70% off. Inevitably, despite my busy schedule during the week, I will visit the store several times and more often than not I will buy something. It is the beginning of a new season of soul feeding.
This may seem like a very odd thing coming from a person who has worked in and around books for most of his lifetime and helps to lead a publishing house. Somehow, though, I don’t think so. We book people are a strange breed and tend to love any opportunity to see a collection of books that someone else took the time to select for our consideration. In this particular case, Jeff Crosby and the IVP team did a superb job of selecting books that mattered to the thousands of students that were coming through the doors every day of the event. IVP is known for publishing academic and thoughtful Christian books written by people who have great credibility about whatever topic is in their book. They do not shy away from controversy and have published authors on various sides of theological issues while remaining committed to an evangelical heritage and worldview.
Like many busy people I often find myself falling into a fatal trap. Somehow, I assume that my reading habits will automatically remain intact even if I do nothing to develop them. Unfortunately, this is a lot like assuming that I will lose weight without going to the gym. Worse, I even forget that I have an enemy who is just as concerned about my mind and my soul and who has no desire to see me reading books that edify and inspire. I will allow my circumstances to dictate my actions and choose to ignore how long it has been since I read a book that really mattered. I subsist on the gruel of magazine articles, blog posts and internet stories that are often pallid and very unsatisfying. As I ignore this important aspect of my spiritual development, I can almost feel my soul beginning to atrophy. Something is just not right and I know it.
Intentionally feeding the soul is a discipline and an important exercise. It takes hard work to sort through the many reading options that are available when hundreds of thousands of new books are published every year. Even more challenging is selecting books that will be worth reading. That is why I value the choices that people like Jeff Crosby and others make on a regular basis to help me with this part of my spiritual journey. It is such a blessing that Byron Borger, Tim Challies and Chris Smith all post regular books reviews and suggestions for my consideration. While I may not agree with everything they say, it gives me a great starting point for choosing books that will make a difference in my life. Christianity Today, the Gospel Coalition and World Magazine also produce excellent lists and book suggestions on a regular basis that are worthy of consideration.
Sometime in mid-January I could feel the soul atrophy setting in. Everywhere I turned, something was vying for my attention. So many new TV shows to watch, so many new blog posts to read, so many e-mails to respond to. It was at that moment that I remembered my agency in all of this. I had a choice to make. It was my time and I could choose to spend it lots of different ways, but some were better than others. Once again, I shut off all my devices and picked up a book. It was like the return of an old friend who I had been missing. The physical sensation of picking up the book, turning the pages and even smelling the paper was like a jolt of electricity to my soul. Why had I not done this earlier? Fortunately, I had lots of good books to choose from. The selection at the Urbana bookstore had been exceptional once again and I had brought several new books home with me. Like a good meal, they were just waiting to be devoured and my soul was hungry