The Secret to Reading Really, Really Well

January 23, 2017

Proverbs 23:12

Apply your heart to instruction and your ears to words of knowledge.


Several years back I watched a television documentary on the life of the late French philosopher, Jacques Derrida. Derrida is famous for his postmodern philosophical approach known as deconstructionism. I have attempted to read one of his books and after forty five minutes of being on the same page I decided to throw in the towel. Derrida is to my academic skill as LeBron is to my basketball prowess. ;0)

At one point in the documentary, Derrida led the interviewer through a tour of his library. About the size of a gymnasium, the room rose up on all sides, covered in books, toward a cavernous ceiling. Awed at the sheer magnitude of the size of the collection, the interviewer asked the obligatory question at such a moment, “So, have you read all these books.” Derrida wryly replied, “No, but I have read two of them really, really well.”

After all, a philosopher is simply one who “philo” LOVES “sophia” WISDOM.

We live in an age where mastery of informational knowledge is prized over all. More is better. Faster is smarter. Information is power. Who knows the most is the smartest.

Today’s text read through the lens of today’s information ethic will yield a completely different meaning than the wisdom writer intends.

Apply your heart to instruction and your ears to words of knowledge.

We are almost done with January and I’ve already seen a number of friends and colleagues reporting out metrics on their New Year’s resolutions to read thus and so many books a month. I’ve engaged in that “my pile is bigger than your pile,” approach to reading before, and it can feel pretty satisfying. There’s something seductive about people referring to you as being a “well-read” person.

I think I like Derrida’s approach better. “So have you read all these books?” “No, but I have read two of them really, really well.”

That’s how I want to be with Scripture. Reading the Bible in 90 days or twenty minutes or one year. . . . it’s fine. I’m just not  sure that’s the best way to “apply your heart to instruction and your ears to words of knowledge.”

To do this implies a kind of slowly paced abiding with the text, a long  and lingering relationship with the words, a growing relationship with the author, and a revisiting it day after day after day for long seasons at a time.

As an example, Jesus said, “My command is this. Love each other as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)

What might it be worth to apply my heart comprehensively to this tiny bit of instruction; to open my ears fully to this word of knowledge? What if I decided I would give myself until next year to read the Gospel of John. . . . really, really well? And what if I started by writing these eight words at the top of every page of the book, “Love each other as I have loved you.”

The entire scope and summation of the meaning of life can be brought down even further to five of these eight words of Jesus’ singular command, “As I have loved you.”

Our chief calling and highest ambition is to apply ourselves to understanding and appropriating and creatively enacting the meaning of these five words, “As I have loved you.”

Imagine one day Jesus asking you this question, “So my friend, have you read every word of the entire book of the Bible?” And, what if you replied, “No, but I have read one verse really, really well.” ;0)

I’ll see you tomorrow in Proverbs 24.


Abba Father, I want to apply my heart to to instruction and my ears to words of knowledge. I confess I am both distracted and well intentioned. I need a new way, one empowered by your Spirit. I pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.


1. What do you think of this approach to reading perhaps fewer things, really, really well?

2.  What have been your Bible reading habits and practices over the course of the last year?

3. Have you ever read a book of the Bible really, really well? What was the impact? Will you give it a try?

P.S. Keep in mind we will begin the Gospel of John on February 1. It will be a good opportunity to read it really, really well. It’s also a good moment to invite others to join you. Please consider it.

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J.D. Walt, is a Bond Slave of the Lord Jesus Christ.

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Comments and Discussion

One Response

  1. A different perspective: Maybe it needs to be both becoming familiar with the whole Bible and focusing on specific verses. I have often wondered/thought about reading the Bible in a year but avoided it until I stumbled across “The Grand Sweep” by J. Ellsworth Kalas. What convinced me to get the book was how much time Kalas had spent reading the whole Bible during his life. I am now in my third week. I love the experience. I am able to engage the Old Testament in a way I never thought possible. I find myself anticipating “what comes next”. The commentary about what needs to be gleaned from each day’s reading followed up by a summation of the week with space to make my own notes and comments is extremely helpful and enlightening,. Kalas’ approach to the Bible–just read it–beats the “three bucket method” all to pieces! :0) Of course I still have to make it through Leviticus without yawning! :0)

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