Formational Reading (Pack Light!)
Outfitter's Guide to Growing in Christ, Part 3

CampnTrail Hikers Meal


If you've followed this series so far, you're suited up for the adventure with enthusiasm for what lies ahead and a heart that expects the Master Mentor to impart himself to you as you meet together. As you gather the essentials to take on your adventure, it’s time to consider what food you'll take along. Here's where formational reading comes in.

When heading out on a multi-day hike, it's important to pack light. You need to bring enough food to satisfy the hunger that comes with the extra workout. But then you need to pack light or you'll labour under the weight on every climb.

Likewise you're fine to pack light on the spiritual journey. The Word of God is food for the soul (Mt 4:4) and Jesus himself is the bread of life (Jn 6:35). Feasting on the Word is meant to provide healthy sustenance, yet how often we find ourselves starving from lack of intake, missing out on the nourishment we need.

Formational reading is an approach to God’s Word which will help you to stay nourished while you savour each bite.

Informational Reading

Most of us have been trained to read for the purpose of gathering information. This approach urges us to read quickly to cover lots of content, analytically to acquire cognitive knowledge, and critically with a desire to solve problems.

Early in my Christian life I learned the importance of getting to know the Bible. I wanted to become familiar with the story, to understand the big picture and how all the pieces fit together, and to get my mind around the perplexing parts. There was lots to learn and I dug in and kept at it. I was taught to use an analytical approach which asks What does it say? What does it mean? How does it apply to me? In simple terms, I was learning to master the text as I became a faithful student of God’s Word.

This approach offered me much on my path of growth. I grew in knowledge, but there was still a lot in me which remained unchanged: habits and heart attitudes and brokenness which stuck with me no matter how hard I studied.

You see, rational knowledge doesn’t necessarily translate into transformation. To quote Howard Hendricks,

“Learning is change. If you haven’t changed, you haven’t learned. Just because you can put it on paper or because you can recite it doesn’t mean it’s yours. It’s not yours until you change.” (quoted by John Maxwell in The Desert Experience)

Growing in Christ is all about change, about the power of the Gospel to transform us. Reading for information alone doesn't lend itself to transformation. For that we need another sort of reading, another way of interacting with the Living Word of God. In contrast to informational reading, formational reading offers more prospects for transformation.

Here's a brief lowdown on how I read this way:

Formational reading

Choose a small portion When I read formationally I focus on a small portion of Scripture with the intention to savour it.

Read slowly I read the text, ponder it, read it again, pray it, and let its message sink into my heart.

Engage the heart I resist being analytical about what I read (that's for another time). Instead I ask God to speak to me personally and to address the deeper issues of my life through his Word.

Surrender to how God is speaking Instead of trying to master the text, I invite the text to master me. If I notice resistance in my heart, I bring that into conversation with God. Talking about it usually uncovers the source of my resistance and allows me to affirm God's goodness. That enables me to open up to what he wants to speak into my life.

This approach asks for a humble heart that desires to grow in love for God. As I open myself up to what God is speaking into my life, not resisting, but trusting in his love, my times in his Word have brought significant personal transformation.

You might find this prayer helpful in expressing this heart attitude:

”Lord, I humbly want to hear from you. I lovingly want to receive from you. I want to walk in your ways. I open myself to allow your Word to work deeply in my life today. Meet me in this time and speak to me through your Word.”

What formational reading asks

There are some costs and risks to reading this way. Formational reading takes a commitment of time, for it requires more than a 3-minute read before rushing out the door for the day. But whatever the time you commit to it will pay you back many times over in the benefits you receive.

Perhaps it feels risky to be totally open with God, to be willing to be challenged and changed, to lay before God the things which lay hidden in your heart. But the promise of transformation is worth the cost and the risk. Ask anyone who’s traveled the road and they will tell you of adventures beyond compare, and of undertakings which they would not pass up for the world.

So you may pack light for this adventure of growing in Christ. Leave the study Bible and reference books at home for a while and pack in just a small Bible for this leg of the trip. You won't be disappointed that you decided to pack light.

Outfitter's Guide
to Growing in Christ

Each article identifies useful gear to take along on the lifelong adventure of being formed into the likeness of Christ.

Part 2
Expectant Heart
Part 4
Transfiguration & the soul's gaze
Return to the
Faith formation page

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