A few days ago, I arrived for an appointment about 30 minutes early (I seriously overestimated the drive time on my inaugural visit), and I decided to use the lag time to browse around a nearby Books-a-Million.

As I typically do in large book retailers, I headed to the Religion Section so that I could be subjected to yet another self-inflicted dose of guilt and despair over how many books I haven’t read.  I live with a constant sense of “being behind” in my reading, and periodic visits to bookstores serve to insert a new exponent into the mathematical equation that expresses my utter hopelessness of ever catching up.  Christian publishers continue to churn out new volumes at a relentless pace, ensuring that I fade farther into the distance in their rear-view mirror.

This particular “walk of shame” through the imposing and intimidating aisles, however, struck me with an even more overwhelming sense of “what’s out there” in Christian publishing.  One entire side of an aisle was dedicated to the subject of Christian Living.  Mind you, this wasn’t Mardel or a Family Christian retail outlet, where I assume the titles are even more numerous.  This was a “secular” bookstore.  Across the aisle was the expansive General Religion section, which included such intriguing titles as The Dictionary of Demons: Names of the Damned, Hinduism for Dummies, and Paul Was Not a Christian: The Original Message of a Misunderstood Apostle.

But, the Christian Living collection?  Wow!  There were 5 shelves on each of the 7 mini-sections, for a total of 35 shelves.  A quick count on a couple of them led me to estimate that each shelf contained an average of 40 different titles.  Grand total (yes, I had to use the calculator on my phone): 1,400 books, each of which was authored with the intent of explaining some vital aspect of this thing called “the Christian life.”  Taking into account the embarrassingly low words-per-minute that I read, I would have to devote most of the rest of my life to “Christian reading” just to make it through those books.  There would be precious little time remaining for actual “Christian living.”  And this just represents current best-sellers, other recent publications, and those that have achieved the status of classic Christian literature.  Inventory and shelf space will have to be cleared for next year’s inevitably abundant crop of new books.

I’m extremely grateful for Christian authors, both ancient and contemporary, who write from a position of sincere faith in Jesus Christ and respect for the authority of the Word of God.  It’s a blessing that they share their study, research, knowledge, experience, humor, and gift of communication in order to broaden and deepen our understanding of Scripture and provide insights into how we can be transformed into more devoted disciples, ministers, leaders, husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, servants, citizens, and spiritual brothers and sisters.  We are much the better for it!

However, it’s good to be periodically reminded that Christian literature, while certainly able to enrich and enhance our life in Christ, is not essential to having a real, relevant, challenging, and meaningful relationship with Jesus.

So, you haven’t digested the Ante-Nicene, Nicene, and Post-Nicene Fathers?  You’ve never read Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiæ or John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion?  Have you somehow managed to avoid Thomas à Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship, and The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton?  You’ve never read a single book authored by C.S. Lewis?  You’ve only read a handful of the hundreds of books authored by contemporary masters of devotion?  Do the latest issues of Christianity Today and Leadership Journal lie unopened on a side table in your study?  Do you rarely, if ever, read periodicals and teaching magazines from within your own brotherhood and fellowship of believers?

It’s okay!  Don’t be too hard on yourself.  The fact that you haven’t (or you don’t) shouldn’t cause you to feel like a second-class Christian.  And if you have or you do, please drop your air of spiritual superiority right here and right now.

Scripture is fully capable of leading us to faith in Jesus Christ and into a maturing, saving relationship with Him.  A more-than-sufficient challenge for Christian living is provided by the simple, yet daunting, commands to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and our neighbors as ourselves.  The call to love my wife as Christ loves His church and to guide my children in the Lord’s discipline and instruction is enough to keep me from ever becoming complacent or haughty.  Ditto, the instruction to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with my God.  I recently shared a message on Colossians 3:12-17, and I stated that if the New Testament canon only consisted of the Gospels and these six verses of admonition, I would have plenty to keep me convicted and diligently occupied for the rest of my time on earth.

I was momentarily overwhelmed by the 1,400 reasons why I wasn’t sufficiently “making the grade” in my efforts to follow in the steps of Jesus.  However, I took comfort once again that, though tempted to be distracted, worried, and bothered about so many things, “only one thing is necessary” (Luke 10:38-42) and the essentials are so relatively few.