Executive pastor Aries Zulkarnian talks to City News about how reading expands one’s horizons and knowledge, leading to growth, and recommends three of his top reads.
As Charles Spurgeon said, “Give yourself unto reading. The man never reads will never be read; he who never quotes will never be quoted. He who will not use the thoughts of other men’s brains, proves that he has no brains of his own. You need to read.”
When Aries Zulkarnain, executive pastor of City Harvest Church, takes to the pulpit to share a sermon, you can expect him to bring in relevant topics in the news, which he explains through the lens of Christianity. More often than not, he shares from a book he has read on a subject which may be rooted in the secular sphere, but has significant application for the believer.
We ask Pastor Aries about his reading habits, and invite him to recommend three books that have left their impact on him.
CITY NEWS: Pastor, in almost every sermon you quote from a book. You seem to read very widely—how many books do you read in a week or a month?
PASTOR ARIES: I am a terrible, slow reader. By nature, I am not a reader. I read a lot of articles, magazines and news, but thick books are just not my cup of tea. But I accept the fact that if I don’t read, I don’t grow. Reading helps you to grow, and in this season of my life and the life of the church, I need to expand my horizon and knowledge—I need to grow. Usually, I would read one or two books over a period of six months. But every day, I would take time to also read other materials, such as articles and short reports.
How do you select books to read? What are your favourite genres and why?
The books I read are recommended by leaders in my zone, or books by well-known pastors who post their recommendations on social media. Sometimes, the title or the synopsis resonates with what I am feeling at that time, or features something I’m curious about.
In general, I like autobiographies, business titles and books on practical Christian living or wisdom. As you can see, these titles tend to be relevant to our every day thinking, living and doing. I like to read autobiographies because I like to get inspired by history and by the human spirit, the courage of those who fought against the odds to accomplish what was in their hearts.
Do you read hard copy books or Kindle/iPad? Which do you prefer and why?
I mostly use an iPad for reading articles, magazines and short reports. Books are the preferred way for long reading. And I am a very slow reader…
Is reading a habit you have had since young? If not, how did you develop a love for reading?
Like I said earlier, I am not a reader. But since young, I’ve enjoyed reading comics a lot. My favourites included Disney comics, Asterix, Tintin, Lucky Luke, Dennis The Menace and Mad magazine.
What are one or two books that you return to read every now and then, and why?
The Bible, of course. And Real Man by Edwin Louis Cole. It contains so many gems and reminders to be courageous and strong whenever I face pressures and crisis in life and ministry. Dr Cole, through his words, brings clarity to what I need to do or be when I am under pressure.
How do you link what you read with your understanding of God? Do you approach every book with “God-lenses”?
The good thing about staying current with what’s going on around the world and in culture is that those issues will somehow be mentioned or explained in Scriptures and the books you read. Somehow, the Holy Spirit will bring into remembrance what this verse or book is saying in connection with what you have just read in the news. So the key for me is to read spiritual books as well as the news and current affairs of the world.
What are you currently reading?
As Kingfishers Catch Fire by Eugene Peterson
HBR’s 10 Must-Reads On Leadership
Lead by Paul David Tripp
The Gospel of John
PASTOR ARIES RECOMMENDS:
LITURGY OF THE ORDINARY
By Tish Harrison Warren
This book was given to me by a leader in my zone. I highly recommend reading this if you want to see Christ being formed in you. The ordinary things in life, the boring liturgies we despise or the mundane spiritual and earthly activities we take for granted are actually tools that our Master Sculptor uses to form Christ in us.
Balance is the key to life. Spiritual formation is as important as spiritual revival. This book helps me to gain perspective on how God is very much involved in my daily life (when I’m eating, exercising, living, marriage, parenting, commuting etc) just as He is interested in my spiritual life. It helps me to be earthly and heavenly minded.
Spiritual formation helps me to balance my perspective towards crisis and setbacks. We often pray to God to ask Him to get us out of difficult situations and there is nothing wrong with that. However, most of the time, He wants us to involve Him in that situation so that the glory of God will be revealed through that circumstance. Only by being balanced can we then accept delays, unanswered prayers, unfulfilled promises and God’s different methods of delivering us and saving us.
“God is forming us into a new people and the place of that formation is in the small moments of today.” ~ Tish Harrison Warren
ONWARD: HOW STARBUCKS FOUGHT FOR ITS LIFE WITHOUT LOSING ITS SOUL
By Howard Schultz
This is an old book published in 2011, but the story still inspires me. How Howard Schultz came out of retirement to save Starbucks from losing ground and establish its identity as one of the pioneers of coffee culture. Not only did he succeed, he led them better than before.
Stories like this one inspirs me to be courageous, authentic and determined to not give up when things are not going my way. In this book, Schultz shared on how he had to make difficult decisions to go back to the basics, to the values that made Starbucks, in order to save it from sinking. He introduced new products and acknowledged mistakes while in the process.
The process of rebuilding is very much what we are experiencing right now in our church. This book helps me to see and focus on the future and to be resolute in this current process.
“’Life is a sum of all your choices,’ wrote Albert Camus. Large or small, our actions forge our futures, hopefully inspiring others along the way.” ~ Howard Schutz
By Rebecca McLaughlin
This book deals with questions that Christians face in today’s culture. Many of the questions we are asked are fact-based questions but we often only know how to give faith-based answers. There is a growing need for us to upgrade and widen our horizon to recognise the challenges Christians face today.
There are new narratives we face today from old-fashioned questions. It’s not only the answers to those narratives found in this book are relevant, the way this author presented her answers to the questions offers lessons to be learned. Reading this book helps me to understand that questions are the way we can get into the hearts of our young people. I personally don’t like to be questioned or have to answer questions. But in dealing with questions, we have to get into conversations to understand the narratives behind the questions. This book provides me with that understanding that I can use to engage this generation, and it helps me to change my way of thinking about how to answer old questions with new perspectives and angles.
“If our commitment to diversity is more than skin deep, we must cultivate deep friendships with smart people with whom we fundamentally disagree.” ~ Rebecca McLaughlin