It is not uncommon for our strengths to become our weaknesses. Could this be a problem with our love for a rigorous exegetical method of preparing sermons?

Ministers are sometimes told that there is no need for a devotional reading of the Bible since all our reading and preparation should engage us with God. I believe this is a half- truth which can so easily lead us away from one of our great evangelical strengths. The strength of a warm devotion to the Lord Jesus has nurtured and strengthened the hearts of evangelical Christians and pastors alike. The daily quiet time has been an essential expression of this devotion.
The very concept of a regular time alone with God has often been branded legalism. A moment’s reflection ought to dispel this as unwise, unbiblical (Lam 3:21-23 and Matt 6:11) and singularly unhelpful since we regularly make time to eat our evening meal with our family and applaud the husband who arranges a regular date with his wife. Anything worthwhile requires planning and discipline.

Pastors who forget that they are Christians before they are pastors are at great risk in many areas of their life. Perhaps the chief danger is that of a professional approach to the Scriptures that is content with a knowledge and careful handling of the Bible rather than a growing loving relationship with God.

The advice given to me by one of my parish leaders shortly after I was converted was both wise and helpful. “Peter, try to read the Bible every day and expect God to speak to you”. Reading the Bible is more than reading the Bible. It is to engage in relationship with the living God who loves to speak to His children. This is a prior responsibility to our role as pastor, meeting as children with our Father rather than as servants with our Master. The primary purpose is not to prepare a sermon,  but to be trained, corrected, encouraged, led, indwelt and nurtured by our loving Triune God.

A number of blessings follow this prayerful expectation. The first is that the Bible will always be seen and experienced as a living book. Devotional reading will always keep our preaching  and pastoring fresh because our relationship with God will always be growing. The S.U chorus will be at the heart of our approach to Scripture. “Make the Book live to me O Lord, Show me Yourself within Your Word; Show me myself and show me my Saviour, And make the book live to me”.

Our evangelical tendency to exalt the objective above the subjective will be moderated as we expect God to speak to us in this way. We will not only preach the third day resurrection of Jesus, but remind ourselves that every day He lives to be our great understanding High Priest and our Friend. We will take great heart from His desire to fellowship with us, that abiding antidote to lukewarmness (Rev. 3:20), that persistent enemy of western Christians and zealous pastors alike.

One of our dangers is to slip into a “Christism”, as devastatingly erroneous and unhelpful as deism.   This is the trap of so focussing on the propositions of scripture as to neglect the three Persons to whom the propositions testify. The recent trend to speak of “gospel ministers” as the way of describing our role rather than “ministers of the Lord Jesus” could be an unintentional way of robbing ourselves of the joy of being called into and involved intimately with our Lord in our Father’s business.

At a very practical level of encouragement in ministry, meeting with our Heavenly Father is surely more important than simply reading or studying the Bible. Devotional reading will expect God to speak to us through the text rather than our exegetical methods. Our Lord’s “do not be afraid” to His disciples on the lake becomes a timely word to us when buffeted with life’s demands and problems. The fearful Israelites quaking in their boots at Goliath’s taunts will be a rebuke to our fears just as David’s boldness, a spur to action, along with biblical theology’s insight that David represents Christ who has won the battle for us. Would we argue with the doyen of 18/19th century expository preachers, Charles Simeon, finding strength from our Lord, when, following prayer for God’s comfort from a plain verse of scripture upon opening his Greek Testament, put his finger on the text “they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name; they compelled to carry his cross” (Matt.27:32)? It may not be pure exegesis but it is does express the love of our Father for His son who was in need of encouragement to press on in His faithful exegetical ministry. If we expect our fellow Christians to apply all the exegetical skills of homiletics which we apply to sermon preparation might we in effect be closing the Book to them and missing out on God’s comfort ourselves?

Marital unfaithfulness and addiction to pornography are more likely to be kept at bay by those who engage in “a devotional pattern that places us starkly in awe before a fearsome God. A God-angled view of sin and its consequences.” (Bill Halstead).

We are far less likely to sin against One with whom we meet daily and far more likely to find the strength and pleasure of obedience from our gracious Lord who lovingly encourages us every time we meet with Him.

Our heritage is as priceless as it is satisfying. And herein lies our greatest danger when we can so easily be satisfied with our heritage rather than the One who has so graciously blessed us with it. As we remember that the same Holy Spirit who guided the Biblical authors to write the Scriptures also dwells in us we should not be at all surprised that He will make God’s written Word alive for us every time we make the time to meet with Him. 

Peter Brain is the former Bishop of Armidale and presently Rector of the parish of Rockingham in the Diocese of Perth.