DEVOTIONAL LIFE AND FELLOWSHIP
By C.M. Becton
If a minister does his work well, he is involved in “holy things” all day long, such as studying the Bible and praying with people. Perhaps he prays or intercedes five or six times a day as he makes his pastoral rounds. He typically reads many religious books and magazines.
One of the greatest problems that he faces in doing these things is professionalism. George MacDonald wrote, “Nothing is so deadening to the divine as an habitual dealing with the outside of holy things.” A minister must be sure that his praying in the hospital room is sincere and not routine, and that reading the Word remains meaningful.
Unless a minister has a vibrant devotional life, he may soon begin to do the kind of perfunctory service that spreads death instead of life. Meeting the Lord at the beginning of each day will bring new excitement in the Word and fill the emptiness that can develop so subtly in one’s life. Below are a few suggestions.
Start the day with at least an hour of prayer. Perhaps your first response to this suggestion is, “I don’t have time to pray an hour!”
Maybe you believe in daily prayer but have prayed so sporadically that you feel life is getting out of control. If so, you are actually going about things backward.
When you try to fit God into your schedule, you may find yourself praying five minutes here and ten minutes there, or perhaps even less than that. What you need to do is to fit your schedule around God, and you do this with a commitment. An hour or more a day, is a commitment. The idea is to take a chunk of time big enough to mean something to you and to give that time to God.
To find that extra hour for God may mean getting up an hour earlier. And the enemy of your soul may say to you, “You will lose your most needed rest and ruin your health.” When the alarm clock goes off and it is cold and dark, you may be tempted to curl back under the blanket for some more sleep. However, you must force yourself to get up. When everyone else is asleep, the room wraps around you dark and gloomy; no one is singing, there are no church rituals, and it is just you and God for an hour. This makes the test of your commitment real.
You may glance at your watch, clear your throat, and say, “Well, God, here I am. Now What?”
I would like to tell you that God replies immediately, but there will probably be only quietness. As you try to pray, your mind may wander to inconsequential things – something that happened the day before or the long list of things you must accomplish during the day.
But continue on. Gradually your erratic thoughts will slow down, and you will sense a stillness within. You may become aware of small sounds – the hum of the refrigerator, the wind blowing a branch against the house, or perhaps just the tick of the clock in the hallway. It is strange how they seem so loud. But when you feel the warm presence of God’s love, the air and the very place where you are kneeling will seem to change as the ambiance of a house changes when someone you love is home.
When you feel God’s presence, you will pray earnestly, and it is not with the usual hurried words or your list of “give me.” You have always known that God loves you, but now you feel His love, and the immensity of it is so overwhelming that you may sit in quiet thanksgiving for long periods of time. You may even pray longer than you intended, and the rest of the household may get up before you finish. The ordinary day begins, but all through the day, you will feel warmed by the memory of the hour you spent with God.
The next morning the house may seem even darker and colder, but again force yourself to get up. Pray one more day, and then the next day, and the next. Day by single day will soon become a year that you have accomplished your commitment. And then you enter another year with a pattern of starting your day with the Lord.
There will be plenty of crises as you minister to the needs of your family and others, but through every crisis you will find a quietness of soul in that hour or longer that you spent with the Lord. It gives time to put things into perspective, to find God in every circumstance, and to know that his way is always best. Once you find Him, there seems to be no problem that cannot be resolved.
Some mornings you will be quickly filled with the wonder and glory of God. But other mornings you may feel nothing. There will be times when your mind just will not go into God’s sanctuary. That is when you spend your hour in God’s waiting room. But at least you are there, and God appreciates your struggle to stay there. Soon the door to His throne room will open, and the waiting will be worth it all as He sups with you and you with Him.
We must always beware of a “religious routine” that is only a pseudo-devotional life: reading the Scriptures, reading a devotional
meditation, going through our prayer list, and leaving no better than we came. Actually we will go away worse than we came because we have fooled ourselves into thinking we have had a spiritual experience with the Lord.
A minister must read the Word for more than a search for a new text and a new sermon. That is important, but he must read for his own spiritual refreshment when he is not even thinking about what to preach. He must also pray for more than the prayer requests that come to him daily. Again, it is important for him to pray for the strength that comes as he simply communes with the Lord.
To avoid professionalism in preaching, we must go to our knees before the Lord and make a message our own-possess or repossess it until it possesses us. Then when we preach it, it will not merely come from our notes or our memory, but out of the depths of our personal conviction as an authentic utterance of our heart. We need to pray until our text comes freshly alive to us, the glory shines forth from it, the fire burns in our heart, and we begin to experience the explosive power of God’s Word within us.
Jeremiah felt his message like fire shut up in his bones to the point that he was weary with holding it in; in fact, he said that he could not. (See Jeremiah 20:9.)
The psalmist David, who was oppressed by the wicked around him, said, “My heart was not within me, while I was musing the fire burned: then spake I with my tongue” (Psalm 39:3). The message that God gives to us should also be like burning fire. The pressure will begin to build up inside us, until we feel we can contain it no longer. It is then that we are ready to preach.
Every so often, a minister must ask himself the question, “Does the old story still give me a thrill?” If he has to hesitate before
answering, he really needs to do something about it. Since we are human, anything that we do over a period of time has the potential of losing its excitement, its thrill. We live in a society that is easily bored, and after repeating an activity often, we tend to lose interest.
In the parable of the ten virgins, all the virgins had lamps, but only five of the ten lamps had something inside. For a period of time five virgins were content with empty lamps. Could it be they spent their time polishing the outside of the lamp rather than being sure that they had oil? We may need a little polishing on the outside, but not at the expense of being without oil. Lamps that are going out will never touch anyone in need. It is the burning soul, the Word aflame, that fulfills the purpose that God called us to do.
Even the deepest love will fade with time unless it is consciously and scrupulously kept burning. Shut off the supply of nourishment to the strongest plant on the earth and slowly it will begin to die. This must never happen to a minister.
Every minister is at times frustrated by his lack of power. Paul explained that our trouble lies within: “For the flesh lusteth against
the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other; so that ye cannot do the things that ye would”(Galatians 5:17).
We need disciplines that will focus our attention on the Spirit and help us war against the desires of the flesh. Fasting is such a
discipline. Victory will demand maximum effort, and such effort must enlist every available tool. “This kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17:21).
The physical is involved in every spiritual victory. Our body is the temple that houses God’s Spirit.
The temporary denial of temporal things in order to put priority on better things, on things eternal, is pleasing to God.
Paul disciplined the body as a spiritual exercise. “I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection” (I Corinthians 9:27). The body will take command unless it is disciplined. And the flesh, pampered and exalted, will instigate all kinds of problems, because it resents and resists the Cross.
Fasting is one of the quickest and most available means at hand to reveal how much or how little authority I have over my body. I must have that authority, or I cannot be victorious.
Jesus employed fasting. His mighty victory over Satan followed His fast. Fasting brought Him into complete unity with the Word, and the combination overcame all the tactics of Satan.
Fasting is not bargaining with God. Neither does it acquire merit. It does strengthen determination. The minister must fast in addition to praying, worshipping, and studying. Christian disciples strengthen him.
Fasting cannot supplant faith. Jesus pinpointed a Pharisee who bragged that he fasted “twice in the week” (Luke 18:12). It only added to his self-righteousness. Fasting is a physical discipline that can multiply our prayer and faith efforts. It says no to the flesh and yes to the Spirit. When we head into battle with the adversary, fasting adds strength to our prayers.
John Donne said, “No man is an island.” No minister should be a loner. Friendships and fellowship are of great importance in the life of anyone, but especially to a minister. A wife and children can meet many relationship needs, but as time marches on, other needs emerge that can only be met by other ministers, men who walk in the same shoes, men who share the same problems and the same experiences in life.
As ministers we live with a paradox. We sincerely want to have close friends, yet we fear letting someone get too close. We worry that if someone really got to know us, he would not like us. We need approval, to be accepted by another person, but we fear the opposite, that we will be rejected. Often we keep our distance. If we do not become vulnerable with someone, then we safely avoid the risk of rejection.
But Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, wrote, “Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10). A friend helps us defend ourselves against the enemy we cannot see. “And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12).
Every minister needs to be accountable to somebody. It is frightening how quickly we can go off on a tangent. Most of us have the capacity to rationalize situations until we believe that our theories and ideas are always right. But just because we say something is so does not necessarily make it so. A friend keeps us on track. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful…. Ointment and perfume rejoice the heart: so doth the sweetness of a man’s friend by hearty counsel” (Proverbs 27:6,9). We all need someone to do a “reality check” on us occasionally to make sure we are not deceiving ourselves. Good counsel will help to keep us doctrinally straight and morally pure, and will help us to avoid some spiritual wilderness experiences.
How often have we said, “If only I had someone to talk to”? And that is what friends are for. A friend can help by acting as a sounding board. Talking through a matter helps to crystallize our thinking in a way that no other method of reasoning can. “Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend” (Proverbs 27:17). Sometimes what we need is not wise counsel but wise empathy-not words but compassion, someone just to listen. Often just by talking about a problem we feel much better.
“A man that hath friends must show himself friendly” (Proverbs 18:24). Many ministers have a desire for a one-on-one friendship, but many do not take the initiative. If you want a real friend, you will probably need to be the one who takes the initiative.
It cannot be stressed too much for young ministers to develop close friends early in their ministry. Getting close to the right kind of friends can help a minister develop into full spiritual maturity.
Of course, there is no friend like the lowly Jesus, no not one. No human can ever do for you what Jesus can do. He is truly “a friend that sticketh closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24).
(The above material was published by FORWARD, July/September 1993)
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