I think one of the greatest dangers of ministry is that we do everything for other people.
That’s its essence of course, but notice that word ‘everything.’ There’s a real trap lurking here if we only pray for and around others, we only worship to lead others. And we only read the bible to feed others.
There are good practices of private prayer and worship that we can engage in. I try to make sure that my prayer calendar lists home and family before anything else. I try to make sure that I’m part of the congregation on Sunday, rather than singing and praying on my own, i some special vicar’s seat.
And above all, centrally, my bible reading must feed me. So – and I think I learnt this from one of John Ortberg’s books – I have a wide-wide-margin journalling bible that I only use for my quiet times. That way I can’t cheat – if that bible hasn’t been opened, I haven’t exposed my heart to God for myself that day, however much I’ve opened the bible for and before others.
It’s forced me to change my Sunday routine, for instance, and has made me realise that I must, must have a Quiet Time before I begin any public ministry. The living waters must flow from me, today.
It keeps the bible personal
I do know that the bible wasn’t written to me: the most we can claim is that it was written to God’s people at various times, and I am one of them.
But I am ‘in Christ’, and that means another foot has to fall. Every word is addressed to and through Christ, to and for the people in him. So there is an inescapable personal address when we read this book.
If I only ever read it to teach others, I will never catch my breath in wonder what Christ has done for me, and that is fatal. How can we expect other to experience what we have only heard in the telling?
It allows God to address my sins, weaknesses and needs
Teach, rebuke, correct, and train in righteousness, is the 2 Timothy sequence, and it’s one of the ones I follow when I get ready to preach. How does God intend to unsettle us today? How will he brig us to repentance, and faith? How will he transform us?
But how awful to bring others to repentance, but miss the message myself. How awful to diagnose the sins of the people in the seats, but ignore the sins of the man in the mirror.
Having my own ‘private’ bible means that I am forced to address my sins and my temptations as I read – because other people are out of the way. Its just me, before God’s holiness and grace.
It allows me to mull
Sermons come around with terrifying frequency. They are the climx of our thinking and praying for a week (at least), and we know we have to stand and deliver.
The advantage of my private bible is that I don’t have to move on. The thought that strikes me I can underline, note, come back to, because God has caught my attention. There’s no deadline, no extra use, for any of the notes I make in the margins.
I will not commercialise, commodify or monetise something so intimate.
It keeps me honest
I can easily become focussed on the issues of others as a pastor. I might be in a different season to an individual, a congregation, or even a whole church family.
If the church is celebrating, but I need to lament, I need space to do that. If the church is being rebuked, and God is using the increasing clarity of his Word to bring that to my attention, I need to see that clearly.
Can I see your bible?
No, you can’t. At least, you can see the outside (and, yes, it’s cool – raw leather and everything). But not the inside.
And hope you have one I can’t see as well.