I believe the minister's spiritual life is of importance in view of the fact that we can spend days and weeks of time with plans and methods, yet if our own personal relation to God should not be right, it profiteth nothing.
The apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:20, "Now then we are ambassadors for Christ." The concept of ambassadorship places the highest possible value on the work and calling of the gospel minister. I believe that if we are true ministers of the Lord, we represent more than any particular conference to the people—and more than even the Seventh-day Adventist Church. We represent the very courts of heaven itself.
The story is told of an American traveler in Sweden who entered the office of the American embassy, desiring a visa to enter Finland. The clerk said, "The ambassador is out skating." When asked how soon he would be back, the clerk replied, "Within fifteen minutes. I will have him here very soon." The traveler said, "Oh, do not bother him. I will return tomorrow."
"No, sir," the clerk countered, "do you think that a minister of the United States can be off duty while a citizen of the United States is waiting until he gets through skating? He will be here within fifteen minutes." Shortly the ambassador was at his service.
Out in the world about us there are souls who may drop in at a moment's notice to ask help of us for their visas from earth to heaven. What if we should ever be caught off duty—not necessarily because we might be out of position physically, for the moment, but spiritually, because we have taken time off to engage in some worldly pursuit, in some little project that will bring gain to our pockets, or in some other side issue? The apostle Paul's one great dread seemed to be the fear that he himself should prove a castaway, after having preached to others.
Doubtless we have all experienced this same fear, and have earnestly sought to prevent it from coming upon us. What is the necessary prevention and immunization?
Prayer and Daily Conversion
In the midst of our intensely busy programs of evangelism, pastoral work, and Ingathering, the struggle is ever present to find the time needed for the nurture of our inner lives. Yet our Saviour faced the same pressures while here on earth, and He met them in a way that we must imitate.
"No other life was ever so crowded with labor and responsibility as was that of Jesus; yet how often He was found in prayer! How constant was His communion with God!"—The Desire of Ages, p. 362.
Perhaps we are tempted to think that unless we can take the time for long seasons of prayer, it is hardly worthwhile. Jesus took these long periods whenever He felt their need, but in addition to these, He also concentrated on the short, frequent interviews with His Father. He kept touching back often to the Source of power, that His humanity might be continually charged with divinity. His experience is to be ours.
I had never realized the necessity of daily reconversion to God until I discovered this statement from the messenger of the Lord:
"However complete may have been our consecration at conversion, it will avail us nothing unless it be renewed daily; but a consecration that embraces the actual present is fresh, genuine, and acceptable to God."—The Review and Herald, Jan. 6, 1885.
I think one of the greatest dangers to ministers, and to our lay people also, is to fall into the habit of going on from day to day, relying on a past experience with God, wonderful and precious though it may have been, but failing to renew it every morning and to go on with Him into new areas of personal experience.
An old farmer was giving his testimony in prayer meeting one evening, and concluded by saying, "Well, friends, I'm not making much progress, but I am established in the faith." Next day Farmer Jones was getting out some logs. His wagon sank in the mud so that he could not move it. As he sat on top of the load, a neighbor came along and greeted him. "Well, Brother Jones, I see you are not making much progress, but you are well established there!"
Ministers and laymen alike ought to be established, "rooted and grounded" in the faith. But God wants us also to be moving along. Ministers in particular must never stagnate. We must be continually growing in faith, in knowledge, and in grace, until we reflect the image of Jesus fully. The servant of the Lord wrote:
"Morning by morning, as the heralds of the gospel kneel before the Lord and renew their vows of consecration to Him, He will grant them the presence of His Spirit, with its reviving, sanctifying power. As they go forth to the day's duties, they have the assurance that the unseen agency of the Holy Spirit enables them to be 'laborers together with God.' "—The Acts of the Apostles, p. 56.
The Bible for Personal Needs
We have often heard and appreciated the sound advice, "Plan your work, and work your plan." This should also apply in the matter of personal Bible study. I am a firm believer in the value of a systematic approach to God's Word, rather than a haphazard one. I am not now referring to the study we engage in while preparing sermons, but to that which we follow for our own personal needs. This is the sphere where we are most likely to be weak.
Ever since my precollege days I have believed in and followed the system that is suggested in the back of our Morning Watch Calendar—reading the Bible through each year, three chapters a day, and five on the Sabbath. I have begun it again for this present year. Some may question this method, feeling that it encourages a mere surface skimming of the Bible, reading so many chapters a day for the sake of marking them off. Some have suggested that we should rather read the Bible at the rate we find ourselves able to read it deeply and more exhaustively, along with the Commentary, perhaps.
While we should do this as well, I like to have a basic reading quota for each day. This helps to remind me where the various texts and passages are found, and what their wording is. I like to keep the general picture of the Bible story passing as frequently as possible before my mind, so that I can draw from it at a moment's notice whether in preaching, visiting, or holding Bible studies in the home.
One year I decided I would not follow this regular system of Bible study, but would receive the needed food from the study that went into sermon preparation. In addition, I would plan to open my Bible at random to some portion, either upon awakening from sleep in the morning or upon retiring at night. This went along for a while, until there came periods when I would not read my Bible for personal edification at all. The sermon preparation helped keep my soul alive, but always there was something lacking. It was anything but satisfactory, and I was happy to turn again to the Morning Watch plan.
The Study of Other Books and Magazines
If we are to keep abreast of the times in which we live, we shall have to give some attention to the reading of current books and magazines. We need to see how modern history is but the fulfilling of Bible predictions. John the Baptist in his day did not have the helps we have in study, and yet he kept himself informed.
"From time to time he went forth to mingle with men; and he was ever an interested observer of what was passing in the world. From his quiet retreat he watched the unfolding of events. With vision illuminated by the divine Spirit he studied the characters of men, that he might understand how to reach their hearts with the message of heaven."—The Desire of Ages, p. 102.
In this statement we can see justification for the interested reading of current papers and magazines that are of worth, provided they do not capture the time and interest that belong first to God. We may with profit give ourselves the culture of noteworthy biographies, books on science, travel, nature, and the study of Christain psychology. The latter is a field that is inviting an increasing number of ministers to enter and thus enlarge their usefulness and skill in spiritual counseling. Yet in all our study we must ever remember that we shall have to turn away from a thousand topics that invite our attention. The enemy of souls will ever be on hand to lead our minds away from the center of truth into bypaths of error.
The daily newspaper can absorb more of our time than it should, if we permit it. I have never forgotten the advice of a former history teacher on how to read the newspaper. He used to tell us never to read it through word for word, but first to scan quickly all the headlines and subheadings, then to read only the articles that are of outstanding value and worth to us, cutting them out for reference if desired.
Magazines such as The Reader's Digest, Newsweek, Time, and others may be of help to us, so long as we do not subscribe to too many of them, especially when the special half-price coupon offers keep following one another into our mailboxes in steady numbers. Actually, my greatest concern is to find time for reading all our own papers and magazines first, such as the Review, Signs of the Times, These Times, and Life and Health. Especially there must be time to read the Bible each day. If we find that the time we spend in such study is becoming less than the time we spend with books and magazines of the world, then we ought to see a red light flashing in our souls.
A retired college professor was telling me just the other day of a survey he had conducted recently in one of our schools. Among the faculty members he interviewed, he found the percentage of those who had ever read one single volume of the Testimonies all the way through, to be appallingly small. His great burden—and certainly it should be ours—was that with such a flood of spiritual light as God has entrusted to us as a people, we ought to be letting it shine into our hearts and minds now as never before, lest it become darkness to us!
"Everyone must now search the Bible for himself upon his knees before God, with the humble, teachable heart of a child, if he would know what the Lord requires of him."—Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 214.
"Since thus thou givest of thyself to me,
How should I give myself, great Book, to thee!"