The Minister's Devotional Life

How Sermons Are Made

Leo Ranzolin is associate youth director of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

 

ALTHOUGH church members look to the minister for counsel in their personal lives and for help in carrying out church duties, they particularly depend on him for spiritual food. "Faith cometh by hearing," the apostle Paul wrote, and the pastor in the pulpit must bring his members the ingredients for spiritual growth. How is he to find material for sermons and pulpit prayers week after week, year after year, that will stimulate his congregation to think constructively about their spiritual condition? How can he bring something new and challenging every time he comes to the pulpit?

The minister can serve the water of life to his congregation only if he is drawing deeply from the well of salvation himself. If he has regular and systematic habits of devotion and Bible study, so that they become part of his way of life, he may present the Christian life as a privilege and not a burden. Unless he develops a plan, however, there is danger that he will allow other duties to crowd out his devotional life.

Blackwood, in The Growing Minister, mentions that a minister needs a special kind of holiness because he has to deal constantly with weak and sinful men, as well as with the saints of God. Yet he believes that the life of a minister ought to be happier than that of any other man on earth. His calling is to a higher, harder, holier, and happier way of life. 1 Therefore, it's essential for us to discuss some ways by which a pastor may establish regular habits of devotion.

1. He should be a close student of the Bible. He may set as his goal to read it completely through in a year's time, to get the "bird's-eye" view. He may wish to read it a book at a time, staying with a given portion of the Bible until he has absorbed its meaning to his satisfaction. He may also choose to read it topically, marking passages with key colors as they bear on a given subject. Some may find it helpful to set a time early in the morning for their reading. Dwight L. Moody spent the hours from 4:00 to 6:00 A.M. in Bible study every day. Alexander MacClaren rose at dawn every day and studied for eight to ten hours, averaging sixty hours in preparation for each sermon. As a consequence, MacClaren is considered one of the greatest Bible expositors of all time.

2. Besides the Bible, the pastor should also be reading other books that give him deeper, clearer insight into the background and thinking of Bible writers, as well as feed his own soul.

3. Prayer is an especially important ingredient in the preparation of the minister for his work. Prayer should be almost as natural as breathing. When he arises in the morning he should pray, and before he opens the Bible. He should read his Bible prayerfully. Hudson Taylor, founder of the China Inland Mission, used to rise early, before others in the room, light his candle, then pray and study. He said, "Give God time to reveal Himself. Give yourself time to be silent before Him, waiting to receive through the Spirit the assurance of His presence with you, His power working in you. Take time to read His word as in His presence, that you may know what He asks of you and what He promises you." 2 Charles Spurgeon once said, "While the unformed minister is revolving upon the wheels of preparation, prayer is the tool of the Great Potter by which He molds the vessel." 3

4. A final important factor for the devotional life of the minister is meditation. At some time or times during the day he must free himself from duty to spend some moments in quietness. He needs to think through the implications of his Bible study for his own life and that of others. He also needs to review his activities, evaluate his progress toward his goals, and confront his weaknesses and faults.

The minister who takes time for personal devotions need not fear that his well of inspiration will run dry. There can thus be "an elevating, uplifting power, a constant growth in the knowledge of God and the truth, on the part of one who is seeking the salvation of souls" (Testimonies to Ministers, p. 144).

When the Bible becomes a familiar part of his daily pattern of living, and prayer and meditation follow, the "melting love of Jesus" becomes "a living, active element" in the character of the pastor (ibid., p. 151), and the members of the congregation will find him to be a "well of water springing up into everlasting life" (John 4:14).

Notes:

1 Blackwood, The Growing Minister, His Opportunities and Obstacles, Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon Press, 1960, pp. 13-22.

2 Ibid., pp. 42, 43.

3 Fuller, David Otis, C. H. Spurgeon's Autobiography, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing House, 1946, pp. 41-44.


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Leo Ranzolin is associate youth director of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

November 1977

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