I hope Spurgeon’s morning meditation will make for better preachers this weekend. He reflects on 1 Thessalonians 5.25 (“Brethren, pray for us“) with the following edification to the church:
This one morning in the year we reserved to refresh the reader’s memory upon the subject of prayer for ministers, and we do most earnestly implore every Christian household to grant the fervent request of the text first uttered by an apostle and now repeated by us. Brethren, our work is Solemnly momentous, involving weal or woe to thousands; we treat with souls for God on eternal business, and our word is either a savour of life unto life, or of death unto death. A very heavy responsibility rests upon us, and it will be no small mercy if at the last we be found clear of the blood of all men. As officers in Christ’s army, we are the especial mark of the enmity of men and devils; they watch for our halting, and labour to take us by the heels. Our sacred calling involves us in temptations from which you are exempt, above all it too often draws us away from our personal enjoyment of truth into a ministerial and official consideration of it. We meet with many knotty cases, and our wits are at a non plus; we observe very sad backslidings, and our hearts are wounded; we see millions perishing, and our spirits sink. We wish to profit you by our preaching; we desire to be blest to your children; we long to be useful both to saints and sinners; therefore, dear friends, intercede for us with our God. Miserable men are we if we miss the aid of your prayers, but happy are we if we live in your supplications. You do not look to us but to our Master for spiritual blessings, and yet how many times has He given thsoe blessings through His ministers; ask then, again and again, that we may be the earthen vessels into which the Lord may put the treasure of the gospel. We, the whole company of missionaries, ministers, city missionaries, and students, do in the name of Jesus beseech you “BRETHREN, PRAY FOR US.” (Spurgeon, Morning and Evening, Hendrickson: 1991, p378).
I was particularly struck by this sentence: “Our sacred calling involves us in temptations from which you are exempt, above all it too often draws us away from our personal enjoyment of truth into a ministerial and official consideration of it.” I’ve lived for months exactly what Spurgeon describes here; only I couldn’t define it so well. Groping in a dimly lit room, I’ve tried to find the stupid switch (i.e., switch for stupids) that would shed more light on my dilemma. And this one sentence was a 100-watt bulb for me. I realize that truth had become a “minsterial and official” consideration. Sermons become fearful deadlines, counseling becomes an eye-rolling duty, and Scripture becomes a textbook. Such is the peculiar temptation of the pastor.
I grew up in and around Memphis. Yet, I never once stepped foot on the (hallowed?) grounds of Graceland. Now, I don’t mind telling others about Graceland. I can tell you what it looks like. I can tell you where it is and little history of the area. I might offer an anecdotal tidbit about Elvis. I could tell you how much others enjoy Graceland. But, personal enjoyment? Please. Even tour guides can merely collect paychecks without any affection for their attraction.
And that’s often the case, isn’t it? Those who grow up near the beach don’t enjoy it like those raised in the mountains. Those reared around the corner from the Eiffel Tower don’t marvel at it like those raised on Elm Street in Sheboygan. What the rest of the world considers a vacation destination, we consider ho-hum familiarity. We live so close that we live farther away than anyone.
This is the pastoral temptation of which Spurgeon speaks. We (okay, I) live so close to the text that we don’t enjoy it. We pass by it everyday in the same way and the scenery doesn’t change. We certainly don’t mind telling others about it. We might even offer an anecdotal reflection on how Scripture once affected an ante-bellum missionary. We can tell others where to go for enjoyment, but personal enjoyment? Please. There’s no time for that with a sermons looming and ministry meetings to lead.
So, with Spurgeon I plead with my church family: Brethren, pray for me. You deserve a passionate tour guide, who doesn’t simply point out the Living Water to you. But, with the Living Water dribbling down his chin, he grabs your hand and races with you to the well for more. And once there, he climbs in first that you can follow him to where the Water tastes the sweetest.
Now, let me mark that switch so I can find it next time.