I was at a sports banquet tonight with one of my sons and the cross country coach gave a good challenge to his team. He told them the only way to improve in running was to run and to run often. He said, “There’s no magic trick to improving your running. You just have to run.”
It hit me, that the same is true for prayer. The Bible is clear on the importance of prayer in the life of a believer, and pastors are called to “devote” themselves to “prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). Yet, most of us struggle with prayer. Wherever there is a struggle- from weight loss to dating to prayer- there will be plenty of people offering a quick, easy solution (typically for a price!). But, there are rarely easy answers. Work is required and we’re just looking for lazy shortcuts. Similarly, in prayer the only way to learn to pray is to pray. You can use some instruction (particularly follow biblical prayers like the Psalms and our Lord’s model prayer), but then you must simply pray and pray often. As the Puritans said, pray until you pray.
For the last 20 years, April has been designated National Poetry Month. Any reader of this blog will know that I have an interest in poetry and seek to indicate its value for pastoral ministry. In fact, I hope to one day edit a volume on the value of poetry in pastoral ministry.
In honor of National Poetry Month, I want to draw attention to three works which highlight the connection between poetry and the Bible.
The Poets’ Book of Psalms, edited by Laurance Wieder, provides a poetic rendering of every Psalm drawing from poets from the 16th to the 20th century. The quality of the poetry varies, but it is fascinating to see these renderings from across five centuries. It is a reminder that the Psalter has been not only the bedrock of Christian worship but also the fountainhead of much of Western poetry.
The other two works- The Poetic Bible, compiled by Colin Duriez and Chapters into Verse (2 vols.), edited by Robert Atwan and Laurance Wieder- have a similar premise: compiling poems in English that arise from every section of the Bible. Both of these works draw from poems across several centuries. Since Chapters into Verse has two volumes it of course can be more comprehensive. Volume one covers the Old Testament, and volume two covers the New Testament. I particularly like Duriez’s introduction with his contemplation of the connection between the poetic and prosaic and how the Bible encourages symbolic thought.
Each of these volumes makes its own contribution, and I enjoy dipping into them when studying a specific potion of Scripture to see if there is a poem connected to my text. It is enriching to see how people across the ages have expressed these passages in verse.
I commend these to you in an age which has largely lost its poetry. We do well to reclaim this gift which God saw fit to use extensively in the Scriptures. Reawakening the poetic will help us better understand, proclaim and apply these Scriptures and, it seems to me, probably help us to grow towards being more fully human.
Today is the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, so I am reposting an item from 4 years ago in honor of the heroic efforts of Scottish Baptist pastor John Harper.
Today is the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. This terrible tragedy was also the occasion of some very heroic deeds as men by and large supported a “Women and children first” policy. Sadly the heroic aspect has been obscured by a dubious movie. On this anniversary there is one specific story especially relevant to the theme of this site which I would not want us to miss. My friend Mark Donaldson pointed me to the story of John Harper, a Scottish Baptist preacher from Glasgow. Harper demonstrated the heart of a pastor and evangelist in this desperate situation. This brief video from BBC news includes comments from the current pastor of Harper Memorial Baptist Church and Harper’s grandson. It is well worth watching.
Knowing the ship was going down, Harper, a widower, calmly placed his young daughter on a life boat along with his niece ensuring their safety while knowing he would likely not see them again. When the ship went down he was in the icy sea with a life jacket. Survivors reported that Harper called people to Christ aboard the ship and while in the sea. Upon encountering a man without a life jacket, he asked if the man had trusted Christ. When the man said, “No,” Harper gave him his lifejacket saying the unbeliever needed it more than he did. This other man was later one of just a few who were rescued. John Harper died at sea, but the man who received the life jacket came to faith and later told the story.
Harper, like his Master, came to seek and to save the lost.
(Story on the website of Harper Memorial Baptist Church, Glasgow)
I am pleased for the Ryan Center at Union University to be hosting a public lecture by my friend, Jeremy Walker, this Thursday, April 14, at 3pm in Jennings 325. Jeremy serves as a pastor in Crowley, England and is the author of several books including The Brokenhearted Evangelist. I met Jeremy when we were both speaking at a pastors’ conference in Edinburgh several years ago. I greatly appreciated his preaching and followed up with him.
This will be a great opportunity to hear from someone from a different context, with years of faithful pastoral ministry experience.
The lecture is free and open to the public.
The response to the new edition of Calvin’s sermons on 1 Timothy has been encouraging. I hope readers find it edifying.
After releasing the book a friend helped me to update it in some ways which make it more user friendly, particularly by hyperlinking the table of contents so that with one click you can go directly to any sermon you want.
Anyone who has purchased the book can go to the “Manage Your Content and Devices” tab at Amazon, and you can update your version (no cost).
Saturday, the settled gloom
Speaks only doom
Our Lord sealed in the tomb.
Our hopes were high.
Why did he have to die?
Was it all a lie?
Stumble through Sabbath, weak,
Everything so bleak
What to do at the 1st of the week?
Pause to perceive the pain,
sit with the sorrow,
contemplate the cruelty
of the condemnation of Christ,
the substitute of the sinless Son
My poem of the week this week has been one of my favorites from Frank L. Stanton (February 22, 1857- January 7, 1927), who was the first poet laureate of the state of Georgia. I appreciate the “down home”, everyday life themes of his poems which are often sprinkled with what used to be common sense wisdom. This one is great on perseverance.
If you strike a thorn or rose,
If it hails or if it snows,
‘Taint no use to sit an’ whine
When the fish ain’t on your line;
Bait your hook an’ keep a-tryin’―
When the weather kills your crop,
Though ‘tis work to reach the top,
S’pose you’re out o’ ev’ry dime,
Gittin’ broke ain’t any crime;
Tell the world you’re feeling’ prime―
When it looks like all is up,
Drain the sweetness from the cup,
See the wild birds on the wing,
Hear the bells that sweetly ring,
When you feel like urgin’ sing―
Dickens is good to read for reminders of what all you have to be grateful for and for reminers of the plight of the working poor.
The Chimes is not as good as A Christmas Carol, but has some similar themes and ideas (man shown his future, warned by ghosts).
One of the more striking passages provides a portrait of a very common but very poor approach to comforting people in grief. A poor woman with a young child has just watched her husband die, and her landlord and landlady approach comfort in different ways.
“Mrs. Tugby tried to comfort her with kindness. Mr. Tugby tried philosophy.
‘Come, come!’ he said, with his hands in his pockets, ‘you mustn’t give way, you know. That won’t do. You must fight up. What would have become of me if I had given way when I was porter, and we had as many as six runaway carriage-doubles at our door in one night! But, I fell back upon my strength of mind, and didn’t open it!’”
This is a reminder of one reason it is helpful for pastors to read good fiction- good fiction provides truthful snapshots of the human condition. Too often men, in particular, try to comfort the way Mr. Tugby did. In the story we are shown also that Mr. Tugby speaks this way because he thinks too highly of himself and really does not care for those in need. This is not the pastoral heart and not proper pastoral comfort. Tugby sounds a bit like Job’s friends. We must weep with those who weep (Rom 12:15).
Since yesterday’s post, three more kind endorsements of the new edition of Calvin’s sermons on 1 Timothy have come in.
“John Calvin’s sermons are the headwaters of the Reformation’s rediscovery of apostolic preaching with the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven. It is all here; exegesis and application, believers and unbelievers are addressed, exhorted and beseeched to hear and obey. The messages are declared with divine grace through Jesus Christ. God is honoured, and the people of God edified.”
- Geoff Thomas, Pastor, Alfred Place Baptist Church, Wales
“For many years, I have turned with great profit to the facsimile edition of John Calvin’s Sermons on the Pastoral Epistles. They are faithful, profound and helpful expositions of the text of Scripture. This new edition makes these important sermons more accessible and useful for the Twenty-first century. Scholars, pastors and lay people will all profit immensely from a careful reading of this book.”
- James M. Renihan, Dean, Professor of Historical Theology, Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies
“This updated edition of Calvin’s sermons on Paul’s first letter to Timothy is a labor of love by Ray Van Neste. The financial proceeds from this volume will never repay the years of work he invested in its preparation. So why did he make the effort? Well, is a man never to do anything for the sake of Christ and His kingdom that offers little earthly reward? God help him, if not. Besides, Dr. Van Neste knows that these sermons, which have been in print for half a millennium, will continue to have an enduring appeal to many of Jesus’s followers in every generation. This will be especially so among those who are faithful shepherds of Christ’s flock and who have the responsibility to feed not only their own souls, but also the souls of Christ’s sheep. Long after Dr. Van Neste has gone to enjoy his eternal reward, these sermons will still bless the church. I am grateful for scholars like Ray Van Neste who gladly use their education, skills, and time ‘for the joy set before him’.”
- Don Whitney, Professor of Biblical Spirituality, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary