This term I’ve been trying something new.
It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a while, and it’s certainly not rocket-science. To give her credit, it’s the Mrs that finally made me get round to it.
Here it is: I’m trying to make sure there’s always one particular part of the Bible where I’m wading deep.
Those involved in Bible teaching and preaching are often having to dip in and out of different parts of the Scriptures at fairly break-neck speeds, all in order to prepare the various talks, sermons and Bible-studies that are fast approaching.
I think back over the last two or three weeks and I realise I’ve had Philippians, John, Mark and Jonah open – all for a plethora of different events and occasions. And it can feel pretty breathless.
Of course a perennial concern for those who are teaching the Word is that we slip into no longer really letting God speak to us through those passages that we’re preaching and teaching to others. That’s probably not a hazard unique to when we’re teaching from a bunch of different parts of the Bible in close succession; after all, I can ‘professionalize’ my preaching even if I was preaching through just one Bible book! But maybe having different talks ‘on the go’ does make it slightly harder to genuinely ‘speak as those who’ve been spoken to’?
But there’s another concern that I’ve been working through as I reflect on the past year of ministry: my Bible preparation becomes merely fire-fighting. I’ve just got to get on and prepare the next thing. The first day of the week comes along and that’s the moment I have my first look at the Bible passage for next Sunday. Ok, so what’s the reading this time? And how many hours do I have to give to it this week? Right. Bish, bash, bosh. Done. Next?
I don’t go deep.
(And that’s not to mention where I find the time to prepare for the various other occasions where I might be teaching: small-groups, one-to-one, one-off talks, etc.)
So it’s probably for that reason that some wise but not-quite-that-old sage once gave me the recommendation that it’s good for preachers to always have one particular book that they’re taking a few months to be ‘wading deeply in’.
(To be honest, they may not have used that metaphor, but it’s stuck in my head now.)
Choose a book of the Bible and spend some time wading deeply in it.
In other words, open up the contents page of the Bible and pick yourself a ‘book of the term’. Maybe a Bible book that feels somewhat unknown. Or maybe one that’s all too familiar, but in that surface-level kind of way. And then really get to know it. Spend time slowly wading through it in your devotional time or on a monthly retreat day or for a couple of hours every Friday afternoon.
Go deep enough that you let it go over the top of your wellies and you feel it slushing around your toes.
To change the imagery, make that your book and just camp out in it for the next few months.
And so I’m giving it a go.
It’s early days, but I think I’m starting to feel the benefits:
Time and focus brings depth. It’s the chance to learn and listen and think. Of course we all come with expectations about what a particular Bible book is about. We may have heard some sermons on it – or at least on parts of it. But how does it all fit together? What’s really going on? Why has God given it to us? And how do we begin to bring that to bear upon life in the twenty-first century. Really pushing myself to think through those questions has got to be good for my on-going growth both as a disciple and as a minister of the Word.
Not so I can say I’ve mastered any particular book, but so that I can go deep enough to let God by his Spirit really master me.
But this isn’t just for the preacher’s benefit. In most fields of study, going deeper brings greater clarity. In the context of preaching I’d add to that richer conviction and more perceptive application. This is where you’ve got to love the idea of the ministry stipend. It’s essentially the gift of time, and ultimately it’s being given so that we can steward that time to bless others. Wading deeply in the Bible should be part of that.
What do you reckon? Is this something you’ve tried? Did it go well or fall flat? What was your routine for making it work. We will see how it goes!
And, in case you’re wondering, for me this term it’s Ecclesiastes.
Right, time to get the wellies back on.