Pastoring, leading, and serving are all words that seemingly require us to connect to books.
A few years ago, I received confirmation that I’m a lousy reader. I’ve struggled with it all my life. Painfully slow in pace, I’ve never said, “I spent the morning, the day, or the weekend reading for fun.”
I have read a lot, but it’s almost never been “for fun.” It’s been a necessary thing in the unfolding of my ambition. This is not a great confession for a pastor and preacher whose calling it is to read and declare God’s Book.
Then I discovered Audible.
I became an Audible subscriber, and Amazon now considers me a significant contributor to Jeff Bezos’ space adventures.
About the same time, some good people put the Bible on the sometimes-smart phone in my pocket. Voila! “Reading” with my eyes became more “listening” with my ears with the same purposes to know, learn, explore, and even to have fun.
Where Eugene found his title
Perhaps the best way to evaluate a book or other writing is by the feeling you have when you get to the end. Sadness is how I’m feeling right now having just finished Eugene Peterson’s A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. I’m sad that the book is over because it’s been so encouraging.
The book is a journey through the ascension psalms pilgrims would recite or sing on their way to Jerusalem for worship festivals. Twenty-seven publishers rejected the manuscript!
I wish I had read the epilogue first. In the last sixteen minutes, Peterson explains that the title is a phrase he borrowed from the famed atheist Friedrich Nietzsche. (Don’t you love a guy who rejected God whose name can be hyphenated “Fried-Rich”?) Nietzsche’s phrase beautifully encapsulates the essence of being a Christ-follower.
Back to Peterson. His epilogue expresses his approach to pastoral ministry: to live and help others live a life of joyfully following Christ through the enduring portals of prayer and Scripture. Said another way, through Spirit and Scripture.
How easily we forget that in the chaos and fog of “leading the church.”
We are written into God’s book
Sure, leading ministry is a part of every pastor’s work, but we often need to be reminded of Acts 6:2–4: “So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, ‘It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.’”
Don’t get me wrong. As a pastor, I often liked or even preferred “waiting on tables.” It was tangible and more measurable than Spirit-guided prayer and words. Prayer and Scripture can be a glorious grind for pastors, preachers, and teachers. It takes great, consistent commitment to be “a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
I love how Peterson cautions us about taking an overly practical, utilitarian approach to ministry and especially the Bible. Listen to Peterson: “The Author of the book is writing us into his book. We aren’t writing him into ours. We find ourselves in the book as followers of Jesus. Jesus calls us to follow him, and we obey or we do not . . . . Our task is to obey. Believingly, trustingly obey. Simply obey.”
One of my friends sometimes prays like this: “Lord, thank you for the great stories of the Bible. Enable us to not just learn the great stories of your work in the past. Help us, let us, become a part of the great stories you are writing today.”
What line, paragraph, page, or chapter in God’s great story is he inviting you to write with him in your church and ministry field today and this Sunday?
P.S. Dr. Denison’s latest book, The Coming Tsunami, is available on Audible (and read by Michael Beck, who voices many Grisham novels!)