“Use your health while you have it, my dear friend and brother. Do not cast away peculiar opportunities that may never come again. You know not when your last Sabbath with your people may come. Speak for eternity. Above all things, cultivate your own spirit. A word spoken by you when your conscience is clear, and your heart full of God’s Spirit, is worth ten thousand words spoken in unbelief and sin … Remember it is God, and not man, that must have the glory. It is not much speaking, but much faith, that is needed…”
(Robert Murray M’Cheyne, Memoirs & Remains, p.93)
Beloved preacher and Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Haddon Robinson writes on the importance of reading for ministers of the gospel:
Among the last words Paul wrote were in a letter to his young friend Timothy. “When you come,” he asked, “bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments” (2 Timothy 4:13). The apostle was an old man facing death at the hands of the emperor. He was chained in a drafty dungeon in the city of Rome. He needed his cloak to keep the chill off his bones, but he needed his books and parchments to keep the rust off his mind.
Charles Spurgeon took a lead from these words when he observed, “Even an apostle must read. He is inspired and yet he wants books. He has seen the Lord and yet he wants books…. He has been caught up in the third heaven, and he had heard things which it is unlawful for a man to utter, yet he wants books. He had written a major part of the New Testament and yet he wants books.” Paul had no more sermons to prepare and no more books or letters to write, but he needed to keep on reading. Even though life was running out on him, Paul needed books.
Ministers must read. We are required to read not as a luxury but as a necessity. We cannot go it alone. Our study of the Bible is enriched by the insights of scholars who have studied particular sections of the Bible more than we have. Only the lazy or stupid ignore the use of commentaries in their preparation. But we should also open our minds to wider vistas through reading books that are not sermon direct.
Working ministers cannot make this broader reading a top priority, but it can be done. Determine to read 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. Do that for 50 weeks, and you will have read 125 hours in a year. If you read 30 pages an hour, you will have read over 3,750 pages a year. If you keep up that pace for ten years, you will have read more than 150 books of 250 pages. If those books were well chosen, you could become an authority in any field. As the venerable adage puts it: “Constancy surprises the world by its conquests.”
If you have a book in your hand, you are never alone, and reading enables you to have continued education without having to pay tuition.
You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the Lord of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house.
Haggai 1:9 (ESV)
Grudging souls limit their contributions to the ministry and missionary operations, and call such saving good economy; little do they dream that they are impoverishing themselves. Their excuse is that they must care for their own families, and they forget that to neglect the house of God is the sure way to bring ruin upon their own houses. Our God has a method in providence by which He can cause our endeavors to succeed beyond our expectation, or He can defeat our plans to our confusion and dismay; by a turn of his hand He can steer our vessel in a profitable channel, or run it aground in poverty and bankruptcy. It is the teaching of Scripture that the Lord enriches the generous and leaves the miserly to find out that withholding leads to poverty. In a very wide sphere of observation, I have noticed that the most generous Christians of my acquaintance have been always been the happiest, and almost invariably the most prosperous. I have seen the generous giver rise to financial levels of which he never dreamed; and I have as often seen the mean, ungenerous soul descend to poverty by the very stinginess by which he thought to rise. Men trust good stewards with larger and larger sums, and so it frequently is with the Lord; He gives by cartloads to those who give by bushels. Where wealth is not bestowed the Lord makes the little much by the contentment that the sanctified heart feels in a portion of which the tithe has been dedicated to the Lord. Selfishness looks first at home, but godliness seeks first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, yet in the long run selfishness is loss, and godliness is great gain. It requires faith to act toward our God with an open hand, but surely he deserves it from us; and all that we can do is a very poor acknowledgment of our amazing indebtedness to his goodness.
(C.H. Spurgeon, Morning by Morning, Oct 26)