Pastors: Fight for the Time to Read!
Charles Spurgeon, reflecting on 2 Timothy 4:13 (where Paul said to Timothy: “When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments”):
We do not know what the books were about, and we can only form some guess as to what the parchments were. Paul had a few books which were left, perhaps wrapped up in the cloak, and Timothy was to be careful to bring them.
Even an apostle must read.
Some of our very ultra-Calvinistic brethren think that a minister who reads books and studies his sermon must be a very deplorable specimen of a preacher. A man who comes up into the pulpit, professes to take his text on the spot and talks any quantity of nonsense is the idol of many. If he will speak without premeditation, or pretend to do so, and never produce what they call a dish of dead men’s brains—oh, that is the preacher!
How rebuked they are by the apostle!
He is inspired, and yet he wants books!
He has been preaching for at least thirty years, and yet he wants books!
He had seen the Lord, and yet he wants books!
He had had a wider experience than most men, and yet wants books!
He had been caught up into the Third Heaven and had heard things which it was unlawful for a man to utter, yet he wants books!
He had written the major part of the New Testament, and yet he wants books!
The apostle says to Timothy, and so he says to every preacher, “Give attendance to reading” (1 Tim. 4:13).
The man who never reads will never be read.
He who never quotes will never be quoted.
He who will not use the thoughts of other men’s brains proves that he has no brains of his own.
Brethren, what is true of ministers is true of all our people. You need to read. Renounce as much as you will all light literature, but study as much as possible sound theological works, especially the Puritanic writers and expositions of the Bible.
Here’s how John Piper put it in his chapter “Fight for Your Life” in Brothers, We Are Not Professionals (new edition coming from B&H in February 2013):
I agree with Martyn Lloyd-Jones that the fight to find time to read is a fight for one’s life. “Let your wife or anyone else take messages for you, and inform the people telephoning that you are not available. One literally has to fight for one’s life in this sense!”
Most of our people have no idea what two or three new messages a week cost us in terms of intellectual and spiritual drain. Not to mention the depletions of family pain, church decisions, and imponderable theological and moral dilemmas. I, for one, am not a self-replenishing spring. My bucket leaks, even when it is not pouring. My spirit does not revive on the run. Without time of unhurried reading and reflection, beyond the press of sermon preparation, my soul shrinks, and the specter of ministerial death rises. Few things frighten me more than the beginnings of barrenness that come from frenzied activity with little spiritual food and meditation.
The great pressure on us today is to be productive managers. But the need of the church is for prayerful, spiritual poets. I don’t mean (necessarily) pastors who write poems. I mean pastors who feel the weight and glory of eternal reality even in the midst of a business meeting; who carry in their soul such a sense of God that they provide, by their very presence, a constant life-giving reorientation on the infinite God. For your own soul and for the life of your church, fight for time to feed your soul with rich reading.