I’ve been thinking lately about the things that keep me alive spiritually.
But like a lot of things that don’t start well, it has turned out well. I tell people: “I still do all the things I used to love, but I no longer go to meetings, and no longer deal with Bishops or District Superintendents.”
I never understood the concept of retirement and I still don’t.
Fortunately, I’ve managed to remain busy since I left the United Methodist itinerancy.
For those of us who spent years in the pastoral ministry — and especially for those of us who enjoyed the preaching and teaching roles — sermon preparation and delivery were actually a part of our spiritual lives as well as our professional lives. It cannot be otherwise. Sermon preparation calls us to interact with Scripture and with life. We reflect on the meaning of this ancient book for our own lives and the lives of others. What does it mean for our times? What does it mean for our society? If I take this seriously how will I have to change? It’s a very personal process of reflection — or it should be. At times, to be genuine, preaching needs to also be a bit risky. Preachers share something of themselves in their message — sometimes more, sometimes less — not just something from the Bible. I’ve always felt Phillips Brooks definition of preaching was right: “truth through human personality.” Engaging in an exercise like this can never be wholly academic — it is intensely personal.
My United Methodist friends and former colleagues have kept me busy — and I am thankful for that. I fill in for preachers on vacation, and for preachers on more extended leaves — and its a good thing. Robin says its what is keeping me alive — and certainly, it is one of the things that is.
Each year I have done more preaching than the year before.
In this regard (and in this regard only) I’m pretty strict with myself. I want to be involved in things that are life-giving. I want to stay away from the things that (for me) drain life and energy. So, I don’t go to business meetings of any type. Training sessions are fine, and I have made an exception for meetings that have a clear purpose and ending date.
At some point early in my Christian journey I determined to be a person of prayer. Right at the moment my morning devotions are combined with my social media involvements. I read every morning from Oswald Chambers’ famous old devotional My Utmost for His Highest — then I post a quote from it along with a link in two Facebook groups I’m in. This forces me to think about it and find a quote to share from it. Right after (but sometimes quite a bit later in the day) I read a chapter (or two) from the Bible and consult (in this order): The Wesley Study Bible, Adam Clarke’s Commentary, and (sometimes) Whedon’s Bible Commentary. I have a plan which will take me all the way through the Bible in 3 years. That seems to me a good pace right now — it allows me to think a bit about the passage I read throughout the day. Through the Bible in a Year programs often bite off too much to chew for a day. And, I already know the overall sweep of the Bible’s story. But, this plan will eventually take me through everything, and not just certain selected passages. Consulting the commentaries I listed helps me to read the Bible along with thinkers in the Wesleyan tradition. How did Wesley see this passage? How did Clarke and others see it? I also post a verse and some comments I found helpful or interesting on Facebook as well. It’s interesting how posting on social media in this case, reinforces the practice.
It has always seemed to me that the spiritual life is maintained by study, prayer, and service. At times I have emphasized one more than others. But, really they all need to be in balance. But, I suppose, there are things that should be added to the triad, like: worship, community, sacraments. I’m sure there are more.
Even back in the days when I was in full time pastoral ministry I sometimes yearned for a greater sense of purpose and direction. But, maybe I should have been more intent on looking within for that. When I suddenly left in disgust and anger, some things were clear to me. I still wanted to preach and teach the Bible. I still wanted to practice and teach the life of prayer. I still wanted to support young people in their journey of faith. The purpose and direction were always there.
God leads us a step at a time. Our minds project into the future — that’s natural and it isn’t wrong — but we live day by day. “The human mind plans the way, but the LORD directs the steps.” (Proverbs 16:9 NRSV). The future is never as we envisioned it. Our future visions lead us into things we never expected. But, if we never set out we will never dare new things, learn new things, accomplish new things.
Sometimes we just launch out — and find that God supports us!