Counselors Reflect on Dangerous Calling by Paul Tripp
A Series to Care for the Care Takers of God’s People
“But it must be said that maturity is not merely something you do with your mind. No, maturity is about how you live your life. It is possible to be theologically astute and be very immature. It is possible to be biblically literate and be in need of significant spiritual growth.”
A couple of years ago when I graduated from seminary, I expected to not only feel a sense of accomplishment and elation for having finally completed a grueling 3-year degree program, but I was also under the impression that I was more equipped spiritually for ministry. I don’t believe I was thinking this consciously but I assumed that seminary not only made me smarter but that it also refined my character. Honestly I was shocked when I began feeling like I wasn’t close to God; like my relationship with Christ had grown stale. In God’s grace he revealed to my heart that while I was in school, reading and studying for my courses had consumed much of my time and energy. This was not a reprimand but an observation. It was both necessary and appropriate for me to steward my mind and energy toward my education. It was God-honoring. However, Christ through the Scriptures showed me that throughout the years I was in school I was not ingesting a steady diet of God’s word. And I’m not just talking about reading his Word, but the active process of meditating, praying, and applying God’s word to my heart. I wasn’t stoking the flame of passion and love for Christ; allowing Him to reveal and commune with me and me with him. After all, that’s the goal of all our works and activities; to glorify God and to be sanctified through regular intimacy with Him.
I had spent so much time reading other people’s material that it didn’t dawn on me that I was lacking the vital minerals and nutrients that come from God’s word alone. They were good books written by great men and women who loved God, were great theologians, and whose writings were steeped in biblical truth. But they weren’t the Bible. They weren’t God’s revelation, they weren’t perfect, and they didn’t have the power to transform the heart. Only God’s Spirit breathed Word can do that. These books and resources were good for me but they weren’t the best. It’s similar to eating wheat bread, drinking a V8, or protein shake. If you know your nutrition, you know that these foods aren’t bad, in fact they’re better than what most of us eat on a regular basis, but they are not the best foods, with the most vitamins, and the quality macronutrients your body needs for optimal performance (sorry for the technical jargon that’s just my personal trainer talk coming out, lol). And no matter how much of these you eat you won’t acquire the kind of health or physique you really want. The same is true for anything that is not the Scriptures. You may get some good results, but not the best, and you’ll still feel spiritually less satisfied and look slightly flabby. Now just so you don’t think I’m making this up or taking the metaphor a little too far, listen to these verses by Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes.
The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings, they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness to the flesh. The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. (Eccl. 12:11-13)
Did you catch it? King Solomon was essentially cautioning us about replacing other written material with the Bible. The “collected sayings. . . given by one Shepherd” is the Bible, the words of Jesus, of which he says nothing is more paramount and worth investing in. Everything else is secondary or even a few rungs down the ladder. Besides this Solomon tells us that we can’t keep up with the number of books that are written and being published. You’ll never be able to read it all and at the end of the day you get tired and are still dissatisfied. Think about all the books, articles, newspapers, magazines, blog posts (like this one) that are out there. There’s always something new being written, always some new, or rather recycled and repackaged literature to read and absorb. There’s no end right? Solomon says it is “weariness to the flesh.” But then he gives us a better pursuit; “Fear God and keep his commandments.” The only way to revere God and follow Him is to prioritize and immerse oneself in the Scriptures and be transformed by them.
Again this isn’t simply an exercise in biblical literacy but a whole person devotion to one’s character being refined and a pursuit toward holiness. So here’s what I did. I took roughly an entire year to read and study nothing but the Bible, with the exception of reading only those books and materials that were necessary for me to read, usually an assignment for work. I wanted to know God, experience his life giving grace in real way. I was going to eat whole foods, not meal replacements as it were. So here are a few suggestions if you feel malnourished in your faith and character, but are stumped because you feel like you’ve been gorging on lots of good information.
- Regularly ask yourself “How well am I doing being transformed by the Scriptures and not just informed?” “Is there a huge gap between who I am and what I know?”
- Pray and ask Christ to help you be intentional about pursuing character and integrity more than knowledge and information?
- Determine whether or not you need to go on a hiatus and temporary information fast/diet so that you can refocus your heart on growing and making gains in the ways Christ has already revealed to you?
- Write down a few areas of needed growth in your life and track it by garnering the support and feedback of trusted friends and family.
Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry By Paul David Tripp / Crossway Books & Bibles