Pastors must be readers. It’s one of the ways we feed ourselves spiritually and it helps us learn how to be better pastors and preachers. That said, the practical demands of ministry often militate against our desire to read. I’m not complaining; I’m simply stating a fact.
Vacations, however, provide us with extra time for reading. While on vacation I was able to get through four books I had been wanting to read. I’d like to share some things I learned.
Paul Tripp and Timothy Lane, How People Change. Both of these authors are experienced counselors. As someone who is not a counselor, I needed to read this book. Here are some things I learned:
Transformation is a process. As a pastor, after I preach a sermon or teach a lesson I want to see immediate transformation. After all, I explained what the Bible said and laid out its implications! But that’s rarely how things work. I plant the seed, but it may take a while before the harvest comes.
Change requires reflection. There’s a reason why counselors and psychologists give their clients homework. We must reflect, we must meditate, not only on what the Bible teaches, but on why we do what we do. We must examine how our hearts are responding to the people and circumstances around us. We must know God and we must know ourselves. Perhaps this is why John Calvin began his Institutes with the words: “Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves” (1.1.1).
You are the problem. I know that stings. But it’s true. The reality is that it’s not the people around us who make us sin. It’s not the unfavorable circumstances that make us angry and cause us to lash out. It’s us. Here’s a strong dose of reality: The people around you and the circumstances around you don’t cause you to sin, they merely provide the context for what’s really in your heart to express itself. Are you feeling the need to repent yet? I am. And I did.
Jeremy Pierre and Deepak Reju, The Pastor and Counseling: The Basics of Shepherding Members in Need. Both of these authors are pastors and counselors as well. Here are three points I took away:
Those who truly belong to Christ will change. What if pastors preach, teach, and counsel members for years but rarely see any change? While it is certainly disheartening and a deeper level of care may be needed if this persists, our hope is that if the person truly belongs to Christ, he will indeed bring change. We must bank on Philippians 1:6.
The three-step process of counseling. 1) Listening, 2) considering, 3) speaking. As you do this, pastor, make sure your heart is becoming more like the heart of God: “big with mercy, eager for the redemption of foolish, lost, or hostile people.”
“You’ll never meet a good pastor who has a breezy attitude toward his task.” I just loved that quote. As someone once said, “The pastor’s life is a throwaway life.”
Mark Dever, God and Politics: Jesus’ Vision for Society, State and Government. Dever is the senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church. This is a short book based on a sermon he preached to his congregation. Some thoughts:
Don’t get too excited. After reading the title of the book, you might think there is some juicy stuff here, but there really isn’t. The book is an exposition of Mark 12:13-17. I’m not saying the book is bad, but you don’t need to stop everything you’re doing and buy this book. Even if you did, it wouldn’t take long. The book clocks in at 55 pages. Here are the takeaways:
Christians should pay taxes. Render to Caesar the things that are Caesars (Mk. 13:17). If Jesus said this while the Roman government was in power, how much more in our own day?
“Pay your taxes but even more, trust in Christ. That’s the point of this verse. Trust in the one who can exonerate you an reconcile you to God” (51).
The purpose of government: “Government does good by maintaining civil order and peace and providing a stage for us to obey God’s commands to fill the earth and subdue it” (20).
“All those in authority are to reflect and uphold the morality that God has created us all to have, in order to reflect his character” (25).
A helpful point: “In fallen world, legal is not the same thing as moral. Illegal is not necessarily the same thing as immoral and so earthly authority must humbly remember that it is not the ultimate power” (46).
“Jesus wasn’t a revolutionary fundamentally against Rome. He was a much more radical revolutionary, leading a revolt against the dominion of sin and death” (47).
Ole Hallesby, Prayer. You may not know the name, but Hallesby was friends with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, serving as a seminary professor in Oslo during World War II. He was imprisoned for his resistance to the Nazi regime.
The front of the book says it’s a spiritual classic, and after reading it I can see why. During my doctoral course with Paul Miller, he recommended this book. I figured if Paul recommended it, I should probably read it! And I’m glad I did. Takeaways:
“Prayer and helplessness are inseparable.” If you feel helpless, that’s a good thing. Bring it to God.
“When no one hears or sees us, then we are really ourselves in the presence of God.” Simply put, you need time alone with God. I’m starting to think the ancients were right: We need silence and solitude.
“Prayer is the breath of the soul.” Hallesby says this on two occasions (page 15 and page 147). If this book taught me anything, it taught me that I can bring everything to God. Everything! Read this: “Tell God when you are sad, when you are worried, when you do not know what to do, when you are anxious. He is waiting to hear about it because he loves you. This being the case, nothing is inconsequential or unimportant. Everything that concerns you interests him.”
That’s it for now. I hope you found this helpful and that it sparked some thoughts for you as well.