Thursdays With Spurgeon—Following The Prompting

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

Following The Prompting

     I once while preaching at New Park Street Chapel. I had passed happily through all the early parts of divine service on the Sabbath evening and was giving out the hymn before the sermon. I opened the Bible to find the text, which I had carefully studied as the topic of discourse, when, on the opposite page, another passage of Scripture sprang upon me like a lion from a thicket with vastly more power then I had felt when considering the text that I had chosen. The people were singing and I was sighing. I was in a strait between two, and my mind hung as in the balances. I was naturally desirous to run in the track that I had carefully planned, but the other text would take no refusal and seemed to tug at my skirts, crying, “No, no, you must preach from me! God would have you follow me.” I deliberated within myself as to my duty, for I would neither be fanatical nor unbelieving, and at last I thought within myself, Well, I should like to preach the sermon that I have prepared, and it is a great risk to run to strike out a new line of thought, but as this text constrains me, it may be of the Lord, and therefore I will venture upon it, come what may.

     I had brought myself into great difficulty by obeying what I thought to be a divine impulse, and I felt comparatively easy about it, believing that God would help me and knowing that I could at least close the service should there be nothing more to be said. I had no need to deliberate, for in one moment we were in total darkness. The gas had gone out…. Having no manuscript, I could speak just as well in the dark as in the light…. When the lamps were lit again, I saw before me an audience as rapt and subdued as ever a man beheld in his life. … Thus, providence befriended me. I cast myself upon God, and His arrangements quenched the light at the proper time for me. Some may ridicule, but I adore; others may even censure, but I rejoice.

From The Autobiography of Charles Spurgeon

God can speak to pastors as clearly in his or her sermon preparation time as He can in the very moments before the sermon begins. The key is our obedience to follow the prompting of the Holy Spirit. 

Spurgeon would never advocate that preachers “wing it” every time they step into the pulpit. His own life showed a man of diligent study of the Scripture. But neither would Spurgeon say that preachers have to stick to their prepared remarks no matter what. What I think he would say is: Trust God when you’re studying for a sermon, and trust God when you’re delivering a sermon. Allow the Spirit to change your course at any moment. 

Is this a bit nerve-wracking? Spurgeon would say, “Yes, only when deliberating whether to strike out on the new course.” But notice how once he obeyed that prompting, he felt completely at ease.

Spurgeon also reminds us, “I do not see why a man cannot speak extemporaneously upon a subject that he fully understands. Any tradesman, well versed in his line of business, could explain it without needing to retire for meditation, and surely I ought to be equally familiar with the first principles of our holy faith. I ought not to feel at a loss when called upon to speak upon topics that constitute the daily bread of my soul.”

Toot! Toot!

Do we begin again to commend ourselves?… (2 Corinthians 3:1)

Paul didn’t bring letters of reference to Corinth, nor did he ask the Corinthians to write any testimonials on his behalf.

A mark of a godly leader is one who doesn’t feel the need to toot his own horn.

 Paul’s focus was not on what he could get now, but on what would be his in eternity—

  • any “letters of recommendation” would be written on peoples hearts (v. 3)
  • any skills he had came through Jesus (vv. 4-6)
  • he had hope that God was keeping accurate records (vv. 7-11)
  • he had the freedom to speak boldly in love because he wasn’t trying to win man’s approval (vv. 12-13, 18)
  • he saw transformed lives as his real trophy (v. 18)
  • his ministry was through God’s mercy so he remained humbled and encouraged (4:1)
  • he didn’t feel the need to concoct a “marketing plan” nor leverage his pulpit for personal gain (v. 2)
  • he focused on glorifying God alone (vv. 3, 4, 6)
  • his sermons weren’t me-focused, but always others-focused as he became a bondservant to those to whom he ministered (v. 5)
  • he worked only for eternal rewards (vv. 7-12, 16-18)
  • he spoke only what he had already appropriated and faithfully applied to his own life (vv. 13-15)

Our prayer could be very similar to what Paul taught and probably prayed for himself—“May I lead by serving. May I not look for human praise—nor even be tempted to toot my own horn—but lead and minister only to hear applause from the nail-scarred hands of Jesus.” 

As R.T. Kendall reminds us—

“Every day we breathe in and out—in and out—thousands of times a day. There is a day fixed, that unless Jesus comes first, you and I will only breathe out. No amount of money, power, or prestige can alter the date that we each have with death. And at that moment the only thing that will matter is whether we have known Christ and served Him well—that our lives have made a difference. In short: that we are popular in heaven—and famous in hell.”

This is part 37 in my series on godly leadership. You can check out all of my posts in this series by clicking here.

Life In The Spirit Study Bible (book review)

I love to read, averaging about 30 books per year. In addition to books, I have a lot of news feeds that I check daily. But hands down, everything else comes in a distant second place to my number-one read: the Bible. 

I read the Bible for myself. I read the Bible to prepare my Sunday messages. I read the Bible to teach classes. I read the Bible to confirm or refute what I am reading in other books and news feeds. And with all that Bible reading, I have also gravitated toward my favorite study Bible—The Life In The Spirit Study Bible. 

At one time people referred to this Bible as “the fire Bible” because of the graphic on the front cover depicting the fire that fell on praying Christians at the Pentecost celebration immediately following Christ’s ascension into heaven. That fire still falls in my heart every time I read God’s Word!

The study notes in this Bible are fantastic! But don’t be deceived by the name: these are not study notes that focus on the Holy Spirit out of proportion; rather, the role of the Spirit is merely noted where others have ignored it. Far too many people don’t ponder very much about the Holy Spirit’s involvement, except for perhaps the Book of Acts and maybe Paul’s instruction on the operational gifts of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians. The Life In The Spirit Study Bible simply seeks to make us aware of the Spirit’s involvement. 

In addition to the short commentary notes at the bottom of each page, there are several insightful and scholarly articles throughout this whole book that will make the Scripture come alive in new ways. 

This is my “preaching Bible” that I take with me for every sermon I deliver, which means it is the Bible I am diving deep into each day as I study. I cannot recommend this Bible to you highly enough. 

9 Quotes From “Shepherding God’s Flock”

T.M. Moore has given pastors a phenomenal training resource in Shepherding God’s Flock. Please be sure to check out my full book review by clicking here. 

“The work of church leaders today—and especially of that class of leaders called elders, with which this study is concerned—has been shaped and conditioned more by the temper of our times than by the teaching of God’s Word.” 

“According to Paul, any church that does not have in place elders—and other leaders working with them—who are functioning as shepherds is a church that is not in order.… A church without a strong ministry of shepherding is a flock without genuine pastoral care, oversight, and equipping. It may be very active, even happy, and may be ‘growing’ in what some consider impressive ways. But without shepherding as the framework and integrating dynamic, such a church will always be something less than what God intends.” 

“Where the work of shepherding is being faithfully pursued, the gospel goes forth with power, lost sheep are located, and the flocks of God grow as He adds new souls to the fold.” 

“Where faithful shepherds are at work, the Lord’s sheep will be well fed. Both milk and the meat of the Word will be their daily diet, according to the needs and callings of each. Well-fed sheep are healthy, strong, and fruitful in their own contributions.” 

“The work of shepherding begins in relationships of mutual love and trust, spiritual friendships where sheep and shepherd know, love, and care about one another.” 

“Only when the people feel known and loved, and only when they know and love those who are called to lead them—only then will they be willing to follow where the shepherds of the church are seeking to take them.” 

“In the Christian life, people tend to live up to or achieve, not the level of their abilities, for their abilities are virtually limitless, given the presence of the indwelling Spirit of God. Rather, they tend to live up to the level of their vision—of what they see for their lives in Christ. Unless we are leading them into God’s vision for their lives, the people of God will settle for something less than the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” 

“When temptation arises we can follow one of two courses. Either we will fall through temptation into sin, or we will grow through temptation into a higher stage of sanctification. … The shepherd’s task is twofold: first, he must help the Lord’s sheep to recognize temptation, by grounding them firmly in the law and Word of God; second, he must equip and encourage them in finding the way of escape from temptation, so that they may grow as the Lord intends.” 

“Jesus’ approach to bearing witness was thus energetic, proactive, continuous, compassionate, and pioneering. Should we expect anything less from the shepherds He has left to bring other lost sheep into His fold?”

Shepherding God’s Flock (book review)

T.M. Moore founded the Fellowship of Ailbe, a ministry patterned after the example of the Irish Christians who kept the spread of the Gospel alive during history’s dark times. A key component of the Fellowship’s ministry is the equipping of pastors for their tasks, and Shepherding God’s Flock masterfully lays out the role of pastors like few other resources. 

Throughout the Scriptures, God uses the picture of a shepherd caring for his sheep as a consistent image of how God cares for His people, and how He desires for pastors/elders to care for those under their care as well. God has stern warnings for shepherd-leaders who misuse or abuse their positions, but He also showers His blessings on those shepherd-leaders whose hearts beat with God’s heart. David talked lovingly of the Lord being our Shepherd, Jesus called Himself the Good Shepherd, and the Apostle Peter called for elders in the church to shepherd the flock under their care. 

Shepherding God’s Flock helps pastors work through the practicalities of their shepherding role. And I do mean work through these concepts. This book is as much a workbook as it is a textbook. T.M. Moore gives valuable insights for pastors, but he intersperses penetrating discussion questions throughout his teaching. You will also need to keep your Bible handy while reading Shepherding because Moore will send you to passage after passage to undergird the principles he is teaching. 

I can’t recommend this book highly enough to both current pastors and those preparing to enter into pastoral ministry. It would probably be a good idea for lead pastors to read this book alongside their elder/deacon boards. 

As Moore notes in his closing words, “Shepherding is the work God has chosen for the care and nurture of His flocks. We’ve neglected this ministry for too long. Let us resolve to bring the work of shepherding to bear on the task of building Christ’s Church.” 

To that, I add my hearty “Amen!”

9 More Quotes From “Brothers, We Are Not Professionals”

Those in pastoral ministry are ministers; they are not professional, career-minded, corporate ladder-climbers. John Piper has written a book that I believe every pastor should read: Brothers, We Are Not Professionals. Here are a few more quotes from this excellent book. 

“Is not our most painful failure in the pastorate the inability to weep over the unbelievers in our neighborhoods and the carnal members of our churches? …  

“I must feel the truth of hell—that it exists and is terrible and horrible beyond imaginings forever and ever. ‘These will go away into eternal punishment’ (Matthew 25:46). Even if I try to make the ‘lake of fire’ (Revelation 20:15) or the ‘fiery furnace’ (Matthew 13:42) a symbol, I am confronted with the terrifying thought that symbols are not overstatements but understatements of reality. …

“I say to you, on the authority of Scripture, remember, remember, remember the horrid condition of being separated from Christ, without hope and without God, on the brink of hell. ‘Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world’ (Ephesians 2:12). … 

“When the heart no longer feels the truth of hell, the gospel passes from good news to simply news.” 

“Warning has value in stirring us up to take the glories of holiness and heaven seriously so that we come to see them for what they are and delight in them. But it is the delight in them that causes the true grief when we fall short.” 

“Pastors, you will know your people’s souls best by knowing your own. So try to be ruthlessly honest with yourself.” 

“If the heart is without passion, it will produce lifeless, jargon-laden spontaneity. And if the heart is aflame, no form will quench it.” 

“We ought to experience the deepest emotions about the deepest things. And we ought to speak often, and publicly, about what means most to us, in a way that shows its value.” 

“Eating, exercising, and sleeping are more spiritually relevant in the ministry than we may think. … The point is that we be intentional about how our eating affects the ability of our body to be a helpful partner in seeing the glory of God.” 

“When we say that what we do on Sunday morning is to ‘go hard after God,’ what we mean is that we are going hard after satisfaction in God, and going hard after God as our prize, and going hard after God as our treasure, our soul-food, our heart-delight, our spirit’s pleasure. Or to put Christ in His rightful place—it means that we are going hard after all that God is for us in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen.” 

“It will transform your pastoral leadership in worship if you teach your people that the basic attitude of worship on Sunday morning is not to come with your hands full to give to God but with your hands empty to receive from God.” 

“Brothers, we are leaders, and the burden of change lies most heavily on us.” 

You can read my full book review of Brothers, We Are Not Professionals by clicking here, and you can check out some other quotes from this book here. 

The Scriptures And Our Temperament

“We naturally tend to interpret Scripture in the light (or shadow) of our own temperament and let our peculiar mental cast decide the degree of importance we attach to various religious doctrines and practices. …

“The minister above all others should look deep into his own heart to discover the reason for his more pronounced views. It is not enough to draw himself up and declare with dignity that he preaches the Bible and nothing but the Bible. That claim is made by every man who stands in sincerity to declare the truth; but truth has many facets and the man of God is in grave danger of revealing only a limited few to his people, and those the ones he by disposition favors most. …

“The Scriptures, critical self-discipline, honesty of heart and increased trust in the inward operations of the Holy Spirit will save us from being too greatly influenced by temperament.” —A.W. Tozer, in Man—The Dwelling Place Of God

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