As the tributes have poured in from all over the world following the death of the renowned evangelist Billy Graham, I remembered back to an interview he did with Greta Van Sustern a few years ago. In one of the questions, Sustern asked Graham, “If you were to do things over again, would you do things differently? Graham responded by saying he would study more, pray more, travel less, and praise the Lord more. This is yet another example of the humility which characterized his life.
Way back in 1977, Graham said something similar: One of my great regrets is that I have not studied enough. I wish I had studied more and preached less. People have pressured me into speaking to groups when I should have been studying and preparing. Donald Barnhouse said that if he knew the Lord was coming in three years, he would spend two of them studying and one preaching. I’m trying to make it up. (Christianity Today, September 23, 1977)
What a great reminder for young preachers like myself. Few (if any) will have the kind of platform Graham enjoyed over his long ministry, but we have all been called, in the words of the apostle Paul, to “study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
You can watch the interview here and here
In three separate spots around my office, I have Nehemiah 6:3 posted: “And I sent messengers to them, saying, I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?” Why post such a verse, you ask? Well, it is a reminder to me that the work I do as a pastor, primarily prayer and the Word (Acts 6:4), is a great work not to be neglected. That doesn’t mean I neglect other things like spending time with people, but it is a reminder of my primary calling as a pastor.
I have another verse posted, 2 Timothy 2:15, right next to the Nehemiah verse. “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” As a pastor, I will be the first to admit that teaching and preaching God’s word is hard work. Without putting forth the needed time and effort, I will soon find myself “handling the word of truth” in a careless manner and in way that is not edifying to my hearers. This verse reminds me that I am accountable to God and have a responsibility to teach sound doctrine (Titus 1:9).
I have yet to post this one in my office, but another verse that serves as a helpful reminder is Ezra 7:10. “For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.” Ezra is a model for pastors in that he first set his heart to study, then to do it (apply what he learned to his own life), and finally to teach it (to the people under his charge). As Alistair Begg and Derek Prime put it, “The key to success in study is that we always study with a view to our own obedience first. A trap that Satan regularly tries to set is for us so to concentrate upon others’ obedience to God that we neglect our own obedience. Whatever we study in the Scriptures – even though we inevitably have our preaching to others in view – we must first relate to ourselves, and practice. Then we may teach other what we ourselves are striving to obey.” (On Being a Pastor – p. 103)
The pastor who has not done his homework, so to speak, will starve the sheep and disqualify himself from leadership. The faithful pastor, on the other hand, is a reservoir of truth, constantly feeding those who hunger and thirst for the manna of God’s Word. If you are a pastor, I trust you see the importance of diligent and prayerful study in ministry. As pastors and local church leaders, we have been entrusted with the gospel (1 Thessalonians 2:4) and this is a high calling indeed. One day we will give an account to God as to how we fed and nourished God’s flock under our care (Hebrews 13:17). God help us to be faithful in this charge.