When the coach left the gym, our team morphed into a kickball/rugby hybrid that hardly resembled basketball. Dribbling was now optional and throwing elbows was mandatory. But what do you expect with a room full of unsupervised junior high boys? You certainly don’t expect structure, you expect rough-housing and goofing off. When our coach returned this is what he walked into.
Given his insatiable quest to be the next Bobby Knight, our coach did the only proper thing–grab a basketball, kick it into the rafters, and pop a vein in his neck while yelling at us. As junior high boys we wondered why he was throwing such a stink about our goofing off in practice. It wasn’t like we were messing around during a game—it was just practice.
When we played our first game, we got blown out. The other team ran up and down the court on us. They had structure, we simply had individuals trying to put a ball in a basket. In short we played how we had practiced. This is why our coach had been so upset with our lackadaisical attitude about practice. He knew what we didn’t; namely, you play how you’ve practiced.
Preaching and ministry is no different. How we practice (in our study) is how we’ll play (in the pulpit). Consider this from John Flavel:
My dear flock, I have, according to the grace given me, labored in the course of my ministry, among you, to feed you with the heart-strengthening bread of practical doctrine; and I do assure you, it is far better you should have the sweet and saving impressions of gospel-truths feelingly and powerfully conveyed to your hearts, than only to understand them by a bare [reasoning]…Leave trifling studies to such as have time lying on their hands, and know not how to employ it: remember you are at the door of eternity, and have other work to do; those hours you spend upon heart-work in your closets, are the golden spots of all your time, and will have the sweetest influence upon your last hour. — from Saints Indeed
When our work and ministry is laid bare before the Lord we want it to withstand the fire. We don’t want our work to be wood, hay, and straw which will be scorched when the Lord tests it with flames. We want to be able to say with Flavel that we’ve fed our people heart-strengthening bread. We want our ministries to last because we built on the foundation of the apostles with precious gospel materials.
But you won’t feed people heart-strengthening bread if you spend your study time on the soul-numbing gruel of speculation. Let’s say you’ve got a good twenty hours during the week for concentrated study time. What do you think you’ll feed your people if 75% of your time is spent on trifling things like blog battles, Twitter feuds, and answering the unanswerables? It won’t be those “sweet and saving impressions of gospel-truths” which Flavel longs for.
Brothers, we’ll preach how we practice. If the sweet and savory gospel-truths consume your devotion time it is doubtful that you will step into the pulpit and feed people on empty speculation. And so let us heed the voice of Flavel and “leave trifling studies” to others. Let us instead spend our time on “heart-work” for only this will endure the fire.