Study Habits of Great Men
- Monday, August 22, 2005
Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (II Timothy 2:15)
Why did Paul pen these words? Had Timothy fallen into the trap of being so preoccupied with administering the needs in his church that he began neglecting time in the Word? Perhaps. Paul, however, from his firsthand knowledge of ministry struggles, offers Timothy wise counsel about studying. Even early church fathers acknowledged that in doing the good work of the ministry, pastors sometimes neglected one of their most important duties: giving wholehearted attendance to the Word.
Pastors have always been tempted to allow the tyranny of the urgent to distract them from tending to the indispensable. In classic volumes authored by preachers of all times, nearly every writer emphasizes the need for industry in study. Some prescribe specific methods, but most blend their voices with Paul’s, calling their brethren to diligence in this vital duty.
When John Henry Jowett (1864–1923) listed “deadening familiarity with the sublime” as the greatest peril of the ministry (The Preacher, His Life and Work, p. 45), he assumed the preacher would at least be familiar with Bible truths. How would he describe the peril of a preacher who so neglected his study that he was genuinely unfamiliar with sublime things?
We should be thankful that many great preachers have done more than merely urge their pastoral brethren to be committed to scriptural imperatives about study—they have faithfully engaged in it themselves and serve as examples. Comparing ourselves to them may make our own lights appear relatively dim, but God’s enabling grace in their studious examples should remind us that the God who requires our faithfulness to this obligation is able to sustain us in the pursuit of it.
Legislating specific study habits for every preacher would be unwise. However, apart from disciplined study, the fruit of the preacher’s labor will prove unsatisfying to the people of God who come to the table eager to be fed. Here are some observations regarding the study habits and methods of men whose study God used to transform and enrich their preaching ministries.
1. Biblical, prayerful study methods varied, yet produced spiritual sensitivity. The specific forms of Bible study, the timing of it during the day, and the units of time devoted to study differed widely. Reading and studying were not divorced from prayer time, but were disciplines to be carried out in the spirit of prayer. Prayerful study helps preachers to not lose what William Quayle called “the sense of wonder” of divine things (William A. Quayle, The Pastor Preacher, p. 192).
2. Sustained study required self-denying discipline. In most cases, personal study disciplines were being refined continually; however, each man sensed the duty to strap on his ministerial “work boots” and apply himself to study. “Routine is a terrible master, but she is a servant whom we can hardly do without. Routine as a law is deadly. Routine as a resource in the temporary exhaustion of impulse and suggestion is often our salvation” (Phillips Brooks, Lectures on Preaching,
p. 93, emphasis added).
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