“And he charged them: “Thus you shall do in the fear of the LORD, in faithfulness, and with your whole heart:” (2 Chronicles 19:9 ESV).
King Jehoshaphat was one of Judah’s godly kings. He established reforms and devoted himself (and the people) to the worship of the LORD. One initiative of his was to reestablish the Levites, priests, and heads of families. God intended for each of them to instruct others in Scripture, but by the days of Jehoshaphat it wasn't happening, so he revived them. Each role — Levites, priests, and family heads — would begin to speak the word of God once again. It was time for Scripture to find application in the daily lives of the people. He needed the help of the leaders in implementing the word of God into everyday life.
However, since this was not the custom at the time of his reign, he knew it would take determination and focus. He said, “Thus you shall do in the fear of the LORD, in faithfulness, and with your whole heart.”
Three inner attitudes exist in Jehoshaphat’s exhortation. Each one could be said to all believers today, but I would like to apply it, for a moment, to pastors and Bible teachers. Yours is a work of applying the ancient Scriptures to today, bringing people into a world and life of obedience and relationship with God. Your task is to help people see God correctly, to enjoy his plan of redemption immensely, and to walk with him more completely. You must declare — to the corporate gathering, but also the individual — the word of Christ. You must give the judgment of the LORD. But this task will require the same inner attitudes Jehoshaphat wanted his leaders to embrace.
1. With the Fear of the Lord
A reverence for God is foremost. I once heard Wayne Grudem teach a young church about the importance of guarding the heart (Proverbs 4:23). He said it was imperative that we keep ourselves in a state of devotion to God, a sensitivity to Him and His will for our lives. Pastors do not automatically walk in the fear of God, and some abuse their leadership roles by engaging in self-aggrandizement and vainglory. But we will not follow such men. We are to embrace a personal hallowing of the name of God (Matthew 6:9). Daily, we are to sit before the King of Kings, the God of the universe, the infinite Lord, and allow Him to rearrange anything He chooses. We are subservient to Him. Without this reverence for the Lord, we will lack the courage to say the hard things or deliver the full truth. Without this reverence our message will become inventive rather than declarative, a message flowing from the self rather than from God, a message starting with the people and not their Lord.
2. With Faithfulness
The task for the preacher of the word is a long and arduous one. I do not mean to glorify the work in any way, but it is a tortuous path. Endurance is a must if one is going to spend any length of life declaring God’s word. Faithfulness is required. A devotion to the task, day upon day, week upon week, month upon month, year upon year, decade upon decade, is needed. I can recall the first handful of teachings I delivered when everything was so new. I could not wait to, with the word, discharge the Scripture. But this love for declaring the truth cannot fade. It will evolve and mature, but it cannot die. Once optimism and hope give way to skepticism and pessimism, the word of the Lord dries up from the preacher's mouth. Faithfulness to the slow and winding work of Bible teaching is standard equipment for those who long to make a lasting impact declaring the word of the Lord.
3. With Your Whole Heart
The whole heart is required. A half-heartedness in any work is harmful, but in declaring the truth it is absolute cancer. And here is where I would like to rally those God has called to proclaim His truth. We must do the work with the entirety of our beings. We cannot allow the preparation and meditation and study of God’s word to take up the fringes of our lives. We must let the all-consuming fire burn brightly within us. We must rally our resolve and put on Christ every day of our lives. When it is time to study — do it with your whole heart! When it is time to pray over your teaching — do it with your whole heart! When it is time to preach and teach — do it with your whole heart! Throw yourself into the task. Let yourself go completely into the work of the ministry of the word.
When I was eighteen I sensed the Lord directing me to devote my life to teaching His word. It has been a beautiful journey since then, and I look forward to many more decades of Bible teaching. Here are some aids which have helped me do the work of Scripture communication with my whole heart:
Whole Heart Suggestion 1: Commit to an expositional style of teaching
I have found the consecutive study of books of the Bible an invigorating way to keep me engaged in the task. Through this style, I do not have the luxury of selecting texts I am always familiar with or that I know will go over well with the people. Instead, I must continually wrestle with fresh and exciting material. There are innumerable benefits to this style for the congregation, and it is beyond the scope of this little article to talk about them, but I find an expositional style works wonders to keep me engaged. I mean, how many “money and family and relationship” series can you teach before boredom sets in?
Whole Heart Suggestion 2: Read books about preaching and communication
Books or podcasts on the subject of Bible teaching have been a refreshing way for me to give myself more fully to the work. Even if you only implement two-percent of what someone else does or suggests, you become sharper for the task at hand. Even if you reject their methodologies completely, at least you will be forced to sharpen your convictions and declare your reasons for studying and preaching the way you do.
Whole Heart Suggestion 3: Consume good preaching and teaching
Listening to or watching someone else do it is both edifying for your spiritual man, but a way to grow in your gifting and craft. I can only imagine how Timothy grew by listening to Paul, and I’m sure Paul grew some by listening to Timothy, so it is good for us to do the same. With today’s technology, this is easy to do, but my recommendation is to find a pastor you would like to regularly listen to and make it a sit-down-and-watch-every-week part of your life. Then, from time to time, find another teacher you’d like to go through an entire series with. Follow them through it, then move on to someone else. For me, having one or two teachers at a time, for a longer stretch, has been better than haphazardly dancing around from preacher to preacher in my podcast app.
Whole Heart Suggestion 4: Make prayer a greater part of your preparation
When we pray, God helps us. He is available and wants to be part of your process. He wants to help you in your delivery, and certainly, we need the Spirit to aid us and the people as we preach and teach, but God can also strengthen you while you prepare. Allow for space during the week to talk with God about the text and teaching and people you’ll teach. He has a way of breaking through and giving you sharper focus and more precise understanding of both the text and the hearer.
Whole Heart Suggestion 5: Read lots of books
I’m on a kick for this right now because last year I read (for me) a lot of books. To me, there are great benefits to reading lots of different material that has no direct relationship to the text I’m teaching the following Sunday. I love to fill the empty spaces of my life with audiobooks or recreational reading. For me, I have found having three books at all times beneficial. Of those three, one is usually fiction, self-improvement (like the preaching books mentioned above), and spiritual formation.
Whole Heart Suggestion 6: Set hard walls around times you’ll dedicate to study
Everyone’s schedule is different. Many pastors and Bible-teachers are bi-vocational. But as much as you are able, set up a rigid plan for when you will give yourself to the study of God’s word. During those blocks of time, figure out ways to shut out all noise and get after it. Distraction is bound to happen, but train your mind to go longer and deeper into study. Give yourself to the work.
Let’s do this.