Have you ever wondered what spiritual resources were available to the apostle Paul before he starting his writing career? Or think of the apostle Peter, with his two masterpieces, and the apostle John, with three letters of great significance to us today.
Here’s how the apostle Paul describes what I call the bottom layer of the reservoir upon which he drew when he wrote: “Under Gamaliel I was thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers and was just as zealous for God as any of you are today.” (Acts 22:3 NIV). The next level in his reservoir of spiritual knowledge came during the three years he reports spending in Arabia right after his conversion. He describes what happened to him there in 2 Corinthians 12:2 (NIV): “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows—was caught up to Paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell.”
The apostle Paul’s incredible experiences as a missionary strengthened his faith in a God who had given him a ministry. He repeatedly drew on those experiences when he wrote to the churches and to Timothy and Titus. Those experiences helped fill his reservoir of spiritual resources, leaving him overflowing with praise for the grace of God in his life.
So how did the apostle Peter gain the spiritual resources he needed for his writing? Here’s how he put it, “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his glory.” A few verses later he writes, “And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” He could draw not only on the word of the prophets, but also on the words of Jesus as he accompanied him on the dusty roads of Palestine, but also on a relationship that included being eyewitnesses of his glory.
And how did the apostle John gain his spiritual resources? Here’s how he puts it in his first letter: “The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us.”(1 John 1:2-3)
The Role of the Holy Spirit
Oh, but those experiences are not available to me today, I sense you saying. There’s no way I can tap into spiritual resources at that level. Then maybe you have not read what Jesus said to his disciples in John 16:13, “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.”
So how do we develop our spiritual resources today and learn to tap into the marvelous reservoir our Lord left us in the Holy Spirit?
Each of us brings a certain amount of naturally acquired spiritual resources to our communication. I first had to put what I had gained to use as a Sunday school teacher and youth leader, denominational weekly editor, writer of a Bible study column for preteen boys for Christian Service Brigade, early teen curriculum for Urban Ministries. So what gave me the foundation of spiritual resources?
Growing up in a Christian home provided me with an incredible database of biblical and spiritual resources. Initially, my mother would read both Bible and real life stories to us in German, the language in our home until we went to school. Every evening we had family devotions, switching to English and Hurlbut’s Bible Stories as we went off to school.
When my sister and I went to a Christian high school, we studied a Bible curriculum that included an amazing amount of memorization of lyrical passages of the Bible, but it also gave us a thorough introduction to the historical contents of the Bible. Two winters at a Bible institute added significantly to easily accessible spiritual resources. I purchased a Thompson Chain Reference Bible and used it constantly, especially as I prepared the sermons for the mission congregations where I was developing my preaching skills.
The two years of Bible College that followed gave me a seminary level education in all major and minor books of the Bible, plus two years of intensive New Testament Greek. And I learned five lessons that have proven valuable for communicating effectively for the rest of my life.
1. Consistent Bible study enriches your personal storehouse
The apostle Peter was concerned about the spiritual resources of the church he was writing to. Here’s how he puts it in verse one of chapter three: “Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you. I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking. I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles.” (2 Peter 3:1 NIV)
Put in today’s language, the apostle Peter wanted his readers to be constantly reminded of the history and message of the Old Testament prophets, the commands, the message of Jesus Christ as presented in the Gospels, and the letters of the New Testament by the apostles. The greatest spiritual resources you will find are in the Bible.
2. Become part of a small group Bible study
I am constantly telling pastors and writers to take their book or article idea into a small group environment. Become the facilitator of a small group that studies the passage or scriptural topic you want to cover, and do it in an interactive way. Instead of lecturing, prepare a set of questions for the group to discuss. Not only will you be gathering insights from the group, you will discover what touches people where they itch.
3. Embark on a distance learning course
When I first came to Moody Bible Institute as supervisor of the selling floor in the bookstore in 1960, Moody’s correspondence school had more than 100,000 students enrolled in it. I don’t know what enrollment is today, but I know that it had declined significantly when I was there in the 70s. As I prepared for this presentation I clicked on Google, entered Moody Bible Institute, and up popped a list of web sites related to Moody Bible Institute. One of them was the online distance learning programs.
4. Read books that cut through the clutter to what really matters
I had the remarkable privilege of writing the study guide for the back of Gordon MacDonald’s Ordering Your Private World. I was standing in a lineup for the cloakroom at Congress, New England’s annual gathering of Christians, some years ago and got into a conversation with the person ahead of me. When I gave my name, he said, “Didn’t you write the study guide for Gordon MacDonald’s book?” I said yes, and he launched into a paeon of praise about what that book had meant to him. Other writers in the field are Willard Lancaster and John Ortberg, who has basically popularized Willard Lancaster’s material. You will need to read widely if you want the broad perspective of what it means to live as a Christian in today’s world.
5. Maintain your personal prayer life so you can be led by the Holy Spirit
I have enough examples from my own life to assert unequivocally that the Holy Spirit is alive and well in my world as a writer. But I have to demonstrate my dependence on him by a consistent prayer life. And the role I find him taking is not giving me exciting new revelations of new truth. Instead, he does for me what Jesus said he would do: “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:26).
To be able to play the reminder role in my life, he serves me with what I have already put into my memory bank from the Bible. As my teacher, he helps me relate truth to truth, see new facets of his truth, and gives me insights into how God’s Word applies to my life. I call that illumination.