Signs Of The Times: 3 - The Tools And The Training

If there’s a job that needs to be done, and you have to do it, and you don’t want to make a mess of it - what’s the best way to proceed? The secret, my father used to say, is in the preparation. Putting together the right tools for the job is a work of art in itself; then, you need to check that each one is in good condition; and then, you need to know how to use them properly.

In John Ritchie’s foreword to his “500 Gospel Sermon Outlines” (1910), he commends the same sort of plan to “all who go forth in the service of the Lord, making known His Gospel to others”. Where do we begin?

"The School of God” is the best and safest place for the young disciple ...

"So, that would be a degree in theology, then, or a year or two at bible college, or a bible study correspondence course, at least?” No, that’s not what he means.

If you have not testified to those in your home, your workshop, your street, your village, you need not expect to be led further afield. You must “qualify” in the lower class, the less public sphere, and “prove” yourself in the place where you are best known, before the Lord will entrust you in higher places, or fellow believers have confidence in your ability to fill them.

"What does the believer need to be doing in this ‘School of God’?”

... learning at the feet of Jesus, becoming acquainted with the Word of God, gathering the materials, and gaining the experiences he will require in days of public service.

"Does it take much time? Look at Paul: knocked off his horse one day, and out into full-time ministry three days later!”* Mr Ritchie seems to think it does.

All God’s honoured servants have had their periods of secret training alone with Himself before going forth to service: Moses in Horeb, David in the sheepfolds of Bethlehem, John in the deserts of Judea, and the great Soul-gatherer Himself, Jesus, the Son of God, in the solitudes of Nazareth.

"But I already have a ministry! God told me so! I can rely on divine inspiration to teach me all I need to know: ‘… for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.’ (Luke 12.12)” Another good reason to spend time in study - learning not to wrench texts out of context like that.

Everyone’s experience is different, and some lives are difficult indeed. But as our Pastor pointed out in his second sermon on Esther, our Lord puts His people in places for specific purposes. Mr Ritchie gives us good reasons for patience and perseverance in the “School of God”.

Yours may be the quiet home, the busy mart, the crowded city, the irksome post of duty in which your pride is humbled, your energies cribbed, your nature subdued, and your faith and patience tried - needed discipline for all who are to be set in places of temptation, responsibility and danger, in the service of God.

"My ministry, a place of temptation, responsibility and danger? He’s overdoing it a bit, isn’t he?” If you’d watched as many promising men, women and young people come to grief as I have over the last several decades, you wouldn’t say so. “The gold, the girls, and the glory” - that’s what preachers used to warn younger workers about. Nowadays you’d think that they were part of an employee benefits package, they’ve become such a familiar sight in the circus church.

What does Paul tell Timothy, time after time after time? “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved,” (in the sense of ‘one approved after being tested’) “a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2.15)

Mr Ritchie’s language may be old-fashioned, and perhaps you don’t find his arguments of any interest at all. But I wish I’d read this years ago. When I look back at the various stages of my life thus far, it’s as though someone had stuck a large and unsightly label over most of them.

"Really? What does it say?”

"Wasted Years."

*(To end on a lighter note: that sentence marked with an asterisk. Didn’t you find that a bit hard to swallow? No? Well, there you go!)