Whether learning a new skill or becoming proficient in an old one, seeking out guidance and instruction from those noted for their abilities is always a good thing. I can’t say that I ever made first chair in trumpet or baritone but all those lessons with Dr. Kent Payne surely helped me enjoy them both. Whether it is playing an instrument, molding pottery, perfecting a jump shot or preparing a sermon, learning from those farther along makes a world of difference.
In 1760, a young, dynamic preacher named John Trembath, sent a letter to the Rev. John Wesley asking his advice about growing in one’s commitment to Christ. The letter he got back reflects a passion, not for ministry, but John Wesley’s passion for people to be in a growing, dynamic relationship with God. These few sentences stand out: “Whether you like it or not, read and pray daily. It is for your life; there is no other way; else you will be a trifler all your days, and a pretty, superficial preacher.”
If you ever read John Wesley’s works and his letters, he rarely pulled punches when asked for an opinion or instruction. And when it came to the heart of a persons’ faith journey, Wesley was not only passionate but very much in line with Scripture as we see in these two texts from the Bible…
Mat 6:6-8 ESV But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (7) "And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. (8) Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Every scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for showing mistakes, for correcting, and for training character, so that the person who belongs to God can be equipped to do everything that is good. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
It is often noted an assumption noted in Jesus words. He doesn’t begin with “IF” but “WHEN.” Paul has own important note. He doesn’t say “some of the scriptures” or “The scriptures that you prefer” are inspired but every one of them.
No, I can’t point to a scripture passage anywhere that says, “Surely, thou shalt rise at 5am each morning to pray and read scripture.” However, the truth is, these verses, and many others point to the wisdom of God’s instruction. Dr. Steve Harper, in his book, Prayer& Devotional Life for United Methodists notes, “Wesley’s letter to John Trembath was not a legalistic requirement; it was sound spiritual guidance. It was the way to spiritual renewal. It still is (42).”
In the days of Methodist revivals and camp meetings, there was an old phrase, “You have to be at the spout where the glory comes out!” For Christians, that has always been recognized as God’s Word found in the Bible. The spiritual giants of our faith always began as novices, beginners, sitting and reading with souls wide open to God’s truth found in the pages of this great book.
And it was in their private rooms, in the caves of the desert, in the cells of monastaries or the kitchen table, where these same saints would pour their hearts to God. Then silence their souls so they might hear what the Spirit would speak to them.
Like anything, you begin with the first step = you have to do it. No excuses. Put it in on your calendar, your to-do list or set an alarm. As Wesley said, “whether you like it or not!” Don’t allow emotions to be the controlling element.
When I moved the middle of my junior year of high school, I was lost. Relationally, emotionally and spiritually. I felt completely alone and isolated. Leaving church one day, I saw this little booklet, one that I had seen again and again on a rack by the back door of the sanctuary. The title was “The Upper Room.” I was still a new Christian at the time, but opened it and began to read, to journal and to pray based on each days reading.
Funny thing how God’s grace works. Just a few weeks ago as I sat in my current class on Spiritual Formation with Dr. Dwight Judy, the subject of The Upper Room came up. He noted that the pattern of Bible reading, meditation, prayer, and contemplation that the Upper Room has used all these years is an ancient form of spiritual reading from the earlier centuries of the Church.
Today the Upper Room is still in print, it is online or you can get an app for that! It is one of many resources and helps. The question is will you take advantage? Will you take a step up in your personal reading and prayer time. What we know or maybe I should say, don’t know regarding John Trembath is an indicator that he didn’t follow Wesley’s advice. The real question is what is stopping you from taking your next step?