Friday, June 8, 2007

Reading to Counter Your Moods

Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ doctor’s degree wasn’t a ministerial one. Before he entered the ministry he was a medical doctor, assistant to Lord Horder, physician to the Queen. That is why throughout his ministry he was known affectionately as “the Doctor.” Lloyd-Jones always held doctors in high esteem and kept abreast of the latest developments in medicine. He was knowledgeable of mental and emotional ailments as well as physical ones, so he recognized the complexity of the human psyche and learned how to handle it. His medical skills were called upon frequently during his first pastorate in a depressed area of South Wales. For an interesting and humorous story of his diagnosing and “treating” a former nursing student, see Vol. 1 of the biography by Iain Murray, pp. 260-261.

This is the third in a series of posts on Lloyd-Jones on Ministerial Reading. From the chapter, “The Preparation of the Preacher,” in his book, Preaching and Preachers, he counsels ministers concerning general reading practices in preparation for the pulpit. Having advised on Scripture reading habits, he turns to the reading of books. In the first place, a minister should read books that will “help you in general to understand and enjoy the Scriptures” (p. 174). Lloyd-Jones’ first pick in this category is Puritan literature. Why? In addition to the Bible knowledge they give you, the Puritans do something for you internally.

It is most important that the preacher should know not only himself in general but also his particular moods and states and conditions. The preacher should never be moody; but he will have varying moods. No man can tell what he will feel like tomorrow morning; you do not control that. Our business is to do something about these changing moods and not to allow ourselves to become victims of them. You are not exactly the same two days running, and you have to treat yourself according to your varying conditions. So you will have to discover what is the most appropriate reading for yourself in these varying states (p. 175).

He testifies that the Puritans are “almost invariably helpful” and specifically commends Richard Sibbes for helping him when he was overworked and “subject in an unusual manner to the onslaughts of the devil.” Through reading the Puritans, especially Sibbes, the Doctor received tender treatment for his soul. Just what the Doctor needed! Sibbes’ books The Bruised Reed and The Soul’s Conflict “quietened, soothed, comforted, encouraged and healed me” (p. 175).

Lloyd-Jones also counsels the reading of sermons to counter your changing moods. Here Jonathan Edwards was a great help to him, “not only his sermons, but also his account of that Great Awakening, that great religious Revival that took place in America in the eighteenth century, and his great The Religious Affections” (p. 176). The Doctor prescribes older sermons for real help and seems to avoid most Twentieth Century ones. While I see his point I would like to recommend some more recent sermons too; namely, Lloyd-Jones’. I could do a whole post on how his sermons have helped me at some crucial times. Check out his Romans and Ephesians series; his Studies in the Sermon on the Mount and Spiritual Depression. And these are his older printed series. New ones continue to be published.

I’m sure we all at some time have turned to trusted books to help us through a dark valley. We probably did so out of instinct or some experience. We just believed a certain book or author would help. What if we learned to do this by habit? Instead of sitting around discouraged or agitated we would routinely point our troubled minds in the direction of help, trusting the Lord to bless godly counsel to our souls. Changing moods and conditions are a part of life, especially for believers. And leaders of Christians are special targets of the devil. “There are these states and conditions of the soul, and the sooner you learn how to deal with them, and how to handle them, the better it will be for you and for the people to whom you preach” (p. 176).


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