Full disclosure: I had never read any sermons by Robert Murray McCheyne before Christian Focus Publications was kind enough to send me a copy of seven sermons by McCheyne called The Believer’s Joy (Get it here or get it for Kindle here). McCheyne was a pastor in Scotland in the 1830’s and 40’s. He passed away at the age of 29. By almost all accounts, however, he displayed a maturity and had a ministry that far exceeded his age. In short, McCheyne was a leader. Even better, he was a theologically minded leader, which means at Theologian of the Boss, we want to learn more about him and be mentored by him. The Believer’s Joy gives us just such an opportunity.
Reading Robert Murray McCheyne’s sermons is a lot like having a multi-course meal. Robert starts with an initial text, makes some opening comments and then proceeds to set up some observations. You could call that the appetizer. Then McCheyne proceeds to break the practical importance of the text in the life of a believer. You could call that the main course. Finally, McCheyne closes with some exhortations to both believers and nonbelievers—a sort of dessert, if you will.
Now for anyone reading, what I just described might be considered rather uninspired. Most sermons follow a similar setup as the above: an introduction, the body, and the conclusion. However, it is the not the structure of this spiritual feast that stands out—it are the subtle nuances found in each sermon that make them a “meal” to remember.
By reading this collection of seven sermons, I learned several things about Robert Murray McCheyne.
1.McCheyne preached in a way that was both academic and accessible.
It is clear that McCheyne, though young, was intimately familiar with the Scriptures. He often breaks down the historical background of the text, the context of a passage or alludes to other parts of the Scripture. Nevertheless, his style is not complicated. It is not overly laden with imagery or stodgy language. His sermons are approachable and easy to read and comprehend. Sinclair Ferguson encourages us in the forward to read the sermons out loud. I would highly recommend that because you will note cadences of poetic form in McCheyne’s sermon. It flows easily.
2. McCheyne preached in a way that merged exposition with systematic theology.
In the sermon that the book is entitled after, The Believer’s Joy, he begins by breaking down the text of Romans 5:11. However, McCheyne then pivots to talking about all the ways that the believer joys in God and it amounts into an exploration of God’s divine attributes: His omniscience, might, justice and the past, present and future dimensions of God’s love. What is beautiful is that McCheyne saw that Romans 5 introduces the beauty of God’s attributes and then he in turn breaks each attribute down systematically. There are few preachers who can do this well, yet McCheyne is an expert in doing so.
3.McCheyne preached in a way that dissected the human soul, laying it bare.
Whenever I read Robert Murray McCheyne’s sermons I am exposed. He can simultaneous cause me to rejoice in so great a Savior and mourn at my lack of zeal for him—all in the same sentence! McCheyne often reminds the listener to not let their head knowledge about God replace a genuine love for God. Being able to quote the catechism and to be able to understand the mysteries of election and human responsibility is all well and good, but do you love God? Ouch! But McCheyne is unrelenting in pushing us to question ourselves because he knows that only when we see the truth will we repent. However, the forgiveness and grace of God is sufficient to cover over our sin. He reminds us constantly of the death of Jesus and how it has provided peace with God. He calls us, in light of this truth, to surrender ourselves fully to God.
These are just a few of the things I learned while working through each sermon of in this great little volume. It is not that I agree with every exegetical decision McCheyne makes (I disagree with how he understood Revelation 3 and the historical background of Laodicea). But every sermon I found practical and convicting. I found myself pausing and asking God to make me stronger in my faith, to trust Him more. I found myself spontaneously thanking God for what He has done for me in the death and resurrection of Christ. And I found myself rejoicing that McCheyne’s life, though short, pointed to the joy that is found in God alone.
*Though I was sent a review copy of this book, I was not forced to give this book a positive review, and my opinions in this article are my own. This post contains affiliate links.*
Last week I posted that the three characteristics the disciples possessed were "patience, courage, and love" according to John Chrysostom. I have already talked briefly about patience. I now want to talk about the one I personally struggle with the most: courage.
My Fear List
I have found in my own life that there are several things that frighten me. Maybe this is weird, but I have found it helpful to write down a list of things that terrify me. Here is my list and see if this any of these resonate with you at all:
Fear of people not liking me.
Fear of conflict.
Fear of the rejection of my work.
Fear of looking stupid.
Fear of not knowing the future.
Fear of not being able to get the outcome I want.
Fear of my loved ones being hurt.
Fear of messing up so badly I won't be able to recover.
Fear of failure.
For me, my greatest fears are mostly interpersonal. I don't want people to think poorly of me and I don't want to disappoint those around me. I want to succeed and look competent in what I do. I don't want to look like a failure.
Lessons I've Learned about Courage
I would not consider myself a courageous person at all. When I look at the apostles and what they faced and then I turn and look at my own set of problems, I feel kind of cowardly. Nevertheless, I've grown to accept that though I want to be more courageous, I am still where I am at right now. And knowing that I am scared and what I am scared of is half the battle. So here are some lessons I'm learning about courage:
How about you? What is your fear list? What lessons about courage are you learning? Post below!
Patience is one of those things that everyone wishes they had more of, right? No one wants to be known as a hothead. Probably one of the first pieces of advice you were ever given as a kid is "Don't be impatient." Yeah, we all want to be more patient.
But can we have some real talk for a minute?
Being patient kinda sucks.
If I were to be honest, in the moments where I burst out in anger or rush to get my way, it feels really, really good. It doesn't feel good to wait. The often cited marshmallow test confirms this: it is more pleasurable for me to be impatient than patient. I want the silver bullet to fix my problems. It is easier for me to rush in and try to accomplish my vision than it is to step back and look at every angle.
Also, since I am being honest here, patience often feels like weakness to me. Aren't the best leaders the ones who can take charge? Aren't they the ones accomplishing things quickly? Patience is for pushovers.
In other words, it isn't very sexy to be patient.
But here is something I know to be absolutely certain: your ability to find success in what matters is directly correlated to your ability to be patient. If you aren't patient, you won't find success. If you are patient, you will likely find a great deal of success. It's that simple.
But wait a minute? What about all those guys who rush in and take charge and find a great deal of wealth.
Listen, you will always find that one guy who rushed in and found tremendous success the first time he tried something. Elon Musk seems to be an example of impatience working well: everything he touches turns to gold. He is the exception. You are not the exception. I'm not either. Most people aren't. For every Elon Musk, there are 10 million of us.
But right now, Musk is embroiled in a fight to save the life of Tesla. He alienates people and forces his vision on others. It may have gotten him this far--but eventually that attitude, that lack of patience, will destroy what is most important.
But I would also suggest that often times the people you look at who have found success are the ones who have labored for hours and hours and hours behind the scenes. They never stop grinding. They were patient, working hard for the chance to find success.
When we read the Bible we tend to just read the highlights of what happened. What we forget is that there are sometimes hundreds of years between chapters . Things don't happen on Israel or the apostle's timetable; they happen on God's.
So how do we become more patient? I'd like to suggest 4 things to always remember when you are struggling with impatience.
1) Remember that God is Sovereign
When I say that God is in control, I almost feel a holy, Christian eye-roll coming. But think about this: when I say God is in control what I am really saying is that the all-knowing, all-powerful, all-wise, all-good, all-loving, all-present King of the universe is in control of your circumstances. I am not talking about an impersonal force. I am not talking about "fate" or "destiny" or "karma" or whatever pseudo-mystical force people try to comfort themselves with. This is the God who entered into our space and time and died on the cross because he loves you.
Reality check: until you realize that God cares about your future more than you do, you will always struggle with impatience.
2) Remember that Patience is not Passivity
Patience feels like inaction. But patience is really action under complete control. If you have done the hard work of research, you have been grinding, you have been hustling, then you are putting yourself in the best position to succeed. Keep working at it. Stay the course.
But...we have to be careful here. Sometimes we think we are being patient when really we are just acting out of fear. We don't move, we don't change course because we are too scared to. That isn't patience.
For instance, I was a Bible teacher for 6 years at a really comfortable job at a private Christian school. These jobs don't open up very often and when they do, tons of people apply. It was a pretty comfortable job. But I left.
Why? Because I knew that to say was the most passive and easy thing for me to do. I wasn't being patient by staying--I was being fearful.
So how do we know when it is time to take a leap? First, we pray. Second, I would ask your friends and most trusted allies to ask you what they think. If you are married, talk to your spouse. Ask, what happens if I change course here? Does it change anything for me? What are the dangers? You can also check out episode 3 of my podcast with pastor Rob Rucci where he and I talk about how to know when risk is right.
3) Remember that the Habits you Form Today Have Got to Get you Through the Problems you Face Tomorrow
It is easy to seek to get your own way. It is easy to give into anger. It is easy to lash out. But listen to me: if you form those terrible habits now, you will not survive the problems that will face you in the future.
Think of it like a loan: you are cashing in on your immediate happiness now, but you will pay dearly with your impatience later. You will pay far more and suffer more pain than the immediate happiness you currently experience. It happens every time.
It has happened to me when I have made an impulse purchase instead of researching what I want. It has happened when I have decided to make an executive decision on something without consulting with my wife and friends. It has happened to me when I yell at a friend and have damaged their trust.
You will face problems tomorrow that demand greater patience than you currently possess. Here is the question: are you forming habits today that will help you get through tomorrow?
4) Remember that the Problems You Face are what Make Life Worth Living
I think a lot of people dream of this time when they finally "make it." They don't have any more problems or stresses. They have enough money to rest and enjoy life as it was meant to be.
You know that is right? A delusion. You're being delusional.
There will never be a time in your life when you are problem free. If you make money, you will have a different set of problems than you have now. But they are still problems. If you think, "One day I'll be the boss and I won't have trouble" then you aren't seeing reality clearly. Greener grass fades quickly.
But here is what I also know--you wouldn't really want a problem free existence. Problems are actually not evil, in themselves. When God created Adam, Adam had a problem. He was surrounded by animals with no names. So God put him to work naming the animals. Work, in order for it to be rewarding and fulfilling, is going to have problems that must be solved. That is a good thing too. It prevents us from getting bored. It prevents us putting in only mediocre work.
God has given you the gift of problems.
How we respond to that gift is a different story though. Will we respond in anger? Frustration? Exasperation? Impatience? All of these responses came after the Fall of mankind. It is what makes our work taxing, unproductive and fruitless. But while we may never be able to fully escape those feelings, we can learn to respond better when we remember that God has granted us problems because it is what requires us to learn, grow and lean in dependence more on Him.
Surprise! There are not magic bullets to become more patient. It requires constantly going to God in prayer and asking him to form patience in you. It requires discipline. It requires dying on the cross. It requires failing, humbling accepting you failed miserably, and then running to God in repentance with a desire to change. It will require work and...ummm...patience.
Daniel Pandolph is co-founder of Ministry Assistant Services and founder of Theologian of the Boss. He holds a BA in Christian Studies from North Greenville University and an MA in Religion from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary.