Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it. Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain! Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways. Psalm 119:33-37
As a young seminary student, I was gripped by the great insights of Bo Giertz in his short novellas in The Hammer of God, but there was little else by him available in English. In recent years, I have grown to greatly appreciate Giertz’s practical and yet deeply Christo-centric writings in translations of his essays and sermons that have now opened his work to a new generation. In a brief essay, “Our Devotional Life,” he writes, “When one is sitting next to a deathbed, there are two signs that tell if the flickering spark of life has expired or not. The first is the pulse. The second is breath…when the pulsing stops, and the breast falls motionless, it is finished. It is the same for spiritual life…the spirit also has its heartbeat, and the soul its breath. They are called the use of God’s Word and sacraments, and the exercise of prayer. They can be used to test if there is spiritual life in a man…The question regarding our Church’s life, is therefore a question about our own devotional life. Without the inner, invisible process of life, which is called devotional life, the whole Church’s outer apparatus becomes a dead mechanism. It is no longer the living body of Christ, or a spiritual organism, but a robot or a doll in a wax museum.” (A Hammer for God: Bo Giertz, p. 257-258)
It is easy for servants in the church to become so focused on the structure and organization of the church that we lose sight of how the Holy Spirit gives life to the Church. From the personal encounter with the Word as part of one’s devotional life to the reception of Christ’s gifts in the Divine Service, the Holy Spirit is giving breath to dry bones. The neglect of one’s personal devotional life is one of the greatest threats to pastors. At times pastors interact with the Word of God on a constant basis, but more as a professional task than that of a humble beggar seeking to be fed with the Bread of Life. As Martin Luther wrote, “The Holy Scriptures require a humble reader who shows reverence and fear toward the Word of God and constantly says, ‘Teach me, teach me, teach me!” (Luther’s Works, vol 54, p. 378)
The greatest need of our pastors, laity, and servants in church and schools is Christ as received through His Word and Sacraments. Dear saints of God, I pray that you do not neglect the means by which the Spirit gives life through your personal devotional life. For without receiving these gifts, the pulse and breath of spiritual life grow faint. However, for the beggar who receives with outstretched hands the holy things of God, there the Holy Spirit enlivens for service in Christ’s name.
Prayer – Lord Jesus Christ, giver and perfecter of our faith, we thank and praise You for continuing among us the preaching of Your Gospel for our instruction and edification. Send Your blessing upon the Word and by Your Holy Spirit increase our saving knowledge of You, that day by day we may be strengthened in the divine truth and remain steadfast in Your grace. Give us strength to fight the good fight and by faith to overcome all the temptations of Satan, the flesh, and the world so that we may finally receive the salvation of our souls; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Fraternally in Christ,
President Lee Hagan