5. I am sorry that I did not learn to disciple people.
I hear people talking about it, maybe more in the USA. I would like to have been there, unobtrusive, tucked away in a corner, watching and learning, seeing how they did that, the mechanics of it, the programme, the length, the homework, the expectations and the fruit. Where do men get the time to disciple? They have more discipline and so they can disciple, I guess. Every disciple I have met who announced he was seeking my input into his life ended up showing his own agenda and wanting confirmation. At first it had been hidden and I was naive, but then it came out and there were tensions.Is there a generally recognized approach to discipling? Is there a book to advise us that everyone else knows and uses? ‘I was greatly helped being discipled . . .’ men say. Tell us how. It is to my loss that I know so little about discipling.
6. I am sorry to be the frequent prisoner of circumstances,
though kept sane by my assurance of the holy, wise and powerful providence of God, ruling and governing all his creatures in all their actions. The life of a minister is hazardous, dealing with events that are unpredictable and problems met for the first time and intractable. No book gives any assistance; fellow ministers shake their heads. Normally the minister feels he is not in control. He would like a five year plan, a year plan, a monthly plan and one for each week, the wheels of which are silently turning without any human involvement. You could tell the time by them. Such a minister envies the fixed routines of a monk. He would preach away a certain number of neatly spaced out Sundays, read through a dozen classic books a year, visit the members in turn and have six weeks’ annual writing time to produce a book on a topic no one else has written upon.
It is not like that, except for cult leaders; it has never been like that. There are the phone-calls that make you sit down. There are the e-mails with their questions and invitations, the books that have to be read because the congregation is reading them, the queries from people whose marriages are breaking up for the most bizarre reasons, people who are leaving the church for undisclosed reasons (they never say, do they? They just write that they are leaving). The local group of gospel churches need a reassuring elderly presence; there are also committees. Then there is the family and one’s delightful duty to nourish and cherish one’s wife and not provoke one’s kids to wrath. In theory one seems to have loads of spare time, but one never has enough. So one makes lists, and the tough neglected issues are copied onto the next list, and onto the list after that. But in all these things we are more than conquerors. Its diversity and challenge is fulfilling.
My own conviction is that people come first, not study, not preparation, not writing, not further degrees, but people. I can say that so confidently because I am not disturbed by a host of folk knocking on my door or lining up to discuss something with me after the services. What a rare delight that someone actually wants to talk to you and ask your opinion and advice. At the end of many a day I write in my journal something like, ‘Nothing much happened . . . not much done . . . loads of little things.’ One deals with people at the old people’s home, one sits with the students on a Sunday night, one is going across to the hospital, one is compiling the church newsletter or drawing up the agenda for the church meeting or answering one’s correspondents. One would not want it to be different, asking, ‘Choose Thou for me my time, my friends, my ministry, my days, my priorities.’ God save us from being locked into book-lined studies with a Do Not Disturb sign on the doorknob, protected by a secretary or two in outer offices, emerging for graciously given interviews with favoured people. Tell them often, ‘The doors of this church are always open to you, and the door of the Manse.’
7. I fear I have watched too much TV.
TV is like fire, necessary for warmth and washing and cooking, but also able to burn and destroy. It is present in our own house like some fascinating knowledgeable uncle whom yet we can shut up in a moment when he gets too garrulous. He can present live rugby 6 or 7 times in a year when Wales is playing. He can show us reports of snowfalls and tsunamis and planes crashing into the Twin Towers in New York and revolutions on the streets of Iran, all unmissable spectacles. Then he comes closer to home and he shows us farming programmes about Welsh rural communities in the Welsh language which are a personal delight. He has documentaries about history and science and medical breakthroughs. He has programmes about antiques, and quizzes between various universities. I can thank God for TV; if I could not I would not tolerate it in the house. I am not interested in films and comedy programmes and soaps and cooking and political discussions and motor cars and music and most of what is on the box. It leaves me sad and cold to glance at the announcements of what is going to be shown in fifty channels. ‘No thanks, Uncle. Not in this house.’
One night in 1962 we students were watching some TV programme in the lounge at Westminster Seminary, just four of us having popped in from different corridors for a break of ten minutes or so before making ourselves some chocolate and going to bed. There were always that kind of number briefly watching an extract of some trivia on a black and white screen, but usually no one at all was there. Dick Van Dyk’s programmes were popular I think. Then into the room came John Murray and he watched it for a half minute and finally said, ‘Sometimes you’d like to put your fist through the screen,’ and left. Quite so. I want to watch what is good-humoured and edifying, but feel that over the years I have found myself drifting into grey areas. Then shutting up uncle is not so straightforward. A pastor friend of mine decided to read Latourette’s fat volume of church history at the end of the day rather than watch the TV the news programme, and he completed the book. Good for him. I do not want to watch any of the grey area and even keep the true, just, holy and praiseworthy firmly under control, not always successfully. Let redeeming grace triumph over common grace always. That phrase in a succinct Latin quip would be memorable . . .
8. I am sorry that my love for Jesus Christ is cool and shallow.
‘Weak is the effort of my heart and cold my warmest thought.’ It was true for Newton and it is true for us today. Sometimes I think, ‘Do I love him at all?’ Where is the affection, the glow, the delight and anticipation of meeting with him? M’Cheyne wrote in his diary, ‘Rose early to meet him whom my soul loves. Who would not rise early to meet such company?’ I wish that that reflected my own heart’s longing for the Saviour. I wish I could give myself to him anew each Sunday, thinking, ‘I am going to go where the Lord Jesus is.’ When I have nothing else to think about I wish my mind naturally gravitated to him. Here is someone who laid down his life for me. This is the one who delivered me from hell. Behold my Saviour who is taking me to glory for ever. Here is my beloved and here is my friend who is working all things together for my good. This dear Lord of mine is going to do an eternal makeover on my whole life. The Lord Jesus is my personal teacher and personal trainer and personal counsellor and personal bodyguard. He can protect me from the biggest devil in hell. Christ is so fascinating a personality, wise, caring, fresh, creative, stimulating, patient and so kind to me. It is my chief complaint, that my love is weak and faint. I who encourage others to love him am amazed that I can love him so little, but what is more amazing is the fact that I love him at all.
– Geoff Thomas