On vacation I had lots of time alone with my Bible, John Owen, and St. Athanasius. I would get up in the morning, run the hills of North Carolina for half an hour, shower, get a glass of grapefruit juice, take my books to the front porch, and sit in a rocking chair reading till lunch time. Noël would be reading to Talitha from The Book of Virtues or working on her next book at the laptop. Talitha would be sewing, playing with her ponies, reading, or listening to books on tape.
Athanasius is my companion now until next February. Each year at the Pastors’ Conference I do a biographical study of some notable Christian from the past. Athanasius was the Bishop of Alexandria, Egypt from 328 to 373. His fame is owing to his undaunted and courageous stand for the deity of Christ in an age when sometimes the majority of clergy in the world followed the heretic Arius who claimed that the Son of God was created. He was the main defender of the Nicene Creed which was formulated in 325 (which described Christ correctly as “true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father”). Athanasius was exiled by various emperors five times and spent many years hiding from hostile powers while they tracked him in the deserts of Egypt.
John Owen was the greatest Puritan thinker of the 17th century. He outlived all eleven of his children. The last thing he prepared for publication was called Meditations on the Glory of Christ. It was his dying testimony and his way of preparing for the unspeakably great moment of meeting the Lord face to face. It is a 160-page exposition of John 17:24, “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory.” I turned to Owen for pure soul-satisfying food. Every pastor needs a pastor. Owen was mine on vacation.
In the Bible, besides my appointed reading for getting through the Bible in a year, I lingered over extended sections in order to memorize them. The older I get the more desperate I feel to have the Scripture memorized. Nothing shapes and guards my mind like this. Too much is at stake as death draws near and as age brings its unique temptations and fears. I simply must have Jesus near by his indwelling word.
Eventually evening would come. The question for me was: How shall Jesus join Noël and me after Talitha is in bed? Playtime with Talitha was over (berry picking, checkers, word games). The three of us had devotions together each evening (reading about women of the Bible). We had all prayed together. Now Talitha was blessed, sung over, tucked in, and hugged. It was about 8:30.
On some of these evenings I suggested, and Noël readily agreed, that we invite Jesus to join us in a special time of fellowship with him and each other. We know he is always present with us, as he promised (Matt. 28:20). But it is fitting that we fix our attention on his presence from time to time in a special way, and more consciously include him in the fellowship. The way we did this was to choose a book of the Bible—for us this time it was 1 John—and read through the book together pausing to pray between the sections.
I recommend this to all Christian couples unless you have a better way to include Jesus in your fellowship together. The idea is that Jesus is speaking to us through his word (we do not seek communication beyond what is written; rather we seek Christ’s comfort and counsel and worth through what is written). So we begin with me asking the Lord to come and join us in a manifest way by his precious word and do in us and for us and through us all that we need as husband and wife and parents and pastor, etc.
Then I read the first paragraph and stop. We linger over that part of the word, taking turns praying out loud about what it brought to our minds. When it seems we are done responding to that section, Noël reads the next paragraph. Then we pray again in response to whatever that section brings to mind. When it seems we are done, I read the next paragraph. And so on as far as we have agreed to go. You can agree to spend an hour or more or less. Or you can agree to pray all the way though the book or just two chapters.
May I urge every couple to consider how you will confirm in your married life the affirmation of your heart that Jesus is real to you and that he is your friend and that he is precious. I think that if this is really true, it will seem strange to you not to invite him to some special times of fellowship with the two of you. What you will find is that a depth and power and sweetness and richness and authenticity comes into your married life as never before.
Thanks for the vacation and for praying for Noël and me.