there goes the bride
"The bride eyes not her garment, but her dear bridegroom's face. I will not gaze at glory, but on my King of Grace. I stand upon His merit; I know no other stand, not even where Glory dwelleth in Immanuel's land."
That is one verse from the massive poem written over many years by A.R. Cousin, based on Samuel Rutherford's letters, an absolutely beautiful poem you can find all the verses to here: http://www.igracemusic.com/hymnbook/hymns/t05.html#poem.
I was in my sister's wedding on Saturday. It was a beautiful event, as weddings go, and I think much work was put into making it so. Perhaps the sign of a well-planned wedding is that it looks like it came off so easily, so effortlessly. Anyway, it was nice. Someone asked me what my favorite part was, and I have been saying, "Looking the bride straight in the face moments before she is given away to the man she loves." It almost makes me want to become a pastor just so I can experience that on a regular basis.
But there I was, standing in front of the church between the preacher and the groom as my sister walked poisedly down the aisle on my father's arm. I was standing up there because I was to read a couple of passages of scripture and pray (with my sister's clear instructions to "keep it short"). Actually, I had recently read the account one Christian man gave of his preparations for reading God's word (reading, mind you, not preaching it) in a church service. He would wake up an hour or two earlier than normal, bathe, eat, and close himself into his study. He would then pray. Then he would read the passage over a few times. He would then study the passage. After that, he would read it aloud. The he would set the Bible open in the front of the room, go and sit down, walk up to the Bible, and begin reading. If he messed up any part, he would put the Bible down and start again from his chair.
It seemed like a nice idea at the time, but I really thought the guy was nuts. I mean, it was just the Bible, and he wasn't preaching it, just reading. I thought it was a little excessive, like Martin Luther's four hours of prayer to start the day, more if he was really busy. But as the time drew nearer for me to do this reading, for this momentous occasion, I believe the Spirit brought my mind back to that man's example, and I began to think about what the Bible testifies about itself. For one thing, Paul writes to Timothy that all of it is breathed out by God and is profitable.... I think that means God's word itself is profitable, whether there is any preaching being done. My friend, Darin, reminds me that God's word testifies that it will go out, and it does not return void. Again, I do not think we can interpret that to mean that God's word, if preached properly, goes out and does not return void. I do not think it says anything about power point presentations, hands-free microphones, outline points printed in the bulletin, etc. I think what I am talking about is part of the doctrine that is sometimes called "Sola Scriptura," and which I think translates: scripture alone.
So, as I began thinking about all this, I started to get a little scared. I began to feel insufficient for the task. It was peculiar, because I do not think I was afraid, for once, of screwing the whole thing up and looking like a dope in front of everyone. I felt more like the guys in the movies who have to defuse massive bombs in the basements of schoolhouses while the kids go about their day oblivious to their impending doom. The guy has to pick between the red and green wire. Sweat is dripping into his eyes. He's colorblind, maybe. A lot hangs on his performance here, much more than his reputation, which all of a sudden seems insignificant, maybe even trite.
So I got my hands on a couple of commentaries (Matthew Henry and a couple of others I can't think of) for Song of Solomon [2.10-13] and Ruth [1.16,17] and tried to get a sense of the passages. I read over them numerous times in my Bible, I wrote the passages out a couple of times each and put the copies in my Bible to read so I could avoid flipping pages and so the writing would be bigger. Then I prayed some more. Then I wrote out the prayer (below) so I could reference it in a pinch if I got real nervous during the wedding.
Then I left the house and forgot my Bible, only to realize it about half an hour before the wedding would begin. It was far to late to make another run home to get the Bible. I went to the church library. They had no Bibles of the version I had practiced from (ESV). They had an NASB, which I do not like reading from, though it is good for study; they had NIV, which I think is not all that great for reading or for study; they had a New King James, which is nice, and is pretty close to my version, but it was bright red. The other one was bright blue. I was running out of time, so I grabbed an old King James pew Bible off the shelf because it was black and left the room.
George Whitefield, who is probably one of the greatest preachers ever to stand in a pulpit, certainly in terms of oration, is said to have ascended the steps to the pulpit repeating quietly to himself, "I believe in the Holy Spirit. I believe in the Holy Spirit. I believe...." Since I heard this a couple of years ago, it has encouraged me tremendously. I need to be reminded that the outcome of reading scripture or preaching through it, and the ability even to deliver a sermon or a reading, is all dependent upon the Holy Spirit, who freely and lovingly works for us and through us. Thanks be to God.
So. That was my prayer that day (you can tell that I don't do anything original- I just steal from the old guys).
I will finish this one in my next entry to keep one from being too long.