The book of Ezekiel begins with the prophet’s calling.
At age 30, Ezekiel was in exile with Israel on the Kebar River when God singled him out for special purposes and ministry. God placed before him a bewildering vision. At the end of it, Ezekiel saw the glory of the Lord.
In awe, he fell face down. He then heard a voice speaking to him. The specifics of his calling to be a prophet were clearly defined in that message. To get the point, purpose, and power in this calling, read the first three chapters of Ezekiel. Read them again, then once more as you feel this historic story in your own heart.
Ezekiel saw a hand stretched out to him, holding a scroll with writing on it. Its words were lament, mourning, and woe (2:10). Ezekiel received this command: “Eat this scroll, and fill your stomach with it. Then go and speak to the people of Israel” (3:3, 4, paraphrased).
Ezekiel opened his mouth and ate the scroll. He wrote, “It tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth” (v. 3).
With the words of the Lord in his very soul and being and the power of God’s Holy Spirit deep in his heart, and with specific instruction, Ezekiel was ready to begin his assigned work.
For approximately fifty-eight years, my wife, Sandra, and I have spent much of our daily lives in the work of the gospel. Many hours were spent in detailed study of God’s Word. We have absolutely no regrets about any of that.
However, in those years of study for pastoral assignments, sermons, Bible studies, classes, speaking at camps and retreats, and one-on-one discussions with church members and new contacts, something was missing. Oh, there were joyful times of research and study and discussion with others in the ministry of God’s Word. But it was all work for a specific purpose. That is the nature of a pastor’s calling. But every bit of it was worth eating!
In 1964, with my wife Sandra and our four-month-old son, Del, we left Oregon and moved to Stanberry, Missouri, to study and train for the ministry. When that task was completed three years later in 1967, we moved to San Antonio to pastor our first church.
This was the real start of our education. All we had learned at Midwest Bible College gave us many of the tools needed. But hands-on gospel work and onsite pastoring provided a continuing education with all the super personal delights and joys of serving.
The almost daily in-the-Word experiences among the people were our best teacher. Sandra worked right beside me and was a critical part of our ministry. Through the years, we also served in Oklahoma, California, and Oregon. We served the Church in leadership assignments on the board of directors, on various committees, and as superintendent of the West Coast District. There, Sandra was employed full-time by the district.
During much of this time, my work included perhaps my toughest of all assignments: many years on the License and Credentials Committee. In 2011, we “retired” and moved to Minnesota to be near our family. But several of our church assignments and speaking appointments continued.
Retirement was an amazing experience and a wonderful concept. We traveled quite a bit and fished a lot! We enjoyed a good number of teaching and preaching times.
Then a phone call came in 2016. After serious conversations and prayer, we accepted an assignment to go back to work again, this time for the Central District with me as superintendent and Sandra as my administrative assistant.
We found ourselves in heavy work with a lot of office time, travel, and serving the churches in twelve states. These were the last six years of full-time, active serving the cause of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Again, much time was needed and spent in study of the Word.
During all of those study and serving years, most of our reading of God’s Word was to be prepared and to meet the needs of the people and of the church in our “jobs.” As you all know, there are many long days in pastoral work — early and late hours of study with individuals on the theology of the Church.
There were sermons, devotions, Bible studies, and weekly Sabbath school classes to teach. In most of my pastorates, I carefully scheduled the Sabbath school program and curriculum to teach every age group.
Yes, even the youngest age groups. For me, it provided purposeful relationship building for all ages. As their pastor, even sitting on the floor with small children can teach them and you a lot! Sandra also taught, and the time she took to prepare made her schedule tight. Especially in those years, she worked a full time job so we could make ends meet.
But during almost all of that time we needed something that seemed to be missing in our schedules. We were deeply into the Bible. (Study! Study! Study!) But we seldom found adequate and quality quiet time to read God’s Word just for the joy of it!
We had our own reading schedules, to read the Bible through. But even that was often interrupted by the needs of the church and the members, or it was late at night. Many times, I fell asleep in the process, but when finished, I could say, again, “I read the Bible through!”
Looking back, that was often only “duty reading.” I am not sure how much I received true personal, spiritual insight and benefit.
As a pastor, I had fully worn out seven preaching Bibles through the years, which I have kept so each of my family may have one with all my notes in the margins.
I also had numerous other translations and study Bibles on the shelf for use in research. But now, I wanted one just for the sole purpose of reading for the joy of it!
Early in 2022, I went shopping for a new Bible. We were planning on retiring again and had given our notice. I knew the exact sort of Bible I wanted. Because I was age 78, it needed to be a large print, red-letter edition.
I found it! It was the desired and desirable “scroll.” This time, it did not have or need a lot of extra study helps or center reference items. I wanted just the text of Scripture.
I was thrilled! The same day of my purchase, on January 28, 2022, I began reading the new Bible. I chose to start in three places, Genesis, Psalms and Matthew. My plan was to read three chapters in each place, nine chapters a day.
But when I began reading, I found it difficult to stop. I highlighted verses that spoke to my heart. In the Old Testament, I used a red pencil. However, in Psalms and Proverbs, I used green, and in the New Testament I used blue.
I finished reading the entire Bible two weeks after my retirement date of June 30. On July 15, 2022, I immediately started again, reading in the same pattern —Genesis, Psalms, and Matthew. I set a goal to finish it, again, by the end of 2022. I did not read in a hurry or with any goal of how much. I just read it for joy unspeakable!
Reading just for the joy of it, I received inspiration and saw beautiful things in the Bible I had never read before. Good stuff leaped off the pages. My heart filled with an even more intense and deeper love for God, His Son Jesus, and their Word.
I gleaned even more insight about the truth I had believed and preached most of my life. I felt the Holy Spirit inside me, stronger and more personal than perhaps ever before. It was fresh, and the Scripture seemed alive — really alive! I often shed tears as I read, and my prayer life blossomed and grew.
Sandra also started reading the Bible through again, in pretty much the same time frame. She reads from The Message, and I read from the NIV.
Our days have been so blessed. Often, one or both of us get up during the night and read. We pause and discuss with excitement what we see and discover in this amazing experience of being in the Word, just for the joy of reading it for deep, personal discovery.
Refreshment in retirement
Now that we are “truly” retired, God’s Word has become an even stronger source of delight, comfort, and education. Our relationship with the Lord keeps getting better and better. Our discussions together about what we are reading are so refreshing and personal.
We still read and study our Sabbath school lessons. We attend church onsite when possible and online often. We still discuss and research various points of truth and theology. But, oh, the joy of reading His Word just for delight and spiritual refreshment.
We recommend adopting a regular Bible reading time — just for the joy of it.Take His Word, the scroll, deep into your heart and life. Discover its new, sweet, and refreshing taste — and enjoy it!
“How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalm 119:103).
Scripture quotations are from the New International Version.