For the last few days, like many people, I have been greatly amused by the saga of ship that has gotten stuck in the Suez Canal, thus shutting down one of the world’s most commonly used trade routes, to the cost of some ten billion dollars of lost trade and additional costs every single day. The ship is still stuck, and the result has been a host of jokes about spice flowing, about the joys of taking the long way around the Cape Of Good Hope, and memes about Vasco de Gama. I enjoy and embrace this, not being someone who has been obviously and personally affected as of yet, because where little can be done but to have a good laugh, it is better to have a good laugh and then to work out how to make things better in the future after the massive pile up of traffic that has trapped more than 300 cargo ships in the Suez Canal to date.
This afternoon as I rode back from services with a couple of close friends of mine, I was asked about the messages we heard today at services. Both messages, I thought, were rather cerebral messages, one more of an exhortation to do more prayer, Bible study, and meditation, and the other an explanation of a difficult scripture involving the timing of Jesus’ crucifixion that involved a correct interpretation of the sixth hour of John 19. I personally found much to enjoy in both messages, especially the first split sermon (which was about the difficult scripture), although I can definitely understand that some people prefer a certain style and approach to messages. I thought it worthwhile to share my approach to listening to messages that allows me to listen to messages profitably even when I find them a bit basic.
My approach boiled down to letting my mind do additional work that would help keep my attitude in check, and at times I have utilized this behavior in writing blog entries that have been the result of my thinking about such matters. Sometimes, for example, when I hear a message about a given topic, I will think of what passages I would use to talk about that subject that the speaker did not use. At other times I will listen to a message and think about a level of meaning of that passage that the speaker did not discuss that resonates with me personally (spoiler alert: I have a sermonette that adopts this approach that will be posting shortly that adopts precisely this approach). At still other times I will reflect about how I would give a message differently about a given topic and will marinate the idea in my head with the potential of giving a message that comes at the same subject matter from a different angle.
What all of these approaches have in common is that they allow my brain to work in ways that it views the messages I hear in services as a part of a larger conversation. By thinking of additional material to cover, either through other verses and passages not being mentioned, or different senses of a passage not being explored by a given speaker, it allows me to find areas where there exists the possibility of covering things in more depth with some degree of creativity that allows people to see depth in the Bible and in its understanding. In thinking about different approaches to the same subject, I can think of messages that may be more appealing to others that allows them to see things as important and worth considering that they may not when viewed another way. In both ways my own personal attitude towards other people who think and speak differently than I do is improved because instead of viewing such messages as defective because they do not go about giving them in the same way I do, I view their messages as being inspirational and spurring my own creativity to expand into voids that are not being covered by others.
This approach does not change the messages themselves that one hears, but it does change my attitude about them. Now, in my case, I have at least some power to act on my interest in covering those things that are not necessarily dealt with by others that I feel I can cover in a thoughtful and worthwhile fashion that is edifying and encouraging. I have this power because I have the opportunity to speak, on occasion, in the congregations in my area, a responsibility I take seriously and one that takes a fair amount of time in Bible study, thinking and mediation on such subjects, as well as conversation with others in helping to frame a message. These opportunities are limited–I give sermonettes every couple months or so, and have occasional split sermon and sermon and Bible Study slots of a few a year in number, and as a result I have far more ideas than I have the time to talk about, which I consider a good thing. To be sure, not everyone has the opportunity to do something about it in the fashion I do, but even when I did not have such opportunities to speak, I always had opportunities to write for myself to share to others, and those were opportunities that I definitely took, and that other people have.
After having discussed at least a few approaches to how I would go about given topics differently, one of the other people in the car, who like me does have opportunities to speak on such matters, said that the ideas I mentioned were fair game. And I said that they definitely were. After all, I can generate far more ideas than I can work on, and have no problem feeding other people with the excess labors of my creativity beyond that which I can speak on in a reasonable amount of time. The conversations I have with other believers, many of whom have never had the opportunity to give a message in church to brethren, have greatly fed my own approach and attitude to speaking and let me know what other people are thinking about and want to hear about, which helps me to provide spiritual food in due season as well as to focus my own Bible study and thinking on areas that are of direct benefit to brethren. Also, though, having the attitude of viewing the messages of others not as something to suffer through but as a point of departure for me helps keep me active and engaged in messages that I may not enjoy because the style or approach of the speaker is so much different than my own. By viewing the messages of others as parts of a larger conversation in which I play a part and have my own perspective to share, and also by viewing the thoughts and ideas of others who may not have the opportunity or confidence in forming larger messages themselves, my own studies and thinking are energized and my attitude is improved. If one is going to be stuck somewhere, after all, for any length of time, one might as well make it profitable for oneself as much as possible. That which must be endured might as well be enjoyed to the greatest extent possible.