John Wesley famously dubbed himself as a “man of one book” meaning that even though he owned a library of over 1,000 books to him the Bible was central. I’ve been thinking about books a lot as I have been packing up my office preparing for a move to a new appointment. (Which is why I haven’t been regularly posting but I hope to soon be back to my Monday/Thursday schedule) With the help of my wife I was able to select between 80-100 books that would not be making the trip with me. These books while interesting or at one time relevant are no longer needed or could be easily picked up at the library if needed again. I then packed up about 15 boxes of books that made the trip to my new office. These books are books that I have not yet read or are still valuable resources for ministry. However, I don’t need them right now and won’t need them until I start my new appointment on June 16. Left on my shelf are the two books in the picture above my Bible and my hymnal. These books I can’t wait a month to use and I need them with me each and every week.
That got me thinking if I could only have two books for the rest of my life, which would be hard for me because I love to read, what books would I choose. There are so many to decide between: great literary classics, favorite books that I read countless times growing up, or books detailing various histories. Would I want to read a familiar story or challenge myself to comprehend one of the greats? Would I want a thick book filled with history and stories? I think in packing my office I already decided what two books I would want to keep with me: my Bible and my hymnal.
The Bible really isn’t a surprise. Within the pages of that text I have discovered the Word of God that speaks to my soul. Through it I have been convicted of sin, pointed towards forgiveness and grace, and instructed along the path of righteousness. In these pages I have understood who I am and encountered the God revealed as I Am Who I Am. I have learned the nature of sin and the cost of forgiveness offered by the God who is known by love. I can read about the stories of humanities interaction with God from the beginning and into the end. With this book I can make sense of my past and have hope for the future. On the pages I find powerful poetry, vivid portrayals of God’s past and future work in the world, and the story of redemption. I want this book with me no matter what and wherever I may be.
The hymnal in some ways was a surprise but it made sense the more I thought about it. I grew up with the hymns of the church for most of my childhood, but soon gravitated towards contemporary worship in my teens and time in college. I traded the hymns I knew for songs that I heard on the radio and seemed to speak more directly to my faith and walk. I felt that hymns were dated and out of touch with modern times and issues. Once I began to serve as a pastor the churches I served were mostly traditional and to my surprise I began to fall back in love with the words of the hymns and their strong theology. I also appreciated the order of worship found in the services of baptism and communion. I still love modern worship music but if I had only one other book to read and use besides the Bible it would be the hymnal. Out of the hymnal come songs that have been sung by the church for centuries and songs that can be adapted to new context. Out of the hymnal come prayers and words that have been used in worship for millennia.
So if I may be so bold let me add on to the famous words of Wesley and be a man of two books. Let me continue to be shaped by the Word of God and experience the worship of God in communion with the church of God of all ages and places. Let me know if you would take the Bible and hymnal or what books you would choose if you could have only two.