During my last year as the pastor of a local church, I did a little math that added up to startling results. I counted the approximate words that I wrote in my sermons for this year — about 2,000 words per sermon and I preach about 48 Sunday mornings each year. And then I counted the approximate words that I wrote in my verse by verse Bible Studies on Wednesday night — about 2,000 words per study and I do about 40 of these each year. That adds up to 176,000 words that I speak on Sunday morning and Wednesday night during a year’s time. (During most of my ministry I also did a Sunday evening sermon, but I am going to just forget about that in my equation.) Just taking the 176,000 words from this year and multiplying it by 41 years, which is the number of years in which I have preached as a pastor in a local church, I came up with the staggering total of 7,392,000 words that I have spoken over the years of my ministry in my sermons and Bible Studies. And that does not include the sermons I’ve preached on Sunday nights. And it does not include the messages I have spoken in revivals, etc. Over seven million words!

So how can a preacher stay fresh with that kind of constant output of words and ideas? The key is to continue to expose ourselves to new ideas. I do that primarily through the books I read. A passion for books will develop us in two specific ways.

To begin with, books feed our minds with ideas and experiences and insights from other people. It is not true that a person can only live one life. We can actually live many lives by opening ourselves to the stories of others. And we can do that in our study or in the living room of our own homes.

C. S. Lewis put it like this: “My own eyes are not enough for me. I will see through those of others.” And then he concluded: “Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.” Reading enables us to transcend ourselves and become the selves God wants us to be.

However, books not only feed our minds. They can also stimulate our minds to embrace different perspectives by generating within our minds new insights that otherwise would have passed us by.

As a young pastor, I ran across a book by G. Campbell Morgan (1863-1945) and immediately became his fan. I loved his exposition of the Scripture, most of which was done while he served as pastor of the Westminster Chapel in London. Something about him and his style attracted me, but I was not sure what it was until I read a biography of him written by his daughter. In this biography of her father, Jill Morgan included an evaluation of him from an English newspaper that captured the source of his power.

“One does not know whether to describe it as his spiritual intellectuality or his intellectual spirituality,” the article explained, “but the attractiveness is certainly compounded out of a great brain and a great soul.”

G. Campbell Morgan played beautiful sermonic music for a lifetime because he developed himself intellectually. And the constant intellectual input kept him fresh.

A college professor at an advanced age continued to study every day as if he were a first year student. When his colleagues asked him why he continued to spend so much time reading and studying, he responded: “I would rather my students drink from a running stream than a stagnant pool.” So would the members of our congregation. Consequently, we need to keep refreshing our minds with the mental stimulation that comes from reading.