By Contributing Writer, Jeannette Paulson
After church one day I bumped into a friend. Without preliminary small talk she asked “What has God been doing in your life lately?” Imagine my surprise. I mean, what had He been doing?
Puritan pastors believed the Bible compels God’s people to have such conversations. They called it the practice of ‘conference.’ In her book Godly Conversation, Joanne J. Jung urges the modern church to learn from the Puritans.
What is Conference?
Conference is a spiritual discipline in which saints engage in edifying conversation on spiritual things. It is the living out of ”Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29)
How often do we talk seasoning for roasted vegetables and remedies for teething babies without mention of God? In Heaven Taken by Storm Thomas Watson decries the lack of conference in his day. See how clearly and delightfully he writes:
…there is much visiting, but they do not give one another’s souls a visit. In worldly things their tongue is as a Pen of a ready Writer; but in matters of Religion, they are as if their tongue did cleave to the roof of their mouth. As we must answer to God for idle words; so for sinful silence.
Richard Baxter likens men to guests in an inn. Travelers do not spend all of their time talking about the inn. Rather they speak of where they have come from and where they are going.
Why Do Conference?
Puritan pastors knew the danger of God’s people being hearers of the word but not doers. Hearts cool; feet wander. In contrast, think of the men on the road to Emmaus. Their hearts burned within them when they talked with Jesus. In the same way spiritual conversation among brethren can enlarge our heart for Christ and for each other. Richard Sibbes said:
…one thing draws on another, and that draws on another, till at length the soul be warmed and kindled with the consideration and meditation of heavenly things….
How Shall We Do Conference?
If you found some exquisite shells at the beach, would you pick a few to show your family and friends? From the sermon on Sunday, do you come away with gems to share with others? What about Scripture you are memorizing or meditating on? What about God’s providential dealings in your life?
God’s word is living and sharper than a two-edged sword; the light on our path. Our conversation can be the conduit for that light— that life—being shed abroad. Do we speak of the kindness and wisdom of God, the wonder of the gospel, Satan’s devices, the deceit of our hearts, God’s law, suffering, death, and hell?
In so far as these topics seem unrelated to life, our thoughts are not being informed by Scripture, and our lives are not being shaped by Scripture. We are not consciously living in the awesome presence of God who searches every heart; we are not suspicious enough of our own hearts, not glad enough in the forgiveness for sin Christ works for his children, not aware enough of how he is working all of his purposes in the agonies and joys of life.
Godly conversation can cause our hearts to burn within us like the men on the road to Emmaus. Lord, teach us.
My friend asked what God had been doing in my life. Fumbling around in my thoughts, I said “Actually, God is helping me to give more room for my husband to lead.” This led to talking about the harm of comparing our husbands to prominent men.