Celebrating Another Bonus Day
Editor’s Note: Yesterday, I learned the great Evangelical Theologian John R. W. Stott died at the age of 90. Almost 20 years ago in 1992, it was my privilege to spend a few minutes interviewing Dr. Stott for a story that I published in a magazine targeted to Christian retailers. I own a copy of Basic Christianity which Dr. Stott signed for me saying, “Thank you, Terry, for the interrogation.” I was not a difficult interview but he was using his British humor in the message. I will always treasure the book and that time with him. In honor of his remarkable life, I dug into my files and found that story which I’m sharing with you today in this entry of The Writing Life. If you read it closely you will see lessons of giving and sacrifice that I encourage you to build into your own writing life.
5:00 a.m. Most of us are sound asleep but John R.W. Stott swings his legs over the side of his bed and starts the day in prayer:
“Good morning, heavenly Father; good morning, Lord Jesus; good morning, Holy Spirit. Heavenly Father, I worship you as the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. Lord Jesus, I worship you, Savior and Lord of the world. Holy Spirit, I worship you, Sanctifier of the people of God. Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.
Heavenly Father, I pray that I may live this day in your presence and please you more and more. Lord Jesus, I pray that this day I may take up my cross and follow you. Holy Spirit, I pray that this day you will fill me with yourself and cause your fruit to ripen in my life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity, three persons in one God, have mercy upon me. Amen.
Stott has begun each day with a version of this Trinitarian prayer for decades.
For over 40 years, Stott hasn’t taken a daily newspaper. Instead he turns on his radio to the BBC World Service and catches their half hour news and commentary as he shaves and showers. Then at 5:30, John begins an hour-long devotional time at his desk. “It’s my to read, pray and study the Scriptures,” says John Stott, who is now in his eighties. “Every day is fresh and I try to thank God for another bonus day.”
After devotions, Stott turns to his latest writing or reading project and spends another hour at work before breakfast. One of his major projects has been a series of commentaries called The Bible Speaks Today series from InterVarsity Press where he was the New Testament editor. This series aims to explain the biblical text and to relate it to the contemporary world. “Commentaries are not readable, but this series is meant to be read,” Stott says. Contributing himself to the expositions of the Sermon on the Mount, the Acts, Galatians, Ephesians, Thessalonians and II Timothy, Romans, 1st Timothy and Titus, Stott completed the twenty-four volume series in 1995.
The final book in the series was The Message Of 1 Timothy & Titus. In this Bible Speaks Today volume (previously released as a hardcover book with the title Guard the Truth), John Stott finds in 1 Timothy and Titus a dynamic truth that orders Christian life in the church, the family and the world. Here is the lucid commentary we have come to expect from Stott, ever faithful to the text and time of Paul’s letters. But in a manner unique to Stott’s role as a distinguished Christian statesman, this work’s interpretive and pastoral voice remarkably echoes Paul for our own day. One generation speaks to another: “Guard the truth.”
Dr. Stott is best known for his Basic Christianity (InterVarsity Press) which received a Gold Book award for reaching the two million sales figure (now over 2.5 million in print). Basic Christianity continues its popularity because it presents the intellectual basis for the gospel. In 1992, the ECPA honored Dr. Stott with its International Award for”his tireless efforts to encourage thoughtful biblical exposition and preaching throughout the world.” While the majority of his over 40 books have been published by InterVarsity Press, other publishers include Zondervan, Tyndale, Moody Press, Eerdman’s, Baker Books and Fleming Revell.
Last January, InterVarsity Press released the latest Stott title, Why I Am A Christian which provides a compelling, persuasive case for considering the Christian faith.
Although he has traveled to over 100 countries throughout his ministry, Stott has always sought the simple life. He lives in a two room apartment in Central London. In 1971, he had published several titles, and his royalties were increasing beyond his personal needs. “After thinking and praying about how to use them, I believe God led me to form the Evangelical Literature Trust,” Stott says. About 95% of his royalties are donated to ELT. Dr. Stott has no idea how much he’s given through the years, but according to David Spence, who chairs the U.S. Board of ELT, it has accumulated to more than half a million dollars. ELT is administered by volunteers, consequently almost all the contributions go directly to providing books to thousands of third-world and East European pastors, seminary professors, libraries and students.
The Bishop of London installed Stott at age 29, to the prestigious Anglican church as its Rector in 1950. The Bishop commissioned a different book each year for his flock to use for Lent devotions. A couple of years later, the Bishop asked Stott to write that year’s Lent book--originally published in England as Men with a Message, later titled A Basic Introduction to the New Testament (Eerdmans). Stott received his royalty for this book in a lump sum of 750 pounds and then invested it in purchasing a retreat called “The Hookses” in West Wales.
“It was a ruin and had been unoccupied for several years,” Stott says of the slate-roofed Welsh farmhouse cottage located a mile from the nearest neighbor, and without telephone, electricity or television. On the Pembrokeshire cliffs, it commands a superb coastal view. Gradually Stott has put the buildings into order, and most of his books since 1954 have been written there.
For sessions of two or three week, John Stott will go to The Hookses and write. “I’m rather Victorian in that I don’t use a typewriter or a dictating machine, let alone a word processor, to write,” he says. “After 50 years, I’ve got into my own rhythm for writing.” Using plain bond paper and pen, John will study and write six hours without a break. Then after some exercise, he will return to his desk and continue for another four hours or so.
Now the Rector Emeritus for All Soul’s Church, Stott splits his time each year between the church and the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity (six months), at which he lectures, traveling (three months) and study and writing (three months).
As he considers publishing, Stott sees the production of literature as a precious partnership between author, publisher, distributor and retailer. “The Bible tells us that it is good to be dependent on each other,” Stott says. “As John Donne says, ‘no man is an island.’” The inter-dependent relationship is biblical and precious to John R.W. Stott.
W. Terry Whalin understands both sides of the editorial desk--as an editor and a writer. He worked as a magazine editor for Decision and In Other Words. His magazine articles have appeared in more than 50 publications including Writer’s Digest and Christianity Today. Terry has written more than 60 nonfiction books. See more about his writing at www.right-writing.com/whalin.html. Terry and his wife, Christine, live in Scottsdale, Arizona.