The life of a pastor is a continual reminder that God put His “treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (II Corinthians 4:7).
The last three words “not from us” sit in my heart as a deep reminder that the resources for living for God and serving Him are not within me but “other” to me — “from God — not from us.”
Let these words settle in your heart. Repeat them often to yourself.
If I forget this most basic truth, I will run out of fuel for the work. In proclaiming Christ, we follow the pattern of “admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me” (Colossians 1:28-29, emphasis mine).
There are plenty of aspects to pastoral ministry that remind me that I am not “up to this” in myself. I must live out Proverbs 3:5-7
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil.”
But with the Apostle Paul, we should always be asking, “Who is equal to such a task?” (II Corinthians 2:16). That word from the apostle Peter is never far from a shepherd’s heart: “be examples to the flock” (I Peter 5:3). Examples are badly needed, but not easily provided. It’s tough to be a good example when aware of your own sins! Gratefully, we can also be examples of those who live under God’s mercy in gospel amazement.
Clock-out and go home?
Pastors can never totally clock-out and go home: “Who is weak without my feeling that weakness? Who is led astray, and I do not burn with anger?” (II Corinthians 11:29). I am sure thankful that God designed the Church to be under a plurality of leaders. Who could do this a work alone?
Rhythm of transformation
Those who take the role of Elder in the Church must remember that the rhythm of personal transformation and pastoral ministry is death and resurrection: “We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you” (II Corinthians 4:10-12).
This rhythm continually reminds me of my source for strength. The temptation to rely on our own gifts and abilities must be resisted. The apostle spoke of a time when God used his circumstances to remind him to lean on God for strength.
“We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead” (II Corinthians 1:8-9).
Our Lord’s rhythm
Practice the rhythm of spiritual activity our Lord followed. Trace His steps and you’ll find a pattern of engagement and withdrawal; of crowds and solitude. “After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone” (Matthew 14:23). We need time to rest, refresh and renew — to get perspective in the audience of One.
“Come away” Jesus said, “to a secluded place and rest a while” (Mark 6:31). I may not be able to completely clock-out but I must get away. Frankly, I always felt that I had to leave the town I minster in to do this. But this was not always feasible. So at least leave the office or hit the DND button on the phone and put up an “In Prayer” sign on your office door.
A disciplined practice of Psalm 62:8: “Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.” Prayer is so often a perspective gaining session with God. I just need to clear my mind by pouring out my heart to Him!
“Prayer has become for me much more than a shopping list of requests to present to God. It has become a realignment of everything. I pray to restore the truth of the universe, to gain a glimpse of the world, and of me, through the eyes of God.”
“In prayer, I shift my point of view away from my own selfishness. I climb above timberline and look down at the speck that is myself. I gaze at the stars and recall what role I, or any of us, play in a universe beyond comprehension. Prayer is the act of seeing reality from God’s point of view.” (Philipp Yancey, “
Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?” )
“God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us” (II Corinthians 1:3-4).