My Dear Shepherds,
I assume you’ve begun your ministry plans for the new year. You’ve marked important dates on your calendar. Your do-list is having a growth spurt. Meetings are multiplying. But whatever it is that you have in the works I can promise you this: You’ll spend more time than you imagine this year just waiting. I don’t mean that you won’t be busy. But in one way or another, somewhere in your life God will hit Pause. Thunk. And your only good option is patience.
It’s crazy how much of the Bible is about waiting. Pick any major character: Abraham and Sarah, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, the prophets; fast forward to Elizabeth, Simeon, Anna, John on Patmos … all of them, waiting. “The people walking in darkness” walked there for centuries! “The fullness of time” was a very long time coming. The cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 11 were all waiters.
Think how much of our shepherding is just helping people wait. A lot of counseling comes down to that. Almost no one takes to it naturally or gladly. “I just hate the waiting!” they tell us. They wait for news about a job, for a prodigal to come home, or for the doctor’s conclusion. We do our best to fortify their faithfulness with God’s promises, to pray with them, or to just sit beside them.
For the good of his flock, God schools his pastors in the rigors of waiting. That standard image of a shepherd standing patiently, staff in hand, while their flock munches contentedly on grass isn’t really what pastoral waiting is like. Our waiting can be nerve-wracking, frustrating, bewildering, or heartbreaking.
We’re all permanently enrolled in God’s curriculum of delay: Waiting for a church to call, waiting for the other shoe to drop, waiting for the Lord’s signal to proceed, waiting till our hearts grow quiet, waiting for a promised victory, waiting for the Lord’s return. The believers who are home with the Lord wait for their new bodies. The martyrs under the alter cry out, “How long, O Lord?” Even Jesus waits for the Father’s signal to return.
A pastor is the church’s head waiter. God requires all believers to learn patience but pastors need to understand the processes—the spiritual dynamics—from the inside out if we’re to help others. We must internalize the wide-ranging lessons of Scripture through study, prayer, and obedience, not only for our own soul’s sake, but also so we can help our people when it seems God is silent or time stands still.
Patience is an essential spiritual discipline. You don’t have to work it into your devotional schedule. God will take care of that. But remember, impatient pastors aren’t good for a church.
I’m sure your ministry glitters with the outcomes of waiting stories—your own and those of your people. Pastors watch someone’s faith, which seemed so fragile under pressure, prove genuine, “of greater worth than gold.” Friends say, “I could never be as strong as her,” but when the time comes, Jesus sees to it that they are. In the hands of the Lord, waiting is never wasted. Patience invariably bears fruit.
One time a dear sister in our church called to see if she could see me right away. She was in tears. She’d been passed over for a job that seemed perfect for her. She was hurt, frustrated and unsure of what direction to turn. I gave her three simple instructions when all she could do was wait:
- Get small
- Trust Jesus
- Don’t sin
Write those down someplace, and in the meantime …
Be ye glad!