My Dear Shepherds,
We were decorating our Christmas tree when Susan handed me a white glass ornament with “Pastor Lee” in big letters, and under it this verse:
Then I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding. (Jer. 3:15)
It reminded me again of the astonishing truth that we pastors are God’s gift to his people.
In Jeremiah 3 the LORD is promising a time when a remnant of his “faithless people” will return to Zion, “for I am your husband.” In that era of returning, the first thing God will do is give his beloved people “shepherds after my own heart.” There we are!
For me, ministry was always weighed down by a sense of inadequacy, yet I usually also felt a muscular God-given capacity, a quiet super-power. When God gifted us to his bride, he endowed us with the sensitivities of his own heart. “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness ….” Jesus said, “I am gentle and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your souls.” When God gives his people shepherds after his own heart, that is the kind of heart he gives us!
God said his shepherds “will lead you with knowledge and understanding.” “Lead” is a shepherding word which can also be translated “feed” (ESV), the point being that good shepherds graze God’s flock with divine insight and wisdom. God gives us his instinct for what his people need.
However, this sacred instinct is not to be confused with our own inclinations. When Moses wanted to know how to lead Israel he entered into the tent of meeting to await God’s counsel. Jesus himself sought the Father’s will in solitary prayer because that is what even the very best of shepherds must do.
Pastors who are schooled in leadership and strategic planning can be tempted to short-circuit this inward process and lean unto our own understanding. Other times, we can be so sure of our own intuition that become headstrong. Aligning our hearts and minds with God’s is often slow, prayerful, thoughtful work before we see how to best love and lead the flock entrusted to us. But when we do, we find sharing Jesus’ yoke is gently pleasant.
In Jeremiah 3, God’s wayward people were in the practice of calling him Father but they didn’t know him as Father.
“I myself said,
‘How gladly would I treat you like my children
and give you a pleasant land,
the most beautiful inheritance of any nation.’
I thought you would call me ‘Father’
and not turn away from following me.” (Jer. 3:19)
We serve congregations who have been welcomed home in Christ. They pray, “Our Father ….” To be shepherds after God’s own heart is to reveal the Father to his people; not only to tell them but also to show them.
Pastors know better than most how father-poor our people are, and how fouled up their understanding of Father-God is. People must sense in us the parental heart of God or we have been poor shepherds, indeed. This, too, is possible because God gave us hearts after his own.
Such shepherds are what our people need to thrive. Some of our flock will take us for granted and some will stubbornly resist our thoughtful care, but to many of the believers you serve, you are God’s own gift and they know it. They love you and they trust you to show them the Father, through the grace and truth of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Be ye glad!