My Dear Shepherds,
At one time or another most pastors crumple, thinking, “I just don’t think I can do this anymore.” Maybe it’s the critics, the workload, or the nagging sense of inadequacy always nipping at our heels. Ministry might even be going well but we’d just as soon follow in Elijah’s footsteps out to some solitary brook and wait for ravens to bring us lunch.
Even Paul, who seemed like a ministry version of Chuck Norris, struggled because Jesus paid him a visible visit to bolster him. It happened in Corinth where Paul faced abusive opposition yet “many of the Corinthians who heard Paul believed and were baptized.” Heady stuff but even so, ministry had evidently taken a toll for this happened next:
One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” (Acts 18:9-10)
There are times when we wonder if we’ve somehow lost our herald’s credentials or if everyone would be better off if we moved on. Perhaps you’ve been beaten or shipwrecked once too often. Some pastors lose their lifeline to Scripture and the Spirit till they sound like the unintelligible teacher in A Charlie Brown Christmas: “Wa-wa-wawa-wa .”
In God’s good time and way, the Lord Jesus graciously helps us rediscover our voices and restores our confidence to speak. There are times for silence but usually he tells us, “Keep on speaking.”
When I turned 40 I felt ministry laryngitis coming on. I’d been the senior pastor of our church for seven years and the routine worried me. From now on for the rest of my ministry days, I thought, I’ll just keep doing the same stuff over and over, over and over.
Then I read Eugene Peterson’s Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration of Vocational Holiness. There was no vision, but it was how the Lord told me to keep on speaking. My main takeaway was that, while I felt I was finished with my congregation, they and God weren’t finished with me. Ministry, as it turns out, isn’t a one-way street. I ended up staying there another seven non-monotonous years.
One year in the weeks right after Easter I was just played out. You know what I mean. I was so tired of people, so weary of words, of conversations, meetings, and sermons. In prayer one morning I asked the Lord if he’d kindly give me some peace and quiet and keep the people away for a while. Then, my case made, I waited. There was no vision this time either, but Jesus did whisper to me, “Lee, would you do anything for me?” he asked.
“Yes, Lord,” I replied. “You know I would. I’d even shine shoes for you.” (Where did that come from, you ask? I’d tried shining shoes at the barbershop in my little town when I was about 12. It was kind of a cousin of foot washing, the lowliest job I could think of in the moment.) Anyway, I waited and Jesus gently replied, “I don’t want you to shine shoes for me, but I do want you to go out and love my people.” And with that he restored my soul.
Paul’s vision reminds us that when we’re frightened, fed up, or weary, Jesus is nearer than we realize and he has a word for us, too. We come from a long line of Wordworkers who, by grace, will get up next Sunday, clear our throats, and speak again for Christ.
Be ye glad!