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The REAL Work of Ministry

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I’ve recently been reminded in my reading that work for God must be preceded by being with God. In fact, my work for God must be surrounded by my being with God. Being with God is my most important work.

In my effort to be a good steward of my ministry hours I’ve always considered my “quiet time” as being on my own time and not part of my ministry time. I figure those in my church can’t do their devotions on company time, but have to carve out other time and that I should do no differently. On the other hand, I also see the value of regularly taking time “on the job” to go off and pray in the sanctuary, in a walk around the block, or even drive to a park for some extra time with the Lord. As the Lord’s under shepherd I see such times as conference meetings with the Head Shepherd.

In his book An Unhurried Life, Alan Fadling quotes Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk of the last century. “The fact that our works are done in the service of God is not enough, by itself, to prevent us from losing our interior life if we let them devour all our time and all our strength. Work is good and necessary, but too much of it renders the soul insensitive to spiritual values, hardens the heart against prayer and divine things.” (Loc. 677) Alan Fadling goes on to say, “Overwork is heart-hardening,” and later he writes, “Genuine productivity is indeed the fruit of active abiding in Christ.” (Loc 736)

Charles Spurgeon said, “There is no preparation for the work of God like being with God! Go up into the solitude with Christ; and then, when He calls you, you will be fit to go forth for Him and tell what you have seen with Him in the Holy Spirit.” (Spurgeon Gems, Charles Spurgeon, sermon 2218, Loc 456)

I have to regularly remind myself that my effectiveness in serving the Lord is greatly affected by how much solitude I spend with the Lord. As Fadling says, it’s the “work before the work.”

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Walking with God, Literally!

DaveWalkingEvery morning I take a walk. I don’t walk to contribute to my physical well-being, though I’m sure that’s a side benefit. I walk to stay spiritually fit for I talk best to God when I walk. A minister friend of mine referred me to an article by Dan Pallotta about walking. The author quotes Henry David Thoreau who said, “Methinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.” I’ve often said that the two soles of my feet must have a direct connection to my soul because I can pray best when I walk.

I think it all started when I was a boy on an Iowa farm. I would often have to walk to get the cows from the back pasture at the end of the day so my father could milk them. Then too, I recall often taking a short walk on the lane going out to the fields after doing my evening chores. I’d end up talking to God while walking, so walking became my mode of prayer; I’ve just continued the habit all of these years.

The article by Pallotta also references a study which indicates that people who walk or ride a bike at least four times a week think more creatively. I find it true that I can be more creative when I’ve had my walk with the Lord. Speaking of being creative, I believe He is also able to create within me a greater presence of Himself, and mold me more into His image. Like King David I often pray on my walk, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10)

Everyone is different, but I’m a firm believer in the prayer walk. Some may kneel or sit when they pray, but I must walk. My walk is a daily appointment with God every morning, come rain or shine, heat or cold. In fact, I’ll be heading out for my walk in just a few minutes. Dawn is just coming and it’s a -6 F. degrees out there! Walking in harsh weather conditions becomes a sacrament for me, expressing resolve to walk with the Lord no matter what life brings. On the other hand, walking on a beautiful morning brings its own rewards of finding praise and thanksgiving flowing more easily as I bask in the beauty of the day.

I have the blessing of walking in nature, not on man-made sidewalks with man-made structures all around. I take a path through the woods behind my place and along the neighbor’s fields. There’s God’s handiwork all around! I often spot deer and sometimes wild turkey. God also paints the eastern sky differently every morning. Each season provides unique delights from budding leaves in spring to falling leaves in autumn.

I sometimes reflect that there is no other human being within a quarter of a mile when I’m out on my walk. It’s God and me, alone with each other. There’s an old hymn titled In the Garden. I know, many think it’s a syrupy type song (including my wife) but I have to admit that I can identify with the lyrics. “I come to the garden alone while the dew is still on the roses. And the voice I hear falling on my ear the Son of God discloses. And He walks with me and he talks with me…”

There are different spiritual practices for relating to God in a regular and intimate way, but for me walking works best. I better wrap this up. My walking Partner is waiting!

The Plodding Pastor

tortoise_and_hareA minister friend of mine was sharing some of his struggles. They’ve been through a major building program and thought the enhanced facilities would facilitate numerical growth. It didn’t. He’s been at the church a good long time and has seen a lot of ups and downs. He told me, “I’m a plodder.” He is, and it seems to me that’s good.

Anyone can start a race well; the starting line of a marathon is crowded, the finish line not so much. Anyone can be energetic and put forth good effort, for a short time. To do so for the long haul is a different matter.

Remember Aesop’s fable of the tortoise and the hare? The hare had the advantage with speed, the tortoise with perseverance that translated into plodding, and it won the race for him.

A long and faithful ministry is done one week at a time, one sermon at a time, one Bible study at a time, one day at a time, one hospital or nursing home visit at a time, one (do I have to write this?) board meeting at a time, one conversation at a time.

We pastors have been entrusted with a unique call and, as Paul writes, “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.” (1 Corinthians 4:2) My friend’s success in ministry, and mine too, as well as yours, finds its ultimate measure of success in that final debriefing by the Master Himself when, by His grace, we can hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:21,23)

Leaving a Foundation, Not a Plaque

Me with Joe, my planned successor at Mayfair-Plymouth

Me with Joe French, my planned successor at Mayfair-Plymouth

I’m nearing the end of my time as the pastor of Mayfair-Plymouth Church. In October I’ll be retiring from this phase of my life after 39 years of pastoring the Lord’s flock. I’m thinking about legacy a lot. What do I want to leave behind? 

Yes, I’d like to be remembered fondly, but I’ve determined this is not the best I should hope for. I want to leave a foundation that can be built upon, not a plaque of myself that can be hung up. 

After I’m gone and as time goes by I pray that new people will become a part of the church who never knew me. If I come back for a visit in a couple of years I can imagine them thinking, or saying to someone else, “So, this is the old guy who used to pastor the church.” 

In my wife’s home church in Leota, Minnesota, there’s a row of pictures of the pastors of the church over the years. Each has the pastor’s name and two dates below the picture, the date the pastor came and the date the pastor left, with a dash between. In God’s grand scheme of things we’re each a dash, of varying length, but a dash nevertheless. There are those who came before and, if the Lord tarries in His coming, there will be those who come after us. 

Each of us is like a link in the chain of pastors at the church we now serve. May the Lord help us to be a good link between the past and the future so His kingdom work continues unbroken, and stronger than ever! 

One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts.” (Psalm 145:4)

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