Our Heart’s Greatest Desire

heart-in-woodIt’s important to have a heart for pastoral ministry, this being pretty much a no brainer. But I have a question for us: Is our heart captivated by the Lord’s work most of all or for the Lord Himself most of all?

I’ve been retired from pastoral ministry for almost two years. From my current perspective I can see that, at least at times, my greatest love was for the Lord’s work and not for the Lord Himself. The difference is crucial!

We can be passionate in our preaching, but is this passion in the preaching about Christ or in the Christ for whom we preach? It’s easy to confuse the two passions.

We can love unpacking the Word, but do we love The WORD who became flesh even more?

We can love shepherding the Lord’s flock, but do we love the Good Shepherd greater still?

We can love goal setting, but do we love looking to the Author and Finisher of our faith more yet?

We can love organizing, but do we have even a greater love for the One in whom “all things hold together?”  We do well to remember Jesus’ words to the church at Ephesus and make application to ourselves. “You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.” (Revelation 2:3-4) Yes, we too can persevere and endure in our work, but is that heart we pour into ministry overflowing with an even greater love for Christ?

Our first reason to love our ministry and the people to whom we minister should not be that we are called to this work. Our first reason to love our ministry should be that we are first profoundly loved by the Lord who calls us to the ministry! “We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)

My two years into retirement from pastoral ministry have been something like a time of fasting (actually, an ongoing fast). In fasting from food, or anything else, you come to realize how dependent you have been on that from which you’re fasting. Fasting also should prompt the heart to grow fonder for God. This is what I sense has been happening in my own life since retiring from pastoral ministry. I’ve realized in a fresh way my tendency to let the love of the pastoral work distract me from a deepening of my love relationship to the Lord.

God tells us we are to have no other gods before Him, and that includes making our pastoral ministry a god. Our very best objective should be to have our love for the Lord grow greater and greater, ever outpacing our love for doing His work!

Ministry By Meandering

I try to schedule my day and plan ahead, but I’ve also found that God’s agenda for me is frequently different from mine. Take yesterday as an example.

In the morning I went to the hospital and prayed with a woman from our church before she went to surgery. I figured on seeing her husband as well, and I did, but I also met her children and step-children who were also there. We waited for a good twenty minutes before we were invited back to the prep area so I had a good chance to talk with the family that I don’t believe have a church connection.

Later that morning I was at our local library and ran into a man who’s working full time but also getting a Bible degree at a local college. We had a chance to talk for a few minutes.

After lunch I had planned to visit a lady in rehab but felt prompted to visit another man in our church instead who’s dealing with a major health issue. I stopped by his house and he wasn’t home, but he drove up just when I was about to leave. When I was leaving his wife pulled up and I helped carry some groceries into the house, something he couldn’t do.

My next stop was Starbucks (you have to deal with the necessities of life). I was doing some e-mailing on my laptop when a man I know came in to get a coffee. He has a PhD, is a professor at the University of Toledo, just got a Masters in Theology, and is also a part-time associate pastor at a local church. He was glad to see me and wanted to get my opinion on his future plans with which he’s grappling. I felt honored that he wanted my input.

Later that evening my wife and I helped out at our church’s fish fry and I met a man I had worked with in a ministry situation 30 years ago. After the fish fry Diann and I went to an “open mic” night at a storefront church where I heard a guy deliver the good news of Jesus in rap. I don’t normally like rap but, Wow, he was good!

I’ve decided that discerning God’s will on a day-to-day basis is not something you can always plan out ahead of time. Sometimes we discover God’s will by wandering around, allowing for the serendipitous Spirit to lead.  It’s interesting that when people build a water drainage ditch they make it straight.  When God makes one He makes a winding river.

I’m trying to appreciate the fact that being a pastor allows me to wander about as I see fit, trying to be led by the Lord. I’m guessing that pastors of very large churches spend more of their days in their offices and at one meeting after another (I have enough of those in the evenings, but that’s another story). I’m grateful I can flit about a bit. More and more I’m trying to pray,

“Lord, where would you have me go today,
what would you have me do,
and what would you have me say?
Help me to be led of you.
This is what I pray.”