“But Paul chose Silas and departed, being committed by the brethren to the grace of the Lord” (Acts 15:40).
“Tom, I need your help.”
“Ed, can you drop whatever you’re doing and meet me this morning?”
“Roger, I’ve got a tough visit to make and was wondering if you could go with me.”
Pastors don’t ask just anyone for this.
A preacher friend tells of the call he received in the wee hours of the night.
“A woman in the church was waving a gun around and threatening her family. In recent weeks, we had been trying to help her with certain problems. As I headed out the door for her house, I dialed the number for a deacon friend.”
“For this purpose I wrote to you, that I might know the proof of you, whether you be obedient in all things” (2 Corinthians 2:9).
“I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:18).
I’ve been looking back over twenty years of articles, notes, and journals where I recorded happenings in the churches I pastored. Some of those events left scars, memories, and lessons enough for a lifetime. Some people in those stories are forever unforgettable, either for their amazing examples of Christlikeness or for lesser reasons.
Recently on this website, I chronicled the doings of a few people who were angry over nothing, raging all the time, finding fault where none existed, then pinning blame when confronted. I suggested the reason for this behavior: They are lost. Unsaved. “The natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God,” says I Corinthians 2:14, “for they are foolishness to him. Neither can he understand them for they are spiritually discerned.”
That says it as well as anything.
Today–a week after posting that piece–I was reflecting on some of those people, a few in particular. And, realizing that most are now passed to their heavenly reward (or lack thereof; not for me to say), I prayed the Lord would be merciful to them. And at that point, the Lord explained something to me.
“Give to everyone who asks of you” (Luke 6:30).
Everyone who works around the church office will identify with this.
From my journal of Tuesday, August 12, 1997…
In the afternoon, I took a phone call from a Don Peterson. “Remember me?” he said.
I said, “Refresh my memory.”
“My fiancée and I were in your services three Sundays ago.”
“Well, my father has died. In Ann Arbor, Michigan. I need some money for a plane ticket. I need to borrow it until Sunday.”
I said, “How much?”
I said, “How can I verify this?”
“Take heed and beware of covetousness. For a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of things which he possesses”(Luke 12:15).
“What do you do?” In our society, that’s often the first question people ask. It implies…
–that you do something in the way of a career. Woe to the unemployed and those who call themselves homemakers.
–that you are what you do. That your identity is bound up in what you do to earn an income. Too bad if you lose your job or retire. You become a cipher, at least in the minds of some.
If you don’t have a job, who are you? If, like my wife Bertha, you loved being married to a pastor, when God takes him home and you can no longer fill the role you loved so much–the wife of a pastor–then who are you?
In our world, people’s names were often given in accordance with what they did. They received names like Baker, Cook, Weaver, Smith, Taylor, Hunter, Fisher, Farmer, Shepherd, Miller, Marshall, Ward.
I want to call your attention to a little story found in Luke 12. Then, I’ll be asking you to use your imagination with me…
“Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy Name….”
We’ve said praying is not as complicated as we’ve been made to think. We preachers sometimes function like lawyers who pile up billable hours, but in our case we heap up rules and regulations and, pardon the expression, insights on how to make spiritual things work. We ought to be ashamed of ourselves.
Prayer is as simple as speaking to the Heavenly Father. Period.
(Ha. You knew that was coming, I betcha.)
Something inside us rightfully wants to pray more effectively, to address God in a way honoring Him, and to be able to express all that is within us.
So, let’s talk about it.
“Our Father, who art in Heaven…” (Matthew 6:9)
So, you want to pray? Good.
Or, you already pray and something inside you wants to learn to pray better? That’s also good.
Let’s see if we can help the beginner to pray effectively and the “regular customer” to pray with greater insight, stronger faith, and more confidence. But–and this is a biggie–let’s not make this more complicated than it is.
Just do it. The Father wants to hear His children praying.
Don’t be afraid.
Worse, don’t let someone scare you about all this.
Martin Luther used to say he had so much to do that day, he had to pray six hours.
Sheesh! Read that and you feel like tossing in the towel and calling it a day. Who among us has six hours to pray?
“And all in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things….” (Luke 4:28).
“These things they will do because they do not know the One who sent Me” (John 15:21).
My notes from that church business meeting some 20 years ago are fascinating to read from this distance, but nothing about that event was enjoyable at the time.
Our church was trying to clarify its vision for the late 1990s and into the 21st century. What did the Lord want us to be doing, where to put the focus? Our consultant from the state denominational office, experienced in such things, was making regular visits to work with our leadership. For reasons never clear to me, the seniors in the church became defensive and then combative. No assurance from any of us would convince them we were not trying to shove them out the door and turn over the church to the immature, untrained, illiterate, and badly dressed. To their credit, the church’s leadership, both lay and ministerial, kept their cool and worked to answer each complaint and every question.
My journal records a late Sunday night gathering in my home with 30 young marrieds from a Sunday School class. They were a delightful group. They wanted my testimony and had questions about the operation of the church. Then someone asked the question of the day.
A young woman said, “I can understand someone not liking a pastor’s style. But why are these people so angry?”
“Delight thyself in the Lord and He will give thee the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).
My ministry in that church was uphill all the way. Everything was hard, it seemed. There were few rest stops, places where we could take a breather and enjoy a sense that we are accomplishing something significant for the Lord.
The church had few financial resources due to a heavy debt load, made worse by a major split in the congregation 18 months before I arrived as pastor. The ministerial staff had little money for the outreach and educational programs they wanted to do.
It was a tough time in the life of that church.
Perhaps I was tired. Or discouraged. Or needed a boost of some kind.
Anyway, one day, on the way back to the church office from lunch I prayed a prayer unlike any I’d ever prayed before.
My favorite art store often brings in master teachers for classes on various kinds of art. In two weeks, they have an amazing water color artist doing a conference lasting several days and costing nearly $500. On the website the artist lists materials registrants should bring with them. It will not surprise one to learn the materials are specific, numerous, and somewhat expensive. But the last item in “things to bring with you” was this:
A good sense of humor.
That’s a dead giveaway that the artist will be fun and the class enjoyable.
But it started me thinking….
What if churches added that little note as a scroll across the bottom of their websites. “Bring a good sense of humor.”
Doing so would send a message about that church, wouldn’t it?
From my journal of January 13, 1998.
This was my morning radio program (“Phone Call from the Pastor,” Lifesongs 89.1 FM. New Orleans)….
Have you ever been arrested? Imagine the devastating impact on your family.
Last night the evening news showed the arrest of a fellow on the Northshore for the murder of a convenience store clerk several years ago. He was in handcuffs and being escorted into jail by a couple of sheriff’s deputies.
As he walked past the camera, he stared into it and said, “Pray for me. And pray for my family.” I confess to being shocked. I mean, he was a fairly rough-looking man–the word ‘burly’ comes to mind–and I was expecting him to say anything but that. And it touched my heart.