“Guard your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23).
“Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witnesses, blasphemies” (Matthew 15:19). “Rend your hearts, not your garments” (Joel 2:13).
This is one of those lessons almost no pastor learns except by personal experience.
Someone told you a joke years ago. In my case, it was an older cousin and I was a young teen. The joke was dirty by any measurement and some would say it was funny. But it was filthy and has stayed with me all these years. The joke is still in my mind and I am unable to get rid of it.
I wish I’d known.
“Blessed be the Lord, who daily loads us with benefits!” (Psalm 68:19).
“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits” (Psalm 103:2).
A friend prompted me to write something about how the Lord takes care of His children. And he gave me story after story of the Lord doing that in his life.
–Like the time he asked the church leadership to help him get that needy family into a house and pay the deposits, requiring an outlay of $468. When they refused, he paid the sum himself. A few days later, the bank informed him they had misfigured his mortgage insurance and refunded him in the amount of $468.
–Or the time he asked the leadership to purchase a new van for the church. He explained that he and the youth minister were racking up heavy miles on their personal vehicles and the church should do this. When they refused, God gave him a vehicle. The local power company gets rid of one of their passenger-hauling pickup trucks each year, and our friend won it. “It had 200k miles on it,” he said, “but had been meticulously maintained.” Last year, he put 20,000 miles on it in the Lord’s service.
That sort of thing. On and on.
Yes, He does take care of His own is my response to my friend. But….
“And the Lord said, ‘Do you have good reason to be angry?’ And Jonah said, ‘I have good reason to be angry, even to death'” (Jonah 4:4,9).
“And he came there to a cave and lodged there, and behold the word of the Lord came to him, and He said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?'” (I Kings 19:9).
Several friends have forwarded links concerning the suicide of the 30-year-old pastor in Southern California. Andrew Stoecklein had it all–a beautiful, loving wife and three children, a successful and supportive congregation (Inland Hills Church, east of Los Angeles), all the opportunity and acclaim any of us could ever ask for–and it wasn’t enough. He was clinically depressed. He sought help, took a 4-month sabbatical, and preached sermons on depression. He understood far more about his problem than most people ever will. And he took his own life.
There are no easy answers, and I’ll not be having any in this piece.
Early in my ministry, I would have. I “just knew” that the answer to all depression was to believe God. I’d tell depressed people to read Scripture and start believing God. “Memorize these verses.” “Start every day by reading 10 Psalms.”
Then, something happened to put a stop to all my shallow answers.
I was grading tests turned in for a seminary course I was teaching. In his essay a student wrote, “The only thing I fear is zombies.” I wrote back, “Zombies? You fear zombies? There is no such thing. They are the figment of someone’s imagination!”
I’ve laughed about that ever since. This guy is going to be a minister of the gospel and he fears zombies.
“No fear allowed.” That should be the sign across every believer’s doorway. Anyone doing even a cursory reading of Scripture has stumbled across text after text informing God’s children–reminding them, teaching them, again and again–that we are not to fear.
God is insulted by His children fearing. It’s as though we believe the enemy and not Him.
Here are some of our favorite texts on “No Fear Allowed” that come to mind…
“Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them” (2 Kings 6:16). Elisha’s words to his panicky servant who had just seen the enemy encircling the city are good for us today. Don’t be afraid: We outnumber them.
From the beginning, the Lord’s people talk a better game than we live.
So many biblical truths look good on paper and sound great when we’re spouting them. And yet, judging by the way we live, the Lord’s people probably do not believe the following…
One. God sends the pastor to the church.
Churches survey their congregation to find the kind of pastor everyone wants in the next guy. People lobby for a candidate they like and rally against one they don’t. And they vote on the recommendation of their committee. And after he arrives, when some turn against him, they send him on his way.
Do we really believe God sends pastors to churches? They are God’s undershepherds (see I Peter 5:1-4) and appointed by the Holy Spirit as overseers of the church (Acts 20:28).
Two. God hears our prayers, cares for our needs, and answers our prayers.
In the typical congregation, what percentage of the people are serious about their prayer life?
If we believed that God hears, cares, and answers, we would be praying over every detail of our lives. “Pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17) would define our very existence.
A pastor I know has a practice I now find myself adopting.
Dr. David Uth said at Ridgecrest a few years back that at the start of each new year, the Lord gives him a single word as the focus of his ministry that year. One time the word was “One,” as in unity and oneness. Another time, it was “Mission.”
He had an interesting story on that. He was pastoring the dynamic First Baptist Church of West Monroe, LA. It was the first Sunday of the new year, and two men from a church in Florida had come to hear him preach, representing the pastor search team from FBC Orlando.
David had no idea they were in town.
That Saturday night, the two men drove around West Monroe. They were unimpressed. “I don’t think there’s anything for us here,” said one. The other said, “Let’s stay and hear him preach tomorrow. We’re already here.”
Then, one said, “I want to do a little test. If he says the word ‘mission’ in the sermon tomorrow, that’s a sign the Lord wants us to continue with him.”
David smiled in telling this story.
“Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.” (I Peter 2:17)
The Lord seems to delight in calling His disciples to do impossible things, actions which the flesh rebels against, the world scoffs at, and we sometimes question.
I expect He’s trying to shock us out of our comfort zone and into the freedom of the Spirit where obedience to Him is as natural as breathing and where we do our best work.
His is a big job. To our detriment, we find ourselves questioning most of our Lord’s commands and dragging our feet about obeying some in particular.
For most, the four brief commands of I Peter 2:17 rank among the least doable and most unpleasant. Nor are we allowed to dismiss them as “not from Jesus but from Peter.” We either believe in the inspiration of Holy Scripture or we do not.
“In order that no advantage be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his devices.” (2 Corinthians 2:11)
First, Satan is a liar and a murderer (John 8:44). He is a fallen angel who was banished to earth (Revelation 12:9). He is one angry being (Revelation 12:12) since he knows that after his days here are ended, he goes straight into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10).
Keep that in mind.
You don’t want to trust that fellow. He is without the faintest hope of any future, big-time angry at God, and a liar of the first order. That’s a terrible combination. Don’t ever go into partnership with someone like that.
Trust nothing he says. Accept no promises from this liar.
However, he’s smart. Giving the devil his due, Martin Luther said of him, “On earth is not his equal.” You and I are no match for him by ourselves.
“For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God” (I John 3:20-21).
“But I don’t feel forgiven.”
“I don’t feel saved after some of the things I’ve done.”
“I feel so bad. I know God says He has forgiven me, but my heart says otherwise.”
Every pastor gets this. People who have grown up in sound churches and call themselves Bible-believing Christians fall prey to this malady of judging their standing with the Heavenly Father by their feelings.
Imagine that. As though one’s feelings about anything are accurate, consistent, dependable.
“Wait on the Lord. Be strong. Let your heart take courage. Yes, wait on the Lord” (Psalm 27:14).
Saturday, a pastor texted to ask for prayer. He has been without a church for a year now and has exhausted all his savings. The opportunities to preach have been few and far between, and he has been unsuccessful in finding secular work.
My heart goes out to him and I’m praying diligently for him.
Sunday, a friend asked for prayer for her pastor husband. He’s discouraged and would like the Lord to open up some new place of service.
Most of us have been there at one time or other.