You’re Going To Be Needing The Holy Spirit More Than You Ever Imagined
The church I served for nearly 14 years and left last Easter is in the process of calling a new pastor. To the utter surprise and delight of almost everyone in the church, the committee has recommended a 27-year-old doctoral student at the local seminary who has incredible gifts in a hundred directions–but absolutely no pastoral experience. Sound scary to you? Does to me. For him more than for us.
I heard him preach Sunday night and could see why everyone who hears him comes away impressed by a depth of maturity far beyond his years. The pastor search committee did not play it safe, but–choose your metaphor here–was willing to think outside the box, color outside the lines, take some risks to do what they perceived the Lord commanded.
Someone who sat in on the church meetings Sunday afternoon told me how the young candidate was put on the hot seat by some members with tough questions on controversial issues. For a moment, I was chagrined, but just for a moment. Then I reasoned, “Better for him to know going in that not everyone is going to accept him as the greatest thing since Moses. Might as well see up front what he’s getting into.” But, as far as I can tell, he’s plenty sharp and not under any illusions of this kind.
The fact is pastoring a church is hard work. Any size of church, any kind. Recently, Mac Brunson, pastor of Dallas’ historic First Baptist Church, spoke in the chapel of our local seminary. He said, “I’ve just come out of a year long fight. At least, I hope I’m out of it.” He did not give details as to its nature, but added, “Sometimes you have pastors of these mega-churches visit the campus and tell you how thrilling their work is, how everything is great, how they have no problems.” He paused and said, “They’re lying.”
After pastoring two tiny churches and one medium-sized congregation, I joined the staff of the largest church in the state. One day, I was accompanying the pastor to his speaking assignment, when, as we traveled down a country highway, he pointed out a rural church and said, “The pastor of that church has it made. He has a hundred people to keep up with, they invite him into their homes, and bring him vegetables and melons, and they’re one big happy family.” I said, “I beg to differ. I’ve pastored churches just like that. That preacher has to do it all by himself. He’s his own staff, youth minister, education director, and sometimes office worker and even janitor. If someone has a need, they call him. And the reason they bring him vegetables and melons is they can’t afford to pay him actual money. Meanwhile, his wife and children go without a lot of the necessities.”
If I could say one thing to every young pastor in the land, it would be this: you don’t have what it takes to be a pastor. You’re not smart enough, strong enough, mature enough, patient enough, wise enough, godly enough, or gifted enough. The job is too much for you. The only way you’re going to have any success at all is by throwing yourself on the Lord in total dependence.
Fortunately, that’s His plan. That is precisely how God intends His people to be shepherded. That’s why He has made His Holy Spirit available to us.
No pastor can succeed in the flesh. Those who think they can–and the woods are full of these guys who think they can get by through their good looks, sharp minds, excellent voices, great learning, or persuasive techniques–are contradicting the very Word of God. “So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8:9)
Here are five discoveries I’ve made about the Holy Spirit in the life of the man of God.
1. He does His best work when we come to the end of our own strength. That’s what Paul describes in II Corinthians 12. In one sense, that passage qualifies as the charter for every preacher. Think about it. He has a great vision which he’s unable to articulate. He receives a severe problem which he’s unable to get rid of. He prays as he has never prayed before and nothing happens. God assures the preacher that “I’m with you and I’m enough.” The preacher goes forward, but not without a limp (you recognize an echo of Jacob in Genesis 32 there). And God uses him mightily.
One of our favorite names for God in the Old Testament is “El Shaddai.” The old books used to tell us the root meaning had something to do with “mountain,” thus giving us “Almighty God.” More recent works, however, pick up on the “shad” which is Hebrew for “breast.” Scholars tell us the picture is of a babe at its mother’s breast. What the mother is to the child, God is to us: our all-sufficiency. G. Campbell Morgan wrote, “The name or title El Shaddai is peculiarly suggestive, meaning quite literally, ‘the mighty One of resource or sufficiency.’ The idea of almightiness is present, but it is not fully expressed in the word El. The word Shaddai goes further, and suggests perfect supply and perfect comfort. We should reach the idea better by rendering ‘God All-Bountiful,’ or ‘God All-Sufficient’ ….To gather sustenance and consolation from the bosom of God is to be made strong for all the pilgrimage.”
Check me out on this: every time in the Old Testament you find God calling Himself El Shaddai, three elements are present. God has a big job He wants done, the human has pitifully small resources, and God presents HImself as the source and resource.
That’s the plan. You’re out of strength? Good. Moses said, “Lord, I can’t speak.” God said, “I’ll be with your mouth.” Jeremiah said, “Lord, I’m just a youth.” God said, “I’ll be with you.”
2. He delights in putting us in situations far exceeding our resources. Throughout the ministry of Jesus, we find Him commanding people to do the very things they are unable to do. “Stand up and walk,” He orders a paralytic. “Stretch forth your hand,” He commands a fellow with a withered arm. “Love your enemies.” “Turn the other cheek.” “Preach the gospel to all the nations.”
Years ago, I heard the inimitable John Bisagno preach a sermon on the impossibility of the apostles fulfilling the Great Commission as the Lord commanded it. Bisagno pointed out all the reasons they could not do it. These fellows did not have the education. They were poor and had no money. They were of the lower social classes and would not be able to surmount cultural barriers. They did not know any languages other than their own. Furthermore, the entire world had not even been discovered. Talk about being thrust into a situation for which you’re not adequate! How like the Lord that is.
Think of Israel fleeing Pharaoh and finding themselves facing a sea in front and an army in back. God opened a door through the waters.
3. You’ll never see the power of God at work until you’re attempting something beyond yourself. I like to think of my present circumstances as a metaphor for what God does. As a pastor for over 40 years, I never handled money in the church. If someone handed me their tithe envelope, I told them to give it to someone else. However, these days, in my role as director of missions for the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans, I also function as the treasurer. Now, we have an administrative assistant who keeps the books and writes the checks. But I sign them. Sometimes forty or fifty at one time, involving many thousands of dollars. Now, were I writing these on my own bank account, the third check would deplete my resources and from them on, I’d be in deeper and deeper trouble. But by writing the checks on the association, which has a budget many times my personal one, we’re able to do far more than I could alone.
Carl Bates pastored the First Baptist Church of Charlotte, North Carolina, for over 20 years and earned a reputation as a great pulpiteer. As a young pastor, I heard him tell of the time he was begging Heaven to send Holy Spirit power upon him. Eventually, the Lord spoke to him and said, “What are you doing for which you need my power? Everything you are doing, you can accomplish in your own strength.” That wonderful analysis leads to the fourth thing I’ve learned about the Holy Spirit’s operation in the life of all believers, and particularly preachers.
4. You will not experience the power of the Holy Spirit until you actually begin to carry out the task the Lord has set before you. God refuses to play our little games; He is unwilling to indulge our requirement for feelings. We pray for the filling of the Spirit, we ask God to anoint us and empower our ministry, then we sit back and wait for some kind of emotional evidence that He has heard and sent His Spirit. The simple fact is if we would get up and get to work, the Lord would meet us in the field.
I still remember discovering this. I did not want to go to church visitation that night. But, as a believer, I knew I should and as pastor, that I must. “Lord,” I prayed, “fill me with thy Spirit. Empower me for witness just as you promised the first disciples.” I prayed it and meant it, but still had to drag myself to church that evening. I dutifully took some assignments and invited a friend to accompany me, and we drove away. I would not have been unhappy had no one been home that night. But we knocked at a door, and found the people home. Only after we found ourselves seated on their couch and began hearing of their spiritual hunger, only then did I sense the presence of the Holy Spirit welling up within me, energizing my body, sharpening my mind, and empowering my witness. Two hours and three visits later, I was on a high and had to force myself to go home.
There’s a tiny insight in Scripture that may be describing this event. In Luke 17, the Lord is met by ten lepers who prayed for mercy. Jesus said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” Luke records, “And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed.” Only after they turned away from the Lord in obedience to do what He commanded did the power of the Holy Spirit carry out the intent of the Master.
5. There is no secret to the filling of the Holy Spirit: empty yourself of you and ask Him to fill you. We have to make room for Him by confessing sin, yielding ourselves to Him anew, and giving Him access to anything in our lives He wants removed. Don’t rush through this. Then, in simple faith, as a child to the Father, pray: “Father, in Jesus’ name and for His sake, I ask you to fill me with the Holy Spirit.”
Ask it and mean it. And if He sends immediate evidence that He is doing so, welcome it. But don’t ask for a sensation; that’s up to Him. Now, get up and go do your task today, the things God has given you to do. Watch for Him. When you get there, He’ll be there.
I like to remember Jesus standing at Lazarus’ graveside and praying, “Father, I thank you that you heard me when I prayed.” That’s the idea. He had done His praying in advance, so that now that He came to the point of actually carrying out the Father’s will, there was no panic and no frantic. Just a simple prayer of thanks. Then, boom! a dead man walked out of a grave.
Just the type of thing the Holy Spirit does best.