My new friend Barry of West Virginia checked in the other night. He’s planning to be a pastor, he said, and while surfing the net in search of ideas, inspiration, and such, he found our website. He said, “I read it from 8 o’clock that morning until 5 o’clock that afternoon.”
I told him he holds the world record.
Wednesday of last week, our pastors’ group numbered only about 15, so we pulled two tables together and got our coffee and doughnuts and visited. Eventually, I said, “Let’s start with Eddie here, and go around the table. Introduce yourself–some of you don’t know the others–and tell something the Lord has done for you recently. Not 38 years ago, if you don’t mind.”
I had no idea this would be the agenda for the next 90 minutes.
Ann: “We lost 12,000 dollars—and then found it lying in the road in the basket where it had fallen off the car. It was untouched. The Lord protected us.”
Lawrence: “I had a series of strokes. God brought me through them.”
Marc: “I went through a time of serious depression. It was affecting my home and my church, everything. Even my wife said my sermons were boring. Finally, at a spiritual retreat, I recovered my closeness with the Lord and my energy for Him.”
Manuel told how one day on the job his body had taken 37,000 volts of electricity. “That’s why I have an artificial hand and foot,” he said. “I’m blessed to be alive and serving God.”
Jeff: “While we were evacuated from Katrina, I decided to try to find my son. Some 18 years ago, I walked out on his unwed mother and after I came to the Lord, I’ve felt so bad about that. I had tried over the years to locate him. I walked into a police station in the town where we used to live and identified myself, and told them what I was attempting to do. They arrested me on the spot.”
He went on to explain how his name was found on the list of deadbeat fathers, and he was kept in jail for two nights while he stayed on the phone, trying to raise $18,000. Eventually, he was reunited with his son. He explained what had happened and asked his forgiveness. “My son is down here right now,” he said, “living with us. He is such a fine young man.” There wasn’t a dry eye in the room.
Jeff pointed out how that as a pastor, he wants to be able to address this issue–dads who need to find the children they have fathered and do the right thing–and so had to go through this himself so he would have the integrity to call them to own up to their responsibilities.
Other pastors around the table had their stories of what the Lord was doing or had done in their lives. Then, it was Bobby’s turn.
“Well,” he said, “I’ve never lost $12,000. I’ve always been in good health and was never depressed. I’ve never had strokes or been struck by lightning. I’ve never fathered a child out of wedlock…”
A preacher on the other side of the table said, “And you call yourself a pastor!”
We laughed the rest of the morning at that.
Funny thing about that little story. I left town a few minutes after our meeting ended, driving 365 miles to Nauvoo, Alabama to visit my mother. Along the way I enjoyed reliving that incident. Over the next week, I told the story to my high school classmates when we met for Saturday morning coffee in Double Springs, I told it to some family members, and related it to an individual or two along the way. In every case, the response was a weak bit of laughter, far less than I thought the story deserved.
Then, Wednesday morning, one week later, as the pastors of Pickens County (Alabama) gathered at their associational office for a time of fellowship and breakfast, I told that story. This time, they gave the response I’d been looking for all the other times. The pastors almost fell out of their chairs laughing. I learned something in the process.
It’s a pastor thing. Every profession has its unwritten code, common language, and inside jokes, and this is ours, I suppose.
The hardships of life are what equip us to be a pastor, a shepherd of God’s sheep.
None of us would knowingly volunteer for any of the experiences our pastors related–not losing thousands of dollars, being depressed, suffering strokes, being struck by lightning, or fathering a child out of marriage. But the God we serve specializes in taking life’s setbacks and hardships and turning them into strengths and assets. In time, we look back and realize God’s alchemy–His taking the mundane and with a little pressure, transforming it into pure gold–made us a far better human being and more capable shepherd of the Lord’s flock than we could have ever become otherwise.
Warren Wiersbe was making this point when he titled a little volume, “The Bumps Are What You Climb On.”
“It is good for me that I was afflicted,” David said, “That I might learn your statutes.” (Psalm 119:71)
“When He has tried me,” Job said, “I shall come forth as gold.” (Job 23:10)
I’m sorry, Barry, young pastor-to-be. But there are no shortcuts to becoming the Lord’s shepherd. Go to seminary, get all the education you can. Study Hebrew and Greek and do not cut class on the days they talk about holding weddings and funerals. But know this: God has His own developmental program for those He calls into the ministry. The pathway leads through hardships, down dangerous inclines, and up scary mountainsides.
“He causes me to walk on my high places.” (Habukkuk 3:19)
After Wednesday morning’s blessed time with our pastors, I grabbed some books and headed out toward my car. A little later, one of the pastors left a message on my answering machine, saying what a special time the pastors gathering had been for him. He assured me he was praying for my journey to be safe.
A mile before Interstate 59 joins Interstate 20 outside Meridian, Mississippi, I had a blow-out, the worst kind possible. The traffic was heavy and we were holding around 70 or 72 miles per hour when the car suddenly started driving rough. Thankfully, I was in the right lane and the shoulder of the highway was wide and flat. As I began slowing and easing to the right, the weight of the car dropped onto the rim and I knew I was in bad trouble.
When David from Charlie’s Wrecker Service–representing AAA–took the wheel off, the inside of the tire looked like a grenade had gone off inside. He put my spare down, I drove into Meridian, and bought a nice Michelin at Wal-Mart and did a little browsing, and then went on my merry way. I was out a hundred bucks for the tire, and nothing else.
It is a law of the spiritual life that when tragedy strikes, God can use it to make us stronger and our ministry better. However, Barry, we don’t volunteer for tragedy.
I’m grateful not to have had a tale of woe about a blowout on the highway, even if it would have made me a better person. I’ll try to grow spiritually some other way.
When our Lord taught us to pray, “Lead us not into evil,” I take that as meaning we should pray to be kept from anything at all that is not part of God’s perfect plan for our lives.