Tag Archives: failure

The Pastor’s Travail

In Galatians 4:19, you can hear Paul’s words of angst about the Galatian church. They had fallen into legalism, which Paul described as being deceived into choosing a state of slavery. In this passage Paul says, “I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you” (ESV). This is an excellent picture of the pastoral condition.

While it would be inaccurate to describe Paul as the pastor of the Galatian church, he does have a pastor’s heart for them. Remember that “pastor” comes from the word for shepherd. It is someone who leads people from one place or condition into another, by example and guidance. So, while Paul did not hold an office of “Pastor,”[1] he does express the heart experience of all good pastors.

In Paul’s statement, he speaks of being in the anguish of childbirth. He had addressed them as little children. This idea of anguish involved in childbirth would be very well known to the ancients. It was not uncommon for women to die from the exertion and complications of childbirth. All people understood this. Also, since there was little privacy in ancient homes, and children were born at home, most if not every individual would have heard or seen the travail of a woman in the throes of labor. Paul draws upon this shared experience to illustrate his own personal experience in dealing with their wayward behavior.

Think for a moment of this image which Paul uses. I’m a husband and father. I have watched my wife labor with four children.[2] Now, I know the worst thing a husband can do is imagine he understands what she is going through.[3] But we can see and understand that great pain and suffering is involved. We also understand that there is great promise as well. Push, struggle, strain, suffer and in time a new life is brought forth. This is what Paul is speaking of. This is also the common lot of the pastor of any church.

The pastor sees what God wants his people to be. He has been tasked with bringing forth the fruit of that, in cooperation with the Holy Spirit. He sees what should be, while also seeing what is. He knows the great work that is needed and the great travail that will be involved. He struggles and strains to inspire, to teach, to transform. Of course, true transformation comes through the power of the Holy Spirit, but one tool used by the Spirit is the pastor. As just as the wrench in my hand must be tempered to take the strain of a stuck bolt, the pastor must be tempered to take the strain involved in transforming fellow sinners into saints.

The life of a pastor is often marked with depression. He is taught to keep his eyes on what should be. He is taught to expect the miraculous. But he also experiences the failures. He is with people when they confess their failures. He is there when his people reap the whirlwind because of their sin. He is there when people question his teaching. He is there when people demand he stop calling them to holiness and only speak to them of nice things. He sees them kicking against the goads, and knows (from his own experiences and studies) that discipline will be brought to bear upon God’s wayward sheep.[4] He also knows, as under-shepherd, the Chief Shepherd may task him and the other elders with enacting and enforcing the discipline. The pastor’s heart breaks. He struggles and strains expecting final fruitful delivery often to only find himself anticipating the next spiritual contraction.

This struggle is the spiritual basis for the authority which a pastor (elder) wields. The author of Hebrews tells the church to submit to the elders because the elders are working so hard for the people’s own good. They should not make it harder on them, because that would be self-destructive (Heb 13:17).

Paul gives vent to the struggle of every pastor. It is a life of travail to bring forth fruit in the lives of their people. It has its own benefits, of course. But it also has unique problems. How many times have you lost sleep over the spiritual condition of someone who was not even your own kin? I can assure you ever good pastor in this country does this regularly. He prays for you. He seeks to model the Christ-life at all times—failing miserably as often as you. But when he fails he worries about the effect on you. He sees where you are and where Christ wants you to be. He bears very heavily the weight of duty to do his best to get you from here to there. His life is defined by a powerful contradiction. When you are transformed and become more like Christ, the pastor declares it was only by the work of the Holy Spirit. But when he sees you untransformed he doesn’t place blame upon the Holy Spirit and only places part of the blame upon you. The lion’s share of the blame for your failings, the pastor takes upon himself.


[1] In the first century, there was no office of Pastor. The two offices in the local church were elder and deacon. Pastor/shepherd was a gift given for the transformation of God’s people into the image of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-13).

[2] I saw three born, because one was delivered by C-Section because of being breech.

[3] The only thing worse thing he can do is say that he understands what she is going through while she is in a full-on contraction. Take my advice—just don’t go there! I promise you I’ll never do that again.

[4] Scripture uses the image of sheep for the people of God for good reason. Sheep can be very docile and obediently follow a shepherd from location to location. But the same creature can also put itself into the stupidest, dangerous situations then bawl for help. Sheep kick, butt with their heads, bite and stink. There is no better metaphor for the Church and the people who populate her.

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Share

God’s Will Over World’s Praise

I love John 3:30, which reads (ESV), “He must increase, but I must decrease.” I’ve spoken many times about how the English translations, for some reason, all fail to notice that “decrease” is passive, while “increase” is active voice. This means He increases himself, but I do not decrease myself—that is his action as well. The Lord’s increase of himself in my life, necessitates a decrease of my own value and importance, even in my own life. When his interests come to the fore in my life, my own interests are pushed to the rear. However, this is not what this blog post is about. That is a discussion I’ve had before and will have again another day.

Today, I want to consider the similarity between John 3:30 and Isaiah 2:11. In that passage, God says (ESV), “The haughty looks of man shall be brought low, and the lofty pride of men shall be humbled, and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day.”

When John the Baptizer speaks in chapter three and verse thirty of the gospel of John, he is responding to those who sought to defend him. They believed John was being disrespected by Jesus, whom John had baptized. Jesus was now drawing more people after himself for baptism. Remember this was a day where the Patron Client relationship ran through all areas of human interaction. It was natural for them to see the obligation of Jesus to defer to John, who had after all blessed him. In their world view Jesus was usurping John’s place and was being disrespectful. Of course, we know this was not the case, because this was exactly what God had created John for. This was John’s telos, his purpose, to baptize Jesus, give testimony about him and then to fade into the background.

John’s friends wanted him to demand his rights. They wanted John to be honored above one who had received ministry from him. They believed they had his interests in mind, but they did not understand one important thing—the divinity of Jesus. As Lord, Jesus deserved all honor and praise. Jesus as redeemer deserved far more honor than one who served as a sign pointing to that redeemer. As creator incarnate, Jesus deserved the awe and respect of his creation. Any man insisting on being honored above Jesus was, at best, laughable.

What John’s friends failed to realize was that they were encouraging John to be the exact sort of person rebuked in Isaiah 2:11. They wanted John to raise himself up and insist on his rights; insist on his honor. In their effort to protect and honor their friend, they failed to realize they were encouraging him to rebel against the very purpose for which God had created him.

We too easily get the idea that we deserve certain things; certain treatment; certain returns. However, we have to remember that, as subjects of the King of Heaven and Earth, we receive what he intends for us. Our lives are determined and directed by God’s interests, not our own.

If his will for us appears to the world as success, then we must remember it is his blessing that brought it. If his will for us appears to the world as failure, then we must find joy in knowing we are living his will.

What matters is not worldly success, wealth or privilege. What matters is knowing we are right where God wants us; knowing we are doing what God has called us to do; knowing we are living the life God has laid out for us. Seek alignment with the Lord’s will rather than exaltation in the world’s eyes.

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Share

Success

Years ago, I was working as a salesman and one of our stores account reps stopped by my desk and saw my screen saver—this was back in the days when people still used screen savers. It was a saying of mine which said, “Success is the accomplishment of God given goals; failure is the accomplishment of godless goals.” He was quite confused and asked how the accomplishment of a goal could be called failure. The problem is that the world looks at success very differently from a follower of Christ. The worldly person only asks, “What is the goal? And have I accomplished it?” The Christian has to ask, “What should be my goal.” This is part of the problem with our tendency to wonder why God doesn’t do as we want or why he doesn’t bless our efforts. We often fail to ask whether this is where God wants our efforts expended.

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Share