Tag Archives: transformation

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.

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What will you withhold?

This morning, in my devotional time, I found myself asking a question that brought a great deal of reflection. Allow me to share, and I hope you will ask yourself the same question.

Consider this statement: “Lord, if [blank] is your will, I accept it.” Then ask yourself, is there anything you would not put in that blank? If so, then that’s an area of your life where you still remove Christ from the throne.

Truly submitting to the Lord means accepting whatever goes in that blank—no matter what it costs us or requires of us. Now, before you get too hard on yourself, this is not meant as an indictment. It’s a good exercise, because, until the day he has finished transforming you into the image of Christ, it is likely you will always have something (if you dig deep enough) which you would rather keep out of that statement.

I have to admit there are things I would rather not put there. I know this because I have found such things. Of course, this lets me know I have work to do with my Lord. This means I need to be broken by him. Of course, the Lord is very good at breaking. Funny, while there are things I still find myself holding back, being broken by God is something I no longer fear. I have learned that being broken hurts terribly (that is part of the definition of ‘broken’), but afterwards, there is such relief. As I write this, it just dawned on me that it’s similar to my visits to the chiropractor. When the doctor takes a hold of my head, I know that what he is about to do to my neck (a form of breaking it) will be painful.[1] It is even frightening—especially when a stiff neck is one of my regular complaints. Yet I willingly submit because I know that, afterwards, my neck will feel wonderful—the anticipated relief is greater than the fear which precedes it. While this is an overly simplistic illustration, it is not too unlike being broken by God. God often has to break who we are, to make us into whom he wants us to be. While this can be frightening, the relief is great. As you walk with the Lord over the years, and he regularly breaks you, in time you begin to see beyond the pain you will experience, anticipating the final relief.

So, when you look at that statement above and know there are things you would not place in that blank, get ready because those are the areas where he will break you. God shares his authority in your life with no one. He bought your life with the sacrifice of Christ, and he will play second fiddle to no one—not even you. The universe fits within that small blank and you can keep nothing from it.

[1] The first time the doctor adjusted my wife’s neck she screamed and cried so loud the entire office thought she was hurt. But within a second she was so happy to have relief.

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God’s New Year’s Resolution

This morning begins a new year. Traditionally this is a time for fresh committal, for resolutions to change and promises to be better this year than last. But how should we judge such things? What does being better look like? Does better mean being lighter, thinner, wealthier, happier, nicer? Funny thing is such commitments to improvement seldom last. The work involved and the self-denial required are seldom understood when making these resolutions. Losing weight requires eating less. Being more financially secure requires earning more or spending less. I won’t even pretend to know what happier looks like. If these things were easy, there would be no need for the resolution—because they would already describe us. However, there is one improvement we can be sure of. Each moment, each day, each year, God is transforming you into the image of Christ. This means next January first you will be more like Christ than you are right now. This is not your resolution, but God’s.

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