The Quieted Soul of the Pastor In Prayer
A Restless Reality
As a pastor of a local church there is a consistent spiritual, emotional, and even physical need that seems to come across my “desk” (email, Facebook, etc.) at a pace faster than I can keep up with.
Sin breaks in and causes hurting marriages and hurting parents. Suffering breaks in and fills the church with the horrors of disease, disability, and chronic pain. Sin and suffering conspire to cause deep anxiety, fear, and sadness. In addition, one of the biggest struggles for a pastor (despite the perception of many) is that sin and suffering invade our hearts, lives, and families as well.
Once we finally wrap our minds around all of that, what hope is there that we will actually have the time, stamina, or resolve to focus on reaching our neighborhoods or the nations with the gospel of Jesus?
So, how does a pastor quiet his restless soul in the midst of the restless realities caused by sin and suffering?
A Quiet Soul Flows from a Blood-Bought Privilege to Pray
Sometimes when I’m overwhelmed I can be my own worst enemy in these restless realities. I can be disappointed in myself for not handling things better. I can be angry at myself for the way my own sin clouds my sight of Jesus. I can be frustrated by a lack of clarity or direction. I can feel like a failure for not knowing exactly the best way to lead our church on mission or help them fight for joy in following Jesus or lead them through dark valleys of suffering. So, what is left for the soul of the pastor that finds itself in that dark, overwhelming place?
Prayer. Blood-bought prayer.
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:14-15) Jesus has lived the life we couldn’t live and died the death we deserve to die for our sins. Jesus has passed through the heavens to give us access to God by the Spirit (Ephesians 2:18). And not only that, but Jesus sympathizes with our weaknesses. The perfect God-man stoops down and actually sympathizes with our weakness because he’s experienced our weakness in temptation, yet without sin. Remember the invitation of Jesus to find rest amidst the restlessness?
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, or I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
That offer wasn’t made from someone secretly thinking that you shouldn’t really need the help. That offer wasn’t made from someone disappointed in your human frailty. That offer wasn’t made by someone who thinks you should have already arrived as a perfect shepherd (even though he was the perfect shepherd). Instead, that offer was made from the one who came, suffered, died, and rose again for you. That offer was made from one who is eager to help you by the Spirit and lives to make intercession for you from the right hand of the Father. That offer was made from someone who sees the restless reality, sympathizes with you in it, and wants you to draw near for true rest and true help. That offer was made from someone who died for you so that you could draw near and he could bear the burdens for you that you cannot bear on your own.
With an offer like that, what should the response of our restless souls be?
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)
Draw near! Why? Because the offer of rest stands and as we draw near to the throne of the Almighty God of the universe that has all power and all resources at his disposal the promise is that because Jesus has made a way through the cross, we find a throne of grace. And at that throne, we will only find grace. We will only find mercy. And we will only find, literally, “well-timed help” in our time of need.
Pastors, why don’t we take more time to “devote ourselves to prayer?” (Acts 6:4) Could it be that we think it’s not really more effective to ask for God’s help than it is to simply forge ahead and get things done?
The reason that question matter to answer is that it will determine how easy (or hard) the switch to praying more will come to us. If we believe prayer is best for our souls and our churches, then we simply will prioritize, not legalistically, but eagerly as fresh time with our Savior. I’d encourage you to simply make time in the word and prayer the first thing you do every day and to also set aside some point during the day (I typically choose the last ½ hour or so of my day) to revisit those promises from the morning and commit them to prayer again.
I’d encourage you to find a quiet place to pray following the footsteps of our Savior who withdrew to desolate places to talk with his Father. And I’d encourage you to pray as you read the word. Let the promises of God provoke prayers to God. Let the warnings of God provoke pleas to God. Let the comforts of God provoke intercession for the people of God. Set a time. Find a place. Read. Pray.
And then let pauses for prayer saturate your planning, your e-mails, your sermon preparation, and your personal care.
There is no ultimate rest for our souls in better planning or programming. There is no ultimate rest in working harder or longer in the tough situations. There is no ultimate rest found in ourselves for our own lives or the lives of those we shepherd. But, there is rest for the soul that draws near to God in prayer, through the blood of Jesus, and by the power of the Spirit and knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that it will receive grace, mercy, and help for whatever needs may come up next. It is in prayer that God meets us with a settled sense of his blood-bought care for us. It is in prayer that we often receive the wisdom and courage and humility we need to carry out the faithful tasks of the day “for God and not for men.” And it is in approaching the throne of God desperately for help because of the blood of Jesus that our souls find rest in his sovereign care and he receives all the glory for any work he accomplishes in us and in the people he’s entrusted us to shepherd.
So, pastors, let us “devote ourselves” to desperate prayer so that we quiet our souls, we receive help, and God receives the glory he deserves.