i awoke late last night, at about 3 in the morning, with a deep urge to pray. I don’t say this with any pride though, because it has been a long, long time since i have felt that particular urge. and so, i got down on my knees beside my bed to pray, a feeling that was more foreign than it should have been, and than i would like to admit, particularly as a pastor. ah well, i never said i was perfect.
the words of my prayer were pretty halting, partially from under use, partially from the fact that it was 3 am. but i do remember hearing, or sensing, something during that time: i felt like God was asking me to let Him linger with me longer. now that might seem like a very strange thing to hear in prayer, but i immediately understood what it means – allow me to explain.
my job as a pastor is not to create content and teaching and such, but more exactly, to pass it on. whatever blessings i receive from the Scripture or prayer or whatever, i pass on to the church. a pastor is not supposed to be a creative force as much as he is a medium, a mouthpiece through which God speaks and encourages and sometimes rebukes.
and because of this, i, and probably many other pastors, are always thinking about how things would affect or benefit their congregation. anything of worth that a pastor reads or hears or experiences becomes a sermon illustration or a call to prayer or a word of counseling. this sense can become so finely honed that the process is nearly instantaneous, where a pastor can immediately integrate any story or blessing into something which blesses others. and many of you probably know pastors like that, who are able to take the most seemingly insignificant detail and make it into an entire sermon!
now this is at times a gift for those in ministry, but often, nothing less than a curse: if a pastor immediately passes a blessing on to others, then it will not have enough time to bless the one who passed it along. It is like a person who passes along cup after cup of water to the thirsty, far too busy and occupied to take a sip himself or herself. before long, that person becomes the thirstiest one in the room. and that is where i find myself often, a starving man furiously handing out food.
and so i think that word from God that i received in prayer was a fitting rebuke, and reminder that i need to stop praying and reading and serving solely with an eye as to how it helps the church, and instead think first about how it affects or helps or changes me. i know that sounds terribly selfish, but in thinking about it, i don’t think it is any more selfish than it is for a person to sit down for dinner. it only makes sense that those who are well-fed, spiritually and physically, are better equipped to feed others in turn. and so, i want to allow God to linger with me just a little while longer, before i pass him on to others.
a story that relates in some way: i remember back in church youth group, before we had LCD projectors, we had transparency machines and transparencies, these letter-sized pieces of clear plastic on which worship lyrics were written with black sharpie (or sometimes, in many colors with flowers and crosses). we would arrange those songs in alphabetical order either by title or by first line in huge binders. and i remember how i would always express dismay at how vast the letter “I” folder was, and how many Christian worship songs began with the pronoun: “I”, or were filled with other personal pronouns like “my”, “me”, stuff like that. it all seemed so self-centered, so individualistic, and i suppose there is still some validity to that criticism.
but i’ve come to realize that some level of temporary spiritual self-centeredness, even selfishness, is actually okay, more than that – necessary. although it is true that God is our corporate God who calls us to service and compassion, he is also MY God, MY Savior, who loves ME. those ideas are equally true, and worthy of at least a moment of celebration and internalization. allow me, and all of your pastors, to have that moment.
please don’t bother pointing out the irony of someone declaring that they want to focus on their own personal encouragement on a blog specifically designed to encourage others. i get it.