The Best Advice I’ve Received In Pastoral Ministry

I’ve had the privilege of serving in various forms of pastoral ministry for over 10 years.

Old photo of happy senior peasant after hard work in the field

I’ve been involved in campus ministry, youth ministry, worship ministry, small group ministry, family-life ministry (marriage/parenting), preaching/teaching, counseling, and now church-planting. I’ve attended countless seminars and conferences, benefitted from wonderful biblical teaching and counsel, and have had the joy of reading numerous books and articles.

Even a quick scan of the resources that sit neatly on the shelves in the office from which I am writing reminds me that I have been richly blessed by the teaching of so many. Part of that awareness fills me with gratitude for the goodness of God. The other part, quite honestly, terrifies me. I think of Jesus’ statement: “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more” (Luke 12:48).

I know I’ve been entrusted with much. So faithfulness, for me, will require a great deal.

Sometimes, I confess, I tremble at that thought. “Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Corinthians 2:16). In and of myself, I am most certainly not sufficient, but my sufficiency comes from God:

“Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Corinthians 3:5-6).

When you are working in pastoral ministry, you are working, as Charles Spurgeon puts it, “in a sphere where nothing but the supernatural will ever avail.”

Only God can bring the dead to life (Ephesians 2:1-10). Only God can bring conviction of sins (John 16:8-11). Only God can change hearts (Jeremiah 13:23). Only God can save people (Jonah 2:9). Pastoral ministry, by its very nature, is dealing with spiritual realities, things that only God can do. “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all” (John 6:63).

Spurgeon wrote,

“Unless the Holy Ghost blesses the Word, we who preach the gospel are of all men most miserable, for we have attempted a task that is impossible. We have entered on a sphere where nothing but the supernatural will ever avail. If the Holy Spirit does not renew the hearts of our hearers, we cannot do it. If the Holy Ghost does not regenerate them, we cannot. If He does not send the truth home into their souls, we might as well speak into the ear of a corpse.”

That’s why the best advice I’ve received in pastoral ministry has been simple, straight-forward, humble counsel regarding dependence on God through prayer: “Let’s tell it to the Lord.”

Six words. So simple. Yet, so incredibly powerful and profound.

This is what a fellow pastor (and friend) in Knoxville told me one day when we were discussing a significant ministry opportunity before us. We both had a specific desire for a certain ministry opportunity, and we were in full agreement, but the funding was not available to make that desire a present reality. So, his counsel was simple: “Let’s tell it to the Lord.” And that’s exactly what we did. We poured our hearts out to God in prayer, both together and privately over a period of time, and then we watched Him provide. The door swung wide for the ministry opportunity, and we walked through it with thankfulness in our hearts knowing that God had answered our prayers.

I’ve come back to this counsel so often throughout the years.

I wouldn’t consider myself a naturally confident person. I think I’m much better at encouraging others than I am at encouraging myself (though I am trying to grow in this area (1 Samuel 30:6).). I personally struggle with anxiety and can regularly be concerned about the future. I have some friends who don’t ever seem to worry about anything. I’m genuinely happy for them — and they’re a joy to be with — but I can’t relate to that type of temperament. Often, I am anxious. I will say this, though. Over the years, I’ve become increasingly grateful for anything that drives me to prayer, including my own anxiety. I’m convinced that God lovingly allows challenges at times so that we will come to Him in prayerful communion.

Troubles have a way of driving us back to the Father, whereas when there are few challenges, there is often little prayer. Now, when a challenge presents itself, the Lord reminds me of the wise counsel of this faithful pastor and friend: “Let’s tell it to the Lord.” When I heed this counsel, I walk outside, get somewhere alone, and tell the Lord all my troubles. I’ve watched Him deliver me from so many dangers and provide for so many needs (and desires). I’m convinced that God loves to hear our voices. He loves to meet our needs. He loves to grant our desires, and He loves to answer specific prayers. It brings Him glory to answer our prayers (John 14:13-14).

Whatever you’re going through, let me encourage you: “Let’s tell it to the Lord.”

What Does Trust In God Look Like Practically?

“Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your heart before him;
God is a refuge for us” (Psalm 62:8)

iStock_000002246123Fullness

The idea of trusting God can be somewhat etherial and mystical, but this verse puts “feet” to our trust in God. It shows us what trusting God looks like practically. That’s why it’s one of my favorite verses in the Psalms. I’ll explain.

We see here very clearly that one way our trust in God is practically expressed is through prayer. Let’s look at the verse together.

The first line of Psalm 62:8 reads “Trust in him at all times, O people.” So, in this verse, the psalmist is obviously speaking about trusting God. That’s the main idea. The exhortation is to trust in the LORD.

But notice how the psalmist expands on the first line as he moves to the second line: “pour out your heart before him.” This line is obviously speaking about prayer. So, the idea of the first exhortation being expanded by the second is that one way trusting in God is expressed is through prayer.

The third line, then, expands on the first and the second with this truth: “God is a refuge for us.” So, if we want to know what trust in God looks like practically, here it is:

Prayer is an active, practical way in which we as believers put our trust in God and take refuge in Him.

The Realness of Believing Prayer

What encourages me the most about this verse, though, is how the Lord encourages us to be real with him:

“Pour out your heart before him.”

If you pour something out, sometimes it’s because you’re wanting to get rid of it, right? (Think of pouring old milk out into the sink). And if you spill something, it can be messy. At other times, pouring something out can be because the fragrance is pleasing to us or helpful in some way (think of pouring aromatic essential oils out into a container to fill a room with fragrance).

Isn’t it encouraging to think that God invites us, through the psalmist’s exhortation, to pour out our hearts before him?

This means that we can come to God with anything and everything and lay it all before him through open and honest prayer. We can cast our burdens on him; we can tell him all our troubles; we can confess to him all of our sins; we can express all our concerns; we can communicate all our cares; and we can pour out all the good and the bad stored up in our hearts to the One who can handle it all and who can help us.

God welcomes us to be real with him. What a kindness! What a grace!

In fact, this type of realness, this pouring out of our hearts, is how we practically express our trust in him. I don’t know about you, but this verse moves prayer out of the chore list and onto the joy list for me; it encourages me to pray.

Converse with the Lord as you would the best of friends.

What joys and victories, temptations and struggles, anxieties and difficulties, are you facing today? Tell it all to the Lord in open and honest prayer and watch what he can do for you. “Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts before him, for God is a refuge for us”.

The Unmistakable Power of Prayer

This holiday season, I am reminded of how God answers prayer and often grants us the desires of our hearts in what he ordains.

IMG_5877

A Daughter’s Prayer and a Daddy’s Desire

My oldest daughter wanted a dog. She asked us numerous times if we would be willing to get one for the family and numerous times we told her, “Sorry Love, we’re not a pet family.”

Laura and I had come to this unfortunate conclusion years prior when we reluctantly found a new home for our seriously-hyper beagle named Charlie.

Charlie was a great dog – until we had kids. Then, he must have felt completely de-throned by toddlers because he started acting up in every way imaginable: knocking the kids down upon our arrival home, stealing food out of the their tiny little hands, shredding dirty diapers all over the floor.

These were just a few of the penalties in a host of other infractions that piled up against poor Charlie until we finally said enough is enough and found a new home for him with an elderly couple down the street (they were thrilled to have him, our house became more peaceful, and we were still able to visit with him from time to time until we moved).

Nearly ten years later, my daughter was sweetly and consistently communicating a heartfelt desire to have a dog. The truth was, I wanted her to have her desire, but I also didn’t want to go through what we had experienced in the past. So, I thought hard about it and at the dinner table one night I said, “You’re welcome to pray for a dog, sweetheart, but here’s what would have to happen:

  • it would have to be free (because we’re not going to buy a dog right now)
  • it would have to be hypoallergenic (because your mommy is allergic to pet hair)
  • it would have to be house broken (because we’re still trying to potty train a child and we’re not going to add potty training a dog right now)
  • it would have to be great with kids (because we have 4 kids in the house)
  • it would have to be trained to be calm when people come over (or crate trained – because we offer a lot of hospitality)
  • we would need to have someone who is willing to watch the dog when we travel

    In short, it would probably have to be a labradoodle that’s good with kids and is given to us by someone willing to watch the dog when we travel.”

    Delays Are Not Denials

    There it was. I had laid down the law, but with just enough room for an 11 year old to pray about it if the desire persisted. My daughter took her desire and took this list to the Lord. She prayed about it and then began to petition God and others for a dog (literally, she created a petition and took it to school and to church, asking people to sign it to support her desire for a dog – somehow, she even got my signature on the list).

    Fast forward several weeks.

    My wife and I had met a wonderful family through basketball and gymnastics. Our kids got along extremely well, and Laura invited their family to church. They came to Redeeming Grace Church and our friendship began to grow.

    One night, we had them over for dinner at our house. As we were hearing their stories and the dynamics of their home life with 5 kids under the age of 10, they began to share that they had 2 labradoodles and they were looking for a home for one of them. The dog they were trying to find a new home for, Tulip, was hypoallergenic, great with kids, housebroken, crate-trained, and would be free to a great family who would love her (they were even willing to watch her when a family traveled).

    Needless to say, I was intrigued and wondered if this might be an answer to my daughter’s prayers. As it turns out, it was an answer to prayer, a blessing for their family and a blessing to us.

    We have now had Tulip for several months, and she has been wonderful. I am absolutely convinced that God hears and answers the prayers of His people.

    “Hast thou not seen
    How thy desires e’er have been
    Granted in what he ordaineth?” Praise to the LORD, the Almighty

    Spurgeon says this so well:

    “I am constantly witnessing the most unmistakable examples of answers to prayer. My entire life is made up of them. They are so common that they no longer surprise me. I could no more doubt the power of prayer than I could disbelieve the law of gravity. For more than forty years, I have tested my Master’s promises at the mercy seat, and I have never been repulsed. In the name of Jesus, I have asked and received. It is true that I have had to wait because my time was ill-judged and God’s time was far better. But delays are not denials… God answers the supplications of His believing people.”

    Charles Spurgeon, Beside Still Waters, page 211 – “Ask And It Will Be Given”

    Believer, God hears your prayers!

  • What Can Man Do to Me?

    gerrit-van-honthorst-king-david-playing-the-harp-1611-1156x1407x300

    “This I know, that God is for me. In God, whose word I praise, in the LORD, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Psalm 56:9-11)

    What unspeakable confidence David had in the presence, the power, and the promises of God!

    Enemies are arrayed against him at every turn:

      “man tramples me” (v. 1)

      “all day long an attacker oppresses me” (v. 1b)

      “my enemies trample me all day long” (v. 2)

      “many attack me proudly” (v. 2b)

      “all day long they injure my cause” (v. 5)

      “all their thoughts are against me for evil” (v. 5b)

      “they stir up strife (v. 6)

      “they lurk” (v. 6)

      “they watch my steps” (v. 6b)

      “they have waited for my life” (v. 6b)

    David was clearly in trouble, and he was afraid (v. 3). But, in the midst of his fear, he put his trust in the LORD.

    How did David “know” that God was for him? Where did this unshakable confidence come from?

    His confidence came from the promises of God in His Word:

    “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?” (v. 3-4).

    God has spoken promises in His word that are enough to silence the accusations of ten thousand tongues – even ten thousand times ten thousand tongues! What he has promised, he will fulfill.

    Though every man on earth and every demon in hell stands against us, let this unshakable confidence be ours in Christ:

    “This I know, that God is for me” (v. 9).

    What more assurance do we need? What else matters in this life? If God is for us, who can be against us? (Rom. 8:31).

    Take heart, my soul, and fears take flight: God works in you to please His sight.

    He will protect and preserve your faith. He will honor his promises toward you and fulfill his purposes for you (Psalm 57:2). His glory and your good are inextricably bound together for all eternity.

    When God is for you, you need not fear what man can do.

    Beams of Majesty and a Heart of Mercy

    the bruised reed

    On Fridays, I’ve decided to post quotes from some of my favorite authors as a way for me to review golden nuggets of truth and keep them in the forefront of my own heart and mind throughout the year.

    I also hope it serves you, as a reader of RevivingTheSoul in offering comfort, encouragement, and strength for your own journey in the ups and downs of life on this side of heaven.

    This Friday’s quote comes from the Puritan, Richard Sibbes, from one of the books that has impacted me the most, The Bruised Reed, which I read in the midst of one of the most difficult seasons of my life and God used it to greatly comfort me. There is healing in these words from “The Heavenly Doctor Sibbes”:

    “(Christ) is a meek king; he will admit mourners into his presence, a king of poor and afflicted persons. As he has beams of majesty, so he has a heart of mercy and compassion. He is the prince of peace (Isa. 9:6). Why was he tempted, but that he might ‘succour them that are tempted’ (Heb. 2:18)? What mercy may we not expect from so gracious a Mediator (1 Tim. 2:5) who took our nature upon him that he might be gracious?…

    What should we learn from this, but to ‘come boldly to the throne of grace’ (Heb. 4:16) in all our grievances? Shall our sins discourage us, when he appears there only for sinners? Are you bruised? Be of good comfort, he calls you. Conceal not your wounds, open all before him and take not Satan’s counsel. Go to Christ, although trembling, as the poor woman who said, ‘If I may but touch his garment’ (Matt. 9:21). We shall be healed and have a gracious answer… Peace and joy are two main fruits of Christ’s kingdom. Let the world be as it will, if we cannot rejoice in the world, yet we may rejoice in the Lord. His presence makes any condition comfortable.” The Bruised Reed, p. 8-9

    Our Eyes Are On You

    Looking Up

    “We don’t know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” 2 Chronicles 20:12

    At times, the believer may find himself in a place where he is completely distraught, totally dismayed, and utterly burdened beyond his own strength.

    He may feel just as Jehoshaphat did when the armies of the Moabites and Ammonites and Meunites gathered together against him for battle:

    “For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us.”

    Notice that Jehoshaphat had no plan: “We don’t know what to do”. He also had no power: “For we are powerless against this great horde”.

    He was completely powerless, defenseless, helpless, and weak. He had no strength to face his enemies. He didn’t know what to do.

    Have you ever felt this way?

    What Are We To Do When We Don’t Know What To Do?

    We can learn a lot from this passage of Scripture.

    Though Jehoshaphat had no plan and no power, what he did have was faith and trust in the Sovereign, all-powerful King of the Universe:

    And Jehoshaphat stood in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the Lord, before the new court, and said, “O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you… Our eyes are on you.” (2 Chronicles 20:5-6; 12, ESV)

    Here’s what we are to do when we don’t know what to do:

    We lift our eyes heavenward to the One who can help us in our distress.

    Our Eyes Are On You

    When our eyes are on our enemies, we will be dismayed and full of fear. When our eyes are on ourselves, we will be discouraged and we’ll lose heart. But, when our eyes are on the God of heaven, we will be assured of his help and will receive his strength.

    The psalmist said,

    I lift up my eyes to the hills.
    From where does my help come?
    My help comes from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth. (Psalm 121: 1-2, ESV)

    Jehoshaphat lifted his eyes to the God of heaven and he was marvelously helped (see 2 Chronicles 20). His enemies were routed, and he was rescued by divine deliverance.

    Our God saves. He offers us a gracious invitation in the midst of our distress,

    “Call upon me in the day of trouble;
    I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” (Psalm 50:15, ESV)

    Let us remember that all who are in Christ have already been rescued from our greatest distress. And if God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, how will He not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32).

    When we’re in trouble, let us follow Jehoshaphat’s example and make this simple but powerful plea to the God of heaven:

    “We don’t know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” 2 Chronicles 20:12

    May we receive His help, and in turn give Him all the glory.

    The Only Way to Really Be Happy

    iStock_000006218537The Way to Be Happy

    On Fridays, I’ve decided to post quotes from some of my favorite authors as a way for me to review golden nuggets of truth and keep them in the forefront of my own heart and mind throughout the year.

    I also hope it serves you, as a reader of RevivingTheSoul in offering comfort, encouragement, and strength for your own journey in the ups and downs of life on this side of heaven.

    The first quote in my Friday favorites is from JC Ryle, a 19th Century Anglican pastor whose writings have greatly served my soul:

    “The only way to be really happy in such a world as this, is to be ever casting all our cares on God. It is trying to carry their own burdens which so often makes believers sad. If they will tell their troubles to God, he will enable them to bear them as easily as Samson did the gates of Gaza. If they are resolved to keep them to themselves, they will find one day that the very grasshopper is a burden.

    There is a friend ever waiting to help us, if we will unbosom to him our sorrow – a friend who pitied the poor and sick and sorrowful, when he was upon the earth – a friend who knows the heart of man, for he lived thirty-three years as a man among us – a friend who can weep with the weepers, for he was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief – a friend who is able to help us, for there never was earthly pain he could not cure. That friend is Jesus Christ. The way to be happy is to be always opening our hearts to him. Oh that we were all like that poor Christian who only answered, when threatened and punished, ‘I must tell the Lord.’

    Jesus can make those happy who trust him and call on him, whatever be their outward condition. He can give them peace of heart in a prison, contentment in the midst of poverty, comfort in the midst of bereavements, joy on the brink of the grave. There is a mighty fullness in him for all his believing members – a fullness that is ready to be poured out on every one that will ask in prayer. Oh that men would understand that happiness does not depend on outward circumstances, but on the state of the heart.” A Call to Prayer, p. 23-24

    Hopefully, now you can see why JC Ryle is one of my favorite authors.

    Over the years, my heart has been strangely warmed by his company and directed again-and-again to my Savior, Jesus Christ, and the good news we have in the gospel of his grace.

    May we all open our hearts to him and enjoy what it’s like to be really happy in such a world as this!

    For more of JC Ryle, you can read my post A Never-Failing Passport for Our Prayers. You are also invited to sign up for the RevivingTheSoul email newsletter through the link below so you don’t miss any posts.