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)

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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.

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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!