3 Posts from June 2011

Pastoral Discouragement

While reading Psalm 5, I see that David is down in the dumps . . . just plain discouraged. Whatever his pressures were, they prompted him to compose an ancient hymn. Unless I miss my guess, he composed it in a minor key.

I seriously doubt that there is any subject more timely than discouragement. Especially for those of us in ministry! So many pastors I meet are playing out their entire lives in a minor key. There is the grinding discouragement that follows unachieved goals or failed relationships. Some are discouraged over their marriages which began with such promise but now seem weak, borderline hopeless. Lingering ill-health can discourage and demoralize its victims, especially when the pain won’t go away. And who can’t identify with those ministers who gave it their best shot yet took it on the chin from a few self-appointed critics? The discouragement brought on by several back-to-back criticisms cannot be exaggerated. It could be that David was just picking himself up off the mat when another stinging comment knocked him back to his knees . . . hence the birth of Psalm 5.

Many a discouraged servant of God has identified with this song down through the centuries. Frequently, the words just above the first verse (which comprise the superscription) set forth the historical backdrop of the song.

Check this out—glance just above verse 1 in the King James Version of the Bible, you will see that David desired this song to be played “upon Nehiloth.” A nehiloth was an ancient woodwind instrument, something like today’s flute or oboe. An oboe is a double-reed instrument giving a sad-sounding whine as it is played. Its penetrating tone causes it to be used frequently as a solo instrument.

David refused to stumble about stoop-shouldered, carrying his burdens throughout the day. On the contrary, he took his needs to the Lord each morning. When we think of “placing an order,” we remember one thing that is essential: We have to be specific. Are you specific when you place your morning order? If there is one thing that plagues our prayer meetings and personal petitions it is vagueness. Prof Howie Hendricks calls this “the slimy ooze of indefiniteness.” Could it be our generalities are keeping us from witnessing direct results and specific answers?

After David placed a specific order each morning, he anticipated answers. Expecting God to “fill his order,” he looked forward to that throughout the day. When our outlook is dim in the morning, when discouragement worms its way in and drags us down, a good remedy is to turn our attention upward.

What a difference that makes in our day!

—Chuck

 

Feeling Overlooked

As pastors, it is satisfying to know that we can make a lasting contribution and assist others in their need. Being in the swirl of activity, resourceful and responsive, we tend to think it’ll never end.

But it does. Sometimes ever so slowly through a chain of events or sometimes abruptly without warning, we find ourselves sidelined and no longer in demand. A tiny blood clot in the brain can seize our usefulness and leave us in its devastating grip. Another factor is age . . . merely growing older can move us away from today’s main thoroughfares. By being passed over for a promotion or by being benched because a stronger associate joins the team, we start feeling overlooked. It hurts.

The eighth psalm in God’s ancient hymnal is a great one for those times in our ministries when we begin to be bypassed, set aside, or overlooked. It highlights the value God places upon His creatures, especially humankind. (That includes us pastors!)

Perhaps as you read this you feel alone, maybe even deserted. What a distressing, barren valley is loneliness! But listen to what you’ve been preaching to others! If you have the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, you have a constant Companion and faithful Friend. He never leaves you in the lurch. This psalm is proof positive that He does not consider you as unimportant or overlooked. He isn’t irritated by your coming to Him with your needs. He never looks upon your prayers or requests as interruptions. As the book of James reminds us: He gives “generously and without reproach” (1:5). He also provides good gifts without “variation or shifting shadow” (1:17).

Do you know why? The answer is grace. Sheer, undeserved, unmerited, and unearned favor. Therefore, right now, cast your feelings of insignificance and your struggle with despair on Him. Tell Him that you are claiming this eighth Psalm as a promise of His personal grace, concern, and love for you.

Perhaps David composed Psalm 8 as a victory hymn after defeating the giant Goliath. I challenge you to take that personal “giant” named Feeling Overlooked and ask God to give you victory over him today!

Who knows? Another Goliath could fall by sundown.

—Chuck 

John Donne: An Enduring Companion

John Donne is one of the least-known saints in history. The 17th century poet and preacher endured a life of persecution, pain, unfair imprisonment, and lengthy suffering.

It was during his term as Dean of the great St. Paul’s Cathedral – London’s largest church – that three waves of the Great Plague swept through the city. The last epidemic alone killed 40,000 people. In all, a third of London’s population perished, while a third more fled to the countryside, turning entire residential districts into ghost towns.

Donne’s life had been no picnic. Released from prison and now blackballed, he couldn’t find work. He and his wife Anne lived in grinding poverty, and Anne nearly died from childbirth more than once. Donne himself suffered intense headaches, intestinal cramps, and gout. His longest literary work during this excruciating period of his life was an extended essay on the advantages of suicide.

He decided at the late age of forty-two to seek ordination as an Anglican priest. The year after Donne took his first Anglican church, his beloved Anne died, after having borne him twelve children in all (five of whom died in infancy).

Amazingly, this was the man appointed to St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1621. With all his trials, he hardly seemed a likely candidate to lift his nation’s spirits during that era of the plague. He stayed near his beleaguered parishioners—arising every morning at 4 a.m. and studying until ten at night. He delivered sermons of such power, the vast cathedral remained crowded with worshipers despite London’s declining population.

It was then—at the zenith of his public ministry—his dread disease was diagnosed along with his death sentence. What is noteworthy is that he never “retired” from his calling—and he refused to become a passive recluse. While surviving those dark months, he stayed engaged with people. His life modeled the priceless value of enduring companionships.

Among his best-known writings are lines from his work, Devotions, written only a few years before his death. You may remember some of them:

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent … if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less … any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.1

The importance of our staying engaged in the lives of others cannot be overestimated. Isolation is not only unbiblical and unwise, it is, in fact, unhealthy. You get weird.

Finding and nurturing a few very close companions throughout your years in ministry is a key ingredient to surviving. If you are one of those in that category—you are miles ahead of those who think they can survive on their own.

I must add — you are also rare.

—Chuck

1. John Donne, The Works of John Donne: Dean of Saint Paul’s, 1621-1631, vol. 3, ed. Henry Alford  (London: Parker, 1839), 575.