5 Posts from May 2012

What’s Your Motive?

During my days in seminary, I formed a habit that has helped me immensely throughout almost 50 years of pastoral ministry. I had my artistic sister, Luci, print a simple, three-word question on a small rectangular card I placed on the wall above the desk where I spent so much of my time.

Just black letters on a white card, with a bold question mark at the end:


I no longer have the card, but the question is now indelibly etched on my mind. I ask it almost every day of my life. It has proven to be an essential checkpoint I now apply on a regular basis:

Why are you planning this?

What’s the reason behind your doing that?

Why did you say yes (or no)?

What is the motive for writing that letter?

Why are you excited over this opportunity?

What causes you to bring up that subject?

Why did you mention his or her name?

What’s your motive, Swindoll?

Searching, probing, penetrating questions.

Because the path of servanthood is so perilous, we need to cultivate a sensitive walk with God marked by obedience.


Three Timely Lessons for Pastors

In recent posts, I have written about God’s servants feeling used and unappreciated, experiencing undeserved disrespect and resentment, and having hidden greed—a desire to be rewarded.

From these very real and common perils, there emerge at least three timely lessons for all of us pastors to remember.

Lesson one: no servant of God is completely safe. A tough truth to accept! We who give and give become increasingly more vulnerable as time passes (read John 15:20). Truth be told, there are times we’ll get ripped off. We will be
used . . . even misused. We will feel unappreciated. But realizing ahead of time this will happen, we are better equipped to handle it when it comes. The proper perspective will guard us against stumbling into peril. Lean hard on the Master when you serve others.

Lesson two: most of our deeds will be initially unrewarded. That’s a basic axiom we must live with and accept (read Hebrews 6:10). If you are the type of minister who needs a lot of strokes from people, who has to be appreciated before you can continue very long, you’d better reexamine your motives. More often than not, you will be overlooked, passed up, placed behind the scenes, and remain virtually unknown. Your reward will not come from without but from within. Not from people but from the satisfaction God gives you down inside.

Much of the ministry requires this mentality. We pastors may stand at the door of the church following our sermons and shake hands with the flock as everybody says nice things about us (my friend Howard Hendricks calls this “the glorification of the worm,” a description I certainly agree with). But in reality, if we preach for those few moments of flattery—and most of us don’t—we are in the wrong business.

Lesson three: all motives must be honestly searched. Before jumping to a conclusion or making a decision, think to ask yourself why (read Acts 24:16). Before accepting any tangible gifts of gratitude (and there are occasions when such is perfectly acceptable), probe into your reason for doing so.

Let’s continually check our motives, fellow servant.


Hidden Greed

The prophet Elisha’s servant, Gehazi, was the bearer of news the Syrian officer, Naaman, did not want to hear. As a result, the soldier threw a fit. But do you know what later happened to Naaman? He finally did precisely what he was told to do, and he received the miraculous result he had been promised (2 Kings 5:14).

Unlike many people whom you and I may help in the ministry, Naaman returned to thank Elisha and Gehazi. He was so overwhelmed, he offered a sizable gift of gratitude. Elisha refused any tangible thank you (5:15–19). But that’s not the end of the account. Naaman offered Gehazi a gift as well. Deep within the heart of Elisha’s servant crouched a silent beast of the soul. It is perhaps the subtlest peril every pastor or servant of God must endure: hidden greed.

This is the secret, smoldering desire to be rewarded, applauded, and exalted. Elisha said, “No.” No way did he want to the soldier ever to say, “Elisha did it for what he would get out of it,” which prompted the prophet to respond as he did—“I will take nothing” (5:16). But Gehazi was cut from another piece of cloth. Maybe he was weary of feeling used and unappreciated, or perhaps he made just enough to get by on a shoestring. Whatever his reasoning, he possessed some strong personal feelings, since he second-guessed Elisha’s decision (5:20), falsified the story when he met up with Naaman (5:22), and attempted to cover his tracks when he later stood before his master (5:25). Gehazi’s end was tragic.

Exposed and sternly judged, Gehazi experienced a horrible punishment—leprosy (5:25–27). Gehazi had not only gone against the decision of the prophet, he had lied to him when confronted with his deeds.

The servant was accountable! Accountability is essential in order for any servant of God to remain pure and pliable clay in the Master’s hand.

Frankly, I’m grateful such extreme consequences don’t happen to us today when our motives are wrong. If they did, churches would be full of people with leprosy—starting with mine. How essential is this reminder!


Good Will Come

As a pastor, counselor, and seminary chancellor, I have often found myself in an unpopular spot. An individual who has come to me pours out his or her soul. And God very clearly leads me to confront or point out a few specifics that the person finds rather painful to hear, not to mention accept.

Suddenly, I become the verbal punching bag.

Now understand, I didn’t write the Book, and I in no way view myself as the individual’s judge, even though the person may think I do. But I have had counselees scream at me, curse, stomp out of the room, and share with me a piece of their mind they couldn’t afford to lose. Some wait until later and write me one of those flaming missiles that burns your eyes when you read it.

And what did I do to deserve that treatment? I told the truth. I simply carried a message as tactfully and well-timed as possible, but it was rejected—at least for a while.

But the payoff comes later when the person realizes the truth was told and I really had his or her good at heart.

I suppose the moral of the story is this: being God’s servant may not be very pleasant or safe, but when you do and say what is right—unpopular though it may be—good will come.

Or better, in the words of Solomon:

When a man’s ways are pleasing to the Lord,
He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him. (Proverbs 16:7)


Dealing with Disrespect and Resentment

All of us pastors remember a man named Naaman, the high-ranking Syrian soldier. He was influential, wealthy, proud—a man of dignity, courage, patriotism, and military clout. There was only one problem: the man had leprosy. Through a chain of interesting events, Naaman was led to Elisha for cleansing from his dread disease (2 Kings 5:1–14).

It fell to Elisha’s servant to be the bearer of news the Syrian officer did not want to hear. As we read in the account, the high-ranking soldier was offended. In fact, he became enraged. And look who was caught in the crossfire—the servant! The dear guy didn’t generate the news, he just communicated it . . . and boom! The result? Feeling and hearing the verbal blows of disrespect and resentment. You probably know where I’m going with this.

There are times when God’s servant is called upon to confront or in some way tell another person the truth that the individual does not want to hear. (One of the tough responsibilities of the pastorate.) The information may be painful to accept, but it is what God wants said. So the faithful servant says it. Graciously yet accurately. And all of a sudden the lid blows sky high. He is caught in the crossfire. What do you do in such precarious moments? Fight back? Yell and scream and threaten in return? Search for a quiet pastorate way out in the country?

Listen to God’s counsel to servants whose job it is to say hard things:

The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.
(2 Timothy 2:24–26)

What wise counsel! Not quarrelsome, but kind. Not irritated, but patient . . . even when wronged. Not angry, but gentle.

God may be using your words to help the hearers “come to their senses,” which may sound very noble. But, believe me, there are times it’s not a lot to write home about. Hang tough. Stand firm. Never compromise. But remember how Paul said to communicate truth: be kind . . . be patient . . . with gentleness.