Patmos Journal – #7

April 29, 2020

Anxious

I’m up really early again. For some reason the Lord is hitting the alarm for me around 4 a.m. So I’ll read His Word here in a quiet office, and see what I could pen about it for us, today.

Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way. Psalm 139:23-24

Living these days in a constant state of being anxious for everyone, every situation and every need is exhausting, full-time work. It drains your thoughts, days, joy, nights, health, outlook, relationships, resources, attitude and faith. It is a big job that only the strongest, bravest, most resourceful and tireless can fulfill. Many try out; a few stay the course to its bitter end.

Me? I had to fire myself from the job. My self-termination was for lying on my resume, lack of performance, poor outcomes, and the nagging uneasy truth that I was in way beyond my skill set.

Sure, I’ll try to explain this for us all.

Even reflecting back to 1986, I am unable to pinpoint a particular call or moment when I looked toward vocational pastoral ministry. I had far different plans for my life, and pursued education and degrees to make that a reality. “Most likely to succeed” had produced dreams for me of travel, adventure, publication, and advancement. I came to faith in Christ at age 19, but it took years for the Lord to change my stubborn self-direction. But by His grace, He did.

Looking at it after these years, I can say that my entrance into ministry mainly developed from being heavily involved in the local church. That led to an openness to seek what God was presenting, and then to getting equipped as He provided ways and means. There’s probably a lesson in there for parents with kids, and their local church involvement–but that’s another day.

Leaning toward “career” ministry, there were sober cautions from other pastors to weigh the decision carefully. There was never a voice from heaven, a descent of doves, chorale voices or a particular aura surrounding me. Paula would argue the “aura” bit, especially after I’ve spent a long day outside in gardening, mowing or other sweaty activity. But I digress…

I had the wonderful grace of a solid Bible school and then a seminary that were led by men of faith and prayer. I had reinforced truth that beyond the mechanics of “how to,” a pastor must have a strong, patient and enduring love for the local church and the many who together form the body of Christ in that place.

It is stunning for this old guy to see so many who are in “ministry” today seeking notoriety, mega-success, “big” publicity and ladder-climbing for their personal professional achievement. They can be spotted easily by their words, sheep-driving priorities, and pit-stop tenures. It is a heart of covetousness that sees the flock as a stepping stool to the hired hand’s next level; it certainly is not a shepherd’s heart. It certainly is not the Lord’s heart. May the Lord speedily kill off this cancer of professionalism that consumes and defrauds the flock, eating away at the vitality of the church. I read God’s word, the book of Jeremiah, and have been found to weep with him.

So much for that digression…

So back to the thrust of this Psalm 139 I read through this morning–and I would encourage you to read it completely as well. David beautifully pictures the Lord’s omnipresence and His omniscience. I take great delight in reading these words and with all my heart bow before the truth as amplified there.  But the antithesis of this truth concerning His unsurpassed presence and knowledge, I often have tried to avoid. That is, simply the fact that I am not. I am not omnipresent. I am not omniscient. I am not… God.  A Pastor is not a superhero. He cannot fix it all. Matter of fact, he can’t even fix himself…

From a pastor’s heart, acknowledgment of this truth is humbling, freeing, and binding, all at the same time. It is humbling, because pride in workmanship, doing heartily unto the Lord, being a shepherd/pastor/teacher, realizing a stewardship, wanting to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant…” all of these things can mask a pride in self, as if I indeed would have the wherewithal to accomplish things for my Lord without His empowerment moment by moment. How much He needs to increase, and I need to decrease.

It is freeing, because I cannot be God. I cannot do the work of the Spirit for another, and I am finite and limited in my earthly role. God is God, and I am accountable to Him for what He bids me to come and do. The arenas that are His, will remain His–and I dare not intrude into an office that would trespass that boundary.

It is binding, because I am accountable to live and labor for Him. Far from, “Let go and let God,” there is work to be done in His strength that He has appointed for me. Same for you. To excuse timidity, sloth, ease, or any other shirk by claiming, “God will work it out” is the height of fleshly arrogance and flagrant neglect of duty for the King.

So this Psalm 139 ends with this word: Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way. Psalm 139:23-24

I achieve nothing but frustration for allowing anxiety to control me. These are hard times, and I hurt with the hurting and in many ways know deep hurt myself. But God knows my heart, revealing to me through the Word and His Spirit the things that are to be embraced, removed, avoided, and restored. Much like the admonition of Paul to Timothy:

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NASB)

For me, it is a liberating thing to realize that hurting for the real sorrows of this time is not a “hurtful way” itself. My response to those hurts can be God-directed; for prayer, action, guided words, and strategic planning. The “hurtful way” would be a response of dropping into anxiety, and then either making panicked, “I’m in control” blunders, or freezing up and withdrawing even more when the need is for men and women of God to stand, and follow His leading in the everlasting way.

So I will do as He bids me, in His strength, and not abdicate my call or role because of the “lion in the streets” excuse of fear, struggle, or inconvenience. I trust it could go the same with you. We have the joy to serve, and serve with, so many with varied gifts and abilities within this body. Yet we are one in Him. This is a time for the church to be the church, and to fully lean upon our Lord as we labor in the proclamation of the Gospel- His will for us-whether it be a quiet or a tumultuous season.

And remember: Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7 (NASB)

Time for coffee. A good start to what the Lord will be leading me to in this good day.