Brothers, co-laborers in the Lord. News just hit that a fellow pastor who was somewhat local to us took his own life. My heart grieves for his family, the church, and how the world takes this information. I will be praying for them for God’s great comfort to come upon them (2 Corinthians 1:3). Earlier this year The Christian Post had an article about the isolation of pastors and how depression hits hard for them. They gave staggering statistics on how depression and other areas of mental health effects those in pastoral positions. It is a hard position.
The Christian life is called a race (Hebrews 12). This race is not a sprint but a marathon. The marathon is more just a long distance run, it is like combing that with a spartan race. The Christian life is also called a battle (Ephesians 6). We are told these things not to have us grow weary but to finish strong to endure!
As this may seem bleak and wearisome, we are reminded of the joys that come from following the Lord. Our sins have been taken, death is swallowed up, we are more than conquers in Christ and nothing can separate us from God’s love (Romans 8:37). We can agree with King David who sang,
“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11).”
Or, like the Apostle Paul wrote though he was in prison and in chains said,
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice (Philippians 4:4)”
The Christian life is a race and a battle, the pastorate then is the projection and living example of it for others to see. It is these items of joy and battle that are on display for the body of Christ. The pastoral ministry is full of joy and sorrow. Happiness and grief. You deal with the spiritual celebrations that come with progress and the hurt and sadness of sin. I feel as if the verse “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep (Romans 12:13)” happen at moments simultaneously. The longer we are in ministry the more we rejoice and weep with others. When one rejoices in Christ with true love we rejoice. When one grieves, because of the bond or unity of the Spirit that we have, we grieve alongside of them.
Brothers, as a pastor people come and bear their souls more than share their praise. We hear the struggles, the pains, the worries, and the weight of our congregation. We visit the saints who are stricken with disease. We come alongside those who have been affected by the sins of others and are hurt. This is our responsibilities as shepherds. It has been said that of the pastorate that it is a lonely place. A place where only those that are pastors understand.
It was the apostle Paul who shared not only the physical persecution that he faced through his missionary journeys but we also read about the spiritual weight that he faced. After listing all the different types of trials that he faced to proclaim the Gospel such as being whipped, beaten, left for dead, shipwrecked he also said,
“And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches (2 Corinthians 11:28).”
Brothers, that is why the importance of self-watch is necessary. We also need to be mindful of one another, our burdens as brothers, and individually with watching over our self. We can reflect on the many different stories of pastors who have been disqualified from the pulpit whether immoral failure, misappropriation of funds, or abuse of power because they did not keep watch over themselves. There is another side of watchfulness and that is the burden of ministry, the pressure to perform, the needs of the congregation and if we do not watch ourselves these can take our eyes off of our precious Savior, Jesus. Brothers, I encourage be watchful!
I see this in my own life that I need to be watchful! Not only do I need to guard against lust, pride, and power. I also need to guard against worry, fear, and anxiety. When others bear the hearts to me, I share in that burden. I care, I love them!
It was about two years ago that after a midweek study I was having some pretty strong lower chest pains and I decided to go to the emergency room. They ran several tests and everything came back negative but I realized as I was laying in the bed, I was having a panic attack. See, in this season of my life I have had some health struggles that were not clearing up. There were changes in ministry and I really didn’t handle all of these things well. There sprang upon me a darkness that I couldn’t describe. Conversations with my wife, Alyssa went with, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me” and “I can’t describe what I am feeling.” There is a weight that comes with depression. I will say as that was the first time that happened to me, it also was a time that brought me closer to the Lord. What does it mean to be watchful?
Throughout the New Testament you see how the believer is to watch over himself. I am thankful for Brian Hedges and his book Watchfulness where this section is from.
- Ephesians 5:15– Look carefully how you walk not as unwise but as wise.
The word to look carefully means to be on guard or alert. It is like Indiana Jones looking for that lost artifact looking carefully not to set off the boobytraps.
- Or Ephesians 6:18 when Paul is describing to be ready and to wear the armor of God, he says, “praying always with all prayer and supplication in the spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all saints.
- Hebrews 13:17-Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
This word watchful can also be translated to stay awake. There is this wakefulness that we need to have with our Christian walk. We do not run or fight sleepily, or idly. We are engaged, careful, and intentional.
- Galatians 6:1-Brothers,if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.
The word that Paul uses for keep watch here, also is where we have the word scope like telescope, microscope, to look out intently for. You are examining your life and processes.
- Or, 1 Timothy 4:16- To the pastor, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching.
Paul uses a word that means to hold fast to something. You got a kung fu grip that you wont let go of truth and how to walk in that truth.
The only way we can do this, just like me I am prone to wander. I am not always watchful. Looking to Jesus as my hope and help, my Savior and friend falls sometimes with the burdens of ministry. I tend to have those become bigger than my big and great Savior. The only fix to wandering is God’s goodness and grace. We must preach to ourselves daily of the great Gospel messageThe words from an old Hymn, Come Though Fount of Every blessing written be Robert Robinson remind me of this truth.
Oh, to grace what a debtor
Daily I am constrained to be!
Let thy goodness like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to thee:
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, oh, take, and seal it;
Seal it for Thy courts above.
Praying for you, co-laborers in the Lord!
A few other resources to help:
- The Imperfect Pastor by Zack Eswine
- A Note to Self by Joe Thorn
- Zeal Without Burnout by Christopher Ash
- Reset by David Murray