In the last Ask Pastor John episode 218, you said you believed the pressures of pastoral life — the need to prepare sermons, and devotions, and talks, and lessons, and homilies for all kinds of occasions — were God’s means of giving you more insight into Scripture for the sake of your people, probably giving you more insights from God than you might have if you had been given more time for study in the academic life. Is this just based on your experience? Or are there passages from the Bible to explain this dynamic?
What I said was a real fear when I left Bethel after teaching for six years, and God seemed to be driving me into the pastoral ministry where I knew there would be a lot more pressured preparation than leisure for study.
Special Grace for Pressured Pastors
What I said was I didn’t find it to be the case. I found that God seems to love his people in such a way that when a pastor is pressured to have to get a message ready for them, he makes up for any deficiency in time by just opening him in ways that he wouldn’t open him to the text in any other way. And, yes, there have been texts that have really made a difference in my thinking about that. And I will mention just a few here.
For example, I love the text where Jesus says to Peter,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.” (John 21:17)
I can’t tell you how often, Tony, I have read that with a personal word from the Lord, like the Lord is saying to John Piper, “Feed my sheep.” And it never felt like a burden to me. It always felt like, If you command this, Lord, you will surely bless my effort to find the food, right? Won’t you? You just said, “Feed my sheep.” Would you leave me over this text without insight for the feeding of the sheep that you just told me to feed? So that text has just made a huge impact. I felt like in all my preparations, God was smiling. He was saying, “Good. You are preparing to obey tomorrow or Sunday. You are preparing to obey me, so go at it. I will help you.”
Faithful Stewards of God’s House
And here is another one. Luke 12:42–43 is a picture of the second coming. It goes like this:
And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager [or steward], whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time. Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes.”
And that text has always comforted me when I thought about the urgency of so many causes in the world that I could be spending time on when I am studying to get ready for a message.
I always wondered, Am I doing the right thing here? Should I be involved more with the poor, more with missions, more with the homeless, more with pro-life efforts, more with American-Indian ministries right down the street in my own city, more with the Somalis across the highway, more with the business community, more with students, more with the elderly? I mean, pastors, we deal with so many possibilities of ministry that if we are wired a certain way, like me, we are always wondering, Have I got my priorities figured out right here? And this text steadied my hand so many times.
It said to me this: If Jesus comes back today, he would find me at my steward post, at my manager post, having listened to the command, “Give them their portion of food at the proper time.” That was my job. And I was the household steward at Bethlehem. God expected his household to be fed. And it seemed to me that if I did that well, if I was obedient in obeying that command, God would see to it that these well-nourished household members would pursue all those causes, many of which I wasn’t doing nearly as much as I could be. So that text in Luke 12 has been huge for me.
And another one is Matthew 10:19 where Jesus says, “When they deliver you over [to courts], do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given you in that hour.”
Now I know that is a text designed for Christians under great duress, but the application seemed to me to be this: If God promises to give us what we need in a crisis moment when we have no means of preparing, would he not do the same in the steady state daily, weekly feeding of his flock?
Is God saying here, “I am only interested in the moment of urgency?” or is he saying, “I love my flock. I love when truth is spoken to people outside the church and people in the church. And so where you are set to obey to speak what I want spoken, I will give you what you need, even if it is three days before the talk happens”?
God Faithfully Feeds
And, oh goodness, there are so many more. Let me just mention maybe one more — the feeding of the five thousand. I have felt like this little boy so many times. I mean Jesus says to the disciples, “You give them something to eat.” Alright? So he is saying to John Piper, “You give them something to eat.” Lord, there are going to be five thousand people there or five people there. And sometimes those messages of five are just as hard as the ones with five thousand. “You give them something to eat.” And I say back to him, “I feel like a little boy who has got a sack lunch, and you are telling me to feed this people with my sack lunch?” And the boy gave it to him, and he fed them. He fed them (see Mark 6:30–44).
So it has seemed to me that whenever Jesus says to a pastor, “You give them something to eat,” he won’t let us down. He will come through and take our little five loaves and two fish in ability and weakness and turn it into a feast for our people. So my answer to the question is yes, the Bible has had a lot to say to me as I have thought about the pressured life of the pastor trying to come up with food for his people without all the leisure that he would like to have to think through. God is just totally committed to help us in this.