A question started nagging me after I’d been in ministry a while: Is my Father ever proud of me? The question wasn’t rooted in my past. My folks were always kind and affirming. Actually, it was Jesus’ own words that weighed heavily on me. In Luke 17:10 he said of servants, “So you, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’” And Luke 12:48, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” I would labor on as faithfully as I could but still I wondered and yearned for God’s pleasure.
After I’d prayed and worked hard on a sermon I’d wonder, did Jesus like it? Did he like how I explained a difficult part or how the conclusion came together? When I listened well and responded wisely in a counseling session, did he think, “Nice job”? When I managed my frustrations in a meeting and was kind instead of abrupt, did he smile with satisfaction? Maybe being proud of me isn’t the best way to put it, but that’s how it settled in my mind.
These days it hasn’t been easy for pastors to take much pride in your own work. Perhaps you’ve watched helplessly as your people fought or as they suffered. Maybe you’ve wondered if you’ll have anything to show for all your work. A lot of pastors have never felt so weak or so unfruitful. I remember thinking that I’d like to hear Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” now, when the uncertainty and inadequacy weighed so heavily on me.
When Paul thanked God for the Thessalonians he pointed to “your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by our hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” There’s no way God heard Paul’s thanksgiving and thought, “Dial it back, Paul. They’re just servants doing their duty.” And so it is for you, dear shepherds.
Remember what God told Samuel, “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
It may have taken a pandemic, but I suspect a lot more pastors are “lowly and contrite in heart” now than in the past. Such hearts are God’s second home. Shepherds have had little else left but to focus on simply finding ways to care about the souls of their weary and wandering sheep. For that, our Good Shepherd is grateful. When you were wounded by your own congregation you were sharing in Christ’s suffering and he welcomed your company. Even when your prayers were frail and frightened the Lord was glad to be sought. When you took up your Bibles to find your way forward in the fog, the Lord was pleased. In all these things, the Lord no longer calls us servants, but friends.
How could one who loves us so deeply as our Father, who gave his one and only Son to save and transform us, who dispatched his own Spirit to empower, gift, and teach us, and who called us to serve his beloved people, how could he not delight in our earnest work for Jesus? If we, being sinful, delight in seeing our children at their best, how could our Father not be proud of us?
Be ye glad!
Lee Eclov recently retired after 40 years of local pastoral ministry and now focuses on ministry among pastors. He is the author of Feels Like Home: How Rediscovering the Church as Family Changes Everything and Pastoral Graces: Reflections on the Care of Souls (Moody Publishers), as well as being a frequent contributor to Preaching Today and CT Pastors. To learn more about his Pastors' Gatherings visit www.leeeclov.com.