Good pastors always love their people. To be sure, there are some sheep who test our limits, but God infuses his shepherds’ DNA with his own deep love for his sheep. As surely as we can do nothing without Christ so we can accomplish nothing without Christ’s love for the people we serve.
We aren’t running a business, of course. We’re not babysitters nor hired hands. We help parent the family of God. Paul told the Thessalonians that he had been like both a mother and father to them, and so it is for us.
The challenge is that love always faces frontiers, detours, and roadblocks. We don’t always know what loving well requires. How can one person love so many? How do we love the misfits, the irregulars? How do we love without getting swallowed up. Plus, we bring our own love-limiting baggage, which we might recognize but often do not.
Love takes us to the end of our wisdom and resources. And that is why we need to pray, and to pray well, for ourselves and our people. Like this:
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. (Phil. 1:9-11)
Pray “that your love may abound more and more.” Because love wants to go farther and deeper, to expand and bear fruit. Because love wearies and wanes, and gets derailed and diminished by sin. When we pray well God revitalizes our love.
“[I]n knowledge and depth of insight.” I always told premarital couples that their challenge would not be to love much but to love well . Love takes thought and wisdom more than passion. Pray for discerning love before strategic planning, sermon preparation, counseling, staff meetings, and hospital calls. Pray deliberately. Take time to listen to the Lord, to think through what to say or do, and to take stock of your mind and heart. Then bring love to the table.
“[S]o that you may be able to discern what is best ….” Poor judgment is an occupational hazard for pastors because we work in the realm of the counterintuitive. The King we serve doesn’t govern like any other ruler. He is servant-hearted to the core. He is so deliberate and patient. He is humble and expects the same from us. We pray for our King to reorient us to his kingdom ways for each task.
“… [A]nd may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ ….” Praying well for love invites God to change us from the inside out. Loving others well makes us Christlike. It cleans us; purges us. Sometimes the only way to see what clouds or clogs our love is with our heads bowed and our eyes closed. Love elbows pride out of the way and gradually endows us with “the same mindset as Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5-11).
“[F]illed with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God”—a cornucopia of righteousness harvested from the abundant love the Lord produced in us. There is not one righteous thought or deed that is not born of love—our love for the Lord certainly, but always also our love for one another.
When all is finally clear and complete, God will be praised forever that the likes of us could have loved so well. Amen.
Be ye glad!
Lee Eclov recently retired after 40 years of local pastoral ministry and now focuses on ministry among pastors. He writes a weekly devotional for preachers on Preaching Today.