“This can’t keep going on,” my pastor friend told me. “I need to do something.” A couple of relentless critics had worn him thin and brittle. Generally, his church was in a season of blessing despite Covid. But you know how it is. All his energy was draining into this dead sea. He called looking for some encouragement.
As it happened, I’d been thinking about David’s prayer for protection in Psalm 16, “Keep me safe, my God, for in you I take refuge.” My friend needed that prayer. He was in danger—not only from his critics but also from his own disoriented, souring heart. If he wasn’t careful, he could do damage.
One of the ways David sought God’s protection was this:
I will praise the Lord, who counsels me;
Even at night my heart instructs me.
I keep my eyes always on the Lord.
With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken. (Psalm 16:7-8)
Occasionally, the Lord’s counsel comes as straightforward problem-solving—“do this; do that”—but not nearly so often as we’d like. I used to tell my pastoral counseling students, “Your people will come to you for counsel about marriage, kids, jobs, decisions—all kinds of things, but almost no one will ever ask you to help them with their souls. Don’t let that throw you off. It’s always about their souls.” So it is when we seek God’s counsel. God always starts with our souls.
David gave us Psalm 4 as a model prayer for the put-upon. I call it a prayer for sleepless nights. “Answer me when I call to you, my righteous God,” he moaned. “Give me relief from my distress.” Look at Psalm 4 yourself. It will take a good deal longer to pray those eight verses than to read them but they’re holy therapy. By the end of his prayer, David turned off his light, fluffed his pillow and whispered, “In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.” Mind you, nothing in his circumstances had changed, but his heart was strong again.
Praying with our Bible in hand brings our hearts into alignment with Christ. Remember, we are invited to come boldly to God’s throne of grace for his merciful help in our time of need. But we do need to come and not just blither out in his courtyard. There, before our merciful Father, we can find release from our guilt, the strong medicine of humility for our conflict-stiffened neck, replenishment of lost love, and the wisdom to season our words with holiness. We remember, “With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”
It takes time to pray our souls back to health but when we do we bring Jesus’ own love, grace, clarity, and holy restraint to dangerous or precarious relationships. We become catalysts instead of just being players . Do you recall how Peter told the wives of unsaved husbands that “they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.” That works for pastors, too. Christlike character is catalytic, even without words!
My friend griped a little when I walked him through this. "This isn't what you're supposed to do when I call you,” he said, chuckling. “You're supposed to tell me I'm right and they're being stupid.” Then he said. “But I'm thankful that you called attention to the insensitivities in my own heart.”
That’s why we praise God for his counsel. Because it’s always about the soul.
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.