When push comes to shove—which is exactly what happens in churches sometimes—pastors realize how insecure our positions are. Veteran pastors have this in common with the old gunslingers: we don’t like to sit with our backs to the door. We know who’s crouching there.
Our ministry risks and wounds should drive us to our knees and it is there that David hands us a prayer we need—Psalm 16.
Keep me safe, my God,
for in you I take refuge.
I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
apart from you I have no good thing.”
Then David catalogs the good protections of God’s covenant love, beginning with his “holy people.” After that, we remember our untouchable inheritance.
Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup;
you make my lot secure.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
surely I have a delightful inheritance. (Psalm 16:5-6)
Ministry impoverishes us in some ways. We go to bed hungry at heart. We begin to wonder who’s hiding under our beds. That’s why we pray; to reorient our souls and to check our investments.
In the Lord we live large. Christ feeds us a heaping portion of God! Our cup—our draught of destiny—is Yahweh himself. It turns out that our estate is grander than our eyes can see. When we someday walk its perimeter we will be surprised how broad the boundaries were all along, how bright and beautiful the landscape that once seemed so hardscrabble.
As I stepped into my last year of pastoral work I had the uneasy feeling that I had grown too dispassionate about the Lord. I’d read of others who were aflame for Christ and I wasn’t like that. I felt that perhaps God needed to take me to the woodshed for some stern words and correction.
Lent was approaching so I thought it would be the right season to take my medicine. I soberly decided I would endure a 36-hour fast each week, from Wednesday evening till Friday morning. I determined to set aside three hours on those Thursday mornings in order to listen to God and do a serious attitude check. I wasn’t dreading those times exactly but I didn’t expect them to be easy either. That first Quiet Thursday I was unsure of just how to proceed so I got low and quiet before God and waited for the stern words I’d been expecting.
Without really realizing quite what was happening, I found myself watching scenes from my life—little short clips from all different seasons, instances where God had taken care of me, disciplined me, taught me, blessed, and even honored me. I was caught up in those quickly passing scenes with no sense of time, watching my God-blessed life pass before my eyes. I could see Providence smiling even behind once-dark clouds. Then, after an hour of this, as if my documentary was ending, these words concluded the presentation: “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.”
My Quiet Thursdays became precious. When the Father did talk soberly with me about some harbored sin, he was so kind and patient. I began to approach those hours as though entering my own Tent of Meeting where the very oxygen was God’s love for me. The hunger of fasting simply embodied my yearning for God.
I usually sing benedictions at the end of worship services. One of my favorites is by Michael Card. In the first verse God promises, “In this fearful, fallen place I will be your home,” and in the second, “From this fearful, fallen place I will bring you home.” Either way, the boundary lines have fallen for us in pleasant places!
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.