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My Dear Shepherds,

For us, insecurity is an occupational hazard and a ministry inconsistency. After all, we constantly assure our people of God’s unwavering love and protection yet it seems God so often pushes us to the breaking point of faith and confidence.

There’s a story (true or not, I don’t know) about Teresa of Avila, the tiny, feisty Spanish nun and mystic. She was making her way to her convent during a fierce rainstorm, then slipped down an embankment and fell squarely into the mud. The irrepressible nun looked up to heaven and admonished her Maker, "If this is how You treat Your friends, no wonder You have so few of them!" We all know the feeling.

Imagine what the Ephesian elders felt when Paul bid them farewell for the last time. He’d just warned them that “savage wolves” would arise to tear at their flock. Talk about unsettling! Then he gave them this assurance:

Now I commit you to God and the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified (Acts 20:32).

Paul wasn’t conferring on them a new security they’d not had before. He was reassuring those shepherds—and us—that we are more prepared and able to guard the flock of God than we feel.

“I commit you to God,” our ever present help in trouble. To God, who subverts the schemes of the evil one, turning them to our good. To God, who never sleeps, who always listens, and whose angels guard us in all our ways. To “the Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.” God is committed to us!

To be entrusted to God is security enough but added to that is “the word of his grace.” We preach this gospel message, of course, but for believers that living Word gets into us, like breath into dry bones. It is a vaccine, an antidote, a transfusion. We are recreated, more miraculously by far than when God breathed life into First Adam. Never forget: we have been born again. Therein lies our safety and strength. We have within us, as breath itself, the Spirit of God, and “the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.” We are in Christ, seated in the heavenly realms. We are impervious to the accusations of the devil, no matter how factual they may be. And we are immortal! “O death, where is your sting!”

How strong are good shepherds? God himself guards us and “the word of his grace” is in our blood.

Grace is the most God-blessed word in Scripture. Two specific “words of grace” have anchored my ministry. One, Luke 15:20, sometimes still brings tears to my eyes, “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” The other is the richest verse I know: “And God is able to bless you abundantly [make all grace abound to you], so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8).

Shepherding God’s flock is daunting, to be sure, but we are stronger and abler than we feel, for God’s “word of grace is able to build you up.” That living grace, running through our veins, continues recreating us.

When I was about 35 my name was submitted for a significant leadership role. I gradually realized that I was embarrassed, not only because I lacked the necessary skills and temperament, but because I knew I did not have the character for such responsibility. I knew what others didn’t, that I was too careless about sin, too irresponsible in my pursuit of godliness, too reliant on my talents. That was a quiet turning point. Now, decades later, I am better, smaller, because God’s word of grace has indeed built me up. I am not alone in that. So it is for you, too.

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.

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