I was speaking with a friend recently who told me how journaling has proven to be a wonderful aid for his spiritual growth. He said that, by writing down his thoughts about various experiences and learning to see the Lord in the centre of those, he has been helped in his growth as a Christian. I said that I have not been very good at doing this, and that my attempts at journaling over the years have been terribly inconsistent. But he immediately pointed to my regular Pastor’s Pen articles and said that, in his view, this was accomplishing the same purpose. Upon reflection I think that he is correct.
When I write, I am usually doing so out of some recent meditation or truth that the Lord is teaching me. In fact, because I have so much to learn I often begin work on more than one article at a time! When some event or truth speaks to me in a personal way, I often write my thoughts about it. In other words, of the well over two hundred articles I have published, most have come from my times of grazing in the pastures of God’s Word, combined with encounters in the fields of life experience. I suppose that is why there is often little consistency in content from one article to the next. The diversity reflects the wide and diverse areas in which the Lord is graciously and patiently teaching me to submit to His all-encompassing lordship.
A dear friend and mentor, who has now been in glory for fifteen years, once said to me, “Doug, don’t forget, your ministry must come from overflow.” Bob told me that, if my ministry would be effective, it needed to more than “theoretically theological.” Rather, it needed to be the natural outgrowth of my own abiding in Christ. Only then would the fruit of Christ in my life be the real deal, and only then could it truly nourish hungry souls. After all, plastic fruit looks inviting, but it is nutritionally useless. Yet even with this advice I need to be careful. That is, if being effective in ministry is my primary goal then I am in trouble. Instead, my primary goal must be that of worshipping and walking with our God. Apart from this, my work for God will be merely going through the motions. Our series of studies through Hebrews 11 has driven this point home, for which I am most grateful.
You will recall that the writer begins his treatise on the nature and character of faith by first mentioning Abel. By faith, Abel worshipped. Then we read that, by faith, Enoch walked with God. Then, and only then, do we read of Noah who did a work for God. This is always the order. Or at least it should be. And when this is the course that we follow, then, like Abraham and all who followed, we will faithfully, rather than fitfully, wait on the Lord.
So, what does this initial and primary activity of worship require? Fundamentally it requires that we do what we must to “behold the beauty of the LORD” (Psalm 27:4). And this will usually require the exercise of self-control to “be still, and know that [He is] God” (Psalm 46:10). I am sure you would agree that this does not come easily. But it may surprise you that it does not always come easy for pastors either.
By the nature of our task, pastors are busy in the pasture. God-called shepherds give much time and attention to feeding, leading and giving heed to the flock (Acts 20:28). Our eyes are intently focused on the health of the sheep as we are on the lookout for wolves and serpents and diseased weeds to which the flock may be exposed. Shepherds attend the newborn sheep and help them to get up on their feet. They also care for the aged sheep as they walk ever closer to the valley of the shadow of death. And there are numerous other tasks, such as ministering to those who are afflicted and those who have been injured and those who are wandering and those who sick. Shepherds are also often called upon to intervene to help Mr and Mrs Sheep to get along so as to “frolic” joyfully and productively!
A good shepherd knows the sheep. Jesus said so. But Jesus also demonstrated that a good shepherd will be busy and, at times, burdened as he tirelessly carries out his calling. This is all the more reason why he is in special need to feed himself. But how? Thankfully, we have a wonderful example established by the good and great Chief Shepherd, our Lord Jesus Christ.
In Mark 1, we have the record of a very busy Jesus as He preaches, teaches, heals and exorcises demons. It has been a long day and a late night. Yet we read in v. 35, “Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed.” Please let that sink in. The Great Shepherd spent time in the pasture of prayer, feeding His own soul before beginning another very busy day ministering to the flock. This must always be the pattern. Pastors need to pasture before they head for the pasture.
It is for this reason that I have sought over the decades to prioritise the early hours of each day for personal devotions. Whether in my own home or by an early arrival to my study, I need to read God’s Word for my own soul before doing so for your soul. I need to pray to offer my own praises and to reorient my own perspective and to make my own petitions before doing so for the church. I need to be alone in the pasture if I will do any lasting good in the pastorate. Yet I am persuaded that what is true of the shepherds is also relevant for the sheep. For if sheep are growing in health, then eventually the Lord will use them as shepherds as well. Though they may never fill and function in the office of a church leader, nevertheless every member is called to be equipped to minister to others (see Ephesians 4:1–16). And the same principle of overflow applies here. You need to worship, and you need to do so daily. And perhaps these days of holiday provide a great opportunity to begin a regular habit of spending time in the pasture.
Use this “down time” of the year to formulate a regular time of Bible reading and prayer, and perhaps the reading of a good Christian book to nourish your soul. I can assure you that the pastures are lusciously green and the waters are invitingly still. So sit down and feed, and then get up and plunge in. I plan to, because this pastor needs his pasture.
And so, until I “journal” again in the new year, happy grazing. May it produce a holy gazing on the beauty of the Lord.