I finished reading Memoirs of An Ordinary Pastor a week ago and decided to give one more post to it. In our celebrity pastor-crazed church society this is the kind of little book that comes as a wonderful glass of cold water on a hot, summer’s day. Well, Tom Carson went the way of every man, he died and he did it alone, sort of. Here is how Dr. Carson relates his final thoughts on his father’s passing:
When he died, there were no crowds outside the hospital, no editorial comments in the papers, no announcements on television, no mention in Parliament, no attention paid by the nation. In his hospital room there was no one by his bedside. There was only the quiet hiss of oxygen, vainly venting because he had stopped breathing and would never need it again.
But on the other side all the trumpets sounded. Dad won entrance to the only throne room that matters, not because he was a good man or a great man–he was, after all, a most ordinary pastor–but because he was a forgiven man. And he heard the voice of him whom he longed to hear saying, “We done, good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of your Lord.”
There is the ever present threat to think more highly of myself than I ought, those two paragraphs help ground me yet again in the sufficiency of Jesus Christ alone.
I am continuing with my reading of DA Carson’s book, Memoirs of An Ordinary Pastor, in which he reflects upon the life of his father. At times the book is a bit of a drudgery in reading but that is because it is the life of an ordinary pastor. And in that sense I enjoy even the more boring parts for they reflect my ministry as well. I suspect you have to be a pastor to understand the pastor at least in certain ways, but I also know that the temptations of a pastor are common to all men. Discouragement, despair, and even depression can be close companions for many pastors. I have been pastoring now for 15 years and have learned more and more how much I need to rest in the gospel. The following is a quote out of the book that captures this thought well:
When I was a young man, I heard a D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones comment that he would not go across the street to hear himself preach. Now that I am close to the age he was when I heard him, I am beginning to understand. It is rare for me to finish a sermon without feeling somewhere between slightly discouraged and moderately depressed that I have not preached with more unction, and that I have not articulated these glorious truths more powerfully and with greater insight, and so forth. But I cannot allow that to drive me to despair; rather, it must drive me to a greater grasp of the simple and profound truth that we preach and visit and serve under the gospel of grace, and God accepts us because of his son. I must learn to accept myself not because of my putative successes but because of the merits of God’s Son. The ministry is so open ended that one never feels that all possible work has been done, or done as well as one might like. There are always more people to visit, more study to be done, more preparation to do. What Christians must do, what Christian leaders must do, is constantly remember that we serve our God and Maker every Redeemer under the gospel of grace.
There are times when I cannot think, or so it seems. And when that happens I find that writing helps manage my thoughts. The following is a prayer I could not say, but I could write. It was one that I wrote in the midst of preparing a sermon and was in a particularly difficult way. By the way, this is not an uncommon situation for pastors as they prepare a sermon. I think Satan presses hard on them as they begin to craft an exposition from God’s Word. Do not ever think that your pastor is somehow exempt from these things.
Show me kindness my Father, for I am needy.
My heart is worn and tired, my soul
aches and groans.
I have nothing and am nothing,
yet you have chosen to set me on high.
Oh Father in heaven, open my eyes to this truth
for all I see right now is
and my weakness.
Your word says that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,
but why is it that all I see is
Father, shall this be my lot?
Shall discouragement and sorrow be my constant companion?
Shall hope be only a faint ember that burns soft and low in the heart?
I pray that it will not Father.
I pray that you shall lift my head up again and is shall find rest.
Oh that you would cause
your face shine upon me
and lift up my countenance!
To see the smile of God
and the joy of the Spirit
would bring such relief to this sore man.
Trials seem to be my constant companion and weariness is filling my bones.
Therefore where shall I turn?
And when shall I turn?
Oh Father of mercies and comfort,
comfort me in my time of affliction.
Oh Father of wisdom,
grant me wisdom to press on
Let not my foot slip
nor my step stumble.
Instead Holy Father, set my eyes upon my Lord and Savior
Open wide my heart
that it would be filled by the Spirit of life
and that He might strengthen me in my inner man.
Oh Father I pray, I pray.