The call came tonight. The pastor on the other end said, “Brother, so and so is having trouble.” He continued to name several pastors who were having difficulty in their church.
Most pastors I know genuinely love the congregation to which God has assigned them. These are men who take their shepherding responsibility seriously and are not unlike a parent. Often they say what needs to be said and they do what needs to be done even though the congregation may want to hear what they want and see the pastor do what they want.
It is not in arrogance that the pastor must obey a higher authority. I pity the minister who actually wants the people to dislike him. I pity the man who does not care what they think. That kind of loss of sensitivity dulls one’s ears to a great source of the leadership of God – the voice of the people of God. God does lead through others.
But at this writing I am thinking of the pastor who in his own humanity is not perfect, but in his own heart loves unconditionally only to have it dished back, unaccepted and misunderstood. Have you been there? What does one do when they don’t love back? This could true of a parent or a spouse as well as a pastor.
First, keep loving. The Rich Young Ruler did not hear what he wanted to hear. He heard what he needed to hear. This young man came to Jesus. He wanted eternal life. In the midst of the conversation when he pushed back on the words of Jesus, Matthew inserts the emotion of Jesus when he says, “Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him…” (Matthew 10:21). Jesus knew his love for this man would not be returned. Yet he loved him anyway. It is tough to do when the pain is so intense. But it is the model of Jesus that carries all the way to the cross, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
Second, reflect upon your leadership style and word choices. We must honestly ask ourselves if there is cause. My Homiletics professor taught about “en-coding” and “de-coding”. I know – old terms. But useful. “En-coding” is what we say and all that goes with that – words, inflection, gestures, etc. “De-coding” is what the person in the pew, or the person on the other end of the conversation hears. Sometimes they do not hear what we intended.
Recently I made a statement in a small group. Since that time, three people have asked, “What did you mean when you said…?” Two of the three did not remember all that I said, but it troubled them. Thank God these asked and I was able to explain. But often they do not ask. They repeat what they think they heard and it is sometimes far from what as intended. Choose your words carefully.
Third, lean hard. Ask God for strength and perseverance. We need strength to bear the pain and perseverance to trust the heart of God and pray through to a place of victory. For me, this is the most difficult. I am one who is sometimes plagued with the nagging “why” question. When life knocks us around a bit, trust is sometimes difficult.
Unfortunately, when an all-powerful Sovereign God allows pain and rejection to come, we sometimes have difficulty trusting his heart. It is amazing that the real life stories of despair doesn’t make it in many of today’s sermons. People like Charles H. Spurgeon and Amy Carmichael suffered greatly in their service for King Jesus.
Amy Carmichael was a missionary heroin whose writings are read today. She traveled to South India as an evangelist and ministered among the hurting children for over 50 years. Yet her life was filled with self hate, fear of failure, loneliness, and other negative emotions. Yet she learned to overcome. In speaking of perhaps the purpose of her sufferings she said, “The call to enter for the second time into any painful experience is a sign of our Lord’s confidence.”
Charles H. Spurgeon battled severe bouts of depression. He once wrote, “The strong are not alway vigorous, the wise not always ready, the brave not always courageous, and the joyous not always happy.” Elizabeth Skoglund
“Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the man who suffered from terrific depression, feared financial disaster, suffered from loneliness, and spent weeks ill in bed, speaks to our present-day needs more deeply than most of our contemporaries.”
Simon Peter, himself often afflicted with emotional outbursts learned from the Psalmist. “Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee” (Psalm 55:22). Simon Peter wrote, “Casting all your care upon Him; for He careth for you” (1 Peter 5:7). The Psalms often provide solace when we have experienced great grief.
Fourth, Remember. I’ve often wondered if the father of the Prodigal Son rehearsed past events. Did he ask himself what he did wrong? We know the young son treated his father with extreme disrespect. In demanding his inheritance early, it was as if he was saying, “Father, I wish you were dead.” All of the love and care extended dissolved into a selfish act that was the first of many by the young man on the way to the bottom.
There are two sons in the story. The young man hits the road, the elder brother hits the field to work. He was able to keep his bitterness in check until he saw the lavish love extended to the younger by the father when the younger returned home. In words said to both sons, it is obvious the father is not only remembering who these sons are, but also whose. They belong to the Father. We need to remember that. We, too, belong to the Father.
And many who do not return the love extended also belong to the Father. Perhaps the elder brother fits in that category. The story ends with the words of the Father. We do not know his response, which leads me to conclude that the response of those who reject and hurt us is not what is most important. What is most important is that we remember both who we are and whose we are.
Sometimes they don’t love back. Sometimes it is a congregation. Other times it may be a child or a spouse. It is wonderful when they do, but sometimes they do not. Somewhere in the pain, there is God. I’m reminded of the old gospel song: God Walks The Dark Hills
. In the dark places of life, God walks with us to guide us.