If you know me in real life, you know that I have been really showing the wear and tear of trying to be a full-time pastor, a full-time teacher, a husband, a father... and everything else... a home-owner, a mechanic, a handy-man, after-school program, etc. etc. etc. I have been busy before, but I have never felt quite like I currently do.
So, when I read this introduction, I felt like I was taking a peek into my own soul. Therefore, I share this introduction to give you a peek...
Everyone faces adversity and must find ways to persevere through oppressing moments of life. Everyone must get up and walk through the routines of making breakfast, and washing clothes, and going to work, and paying bills, and disciplining children. We must, in general, keep life going when the heart is breaking.
But it's different with pastors -- not totally different, but different. The heart is the instrument of our vocation. Charles Spurgeon said, "Ours is more than mental work -- it is heart work, the labour of our inmost soul." When a pastor's heart is breaking, therefore, he must labor with a broken instrument. Preaching is the pastor's main work, and preaching is heart work, not just mental work. The question becomes, then, not just how you keep living when the marriage is blank, or when the finances don't reach, or when the pews are bare and friends forsake you; but, How do you keep preaching?
When the heart is overwhelmed, it's one thing to survive adversity; but then it is something entirely different to continue preaching, Sunday after Sunday, month after month. Spurgeon said to the students of his pastors' college, "one crushing stroke has sometimes laid the minister very low. The brother most relied upon becomes a traitor... Ten years of toil do not take so much life out of us as we lose in a few hours of Ahithophel the traitor, or Demas the apostate." The question for pastors is not, "How do you live through unremitting criticism and distrust and accusation and abandonment?" -- but, How do you preach through it? How do you do heart work when the heart is under siege and ready to fall?
These are the uppermost questions for many pastors. Preaching great and glorious truth in an atmosphere that is not great and glorious is an immense difficulty. To be reminded week-in and week-out that many people regard your preaching of the glory of God's grace as hypocrisy pushes a preacher not just into the hills of introspection, but sometimes to the precipice of self-extinction. I don't mean suicide. -- but something more complex. I mean the deranging inability to know any longer who you are. What begins as a searching introspection for the sake of holiness and humility gradually becomes, for various reasons, a carnival of mirrors in your soul. You look into one and you're short and fat; you look into another and you're tall and lanky; you look into another and you're upside down. Then the horrible feeling begins to break over you that you don't know who you are anymore. The center is not holding. If the center doesn't hold -- if there is no fixed "I" able to relate to the fixed "Thou" (namely, God), who is supposed to preach next Sunday?