There is an urgent need for true tears, for hearts which feel the depth and breadth of the need of God’s people to be awakened, for the name of Christ Jesus to be personally and visibly held in highest honour among us, for his greatness and grace to be the obsession of our hearts and the theme of our daily song. Brother, shall we weep for the sheep?
As Christian ministers we are vulnerable to the twin temptations of activism and stoicism, of deploying our energies or cutting our losses, of pursuing our goals with mere human fervour or accepting the state of things without hope of fundamental change. We can burn ourselves out in seeking to change things for ourselves, or quench the flame of our vitality by acquiescing in mediocrity or deficiency. This can be the case in terms of our own growth and graces, and it can be reflective of a kind of bipolar perspective on ministry. We can either be carnally positive or sinfully negative, in either case making an idol of our capacities or our inadequacies.
In this post I want to discuss a third way, an alternative path which can at once recognise our dire need while seeking help from the only source of real power, namely the path of godly sorrow and heartfelt prayer for God to act in the light of our circumstance and for the sake of his glory. I want to suggest that realism about the low state of our hearts and the declining state of the church need not result in obsessive activity nor interminable apathy, but in a repenting spirit which does not hesitate to affirm God’s power for and pity on those who seek him.
Brothers, shall we weep for ourselves?
As pastors it can be easy to lose track of the first soul we should shepherd – our own. We can stream a never ending track of white noise to mask the symptoms of sin, of doubt, and of decline, all the while believing that activity, fraternity, and ministry are markers of spirituality and vitality. Facing ourselves is a hard business, finding space to assess our own souls can be next to impossible among the many demands we daily face, and yet it is vital discipline which might just solve the false dilemma of manufactured optimism or moribund pessimism. The pace of our modern lives, the synthetic companionship of our smartphones, the plethora of conferences and conventions, the heat of online theological dispute can all be ‘full of sound and fury, signifying nothing’ – and yet it is these things which garner the best of our attention.