Optimism: “a disposition or tendency to look on the more favorable side of events or conditions and to expect the most favorable outcome.”
Was the Apostle Paul an optimist? For a guy who taught a lot about the depravity of the human heart, Paul sure seemed to take a pretty rosey view of life sometimes, didn’t he?
A ‘Church-is-Half-Full’ Kind of View?
Here’s a case in point: The church in Corinth. They were divided and dividing still, they valued fancy speech over sound doctrine, they had cases of publicly known immorality that were not being addressed, they were suing each other, they were leaving betrothed women unprovided for, fighting over food sacrificed to idols, arguing over whose spiritual gifts made them the most spiritually mature, leading chaotic worship services, and considering denying the resurrection. Seriously. And you thought your church was bad!
But think about how Paul addresses them:
I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge — even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you — so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift… (1 Cor 1.4-6)
That sure sounds like a very optimistic, ‘glass-half-full’ kind of view of the church, doesn’t it? Is he just flattering them?
The furthest thing from being an optimist who chooses to ‘look on the more favorable side of events’ or a double-tongued flatterer who dabbles in deceit, Paul is speaking the truth boldly. He has something greater than optimism when it comes to the Corinthian church — as messed up as it is. Paul has hope. God-grounded, gospel-believing hope.
I’m very thankful for my friend Tim Challies for many reasons (on personal, church, and global-internet levels). Today I’m thankful for him taking up our cause on his blog.
Over the past couple of weeks our church has been thrust into a very difficult situation as the Toronto District School Board has raised our rent in unethical, discriminatory, unwarranted, and unforeseen ways. Since our church meets weekly in the gymnasium of a public school for now — but can no longer afford to go on doing so — we are scrambling to find a place to meet that will accommodate us.
Today on his blog, Tim writes about the larger issue affecting not just us but all churches who rent space from the TDSB.
Toronto is a city of 2.6 million where churches are small and real estate is costly. For this reason many churches meet in gymnasiums and cafeterias they rent from the Toronto District School Board. But now, very suddenly, theTDSB has taken action to get churches out of its schools. At the end of August each of these organizations was notified that they would face an imminent increase in rental fees. The next day they learned that this increase would range from 140% to 800% and that it would begin to go in effect in just four days. Unless the Board can be convinced to change course, they will effectively drive hundreds of churches from its nearly 600 schools.
Read the rest here…
I’m praying our Sovereign Lord would somehow put this blog post on to the screens of the right people with the right connections in the right places so that somehow we would be able to go on renting this publicly owned and taxpayer funded facility at a fair price.
Imagine for a second that you’re inept in the kitchen (for some of us, that’s not much of a stretch). Picture this: you need to make one cookie. It has to be in a specific shape. Thankfully, you have the right cookie cutter and the right ingredients. But one problem remains: how do you make just one cookie?
Of course, since you don’t know how to make just one cookie, you find a recipe that makes a dozen. You make the dough, roll it out, and get ready to use your cookie cutter.
But which part of the dough do you use? Which part is the best? That’s your first tough choice. So you pick a part that you think looks the best.
But that leads to your second tough choice: what in the world do you do with all the extra dough?
These are some of the tough decisions that your pastor needs to make every week. We study a text all week, examining historical backgrounds, thinking about the linguistic realities of the text, placing it in its canonical context, figuring out where the truth fits in our systematic theology, studying what experts have said about this text, and thinking hard about how it applies to ourselves and others in our congregations.
My family just returned from a couple weeks of vacation. It was a glorious opportunity to play, to sleep, to relax, to read good books, to spend time together — in short, to rest. What a blessing to be able to experience something of the balance that God intended when he established the rhythm of the universe in creation: day and night, work and rest.
It is one thing to preach about this harmony in Genesis 1 (as I did a few months ago) and another thing completely to experience it. God ordered his creation in this way, work and rest, and it continues to function in the same way through all the generations of humanity.
I’ve been thinking, however, about the need for continuing this balance on a micro scale (day & night, week & weekend), as well as on a macro scale (work 49 weeks & get three off). It seems to me that failure to attain true and meaningful rest in the midst of labour is one of the main reasons why pastors burn out so frequently.
It’s not hard to see why. As I’ve reflected elsewhere, the pastor’s work is never really finished. There is always more to study, more people to meet with, more to pray about. Things are never organized enough and long-term vision has never been developed enough. That’s to say nothing of the constant, urgent demands on a pastor’s time because of genuine problems in people’s lives.
So pastors often do what the world does. We read time management books and strategize. We come up with systems to ‘get things done.’ We work harder and harder to be more productive in the hopes that we’ll somehow attain that ever-elusive moment of rest when everything is finally done.
But it’s never done. And that’s the thing. If we wait for things to be finished before we rest, we’ll never rest. And we simply can’t sustain that. And that’s not the way we’ve been designed to live.
What would you see if you looked in my backyard? A sandbox, a patio, some trees, a garden, a shed, some room for the kids to run, and a fence to keep them from running too far. At least, that’s what you’d see at first glance. But if you looked closer, you’d see more.
Upon closer inspection, you would see that the grass is patchy. The retaining wall is leaning. The tree branches that are hanging precariously over my neighbour’s shed need to be cut back. The shed has a bees’ nest in the top and a chipmunk house in the bottom (they made their way through some rotten wood). Yes, there are some things in disrepair.
Right now there are weeds that need to get bagged and some grass seed that needs to get spread. There’s lots to do. Some of it isn’t done because I’ve prioritized other things — and I think it was wise. On the other hand, some of it isn’t done simply because of bad decisions and some measure of irresponsibility on my part.
If you come into my backyard, you’ll see my weaknesses and my shortcomings.
Being a pastor is a strange thing.
We proclaim a message with the power of God to change people, but we can’t even change ourselves. We call others to perfection, as Jesus did, but our lives are full of imperfection. We must shepherd like the Shepherd though we’re just one of the sheep.
We seek to make Christ increase (though he’s invisible to human eyes) as we seek to decrease (though we stand in plain view week-by-week). We say numbers don’t matter, but long for many to be saved. We labour to grow the church, even though we realize each soul increases our accountability before God.
We try to express the Infinite and Eternal in 45 minutes or less; obviously we fail, so we try again next week.
We spend our lives studying a book that we’ll never fully grasp and we labour to explain it to a people who can’t understand apart from the work of a third party. The more we study, the more certain we become of the wisdom of God and our own foolishness; and yet we must preach on.
Back at the end of February Stephen Altrogge wrote a very helpful post titled, ‘The Best Thing You Can Do for Your Pastor.’ In it he reminded us of the truth of 2 Corinthians 1.11:
You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.
If the apostle Paul and his apostolic band needed prayer (and ‘the prayers of many’ at that!), then certainly ordinary pastors like me need prayer. Stephen then offered these practical tips on how to pray for your pastor, which I very much appreciated:
- Pray that they will have spiritual and emotional endurance. Being a pastor is a wonderful job, but it can also be a very draining job. I need endurance to continue working with joy.
- Pray that they will have rich fellowship with the Lord. The pastor’s power comes from the Lord. I need God to meet me and refresh week after week.
- Pray that your pastor will be protected from temptation. If Satan can take down a shepherd, the sheep are much more vulnerable. I need the Lord to protect me from the temptations of pride, greed, lust, impatience, and a host of other sins.
- Pray that your pastor will preach with power. Apart from the power of the Holy Spirit, a sermon will be nothing more than an eloquent boatload of hoogly. I need the Holy Spirit to put power behind my words.
In this post I just wanted to take a moment to expand on Stephen’s last point about praying for the pastor’s preaching. In our home we pray as a family for the preacher on Saturday nights in particular. Typically if it is one of the children praying, the prayer amounts to ‘Please help Daddy to preach well’ and sometimes not much more. That’s fine if it’s a four year-old praying, but it strikes me that a lot of people who have never preached simply don’t know how to pray for their pastor much better than that.