I genuinely think that one of the toughest tasks a pastor faces on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis is to be consciously caring for their own soul’s welfare. The constant hustle and bustle of ministry life, the shepherding God’s flock, as well as the continual effort to share Christ through the gospel with those who do not know Him. This all takes its toll upon one’s own soul. I’m not talking about somehow being backslidden or living in some hidden sin, rather, I’m talking about just being emotionally worn down and spiritually weary. One tends to feel as the psalmist wrote, “I am like a wineskin in the smoke” (Ps. 119:83).
All too often, we pastors can fall into the bad habit all of seeing to everyone else’s needs, yet at the same time, neglecting the care and upkeep of own soul’s needs. We can be so much caught up in the effort of bringing others to Christ, that we ourselves forget to come to Him, to abide in Him, to find our own soul’s respite in His gentle presence. All the many responsibilities and duties of Christian service can be so overwhelming, that we often neglect to simply sit at the Saviour’s feet as a disciple. In these times, our prayer lives can be reduced to praying dutiful prayers full of rich and theological language, yet, lacking any real heart or passion. Our daily reading of the scriptures becomes a mere act of professionalism, and no longer seeking the living Christ. It becomes the seeking of a sermon, the preparing of the next message, or the next study.
I really don’t think it matters how long you have been in Christ, or how long you have been in the ministry. The temptation to be “justifiably” neglectful in the care of one’s own soul and spiritual well-being is an ever-present risk we all commonly face.
Sadly, it was this type of predicament that I recently found myself in. All too busy and distracted in my efforts to serve Christ, that I allowed my own devotion to Him to wane and falter, leaving me in the end with a sense of inner emptiness, devoid of any kind of spiritual energy. Looking back, it seems that it all began with a short series of disappointments on top of the normal everyday pressures that was able to knock me out of my regular routines. It is interesting in how a little bit of disappointment mingled together with a sense a frustration has the ability to rob our hearts and minds of a sense of the face of God and the love of Christ. How easy it is for the eyes of our faith to be shifted from Christ and His efforts on our behalf. Once again, I am not talking about being backslidden or in sin, just of being empty, tired, and weary.
I remember glumly sitting in my armchair, with a heart full of grey skies, and a Bible open across my lap. Thinking to myself, “God forgive me, but I can’t be bothered!” I turned to the Word, and opened the Bible to Psalm 119 and began to read it. I read all of it. Read it aloud to myself. Indeed, as I read it, the words of the song became my words. The psalmist’s prayer became my prayer. And though it may sound as a cliché. Before I was forty verses into the Psalm it was as if a fountain of life had sprung up within my breast. The grey clouds that had so overshadowed my heart evaporated in an instant. I realized immediately the source of all my weary gloomy sullenness. I set my Bible aside, got down on my knees and confessed my tardiness of spirit, recognised my ever-present need of Him, and gave thanks for His continuing care and attention. I got back up, picked up my Bible and finished reading the Psalm.
How very real are His promises, how very true is His Word. We do surely serve the true and Living God, Mighty, and able to save to the uttermost. Afterwards, as I sat thinking about what had just transpired, Jesus’s own words from the Gospel of John flashed into mind, and beamed into my heart, “I am the Vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).
How wonderfully real, true, and relevant are the words of Jesus. How would we ever survive without Him!?