Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the Church of God, which He obtained with His own blood.
Pay careful attention to yourselves. Paying attention to your own spiritual welfare is imperative if you are to serve as a faithful pastor. It’s an easy thing to neglect. The demands of the ministry can be many, and it’s easy to neglect something that might not always have an immediate, visible, practical benefit.
Nobody has ever complained to me if I didn’t spend the morning in study and prayer. Nor do our districts or congregations go around performing random spiritual health tests to see if our daily intake of God’s Word or daily output of prayer is what it should be. You couldn’t if you wanted to—it’s an invisible, private matter between you and your Lord.
We wouldn’t dare miss a voters’ meeting—all hell would break loose—but the same thing happens when you neglect the Word and prayer. We just skip over some things more easily. Think about it. What really is more important? A voters’ meeting, or prayer and meditation? Now I’m not giving you permission to neglect lesser obligations; I’m only trying to point out how you’ve misplaced your priorities.
When you neglect your spiritual health, all hell does break loose, you just can’t see it. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Eph 6:12).
When you don’t pay attention to the Word and prayer, you become more vulnerable to Satan’s attacks. Rest assured, the tentatio will come, even if the oratio and meditatio has not. Without oratio and meditatio, there’s a better chance of seeing a praise band at a Gottesdienst conference than of withstanding the assaults of Satan. You have no power against the Evil One. St. Paul does not say that we will not overcome Satan with the Word and prayer. We put on the armor of God that we may withstand him (Eph 6:11).
And not just you, but your flock. It’s also a matter of the spiritual father providing for the needs of His children in Christ. Like Job, the father of a congregation ought to rise and pray for his children in the faith. What better aid can you seek for them that than of the Lord Himself? And if you aren’t paying attention to the Word yourself, what is informing your preaching and teaching?
It’s not good enough to have “learned it” back at the seminary or whenever. Applying Law and Gospel faithfully is the highest art, something that none of us could ever do too well. Growing in Christ isn’t about becoming independent. It’s about daily realizing more and more just how dependent you are on Him, so that you turn to prayer and His Word continually. If God’s Word is your daily bread and a necessity for everyone, how much more for those who serve as physicians of souls?
The First Commandment applies to pastors, too. Who or what do you love above all things? What’s so important that you can’t give proper attention to prayer and Scripture? Have you made “getting the job done” an idol? Or have you robbed from God, just doing the bare minimum to keep up appearances? Or maybe you are driven more by ego and ambition, desiring praise and accolades; or fear, not wanting to look bad in front of people. Or maybe you’ve gotten frustrated by the apparent ineffectiveness of God’s Word and have given up trying.
Nobody else can test your spiritual health, and if we knew just how sick we truly were, we probably wouldn’t be able to live with ourselves. Pride is sin, to be sure, but it’s remarkable that given our illness we could ever feel halfway decent about anything we do. Mercifully, God doesn’t let you know the true extent of your illness, because if He did, you’d certainly despair. You wouldn’t have had the nerve to go the seminary or to stand before your congregation week after week.
How could God possibly love you? Our standards are much lower than God’s—He demands absolute holiness—and yet, even with our lower standards, we don’t always get along with our congregations or other clergy. How could a pure and holy God—one who demands absolute perfection—love you? And then you consider the higher demands placed on those in the ministry, and the fact that you are the most miserable of sinners?
God shouldn’t love you. He shouldn’t have called you. But He does, and He has. He infected the most faithful pastor, the only faithful pastor, who ever lived, with your sin. As St. Paul says, For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. What clearer indication is there that God’s ways are not our ways than this? He has ascended to fill all things, to provide for the needs of sinners, through sinful human beings.
Spending time in God’s Word and prayer isn’t an obligation. If not even the gates of hell will prevail against His Church, nothing you do or don’t do will change that. But they are a gift. They are given to you that you and your flock might have life and health in Christ, now and forever.
Soli Deo Gloria
+Rev. Eric Andersen
Tuesday of the Transfiguration of Our Lord, 2014