My Dear Shepherds,
Doctors enter the practice of medicine. Lawyers, the practice of law. Pastors enter the practice of grace. Grace is our stock-in-trade. But practicing grace is not much like the professions of medicine or law.
Paul summed up his ministry goal when he bid farewell to the Ephesian elders: “my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace” (Acts 20:24). Evangelical Wordworkers know that we must always declare and embody God’s grace in Christ.
But there are ways even the most committed gospel preachers hinder their gospel work. Did you ever inadvertently try to drive without releasing the emergency brake on your car? You can go but something’s not right. There’s a drag.
Our declaration of God’s grace drags when we grow lax about mining treasures, old and new from the Scriptures. Grace, like manna, must be collected afresh every morning, at least every Sunday morning. Preachers and teachers can default to the familiar, thinking that’s all they have, or that it will do. It’s also possible to study and preach a text thoroughly yet leave the good news of God’s grace gasping for life because we dissected it instead of awakening it.
Every sermon or lesson is like the lifeless Adam until God breathes into it the breath of life. Sometimes that breath came for me in a moment deep in study when a jewel I’d never seen peeked out from the print. Other times prayer laid bare a wound, deficit, or ignorance within me and God’s grace in my text came like Jesus himself to heal, fill, or enlighten me. But I warn you: never preach without that breath of grace.
Another inadvertent drag on our proclamation of grace was captured by a pastor friend who wrote to me, “I can feel like I’m not worthy to be a pastor. I can give others grace but have a hard time giving it to myself.” That is a familiar occupational hazard. I often found myself weighed and wanting by Jesus’ words regarding “the faithful and wise manager”: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” (Luke 12:48). Taken out of context, as I always did, there was no room there for pastoral grace. No rest for the weary. At my best I’d only be doing my job, and anything less than my constant best was unacceptable.
But that kind of servitude muffles the preaching of grace, like trying to communicate while wearing our surgical masks. Our preaching may be no less true or gracious but it’s weakened like a boxer pulling his punches or like a trumpet player who always uses a mute.
In his remarkable book, Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers, Dane Ortlund writes, “Only as we drink down the kindness of the heart of Christ will we leave in our wake, everywhere we go, the aroma of heaven, and die one day having startled the world with glimpses of a divine kindness too great to be boxed in by what we deserve.” That goes for pastors. In fact, it is essential for pastors.
Pastoral work is hard and draining. The blessed counterbalance to the wearisome weight of ministry is “the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” That’s what can keep us putting one foot in front of the other. Dispensing and embodying God’s grace in Christ is like spiritual adrenaline energizing a weary runner. A pastor sits at the dinner table and tells his family, “I got to share the gospel today!” and his other burdens fade.
We are divinely authorized to testify to the good news of God’s grace in every sermon, counseling session, discipleship meeting, hospital call, wedding, and funeral. We pull on its red thread in every Scripture text we preach. We bury our sins in the sea of God’s forgetfulness. We boldly plant our prayers and our future on the high ground of God’s grace in Christ. And when we wonder if we will finish well we remember, “grace has led me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.”
Be ye glad!
Editor’s Note: If you were encouraged by what Lee Eclov wrote in this devotional, we would highly suggest you check out his book, Pastoral Graces: Reflections on the Care of Souls .