This has been a week! I preached Sunday, had my first solo funeral to officiate on Tuesday, was in the ER with a family member until very late on Tuesday night, taught at our Wednesday night service, oh yeah and I work full-time. I have been exhausted since Tuesday night and it is a miracle that I got through Wednesday night service. Have you ever had a week like this? This isn’t my first and probably won’t be my last.
As time got closer for the funeral on Tuesday, I was increasingly nervous. I have preached and taught in various ministry settings since 2008 and I am pretty comfortable in those situations. I am usually just nervous before God, but not nervous in front of people. However, I have always said that I would be a nervous wreck for my first funeral and I was! There is something so tender and fragile about performing a funeral. I have heard from so many people talk about how pastors have botched the funerals of their family members and it has caused them additional pain. I didn’t want to be one of those stories and I wanted to be able share Christ with the family.
There is a deep helplessness that you can feel before leading some sort of ministry whether it is a funeral, a Sunday service, etc. At the core of the helplessness is a reminder that by ourselves we cannot do anything lasting and eternally of worth for the people we are about to serve. Only God can do that. I think a holy confidence one can gain over time after speaking frequently is a confidence in God and an assurance that He will work. If we begin to just have confidence in our ability to speak, then we are a danger to ourselves and our hearers.
As I approached this funeral it was like I went back to the first time that I preached. I was nervous then and I was nervous on Tuesday. I spent three hours with the family and friends of the deceased before the funeral service, which helped me get a sense of where they were all at and the tone I should have in my message. Finally, it was time for me to step to the podium and begin. It was time for all the preparation and nervousness to be done. God met with me as I spoke and I felt that same comfort that I often feel when preaching that God was ministering to me as I ministered to others. God is so very good.
I pray that Christ was exalted on Tuesday amongst those who were gathered for the funeral and I continue to pray that He would bring fruit from what they heard. One of my mentors and dear friends told me, “You have the duty of naming the name of Christ over those people, so give them Christ.” I pray that I was faithful in that.
Like in many other ministry situations, for the one leading the service, when the service is over there is an immense sense of exhaustion that hits. Runners spend lots of time preparing for a big run, but their time spent resting and recuperating even right after they finish the run is important as well. The same can be said for ministry. There is so much preparation that is done before serving, speaking, leading and so on, but what we do afterwards is just as important. This is the time where we work on our own souls, our own hearts and ultimately our own discipleship. Runners who prepare for a big run don’t do so to put on a performance, but rather because they are runners; they are simply being who they are. I think the same can be said for ministers. Our service in ministry is not a performance, but us being who we are. When we don’t take care after serving like we do before serving we are hindering our own growth in Christ.
To be honest, I’m not sure how well I did this after all that has happened this week. In a sense, I haven’t had very much time to do so, but I probably could have made some time if I had made it a priority. I know that I need it and will need to make time to do so. When we have emptied ourselves and given so much away, we are weak and need to be filled again by God and His word. We need to come back to the fundamentals of spiritual disciplines like worship, prayer, reading scripture and so on. To use the running metaphor one more time, when we take care after we serve we can avoid our ministry being like a series of sprints and naps, and have it be more of a steady pace.
I will leave you with Psalm 91 to close. I think this Psalm, among many other things, captures the theme of abiding in God, which is what we should be doing after we serve. Grace and peace.
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”
For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.
A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. You will only look with your eyes and see the recompense of the wicked.
Because you have made the LORD your dwelling place— the Most High, who is my refuge— no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent.
For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone. You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.
“Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.” (Psalm 91 ESV)