“But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”—Matthew 6:6
“Be still, and know that I am God.”—Psalm 46:10
“Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”—1 Samuel 3:9
Being someone’s pastor is like no other job. For example, it’s not like being a manager. Managers know the work their employees are doing, because usually that work is measurable in one way or another. And employees are accountable to their managers in a way that’s much different from life in the church. Being a pastor is not like being a parent, because parents live with their children and hopefully have a good idea of what’s going on in their lives.
Being a pastor is kind of like being the coach of a sports team, if the coach were not allowed to attend any of the games. In practice (Sunday mornings, counseling sessions, etc.), you invest in people, give them advice and strategies, you try to inspire them and lead them, you tell them you believe in them, and then they go out the door and…does it happen? Are they doing what you talked about? You aren’t there in the home and the workplace where people are actually living out their lives. You hope and pray for the best, but you never really know.
A few times as a pastor, I have had moments where I realize that I’ve been terribly naïve, and what is happening in people’s lives doesn’t match the image they want me to see. I think things are one way, but then the curtain is pulled back and I see that they aren’t that way at all. It’s disheartening, because I don’t want people to pretend for me. Some people have this idea that pastors have some sort of special influence with God, and if the pastor thinks they are more spiritual than they really are, maybe he’ll put in a good word for them with the Man Upstairs. This is absolute silliness. It doesn’t matter what I think about you, and God sees the truth anyway. God is not the Man Upstairs, He’s our heavenly Father, who wants us to be real with Him. And a pastor is not a priest, he’s just a coach, who can’t help you if you put on a false front.
One area of other people’s lives that I’m completely in the dark about is what we call our devotional life. When I was a kid growing up in church, I heard a lot of the adults talking about spending quiet time in the morning (or whenever worked best) reading the Bible and praying. I thought this was normal, that it was something most believers did. I grew up with a mother and grandmother and grandfather who did it, and so I assumed this was going on in most Christian households. As I grew up, I developed the habit of a quiet time, and have had the usual struggles with being consistent in it, doing better at some times than others. But even when I wasn’t as disciplined as I should have been, I always assumed this was the standard, that all believers understood the importance of spending time alone with God, and were trying to carve out time to make that happen.
Lately, though, I am starting to wonder if I have been naïve, and maybe what I thought was normal isn’t normal anymore. I have no way of knowing, because, again, I don’t get to watch the games. But when I stand up on a Sunday morning and say, “Let’s all read through the book of Proverbs together next month!” or “this next week in your quiet times, take some time to read over the following passage,” a voice in my head whispers “is anyone actually doing that?” When people say “I’ll pray for you!” I wonder “Will you really? Are people still taking time to be still before God and pray for one another?” If I had access to the statistics, would I be pleasantly surprised at how many people are meeting with God during the week, or would it reveal what I fear: that we’re not spending time in prayer and the Word nearly as much as we want each other to think?
This issue is on my mind this week because I sat down to write my weekly article and realized I had nothing to say. When you commit to something called Thursday Thoughts, you’re really going out on a limb, because it’s based on the assumption you’ll have some thoughts worth sharing every week. When I asked myself why I was drawing a blank, the answer wasn’t surprising: it’s been a really busy week. People don’t have unlimited resources. When we try to do something for others, we can’t give them what we don’t have. When we give out everything we have, and the tank is empty, it’s empty.
How do we fill up our tanks? We have to stop giving long enough to receive. Jesus counseled His followers to go into their rooms, shut the door, and pray. He also told them that they were the light of the world, and to do good deeds that others would benefit from, but if we are always busy, always doing, always serving and giving out, eventually that light begins to dim. So we get alone with God to let His love shine into our hearts, so that when we go out again He can shine through us to the world around us. In God’s design, our private life with Him fuels our public life with others.
The trouble is that the world will never hand you quiet time alone with God. In fact, it’s worse than that: the church will never hand you quiet time alone with God. There are always responsibilities, distractions, and excuses. There are always needy people (including the ones we live with!), always important work to be done. But we don’t have wisdom to offer others if we aren’t listening to God. We don’t have energy to offer others if we aren’t getting our tanks filled up. So it falls to us to carve out time and space to be still, to read and pray and listen. No one is going to do it for us, but if we do it, everyone around us will benefit.
Do you have a private life with God? Is it limited to some hurried prayers in the car on the way to somewhere, or as you fall into bed exhausted at the end of the day? Or have you made it a priority to be still and listen? You don’t have to answer for my sake; I don’t need to know. But be aware that at some point, for better or for worse, the truth of what is going on in your private life with God will begin to affect your public life with others. Chance are it already is. With that in mind, let me encourage you to go into your room, close the door, and pray this week. If possible, do it in a way that no one else knows you’ve done it, and don’t tell them. The results will speak for themselves.