On Fridays I pray for churches—and after a fair bit of travel and moving around, there are a lot of particular churches on that list, to say nothing of the thousands scattered around the globe unknown to me but precious to the Lord. Part of the prayer has to do with those who lead churches—and again, I’ve had opportunity to meet a bunch of such folk. I count a number of pastors among my friends, and am thankful for knowing them.
Part of what I pray is for peace, not only between and among people in these churches, but within the pastors who serve them. Having been in this line of work for some years, I have a sense for all that pushes against peace: there are so many possibilities, opportunities, expectations and unexpected developments that press in or present themselves that peace seems unlikely, and maybe just a little bit indulgent.
Nevertheless, I think peace is essential to good pastoring. The word itself carries this notion—think of those paintings where the streams are gently flowing and the cattle quietly lowing, where the people depicted are at their ease: we call these scenes pastoral. Two other images come to mind. The first is the slender strand of carbon-coated cotton thread Thomas Edison used to coax light out of electricity. Materials have improved, but it’s still the case that for light to occur, that strand must stay still. Second is Jesus’ description of a vine and its branches. For Him, life flows in the latter because it is linked to the former, a link that cannot withstand a lot of frantic motion.
Pastoring requires tranquility. We can confuse activity with productivity; we can think pastoring requires busyness. Seen like that, is it a wonder we have created a business of pastoring? But in Jesus’ view, pastoring (and the same might be said for any God-honoring labor) requires connection, which in turns depends upon stillness. If power is to illuminate anything, the filament must remain steady; if fruit is to be borne, the branch and vine must stay intact.
James Hudson Taylor, of inland China missionary fame, helped me get hold of this. He boarded a ship in his early twenties to bring the Gospel to a continent whose experience with it was thin, and could have become very busy, given the millions of unreached people in this land. Indeed, at first, he did experience seasons of frantic activity. But the unbearable pace made him uneasy, and drove him to ask questions. Eventually he found what he sought: permission (command, even) to rest, to pause, to pray, to wait, to walk. This was Hudson Taylor’s ‘spiritual secret’—that the follower of Christ can take rest in the Lord.
This simple discovery kept Taylor in awe for the rest of his life. He wrote about it to friends, family; he preached on it to audiences who thought they’d come for a slide show of the heathen Chinese. Jesus, I Am Resting—the hymn—became Taylor’s anthem.
Part of this sounds preposterous: how can one get stuff done if one rests? But then, Taylor’s ‘results’ speak kinda loudly, too; rest made possible by peace was at the core of his strategy. So maybe the music of this James Taylor can provide a good theme for pastors, and the congregations of which they’re part, as another weekend is upon us.