A week ago I was driving out to my alma mater where I had earned my M Div five years previous. A 45 minute drive south of the city, I had time to reflect and pray as I drove. That prairie highway was familiar to me – many mornings I had driven down it praying. When I was still a seminarian I was remember being consumed with uncertainty, not about my call but about my future. Where would God have me? Would I be able to make it as a preacher/pastor? I remember my years of study out there and how much I wanted to enter ministry. I had returned since both to audit an odd course and to score a free lunch from the Dean. But as I drove I realized that it had been five years since graduation, five years in ministry.
Five years was the number I was told while still in seminary. Most young men who felt ‘called’ would not make it in the pastorate longer than five years. Discouragement, burn-out, conflict, would cause most to exit for another career. Many of my classmates had not found positions in churches. Many who seemed more gifted than me or more pious. Many had already bounced around several ministry settings, from one frustrating situation to another. I thought on my frustrations and ambitions in my past five years. When I was a seminarian I didn’t know where I’d be. Now that I was travelling the same road and realizing that the God who called me was still with me. Every step of the way, I had been led. It was not by anything I’d done but by His mercy I was still able to minister word and sacrament to His people.
His mercy is the reason why I can be a pastor at all. I remember listening a John MacArthur talk a few months ago. I kind of like MacArthur. I don’t agree with him on everything (Cessationism) but I do on some things (Reformed view of salvation). Oddly, I find his grouchiness somewhat refreshing. He was speaking to pastors and told none of them were getting what they deserved. If we got what we deserve we’d be struck dead for our sins for starters. As ministers, if we got what we deserve everyone would walk out on us and never come to our church again. We’d be abject failures at everything we set our hands, hearts, and minds to. I remember agreeing with the ideas months ago, but as I drove that highway last week I felt the truth of it. It is the mercy of God that I can serve Him by serving His people. I love the Word of God, I love preaching, studying, praying with people, loving them, and sharing the Good News with unbelievers. I even get paid for it. All of it is a mercy.
I felt the Holy Spirit thick during that drive. He was letting me feel the mercy of God over my life, that He would allow me – a man who is nothing! – to represent Him, serve Him, preach His truth. The frustrations of pastoring are many. Being a young pastor, God constantly thwarts my ambitions and shows me that His people do not exist to give me a job or to make me feel important. I felt the frustrations of the past five years melt some and thankfulness flood in. I am so thankful for these people, their love for God, and their perseverance. I am so thankful that five years have past and I’m still in the game. I didn’t have to be. It is still His mercy.