What traits does the awe of God produce in the heart of a pastor that are vital for an effective, God-honoring, and productive ministry? Here is a list of six.
There is nothing like standing without defense before the awesome glory of God to put you in your place, correct a distorted view of yourself, yank you out of functional arrogance, and take the winds out of the sails of your self-righteousness. In the face of his glory I am left naked with no glory whatsoever left to hold before myself or anyone else. As long as I am comparing myself to others I can always find someone whose existence seems to make me look righteous by comparison. But if I compare my filthy rags to the pure and forever unstained linen of God's righteousness, I want to run and hide in heart-breaking shame.
This is what happened to Isaiah, recorded in chapter six. He stands before the awesome throne of God's glory and says, "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!" (Isaiah 6:5) Isaiah is not speaking in formal religious hyperbole here. He is not trying to ingratiate himself with God by being oh so humble. No, he learns that only in light of the awesome glory and holiness of God do you see an accurate view of yourself and the depth of your need for the rescue only a God of glorious grace can provide.
Somewhere along the way in ministry too many pastors have forgotten who they are. They have a bloated, distorted, grandiose view of themselves that renders them largely unapproachable and allows them to justify things they think, desire, say, and do that simply are not biblically justifiable. I have been there and at times fall back there again. At these times I need to be rescued from me. When you are too much in awe of you, you're set up to be a self-righteous, controlling, over-confident, judgmental, unfalteringly opinionated ecclesiastical autocrat. You unwittingly build a kingdom whose throne will be inhabited by you, no matter how much you convince yourself that you do it all for the glory of God.
The humility that only awe of God can produce in my heart produces pastoral tenderness toward people who need the same grace. No one gives grace better than a person who is deeply persuaded that he needs it himself and receives it from Christ. This tenderness makes me gracious, gentle, patient, understanding, and hopeful in the face of others' sin, while never compromising God's holy call. It protects me from deadly assessments like, "I can't believe you would do such a thing," which tell me I'm essentially different from everyone else. It's hard to bring the gospel to people when you're looking down your nose at them. Facing others' sin, awe-inspired tenderness frees me from being an agent of condemnation or from asking the law to do what only grace can accomplish and motivates me to be a tool of that grace.
No matter what is or isn't working in my ministry, no matter what difficulties I am facing, no matter what battles I am fighting, the expansive glory of God gives me reason to get up in the morning and do what I have been gifted and called to do with enthusiasm, courage, and confidence. My joy isn't handcuffed to circumstances or relationships. My heart isn't yanked wherever they go. I have reason for joy because I am a chosen child and a conscripted servant of the King of kings and Lord of lords, the great Creator, the Savior, the Sovereign, the Victor, the One who reigns and will reign forever. He is my Father, my Savior, and my Boss. He is ever near and ever faithful. My passion for ministry does not come from how I am being received. It flows out of the reality that I have been received by him. I'm not enthusiastic because people like me, but because he has accepted and sent me. I'm not passionate because ministry is glorious, but because God is eternally and unchangeably glorious. So I preach, teach, counsel, lead, and serve with a gospel passion that inspires and ignites the same in the people around me.
Confidence, that inner sense of well-being and capability, comes from knowing the One I serve. He is my confidence and ability. He will not call me to a task unless he has enabled me to do it. He has more zeal for the health of his church than I ever will. No one has more interest in the use of my gifts than the One who gave them. No one has more zeal for his glory than he does. He is ever-present and ever-willing. He is all-powerful and all-knowing. He is boundless in love and glorious in grace. He does not change; he is faithful forever. His word will not cease to be true. His power to save will never be exhausted. His rule will not run out. He will never be conquered by one greater than himself. I can do what I have been called to do with confidence, not because of who I am, but because he is my Father, and he is glorious in every way.
Ministry isn't always glorious. Sometimes your naïve expectations have proven to be just that – naïve. Sometimes it's going to take more than ministry success and the appreciation of people to pull you out of bed to fulfill your calling. Sometimes you won't much see much fruit as the result of your labors and won't have much hope of seeing a harvest anytime soon. Sometimes you will think you have been betrayed and feel alone. So your discipline must be rooted in something deeper than a horizontal assessment of how things appear to be going. I am more and more persuaded in my own life that sturdy self-discipline, the kind that is essential in pastoral ministry, is rooted in worship. The awesome glory of God's existence, character, plan, presence, promises, and grace gives me reason to work hard and not give up, no matter whether we are in a "good" season or one that is stormy.
Finally, as I face my weaknesses and the messiness of the local church, what gives me rest of heart? Glory gives you rest. It is the knowledge that nothing is too hard for the God whom you serve. It is the surety that all things are possible with him. It is knowing, with Abraham, that the one who made all those promises is faithful. There may seem to be many horizontal reasons to be anxious, but I will not let my heart be captured by worry or fear, because the God of inestimable glory who sent me has made this promise: "I will be with you." I don't have to play games with myself. I don't have to deny or minimize reality in order to feel okay, because he has invaded my existence with his glory, and I can rest even in the brokenness between the "already" and the "not yet."
Getting Your Awe Back
I don't have a set of strategies for you in conclusion. But I counsel you to run now, run quickly, to your Father of awesome glory. Confess the offense of your boredom. Plead for eyes opened to the 360-degree, 24/7 display of glory to which you have been blind. Determine to spend a certain portion of every day in meditating on his glory. Cry out for the help of others. And remind yourself to be thankful for Jesus, who offers you his grace even at those moments when grace isn't nearly as gloriously valuable to you as it should be.