(Photo: Paul Tripp)
I was a very angry man. The problem was that I didn't know I was an angry man. My wife, Luella, knew that I was angry. My kids knew I was angry. But I didn't know. Luella was very faithful in bringing that anger before me with its resultant failures to love my family. She did it often and with much grace. But I would not listen. Again and again, I would wrap myself in robes of righteousness and tell her what a great husband I was. I said I would pray for her problem with discontentment. (That helped her!) I was a man in the midst of destroying my marriage, family, and ministry, and I didn't know it.
This is embarrassing to admit, but there was an occasion when Luella was confronting me and I said these deeply humble words: "Ninety-five percent of the women in our church would love to be married to a man like me." (Luella very quickly informed me that she was part of the 5 percent!) I was convinced that no one had a more accurate picture of me than I did. And in my blindness I also failed to see and fear the disaster that I was heading toward.
On the way home from a ministry training weekend, my brother Tedd suggested that we should make the things we had learned practical to our personal lives. He then began to ask questions about my marriage. As he asked, it was as if God was ripping down curtains, and I saw and heard myself with accuracy for the first time in years. Praise God for the specificity of the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit. As my eyes were open, I couldn't believe what I had said and done. I was broken and grieved. It was hard for me to believe that that man that I was seeing was me. I couldn't wait to get home.
When I entered my house that night, Luella could tell that something was up by my seriousness. I asked her if we could talk. After we sat down I said, "I know for years that you have been trying to talk to me about my anger and my failure to love you and the kids as I should, and I have been unwilling to listen. I can honestly say tonight that I am ready to listen. I want to hear." I will never forget what happened next. Luella began to cry, told me that she loved me, and then talked for two hours. In those two hours God began a process of radically undoing and rebuilding my heart. The kind of work only his grace can do. The operative word is process. I was not zapped by divine lightning, but I was now a man with open eyes, open ears, and a willing heart.
The next several weeks were extremely painful as I saw that anger everywhere. But I experienced the transformative pain of grace. God was causing that anger to become so repulsive to me that I would never want to be there again. By God's grace that life-dominating anger is gone. Sure, I'm capable of a moment of irritation, but grace has removed the power of that old anger from my heart.
I have told my story to gatherings of pastors all around the world. Never have I told it without being approached by fellow pastors who confess that they share the same struggle. I tell my story here because it captures the themes that will make up the content of my weekly columns.
1. The reality of spiritual blindness in the life of the pastor. If sin blinds, and it does, then as long as sin remains in the heart of a pastor, there will be pockets of spiritual blindness. And as I have written elsewhere, the scary thing with spiritually blind people is that they're blind to their blindness. This means that the pastor needs "instruments of seeing" in his life as much as the people to whom he ministers (see Heb. 3:12-13).
2. The fact that a pastor is a man in the middle of his own sanctification. Being a pastor definitely does not mean you are a grace graduate. How seriously do we take the ongoing need for further growth and change in the heart and lives of those of us who lead or in those who lead us? It is impossible for a pastor to teach or preach anything he doesn't desperately need himself.
3. The pastor's need for the ministry of the body of Christ. How is it that in many churches we have constructed a culture where the pastor lives above or outside of the body of Christ? Think about it: If Christ is the head of his body, then everything else is just body. Since the pastor is a member of the body of Christ, he is in full need of what the body was designed to do and produce (see Eph. 4:1-16).
4. The unique temptations of ministry. There are a unique set of deceptive and seductive idols that accompany pastoral ministry. In ministry, it is easy to confuse building the kingdom of self with building the kingdom of God, because in the pastorate you build both kingdoms by doing ministry!
5. The unrelenting pursuit of grace in the life of the pastor. The personal and ministerial security of a pastor do not rest in his knowledge, experience, or skill. No, his place of rest and hope is exactly the same as everyone to whom he ministers: the rescuing and transforming grace of Christ Jesus. That grace will never fail to pursue him and will again and again rescue him from himself, often at times when he has no idea he needs any rescue at all. With diagnostic honesty and eternal hope and written from a pastor to pastors, it is that grace that this weekly column is written to celebrate.