I always wonder, what does a pastor pray about? What does he confess or admit to when he’s on his knees? What captures his heart?
Here I can expect the usual proclamations of faith, hope and love. I can expect the "Hallelujah!" and the "Thank you Lord!". I can also expect him to end every prayer with promises of victory, overcoming and the eternal hope.
But given all that, what other things would the pastor say to God? What other convictions would he share in the privacy of his own space?
Now, I am aware of the raw reality of pastoral ministry. I know that a pastor deals with people and with it comes people issues. These issues concern the matters of the heart and the human heart is above all deceitful and filled with hatred, envy, lust, greed, pain and sorrow. Mind you, the suffering of the people - their disappointment and disillusionment - is just as real as the love, peace and joy of the faith. When faith meets suffering, the gap in understanding often time overwhelms the pastoral heart.
So, what would a pastor tell God about his struggles when confronting with that which he does not understand? Will he be candid with his Savior, even argumentative? Will he let it out in protest? Will he allow his feelings, even honest and untempered ones, to be ventilated in full?
If the pastor would to put aside the proclamation that everything will eventually work out in the end, that oft-cited Romans 8:28 verse, what is his deep heart cry to the Lord concerning the unbridgeable chasm between human pain and human understanding? Will he admit to God that the mystery of evil and suffering is more than he can bear? Will he be open to having faith in a loving God, all knowing and all powerful, and at the same time, having doubts provoked by the inexplicable gratuitous suffering in this world that happens unceasing, unheeded, and unmitigated?
In other words, what would his lamentations be? Will he cry out to God to be more proactive, more involved? Or will he blame himself for being the one who stands in the way, for not believing enough?
If so, how would he then approach the subject of unanswered prayers? How would he deal with the issue of the seemingly capriciousness (or arbitrariness) of God in answering prayers with one healed instantly, another delayed, others forestalled with different outcome altogether, and still others bypassed and forgotten?
How does a pastor deal with uncharacteristic faithlessness in prayer? What emotions would a pastor attach to the vexing conundrums of faith? Or instead, will he - in the middle of their confession - rebuke, purge and cast that wimpy, spineless spirit of doubt into the darkest abyss of purgatory? Will a pastor treat doubt with a pair of toxic gloves?
And what would he tell God about the advancement of science that is attempting quite arrogantly to explain his Creator away and luring our millennial generation towards the slippery slope of humanism, atheism and agnosticism? Will he cry out for immediate divine intervention – something akin to the worldwide Noah-like floodgates of miracles - that would stun all into awe, repentance and redemption? Will such a plea be answered anyway?
What then should a pastor do with a postmodern world so convinced about their knowledge that God is a figment of one’s imagination, and driven into thinking that all beliefs are relativistic, that is, what works for you may not work for me – so stop imposing your belief on ours? And in a world where homosexual and heterosexual couples are walking down the aisle towards a sacred marital union under the legally-endorsed reason of equality, adult consent and love, what is a pastor to do and say in his daily prayers to God?
Or should the pastor be grateful to God for all the blessings that he, his family and his church have received, and make passing mention of the unmentionables that are happening outside of his church, with the closing prayer dedicated to the familiar assurances about persisting in the faith, casting our hope always on the second coming, and overcoming it all with patience, charity and thanksgiving?
Alas, I guess I will never know what the confession, lamentations and petitions of a pastor are since they are all done in private. I may even be too presumptuous to write what I have written here. God knows a pastor’s heart is already burdened enough with the daily cares and administration of the ministry.
But whatever they are, I trust the pastor is discerning enough to deal with some of the issues I have raised here as I can't imagine him sidestepping them in his prayers on the belief that all things will just work themselves out eventually according to His sovereign plan.
There is no doubt empowering truth in Romans 8:28, but at times, I believe the flock are not looking for answers in their most pressing hour of need. They are not looking for 5 steps to faith-building or 10 steps to salvational assurances. Neither are they looking for a magical eradicator to remove all doubts. Absolute certainty is reserved for omniscience for it is said that “he can neither believe, nor be comfortable in his unbelief; and he is too honest and courageous not to try to do one or the other.” (Herman Melville, author of Moby Dick).
And by extension, are we then in self-delusion or timorous of our true feeling when we insist that the glass on this side of heaven is already full, and we thus see all things with untainted clarity? For this reason, and this reason alone, it scares me to the innermost when a megachurch pastor stands before the crowd to tell them with absolute certainty that God only has one plan for them, and that is, to see to their own prosperity, materially and unconditionally.
Alas, the reality is, many of the mystery of faith has no answers and the attempts to burnish faith with pre-canned answers only deepen the desperation when one is searching for the inscrutable truth.
Here, I recall what the Trappist monk Thomas Merton once said, “faith is a decision, a judgment that is fully and deliberately taken in the light of a truth that cannot be proven – it is not merely the acceptance of a decision that has been made by somebody else.”
And in the face of our own imminent mortality, or when confronting a silent God, we as sheep on the narrow path may just be looking for a hint of the broken humanity that our shepherds may share with us as we journey in our search for an interim sense of enduring comfort to fill the void of understanding within before the perfect comes. Cheerz.
* image taken from "pexels."