Our church staff team has been reading The Contemplative Pastor by Eugene Peterson. I’ve have read this book at least twice before, and it still challenges me in deep, deep ways. Over and over the mantra of Peterson is a pastor prays, a pastor does the deep work of seeking God, a pastor shepherds and points people to God. The pastor does not busy himself with so many tasks that the work of hearing God, attending to His Word, and praying (and teaching others to do the same) gets crowded out by the busyness and business of church.
My life is marked by busyness, crowdedness, always another task to do or another person to help. American culture teaches us that is what a pastor is – a pastor is what he does. But I want to be an unbusy pastor, one who prays, one who has time and space for God and people.
Today I decided to put that into practice in the last half hour I was at the office. I went to the sanctuary, and unwisely took my cell phone. Ten minutes into prayer time, my phone rang and, unwisely, I answered. It was a friend who had just lost their housing (I’d spent the afternoon with a guy from my small group moving my friend’s things into our garage), and they were working to get their next place. They had left some papers at their old house and wanted me to go and get those papers for them. What should I do?
Clearly it’s important that they get those papers. They don’t have a car, but they do have a bus pass. I could get the papers for them in 20 minutes, but by then my day would be done. Prayer time would be over. I could pray tomorrow, but would I? When do you draw a line in the sand and say that the work of prayer, though it can be done anywhere and any time, is not to be put aside?
Perhaps you would have chosen differently from me, but I chose to remain in prayer. My life seems to be a series of crisis calls, people needing help RIGHT NOW and everything else quickly gets put on hold, most especially the work of prayer. Choosing to stay and pray was painful. I felt guilty, ashamed, and I was unable to focus for a while. But that guilt and shame were from my own sense of importance, my own unbelief that God could provide for my friend in other ways than me.
It sounds nice to be an unbusy praying pastor, but I am learning that there will be a cost and that ideal will be challenged. I hope that I am up to the challenge of living by the Spirit and discerning when to stay and do the work of prayer that I am called to. I’m sure there will be other days when I am called to “go” but I didn’t think that today was that day.