“End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it.” —J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King
The telephone rang in my office. It was a darkening, rainy afternoon. The billowing clouds hung ominously outside, and in my heart there was also a tempest that was threatening to spill out into my life. It had been a hard couple of years in the ministry, and I had been contemplating my resignation as a pastor. I was frustrated, hurt, and very ready to pack it all in and call it quits. It was with a heavy heart that I picked up that ringing telephone and answered.
Little did I know that the prayer that I had been repeating in my mind and on my lips was about to be answered. – A local pastor was calling to donate some food to our corps because we had a large soup kitchen and we could always use the extra meals. I politely told the pastor that I would drive over to his church right away and collect the food. Isn’t it interesting how God knows just what we need even before we recognize it?
I made my way to his church and pulled into the driveway. The church was an older gray stone building with a traditional cross at the top, and the customary blue and red stained glass window that faced the busy street. I parked at the adjacent gymnasium structure and knocked on the front door. The pastor ambled to the door and upon seeing the uniform, welcomed me in. He led me to the kitchen where the food was all nicely wrapped and ready…but something truly remarkable happened. I had come for food to feed others, but the Lord had other ideas in mind. I needed nourishment of the heart – for I was worn, weary and at the end of my rope.
I am not sure if you have ever experienced the moving of the Holy Spirit, but I am certain that the Lord had given me a divine appointment that day in order to help heal my wounded heart. The pastor began to talk to me about his ministry, and gave me a brief tour of the building. He described the basketball program and the youth ministry. We chatted for a few more minutes and then it all spilled out…It felt like I was in a safe place, far away from judgment and ridicule…and so I shared with him my hurt. It was like unloading a burden I had been carrying around for far too long. I told him about my heartache I had experienced in the ministry, and the wounds that had been inflicted while on the pastoral battlefield. He understood. He didn’t say, “well you just need to try harder“, or “perhaps you just aren’t walking with the Lord enough“; or even “maybe you’re just not cut out for ministry.”
No, rather, he just listened.
He let me expose the festering wound of my heart that refused to heal. I had not been able to articulate it, let alone face it before. But here in a gym kitchen, I felt led to bear the wound and let the infection be seen.
Finally after I had finished talking, the pastor told me about his own hurt. How years ago he had moved to this town. He had left another ministry that had been difficult and it too had wounded him. Leaning on a stainless steel island in a small kitchen, he then prayed for me, and the power of the Holy Spirit began working in my heart. I can’t tell you that I was miraculously healed in a single instant, but the pain, bitterness and hurt started to be addressed by the Lord. I was a broken vessel in need of repair, and the hands of God were more than willing to remold me again. Dare I say that the Pastor was only being faithful to the Lord, while the Lord applied the much needed salve to a wounded life. Isn’t it funny how God has a tendency to do that – use the faithful at the most unlikely of places, and just the right moment?!
After the Pastor prayed with me, he asked me if it would be alright if he contacted a couple of other pastors that he knew, and if we could all meet over breakfast sometime soon. I accepted the invitation and promptly left with the food in my hands. Again, I had come to receive food for people in need, when I was also in need myself – in need of spiritual nourishment and hope. I walked away from that encounter a little lighter.
I told my wife about my time with Pastor Steve, and explained that I felt the Lord had placed him in my path.
A little while later I received a phone call from Pastor Steve, and true to his word, he was inviting me to a breakfast with his group of pastors. I had been in other pastor groups before, and sometimes it felt like it was a forced fellowship. I went to the first breakfast with that thought in mind, but I was extremely surprised to find a group of guys who loved being with each other. The laughed together over coffee and toast. I felt as if I was being welcomed into a fellowship I didn’t deserve…and yet here they were warming my heart.
Over the course of the next few months I met with this pastor group. We met every couple of weeks, and there wasn’t any agenda except to encourage one another, to pray for one another and share the in the journey. I came to pick up food only to be fed…
Pastor Steve helped to pick me up, a wounded pastor, on the way while traveling on the same journey…and I am forever grateful for that divine appointment. It was just before Thanksgiving last year that Pastor Steve went in for a routine gall bladder surgery only to discover that it wasn’t gall bladder at all, but rather terminal cancer.
I recall the sheer shock of that horrific news. Yet, through it all Pastor Steve remained a faithful servant of God.
Just today, mere weeks before Thanksgiving – almost one year to the day – Pastor Steve went to be with the Lord. I mourn the loss of such a man of God. This world is better because he walked it. My life is better because he journeyed for a time along with me. He shared in my hurt, and helped to heal the deep wounds of my heart. I know that I will always be thankful for his ministry in my life…even though it was for but the briefest of times. Just like markers in life – where we remember the turning points and milestones – Pastor Steve stands there on one of those points in mine.
I came to pick up food for others only to be fed…and that was a divine appointment designed by the Lord and enacted upon by a faithful servant…thank you Steve! And now while I continue to travel this path, may I too faithful recognize those divine appointments that must enter and help those who walk behind me.
“There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” -C.S. Lewis.