One of the more frequent battles I face is being consistent in reading the Word of God for my own soul. If you're a ministry leader, I imagine this is perhaps difficult for you as well. It seems that pastors can easily jump into the Word, analyze it, dig the depths of the original languages, and discover a catchy story or illustration—all to craft a solid sermon each and every week with remarkable consistency. However, when it comes to studying the Word for the simple benefit of our own soul-tending, for personal nourishment . . . well, I believe it's a fight for most of us to do this.
But I’ve discovered that I can’t thrive spiritually feeding only on my sermon study. I’ve heard that many pastors can do this, but I certainly cannot. I've tried. Also, I’ve realized that I can’t “pay careful attention to myself” by only listening to my favorite preachers’ podcasts. At some point—sooner than I’d like to admit—I become so overwhelmed and my heart becomes malnourished to the point where I find it very difficult to continue persevering in the ministry. Certainly these feelings are real and can come from a number of different sources, but for me it seems to come from a lack of consistency in pursuing Jesus in the Word for my own soul.
As pastors, people need our love, passion, and zeal for Jesus. They need to hear about how He has led us to repentance, loved us, shown us grace—how He is changing us. I believe that what we do in private will affect what we do and how people learn from us in public. Abiding in the Word for our own souls is the key to being faithful in front of others as we serve the church throughout our ministry years. I pray that we are careful at being successful as pastors but successful only through our strategies of hand and skill—and not the heart of God, nor His mercy, nor through His power. My friend, Pastor Ray Ortlund, Jr. says, “That sort of man-made, human success puts our feet on the path towards apostasy in the next generation.” I pray that we receive this warning and do what we must to seek Jesus consistently—that we become desperate for His Spirit to move in our hearts in private.
The reality is that, as we pastor and shepherd in the church, we will not drift towards having a strong personal pursuit of Jesus. In other words, as our ministry moves forward, we won’t automatically develop a faithful feeding of our souls or tending of our own heart. If anything we will put things on some sort of “cruise control” and simply browse our social media platforms to see how awesome we are and then slowly find ourselves drifting away from Jesus and drifting effortlessly away from making Jesus famous in our city. Without intentional effort and care, we will all drift away from purposeful pursuit of Jesus to our own way.
However, pursuing Jesus as 1 Timothy 4 challenges us to will allow us to find joy in Him, rather than in the wicked-terrible idol of finding comfort in a growing church plant and in gaining "atta-boys" for our sermons or anything else. As pastors we must know that personally pursing Jesus in the Word is one of the best things we can do for our own heart, our family, our church, and our city. Staying the course here in this pursuit of Jesus in the Word will infuse us with courage and humility to lead well—with a humble confidence relying on Him.