2 Corinthians 7:3-4 (NIV)
3 I do not say this to condemn you; I have said before that you have such a place in our hearts that we would live or die with you.
4 I have great confidence in you; I take great pride in you. I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds.
When you read 2 Corinthians 7:2-7, it's obvious that for Paul, planting and building a church is not just a work of art, but a work of heart. Like raising a family, planting and leading a church is not simply an investment of one's skills, energy or expertise, but far more an investment of one's heart. It's a very personal investment. That's why we see Paul writing as he does in 2 Corinthians 7:2-7, talking about his "joy", his "sorrow", his "fears", his restlessness, his "pride", his "concern", and his wish that the people in his church would open up their hearts.
Sometimes people ask me: what's the biggest difference between being a lawyer and being a pastor? Here's my answer after having practiced law for 14 years and having been in pastoring/shepherding ministry for 12 years so far: when it comes to lawyering, the condition of your heart is not that important. You can be an effective lawyer without "feeling" too much for the case or for your client, and without being that concerned about your own personal holiness or purity. (Some would even say that the more a lawyer removes their heart from the case, the more effective they can serve their client.)
But when it comes to pastoring or shepherding, it's impossible to do it well - or do it at all -- unless your heart is in it and is in good condition.
Now perhaps there are other lawyers or pastors out there who are far wiser, more skilled, more accomplished, or more experienced than I will ever be and who would beg to differ, but that's my experience. To be a good lawyer, the condition of your heart is not the most important. To be a good pastor or shepherd, the condition of your heart is all important. In fact, without it, you got nothing.
So if you are a shepherd, whether you're shepherding your own family, a small group at church, a class of children, or a serving team, here's my prayer for you:
- That God would strengthen you, protect you, encourage you, refresh you, and give you good creativity, wisdom and courage to be an excellent shepherd for those in your care;
- Since shepherding is a "work of heart", that you would keep your own heart in good condition, for your heart is the wellspring of life (Proverbs 4:23). May you always shepherd with a joyful heart, knowing that we can never out-give God and that all we ever do for others can't compare to what Jesus has done for us. Whenever you are weak, may you take the time to pour out your heart to God - your hurts, your thanks, your praise, your weaknesses and your questions to God, and may you be still long enough in His presence to receive His power replenishing, restoring and filling you up again. A healthy, happy heart means a healthy, happy shepherd;
- May you not be afraid to serve and shepherd people with your heart. Yes, you will be hurt sometimes, but don't let the risk of being hurt keep you from leading with love and passion. Trust that God will protect you and strengthen you. He will even use your biggest disappointments, hurts and mistakes to make you a stronger, wiser, more resilient, more fruitful, more Christ-like leader. And He will reward you with a crown of glory that will never fade away (1 Peter 5:14).
If you are a shepherd for others, thank you for all the hard work, sacrifice, time and effort you put in, serving from your heart. Thank you for giving of yourself so that others can live and be blessed. I see Jesus in what you do!