help

1 In you, O Lord, do I take refuge;
    let me never be put to shame!
In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me;
    incline your ear to me, and save me!
Be to me a rock of refuge,
    to which I may continually come;
you have given the command to save me,
    for you are my rock and my fortress.

Psalm 71:1-3

In the ancient world, villages, peoples, and armies sought protection in a refuge or a fortress. If you’ve read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, or seen the movies, think Helm’s Deep. The fortress was a place of retreat and defense. It was a shelter.

The psalmist affirms here that the Lord is our refuge, our rock, our fortress.

It is easy for our circumstances and situations in life to overwhelm us. Cancer, covid, catastrophes, raising teenagers, job difficulties, death, disease, interpersonal conflicts, or any number of other events and circumstances can trouble us.

In David’s case, he spent years wandering from rock to cave hiding out from King Saul who wanted to take his life. And David sought the Lord’s protection, and the Lord protected David. Time and again David trusted in the Lord, and the Lord delivered.

Whatever your frustration or concern, your worry or fear, your enemy or your challenge, take refuge in the Lord. But how can we seek refuge in the Lord?

  • Seek refuge in the Lord’s Words. When you make time to read, study, meditate, memorize, and apply God’s Word, you are taking in God’s thoughts. Much of our frustration, worry, and fear derive from a worried mind and burdened thoughts. So dwell on God’s thoughts. Think on his promises. Find refuge in his Words.
  • Seek refuge in the Lord’s presence. Many of us like to solve problems. We like the challenge of navigating a situation, figuring out the next steps, and planning for success. But often we remain stressed and frustrated because we are seeking refuge in our own answers. Pray. Bring your situations to the Lord specifically and intentionally. Seek his presence through prayer.
  • Seek refuge in the the Lord’s people. While our final and ultimate hope cannot be in others and must be in God alone, God did not create us to be alone. God created us for community. He created us to encourage and support one another. Find a friend you trust who is spiritually maturing and share your burden with them. Just someone else aware of your burden and praying for you can aid you in finding refuge in the Lord. Also, intercessory prayer for each other is a heavenly means of experiencing refuge in the Lord.

When we are in need, we need to find refuge in the Lord. Our situations and burdens are not for us alone. God grants them to us or allows us to experience them precisely because he wants us to seek refuge in him. He also wants to use our experience of seeking refuge in the Lord as a means of testimony to others.

Note how the psalmist closes this hymn:

17O God, from my youth you have taught me,
    and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.
18 So even to old age and gray hairs,
    O God, do not forsake me,
until I proclaim your might to another generation,
    your power to all those to come.

19 Your righteousness, O God,
    reaches the high heavens.
You who have done great things,
    O God, who is like you?
20 You who have made me see many troubles and calamities
    will revive me again;
from the depths of the earth
    you will bring me up again.
21 You will increase my greatness
    and comfort me again.
22 I will also praise you with the harp
    for your faithfulness, O my God;
I will sing praises to you with the lyre,
    O Holy One of Israel.

23 My lips will shout for joy,
    when I sing praises to you;
    my soul also, which you have redeemed.

24 And my tongue will talk of your righteous help all the day long,
for they have been put to shame and disappointed
    who sought to do me hurt.

Psalm 71:17-24 (emphasis mine)

After David sought refuge in the Lord, he promised to testify of the Lord’s goodness to the next generation (v. 18), to praise the Lord’s faithfulness (v. 22), to respond with praise and song (v. 23), and to tell of the Lord’s righteous help “all day long” (v. 24).

When God comes through, we don’t need to remain silent. This is another important reason for God’s people to be apart of our search for refuge. They are witnesses to our situations as well as witnesses to God’s provisions. God’s people are also part of our audience for declaring his praises and his interventions.

So, think back to how God has been your refuge. Share that praise with someone! And by all means, seek the Lord for refuge today.

According to research shared from Barna Group, 29% of pastors thought about quitting during the pandemic. Our local paper, the Wilkes Journal Patriot, ran a national article reflecting on the difficulty of the pandemic year for pastors, and how some had stepped away. Anecdotally, I know of several pastors who have stepped away from ministry of their own accord or were encouraged to leave by their churches. Also anecdotally, the associate pastor at our church shared that 5 of the 7 close ministry friends he has worked with over the past 20 years are no longer in vocational ministry.

Personally, the past 15 months have been challenging and at times overwhelming. I understand the sentiment and concerns for many of these pastors who have stepped away. But I long for something more. I long to finish well.

In this post, I’m writing to pastors and church leaders. My aim is to encourage you to apply some of the strategies for finishing well. In a subsequent post, I’m going to write to churches and church members encouraging you to support and encourage your pastors and ministers on their journey.

In his book, The Making of a Leader, J. Robert Clinton reflected on several barriers to leaders finishing well. They are:

  1. Finances-their use and abuse
  2. Power-its abuse
  3. Pride-which leads to downfall
  4. Sex-illicit relationships
  5. Family-critical issues
  6. Plateauing

The strategies below will not specifically address each of these barriers. But they will help us as leaders to build habits and character traits into our lives that will help us finish well.

No leader plans not to finish well, but leaders who finish well make plans to finish well.

Leaders don’t finish well accidentally.

Strategy #1. Create spiritual habits that keep you close to Jesus. If you examine the barriers above, many of them relate to sin issues. Fame, flirtations, and finances have been the downfall of many pastors/leaders better than us. Avoiding sin issues that disqualify leaders requires spiritual habits that keep us close to Jesus. We need to read and study the Bible devotionally, to pray dependently, to preach the gospel to ourselves regularly, and to confess and repent consistently. When we drift from Jesus, we will drift into sin.

Strategy #2. Keep your family a priority. Some ministers are forced to step away from ministry because ministry itself became an idol and destroyed their families. The leader who wants to finish well must prioritize healthy family relationships and interactions. Eat meals together. Talk. Have a family devotional time. Do fun things together. Go on holidays and vacations.

Strategy #3. Stay physically active and healthy. Vocational ministry is largely sedentary. Sitting, writing, reading, counseling, and relational interactions are not physically active parts of the job. Physical activity helps me sleep better and encourages better eating habits. Physical sloth encourages poor health habits. Take walks. Go running or hiking. Play an active sport. Physical activity is a natural stress relief and longterm health benefit.

Strategy #4. Never stop learning/growing. One of my favorite verses in the Bible is 2 Timothy 4:13: “When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments.” Paul was in the latter days of his ministry, but he still wanted to read, study, learn, and grow. I was convicted by the reality referenced in Clinton’s book that many ministers don’t burn out of ministry, they plateau. Develop a reading and study plan. Write. Take a course. By continuing to grow and learn, we remain pliable and teachable as pastors/leaders.

Strategy #5. Develop friendships and accountability. I need people in my life to look me in the eye and call me out for folly or sin. God has graciously given me several people who will regularly speak truth into my life and ask the hard questions. If you don’t have these people in your life, pray that God will give them to you. Finishing well means that God has protected you from foolishness and sin, and often God protects us by using friends as our accountability. Get in a discipleship group. Find an accountability partner. Open up to your spouse.

Strategy #6. Ask for help. You can’t do everything you are responsible for. You need help whether that help comes in the form of staff members, assistants, or lay leaders. Pastors (leaders) that last are pastors (leaders) who don’t try to do it all. Delegate. Train others. Disciple fellow workers and leaders. Turn over key tasks and responsibilities. During the pandemic, our church has remained strong because we have so many key leaders (staff and lay) who have taken ownership of everything from technology to cleaning to other protocols.

Plan to finish well.

Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash