“With upright heart he shepherded them
and guided them with his skillful hand.” (Ps. 78:72)
As I was meditating on Psalm 78 this morning, I was struck by the way Asaph concludes the psalm. Speaking of King David, he writes, “With upright heart he shepherded them and guided them with his skillful hand.” In this verse, we find character and competence in the great king. He was not simply a “man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22); he was also a man with a “skillful hand.” This reality is important for us today, not only in light of the presidential election but also in light of the dearth of such leadership in general. It would appear that many in our day simply regarding one or the other as adequate. Either a person has solid character or they have competence, but rarely are we overwhelmed by people who possess both.
This predicament often leads to compromise in organizations. A person is hired or retained because they are “a good person” or because they are “a good worker/leader,” yet, I would contend that instead of settling for one or the other, we ought to strive for both. Obviously, this begins with us. We must be the type of people who demonstrate character AND competence.To be sure, this does not entail perfect character, for that attribute alone belongs to Christ. However, we ought to strive to be more holy “as He is holy.” As E.M. Bounds wrote, concerning the minister’s life, “Your whole usefulness depends on the study of universal holiness of life, for your sermons last but an hour or two; your life preaches all the week.” We cannot neglect the pursuit of character formation in Christ.
Furthermore, while we may not all be gifted in the same way, we can all still work hard. Competence in a particular area is typically not about natural gifting. Instead, it’s more about disciplined, hard work and effort. For pastors, this is especially true. We must be disciplined in our sermon preparation, studying and exploring the height, the breadth, the width, and the depth of God’s Word for God’s people. We must make the time to make disciples. We must work hard to pray. Competence in these areas is not natural. We must “labor more abundantly” as the apostle Paul stated in 1 Corinthians 15:10. For, As D.A. Carson notes, “People do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord.” We must work to grow in competence. Laziness is not an acceptable characteristic of the Christian.
What about Burnout?
Now, I know that some may hesitate at this point and begin to preach to me about the dangers of burnout in ministry. And let me acknowledge that burnout is a possibility, but it is less of a possibility if we are consumed with the right things in ministry. Let me assure you, brothers: you will not burn out in ministry because you prayed too much and you meditated on God’s Word too much. These disciplines are life-giving, not life-draining. I tend to believe that a lot of “ministry fatigue” is the result of pastors busying themselves with other things without the daily appropriation of the grace of the gospel. In others, if pastors spent more time on their knees before God and less time worried about other leaders or “building a platform” or “growing their brand,” then I think we would hear a whole lot less about burnout in the ministry.
A Godly Resolve
So, let us resolve to pursue godliness and work hard while there is still time. Let us not meander through ministry and life, but instead, run the race that is set before us. Let us empty ourselves for the sake of the Kingdom of Christ. Let us seek to have both good character and competent gifts for the sake of God’s glory!