By David Miller
In being asked to write a small piece for “The Pastor’s Spiritual Life,” my first thought was to outline the necessary disciplines that every pastor needs to do—read the Bible, meditate, pray, serve, and even fast. But most of this is self-evident, and books and even sermon series cover these topics. I had one idea of having another pastor preach to me through recorded sermons. But the more I thought about it, I felt lead to share about an experience this past year.
It began when I went in for my annual physical exam and was told that my blood counts were not what they should be. To make a long story short, I ended up seeing an oncologist, who told me that my Hodgkin’s lymphoma had reoccurred. The doctor suggested I go through a stem cell transplant using my own stem cells. The process took me out of church for four and a half months, during which I frankly had a hard time concentrating on reading the Word and even praying.
But my spiritual life received a tremendous boost because of what my friends and church members did for me. It sure encouraged my spiritual life. I know one thing for sure: I am not part of the 80 percent of ministers who believe ministry has affected their families negatively (Life Enrichment Ministry survey quoted in Corban, Fall 2010, p. 6).
Let me illustrate. I received notes that didn’t just say, “We are praying for you.” Rather the principal of our church-sponsored academy wrote, “Hi Pastor, Just wanted to let you know that I’m thinking about you both as you start the hardest leg of the journey. Just finished looking at your blog. What a great use of your time when so many of your activities are limited. Technology is great, and the Lord must be pleased with how you’re using it to bless so many . . . your family, your friends, and maybe even strangers God sends your way.
“We miss you at church. Terry did a great job, and we look forward to Scott’s coming down next week. Still, no one can replace you! Anyway, wanted to send along a note to remind you that I’m praying for you daily. I admire and respect you more than I can put into words. Thank God for sending you back to California, and thank you for listening to Him. You are good for our church, good for the school, good for my family, and good for me! Because you believed in me, you gave me confidence I didn’t think I had to do a job I never even wanted! God works in mysterious ways!
“From my notes on Chip Ingram’s God As He Longs for You to See Him DVD series . . .‘You are the object of God’s affection. God is good to you not because you are good, but because He is.’ Psalm 84:11, ‘For the Lord God is a sun (unlimited resources) and a shield (unlimited protection). The Lord gives grace and glory. No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly.’ I am praying for abundant resources and protection for both you and Koyce. Love, Esther.”
Gail, a faithful member of the church over the years, prayed for me and wrote out her prayers. In one of her prayer notes, she wrote, “And by the way, that series you just injected, it was for you, yes, and for all of us who have hard times, but it helped us all to get on the same page with you as you go thru this—we could see your thought processes—we could relate to these first steps in stem cell transplant.” Then she started praying, saying, “Pastor is so human—brave yet fearful; realistic but hopeful. What I still think and appreciate deeply, AND I TOLD YOU THIS way back when I helped him announce the cancer with ‘Little cardboard David’ is that he takes sooo much care to try to ease our anxiety as a flock, when he’s got to be hurting so much himself. How Christlike.”
The church asked if they could pray for me publicly and send me off like we do missionaries on a Sunday morning. The result is that one person wrote, “I was so impressed with the prayers over them today—Esther’s history lesson, Calvin’s ‘from everlasting to everlasting you are God.’ I don’t know how anyone could have walked away not being blessed and it really wasn’t to be that way. . . . Really we were praying over him and blessing your love. The praise was yours again. . . . P.S., I’m thinkin’ in many respects this ordeal will be harder for Koyce than David—it’s very hard to be a spectator and comforter when you can’t really relate because she hasn’t had a stem-cell transplant—she’s gotta have such grace, God—no problem, right? You’re the grace-giver!”
As Gail read and prayed in Genesis over Abraham’s servant prayer to God, she wrote, “O God of my Master Abraham” (then she crossed it out and inserted the name David). “Make things go smoothly this day—treat my master Abraham (i.e., David—well!). So you know me that you’re working graciously behind the scenes for my master.” Gail prayed on, saying, “What a beautiful verse, God—I’m claiming that one also! When he gives you the credit each day for victories, we’ll all know you’re graciously working behind the scenes for him!”
One last illustration. Over the years, I have said to many people, “Let me know how I can help you.” But I learned that the most meaningful offers were from people who didn’t ask if they could help; they just went into action! For instance, Ruth sent one of her homemade cards, someone else loaned me their DVD player without my asking, and another person brought me a bag of DVDs to watch. People brought over desserts and meals; Sue’s kids did that on more than one occasion without even making an inquiry. Ana, who went through cancer herself, brought over on a couple of occasions some soup she made; it was delicious. Rita and Allan not only brought over some food, but Allan mowed our lawn, trimmed the edges, and washed my car. And if that wasn’t enough, he even waxed my car for me! And Hap did similar things, too, trimming my palm tree in the backyard. One day he came by and noticed we weren’t there but saw that the flowers needed water, so he got out the hose and gave them a drink.
Praise God. As to my spiritual life, it is greatly encouraged with the love of Christ flowing through my friends and church members. Thank God for these gracious people. My prayer is that pastors throughout our fellowship would be encouraged in a similar way in their spiritual life.
David Miller is pastor of First Baptist Church, Walnut Creek, Calif.