I have found that after several years of ministry that there is no replacing personal time with God and a personal touch with people. As for the former, there is much to discover within the recesses of God's heart that cannot be discovered by mere experience but only in private consultation. I see his character within the pages of His revelation, but until I have stopped to ponder it over and again in my mind, I no nothing of it in any real tangible sense. It's just knowledge until it sinks deeper into my soul and takes root and shows itself in my consciousness, motives, and intentional activities. Perhaps this is what is meant by "participating in the divine nature" (2 Pet. 1:4). Not merely an awareness of God but a partnership and fellowship within the secret activities of the heart. Perhaps I am never more like God than when I am simply with him, enjoying the sweetness of joy that comes from a conversation that saturates the dry parts of my soul. This is where he reveals to me his heart in such a way that it changes mine. Truly this is what Brother Lawrence meant when he wrote "Practicing the Presence of God." I've noticed that even the Savior himself went up to the mountainside to pray. There's nothing like recharging with the Father. I want to know his heart.
As for the latter, God has been reminding me of what really matters in ministry. Nothing replaces quality time, purposeful interest, active listening, genuine encouragement, and timely follow-up. These are the things that touch the hearts of people. It expresses care and love, and it cannot be substituted in any way. It is the heart of a shepherd that people crave. For whether we pastors know it or not, we represent in some mysterious way the Chief Shepherd in a surrogate sense. We are "under shepherds," entrusted with the flock of God to whom we will give an account. And people can see right through us. They can sniff out a fake. But for the one who is the real deal, they will be quick to entrust their lives to you because they know you care.
How have I represented him? Have I shown others his heart? Do I reflect His compassion and come alongside others with an empathy and sympathy that would communicate His presence? These are the questions I must ponder. They are gripping. And I'm afraid that there are times when I fall way short of His holy calling. Paul said, "who is equal to such a task?" I know what he meant. And I know what Jesus meant when he said, "apart from me you can do nothing."
The temptation to do ministry "in the flesh" is there daily. Pride is a constant battle as I'm sure it is for most people. One must intentionally humble oneself to be used rightly. It's not that one should just pray for humility, but rather one must knowingly seek to place oneself in a humble state, looking for a way to lower oneself. God intentionally came to earth not as a man but as a baby. It was a purposeful choice. He pondered his path and took the low road. That's what we all must do. That, in some slight way, may be what Paul meant when he said that Jesus "emptied himself" (Phil. 2) -- he did not consider his equality with God something to use to his advantage, but became like one of us (except for sin). He went into the trenches with people, touched the untouchable, consoled the unconsolable, listened to those overlooked, gave grace and attention to those who called out for help, and did it all with dirty feet and unwashed hair. He also gave his life away...
That's what a shepherd does, and that's how he should minister to his flock. Lord make me like that. Make me like you in prayer, and make me like you with people.