Last night at about 11:30 I snuck out our front door, moving along the sidewalk and down my neighbor’s driveway to plant the Gatorade-green “You Are Loved” sign a church member had left for us three days ago. I did not get caught. A week ago, my wife and I produced a four minute devotional video, by phone in our living room, wherein we confessed that we were driving one another nuts now that we have to work at home together… before sharing Ephesians 4:32 with our people. It’s had almost 2000 hits in 48 hours. Two weeks ago I had to passionately preach to an empty sanctuary of almost 1500 chairs. It was beyond spooky. Life. These. Days. For a neighbor, spouse and pastor, right?
But what about our people? Their situations are a deluge:
A call just now from a doctor who’s convinced it’s only a matter of time before he contracts the Virus…and brings it home to share with his wife and children. A college student returns home early in his senior year…to announce to his family that he is gay, in a relationship, and will move in with his partner post-COVID. Another church member-nurse stationed at “The Tent” outside her hospital. She was in tears at how angry (scared!) people are toward her as she does her best to help save them. Or an elementary school teacher, heartbroken to imagine the “homes” her little students must now endure – parents who cannot sustain their addictions in isolation and schools out of commission as safe places. I asked my Men’s Bible Study, “How much money have you lost lately?” My retired guys were deadpan. Some younger guys have already been let go.
As pastors we all have our stories and they are legion. But the question I’m asking myself at this point, and for every individual in my life is, “Now what?”
Two things I’ve learned on the way to an answer in the last few weeks (both having to do with Shepherding):
- OUR PEOPLE ARE IN DESPERATE NEED
- SO AM I – OF JESUS!
At West Shore Free Church our people are incredible. We’ve been virtually overwhelmed with “Awesome Ideas” and “Great Opportunities” to serve one another and reach into our surrounding communities. We have now channeled our resources and are actively covering “The City” per our Mission. We are in it together, of one mind, at work.
But where is each of us at in his or her heart? As the hours go by, am I turning to Jesus? Recently, a colleague gave me great advice: “Nate, just call a guy, ask him how he’s doing, and listen. That’s Shepherding!” That advice is working. I wrap up with something like this: “We’re both at home now. We have some more time. Let’s read our Bibles more. Let’s pray some more. Let’s listen longer. To Jesus.”
We offer a program at our church called WDI: Wilderness Discipleship Intensive. In it we take groups of 5-15 men (or 4-6 couples) six hours north into the six million-acre Adirondack Park of upstate New York. It’s a 3-4 day long weekend in the woods where we do some cool stuff like caving, climbing, canoeing… But the centerpiece is a SOLO experience for each person wherein he or she can connect or reconnect with God. We tell them, “Leave your phone in the lean-to, walk down and spread out along the trail, then step off the trail for about 50 yards. Find a tree to sit against. Then…take 3 hours alone. Take a nap at first if you need to – some of you look like you could really use that and nothing is going to come out of the forest and attack you. But when you wake up…turn to Jesus. Do that with whatever physical posture you prefer: kneeling on the dry leaves, standing with arms raised, whatever – only God is watching – and He is interested in your heart much more than your body language. Then, especially if you’re really weary, or anxious, or sad in your soul, say to Him just one word – ‘Yes?’ Then listen! He will speak to you in a way you understand.
- Jesus is my Good Shepherd (John 10).
- He makes sure to find me, always (Luke 15).
- He meets my every need (Psalm 23).
And in Psalm 23:4, after three verses of David telling me about the LORD, he turns to the LORD, His Shepherd, to say, “Yeah, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for YOU are with me…” When I go down into that Valley – like right now – I can turn to You…