If you want to be a shepherd, you have to be strong. Remember what David had to do? He killed lions and bears. Sheep-eaters are fierce, and at times the sheep can be more fierce. If you are weak, those lions will tear you to bits. If you don’t have some legit spiritual muscles, those sheep will knock you down and trample you deep into the mud and manure of ministry. You gotta be strong!
Strength means having your act together… right? You cannot have any chink in your armor if you are going to defend the sheep against the enemy. You need to appear flawless in front of the sheep. They can’t see that you have any weaknesses. If they do, they will not respect you. They will not heed you booming, authoritative voice. Right?
The Valley of Vision contains a prayer entitled A Minister’s Confession. In it we see these words:
“It is my deceit to preach, and pray,
and to stir up others’ spiritual affections
in order to beget commendations,
whereas my rule should be daily
to consider myself more vile than any man in my own eyes.
But thou dost show thy power by my frailty,
so that the more feeble I am, the more fit to be used,
for thou dost pitch a tent of grace in my weakness.”
This prayer squashes my pride. It highlights the not so shocking reality that I am not a spiritual bodybuilder. It forces me to recognize that I am quite as talented, quite as sinless, quite as mature as I think I am. As I approach the mammoth task of watch-care over the souls of real live people (Heb. 13:17), as I labor doggedly for their maturity (Col. 1:24-29), as I diligently guard the sheep against fierce wolves (Acts 20:29), I am faced with my own impotence to fulfill the task.
Far from sweeping the leg out from under ministry, however, this confession empowers it. The confessor realizes that though he is weak, weakness is the field in which the grace of God sets up camp. He has grounded himself in the truth which Paul speaks of at the end of Colossians 1, “[Christ] we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.”
Those who are called to the role of under-shepherd of the flock of Jesus Christ are called to bodybuilder sized tasks. No matter our training, experience, or natural giftedness, not one of us is any stronger than the 6-year-old, starving refugee. As Jesus said, “apart from me you can do nothing.” The glory of this sobering truth is that God designed it that way so that he might display his power:
2 Corinthians 4:5-7 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.
We make weak the ministry of the Gospel of Jesus Christ when we rest in our own strength. We might think at times, “I am strong enough. I have it all put together.” At other times we may think, “what a mess. I am so weak. Ministry is hopeless.” Either statement is an arrogant assertion that the success of Gospel ministry rests in our own two hands. As we confess our own weakness, God pitches a tent of grace in that field. As we toil for the maturity of the saints, we get to join Paul in drinking from the bottomless well of the grace of God. Toil with all of the energy that God himself works in you.