I’ve got two secrets to share with you. The first one is experienced by most pastors. The second one is rarely experienced by anyone. Pastors don’t get calloused hands from pastoring. Neither do they generally puff and sweat from their normal pastoring duties. Yet at the end of a day of pastoral duties, most pastors are exhausted. But why? Personally, I found this phenomena quite confusing. While I hadn’t spent the day digging ditches or laying bricks, I had often spent the day just listening to people and praying with them. In between those appointments I’d be preparing discipleship material, getting two sermons ready for Sunday, and marking students’ assignments. Then I’d be exhausted! I eventually discovered what many pastors also come to realise. And this is where I will share my first secret with you. Pastors find pastoring physically exhausting. (This secret also somewhat applies to doctors, politicians, counsellors, therapists and others.) This secret confirms something that the Bible reveals about being human. Each of us are a unity—a composite— of a physical body, a spiritual soul, and an intellectual mind. You might scoff at me calling this a ‘secret’, but I think I have proof to back my claim.
¶ Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. First Thessalonians 5:23
I was listening to the award winning novelist, Andrew Klavan, who gave a speech at the Acton Institute describing his journey from being raised a Jew, living as an atheist, then despite his fame and acclaim, attempting suicide—only to find that the God he refused to believe in actually existed! He said,
Multi-award winning novelist, Andrew Klavan
I was in despair. I was sitting alone in a dark room, plotting my own death. I was repeating over and over in my own mind, the mantra, the words – I don’t know how to live, I don’t know how to live.
A baseball game was playing in the background. A hero of mine, a catcher by the name of Gary Carter, he had hit a ground ball single. After the game and interviewer asked him, how he had managed to beat the throw to first base because his knees has been ruined by sitting the Catcher’s Position for so many years?
Carter was a devout and outspoken Christian. He was always talking to interviewers about ‘Jesus Christ’ this, or his Jesus that. I absolutely hated this about him. Every time he did it, it made me shudder, like someone had dropped a worm down the back of my shirt. If he’s praised Jesus that day, I would have ignored him. But oddly, he didn’t mention Christ at all. Instead as I sat there reciting to myself ‘I don’t know how to live’ – Gary Carter said simply ‘sometimes you just have to play in pain.’ Those words struck deep into my heart. I seized on them instantly. I thought, I can do that. And I made the decision to live.
Klavan went on to say that it took him another 10 years before he gave his life to Christ at the age of 40. He had believed the lies of a godless culture that human beings are nothing more than the result of a fluke in biochemistry. Humans were, as he had believed along with other cultural elites, nothing more than “meat”—soulless meat; just a bunch of chemicals. After he became a Christian, he saw things quite differently. He realised the truth of the Bible’s claim that God had made mankind in His image as a body-spirit composite, a ‘soul’. If you deny this, he realised and observed, you treat the ache in your soul as a ‘chemical problem’ needing a chemical solution. He calls this the “Materialist outlook.”
This materialist outlook is so pervasive now that it affects all of us, even those of us who have faith, treat ourselves as if we are just meat and chemistry. Listen to the way we talk. When we’re excited we say we’re having an adrenalin rush. When we are happy, we’re having a dopamine rush as if the chemicals cause the emotions. Which doesn’t even make sense when you think it through. We take medicine for depression as if our spiritual distress were a chemical event. I’m not opposed to the judicious use of medications but isn’t it odd that with all these anti-depressants available, suicide rates in the USA have risen 33% in the last 20 years?!
What Klavan is describing overlaps into the two secrets I need to share with you. The first one I’ve already introduced. Because we a body-spirit composite, when we are spiritually drained, we can simultaneously feel physically drained as well. What Klavan has alluded to is my second secret: because we are a body-spirit composite (a “soul”) we can find a source of strength that no gymnasium equipment, training drill, dumb-bell, or diet program, could ever deliver!
HOW PETER DISCOVERED THE SOURCE OF SUPER STRENGTH
In my previous Pastor’s Desk, I wrote about Peter being challenged by the resurrected Christ three times to demonstrate his love for Jesus. Each challenge involved serving others. What I didn’t highlight was what happened to Peter before this uncomfortable series of challenges. When he realised it was Jesus on the shore, he dived into the water and swam to shore. We are not told what transpired between Peter and Jesus. Maybe not a word was exchanged. Back on the boat though, in response to the command of Christ cast their net on the other side of the boat to the frustrated fishermen who had spent all night in vain to catch a fish, they hauled in an enormous catch of large fish. Despite there being ten men in the boat, they struggled to bring their catch in to the shore. Seeing their struggle, and having just sat in the presence of Christ, Peter single-handedly goes to the shoreline and individually does what 10 men could not do—he drags the net onto the beach! (If you look closely at the page of your Bible you will notice that the apostle John’s dropped lower jaw impression is still embossed onto the page. )
¶ Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off. ¶ When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. John 21:4-11
Because we are a body-spirit composite, or to put in the same terms as C.S. Lewis, “You do not have a soul—you are a soul!” it is possible to be physically strengthened by being spiritually strengthened! Just Peter experienced a physical super-strength by being still in the presence of Christ, we can too. This strength not only applies to our physical well-being. The same principle can strengthen a family, who come together to be in the presence of God.
Seek the LORD and His strength; seek his presence continually! Psalm 105:4
The New Testament reveals this secret source of strength over and over again. Notice how the Book of Acts describes the early believers being strengthened.
When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. Acts 14:21-22
The early Christians, who faced enormous pressure and trials, were repeatedly strengthened by the preaching of God’s Word—the Gospel. There were strengthened by their mutual encouragement as they gathered together. They were strengthened by God’s grace as they worshiped together. They were strengthened through prayer and in particular through the prayerful laying on of hands (Rom. 1:11).
Could you use some extra strength? How about some secret super-strength? It’s my hope that this becomes one of the worst kept secrets in our valley! There you have it. I’ve shared my two secrets with you. Now, make sure you do tell it to someone.