The telephone rang in my office. It was a dark, rainy afternoon. Billowing clouds hung ominously in the sky. In my heart, another tempest was brewing and threatening to spill out into my life. The last couple of years in ministry had been difficult, and I was contemplating my resignation as a pastor. I was frustrated, hurt and ready to call it quits. My heart was heavy as I answered that ringing telephone.
Little did I know that the prayer in my heart and on my lips was about to be answered. A local pastor was calling to donate some food to our corps because we had a large soup kitchen and could always use the extra meals. I politely told the pastor that I would drive over right away and collect the food. Isn’t it interesting how God knows what we need even before we recognize it?
I made my way to the church and pulled into the driveway. It was a grey stone building with a traditional cross at the top, and the customary blue and red stained-glass windows facing the busy street. I parked at the adjacent gymnasium structure and knocked on the front door. The pastor ambled to the door and, upon seeing the uniform, welcomed me in. He led me to the kitchen where the food was all nicely wrapped and ready. But then, something truly remarkable happened. I had come for food to feed others, but the Lord had other ideas in mind. I needed nourishment of the heart—for I was weary, worn and at the end of my rope.
A Divine Appointment
I’m not sure if you have ever experienced the moving of the Holy Spirit, but I’m certain that the Lord arranged a divine appointment that day to help heal my wounded heart. The pastor began to talk about his ministry, and gave me a brief tour of the building. He described the basketball program and the youth ministry. We chatted for a few more minutes, and then everything I was feeling spilled out. It felt like I was in a safe place, far away from judgment and ridicule, and so I shared with him my hurt. It was like unloading a burden I had been carrying around for far too long. I told him about the heartache I had experienced in the ministry, and the wounds inflicted on the pastoral battlefield. He understood. He didn’t say, “You just need to try harder,” or “Perhaps you aren’t walking with the Lord enough,” or even “Maybe you’re just not cut out for ministry.”
Instead, he just listened.
He let me expose the festering wounds in my heart that refused to heal. I had not been able to articulate, let alone face them, before. But here, in a gym kitchen, I bared the wound and infection to the light.
Finally, after I had finished talking, the pastor told me about his own hurt. How years ago, he had moved to this town, leaving another ministry that had left a scar on him. Leaning on a stainless steel island in a small kitchen, he prayed for me, and the power of the Holy Spirit began working in my heart. I can’t tell you that I was miraculously healed in a single instant, but the pain, bitterness and hurt started to mend. I was a broken vessel in need of repair, and the hands of God were more than willing to remold me. Dare I say that the pastor was only the conduit, while the Lord applied much-needed salve to a wounded life. Isn’t it funny how God has a tendency to do that—to use the faithful in the most unlikely of places, and at just the right times?
After the pastor prayed with me, he asked if it would be OK if he contacted a couple of other pastors that he knew, and if we could all meet over breakfast sometime soon. I accepted the invitation and left with the food in my hands. Again, I had come to receive food for people in need, when I was also in need myself—in need of spiritual nourishment and hope. I walked away from that encounter a little lighter.
A Healing Journey
I told my wife about my time with Pastor Steve, and explained that I felt the Lord had placed him in my path.
A little while later, Pastor Steve called and, true to his word, invited me to breakfast with a group of pastors. I had been in other pastor groups before, and sometimes the fellowship felt forced. I went to the first breakfast with that thought in mind, but was extremely surprised to find a group of guys who loved being with each other. They laughed together over coffee and toast. I felt as if I was being welcomed into a fellowship I didn’t deserve, and yet here they were warming my heart.
Over the course of the next few months, I met with this group every couple of weeks. There wasn’t any agenda except to encourage and pray for one another. Pastor Steve stopped to pick up a wounded pastor travelling on the same journey, and I am forever grateful.
It was just before Thanksgiving last year that Pastor Steve went into the hospital for routine gall bladder surgery, only to discover that it wasn’t his gall bladder at all, but rather terminal cancer. I recall the sheer shock of that horrific news. Yet, through it all, Pastor Steve remained a faithful servant of God.
Pastor Steve went to be with the Lord almost one year to the day later. I mourn the loss of such a man of God. This world is better because he walked it. My life is better because he journeyed for a time along with me. He shared in my hurt, and helped to heal the deep wounds of my heart. I know that I will always be thankful for his ministry in my life, even though it was for a brief time. Pastor Steve stands as a turning point in my life.
I came to pick up food for others only to be fed, a divine appointment carried out by a faithful servant. Thank you, Steve. May I, too, be faithful to recognize those divine appointments as I walk this path, and help those who come behind me.
There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.—C.S. Lewis.
Captain Scott Strissel is the divisional youth secretary and divisional candidates’ secretary in the Midland Division, USA Central Territory. He is an active blogger and contributor for the purpose of encouraging and challenging the Salvation Army world. Read his blog at pastorsponderings.org.
Feature photo: © sdominick/iStock.com
On Friday, November 16, 2018, Adeline. Thompson said:
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