My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This year I have been using the vt-Reading Challenge to help me select some genres and authors that are outside my usual list of favorites. Anytime I’m trying to figure out what to read or I have a gap where I’ve finished a series of books or library finds and I’m looking for something to read, I turn to my list of Reading Challenge books so that I can be challenged.
There are several places on the list that call for the reader to read a book about Christian living, and sometimes I get tired of the normal girl writing for Christian living, so I’ve been trying to try some new books. So, I picked up “The Imperfect Pastor: Discovering Joy in Our Limitations Through a Daily Apprenticeship with Jesus.” Obviously, I’m not a pastor (I’m the wrong gender to start with!), but the book had me at the subtitle “Discovering Joy in Our Limitations.” I’m still learning how to be anything but frustrated with all of my limitations. I’m still learning how to acknowledge my own limitations.
Eswine is writing this book to pastors. They care deeply. They want to shepherd their flock. They are looking to be used of God deeply. They have dreams, goals and aspirations far beyond what we can see on Sunday mornings. They often have a family that needs them just as desperately as their parishioners, but they are so caught up in their ministries that they haven’t set the boundaries that they might need to protect their families. Many are nearing burnout or are already operating at burnout levels and refuse to acknowledge it.
To these pastors, Eswine’s advice is “You and I were never meant to repent for not being everywhere for everybody and all at once. You and I are meant to repent because we’ve tried to be.”
Those words strike me hard as a wife, a mother and a believer in Christ. I don’t always see or want to acknowledge my limitations. I’ve often tried to everywhere for everyone. I’ve often faced guilt for not being able to fix everything for everyone in my life. Yet, I find myself facing the reality every day that God is God and I am not.
Eswine often quotes authors that I am not a fan of, and he often sounds more mystical as a Christian that I would usually like to find myself reading. He references writers I don’t completely approve of. Yet, in the end his advice is sound and it poked and prodded heavily at my heart.
I was especially convicted by the realization that I often long for “greatness for God” without acknowledging the great things that he’s given me responsibility over because they aren’t glamorous and they aren’t the huge things that I had hoped for. I’m the person Eswine discusses when he says, I never imagined that if I said, ‘Jesus, take me anywhere and everywhere with you!’ that I might have to watch him say yes to others who brought the same request but hear him say no to me instead (Mark 5:19).”
I also was convicted with the realization that I often pursue ministry with the wrong motivations. Eswine addresses this when he says, “It is possible for ministry leaders to desire greatness in ways no different from anyone, anywhere in our culture. Attaching Jesus’s name to these desires doesn’t change the fact that they look just like the cravings of the world.” I stand convicted by this, and often must confess that I am not always aware of what my true motivations are.
I also must stand convicted of feeling boredom and a sense of “being wasted” in my gifts at this point in my life. How arrogant!! How ungodly and prideful!! This quote from Eswine wrecks me each time I read it: “If I am bored with ordinary people in ordinary places, then am I not bored with what God delights in? If I think that local limits of body and place are too small a thing for a person as gifted as I am, then don’t I want to escape what God himself gladly and daily inhabits? If I stare at a face, a flower, a child, or a congregation and say, ‘But God, not this. I want to do something great for you!’ Am I not profoundly misunderstanding what God says a great thing is?”
I am also convicted that sometimes I have considered my own children, my precious gifts from God as an intrusion into the writing and teaching ministry that I had wanted. I had failed to embrace God’s gifts for me. I found these lines especially convicting: “To the important pastor doing large and famous things speedily, the brokenness of people actually feels like an intrusion keeping us from getting our important work for God done. ” No wonder God has never given me a “great” ministry, when I have neglected the great ministry God has given to me and not put my whole heart and effort into it.
Eswine speaks as a man “who got everything he dreamed of and lost most of what really mattered, and all of this in the name of going all out for the ministry and serving God.” It’s powerful and it’s a powerful warning to those of us who have gotten our priorities mixed up and who have desired glory for ourselves instead of devoted (and maybe unrecognized) service to God in the areas that he has assigned us. It’s a warning to me about my pride, my thirst for glory, and my desire for “more.” I think I’ll only have gotten it when I can say that I only desire that God’s glory be spread instead of the deep consideration I give to my own pride and sense of accomplishment. This is easily the most thought provoking and convicting book I have read so far this year.