Balm for Wounded, Weak Pastors
Long before John Piper wrote Don't Waste Your Life, Richard Bauckham wrote the similarly themed "Weakness---Paul's and Ours" (Themelios, 1982). Both works challenge us to consider that if we're extending our lives for some other end than the glory of God, we're wasting them---or as Bauckham puts it, "That was neither Jesus' ideal of life nor Paul's."
More than 12 years ago, I was sitting in a field with 60,000 other college students in Shelby Farms, Tennessee, listening to John Piper tell us to give up on the vision of comfortable living the world tries to sell us in magazines and ads. He warned us of the wasted life, spent on stuff and not on glory. The talk began this way:
You don't have to know a lot of things for your life to make a lasting difference in the world. But you do have to know the few great things that matter, and then be willing to live for them and die for them.
I walked away stirred and shaped. That message turned into a book and, in some measure, a movement of risky, radical Christians.
Today I'm a pastor. There is a high percentage of young folks in our church (since their pastor is fairly young), and Don't Waste Your Life is an obvious title to keep handy for giving away. But while Piper's message shaped and stirred me (as I hope it continues to shape and stir others), Bauckham's message has comforted me of late.
Bauckham's Themelios article, "Weakness---Paul's and Ours" (by the way, you can look through our entire archives of Themelios, starting in 1975) is a message of the power of weakness. The apostle Paul, Bauckham writes, boasted in his weakness---not in his ineffectiveness, but more precisely in his humanness.
As he would have put it, the love of Christ controlling him (2 Cor. 5:14) drove him to [human] limits. His missionary labors were, quite literally, killing him (2 Cor. 4:10-12). Human resources do have limits, and Paul discovered them, not because he sought God only there or because he embraced suffering masochistically to demonstrate his powerlessness, but simply because the demands of his apostolic mission took him to those limits.
Bauckham goes on to say that Paul's "theological breakthrough" was to "understand this weakness of the bearer of the gospel in relation to the content of the gospel. . . . Paul found the pattern of the cross and resurrection of Jesus---death and life, weakness and power---reflected his own ministry and used it as the key to his own experience."
But the death and weakness of Jesus wasn't just a pattern that helped explain Paul's life. This event also made the experience what it was for Paul. Bauckham gives us the spirituality of Paul's weakness: "All the ups and downs of his ministry were for Paul experiences of God, events in which he experienced an identification with Jesus in his dying and rising: 'always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies' (2 Cor. 4:10)."
The end of Bauckham's article has been a sweet comfort to me. For young pastors, tired and prone to identify themselves more closely to the failures of their ministry than to the the death and life, weakness and power, of Jesus, allow me to quote Bauckham at length:
To identify with Paul's experience we do not need to be shipwrecked or imprisoned or lowered in a basket from a city wall. Even without the physical dangers of Paul's career, anyone who throws himself in the work of Christian ministry of any kind with half the dedication of Paul will experience the weakness of which Paul speaks: the times when problems seem insoluble, the times of weariness from sheer overwork, the times of depression when there seem to be no results . . . the emotional exhaustion which pastoral concern bring on---in short, all the times when the Christian minister or worker knows he has stretched to the limits of capacities for a task which is very nearly, but by God's grace not quite, too much for him. Anyone who knows only his strength, not his weakness, has never given himself to a task which demands all he can give. There is no avoiding his weakness, and we should learn to suspect those models of human life which try to avoid it. We should not be taken in by the ideal of the charismatic superman for whom the Holy Spirit is a constant source of superhuman strength. Nor should we fall for the ideal of the modern secular superman: the man who organizes his whole life with the object of maintaining his own physical and mental well-being, who keeps up the impression of strength because he keeps his life well within the limits of what he can easily cope with. Such a man is never weak because he is never affected, concerned, involved, or committed beyond a cautiously safe limit. That was neither Jesus' ideal nor Paul's. To be controlled by the love of Christ means inevitably to reach the limits of one's abilities and experience weakness. . . .
For Paul the Christian minister's weakness is not the point where he is failing, but the point where the deepest integration of his life and his message is possible. . . . The impressiveness of his ministry will not be his own impressiveness, but that of his message which matches up to the experience of human weakness and makes it the vehicle of God's power.
Piper's Don't Waste Your Life stirred and shaped many of us to go to the lions for Christ. Bauckham helps make sense of the lion wounds and stirs us to go back, singing, "There is a fountain filled with blood."