As I was reading through a stack of pastoral resumes at a church where I was Interim Pastor, I was reminded that Pastors do get tired, but often they are working so hard, they fail to realize it. So perhaps it is time to share a list of some collected ways to know how a pastor is tired. (Not sure where I got all of these. Some might even be original with me.) Pastor-types will recognize a few of these and might even add a few more. Non-pastors need to realize some of these, to help them better relate to their pastor. Pastors are tired when: 1) The threat of being fired sounds good; 2) When standing in a hospital room, envy for the patient sets in; 3) The goal for today is to get through it without serious damage; 4) While still basking in the glow of surviving last Sunday, it occurs that another Sunday is on its way and today is Wednesday; 5) People ask if a pastor has been sick and the reply is, “Not yet;” 6) A senior who adores the pastor runs by the office to bring a cherry pie and she is avoided; 7) The personnel committee offers a six-week sabbatical and it is turned down because a decision is too difficult to make on what to do with all that free time; 8) The words to ‘”Jesus Loves Me” don’t come so quickly anymore; 9) An extra effort is made to go to that denominational meeting because it will be so boring, some rest will be available; 10) The nighttime prayer has become, “Lord, I’m tired. Amen.” Note that pastors will not admit to most of these. Love them anyway, and by all means, pray for them, and remind them of Galatians 6:9, “Let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.”
Those who believe that helping others is a priority over helping self, have a hard time on airplane flights when the flight attendant says, “Put your own oxygen mask on first, before assisting others.” While there is much that is commendable about helping others, the truth is that helping others, will be short lived if you do not take care of yourself. This truth goes well beyond airplane flights and oxygen masks. If you don’t take care of yourself physically, you will not be physically able to care for others. If you do not take care of yourself emotionally, you will not be emotionally capable of caring for others. If you don’t take care of yourself spiritually, you won’t be able to spiritually care for others. Should we care for others? Absolutely, but caring for others at the expense of self is ill advised. Jesus said that we are to “love your neighbor as you love yourself” (Mark 12:31), quoted from Leviticus 19:18, and repeated by the Apostle Paul in Romans 13:9. The key word is “as,” meaning “not more than,” and implying love of self “as much as” others. So, try starting the day by giving yourself a big hug. Then start looking for ways to serve others.
For the first ten years of my life, I was an only child. I guess my parents didn’t believe in baby-sitters or perhaps couldn’t afford them, I just remember accompanying my parents to a lot of adult events. At each, I was told to “be seen and not heard.” So, I grew up being rather quiet, and reserved. That lifestyle carried over into my prayer life. In fact, I remember wondering in church, why some people prayed such long, wordy prayers, and why in the worship service, we spent so much time talking and singing about God, and so little time listening to God. Much of my early instruction related to prayer dealt with speaking to God, rather than listening to God. Along the way, I was influenced by statements like that of American financier, statesman, and adviser to U.S. presidents, Bernard Baruch, who said, “Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.” Someone had me memorize James 1:19, “brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak . . .” A famous poster said, “Listen and Silent have the same letters.” So, thanks to my parents and my culture, I spend a considerable amount of time listening to God and my prayers are usually brief, and to the point. Let me clarify, I don’t listen to God with my ears, nor does God speak to me with His mouth. But if I am still, and quiet, and meditative, I don’t need human ears or a divine mouth to hear from God. So, next time your prayer life is lacking, try listening.
Eleven years ago, my Granddaughter put me on Facebook, saying I was getting too “old foggie” and I needed Facebook. I love Facebook. It is my life-connection to literally thousands of friends – friends from my teen-age years (although age is taking its toll on this group); friends from college student days; friends from Seminary student days (I really think the Southern Baptist Controversy may have stated in our carpool); friend from my days as a Baptist Student Minister on three University campuses; friends from my consultant days with the North American Mission Board; student and faculty friends from my 22 years on the faculty of Southwestern Baptist Seminary; friends from my missionary-related visits in fifty-nine countries, all fifty states, and every Canadian province, friends from twenty-six interim pastorates; friends from too-many-to-count conferences, seminars, revival meetings that I led; friends from neighborhoods where I have lived (24 addresses in 11 cities since 1st grade); friends on social media; and then those friends that fit no category, except being in my life at just the right time. During several recent crises, including the current time of my wife’s COVID experience, friends from all areas of my life have responded with encouragement, counsel, and prayer support. You never know how much you need friends, until you have a need for friends. Mine have always been there when needed. “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed” (Ecclesiastes 4:9, NLT). Thanks friends.
I had never noticed it before. I recently paid a visit to a medical doctor’s office. When he entered the exam room, he greeted me with, “Dr. Crawford! What’s up with you today?” Hmmm! A Dr. greeting another Dr. Several years ago, we spent a few days with a missionary family in another country. After hearing her parents refer to me numerous times as Dr. Dan, their little girl asked, “Are you really a doctor?” Embarrassed, the parents assured her that I was. To which she replied, “Well, I have this pain in my arm . . .” No, I’m not the kind of doctor that can do you any good with your physical ailments, other than praying for you. So, what’s all this talk about Dr. degrees and not wanting America’s future first-lady, Jill Biden to be called Dr. Biden, because she is not a medical doctor? If a person has participated in the seminars, written the papers, done the research, performed the project, written the dissertation or project report, paid their money, and successfully endured the oral exam, all with a fully accreted institution of higher learning, they have earned the right to use the title Dr. Personally, it matters little to me if you call me Dan, Bro. Dan, Dr. Dan, Bro. Crawford, Rev. Crawford, Dr. Crawford, Professor Crawford, Pastor Dan, Dad or Bawpaw (limited to grandkids). All of those titles were given, granted or earned, and I answer to all of them. Actually, as long as I’m “called” by God’s name (2 Chronicles 7:14), you can take your pick of the titles. Come to think of it, when God calls, no title is needed. To each his own, but if you’ve received a title, you can use it, regardless of the opinion of a few jealous journalists.
Since the sixteenth century, Japanese people have observed bōnenkai, literally, “forget the year gathering.” These gatherings have recently included destruction of the previous year’s calendars, as a symbolic way of moving on to the next year. There are other ingredients to their gatherings in which I’d prefer not to participate, but I sure like the idea of forgetting some of the negative parts of 2020. Yes, there were good, God-given, things about 2020, but so many unpleasant things made it a year to forget. In fact, I’m not sure we ought to be required to add it to our age, since much of the year was unused. So let’s approach 2021 in agreement with the old Cherokee proverb, “Don’t let yesterday use up too much of today.” I love the quote by the late American Columnist, Bill Vaughan. “An optimist stays up until midnight to see the new year in. A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves.” I seldom stay up until midnight anymore, but if I did it might be to be sure 2020 is gone, and to get a fresh start with 2021. The Apostle Paul lived and wrote several centuries before the Japanese celebrations of bonenkai began, but he had the idea in Philippines 3:13-14, “forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
The gifts are still under the tree. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day have come and gone, and the gifts are still under the tree. No torn wrappings on the floor. No dirty dishes still in the sink. No family members still discussing their gifts. A Grinch stole Christmas, and his name was Covid-19. Six days before Christmas, my wife tested positive for the corona virus. A brief hospital stay, and a quarantine, dictated no Christmas visitors in the home and no Christmas trips outside the home. All is not lost. We will gather sometime in January and celebrate with gifts and food and laughter and love. No doubt, we will also discuss the Grinch that stole our traditional Christmas, but failed to steal our spirits. Like the Apostle Paul, “We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed (2 Corinthians 4:9). But what about Christmas Day? While everyone around us celebrated, my wife and I, maintaining our doctor instructed quarantine distancing, said with Lou Lou Who in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” “I don’t need anything more for Christmas than this right here. My family.”
My Christmas sermon was ready to be preached. Then I was exposed to COVID, and placed on a fourteen day quarantine. On Saturday evening, I was advised not to preach the following morning – too late for the church to set up the technology for me to deliver the sermon via media. The unpreached sermon was entitled, “What Christmas Meant to a Couple of Senior Adults” from Luke 2:25-38. It is the accounts of Simeon and Anna meeting the Christ-child. Without sharing the entire sermon, here are my final five things that the experiences of Simeon and Anna mean to us. If possible, read Luke 2:25-38 for a better understanding of these five applications. (1) God still uses unknown people. Neither Simeon nor Anna are mentioned anywhere else in the Bible and we know very little about them. (2) Jesus attracted the attention of some that day, but not all. Doubtless crowds were in the Temple, but only two recognized the presence of Jesus. (3) With God, timing is everything. Neither Simeon, nor Anna just happened to be in the Temple when Jesus arrived. They were there by God’s design and on God’s time. (4) One never grows too old to have a fresh encounter with God. (5) No matter one’s age, the message of Jesus is to be shared, acknowledged by both Simeon and Anna. So, whatever your age, what does this Christmas mean to you? Merry COVID Christmas.
I have a long-time friend and colleague who recently tested positive for COVID and pneumonia. He is currently hospitalized in the ICU area of a major hospital. When I talked with him, he shared with me that he told his Dr. that hundreds of people were praying for him. Then he asked the Dr. if he knew this Jesus, to whom people were praying? It reminded me of a day several years ago, when my wife was about to undergo a very complicated, and serious surgery. I explained to the Surgeon that as a Seminary professor, I had hundreds, perhaps thousands of former students – ministers and missionaries – praying for him from all over the world. There followed several interesting conversations. Last week I purchased gift cards to give to special people this Christmas. When the cashier gave me the cards, I realized they were “Happy Birthday” cards rather than “Merry Christmas” cards. I called it to her attention and she offered to make a correction. My response was simply never mind, since on Christmas, we celebrate Jesus’ birthday. A brief, but significant conversation followed. This is what we do. We look for every opportunity to bear witness, as we are instructed in 1 Peter 3:15, “Always be ready to give a defense . . . for the hope that is in you.”
Times have changed. People are staying home from church services in record numbers – and blaming the COVID virus. History has shown when we are forced by circumstances to change, we eventually get comfortable with the change, and even prefer the new methods to the old. John Cage, an American composer, artist, and philosopher, confessed, “I can’t understand why people are frightened by new ideas. I’m frightened of old ones.” Most churches I know have recovered approximately half of their pre-pandemic attendance, while experiencing positive numbers of online viewers. The fear is that folks have become so comfortable worshipping at home, in their pajamas, seated in their recliner, sipping their coffee that they will not choose to return to personal worship attendance. If that happens, churches will need new ideas. Ralph Waldo Emerson, wrote, “Wise men put their trust in ideas and not in circumstances.” What will the post-pandemic church look like? Most will need to learn how to do online worship with greater excellence. We may need to train telephone and media counselors to deal with online responses during the worship service and especially during the response time. Some facilities may need to be reconfigured. More emphasis on home groups could be needed. A study of effective media ministry ideas could be time well spent. I once taught a Seminary course entitled, “The Use of Media in Evangelism,” but it was an elective course and few students saw the need to register for it. Seminaries and Bible Colleges may need to reinvent that course or one similar to it, perhaps make it a requirement. The future could be very different from the past. We’ll need to pray our way through it. Which reminds me that according to my research for America’s National Prayer Committee, approximately 95% of Seminaries and Bible Colleges do not have a separate course on prayer in their curriculum. It’s time to add such. Only then will we be able to understand Paul’s wish for young Timothy, “May the Lord give you understanding in all things” (2 Timothy 2:7).