Chapter Eleven – The Pastoring of Pain

From “And Jesus Wept,” by Pastor K. David Oldfield

A Little Child Shall Lead Them

Napoleon Bonaparte was at his greatest when leading his armies to victory: at Toulon, at Lodi, at Castiglione and many other places. He was not a great success in his own home, in politics, or in diplomacy, but at war he was among the best.

Like him, the average pastor enjoys his work best in the pulpit, at war with the forces of Satan. It is there that some of the greatest victories in Christian history have been won, and in more recent history, where great territory has been lost. It is in the pulpit that the pastor reproves, rebukes and exhorts the souls that God has given him to lead. There he challenges his people for Christ and often sees them respond. As the Lord blesses the pastor and his work, he may even see people transform before his eyes; they sometimes change from timid sheep to valiant soldiers for Christ ready to take up the banner of Christ and storm the gates of Hell. The good pastor loves that ministry and to raise the trumpet of ram’s horn to his lips in a call to arms: “Who is on the Lord’s side let him come unto me! It is time now to earnestly contend for the faith!” The pulpit is often a place of exhilarating glory.

Yes, pastors love this part of the ministry, but few enjoy mending and setting the arms of their friends, broken and bleeding after combat. But this is a part, a vital part, of the pastor’s responsibility as well. The man whose ministry is entirely confined to the pulpit is not really a pastor at all. He is often just a show-off, a hot-dog, and what few victories he wins are quickly reversed by the enemy in other areas. God needs complete armies far more than a few Lone Rangers. Nehemiah’s men carried swords along with their shovels and worked in groups until the war was over and the wall of Jerusalem was rebuilt (Neh. 4:16). Each man was prepared for battle, but more importantly he helped to prepare his comrade as well. One of the saddest verses of the Bible speaks of suffering souls without a friend to help them: “So I returned, and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun: and behold the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressors there was power; but they had no comforter” (Eccl. 4:1). All around us we can see hurting bodies and hurting souls, if we would just look. Some within our churches lay silent and submissive, recognizing God’s hand in their lives, but others, within and without the fellowship, have their fists raised toward the Lord for what they think is some sort of divine infringement on their rights.

Each of these need pastoring – shepherding. It is not enough for any of us to say, “Look to Jesus, ‘the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls.'” (I Pet. 2:25). No! Although Christ is the Chief Shepherd, He has called men like Peter to “feed the flock of God” as His under-shepherds (I Pet. 5:2, 4).

The Lord Jesus was a Great Pastor

A study of the life of our Lord is a study of a true Shepherd. One of the greatest chapters in all the Word is John 10. Verse 11 says, “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.” When Jesus laid aside the garments of His deity, when He “made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:7), He did not lay down the image of His Father, the God of all Comfort (II Cor. 1:3).

Yes, He healed many bodies: the nobleman’s son (Jn. 4:46-54), the demoniac (Lk. 8:26-40); Peter’s mother-in-law (Matt. 8:14-15), the leper (Mk. 1:40-42) and multitudes more. But a more subtle part of Jesus ministry was the healing of hearts and the pastoring of pain, and that was not primarily through His sermons and exhortation.

The Gospel of John graphically displays the Saviour in his role as Shepherd. Among the many places that we could study there are verses like: “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace” (Jn. 16:33). When the disciples were in terror in the upper room, the Lord was there with, “Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you” (Jn. 20:21). “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (Jn. 14:27). “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me” (Jn. 14:1).

An illustration of Jesus’ pastoral assistance can be seen in the two men leaving the troubles and disappointments of Jerusalem after the crucifixion to return to quiet Emmaus (Lk. 24). The men’s hearts were in turmoil and emotional pain until the presence, instruction and attitude of the Lord calmed the waters of their souls and sent them back to the work of Christ.

When so many, who call themselves “Christians” are quitting, defecting and dropping out, our churches can’t afford to lose a single man. How there is a need for pastors among the suffers!

Wise Pastors Minister to Pain

Alexander Maclaren once said, “If I had to do it over, I would minister more to broken hearts.” Despite an eminently successful ministry, including great popularity, hungry publishers calling for his writings, church growth and souls won, what caused this doleful backward look? It was the wisdom that came with years of ministry in one city and church, watching his own heart and the hearts of others which gave him this conviction.

A.T. Pierson became a Baptist while pastoring Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle. In 1896 he preached a message called “Hope in Trouble” in which he said, “I have never ministered to any congregation without preaching, at least once in every quarter of the year, a sermon to the afflicted, for in every assembly there are troubled and tried souls, to whom a special message, from time to time, is specially grateful” (A.T. Pierson,The Gospel: Its Heart, Heights and Hopes, pg. 121). With that statement Pierson went on to preach a comforting message John 14:1-3.

The heart that truly loves always wants to help, and the pastor’s heart MUST BE a loving one. But there are many different kinds of help. The variety that endures the test of time and eternity is spiritual help. The pastor wants to bring people out of the world and the flesh into the world of the Spirit. His greatest ministry is to souls and not bodies.

Although there are sometimes significant military accomplishments made with no fanfare or heavy fighting, as a rule the enemy is going to fight the hardest only at what they consider to be a strategic location. As an example, there was a battle raging between the forces of Satan and the Lord in the soul and body of Job. In other words, a man or woman in pain can very often be of strategic importance to the Lord. That is a battle sight demanding the attention of some spiritual support. There is the ministry of the pastor.

But don’t make the mistake of considering this to be the sphere of only the “clegy.”

God’s Servants have their Orders

There is not a one of us, pastor or new-born saint, that has not been commanded to weep with them that weep (Rom. 12:15). “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God” (Isa. 40:1). “Wherefore comfort yourselves together…” (I Thess. 5:11). “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). “Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren be pitiful, be courteous” (I Pet. 3:8). Yes, sympathy is an important part of all our ministries. “Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body” (Heb. 13:3). In fact, “pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit (with assistance and comfort) the fatherless and widows in their affliction…” (James 1:27). The scriptural idea is not, “Tell me that God loves me,” but rather, “Show me that YOU do.”

But we must go beyond just this.

Maclaren said, “Consolation is precious, but we need more for well-being than only to be comforted. And surely, the whole tone of Scripture in it’s dealing with the great mystery of pain and sorrow, has a loftier scope than even to minister assuagement to grief and to stay our weeping. It seeks to make us strong and brave to face and to master our sorrows, and to infuse into us a high-hearted courage, which shall not merely be able to accept the biting blasts, but shall feel that they bring a glow to the cheek and oxygen to the blood, while wrestling with them builds up our strength, and trains us for higher service. It would be a poor aim to comfort only; but to encourage – to make strong in heart, resolve in will, and incapable of being overborne or crushed in spirit by any sorrows – that is a purpose worthy of the Book, and of the God who speaks through it.”

Here lies the ministry of pastoring those in pain.

Our tools?

This is one of the most serious problems in Twentieth Century Christendom. Everywhere we turn the “soldiers” of Christ are trading off the weapons that have proven for centuries to be effective in the battle for souls, and in their place they are picking up plastic guns and rubber bullets. This is happening in every arena of the Lord’s work, and it’s easy to see in the area of consolation and comfort.

Even a quick survey of modern-day Christian books (mostly paper-backs) on the theme of “pain” shows a huge swing in content, from the Bible, to various forms of psychology in order to meet the needs of the sufferer. But is this really the solution? Sure, nice stories and quaint illustrations and anecdotes are helpful; we even have a few within these pages. But since the need of the suffering soul is primarily spiritual, not mental or even emotional, then the solution must be spiritual as well. Despite the fact that the pain is physical, the root and resolution is deeper than that, thus the answer must come from the Word of God, driven home by the Holy Spirit. The demand of this hour, as it has been down through the centuries, is the communication of God’s Word. But even more specifically, the Christian longs for the Lord who ministers through the Word.

So servants of God, give them Jesus! Give them Jesus! Be like Paul, “For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (I Cor. 2:2). Jesus Christ for the woman in grief? Yes, Jesus! For the child with the broken arm? Why not! For the man who has lost his job? Positively! For the terminally ill? Absolutely!

Go to Chapter Twelve »