I am writing this article from an airplane, returning from the memorial service of a friend’s father. I had never met him, yet tears were streaming down my cheeks as I sat and listened. The pastor had asked for anyone who knew him to state a descriptive word or phrase that expressed his imprint on their lives.
His wife spoke first: “Faithful.” Then they began, one after another, for some time, as if a beautiful score were being written, the melody and rhythm of which were deeply moving. “Faithful, humble, friend, lover of God, mentor, marriage counselor, loving brother, warrior.”
As his children described him, we heard words of his constancy in encouragement and strength, his continual belief in them and their dreams, his intentional shaping of their hearts toward God, his always being prepared, always doing for others, always, always, always. As the words continued, I could picture an incredible man whose impact would last far beyond his Earth days in the hearts and lives of all he had touched.
You know what was most interesting? His legacy was not in the magnificence of the many buildings he had built as a brick mason; no one mentioned the bank account he left; there was a brief mention about the beautiful home he had built for the family and the church he had helped start, but those paled in comparison to the tone in the voices of those sharing their words or phrases describing who he was to them. To a person they expressed godly characteristics that had marked their lives. There was something unique in those moments, the words had deep meaning, and the weightiness of this man’s influence was palpable in the room.
Friends, I was challenged to stop and evaluate my days. What will be the words or phrases my family and friends will say at my memorial service? What about yours? I loved what I heard from this man’s friends, but what impressed me most were the words from his children. They knew their father deeply loved God, their mother and them. This knowledge was based on years of consistent words and actions that gave them a foundation on which to build their own lives and families.
There is a passage we use often in an evangelistic conversation, but pastors, I want to ask us: “What will it profit, if you gain the whole world (even for Christ) and lose your own soul and your family?” Paul spoke of not wanting to preach to others and then himself become disqualified. Yes, we have a great mission, the world is obviously getting darker every day, the peril of broken lives is ever before us, and the need for the gospel is evident.
But you and I must guard ourselves to not take on the Elijah complex recorded in I Kings 19 that we think we are alone at the task, as if it all depends on us! God, in His loving grace and transformative truth, told Elijah there were 7,000 others He had preserved for Himself; Elijah was not alone.
Pastors, please stop today and ask yourself: “Am I being honest with God, myself and others? Am I being who He created me to be? Am I fulfilling His assignment or my own? What is my true motivation? Do I know how loved I am? When was the last time I was completely overcome by the grace and acceptance of Jesus? How often do I sit and just bask with gratitude and joy in the goodness of God in my life? Am I cooperating with His transformation of my own soul?” I am convinced that the best witness of the gospel is a life filled with all the fullness of God that overflows in love, joy, peace, goodness, meekness, faithfulness, kindness, patience and self-control.
In a recent message I was preparing for a series called “Practicing Greatness,” my topic was solitude, stillness, silence and reflection. A friend had just told me about some studies that are proving that reflection actually increases empathy (emotional intelligence) and morality (good decision making). I recalled 2 Cor. 3:18: “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (NIV).
The word “reflection” has two definitions: (1) “serious thought or consideration, contemplation, pondering, meditation”; and (2) “casting or throwing back (as in an image).”
Our taking time to reflect upon Him causes His reflection (His image and glory) to be cast back, reflected upon us!
That’s what I experienced in the memorial service, the image of Father God being described as it had been reflected upon a man who had become like Him over a lifetime.
Pastors, as we celebrate National Clergy Appreciation Month, I pray that you will receive tremendous encouragement, love and kindness from those you lead. I pray you will hear words from your congregation and from your family that reveal you are being shaped by God as His daughter or son, and His reflection upon you is impacting lives in a way that will far outlast your days. You are loved and appreciated!