Nothing is more frustrating than being a small-time pastor. Pastors spend their time reading and preaching God’s word. They constantly pray that the New Heavens and New Earth would come, that unbelievers would be saved, and that God’s Kingdom would grow, but they are bad news magnets. They are constantly told about sin, cancer, and despair. They look for and preach about life, but often, all they see is death.
As I walked to my pastor’s study this morning to read and pray, I was greeted by a friendly homeless man. This young man fled Honduras in 2018 because gangs stole all he had. He now works in and lives behind the local grocery store, where he gets paid under minimum wage. I wanted to help him. I wanted to see him experience new life in Christ. I wanted to feed him and clothe him, but I could barely understand him, and I have no room in my house.
I have small children, and my mother-in-law lives in our spare room. I gave him some money and gift cards, but they will be spent by the week’s end. I let him sit in our church while my wife called the local homeless shelter, but I had to go to work. Unattended homeless people and preschool children do not mix. He had to leave.
This young man was sober and hardworking, but he has no shot. He cannot speak English, and he is not a US citizen. He cannot go back to Honduras because living on the street here is better than living on the street there. At least here, police prevent crime to a reasonable degree. It is the wild west there. He cannot save money because $10 an hour is enough to feed and clothe but not enough to get ahead. Plus, he has a homeless mother he tries to help.
When I finally got to my office, I prayed. “Lord, I will do what you want me to do. Tell me.” …Silence.
The benefit of theological training is you know where to go in the Bible when life overcomes you. I flipped to Ecclesiastes 4, which reads, “Again I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun. And behold, the tears of the oppressed, and they had no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power, and there was no one to comfort them. And I thought the dead who are already dead more fortunate than the living who are still alive. But better than both is he who has not yet been and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 4:1–3, ESV)
There are oppressed people in the world, as the Bible says. They will always be here because the Bible says so. And it stinks because the Bible says it stinks. I cannot make Jose speak English. I cannot give him enough money to make it in life. I cannot convince his employer to pay him a livable wage. I cannot change Honduras. I can barely change my attitude.
What vanity this is. We are here to serve God, yet we are so infinitely helpless. Jesus said the poor will always be around (Matt 26:11). James, His brother, tells us we do not really believe in Jesus if we do not try to help them (James 2:26). And the preacher in Ecclesiastes tells us that grief will be an inevitable part of the journey. Life is unfair and sad. Then you die.
The reality of life backs us into the corner of God’s providence. Where on earth can I go after recognizing that I am utterly helpless? Right to the cross: “Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life…’” (John 6:68). When I fall to the floor in a puddle of self-loathing and despair, I am at my strongest. Only then do I remember that it is not I who work, but the grace of God within me (1 Cor 15:10). I must forsake my ability and cling to the cross. I must confess that life without God is utterly vain, and with God, it still is hard. But only with Him is there hope.
I do not know what to do next. I do not know who to help or how to help them. I do not know how to use my precious little time. I do not know what to say or think. Should I go to the old-folks home and spend time with them? Or should I visit the widows? Should I help the homeless? Or should I call and pray for those with cancer? What about my friends reeling from adultery? Should I visit the preschool or those whose memory is failing? Should I write an email to the woman grappling with death or write a sermon? Should I study the Bible or teach it? Should I prepare for meetings or meet with God? What about my family—my kids and my wife? What about my grandparents, who I rarely see? Or should I rest because trying to do all these things is exhausting?
I do not know, but it is not up to me. I do not need to figure life out. God knows, and He has it under control. All I need to do is slow down, shut up, and pray. “God, tell me what to do.” God might not have a Hollywood plan for my day, week, or even life. But God’s plan is perfect. God might not use me to save a thousand souls or feed a thousand homeless people. However, I might be used by God to give a guy a gift card and pray God helps him. When I know that is what God has for me; it is just as good as being a big-time pastor. In that moment of being led by the Spirit, little-time pastors like me know God is doing things, and that is all that matters. Maybe we all need to stop thinking we are going to “make it” and remember that if we have Christ, we already have. Where is He telling you to go today?