A Bible. A robe. A stole. A chalice. A yellow legal pad. Among many other things, these are the tools of pastoral ministry. While I’d like to believe the B-i-b-l-e is like my hammer, in reality, my hammer is the yellow legal pad. And I know the same is true for many pastors. (Side note: even though most of the kids in my youth group have one, I’m still not cool enough for an iPad.) Flip through any pastor’s legal pad and you may find our notes from books we’re reading, or our doodles from long meetings. What you will always find is a to-do list. It’s a constant, no matter if it reminds us to finish our sermon or finish our superhero costume for the youth group skating party. To-do lists and the legal pads that house them keep me focused and move me forward when YouTube videos of hamsters on pianos threaten to suck me in. But in this recent season of my life, I’ve been re-thinking the endless to-do lists that guide me.
My re-thinking started when I found myself again turning to the Psalms in prayer. My own words were failing me; I was stumbling, grasping, and longing. I opened my Bible to Psalm 27. In 2002, I memorized this psalm, but 2002 seemed like another life. The last verse of Psalm 27 reads,
“Wait for the LORD; be strong and let your heart take courage;
wait for the LORD!”
As I prayed these words over and over again, I started to think about what was missing from my pages of to-do lists.
In general, pastors are type A personalities. We’re overachievers and goal setters. With each item we cross off our to-do lists we feel a sense of accomplishment. This is what got us through seminary and our ordination process. Waiting isn’t something we’re wired to do. It’s easy to “do” newsletter articles and liturgy and committee meetings. It isn’t easy to wait for the Lord. Not once have I written “wait for the Lord” on a yellow legal pad. But I’m starting to realize these four words dwell at the heart of ministry.
Waiting for the Lord invites us to patiently seek the Spirit’s guidance before we blaze our own path forward.
Waiting for the Lord calls us to trust in God’s presence when we encounter darkness and confusion.
Waiting for the Lord urges us to be faithful in prayer rather than slaves to our calendar.
Waiting for the Lord moves us to open our hands and surrender our goals and plans to God.
Waiting for the Lord encourages us to be honest when we struggle to understand God’s work in our lives.
I’m not going to give up my legal pads anytime soon. I’m not going to stop writing to-do lists. But I’m adding something else to my pastoral ministry toolbox. And that something isn’t the greatest new biblical commentary or the best time management app. It isn’t an iPad- the mini, air, or standard version. It is four words- wait for the Lord. I’m sure I will often grasp this tool with weak and fumbling hands. I may even forget it is in my toolbox. But I will let the words of Psalm 27 remind me to be strong and let my heart take courage. I will let the words of Psalm 130 show me how to wait:
“I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning
more than those who watch for the morning.”
What is on your to-do list? How do you find yourself waiting on the Lord in ministry?