Some unfamiliar direction. And sometimes our response is “Off we go” never realizing that we now are running alone, not in step with the Lord.
I found a hidden principle in an unlikely verse today, as I was enjoying my daily reading with the Lord in His Word. Never before had I seen the application that the Holy Spirit brought to me today. I sense this desires to be shared with others involved in ministry work for His Kingdom.
Genesis 33:14 reads: “Please let my lord go on ahead before his servant. I will lead on slowly at a pace which the livestock that go before me, and the children, are able to endure, until I come to my lord in Seir.”
This verse comes when Jacob, who was estranged from his brother Esau for the previous twenty years while he lived and served Laban, now reunites with this brother. We must remember how Esau hated Jacob in Genesis 28 when Jacob fled to Padan-Aram for safety. During those twenty years, God blessed and prospered Jacob, and now God leads him to return to his homeland, the land God promised his grandfather Abraham and father Isaac.
Jacob frets over this, understandably shaken at the thought of encountering the brother who threatened to kill him when he fled. Yet, Jacob obeys the voice of the Lord, trusting God to protect him. He devises ways to appease Esau with gifts from his possessions he has gained with Laban. So, he sends these gifts ahead of his coming. Later, the dreaded moment arrives and he and Esau meet.
Imagine the shock and relief to Jacob when Esau runs to hug him in a brotherly embrace. Jacob witnessed firsthand in this encounter God’s tremendous work in both he and his brother over the last twenty years. He and Esau enjoy a tender reunion. Esau invites Jacob to come and live near him.
Jacob’s respectful response leapt off the page at me, as I saw woven into its words a foundational principle for all involved in ministry work for Christ. Notice Jacob’s “pastoral” heart come through here. Notice his concern for those who travel this journey with him. Notice his loving care for them. He knows he must journey forward as the Lord leads, but he also knows the condition and needs of his companions, his family, and his flock.
Therefore, he responds to Esau with respect and loving care. Jacob exhibits pastoral care for those who travel with him, more than an eagerness to run ahead with his brother. In this, he exercises wisdom, love, and prudence.
As ministers today, we can learn a great principle from this. Ministry is much more about HOW we do the work of our Lord than it is about WHERE we serve or WHAT we do. God cares deeply about all of these, as He longs for us to serve Him in the places He leads us. And He gives His leaders passion for the vision that He sets forth before us.
However, in our zeal, many times we can leap forward, rushing into those areas we know God directed and wants. But, sometimes, wisdom and prudence would tell us to “lead on slowly at a pace which…the children are able to endure.” When God gives his leaders a vision, He certainly wants the leader to lead the flock of the Lord into this direction, but “how” we do it holds the key to its success.
We can learn from this verse the vital principle of caring in a pastoral way about not overloading the flock God entrusts to us. We also see how the goal is to gently bring each and every one of them along at the proper pace. The pace they can endure. The speed at which each one of the flock can keep up with us. The strides that will allow all the flock to stay in step with their leader.
Surely, each person in the body of Christ must choose to follow Jesus and the leaders He places over them. None of us in ministry can be held responsible for an individual’s choice whether to obey and come along or reject God’s leading and stay behind. Though this would break our hearts, every individual in God’s body makes such choices and bears their consequences, either good or bad.
However, the impetus for every minister in the Church – whether on staff or working as a layperson – is to ensure that we take responsibility for the pace we set, seeking to bring every one along with us. We must be careful to watch over the needs of the people we serve, to see that they are not overwhelmed, overburdened, or overworked. To see that they find adequate and consistent rest, nourishment and strengthening. To ensure that they stay free of discouragement caused by spiritual malnutrition, stress, or exhaustion.
God holds all ministers responsible for “how” we lead others. “How” we teach our lessions, for example, when we are Bible teachers. Do we do it to “show off” our grandiose intelligence, not caring about feeding them portions that will nourish them? Do we do it for selfish gain or monetary profit, fleecing God’s sheep while they remain dazed or starved? Or, do we sincerely care about those in our classes? Do we truly love them and desire to see them well-fed and growing stronger in the Lord?
If our ministry involves hands-on helps, such as serving at a local soup kitchen or food pantry, do we do this for our own fame or reputation? Do we have a judgmental attitude toward the recipients of God’s grace in their time of need? Do we offer our services half-heartedly, while preferring to be somewhere else? Or, do we love the people who receive such goodness? Do we sincerely pray for them that God will meet their needs and bless them above and beyond the earthly possessions we might give them? Do we offer to them the gospel of Jesus Christ that can make them brand new, or are we ashamed of this precious truth?
Every minister charged in the service of the Lord and in the care of His flock must answer these as well as similar questions honestly before the Lord. But may we always remember and retain Genesis 33:14 as a guiding principle in our lives, one which will govern how we do our ministry. This insight can then hold us in check, keeping us from running ahead of God. This verse can be a bastion to remind us that wherever God is leading us and those with us, and whatever God wants those with us to do alongside of us, we must be watchful about “how” we lead them.
Let us care about all who are with us on this journey. Let us hold each one under our charge in high esteem. May we do everything within our power to follow God at the proper pace – one where we do not delay, nor do we run ahead. Jesus’ call to His disciples was to “Follow Me.” In obeying this, we are to remain in step with the Lord, not getting ahead or loitering behind. He walks with us in such a pace as to bring us along step by step. May we, as His ambassadors in the fields He calls us into, do the same!