Up all night with the one who never sleeps.
Reflections of a pastor who chose a heckuva time to lead a church.
This article was originally written for Mockingbird.
You sure picked a high time to be a pastor, I said to myself. Ugh, you’re telling me.
Ever since I was little, I knew that pastoring would be in my future. Being the son and grandson of pastors, you can imagine the inevitable bombardment of questions, usually something like, Are you going to be a preacher like your (grand)daddy when you grow up? My parents, to be sure, never coddled that calling. They would’ve been proud of me regardless of the vocation with which I spent my life. In the back of my head, though, I think I always knew that I was a “preacher boy.”
This didn’t become my “calling,” however, until my college years — after I had dealt with some lousy high school resentment. What solidified my call to the ministry was nothing short of what Jared C. Wilson calls “gospel wakefulness.” It was during my undergraduate studies that grace made sense to me (as much as the illogical, indiscriminate favor of God can make sense, that is). Ever since then, I’ve known that for which God has put me on this earth, namely, to be an unworthy participant in the proclamation of Jesus’s gospel of “grace upon grace” (John 1:16).
Are you sure you’re cut out for this? the inner voice heckled. You picked a heckuva time to be a pastor!
The words ring loud because they’re true. Without question, this first year as a senior pastor has been, perhaps, the most eventful I could’ve ever asked for. I feel like I’m ticking off ministerial milestones like a daily to-do list. Never in a million years did I think nine months into ministry I’d be trying to figure out how to pastor a church in the digital space with limited to no interaction with those to whom I’m called to minister and shepherd. Oh, the joys of marshaling the church through one of the most challenging global crises in over a century.
Grace, though, tells me that it’s all going to be fine. Not in a blissfully ignorant sort of way. And not in a “Pollyanna-everything’s-all-right” sort of way. But in a “the Maker of heaven and earth doesn’t sleep” sort of way. Even before the pandemic, the 121st Psalm had been reverberating in my head for weeks. Many have, perhaps, committed the first two verses to memory, remembering the redolent axiom that their “help comes from the Lord.” But, for me, the lines that leap off the page come in the third and fourth verses:
He will not allow your foot to slip; your Protector will not slumber. Indeed, the Protector of Israel does not slumber or sleep. (Ps. 121:3–4)
I’ve always been an early riser. I’m the sort of person that can go to sleep at midnight and still wake up at 5 a.m. Upon entering the pastorate, however, I began to put a premium on sleep like no other commodity. The weight of shepherding souls is unlike any other stress I’ve ever experienced. Not to mention shepherding them through the unchartered waters of “social distancing,” “virtual ministry,” and “quarantine devotionals.” Thus, in the middle of the present frenzy, I’ve probably had the worst sleep schedule in recent memory.
But knowing my Protector doesn’t take naps is helping a little. So is knowing that my Protector is also my Maker. He’s God and I’m not. He’s in command over this moment, this season and I’m not. And such is the grace of sleep which, as Rev. Paul Walker describes it, “is one of God’s built-in indicators that you are not always in control” (23). In fact, I never am. That’s good news, though, because the One who is in control is my unslumbering Protector. Therefore, I don’t have to keep one eye open all night. I can sleep knowing there’s One who never does. And even if I am up all night, I’ll have some good company.
Paul N. Walker, Faith Once Delivered: Sermons from Christ Church (Charlottesville, VA: Mockingbird, 2019).