It's All About the Recovery
At The Masters last weekend, I thought about a lesson that I learned in watching professional golfers play over the years. A number of years ago, I saw Tiger Woods play the second hole at the Augusta National. The particular hole has a strong dogleg. Tiger had laid a shot up in the woods (no pun intended) under a tree limb. It was one of the least desirable places from which someone has to play their ball. I thought to myself, "Boy, that was a bad shot. I thought that Tiger Woods was supposed to be the best." What happened next taught me an invaluable lesson. Tiger took about 15 minutes getting behind the ball, measuring the distance to the hole, looking at the branch that hung down low directly in front of the ball. When he finally hit the ball, it landed directly on the green just inches from the hole. That was the first time that I was really conscious of the fact that even the best professional golfers hit some really bad shots. The difference between them and others is that they know how to recover when they have done so. So much of the game is in the recovery. This can serves as a good lesson for the Christian life in general and pastoral ministry in particular. We all sin in the Christian life. We are all going to fail and falter. We all make unwise decisions. Every pastor will do things to disappoint the congregation. When we have sinned in our Christian life or made a error in judgment in pastoral ministry, we need to remember that so much of the Christian life and pastoral ministry is in the recovery.
When we say that so much of the Christian life and pastoral ministry is in the recovery, we are not intimating that it's all up to us or "we just have to try harder" and "just try to do better." What we are saying is that what we do after we fail or falter is just as important--or perhaps more important--than what we did in putting ourselves in the situation in which we currently find ourselves. When David sinned in what he did with Bathsheba and Uriah it was exceedingly heinous in the sight of God. There were grave consequences for his sin. The child that was born to David and Bathsheba died. The sword never departed from David's house. Nevertheless, there was grace, mercy and forgiveness when David finally repented. The Lord brought much good out of the spiritual recovery of David. David penned Psalm 51--one of the greatest portions of Scripture, prayed by every Christian who has every sinned against the Lord. The hope of the Gospel has been extended to a seemingly endless number of people since David wrote Psalm 51. Additionally, the Lord gave David and Bathsheba other children--one of which was Solomon and one of which was Nathan. Of these two sons were descended Mary and Joseph--the earthly mother and adopted father of the Redeemer. God's grace that enabled David to recover spiritually resulted in enormous blessing for the world.
In the Christian life, we are often paralyzed by our sin. Sometimes we seek to cover our sin out of a sense of pride--because of the shame and consequences of our sin. However, when we live in light of the Gospel and all that God has done for us in Christ, we know that God is the God of restoration and recovery in Christ. The God against whom we sin is the God who says, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). He is the God who says, "If anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" (1 John 2:2). When we have made a mess of our lives, we need to remember what God has done in Christ to make provision for the recovery and restoration of fallen sinners. God is the Father of the prodigal. He is the God who "restores the years that the locust have eaten." What a God must He be who is longsuffering toward us "not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance."
The illustration of a golfer recovering from a poor shot also serves as a helpful illustration for those in pastoral ministry. There is enormous pressure for pastors to perform with a near perfect track record. I often think of the way in which the church in Geneva expelled the great John Calvin, or the way in which Jonathan Edwards' congregation in Northampton drove him out for making one somewhat insignificant mistake in regard to his pastoral relation to the congregation. These are some of the most heartbreaking accounts in the history of the church. However, both Calvin and Edwards recovered. Three years after being driven out of the city of Geneva, the people asked him to come back. While he was deeply wounded, Calvin nevertheless stepped back into the pulpit and picked up in his exposition of Scripture as if nothing had ever happened. In the case of Edwards, the man who has been termed "the greatest mind America ever produced" went on to be a missionary to the Stockbridge Indians. This became one of the most evangelistically and intellectually fruitful parts of his entire ministry. Edwards would write one of the greatest intellectual and philosophical treatises ever written--Freedom of the Will--on that very Indian reservation. Both Calvin and Edwards recovered magnificently from their infelicitous experiences. Instead of letting bitterness, pride or a desire for retribution take control of their hearts, they committed themselves to the Lord and His grace for wisdom in knowing what to do next.
Whether we find ourselves in a place where we have failed morally and spiritually in the Christian life or in a place where we have been mistreated because of ministerial mistakes or errors in judgment that we have made in ministry, there is one thing that we must constantly do--we must seek the Lord to give us the grace of Christ that we so desperately need in order to recover in a way that is pleasing to Him and that will bring Him glory and His people good. We need the word of God to help us analysize our actions or situations so that we can make a God-honoring assessment of where we are and what we are to do next. In so doing, we will find that so much of the Christian life and so much of pastoral ministry is about the recovery.