Often I approach the Christian life as if the goal is to get to a point where I don’t need grace anymore. That may sound astounding to you, but it occurred to me during a time when I needed to be forgiven for doing wrong to someone. In that incident, I found myself feeling annoyed that I should even need to be forgiven at this stage in my Christian life. I mean, why couldn’t I just be perfect from now on, for goodness’ sake?! What was wrong with me? Why should I, a pastor, need grace anymore? I mean, shouldn’t that be a thing of the past—you know, the idea that mercy is for the “pagan” but not for the Christian—and certainly not for the pastor?
So, during that time I reflected on how hard it is for me, still, to receive mercy and forgiveness. In fact, I’m sorry to say that just about every time it happens, it deals a serious blow to my pride.
But during that time, I heard God speaking to me: “Well, what did you think? Did you seriously think you could get to a point where you didn’t need me to forgive you anymore? Did you seriously think you could honestly lead a self-sufficient life, independent of my grace? No, my child, you were conceived in grace, born again in grace, and, I’m afraid, you will continue to live in grace. In fact, even your death will be covered in my grace. Grace is like air, food, water: you can’t live without it.”
And, God continued: “And what did you think? Did you think that because you are a pastor that you need my grace less than those of your flock? No, my child, I’m afraid that all that makes you, as the leader, is the ‘chief of sinners.’ This does not mean you sin any more or any less than anyone else, but it does mean that you, as the ‘chief of sinners’ will be—and should be—more aware of your need for mercy. Yes, I’m afraid that, were you to have an office with your name and title on the door, there would appear not two plaques, but three: Troy Cady, Pastor, Chief of Sinners. Of course you need my mercy still! Would you expect anything else? As leader, you lead the way in sorrow for sin; as pastor, how can you lead your flock to the country of repentance if you don’t go there yourself—in fact, leading the way, getting there first.”
Yes, this is what leadership involves. In that light, crying “mercy” should be the one thing pastors are best at. Because, to the extent that leaders cry mercy, their followers cry mercy. And, if it so happens that, in fact, the so-called follower cries mercy more than the pastor—well then, maybe we’ve mislabeled who’s who. Maybe the follower is the leader, after all, whether we realize it or not.
This is what Nehemiah teaches us all as we see he is the first to lead the way in pleading for God's mercy.
To read the next part of this series, click here.