Pastor, your faithfulness to the Word is your ministry. It is your calling, and it alone is your legacy. Do not underestimate what God can do through His word through you, and be on guard against overestimating what you can do. Speak God’s word, and sometimes speak simply, for you can never fully know who is listening, hearing, and receiving it.
To illustrate my point, let me recount a story from a recent car trip with my kids:
“You’re so lucky that you get to go to heaven first.”
I overhear many strange things on any given weekday morning from the backseat of my car. However, on this particularly frigid January morning, I’ll admit these words jolted me from my usual thinking as they crossed my ears. The speaker was my 6-year-old son; the “lucky one” he referred to was his older sister. She received the comment with all the grace of a fifth grader and retorted, “Well yeah, unless you die first.”
“You’re so lucky,” and the tone with which he uttered it spoke volumes about what my young son believes in his heart about heaven. In his simple understanding of the world, his sister was going to beat him to heaven by the fact that she beat him to earth by about four years. She’s got a head-start on him, and he envies her. Many other times, he’s pined for the privileges, luxuries, and blessings of the elder child, but this was uniquely different. And it was honest. He truly desired the joys his sister was going to receive before him.
Where did he get this?
That my son was so open with his thoughts was not that unexpected. He’s always been the kid who says precisely what he’s thinking. What surprised me was the childlike, simple, yet rich sense of longing and expectation for heaven that he articulated. In just a few short words, it was clear this boy had internalized a theology of eternity that has escaped even many mature believers. That got me wondering where he found it.
I started reflecting on our earliest memories together, mining those snapshots of everyday family life that might have contributed to this moment. I thought about the books we read to our children, particularly a story about a pilgrim whose long journey was fraught with many trials and enemies. Still, in the end, he crosses the great river and reaches the Celestial City. I remember the pictures in this book—earthy and dark until the very end. But then, as the final pages turn, the images become vibrant and full of gold and light.
Reflecting on formative experiences
My mind then turned to my wife’s grandmother. She spent a few years with both of my children before she went home to be with the Lord. At her funeral, I spoke about her meeting her Savior. I talked about the promise of the resurrection. I spoke about heaven. My children listened and watched as family and friends swapped laughs and tears at the graveside. Both laid hands on the urn filled with ashes, and we spoke to them about a new body that Jesus would give her when He returned. For now, though, she was in Heaven with Jesus.
As my two children continued to expound on the nuances of untimely death in the back seat, my mind still wandered through the archives looking for evidence of my son’s comment. Just a couple of days prior, we attended church, and my son took my seat as I returned to the platform to lead our congregation in one more song. I saw my son singing with all the rest for the final verse:
As my children opened their doors to step into the fray of another school day, the cold air rushed into the car and reminded me that we were only a few weeks past Christmas. Even amidst the traditions, games, decorations, fun movies, and seasonal songs, my family still makes sure Jesus is the centerpiece of this season. And then I recalled how we always reflect with our children on Jesus coming from heaven to be with us. The baby from heaven, God’s own Son, heralded by angels and destined to save the world. (Luke 2:10-11)
The secret sauce to fix the big problem
As a pastor, I regularly catch myself in this type of introspection. What is the real impact of my ministry on those under my care? Did they catch the real point of that sermon? Did that devotion strike the right chord in their affections? Was that new song as encouraging to them as I had hoped? Was that counseling session a success? Just as with my son, I’m constantly looking for the recipe to the secret sauce – the one fix to the big problem, the home run.
But as I sat alone with my thoughts in the car that morning, an unexpected light bulb went off in my mind. Perhaps my son’s deep desire for heaven did not come like a revelation. Maybe it developed slowly, unseen, and enriched by all these experiences and insights. The fruit of my son’s lips that day had been a long time coming, from roots put down much further back in his mind and heart and cultivated with care by not only his dad but his mom and sister, his grandparents, from storybooks and Sunday school teachers, and even through countless snippets from sermons and songs in church services.
The lesson for every pastor
This is a hopeful lesson for every pastor (every Christian!). The lesson is to be faithful to God’s word. Every moment we take to speak the truth to one another is another seed cast onto the soil of that soul. It is not for us to determine where it lands but to be faithful to spread it (Matthew 13:1-23). We have been given the task to plant, water, care for, and cultivate – but the Lord causes the growth. That truth should encourage us when we worry over whether we are doing “enough” in ministry. It also will dissuade us from the illusion that we have some extra-special gift outside the perfectly sufficient time given to us by the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22).
At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. (Matthew 11:25-26)
 ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ by John Bunyan
 ‘Christ Our Hope in Life and Death’ (Getty/Boswell/Kauflin/Merker/Papa)