The best pastoral advice I ever received

  • Stephen Leston
  • 6 May 2016

Person kneeling at the foot of the cross

I was recently asked by a younger minister just starting out on his first ministry assignment what was the best advice I had ever received in ministry. I did not need to work hard to ponder that answer; I was ready even before the last words of his question were out of his mouth. The best advice I have ever received came by way of a veteran missionary by the name of Frank Drown (more on him in a moment). About 11 years ago, I had asked him if he had any advice for people in ministry, and what he said radically rocked my world. He said,

Pray for problems that you cannot solve. That way, when God solves them, you will walk by faith. Most ministers do their ministry in the power of the flesh, solving the problems that come along that they can solve. When they face problems that only God can solve, and when God solves them, they will actually do their ministry by faith and not by flesh.

Frank knows what he is talking about. He served as a missionary in Ecuador from 1948 to the late 1970s. Frank worked in this region during the time of the martyrdom of Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Ed McCully, Roger Yoderian and Pete Fleming. These five missionaries were killed by the Aucas as they went on a mission to bring the gospel to this tribe. After the death of these five missionaries, Frank was granted free passage by the Aucas to retrieve the bodies off the beach where they were slain. His memoir, Mission to the Headhunters, chronicles his life and ministry in Ecuador. His ministry continued on long after that event, and it was wrought with many moments when he faced life or death situations. It was in those moments that he faced problems that only God could solve. When God solved them, his faith was strengthened. His belief in the power, control and sovereignty of God was built up in ways it never had before.

Living in the developed West, I do not face the kinds of dangers that Frank, or any other missionary who goes to the edges to bring the gospel to the unreached faced or currently faces. Yet I need to walk by faith just like the rest. The thought of praying for problems that are so big that only God could solve them seems like the most foolish prayer of all. Why would anyone bow before God and say, “God, please bring the biggest problem you could ever think of before me”? Yet if you think about it, it would be pretty amazing to experience the sovereign hand of God exercising his dominion over the world and over my life, solving problems that I could never solve. What a thing to write about after experiencing that!

My personal take-home from this advice is not that I am actually praying for bigger problems. Instead, my heart has been encouraged to embrace the power and majesty of God in the midst of my current problems. As they surface, I think about the fact that God is present and that he will solve my problems in such a way that his Son is lifted high, his name is proclaimed and his glory is made known through it. I think about the fact that through all of this, my faith will be strengthened.

I praise God for this attitude and I hope that this advice gives perspective to people like this younger minister as they begin a journey filled with problems. I also pray that it will give perspective to all people in ministry. I believe many can echo the words of the Apostle Paul, who described his ministry in Macedonia in this way: “For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn—fighting without and fear within” (2 Cor 7:5). May we bring our problems to God and trust by faith that he will bring about the best resolution for his glory, his mission and the summing up of all things in Christ (Eph 1:10).