I’m no war-torn pastor. There are many trenches to come, trials to endure, taunts from the enemy. Every faithful shepherd I know walks with a limp from years of wrestling with Sunday’s text, Monday’s discouragements, Tuesday’s fatigue. Despite this, your triumphant grace soaks their stories as they tell of your sustaining staff through the darkest valley. They tell me that in every cross they carried, resurrection life bloomed.
Lord, these stories are grave and glad. Trembling and hope gather in my soul like Joshua crossing Jordan on the brink of the Promised Land. And so, Lord, I pray to you.
Although I need your endurance for the suffering to come. Although I need insight to explain your word. Although I need wisdom to give your people vision. Although I need compassion for the needs I will see. Although I need love for my enemies. Although I need zeal to lead your people. Although I need these things from you, I do not pray for those now.
My prayer is this:
Lord, give me grace when I stumble.
I have been in your fields for only 8 months now and the stories reverberate in my soul: shepherds leaving their gates open to wolves with false teaching; shepherds leading their sheep over the cliffs of their own selfish ambitions; shepherds so busy tending to the sheep of the field they forget the flock at home.
So, Lord, give me grace when I stumble.
All of these shepherds started just like me: watchful, sensitive, vigilant. I don’t presume to know the path that took them from here to there. I only note it’s existence and plead with you to keep me far from it. I do not ask that you would keep me from stumbling. I know I still fight my flesh and that you tend to teach through my weakness. But I pray that as Satan roars at me during your discipline, your fatherly voice would lead me to repentance. Lord, give me grace when I stumble.
Lord, give me grace when frost forms around my marriage. Prevent me from growing content in giving my wife the leftovers of my time, presuming our love would be unblighted. I have already seen once thriving marriages rotting like old fruit from a famine of time and affection. Give me grace to answer my wife’s honesty with humility, her needs with nourishment, her cares with concern. Lord, take my ministry if I ever begin to lose my marriage, for the former is void without the latter. Lord, give me grace when I stumble.
Lord, give me grace when my chest swells with pride. Guard me from the perils of “success.” If full pews mean a vain heart, bloated with self-sufficiency, deflate me with my weakness and confront me with my limits. If I begin depending on my tools and abilities to reap a harvest, drain me of my fruitfulness until I am desperate again for the rain of your Spirit. Give me grace to receive the wounds of friends with humility when I’m blinded by arrogance. Lord, give me grace when I stumble.
Lord, give me grace to keep the windows of my soul open through regular confession. Provide brothers who don’t fear me, mentors who see through me, partners who listen to me. I’m finding that hypocrisy disguises itself as “privacy”, and I fear everyone will assume I’m always fine. Keep me from valuing my reputation more than my soul. When I begin to live heedlessly, assuming confession needs no place in my life, show me the danger of isolation without giving me over to its full effects. Let your Spirit prevail in my life through the normal means of grace you have given me. Lord, give me grace when I stumble.
Lord, give me grace to not neglect a loving and warm relationship with you. When I begin to see your Word as a commodity of my profession rather than bread to my soul, a set of facts rather than a feast – draw me back into warm fellowship with you. Wield the sword of your Word to cut through my excuses and make me tender to your shepherding voice. Graciously bless me with a soul stirring vision of your Son in your Word when I grow dull and numb. Lord, give me grace when I stumble.
Father, lift these these hands when they droop in weakness, strengthen these knees when they buckle under burdens, loosen my tongue with stammers with sin, open my eyes afresh to the glory of your character. I tremble when I consider my own strengths, abilities, and gifts. But I find comfort in your grace, your earnestness, your mercy, and your zeal for your own name. I take confidence in you, and shepherd your people as you shepherd me.
And as I carry this staff, still green and not well worn, I pray this prayer acknowledging your power and my great weakness: Lord, give me grace when I stumble.
Spencer Harmon is the Senior Pastor at Vine Street Baptist Church and the co-author of Letters to a Romantic: On Dating and Letters to a Romantic: On Engagement (P&R, 2017).