God fills us with what we hunger for. If we’re hungry for Christ, we’ll look more like Christ. So, what are you chasing? Pastor, is it worth it?
By Andrew Hébert
As a leader, what are you chasing? What do you hunger for? What consumes your daydreams? Do you long for a larger church, a better salary, prominence, influence, or some version of the American dream? Or do you long to look and live like Jesus?
At a recent conference, I heard Gary Thomas share the story of two hikers who spent hours climbing a mountain. When they reached the top, they realized they climbed a different mountain than the one they had intended to climb. Somehow, they had gotten mixed up and realized too late they were standing on top of the wrong mountain.
Thomas made a simple application that crystallized an important truth for me: Make sure you don’t devote your entire life and ministry to the kinds of things that will one day leave you realizing you climbed the wrong mountain.
What are you chasing?
Every follower of Christ is tempted to chase the wrong things and climb the wrong mountains. We strive for fame, notoriety, significance, beauty, worldly acclaim, material wealth, and earthly goods. And pastors and other Christian leaders aren’t immune to the temptation to chase these things either.Make sure you don’t devote your entire life and ministry to the kinds of things that will one day leave you realizing you climbed the wrong mountain. — @andrewhebert86 Click To Tweet
But in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness” are blessed (Matthew 5:6, CSB). He’s describing that which every Christian and every Christian leader should chase. We’re called to be hungry and thirsty, not for worldly fame, accolades, comfort, or possessions, but for the very righteousness that comes from God. A.W. Tozer describes this righteousness as “following hard after God.” It’s a longing for God Himself. It’s a desire to see God fill your life with what you can only have in His presence. It’s a craving for the kind of life only God can produce in you.
The promise of righteousness
One of the most beautiful things about Matthew 5:6 is the promise. Jesus says if we’re hungry for His righteousness, we’ll be filled with it. You “will be filled.” This is a promise. Jesus promises to give us what we need—His righteousness—if we simply long for it.
Notice how Jesus gives this promise in the passive tense. The righteousness we need is not something with which we can fill ourselves. It’s something the God of righteousness Himself will do for us. A hunger for righteousness is not the same as trying to earn or achieve righteousness. The righteousness we receive by faith is a passive righteousness—we receive this righteousness rather than earn it. Righteousness is achieved for us, not by us.Righteousness is achieved for us, not by us. — @andrewhebert86 Click To Tweet
This is what Paul means when he says, “Faith was credited to Abraham for righteousness” (Romans 4:9, CSB). Matthew 5:6 is the essence of the gospel: You need righteousness that you don’t have, but if you want it, you can have it, if you’ll find it in Jesus.
The hunger for righteousness
But though we must receive this righteousness passively, we must also actively pursue it. We cannot earn it, but we must seek it. You can’t achieve it, but you must receive it.
The righteousness of Christ in a pastor is both a status given in justification and a calling cultivated in sanctification. Once we receive the gift of Jesus’ righteousness, it’s our responsibility to allow the Holy Spirit to cultivate the righteousness of Christ in our lives. If we hunger for the righteousness only Jesus can produce in us, we’ll begin to look more and more righteous. He declares us righteous in justification and progressively makes us righteous in sanctification.
In justification, Jesus changes our longings to be God-ward. In sanctification, our longings begin to shape our lives toward Christlikeness. As we long for the righteousness of Jesus, the Holy Spirit chips away at the unfinished marble of our lives and begins to make us look more like Christ. He fills us with what we hunger for. If we’re hungry for the world, we’ll look like the world. If we’re hungry for Christ, we’ll look more like Christ. So what are you chasing? Pastor, is it worth it?
The pursuit of righteousness
So, what does it look like to chase after and cultivate a life of righteousness as a pastor or Christian leader?
We cultivate righteousness primarily through the spiritual rhythms of Word and prayer. There are, of course, other important spiritual rhythms, such as fasting, giving, silence and solitude, and gathered worship. Yet, when brought to their irreducible minimum, all other disciplines are in one way or another an expression of the disciplines of Word and prayer.
Word and prayer
In fact, Word and prayer are not only central to cultivating personal righteousness, but they’re also the cornerstones of pastoral ministry itself. The early church appointed the first deacons in Acts 6 to enable the leaders of the church to devote themselves “to prayer and to the ministry of the Word” (Acts 6:1-4, CSB). Eugene Peterson frames the entirety of pastoral work under what he calls “a trigonometry of ministry…the act of prayer, the reading of Scripture, and the practice of spiritual direction.” These are three ways of paying attention to God. Peterson defines them this way:
Prayer is an act in which I bring myself to attention before God; reading Scripture is an act of attending to God in his speech and action across two millennia in Israel and Christ; spiritual direction is an act of giving attention to what God is doing in the person who happens to be before me at any given moment. Always it is God to whom we are paying, or trying to pay, attention.(Working the Angles, 3-4)
I want to focus on the first two elements of Peterson’s “trigonometry of ministry.” For none of us can pay attention to what God is doing in the person in front of us at any given moment until we’ve first attended to God’s Word and come to attention before Him in prayer ourselves. Word and prayer are the most primary disciplines in the life of the pastor. They’re what you give yourself to before anything else.Word and prayer are the most primary disciplines in the life of the pastor. They’re what you give yourself to before anything else. — @andrewhebert86 Click To Tweet
Before our public preaching ministry, before pastoral care, before administering the ordinances, before providing leadership and oversight, before counseling, weddings, or funerals, we must come to the ancient path of Word and prayer.
Righteousness is worth the pursuit
Word and prayer are like spiritual breathing. You breathe the Word in, and you breathe prayer out. There’s a rhythm both to our physical and spiritual breathing. We do these regularly, without interruption. Breathe in the Word, breathe out prayer—over and over again. Just as breathing is necessary for physical life, so the Word and prayer are necessary for spiritual life.
Word and prayer are a spiritual call and response. God’s Word is the call we hear. Prayer is our response to Him as we work it over in our hearts and minds.
How will you pastor or lead faithfully without the Word and prayer? God’s Word gives me instruction about His will for my life and for the church I lead. It also gives me encouragement as I seek to faithfully shepherd the flock. Prayer gives me discernment about His leading and his movement in our midst. It gives me the Spirit’s power to do what God has called me to do. Prayer allows me to submit my will and ways to God’s.
As you lead, make sure you’re climbing the right mountain. Though there may be other things you want to chase, chase after the righteousness of God. That’s worth chasing. Allow Christ to fill you with His righteousness in justification, and then actively submit to pursuing His righteousness in sanctification. This pursuit doesn’t have to be complicated. Start with Word and prayer. There’s no cultivated righteousness in sanctification apart from these. These are the means the Spirit chooses to use as He fills us with righteousness. Read the Word. Respond in prayer. Get hungry and thirsty. Reap the reward of righteousness.
Andrew is the lead pastor of Paramount Baptist Church in Amarillo, Texas, and the author of the book Shepherding Like Jesus: Returning to the Wild Idea that Characters Matters in Ministry.