Have you heard the expression, “Familiarity breeds contempt?” Nowhere is the statement more likely to be affirmed than by those who interact most with inspired truth and spiritual realities, i.e. local church pastors. Instead of this between-God-and-their-soul thing getting sweeter, the internal vintage sours with each passing conversation, sermon, counseling session, etc. While we will not thoroughly unpack the solution to that spiritual fade in this post, we will attempt to diagnosis it’s predictable pathology from an influential voice in our past.
The Princeton professor and theologian B.B. Warfield wrote these insightful, cautionary thoughts to his ministerial students that still carry a ton of applicable weight today:
We are frequently told, indeed, that the great danger of the theological student lies precisely in his constant contact with divine things. They may come to seem common to him because they are customary. As the average man breathes the air and basks in the sunshine without ever a thought that it is God in his goodness who makes his sun to rise on him, though he is evil, and sends rain to him, though he is unjust; so you may come to handle even the furniture of the sanctuary with never a thought above the gross earthly materials of which it is made.
The words which tell you of God’s terrible majesty or of his glorious goodness may come to be mere words to you—Hebrew and Greek words, with etymologies, inflections and connections in sentences. The reasonings which establish to you the mysteries of his saving activities may come to be to you mere logical paradigms, with premises and conclusions, fitly framed, no doubt, and triumphantly cogent, but with no further significance to you than their formal logical conclusiveness.
God’s stately steppings in his redemptive processes may become to you a mere series of facts of history, curiously interplaying to the production of social and religious conditions and pointing mayhap to an issue which we may shrewdly conjecture: but much like other facts occurring in time and space which may come to your notice. It is your great danger. But it is your great danger only because it is your great privilege. Think of what your privilege is when your greatest danger is that the great things of religion may become common to you!
Other men, oppressed by the hard conditions of life, sunk in the daily struggle for bread perhaps, distracted at any rate by the dreadful drag of the world upon them and the awful rush of the world’s work, find it hard to get time and opportunity so much as to pause and consider whether there be such things as God, and religion, and salvation from the sin that compasses them about and holds them captive. The very atmosphere of your life is these things; you breathe them in at every pore: they surround you, encompass you, press in upon you from every side. It is all in danger of becoming common to you! God forgive you, you are in danger of becoming weary of God!
Wow there is a load of conviction in those paragraphs that I am too often “sleeping on” where I need to be much more alert! May God help we preachers to not allow this kind of pastoral familiarity to rob us of the awe of God that must shape not only our public ministries but our personal mindset and heart attitude toward the glory of that same God. As Paul Tripp put it, “The ministry you are doing is never just shaped by your gifts, knowledge, skill, and experience. It is always also shaped by the true condition of your heart. This is why it is important to acknowledge that local church ministry is one big glory war. In every situation, location, and relationship of your ministry there is a war going on for what glory will magnetize your heart and, therefore, shape your ministry.”
If this spiritual malaise and familiarity is creeping into your pastoral soul, may I encourage to soak up biblical passages filled with and facilitative of renewed awe of the God of all glory that has called you to be His messenger and minister. What is greater and grander than that realization anew and afresh! That is what wins the battle between your fade into familiarity and the matchless glory of the Lord!
One such passage that comes to mind to fight against this awe fade is the following one that the Lord used to call me into me ministry and continues to use to renew my I-cannot-believe-I-get-to vision of ministry:
1 Ti 1:12-17 “And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting. Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.”