One of the curious, yet recurring, challenges of pastoring is learning to listen to your own words. No, not in the context of hearing yourself speak, but in hearing the words of advice and counsel you gave to others be given back to you.
It happens to me with frightening regularity. I have studied and prepared a sermon meant to proclaim God’s counsel to my congregation, and deliver Godly, Scripture guidance, correction, and comfort. Or at other times I have chatted with a friend and church member after worship or a meeting and addressed a concern of theirs with a Spirit-given Scriptural response. And then a week, or a day, or perhaps maybe just an hour later I will be the one in a crisis of fear or doubt, and often—just often enough to notice—it will happen that somebody will give back to me the same counsel and comfort I had just given out to others. My wife does it. My parishioners do it. Even my children have at times done it.
And in my geeky sci-fi mind, at that moment I can almost feel two alternate realities developing. In one potential reality, I brush off the advice saying, “Yes, I did say that to you. But my situation is different,” and thus unhinge a great evil within me that inevitably leads me into the worst of all sins: a pastor that believes God’s Word is intended for everybody else and not for him.
But in the other potential reality, I wrestle with accepting my own advice. A brief but epic struggle occurs within the depths of my soul as I determine whether I was passionately sincere when I first spoke those words I now hear given back to me, or if I was merely parroting a polite, Biblical-sounding lie. My flesh wants to disregard my own words, but my conscience and God’s Spirit within me demand I must not. And with heroic effort, my flesh is defeated and I humbly—and perhaps grudgingly, to be honest—accept the Godly counsel that has managed to boomerang itself back to me once again.
And I’ve realized something: It’s not so much a matter of listening to my own advice as it is a matter of listening to God’s. At one point, He spoke through me to give counsel to another. Should it surprise me when He uses another to give that same counsel back to me?