He frequently wiped his wet brow with a small white towel. His starched collar was drenched. He could feel the sweat pouring down his back. He felt the uncomfortable wetness of his undershirt. The airy room wasn’t even warm… the congregation was comfortable.
His preaching was inspired. Fervent. Labored.
His congregation listened intently to his passionate pleas to become disciples of the Living Lord as he spewed forth Scripture verses to solidify his case.
He preached for almost an hour, prayed and then walked down the main aisle to the exit to wait to say his blessings and good-byes over his flock. They left after the final song by the choir in red and gold robes.
He was exhausted and hungry. The sweat that engulfed his undershirt was now cold. He didn’t feel well, but endured it like what he thought a good and faithful warrior of God should do.
He and his wife joined two other couples for their traditional lunch at their favorite restaurant. It was one of those all-you-can-eat buffets. It was always packed on Sundays. Every church in the community was well represented.
He loaded up his two plates and made his way to the table. The meal was extremely enjoyable. Fun fellowship. Great food. He went back for seconds. He even had four different desserts because the large plate could easily accommodate their sweetness. He especially liked the apple pie with vanilla ice cream heaped on it. Of course it was in a large bowl. He finished it off first.
He’d just taken a bite out of his last dessert – as he was talking to one of his male friends across from him about his diabetes mellitus – when suddenly he wasn’t sure what was happening to him. He began to sweat profusely. His breath became labored and short. He felt ill. He felt as if he would vomit. His upper back stabbed him with intense pain. He became noticeably pale.
His wife saw him grab his chest and slump out of his chair onto the floor. He’d done this once before. She knew what to do. It saved his life.
He awoke in the ICU. A private room. He still didn’t feel well.
His wife was there. So was his adult children and two of their older grandchildren. Solemn. Grandpa was dying?
His seven deacons silently, reverently, filed in.
Everyone circled his bed, held hands and prayed for him. The prayer lasted for at least 15 minutes.
They all quietly left as the nurses came in to do what they do.
The nurses left.
He was alone. All alone. Just he and the technology designed to help him stay alive.
He began to think about what had happened to him. “Why?” “Why Lord?” “Have you abandoned me?”
He reviewed his life of faithful service to the flock(s) the Lord had entrusted him to lead and feed with spiritual truths.
He didn’t envision his life to end like this. “Where had I gone wrong, Lord?”
Tears rolled down his cheeks. “Why would the Lord let something like this happen to me… again? Had the Lord abandoned me? Had I angered Him? Didn’t He promise to always take care of me no matter what? My God. My God… why have you forsaken me?”
At the height of his self-pity the cardiologist came in.
“Ya know, we can’t continue to meet like this. You were very fortunate to have survived this heart attack. God’s not through with you yet and because of that there’s some things you’re going to have change or else.”
“Or else what, doc?”
“Or else you’ll die a sudden, untimely, expensive death unless you change your lifestyle beginning… now. You’re way over weight. You’re not fit. You’re unhealthy. You’re a ticking time bomb. But this time your ticker didn’t explode. And to top it all off… you’re a pastor. You’re supposed to set the example in body, soul and spirit. You’ve failed pretty badly at the body part.”
“Thanks for the encouragement, doc.”
“You’re welcome. Anytime. So, how about it?”
“How about what?”
“How about you step up to the plate and take responsibility for becoming a man of God who leads by example. Healthy examples as well as holy examples. A leader who can rescue someone from a burning building as well as from the fiery pits of hell. Do you want to do that? Are you ready to do that? Are you ready to stop being just an average Christian?”
“Wow. Doc. You’re coming down a bit hard on me don’t you think?”
“Actually, not hard enough. It’s contradictory and hypocritical for you to say you love God and not watch your diet and stay fit.”
The pastor was silent. Very unusual for him.
“Pastor, the fact is that the average person in your congregation is fat, sick and like sheep have gone tragically astray. They have or will eventually stray into my pasture which keeps me in business – most of which is totally of their own doing. Sure, you’ve fed them spiritual food from God’s Word, but they’re physically dying from malnutrition and heart disease. They eat mostly junk. They don’t exercise. Several of them smoke. Some of them are heavy drinkers. Deep inside they all know it’s wrong. Horribly wrong. But they’re like sheep gone astray without a shepherd to guide them in body, soul and spirit.”
The pastor was ashamed. He knew the doctor was right. He knew he had to change… now.
“You’ve probably done a good job with their spiritual needs. But you’ve done a woeful job on their body and soul needs. You’ve got to first take care of you. Be an example. Lead by example.”
“Doc. I think I’ve… abandoned them.”
“You can bring them back. And yourself, too.”
“I will. Thank you doc.”
“You’re welcome. I’ll be back in the morning to check in on you. I’ve scheduled some more tests. If you need anything just let me know.”
“Thank you, doc. I will. Again… thank you for your wake-up call for me.”
“That’s what I’m here for. See you tomorrow. Blessings to you. Warrior up.”
The doctor closes the door behind him. The pastor stares up at the ceiling. Wipes the tears away.
“Lord. You didn’t abandon me… You never do that. I’d abandoned You. Forgive me. Help me to truly become Your disciple. Help me to discipline myself. Help me to never, ever again have a pity-party. It’s not about me. It’s about You, Lord. Thank you for loving me no matter what. Thank You for opening my eyes to enable me to see that I’ve been killing myself by not taking care of myself and my loved ones. I repent of that. Thank You for showing me that I must take care of my body, soul and spirit. Lord, help me to lead myself and others by example. Lord, enable me to live out my days balanced in body, soul and spirit. In Jesus name, Amen.”