As a new pastor trying to make sense of the unexpected trials in ministry, I read Spiritual Leadership by J. Oswald Sanders. Resting within reach among the few volumes of my spartan library, this book braced me with a vision of ministry that started with a cross, a spike, and the leader’s life. “A cross stands in the way of Christian leadership”, says Sanders. “It is a cross upon which the leader must consent to be impaled.”
Tucked within the treasure trove of Sander’s words was a poem, written not by him, but by someone who, to this very day, remains anonymous. It’s about God’s purpose in the impaling of leaders. If you will, it’s about this pandemic. More on that in a minute.
Within weeks of finding this anonymous poem, the wet cement of each line began to harden in my memory and cement into my soul. Over these past 34 years of ministry, I have preached it to others so often that the words tumble out from the deepest parts of who I am and echo back to me with grace. It sings in my soul like the melody of an old hymn, calling me to stand my post, stand strong, and stand confident in the goodness of the Captain of our Souls.
In these dog-days of Covid-19, where every pastor seems to bear the marks of misunderstood decisions, polarizing people, sleepless nights, hopes deferred, and the fear of fruitless labor, let this anonymous voice from the past bring you courage and strength to stay the course. And if you’re not a pastor, then read this and send it along to someone who is.
The Pandemic Poem for Pastors*
When God wants to drill a man,
And thrill a man,
And skill a man
When God wants to mold a man
To play the noblest part;
When He yearns with all His heart
To create so great and bold a man
That all the world shall be amazed,
Watch His methods, watch His ways!
How He ruthlessly perfects
Whom He royally elects!
How He hammers him and hurts him,
And with mighty blows converts him
Into trial shapes of clay which
Only God understands;
While his tortured heart is crying
And he lifts beseeching hands!
How He bends but never breaks
When his good He undertakes;
How He uses whom He chooses,
And which every purpose fuses him;
By every act induces him
To try His splendor out—
God knows what He’s about.
* In Sander’s book, the title of the poem follows the first line, “When God Wants To Drill a Man”