Folly is a joy to him who lacks sense,
but a man of understanding walks straight ahead.
Without counsel plans fail,
but with many counselors they succeed. (Proverbs 15:21-22)
Throughout the Proverbs, the author urges us to seek wisdom. We could even say that repeatedly wisdom “calls out” to us so that we might gain knowledge and understanding (Prov. 1:20-22).
Why do we need wisdom? Why do we need knowledge and understanding? The answer is simple: so that we might live to the glory of God. Therefore, the Proverbs speak about several practical aspects of our daily lives. They talk about the incentives of living wisely concerning wealth, power, and social status. However, at the same time, they teach us about wisdom concerning more intimate matters like familial and friendly relationships. I want to focus on this idea of friendships, especially regarding pastors and ministry leaders.
Often the temptation for ministers is to be stubbornly individualistic. We are good at keeping our heads down and our hands on the plow. We are, probably more than we like to admit, wading through rough and rugged waters while thinking, “I will do this on my own, and I will do it my way.” Besides, wasn’t this how the Apostle Paul “did” ministry? No, it was not how the Apostle planted churches, evangelized, preached powerful sermons, and the like. Paul wisely surrounded himself with godly friends. One New Testament scholar has pointed out that Paul identifies more than 65 people as friends in ministry or members throughout his letters. This can be seen in the closing remarks of his letters, as he repeatedly makes mention of men and women with whom he enjoyed gospel partnership and deeply committed friendship.
If you reread the above proverb, you will notice that it bluntly states that those who seek to go their own way, the stubborn individualistic minister, is one who “lacks sense.” However, the one who surrounds himself, like Paul, with godly counselors has understanding, walks intentionally forward, and finds success.
Why is it considered wise to have godly friends as a host of counselors in ministry? Here are three reasons:
- They stand as an encouragement against temptation and sin.
Evangelical authors have spilled much ink regarding the hardships of ministry; therefore, I do not feel the need to spend much time convincing you of that truth. Nevertheless, with trials and tribulations comes overbearing temptation. Our great enemy, Satan, knows it is the opportune time to attack when we are at our lowest points. Therefore, he moves swiftly and convincingly, attempting to bring shame and despair into the minister’s life.
I think about Christ as the Spirit drives him into the wilderness. There he spends forty days and forty nights fasting and praying. Matthew 4:2 says that Jesus was “hungry.” What an understatement! Jesus was physically exhausted, and in his flesh, he was low. It was then, in this moment of weakness, that the tempter came to him.
That is the scene that I am painting for the minister, too. When we are at our lowest point, the spiritual battle rages. We must, like Christ, always be ready. However, if we are honest with ourselves, we often do not look to Christ when Satan tempts us to despair and tells us of the guilt within. Instead, we find ourselves looking to our circumstances; we look for instant gratification. In the low points of our ministry, we long to feel acceptance, success, and affection. Therefore, when temptation comes, we are often weak.
This basic fact is why we need wise and godly friends. We need them, as the author of Hebrews states, to “stir us up” and “encourage” us in the face of temptation (Heb. 10: 24-25). In the face of all the hardships that would tempt us to turn from Christ, the author of Hebrews wisely instructs us that one of the fundamental ways to turn away from temptation is to draw near to other believers. To be more specific for ministers, it is not a stretch to say that we must draw near to other ministers. They are in the trenches of the battle with you; they know what it is like to feel the burden of our office. They know what it is like to see the sufferings of Christ’s ministers, and they know the pressures of the Evil One amid suffering. Therefore, we must lean into them. They will be the wise, godly friends who will stand with you in the face of temptation.
- They kneel before the Lord in humble prayer on your behalf.
One of my favorite quotes on prayer comes from a compilation work in honor of Rev. James Philip, a former and beloved pastor of Holyrood Presbyterian Church in Edinburgh. In this commemorative work, Dr. Doug Kelly writes on the power of the saints’ prayers and shares this quote from Rev. Philip,
[The prayer of the saints] is the answer that the agony and urgency of our situation needs today, above all else. If it is through prayer that the Spirit of God comes upon the saints in tongues of fire, and that Satan falls as lightning to the ground, then prayer must be the unquestioned and unassailable first priority in our lives and in our fellowship.[i]
There is power in prayer, and our Lord is pleased when his people pray. We have been given access to the Throne of Mercy through the sacrificial death of Christ. So, now the children of God go boldly into his presence to lift their requests and petitions unto him who can do far more than we can ask or think. It is a beautiful means of grace and a gift we cannot take lightly.
Therefore, we need to surround ourselves with friends who recognize our ability to pray to our Heavenly Father and the power of their prayers on our behalf.
I minister deep within the Bible belt. Nominal Christianity is all around me. So, there is a culture of friends telling one another that they will be praying, but there is no follow-through. Only speculation can say why this is the case, for sure, but often I think that here in the deep south, it is just the proper response. However, these are not the friends we need. We need friends who will be committed to praying…really praying. Not just those who say they will pray, but friends who know their prayers will call down fire from heaven! We need friends who understand that “Prayer must be the unquestioned and unassailable first priority in our lives and in our fellowship.”
- They serve as a reminder that you are not alone in your ministry or faith.
When Daniel was just a teenager, he was removed from his home, the temple, the sacrificial system, and everything he knew as a Jewish boy. He finds himself in Babylon with a call to be the mouthpiece of God to a wicked nation. The sin-filled country attempts to indoctrinate him, changes his Hebrew name, and surrounds him with the temptation to assimilate into this pagan culture. Babylon desires for Daniel to turn his back on God and the former life he once knew. All of these worldly efforts seemed like too much for one young man to bear, and arguably it might have been, but Daniel had wise, godly friends with him.
We see Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (some of us might better know them as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) standing the test of time. They are wise and godly. Amid temptation, they stand firm. While being tested, they are faithful. Indeed, as the narrative unfolds, we see them becoming even more wise, godly, and faithful. These four men were iron sharpening iron; they served as reminders for each other that they were not alone in their ministry or faith (Prov. 27:17). When they needed to pray, they prayed. When they needed to be faithful, they were faithful. When they needed to stand in the face of temptation, they stood while everyone else bowed. Together they kept the faith, even in the middle of Babylon.
That is the picture of the friends that ministers need. We need Hananiah’s, Mishael’s, and Azariah’s. We need friends – living Ebenezer’s – who will remind us that our labors in the gospel are not in vain and we are not alone.
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