May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains, but when he arrived in Rome he searched for me earnestly and found me—may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that Day!—and you well know all the service he rendered at Ephesus. (2 Timothy 1:16-18 ESV)
If we take the Apostle Paul’s life as the standard, it would be gross understatement to say that the life of a pastor is hard. We have several passages that catalogue his difficulties, beatings, shipwrecks, and imprisonments. In addition to these external oppressors, he had what he calls the daily pressure of his anxiety for all the churches (2 Cor. 11:28). And while most pastors in the Western hemisphere will not go through quite as much external persecution (though they should be ready to do so), there is much about pastoral ministry that is physically exhausting, mentally draining, and spiritually grueling. To be sure, the same could be said of the Christian life in general. How do we respond to such a burden?
In college, I took a spiritual discipline’s class in which the professor strongly recommended that we all find what he called “replenishing people” to serve us in the same way that Onesiphorus served Paul in the passage above. These are people who, for one reason or another, the Lord uses in our lives to give us grace. They are people who don’t even have to try, but simply by being around them you gain a fresh desire to serve faithfully and live obediently. They give you encouragement without effort, and they sharpen you in casual conversation. If hard conversations need to be had, they are the ones who can rebuke you and lead you to the cross in the same sentence. These are true, gospel friendships, and every pastor needs to have them.
Paul’s burden for the churches was not unhealthy. It was right. It was a consequence of his calling, and it should be shared by all God’s undershepherds. But that does not mean pastors need to bear this burden in isolation. They cannot, and they should not. Pastors, make it a priority to seek out and cultivate relationships with those replenishing people that God has placed in your life. Praise God for them. Let these people know the ways in which God is using them in your own life. Admit your need for God’s people and celebrate his good provision in replenishing people.
As for me, one of the great privileges of my time in college was meeting many of those who would serve as replenishing people in my life. Two of those guys I now share this blog with, and I am excited to continue to grow with them as we pursue Christ. I’m grateful to God for these two brothers, and I trust we will all be replenishing one another along the way.