• Rev. Joel L. Tolbert

Learn and Feel and Listen

Its a common expectation of pastors to spend some time each day in devotional and prayer. When Pastors are honest about this assumption, we will report that we stink at doing it. We might even have worse habits of devotional and prayer than many members of the church.


There have been seasons of my pastoral life when I blinked and realized months had gone by without me giving dedicated time to study, reflection, and prayer. You know... email, meetings, phone calls, more meetings, Presbytery, boards, more meetings, random drop-ins, various emergencies, interruptions, more meetings, and the next thing I knew, its Easter and I haven't really prayed since Christmas.


I've never been a morning person, but when I am in a healthy routine, my day doesn't start until AFTER I've given some of the morning to study, reflection, and prayer. There may be some emails or voicemails or tasks of ministry waiting for me. My phone alerts me to those right after I click off the alarm. I try to ignore them for a while. I get some coffee, let the dog out, and try to open my mind to learning something new about God and the world. Then I try to open my heart to feeling something new, whatever God might be feeling about what I just learned. Last, I try to open my ears (in prayer) to hear what God might want me to do with what I've just learned and felt. With that good fool in my soul, I can dive into the emails, voicemails, tasks, and interactions with some hope that God might be leading me through them, instead of me banging my way through them willy-nilly.


What is prayer for you? Is it a discipline you practice regularly, on your good and bad days, or some tool you only pull out when you need reassurance, or need to fix something yu don't like?


What is devotional to you? Is it the discipline of cracking your mind and heart open to new things, exposing yourself more and more to the beauty and brokenness of God's creation, or are your favorite devotionals the memes and quotes that already support what you already think and believe?


As one of your pastors, I encourage you to devote some time each day to learning something new. Look for lessons about God, yourself, your community, your country, or the world that don't match what you already know and believe. Investigate those fairly, with an open mind. Trust the truths and facts given to you, even if they might challenge what you thought you already knew before. That's a healthy devotional, something that does support the truths we are trying to hold, and also gives us more truths that rattle us.


Next, pray. In prayer, be honest with God how those new truths feel inside. Process those feelings with God. Then, ask God how God feels about those truths. Is God sad about how refugees, immigrants, people of color are talked about and treated? Did your heart's reaction to those those truths match God's heart's reaction? If not, why not? As followers and believers in the God we know in Christ, don't we want our hearts to resonate with God's heart, and our thoughts to resemble God's thoughts?


Finally, look, listen, and feel as your go through your day for moments that resonate with your new learnings and feelings. In that safe space with God, you found out some new things about God, yourself, and the others around you. You felt some new things, and shared those with God, and heard God share God's own heart with you. Now, put those into practice, trusting God is with you and loves you. You might make a mistake, but God has got you.


I might ask you about your devotional and prayer routine. Its not because I'm grading you. It's because I love you, and want you to grow in your relationship with God, and in faith and courage. I hope you will feel welcome to ask me in return what I am learning, feeling, and hearing.


Until we are together again soon, blessing, laughter, and loving be yours,

Rev. Joel L. Tolbert

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In 2002, I left my corporate career, and went to seminary. Since 2005, I've been serving churches, and trying to follow Jesus, and lead others in doing the same...

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