“So he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart, and guided them with his skillful hands.” – Psalm 78:72
I remember the first time I read this verse after meeting my now-husband. Immediately, I said, “That’s James.” (Considering the fact that this verse is written about David, the same one God called “a man after His own heart,” [1 Samuel 13:14] that’s no small feat!)
“He shepherded them”
Some of you may not know this, but my husband stepped down from his pastor position at our church when our daughter, Shea, was born. (More on this under the next heading!) But throughout his career in ministry, James has never sought after a title.
In fact, if you ask him his ministry strengths, he would tell you, “I’m a shepherd.” Not “I’m a fantastic preacher” (even though he is), or “I’m a strong leader” (which he is, and a lovable leader at that), but simply, “I’m a shepherd.”
A shepherd has many responsibilities, but when I think of James’ heart as a shepherd, here are the first things that come to mind: I think about how he strives for unity in all things because he takes his responsibility to “keep the flock together” seriously. I’m reminded of his genuine, can’t-be-faked, authentic love for people. And in the most tender of ways, James is one of the greatest “protectors” I’ve ever known. I doubt many people who have encountered James have left not feeling like he was their big brother.
But most of all? I think of James’ loving willingness to do the tasks few are willing to do. He doesn’t want the stage that often comes with ministry. Or the platform. Or the recognition.
James knows that our greatest ministry opportunities don’t happen with microphones; they happen when we are willing to serve others for their benefit, not our own.
“according to the integrity of his heart”
This is probably another story for another blog, but as I mentioned before, James stepped down from his pastoral position in September. Basically, James knew we could not both keep up our current pace of ministry and still be the parents we felt called to be. Earlier in our relationship, I stepped down from a ministry position to fully support James, and he felt God telling him that it was his turn to do the same.
If you don’t know this about me, I am not a crier. But watching my husband’s humility during this season has left me weeping many times.
Many men can say their family is first, but how many are actually willing to prove it? James hasn’t gone more than four years in his ministry career without some sort of promotion taking place. It doesn’t make sense to step down in the prime years of establishing your professional career.
But James doesn’t feel pressure to “make sense” to anyone who isn’t God or doesn’t live within the walls of our home. He knows what God asked him to do, and he did it. I can think of no greater example of having integrity of heart than this.
And I have no doubt that when God calls him back into the local church someday, he will be better for having this season than he would have if he had remained on staff just to “make sense.” God has a long track record of honoring obedience.
“guided them with skillful hands”
Yes, my husband has a lot of gifts and abilities. He’s handy around the house. I’m pretty confident he could have chosen from a variety of careers – from teaching students and coaching football, to sales (or even modeling, for crying out loud!) But that’s not what stands out to me about this verse.
He guided them…
Leading is a gift. I’m not trying to make it less than what it is. But the true sign of leadership isn’t how awesome you are; it’s how awesome the people you’re leading become.
I can say, without wavering, that everyone who serves under my husband leaves better than they were when they began working with him. We’ve been serving together in ministry for 10 years, and I get teary-eyed just thinking of all the leaders who are better because of James’ investment in them.
I’m one of those lives.
I’m not the girl I was when I first met my husband. That girl was insecure. I doubted God was enough. I always felt like I had something to prove. I was ashamed of my past and felt like it held me back from my future.
James has helped me grow in Christ. From his selfless love and leadership, I have been able to blossom into the woman God created me to be. I know God isn’t finished with me, and I’m far from perfect, but I know I’m much further along in my walk with Christ now than I was before God put us together.
Thank you, James, for your obedience to being a man after God’s own heart. You inspire me every day.