In one of my favorite restaurants, the tables are too close together. While you may ask for a table just for two, you will end up sitting at a table for six. You will have a couple on your right and on your left; no matter how polite you try to be, you can’t help overhearing some of the conversations. I’ve been part of couples getting engaged, heard vacation plans being made, and I know some couples really don’t like their in-laws. I didn’t want to hear these conversations. I was just sitting there when the words went past my ears.

As a pastor, I feel I get caught in the middle of conversations all of the time. People come and talk to me about what’s going on in their lives. Sometimes these conversations are intensely personal—things they don’t want anyone else to know. I can tell these are things that have caused anguish, been wept about, and now the person needs to tell someone how badly heor she is hurting. So they tell me.

I’ve heard about cancer diagnoses before they’ve told their spouses. I’ve heard confessions of adultery before the betrayal was confessed at home. I’ve held truth so heavy I didn’t have words to carry it. Silence was the only thing strong enough to hold what I knew.

Furthermore, I couldn’t tell anyone. If you’ve pastored a church for longer than a few weeks, you know what I’m talking about. How does a pastor handle this kind of hurt? It’s part of our calling. We’re ordained and trained to carry the burdens of others. It’s what we do, no matter how heavy. What makes us able to bear the unbearable?

Like you, these friends and their stories end up being the subject of my prayers. Sometimes the prayers find words. Other times, the prayers can be spoken only in tears. I’m not being dramatic. Sometimes a pastor is the only one you can trust. Pastors who have violated this trust have done great harm to the church and those we’re called to serve.

When you know what you know, sometimes the only thing a pastor can do is pray; and when you do, something happens. The only way I can explain it: Grace comes. Once inside the sanctuary of the Spirit, grace comes. Grace pours from God’s throne as a river breaking through its banks. Grace floods the moment, but not for me. Sure, there’s enough grace to bring me strength and healing so I can lead and love my people better, but there’s more. There’s grace for the ones whose stories have been entrusted to me.

When I pray for my church—name by name—I hear God’s heart breaking for them. I hear God’s longing for them to be whole again, to be His again. I hear God calling again as He did in the time of Isaiah, “Who will go for us? Whom shall we send?”

Every week, similar to you, I answer, “Send me.” This is where great sermons are forged. Words are hammered out on the anvil of prayer. Hours are spent in silence before anything is ever said aloud.

A friend of mine worked for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. He was sent to tell Dr. Graham it was time to enter the stadium. As he approached the room where Dr. Graham was waiting, he heard voices. Thinking someone was in the room with Dr. Graham, my friend pushed open the door only to find Dr. Graham stretched out on the floor, on his face in prayer, praying for the people in the stadium and the sermon he was about to preach.

In the frantic demands of the pastorate, it’s hard to protect the kind of time needed for prayer such as this. Yet, we dare not preach without it. People do not come to church to hear what we think about the issues of the day. They can get that on any news talk show. They come, wondering if we have been with God. If we have, did we hear Him say anything about them?

Mike Glenn is senior pastor of Brentwood Baptist Church in suburban Nashville, Tenn., and is a contributing editor of Preaching.

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