If you want to have a decisive influence, sit at the feet of Christ each day, and then tell the world what you have seen.
You should come by,” Rachel told me over the phone, rejecting my excuses. “Really, you won’t bother him. I know the time he spends with you rejuvenates him.”
I accepted the flattery, but went over determined to stay only a short while and not tire my old pastor.
October had come in without clouds or cold; just a few tugs of soft fog, which as it vanished, it raised the sky, painting it blue. Now the afternoon was pleasant, and everything was at rest around the house. The trees that surrounded the house, whose leaves throughout September had taken on a yellow hue or dark rust, were now shedding their dead skin, which shriveled up and covered the ground with yellow, and then were carried away by the wind in November.
I stared for a few seconds at the leaves that were crunching under my feet. Will that be the only thing November’s wind carries away? I shivered as I thought about my old pastor.
I found him in bed, as I expected. He was even thinner but smiling as usual…He sat up with difficulty and asked me to give him an envelope from the first drawer in the dresser.
I handed it to him, and he pulled out a paper that over the years had turned yellow.
“Look,” he said as he unfolded the paper and handed it to me. “It’s a short letter I wrote to a veteran pastor when as a young, fearful, and inexperienced young man I accepted the pastorate of the church you so well know.”
The sheet of paper had two fold marks, and the ink was faded but still legible. I could tell that the letter had been written with the same fountain pen he had used to write every one of his sermons.
With a look I asked for permission to read it, and with a gesture of his hand he encouraged me to begin reading.
Dear Pastor Rodriguez:
Please forgive my boldness in writing to you and robbing a few minutes of your valuable time. It’s my need of advice that has caused me to write you.
I have just been ordained as a pastor of a small church, and I feel that the responsibility is too much for me. I’m facing this sublime challenge with a mixture of feelings, of which fear and anxiety are the strongest.
On one hand, I feel privileged to serve our God, but on the other hand, I’m overwhelmed by fear because I don’t know how to do it. I fear that I will fail at this high calling, and so I’m begging you for some advice that will help me to effectively and confidently begin this extraordinary journey.
Sincerely grateful, I greet you with affection and admiration.
I looked at my old pastor, and he, aware that I had understood the meaning of his story, stared at me intently for a moment. I tried to picture him as the naive young man who decades ago had written that request for help, but I couldn’t.
Had it been just the years that had transformed a frightened young man into a strong servant and anointed him with such unquestionable authority?
I couldn’t stop looking at his face, which was deeply lined with wrinkles that seemed like battle scars to me, and I decided no, the years of his life were not responsible for that change. It wasn’t the years of his life, but rather the life he had poured into those years.
“Now you understand,” he said, taking the sheet of paper and folding it up again. “I also had my fears. A lot of them, and some were very big ones.”
“Did you ever receive an answer?” I asked with impatient interest.
“Here it is.”
The sheet of paper he handed me now was as old as the first one. When I unfolded it, I noticed that it was dated twenty days after the first one.
I appreciate and thank you for the trust that was evident in your question. Let me say that I congratulate you for accepting the challenge of the pastorate. It is a risk, I do not doubt, but at the same time it entails a high privilege.
You ask my advice, and I feel inadequate to give it to you. I too am learning, despite the fact that three weeks ago I celebrated my seventy-fifth birthday.
It’s not advice I’m going to share with you, but a key that has worked for me.
The first thing I did each morning, the first activity that I gave myself to, was to kneel at the feet of Christ and contemplate Him in worship. That vision has transformed my life.
It may seem simple, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. To surrender myself to intimacy with Jesus the first minutes of the day has been the driving force of my life and ministry.
Sitting at His feet, I have admired Him, and He has re-created me in His presence…the rest came naturally.
When He speaks, His voice transforms me; then all I have to do is reproduce His words. When He looks at me, His love inspires me and at the same time grants me His authority.
Dear colleague. If you are asking for my advice, it would be this: carefully read this phrase because it contains the essence of fifty years of service: Sit every day at the feet of Christ, and then tell the world what you have seen.
Affectionately in Him,
For almost a whole minute I stared at the sheet of paper.
“Sit every day at the feet of Christ, and then tell the world what you have seen,” I said finally without raising my eyes from the letter, allowing the profoundness of that letter to soak in.
“I have put that into practice every day,” he added. “I worked as if everything depended on me, and I prayed as if everything depended on God. I have found no other place more delightful than sitting next to Jesus. That is the secret for living and serving even in the midst of difficulty.”
I pondered on what he said as I listened to him.
I didn’t know how to respond, nor was he waiting for an answer. He fixed his eyes on me, smiled, and every crease on his face lit up. Looking at him, I remembered the phrase that someone had told me long ag “You can trust the person who turns beautiful when they smile.”
“Fall in love with God!” he told me with authority but without losing his tenderness. “He is absolutely in love with us. There are so many ways He demonstrates it: the growing light of dawn, the dimming light at twilight. The delicious mix of colors in nature. The symphony that birds create in any forest. We are surrounded by a thousand gifts from a God in love with us. Loving Him should be our first priority and the only and sufficient motivation to serve Him. Look…if we do not serve out of love, we will end up giving up on serving. There is not enough human energy to resist the battering of serving your whole life. Only love will provide us the necessary strength to travel this road.”
“Love Him,” I agreed. “I understand, but how can I love Him more?”
“By knowing Him better.”
I was surprised by his instant answer.
“He must be the center of your life and the heart of your ministry,” my wise pastor continued. “As for me, the more I know Him, the more I love Him. Just seek Him, prove Him, know Him . . . and loving Him will be a logical outcome. It won’t be hard for you. On the contrary, after seeing His smile it will be impossible for you not to.”
“I assure you that I will strive with all my strength to become so in love with God as you are,” I told him in the way of a formal promise. I noticed the moisture of unexpected tears in my eyes that threatened to spill out.
“Son, you will not have to strive to fall in love with Him. Simply make room for Him in your daily life. His presence will become so natural for you, and the time will come when you won’t be able to live without it.”
He reached his hand up to my face and brushed away the tear that was running down my cheek. He added, “Simply live with God. The rest will happen by itself, and that will take care of all your worries. A long time ago I came to a very logical conviction: Why should I worry? It’s not my responsibility to think about myself. My responsibility is to think about God. It’s God’s responsibility to think about me.”
I looked at him, amazed at the amount of wisdom contained in such simplicity.
“The last phrase isn’t mine,” he admitted. “It was a truth spoken by Simone Weil, but I have adopted it as a motto for my life.”
As I hugged him for a long time when we said good-bye, I had the feeling of holding within my arms an extremely fragile but incredibly strong person.
I remembered the words with which a historian had described Abraham Lincoln: “a man of steel and at the same time one of velvet.” That same description equally applied to this servant whom I held in my arms.
“Sit at the feet of Christ,” he insisted as he pulled away from my hug. “The world will be amazed when you tell them what you have seen.”
As I left his room, I was convinced that his deteriorating body was shining with a supernatural splendor. A light was shining on the inside of him that made him glow.
Night was beginning to fall when I left the house. It wouldn’t be long before the moon would rise in the sky and the gardenia flowers would begin to stir up their cloying and warm aromas, but the red rose was still in its place, swaying in the wind, in precise timing, with its budding petals.
When Rachel closed the door, I did not resist the impulse to kneel down in front of the rosebush, nor did I suppress the prayer that rose to my lips: “Help me, God, to live leaning next to Your heart so that my heartbeat is in step with Yours. May Your look be my breath, and may I prefer You above anyone else. May Your voice be my delight, and may I stop listening to my own torturing voice. I want to spend a long time contemplating You so I can describe to the world what true beauty is.”
Excerpted from Mondays with My Old Pastor: Sometimes, All We Need Is a Reminder from Someone Who has Walked Before Us by José Luis Navajo. Thomas Nelson ©2011. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson, Inc.