I saved a kid who was drowning once, while I was at the ocean. At least I think that I saved him. I may have just interrupted his pleasant afternoon. Whatever the case, I vividly remember, in the middle of that experience, feeling that I was possibly not going to make it. I was exhausted and then nervous, as I struggled to get the two of us to solid ground. To be honest, in a figurative way, this past year has felt very similar, and I am guessing that I may not be the only one who feels like that. For me, in my time as a pastor, there have been a few seasons where I have felt “in over my head” and God has provided in wonderful and often unexpected ways. During two of those seasons, God provided a person to do what might seem a very insignificant thing, but which meant the world to me.
The first was when I started my first full-time job as a pastor. I was just out of Seminary, 26 years old (while looking more like 16), and I was the pastor of 59th Street Lutheran Brethren Church in Brooklyn, New York. Prior to that, the biggest town I had ever lived in was Fergus Falls, Minnesota. Now I was living in a city of nine million people, pastoring my first church, serving a very multi-ethnic community—which I knew very little about—and on top of it all, my wife and I were about to have our first child. To say that I was in over my head and feeling like I was drowning is an understatement. But unlike one struggling in the water, I’m not sure I would have been able to articulate exactly what help I needed. Thankfully, however, God knew exactly what I needed. He always knows. And what God provided was an incredibly caring church elder named Lloyd Lister, who every Tuesday morning at exactly 9:05 would call the church office, ask me how I was doing, and then read a word of Scripture and pray for me.
There is a line in a Dr. Seuss book that says, “They weren’t that big, they were really quite small. You might think such a thing wouldn’t matter at all.” It would be easy to have that same sentiment toward a little weekly five-minute call of encouragement. But you would be wrong. It meant everything to me. Lloyd read the Bible and prayed, trusting both the power of God’s Word and the power of the God he was praying to. Too often we can second-guess ourselves, thinking that we don’t have some incredible words of wisdom to share with each other. Other times we mistakenly think that we do have the perfect words. The truth, however, is that the Word of God is always the perfect thing to share as we simply trust the Holy Spirit to work through his Word.
Fast-forward almost 20 years, to the bountifully stressful year of 2020. This past year has been hard. And I don’t say that in an attempt to measure my challenges against yours. It has been hard for everyone. And again, like my first year pastoring, I have felt in over my head. What I knew how to do, I was no longer able to do, and I was struggling mightily to keep up with the immediate move towards digital ministry and distanced caregiving. I tried. I worked hard. Once again, however, I felt like I was drowning. But again, God knew what I needed.
This time God called upon Elroy Vesta to care for me. Pastor Elroy is the pastor of Liberty Lutheran Brethren Church in Fargo, North Dakota, and has been for years. I have known of Elroy for a long time, but I would not say that I have ever had or taken the time to really get close to him. So I wasn’t really expecting nor would I have probably chosen for it to be him that God would use as my new encourager. But that is exactly what he has become. Monthly throughout this last year my phone has rung, and I get excited when I see that 218 number pop up because I know that there will be that sweet and cheerful voice on the other end of the line saying hello, asking me how I am doing and what specifically I need prayer for, and then reading God’s Word to me and praying for me.
Now at first, I thought, “I wonder how I got so blessed that Elroy would think to call me?” And then I heard other pastors bring up his name and that same number calling them. Many other pastors, in fact, and all of them saying the same thing: “Elroy has been such a blessing to me during all of this.” Again, you might think such a thing wouldn’t matter at all. It is only a three- to five-minute phone call. But it does matter. It matters so much. While people were wondering what they could and couldn’t do during a pandemic and social distancing, Elroy has reminded me that simply reading the Bible and praying for others is still the perfect option, be it face to face or over the phone.
If I can tip my hand, I have wanted to write this article for months now, partly because I wanted a platform to be able to say thank you to these wonderful men of God and let them know that their “little” act of ministering to me has meant so much. But I also want to share this to encourage you never to doubt the power of God’s Word and prayer, nor doubt that you can be the one God is raising up to deliver them to someone in need. In 1 Peter 2:9, we are told that as children of God we are a royal priesthood. That can sound intimidating, but part of what that means is simply ministering to others by listening and by administering God’s Word and prayer. So don’t get so caught up wondering about what big thing you can do for someone that you overlook the power of the “little.”
Rev. Roger Viksnes is Pastor of Bethany Lutheran Brethren Church in East Hartland, Connecticut.