While pastors should be known for their gift of speech in the pulpit on a Sunday, when they explain and apply the Word of God, careful listening skills are a requirement of their pastoral visitation during the week.
Any Christian pastor worth his salt will know the meaning of the expression, ‘He poured out his heart to me’. An old advertising slogan for a telecommunication company went, ‘It is good to talk’. Another saying goes, ‘A problem shared is a problem halved’.
Pastors are to have listening ears. James 1:19 applies especially to pastoral visitation: ‘Let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak’. Those under a pastor’s care must feel that he is approachable and trustworthy and that, if needs be, they can meet him in private and ‘pour out their heart’ to him, assured of his confidentiality, sympathy and prayerful concern.
The expression ‘to pour out your heart’ originates from the Bible. In Psalm 62:8 we read the injunction ‘Trust in him [that is, almighty God] at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us’. Similarly, in Lamentations 2:19 we read, ‘Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord’.
Whilst having the ear of a sympathetic friend or pastor at a time of need is a blessing not to be despised, every Christian has an even greater blessing. Christians are privileged to have the ear of none less than almighty God himself.
Through Christ, we may approach the Father. In prayer we may actually talk to the Master of the universe himself. By his grace to us in Christ, we may even address God as ‘Abba, Father’, assured of his love, wisdom and sympathy, and his superabundant ability to meet our needs, in answer to our prayers.
Psalm 55:22 exhorts us to, ‘Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you’. Peter surely had this verse in mind when he wrote, ‘Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you’ (1 Peter 5:7).
The burdens of this life may well lay heavy upon us. But the Bible enjoins us to unburden our burdens on God himself. The omnipotent creator and sustainer of the universe is well able to bear them. He who is infinite in wisdom and power is able to handle our burdens far better than we can!
Encouragements to pray run through the Bible. It has been well said that prayer is not a matter of overcoming God’s reluctance, but rather taking hold of God’s willingness.
Philippians 4:6 reads: ‘Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God’. Hebrews 4:16 reads: ‘Let us then with confidence [that is, a confidence in Christ’s merits and mediation] draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need’.
And, in Psalm 50:12, God says, ‘Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me’. John Calvin comments on this verse: ‘This … points out that there are two sorts of prayer: invocation and thanksgiving. In request we set out before God what our hearts desire. In thanksgiving we acknowledge the blessings he has given us. And we must make sure that we constantly use both kinds of prayer.
‘This is because we are plagued with such poverty and destitution that even the best of us must sigh and groan continually, and call on the Lord with all humility. On the other hand, the generous gifts which the Lord lavishes upon us in his goodness are so very abundant that, wherever we look, the wonders of his works are seen to be so great, that we always have reason for praise and thanksgiving’ (Truth for all time,p.53).
So we return to our verse, ‘Pour out your heart before him’ (Psalm 62:8). What a privilege so to do! In private before God, there can be no pretence — nor need there be. Calvin says, ‘Prayer has not been instituted that we might arrogantly exalt ourselves before God, nor that we should extol our dignity, but so that we might admit our poverty, groaning like children, telling their father about their troubles’ (Ibid, p.52).
The well known hymn on prayer puts it so well:
Are we weak and heavy laden,
Cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Saviour, still our refuge:
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?
Take it to the Lord in prayer;
In his arms he’ll take and shield thee,
Thou wilt find a solace there.
Joseph Scriven (1819-86)
Dr Cross has authored many Christian books and articles, for which ministry he has been awarded an honorary doctorate of sacred literature, from Christian Bible College, Rocky Mount, NC