Death from a Thousand Tiny Cuts

I was sitting across from a good friend of mine, Pastor Ben Weeks, in Sonny’s BBQ in Thomasville, Georgia, when he dropped a spiritual MOAB on me.  The picture that his words had painted were clear, obvious, direct, and almost shocking to me.  So much so that I could hardly even say anything for a good 30 seconds or a minute, the missile had pegged me right where I lived on that day.  I can remember the conversation leading up to the moment that day.  My world had been marked by some personal major health issues, an incredibly challenging building program filled with trouble, and the general hectic pace of moving through church life and my own private spiritual world.  It was on that day he told me a parable of sorts that continues to resonate even now despite the fact that it has been more than two years ago.  It had been a day of shoptalk for two Spirit-filled preachers about the need for revival, the hunger for conversions and spiritual growth among those who we were seeking to pastor, and the necessary disciplines of personal spiritual progress.  He had mentioned some sermons he had recently listened to and some that he had preached.  He also had spent some time with a couple of notable elders among us and shared with me some of their wisdom that he had gleaned.  We also talked about one of our favorite subjects as well; books—both secular and spiritual—and about the craft, the art, the work, and the discipline of preaching and sermon preparation.  What he and I both have discovered long ago about preaching is that it is more a work of the soul than of the actual preaching event itself.  (If you are wondering how I could remember these details from two and half years ago, it is not a good memory but a good journal and fountain pen) There are demands that are made on the life of every preacher from the mental, the physical, the emotional, and the spiritual zones of our lives.  


The statement he made to me was one that he said came as a bit of a warning from Pastor Joel Holmes from North Little Rock about one of the hidden reefs of ministry.  Brother Holmes had told him that from his vantage point of ministry which would have been well into his 35th year at the time that he had rarely seen ministers fall due to moral issues, money issues, doctrinal compromise, or church battles.  Instead, he had witnessed more than one ministry collapse under the weight of a “death from a thousand tiny cuts.”  They had bled to death spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically from the constant small attacks, insults, wounds, bruises that come with being called to preach and serving a local church.  He told Pastor Weeks that most of these men were still going through the motions of their work but with little inspiration, motivation, or anointing in their lives, in fact it was almost as if they were dead preachers walking (that is my description, not Brother Holmes’).  I could almost see the picture with my mind’s eye of a body lying out on the grass lawn with a church in the background.  People were still coming and going through the doors of the church oblivious to the fact that a dead body was cluttering up the lawn.  In fact, it looked like church business was thriving and all of the programs were continuing to run smoothly with great efficiency.    


To be effective in our calling, there must be a constant and steady intake of spiritual strength.  You can count on one thing—if you are serving in the role of the ministry, there will be wounds that come in your direction.  I could go into great detail after being in ministry since 1992 and full-time since 2006 of things I have dealt with that sought to destroy what the Lord had in mind for my life.  The liabilities that come to us are even more dangerous if we live a life that is based on the lowest common denominator of consecration.  Consecration is an old word that has sort of lost its traction in too many places these days.  Consecration helps us to move out of living our spiritual life in the zone of the minimum requirements.  Our inner life is so crucial, and it has to be nurtured so that when the thousand tiny cuts move toward us, we are able to be resilient.  But consecration is demanding because the very nature of public spiritual work means we come in contact with things that have the potential to contaminate us with cynicism, sarcasm, repressed anger, bitterness, and even complacency and its cousin, apathy.  Overwhelming counseling sessions, comforting discouraged souls, confronting those who refuse to turn from their sinful ways, dealing with those who have little respect or understanding of spiritual authority, being involved in pressing with the Kingdom of Light in an ongoing battle against spiritual darkness, and the pace of the race are all things that can poison the soul of a preacher, pastor, and minister.  Consecration in itself must force us to remember that when the Lord first called his disciples, he called them to come to him, not to go into the world.  The first movement of consecration comes when we travel toward the Lord; in prayer, in disciplined interaction with the Word, in regular fasting, and other spiritual disciplines that add life to us.  Consecration also involves a certain amount of wrestling with yourself which is greatly self-revelatory as well.    


Recently, I ran across some very old notes from one of our stalwarts from more than 30 years ago.  He made one of the most startling observations from his decade of evangelizing among apostolic churches in the 1970’s.  He said he was shocked at the overall spiritual barrenness that had overtaken the majority of pastors for whom he held revivals in their local churches.  Despite the fact that there were very outward signs of “success” the pastor had succumbed to the thousand tiny cuts.  Preaching had devolved into grasping at the latest sermon books that were popular in that era and rehashing it on Sunday.  Prayer was mostly functional in public arenas when someone had to bless the green beans or filling up time with public prayers in church services.  But no pastor can feed sheep in brown pastures that has dry streams, the flock will starve or get diseases in spiritual places like that.  It isn’t too long before that man will be looking for an escape route.  There is a reason that the disciples’ prayer in Matthew 6 leads us to call out for daily bread because we cannot make it without some kind of regular sustenance.  The spiritual overtones of Jesus’ instruction for his disciples to pray in that manner makes a lot of sense after knowing that we can die from a thousand tiny cuts.  


Everyday there are people who come to us and they need some bread at midnight because some friend has come along who needs their resources.  Ministry has a way just by sheer attrition of drawing down the inner life of a preacher.  We may be able to fend off the lack of inner spiritual strength once, twice, or maybe ten times but after that, if there is not serious replenishment that takes place, the thousand tiny cuts will begin to cause spiritual anemia.  The passion for the Christ has to remain or else!  Just like the tires on my car that need to regular rotation, I am in need of that same mechanism in my spiritual calling.  


As I drove back toward Dothan that day, I thought much about what Pastor Weeks had shared with me.  Periodically that thought arises with me again and my need of vigilant attention to the necessary things of spiritual life.  No matter what takes place, I must be saved! 


Thanks for reading. . . 


Philip Harrelson         


Eric L Garrett said…
Bro. Harrelson, what a thought! Just wanted to say that I really appreciate your writing. It has been very beneficial to myself. Having a friendship with Bro. Keith Clark, your last blog was a wonderful tribute to our friend. Thank you again!
Bro. Garrett, Joaquin, Texas
Thank you Bro. Harrelson. This post has ministered to me greatly today.
Thanks to Bro. Garrett and Bro. Jeremiah for your comments. . . We are all in this thing together! God Bless You!
Anonymous said…
God bless you, Mr. Preacher. A man that eventually left your denomination not because he was accursed but due to the avalanche of legalism and empire building under threat of disobeying the express voice of God. You know the drill, likely bristle when presented with such primary truth. That is not a sin.

When you say, "I must be saved", as you signed off with final emphasis, may I ask you remind you respectfully that salvation, once encoutered, is inextinguishable.

The scriptures say "What shall separate us from the love of God?" When one accepts the love of God, no gulf can grow again.

You are saved, my friend. Tell others. There is nothing else that matters.

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