Over the past 9 months or so, I’ve been reading and re-reading letters written by Jack Miller. After his death in 1996, these letters which were written to various friends, pastors, and missionaries were brought together in the book, The Heart of a Servant Leader.
The letters came from the latter decades of his life, after he went through a defining season of gospel-renewal. He was a professor at Westminster Theological Seminary as well as a pastor. But he eventually became burnt out. Frustrated that people weren’t growing the way he hoped and not knowing how to help them, he was depressed.
After stepping down from both roles, he realized that the problem was not his circumstances, but himself. He was doing ministry for the glory and approval that came from people rather than God. After rediscovering grace and repenting of his love of approval, his joy returned and he was eager to be in ministry again. He reentered his roles as pastor as professor after a season of repentance and renewal. Later, he went on to Church plant and mentor other planters and missionaries.
His letters have brought all kinds of refreshment, rebuke, and encouragement to me. Here are a few reasons why I’m looking forward to meeting him in the new creation.
1. He’s a delightful man and loves to affirm others
“Just a few quick thoughts for you, dear brother. Remember first that I love you and keep right on loving you. We all have you in our hearts. Not because of your faithful work – which is truly wonderful – but because you belong to us in Jesus” (43).
“I treasure you as a work of God, most precious to him and to me” (65).
2. He overflows with love for Jesus and the gospel
“Mike, isn’t it wonderful just to know that Jesus loves you?” (200).
“The cross towers over all the wrecks of time” (85).
“Only the gospel and the Spirit through constant prayer can make me normal” (131).
“What do you have to get this [ie., to get rid of sin]? Nothing. Just come undone and rest on what Jesus has done! Look, the gospel is a mighty power. See the Lamb. One look at Him takes away a universe of sin from the human heart” (271).
“It’s fun to be a Christian” (51). [only certain people could say that and get away with it].
3. He is not too timid to rebuke
“Let me be even more forthright… Paul said that when you get to know yourself you confess that you and every man are liars (Rom. 3). Now I am ashamed to confess how many deep lies there are in my heart. How is it now with you? Have you brought your innermost deceptions into the light? Are there still secrets in your heart? Think once again of your visit to our home. As I sat on the couch with you I thought that lying was as natural to you as breathing. Do you remember how many times I asked you if you really meant what you were saying?” (270).
4. He doesn’t let himself off the hook, either
“My praying is always drifting, marred by coldness, forgetting, and apathy. Accordingly, I need to press forward or my prayer life will shrivel to nothing” (75).
“There is not a single thing that I have found in you and mentioned in this letter that has not been in me” (198).
5. He deals with the heart-level, root issues
“At bottom most problems are faith problems” (53).
“Make it a first order of business for the rest of your life not to do things to impress people or to gain a reputation or protect your reputation” (57).
“Pride and self-centered ambition crowd the love of God out of my life” (620)
“Let us keep ourselves from idols like obedient children and not make an idol even our of the good things like the ministries” (177).
6. He loves drawing attention to Christ
“I don’t have any great counseling formulas, only Jesus. Only Jesus, Gary. Only Jesus” (289).
“Make sure you are enjoying yourself and not taking your work too seriously. You don’t have anything to prove to us or the world. The work is finished at Calvary, and that work alone has unlimited meaning and value. Keep your focus there” (44).
“There is no greater joy than leaving our idols at the cross and walking away freed of these cruel bondages” (63).
“Make each sermon a daring proclamation of Christ, not just of the text, but of Christ in His glory and power” (102).
“When you turn to Christ, you don’t have a repentance apart form Christ you just have Christ. Therefore don’t seek repentance or faith as such but seek Christ. When you have Christ you have repentance and faith. Beware of seeking an experience of repentance; just seek an experience of Christ” (244).
“Much of leadership is just loving Jesus and handing on that love” (125).