Ministry Families

Mrs. Jeremiah

He had been set apart to serve the Lord before he was born. Just as his ministry was beginning, God warned this 20-something novice preacher that his work would be 2/3 negative (uprooting, smashing, destroying, overturning) and only 1/3 positive (building up, planting). Prepare yourself, God said, because it’s going to be hard. Kings, priests, and ordinary folks will be furious with you every day for the rest of your life. They’ll fight you. They’ll hate you. But I’ll take care of you, and I’ll put my words in your mouth. Just be my spokesman.

And that’s what he was. He said everything God told him to say–preceded by, ‘Thus says the Lord!’ And sure enough, it was a tough life. His family rejected him; his hometown friends despised him. He endured unjust trials, painful floggings, and near-starvation. He was locked into chains and stocks and threatened with death by murderous mobs. He dictated long messages from God to one loyal friend, who read the scrolls to the people, who reported them to the king, who sliced each scroll into fuel for his fire. Dungeons were his regular lodgings, but even they were luxurious compared to the muddy cistern where he was once lowered to live in suffocating filth.

Enough to cause some discouragement, don’t you think? And he did get depressed. He longed to run off to a desolate shack in the wilderness, far away from the mocking shame of his daily life. But the word of the Lord burned in his bones and he couldn’t abandon his call. He stayed put and pressed on’for 50 years.

I think it would have been hard to be Jeremiah’s wife. When a couple’s ministry is opposed, the wife faces a double-whammy: the sting of personal rejection plus the ache of seeing someone she loves suffer. During those 5 decades, Jeremiah’s wife wouldn’t have had many pain-free days. Maybe not even a single one.

So when God advised him not to get married, He was, as always, wise. But if Jeremiah had had a wife, and I could talk to her, here’s what I’d say: look past your pain to God’s purposes. Just look at what He is doing through your husband! He is God’s chosen mouthpiece to speak truth (even when he’s afraid) to people who need to hear it. And look at what God is doing in your husband! Those tears you see (when he’s discouraged) are less self-pity than compassion. They’re the overflow of a heart of love for people. A tough exterior with a tender core: that’s a weeping prophet. That’s a man God uses.

And it’s a man He comes close to. That long-ago preacher, so bold before other humans, was humble before his Lord. The hard circumstances of his ministry squeezed sweet, sad poetry from his soul, yet right in the middle of his most profound lamentations, in confident faith he suddenly sang, ‘Your compassions never fail! They are new every morning. Great is Thy faithfulness!’

If he could sing those words at that time, in that place, then when you’re asked to taste a bit of suffering you can sing them, too–even if you’re not Jeremiah the prophet, but Mrs. Jeremiah instead.

Copyright 2012 – Press On! Ministries

Dear Wife

Sitting in church, I heard the pastor welcome ‘Dave Barba and his dear wife.’ I often suspect pastors of using that phrase when they have forgotten my name. It makes me picture my husband as a majestic buck in the deep woods with me as the docile doe by his side. Hearing it used to make our son (Bambi, I guess) grin at me and form antlers on his head with his fingers, setting us off into a silent giggle fit.

After hearing that introduction recently from yet another pastor, I started to think about the word ‘dear.’ (It was okay to daydream; none of the pastor’s announcements applied to me.) ‘Dear’ people are precious’beloved, highly esteemed, valuable, cherished, treasured. I like to believe that that is how my husband thinks of me. But ‘dear’ can also mean expensive. I can be precious to my husband, or I can be costly to him.

I can be a drain on his budget or a plug for it. When money is scarce and I need to make every dollar stretch a mile, I can do it cheerfully and creatively or I can do it grudgingly. One attitude makes me precious to him; the other makes me just another burden’his doe spending his dough.

When he preaches, I can be his silent cheerleader, staying awake, nodding and smiling in the pew, listening and taking notes, laughing at his jokes as though I have never heard them before. I can thank him for praying and preparing and tell him how the Lord used his sermon to help me. That makes me precious. But criticizing or ignoring his preaching costs him dearly, for it damages his pulpit confidence.

When enemies attack, I can crumple, weep, and blame him for the pain–if he would just be perfect and please everybody all the time, no one would criticize and life would be bliss! Or I can bravely and tearlessly remind him that the Lord is the only One Whose approval we need. Pleasing everybody else, all the time, is impossible.

If he has worked hard for few visible results, I can ‘dearly’ remind him of the absolute laws of sowing and reaping, pointing him to the future when God will reward his labor. Or I can drain the joy from his spirit by questioning if ministry is really worth all the trouble.

When he gets discouraged, I can lift his heart with a picnic in the park or a love letter slipped into his briefcase. I can pass along compliments from people and promises from God. I can be steady, patient, prayerful, and dear until he’s himself again. I can be his ladder for climbing out of the pit. Or instead I can jump in with him and then expect him to hoist me out.

I can honor the hidden character and steadfastness that I know better than anyone else. I can point out every bit of good I see in him. How precious it is for a man to know that his wife admires him! Or I can take his strengths for granted and focus on his flaws’costing his self-image dearly.

Someday (long before your funeral, I hope), your husband may say that you are a woman with a price ‘far above rubies.’ That can be true because of your incredible value to him, or because of what it costs him to keep you around. Precious or expensive–the choice is up to you, my dear friend.

Copyright 2010 ‘ Press On! Ministries

Shipboard

My husband and I like to explore tall ships, and the Balclutha, a 19th century square rigger, is a new favorite. Poking around its captain’s quarters recently, I felt very much at home. Maybe it was the compact, wood-paneled rooms, so much like our RV’s. Maybe it was my fondness for classy brass portholes. I was quite sure it wasn’t the porcelain chamber pot. I figured it out when I found, framed on the cabin wall, this passage from a sea captain’s book.

“A captain’s position on shipboard at sea is a peculiar one. . . . All on board, except himself, have companions; the crew have each other to talk with and confide their feelings to; the cook and steward fraternize; the first and second officers can confer, or even talk amicably together . . . The captain, if he has no companion, stands alone, isolated, in a certain measure, from all on board.

“Although he may converse with his first officer on all matters pertaining to the ship, and even unbend and talk about side affairs, yet he must never forget  . . . the claims of his position in any way that might be misinterpreted or taken advantage of. . . . So, I believe, if the captain is married, and his wife is in good health, enjoys travel, and is not afraid of the water, it were better that she should accompany her husband on his voyages as one to whom he can always turn for companionship and confidences at sea. Woman’s influence on shipboard, if she is a true, good woman, is felt for good throughout the ship. . . and there is certainly no place where more respect and courtesy will be shown her than on shipboard.”

If I ever met a sea captain’s wife, I would recognize her as a sister, since I too am traveling with my husband on his voyage. Aboard ship, I help hoist and furl sails. I am also a proficient polisher of brass and an experienced swabber of decks–but my commission is unlike any other sailor’s. I alone am companion and confidante to the captain.

When I do my job well, my husband’s “position on shipboard at sea” becomes less peculiar than pleasant. No matter how wild the waves or deep the deeps, he’ll never feel alone with me standing by his side–hardy, happy, and resolutely pretending I’m not one bit afraid of the water. The truth is, of course, that I’d rather be moored in a snug harbor than tossed in a tempest, but even when I’m feeling sort of seasick, I’m still delighted to be with him on this passage. And he seems like to like it, too.

Somewhere out there, you–a true, good woman–are traveling with your own husband over wide seas. When your ship passes mine, shout “Ahoy!” We’ll smile and wave through our classy brass portholes before turning back to the wonderfully satisfying task of being a wifely influence for good aboard a husband’s ship.

From Ocean Life in the Old Sailing Ship Days by Captain John D. Whidden (1908)
Copyright 2010 ‘ Press On! Ministries




Transparency
By Stephanie Barba Shaw

We live in a glass house. Glass walls, glass roof, glass floor. I don’t even try to keep the smudges off–no one would be fooled into thinking I’m a great housekeeper since they can drive by any time, day or night, and know exactly what we are eating and doing and playing with. We wear glass shoes (like Cinderella), see-through clothes (not very modest, I know), and transparent hats on our heads. People see us sitting on the front row at church and know exactly what is going through our minds, right though our invisible skin and bones.

At least that’s how it feels, especially on a Sunday morning when my four-year old is tired and grouchy and has a serious case of the wiggles. The church is packed; the only seats left for us are on the extreme front row. We may as well be on the platform, where everyone can watch us scratch our heads and pick our noses.

Halfway through the song service, as my husband is holding forth on a beautiful passage of scripture, I cannot stand my son’s wiggling and frowning and dancing another second. After multiple warnings, I drag him downstairs and deal with him. This is mortifying to me, second only to my constant leaning down to tell him to stop waving his arms or to sit up straight or to stop kicking the brand-new hymnals with his scuffed-up shoes. Every Sunday I long for a normal husband (maybe a plumber or a banker) who would sit with us in church and deal with the four-year-old. I am so self-conscious about these things.

Later, right in the middle of an excellent message on . . . something really good that I cannot recall because the same child is leaning hard on my bruising arm, whispering that he wants to sit on the other side . . . my husband asks the question, ‘Do you love worship with other believers so much that you wish we had more services during the week? Do you look forward to coming to church and sitting under the Word?’

Zachary surprises even himself by saying out loud, ‘No!’ The entire church laughs loud and long. The truth is out–at least what is true at that moment for one little boy and two mortified parents.

I don’t mind being transparent with the people in our ministry. It always surprises me when they assume that we are somehow exempt from temptation because a ‘man of God’ presides over our household. I want them to know that the preacher’s family does not get a special dispensation from battles against the world, the flesh, and the devil. We’re human–sinners who are growing and changing, hopefully becoming more like Christ. I would quickly drive my family and myself into the loony bin if I tried to live up to some people’s (and my own) unrealistic expectations.

The only One I need to worry about pleasing is the One whose love for me is infinite and whose mercy is everlasting. He sees my every thought, pretty or not, and He accepts me anyway. My daily prayer to Him should be: ‘Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer’ (Psalm 19:14).

Copyright 2010 ‘ Press On! Ministries


Traveling


My husband and I live a peripatetic life (we move around a lot), and occasionally, we need to drive from coast to coast. On those long trips, we make a short parade–David driving the noisy diesel pickup that tows our long fifth-wheel trailer, and me following in my sedate sedan. Day after day, I steer and stare at America the Beautiful rolling by, with plenty of time to think. During one of those long, deep thinks, I thought about how much our duo drive was like our ministry marriage.

Every morning, we huddled together over the atlas to plan that day’s route and destination. The rest of the day, all I had to do was follow. I didn’t have to consult the map, watch for exits, or even monitor my speed. My job was simply to stay near my husband, steer straight, and enjoy the scenery. He broke the trail and set the pace. He deflected the wind and protected me from flying bugs by flattening them on his windshield.

We communicated often by phone, marveling at desert sunrises and prairie sunsets or warning each other of dangers (construction, collisions, and crazy drivers). We laughed at the snowstorm of feathers swirling around a chicken truck. We guided each other to decent radio stations. We made up corny jokes. To communicate, we had to stay close together. If we drifted apart or let too many cars come between us, our words were broken by static and easily misunderstand.

We took responsibility for each other’s welfare: ‘Do you need fuel? coffee? chocolate?’ ‘Are you sleepy? hungry? thirsty? bored?’ When either of us had a need, we both stopped, and we didn’t move on until we both were ready. Those rest stops kept us awake and connected. We wanted to reach the day’s goal, but only if we got there safely’and together.

Sometimes the roads were full of potholes. Some days were foggy or stormy, with threatening crosswinds. Whatever the condition of the asphalt or the weather, though, we stayed on the right road. We couldn’t control the weather or the condition of the highways. But we could drive carefully, in the right direction, and stay close.

Traveling down a ministry road is easier together than alone. It’s safer, more interesting, and lots more fun. But there are potholes on that road. We might neglect to plan our route and head off in opposite directions. Heavy traffic can separate us and hinder our communication. When storms come, we may focus more on the gloomy skies than on each other, or while speeding down sunlit highways, forget to take rest stops together.

Two different people, two very different vehicles, but one traveling unit’that was us on our cross-country trek. Praising the Lord, we arrived safely on the other shore. May you and your husband arrive safely, too.

Copyright 2010 ‘ Press On! Ministries


Tribute

We were the two original members of the Monday Morning Club. I was a very young pastor’s wife who sometimes needed to unload to someone who understood what my life was like, and she–the only pastor’s wife I had ever had–was always there to listen. She celebrated successes with me and reassured me during setbacks. She was my model, and she was a good one. For over six decades, she lived at home what her husband preached from his pulpit. He had the ministry vision and set the course. With grace and steadfastness, she helped make it work.
She loved the women in the churches he pastored–leading them to Jesus Christ and teaching them His Word, discipling them by godly example, loving them with thoughtful gifts and good counsel. When her husband left a compromising denomination to plant independent churches, she supported his convictions and with creative frugality stretched their income. He brought in bushels of produce from his garden; she served it at countless family suppers and Sunday roast beef dinners to guests ranging from lonely young servicemen to veteran missionaries. When her husband had a burden to begin a pioneer Christian school, she planned lessons, sanded and painted wooden blocks, taught her students with joy and energy, and then came home to fix supper, grade papers, supervise piano practice and mother her three daughters, ironing (her prayer time) and vacuuming long after dark. Somehow she even found time to sew for her girls (even after they grew up and married preachers) and earn a college degree.
Home and ministry never seemed to conflict. They overlapped, gracefully. They meshed into a long life of service to the Lord. Her husband’s life was more fruitful simply because she was his wife. He knew that, and as long as he lived, he praised her to anyone who would listen. Today I too rise up and call her–my own sweet mother–blessed. Mother never would have wanted me to tell you she was perfect, but now I can, because now she really is. She is in heaven with her Savior, and she is just like Him (I John 3:2).
This is the first Mother’s Day I can’t tell my mother how much I love her. This year, I can’t tell her how grateful I am for the example she set for me. So instead, I’m telling you.
‘A woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates.’  Proverbs 31:30-31
Elizabeth Martha Horne Holmes — October 20, 1921 ‘ February 7, 2010

Copyright 2010 ‘ Press On! Ministries


Eavesdropping

A power struggle was going on at the church my dad pastored. I was only a teenager watching from the sidelines as the conflict unfolded, but even I could see that it was pride and hypocrisy that were destroying our church’s peace and harmony. As my parents walked through those painful days, I watched them carefully, searching for any cracks in their fa’ade of godliness, any sign of pretense in their professed love for God and for people. If I could spot any hypocrisy in my parents, I decided, then I could rebel, and it would be their fault.

I listened to what they said (and didn’t say) about those who had declared themselves enemies. I heard them speak calmly to cranky people. And I heard them pray, in family devotions and kneeling together by their bed at night. Those late night prayers weren’t meant for me to overhear, but when their quiet voices carried into the hallway, I stood and listened, knowing that if they were bitterly complaining to God about their circumstances or calling down lightning from heaven to devour the wicked, I’d hear it when they were praying alone.

But that’s not what I heard at all. Instead, I heard compassion for the cantankerous, submission to the Father’s will, pleas for quick deliverance from the trial, and for patience and wisdom in the meantime. Their private prayers were not much different from the ones with the family at the supper table. Just more tearful, more fervent, and a lot longer.

Many years later, after my husband and I had been through several ministry crises of our own, I thanked my mother for their example during those difficult days, for the prayers I overheard that became a model for me. She listened as I quoted some words I had heard them pray and then responded quietly, ‘Well, all I can say is that you must have done a lot of eavesdropping.’

She was right. I was an eavesdropper, not just on their prayers, but on their lives. As I watched and listened to my parents, I discovered plenty of imperfections’but no hypocrisies. They were too real to give me any excuse to rebel against the truth they taught me. And when life later brought me the same sort of trials it had brought them, I tried to respond the same way they did.

If you’re in a ministry battle right now, you may be worried that your children may be among its casualties. No need to fret’conflicts are inevitable in their lives, too, and they need to know how to handle them. The best way to teach them is by your example, and the best way for them to learn from you is by eavesdropping.
Copyright 2010 – Press On! Ministries

Magical Ears

The trouble with Jenny’s ear was that she could hear not only what people were saying, but also what they were thinking. Jenny’s story was one of my favorite growing-up books, and back then I desperately wanted one of those marvelous ears and brothers like hers who would use their dictionaries and encyclopedias to help me win spelling bees and piles of money from quiz shows. (I’m wiser now. You and I both know that we’re much better off not knowing what people are thinking.)

I thought about Jenny and her amazing ear when I stood in front of a group of women who had just said goodbye to a pastor’s wife they had loved for a long time. Their faces were so sad that I couldn’t go on with the class without asking, ‘Why did you love her?’

They looked puzzled for a moment, and then someone answered, ‘It was her ears. She knew how to listen.’

Heads nodded all over the room, and then another added, ‘Once I went to her house weighed down with a burden, and when I left, it was gone. When my husband asked what she had said to help, I realized that she had hardly said a word. She just listened. She had magical ears!’

They weren’t magical, but they were rare. Talkers are plentiful; listeners are few. It’s an exceptional woman who absorbs more words than she dispenses. But any woman who wants to help others has to learn to be quiet, for the cry of a heart can be heard only in stillness, and deep pain surfaces only in a silent place. Even without an ear like Jenny’s, when it’s quiet enough you can hear the most important words of all’the ones not spoken.

Sometimes all that’s needed to heal a wounded soul and lift a sagging spirit is one loving listener, for at its core, listening is love–love that sacrifices its need to be heard in favor of hearing, a desire to lecture in favor of learning, an opportunity to show off in favor of showing compassion. Instead of always leading the way, a patient listener, just by nodding in all the right places, can help a wanderer discover the right path on her own.

Quiet listening requires no aptitude or training, but it does take self-discipline to be ‘swift to hear, slow to speak’ (James 1:19). Try it. Practice. You’ll find the effect on your personal ministry even more marvelous than Jenny’s ear.  You may never win spelling bees or piles of cash, but someday you too will be heaped with loving praise for those magical ears of yours.

(The Trouble with Jenny’s Ear, Oliver Butterworth)

Copyright 2011 – Press On! Ministries