Stability

Always the Same

The conversation lasted only 15 seconds, but I have never forgotten it. I greeted a pastor friend at a ministry conference and asked about his wife. ‘She’s fine,’ he answered. Then he paused, and a grin spread across his face. ‘She’s the same every single day!’

What unexpected, unusual praise! I wondered at it all through the service that followed. Of all the things a man in ministry might praise about his wife (beauty, hospitality, hard work) he chose her constancy. ‘The same every single day”why would he set such value on that? Why did that compliment come so quickly to his mind?

Maybe because it’s so rare. A woman, after all, is seldom the same two minutes in row. Our spirits tend to sway with our circumstances. They are flattened by small criticisms or sent soaring by the tiniest bits of praise. Since the ministry is a roller-coaster sort of life, a ministry wife has plenty of opportunities (and every excuse she could ever want) for her feelings to move up and down with it. Add in the stresses of home and children, not to mention those pesky hormones, and . . . pity her poor husband.

When he comes through the door at the end of his day, wearied by the minutiae of management, mind-numbed by hours of study, or drained by a day of circling wandering sheep, there’s nothing he longs for more than the steady companionship of the sweet wife he kissed goodbye in the morning. But sometimes–right there in his very own kitchen–he encounters the Wicked Witch of the West instead. He is bewildered by his quick-change artist of a wife, and surely he sometimes wishes she were more stable.

She can be, but not by herself. Stability is not innate or effortless for most of us female-type humans. Only in Christ is ‘no variableness, neither shadow of turning.’ He is the solid, immutable Rock of Ages, and He can keep you stable. When your earth quakes, anchor your thoughts to His unchanging promises. When storms roll in, hide in His shadow. When you’re too tired to handle the demands of the day, let Him be the Rock of your strength. When your heart is unsatisfied, let the sweet water flowing from the Rock quench your thirst. Whenever any scary or upsetting thing happens, just run straight to the Rock. Climb on, settle down, and stay there. Your emotions will stabilize, your inner witch will melt away, and you (to your husband’s delight) will become more and more like your Savior–the same every single day.

 ‘For who is God, save the LORD? And who is a rock, save our God?’ (2 Samuel 22:32).

Copyright 2010 ‘ Press On! Ministries


Broken Thermometer


The digital thermometer on our car’s dashboard is broken. Poor little thing hasn’t been the same since the day in the Mojave Desert when it (accurately) measured 116 degrees.  Now it soars and plunges at will, wildly unpredictable and rarely correct. It used to be annoying, but now it’s more like a little sideshow keeping me entertained as I drive. I just keep in mind that it doesn’t tell the truth. If I need to know an accurate temperature, I tune in to the deep-voiced local radio announcer and trust what he tells me instead.

I’m no longer bothered by this one defect in an otherwise reliable car. I sympathize, because I’ve become sadly aware that I have a faulty internal thermometer of my own, attached to my emotions’those unreliable feelings that waver wildly, way out of proportion to reality. They register all sorts of exaggerated and imaginary dangers. When a trial brings a little heat, they scream that global warming has arrived in our ministry. Chilly winds of rejection and the icy drizzle of failure can instantly freeze my heart in a kind of passive panic.  

But feelings like those are as untruthful as our car’s thermometer. They don’t reflect spiritual reality. Ministry trials by themselves generate neither dreadful heat nor intolerable cold. The boiling and freezing I feel are simply the faulty reactions of a flawed emotional thermometer to these temperate gifts from the hand of the Father.

I can’t control how I feel. I’m a human, after all, and a woman besides. But I can control how I think. When I marshal my disorderly thoughts, turning them resolutely toward truth, my emotions will follow. When my mind concentrates on promises spoken by the deep, authoritative voice of God, my spirit settles down, steadied by the Word forever settled in heaven. When my mind is stayed on Him, then my heart stops its quivering and is kept in perfect peace. My wild emotional thermometer stabilizes; my heart is ‘fixed, trusting in the Lord.’

Maybe someday we’ll get that dashboard thermometer fixed. I can’t do it myself. That job calls for more skill than I have. But with God’s help, I know I can control my mind, for that’s a task that only takes discipline.

Isaiah 26:3, Psalm 112:7

Copyright 2010 ‘ Press On! Ministries


Mary

You see her in manger scenes everywhere this time of year’Mary molded in plastic, glowing from a light bulb somewhere deep inside. She’s the blonde in the blue robe with serenely folded hands and a halo shining above her veiled head, smiling benevolently at her cherubic child. Some replicas are so cartoonish that they just make me laugh, but others make me ponder–was Mary always as tranquil as she seems?

When she appeared on the streets of Nazareth great with child, the hometown gossips must have gotten busy. Did their whispered doubts, their insinuations that she was crazy, lead to uncertainties of her own? Did this very young woman ever stare into the night sky and see question marks in the stars, wondering if maybe she had seen Gabriel and heard his announcement only in her imagination?

At the end of an exhausting late-pregnancy trek to a strange city teeming with travelers, handling her labor pains alone while Joseph begged for a room’any room–where she could deliver, did she inwardly moan, ‘What am I doing here? I want to go home. I want my mother!’

Laying her firstborn in the straw of a feeding trough, was she disappointed that it was not a cradle crafted by her carpenter husband? When frantic, heavy-breathing shepherds crowded in to stroke the tiny babe, did she long for a clean, private place to nurse her son?

Perhaps she drew a relieved breath as she entered the temple with Joseph to make a dedication offering for 40-day old Jesus. Finally, something normal’this familiar custom of Jewish law. But then a strange old man startled her by taking the baby from her arms and prophesying over him in a loud voice, ending with a warning to Mary that heart-piercing anguish was in her future.

Was anguish what she felt when, from the safety of exile in Egypt, she learned of Herod’s slaughter of Bethlehem infants? Did her heart break for the mothers whose children were being murdered because of Herod’s jealous rage toward her own little boy? Think of her pain as she saw Jesus being rejected by her other children. And what happened in her heart when she discovered that her own religious authorities were plotting His murder? Contemplate the courage it took to follow the mob to Calvary, and her agony as she wept at the cross of her tortured, innocent son.

Artists depict her as a delicate creature in a flowing gown, but it would be more realistic to dress her in denim, for this woman had a steadfast spirit and a backbone of steel. Life wasn’t easy for Mary. So was she miserable, frustrated by events out of her control and contrary to her plans? Was she enraged by the injustice of it all? I don’t think so. After all, a bondslave doesn’t expect an easy life, and that’s what she called herself in Luke 1:38–‘the handmaid of the Lord.’

She had feelings, of course, like any female. And I suspect that this woman of contemplative disposition, who knew how to treasure up thoughts for private reflection (Luke 2:19), may have had an even deeper emotional well than most of us. But when she surrendered her will to Jehovah, she also surrendered her feelings, and then simply obeyed.
Was it worth it? Someday we can ask her.  Mary–the only human present with Jesus at both His birth and His death’has now been with Him in glory for over 20 centuries. We will meet her there. I don’t know how the mother of the Messiah is honored in heaven, but even on earth, even among those who do not love her Son, she is revered as the ideal of motherhood.

So the next time you see her rendered in plastic, in ceramic, crystal, or paper, take a moment to think about the flesh and blood Mary, a model sacrificial servant of the Savior.  On this winter Monday morning, I have thanked Him for Mary, and for you, her sister handmaid of the Lord.


Copyright 2010 ‘ Press On! Ministries

Roller Coasters

Have you ridden on a roller coaster lately? Coasters used to be predictable, with a few abrupt turns and some jerky, clickety climbs. After each climb, you could expect a speedy but straight, uncomplicated plunge to the earth. When your ride was over, you could simply deny that you had been terrified.

Times have changed.  Allow yourself to be straitjacketed into one of the new breed of roller coasters, and you will soon be upside-down more than right-side-up. Don’t be surprised to find yourself tunneling through the ground or hurtling sideways at an amazing speed. At the end of the fun, as you stagger away with your head spinning and your stomach lurching, you’ll have the delight of seeing on public display a snapshot of yourself mid-ride–hair standing on end, mouth wide in a terrified scream.

Yet you’ll probably hear yourself saying, ‘Wow’that was GREAT!’ And it certainly was exhilarating. What made it pleasurable (or at least tolerable) was knowing that it would soon be over. Nobody wants a ride like that to last forever. If you were forced into an extended roller-coaster ride, you might eventually jump off in desperation. You’d throw up. You might even die. Nobody can live on a roller coaster.

But for way too long as a ministry wife, I lived on an emotional roller coaster. My feelings varied with whatever happened (or didn’t happen) at church. I would feel excited, discouraged, content, worried, elated, or miserable, depending on what had transpired on Sunday. I let others’ good or bad decisions, or their words, control my spirit. Negative emotions would plunge me into darkness, stomach churning and mind whirling. Positives sent me to an artificial high that was soon followed by the inevitable low. I couldn’t sleep. My head hurt. I longed for stability and wondered how to get off the roller coaster before I died.

But God began to teach me that He did not intend for me to serve Him as a straitjacketed victim of my own feelings. The Lord purposes for me to live, not on the roller coaster of my feelings, but on the rock of this truth: my circumstances are controlled by the mercy of my loving, wise Father. He plans and controls every event of my life. Good or bad, happy or sad, He has it all under control.

When you feel your coaster’s beginning to roll, try this–lift a rock of promise from the Word and stand on it! You’re welcome to plant yourself next to me on my favorite promise,  Isaiah 26:3-4: ‘Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee, because he trusteth in Thee. Trust ye in the Lord forever, for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength.’ When my mind (includes the emotions) is stayed (settled firmly) on the everlasting strength (the Rock of Ages), I will have perfect (absolute, unspoiled) peace! No matter what happens on Sunday–or Monday or Tuesday or Friday–I will be calm and stable.

Have you been on an emotional roller coaster lately? Do you want to get off? Get off that scary ride and settle yourself on the Rock!

Copyright 2010 ‘ Press On! Ministries

 
The Looney Reunion


A small sign stood by the rural Tennessee road. ‘Looney Reunion,’ it said, and below was an arrow pointing the way. I wondered’if I follow that arrow, would I arrive not at a family reunion, but at a gathering of ministry wives?

It’s easy to get to the Looney Reunion. Just follow these directions . . .

ALWAYS
Sit in the back so you can observe reactions to your husband in the pulpit.
Count absentees rather than blessings.
Entertain formally, in a spotless house, using complicated recipes, linen napkins, your wedding china,
and Grandma’s lace tablecloth.
Expect your children to behave like short grown-ups.
Wonder ‘what she meant by that.’
When you are sick, be in the pew instead of in the bed.
Do at least three things at once.

NEVER
Forgive.
Delegate.
Sleep late.
Develop friendships outside your own ministry.
Be away on Sunday.
Pass up an opportunity to worry.
Take a walk for fun, not for exercise.
Study the Word except to teach it.
Spend an evening at home alone.

BELIEVE
All you hear about the former pastor’s wife.
That people will never move away.
That nursery workers will never forget their turn.
That people will schedule vacations around the church calendar.
That you must have special music at every service.
That you can keep your house deacon-ready all the time.
That you are always right.
That you are always wrong.
That you can make others do right.
That when they do wrong, it’s your fault.

FORGET
To laugh. To cry.
To play. To pray.
That the devil is a mean old booger and a liar besides.
That your Father loves you.
That He has everything under control.
That people are human.
That you are, too.
That attendance at the Looney Reunion is optional.

Copyright 2010 ‘ Press On! Ministries