Sunday, July 27, 2014

God Trumps Husbands

While it's true that one's husband takes priority over ministry, the question in many minds (and one I wrestled with for a l...o...n...g time) is, "Doesn't God take priority over my husband?" Yes, of course. But not in the way(s) I once thought.

I thought making God a priority over my husband and family meant my personal calling/gifting/ministry was more important than our marriage and family*. After all, if we are in fact "one flesh," serving my husband is the same as serving my self, right? In my mind, putting my husband ahead of others was a self-centered way to live--and it certainly didn't spell out the greatest commandment, "... to love the LORD my God with all my heart, mind, soul and strength." I went to church and Sunday school. I knew the drill, and wanted to love God more than anything! So how does that work when a husband enters one's life? It felt as if there was someone between me and God--or was there? As I prayed, learned, grew and applied Scripture, I found that there is a hierarchy to obedience and God's will. A wife is bound to serve her husband in a way that pleases the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:4, Ephesians 5:22-24, Colossians 3:17-18). Her loving care for her husband demonstrates devotion and trust in her Lord.

When I considered what it meant to keep God the priority, I found these truths pivotal whether one is  single or married:
- God deserves the first fruits of my time, labor and energy (Matthew 6:33, Exodus 22:29)
- Obedience is a sign of devotion and love (John 15:5, 14)
- Ministry is not the same as relationship (Luke 18:9-14)
- My heart motive is more important than the outcome (Hebrews 4:12, 2 Corinthians 9:7)

Add a husband and mix well. Now what?
- God deserves my best, my priority, time. When our children were small, it was naptime. Now that they're older, it happens closer to 5:30 a.m. with my first cup of coffee. This is my private time for listening and talking to God, laying out my day and examining my heart.

- Loving my husband and family ahead of myself and others is simple obedience. As a married woman and mother, my example of Christlike love and service for David (my head) and our children either exalts or maligns God's reputation (1 Timothy 5:8, Titus 2:5).
- Doing things for God is not the same as knowing and loving God. Spending time at church, being busy, and helping others is not a substitute for sitting at His feet (remember Mary and Martha? Matthew 10:38-42).
- Heart motive is more slippery than a Vaseline-coated watermelon. Serving God does not mean doing something only when I feel like it or when it gives me warm fuzzies. Serving with the right heart motive is about doing what God says because I believe (a choice of the will) God will do what He says--He will enable, empower, and reward my faith.

So what does it mean for God to trump my husband? It means:
- I will set aside time each day to be alone with God, to listen to His voice (read my Bible) and pray. I will give Him my best, most alert time.
- I will not fight my husband or go behind his back when I disagree. I will make a rational appeal and trust God with the outcome of the decision, following my husband's leadership without reservation and with much prayer (usually for my own attitude!).
- I will place our marriage relationship before other relationships and demands--for the purpose of glorifying God in service and by example.
- I will, by God's grace, try to meet my husband's needs and desires, seeking his best (Proverbs 31:12).
- I will gently and lovingly challenge my husband to love and serve God over and above myself.

And now to put it into practice. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and that is exactly what is required--a holy fear and desire to please God above all others; by His grace, for His glory, in His might.

Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:37-40

*see July 19, 2014's entry, "Husbands Trump Ministry"

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Husbands Trump Ministry

"I should have told you sooner," the voice on the other end of the phone said, "but I don't think I can help with x-ministry-project (fill in the blank) because of traveling opportunities with my husband."

I freely admit that I was sad, disappointed. My mind whirred with options and ideas for "Plan B." But the conversation had to end with, "Your husband is number one. He has to win. Husbands trump personal ministry."

This is a tough one for some (maybe all) married women involved in ministry. We've been created by God with no less value than our husbands; no less importance. We have gifts and abilities and believe God has a plan and purpose to use us for good works (Ephesians 2:10). We find it both easy and taxing, rewarding and draining to give, and do, and serve. We sense a calling and great fulfillment in living out our design. Then, in the midst of it all--sometimes at a point of crisis--the world turns upside down when our husbands have a need, a calling, or simply confront us with our priorities. In that moment we are faced with the inevitability of letting someone down.

When our family was young, I found myself involved in many hours of ministry weekly as the commander of our 200+ AWANA club, director of Vacation Bible School and various other Bible study and music ministries. My husband, David, and our children were suffering--while I was serving. I am ashamed to share it, reminded of what my choices cost those I love most. The Lord graciously picked our family up, moved us across the States and David asked me not to serve. In goodness, God gave me the grace to agree. Over and over, I mentally wrung my hands in frustration, fighting bitterness and resentment, longing for the praise, respect and attention I was addicted to. It was long, dry desert experience as God--through the practice of submission to David--taught me that my value is not in my works, but His. Jesus is the measure of my value; His sacrificial life, death and resurrection speak infinite worth.

In the years since, I have moved back into ministry opportunities, but with an awareness and burden for our family over and above those from other directions. Yes, service to the local church, the community and individuals is important. But as a married woman, my first priority, my primary calling, is to my husband. The love and care I have for him reflects my love for the Savior--for both myself and others. In submitting to my husband, I am trusting God to meet my needs through him, according to the original plan, not in spite of him. In following David as the Lord directs, I find peace in knowing and doing God's will. He will provide for others with or without me. The real question is, will I choose to obey God or my own reasoning and desires?

We've been married 25 years and I deeply love, admire and respect the way David protects and cherishes me. With time, I have begun to realize that I am the only one who can help him. I have a greater understanding of his needs. Only I know, can anticipate, am enabled and privileged to be his personal, one-of-a-kind assistant. What a marvelous arrangement God has made in creating male and female to represent His image!

When extended family, entertainment, friends, or even ministry throw their hand in the ring, demanding your time and gifting, remember: husbands trump ministry.

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.  Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Ephesians 4:22-33)

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Trouble, is that You?

Have you noticed it's easier to talk about suffering when you're not? We generally don't lay it all out at prayer meetings when ours is the child in ICU or outright rebellion, when we're the one fighting the hourly battle of eating disorders or self-injury, when unexpected loss of life or job pulls the rug out from under our lives. It's the people whose lives are rocked, not upside down, who share intimate details for the prayer list and other's ears.

How I have been blessed by those who endure, who keep their eyes on Christ, who cling to peace and contentment in the face of the unknown. Those who suffer with trust speak words of hope, pray prayers of expectation, and wait. They wait. on. the. Lord.

I was reminded, as I watch suffering friends--and then as I read this week about David 's life under threat from Saul--what a godly response to difficulty looks like. David's response, recorded in Psalms, is both refreshing and surprising when I look at what he thinks, want and does compared to my mental list of to-do's. His "big plan" does not include trying to convince Saul of his innocence, working to solve the problem (worrying) or manipulating people and circumstances. Instead, he says:
- my heart will not fear, I am confident because God is the strength, the light, the stronghold of my life;  
- What do I want? To behold the beauty of the LORD, to meditate  in His temple and find safety in His presence.
- When He has brought me safely to His presence (more confidence), I will offer sacrifices with joy and sing, sing praises to the LORD,
- Until then, I will cry with my voice, seek His face, wait for the LORD, be strong, take courage, and wait for the LORD.

David did not set out on a conquest or command armies or run from trouble. He sought the LORD, he set his eyes, heart and focus on the LORD.

What does this mean for me? When faced with trouble, the answer is obviously unnatural. I need to stop (not run). I need to look to the Lord (not my own thoughts, other's motivations or possible changes in circumstance) In that moment, I need to stay put and wait on the Lord; to look for Him and seek Him with courage and strength. I am certain that if trouble's not here today, it's not far behind or ahead. It's coming. As God is gracious and I am obedient, may I set my heart and mind on His unfailing love and faithfulness.

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
Whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the strength of my life;
Of whom shall I be afraid?
When the wicked came against me
To eat up my flesh,
My enemies and foes,
They stumbled and fell.
Though an army may encamp against me,
My heart shall not fear;
Though war may rise against me,
In this I will be confident.
One thing I have desired of the Lord,
That will I seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord
All the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the Lord,
And to inquire in His temple.
For in the time of trouble
He shall hide me in His pavilion;
In the secret place of His tabernacle
He shall hide me;
He shall set me high upon a rock.
And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me;
Therefore I will offer sacrifices of joy in His tabernacle;
I will sing, yes, I will sing praises to the Lord. Hear, O Lord, when I cry with my voice!
Have mercy also upon me, and answer me.
When You said, “Seek My face,”
My heart said to You, “Your face, Lord, I will seek.”
Do not hide Your face from me;
Do not turn Your servant away in anger;
You have been my help;
Do not leave me nor forsake me,
O God of my salvation.
When my father and my mother forsake me,
Then the Lord will take care of me.
Teach me Your way, O Lord,
And lead me in a smooth path, because of my enemies.
Do not deliver me to the will of my adversaries;
For false witnesses have risen against me,
And such as breathe out violence.
I would have lost heart, unless I had believed
That I would see the goodness of the Lord
In the land of the living.
Wait on the Lord;
Be of good courage,
And He shall strengthen your heart;
Wait, I say, on the Lord! Psalm 27
* If you would like to study Psalm 27 in depth, I highly recommend Paul David Tripp's book, A Shelter in the Time of Storm.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Faith Walking

We walked around the lake in the afternoon sun and breeze this week, blisters forming as I tried to keep up with her (smiley face).


"I don't know if I should tell you this," my dear friend hesitated. Encouraged, she continued, "I have hope for my kids because of yours." And I laughed.  Our children are real children. When they were younger, I lost track of daily corrections, "visits," and Bible verses. My prayers were more jibberish mumbo-jumbo than insightful, listen-and-weep petitions.

As we walked, I threw my hands in air, "Praise the Lord!" Because she and I--and perhaps you--know that a parent has limited influence and control over the choices our children make. I remember saying to a little one who sat on the edge of our bed, avoiding my eyes, "Sweetheart, I can't make you obey. You are the boss of you. My job is to make rules and consequences that help you do what's right, because I'm the mom. My job is to obey God and your job is to obey me. If I didn't love you, I wouldn't care if you obeyed or not. But because I love you, I will help you want to obey by making and keeping consequences."

And as my friend and I walked around the lake, I encouraged her that by disciplining our children, we are not creating an outcome, we are simply walking by faith--like Abraham and the Israelites of old. They offered sacrifices day after day, week after week, year after year but those sacrifices could not effectively remove sin (Hebrews 10:11). It was their faith that pleased God. Because of their faith, He forgave their sin and replaced it with Jesus' righteousness (Hebrews 10:12, Romans 4:2-3, 1 Corinthians 5:21). In the same way, as we love and discipline our children without seeing change or immediate results, we are trusting God in faith, asking Him humbly to honor our efforts and obedience.

We finished our walk around the lake, only to return home and continue the longer, callous-producing walk of faith.

And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons:
“My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; For whom the Lord loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives.”
If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed. (Hebrews 12:5-12).

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.

Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?
For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. (James 2:14-26)