The best relationships are a bit like a see-saw on a playground. They are reciprocal; returning love for kindness shown, empathizing in times of trouble, and carrying each other’s burdens. At times, one friend might be stronger than the other and that strength will be shared in order to help their friend. But this will often flip-flop and the weaker friend will become the stronger in a different situation or under other circumstances. This beautiful give and take in friendship is dependable, steady and true. It is the result of loyalty and a mutual appreciation for one another. It is consistent and back and forth, a you give-I give relationship that benefits both friends.
Reciprocity in relationships develops trust, strengthening a friendship over time and allowing the relationship to go deep.
Ministry is more of a lopsided relationship. It is giving with no expectation of return. It is a pouring out and a laying down of “rights”. It is holding others up and caring for their needs, often without receiving anything in return.
The longer my husband and I serve in ministry, the more I realize how important this lopsided nature of ministry is in God’s upside-down kingdom. Jesus said, “The last will be first” (Matthew 20:16, ESV) and “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35, NIV). When we pour out our lives for others in this upside-down kingdom living, God pours into us.
Have you ever noticed that God is not reciprocal in His love for us? He lavishes His love on us! He doesn’t wait for us to love him perfectly before He pours His love into our lives. There is no stinginess in His love, no holding back. And when we experience that kind of love, we want to share it with others.
I don’t always minister well to others. I want relationships to be reciprocal and sometimes I insist upon it, withholding my love like a stubborn child, because I am not feeling loved in return. It’s in those times that Jesus reminds me of his lopsided love for me, of his faithfulness that is not dependent on my response and of His grace that he keeps pouring out on me and over me and in me and through me. All undeserved and all so freely given!
There is a beautiful sweetness in friendship when it is reciprocal and I believe that scripture admonishes us to be this kind of friend (1 Thessalonians 5:11, Ephesians 4:32, and James 5:16). But there is a suffering in lopsided ministry that causes us to rely fully on Christ to be our strength.
“We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5, ESV
I cherish my relationships that are reciprocal. I see them as a gift from God, as one of the ways He lavishes His love on me. But I am also grateful for the lopsided nature of ministry, because it causes me to fall before the throne of grace where I along with many others “receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16, NIV).
I believe that God is honored when there is reciprocity in relationships AND when there is faithfulness in lopsided ministry!
One of my most difficult days in ministry was when my husband preached soon after I miscarried our first baby. He was a youth pastor at the time and we had only been married for three years. At that point in our lives, he didn’t preach very often, but God had already preordained that time and that day.
And so, it was a difficult day, watching as my husband cried his way through a sermon, trying to hold back my own sobs, but it was also a beautiful day, because I have never forgotten that sermon and the comfort it brought me then and still brings me today.
Dave preached from John 11, specifically verse 35, “Jesus wept”. Knowing that he would raise Lazarus from the dead, Jesus wept. Aware that in just moments, he would perform a miracle and that there would be much rejoicing, Jesus wept. He was moved by the mourning of those gathered and he wept.
Losing my first baby was so unexpected. Everything was fine and then it wasn’t. I had just barely discovered that I was pregnant and then a few weeks later our doctor was handing me a box of tissues.
It was a surreal time for us. On top of our personal loss, our country was reeling from the tragedy on September 11, 2001. I wasn’t sure how I could go on breathing. The devastation was deep and while I knew that God would prove himself faithful, and while my hope and faith never wavered, I wept and I didn’t know if I would ever stop.
Dave’s words on that Sunday were exactly what God intended for me to hear. “Jesus wept” and Jesus still weeps with us in our sorrow. “See how He loved him!”, the Jews said when they saw Jesus weeping (John 11:36, BSB). See how He loves my baby! I could trust that He knew what was best for my baby. Even though I longed to hold that little life, to watch it grow, to be it’s mother, I could trust that Jesus loved my baby more than I could imagine. He mourned with me when I mourned and I knew that He would rejoice with me when I rejoiced.
For a year after I lost our baby, I had to be tested every month to ensure that I wasn’t pregnant. My miscarriage was not a typical one, but a rare partial molar pregnancy. It was a painful time for me as each month I had to schedule an appointment and tell the office workers (again and again!) why I needed to be tested. I didn’t know if I would ever have children. Imagine being in a waiting room with happy, expectant mothers all around you, harboring your heartbreak every month for a year.
It was a tough year, but Dave’s words rang true. I could feel God’s comfort, I could sense His presence and I knew His faithfulness. It was through that year that I learned to hold my family and my future with open hands. I could not control my story, but I knew I could trust the Author.
We named our first baby “Hope”. Our four beautiful children are blessings beyond what I could have imagined. There have been tears of rejoicing with each birth. With our last baby, “How Great Thou Art” was playing while I was in the final stages of delivery.
We had a work day at church today, and as we arrived there were many cars in the parking lot. It made me smile.
Several years ago, while we were serving in a different ministry, a church work day was planned by the leadership. As the day approached, my husband found out that the leaders in charge of the day would not be there. On that day, our family showed up and we were the only ones there.
Sometimes ministry is like that. It’s disheartening. You work hard, but feel like you are all alone. And sometimes you don’t just feel it; you actually are the only one working. This is one of the reasons why “burnout” in ministry occurs.
And so, on this day, I couldn’t help but smile. It’s an incredible blessing to be involved in a church where we are serving along side so many others. As I observe the faithfulness of our congregation, I see the selflessness with which everyone serves and it encourages me to work hard as well.
Twenty years in ministry. It’s a long time and there are a lot of stories to tell. Today, the story is one of gratefulness. We know what it’s like to serve alone and we know what it’s like to serve with many. I’m grateful to be where we are at today.
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. Colossians 2:23,24
My husband and I had the opportunity to share a meal with some members of our congregation recently. We had a lovely time, especially when our hostess shared her prayer binder with me. This prayer warrior has been praying with prayer partners every morning for the past 30 years.
Yes, you heard me right. Every morning for the past 3 decades, she has begun every day praying with two friends.
As she shared the scripture prayers that they pray every morning, there were tears as I realized that she prays faithfully for my husband.
This month, Dave and I are celebrating twenty years of ministry together. We have experienced both joys and struggles through the years, but there are a few things that have remained constant; God’s faithfulness, the prayers of his people on our behalf and our desire to serve him. I can only attribute our continued desire for ministry to God’s faithfulness and prayer. There is no other explanation.
Ministry is worth it, but I’m not sure that I can adequately express how painful it has been at times. We have been misunderstood, criticized, judged unfairly, betrayed, and mocked. I wish that I could say that we have always responded well. We haven’t. Especially me. It is one thing to be treated poorly. It’s another when you see the man you love disrespected.
Those are the times when the prayers of others have meant so much. To know that we are faithfully prayed for has meant the difference for us as we serve when it has been extremely difficult to do so.
If you ever wonder if your prayers make a difference, they do.
Therefore, confess your sins to one another [your false steps, your offenses], and pray for one another, that you may be healed and restored. The heartfelt and persistent prayer of a righteous man (believer) can accomplish much [when put into action and made effective by God—it is dynamic and can have tremendous power]. ~James 5:16, AMP