It has been a hard year for everyone. As a pastor’s family, we share in the heartaches and joys of so many, but this year has been heavy on the heartache side.
My husband went to a pastor’s conference several years ago and one of the speakers shared something that has stuck with him. He described ministry as just “plodding along”. Sure there are highs and lows, but you just have to keep going. Keep being faithful. Keep staying the course.
This concept of plodding along has been crucial for ministry this year. There have been waves upon waves of challenges and grief. In the fall, my husband officiated four funerals within a five week period. The losses that people have faced, the sicknesses, the heartbreaks and the sorrow has been overwhelming at times.
The only way pastors have been able to stand against the storm is to keep being faithful to their call, to continue trusting in their Sovereign God and to keep plodding along.
This has been no easy task, because when people are hurting, they have a tendency to be critical and judgmental of others and that is often directed at the “helpers” in life. We’ve seen this everywhere, right? It’s not just pastors. Doctors, medical professionals, teachers, counselors- everyone is feeling this. But for a pastor, so much of what they do is never seen by others. This is actually a command in scripture. Did you know that? Matthew 6 talks about this over and over again.
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (verses 1, 3, 4, 6, 17, and 18 NIV)
So pastors are commanded to do their work not to be seen by others, but instead to trust that their Father sees their faithfulness. This is what plodding along means, to keep being faithful especially when people criticize, demean and condemn.
Knowing that the Father sees all things has been an incredible encouragement to my heart this year. He knows what is done in secret. He knows the truth, the cries of your heart, the prayers that you pray. And as you plod along, he is right there with you, walking beside you.
So keep on keeping on. Keep plodding along. Our Father is faithful!
Life feels like walking a tightrope lately. I take steps, but I feel uncertain. Fragile. Like I could fall at any moment.
The unsteadiness makes me question everything. Will I make it? Will I fall? Will anyone be there to catch me?
I feel sad and anxious. But then I look behind me and there they are. My best friends. My sisters. My husband. My children. My fellow homeschool moms. My church family.
But instead of catching me, they are shaking the rope because they are walking it too. Their steps impact mine. Their hurts, their fears, their losses are mine. But their strength, their security, their wisdom is also mine.
As my life is shaken, I am reminded to look at what actually lies beneath me feet. I think I’m on a thin wire, but the reality is that I am on solid ground. It’s what my great cloud of witnesses has been trying to remind me of. My feet are firmly planted on the Rock of Ages. I am fully secure in Christ. If I fall, he will be there to catch me. He always has, he always will.
And so I take that next step. I’m still uncertain, but I am held. Firm and secure.
My husband and I lived in Chicago for six years after we graduated from college. For most of that time, I worked at a local bank and I loved the racial diversity among my co-workers and our customers. I had grown up in a predominantly white community, but my Mom, who had been a missionary in Mexico prior to becoming a wife and mother, had taught us to love everyone and to celebrate all races and the beautiful diversity of our world.
I assumed everyone felt this way.
One of my co-workers also attended my church and one day we had a conversation about what life was like for her as a Puerto Rican woman. That single conversation changed my perspective in a radical way. She told me that she was reminded of her skin color every single day. She had grown accustomed to “being watched” in stores, to being overlooked or discounted, to feeling the eyes of disdain upon her. When she shared this, I thought, how is this possible?! She must be reading into things. I thought this because I had never looked at her or any other person of color in this way. How could anyone think less of others just because they had a different skin color?
But I listened and I chose to see that her experience was real. And while I couldn’t believe it to be possible, this didn’t change the fact that this was her reality.
We have been bombarded lately with the effects of racial divisions in our country. It is a real and pervasive issue and we must open our eyes to the hurts and injustices that so many face on a daily basis. But I would submit to you that many of us can’t even accept that there is an issue, because we can’t imagine what it feels like to be watched or dismissed because of our skin color. And because we can’t accept that this is a real thing, we inevitably dismiss the hurts that so many face constantly.
I have been reading the book “One: Unity in a Divided World” by Deidra Riggs. It is from a Christian perspective and one that is so necessary. No one can argue that our world is divided. The question is do we long for unity or do we just want our opinions to carry the day? Deidra suggests that we all need to start by listening. When our opinions are in opposition to others, instead of fighting to be louder than the rest, we need to stop and listen. Really listen. Because where there is division, there is hurt and until we have listened to the hurts, there can be no reconciliation.
Are you willing to have your perspective shift? Are you willing to truly listen to others? Because when you begin to listen, you will also be changed. We all have blind spots, but most of the time, we don’t even realize that they are there. Listening to others reveals the blind spots. And what I have found is that when we listen to others, truly listen, they will want to listen to us too. And listening to us might reveal blind spots in their own life. As our eyes are opened, we can begin to cross the racial divide.
If we claim to love Jesus, this divide needs to be crossed. He is the one who created the beautiful diversity and it is through his death, burial and resurrection that we can be united. We are all one in Christ! (Galatians 3:28)
Be quick to listen to others. Be slow to share your own opinion. Be willing to have your perspective shift.
Embrace racial reconciliation!
Our family attended a winter camp a few weeks ago and the theme of the weekend was based on the book of Daniel. The focus was on courage in the face of difficulty and the speaker helped us to cement the theme in our minds by using a call and response. Courage (aarrr- in your best pirate voice!) is not the absence of (fear). It’s doing what’s (right) even when it’s (hard).
In the first session, we looked at Daniel 3 which details the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. For context, you should read the whole chapter, but here’s an excerpt from chapter 3:
13 Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king, 14 and Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up? 15 Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?”
16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (NIV)
I’m pretty sure that these three men faced with the reality of being thrown into a fiery furnace were experiencing a great deal of fear. Who wouldn’t? Yet they did not acquiesce to Nebuchadnezzar’s demands. They knew that bowing down to the statue he had erected was wrong. And so they chose to do what was right instead. What strikes me in the simplicity of their response is that they didn’t know what the outcome would be. They didn’t know if God would choose to save them from the fire. But they still trusted in God. He can save us, but even if he doesn’t, we will still trust him and do what is right!
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had great courage. There is no doubt about that! But they had courage, not because they were superheroes, but because they KNEW the God they served. And because they knew him, they were able to discern right from wrong. Their courage was not based on a flimsy belief in God. It was a robust faith based on certainty that God was who he says he is.
Would you have this same type of courage if you were asked to compromise your faith? I should say do you have this courage? Because I believe that we are being asked to compromise our faith in a million little ways. They are subtle ways, so it’s easy to ignore the fact they are compromises. But they creep in without us even recognizing it.
If we hope to have courage in the face of our own fiery furnaces, we must start now seeking to know what is right. We will not be able to stand if our faith is flimsy. We must start working out now, getting to know this God of scripture. We must spend more time in his word and less time listening to the opinions of man. We must be careful to not rely on our own understanding, but instead submit our hearts to the enduring truth of God’s Word. We need to make a study of knowing Christ, because all else in this life WILL fail us at some point, but he will never fail us.
This life is hard. Fear threatens to overwhelm us at every turn. But we can have courage in the midst of it when we know what is right and trust in the One who will be with us in every fiery furnace we face.
“I have spoken these things to you in order that you may have peace in Me. You have affliction in the world, but take-courage— I have overcome the world”. (John 16:33- DLNT)