A burden that builds

Day 4 – A burden that builds

One thing I remember clearly about living in Haiti was the sound of construction. So much constructing! It was a wonderful thing. Daily we would walk in the village around our guesthouse and greet a myriad of neighbors and workmen laboring away on a home. 

The sounds of construction are more than the sounds of hard work. They are the sounds of a life being built. A family being born. Of hope and of good health and the stewarding of God’s resources. Constructing means action and planning and progressing to something else, another season, another chapter of life.
When you look at building in the Old Testament, you will find many passages about building altars, homes, or a city. It is beautiful that all these primary structures still focus on connection and community among people. Through time, God has sustained his people as a people….together, connected, needing and blessing one another, through community.
Perhaps, one of the best examples of this is found in the Book of Nehemiah. Nehemiah had a dream. A God sized dream. 
Well, actually, first, Nehemiah had a burden. 
A God-sized burden.
Nehemiah 1:3-4 –
“And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.” As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.” 

Nehemiah’s heart broke for those experiencing shame. His heart broke for the people and the city and the weight of sin that brought the present situation. Nehemiah’s burden did not go unnoticed. God opened a door through King Artaxerxes. He received supplies and people and headed out on a mission. A mission to build.
Smooth, you say? Not so smooth. Building up, although prompted and blessed by God, is not without its challenges, Nehemiah found out.
Read Nehemiah 4:1-6 –
“Now when Sanballat heard that we were building the wall, he was angry and greatly enraged, and he jeered at the Jews. And he said in the presence of his brothers and of the army of Samaria, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they restore it for themselves? Will they sacrifice? Will they finish up in a day? Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish, and burned ones at that?” Tobiah the Ammonite was beside him, and he said, “Yes, what they are building—if a fox goes up on it he will break down their stone wall!” Hear, O our God, for we are despised. Turn back their taunt on their own heads and give them up to be plundered in a land where they are captives. Do not cover their guilt, and let not their sin be blotted out from your sight, for they have provoked you to anger in the presence of the builders.
So we built the wall. And all the wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work.”

A giant paragraph of bullies…but a prayer before God and a mind to do the work was a game changer the bullies never expected. Nehemiah and the people built anyway. They built with eyes fixed on a God, who is the very foundation of anything we even dream of building up.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18 tells us that we fix our eyes on what is unseen, but is anything but temporary. We’ll look at the NIV for its clear word picture –

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
Nehemiah and the people built one another up by fixing their eyes, not around them, but above them. Nehemiah and his compadres went through a life changing move, jeers and mocking, a tender heart put to the test, and actual life danger.
But in the end, all that mattered was God’s faithfulness lived out, in hands ready to put hammer to nails and hearts to prayer.
Nehemiah 7:66, tells us that Nehemiah’s project built up over 40,000 people in the Lord. I’m not sure Nehemiah had that great a number in mind. He was just a guy with a burden. 

A God-sized burden.
Because of God’s work lived out in Nehemiah and the people, the Feast of Booths was created and celebrated, the Law was read to these 40,000 people in a way that they understood it (read Nehemiah chapter 8, totally worth the time!), and eventually the temple was rebuilt, God’s presence with His people once again.
What is your God-sized burden? It need not be a city wall to be built. Maybe you desire for your precious child to follow Christ with their whole heart, or your husband to be filled with renewed joy in his work, or people to gather in your home for Bible study, or nursing home residents to be given a tiny gift of comfort. 
Ephesians 4:15-16 tells us that building is the work we are given in the Body of Christ –
“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”
Go and build, dear one. This is God’s work in and through you. This is the church on earth at work, together. Driven by one God-sized gift…Love.
Nehemiah loved God and His people. He allowed His heart to be weighed down and stretched out, so that God’s ideas and God’s love could fill it up.  Building a home, building a family, building up the church. May He bless your God-sized burden for Him today and always.

Discussion questions:
What burden have you carried or are you currently carrying for His work?
What challenges do you face in carrying out this work?
What do you pray when you come before God about this burden?

What I know now…

It is good for a man, that he bear the yoke in his youth.

                                                                                           Lamentations 3:27

My husband just celebrated a monumental anniversary- 10 years in the parish. It may not seem that big to those outside the church work world, but for those of you in, you know – It’s exciting stuff! 

It got me thinking- what are things that would have been helpful to know on day one? It’s almost like being a new parent. Would I have even been able to listen if someone would have tried to enlighten me on the difficult stuff? For what it’s worth, though, here are some of the things I’ve discovered in this ministry life that I just wish I would have understood earlier. Things they either don’t say in Seminary or my ears just weren’t open enough to hear them.

#1 – Church hurts. 
It doesn’t always hurt, there are endless joys, but I just didn’t know that it would be so hard. There is the timeless joke that church is hard because it’s full of sinners. And this rings true! We are all sinners, so why am I surprised when someone says something hurtful, when someone criticizes my husband unnecessarily, or someone (myself included) fail to put the best perspective on it all? Ministry is a wonderful and beautiful gift from God. But let’s not fool ourselves- It’s difficult. Someone please tell us this. Shake us and tell us the reality of watching families fall apart and children become prodigals and friends walk away from church forever. It won’t scare us away from ministry, it’s part of strapping on the armor. Would I trade it in? No. Because God heals the hurting places, and unlike basic Neosporin, His healing creates something completely new and worthwhile, better than before, and this testimony in Christ will go out and reap a bounty.

#2 – Finances will always be difficult.
No one ever got into the ministry looking for the big bucks, it’s true. But when we pulled out of the seminary parking lot and into the parsonage garage, I thought that with a regular paycheck and some savings in the bank, it might at least get a little easier. Truth: money is a struggle for all people, all the time. Yes, there is contentment and I feel like we’ve gotten there (or at least closer to the “I know what it is to be in plenty and in want…”) but whether you have millions (ha!) or the small salary of covering a vacancy, stewardship always will require thought and sacrifice. Money is difficult because you care about what God thinks about it. You are constantly living in the realm of should we use a little to go out to eat or buy the little one a new pair of shoes, should we spend the fuel to visit a good friend…well, then we have less money if the youth group has that fundraiser next month. Ahhh! Constantly thinking and planning with money is exhausting and there will never be enough of it because our sinful flesh always craves just a little bit more. I am glad I finally understand that there isn’t a magic amount in a paycheck when it just all gets better and contentment comes. It’s time to lay it before God, ask Him to help our churches be faithful to their pastors and help us to be content in each circumstance and help us find answers to the difficult times. He is faithful when people are not. 

#3 – When people don’t choose church, their not choosing between something else and you…they’re choosing between something else and God.
Ok, hear me out- it’s not that when someone misses a Sunday they’ve gone heathen and we’re all judge-y about that. Nope! But it does hurt when a visitor comes and they pick the church down the street, or you invite someone to Bible study for the fourth time and they have too much going on to do it. This is a weird church worker family emotion, that I’m not sure others understand. It’s personal. We have to work to not take it personally, because even in this, it’s about God, it’s not about us. People have to make all kinds of decisions and it’s not the preaching or the programs or the anything that people come to church for, in the end. It’s about Jesus. It’s between them and God. Maybe God has a ministry plan for them in this other choice, maybe they’re ignoring His still, small voice to get involved in a Bible study…who knows, God knows. We invite and we love, He fills the gaps when people disappoint. Know that He thinks highly of you. You are complete enough for Him in Christ, it’s not personal.

#4 – You will need someone to spiritually care for you.
As much as we wish God gave us superhero powers when we entered this church work life as a family, He didn’t. (Well, He gave us the Spirit, so that’s arguable…but you get the point.) We need spiritual care, just like the next guy. And for us, it’s not as easy as showing up and sitting in a pew on Sunday. How many of you feel like a single parent on Sunday mornings? I get the sermon recap at lunch, so that helps. Our husbands are our rocks, but they can not be everything to us at all times. And there is a weird and wonderful and complicated dynamic involved with sleeping with the pastor. This is personal opinion here, not Biblical truth, but I believe we need to seek spiritual care in other places also. Who else do you have in your life that can fill you spiritually? Maybe for you it’s not a person, but your own quiet time with the Word in the evening, or you have a spiritual mentor from your home church, or someone you know that lifts you up in prayer regularly. I have a women’s Bible study that meets every Wednesday. I can share my real self there. I don’t have to hide. I am filled weekly. I have a tiny group of gals from college that I talk to every day in a little chat group. I get a text from my friend, Sarah, that says “What’s your day look like today? I’m praying for you.” almost every morning. These people fill the Spiritual places deep in my heart and my husband helps them to overflow. 

So- would I have listened had someone shared these jewels early on? I hope! But who knows. When we are young, whether in age or experience, we feel like we kind of know. We almost need to be in it to experience the yoke and lift it before the One who can make it something beautiful. 

I pray for ministry wives every day. What would you add to this list? What wisdom can we glean from you, sister? May those yokes of “youth” be a blessing to you eventually. May you always be filled with the Truth and Knowledge of the One who trades us His yoke, for His yoke is easy and His burden is light. 

This is us, feeling youth-filled 🙂

A strong anchor…

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.                                                                        Hebrews 6:19

It’s no secret to most people who know us that our life is a little messy right now. This year has been one of the most difficult I’ve ever experienced.

I find myself like Job asking God to just take it all away. I want a rewind. I want it erased from my memory. I want my heart to feel fine again. Then I find myself thanking God I don’t have boils, I have all my beautiful children, and there’s no ash heap out my back door. A little perspective helps.

However, it’s in the mess I confront my fear and God’s truth. I stood by my husband’s hospital bed and literally got on my knees and cried out to God- “Please step in. Make it better. Make it all go away. I can’t live without him. I just can’t.”

The answer I got was unexpected…
In the quiet of my soul, I heard –            

He is not your anchor. 

See, I love my shepherd. I LOVE him. My husband is my husband, my pastor, my best friend. He is the macaroni to my cheese, the mustard to my hot dog, the red wine to my dark chocolate, and all that good stuff. He represents everything that God is to me- loving, kind, and patient. I have made him more in my heart and mind than he was ever intended to be. He is not my anchor. He is not what is meant to hold me steady. That is not his job. I can’t hold him to that standard. 

I LOVE my shepherd. I love Jesus. He is that anchor that is holding me steady. Looking at that hospital bed, I found the truth. Dave is my gift from God. Dave is given to me for a time. He is a blessing, but he is not my god. He can’t be everything my heart needs. 

Only Jesus can fill the cracks in my soul. 

Only He can be everything I need.

He is my anchor. 

He holds me steady in the storm.