My Emmaus Road: What To Do In the Waiting

by Tara Johnson

“A watched pot never boils.” pot never boils

The old adage has rolled around in my brain for the past few months as I’ve waited for something to happen…something I know God is leading me to do and I just need the go-ahead from people bigger than myself. The “something” doesn’t really matter as far as this blog goes. But that “something” has been tormenting me, calling over and over. Why is waiting so hard? patience

Each morning during this past month, I’ve awakened thinking, “Maybe today is the day”. But each day is the same. That dream that once seemed so certain seems frustratingly elusive at the moment. Quite honestly, the waiting seems harder simply because it’s something I know God has opened the door to do, yet He keeps His hand on my shoulder as I survey the new landscape before me with eager eyes, while His voice whispers in my ear, “Wait. Look, but don’t go in. Not yet.”

The disappointment has been mounting as the enemy’s hissing lies increase and I admit I’ve let myself grow disappointed over the whole thing. One morning, I rose and, contemplating another day void of answers, I burst into tears. “This is never going to happen, is it, Lord?”

Then I opened my Bible to Luke 24 and God spoke to me so clearly it was impossible to ignore. emmaus+road

This passage tells about two of Jesus’ followers who were walking from Jerusalem back to their home. They were grieving over all that had transpired during that Passover weekend. Jesus, the man they thought would be the Messiah, had been brutally beaten and killed. They were disappointed, disillusioned and feeling defeated. Yet the newly resurrected Christ appeared beside them on the Emmaus Road, walking and talking with them along the way.

And they didn’t even recognize Him.

The two men said, “We were hoping that he would free Israel….”

They hoped. They wanted. They had dreamed and all their plans seemed to have been crushed into dust.

It suddenly struck me just how blind those two men were. They were lamenting about everything that was wrong, how their plans didn’t fit God’s and yet they were oblivious to the fact that the Savior of the world, the Messiah and the Hope for every heart was walking right alongside them, listening and engaged, wanting to know their thoughts.

With a rush, my soul ached with conviction. I was walking on my own Emmaus Road, fussing and obsessing about God not doing things my way and, in the process, totally missed the point. I was busy dwelling on my own disappointments that I missed the main event.

There is a blessedness in the waiting, but we often lose sight of our priorities when we obsess about the whys. Why haven’t I met Mr. Right yet? Why can’t I be free of that difficult person? Why isn’t my ministry looking the way I thought it would? Why is my marriage in so much turmoil? Why is my health fading? Why did I give my children to God but haven’t seen Him turn them around yet?

Here’s the point that I missed and I bet some of you miss as well…that goal, that dream, that prayer, that waiting is not the next step in the journey. Jesus is the journey. It’s all about Him—knowing Him, loving Him, seeking Him, clinging to Him.

So what do we do when that blessed waiting doesn’t feel like such a blessing?

1. Don’t get so caught up in the details that you miss the big picture. zoomed penguins How close you stand to something changes your perspective about it. If you’re more closely wrapped up in why your plans aren’t working out, perhaps you need to take a step back. When you stay close to Jesus, the other details grow smaller by comparison.

Dreams are wonderful, a glimpse into something amazing that God has for us around the corner. Hold those dreams, but hold them loosely. Don’t let the gift become greater than the Giver.

2. Things will change. All through the Bible, we find the phrase, “And it came to pass…”. Nothing ever “comes to stay”. If God is working in the midst of your life, change will come. It may not come when you want it or expect it, but when God moves, nothing in heaven or earth can stop Him or His plans.

3. Remind yourself that if God is perfect, His timing is also perfect. time in God's hands

This sounds simplistic but it’s true: either we trust God or we don’t. If we can trust Him with our eternity, trusting Him with the day-to-day stuff should be easy. He sees the big picture and is moving things into place in His own time, His own way and for His glory.

Rushing God’s timetable always leads to disaster. Just look at Sarah. She tried to force God’s will into her agenda and we are still dealing with the chaos of her decision thousands of years later.

To quote my pre-teen daughter, “Just chillax. God’s got this.”

“The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” ~ Lamentations 3:25-26

As I was dwelling on my own Emmaus Road, my Father spoke to me plainly. “Little one, you’re so driven but often for the wrong things. If you’re driven, be driven to know Me. If you’re looking for contentment, be content with Me alone. I am enough. Let Me be your obsession.”

The joy isn’t in the journey at all. It’s in the One leading you on the journey.

What about you? Have you ever tried to rush God’s timetable? What are other advantages and blessings that can be found in a time of waiting?

Be sure to visit my website http://www.TaraJohnsonMinistries.com for a free gift and loads of goodies!

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Surviving Your Storm…Athlete in Training

I’ve seen the photos and memes of one particular phrase floating around the past several years and I bet you have too. It’s this: God gives the hardest battles to his strongest soldiers. Judging by how frequently it’s shared, it’s a rather popular sentiment. strongest soldiers

After all, it sounds good. Perhaps even a trifle comforting. There’s nothing we need more in the middle of our personal storms to know that our crisis won’t destroy us. That we’re strong enough to handle it and emerge victorious.

I understand the warm fuzzies that come from this well-intentioned phrase but honestly, I believe the idea that God gives his toughest battles to His strongest soldiers is wrong.

Here’s the thing: thinking that we’re strong enough to handle a hard battle might be the very reason we’re having a battle in the first place. Let me explain.

Being one of the ‘strongest soldiers’ implies that we have strength of our own to fight and emerge victorious. It’s saying that we can handle a tougher challenge, more so than the ‘weaker’ soldiers out there. Isn’t this a form of pride? Not that we’re going through a tough time, but because we believe we are strong enough to handle it on our own?

The blunt truth is, we’re not strong enough to handle our storms. Speaking for myself, I have trouble getting through the day-to-day stuff, much less the big stuff that life throws us: the cancer diagnosis, the job change, marital stress, wayward children, financial difficulties, cranky people, etc. We all go through tough, messy stuff and a sure way to make a messy situation even worse is to think we can handle it on our merits and abilities. athlete in training

God doesn’t give us those battles because He thinks we’ve got it together. If we did, we wouldn’t have needed a Savior. Sometimes, we go through some tough stuff because we need to work on our weak areas, our sin-filled cracks that we’ve so desperately tried to cover up. He has to strengthen us, toughen us up to prepare us for something greater on down the road.
Think of it like a trainer trying to prepare an boxer for a fight. Say the trainer lets the athlete sleep in late, eat donuts and potato chips nonstop, and allows him to spend most of his day watching TV. What happens when the athlete must step into the boxing ring and strap those gloves around his sugar-coated fingers? Yeah, he’ll get creamed.

A good trainer pushes the athlete to grow stronger, faster. For each milestone, the trainer sets another and another. He adds more weights, more resistance until the athlete is in prime fighting shape. It involves a lot of sweat, a lot of determination and a lot of pain. Far from the donut-eating, television watching scenario we often prefer. workout

It’s the old karate kid wax-on, wax-off mentality. We may not always understand why we are going through something that doesn’t make sense, but if we want to survive in the ring, we have to trust our Trainer.

If we let Him, God can use those battles to chip away the hard places in us until we resemble His Son.

We don’t move in our own strength. We move in His. And ultimately, God’s children don’t need to fight for victory. Jesus already bought that when He rose and conquered death. We fight from a position of victory. Switching your perspective changes the battle. fighting from victory

Yield to the Trainer. Keep fighting. Keep growing. Keep on keeping on. Your Trainer knows what He’s doing.

Have you ever gone through a hard time that you didn’t understand only to see God use it in a big way? I would love to hear your thoughts!

Welcome back my guest Linda Tracy Miller!

linda millerWhen life suddenly changes and nothing seems to make sense, you are suddenly feel you are adrift in a fog shrouded ocean. Many years ago, after the death of my Dad, I read a story by Pearl Buck that made a strong impression on me. My Mom, like I would be later, was widowed in her 50’s. I wish I had been able to share with her some of the similar feelings we must have shared, but that was not to be. I tried at the time (I was only 27) to tell her about the story, but she did not grasp it the way that I did. The story was about a woman who had just lost her husband, and was spending her first Christmas alone at their vacation cabin. She was very lonely and depressed. In the midst of her solitude, a man from a neighboring cabin came by to see if she needed anything and mentioned his son who was missing in Vietnam. The woman asked about him…the man was overjoyed to tell her that they had heard from the Army, that he was wounded, but alive. She thought about that phrase for a long time and realized that it also applied to her. Part of her life had died, but she had not. She wounded , but still breathing, and needed to bind up her wounds and learn to live with her scars.
That statement had a great influence on me, after I suddenly lost my husband. I am not the same, I still have a hole in my heart, but it beats. Like Tara has advised others, I have learned to share my scars. Surely, whatever I have experienced has not just been for my own benefit. I have had to put thoughts on paper to keep them from bouncing around in my brain and exploding there. Hopefully, some of my words will enable other to do the same. One of those thoughts was inspired by that Pearl Buck story of over 40 years ago. Old_Ships_07

     Waiting for the Wind

My life is like a ship waiting for God to fill the sails

Seemingly becalmed after the stormiest of gales.

Battered but not broken, damaged but afloat,

Wounded but alive, now a single mast boat.

I know not when the wind will freshen,

Bring life to the canvas, and give a new sense of direction.

I only know that He is the Captain of my ship,

The Navigator of my life, the Charter of my course.

            Who can say where life will take us?

            Who can say why we are here?

            What is our real purpose?

            The answers aren’t always clear.

I only know that He is in charge.  He is my Guiding Star.

Wherever He takes me…how long or how far;

I have no other purpose, no other wish or desire

Than to be what He wants.  I cannot aim higher.

Surely as one door has closed, so another will open

To show me His way, without a word being spoken.

I feel His Holy Presence, that Spirit in my heart

Which will guide my every voyage, what ere to be my part.

I cannot go back, I must then go forward

Toward the unknown, the uncharted shore.

Courage He’ll give me; I am His Child.

With Him by my side, I cannot want more.

Linda Miller  LLTM © 1-22-2000

Feel free to contact Linda via Facebook (Linda Tracy Miller) or email her at miller7450@att.net.

How Charlotte Elliott Caught My Attention

It’s been a rough couple of weeks.

Maybe it was demands of starting a new home school year. Perhaps it was the accomplishment of several large ministry projects that used up the last of my physical reserves. Maybe it was downward spiral of health issues or even the enemy on the prowl, looking for a way to attack. I don’t know.

Whatever the reason, my battery was empty. Crawling out of bed each day took enormous energy. I was in pain and exhausted. To use a Southern turn of phrase…I was dragging tail.

I began to wonder, “What if feeling this way becomes a permanent thing? Maybe God is done with me. What if I fail my kids? What if I never feel better?” land of what ifs

What Ifs are a poor way to live.

Just when I thought those what ifs might become a reality, God reminded me of Charlotte Elliott.

Do you know her story? Let me explain.

Charlotte Elliott was an invalid most of her life. Many times her weak and painful condition caused her frustration and depression. These feelings grew stronger in 1836, when her brother, H.V. Elliot, was raising funds for St. Mary’s Hall at Brighton, England, a college for the daughters of poor clergymen. charlotte eliott

Charlotte wanted to have some little part but was hindered by her illness. Many days she was unable to rise from her bed.  As she pondered how she could help the cause, Charlotte decided to write a poem relevant to others who were physically limited. She remembered the words of a great preacher, Caesar Malton, who had talked to her fourteen years before. He had told her to “Come to Jesus, just as you are”.

Sitting down to her task, Charlotte penned these famous words…

Just as I am, without one plea

But that Thy blood was shed for me,

And that thou biddest me come to Thee

O  Lamb of God, I come. I come.

The poem was published without Charlotte’s name and was handed to her one day in leaflet form by her doctor, who did not realize that she was its author. Tears streamed down her face as she read the six verses and was told that copies of her poem were being sold and the money given to St. Mary’s Hall.

Shocked and humbled, Miss Elliott then realized that she had at last made a significant contribution to the building of the school, and in way she had scarcely imagined possible.

Charlotte’s words continue to bless people the world over today, and her story gives hope for those who think they are too weak, too young, too old, too small or too broken to make a difference. God doesn’t need me to have it together in order to accomplish His will. He doesn’t need me to be Miss Perfect Christian before He can use me.  He really doesn’t even need me to be healthy. He just wants me to be willing.

“Sometimes when I consider what tremendous consequences come from little things, I am tempted to think there are no little things.” ~Barton

And by the way, I’m feeling much better today.

just as i am

What about you? Have you ever fallen into the What Ifs? What did God use to turn your fears around?

Welcome my guest Linda Miller!

Linda Miller is a dear friend, ministry supporter, lover of God and a wordsmith extraordinaire. Her poems, reflections and verses have blessed me many times over. I invited her to my blog today and pray you will be blessed by her heart as much as she touches me. 

linda millerAs life takes its toll on each of us, we can see the evidence on our bodies and in our spirit. Life may not be what we expect, but God is never surprised. This was inspired by a favorite old aluminum measuring cup…with dents on the bottom and cracks on edges. To most people it would be something to throw away, but I still use it for rice and beans. I cannot buy another one; they are no longer made. You are also one of a kind. God still has a purpose for you, no matter the age or scars.

Fill My Cup

This cup is like my life, Dear Lord

Battered, bent, and bruised;

But in Your Hands it still can be

A vessel to be used.

My spirit has some wrinkles,

Creases from time and wear.

My heart is cracked and broken,

But it still has love to share.

My hands and feet are not as agile

As they once used to be,

But they can still be useful

To care for those in need.

I am so thirsty for Your water,

The Living Stream that ever flows

From Your Fountain of Forgiveness

Until my cup overflows.

So fill my cup, oh Savior

With a measure of Your Grace.

Make mine a life worth living

Until with You I take my place.

Linda Miller

LLTM © 9-17-2004

Linda’s beautiful verse reminds me of an old Indian fable I loved so much, I included it in my book Hollow Victory.

Cracked Pots cracked pot

A water bearer in India had two large pots, one hung on each end of a pole which he carried across his neck.  One of the pots had a crack in it, while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full potion of water at the end of the long walk from the stream to the master’s house. The cracked pot arrived only half full.

For a full two years this went on daily, with the bearer delivering only one and half pots full of water in his master’s house.  Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, perfect to the end for which it was made.  But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do.

After two years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, it spoke to the water bearer one day by the stream.  “I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you.”  “Why?” asked the bearer.  “What are you ashamed of?”

“I have been able, for these past two years, to deliver only half my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your master’s house.  Because of my flaws, you have to do all of this work, and you don’t get full value from your efforts,” the pot said.

The water bearer felt sorry for the old cracked pot, and in his compassion he said, “As we return to the master’s house, I want you to notice what grows along the path back home.”

As they went up the hill, the old cracked pot took notice of the sun warming the beautiful wild flowers on one side of the path.  The bearer said to the pot, “Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of the path, but not on the other pot’s side?  That’s because I have always known about your flaw, and I took advantage of it.  I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back from the stream, you’ve watered them.”  The bearer smiled and said “Without you being the way you are, we wouldn’t have the beauty you see now.”

We are all cracked pots, but praise God, He still uses us for His honor, glory and plans. Linda’s reference to a broken vessel sounds so much more romantic than being called a ‘cracked pot’ but you get the idea. You are valuable. You are treasured. Your purpose is far greater than anything you can imagine.

The Broken Piano

by Tara Johnson

“Great musicians should have only the finest instruments in their homes.”

The caustic comment from the piano tuner who had curled up his nose at my old spinet piano has bothered me for fourteen years, though I’ve had a hard time figuring out why.

I thought maybe it was the man’s attitude when he entered my home. I had been desperately searching for a tuner willing to take on my pawn shop find but from the moment this guy laid eyes on it, his annoyed smirk told me the piano didn’t meet his criteria. Maybe it was the chipped places around its edges. Or perhaps the slightly yellowed keys. I don’t know. But before he even sat down to play it, he judged it and found it lacking. cranky tuner

Looking over the brim of his glasses, he shot me a scolding glare. “You are a musician aren’t you?”

“Yes, sir.”

“You should be asking me to tune a baby grand then. Or least a piano with some kind of merit. But this…,” he shook his head sadly, “this piano is not fit for a musician.”

He then launched into a sales pitch about the wonderful pianos he had for sale in his store and grew agitated when I wouldn’t bite. Needless to say, that was my one and only experience with that particular tuner.

Great musicians should have only the finest instruments in their homes…

I thought perhaps his statement bothered me because it was the lead in to his sales pitch. But no, that particular comment has circled around and around in my brain for fourteen years. It bothers me. It shouldn’t. That particular piano has been long gone and I haven’t seen that tuner since the day of his barbed comment yet it nags me. Why? broken piano keys

I finally figured it out.

Recently a friend sent me an email about a little boy who somehow escaped his mother at a prestigious concert hall and crawled up on stage plunking himself right next to a world renown pianist just before the man was beginning his concert. boy at the pianoThe little tyke clumsily tapped around on the keys before looking up to the famous pianist with a grin. The poor mother was horrified and jumped out of her seat, preparing to retrieve her wayward son but the pianist only smiled down at the little boy and begin to imitate the toddler’s finger strikes. Then something amazing happened.

As the little boy squealed with delight and pounded the keys harder, the pianist began to improvise melodies over the boy’s tapped notes. The entire audience was spellbound. When the little boy finally tired of the game, he hopped down and the musician stood and applauded him, causing the entire crowd to cheer and smile.

I love that story. And in a flash, I finally understood why that tuner’s comment bothered me.

Great musicians are not great because they have the finest instruments in their homes. They aren’t great because their fingers and ears are only trained for the best the world has to offer, or because they have sold X number of CDs or because they fill up concert halls. A real musician can make music out of the hardest situation. It doesn’t matter whether the keys are chipped, whether it’s a Bosendorfer or a dusty spinet, whether the action is smooth like honey or stilted, or even whether a little boy interrupts their Rachmaninoff moment.

The sign of a great musician is not in owning the finest instruments, but the ability to make the most broken instruments sing once more. broken keys

From this perspective, God is the greatest musician of all. He takes our broken strings, chipped edges, places His hands on those battered keys and coaxes out a song. A melody. An unspoken story. And the more broken the instrument, the more amazing His ability to make it sing.

Do you feel broken, chipped or used up? Don’t let the enemy’s lies discourage you. You are valuable and treasured. God doesn’t have a room full of glistening new grand pianos. He prefers the spinets.

Under his touch, they make the sweetest melodies.

Life in the Ministry Trenches: the Pastor’s Wife Part 2

by Tara Johnson

Ministry is difficult and no one knows this better than the pastor’s wife. In Part 1, we looked at the God-given talents that make each pastor’s wife unique as well as some of the unrealistic and often damaging expectations that pastor’s wives have placed on their shoulders, whether by church members or themselves. To refresh, some of these expectations are:

  1. Their children should be perfect.
  2. They know what to do and say in every situation.
  3. They feel comfortable leading a class or taking on leadership roles.
  4. Someone can criticize them, their husband or children and it won’t hurt.
  5. They should be forced to work if the church can’t pay the pastor enough to live on.

Let’s move on to several more expectations facing the pastor’s wife.

  1. Their home should be open to the church’s needs 24/7.

Boundaries are extremely important. They protect our families and many times, our sanity. But let’s face it…life happens. There are medical, emotional and spiritual emergencies that cannot wait. A pastor is like a doctor who is always on call. Most pastors will tell you they expect these to happen from time to time and are happy to comfort and help however they can. But emergencies are not what I’m talking about here. peeping toms

I’m talking about dropping in on the pastor’s family whenever it suits you. Contrary to popular opinion, the pastor’s wife does not always keep a tidy house, nor is she always pulling warm, homemade cookies from the oven. Her life is often stressed and scattered…just like yours. If there are days when you don’t feel especially hospitable, neither does she. Children misbehave, dinner burns, the washing machine leaks…you get the idea.

Respecting the pastor’s time with his family is one of the most loving things you can do for him and his wife. Call before dropping in. Don’t text them incessantly while they are on vacation. (FYI: every time a pastor’s family leaves for vacation, it’s a guarantee that something will happen within the church family.) Every time you call or text your pastor, you are pulling his time away from his family and his study time. The wife, if she’s not careful, can end up feeling resentful and lonely.

Before you send out that text or hit call on your phone, consider the importance of your message. Can it wait until a later time? Is it something that somebody else in the church can help you with? A good rule of thumb is to call on God more than you call on your pastor.

Several wives have confessed boundary issues are especially pronounced if the church has provided a parsonage. This leads to an interesting question…to parsonage or not to parsonage?

The Parsonage welcome mat

Parsonages are tricky things and the opinions on their usefulness has been much debated. Can it be a blessing? Yes. Is it ideal? No. Let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages:

  1. It’s usually free housing for the pastor’s family. Parsonages are tax exempt and the congregation usually foots the bill for the mortgage. The arrangement for utilities vary. (Some churches offer to pay these and some don’t.) Parsonages are also exempt from property taxes.
  1. Easier Transition for the New Pastor. Often times, when a new pastor is elected he must move his entire family to the new location, sometimes quite a distance. It’s usually a relief to know that housing is already provided and waiting. (FYI: The average tenure of a pastor in the US is less than five years.)

Disadvantages:
a. When the pastor resigns, his family is essentially homeless. As soon as the pastor announces his departure, it’s time to get out of Dodge (aka the parsonage) before it’s needed by the next pastor. The scramble to find someplace to live, often with no direction on where God will move him next, is extremely stressful and often expensive.

b. Conflict and Criticism. criticism 2 Not only can church members argue about carpet color, appliances and decor, but it’s common to see them criticizing the pastor, his wife and children for a toy-filled yard or grass that often more than an inch high. There can be arguments about pets, decorating….you get the idea. This is especially true if the parsonage is next door to the church. When conflict arises, it usually comes down to “the church owns this so we (the church members) have the say” versus “we (the pastor’s family) need to know that you will still love us and show us grace on the days when we don’t have it together”.
c. Intrusions. Living next door to the church isn’t easy. When people lose or forget their church key they knock on the pastor’s door. When the cleaning people realize there’s a leaky sink, they knock on the pastor’s door. I’ve even heard a church member say, “The church owns the parsonage, so as a church member, I can stop in whenever I want.” This attitude is inconsiderate and can cause much stress and anxiety for your pastor and his family. (And on a lighter note, for the majority of us, the bank owns our homes. I don’t particularly want them stopping in whenever they feel like it!)
d. Sub-standard living conditions. broken down houseIf you wouldn’t want to live in it, your pastor’s family doesn’t either. Insisting your pastor live in a house with a leaking roof, broken appliances, mold, little to no insulation and vermin infestations is a hardship that only makes his work more difficult and to his family, can even be dangerous. This is not the norm but still, it happens more than people think.
e. Preparing long term. Many pastors, although thankful for shelter and a comfortable house can become frustrated in their inability to be able to build equity in a home. As they get older, this need becomes more and more apparent. With few retirement options, expensive health insurance and no equity, preparing for the golden years can be a dark shadow that looms over the pastor’s head.
A good alternative? Instead of parsonages, some churches offer a ‘housing allowance’.

So going back to the original ‘expectation’, a pastor should be available and is usually happy to do so, but don’t abuse the privilege. The wife often takes the brunt of the criticism when it comes to the home, whether living in a parsonage or not. They hear complaints about the way they spend their income, what cars they drive, how much they eat out, what gifts they buy on holidays…they are essentially living in a fishbowl. Grant them the courtesy of respecting their family time as much as possible. After all, their children are a ministry too. (A thought that’s very important to remember from the pastor’s kids’ point of view.)

  1. Being compared to other pastor’s wives.

fishbowlNothing makes a person feel more unloved, devalued and vulnerable than being compared to someone else. This includes comparing pastor’s wives to each other. Oddly enough, some members are crass enough to vocally voice their disappointment or comparisons to the pastor’s wife herself.

A poll was recently conducted asking people to list what they expect for their pastor’s wife. Most gave the typical answers—godly women, loving, etc.,— however, some members went a step farther, insisting their pastor’s wife be friendly, outgoing and give selflessly to the church

As I was scanning the poll results, I noticed one common phrase in each response. “What I want from my pastor’s wife is…” “I just want…” “I want…” Isn’t this really the problem? We have an expectation of what a pastor’s wife should be, how they should dress and how they interact with people. It’s about ‘what I want’ from my pastor’s wife. But it’s not up to you, me or anyone in the church: your pastor’s wife is only responsible to God to live the life he gave her, with her unique talents, gifts, family, personality and flaws. Just once, I’d like to hear someone say, “It doesn’t really matter what I want from my pastor’s wife. She only needs to focus on being who God created her to be.” Those they claim they want their pastor’s wife to ‘be a certain way’ are inadvertently stating that God can only use one type of personality in ministry…and this simply isn’t true.

Living in Grace

Along the same lines of interesting polls and statistics, do you know what the number one struggle expressed by pastor’s wives is? Loneliness. Their husband is often called away. They struggle to work full time and keep things running smoothly at home. They feel they are judged if they build close friendships with one or two women in the church so they distance themselves to keep the peace. They know the messy bits of life that go on behind the scenes in a church but can’t say a word. This isn’t always the case but it is a very real struggle for many.

What to do? Pray for her. Love her. Thoughtful gestures and kindness can speak deeply to her heart. Extend grace. Have a sense of humor. Remember she’s not perfect. She struggles in her walk with God just like you. She will mess up from time to time. But then again, so will you. Aren’t you thankful for grace? grace

If you don’t want to live in it, your pastor’s family doesn’t either.

If you can’t live on it, your pastor’s family can’t either.

If you don’t like criticism, your pastor’s family doesn’t either.

If your kids don’t always behave, your pastor’s kids don’t always either.

If you get depressed sometimes, your pastor and his wife do too.

If you want to be loved unconditionally, your pastor’s family does too.

 

My Review of “Hiding in the Light” by Rifqa Bary

by Tara Johnson

In the course of a person’s life, there are a handful of books that leave an indelible impression on their heart, forever stamping them as changed. For me, these books consist of The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom, Embracing Obscurity along with a small, elite group of others I’ll not mention here. Being a writer, I’ve read many books, most of them consisting of entertaining stories and sweet lessons learned. Good reads but not life-changing. That is, until I picked up a copy of Hiding in the Light by Rafqa Bary.

hiding in the light

I happened to see a snippet of Rifqa’s story via a Youtube link a friend sent me. I was captivated by this young woman’s journey—a journey taken as a frightened adolescent, abused by her strict Muslim family.

She said her early life seemed happy, joyful until one awful day when her brother threw a toy and damaged her eye. After losing large amounts of blood and after many hospital visits, it was confirmed: Rifqa would be blind in one eye. The brown iris turned into a milky blue. She distinctly remembered from that moment on her family treated her differently. Coldly, as if she were a nuisance. Combine that with being sexually violated by a family member and it became apparent that she had brought dishonor on her family. Never mind that she was just a child and was the victim in both situations. Being a Muslim meant honor, keeping up appearances. And her family told her in no uncertain terms that she had missed the mark.

As she grew, Rifqa noticed the difference between other families and her own—especially the contrast between the loving atmosphere in her friends’ Christian homes and the dark oppression of her own.

Everything changed when a friend invited her to church and she was introduced to Jesus. She gave her life, her hope, her dreams, everything to Him and, in return, He gave her a love unlike anything she’d ever known and an amazing outpouring of courage.rifqa

She knew what would happen if she told her family. Her father’s violent temper had been proof enough of that so she kept it hidden…for awhile at least. She would sneak off to church whenever she could, even painstakingly arranging her baptism with a handful of close friends and her pastor, knowing that any slip up in discretion would mean her death. Muslims do not tolerate Christianity. If a Muslim converts, many in their mosques feel the appropriate punishment is an honor killing.

When Rifqa’s secret came out, that’s exactly what her father threatened to do: kill her to retain the family honor.

Oh, and one thing I forgot to mention…all this transpired while living in America.

I was spellbound reading Rifqa’s story. When her secret came out, she determined to endure death for Jesus at the hands of her father but when friends discovered the grave danger she was in, they spirited her away. Two years of legal battles ensued as her parents tried to regain custody of her, along with a terrifying cancer diagnosis but God kept her safe, bringing valiant men and women into her life every time the journey took a twist for the worst. On her eighteenth birthday, Rifqa walked out of the courtroom free. She was no longer a minor and her parents lost any control over her.

Sadly though, Rifqa must always and forever live in some amount of hiding. She can tell no one where she lives and has to take extra measures to ensure her privacy. Failure to do so would likely mean her death at the hand of ‘honor-seeking’ Muslims.

When I finally closed Rifqa’s story at two a.m., I slipped between my cool sheets but I could not sleep. I felt spoiled, enjoying the luxury of a soft bed, cold air-conditioning and unparalleled freedom while an ocean away my Christian brothers and sisters were fleeing for their lives. Some of them, at that very moment, likely praying for the grace to die well…to not deny Jesus in the face of certain death. Just like Rifqa.

Instead of falling into the comforting arms of sleep, I prayed. Prayed for Christians all over the world, suffering with the cold steel of a weapon pressed to their temple. I prayed for my lukewarm Christian friends to wake up and realize that though our freedoms are being stripped, we should cherish each and every one, making the most of every single opportunity to worship in public, to proclaim our Lord in public, to live for Him…not just in private but in public. And I prayed for those women and children trapped in hopeless cycle and dark oppression of Islam, desperate for even a snatch of freedom.

persecuted christians

Persecuted Christians an ocean away would give up everything for the opportunity to attend church openly yet our own services are filled with empty pews. Even the once faithful who would attend every time the doors were opened throw away those precious opportunities, making a dutiful Sunday morning appearance but little else. How many oppressed believers throughout the world are desperate for just a page or two of God’s written word, yet many of us have several Bibles, most of which are dusty? It’s a tragedy.

It’s a privilege that Rifqa pursued with every fiber of her being, a freedom that almost took her life. Please, my brothers and sisters, let us not squander our freedoms.

Thank you, Rifqa. You’ve taught me much and reminded me what is truly important in life: Jesus and Him alone. God bless you, my sister.

To order Hiding in the Light, click on this link. http://www.amazon.com/Hiding-Light-Risked-Everything-Follow/dp/1601426968/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1438608602&sr=1-1&keywords=rifqa+bary

Life in the Ministry Trenches: The Pastor’s Wife Part 1

by Tara Johnson

People are messy and since ministry is all about serving people, ministry is often messy. Forget all the romantic notions you’ve heard about the glories of serving ‘in the  Lord’s trenches’. Is it victorious? Sometimes. Is it exhausting? Overwhelmingly so. Is it worth it? Absolutely. But it’s hard work…an uphill climb that will entail the enemy attacking God’s people whenever he can.

People often mention the need to pray for their pastor, the need to encourage him but they often forget to mention someone who works side by side with the pastor. Someone who is often overlooked…the pastor’s wife.

Church members, and even non-church members, tend to lump pastor’s wives into the same stereotype. There is an unwritten code of “dos” and “don’ts” for pastor’s wives, all of which vary from church to church and culture to culture. The problem is none of these expectations are talked about until the pastor’s wife fails to live up to them. And I can tell you with absolutely certainty that pastors’ wives are not a stereotype. perfect wife

Some are eternally optimistic. Some are exhausted and burned out. Some have the gift of hospitality, while others build strong boundaries around their privacy. Some are control freaks and some are laid-back. Some have no problem picking up everything and moving to a remote country. Others have major anxiety at the thought of moving five miles away. Most have a unique sense of humor, sometimes even a ‘Far Side’ style of humor—a God-given way of coping with stress. So, if pastor’s wives and their personalities are incredibly diverse, why do we expect them to all ‘act’ the same way?

“The pastor’s wife is the only woman I know who is asked to work full time without pay on her husband’s job, in a role no one has yet defined.” ~Ruthe White

A poll was recently conducted asking pastor’s wives to name the most frequent expectations put on them, either by themselves or members within their husband’s pastorates. The most common are listed below:

1. That their children should be perfect.

No matter how well-trained and behaved, kids are kids. They are sinners, just like all of us. (If you don’t believe me, volunteer to teach the tiny tots sometime.) They are going to whisper in church, tell lies, fight with their siblings and make a mess at potluck…even the preacher’s kids. But sometimes the church members holds the pastor’s children to a higher standard than they do their own.

pk

I might mention also that not all PKs are ill-mannered or sneaky. Neither are they perfect little adults just because their Dad is the pastor. They can’t interpret Ezekiel any better than you can. (Although, speaking as a PK, I can tell you that preacher’s kids are excellent at making it sound like we know what we’re talking about. In other words, we’re excellent bloviaters of Christian-ese.)

One pastor’s wife told me that what she really loved about their current pastorate is that the church has allowed her children to be kids, with all their flaws and quirks. They need love and understanding…not constant criticism.

 2. That they know exactly what to say and do in any situation.

Everyone reaches a point where they hit a wall, a situation that is so overwhelming and crushing in its intensity that there are simply no words to ease the pain. No matter how much experience, the pastor’s wife can and will be overwhelmed in trying to comfort someone who is at their breaking point. Here’s a good rule of thumb for anyone trying to help a heartbroken friend: pray with them, hold them while they cry. It’s okay to say that you don’t understand why tragedies occur but reaffirming your love and just listening will help tremendously. pastors wife

3. That they feel comfortable leading a class or speaking to a large group or taking on a leadership role.

Just because the pastor may be a naturally gifted leader doesn’t mean his wife is. In fact, it can be quite the opposite. Husbands and wives tend to balance each other’s personalities. If the husband is extremely outgoing, the wife may be shy and quiet. Assuming that all pastor’s wives are comfortable teaching a class, being VBS director or playing piano is a grave mistake. God has given each of us a unique set of talents and it is up to each of us to discover those talents and use them. The pastor’s wife is no different.

One pastor’s wife told me, “I was miserable for years because I kept trying to live up to everyone’s expectations. I volunteered to do all that stuff…lead out in every single ministry in church and, to be honest, I was exhausted and unhappy. I finally realized those things are not my job. My service is in supporting my husband. If I feel God leading me to do something, I gladly hop to it, but now I understand it’s not required. The biggest help to my husband is to keep things running smoothly at home. Taking charge over the kids, fixing the meals and just making his load a little lighter.” people pleasing 5

 4. That someone can criticize them, their husband or children and it should not hurt.

Pleasing people is a moving target. It can’t be done. So in leadership, you are sure to get plenty of arrows aimed your way from disgruntled church members. Some complaints may be valid and some may be absolutely ridiculous. For some reason, people often feel comfortable criticizing the pastor directly to his wife and she is expected to not feel the sting of rejection. Let me promise you, she may smile and seem unflappable but those criticisms hurt…they hurt a lot. criticism 3

Your pastor and his family are not perfect…far from it. They are learning and growing just as you are. The only difference is they have hundreds of eyeballs scrutinizing them as they do. Before you criticize, remember that many things go on ‘behind the scenes’ of church life that the members know nothing about. Hairy, horrible, shocking things. I know, and have witnessed, stories that would curl your hair. Ministry ain’t for wimps and your pastor’s family carries the weight of those messy things with them as they serve. Be patient. And remember, if you can’t back up your complaint with scripture, it’s probably just your opinion and not worth fighting about.

A well known trick in Christian circles is to spread gossip about others under the guise of ‘asking prayer for them’. This same tactic is often used in criticizing a pastor. Some folks use his wife as a filter to let him know what he could do better. Nothing makes a sweet pastor’s wife turn into an angry Momma Bear like a member criticizing her husband or children. If there’s an issue that needs to be addressed, the best way is the path Jesus laid out: go directly to the person who has offended you and talk it out. And to you pastor’s wives out there, gossiping about a church member to another church member is a sure way to bring disaster.

5. That they should be expected to work if the church doesn’t pay the pastor enough to live on.

Among smaller church congregations, there is an issue about how much the pastor should work outside of his ministry calling. They want to have his undivided attention. The problem with this is that they can’t pay him enough to live on but they don’t want him to work either. So what happens? The wife has to go to work to feed and clothe their household. This is an unjust and unrealistic demand to place on your pastor’s wife, especially considering that pastors already take a huge hit on their taxes since they are considered ‘self-employed’ in the eyes of the government. Insurance is often a huge factor as well. They either go without insurance or have to get a full time job to get insurance. It’s a double whammy.

The pastor’s wife should not be forced to support her husband and family. Not only does it cause tremendous stress in their family, it’s not even Biblical. If she chooses to do so, that’s well and good but it’s unrealistic to have church members paying her husband minimally with the expectation that she will make up the shortfall in income. Remember, if you can’t live on it, your pastor’s family can’t either.

Stay tuned for part 2 of Life in the Ministry Trenches: The Pastor’s Wife as we discuss hospitality, ‘to parsonage or not to parsonage’, the danger of comparison, loneliness and how to help your pastor’s wife. Say a prayer for your pastor’s wife today!

If you don’t want to live in it, your pastor’s family doesn’t either.

If you can’t live on it, your pastor’s family can’t either.

If you don’t like criticism, your pastor’s family doesn’t either.

If your kids don’t always behave, your pastor’s kids don’t always either.

If you get depressed sometimes, your pastor and his wife do too.

If you want to be loved unconditionally, your pastor’s family does too.