Christianity is, at its essence, a willingness to let Someone else be the hero of the story.
I find this immensely comforting, because right now I am anything but the hero. In fact, the overwhelming feeling is helplessness.
As I write this we are in the second week of social distancing from Covid-19. People in our church are losing their jobs and one has already lost a business. Our Bible school students had 24 hours to say goodbye to their friends and teachers before they had to pack up and go home. There are no Sunday services, no Bible studies, and no in-home fellowships. My texts and phone calls and Facebook messaging just frustrate me. People need presence, not another “ding” from their phones. My heart cries that this just won’t do. But I am helpless.
Things don’t feel that much better at home. For over a month my still-young husband has suffered from debilitating pain in his joints. It came out of nowhere and it keeps getting worse and worse. I’ve watched him struggle to get out of chairs and to climb the few steps in our home. He can’t throw a football or shoot baskets with our boys. Most days it’s all he can do to hobble into his office at church and home again. We’re starting the rabbit hole of testing to find the diagnosis and treatment. I want to make it better, to make his days not filled with pain. But I can’t and the helplessness is maddening.
As maddening as these emotions and circumstances are, perhaps they are closer to everyday reality than I care to admit. Everyday I am helpless, but I hang onto the perception of what I can change and control. I think it’s especially persistent among us – pastors’ wives. For every pastor’s wife who seems to have no concept of how her tongue and actions can affect her husband’s ministry, I think there are 100 more of us who think we are capable of more than we are.
I see this ministry syndrome mirrored in the life of Elijah in I Kings 19. Elijah has fled for his life from Jezebel. God comes near to him and asks him what he is doing. Elijah replies, “The people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” (I Kings 19:10) Do you see the essence of what Elijah is saying? Basically, “I am the ministry lynch pin and it all depends on me.” The belief that it rested on his own shoulders was sucking Elijah dry and making him miserable.
And how does God answer Elijah? “I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal.” (v. 18) All along, God was working in a much bigger way than Elijah could see. When we’ve been believing that it all depends on us, it’s startling to realize that we are just a tiny player in the grand scheme of God’s great work. It’s humbling and freeing and hard. I think my most painful moments in life can be summed up as the times I have had to release my grip on the people I love and trust that God loves them even more; that He can and will do more than I can ever do.
So where does that leave me? It reduces me to prayer. And why, why does that not feel like enough? Why would I think my work could be greater than inviting God to work? I think I have finally figured out this – my greatest ministry will always be prayer, whether we are talking about the church or my family. Nobody knows the church quite like my husband and I do, and nobody knows the pastor quite like I do, so nobody can pray like I can pray. This is my first calling. I want to fix, comfort, and encourage – God wants me first to kneel. How quickly I forget this, and how gracious of God to put me in situations where prayer is my only resource. Ephesians 6:12 reminds me, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Priscilla Shirer says, “Prayer is the connective tissue between you and the heavenly places.”
In a world where all of our connections are being stripped away, where billions live under forced confinement, you are connected. You are connected to the heavenly places, where God will work and move in people’s hearts, provide for them, guide them, and comfort them, and He will do it all while we sit in our living rooms night after night. It’s comforting and humbling and freeing and hard.
It makes me think of those words from the Casting Crowns song, “How refreshing to know You don’t need me – how amazing to find that you want me.”
So I’m embracing all that I cannot do, all that I cannot fix, and all that I cannot heal. I know, “God is always doing 10,000 things, and I can only see 3 of them.” (John Piper) I will text the precious sister waiting to hear if her unemployment has come through. I will call and make my husband’s next doctor’s appointment. And when I feel helpless by these small gestures, I will know that’s because I am. But that really is okay, because people don’t need me, they need Jesus, and there is no shortage of Him to go around.
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