This post is the Part II in a mini-series on marriage. To read Part I – The Friendship of Marriage – click HERE.
2) In marriage, you chose to make your husband your first ministry.
I love ministry. I really do. It’s the reason I’ll commit to twenty-six ministries in any one given season. It is not only what I have studied and prepared for, but what my heart aches to do.
This year, I have committed to volunteering in a ministry at our local church in addition to working more than full-time. And, in this particular ministry, I have some control over how much time I put into it. Anyone who knows me knows that this means I’m volunteering at least ten hours a week for this ministry. And I love it, it gives me such satisfaction, such joy. But there have been times when I have noticed that, between my after-work planning sessions and early morning discipleship meetings, Austin and I see less of each other. What’s more, in busy seasons of ministry we don’t seem to talk about much else besides this ministry.
I came to a fork in the road a few weeks ago. With meetings filling all my free time and ideas occupying most of my mental capacity, I double booked myself for a Saturday afternoon. Austin and I were supposed to have a date, but I scheduled a discipleship meeting at the same time. Ministry, like friendships, can make me feel guilty when I say no or have to cancel. But this situation was a tangible expression of the intangible lesson the Lord was working into my hard heart: Austin must always be my first ministry.
I am young in ministry, but even in the few short years that God has given me women to disciple and teach and walk through life with, I have noted a struggle that I imagine will always be present in my ministry: who am I called to be intentional with in this season of life? There have been seasons in which there don’t seem to be any pressing needs, no one woman who God puts on my heart to reach out and be intentional with. There are other seasons, like this present one, in which there is no shortage of women who are asking and aching to know God’s Word, to meet one-on-one, and to be discipled. In both scenarios, I have to turn my eyes to the Lord in prayer and ask, who are you calling me to in this season?
That answer will always vary. But regardless of the women that are put in ministry with me, regardless of who the Lord has called me to minister to or disciple, Austin will always be the primary ministry God has charged me with. If I ever doubt if I have meaning ministry in my life, all I need to do is roll over and look at the man God has given me to share all of life with and be reminded that he will always be my first, most important, most necessary ministry. If I walk with fifty women this year, teach multiple Bible studies, and disciple women to be more like Christ, but neglect to encourage, equip, challenge, and walk into holiness with this man, I have missed my calling altogether. In marriage, we chose to be united to one person, and we are to walk towards holiness together.
I remember a dear professor and friend of mine relating a turning point in his ministry and marriage. They had been in pastoral ministry, been on the mission field, and in their current seasons of planting a church he was putting in oodles of hours each week. Often missing meals and home and going to be much later than his wife, his wife walked into his office one night. “You have a mistress,” she told him flatly. He was taken aback – of course he wasn’t being unfaithful to his wife, what could have possibly made her think that? She continued: “You have a mistress, and her name is the Church.” The hours spent in ministry to the neglect of his primary ministry was, in it’s own way, an act of infidelity. In their marriage vows, they promised to be each others first, but ministry to the local church has reversed that paradigm. When seasons of ministry are at their fullest, the Spirit brings this story to mind. I am reminded that God is not honored by any service to the Church that comes at the expense of ministry to my family. God will not call me to prioritize ministry to His Bride to the neglect of ministry to my husband.
*Hopefully this goes without saying, but this is true for Austin as well. His call to be a pastor or an elder someday will never trump his call to minister to his family. This post is not to the neglect of calling men (pastors, elders, lay leaders, missionaries, etc.) to place biblical primacy on their ministry to their wives and children, but this is a blog for women, so I’ll just leave this right here and …*
There is an over-used and much misunderstood word in Hebrew that is used to describe the wife: ezer, the help-meet. This word has been used to describe the way that wives are the assistants, subordinates, home-based-helpers of their husbands. But these descriptors miss the point altogether. The word, in the original language, is a militaristic word. It is a word used when an individual is under attack and they call for their primary helper. This word is only elsewhere used of God in the Old Testament, used by Israel when they are under attack from their enemies and need their Divine Ezer. The implications of this are far-reaching! Wives are not the assistants to their husbands like a secretary behind a desk, keeping appointments and taking notes, and shaking their head with a laugh when they head for the door without their jacket. No, wives are the primary militaristic help – like God was to Israel – when our husbands are under spiritual attack. Because Eve was Adams Ezer, when the enemy slithered over to them, whispering lies and twisting God’s words, Eve’s role was to tell that serpent to go to hell. (Think this is interesting? Me too! Be watching for another post on this word coming soon!)
As wives, we are to be the first line of defense against our spiritual enemy: the primary hands that the Lord uses to make the other more like Himself. When Austin comes home doubting his worth in Christ because of a bad day at work, I am the primary person God has put in his life to remind him of the truth, to fight for him in prayer, to remind him the way of the Gospel. There is no one else that God has given me as such a tangible, prominent, necessary ministry – nor will there ever be.
As a woman who loves ministry, teaching, and preaching, I need to do the hard work of centralizing my ministry focus on him. Will God also likely give me others to minister to? I sure hope so. But none will ever come before Austin. Though I love to craft a sermon, I must remember that Austin will always be the best sermon I write. Though I love to read and research ministry strategies, Austin will always be the most accurate reflection of my aptness for ministry. Though I love to disciple and teach, Austin’s life and character will always be the most ready fruit from my ministry labors.