Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Wives of Preachers, Be the Prophetess

Early in our marriage, my bride asked me what the most important thing she could do to help me in ministry. I appreciated this question, for I am one who is in constant need of help. Further, I believe that – in a Christian marriage – the wife is a means of God’s grace to a husband (Proverbs 18:22). God knows I need a lot of grace. I told her that she needed to be a woman of the Word, and that I felt such people would become fewer and fewer in days to come. She was already devoted to her Bible (this was how she was raised), so this wasn’t a request for anything to change. It was an encouragement to keep walking on the same path.

The Puritan Richard Baxter (1615-1691), in the memoir for his late wife Margaret (1631-1681), speaks of her passion for the ministry of the Word of God - even when it came with great cost: "When warrants were out (from Sir Thomas Davies) to distrain [i.e., confiscate and sell] my goods for fines for my preaching, she did without any repining encourage me to undergo loss and did herself take the trouble of removing and hiding my library awhile (many scores of books being so lost), and after she encouraged me to give it away, bona fide, some to New England, and the most at home to avoid distraining on them. And the danger of imprisonment and of paying a fine of £40 for every sermon was so far from inclining her to hinder or discourage me from any one sermon, that if she did but think I had the least fear, or self-saving by fleshly wisdom, in shrinking from my undertaken office work, it was so great a trouble to her that she could not hide it (who could too much hide many others). She was exceeding impatient with any Nonconformist minister that shrank for fear of suffering or that were overquerulous and concerned about their wants or dangers, and would have no man be minister that had not so much self-denial as to lay down all at the feet of Christ and count no cost or suffering too dear to serve Him. She greatly hated choosing or using the sacred ministry for wealth, ease, or honor, or any worldly end serving the flesh under the name of serving Christ, and looking to be reverenced and honored in this taking of God's name in vain" (A Grief Sanctified, pg. 101).

I have heard personal property rights described as the foundation of the U.S.A.'s law and economy. In so many camps of American Christianity, the "American" and "Christianity" are so melded that it is difficult to discern the difference. Would we choose the Word over personal property, as Margaret Baxter did? The early Christians "accepted joyfully the seizure of [their] property, knowing that [they had] for [themselves] a better possession and a lasting one" (Hebrews 10:34). There's a testimony that demands attention. "Joyfully." Why? Because the hope of heaven was exponentially greater than any loss experienced here.

As I've been thinking about Mrs. Baxter's courage for the ministry of the Word, the words of a hymn we sang last Lord's Day have repeatedly echoed as a prayer in my mind: "O, for grace to trust Him more" (words by Louisa Stead, 1882, after seeing her husband drown trying to rescue a boy).


As I've shared before, one of my favorite chapters in the Old Testament is Isaiah 8. The great prophet ministers the Word in a dark, dark day in Judah's history. He, his wife (the "prophetess," 8:3), his children, and his disciples take a stand on that Word: "Bind up the testimony, seal the Law among my disciples. And I will wait for the LORD Who is hiding His face from the house of Jacob; I will even look eagerly for Him. Behold, I and the children whom the LORD has given me are for signs and wonders in Israel from the LORD of hosts, Who dwells on Mount the Law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this Word, it is because they have no dawn" (8:16-18,20). What do we know about Mrs. "Prophetess" Isaiah? Well, her title points to a Spirit-empowered ministry of speaking the Word (this is my definition of “prophecy”).[1] She is willing to let her children be named "Maher-shalal-hash-baz" (8:3) and "Shear-jashub" (7:3) just because it made for great sermon illustrations for her husband. That says a lot by itself. While she is not mentioned in the latter part of chapter 8, we can assume she is part of the family and disciples standing with Isaiah for the Word against a world which denied it.

I am thankful the Lord has given me a Mrs. Baxter and Mrs. “Prophetess” Isaiah in my bride. She has been a means of grace used of God to strengthen me for the task more times than I can say. Her valuing of the Word above all comforts me; I do not stand alone. Ever.

Preacher's wives, whatever you think of the life, keep your heart on the Word that is this life's fruit. Regularly remind yourself of that which is of actual worth, and let that transcendent treasure become your treasure.

“A voice says, ‘Call out.’
Then he answered, ‘What shall I call out?’
All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
When the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
But the Word of our God stands forever.
Get yourself up on a high mountain,
O Zion, bearer of good news,
Lift up your voice mightily,
O Jerusalem, bearer of good news;
Lift it up, do not fear.
Say to the cities of Judah,
‘Here is your God!’
Behold, the Lord God will come with might,
With His arm ruling for Him.
Behold, His reward is with Him
And His recompense before Him.
Like a shepherd He will tend His flock,
In His arm He will gather the lambs
And carry them in His bosom;
He will gently lead the nursing ewes.
Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand,
And marked off the heavens by the span,
And calculated the dust of the earth by the measure,
And weighed the mountains in a balance
And the hills in a pair of scales?
Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord,
Or as His counselor has informed Him?
With whom did He consult and who gave Him understanding?
And who taught Him in the path of justice and taught Him knowledge
And informed Him of the way of understanding?
Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket,
And are regarded as a speck of dust on the scales;
Behold, He lifts up the islands like fine dust”
(Isaiah 40:6-15).

The message beginning the “Comfort” section of Isaiah doesn’t much sound like the comforting words proclaimed and written today. It begins with a message reminding us of our temporary mortality. We are a moment before the breath of the Lord withers us. What is the true forever we desire to reach in our youth-imitative measures? The “Word of the Lord.” That’s the true forever. It gives us the “good news” of the Presence of God we are to announce to the people of God. It is the doorway to knowing God as righteous Judge and Vindicator (we all desire for things to be made right), the way into His loving arms as a Shepherd, and the eye-opening vision of Him as Creator of this massive universe. Experience of God comes through the proclamation of the ever-enduring Word. Be about this, my sisters. You do not carry the title “pastor,” and you may not stand behind the pulpit, but your life is the greatest it can be when it is rich with the Word in your evaluation, discernment, speech, relationships, priorities, passions, etc. Be the prophetess – that sister who is Spirit-reliant and Word-centered without compromise. Your husband the pastor needs it more than you know. Your sisters in Christ need it. The Church needs it.

Be the prophetess.
"Miriam the Prophetess," by Chava Devorkin

[1] And she is far from the only one in the Bible: Exodus 15:20; Judges 4:4; 2 Kings 22:14; Joel 2:28,29; 2 Chronicles 34:22; Nehemiah 6:14; Luke 2:36; Acts 2:17,18; 21:9; 1 Corinthians 11:5. Of course, there are false prophetesses just as there are false prophets (Revelation 2:20). A claim to the gift is not a confirmation of the gift (in fact, I have found that folks who claim to have this gift are the ones who absolutely do not have this gift).

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