At the end of March, I had the awesome privilege of attending True Woman ’10, a women’s conference from Revive Our Hearts, the ministry of Nancy Leigh DeMoss. The truth presented that weekend was nourishing, encouraging, challenging, and convicting. I came home ready to embrace the call to be a True Woman, to live it out in my home and in my church, and to raise my daughters to be True Women in their own lives. But there was one truth that seemed to pop up at different times throughout the weekend and strike my heart every time.
Different speakers spoke of trials in their lives, of hard things they had been through, of circumstances that would be devastating to most people. And each speaker had the same truth to share, expressing that truth in their own personal way. Basically, they all spoke of counting our trials as joy, letting God work through our trials, and letting Him make us more like Christ, more of a True Woman, in the midst of our trials. But it was James MacDonald who spoke that truth in the most startling way to my heart.
His text was James 1:2-8, and his context was several years of intense trials in his own life. To make a long sermon short, his explanation of the original Greek for the term translated “steadfastness,” “endurance,” “perseverance,” and “patience” made the lessons God has been teaching me over the past several years just come home in a whole new way.
The original Greek that in my Bible is translated “steadfastness” is two words: “hupo” which means “under” and “mene” which means “remain”. “Remain under.” So take the whole passage with these words, and we learn that the way to being made perfect and complete and lacking in nothing is to let “remaining under” have its full effect. Running away, looking for the fastest way out of a tough situation, looking for a quick fix: these are the patterns in my past, and these are definitely not the way to being made perfect and complete. I had come to this realization to some extent in Lafayette, where we finally remained still long enough for God to begin showing this truth to us. But God used this sermon on this night to really open my eyes to the fruit that could be possible if I just remain under my trials.
This was all extremely relevant to me at that moment because even as Alana and I were driving to Chattanooga to attend this conference, our husbands were dealing with yet another huge drama in the church. Even in the short time that we’ve been here, there seems to have been one drama after another, mostly surrounding the music, which, unfortunately, seems to be a given in churches these days. There have been lots of hurt feelings, lots of statements flung about without thought, lots of hurtful comments.
One unfortunate fact that soon becomes apparent to anyone who is in vocational ministry is that vocational ministry is not a safe profession. The church is not a safe place to work, and church people are not safe people to be holding the strings of your job security. The job security of a minister can be similar to that of a politician: if you don’t make the people happy, you’re out. We’ve experienced this in cold harsh reality twice before coming to Salem. Even since coming here, there have been a few people willing to in effect toss our whole family out in the street because they didn’t like some aspect of Clay’s leadership. This can be a very difficult cloud to live with, and it can be very difficult to follow the Lord’s leading in ministry and not fall prey to the fear of man, knowing that no matter how closely you’re walking with the Lord and leading in the way He’s guiding you, if the most influential people don’t like it, you could lose your job. No, the church is not safe.
But there is fruit in the church. Parallel to all the frustrations and hurtful comments by people who are not growing, there will always be fruit in those who are. And those growing people will always be there, or it wouldn’t be a church. So to focus solely on the negatives is to ignore the work of God in the hearts of those who are genuinely trying to live for Him, and miss out on the blessing of seeing God work in the hearts of those around you.
So what’s the answer? Hupo mene. Remain under. If we want to see God’s blessing on our ministry in any given place, we will have to remain under the trials that come, and through that remaining under, God will work in us to make us perfect and complete. For me and Clay at this moment, this is all centered in on remaining in a vocation that is not safe, remaining vulnerable in ministry, remaining in a position where complaints are part of the daily fare, and there will always be someone who is not happy with us. It means dealing with what must be dealt with, but making our focus be on the work of the Spirit in the hearts that are full of good soil. It means remaining under the winds that come and letting them make us stronger, like the oak tree.
For others, remaining under might mean something totally different. But remaining under will always be the key to being made perfect. God will send us trials that we can’t control, can’t get out of, can’t change. Remaining under doesn’t mean just staying put because you have no way out, while letting your heart grow bitter under your trials. Remaining under means counting that trial as joy and embracing it, knowing that it will be used of God to perfect you and make you more like Christ.
This is what we were missing in all those situations we fled in our past. And this is what I pray will be brought to completion in us as we remain in this ministry throughout the years to come. Dealing with trials and frustrations as they come, but keeping our eyes on the prize and counting it all joy. Whatever comes, Lord, help me to remember this truth and to remain under–steadfast and unwavering until You have made me perfect and complete.