Spiritual & Emotional Burdens of Ministry

by Mary Somerville

As the wife of a man in ministry you share the weight of all the trials and tests that the flock is experiencing—everyone's physical and spiritual burdens. This is because the shepherd of the flock is always apprised of the condition of the sheep so he can pray for them. Your husband can't begin to minister to all the needs. He has hopefully trained his flock in the work of ministry—to visit and pray with those who are experiencing difficulties, and to seek to meet physical needs (Eph. 4:11-12). However, just knowing those needs for the purpose of prayer is a huge burden. 

Your role involves feeling with those whose marriages are breaking up, those whose children are going astray, those who are battling life-threatening diseases, or those who have lost a loved one. It includes weeping along with your husband over unfulfilled desires for growth in individuals and sorrow over those who are wandering.  It means standing with your husband by the grave of someone in your flock that you had to part with. I have come to realize that being a pastor's wife is not for the faint-hearted!  

Churches look to their pastors and wives to represent unwavering faith, courage, and resolve in the face of tragedies and heartbreaking circumstances. Yet, these expressions of grace under pressure don't come easily.

One pastor's wife said that her top challenge is to be happy in God amid the pain. She explains, "My greatest challenge is loving and delighting in the sovereign God, who often chooses not to cause fruit from my labors of love even, and especially, right within my own family. This is not so much the sacrifice of pouring out my time and tears on people, but the startling bewilderment of watching people grow worse despite years of prayer, fasting, support, and encouragement. I've seen men I've battled for in prayer and fasting leave their wives for someone else. I've seen children I've poured myself into nurturing decide there is no God and walk away from the faith. I've seen children whose protection I've prayed for endure the atrocity of sexual abuse. These things are my worst struggles."

How can we handle these weights? We cannot! God is the only one who can bear the grief of the world because He is the One who has determined it for good. He sees the end from the beginning.  Although God is never the author of evil, He uses it for His ends, for His glory. Even the wrath of men shall praise Him (Ps. 76:10). What was the worst crime that was ever committed? The murder of the innocent Son of God. This great evil became the source of the greatest good for humanity. 

We will not be able to understand all the reasons for all the sin and hurt and pain in our world, but we know that God is God, and that is all we need to know. We are not exempt from our own struggles of faith just because we are wives of men in ministry. Even Asaph, a godly writer of many of the Psalms, almost lost his faith after seeing the prosperity of the wicked and the apparent lack of reward for those who live for God. He admits that if he gives public expression to his doubts, he would be causing younger believers to stumble (Ps. 73:15). So instead he runs into the presence of God. There he sees the end of the story. He says, "My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all Your works" (Ps. 73:26,28).

What about Job? He had no idea of the great glory that would come from his loss of family, wealth, reputation, and health. Job bore His suffering righteously. But when he wanted to question God's purposes, he was humbled into silence as God reminded him who laid the foundations of the earth and stretched out the heavens and enclosed the sea with doors, who commands the morning and causes the dawn to know its place. God asked him, "Can you send forth lightnings that they may go and say to you, here we are'?" (Job 38:35).  At the end of God's overwhelming revelation of Himself, Job answers. "I know that Thou canst do all things, and that no purpose of Thine can be thwarted. I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees Thee; therefore I retract, and I repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42:1-2,5-6).

Our hurting pastor's wife quoted above knew the answer. When our hearts are aching with disappointment, we must love and delight in the sovereign God, trusting that He always does what is wise and good.

(Next month we'll take up the question: How do we do that?)

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