For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich. 2 Corinthians 8:9
Clay and I have been in the mountains at a retreat center for the past two days hearing one of our favorite writers, Eugene Peterson, review his most recent books. What a privilege it was to soak in the conversations, the wisdom and experiences He and His wife shared their stories and their lives with all of us who attended. Eugene is 78 and his wife Jan, 75 and they have given their whole lives to ministry.
Most of those in attendance (only 90), were seasoned church leaders and pastors. At a gathering early one morning, the women were pouring out their hearts to find wisdom and encouragement from Jan. Subjects covered: "Did you ever doubt your call to ministry? Did you have problems in your marriage? How did you deal with the work load of your husband? What about financially difficult times? The pressure on children can be hard to handle. I get so depleted that I just want to run away from it all." And other heart cries.
There is something true about misery loving company. When we see that others struggle, we also find comfort that it is not just us--and that we are not neurotic, that others are experiencing the same thing, and that it is possible to live through our common trials in life. It was great to be in the company of so sweet a couple who had given--had spent their lives for others, and held on valiantly to Christ.
What struck me the most, was how their lives, messages, books and compassion for others came out of their failures, the messes of life, the dark times, as well as years of faithfulness and seeking God. Rhythms of "A Long Obedience in the Same Direction." (the title of one of his books.)
They had 7 years they called the "badlands" because life was so very difficult and depressing. And yet, it was from this that the core of Eugene's books were written.
There was a time they had even had difficulty buying groceries for their 4 children, so they reverted to powdered milk because it was cheaper. (a little side story that Jan shared--but so like the details of life issues that are ours every day.)
Pondering my own life, I could see similar patterns of Gods work even in the small daily grind. From being humbled, I learned compassion for others. From being in the dark, I learned that God was in control. From being needy, I learned that I could live without. From being in pain, I found HIs comfort and love. From living in the limitations and fears of the times I am living in, I learned to long for heaven.
Oddly enough, there was a verse in my quiet time while I was there that seemed to tie into the days of thoughts.
One verse really pulsed through my mind again and again, "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, for your sake He became poor."
Eugene and Jan gave up everything in their lives to follow Jesus. They pursued him during dark times, they served others and gave themselves, that those they served might become rich. They took in 4 children whose mother died of cancer. They visited people, ill and needy and stayed committed in ministry to the unattractive who needed love, grace and patience.
Through their faithfulness and holding tenaciously to Christ, their story became a testimony that enriched our own lives.
Jesus, God incarnate, became poor that I might become rich. Gave up supreme heavenly authority and splendor, to become a fragile, vulnerable baby in a wicked world. Became a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief by entering personally into the conflict, pain, and suffering of strangers in his life, to bear them up, to heal them, to champion their cause.
Dirt on his feel from walking dusty roads, hunger from preaching too long in the hot sun; Tickling, embracing, blessing the wiggly children running into His arms, thrusting tables and cages in wrath that overcame Him from conniving, thieves taking advantage of the naive, sincere worshippers; putting up with foolishness and arguing of His followers, experiencing rejection from those he had created.
So, is it too much to ask that I spend my life, abandoning my rights, pouring out my time and love on the needy and undeserving, as He did to me?
This concept of servant leadership is the foundation that fueled my own understanding of being a mother, modeling Him in my home. It became a picture of what He wanted me to do in marriage---spending my life so that Clay could become richer. It is for Him that we serve--and in serving Him, our hearts are filled.
So, this week: Calculating and evaluating, "To whom has He called me to give up myself, my time, my love and prayers, my words of life, my service, that they might become rich?
My children, my husband, my friends, those sweet moms in my ministry that I want to shepherd and encourage. I expending my life--giving it away, that others may become rich--this is what I am learning this week as I seek how I may better understand my precious Lord.
And yet I have found that it is in coming to that point of deciding to give when He asks of me, that I, in the end, become more filled in my heart with the assurance of His love and presence. "He who loses his life for my sake, will find it."
Thank you, Eugene and Jan for becoming for me this week a living picture of a real life lived out in giving yours away.
My own personal favorite books of his: Christ plays in Ten Thousand Places; Running with the Horses; Eat This Book.
These books are more theological in nature, focussing on the life of Christ and the life of Christ in ministry. Widely read by pastors (and those who like these kinds of books--like me!)