Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Sarah Edwards - spending ourselves to bankruptcy?

Yet another reason I like reading biographies is that they increase my thankfulness to God as I am exposed to others who live with much greater hardships, in different times and different countries. Such a person is the 17th Century Sarah Edwards, married to America’s foremost Revival preacher Jonathan Edwards.

Sarah Edwards – an inspiration
Out of all the women discussed in Sharon James’book, I identified most with Sarah Edwards, perhaps because her situation was closest to my own. She was a minister’s wife with 11 children (yes, 11!). Her support of her husband’s ministry was not just a sign of her love for Jonathan, for she regarded it as a service of God. She wrote of the sheer exhaustion of mothering and of often being tense and tired when her kids were young (I could totally relate to that!). I was challenged by her emphasis on meditating on God’s word, by her generous hospitality to many friends and strangers, and by her fervent prayers for her children to have eternal life. She handed everything over to God, even the health and life of her children. Her frequent house-guests testified to the happiness of the household and to her generosity in visiting the sick, poor and bereaved. She experienced war, the death of children, poverty and the rejection and dismissal of her husband from his parish - all this from a woman who had grown up with wealth and comfort!

The Legacy
Despite the trials, she willingly served and submitted to her husband, and saw him and his ministry as a gift to the church, wanting to free him up to write and preach so that many would be encouraged. By 1900, over 100 missionaries had come from the family that Sarah and Jonathan started, along with countless others who loved and served Jesus in many other ways.

A conundrum
An amazing woman … you would have to agree. But as I read about her poverty, her persecution, her pouring of herself out in the service of others, I asked myself … how much is too much? Would I have said ‘Enough is enough, Jonathan… I’m tired, you are ill... the kids aren’t coping … I’m sick of living like this …. “ ?

Spending ourselves … to bankruptcy?
I remember giving a talk on ‘Halving or Doubling your husband’s ministry’ and quite a lot of questions came from the floor along the following lines. “Am I halving my husband’s ministry… when I need his help in the middle of the night with a screaming baby? … when I have crippling depression?… when I ask him to miss Bible study because he’s been out 6 nights in a row? …. etc…etc) It is tricky to work out how much we should spend ourselves in the support of our husbands (if we have one) and ultimately in the service of Christ.

Spending ourselves … to glory!
I ask myself this question a lot … as I often feel almost at the brink of what I can cope with. To encourage myself, my self-talk revolves around the following ideas …
1. We all have different capacities, competencies and circumstances. I am loathe to admit that I often have ‘gifting envy’ as I look at Christian sisters who are able to fit so much more than me into a day! But I have to remember that they are wired differently to me and we are all unique and indispensible to the body. Our health (both physical and mental), skill-set and experience, personality of husband, children’s needs, extra-familial support, etcetc, all play a part in what we are able to cope with and how much we can take on in life.
2. God sees all that we do. He wants us to keep going … Hebrews 6:10-12 “God is not unjust; He will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised”
3. A godly, wise woman gave me this advice recently … to persevere with a difficult ministry until the point when you can no longer be godly in doing it! I thought that was very helpful – when my godliness becomes compromised, then maybe I should finish up that ministry.
4. Our relationships with God and our families must take centre stage in our life … anything else is an added bonus!
5. Nurturing our relationship with God must be our primary concern. By seeking first God’s Kingdom and His righteousness, everything falls into place – the Lord provides what we need (Matt 6) and our priorities come into line with Him.
6. Take Jesus Christ our Saviour as our example. He gave up his life for us, we need to lose our life in order to save it (Matt 10:38-39)

In short, we need to take a leaf out of Sarah’s book – spend ourselves as much as we are able, within our capacity, competencies, circumstances – spend ourselves to the point where we know it’s going to hurt, but knowing that Christ has gone before us, and knowing that God sees all that we do and that our reward is in heaven (Matt 5:12).

This answer isn’t really an answer at all – it’s not concrete nor conclusive, but simply a nudge to keep praying that we will have the energy and courage to continue to live our lives for the glory of Christ, knowing that “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” (Phil 4:13)

1 comment:

Susie said...

I thoroughly enjoy reading about Sarah Edwards and find her life and faithfulness such an encouragement. Great to "see" you contributing here Emma. Your considered response was helpful and gave me some new things to think about ministry and indeed spending ourselves.