Wednesday, December 16, 2009

"God Comes Before My Wife" . . . And Other Stupid Statements

Put this into your marriage and practice it. Very important to consider the wages of simultaneously doing ministry and the wages of being married.

It was 2000. Or was it 1999? Not sure. My wife and I had been married for three years. Katelynn was two; Kylee was on the way. We lived in a little one bedroom apartment about ten minutes from campus. I was living my dream as I started the four year ThM program at Dallas Seminary (DTS). Kristie was ready to get in and get out, tolerating the time spent away from home in Oklahoma.

It was early on in Dr. Mark Young’s missions class that the epiphany came to me. It was from the Lord, I was sure. My passion for theology, truth, and changing the world was rising every day. Dreams were big, but they were about to get a lot bigger. Mark had been talking about the importance of missions (of course…it was a missions class). Contextualization, culture, redemptive analogies, and the like were all being discussed every day. Our passions were on the rise as Mark told his stories about his time in Poland. He could hardly hold back the tears and neither could we.

The next week he brought up a map. He showed us the break down of the world in relation to the Great Commission. “You are here.” You know how maps are. We were in Dallas. He showed us from there where all DTS grads were serving. I think that they were marked with a pin. There was a high concentration of pins around the Dallas area showing that many DTS grads stayed close. There was also a high concentration of grads in all fifty states. They were everywhere. Oklahoma, California, Nebraska, Washington, New York, Illinois, New Mexico, and every place else in the United States. When we looked beyond the United States, there was no famine for the need of pins. There were only a few, comparatively speaking, in other countries. Mark began to explain how 95% of the graduates from DTS stayed in the United States, while only 5% served abroad. However, as he explained, 95% of the need was in other countries that did not have the Gospel, theological training, or churches. It was alarming and Mark’s passion for missions made the alarm that much louder.

Well, I heard the call that day loud and clear. I knew what I was called to do. I was not sure before, but the Lord’s voice was coming through like a megaphone. I was supposed to go overseas. I was supposed to be a missionary!

When I got home, Kristie attempted to probe for the passion and the source of my excitement. I held back some naively thinking it was going to be a surprise. I wanted to walk her through all I had learned and let the excitement build in her as it had in me. I told her everything we had been learning doing my best to work without the pins. I explained to her how much of a famine for the Gospel existed in other parts of the world. Then, when the time was just right, I gave her the “good” news: “We are going to be missionaries!!!”

Let’s just say that the rehearsal in my mind did not mirror the actual events. I thought that Kristie would be excited. I thought that her heart would break for those less fortunate people. I thought that she would hear the Lord’s voice as clearly as I did. But such was not the case. She began to cry . . . and these were not the type of tears I wanted.

I struggled with this quite a bit. We discussed, argued, and strong armed each other for some time. It became a very difficult spiritual battle for me. Kristie made it clear that she was not going to go to another country. Her thoughts were on the children and the well being of the family. Her thoughts were on the community that she knew and loved. She would either stay in Dallas or go back to Oklahoma City. Those were the only two options. It was the very antinomy of our lessons on missions. To me, she was quenching the great commission. She was quenching God himself!

Thus began quite a struggle. Was I a follower of the Lord or follower of my wife? That was the question as I began to see it. In fact, I began to think that if Kristie would not go with me, I would go alone. After all, which is the greater good: staying married or saving souls? Or better, which is the greater evil: divorce or not following God’s call?

Then one day in class Mark had his wife Priscilla come and give her testimony of her life out on the mission field. I admired her so much. She was the perfect wife. She understood the priority of the call of the Lord. It broke my heart that my wife was not like her.

That night I decided to resort to some drastic measures. I decided to have an intervention. This was not a drug or alcohol intervention, but a spiritual one and my wife was the subject. This has to work, I thought to myself. I began to discuss these things with my wife once again and, as usual, things were not going to well. It was then that I pulled out my ace in the hole—the trump card. I called Mark Young at home. “Mark, this is Michael Patton from your missions class” I said. “Hello Michael, what can I do for you?” I then proceeded to explain how effective his course had been on me. I told him that I had been called into missions, but there was a hang-up that I thought he could help with. I told him the situation with Kristie and asked if he could talk to her. (Oh yeah…this was going to be good.)

However, the phone never met my wife’s ears that night. Mark immediately put me on hold. After a minute or two a woman’s voice came on the phone. It was Priscilla. Oh, good strategy, I thought to myself. Let’s let the wives discuss this together. However, Priscilla did not want to talk to Kristie. She wanted to talk to me. And it was not in a nice voice. She proceeded to . . . ahem . . . terrify me tell me how it really was and what I was going to do. For the next five minutes I listened to this wonderful woman as I shrank to the size of a peanut. She did not hold back either.

What was her message? In essence it was this: “Michael, God is not going to call you into something that he does not also call your wife into.” You can add about a hundred exclamation points after that and you will catch my drift. I would not even be surprised if there was not a curse word thrown in here or there. I can’t remember. “If God sovereignly calls you into something, do you think he is going to forget about your wife?” she continued. “If she is against it, it is not his will. Period!”

Well, so much for that idea.

That conversation changed me. It changed my marriage. I will never forget it and never be able to express how much of an effect Priscilla’s boldness had on me that night. She helped to re-prioritize this passionate and selfish maverick. She helped me to know that my first priority in ministry is to my wife and family. In a very real sense, Priscilla saved my marriage from my passion for ministry.

Paul tells Timothy, “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever” (1Tim. 5:8). I lost sight of that. I was very immature. My idea that the greatest good was spreading the Gospel and the only way to do that was to go where I felt I was being called. I was almost ready to lose my testimony in order to testify for Christ.

Since then I have seen this situation more times than I can count. It is usually always the same: a zealous husband who has become embittered against his wife because she will not follow him in his zealousness. One good friend just got a divorce because his wife did not want to become a missionary. He thought it was the Lord’s will and he believed her unwillingness was keeping him from a “greater good.” Now, after the divorce, his immaturity has disqualified him from taking that step even by himself. Another friend is becoming embittered toward his wife because her focus is elsewhere. Their marriage is suffering. I could tell many more stories, but I don’t want to betray anyone’s confidence.

Friends (and especially young zealous husbands or soon to be husbands), don’t make the mistake of having your passion for ministry end your marriage. Your first ministry is your marriage. If you don’t get that, you are not qualified for ministry. In the spirit of Priscilla: Do you not think that God is powerful enough to call you both into ministry or do you think he only has enough power to call one of you? If so, then he is not a God worth your time anyway. In short, if God does not call your wife, he is not calling you. Period.

Thanks Priscilla.


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