In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
Since I became a Christian in 1994, I have probably had hundreds of people pray for me. I can’t really remember all the prayers, only a vague fragrance of whispered hope and neediness woven through the years.
However, there is definitely one prayer I can’t forget.
It was the last Sunday before I moved to Austin from LA. I was engaged to my future minister/husband. A friend grabbed my hands and said, “Lord, I pray you would give Carrie the hands of a minister’s wife.”
I froze up a little. I wasn’t sure I really wanted the hands of a minister’s wife. Also, I detected a hint of pity in her voice. I suddenly recalled how many women I knew who had told me that they did NOT want to be pastor’s wives. That was when I remembered I was one of them.
Oh, snap. I was marrying the wrong man!
Then I thought about Morgan and how much I loved him, and I let that happy thought push the paranoid fear out of my mind. The truth was, it didn’t matter what I was getting myself into, because I knew what I wanted most: to love God first and Morgan second.
Surely I could handle whatever came along with the role of “minister’s wife”. Surely.
This is how you get out of your depth in life, one blind leap of love at a time.
After the wedding fun ended, we settled into our routine. We worked as campus missionaries at the University of Texas. We made enough money to barely get by. We took a job at our apartment complex to make rent. We paid for our dollar theater tickets in nickels dug out from the bottom of the sofa. I worked several jobs so that we could eat things like cheese and meat.
It wasn't the lack of funds that was surprising about our new life, though. The greatest shock to me about ministry life was the amount of time I had to spend with... people.
I’m sure I should have had a clue about that, but I didn’t. I'm intimidated by large groups of people, horrible at remembering names, and if given a choice between small talk with new people and minor surgery, I would choose to be knocked out.
During the drive to the weekly campus meeting I usually leaned my seat all the way back and cried like a big ol’ baby. I apparently had some minister wife’s hands but not the proper backbone for the job. In hindsight, I should have called my friend and asked her for a new prayer, one with some sort of kick to it, like a good "Deliver her, O Lord of Hosts!" or something along those lines.
But instead I leaned back and cried until it got easier, until my hands grew stronger, and until God met me in the middle of my mess.
All these years later I still lean back and wail a bit when this life leads forever and ever on into more challenging waters than I expected. Being a leader means living on the open sea, far beyond comfortable waters.
My friend's prayer was spot-on though, because leadership is really all about our hands. It is the miracle of loaves and fishes in our own humble grasp. We break our lives open and pass out the portions of talent and energy we have been given. We build warm fires that will win even the coldest of enemies into trusted friends. And we punch our fear in the face when necessary.
God is asking all of us to do only this one thing with our lives: He wants us to cling to him with the hands we have been given.
There is no pity necessary for those who reach out for Him. We are the fortunate ones, who have learned that every prayer, whether remembered or forgotten, has carried us deeper into the love that named us, saved us, and set us free.
I once thought I was marrying the man I loved, and the rest would naturally follow. But I was really following the God I loved into more than I ever realized I wanted. This is the way He leads us so He can make us complete, His own finished work of grace, and His privileged partners in the gospel.