The Mountains or the Maker

Thoughts on Psalm 121

Sandra has been the wife of a pastor for many years. Currently she works with her husband, Walter, for the Breath of Life television ministry

Do I look to the mountains, expecting my help to come from them? No, my help comes from the Lord who made the mountains. He will not let you slip or fall but is always there to hold your hand. He never slumbers or sleeps but watches over His people day and night. The Lord is your keeper; He shades you from the blazing sun. The sun will not hurt you and the moon will not harm you. The Lord will help you so you will not fall into evil. He will preserve your soul. He will watch over your comings and goings as long as you live.

—Psalm 121, The Clear Word

These poetic sentiments have affirmed thousands at the summit of contentment and sustained many others in the valley of despair. They have become so synonymous with affirmation that tears of joy and smiles of contentment appear practically at the moment the recitation begins. It's one of those psalms that always seems appropriate, no matter what the situation. And yet, there seems to be another layer of meaning lurking beneath the serene surface of this psalm. In the opinion of some commentators, the Psalmist is suggesting that we often look to mountains for help when it is the Maker of the mountains who actually deserves our trust.

Do we trust in creatures some­times, in human beings, in wealth, in things, when He is by our sides? Do we trust in the powers of this Earth when His providence, power and goodness are so readily available? We must lift our eyes above the hills to see the strength of One who "ever lives to make intercession for us?"

There are resources and individuals who represent mountains in our lives. Consciously or subconsciously, we come to depend on them. With­out realizing it, we learn to depend on them to help maintain our stability from day to day. But the Lord is the only One upon whom we can rely unconditionally.

When I reflect on thirty-three years of fulfillment as the spouse of a pastor, a mother, a homemaker, and a professional; I realize that it is His unchanging hand that has helped me to juggle these roles with some measure of success. Jesus steadfastly led me and helped to make sense of it all. He was the invisible, irreplaceable entity standing within the shadows to keep watch over me and my family through the years.

It is a blessing to he surrounded by mountains. I have been blessed to have many in my life. Until a few years ago, my parents were mountains for me. Their thoughtful instruction during my childhood was priceless, but not more meaningful than the encouragement that they supplied for me as I faced the challenges of adulthood. They became best friends to me and my husband. We visited them, vacationed with them and drew strength from them on a regular basis. They were dedicated Christians whose wise counsel and mutual devotion represented a virtual fortress. My husband's parents accepted me as their own and, though they often took my part over their son, blessed us both in much the same way. Family was for us a mountain range.

In a real sense, my spouse has been a mountain for me and! believe that he would say that I've been the same for him. My adult children and I fondly recall those lectures that he repeated whenever we arrived at a new church. He would remind the congregation that he was the only member of our family who was paid to weather their criticisms and suffer patiently through their tirades. He warned that, if anyone attacked me or our children, they had better pray that the Holy Spirit got hold of him before he got hold of the attacker. Otherwise, he said, smiling broadly, there could be trouble.

Church members seem to think that pastoral families have no other reality outside of the congregation with its continuous concerns, but in this instance, God used us to uphold each other. My husband and I took the time to discuss what was happening in our individual professional situations with a view to solving problems. We gave each other the benefit of our corporate knowledge, but those discussions eventually gave way to more pleasant thoughts. The natural humor that you observe as my husband preaches has been a blessing in our relation­ship and in our home. We laughed our way out of many difficulties as we trusted in God as the center of our joy. My spouse has been a mountain in my life.

Early in my experience as the spouse of a pastor, I was blessed to have a few superlative role models. There were more experienced spouses who, by precept and example, enriched my information base. Their nurture and advice enveloped me at a critical period of my development as the spouse of a minister. They were mountains.

Through the years, God has strategically placed peers in my pathway who empathized and under­stood. Trust developed between us and we were able to share the unique joys and sorrows that are possibly known fully only by those who have elected to take this path. Because distance or some other barrier often forced me to walk without the support of a fellow shepherdess, learned to treasure those relation­ships and depended upon them to comfort me in times of need. Other pastoral spouses were mountains for me.

But most of us know that loneliness often accompanies the pastor and the pastor's spouse. We are blessed when we can be there for each other, however, the job of a pastor will sometimes leave the spouse to manage some loosely related task while the pastor is engaged in a series of obligatory tasks. In other words, there are times when the spouse of a pastor feels alone. Sometimes we even feel forsaken. Both my husband and I have realized that the pastor has avenues through which to verbalize the frustration that comes in the wake of the loneliness or frustration, but the spouse must often deal with these feelings silently. In order to support our pastoral spouses and the Lord's work, we often cover broken hearts with smiles. Whom do you depend on then?

There is no mystery surrounding the fact that pastoral spouses are singled out as targets of the enemy's attacks. The influence of the spouse on the pastor's effectiveness is greater than most imagine. In the book titled Pastoral Ministry, on page 86, the Messenger to the Remnant Church says this: "The wife of a minister of the gospel can be either a most successful helper and a great blessing to her husband or a hindrance to him in his work. It depends very much on the wife whether a minister will rise from day to day in his sphere of usefulness, or whether he will sink to the ordinary level"

At first, this seems to apply only to the relative professional success of the pastor, but the influence of the pastoral spouse is so pivotal that it cannot be ignored by Satan. His attacks on the pastoral spouse have the potential to generate results that are potentially just as devastating as direct attacks on the pastor. Each oC us must recognize both our importance with regards to the effectiveness of our spouses and the significance of our own spiritual strength in the larger scheme of things. When we are strong, our spouses tend to be affirmed and encouraged. If we allow ourselves to be overcome by the trials that confront us, the effectiveness of our spouses may be diminished. The matter is one of great consequence. Do we act as though pastoral spouses never have personal challenges or do we own our vulnerability and decide to whom we must turn for strength? David stands to declare that we cannot depend on mountains. The hills to which we have looked for assistance will disappoint us eventually. At perhaps the very moment when we face our most formidable foe, we will look and find no assistance.

Mountains are sometimes there for others. Mountains sometimes rise to represent problems instead of solutions, but Jesus is always there to defend. He is a very present help in the time of need. The same power that spoke the world into existence, that launched the heavenly bodies on their invisible paths through the sky, and gave life to all things, is ever present to intervene for us. But we must look above the mountains.

There may be pastoral spouses who have never encountered adversity, but I have never met them. There are those who seem to think that "Mount Pretense" is a reliable mountain in which to trust. At length, however, wounds and frustrations must be dealt with or they will turn into resentments. Jesus stands above the mountains with healing for every malady.

There are those who cherish the belief that the organization to which we fondly refer as "the church" will somehow attend to the needs of every worker and supply the personal resources required to sustain each pastoral family over the span of a professional career in ministry. While I thank the Lord for this church and its inspired organizational system, I beg you to look even above this mountain. The same Jesus whose power and authority steady the "ship of Zion" through the raging waters is careful to hold pastoral families in the palm of His hand. I can testify to the faithfulness of God. He has always been there to see me and any family through. Whether I was serving the church as a volunteer Bible Counselor, volunteer personal counselor, or juggling the responsibilities of parenting, home­making, and a professional career, I was never alone. I just had to look above the mountains to see His smiling face.

I enthusiastically declare that I wouldn't trade the experience of being married to a pastor for anything. It has allowed me to see for myself how the triumphant power of Jesus overcomes the significant power of evil. But that is not to say that being a pastor's spouse is an easy job. There are times when it can seem the most thankless, endless, lonely job in the church. Your deficiencies seem impossible to hide while your contributions seem impossible to recognize.

My strength comes from the knowledge that we are preserved by a "Keeper" who neither slumbers nor sleeps. He is a watchful keeper who doesn't have the least inclination to sleep on the job.

He not only protects, He also refreshes us like cooling shade in the heat of the day. He is never far away. He is as close to us as our own shadow. He is at our right hand, and since the right hand is thought to be the working band, He assures us that He gives us strength to accomplish tasks that seem never to end, He will not suffer us to lose our footing in times of distress. Though adversity and criticism may try to overthrow us, He dispels our fears by keeping our feet from being moved.

The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil. Whether that evil attacks from within or without, He is there. He has promised to preserve us in our going out and our coming in; in other words our moves. Having moved in and out of fifteen different dwellings, I take particular comfort in the fact that Jesus protects in this way. Think about it when your next move comes!