The mountains or the Maker?

Words of perspective and encouragement.

Sandra Pearson is director of Public Service Ministries and associate field services director for the Breath of Life telecast Silver Spring, Maryland.

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 watch es 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 words have affirmed multitudes at the summit of contentment, and sustained even more in the valley of despair. They have become so synonymous with affirmation that tears of joy and smiles of contentment often appear the moment recitation begins. It's one of those psalms that always seems appropriate, no matter what we face.

There's another layer beneath this serene surface. Some commentators claim the psalmist is suggesting that we often look to mountains for help when it is the Maker of the mountains who deserves our trust. This calls for a question: Do we, particularly when in crisis, trust in what is created; in human beings, in wealth, in things, even in mountains, rather than the One who created all this? Do we trust in the powers of earth when His providence, power, and goodness are so available? I think we do. We wouldn't be human if, at least at times, we didn't.

Mountain ranges

What resources and individuals represent mountains in our lives that we consciously or subconsciously have come to depend on to help maintain our stability from day to day?

When I reflect on 33 years as the spouse of a pastor, as a mother, a homemaker, and a professional, I realize that it is His unchanging hand that has helped me juggle these roles. Jesus was the invisible, irreplaceable, irreducible reality standing within the shadows to keep watch over my family and me through all the years.

But it is still a huge blessing, isn't it, to be surrounded by mountains? They are so magnificent, so strong, exuding stability, security, and certainty. I have been blessed to have many mountains in my life.

Until a few years ago, my parents were mountains for me. Their thoughtful direction during my childhood was priceless, but not more meaningful than the encouragement that they supplied for me later in adulthood. They became best friends to my husband and me. We visited them, vacationed with them, and drew strength from them regularly. They were dedicated Christians whose wise counsel and mutual devotion represented a virtual fortress. Family is for us a great, central mountain range.

In a most realistic sense, my husband is a a mountain for me and I believe that he would say that I am the same for him. My adult children and I fondly recall, for exam ple, the 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 his wife or our children, they had better pray that the Holy Spirit got hold of him before he got to them! He is a mountain, a great and strong one, in fact.

Early in my experience, I was blessed to have a few superlative role models. They were more experienced wives and mothers who, by precept and example, enriched my emotional and information base. Their nurture and advice enveloped me at critical periods in my development as the spouse of a minister. They were there, stable and inspiring, mountains in my life.

Through the years, God has strategically placed peers in my pathway who empathized and understood my trials. Trust developed between us as we shared joys and sorrows. Because distance or some other barrier often forced me to walk without the sup port of a fellow shepherdess, I learned to treasure those relationships and depended upon them to comfort me in times of need, especially those times when I felt not only lonely but forsaken.

Objects of attack

It is no mystery, no secret: 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. "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."1

The influence of the pastoral spouse is so pivotal that it cannot be ignored by Satan. His attacks on the spouse have the potential to wreak a devastation just as serious as direct attacks on the pastor. Each of us must recognize our importance to 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, the effectiveness of our spouses may be diminished.

Thus, the crucial question is, Upon whom do we lean in times of vulnerability? David declares that we can not depend on mountains. The mere hills to which we have looked too often for assistance will disappoint us eventually. Perhaps at the very moment we face our most formidable foe, we will look and find no assistance there. But there are the mountains.

Looking above the mountains

Mountains are sometimes there for others. Mountains sometimes rise to represent problems instead of solutions, but Jesus is always there to defend and encourage. 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 paths through the cosmos; the same Power that gave life to all things living, is always present to intervene for us. Yet we must look above the mountains to find Him.

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 we sometimes 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. While I thank the Lord for the strong mountain of the church, we must insist that we have to look even above this mountain.The same Jesus whose power and authority constantly steadies 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 my family and me through it all. 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 face.

I wouldn't trade the experience of being married to a pastor for any thing. It has allowed me to see for myself how the triumphant power of Jesus overcomes evil, even at the times when my role seemed to be the most thankless, endless, and lonely one in all the world.

My Keeper

My strength comes from the Lord of Hosts and from the knowledge that we are preserved by a "Keeper" who neither slumbers nor sleeps, but who protects and refreshes us like a cooling stream running beneath the shade of a full, spreading tree in the full heat of the day. He is never far away. He is close. He is at our right hand, and since the right hand is thought to be the working hand, He assures us that He gives us strength to accomplish tasks that seem to never end. He will not allow 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.

"Do I look to the mountains, expecting my help to come from them? No, my help comes from the Lord who made the mountains."

Those are words all pastoral spouses and all pastors need to remember and to rest in, no matter whether they live among the highest summits, or on the most barren and desolate plain in the world.

1 Ellen G. White, Pastoral Ministry (Silver Spring, Md.: General Conference Ministerial Assoc., 1995), 86.

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Sandra Pearson is director of Public Service Ministries and associate field services director for the Breath of Life telecast Silver Spring, Maryland.

April 2001

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