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Ask Jani (+ Ray!): “Difficult Decisions and Ministry Criticism”

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Episode Synopsis

Ray joins Jani to help answer listener questions about a husband’s desire to pursue his PhD and a wife needing counsel on how to deal with criticism against her pastor-husband.

Audio Transcript

Jani Ortlund: Hello, everyone. Thanks for listening in. We’re so glad to welcome you back to He Restores My Soul. We hope you’ve been enjoying some summer reading after our last few podcasts. Maybe you’ve picked up a good Christian biography. We’d love to hear about it. You can contact us at any time on our website at herestoresmysoul.org. You can ask a question there or share some of your thoughts about the podcast. We love hearing from our listeners. In fact, today, we’re going to spend some time answering some questions that have been sent in. And we’re fortunate to have my wise and godly husband, Ray, with us. Thank you for joining us today.

Ray Ortlund: I’m so glad to be with you, honey. Glad to be with our friends who are listening.

Jani: Yes. Well, I’m especially grateful for your presence today because the two questions we want to answer in today’s episode, involve ministry marriages. And you and I are involved in one and I need your wisdom, our listeners need your wisdom.

Question 1: How have you dealt with difficult family decisions?

Here’s our first question: My husband has been interested for some time now in getting his PhD as he desires to grow more in understanding God’s word and in teaching it. I know your family moved across the globe for your husband’s PhD and I would really love to hear how that was for you and your kids.

A Bit Of Our Story

Ray: It was 40 years ago right now, sweetheart, we moved from California to Scotland. And I had the privilege of doing my doctoral work at the University of Aberdeen. And we had a blast living there. I mean, it was hard in some ways but we had a great time. It was an influential experience. It left a permanent mark on us, a deep impression for good and we’re very grateful for it. But it was difficult to make the decision.

Jani: Yes, it was it particularly for one of us, who happens to be speaking at the moment. When Ray came to me and said he wanted to go back to school, he already had his bachelors and two masters so I figured quickly it was a doctorate. And I wasn’t ready for that. Our kids were three years old, two years old, and nine months when we first started talking about this. Honey, I’m so sorry but I’ll just tell our listeners, my immediate response was fear, anxiety, and then tears.

Ray: Well, honey, I don’t blame you one bit because I was an oblivious knucklehead. And I had no clue, I had no awareness of what I was asking of you, the magnitude of what I was asking of you. And I’m so sorry about that. You were such a good sport, honey. I wish I could go back and you know, be wiser and so forth.

Jani: Well, don’t we both. I wish I could go back and be more faith-filled and encouraging to you. More of a help than a hindrance. But God did bring our hearts together. And I might say, if there are any husbands listening to this, Ray did not push me. He prayed for me for over two years. When we began revisiting it again, Dane was older and I was a little bit more established as a mom with three little children. And we did. We decided to go to Scotland, didn’t we?

Ray: It was a big step to take. But it was God’s plan for us and totally worth doing.

Jani: Yes. We ended up financing it by selling our home and most of our possessions. We kept your library, my piano, a few wedding gifts, but sold our furniture, our car, our home and used that to finance this degree program. And you went over first to find us a place to stay. Two weeks later, I brought the three children over and we began this wonderful four years of life in Scotland.

Ray: Yes, we did make a big financial commitment and short term, it was very costly. When we came back on the flight four years later, I had a quarter and a dime in my pocket. We literally had 35 cents to our name. And long term, it has worked out really well and we have no regrets. It worked out financially really well, in God’s mercy.

Jani: Yes, absolutely. No regrets. That’s what I want this lady who sent in the question to understand. Looking back, I was scared. But I ended up being more frightened of not being willing to follow the Lord. That held a deeper consequence for me than my own fears of, “Oh, what could happen? Would it be good for the children? Would it be good for me?” Well, trust the Lord and find out. He withholds no good thing from his children.

Trust the Lord and find out. He withholds no good thing from his children.

Ray: Well, darling, to your credit, though, I mean, you were asking the practical questions like, “How is this actually going to work?” I would just, you know, enthusing, “Oh, let’s go take that hill”. And you were right to ask all those practical questions. We had three children to take into account. We had very significant responsibilities. And I suppose, sweetheart, that my confidence and exuberance contributed to the eventual outcome. But your caution and reservations also contributed. Because by asking those questions, at the level of practical execution, you helped me think it through at a deeper level.

Jani: So what we’re saying is, talk it through.

Ray: Yeah.

Jani: Be open and honest with each other. Trust the Lord in it. Don’t worry about your dreams and plans and timing. Trust the Lord’s timing. This might be the absolute perfect time for you or you might need to wait a little while. Look to the Lord, He will show you.

Living With a Heart of Expectancy

Ray: You know, a verse that, two verses actually, that come to my mind when we think about this, honey, are Psalm 27:13-14. David says,

“I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”

Psalm 27:13

So he looks out into his future with a heart of expectancy. Not dread, but expectancy because what’s out there awaiting him is more and more of the goodness of the Lord. So here’s what he does with that expectancy right now.

“Wait for the Lord. Be strong and let your heart take courage, wait for the Lord.”

Psalm 27:14

So I would say to the husband who wants to, who like me has this crazy idea of going off and getting a PhD, wait for the Lord. Don’t rush it. Don’t force the issue. Be patient, be gentle. Listen to your wife. No one on the face of the earth loves you more or understands you better than your wife. She’s your best counselor. Listen to her and wait on the Lord. If God is in it, he will open the way. And commonly, don’t we all know, commonly the Lord takes time to reveal His will. That’s why the Bible so often says “wait on the Lord”. If we’re really seeking God’s will and glory, if we want to fulfill the mission he has given us in life, and it will be difficult at times and we will take big steps of faith at times, how can it injure us or diminish us to wait on the Lord and create space where God can step in and make things clearer?

How can it injure us or diminish us to wait on the Lord and create space where God can step in and make things clearer?

Jani: That’s so good. As you’re speaking to the husbands, do you have any wisdom for us wives whose husbands are asking that? How about I believe that I shall see?

Ray: Yeah. Oh, that’s good, Jani. Yeah, that same expectancy. It’s a great fit for a wife’s heart too.

Jani: Yes. God is not trying to just bless your husband and ruin your life in the process. He sees you as a unit. And you will see the goodness of the Lord

Ray: And a couple can grab onto this together. We believe that we shall “look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” in this lifetime. We will live out a story of the goodness of the Lord.

A Possibility for Support

I have one other thought though. Can I just before we move on? Okay. Here’s a crazy thought. So, let’s say he’s an elder in the church, he’s a pastor, he’s a teacher in the church, my memory, I didn’t have time to check it out honey but as I recall, in Calvin’s church in Geneva, they would notice the younger men in the church who had gifts in preaching and teaching and they would support them financially while they did their advanced degrees, their graduate, what we call today PhDs and grad work, and so forth. So they would invest in these young guys, and support them in return for future years of service ministry and partnership. So maybe there’s a way to negotiate an agreement with your church such that they commit to you to get you through the program, and you commit to them to come back for X number of years and say thank you by serving them out of the abundance and benefit of that doctoral work.

Jani: What a wonderful idea, Ray. Maybe God will use that in some couple’s life as they consider a PhD program ahead of them.

Ray: It would be a farsighted and wise commitment for a church to make with a gifted man.

Jani: Yes, it really would. Wow. Well, hopefully that has helped this couple and let us know if you do decide to go for your PhD. We’d love to hear about it.

Question 2: Dealing with criticism against my pastor husband

Well, we have another question, Ray, that I’d like your wisdom on. You and I have dealt with this. Here’s the question, how to deal with criticism against my pastor husband? Whoa, that’s a big one, isn’t it?

Ray: It is and there’s pain behind that question.

Jani: Yes. She obviously has dealt with criticism. Ray, can you speak to this at all? Do you want me to start off?

Ray: Well, whatever you want, sweetheart.

Stick Up For Him

Jani: I’ll start off. I think the best way you can deal with criticism against your husband, obviously you’re hearing it or reading it on social media, or someone has come to you, I say, stick up for him. Your man needs an advocate. He needs a friend, he needs someone for whom he doesn’t have to be perfect all the time. He needs someone who likes him just the way he is and isn’t trying to fix him or change him. Ask God to give you a heart, that sticks up for your man.

Also, I would encourage you not to meditate on the criticism. This is a mistake I’ve made honey, when I hear some criticism of you or of me or of us, I tend to rehearse it in my mind, I tend to go over it again and again and think what I would say or if they only knew this about you or me.

Ray: I could set the record straight.

Jani: Yes, I kind of cling to it. And I replay it over and over again. I meditate on it rather than meditating on the Word of God. And my advice would be, offer that criticism as a sweet sacrifice up to the Lord and say, “Lord, I can’t really do anything about this at this point, so I’m going to give it to you. And I’m not going to invest in it in my mind, in my heart, in my soul.”

There Is More Beneath The Surface

Ray: You know, I have several thoughts, darling. One is when I hear a church person criticizing, grousing, fault-finding, for many years, I didn’t understand what was actually happening in that moment. What was actually happening is this person is not experiencing Jesus deeply enough to feel healed and energized and loved by him. So there’s some dark energy surging in their heart. There’s some form of misery eating at them within. And it just comes out through this negative finger pointing at the pastor or whatever. But I do think it calls for understanding and compassion.

Jani: Oh, that’s good. I don’t often have much of that. But that’s so true.

Ray: I don’t either but when I began to realize the profound unhappiness, indeed misery, sometimes even despair, that church people are sort of lugging into church Sunday by Sunday. It helped me realize this really isn’t about me. Do I have shortcomings and flat sides? Sure. But that’s not what this is about. What this precious person needs is a deeper experience of the love of Jesus. That would really help and that’s what I’m there for. So cool. I’m all in.

Jani: So what does the wife do with that? She just sees that person as needy and not take that criticism to heart?

We Can Redefine Crisis

Ray: Yes, that’s right. It’s not really about her husband. It’s not really about her. It’s painful. Yes. But here’s, you know, sweetheart, we can also redefine crisis. Someone’s speaking against you or your pastor husband. That is not a crisis. It would be a crisis, if Jesus were to speak against you, or against your pastor husband. Now, that would be the end of the world. But that’s not who he is. It’s not what he’s going to do.

I’m always helped by 2 Timothy 4:17, when Paul says he was kind of put on the spot in front of Caesar, and he says,

“But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me…”

2 Timothy 4:17

So Paul was standing there, everything was on the line and there was Caesar sitting there, 10-15 feet away on his throne, you know, with Roman soldiers around and senators and everybody. Paul is standing there, perhaps handcuffed, he has to give an account of himself. And as he speaking, he suddenly feels this arm come around his shoulder and give him a squeeze. He says, “The Lord stood by me and strengthened me”. He sensed in his heart, the presence of the Lord, and the voice of the Lord saying, “that guy sitting on that throne over there, don’t worry about him. I’m here. And I think you’re doing really well. And you just keep going.”

Jani: Oh, that’s so good. So a wife could remind her husband of this verse. Give us the reference again.

Ray: 2 Timothy 4:17 and Jani, the Lord will never change. That crisis will never happen. Yes, the fault-finders and critics in this world will come and go. Jesus has come and will never go. And that’s how he feels about us.

Jani: Let’s remember that, dear wife of a pastor, who has been criticized, remember that.

Jani’s Own Question: Can I pass along criticism?

Darling, before we we close this out, I just want to ask you, do you think it’s ever good for a wife to pass along criticism that she’s heard?

Ray: That’s a tough question. If it’s mere criticism, it might be better not to. Indeed it might be better for the pastor’s wife, you know, they didn’t get married, so that they could pass on to one another the ridiculous, foolish, petty criticisms of this world. That’s not why they got married.

Jani: That’s for sure.

Ray: They got married because they just wanted to have a blast being friends and allies and lovers. So guard that experience. If there are people who are opposing the pastor in the church, it is the elders who are responsible to serve at that point of delicacy and awkwardness. But if it’s a very serious, like a threat coming at a pastor, then of course, that’s that’s a different matter.

Why We Do What We Do

But let’s always remember, sweetheart, and this is so meaningful to you and me, every listener deeply understands this with us. 2 Corinthians 12:10, the apostle Paul says,

“For the sake of Christ, then…”

2 Corinthians 12:10

And that’s why we’re doing this. That’s why we’re in ministry. It’s not for the sake of our popularity and our platform.

Jani: Our reputation.

“For the sake of Christ then, I am pleased with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities for when I am weak, then I am strong.”

2 Corinthians 12:10

Ray: Because the risen Christ has just told him, as he tells us, that my power is made perfect in weakness. In other words, the most perfect landing place for the all-sufficient power of the risen Christ is a human being who is finding life hard to bear for lots of reasons. And criticism is extremely hard to bear. There is no pain like church pain. And that is where the risen Jesus loves to come and when his faithful servants are insulted, he is able to actually flip that into greater power, resurrection power, because we all go through the experience of rejection, death, resurrection repeatedly. And we follow him there from rejection through death into resurrection over and over again. And that is how the gospel advances in the world today.

Jani: And we get to be a part of it.

Ray: That’s right.

Jani: Oh thank you, Lord.

Ray: Yeah. Amen.

Jani: Well, may the Lord use these few words to restore your soul.

Thank You

Thank you for joining us today. This podcast is generously funded through Renewal Ministries. If you would like to discover more about Jani and Ray’s ministry or make a donation, visit their website at renewalministries.com. If you have a question for Jani or would like to learn more about this podcast, please visit our website at herestoresmysoul.org.

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About The Podcast

He Restores My Soul with Jani Ortlund seeks to encourage women with God’s renewing power for their busy lives. Episodes include relevant biblical teaching, stimulating gospel conversations with other Christians, and “Ask Jani” sessions where we talk about what’s on our listeners’ hearts.

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