If you are
- a woman engaged in full-time ministry or
- the wife of a man in full-time ministry or
- a missionary,
you are probably at risk of running on empty.
If this describes you, have I ever got a book you need to put on your reading list – Running on Empty: The Gospel for Women in Ministry by Barbara Bancroft. With experience as a church planter’s wife and as a foreign missionary wife, Barbara is well qualified to write to other women in ministry. She writes honestly and directly but with compassion and grace.
In the very first chapter Barbara addresses the fact that ministry can bring out the worst in us. We are faced with situations that are too hard for us. For instance, no one told me that being married to the pastor’s wife would mean having to bite my tongue while some crazy woman made a list of my husband’s faults. No one told me that as an inexperienced 21-year-old I was going to be trying to help an abused teenage girl. Barbara truthfully writes, “Ministry confronts us with our insufficiency over and over.” Ministry pushes us every day to remember who we are in Christ and to move forward in His strength alone. As Barbara says, “A heart abiding in Christ is prepared for ministry when it comes.”
The first chapter had me hooked and I wanted to read more. The second chapter took me off guard. The title is “Proverbs 31 Remix”. I’ve been a Christian wife for almost 36 years. I have heard Proverbs 31 taught and preached more times than I can count. There was a time when I could barely read that chapter because it filled me with guilt about all that I was not. Barbara says that most women feel the same way I did, but her perspective changes everything.
“Since the coming of Christ changed how we read the Old Testament, it would be good to see how his coming changes our understanding and application of this passage. We might begin by viewing King Lemuel as a ‘type’ or forerunner of Christ.” She says that the way we normally apply Proverbs 31 makes us the center of the discussion. But “with Christ as our focus, we can appreciate the amazing truths this passage reveals. Our King’s bountiful provision for us, his bride, gives us all we need to be extravagantly creative as we love and serve him and seek to bless those around us.” Proverbs 31 is not a checklist for the Christian wife but is a treasury of the abundant wealth the King showers out on us as His precious bride.
“It is from the wealth of the king and her position as his wife that the virtuous woman is able to be and do all the things represented in this passage. Out of that relationship she prospers, and from his resources she is blessed and able to bless others.” And one last quote from this chapter – “Christ deeply loves and rejoices over his bride. Our faith and ability to trust him and step into ministry grow stronger as we understand that we are the ones he has chosen.”
After just these first two chapters I was in love with this book and felt like Barbara Bancroft was my friend in ministry. The rest of the book is just as wonderful although reading some of it and thinking through the ideas was more than difficult. Barbara pushed me to face up to some sins that I had buried and that had made ministry so much harder and less fulfilling than it should be. Chapters 7 and 8, titled “Fair is a Four-Letter Word” and “The Pit of Entitlement and Envy” were pretty rough, but I am so glad that I continued to read and that God used what I read to show me myself and his acceptance and forgiveness.
Throughout the book, Barbara directs our attention away from ourselves and away from our weaknesses and turns it to Christ and to His strength that He offers so freely through the Gospel. She reminds us that the Gospel is not just the power of God for salvation, but it is the power of God for us to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.
If you’re feeling like life isn’t fair – that ministry is too hard for you – that nobody really cares how hard you work in your area of ministry – that you’re running on empty, please pick up a copy of Barbara Bancroft’s book. Read it slowly and thoughtfully and let God use it to fill you back up.