Allow me to introduce Mark and Joan Eilers, two wonderful people who love the Lord and have learned to submit to Jesus’ lordship in their lives. They acknowledge that not too many years ago their marriage and ministry were marked by pride and selfishness; each admits to having done things “my way”.
Through God’s Word and some difficult trials in their lives, they, at different times, came to understand they were living self-centered lives, often in their own strength and authority. They wanted to do God’s will but often got in His way instead. Joan points out, “You can have zeal for the Lord and still not recognize your self-centeredness, your pride.”
Mark and Joan both have learned that doing things their way produces limited results at best, and at worst, chaos. God tells us in Isaiah 55 that His ways and thoughts are not ours. For many years, both Mark and Joan were confident that they knew how things should go in their family, the workplace, and in ministry. They learned that doing God’s work our way or in our strength fails to bring the outcomes that God might prefer; however, when we submit and obey, God promises in Romans 8:28-29 that God is working all things out for our good. Thus, we are being conformed more and more to Christ.
The pressures and trials have been long and arduous for the Eilers. In addition to marital difficulties over the years, one of their children, Blake, suffered a chronic illness as a child and then was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor at eighteen. One moment Blake was an athlete competing nationally with academic scholarships and the promise of a bright future; the next moment, his very survival was in question and school, scholarships, and athletic career came to an abrupt halt.
Jesus says in Luke 9:23-24, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” As the Lord carried the Eilers through Blake’s ordeal, Joan was blessed to experience God's faithfulness anew while Mark describes how as a successful emergency physician confident of his ability to handle crises, he became angry and bitter at God. God didn't abandon Mark, however. In recalling how his eyes were opened in the ensuing years, Mark says, “All of a sudden it’s like the fog lifted," the fog of pride, idolatry, and unbelief.
Joan had to have her eyes further opened as well. She realized that she had been playing God in terms of her expectations and her efforts to control how her husband should respond to the Lord. She was sobered to realize that denying herself really meant saying “No”– a simple concept, but one that had previously escaped her. She began to repent, learning to trust the Lord with everything – big and small. She saw that it had been far easier for her to trust the Lord with her son’s cancer than with her husband’s walk with Jesus. She realized, “If I can’t remember where I put my keys, what makes me think I can figure out how Mark should respond to the Lord?” Through decades in the Word and biblical counseling training begun five years ago, Joan began saying "No" to the urge to believe that she knew best, instead growing to trust God’s sovereignty, love, and power, thus becoming a woman whose trust IS the Lord (Jeremiah 17:7)
Now depending more on God, both husband and wife are growing in their marriage and disciple-making through their house church ministry and biblical counseling at Apex. They are finding great joy and satisfaction in doing things God’s way. Joan emphasizes “We’re not going to truly put God first if we’re not going to say no to self.” Mark adds, “There’s too much competition otherwise. You can paste it all on outside, but unless it’s real, it’s all external stuff. People may see a difference, but it’s not different at the core, in your heart.”
In Joan’s words: “I don’t view house church now from a self-centered perspective. I endeavor by the grace of God to love well: to equip, build, and help people grow in Christ. That wasn’t always the case. We don't come to our weekly meetings now with expectations as to how people should do things or when they should do them. So what I did wrong with my husband for many years, God now has redeemed to help me in house church ministry. It’s not my agenda how people should change or when; that’s God’s work. My marriage was good practice for learning to love well, being obedient to what God says and letting Him control the outcome.”
Surrendering to the Spirit's control instead of trying to take His place has led to far better things than they had ever anticipated; the joy they share in serving Christ together is greater than they ever dreamed or thought possible.
Author: Jonathan Allain