Our topic for today is the person who has been the greatest spiritual influence in our lives. If you want to give a shout out to the person who has helped you spiritually, please leave a comment.
The person who has most influenced me spiritually is my husband. It makes sense; he is the Christian I've known the longest, and from the moment I met him, I could see that there was something different about him. Perhaps it is not the most original thing to say he has been my greatest influence, but I can't think of anyone who has been an influence at as many points in my life as he has.
My husband and I can be honest with each other about our spiritual lives. There have been times in the past where his comments, though hard to hear, have been exactly what I needed. Many years ago, as I struggled to adjust living in a new place, I lamented that it could not possibly be God's will that I struggle so much. My husband said quite simply, "Maybe it is." Later, when we were going through the hard years of parenting teens, it was my husband who reminded me not to let my pride interfere with my expectations. And when things with our teens became difficult, he was never bitter toward them or showed any sign that he did not love them despite our disapproval of their choices.
During the time when I struggled with heavy anxiety, I was often unable to even leave the house, and I found being alone a great struggle. During that time, my husband demonstrated compassion despite not always understanding what was going on in my head and heart. He patiently served me and cared for me. Some days, he would work at home so I would not have to be alone. When he couldn't be home, and he was concerned about me, he would solicit the help of our kids to be with me. And he did it without judgment. There were no exhortations of "Pray the anxiety away." He is a true servant; uncomplaining and never seeking accolades. He reminds me regularly that service to God is not self-seeking, that real love is not self-seeking. He would he has arrived spiritually himself. I am thankful for the example he's live in front of me.
The person who has had the greatest spiritual influence on my life is my pastor, Ryan Davidson. We had joined the church shortly before he was called as pastor. These have been years of change and growth for me as a believer and mainly the result of a steady diet of sound preaching. Nothing fancy but the ordinary means of grace for which I am very thankful.
Specifically, there are two highlights that stand out to me. Several years ago, Pastor Ryan taught hermeneutics at a seminary in Uganda. When he returned, he taught the same course to the women in the church. We didn’t have homework or tests, but the content was basically the same. It was a great learning experience, and I still try to apply those tools today. But it also speaks volumes that our pastor wanted to make sure that the women in the church would be equipped to be good students of the Word. The second highlight was the sermon series on the Doctrine of God. This was truly one series that I didn't want to end and one I don’t think I will ever forget. I felt as though the curtain was pulled back, and I got a little glimpse of the majesty and character of the Triune God like I never had seen before. This led to great post-sermon discussions at home. These teachings were very practical as well because everything springs from knowing God. Providentially, Pastor Ryan preached these sermons prior to the Trinity Debate of 2016, so this topic was already fresh on my mind.
There were also several difficult years during which my family went through a major crisis. Pastor Ryan and his wife, Christie, were such a help with their presence as well as wise counsel. My daughter and I would not have made it to the other side without them and the church body. I thank God for my pastor, and I am grateful for the influence he has had on my life.
Until I left home, my father was my pastor. Most of the sermons I heard as a child were his. He had a talent for making deep things simple to understand, so even as a little girl I listened to the sermons and learned from them.
But I didn’t just learn from his sermons. My dad loved nothing more than answering questions about God and the things of God that his daughters asked. Many nights we lingered over the supper table while he answered our questions, often going deeper—and longer—than we’d intended when we asked. He was especially skilled at explaining how the truths he was teaching us fit together. Over time, truth by truth, he gave us a thoroughly Christian worldview. I credit my dad for my love of theology. He loved it, and his passion was contagious.
It was only as I left home and went to Bible college that I realized how unusual my upbringing was. Most of the young Christian adults I met there—particularly the young women—didn’t have anything close to the biblical and theological background I did. I was surprised at the basic truths they didn’t know, and this left them vulnerable to sub-christian influences and ideas. I was thankful then for the grounding my father’s teaching gave me.
But most of all, my dad was an example of a servant leader. He loved the people in his congregations, the students he taught, his wife, his daughters, their husbands, and his grandchildren. He was always willing to serve—and no job was beneath him. One of the most moving moments of my life was arriving at my husband’s hospital room to find my elderly father emptying his bed pan. Throughout his life, my father modeled Christ-like love and humility for me.
Although I didn't grow up in a Christian home, my dad was my greatest life influence overall. Someone recently asked a large group of Christian women what we liked about growing up as a girl in our respective generations. I had to answer that if it had not been for my relationship with my dad (who is still the best man I know, by the way), I'm not sure I would have had anything good to say about growing up as a girl. You see, my mom wanted Jane Bennett, but she got something closer to Lizzie when she adopted me.
In my relationship with my dad, it was okay that I liked to dig in the sand, run in the woods, and shoot bows and arrows with the boys in my neighborhood. Yet, when I came home, he still treated me like his little girl. He encouraged my intellectual curiosity and my natural interest in questioning assumptions. If it had not been for my dad, I would have grown up believing I was a failure as a girl. I never fit the stereotypical picture, played with dolls, or enjoyed the things my mom and most of the rest of society expected. My dad made it okay for me to enjoy playing baseball and learning about cars without wanting to be a boy like my brothers. Looking back, I'm immensely grateful for having my dad in my life. A few years ago, I bought a house down the street from him, so I can still see him as often as possible.
On the topic of spiritual influence and the Christian side of my walk, there have been so many women and men who have impacted my life over the years that it's difficult to chose just one. On this score, I need to give a big shout out to one of the most wise, Godly, and gracious women I know. Her teaching and distant friendship truly gave me the seedlings of passion for the Church, for being a Christian woman, and for being involved in women's ministry in my denomination. When Tara Barthel, author of Peacemaking Women and The Peacemaking Church, spoke at our women's presbytery conference about 12 years ago, I was at a crossroads in my spiritual walk. That day was a crucial turning point for me in terms of commitment to the church and my love for being a Biblical, Christian woman. I'm grateful to know Tara from a distance over these many years and will always be grateful for her ministry.