“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?
It is hard for you to kick against the goads.
And I said, Who are you, Lord?’
And the Lord said, I am Jesus
whom you are persecuting.”
Friends in Christ sometimes ask how my marriage to a Muslim has informed my faith and call to ministry. When they know my wife, Maryam, they do not question why I fell in love with her. In fact, Maryam frequently reminds me that I won the lottery when I married her. But the faith and ministry question challenged me for many years and required greater self-knowledge and theological insight than I could muster at first.
For many years, I believed that I attended seminary in spite of my wife, but I came to understand that I attended seminary because of my wife.
When Maryam and I married in 1984, I asked her to attend church as a condition for our marriage, which she did faithfully until our kids grew up and attended college, confident that the Holy Spirit would work in her life to bring her to faith. When this did not happen, I became convicted of my own negligence in witness and began to explore my own faith more deeply hoping to become a better witness, not only to Maryam but also our children. As I witnessed to them, my faith blossomed and I found my call to ministry to others, even as Maryam remained a Muslim. Stubborn as I failed to recognize God’s call on my life, Maryam served as God’s goad—a prod to action—in my life to bring me to himself.
The Prophet Hosea also married an improbable wife and used her sin to highlight the idolatry of the Nation of Israel (Hos 1:2-3). While not mentioned in the text, I can picture Gomer as a stunningly beauty woman that God used to goad Hosea into realizing his prophet call and to draw attention to the nation’s idolatry.
Idolatry also figures prominently in the call of the Apostle Paul, whom the risen Christ accused of kicking against the goads, as cited above. In describing himself before he came to faith in Christ, Paul reported:
If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. (Phil 3:4-6)
Paul’s idolatry took the form of being zealous for the law. When we zealously prosecute the law—beit Mosasic, Islamic, secular, or even physical law—rather than almighty God who created the law, we commit idolatry. Or when we work zealously and worship God sparingly, as I did, we commit idolatry and come under judgment.
Consequently, I believe that God placed Maryam in my life to goad me into a deeper faith and to realize my call to ministry.
Thanks be to God!
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