What Really Matters
There are times in ministry when God places people in your life for specific reasons. God uses these people as an example for us to see Christ. I like to call them Christ-reflectors. Undoubtedly, we are to be Christ-like. We should mirror our Maker. But at times we forget what that means in everyday practical life. Such was a time in my life when I was focused on the “ministry” and not focused on simply being Christ-like. God used Mattie to remind me of what really matters.
Unfortunately, the lifestyles between the typical American and the typical Christian are, well, typical. Not much difference exists between the two. About 25% of born-again believers are likely to view sexually explicit movies and magazines, use profanity in public, or by a lottery ticket. About 33% of non-Christians are likely to engage in the same activities. In fact, the most common activity shared between Americans is recycling. As noble as recycling is, what a glorious day when surveys reveal the thread that ties this nation together is Jesus Christ, not recycling.
Mattie was no typical American. She was rock-solid in her faith. I was her pastor, but she taught me so much. At a time when I was worried about growing the church, discipling others, and putting air conditioning in the sanctuary (yes, my first church had no A/C), she quietly reflected Christ through a tragedy.
I received the call late one evening from her husband, Billy Joe. He was matter-of-fact. Mattie had been diagnosed with cancer and was to undergo a full mastectomy the following day. While I did my best to comfort him, he and Mattie were already putting it all on the alter. I have never seen such an upbeat couple at the moment of one of their darkest hours.
Visiting them that Saturday following the surgery, I walked into the hospital room to see Mattie laughing – Billy Joe was cutting up with her like he always did. She had a hearty laugh. Billy Joe was a large graying man, and he talked so fast you could only pick up two or three words of an entire sentence. But he knew how to make her smile. When you talked to Mattie, she would always smile and nod with you in agreement. Even in the hospital bed, her cheeks were rosy. When I said hello, she nodded with an “mmmhummn.”
She was in a lot of pain, but she was reflecting Christ’s joy though the whole ordeal. She could tell I was somewhat uncomfortable with their contagious laughter. After all, I was the pastor going to counsel a couple going through a tremendously rough time. I didn’t quite know how to handle their positive attitudes. So she decided to lighten up the atmosphere by showing me the sealed plastic pouch that was catching all the drainage from her surgery. She laughed even harder when she saw the look on my face as she detailed all about her surgery. Needless to say, Mattie and Billy Joe were rough around the edges.
But their roughness rubbed me the right way. I saw Christ in their lives through-and-through. While Billy Joe stayed beside her the entire time, he never missed church. He was my only usher to take the offering and say the offertory prayer. He knew that the church needed him. Mattie knew that was his part in serving Christ.
The Sunday Mattie returned was a surprise. She wasn’t too far removed from her surgery when halfway through the service she and Billy Joe walked in. I typically do not tear up during a sermon. But I stopped the service in the middle of my sermon and in tears welcomed back God’s faithful servants. That day, God used Mattie to change my perspective. God utilized her faithfulness to show me I didn’t have to do it all, that I am not my own foundation, that my own talents and abilities will never be properly utilized apart from His guidance. God used her to show this pastor what really matters.