WALKING w/ WESLEY & Lessons He Learned from Falling in Love With a Woman & With Ministry

by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D., 2/7/16. Excerpted from the upcoming 40-day devlotional guide: Walking w/ Wesley: The 40-day METHOD for Turning Trials into Triumphs.

Week 2, Day 2…………………………….. Falling in Love With a Woman & With Ministry

Life was hard in Savannah, Georgia in 1736. Disease, death and the harsh wilderness weather affected many. Not surprisingly both John and Charles Wesley suffered bouts of serious illness. During one such bout, John recalled how a young church member, Sophia Hopke (known as Sophy), “Sat by my bed, read several prayers, and prepared whatever I wanted with the diligence, care, and tenderness not to be expressed.” Governor Oglethorpe encouraged the relationship thinking that a wife might do Wesley good. Though Wesley wrote in his journal regarding his tender feelings for Sophy, she made clear her intention was to remain single.[1] But, she was engaged to a reportedly mean and violent man. When John asked Sophy about this, she replied, “I am every way unhappy. I won’t have Tommy, for he is a bad man. And I can have none else.”[2] Facing such a marital and spiritual predicament, Sophy asked John to tutor her in spirituality. An affectionate relationship began to take shape.

John fell in love with Sophy, writing in his journal how he was charmed by “her words, her eyes, her air, her every motion and gesture.”[3] But, such emotions seemed to draw him away from his singular fixation on ministry. He felt his affection for Sophy was dividing his attention for ministry and in addition, she was betrothed to another. Thus, began John’s struggle. John sketched out reasons not to marry: a) she was already engaged, b) he was absorbed in a demanding ministry to Native Americans and c) she had declared her desire never to marry, but serve Christ alone. In response, John’s methodological mind devised rules, resolutions and reasons that built a wall between him and the woman he loved.

John told Sophy that he had decided not to make any decision until he had established a ministry to the Native Americans. Her response was cool, to say the least. Shortly after, she ended the tutoring. Then Sophy informed John that she had consented to a marriage proposal from a ham-fisted and irreligious Mr. Williamson, “unless you (John) have anything to object.”[4] John wrote, “to see her no more, that thought was as the piercings of a sword”[5] but he felt he must choose ministry over marriage.

Since his first encounter with her, when she nursed him back to health, John sensed that Sophy’s spirituality and tenderness were part of the support he needed to pursue ministry in the New World. Yet, by seeing these foundations as competitive, rather than complementary Wesley made a ministry error common among young leaders. Focusing solely on the needs of others clouded his need for a supportive soul mate.

First, it is important to see ministry and family as not competitive forces, but complementary ones. John’s task was so daunting that he rarely took time away from his work, which created strain, ill health and led to poor choices. The first lesson is that God provides friends and spouses as a support network for ministry. Trying to do ministry without the assistance of others, regardless of how important the ministry may be, will lead to impaired results.

Secondly, it is important to understand that rules and regulations (e.g. the “methods” he learned from his mother) can become a cage if a sensitive heart does not temper them. When he found himself thinking of Sophy too often, he set up rules, resolutions and lists of reasons not to take a wife. His heart was divided and it destroyed his sense of peace, which eventually affected his judgment. You will learn more about his errors in judgment tomorrow.

Lessons 1 & 2

For personal devotion, read the questions and meditate upon each and write down your responses. For group discussion, share as appropriate your answers with your group and then discuss the application.

(Lesson 1) Ask yourself, who do you look to as a support network for your ministry? Name them and write down the last time you were with them. Did you seek their prayers, encouragement and a listening ear? After his vision of the dry bones, God reminded Ezekiel that God would unite a nation that hitherto had been estranged, saying, (37:15-22).

The Lord’s word came to me: You, human one, take a stick, and write on it, “Belonging to Judah and to the Israelites associated with him.” Take another stick and write on it, “Stick of Ephraim belonging to Joseph and everyone of the house of Israel associated with him.” Join them to each other to make a single stick so that they become one stick in your hand. When your people ask you, “Why won’t you tell us what these sticks mean to you?” say to them, The Lord God proclaims: I’m taking Joseph’s stick, which has been in Ephraim’s hand, and the tribes of Israel associated with him, and I’m putting it with Judah’s stick, and I’m making them into a single stick so that they will be one stick in my hand. When the two sticks that you’ve written on are in your hand in their sight, speak to them, This is what the Lord God says: I will take the Israelites from among the nations where they’ve gone, I will gather them from all around, and I will bring them to their fertile land. I will make them into a single nation in the land on Israel’s highlands. There will be just one king for all of them. They will no longer be two nations, and they will no longer be divided into two kingdoms.

God can unite even estranged nations like Israel and Judah. Draw up a plan for regular times of prayer, Bible study and encouragement with a support network. Create one from scratch if you must. Add to this plan an ongoing schedule to ensure that you do not neglect those that support you.

(Lesson 2) Ask yourself, “Do I depend on rules and regulations to keep me focused? What part does my love of God and the love I receive from others play in this? Do these requirements I put upon myself sometimes steal my time away from accountability by family and friends?”

Accountability should be more than methods, it should be people too. What part of your support network is also your accountability network? Again write down a schedule to ensure that you are held accountable.

Footnotes:

[1] Reginald Ward and Richard P. Heitzenrater, ed.s The Works of John Wesley, Bicentennial ed., vol. 18, Journals and Dairies (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1988), p. 435-436.

[2] Ibid. p. 438.

[3] Ibid., p. 477-478.

[4] Ibid., p. 485.

[5] Ibid.

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