Get wisdom, get understanding; do not forget my words or turn away from them. Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you. The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have,get understanding. Proverbs 4:5-7
The writer of the Book of Proverbs personified wisdom in the feminine form saying, “Exalt her...embrace her...” At the same time, he wrote, “My father spoke to me when I was tender and the only one in the sight of my mother” (4:3). That reminds me of the way most parenting is done. Fathers give directives, while mothers massage those things into a child’s understanding.
My mother, Dolores Hayford, instilled lasting wisdom in my life. No less than all she imparted to me in early years, an incident happened near the end of her life represents a deeply significant moment in my 63 years of walking beside her as a son.
It was the spring of 1997. My mother was 81 years of age and dying of a very painful cancer. I had returned home from visiting her in the hospital and bowed to pray. “Lord, You know Mamma is ready to go home and be with You. Her heart is humble and righteous before You, and she loves Your Son Jesus. Lord, release her from this pain and take her home.” Take my Mamma home.
I labored over that, not trying to dictate to God but imploring Him with the passion I felt as a son watching my mother suffer so much. But mid-prayer, the Lord interrupted me. “Child, you do not need to remind Me of My appointment with My daughter Dolores.” I was mindful that Scripture says it is “appointed” for us to die, meaning God knows in advance the time of our home-going.
“Your task is not to pray for her release,” He said. “Your task is to pray for her healing. It will be up to Me how that healing comes—whether she moves into the realm of eternal health, or to temporal health and a later time of coming into My presence. I will take care of her; I yet have matters to deal with My daughter about.”
A few days later at Mamma’s bedside, I shared that with her. She took my hand and said, “Son, I trust the Lord and whatever He wants to do to shape the image of Jesus in me.”
Called to God’s Purpose... Conformed to His Image
The preoccupying concern in my mother’s life was related to being conformed to God’s image, as stated in Romans 8:29. We love verse 28: “All things work together for good to those who love the Lord...” But the verse continues, “…to those who are called according to His purpose.” And that purpose is defined in verse 29: “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.”
Conformity to the image of Christ does not mean becoming a rigid, pious person. It means having in ourselves the warmth, genuineness and beauty of Jesus that was so attractive about Him. That value was compulsive to my mother. Even when pain wracked her body, she wanted the completion of the Father’s purpose in her more than she wanted to be released from her pain.
Both my wife Anna and I agree that the heritage left to us by our parents was a commitment to the truth of God’s Word, and the simplicity of life in Jesus Christ works. You don’t have to become “religious.” Simply walking in the truth and love of God will open the way for His power and wholeness to flow. So in honoring what God’s truth meant to her and our family, let me share with you three values instilled in me by my mother’s wisdom.
1. My IDENTITY is in Christ, not “church”
“Son, no church has a corner on truth.” After graduation, Anna and I went to visit my folks before heading to our first ministry assignment. In the kitchen one day, Mamma asked me, “Well, son, how do you feel now about the things you’ve learned, and how you are going to minister them?”
It seemed a peculiar question because I thought she knew exactly what our values and goals were in preaching. “What do you mean, Mamma?” I said. She stopped what she was doing, wiped her hands on a dishtowel and asked me again what I thought about what I believed. I gave her an explanation that included the Word of God and the principles of our Foursquare Church. She nodded. “Son, you know I believe that too. The gospel is the gospel. But remember this, no group of believers has a corner on the truth.”
Having a “corner” on something means that you control the market. Mamma’s words ricocheted through my system. She had agreed that the gospel was the gospel, and that the Bible was the authority. “But Mamma,” I asked, “Everything we believe is right, isn’t it?”
“Of course,” she said. “That’s not the issue. It’s the multiple ways in which people see the precious truths of Jesus, and how sadly often believers oppose one another because of differences in their approach to worship styles or focus.”
Even in the Church, where there is agreement that Jesus is Savior, that He died for our sins and the Bible is the Word of God, there exists the human disposition to be “more right” than someone else. It creates lovelessness in an atmosphere where love is supposed to dominate. It’s not just theology but yesterday’s arguments that divide people. We may say we’re holding to principles, but really it’s about possessing turf.
While I don’t think I would have ever become a sectarian fanatic, that conversation continues to shape my life and leadership to this day. Dolores Hayford taught me how to be a “bridge builder.” The truth of the gospel is not to be dabbled with, but different aspects of the wonderful truths of God’s Word can be understood or received in different ways. I am not called to be arrogant, divisive or unforgiving toward those who are different. I am called to keep my eyes on Jesus and to love the people around me. My identity is in Him.
2. My ACCOUNTABILITY for my heart is before God
“I want to ask you a question, in front of Jesus.” Mamma had a method for confronting the tendency we have to fudge on the truth. Not to outright lie, but to withhold just enough to keep yourself safe.
We lived in a believing home, and we really believed that Jesus lived there with us. Mamma didn’t use this expression all the time, only when asking about a special situation. She would say, “Son, I want to ask you a question, in front of Jesus.” It was sobering whenever she said that. I knew a profound issue was about to be inquired into, and was reminded that Jesus really was right there. In my mind, it would be as if we were standing before His throne.
When Jesus promises, “Lo, I am with you always,” that includes monitoring our life and guarding us against things that can be destructive. The wisdom of knowing my life is lived in front of Jesus has been central to my character and behavior all these years. I know that I am always accountable for my heart before God.
3. My DUTY is to live wisely and fruitfully
I was about 16 years old when, as our family sat down to dinner one evening, my dad said, “Before we pray, your mother has something that I want her to tell us as a result of a dream she had.”
Mamma told of a dream in which she was wandering alone in an exceedingly dark place. The sky was black and void. The hillside was black with soot, as if everything on it had been burnt by fire. She had no idea where she was, and she felt afraid. Then a voice sounded: “My daughter, it is too late for you to be wandering among the barren places.” And the dream was over.
Mamma said that when she woke up, she realized the Lord was correcting her with regard to an issue in her soul. Not a commitment to sin but to things that were wasteful and unproductive. To forgetting that we’re called to live wisely and fruitfully. It was a call to overcome that preoccupying selfishness that will dominate every one of us unto an absence of the fulfillment God has for us at every point and in every season of our life. Even on a death bed, when you wish you could be released from pain. Even then, there could still come fruitfulness.
The beauty of that word to my mother was not just its summons to the hour, but also to the expectation of fruitfulness by the investment God has made in us. “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light, for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth” (Eph. 5:7).
In the autumn of 1997, five months after the Lord’s word to me, Mamma went to heaven, where the Bible says there is no more pain and no more tears. When it comes to wisdom, Scripture likens it unto the mother who, “when I was tender in her sight,” taught me and helped me.
Even if you did not have the benefit of a mother like mine, dear one, the Holy Spirit will do the same thing for you. Live your life in front of Jesus. Let your heart be embracing, correctable, and forgiving. Above all, remember you’ve been called to a Savior who wants to work His image in you and to restore the beauty and wholeness of the image your Father God had in mind when He created you.