I’ve always believed that every person in every story ever written has a purpose, that the story is impacted in some way if that person isn’t there. That is especially true with the Bible; each person, no matter who they are, have a purpose in the story God gives us in His word. I believe it holds true that the women in the Bible, named or not, have an important part to play in the story God writes every day.
I would say that Latan Rolan Murphy probably feels the same way. In her book, Courageous Women of the Bible, Latan looks at eleven women who have to dig deep and do things that require them to step out of their normal circumstances and into extraordinary moments. These women may not have called themselves brave, but their stories of courage can give us the confidence we need to move forward in that thing that terrifies us.
I was reading paragraph four when God spoke to me through the words of this book. When I say that Latan hit every area in my life, she hit it; it was like she had been sitting in my room and listening to my prayers and conversations.
“Courage compels us to use gifts otherwise left on the shelf: to write the book, sing the song, stick with the diet, run the race, start a new business. Courage helps us push through to the finish line.”
Every. Single. Word.
I couldn’t believe it. I immediately friend requested Latan and sent her a message; this book is for me. And I pressed on through tears.
This book is an easy read, it gives you a look at the world these women live in and the challenges they face. You see how they pulled up their bootstraps and did what they needed to do in spite of the circumstances around them. They got the job done. Something I enjoyed where the titles of each chapter; the first one is called, “Messy Courage.” Each chapter ends with Courage Quest question to help you draw deeper in understanding not only these women but to help you claim your confidence. She ends the book with journal pages to coincide with each chapter, so you can write down your journey to victory.
I enjoyed this book. I will use it for a small group study very soon. I think we, as women, often forget that God uses the willing, not just the male. These women may not have given a single thought to what their stories would mean generations later, but we are privileged to read their stories of bravery. Their stories are a part of our stories, showing us that we can be courageous and that God is faithful to those who are willing to take a step.
“These courageous women have become like best friends… Their powerful stories have helped me to realize that my story also matters to God. And so does yours, friend.”
Yep, Latan feels that way too.
I just finished a bible study, “Five Habits of a Woman Who Doesn’t Quit.” Since it was the wrap up day, I thought I would read back through the book of Ruth, where the study came from. I was struck by a couple of things that had very little to do with Ruth and everything to do with her mother-in-law, Naomi. Don’t get me wrong, I love this precious story, because it isn’t just a love story between a man and a women, but it is also a story of the love and devotion Ruth had for her mother-in-law. But, it’s Naomi’s story that could have been written today.
So, a little background on our girl, Naomi. She marries this guy, and they have two sons. They move to a foreign land because there is a feminine in their country and after they got there, he dies. She is a single mom in a foreign land, raising two teenage boys. This boys grow and take wives of there own and after Naomi’s little family has been in Moab for ten years, her sons die also. It’s been a tough time and in a nutshell, Girlfriend is hurting.
Naomi gets word that God has been doing some really great things back in her hometown of Bethlehem, so she decides that if she is going to have to be miserable, she might as well do it where her family is, because God isn’t really doing anything for her in Moab. So, Naomi packs up her house, corrals the daughter-in-laws and they start their journey to Bethlehem.
Now the travel part is the part everyone knows, the “your people will be my people and your God will be my God,” speech, but so much more was going on here. Naomi was broken and in her brokenness, she wanted to be alone to wallow in it. I’m getting this image of pigs rolling around in the mud; the purpose is to be covered in it. This was true for Naomi, she was covered in her grief and brokenness. I would assume that Orpah going back to Moab probably just added to it. I could just hear her internal rant, “see, even the daughters that God gave me are running away. God doesn’t want me to be happy, if he did, I wouldn’t be in this mess, and I wouldn’t have lost her too.” Naomi did not realize that in her grief, she was pushing those around her away. Luckily, Ruth is tenacious, not letting Naomi walk this road alone.
Now, here is where this story takes a bend. It’s been roughly two weeks that Naomi and Ruth have been traveling. Naomi has had plenty of time to think about how bad her life is, so much so, that when she reached the gates of Bethlehem and her family sees her, she fusses at them and tells them she is no longer Naomi, which means pleasantness, that now, she’s Mara, meaning bitter. Oh boy was she bitter and she blamed God for it.
Ruth 1:20 – 21 “Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.”
Remember I said this was a modern day tell? That right there was it, how often do we look at all that is going on around us, the set backs or miss steps and grow bitter? How often do we sit in that bitterness and blame God for it? All the stinking time. We are just like those pigs, and just like Naomi, wallowing in self-pity and frustration, calling everyone we know, telling them how much life sucks and blaming God; we are changing our name to Mara.
Yet, as time progressed, Naomi saw something that we often miss: she saw God’s hand moving. She saw how God opened a door of provision for her and Ruth, she saw God allowing a connection between Ruth and Boaz, and she saw God making a way where there seemed to be no way. When Naomi stopped focusing all of her attention on herself and actually took a step back, she was able to see with a new set of eyes. Kind of like when you get glasses for the first time, and everything just seems to come into focus.
Naomi didn’t understand why things were happening the way they did, she just saw that everything she held dear had been taken from her. But God was doing something bigger, God had a plan, He just needed Naomi to trust Him. In the midst of Naomi’s biggest heartbreak how would she have know that she would be in the lineage of the Savior of the World.
Proverbs 3:5 – 6 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”
So how often do you look at a situation and say, “it is how it is, it’s never going to get better” or “God doesn’t care about me,” or “God must be punishing me for something.” Sister, let me tell you, God is not punishing you, He is preparing you, and He is still writing your story. You may not see it now, you may never see it, but your reaction to your situation will determine your destination. When we hold onto bitterness instead of trusting that God is at work, that is all we are, bitter. But when we just stop, that is when God can do his thing. We may not understand why God allowed certain things to happen, but we can rest in the knowledge that His is working it for our good, that’s what it’s like to be brave; so don’t be Mara, just be you.
Hurray for Naomi and hurray for YOU.
Father, we know there are times when it feels like the whole world is weighing us down and we don’t understand what you are doing. I thank you Lord, for telling us in your word, that someday we will. Let us find peace when we put our trust in you, let us not grow bitter when we can’t see your plan or we think when we feel like it’s all falling apart. Help us to see clearly and to be able to keep our eyes on you. In the name of your most precious Son, Jesus. Amen.
I was thinking the other day, what would it be like to be ‘off the grid’? I thought, how nice it would be to not have to color my hair, I would have plenty of time to write and read books, I would exercise. Oh, my worship would be go good, because I wouldn’t have all of those distractions. I would live off of fruits and veggies and seafood in my tropical, coastal home; my health would be better, my outlook would be better, I would be better.
Of course, I wouldn’t be totally disconnected, because I would still want to be in contact with people and would need to do research. Pinterest is research, right? But I wouldn’t have internet in my home, I would have to go into the village to use it at the library or coffee shop. I would go into the village just enough for the folks to know my face, but not remember my name. Such an awesome picture I was painting, it my mind, I was picturing the place where Jason Bourne lived at the very end of Bourne Identity.
However, I more I thought about this picture, the more I realized that I had created this perfect life, complete with hammocks and coconuts, but devoid of a very important element in God’s design for me: People. In my dream retreat, I had isolated myself, apparently, even from my family.
Now, anyone who knows me, knows that I enjoy being around people, but I also love to go on trips. Weekend trips, weeklong trips; as a family, we took a two-week vacation last summer and that was the greatest for me. I love to travel, see new places, meet new people. I’ve always said, if money were not an issue, Molly and I would be on short-term mission trips all the time. We love being around people, so the idea of actually being without people is foreign to me.
This is because, God did not create us to do this life alone. Even in the garden, with life as perfect as it could possibly be, God saw that Adam was lonely. Genesis 2:8 says, “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’” This always blows my mind just a bit, because Adam communed with God, but God could see that Adam needed someone more like Adam and less like the Almighty. I can picture it now, God telling Adam, “I love you little one, but you need some friends of your own.”
I can hear all of my introvert friends screaming now, “but I like being alone!” Yes, you do! I do too, sometimes, but total isolation isn’t healthy. Through many of the stories I’ve read, even those of people who may have lived well off the grid, they still had contact with other people. One man, who only talked to one person 27 years, still had contact with other people when he would go into their camps and stole their property. Even in my own dream of living off the grid, there are still people.
There are countless studies about the effects of loneliness or being alone; depression and poor health are at the top of the list. English author John Donne said the very famous words, “No man is an island entire unto itself,” and Tenth Avenue North even have a song about it. But the Bible, God’s word, says a lot about it.
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” ~ Hebrews 10:24-25
“For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” ~ Romans 12:4-5
“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” ~ Psalm 133:1
“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” ~ Matthew 18:20
“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” ~ Proverbs 27:17
My favorite, coming from Jesus himself:
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” ~ Matthew 22:36 – 39
There are so many more scriptures in the Bible about being with other people; God did not intend for people to be alone. He created us for community, He wants us to live with and learn from and love other people. You are not alone and you don’t have to be either. Join a Bible study, go out with friends, make some friends. Go on a date, go to a family reunion. You are not alone.
Father, you are so amazing, you created us to be a people that live life together. It is your desire that we are with people who will lift us up, encourage us, and walk with us in our journey. I pray Lord, that you will open doors of opportunity for us to meet new people, be in new places, grow in the knowledge that You designed us with two purposes, to love you and to love other people. I pray this in Jesus precious name. Amen.
Have you ever had one of those moments when you’ve realized that you have heard the same thing from two different people and you wonder if the message that God has given them for their growth and encouragement may have actually been for you? This is where I am currently.
Recently, the men from our church attended a men’s retreat. They were at a facility that is in the country. And since God created man to be hunter/gatherers, they fished, did ropes courses and built fires. It was in the building of fires that God spoke. The men collected sticks, that represented their past. Each one, when they were ready to let go, threw their sticks into the fire. It was a pivotal moment for many men. It was a pivotal moment for my husband.
In the brief time between their return and when I needed to be back at the church, he began telling me about the stick story and I couldn’t help but think, “that’s good.” It gave understanding to Isaiah 61:3, “he bestows a crown of beauty instead of ashes.” Our ugly past and our beautiful feature.
The same evening, I was talking to a friend. She was telling me how God has been working on some things in her life; He is refining her. We talked for a few more minutes about this and about what God is working to remove from our lives. It was an interesting conversation because, not only was I able to put voice to something that God has been working on in me, causing me to be accountable to a trusted friend, but it also caused me to think a lot about fire.
As I sat and thought about fire and the uses of it, I couldn’t help but think about the many reference to fire in the Bible. God used fire to consume offerings and He gave it to His people as they wondered in the wilderness; we read all over the Bible about fire being used to forge, refine and consume. God himself is referred to ask our Consuming Fire in Hebrews12:29.
When I think about the words refining and forging, I think of all of the blacksmith shops I have stood in with Jim while he watched and asked questions of the smith as he worked. I don’t remember any of the smiths ever being small men, they were always big and wide shouldered from years of swinging a hammer. When a smith starts a project, he has an idea in mind of what the end result will be, a promise. He knows that with a little patience and a lot of fire, he will get his desired outcome.
That’s how God is with us. He refines us by burning out the impurities. This part hurts, because this is often the time that God makes us deal with the things that have been holding us down. These are the things in our life that we have held onto because we unknowingly have found comfort in them. This could be things like rejection, unworthiness, or a feeling of hopelessness. But, it can also be as big as un-repented sin in your life that you need to release and ask forgiveness for. Once the impurities have been purged, then God starts the molding process.
Doesn’t molding sound so much nicer than forge? But, that is what is really happening. God gives us time to cool down into a solid form, then, He sticks us back into the fire. This time, the fire isn’t burning off anything, it’s making us soft, so God can craft us into His vision, His promise.
If you have watched the blacksmith at work, they put the metal into the fire and hold it there for a few minutes. Not too long, because it will become too soft and unusable. Not too quick or it can’t be formed. It has to stay in the fire for that perfect amount of time to be usable. Then, the molding starts. Did I say that purifying was painful? It didn’t involve a hammer. This is when God starts twisting us and turning us; this is the time when you think you have it all together but God knows different. He sees a bend in us, so He hammers it out. He sees a sharp point, so He files it down. He sees an area that is preventing you from moving the way He intended for you to move, so He may put you in the vise to shape you even more. And, after all of that, if you are still struggling, you make go right back into the fire to start the process again.
Do not lose heart, He is only trying to rid us of things like pride, control, fear, doubt, or any other that seem to keep us from walking fully in the direction God is leading. Putting you in the hot seat isn’t to hurt you, it’s to make you better, stronger, and so much wiser. Remember, He is a consuming fire and once you’ve sat in the hot seat a few times, letting God do what He needs to in your life, then you will be able to walk in His promise.
The other day, I was reading in Isaiah. I’m sure I’m like most other people who try to get in some kind of daily Bible reading, hoping that God will speak to you through His word with some profound revelation that will change the world. Actually, usually I am just hoping for something to get me through the day.
So anyway, I’m reading Isaiah 8:1, it says, “The Lord said to me, ‘Take a large scroll and write on it with an ordinary pen’.” I just couldn’t get past the word ‘ordinary,’ so I looked at other translations to see if they used the same word or if I would find more clarity.
What I found, spoke to me in some pretty amazing ways. While some translations talked about an actual pen or writing instrument, others referred to the “pen” as a way of writing, like word usage. The one thing they all shared is the use of the words ordinary or common, indicating it was something that everyone would understand.
Now, to catch you up on what is going on in Isaiah at the time, the Jews, God’s chosen people, are in a mess. They are acting crazy and God is about the rain down some holy judgement. He has been speaking to Isaiah the prophet who has been giving God’s message to the people. At this particular point, God has already told Isaiah that he would father a son and also foretold of the virgin birth. What God tells Isaiah to write down, is the name that Isaiah would eventually name his son, but he doesn’t know that’s what it is when he writes it down.
I’m sure at this point you are asking what that has to do with the pen. Well, I’m going to tell you. What spoke to me is this is Isaiah the Prophet! To us, he is famous. During his time on earth, he was famous as was his wife. They were prophet rock stars. Yet, when God told him to write something down, he didn’t just say to write it down, He was specific in what Isaiah should use.
So often, we just look at ourselves as ordinary. We compare ourselves to our friends, people we don’t know but wish we did, to our church leaders and even to celebrities. We do not see any value in ourselves, because we are so busy looking at what we don’t have that someone else does. We spend so much time wishing that we could speak like Beth Moore or Lisa Bevere, or wish we could write like Mary Connealy or Tricia Goyer. We wish we could sing like Lauryn Dagle or Shara Taylor. We say things like, “if I were pretty like her, or skinny like her, then God could use me.”
The reality is that God does use you and will use you right where you are, if you will just let Him. In your circle of influence, you are probably speaking life to those around you all the time. You are making a difference in ways that Beth Moore and Lauryn Dagle can’t, because it’s your circle, not theirs. God has placed you there with purpose. He is speaking to your heart and guiding you to do what He has called you to do. You may feel ordinary, but you are far from it.
God used what seemed ordinary to Isaiah and probably those in close proximity to him, but to the world outside, it was exactly what the people needed to bring understanding. So, when you are feeling like you can never add up to the image that you have set for yourself, you’re right, you won’t. But, when you look to God to guide your steps He will do amazing things through you. The only difference between you and the Beth Moore’s of the world is the platform that God has given you to use. They are just ordinary people who let an extraordinary God direct their destiny. That, my friend, is all you have to do, be you. God designed you that way.