Lessons from Gideon #2

It’s the early still of the morning, the best part of the day. The house is quiet. Through my den’s East-facing window, I see again the mercies of God as the sun rises on a new day, pointing me to the true Sunrise from on high.

This year I’ve been trying to give God the firstfruits of my day. Spending time in prayer and God’s Word in the day’s first moments has anchored me for the day ahead; given me time to express again my praise and trust in God and my need for greater faith; convicted me of sin; guided me in my path as I bring my requests before Him; given me peace and a time to thank Him; and blessed me in many unexpected ways.

But isn’t that always the case when we approach God in faith through Christ? In worshiping and surrendering to the One who created us and knows us and first gave to us — the One who did not spare His own Son so that we could be saved from our sins — we find our true identity, what we were made for, and are strengthened in Him for another day.

I shared last time some of the lessons from Gideon I’ve been taking away from my summer Bible study. Here are a few more:

Priscilla Shirer pointed out in the first session that Gideon was part of a nation that had stopped moving forward, how in this study we might find a “divine green light” on somewhere God might be calling us, and we can move forward in His strength.

As we’ve moved along in the study considering what God might be calling us to by looking at Gideon, Priscilla has pointed out that we have spheres of influence, and we must start in the circle nearest to us. So picture a target with a center bull’s-eye and the circles working outward. These are our spheres of influence.

Though Gideon was being called by God to deliver Israel from the Midianites’ oppression (Judges 6:14), Gideon’s work would began in the circles closest to him. He first had to pull down the altar of Baal that belonged to his father and cut down the Asherah (wooden symbol of a female deity, my Bible says) beside it (Judges 6:25). Then he was ready to move outward to another sphere.

“The journey of fulfilling our divine purpose will almost always follow this same pattern,” Priscilla writes.

She also notes, “Choosing to do our primary work in the smaller, less noticeable spheres and devote our best gifts there is often a foreign thought to us. We usually want to jump from the center directly to the perimeter of impact, skipping over the areas most closely connected to us. The result? A life and calling that eventually implode, caving in upon their shoddy, unstable structure.”

This resonated with me. It’s so easy to want to jump to something that looks bigger, to move outward to what might give me more gratification, without stopping to look inward or to focus on my first calling in the home. That is more invisible and often harder, with perhaps less immediate results, so it’s easy not to be as intentional with those central and foremost callings from God.

If we are married and have children, our husband and children are a natural calling not to be overlooked for something more. We won’t have to step on them to fulfill some other ministry. Other callings will enhance and be unified with those first ones.

I think this is so hard for Christian women today. We are being encouraged (in pure and good ways) to be dreaming, considering our passions and desires and how they can be used, taking new territory, moving to a next greater step, willing to give it all to go to something big and unknown. If we aren’t careful, though, we can begin to look to those things to fulfill us, rather than bring glory to God, and these things can cause us to shortchange the most central callings God has given us right in our home. What God calls us to will not be at the expense of our husband and children; it will be in conjunction and in harmony with our homes and family.

Priscilla writes, “These innermost circles are often the ones that offer the least amount of recognition. This is why so many people try to circumvent them. And yet your greatest impact will be done here — in the ordinary rhythms of your daily living.”

So I’m challenged not to look past the inner circles. In my life, I suppose it would look like this (I list church because I work there).

my spheres of influence
my spheres of influence

So while I began this study wondering or even hoping for some greater call on my life to emerge, the one that has settled in my heart is first and foremost in my home. I’ve become convinced that these calls don’t become separate, individual, and distinct, but work together in a way that will hopefully please God and bring Him glory. (These are lessons, though, I’ve been having to learn over the last 10 years!)

I’m thankful for a God who loves us, who calls us to Himself, who forgives us, who is merciful and patient with us, who gives us our identity in Him, and who does have purposes for us to accomplish in the world. May we seek Him for what that looks like so that we will neither move forward where He hasn’t led or shrink back in fear from what He is indeed calling us to.

Help us, Lord, as we work from the center out, to find ourselves in the center of Your will. Amen.

Book Review: Teach Us to Want by Jen Pollock Michel

teach us to want

As a Christian woman living out God’s calling on my life, what do I do with ambition? Is it something to be mistrusted, considered selfish, and just dismissed? And what about desire? How does it fit in my life when I am called to deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Jesus (Matt. 16:24)? Could there be some godly desires and longings that God may have set in my heart in order to lead me to things he has for me? How do I discern what desires might be from God to be shaped and redeemed and used, and which ones truly are selfish and need to be set aside?

What do we make of a verse like Psalm 37:4? “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” As we delight in him, won’t we discover that HE is our ultimate desire and other things will fade in comparison as he satisfies the human heart. Yes, this is true. Could there though also be other desires that he fulfills, too?

These are some of the recent questions I have contemplated. After reading several books from the perspective of “calling” in the last year, I always walked away troubled by books with a lack of sound, biblical truth and a focus that was based almost solely on the authors’ experiences. They seemed misguided and elevated these desires as supreme, even when running counter to God’s Word or to other callings in life, such as family and children. That search for a significant calling, fulfilling desires, seemed to trump almost everything else and demanded sacrifice from everyone around. And how did it fit with following the example of Christ, who humbled himself to death on a cross (Phil. 2:3-8) to do his Father’s will (John 6:38) and bring us salvation?

Enter Jen Pollock Michel’s new book Teach Us to Want. I half expected the same as what I had been reading elsewhere, but this was different! It was hope-giving, inspiring, encouraging, grounded in biblical truth, gospel-centered, honest, and thoughtful. Teach Us to Want came from a different perspective by analyzing the more root issue of desire and ambition – not just the big picture of calling, but daily desires as well, something I had not considered, but which may be even more important. Teach Us to Want acknowledges that many of our desires are malformed and selfish, but that not all are. Teach Us to Want centers around the Word and prayer and led me into times of prayer before the Lord. Teach Us to Want centers around God and his glory, not around me. This is so refreshing, so needed in our culture.

Add to this that Jen Pollock Michel is a beautiful writer. She is adept with words, clearly well-read, interweaving with her story many biblical truths and valuable quotes along the way. Teach Us to Want is worth reading simply for its beauty with words!

Jen adds to the conversation that is going on among Christian women, but with a biblical approach and from an angle that is not as often considered. I hope Jen continues to write and that Teach Us to Want is just the first of many more things to come. I give it my enthusiastic recommendation!

Verses for the Day – Galatians 2:6-10

Picking back up in Galatians, we arrive this morning at Galatians 2:6-10:

Paul has been reporting on where he spent time after his conversion and how he has defended the gospel. Now he writes:
6 “But from those who were of high reputation (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—well, those who were of reputation contributed nothing to me. 7 But on the contrary, seeing that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised 8 (for He who effectually worked for Peter in his apostleship to the circumcised effectually worked for me also to the Gentiles), 9 and recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, so that we might go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10 They only asked us to remember the poor—the very thing I also was eager to do. (NAS)

It’s not completely clear who Paul is speaking about in verse 6, but it is those of “high reputation,” or those “who seemed to be something” (NKJV). Most commentaries I read seemed to indicate this is speaking of James, Cephas (Peter), and John, who are again mentioned in verse 9. Back in Galatians 2:2, Paul also wrote about speaking privately to those who were of reputation, and the notes say this was presumably the inner core made up of James, Cephas, and John.

With that understanding, it seems this small section is pointing out that, though there is one gospel about which Paul has been writing, there are different callings, each of importance. Paul is saying those of high reputation, though esteemed, added nothing to him. God has called and equipped Paul, and though his path is different from the others, coming from a radical conversion after persecuting the church, his calling is not insignificant compared to theirs. God does not show personal favoritism, Paul notes.

We see that Peter has been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (Jewish people), and Paul to the uncircumcised (Gentiles), and that God is working effectively in both Peter and Paul. And when James, Cephas (Peter), and John (pillars of the church) recognize the grace given to Paul, they extend to him and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship. My NKJV Nelson Study Bible notes, “The right hand of fellowship was a common sign of acceptance and friendship. It indicated full recognition of Paul by the representatives of the Jerusalem church.”

So here we see unity among these leaders who are all witnesses to the true gospel and involved in making disciples and growing the church by the power of the Spirit, but in different ways according to their callings from God.

In our current day, it’s easy to look around and want to compare or be competitive or think someone else’s life or ministry is more valuable or effective or wider reaching, but this passage tells us that God doesn’t show partiality. We should be faithful and obedient to the calling God has given to us, leaving the results in His hands, and not look around at others to validate or add something to us, but look to God who has given us our salvation and calling. And of course, we encourage one another with gospel friendship and are unified around the gospel of Jesus Christ that is directing our lives.

Paul concludes with the mention of remembering the poor, the thing he was eager to do. This was something they were also all united on doing, too, helping the poor in the church, giving from those who had an abundance to those who had a need. This is something our church does with its “Helping Hands” and something we should also consider individually.

PRAYER: Dear Lord, we thank you again for Your Word that is living and active and by which You teach us and lead us, correct us and train us. Please help us to keep our eyes fixed on you, being watchful and prayerful about what it is you have called or are calling us to do, the places you would have us be involved. Show us where you are calling us to give to those in need. Open our eyes to see and our hearts and minds to know and understand where you are leading. Help us to follow you and obey.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Calling: The Spirit-Filled Life

This post is the next in a series on calling. We’ve looked at our identity in Christfollowing Jesus, finding our purpose and satisfaction in Jesus, surrendering our lives to God, and now the Spirit-filled life.

When my husband was in seminary, I invited a friend to a Christmas service at the church we attended. It opened the door for me to share the gospel with her, to tell her about Jesus dying for her sins and how by faith in Him she could be saved. At the end of our conversation, she asked, “So what’s the difference?” She wanted to know what the difference was between her and me, between a believer and an unbeliever, that was so distinct.

I had been raised in a Christian home, attended a Christian school for 13 years, grew up in a Bible-believing church, and always known about Jesus. I had had doubts at points, but I lived a life wanting to do what was right; there was no obvious rebellion. By nature, my personality tends to be a “rule keeper,” so it wasn’t hard to always look good. I had seasons where I attended Bible studies, particularly in college, and wanted to know and grow, and I wanted to see my friends turn to Jesus. There was authenticity in this. My life was committed to a certain direction. I had married the preacher’s son, and we had headed off to seminary to begin our own lives of ministry.

Looking back, I wasn’t aware of something I was missing: the Spirit-filled life. I was living life in my own strength, doing my best to keep the rules, and I don’t remember actually having much joy, much less a sense of calling or assurance of my faith in Christ.

When I returned home that night from the Christmas program, I shared with my husband about my friend’s question. I told him I wasn’t sure what to say. He said, “Well, did you tell her about the Holy Spirit?” And I honestly had to think about what he was telling me. Huh? The Holy Spirit, oh yeah. How had I missed this truth?

God gives us His Holy Spirit when we are saved. The Holy Spirit teaches us how to live and guides us in truth. My Bible has a list of the works of the Spirit, and it includes: speaks in Scriptures, regenerates, indwells, anoints, baptizes, guides, empowers, sanctifies, bears witness, helps, gives joy, gives discernment, bears fruit, gives gifts, comforts, illuminates the mind, reveals the things of God.

Jesus said in John 14:15-17:

“If  you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever – the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him, but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.”  (NKJV)

We can quench the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19) or we can be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). This is an incredible gift, a gift of God Himself in the life of the believer. And it changes everything.

It would be about another 10 years before I came to understand more about the life of the Spirit, and it came through surrender of my life to God, on my knees, in obedience, looking to Jesus. The Spirit then came and began showing me the plans God had for my life, and they were good, and He brought joy. I really long for people to know this truth of God’s Spirit lived in and through us, not living in our own strength, but relying on Him. We can’t live this life in our own strength or with our own power. All of this is ours in Christ. Praise You, Lord.

Calling: Surrendering Our Lives to God

The last post alluded to this, but as we consider calling and these biblical realities of our identity in Christ, following Jesus, and finding our purpose and satisfaction in Jesus, we arrive at surrendering our lives to God.

While I don’t see the word “surrender” used in the Bible, I believe it is a biblical concept. To surrender (as defined at dictionary.com!) is “to yield to the possession or power of another,” “to give oneself up.” When we surrender our lives to Jesus, we give ourselves to Him, the One who gave His life for us.

In the book Absolute Surrender by Andrew Murray, he describes surrender as saying, “I give myself absolutely to God, to His will, to do only what God wants.” And then also saying, “I give myself absolutely to God, to let Him work in me to will and to do of His good pleasure, as He has promised to do.”

When we surrender our lives to God, He enables us by the power of His Spirit to live the life He has given us and called us to live.

We find our calling then from this place of surrender to God.

Because of Jesus and his perfect life, His death on our behalf, His resurrection – by faith in Him, we can know God and be rescued from our sin and death, restored to fellowship with the God who made us. When we cast ourselves in faith upon Christ, we are given the Holy Spirit to live within us to guide us, and we have God’s Word to teach us how to live in obedience to Him.

We see Jesus’ life, lived here on earth to the glory of His Father, surrendered to His Father’s will. He gave His life so that we could live. It’s too wonderful for words. And we can do the same, surrender our lives to the Father’s will and live for His glory. He will show us how to live and what our callings are as we surrender to Him, not just at the point of salvation, but day by day.

This kind of life brings great blessing and true joy. In my next post, I’ll share a little of my own story.

Calling: The God Who Satisfies Our Souls

This is the fourth in a series on “calling.” This post tells why this subject. In the first three posts, we looked at our identity, the call as Christians to follow Jesus, and our purpose

The first few posts on the subject of calling have been designed to lay the groundwork of certain things we can know as we consider “calling” in our lives.

Today, I’m reflecting on the God who satisfies our souls. You may be familiar with this quote from Augustine:

“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”

In our broken world, part of the human condition is to look for things that satisfy us, that fill us. People look in all kinds of places for fulfillment and satisfaction: money, power, prestige, materialism, self, etc. And yet that void and emptiness can only be filled by God.

Blaise Pascal said:

“There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.”

In his book A Quest for More, Paul Tripp writes, “There is woven inside each of us a desire for something more – a craving to be part of something bigger, greater, and more profound than our relatively meaningless day-by-day existence.”

Tripp says that this desire is called “transcendence.” “This desire for transcendence is in all of us because God placed it there. He constructed us to live for more than ourselves. He designed us to want meaning, purpose, and consequence…. We were made for the one glory that is transcendent – the glory of God” (pages 14, 16-18).

If God alone can satisfy us, give us purpose and meaning, then He should be the desire of our hearts.

So consider the language of “calling” that you sometimes hear: “follow your dreams,” “find your true self,” “live your gifts and passions,” “journey toward meaning,” “become fully alive,” “go after the desires of your heart.”

Perhaps these distinctions are subtle, but I think they are important:

We want to desire God and seek Him who gives us the desires of our heart, not seek after the desires of our heart themselves.

We want to seek the Gift-giver, not the gifts He gives, though He of course can use those for His glory.

Our purpose and meaning are found in God, not something apart from Him that we elusively work to find.

We want lives centered around God and living for His glory, not lives centered around ourselves and our own glory and fulfillment.

God does give us dreams and desires, meaning and purpose, but it is all found in Him. When you want to know what you are made for, you are made for God. Yes, then for more, but in Him, and everything starts with Him.

In Psalm 27:4, the psalmist desires to be near to God and His presence:

“One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.” (NIV)

So seek the Lord and behold his beauty. Let everything else about our lives and calling flow from this: surrendering our lives to Him, then seeking Him in His Word and prayer. These are the means by which He gives direction and further calling to do His work in the world. 

John Piper says that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” Have you found God to be your soul’s satisfaction?

Psalm 107:9 “For He satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness.”