It was my sophomore year of high school, and I was sitting around with my cross-country team listening to the older girls compare fat grams in bagel brands. If you have ever looked at bagel labels, you know that there is not any difference worth noting—unless you are obsessed with your weight.
The Lies of Appearance and Achievement
Little did I know how influential that conversation, and many more like it, would become in my life. Add to that the billboards, magazines, and other media that boasted model-thin women all around me, and I bought into the lie “I have to look like ‘her’ in order to be beautiful.”
At the same time I was running cross-country, I was also playing basketball. Unlike the girls on my cross-country team, my teammates could down a fast-food burger in no time at all and not think twice about it. And my coach certainly thought I could use a few burgers myself in order to put on some weight for my position as forward or center. Add to that the fact he could fire off a cuss word, stomp his feet, clap his hands, and throw water, attempting to motivate us to play better and harder and I began to believe another lie: “My worth is based on my outward performance.” Failure to perform well led me to inflict punishment on myself—if I didn’t live up to my coach’s expectations, then I didn’t deserve to eat.These twin themes of body image and performance are still at the heart of young women’s search for beauty and worth today. But it is not just young women. Women of all ages struggle with defining their significance by their appearance and achievements.
ELLEN DYKAS|CONTRIBUTOR Several months ago I smiled as I sat on the front row alone, again, while at my home church. As one of the lay leaders in our church family, I have the honor of leading our congregational prayer at our worship service a few times a year when our elders don’t. I smiled… Read More
“You sow, and you sow, and you sow, and much later you will reap.”
These words of life were spoken over me by an older friend of mine when I was a young mom to four children under five. The physical demands of rocking, holding, shushing, changing, and heavens to Betsy—the mealtime clean-up! There was never enough time to get all the spaghetti sauce off the baseboards nor pick every goldfish cracker up off of the floor.
My friend’s words stuck with me; during the exhausting days of new motherhood, the image of sowing seeds coupled with the hope of reaping filled me with joy while I served the Lord in my home. Her words gave me the big, long, biblical picture of discipleship.
God could use the seeds I was sowing with every wet wipe, every word of “Jesus Loves Me,” every ABC Bible Verse, and every sticky hand for His glory in the hearts of my children. I was sowing and making investments in the little disciples who filled up my lap.
As a pastor’s wife, I have been alongside many different people in ministry: Sunday School students, youth group students, young adults, and women of all ages and stages. Just as in parenting my own children, my tiny gospel investments have been human, exhausting, and imperfect—many times I have not gotten to see the end of the story—but thinking biblically about sowing and the One who does the reaping has given me the freedom to invest and rest as a kingdom laborer. God uses the tiny investments of ordinary laborers not because of who they are, but because He is the Lord of the harvest.
Discipleship is all about investing biblically and resting in the promises of a covenant-keeping God. He is faithful to His generational promise to redeem, deliver, and adopt the people He set apart before the fullness of time.
In discipleship, whether you are alongside your own children or involved in the life of another Christ-follower, the tiniest gospel investments are perfected in the big, long, biblical picture of God’s covenant promises to an imperfect people. God is the covenant-keeping God. He takes the tiniest, imperfect investments of covenant faithfulness and brings them to completion by His grace and mercy.
“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).
Resting in Covenant Promises
My sinful heart is prone to wander to unrest, which causes weariness in the sowing. In the flesh I want to fix things, hurry God’s plan with my human helping, complete a task on a discipleship-program-year timeline, and see the end of the story wrapped in a bow and with a cherry on top. Like Abram and Sarai, I want to nudge along the redemption process and give God a little bit of my own help.
Unrest is earthly behavior but developing a posture of rest is heavenly. Resting in God’s covenant promises is a spiritual discipline. “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Galatians 5:16-17).
In this life as a Christ-follower, you will sow, and you will sow, and you will sow, but much later you will reap. Much, much, later…
I took some time recently to pray for some of the ministry leaders in my church. I’m not trying to sound super-spiritual. Honestly, I should do this more often since the Holy Spirit is the one who actually does the work of the church. Anyway, I was overwhelmed with how long it took me to pray for each of those leaders by name. For some, I knew what to pray…but not all. I mean, these are women with lives and needs and pains and desires. I only know some details and, frankly, many of the women I had no idea what to pray about for them. Sometimes I just uttered their names, trusting that Romans 8:26 is true and that the Spirit does indeed intercede for those “unspoken” needs.
Jesus’ Intercession for Us
We’ve probably all grown accustomed to identifying the last calendar year as strange, different, or even uncertain. We are all grieving in different ways and facing various challenges in our lives. But I am reminded that regardless of who is surrounding our tables and what lies ahead, we have One who is making intercession for us, who knows what loneliness and grief feels like. We talk a lot about what Jesus accomplished on our behalf in our adoption and justification, and that’s extremely important. But we don’t often think about what he is doing today…like right now in this very moment.
If Jesus completed his task on the cross and subsequent resurrection, what fills his schedule now? What is he doing? More specifically: what has been left undone? Scripture tells us that he always lives to make intercession for us (Heb. 7:25).
Like in the prayer time I mentioned, I know that I can only pray for one person or situation at a time and even that becomes burdensome, but not for our Savior. He is not overwhelmed. Somehow, while he is seated at the right hand of the throne of the God, he is talking about each believer to our Father. He knows it all. He knows every life, every need, every pain, every failure, and every desire. He knows us. How does it make you feel to know that the King of Kings is praying for you right now?
It drenches me with love…
The rough concrete scratched my toes as I focused on keeping my nose above water at the Fun in the Sun Club pool in Arlington, Texas. My goal that day was to touch the bottom. Water pooled in my ears and my hair swayed like seaweed in my eyes as I learned to hold and release my breath while flipping upside down to touch the bottom. Then I could swim toward the light. My parents applauded as I ventured into deeper and deeper water, opening my eyes to churning legs and feet, and watching my breath in measured bubbles. Discovering that less and less effort was required to break the surface, I began to trust air and water to do what they do.
Where were you in the murky pool called the pandemic—that time of uncertainty, fear, and crisis? Were you upside down, attempting to avoid the churning chaos, swimming for the light before you ran out of breath, looking for cheer from someone, anyone out there?
To gain perspective, we must somehow step outside of our own view. I believe the only healthy way to do that is to open God’s word to a relevant passage, engage with it, wring it out, cry into it, and ask questions until we get to the bottom. We submerge ourselves and trust Christ to do what He does when we engage with the living and active breath of God. We burst through the surface into His world, His thoughts, His reality, and it does what He does: it reveals areas where we must repent, restrains us from wrong, and sheds enough light for at least the next step.
Stewarding Our Sorrows
I remember the image of my pastor many years ago as he related the death of over ten friends or family within the span of a year. He and his wife were left empty; they could only be still and listen. They realized that stewardship is not only for money, gifts, and time, but also includes stewarding our sorrows. He held his hands out in the shape of a bowl before the congregation and told us that all he had to offer the Lord was ashes. This image continues to guide me as I’ve come to Jesus with my own offerings of ashes due to losses, severed relationships, and broken dreams, laying them at His feet and trusting Him to make them beautiful in His time.
My question to Jesus in 2020-21 then became, “How can I steward this unto Your glory? Would you use me, and re-form me to bring comfort and encouragement to others?” He took me to Isaiah 12, and I was stunned. The truths in this chapter are clear for both its original and prophetic audiences, the covenant people of God.
Gratitude, Opportunity, and Joy
This is what I found: Our stewardship comes through gratitude, opportunity, and joy. Look at verses 1 and 2…
Back in pre-pandemic days, I traveled all the time. Reentry back home after a trip can be a bit daunting. Who did I miss while I was away? What will be waiting for me in the sink? Is it realistic to try to make up for lost time on my task list? All these unknowns feel overwhelming.
As you stand on the edge of in-person life and ministry reentry, how is your heart doing? This summer, it has been a joy to study the lives of several messy women along with women all over the PCA. They have shown us what it looks like to move from the unknown to the known. To be outside the community and be enfolded into community. Let’s spend a few more minutes with one of those women, Ruth, and see what she can teach us about God’s hesed love. Hesed is God’s steadfast, merciful, gracious, kind, good, and loving character toward us.
Hesed Love Creates Community
Ruth, the gleaner, is hungry and in need. She embodies scarcity, while Boaz embodies abundance. Boaz, reflecting the sacrificial love of God, our great Husbandman, provides an access point. Ruth, the Moabite outsider, enters the fields with courage. Boaz has instructed his men to be intentionally generous and leave some sheaves for her on the margins or edges of the field. Boaz is not only a provider but also a protector as he orders his men not to rebuke her. Ruth enters this grace exchange looking expectantly for provision. She picks up the barley stalk by stalk. In her neediness, she doesn’t hoard the harvest for herself; instead, she returns to the city and shares what she has with Naomi. Would it be enough? Ruth 2 tells us this generous provision satisfies these women.
I can hear your spiritual tummy rumbling. You may not have thought this when you looked in the mirror this morning, but you are also a gleaner who is hungry to access the nourishment God’s Word and community provide. Perhaps you have taken inventory of your life as we reenter life and ministry and find this season a bit lacking. We have been disembodied in a year filled with locked buildings and online ministry. Cancel culture, isolation, and missed opportunities look like a few measly morsels of grain. COVID has universally impacted everyone, and yet our experiences are not universally similar. God enrolled the world in a master’s level class on His sovereignty. We learned things about Him and ourselves. It was the class you forgot was on your schedule. You have something to share that will satisfy. Reentry is a stewardship moment to reflect and invest what He has entrusted to us during this classroom of waiting on Him.
Center of Community
We crave community. Isolated Christianity is incomplete. On our “hangry” days, we may desire a community that is fashioned with us at the center. When individualism fuels our concept of community, we will always be left disappointed. True relational nourishment is found in interdependence. It is the place where as we enter, we ask who can I love instead of who loves me. Christ must be the center of covenant community. And after a year of being enrolled in our pandemic classroom, we are keenly aware it takes the whole community of God to understand the whole hesed love of God.
Space for Grace
Biblical community requires us to meet in the margins. Boaz’s grain offering reveals the access point where gracious provision can be found. One definition of margin is to make space. It is pleasing, such as the lovely white edges of a book. A generous community requires margin and space. Space for family reunions. Space to listen. Space for thanksgivings. Space for lament over loss. Space for new people and opportunities to serve. Space to hear what you learned in your COVID classroom. Space to steward what we have learned. Covenant Community is not found but created. Reentry will require faith to create spaces of grace.
Dying to Love
Reentry to biblical community will also require death. Ruth had to die to her pride and self-sufficiency. She risked shame and being ostracized. She died to temporal security by sharing with Naomi. Boaz, her kinsman, died to his comfort and convenience…
One of the perks of studying abroad with a college theater group was free or cheap tickets to theatrical productions playing wherever we were. Actors like to play to full houses, so if there are spare tickets, they are happy to find worthy recipients. On one such occasion while I was studying in Italy, the British National Theatre was touring with their production of The Passion Play, and we somehow gleaned tickets for a performance in Rome.
Because we had the “cheap seats” (the groundlings), we got to be very close to the action, sometimes part of the action, as we stood on the floor (for six hours with one dinner break). The first act told stories from the Old Testament, and the second act, the story of Christ from the gospels. Of course, during the Palm Sunday scene, everyone was excitedly cheering. Then during the Good Friday scenes, most of the audience was excitedly jeering. Except me. As one who seemed to be the “token Christian” in my group, I was not about to cry out, “Crucify Him!” I loved Jesus and wanted no part in demanding His crucifixion. And that’s what I shared when a couple of the others asked why I had been quiet.
I thought of myself like one of the women who had followed Him and watched the crucifixion, devastated by His murder. I had even portrayed Mary Magdalene several times in an Easter monologue―but I had not considered why she followed Him even to death. (See Mark 16:9.) That kind of gratitude was not part of my response at the play, nor even part of my testimony….
PRACTICE is a word worthy of adoration.
PRACTICE is a solid, steady friend. The one that shows up day after day to get all the things done. PRACTICE extends a hand of grace and a boost of encouragement. It leaves room for mistakes and allows for another opportunity to do it better. PRACTICE gives the pat on the back and reassuringly says, “You’ll never do it perfectly and that’s okay. Just do your best today!”
When PRACTICE made an appearance in the Bible, I admit I was initially surprised. It doesn’t seem like a particularly holy word. I’m used to seeing PRACTICE hang out with friends like PIANO, BASKETBALL, FLASH CARDS, and PARALLEL PARKING. Nonetheless, I happily waved PRACTICE over to sit down and visit for a moment.
Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Romans 12:13 (NIV)
Sports are a logical thing to practice. There are rules to memorize, cardiovascular gains to make, and muscles to build in order to succeed. Music makes sense to practice. Success with scales, songs, and styles all require the dedication that only practice time can give.
Most of us can envision what steps must be taken and what benchmarks must be reached in order to succeed in a variety of life-skills. But hospitality? How do you practice hospitality?
In his letters to Titus and Timothy, Paul gives hints on how to build up spiritual disciplines. He tells Timothy to “set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12). He tells Titus to “be a model of good works” and dedicates a large portion of his letter on how the older generations should train up the younger ones through example (Titus 2:7).
I began to think through the examples of hospitality I have witnessed in the lives of gracious women God has placed around me….