Written by: Gay Idle
Phoebe. The only mention of this woman in the Bible is found in these verses:
“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well.” Romans 16:1-2 NRSV
That’s it. Nowhere else in the entire Bible do we read about Phoebe. And yet, here she is … within a mere 52 words written in the personal greetings section of Paul’s letter to the saints (believers) in Rome. How many times have I just skipped right over these words? Yet, they are there for a reason. If God’s Word is a light for our path (Psalm 119:105), what light does Phoebe’s story shed for us?
So who was this woman?
*An interesting side note. The Complete Jewish Bible refers to Phoebe as “the shammash of the congregation at Cenchreae.” A shammash (a Hebrew word meaning servant) one reference said that this person directs and leads public worship. In any case, the shammash as a servant leader held a more prominent role in the synagogue.
It is speculated in several commentaries that as a benefactor, she was a patron of the saints. As the word prostatis also means, patron. This would indicate that she was a woman of wealth and position. Patron’s in the culture of that time were respected and influential. She could possibly have been a single businesswoman, as there is no indication in this passage that she is married. But we really don’t know for sure. In any case, it seems that she was known for her unselfish works of charity and service to her brothers and sisters in Christ (including Paul himself).
So you might ask, but why Phoebe…why does he call her out by name? Why is he asking the church in Rome to “welcome her in the Lord…” and to “help her in whatever way she may require from you,”? Because she was most likely the carrier of this letter to the Romans. In those days it was customary for the sender of the letter to include a commendation at the end for the person who was carrying/delivering the letter. Therefore Phoebe would have been considered as one who bore the authority of Paul, his emissary, as she was responsible to deliver the letter and quite possibly recite it to the recipients. Yes, you read that right. She most likely had memorized the entire letter. It was also the custom of the time for the letter carrier to be able to explain the contents of the letter. So Paul must undoubtedly have had a great amount of trust in Phoebe’s ability to properly execute her functions as his emissary as she delivered the letter to the Roman believers.
In describing her as a sister in Christ, a deacon in her home church, a benefactor (patron, helper, trainer, protector, champion) to many, as well as to himself, Paul is saying that he has put his full confidence in her and he expects them to welcome her with honor, as he says, “...welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints.”
This kind of blows me away. Why have I never realized before that Phoebe was so significant? Can you imagine if she had failed on her journey to deliver this most important letter? Can you even imagine not having the book of Romans? I know…I know…God would have made sure His Word would remain. Still…she was faithful. She was willing to do what God required of her. I believe she was more than willing. She was eager to take Paul’s letter, which we now know to be inspired by the Holy Spirit to the church in Rome.
The major theme in this letter is the basic gospel of Jesus Christ. God’s plan of salvation and righteousness from God through Jesus Christ His Son.
Earlier in this article, I asked this question: If God’s Word is a light for our path (Psalm 119:105), what light does Phoebe’s story shed for us? I find it ironic that the name Phoebe means “bright, radiant as the moon, or pure.”
Or, maybe more prophetic than ironic.
I believe that Phoebe’s story tells us that we, as women, are so very important in the spreading of the gospel of Jesus Christ to expand the kingdom of God on this earth. We are His emissaries. We are the light of Christ to the world.
“You are the light of [Christ to] the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden;” Matthew 5:14 (Amplified Bible).
Just as the moon gets its radiance in reflecting the light of the sun, so we become radiant as we reflect the light of Christ’s love to others.
I want to revisit this word shammash here. In Jewish tradition, the shammash is also the designated ninth candle of the Menorah. A special candle. It is the first to be lit and used to light all of the other candles. It remains lit and is either placed above or below the other lit candles…ready to be used again should any of the candles go out. It is considered the servant candle that gives light to all of the other candles.
Jesus was God’s shammash. He left His place at the right hand of God to be emptied of Himself, to become one of us. To humble himself even to the point of death on a cross that we should be lifted up. And God exalted Him because of His obedience to the highest place and gave him the name above all names. (Philippians 2:7`9).
When Jesus told His disciples, “You are the light of the world.” He was saying you are God’s shammash. Be the light that lights others. Let the light of God in your hearts kindle so brightly that others cannot help but be drawn to it.
Phoebe was God’s shammash. She was a faithful servant of the LORD. In only 52 words of two verses of the bible, we find a pretty amazing woman of God. And yet other than these two verses, she gets no recognition on this earth. No accolades. But I’m wondering how many are her rewards in heaven? What celebration there must have been when she arrived at heaven’s gates!
We are called to be God’s shammash… To serve in ways that bring Glory to His name. To humble ourselves in obedience to whatever God has called us. So that we bring His light to the people He has brought into our lives.
We have to have the light within us to be the light to others. So I ask myself…and you. Am I abiding in Christ? Am I allowing the light of His Word to root out the things that are blocking my fellowship with Him? Am I letting go of my own need to control and letting Him lead the way?
Oh LORD, I want to be so grounded in You that Your light shines through every ounce of my being. Help me to be your shammash that I may lead others by the light of your Son Jesus, who is logos, who is Your very Word to Your heart.
By gay Idle
There is a passage in Luke that highlights the actions of an unnamed woman. Actions that point to a heart of true repentance and faith. This short story is found in Luke 7:36-50.
If you are not familiar with the story, it begins with Jesus being invited to the house of Simon the Pharisee. A God follower, a rule follower, a man very aware of the necessity of the need for repentance, but whose heart, perhaps, was more focused on never needing repentance in the first place. After all, he was not a ‘sinner’. As a Pharisee, he was known for following the letter of the law. And because of that he “rejected the plan of God” (verse 30) for himself. Some think that Simon was truly interested in what Jesus had to say. Maybe. We are not told why he invited Jesus to dine at his house. Jesus accepted the invitation. He went into Simon's house and reclined at the table. (In that time it was customary to recline, or sort of half-lay, at the table when eating and conversing). Here was another opportunity to teach the blind.
And then it happened.
“... a woman in the town who was a sinner found out that Jesus was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house. She brought an alabaster jar of fragrant oil and stood behind Him at His feet, weeping, and began to wash His feet with her tears. She wiped His feet with the hair of her head, kissing them and anointing them with the fragrant oil.”
Simon thought to himself, “This man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what kind of woman this is who is touching Him—she’s a sinner!”
But Jesus, knowing Simon’s thoughts, began to address his heart issue with a story.
“Simon, I have something to say to you.”
I wonder if Simon had a fleeting thought at that moment…wondering if Jesus had just heard his very thoughts? But he replied, “Teacher,” he said, “say it.”
Jesus told this story:
“A creditor had two debtors. One owed 500 denari and the other 50. Since they could not pay it back, he graciously forgave them both. So, which of them will love him more?”
Simon answered, “I suppose the one he forgave more.” Jesus replied, “You have judged correctly.”
Then Simon basically got the dressing down of his life from Jesus. When I read this passage I hear Holy authority and a tone of righteous indignation in Jesus’ words. Can you hear it?
Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she, with her tears has washed my feet and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but she hasn’t stopped kissing my feet from the time since I came in. You didn’t anoint my head with olive oil, but she has anointed my feet with fragrant oil. Therefore I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; that’s why she loved much. But the one who is forgiven little, loves little. Then He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven…Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”
If you are not familiar with the customs of this time, you might not get the whole picture. Most people wore sandals in Palestine or even went barefoot. So when a guest entered your house it was customary for them to leave their sandals at the door. You would greet your guest with a kiss, and offer water to your guests to wash their dusty feet when they entered your house. A towel to dry them. And oil to anoint his/her head. This was often a service provided by the lowliest servant in the house. This service to the guest was not so dirt wouldn’t get tracked. There were no white carpets in the homes then. This was a refreshing way to begin your visit.
Simon neglected to provide these basic common courtesies to Jesus as a guest in his home. Maybe this shows that Simon was questioning whether this Jesus was who He claimed to be. Maybe he didn’t want to be seen accepting Jesus as a truly welcomed guest in his home? Perhaps covering his butt…Ummm…I mean bases. After all, there was a growing antagonism toward Jesus from many of the Pharisees of the time. Can’t be too careful.
It is interesting to note that we don’t know if or how Simon finally responded to this dressing down he received from Jesus. Yet Jesus gives us a glimpse of both hearts, through their response and their interactions with Him.
Simon did not provide…
But the woman who was a sinner? She knew it, she knew they knew it, and she knew she was in the presence of the One who had the power to forgive her sins…though they were many.
I imagine that at some point previously she had heard Jesus teach. Watched His miracles. She knew at her very core that this was the One her soul desired. She watched Him as He graciously welcomed sinners into His fold. And she was a sinner in need of forgiveness.
Her response was a broken and contrite spirit. In his book How To Pray When You don’t Know What to Say, Elmer Towns writes, “... we must have a weeping heart before God. If our eyes are always dry, it means that our soul is also probably dry. And a dry heart eventually becomes a hardened heart.” Her tears were the very avenue to a softened heart before God. Those tears were not the result of a repentant heart…no, they were the sign of a repentant heart. These were the actions of a woman who fully realized her forgiveness. She loved Jesus so much because she had been forgiven much!
How do I know this? Because Jesus’ response to her was this, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” Go in peace. In the original greek this actually says, “Go into peace.” This would be her new existence.
And God’s peace [shall be yours, that tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and being content with its earthly lot of whatever sort that is, that peace] which transcends all understanding shall garrison and mount guard over your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-8, AMPC
Her heart and mind remained focused on the feet of Jesus. Seven times His feet are mentioned in this passage in Luke. Seven. This number signifies completion, or divine fulfillment. Wow! I’m not even sure of all the implications of this little nugget of information. But I know that when we fall at His feet in worship, we have positioned ourselves to receive forgiveness. We have positioned ourselves before Almighty God, the lifter of our head…the One who restores us. There is no room for pride at the feet of Jesus. We are at His feet to learn from Him…about Him…and about ourselves in relation to Him. And we have positioned ourselves to participate in the celebration of eternal life received through the good news of Jesus Christ.
We are most complete when we have positioned ourselves at the feet of Jesus.
So where are you friend? Who do you relate to in this story? One who has sinned much? Or one who has spent the majority of life striving for sinlessness, yet missing the mark?
Repent then, and turn back, so that your sins may be wiped away, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord…
Lord, make us women who are not afraid to fall at your feet. May our tears break down the wall of pride in our hearts so that we can clearly see the sins that are present in our life. Soften our hearts so that You can use us to reach out to others with open arms and open hearts. May they see the love of Christ in our words, and in our actions. Lord help us to weep tears of repentance...to accept your forgiveness...so that times of refreshing may come. ~ Amen
Are you familiar with the story of Esther? Most of us know that Esther is one of only two books in the bible named for a woman. The other is, of course, Ruth. Esther is known for her beauty, so perhaps you know that she was a Jewish woman that won a beauty contest of sorts and became a queen. Oh and then there’s that thing where she saved her people.
But have you actually read the book? It’s right there in the Old Testament between Nehemiah and Job. So go ahead and give it a read. It won’t take long…it’s only 10 short chapters. Takes about 30 minutes to read, go ahead. I’ll wait……………………………………..
Wow! There’s a lot of drama packed in those chapters. But what’s it about really? I mean there is no mention of God anywhere in the book. Did you notice that? Isn’t that the first thing we are to look for when we are reading His word? Where is God? What does this story tell us about the nature and character of God? Can we see His redemptive work in what we are reading? Those are questions I ask when I am digging into a passage of scripture. So let’s dig in and see what we can find.
The story… in a nutshell.
The story is set in Susa, one of the capitals of the ancient Persian Empire. The time was during the reign of King Ahasuerus, also known by his Greek name, Xerxes, who reigned 486-464 B.C.
“This is what happened during the time of Xerxes, the Xerxes who ruled over 127 provinces stretching from India to Cush: At that time King Xerxes reigned from his royal throne in the citadel of Susa, and in the third year of his reign he gave a banquet for all his nobles and officials… ” Esther 1:1-3b.
Here’s my long-story-short version.
So, basically King Xerxes gives a banquet for all the important people in the whole Persian Empire…it’s a huge deal! Celebrating past and possibly future conquests. Then he throws a big week-long bash for the men, from the greatest to the least of all the people present in his fortress at Susa. The wine is flowing and on the seventh day, feeling pretty good from all that wine and wanting to show off the beauty of his queen, he requests the presence of his Queen Vashti, who happens to be off in another part of the kingdom throwing her own party with the girls in the palace. She refuses to come. Maybe because he asks her to come wearing her crown, and possibly nothing else. He gets really ticked off and deposes her.
Now there is a lesson in the details of this part of the story, but we’re here to talk about Esther. So we will save the implications of Vashti’s situation for another time.
Now this is where Esther enters.
A plan to choose the new queen is set in place. The King appointed commissioners to each province to go out and assemble all the beautiful young girls and bring them to the harem at the fortress of Susa. Hadassah (Esther) was taken to the palace (Esther 2:8).
She did not go on her own…and there is no indication that her cousin took her. As a matter of fact, once she was assimilated into the harem to prepare her to meet the King, we are told that “every day he walked back and forth near the courtyard of the harem to find out how Esther was and what was happening to her.” (Esther 2:11). This sounds more like the actions of a concerned ‘parent’, not the actions of a parent who would be delighted to have her in the palace of the king’s harem. Also, side note: he had instructed Esther not to reveal her birthplace or her ethnic background. So in light of this, I hardly think of this as her winning a beauty contest as much as a beautiful young girl who was taken, most likely against her own will, at the command of the highest ruler of the land.
Esther was put under the care of Hegai, the king’s eunuch who was in charge of the harem. Esther pleased him and won his favor. Nothing sexual here, because…EUNUCH…look it up. He began at once to provide special beauty treatments and special food for her. Apparently she was his choice for queen and he wanted to make sure she had the best advantages of being chosen. It worked! The King sees her and is blown away by her beauty, so she is chosen to replace Queen Vashti.
Meanwhile…stay with me here. There is a reason for the details.
Meanwhile, Mordecai overhears a plot to kill the king. So he reports it to Esther, who in turn, reported it to the king’s messenger giving credit to Mordecai…the plot is thwarted and the incident gets written down in the books that are kept for the king.
After this, Haman is honored by the king by being given a seat of honor higher than that of all the other nobles. So high that they were commanded to bow down to Haman to pay honor to him. But Mordecai being a Jew would not bow down to any man. This enraged Haman, who then concocted an idea of killing not just Mordecai, but all of his people, the Jews. Without actually naming the Jews, he convinces the king that it would be in his best interest to let him order a decree to kill all these people who do not follow the king’s laws. So the decree goes out.
Mordecai, hearing all that had been decreed, tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes. And, in public, began wailing loudly and bitterly. As a matter of fact, all the Jews throughout Persia did the same. It was a Jewish thing. Thus began a string of communication between a frightened Esther and a determined Mordecai through one of the king’s eunuchs.
It basically boils down to this:
Mordecai tells Esther about the decree (the plot against the Jews), and tells her she needs to go to the king, ask his favor, and then plead with him personally for her people.
Esther is basically terrified to do this. Why? Because there is one law that applies to every man, or woman who approaches the king without being summoned. You die. The only exception would be if the king extends his gold scepter to that person. Then you live.
She hasn’t been summoned for the last 30 days. Maybe she has fallen out of favor with her husband, the king? If she has the audacity to go to him without being summoned, she might not live to tell about it.
“Don’t think that you will escape the fate of all the Jews because you are in the king’s palace. If you keep silent at this time, liberation and deliverance will come to the Jewish people from another place, but you and your father’s house will be destroyed. Who knows, perhaps you have come to your royal position for such a time as this.” Esther 4: 13-15.
Esther comes back with a plan. Have all the Jewish people in Susa fast for her for 3 days and nights. Esther and her girls did the same. Then she will go to the king. “...even if it is against the law. If I perish, I perish.” So she goes. As soon as the king sees her standing in the courtyard she wins his approval. He extends the scepter and she asks that he and Haman attend a banquet that she has prepared for them.
Several more things happen…Mordecai, once again fails to bow to Haman. So, at the urging of his wife and friends, Haman builds a gallows 75 feet high and plans to ask the king to hang Mordecai on it. But before that can happen the king has a sleepless night and asks the book with the daily recorded events to be read to him. A weird bedtime story. But in the reading he learns of Mordecai’s earlier reporting of the plot to assassinate him. And when he finds that nothing had been done to reward Mordecai, he glances out to find someone to consult about this. Haman just happens to be loitering around in the court so he brings him in and asks what should be done for the man the king wants to honor. Haman, being the narcissist that he is, assumes the king must be talking about himself. So He suggests some awesome stuff to be done. Great honor should be shown to the man in front of pretty much all the people. Much to his chagrin…the king ordered that Mordecai be honored…and Haman had to make it happen.
Then Esther threw a second banquet for the king and Haman. Not sure if this was the original plan or she just chickened out the first time. No matter, because it worked out even better that this second banquet just happened to occur after Haman’s second run-in with Mordecai. She told the king about the plight of her people and asked him to spare her life and spare her people. He seemed a bit clueless, and asked, “Who would devise such a scheme?” She replied, “The adversary and the enemy is this evil Haman.”
The King was mad, and left the room to get a handle on his anger. Haman began begging Esther for mercy. The king returned to see Haman literally falling all over Esther, which further enraged him so he had Haman hung on the very gallows he had built for Mordecai. On that day the King gave Esther all that belonged to Haman. He also gave his signet ring to Mordecai. The king’s edict could not be revoked…it was a thing. The king allowed Esther and Haman to send out another edict that declared the Jews had a right to defend their lives from those who wanted to annihilate them.
Mordecai was raised to prominence and power in the kingdom, and the Jewish people were saved. There’s actually a little more to this story. Which explains how this event, the deliverance of the Jews from genocide, became the Feast of Purim celebrated the same time every year. “The month when their sorrow was turned into rejoicing and their mourning into a holiday.”
This is not just Esther’s story, if it were there would be no reason to include it in God’s Word. This is God’s story, and yet, how can that be when God is not even mentioned anywhere in this story? I think that is the point. Even when we don’t see God, He is working behind the scenes through things that the average reader would call coincidence. Because we know that God is in every story, we can see His hand in the details. All those coincidences, those times of “...just happened to…”, we see throughout the story? That is where we can see God working out His plan.
It amazes me that He chooses to use a young girl and her guardian to save His people. He does not force their help or coerce their cooperation. And yet, He works out a way they can be used to accomplish His purpose.
Esther was beautiful. She had been forced into harem life and became Queen of Persia. She was reluctantly brave and chose to go ahead and petition for the life of her people at risk of death. “If I die, I die.” This was her defining moment. She was wise enough to ask for her people to fast for three days. Now it does not mention prayer, but I cannot imagine jewish people fasting without prayer. God works through the prayers of the righteous. The Jews were saved.
Names are so important in the Bible and I found that Esther, her Persian name, means Star. Her jewish name, Hadassah, means Myrtle. When you crush the leaves of a Myrtle tree they release their fragrance. Surely her experiences were crushing, and yet in the crushing her true God-given character was revealed. She rose to her calling, and walked out the role God had chosen for her. To be a shining star who rose above the evil of her day. A light that we can still see as we read the book that bears her name.
God orchestrates the circumstances of our messy, broken lives to accomplish His purpose. That means He can use me, and you despite all that the enemy does to derail us. God is working behind the scenes of the circumstances of your life, even when you don’t see Him.
Perhaps we all have a defining moment of our life and our faith. Or, because of the grace of God, many defining moments. The question is: How are we going to respond?
We will be talking about women of the Bible all year in Pretty and Wise. Don’t worry…most are not as long as the story of Esther.
It is our hope that in fleshing out these women’s stories and their impact in God’s kingdom, you will be encouraged to walk out your own defining moment in your walk of faith. Our prayer is that you are able to clearly see His hand in your life and circumstances every step of the way.
Written By: Gay Idle
It’s a New Year! What does that mean to you? Do you go into the New Year with delightful expectancy? Or fear?
Are you anxious to begin again? Or anxiety ridden from all that you endured in the previous year?
Do you take time to celebrate your accomplishments? Or are you eating ice cream straight out of the container as you languish over the failures?
If you are like me, you have experienced each of the previous scenarios at different times depending on your previous years’ experience. And I do believe there is value in taking a day sometime in January (or even December) to reflect and review. To celebrate what went well and to contemplate what did not.
However, there comes a point when we must move forward. We can’t sit back on our laurels and we should never hunker down into the muck and mire of our regrets. There is a conversation that takes place between Allen and his father in Richard Paul Evans’ book, Walking on Water, that, I believe, makes my point.
“The past makes a good bishop but a poor king.”
“What does that mean?” I said.
“It means that it’s good to take counsel from the past but not to be ruled by it. Otherwise we end up using today to fight yesterday’s battles and miss tomorrow’s promise.”
So while we may take a day to reassess the previous year, we need to make sure it does not completely control our current moments, or future movements. I don’t want us to miss what God has in store for us as we move into the future.
Don’t Look Back
How we look at the past can either help or hinder us as we move into the future. So let’s take Lot’s wife as a cautionary (true) tale.
Lot’s wife missed out on tomorrow’s promise when she failed to obey the simple command of the angel of the Lord, as she was leaving her beloved home in the city of Sodom.
Flee for your lives! Don’t look back, and don’t stop anywhere in the plain! ~Genesis 19:17b
Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah—from the Lord out of the heavens. Thus He overthrew those cities and the entire plain, including all those living in the cities—and also the vegetation in the land. But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt. (Gen. 19:24–26)
Now when it says she looked back, it’s important to take a moment to reflect on the English word within the text…look. The Hebrew word for “look” is nabat (Strong’s Concordance H5027), and it means “to look intently in a favorable manner”. So, as we can see she didn’t just glance back over her shoulder. She was looking back with intense longing. Instead of trusting in the goodness of God and the future He had for her and her family, she was longing for her previous life…living among wicked people in a city known for its sexual depravity. Her heart was with the wicked city and it’s ways, not leaning toward a future with a Holy God.
Jesus himself, warns us to remember Lot’s wife when He was answering the Pharisees question of when the Kingdom of God would come.
Remember Lot’s wife. Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it. ~ Luke 17:32-33
Instead of her life being preserved, her longing look back was preserved, in a pillar of salt. A look that pointed out the true affections of her heart. Where is your heart? Are you still sitting in the self-condemnation of past sin and failures? Are you glancing back at the past, reconsidering repeating a sin you thought was long buried? Or, are you looking forward to all that God is calling you to? Leaving behind those things that the enemy of your soul intends to use to harm you? Satan wants to preserve our sins. To keep us deep in the mire of fear and doubt. He wants us to continue on a path of self-destruction…to keep looking back with longing so that we miss tomorrow’s promise from God.
In order to move forward into the New year, we must defeat the lies of the enemy with the truth of God’s Word. We can look to each new day as an opportunity to walk forward into the future with Jesus. Let’s embrace these words from Oswald Chambers, “Leave the broken, irreversible past in God’s hands, and step out into the invincible future with Him.”
To this I say, YES! His mercies are new every morning.
Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.(Lamentations 3:22-23).
So let’s refocus our hearts with intention toward the heart of God. Let’s leave behind those things that we are no longer controlled by. Let’s leave behind those things we are no longer called to do. Let’s step into the invincible future with our invincible God!
May yours be a blessed and happy New Year,
Written By: gay Idle
Are you tired? I have been for months now. I’m suffering from post shut-down syndrome.
This is a sub-set of symptoms from having lived through this crazy pandemic of the past (almost) two years now. This syndrome does not even require you to have actually had Covid-19. If you are alive on this planet earth, you most likely are suffering from it’s symptoms.
Symptoms of Shut-down Syndrome:
This is not an article telling you specifics of what to do in order to live through this, or any, pandemic. It’s not about whether or not to get a vaccine or how to get healthy. It’s not about the ‘science’ of it. No...I just want to tell you a little of what God has been teaching me in all of this mess.
The Lord God has given Me the tongue of those who are
instructed to know how to sustain the weary with a word.
My journey, especially in the past few months, has caused me to pause in the moment. To stop listening to the blaring voices in the news and social media in order to resync my heart and mind with God’s voice. It has caused me to stop and consider that this is a universal syndrome and those steps that I listed, well all but the toilet paper one, have their own list of symptoms to process. So what am I learning in this pause?
Into the Word
He awakens Me each morning;
He awakens My ear to listen
like those being instructed.
I am blessed to be able to get out of bed each morning and go directly to the coffee maker to pour a freshly brewed cup of coffee...ahhh the aroma...and then go straight to my comfy chair to enjoy my coffee with Jesus. I use these first morning hours to sit with Jesus, to talk with God, to read His word, and then if I have time, to read from a book that leads me into further reflection. When I am awakened to His voice, He perks up my ears to listen and learn from His word.
But sometimes...I am sidelined by distractions and I miss His voice. And approaching my mornings with good intentions but haphazardly allowing for distractions gets me off track. Even in spite of the fact that I am still physically going to that quiet place every morning. And I know I’ve been doing this when I feel the bone-tired weariness of living in this restless world.
I find that it’s time to pause again. To stop and listen to the song that He sings over me.
Listen to my voice, beloved.
You will not find rest in a restless world.
Come and confide in Me;
I will be your rest.
That’s just it…there is no rest to be found in a restless world. Our rest is found in God alone. And so we have to pause and rest in His wisdom. Rest in His word. Sit in the lap of your heavenly Father and listen to the song He sings over you. If you are not familiar with a loving earthly father, this might be hard to picture in your mind’s eye, but as you come to know Jesus, He will reveal the Father to you. A good and loving Father.
Rest For the Soul
Jesus tells us in Matthew 11:28-30 just where to go to find this rest for our souls,
Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy burdened, and I will give you rest.
All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for yourselves.. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.
We need rest from the burdens (yoke) that has been placed on us, or dare I say the one that we have taken upon ourselves. So what exactly does it mean to take His yoke?
The yoke has been used as a symbol in the Bible, referring to the cattle yoke, or harness. In this passage, Jesus uses the metaphor of the common yoke to teach his disciples a lesson. I can imagine Him pointing to the cattle in the field nearby as He taught. His disciples would have had a clear image of what He was talking about. It can be a bit muddy to those of us who grew up in a city and aren’t familiar with the ancient agrarian ways. So, I did some digging and discovered that a yoke of this kind binds two cattle together so they could work in tandem. This yoke, or harness, was often larger on one side so that a larger, stronger, and more experienced animal could guide and mentor a younger animal. This would also significantly lighten the burden of the less experienced and weaker animal.
Can you see it? No? Well, hold my purse while I slip out of this current yoke...Post-Shutdown syndrome, and slip on the yoke of Jesus and walk in tandem with Him.
Just what is the ‘yoke’ of Jesus? What was the burden of His life...the thing He was most passionate about? He knew what He was to do from a very early age. At just 12 years old, Mary, who was in a panic over where He was, found Him in the temple complex...his answer to her chiding was this, “Didn’t you know that I must be about my Father’s business”, Luke 2:49. In John 6:38 Jesus states, “I came not to do my own will, but the will of Him who sent me.” So, if we are to take up His yoke, we too are to do the will of the Father.
Awaken to Hope
With all my heart, I want to learn from Him, so that I may find my rest in Him. There is nothing like a good rest to restore body, mind, and soul. To awaken with a fresh perspective. New hope. Ready to take on whatever challenges may come.
Even as I walk with a renewed hope, I know that more difficulties will come. After all, Jesus also warns us that in this world we will have trouble, (John 16:33). But in the same breath, He tells us to ‘take heart’ because He has already overcome the world. He is the victor. And from this promise we can experience peace. A peace that makes no earthly sense. And you know what? It doesn’t have to when we place our trust in Him.
“But I will see Your face in righteousness; when I awake, I will be satisfied with your presence.” ~ Psalm 75:15
Written bY: Gay Idle
Life is hard. It’s a well known fact. Even the Dread Pirate Roberts says,
“Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who tells you differently is selling you something.” (Princess Bride, William Goldman).
And you might rightly ask, “Why? I’m a God-fearing, bible reading, church going believer. God has saved me from my sin. His Son, Jesus died for me, so that I might be saved. His grace covers me. Where is the abundant life? Why is life still hard?”
My usual answer to that question is that we live in a fallen world that displays the result of sin. Ever since the fall in the Garden of Eden, things have been going downhill. Everything has been affected by that choice made so long ago. And the enemy is still at work in this world seeking to destroy everyone in his path.
So, even though we have personally been saved through the work of Christ’s death on the cross and His resurrection, we still live in a fallen world. We still struggle against our own heart of flesh.
His work brings us into the state of grace, no longer condemned but pardoned. Justified as the righteousness of Christ Himself covers us.
This establishes a right relationship between us and God. But He doesn’t just leave us there...as we are when we come to Christ warts and all, He begins the work of sanctification in our lives.
In his Systematic Theology, A. H. Strong gives us such great illustration of this:
The steamship whose machinery is broken may be brought into port and made fast to the dock. She is safe, but not sound. Repairs may last a long time. Christ begins to make us both safe and sound. Justification gives the first...safety, sanctification gives the second...soundness.
So where does this leave us? Not without help, girlfriend! And I, for one, am so thankful that we have the Holy Spirit to guide us through the trials ...to conquer the remaining sinful nature of the flesh , even as we continue to struggle against it.
The goal is a pure heart as we are told in Matthew 5:8,
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Purity is something we do not achieve through our own sweat and blood. It does not come about through sheer determination and work on our part. It’s a heart issue. But how does the heart become pure? How do God’s ways become the strongest desire of my heart?
Remove the dross from the silver, and a silversmith can produce a vessel ~Proverbs 25:4.
It is God who does the refining. To refine is to purify. In Biblical times, the refiner would put the silver ore into a melting pot and then into a furnace with flames hot enough to burn off the ‘dross’...the impurities that keep the silver from being turned into a useful vessel. I found it interesting when I looked up the word ‘dross’...
The Oxford English dictionary as this:
God uses this ‘word picture’ of the refiner’s fire throughout scripture, as it correlates to our faith being refined through painful trials. And as He removes the dross, the worthless rubble from our lives that keep us from being useful vessels, He purifies our hearts and they become more and more a vessel of His love. Yes, it is a necessary process in the life of the Christ follower.
The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but the Lord tests the heart. ~ Proverbs 17:3
See, I have refined you, though not as silver: I have tested you in the fire of affliction. ~ Isaiah 48:10
We are even told not to be surprised when we encounter the fire of affliction and trials.
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.
~ 1 Peter 4:12
This refining process, though it can be painful, is a necessary part of our lives. Our character is refined, and we become a reflection of His grace and mercy.
One more word about this…because, to some, it may seem to be a cruel thing for our God to put us into the fire of affliction and leave us there.
Accept that He does not leave us there. Oh no, my friend. He sits with us there!
But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. ~ Malachi 3:2-3a
Just as God spoke to Job from the midst of the storm, He sits with us in the refining fire of our trials on this earth. He did not leave Job and He will not leave us!
Not only is His presence assured, but His purpose is not to harm us. He, as the Word and the refiner’s fire, burns out the power of sin in our lives. He removes the desire, by removing those habits that keep us from walking in step with His word. Be patient...it’s a process, not a once and done deal.
Because we are assured of His very presence as He does His work in our hearts, our response to this process can be, as Peter and James say:
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith- more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire- may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” ~ 1 Peter 1: 6-7,(ESV).
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
~ James 1:2-4
I want to be mature and complete, not lacking anything. Don’t you?
So what will it take?
Surrender...let the refining fire of God’s fierce love sweep over you and do it’s transforming work in your heart. And trust the One who has your heart in His hands. As the Psalmist says,
Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls:
all your waves and breakers have swept over me.
By day the LORD directs his love,
at night his song is with me
…a prayer to the God of my life.
Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God, For I will yet praise Him,
My Savior and my God. ~Psalm 42:7, 8, 11.
I’ve come to understand that yes...life is hard. Through the many trials I have endured in this life, I have learned to place my trust in Him. And through it all I’ve come to the resounding conclusion that in spite of the difficulties of this life…
God is good!
WRITTEN BY: GAY IDLE
For more from Gay, head to her website: www.gayidle.com
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It would seem that I am at a loss as I come to this coversation about loss and expansion. I've been struggling to get any coherent thoughts streaming long enough to get them down in written form. So I revisited the articles that our Pretty&Wise women had written on this subject.
After reading through these beautifully written articles, I am struck with wonder at the wisdom of these young women and their hearts on this matter. So I just want to highlight some things that struck me as I was reading and contemplating what ways loss can make room for and even fascilitate expansion in our lives.
Angie wrote about loss of self in her article and two of her thoughts struck me.
When we are willing to take the loss of self and surrender to Him, we get to be involved in the expansion of God's Kingdom.
God calls us to lose ourselves so that He can expand His kingdom, His love, and His salvation in this broken world.
God's expansion doesn't always look clear and make sense to us.
Just this week I experienced hearing God speak clearly to me to do something that was a bit uncomfortable. To lay down my sense of self confidence...to lose a bit of myself.
As the hubs and I were enjoying breakfast with friends at a nearby restaurant, God told me to pray for our waitress. Now...I sat there for a minute, because I knew He meant I was to pray for her so that she knew I was praying...not just say a little prayer as I sat there enjoying conversation with friends. I did not want to announce this to everyone at my table, so I waited for the right moment, or so I thought.
There she was, standing by herself at the hostess counter. No one was in line waiting to be seated, so I uttered a weak,
to my table mates and walked over to the counter.
As stepped up to tell my waitress that God had asked me to pray for her, I noticed that a line of patrons waiting to be seated had quickly formed in front of us. So, I asked her first name and said,
"I can see that you are busy and I don't want to keep you from your work, but I just believe that you are experiencing pain and God wants me to pray for you."
Now I'm not completely sure, but I believe she smirked when I said that. I could be wrong and it could have been a smile that I misread...but it really seemed as if she smirked.
I went back to my table and sat down and joined in the ongoing conversation with our friends. But the thought kept nagging at me. Why Lord? Didn't you ask me to pray for her...to let her know that I was praying for her? This was definitely nothing like what Beth Moore experienced when she listened to God's voice prompting her to brush a man's hair at the airport. (If you're not familiar with this story, go listen now: The Hair Brush).
I'm certain that I did what I was supposed to do. I have written her name down and continued to pray for her. Because God said to pray. I may never know why or to what effect my simple action and prayers may have in the expansion of His Kingdom. I know that God's expansion sometimes takes unexpected pathways. He doesn't always gift us with the mystery of His ways wrapped up in the clarity of a hair(bush)bow. I can only trust Him because I know that HE KNOWS.
In reading Olivia's article, When Surrender Feels Like Loss, once again I am reminded that when I surrender control over everything within the realm of my own influence and give it over to the Holy Spirit and His prompting...that giving up...that loss...becomes gain.
Could it be instead that a surrender of control.. even a surrender so deep and transforming that it initially feels like a great loss.. could actually be a great gain? That it could be a beautiful expansion of faith; of obedience; of the Holy Spirit's work in and around us- for the Kingdom?
Such wisdom. Lord, help me to give up my own selfish gain, to lose myself in obedience to you, to walk in surrender to you, so that your Kingdom may be expanded here on earth. Even, and most asurredly in the small things such as speaking up and praying for others.
That's what Jonah did, eventually. He experienced some pretty serious loss and expansion as Lyndsay writes in her article Jonah's Loss and Expansion.
I've done some study myself on Jonah's situation. The lesson I gleaned from this Minor Prophet in the Old Testament was a bit different than those Lyndsay shared with us in her article. I wrote about it here: Run to Him, but I love that she found such an important truth and am so thankful she shared it with us. I might have been thinking of Jonah more as the deadbeat prophet until I read these words of wisdom:
It wasn’t until Jonah was ready to lose his life that God saved him. It wasn’t until Jonah was ready to give his life that God saved everyone else on that boat.
Even in Jonah’s sin, God was glorified. Even in Jonah’s disobedience, others were made right with God. But it took Jonah owning up to his sin, bringing to light his disobedience, and committing himself back to God for the others to be saved.
I'm so thankful that we have the book of Jonah and all of God's Word to teach us that His compassion and grace and active presence in our lives are not given to us based on what we deserve, but on our responsive steps in the right direction.
So...what is the right direction?
This thought brings me to the final article, Loss/Expansion, from Alexandria. In her article she shares with us this verse, John 1:12(TPT),
But those who embrace Him and took hold of His name He gave authority to become the children of God!And then she makes this observation,
Embrace can only happen within proximity. We can only embrace someone if we are close to them. Close enough to hold. How often am I that close to God?
...everything in the Kingdom comes from proximity. It comes from being close to the Father.
And there it is. The right direction is always a step closer toward our heavenly Father. A step closer to His leading through His word and through Holy Spirit's promptings.
I just want to say thank you to my sister's at Pretty&Wise for allowing God to use you as you write to the Glory of God with wisdom that comes from His word and His leading. You have made possible the writing of this particular article . The loss I experienced in my writer's block allowed my vision to expand as I read and was blessed by your words.
To you my reader, thank you for reading. You are here for a reason. So please allow me to pray for you...for us all.
I thank you for my sister/brother reading these words.
I ask that you make yourself known to us in the midst of these uncertain times. I ask for your peace...the peace that doesn't always make sense in the midst of the crazy going on all around us.
Help us all to take the time to pause and listen to You...through Your word...through Your gentle prompting throughout our days. Help us to see those who are suffering, and to know how we can reach out.
I thank you, LORD, that You are good and that You work all things for the good of those who love You, and You work it all for your glory. I am comforted in the truth of these words...Your Word.
I am humbled that you would use us to advance your Kingdom. I pray that you would open our eyes to see where we can join you in your work here on earth.
I thank you that your words assure us that you will draw near to us if we would but draw nearer to you.
I ask that You work through it all and in all for Your will to be accomplished...in the precious name of Jesus, Amen.
WRITTEN BY: GAY IDLE
For more from Gay, head to her website: www.gayidle.com
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You were made for a purpose.
I think most of us are familiar with this phrase. It then begs the question, what is my purpose? For many, it becomes a lifelong pursuit...or an endless trial and error of 'trying on' this job or that profession. We may even begin a series of volunteer positions looking for that perfect fit. We want to find that job or profession that gives us that hand in glove feeling...to find our sweet spot in life. And we think that as we are doing this we are pursuing our purpose in life.
Maybe it's just semantics, but I believe that we are apt to confuse our purpose with our calling. When we begin looking for our calling when we have not first truly understood our purpose, then we have put the cart before the horse.
I am a word girl. I love words and I believe it is really important that we understand the meanings of the words we use. In our current culture words have become blurred as old meanings have been dismissed and new meanings are assigned to words that we thought we knew the meaning of based on the definitions that have been around for hundreds of years, if not longer. But that is an article begging to be written for another time. I think when it comes to the words 'purpose' and 'calling' we have just generally not had a clear understanding and so we have fallen to using the words interchangeably as if they had the same meaning. Therefore, I think it important to look at their meanings from the dictionary.
2: the vocation or profession in which one customarily engages
4.a strong impulse or inclination: She did it in response to an inner calling.
2. an intended or desired result; end; aim; goal.
As I look over these two definitions I can see that there is clearly a difference between calling and purpose. Our calling helps us accomplish our purpose.
Calling Facilitates Purpose
In Romans 8:28 we are told that we are called according to His purpose.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose.
So we need to look to the author of life for our purpose. If we love God and want to understand why we were created and put here on this earth we need to understand His purpose in creating us before we pursue a specific calling for our lives.
In order to understand how something is to be used properly, we need to understand why it was created.
Let's look at a coffee cup. A coffee cup is made specifically to hold coffee. I am extremely grateful for the creator of the coffee cup as I smell that wondrous aroma and take the first sip of the day….ahhhh…but I digress. The coffee cup's purpose is to hold coffee...plain and simple. Can it do other things? Sure...but it doesn't fulfill the purpose for which it was designed if it's sitting on your desk holding pens.
You and I were created for a purpose. That purpose is to glorify God. We need only to look to the example of Jesus on this earth to see what it means to live out that purpose. In His own words, we hear this,
I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.
So if our purpose is to glorify God, then how do we do that? That's where our calling comes into play. Calling is the means to accomplish our purpose. If we don't understand our purpose before we look for our calling, then we are in danger of allowing our calling to become our purpose.
When we do that we are placing our own calling on the throne of our lives. It becomes the driving force in our life. Our calling becomes our god. And life begins to lose its true purpose. We begin to seek success with our calling and crave the affirmation of that success from the world. We seek our own glory rather than God's glory. By putting our calling first we are putting ourselves on the throne. That's a dangerous place to be. And it brings us misery in the end.
Friends, it is really important that we get this right. Words are important. His Word is the primary way that God communicates with us. His son, Jesus Christ, is referred to as 'the Word' (John 1:1). It's is so important that we look to the Word to understand that we all have the same purpose...to glorify God. But each one of us is uniquely created according to our calling to fulfill that purpose.
You are called. What your calling looks like is very specific to the way you are created. You are uniquely you for a reason. Your giftings, your bent, your personality, your abilities, your occupation, your ministry in the local church...these make up your calling. Your calling will often include specific assignments. Your calling is the thing or things God has given you to carry out to fulfill your purpose (to glorify God).
If we keep our purpose of glorifying God as the primary driving force in our lives, then it becomes the gauge to measure our progress in life, which leads us to our calling.
In The Grand Weaver, Ravi Zacharias tells us that finding our calling,
...gives you the security of knowing that you are utilizing your gifts and your will to God's end first, not yours. When you align your will with God's will, his calling on you has found its home.
If we are looking for God’s calling on our life, then we must first seek His will. When our will becomes synonymous with His will we will find our calling. Our calling will then lead us to bring glory to His name. We are called according to His purpose...to bring glory to His name...name above all names.
Soli Deo gloria...glory to God alone!
WRITTEN BY: GAY IDLE
For more from Gay, head to her website: www.gayidle.com
Head over to the Community and join in the conversation!
There is something so very calming about walking along the beach. Feeling the gritty grains of sand on my bare feet, and the gentle breeze as it lifts my hair to fully expose my face to the bright rays of the sun. It calms my spirit and feeds my soul. As if in the overflow... God wants to fully reveal my inner spirit, the real me, to the world. And in that revelation, I feel His peace.
I revel in that peace. It is a balm to the inner wounds of my soul and spirit. I am walking out the process of being healed and made whole. In this healing, I am able to step forward into the ocean's waves...even as they begin to crash at my feet. He guides me, but I must keep moving forward into the depths of His love and grace.
There is freedom in this intentional forward movement...this dance with the waters, as they swirl around my knees. Oh, what freedom! I love the dance!
This is what I was created for...this freedom to walk into all He has purposed for my life.
“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” ~C.S. Lewis
And so I continue to wade into the waters, feeling the waves lift me and carry me,
"As You carry me, LORD, I surrender to Your path for my life. I feel You guiding me deeper still."
Sometimes the waves get a little rough. They rise up and slap me fully in the face. Still, I move forward as I regain my footing and catch my breath. Sometimes there is a struggle in moving forward into God's will. In breathing again, I am thrilled with the wonder of all He has created. And it fills me and enables me to continue on.
I hear the tumult of the raging seas as your waves and surging tides sweep over me. ~Psalm 42:7, NLT
And then it happens. A rogue wave rises out of nowhere and knocks me off my feet! As the waves sweep over me, I struggle to regain my footing...there...there is the sand again. I dig in my heels to steady my body to let the waves sweep past me. Calm is restored. But I cannot move forward. I'm afraid to keep moving.
So I stand there, waist-deep. There will be more waves.
"Can You carry me, Lord? I'm not strong enough for this!"
I dig my heels further into the sand and refuse to move out into the deeper waters. I know He is calling me, but I am paralyzed with fear. I want to move...but as I hesitate, I feel the sands lifting and resettling around my feet as they sink further and further down into the sand ...the sinking sand. And I am STUCK! Unable to move forward into all He is calling me to. Into the wonder, into His grace. I feel the disgrace of the fall ...the shame of being stuck in my tracks.
And yet He calls me deeper still. Out of disgrace into His grace. As I reach out to take His hand, He pulls me out of the sinking sands. I move forward leaving fear and doubt in the wake of His love and mercy. And I am in awe of this God who loves me so.
I called on your name, O LORD, from the depths of the pit;
you heard my plea, 'Do not close your ear to my cry for help!'
You came near when I called on you; you said, 'Do not fear!'
You have taken up my cause, O Lord; you have redeemed my life.
~ Lamentations 3:55-58
Unstuck ... I am free! Free to walk deeper still into this calling. Into His arms...His strength. Into His grace.
Does fear have you stuck? Let God take your hand and step forward into His grace. When you do ... those things that hold you back will begin to fall away. Leaving you free...free from fear. Unstuck! Free to walk into all He created you to be.
Focus. As I sit here contemplating this word, the brain fog sets in, and my weary eyes begin to blur the words together on the page. After looking at definitions and synonyms for this word...after reading verse after verse, my mind fractures into countless rabbit trails. Oh, the irony!
Focus is a word that is both a noun and a verb. We may focus on something to "bring it into view" as it becomes the "central point of attention", bringing both verb and noun together. (See what I did there? No? Well, you see I took the two definitions...oh well, never mind).
Focusing on this word brings to mind the One-Word Challenge. I have participated in doing a One Word Challenge for many years now. Some people call it by a different name. But the idea is to pick one word to focus on for the entire year...usually sometime in late December. Many who choose to do the one-word challenge look for a word that sums up who they want to be or how they want to live.
I, however, tend to look at it a little differently than most. Picking a word and becoming that word is not my goal. Instead, I choose to begin praying each year in December that God would show me the word HE wants me to focus on. This was not a New Year's resolution but a year-long one-word journey. As I focused on the word throughout the next year, God would reveal to me the things He wanted me to learn in relation to that word, creating a change in my heart and my life.
This One Word thing takes discipline and focus. Interestingly enough, FOCUS was my word in 2014. So, I went back through my journal in search of an entry on the word, and even looked to see if I had written a blog post about it thinking it would be helpful now that I was writing about it again. There was not one post on the blog, nor anything further in my journal about the word beyond the entry in December stating that it was my to be my word for 2014. Apparently, and I might add ironically, I had lost my focus. Perhaps I need to refocus on the word in 2021.
Oh but wait...that same year I had chosen a verse to go along with my One Word.
It was my life-verse, Matthew 6:33.
But seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.
There it was. This verse "brought into view" the "central point of attention"...the very One I was to focus on. I went back through and looked at the articles I had written on my blog that year and I could see it...everything I had written was focused on bringing glory to God...seeking His righteousness and advancing His kingdom in my writing. Maybe I didn't lose my focus after all...because the point was that I was not to meditate on the word focus, I was to focus on the Word...His Word.
Wow! My brain is tired from all the wordplay. But I kind of love it when the rabbit trail takes me back to His Word and to the gentle way He leads me. I'm so thankful that He is patient enough to lead me into a new understanding of this word...albeit 6 years in the making.
WRITTEN BY: GAY IDLE
For more from Gay, head to her website: www.gayidle.com
Head over to the Community and join in the conversation!
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