What about the Isaiah 54 Woman?

1 “Sing, O barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband,” says the LORD. 2 “Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes. 3 For you will spread out to the right and to the left; your descendants will dispossess nations and settle in their desolate cities. 4 “Do not be afraid; you will not suffer shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood. 5 For your Maker is your husband– the LORD Almighty is his name– the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth. ~Isaiah 54

Christmas Eve 2012 was about as perfect as a Christmas Eve could be.

I spent the morning doing homework at a coffeehouse I have frequented since high school.

I went to Go Fish and had a blast at work chatting with and wrapping for a host of delightful last minute holiday shoppers.

I attended the Christmas Eve service of Lessons and Carols at Covenant Presbyterian Church and was so proud of my dad as he participated in the service for the first time. I saw my high school basketball coach and his daughter, a precious former teammate and old friend, and met her husband and two little girls and marveled at how time has flown.

My parents and sisters and I continued our Christmas Eve tradition of fine dining at a local Waffle House. Nothing beats the conversation and the people watching at a Waffle House on Christmas Eve.

After hanging out with them for a while longer, Val and I went to Midnight Mass at St. Paul’s Episcopal downtown. For this Southern Baptist girl who grew up in a country church at which farmers often had to leave the service because their pigs had escaped and followed them to church, there is a richness and unity in the liturgical service that I am drawn to every year. I saw two more of my dearest old friends from high school and spent a few precious moments catching up with them.

When I arrived home around 1:30 Christmas morning, I had a full and worshipful heart. I had spent the evening singing praises and hymns of deep and rich theology (Have you ever actually read the words of most Christmas carols?), and I could not wait for the next morning, to hear my dad read the Christmas story from Luke 2, to watch my niece and nephew open their gifts and then to enjoy one my favorite Mason family traditions– the Christmas Seafood Feast.

I made an unscheduled stop at my grandmother’s house that morning, and while she couldn’t remember our names, she remembered that my cousin and I were her oldest and youngest “grands” and, according to my standards, that meant she was having a good enough day to get her out of the house, so, after a bit of protesting from her and convincing from us, we brought her to Christmas at our house

Things occurred just as expected, with the exception of my dad cutting lunch short so the grandkids could start opening presents. That was amusing.

Life was as Americana perfect as a Norman Rockwell painting. Until about 4:00 pm. That was when my brothers, their very pregnant wives, and their precocious precious toddlers left, headed out to other families and other activities.

And I was standing alone in my parents’ front yard.

And that’s when the dark cloud of mental assault hit me. What was I going to do the rest of the evening? Read? Research? Further my education and theological training? Rebel against looming due dates and go see a movie? Go home and continue the unexpected and rushed packing job I am doing?

I tried fighting the impending feeling of loneliness and loserness by throwing myself into Isaiah 54 mode. The Proverbs 31 women had left with their families, but the barren woman was going to sing for joy while I furthered the work of enlarging my tent and raising my spiritual children.

But there was no joyous song in my heart.

So many things have been written in the last couple of years about liberating women from the unrealistic expectation of being the Proverbs 31 woman, about releasing wives and moms everywhere from the unattainable standard of this perfect wife.

But as I stood in my parents’ yard, forcing a smile and silly waves and throwing and catching kisses with my babies, I was pitching a toddler sized fit in my head, with myself and with God. The grass is always greener on the other side, and at that moment, I would have traded my Isaiah 54 for some Proverbs 31 a thousand times over.

The deceptive, depressing thoughts came flooding:

“Must be nice to go with your own family to celebrate more. Too bad you’ll never have a family of your own.”

“Keep doing that research and earning those degrees and publishing your work. It’ll keep you busy, but it’ll never be anyone’s pride and joy like those grandbabies your brothers keep producing.”
I chided myself: “How dare you not be content in your singleness! Spiritual offspring is an eternal matter and counts much more than biological offspring. The love of Christ is better than the love of man. It’s better to be single and serve the Lord. Is being in the ideal position to do what you’ve been called to do not good enough for you?”

As I fought back tears and the physical feeling of being kicked in the stomach, I thought, “No, I don’t want to be the Isaiah 54 woman. Right now I want a husband to help and love and minister alongside, and I want kids to love and train and disciple. I don’t want to read 5,000 pages of school work or finish an overdue thesis proposal, or raise money to save families in Uganda, or prepare lesson plans for units coming up at school. I don’t want to ‘enlarge the place of my tent’ or ‘stretch my tent curtains wide.’ I’ve opened myself up to the vulnerability of ministry, and it’s a pain I don’t want anymore.

I don’t want to be the Isaiah 54 woman right now.”

As I pitched my hissy fit, I decided to go for a run to clear my head and adjust my attitude, to keep my body busy while my heart and mind had it out with God.

While I was running, three Scriptures were impressed upon my heart: one was a prayer for an old friend, but two were for me. The first was the “dare” God first placed in my heart when I completely surrendered my life to Him:

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him. Psalm 34:8

It’s a passage God brings to mind every time I doubt His direction or ask myself what in the world I am doing with my life. He reminds me, “Just try me. Trust me again and I will not fail you again.”

The third passage has become a life verse of sorts for me. When God dared me to try Him and I did, this verse became my response to His faithfulness.

Because your love is better than life, my lips will praise you. Psalm 63:3

I have tasted the world, and it was bitter.

I have tasted the Lord and His way is better. Better than life. Better than anything in this life.

I had forgotten, ever so briefly, those two truths: God offers Himself to us fully, because He knows there’s nothing in this world that will satisfy us like Him.

So what of the Isaiah 54 woman?

Does she need to be liberated?

Only from the deception that we are to be the dutiful Stepford wife of Christ.

I share this not as a pitch for sympathy or encouragement (because the thoughts were taken captive, made obedient and the moment has passed), but because I know I can’t the only single girl out that there that sometimes has this moment and just needs to know it’s ok to have those times when you’re not ok with being single.

Be like the Psalmists; cry out in desperation. Express your frustrations and your selfish desires. Have a spiritual hissy fit.

But keep being like the Psalmist and renew your mind with the Truth of his Word and faithfulness.

Being an Isaiah 54 woman is reason to sing for joy, and sing I will, even on the days my heart deceives me, even for a moment, into thinking there is anything, at least in this season of my life, that is better for me in this life.

Is Your Women’s Ministry Word-Based?

Questions to consider from Nancy Guthrie:

What drives the agenda of your Women’s Ministry?

We will one day stand before the blazing Light of God, where nothing will be hidden, and will give an account of our lives to God.
We are to not only equip our women to deal with the struggles of this life, we are to prepare them for the accountability of standing before a Holy God.


The Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference: Here is Our God

If being a conference attender was a career, I would want to be a professional. I love soaking in intensive learning, meeting new friends and catching up with old ones, and getting away from everyday life to focus on worship and learning. With Peter’s desire to build shelters and stay on the Mount of Transfiguration, I think he could have been a professional conference attender, too.

Unfortunately, conference attending is not a career, and I don’t have the time or the resources to attend every one I would like to attend. But one of the true blessings of technology is that we can attend as many conferences as possible through the joy of steaming video, blogging, and audio feeds. We can’t actually attend them all, but we can be lifelong learners by learning from one another.

This weekend, for the first time, I get to be the one on the giving end of providing the conference for others. The Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference will be taking place Friday through Sunday in Orlando, and I will be live blogging over at kd316.com.

I will post notes and brief reflections of both the plenary sessions and select breakout sessions.

The theme of this year’s conference is Here is Our God: God’s Revelation of Himself in Scripture. It promises to be a weekend overflowing with encouraging and challenging messages from some of my favorite people in ministry.

For a list of session speakers and topics, click here.

If you’re on Twitter, follow #TGCW12 for real time updates on all that’s going on.

There are several other women who will be live blogging and Tweeting this weekend. For links to other posts and to watch the conference live, click here.

Be sure to check www.kd316.com throughout the weekend for updates. It will be a rich time that you’ll not want to miss!

The Messiah Complex: Kill It or Be Killed By It

Today I’m guest blogging over on my friend Kim Campbell’s site, kd316.com.

Here’s an excerpt:

My Messiah complex has gotten in the way, and I have tried to meet every need I’ve come across, say yes to every opportunity offered to me.

The sad thing about that Messiah complex is that it deceives us into do more than even our Messiah did.

Jesus did the work the Father gave to him to do. Nothing more. Nothing less. As you read through the Gospels, you can see the “missed opportunities” in the ministry of Jesus. But when your goal is to do only the things the Father gives you to do, there are no missed opportunities.

For the rest of the article, click here.

While you’re there, check out Kim’s extensive wisdom on a variety of issues pertaining to women and living lives of surrendered faith to Christ. You’ll be blessed!

Can Do vs. Called To Do

 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13

I have recently been battling my inner Wonder Woman. This happens when I let my sinful self-sufficiency sneak up on me. And what is so amazing about the whole thing is that I have twisted Scripture to justify my sin. After all, “I can do all things…”

Lead a Bible study? Write a book? Sponsor a club? Coach a team? Mentor a teen? Support a starving child in Africa? Teach a Sunday school class? Coordinate volunteers? Raise funds? Adopt a child? Keep a home? Go on mission trips? Visit the elderly? Learn to knit? Be the perfect wife? Win the Mom of the Year Award? Clip Coupons? Save the world?

Of course I can help you! I can do all things! After all, isn’t that what the Proverbs 31 woman did? I’m just doing what Scripture tells me to do!

What I quickly forget is that my terrible interpretation of that verse is just that—terrible. Paul is not claiming to be a spiritual Superman. Paul is saying that Jesus grants us the strength to do the things He sets before us. While I can do all things through Christ, He never meant for any of us to do all things at once. He alone is the one who holds all things together, and for me to think that I am needed for any bit of His work to succeed, I have deceived myself severely.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. Romans 12:3

And there’s my problem; I think of myself much more highly than I ought. After all, if I don’t do it, someone else is just going to mess it up. The only way it will be done right is for me to do it myself. So I end up trying to do it all, and instead of doing a few things well, I do a lot of things half way. Anyone else find themselves here? So what do we do to remedy this cycle?

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong… 1 Corinthians 1:26-27

First, I must consider my calling. This has been the question on the Post-It note on my computer screen at work the last few weeks: Can Do vs. Called To Do? What things in my life has God genuinely led me to do in His strength, power, and calling, and what things am I doing simply because I am able? He has been convicting me greatly of the fact that just because I can do something doesn’t mean I should be doing it. I am convinced that there have been blessings I have missed in life simply because I spend time bowing to my idols and pride and busyness.

Second, I must remember that God chooses, not me. His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways. Sometimes He calls us to do the things we wouldn’t naturally choose for ourselves simply to remind us that it is His work and His calling and His equipping that are successful in furthering His kingdom. He doesn’t need me or my abilities to accomplish His will, but He chooses to use us when we submit to Him and His will. And when we begin to take matters into our own hands, things fall apart. Fast. If life is spinning out of control around you, it may be because you are just trying to do more than He has for you to do. What are you doing out of self-imposed expectations? Are those self-imposed expectations godly? I find that normally, they are not.

Third, I must be weak to show Him to be strong. It is not my responsibility to save the day; He’s already done that. I am not the Messiah; but I am called to reflect the Messiah to a lost and dying world. If, at the end of the day, all anyone notices is how much work I do, then I have failed miserably. We are not called to fix it; we are called to point others to the One who has already fixed it.

Sometimes being obedient means dying to self and saying no, because I am not Wonder Woman. As a woman, that is a hard truth to swallow sometimes. God created us to be helpers and multi-taskers, but our sinful nature can so easily twist that God-given desire to help into a sinful, self-focused desire to save the day.

What things in your life do you do simply because you can do the job and not because He has called you to it? Do you live with this thought in the back of your tired and stressed out mind: “Well if I don’t do it, it might not get done.”

How different would the lives of Christian women be if we began focusing on the few things He calls us to and releasing the rest to His control? I am learning that His ability to get it all done is much better than mine, and resting in that truth is freeing indeed.

Close Friends or Entangled Hearts?

The following is a critical review of the article cited below.

Dykas, Ellen. “Close Friends or Entangled Hearts? Joys and Dangers in Woman-to-Woman Friendships.” Journal of Biblical Counseling 21, no. 1 (2006): 24-28.

The subjects of codependency and female relationships have been thrust to the forefront of Christian discussion in recent years. With the cultural acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle, women who struggle with unhealthy relationships now have society’s approval to follow their desires to their natural, fleshly ends. Such unhealthy—and when we are honest and biblical in description, sinful—relationships do not occur overnight. They are the culmination of weeks, months, and even years of compromises and concessions in standards and integrity. Author Ellen Dykas points out that “lesbianism simply adds touch and sexual involvement to an already present idolatrous heart entanglement” (24). Dykas’s work addresses the recognition and correction of one of the foundational stumbling blocks encountered by those seeking healthy interaction between women: creating an idol of the heart out of a friendship.

Dykas begins her work with a personal story about the desire for heart-to-heart connections with other people. She points out that God created people to desire connections and relationships. Personal connections are how we relate to one another and how we relate to God. A problem arises when people begin desiring relationships with one another more than a relationship with God; relationships that were once healthy quickly become “a dark counterfeit” (24). The focus of this article is answering the question, “What is a ‘godly friendship’ for women?” (24).

The answer to this question is sought by first giving an example of what a godly friendship is not. Dykas shows how women “are drawn to care, to initiate nurture, concern, and emotional intimacy with others” (24) and how this natural tendency can draw them into entangling relationships. Dykas says most previous attention has been given to women making their families the objects of their idolatry. Today the focus has shifted more to “how women get entangled in people worship with other women” (24).

The summary case study given in the article gives a clear and thorough example of how a relationship that appears godly and positive can quickly become an entanglement of hearts. The behavior exhibited by the two women in the story has become frighteningly common within ministry, and while this specific behavior is the focus of this article, Dykas accurately points out that “idolatry is not active in only one kind of person, but in all human hearts” (25). After describing a clear example of a heart entanglement, Dykas moves on to discuss what the Bible says about such relationships. She points out that these types of relationships are addictive and easy to fall into because they often begin in innocent and even religious ways.

The second section of the article poses questions for the woman who may be wondering if she is involved in an entangled friendship. While there are questions to ask and Scriptures to read, Dykas does a good job of reminding the reader that it is an active communication with God that will ultimately begin to reveal entanglements and idolatry in the heart. After asking several difficult questions, Dykas realizes that the reader/counselee may feel overwhelmed or uncomfortable, and she wisely points out that the purpose of such questions of accountability is not condemnation but restoration. She stresses that “the entanglement of an idolatrous friendship is sinful bondage and God wants to destroy it, cleanse you, and bring redemption to bear” (26).

Dykas presents a firm concept of an entangled relationship, and then quickly moves to discussing the characteristics of a healthy relationship. Much like she posed questions that would expose entanglement in the previous section, Dykas gives qualities supported by Scripture that show how women will behave toward one another when they are involved in healthy, godly relationships. The qualities discussed address the relationship between two women, the relationship each woman has with God, and the relationships each woman has with the other people in each of their lives. The theme of this list brings the reader to understand that a relationship, when healthy, moves each woman to a greater knowledge of and intimacy with Christ.

Sequentially Dykas has moved from the character of an entangled friendship, to the character of a healthy friendship, to step-by-step instructions of how to end unhealthy friendships and finally shows the reader how to enter into and maintain relationships that are both healthy and godly. As with all sin “that so easily entangles” (Hebrews 12:1), the steps for breaking free of this particular sin are: confession, repentance and accountability, open communication concerning the sin, trusting in God for forgiveness and redemption, and growth and discipleship through biblical study (27).

Dykas concludes the article by giving “five stepping stones that help in understanding God’s view for friendship” (27). These steps include intense Bible study, honest identification of sin, godly interaction with others, daily reflection and examination of the heart, and consideration of Jesus as the model for interaction with others. In conclusion, Dykas ends with this powerful statement which is the key to becoming victorious over any sin: “A deep-hearted, fervent love for others will only flow from hearts that have been purified by obedience to the truth” (28)! By confronting the why questions instead of simply examining the what questions of behavior, Dykas reinforces this foundational issue; all sin is a heart matter, and when our focus is Christ and not the things of this world, entangling sin of all types will lose power over the souls of man.

This is a well thought-out, solidly written article that gives clear biblical instruction concerning the whys and the hows of both godly and sinful relationships. While the article is geared specifically towards relationships between women, the biblical principles are given in a way that they can be shared in the correction of any ungodly relationship between people of either gender. The strength of this article is the logical progression and presentation of the author’s ideas.

By first setting up the idolatrous relationship, Dykas allows the reader to bring to mind a specific relationship in her life. Whether that relationship is a personal one or the relationship of a client, family member, or friend, by giving the problem first, Dykas gives the reader the opportunity to put a personal face to the issue. No longer is this simply an article in a journal, but it now has a personal quality for anyone who is facing this issue. Giving the problem first draws in the reader and encourages her to continue reading. As she continues to read, she will find the solution and the steps to ultimate healing and redemption. Those steps are addressed in the following order: here is the current situation, here is the ultimate resolution to the problem, and here are the steps to follow to get from point A to point B.

While Dykas gives many insightful personal observations, it is her use of biblical writing that supports all thoughts and opinions on specific Scripture. This is a quality piece because the author is not simply giving personal insights and advice but is instead showing that Scripture is the solution to the problem. It is quite easy to argue with a counselor who is giving personal anecdotes. It is much more difficult to argue with Scripture, and Dykas adamantly encourages the reader to use Scripture when dealing with sins of the heart. This is particularly clear in two separate points made in the article. The first is a point made in the discussion concerning moving out of entanglement and into holiness. Many people desire to keep a friendship that has been previously sinful. The thought can be, “But this person really is my friend, and God made me to have friends and to love other people!” But Dykas points out that while God redeems us individually when we have become entangled in sin, “this is not a promise that an idolatrous relationship with be transformed this side of heaven” (27). This is a concept many people have a difficult time grasping, and it is encouraging to know that the reality of idolatrous relationships is being addressed by biblical counselors today.

The second point that is particularly important in the current culture is to use biblical vocabulary when discussing issues with people. Our culture has given everything a psychological label and made all behavior and thoughts somehow the fault of our upbringing or environment. True healing can only begin to occur when someone realizes that they have a sin of idolatry and not an issue of codependency. Healing, redemption, and restoration cannot begin until someone recognizes and acknowledges behavior as sin, and changing one’s vocabulary is often the first step in that process.

This article is well-written, and can be used as a clearly planned starting point for anyone addressing the issue of idolatrous entanglements. If women can get their relationships with Christ back to a healthy standing, sins of the heart can often be prevented from becoming painful sins of action. While this article focuses specifically on relationships between women, the true theme is the relationships women have with Jesus. The steps to healthy relationships given by Dykas have nothing to do with restoring the sinful relationship; in fact, she clearly points out that sometimes that is simply not God’s plan. The focus, rather, is the relationship each woman has with Christ. When the focus is placed on Him and relationships with Christ are restored, our relationships with one another will be taken care of by Him.