With Jesus in the Kitchen

I don’t consider myself the best of cooks even under normal circumstances. But making meals for others can be a special cause of tension. We want to share our best when we cook for others, whether we’ve invited them into our home or we’re taking a meal to share.

I’ve learned the hard way not to get too ambitious under those circumstances. Experiments often go wrong the first time. So I usually make something simple, tried and true.

Several months ago, before the pandemic, I was getting ready for our church potluck dinner. I don’t even remember what I was making. But it was something I had made before for church. It should have come together easily. Yet it wasn’t, for some reason.

As I scrambled around trying to decide whether to fix it (and how) or come up with Plan B, the verse about Jesus being tempted in all points like we are crossed my mind. Irritably, I thought, “When did He ever have to make a potluck dinner?”

Then I remembered the feeding of the 5,000.

And I was pulled up short.

It wasn’t a potluck dinner, but it was one of the biggest crowds ever served, especially by one man.

Of course, Jesus could take care of a meal for such a crowd in ways that we can’t. The whole point of this incident was to show His deity by way of His supernatural ability. Jesus brought this occurrence up later in conversations with the disciples to remind them: don’t worry about your needs. I will take care of you.

One thing I notice about Jesus’s ministry is that He was never frazzled or flustered. Yes, He was God. He knew how things would turn out. But He walked in faith, knowing that His Father would meet His needs.

I’ve always empathized with Martha, “cumbered about much serving” (Luke 10:38-42). Other translations say “distracted,” a couple say “busy.” But I love the feel of that old word, cumbered. Martha complained to Jesus that Mary, who was listening to Jesus, needed to come and help her. Instead, Jesus pointed out that Martha was “careful and troubled.” (Other translations say “worried and upset.” One says “bothered.”) He told Martha, “Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

Obviously, listening to Jesus is more important than fussing over dinner. But I’ve often wondered—what should Martha have done about dinner, then? Wait until Jesus was done teaching? Probably. Have something simple and quick like peanut butter sandwiches (or the first-century Israeli equivalent)? Maybe. But above all else, just don’t worry about it. Many times Jesus told His disciples not to worry about what they were going to eat or drink.

Does this mean it’s wrong to prepare an elaborate meal? No. Some people are gifted that way. We can enjoy their gifts without feeling we have to match them. Sometimes even those of us who aren’t as talented in the kitchen like to try to do something fancy.

But the point is to do whatever we do with a peaceful heart. I learned a long time ago that my husband would much rather have a simple meal than one that stresses me out to prepare.

On a practical level, these things help me:

  • Do as much ahead of time as possible.
  • If one dish takes a lot of time or labor, make the other dishes simple or store-bought.
  • Enlist help, either from the family or guests. People often ask if they can bring anything. Take them up on their offer.
  • If possible, don’t plan time-consuming or new meals during weeks when you have a lot of other things going on.
  • Keep a few recipes or meal ideas on file that consistently turn out well for potlucks or company.
  • Keep a few key ingredients for quick meals on hand for unexpected company or for a “Plan B’ when things don’t go well.

Here are some principles I’ve gleaned over the years:

Watch out for pride. It’s not wrong to want to make food other people will like. But sometimes I notice a subtle pride entering even preparation for a church potluck, a desire for my dish to be noticed, praised, and above all else, eaten. For many years I did not want to bring something store-bought to a church fellowship, until I realized that stemmed from pride. If my kitchen stress stems from wanting to protect my reputation, my emphasis is in the wrong place.

Keep first things first. As Jesus said, Mary chose the better part by listening to Him. Jesus said in another place, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). There have been times when I was so exhausted and stressed getting ready for guests that I just didn’t have anything left when they finally came. My priorities were out of kilter.

Serve God from worship, not in place of worship. The first pastor we had after we were married, Jesse Boyd, used to say:

Worship without service is a hollow farce.
Service without worship is a hectic fervor.
But worship which issues in service is a holy force.

When I am filled with “hectic fervor,” I need to do a heart check.

Be prepared. In a passage about counting the cost of discipleship, Jesus speaks of a man planning to build a tower or a king planning to go to war (Luke 14:25-33). First they sit down, assess what they have, and make plans. Some of my most frustrating meal preparations have been when I didn’t plan well. I forgot a key ingredient or a step in the process or didn’t plan for the time needed for part of the process.

Trust His sufficiency. “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8). Sometimes I shorten that to “all grace, all sufficiency, all things, all times.” In another area of domestic need, I have sometimes prayed over buttonholes or difficult parts of sewing. When we’re getting ready for company, I pray for efficiency and peace of heart as I prepare.

Remember the point of fellowship and hospitality. “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Romans 14:17). Though providing food is important, the main purpose for a meal with others is to fellowship with them and minister to them, to meet their needs rather than show off my skills.

The last stanza of a poem “The Kitchen Prayer” expresses my heart and reminds me to do everything I do—even prepare meals for others—as unto Him.

Warm all the kitchen with Thy love
And light it with Thy peace;
Forgive me all my worrying,
And make all grumbling cease.
Thou who didst love to give men food,
In room or by the sea,
Accept this service that I do–
I do it unto Thee.

Klara C. Munkres

What are some of your tips for serving others?

(I often link up with some of these bloggers)

Trusting God for Our Children’s Safety

Except for the most abusive or negligent parents, we all want our children to be safe. When they are babies, we check their breathing at night. We buy outlet covers and baby gates in the early years, helmets and knee pads a few years later. We try to incorporate enough stranger danger warnings to make them alert without causing fear of everyone they don’t know. As much as we wish we could protect them from every physical harm, we wish we could bubble wrap their souls even more.

So I can understand the Israelites’ concern for their children in Numbers 13-14. After being miraculously led from Egypt, seeing God’s provision of food and water in the wilderness, receiving God’s law, and constructing the tabernacle, they were finally at the outskirts of the land long-promised to them by God.

But they didn’t want to go in.

A man from each tribe was sent to spy out the land. They came back with a mixed report. The land was good and fruitful. But the people in it were bigger, stronger, and more numerous than Israel.

Then the people “wept that night” and “grumbled against Moses and Aaron.” They feared they would be killed and their wives and children would become prey. Only Joshua and Caleb encouraged the people to go forward and trust God, who had already told them He’d given them the land. But the people responded by threatening to stone them.

God had enough. He is longsuffering and merciful. But these people had tried Him and refused to believe and obey Him ever since they left Egypt. God wanted to obliterate the people and start over with Moses.

Moses interceded for the people, and God pardoned them. But forgiveness doesn’t mean there won’t be consequences. All the generation that complained and would not enter the promised land would die in the wilderness over the next forty years. Only Joshua, Caleb, their families, and the children of the current generation would enter in. “Your children shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years and shall suffer for your faithlessness.” But, ultimately, the children would be the recipients of the promise that the adults rejected.

In our church’s Bible study time in the passage last Sunday, my husband pointed out something I had never thought of. The population of Israel would have numbered over a million by this time—some say over two million. If you subtract an estimated number of children, that still leaves tens of thousands of people to die in the next forty years. Forty years of wilderness wandering, no promised land, just death and destruction ahead. How depressing! My husband commented that the weight of this may have fueled some of the rebellions that occurred in the next few chapters.

But rebellion would only make a bad situation worse. Suppose you’re a parent in this situation. You realize you failed big time in not believing God and obeying Him. But your children that you were so afraid for will go in. The best thing repentant parents could do would be to pour everything into the time they have left with their children, teach them God’s ways, and teach them how to some day get along without their parents.

In some ways, that’s what we all have to do, isn’t it? Pour our lives into our children, teach them God’s ways, teach them to be responsible adults and to stand on their own two feet without us.

In our early married days, I remember a woman sharing during prayer meeting a need for her children and how God answered. She commented, “It’s one thing to trust God for my needs—it’s another thing to trust Him for my children’s.” It’s true: we’d much rather struggle with a need or loss or illness ourselves than see our children do so. But it’s through such things that we all grow and learn dependence on God.

When Jonathan and Rosalind Goforth ministered as missionaries in China in the early twentieth century, the Chinese were intensely suspicious of what they called “foreign devils”—basically anyone who was not Chinese. Plus sanitation was nearly unknown and disease ran rampant. So when Jonathan proposed to Rosalind that they take their children on a ministry tour around the country, Rosalind refused. Four of her children had died already. She could maintain a level of cleanliness in her own home. But out there, not knowing where they would be staying or where they could get food from village to village? It was too risky, especially adding the possibility of persecution.

Jonathan begged Rosalind to reconsider:

Rose, I am so sure this plan is of God, that I fear for the children if you refuse to obey His call. The safest place for you and the children is the path of duty. You think you can keep your children safe in our comfortable home in Changte, but God may have to show you you cannot. But He can and will keep the children if you trust Him and step out in faith (Rosalind Goforth, Goforth of China, p. 157).

But she refused. So he left, alone.

The next day, their one-year-old baby became ill with dysentery, with no hope of recovery. She died a short while later.

Was God being vindictive? I don’t think so. In fact, Rosalind writes that as the baby was passing, Rosalind “seemed to apprehend in a strange and utterly new way the love of God—as a Father” (p. 159).

Humbled and softened, Rosalind determined to go with her husband. Years later, at a conference of women missionaries, some wives with similar fears to hers asked publicly if her children suffered as a result of their touring. She responded that none of them had picked up any infectious diseases or come to any harm while they toured. In fact, they’d had two more children during that time. She found she had more time to give them since she didn’t have her regular housework. “And, best of all, God has set His seal upon this plan of work by giving a harvest of souls everywhere we have gone” (Rosalind Goforth, Climbing, pp. 150-151).

Of course, we’re not guaranteed that our children won’t get sick or die while we’re following God. We all know of children who have died of cancer after years of prayer and treatment or teens who had died suddenly in car accidents or of unknown causes even though their parents were faithful followers. Sometimes God delivers by taking children on home to heaven. From our human perspective, that’s a loss. But from God’s viewpoint, He’s lovingly welcoming them home.

Missionary Timothy McKeown takes issue with the statement that the safest place is in God’s will:

After studying Scripture and ministering in this context for many years, I have felt compelled to modify this saying for my own use: “The most fulfilling, joyful, and peaceful place to be is in the center of God’s will.” But it is not necessarily the safest.

It seems to me that the Bible is full of examples of God’s people often—not occasionally—being placed in unsafe, uncomfortable, and dangerous situations. . . .

Most prayers in Scripture focus not on the personal safety and benefit of believers but on the power, majesty, testimony, and victory of God over his—and, of course, our—enemies. . . .

I do not advocate foolish and irresponsible “risk taking.” . . . However, biblical reality dictates that there are, indeed, times in which God will lead us into the valley of the shadow of death, where our prayer needs to be for faithfulness as reflections of his light and saltiness in this needy world.

I want to urge my fellow Christians to use extreme caution in allowing the infectious and deadly “health, wealth, prosperity, and personal comfort gospel” to become our motivator in seeking his will for our earthly lives. The Lord calls us to obedience in spite of the “costs”—not to personal comfort and safety! Oh, how I pray for the Lord of the Harvest to raise up more laborers to go into his fields no matter what the personal costs might be (Peace, If Not Safety).

Missionaries from one of our former church’s were once accused of child abuse for raising their kids in a primitive jungle setting. I loved their oldest daughter’s response here. “A mud hut does not an abusive environment make. . . . Yes, we missed out on many of the materialistic things this world has to offer. And for that we thank God often.”

God doesn’t promote recklessness. Parents and grandparents are supposed to try to keep children safe. But we have to admit that we are limited. We can’t lock them away in a tower for protection. We can’t raise them to be fearful of going forward. We can’t avoid God’s will due to possible risks. We have to do for our children as we do for ourselves: trust and obey. He has determined how long each person’s race will be. What matters most is not the length, but hearing His “Well done” at the end.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers)

Have mercy on your pastor this Mother’s Day

When the COVID pandemic first began, I saw a lot of blog posts and articles pleading with people to be compassionate towards their pastor because he had likely never shepherded people through such an occasion before. It would take time to discern the best course of action in response to ever-changing information, and he had people on opposite sides of every fence involved.

Pastors face a similar dilemma on Mother’s Day, no matter whether this is their first pastoral Mother’s Day or their 50th. They will likely have people in all these circumstances in their congregations:

  • women who desperately want to have children, but God has not granted them yet
  • women who love their children but are tired and discouraged
  • women who are in despair over their parenting failures and need guidance
  • women who have no desire to be mothers
  • women who are single by choice or by circumstance
  • women whose children are wayward and breaking their hearts
  • women whose children have died
  • people whose mothers were not honorable
  • people who are estranged from their mothers
  • people whose mothers have died
  • people who don’t even know they need a Savior

Anna Jarvis probably had no idea she was creating such a minefield when she sought a simple way to honor her mother.

I’ve seen posts on Facebook already indicating that Mother’s Day shouldn’t be observed in church because it’s not a national holiday. Prophets and preachers in the Bible spoke about current events, and honoring parents is a biblical teaching. So it’s not wrong to observe the day. But whether that observation should be just a passing acknowledgment, or the whole service should be built around it, is up to each pastor’s leading of his particular congregation.

Whether pastors let the holiday go by unobserved and carry on with whatever book or series they are preaching through, or they choose to honor mothers in some way, someone is going to be offended.

Can I urge us as Christian women to be mature in response to whatever path the pastor chooses to take? To remember that love “does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful” (1 Corinthians 13:5). To understand that there are different needs among the congregation? No one sermon will meet them all except as it points us back to the only Savior who can help and heal and provide grace.

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable” (II Timothy 3:16-17). Whatever God lays on the pastor’s heart to preach this Sunday, if it is based on the Word of God, it will be profitable for us.

Let’s pray for our pastors to preach the message God wants him to preach that day. Let’s pray for grace for our particular triggers, seek to get from the message what God has for us, and seek to encourage others rather than focusing on self.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers)

The Dreaded Proverbs 31 Woman

The Dreaded Proverbs 31 Woman

“Oh, her.” Eye-roll.

That might be the reaction you get if you mention the Proverbs 31 woman these days.

I had not grown up with a lot of Biblical teaching. So when I read Proverbs 31 some time after becoming a Christian, I aspired to be like the woman described there. I never felt I’d “made it.” But I thought she was a worthy role model

I hear a lot of women expressing dismay or discouragement over this ideal woman. They feel they can never live up to her, and every reading or sermon on this passage only shows up their shortcomings all the more.

Well, she is an ideal woman. In context, a mother is advising her son about a virtuous woman (according to the KJV and NKJV. Many translations describe her as “excellent”; the NIV and CSB call her “a wife of noble character.”)

But this passage is more than just a mother’s high ideals for her son. Since “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16-17), this passage is God speaking through this mother to us through the ages. And I don’t think He meant the passage as a discouragement or a stick to beat over our heads.

If you think about it, there is someone even higher that we’re supposed to be like.

You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)

Now, that can be discouraging! But this passage and others like it point out how far we fall short in order to alert us to our need for Christ’s righteousness and grace. We know we’re not perfect on our own and never can be. As the hymn says, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” Jesus lived a perfect life, keeping all God’s law, and then died on the cross for our sins, was buried, and then rose again (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). When we believe on Jesus as Savior and Lord, His righteousness is attributed to us (imputed is the theological term). “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). So when we stand before God some day, He is not going to check off all the boxes of Proverbs 31. He’s going to look for the righteousness of Christ, which can only be received by faith.

When we believe on Christ, we’re changed. As we read His Word and grow in Him, we become more like Him (2 Corinthians 3:18). We might think of Proverbs 31 as what the righteousness of Christ would look like lived out in the home. Many of these traits are repeated for both men and women in the New Testament.

The Proverbs 31 woman didn’t do everything in this passage in a day. The picture is of her lifetime. Just like we’ll never be completely like Christ until we get to heaven, but we should be growing more like Him day by day, so we can grow more like this woman.

We have to remember, too, the context of the times in which this was written. A 21st-century virtuous woman’s activities will look different from a woman of King Solomon’s time.

There are scores (maybe hundreds) of books, messages, studies, etc. on this passage. So we won’t exhaust it here. But here are a few principles drawn from the life of this lady:

She loves and reverences God. “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (verse 30). Though this aspect is mentioned last, it permeates the rest of the passage.

She is trustworthy. “The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life” (verses 11-12). She doesn’t hide things from him or present a false front.

She’s industrious. “She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness” (verse 27). She “works with willing hands” (verse 13b). She’s active about the household and diligent in providing food and clothing for the family (verses 13-15, 18-19, 21-22, 24).

She’s kind. “The teaching of kindness is on her tongue” (verse 26b).

She ministers to those in need. “She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy” (verse 20).

She’s wise. “She opens her mouth with wisdom” (verse 26a).

She’s savvy. She can buy a field, she knows how to discern if merchandise is good (verses 16, 18, 24). In David Copperfield, his first wife is a sweet, pretty thing named Dora. But she couldn’t manage a household. She called herself a “child-wife.” I don’t know if I could buy a field—it’s a bit more complicated than it was in Old Testament times. We’ve bought and sold property—or rather, my husband has, and I have cosigned. I’ve been so thankful he understood all the paperwork. But whether I could buy a field or not, I don’t have to be a child-wife.

She plans ahead. “She is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household are clothed in scarlet” (verse 21). The ESV note says “scarlet” could be translated as “in double thickness.”

She’s strong. “She dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong. . . . Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come” (verses 17, 25). I wrote more on being a strong woman here.

She cares about her appearance. “Her clothing is fine linen and purple” (verse 22b). Purple was not a common clothing color in those days. In my younger years, I wondered if it was wrong to want to look attractive. This verse helped my thinking, as did the fact that God made the world beauitful when He could have made it just functional. Of course, we can go too far in this area. Peter reminds us that it’s “the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious,” rather than “external adorning” (1 Peter 3:3-4). We have to be balanced. But at least the Proverbs 31 women isn’t slovenly in her home or clothing.

She’s respected. Her children call her blessed and her husband praises her (verses 28-29). OK, maybe not every day. Remember this is a summation of her whole life. Moms and children have their bad days. But over the course of life, her behavior and attitudes are such that her family should be able to see her value and respect her. Her husband sitting in the gates with the elders (verse 23) indicates a position of respect and leadership for that time as well. Her activities and demeanor help him rather than detract from his position.

Remember, this woman is a personification of the ideal. No real woman has everything together all the time. We can give ourselves grace even as we seek God’s help and strength to grow in these traits. Elisabeth Elliot said, “The fact that I am a woman does not make me a different kind of Christian, but the fact that I am a Christian makes me a different kind of woman.” I hope that, instead of dreading or disliking or fearing the Proverbs 31 woman, you’ll look on her as a friend, a picture of what a “different kind of woman” looks like.

Proverbs 31:30

(Sharing with Sunday Scripture Blessings, Selah, Scripture and a Snapshot, Hearth and Soul, Inspire Me Monday, Senior Salon, Remember Me Monday, Tell His Story, InstaEncouragements, Recharge Wednesday, Let’s Have Coffee, Share a Link Wednesday, Heart Encouragement, Grace and Truth, Faith on Fire, Blogger Voices Network)

Finding Ways to Minister

How to find ways to ministerWe’ve attended large, active churches with multiple ministries happening at any given time. And we’ve attended very small churches with few official church ministries. Neither is right or wrong. Each church has its own personality.

On the plus side, participation in some aspect of church ministry is usually where I got to know people and began to feel part of the church. It’s hard to get to know others in just a few minutes before or after a service. Working side by side provides opportunities for further fellowship.

Church ministry also helps with organization, so the new mom doesn’t receive five casseroles on one day.

Church ministry is a good outlet for service. When I first started attending church, I didn’t really know what my niche was. After trying several things over the years, now I know where I feel my particular skill set fits best.

However, what God calls us to do doesn’t always fit with our skills. When Moses told God he was slow of speech, God didn’t contradict him. He just promised, “I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak” (Exodus 4:10-12). God called Gideon to lead His army when Gideon was hiding away—not a promising beginning, humanly speaking. I’m not gifted in caregiving, but I was called to it for five years. Sometimes God calls us to do what we don’t feel naturally gifted to do to show “that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us” (2 Corinthians 4:7).

Church ministry has some drawbacks. People tend to compartmentalize their service. When they participate in whatever church ministries they’re involved in, they think their ministry is done for the week.

Witnessing? Yes, I attended church visitation. Check.

At one church we visited, the only time anyone spoke to us or even looked at us was during the visitor greeting time of the service. It was like they crammed all their interaction with visitors into those few minutes instead of being alert to visitors and welcoming before and after the service.

Ministry isn’t something we turn off and on. We’re always on, in a sense. Yes, we need time to rest. But if a need comes up, we don’t say, “Sorry, I already put in my time this week” or “We only do that at the scheduled time.” Opportunities to minister don’t always come in convenient, pre-planned situations.

Then, too, we can be so busy in church ministry that we don’t have time to just slow down and interact with people. I can remember hoping someone else would greet the nearby visitor because I had to catch five different people before they left church for the day.

Some new church members’ first meeting with a pastor is almost like a job interview, as he considers where he can “plug you in.”

My son and daughter-in-law’s church has no organized ministries except for a few small Bible studies. That’s partly because they don’t have their own building yet. But it’s mostly church philosophy. They want people to be free to exercise hospitality and to minister to one another’s needs as they arise.

Our own church currently doesn’t have any organized ministries, either, partly because we don’t have our own building, partly because we’re very small. And I have found it so restful. Sometimes I look back at how busy I used to be, and I can’t believe I used to do all that. I was younger then: I’m sure that makes a big difference.

But people in both these churches do minister in other ways.

God has something for everyone to do. He has distributed to everyone spiritual gifts. But the ministry He wants you to partake in may or may not be through an organized church ministry.

Here’s what you can do if you’re searching for a way to minister:

Pray for God’s guidance and leading.

Minister from an overflow of your relationship with the Lord. There are times we do what we have to do, no matter how we feel. But God often works on our being inwardly before our doing outwardly. I love what Sue Donaldson says here:

Ministry is spillage. We have something worth spilling out to another—whether it’s our little ones, our mother-in-law, or a work colleague—when we are filled up to all the fullness of God. As Paul wrote in Ephesians 3:19 . . .  and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.” I want to start and end my day with God and His Word, otherwise I don’t get filled up. And if I’m not filled up with Him, I can’t spill out for Him.

What’s on your heart? Some years ago, a lady in our church came to me occasionally to urge the ladies’ group to form some kind of ministry to the elderly ladies of our church. We did a couple of things, but I was too swamped to start any kind of regular ministry. I did wonder, though, if perhaps this lady needed a little nudge or encouragement to start something. If this was on her heart, probably God wanted her to do something about it.

Be willing to step out of your comfort zone. One ladies’ group leader used to say, “You can’t say no until you pray about it.” We all know we can’t say yes to every opportunity: we’d be quickly weighed down. But neither should we say no automatically. The times I’ve grown the most have been times I didn’t feel up to the job, but I didn’t feel the liberty to say no, either.

Consider timing. Our families are our first ministry. Though God has something for all of us to do at any time, that big idea on our heart may have to be put on a back burner if we have little ones or a full-time job or an elderly member in need of caregiving.

What’s in front of you? We may be thinking about ministry as something big and grand. Too often we overlook the small opportunities right in front of us to say a kind word of encouragement or to help someone in some small way. I can tell you, after visiting several new churches due to moves with our family, the warm, heartfelt, spontaneous greeting from church members means more than the loud welcome of the official church greeter.

I’ve mentioned this lady before, but I was encouraged and instructed by the example of an older woman I knew in one of our former churches. She had taught school for decades, but had to retire early. She could have been bitter and disgruntled due to the situation. Instead, she just quietly looked for other ways to serve. She greeted visitors who were sitting alone and invited them to sit with her. She invited a couple of ladies at a time over for lunch—not for any agenda, but just to fellowship. She began a couple of ladies’ Bible studies.  Another older lady I knew would stay with new moms for a couple of days if their own moms couldn’t be with them. Another sweet lady used to apologize for not being able to participate in our ladies’ group very much. But she took care of her adult special needs son, helped her widowed mother, was the on-call babysitter for her extended family. Her whole life was a ministry, even though she couldn’t participate in “official” church ministries as much as she would have liked.

One of our former pastors preached a message from 1 Timothy 5 about the kinds of things women were to be honored for. The context is determining how the church should minister to widows who had no one else to help them. After telling Pastor Timothy to “Honor widows who are truly widows” (verse 3), Paul lists everyday, ordinary characteristics: This woman has taken care of her family, is not self-indulgent, prayed, “shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work” (verses 5, 10). No mention there of a worldwide TV ministry or writing a best-selling book or leading a conference of thousands of women. There’s nothing wrong with those things, if God has called someone to them. But most of our ministry will be in small efforts.

I’ve benefited from official church ministry and from someone’s behind-the-scenes thoughtfulness.

God has something for everyone to do. If you can find a ministry outlet within your church, that’s great. If not, seek Him about ways you can minister, and then be alert for ways you can help people. Maybe you can assist someone in their ministry. Maybe God will use you to start a ministry. Maybe not. Maybe, like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, all those small acts that you don’t think much about will make big differences in others’ lives.

Minister with the ability God givesSee also:

Myths and Maxims of Ministry

The Ministry of the Mundane

Faithful in Obscurity

Rethinking Spiritual Gifts

Manufactured Spirituality

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Global Blogging, Hearth and Home,
Senior Salon, Purposeful Faith, Tell His Story, InstaEncouragement,
Recharge Wednesday, Share a Link Wednesday, Let’s Have Coffee,
Grace and Truth, Blogger Voices Network)

 

Organic Mentoring

What does mentoring mean to someone desiring to be mentored? Sometimes women have a specific area where they feel they need help. Some just want to have an older go-to person to ask questions.

Dictionary.com defines mentor as “a wise and trusted counselor or teacher; an influential senior sponsor or supporter.” But how do people work mentoring out into real life? Classes? Regular meetings? Shadowing?

The word “mentor” is not in the Bible—at least, not in the KJV or ESV. Probably the closest the Bible comes to the concept is discipling. The classic passage for women disciplining women is Titus 2: 3-5:

Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.

It’s always important to look at the context of a Bible passage, and the context here is teaching and relating life to sound doctrine (verse 1). Then the character of a teacher or mentor is addressed. Several translations describe this older woman as reverent; others use the word holy. She’s trustworthy: she doesn’t spread gossip. Your secrets are safe with her. And she’s self-controlled, not given to excess.

I’ve written before about different ways to mentor. And I shared that mentoring is more than affirmation and suggested thoughts for both mentor and mentee.

What I’d like to suggest now is that mentoring doesn’t have to be a formal arrangement. You may have one person that you go to with every question and concern. That’s fine if you have such a person. But I have found that God has sent different women across my path with just a word in season that I needed at the moment. I’d like to tell you about a few of them.

Mr. and Mrs. B. were the pastor and wife we were under in our college days and then our first few married years. They were an older couple. Mrs. B. was kind, warm, wise. But she also laid things on the line. When I was struggling with some issue and finally ready to do whatever it took to deal with it, Mrs. B. was the person I would go to. I knew she would give it to me straight, yet kindly.

Mrs. C. was a lady whose family came to our church while I was away at college. When I came home for the summer, the family invited me over for dinner several times. They soon became a second family to me. I don’t remember Mrs. C. ever specifically trying to teach me anything, but I learned so much from her example, her character, her response to her husband, her homemaking.

These two relationships were long-term, but sometimes God had an older friend say something helpful in passing. For instance, once while working in the church nursery, another lady mentioned that she had hit the highest emotional highs and the lowest lows in the context of mothering. That stopped me in my tracks, because I had thought something similar, but hadn’t quite put it into words. I don’t think we discussed it any further, but her comment let me know that my feelings were normal. Another time, I was putting up a church bulletin board with a lady who had teenagers while my children were younger. She gave me some off-the-cuff advice not to dread the teen years. She said teens don’t all go through rebellious phases, and if the relationship has been good all along, there’s no reason it can’t continue to be good. That lifted a weight and gave me a healthy perspective of my children’s upcoming teen years, and I’ll be forever grateful.

Once I was doing something in the church building while the group who ministered to the seniors at church were setting up a banquet for them. That kind of preparation can get hectic. The wife of the couple involved, a very sweet woman, came into the kitchen to look for something. While she stood there a moment, gathering her thoughts and looking at cabinets, her husband came in behind her with an urgent question. He couldn’t see her face, but I saw her close her eyes a moment and then give him a calm answer. Whether she was thinking through the answer to his question or changing gears from her own pursuit, I don’t know. But my impression was that in a moment of being overwhelmed, she took just a beat or two to gain control and answer kindly when she might have wanted to be left alone to finish her own task.

Another older lady had to retire from her loved job due to what some considered unfair circumstances. I know this woman was hurt, but I never once heard her badmouth her employers. I watched as she sought out several different new ways of ministering until she found her new niche, and her efforts continued to make a different in other people’s lives.

The one factor all of these examples have in common is that they arose naturally, in the normal course of life and ministry.

There’s nothing wrong with setting up classes and seminars. I have learned boatloads from many great and mostly unknown women teachers. I’ve sought specific counsel from older women at times.

There’s nothing wrong with a formal one-on-one relationship specifically for the purpose of mentoring.

But a mentor does not have to be a formal teacher and may not have that kind of relationship with anyone. Even if she does, we’re all called to the kind of walk where our example teaches and where we’re so yielded to and in tune with the Holy Spirit that He can work though us in the course of everyday life. I think of this as organic, natural mentoring. I don’t remember in any of these cases praying for God to send an older, godly woman my way. But He did, because He knew I needed them.

It’s fine to pray for a mentor, to work through a book or Bible study together, to have a list of questions to discuss. Sue Donaldson has some great ones here. But I also saw a list of 100 questions to ask of a mentor. Honestly, that sounds exhausting. No one wants to feel grilled interrogated. If you want to approach someone with questions, I wouldn’t bring that many. And I’d suggest questions from your own heart rather than a list, things you would like to ask an older, experienced lady about living the Christian life in a way that honors the Lord.

But beyond questions, we can learn much just by spending time with these women and observing their walk and demeanor. I know I have probably asked older women specific questions, but I don’t remember most of those conversations. For some reason, I’ve remembered these instances I shared here for years. Many of them were foundational or transitional to my thinking. And the women in question probably didn’t even know they had said something that affected me. I don’t think I knew it myself at the moment. It probably took time to process their advice, comments, or example. A guest preacher at our church years ago once said that often, when the Holy Spirit uses us, we’re unaware of it.

That’s the kind of godly, older-ish woman I want to be: one who walks closely with the Lord, filled with His Spirit and His Word and a love for others, available for His use in everyday life and conversation.

Have you had such a mentor in your life—someone who wasn’t officially a teacher, yet taught you by word or example? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Global Blogging, Senior Salon, Literary Musing Monday, Hearth and Soul, Happy Now, InstaEncouragement, Anchored Abode,
Recharge Wednesday, Share a Link Wednesday, Let’s Have Coffee,
Heart Encouragement, Grace and Truth)

“Just Wait: It Gets Harder”

A young mom friend shared that she gets the above response whenever she mentions that life can be hard with several little children at once.

Why do we women do that to each other?

I’m so thankful that when I was a young mom, a special older lady told me that each stage of our children’s lives has it’s high and low points, and we shouldn’t dread any stage. I think at the time my oldest was about to turn two, thus I was cringing at the thought of the “terrible twos.” Her words helped me not to view that season of life negatively, and the “twos” were not all that terrible.

Though baby- and toddlerhood hold some cute, sweet, fun, and incredibly precious  moments, small people depending on you for every little thing can be exhausting. I loved my babies and little ones, but this stage of life was hardest for me. When they can feed themselves, go to the bathroom by themselves, dress themselves, etc., life gets a lot easier.

Perhaps for some moms, what I call the “taxi years” are the most taxing, when you’re chauffeuring kids to sports practice, music lessons, church activities, birthday parties, school activities, etc., etc. That season does have its challenges. We tried hard to strike the right balance by offering our kids a number of opportunities without the whole household revolving around children’s schedules. It’s not easy. But one perk was that one of our children opened up much more in the car than if I tried to draw him out across the table.

Probably most who warn about harder years of parenting are referring to the teen years. Once, when my children were still young, an older mom and I were working on a bulletin board together at church. As she shared something about her teenage daughter, she said something like, “Don’t dread the teen years. If you keep the relationship good, keep communication open, and train them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, the teen years don’t have to be a trial for either of you.” And she was right, just like my mom friend who told me not to dread the “terrible twos.” The world has bought into this idea that rebellion is a teenage rite of passage, but it doesn’t have to be. They do ask hard questions, but we should welcome them and help them seek answers. They should be coming to a point where their beliefs are becoming their own rather than just rotely following what they’ve always been told. There might be a few bumps in the road towards independence, but it doesn’t have to be an all-out war.

And then we come to parenting adults. In some ways, it’s a relief that all their decisions are their own responsibility now. Yet we have to let them make their own mistakes. We only offer advice when asked, and then carefully. We have to let go, but we can pray.

Each stage of development is a necessary part of growing up. Each has its hardships and its blessings. We need to encourage each other all along the way.

Imagine you’re hiking up a mountain trail. The way is rough, you’re hot, and you’ve still got a long way to go. Way up ahead you see another hiker. You call out to her and ask how the trail is between you. She says, “You think it’s bad now; you think you’re tired now; just wait. It only gets harder the further you go.”

How encouraged would you be? Not at all.

How much better if those ahead on the path called back, “Yes, it’s tough. But God gives grace. You can do it. Keep up the good work!” Or, even better, we can share how we found verses like 2 Corinthians 9:8 true in relation to motherhood: “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.”

Motherhood has been one of the hardest aspects of my life. Not much else (besides caregiving) showed me how selfish I was and how much I needed God’s grace. But watching and learning from other moms was a great encouragement.

Much has been said in recent years about mentoring, but we don’t need to set up formal mentoring relationships in order to encourage others. So often, I’ve received the most encouragement from off-the-cuff, seemingly random conversations in passing. But looking back, I know they weren’t random. I know God placed those people in my path for  my encouragement.

I’ve shared before this poem from an unknown author that was quoted in Rosalind Goforth‘s autobiography, Climbing (one of my favorites). I had always thought of it in relation to life in general, Christian life in particular. I had mostly thought of it in relation to missionary and other Christian biographies. Even though it’s not specifically about motherhood, much of it can apply. We don’t need to demean or “one-up” others. Older moms, let’s call back encouragement to younger moms. Older women, let’s support younger women whether they are mothers or not, married or not.

Call Back!

If you have gone a little way ahead of me, call back-
It will cheer my heart and help my feet along the stony track;
And if, perchance, Faith’s light is dim, because the oil is low,
Your call will guide my lagging course as wearily I go.

Call back, and tell me that He went with you into the storm;
Call back, and say He kept you when forest’s roots were torn;
That when the heavens thunder and the earthquake shook the hill.
He bore you up and held where the very air was still.

O friend, call back, and tell me, for I cannot see your face;
They say it glows with triumph, and your feet bound in the race;
But there are mists between us and my spirit eyes are dim,
And I cannot see the glory, though I long for word of Him.

But if you’ll say He heard you when your prayer was but a cry,
And if you’ll say He saw you through the night’s sin-darkened sky-
If you have gone a little way ahead, O friend, call back-
It will cheer my heart and help my feet along the stony track.

Has someone “called back” in a way that encouraged you? I’ve love to hear about it in the comments.

(I’ve read several posts about encouragement this week. This must be a
message God wants emphasized at this particular time.
I love how Kelly expanded this truth to all scenarios here.)

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Global Blogging, Literary Musing Monday,
Hearth and Home, Purposeful Faith, Tea and Word, Tell His Story,
Happy Now, InstaEncouragement, Anchored Abode,
Let’s Have Coffee, Recharge Wednesday, Share a Link Wednesday,
Wise Woman, Worth Beyond Rubies, HeartEncouragement,
Grace and Truth, Faith ‘n Friends)

 

The Joys and Pains of Mother’s Day

I don’t envy pastors trying to prepare messages for Mother’s Day that celebrate, honor, and encourage moms while being sensitive to those for whom Mother’s day might be painful.

On one hand, it’s good to honor mothers. The Bible does. Motherhood has taken a beating by society over the last several years. Moms have a heavy load, often unseen and unappreciated. They need all the encouragement and support they can get.

On the other hand, some dearly want to be mothers, yet God has not granted that request. Mother’s Day only adds to their pain. I appreciate Wendy Alsup’s thought that “God uses both the presence and the absence of children in the lives of His daughters as a primary tool of conforming us to Christ.”

Some moms downplay the hoopla. They would rather have their family appreciate them year-round, not just on a certain designated day. And, true, it doesn’t make sense to disrespect someone every other day and then buy them flowers and a card on Mother’s day. But I always look at special days in the same vein as Thanksgiving. Yes, we’re supposed to be thankful every day, but Thanksgiving reminds us of all we have to be thankful for. Jesus’ resurrection impacts our lives every day, but it receives special focus at Easter. So Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, or someone’s birthday are just opportunities to tell someone you love that you appreciate them. Some do have a lot of hoopla; others prefer low-key observances.

Some moms grieve that their families don’t acknowledge this day at all, and they feel more taken for granted than ever.

I am very blessed that my family goes to a lot of effort to make me feel special on Mother’s Day. But I try to keep in the forefront of my mind that Mother’s Day isn’t about expecting that honor, as much as I love and appreciate it. Mother’s Day was established to promote honor of our own mothers. I wrote a couple of years ago about honoring the moms in my life, women who have influenced me or nurtured me in some way. Still, I do admit it would hurt if no one in my family observed Mother’s Day at all. Erin has some good thoughts along this line.

For others, Mother’s Day is profoundly sad. Some grieve the death of their children, estranged children, mothers who are still here physically but far away mentally or emotionally, mothers who rarely, if ever, showed love, mothers who abandoned them, mothers who have died.

My beloved mother passed away nearly fourteen years ago. My husband’s mother just passed away in January. The lady who was like a second or spiritual mom to me is about to meet her Savior face to face any moment now. Even though I can’t “do” for these special ladies any more, I honor them in my heart, remember their examples, and hold on to the good memories.

For those whose families show their love this day, I wish you joy.

For those who feel like failures, may you be uplifted once again by His grace.

For those who feel abandoned or unloved by parents, may you truly know “When my father and my mother forsake me, then the LORD will take me up” (Psalm 27:10).

For those who sorrow, I pray for the peace that passes understanding. May His merciful kindness be for your comfort, according to His word unto you (Psalm 119:76).

See also:

(Sharing with Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Share a Link Wednesday, Wise Woman, Grace and Truth, Faith on Fire)

Strong Women

IMG_1507

A friend and I were discussing the two half-sisters in The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. Marian Halcombe is gracious, smart, strong, and capable, but ugly. Laura Fairlie is pretty and sweet, but somewhat weak and fragile. You can guess which one gets the guy.

That discussion led to thinking about other women in literature. Dora, the first love of David Copperfield, was pretty, sweet, and charming, but childish and totally inept as a household manager. She even told him to think of her as a “child wife.” After failed attempts to strengthen Dora, David had to just accept and love her as she was. But Agnes, his friend whom he later came to love after Dora’s death, was steady, capable, strong, and mature, and they could support and help each other. Lucie Manette from A Tale of Two Cities came up in the aforementioned discussion as a Victorian ideal of the weak damsel in distress, but I disagreed. I think she had to be very strong to take in a father who was mentally disabled after so many years locked up unjustly in the Bastille and and nurse him back to health. Then she traveled to France at the height of the French Revolution to find out what had happened to her husband when she feared he was in danger. Elinor Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility is another strong literary woman. She was steady, had to manage the household frugally even when the rest of the family complained, had to reign in her emotions to do the honorable thing, as opposed to her sister, Marianne, who gave free reign to her emotions and whims. Ma Ingalls is another: I honestly don’t know how she dealt with the sheer hard work of her life as well as the loneliness of being away from other people so much.

I am not a feminist by any means, but I do like to see a female protagonist who does have some umph to her, who adds more to the story than a pretty face.

Besides literary examples, we have a plethora of strong women in the Bible. How could Mary, the mother of Jesus, endure all she did without His strength? Other strong biblical woman are Jochebed, Moses’ mother, who defied Pharaoh to protect her son; Rahab, who took a great risk to hide the Hebrew spies because of her faith in their God; Deborah, a judge who went to battle; Hannah, in grief over her barrenness, yet knowing to whom to turn; Esther, who risked her life to intercede for her people before the king; Priscilla, who helped her husband in business and in discipling; Mary and Martha, strong in different ways; Joanna and the other women who ministered to Jesus’s needs, and so many more.

Being strong is not an unfeminine trait. In fact, Proverbs 31 says of the virtuous woman, “She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms,” and “Strength and honour are her clothing.”

She is strong in character: excellent, or virtuous in some versions (verse 10), trustworthy (verse 11), does her husband good (verse 12), kind and compassionate (verses 20, 26), characterized by honor (or dignity in some versions) (verse 25), praiseworthy (28-31).

She is strong in industriousness and initiative: She “works with willing hands” (verse 13), she gets up early to start work and serve others (verse 15) – she’s not still in bed late in the morning waiting on someone to serve her (except maybe on special occasions), she weaves and knows her products are good (verse 18-19), she works into the evening (verse 18), she makes nice clothing (verse 21-22, 24), she makes products to sell (verse 24), she looks well to the ways of her household and is not idle (verse 27).

She is strong physically (verses 17, 25): she plants (verse 16),

She is strong mentally and intellectually: she seeks good products and prices (verses 13, 14, 16), she plans ahead for bad weather (verse 21), she is wise (verse 26).

She is strong spiritually: she fears the Lord (verse 30).

We can sometimes get discouraged just thinking about this epitome of womanhood, but as I like to say, she didn’t do all of that in a single day. And I don’t think we have to take up weaving, plant a vineyard, or have a home business to become virtuous women. But taken as a whole, the tenor of her life is that of strength, industry, and honor. She is definitely not a “damsel in distress,” but she doesn’t need to assert her strength by challenging her husband or stepping into his role.

Admittedly we all experience times of weakness, tiredness, and weariness, and there are times we do need rescue. I’ve so appreciated the times my husband has come to my aid when I’ve gotten stuck or over my head in a project, behind in getting ready for company, overwhelmed with a ministry activity, etc. As a family we all pitch in and help wherever needed rather than standing back and saying, “That’s your responsibility, not mine.” There is nothing wrong with a husband helping and serving his wife: if he loves as Christ loves the church, Christ helps and serves us. But I did struggle in early marriage with wanting my husband to help me in every little thing and having to remember that I am supposed to be a help meet for him. We don’t depend on our husbands instead of the Lord, but we do depend on their God-given assets and strengths. Our husbands also need to depend on us to be able to stand strong in the Lord’s strength. And God enables us to minister to others and give of ourselves even when we feel depleted.

We don’t usually step up to the brink of adulthood or marriage strong in all the ways we need to be. Strength of character has to be developed just as physical strength does. When you first start exercising physically, the first thing you notice is how weak and out of shape you really are, but starting to exercise even in weakness is the first step to developing strength. Often God develops strength in us by putting us in situations where we are totally weak. I could not have endured my husband’s many travels without learning to lean on the Lord for strength, but I was pretty much a basket case at first. I can remember the dismay of realizing as a young mother that I couldn’t just take to my bed when I was sick when I had little ones to take care of. I was probably overly dependent on my husband at first, but had to learn how to make decisions and take care of things while he was at work and out of reach.

Jonathan and Rosalind Goforth were missionaries to China from1888-1936. She had written his biography, and then by request wrote Climbing, one of my all-time favorite books, about missionary life and furlough from her perspective. She writes not as a “super-Christian,” but rather as a woman “of like passions” as we are. She writes in one place:

It was while I had a large family of little children about me and mission work was pressing heavily upon me, while feeling burdened and that strength was insufficient, I sought to find in God’s Word whether there were any conditions to be fulfilled for the receiving of divine strength. The result of this study was a surprise and joy to me, and later a blessing and help to many to whom I passed it on, for every condition the weakest could fulfill!

Conditions of receiving strength

1. Weaknesses. II Cor. 12:9-10
2. No might. Isa. 40:29
3. Sitting still. Isa. 30:7
4. Waiting on God. Isa. 40:31
5. Quietness. Isa. 30:15
6. Confidence. Isa. 30:15
7. Joy in the Lord. Neh. 8:10
8. Poor. Isa. 25:4
9. Needy. Isa. 25:4
10 Dependence on Christ. Phil. 4:13

The key is in Hebrew 11:32-34: “And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.”

Jesus said, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (II Cor. 12:9-10).

The song “I Could Not Do Without Thee” by Francis Ridley Havergal says it well:

I could not do without Thee,
I cannot stand alone,
I have no strength or goodness,
No wisdom of my own;
But Thou, beloved Savior,
Art all in all to me,
And weakness will be power
If leaning hard on Thee.

May you “be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might” (Ephesians 6:10) today.

(Revised from the archives)

Update: I discovered this afternoon that Dr. Michelle Bengtson’s post, 10 Scriptures for When You Need Strength, shared even more from God’s Word to strengthen us.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Porch Stories, Share a Link Wednesdays, Faith on Fire, Grace and Truth, Booknificent)

The Ministry of the Mundane

One morning I chafed over having to go to the grocery store – again. I had just gone the day before, but that store didn’t have everything I needed, plus we were getting ready for company and needed a few extras. I groused inwardly about spending way too much of my life in stores and how I had other things I’d much rather be doing.

All of a sudden the thought came to mind, “She bringeth her food from afar.”

You might recognize that as part of the Proverbs 31 woman‘s description. In fact, a lot of what she did was everyday, seemingly mundane stuff: planting, cooking, sewing, weaving, buying, selling. In those days, with no Amazon, super Wal-Marts, or even grocery or clothing stores, most of what she made for herself, her family, and her home was done by hand, from scratch.

Thankfully I don’t have to weave my own cloth. I don’t even have to go too much “afar” to gather my food. We have four grocery stores within a ten-minute drive, and all but one of them lets customers order online and pick up their groceries curbside. So I really don’t have anything to complain about.

It helps me to realize, or remember, that gathering and preparing food is part of what I am supposed to do. Somebody has to do it. My husband doesn’t mind going to the store for me sometimes, but I don’t like to ask him since he already works more than 40 hours a week and then has yard work and house maintenance on top of that.

But realizing it’s part of my job helps me not to chafe: this is just as important as anything else that seems more valuable. It’s part of my ministry to my family.

I’ve wondered why so much of life is made of the mundane. A friend who was a missionary said that when she first went to the field, she had no idea she would be spending so much time in the kitchen. I remember Elisabeth Elliot writing about dealing with a recalcitrant stove or heater and wondering at how much time, especially in a third world country, is made up of such activities. I remember hearing a missionary lady once say that in her country, they still had milkmen pick up their empty milk bottles, and part of her testimony and reputation involved having clean milk bottles out on her porch at the appointed time.

As I have been pondering these things the last few days, I came up with a few possible reasons so many mundane tasks.

The rubber meets the road in those everyday duties. It’s easy to think about loving and serving our fellow man or woman while at home in a quiet, pleasant room with our Bibles. It’s another thing when our fleshly nature bumps up against each other in the real world.

A good work ethic is a testimony to others. Luther was purported to have said, “The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes.” This article disputes that. I understand the article’s view that it’s not something Luther would have said, but I don’t totally agree with their logic. Perhaps you’ve known someone who thought they served God better by witnessing to people than by doing their job. But we’re admonished to do our work “heartily, as unto the Lord.” We’ve all experienced the pangs of faulty workmanship, employees or even ministry partners who do a slipshod job, creating problems and frustration for fellow-workers, bosses, customers. Sure, we have Mary and Martha‘s example, and we know it’s possible to have wrong priorities, and we need to set aside the earthly for the heavenly sometimes. But when it’s time to work, it’s time to do it well and efficiently.

These tasks teach patience, endurance, perseverance, fortitude, service, thoughtfulness of others.

I can’t do even these things in the right way and spirit without God’s help and grace. I just stumbled across this quote in my files from Oswald Chambers (source unknown): “The things Jesus did were the most menial of tasks, and this is an indication that it takes all of God’s power in me to accomplish even the most common tasks in His way. Can I use a towel as He did?” God filled the workmen of the tabernacle with “the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship.” He goes on to say, “I have given to all able men ability, that they may make all that I have commanded you” (Exodus 31:1-6, ESV).

Ministry to others can be shown through the mundane. Someone said of Francis and Edith Shaeffer, “As many people were brought to the Lord through Mrs. Schaeffer’s cinnamon buns as through Dr. Schaeffer’s sermons!” Practical help is just as needful as spiritual help.

When Amy Carmichael’s ministry began to change from evangelism to caring for children, she questioned whether God had really called her to be a “nursemaid” when there were so many other needs and ways she could be used. “It was then that she read the words from John 13, how the Lord of glory ‘took a towel and girded Himself.’…never again did she question whether her gifts were being wasted. She knew that the Master never wastes the servant’s time.” (Amy Carmichael of Dohnavur by Frank Houghton)

Mr. Houghton also writes that, “Occasionally someone suggested that character-training of boys and girls…or, still more, the erection of buildings to house them, was not evangelistic work, and therefore not worthy of support.” Amy wrote, “Well, one cannot save and then pitchfork souls into heaven…and as for buildings, souls (in India, at least) are more or less securely fastened into bodies. Bodies cannot be left to lie about in the open, and as you cannot get the souls out and deal with them separately, you have to take them both together.”

We don’t always necessarily have to be doing anything “spiritual” to show forth the fruit of the Holy Spirit. One of my favorite blogger friends writes about what’s going on in her home and family, but even in her homemaking tasks she reflects the spirit of a woman who walks closely with God. She’s not trying to show that: it just shines through her. In everything she shows “a sense of Him.”

Perhaps, too, the weight of physical, everyday tasks is a reminder that we live in a physical world with limitations and constant needs. That reminder increases our anticipation and longing for the day we’ll be released from these bodies and this world.

At any rate, my perspective changed that day. I had no thought of Labor Day when I first started compiling these thoughts, but perhaps it’s appropriate on this particular day to remind ourselves that “In all labor there is profit, But mere talk leads only to poverty” (Proverbs 14:23, NASB).

I still need to remind myself frequently that my physical tasks are as needful and important as any type of ministry task. I can do them as unto the Lord. Sure, there are ways I can improve: e.g, planning better can help reduce the number of trips to the store. And I still have plenty of time for things like reading and writing – much more time than the Proverbs 31 woman had. But I can serve, as she did, with strength, dignity, industriousness, kindness, and reverence. Even at the grocery store.

(Sharing with Inspire Me MondayLiterary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Porch Stories, Faith on Fire)