How to Do the Hard and Holy Work of Faithful Friendship

“So who’s mentoring whom here?” my friend asked with a mischievous grin.
Good question!
When friends challenge one another with shared books, Scripture reading, and transparent prayer, everyone is sharpened and restored in a way that uniquely shows the love of God. Janice Peterson calls this “spiritual friendship,” and has reached back into her long memory for the purpose of sharing her friend Gertrude, the woman who poured lemonade and listened to Jan’s teen-age thoughts and dreams.

Being seen and valued by a friend who was “always present, always caring,” set Peterson on a course to be that person for others, to live given, and to love well. In Becoming Gertrude: How Our Friendships Shape Our Faith, Jan remembers lemonade on the porch and shares her deep conviction that friendships can be life-altering in all the best ways.

A spiritual friendship differs from mentoring in that no one takes the lead. There’s no resident expert or hierarchy at work. Instead, spiritual friendship is characterized by an unstructured giving and receiving, “appreciating the gifts individuals have to offer. It’s being willing to share when you need to share and learn when you need to learn. It’s caring for the well-being of the other person, and letting her care for you as well.” (xviii)

Ministering alongside her husband, author and pastor Eugene Peterson, Janice seized the life-enriching opportunities that her role as a pastor’s wife provided for investing in relationships. With rich insights lifted from Romans 12, she has distilled for her readers five elements that have infused her most formative relationships:

Caring

“Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.” (Romans 12:1 MSG)

We become caring people with practice, strengthening our awareness of others like a muscle. The author witnessed this outward focus modeled in her long-ago friend Gertrude and has concluded that regardless of gifting and personality, anyone can choose to put others first and pay attention to the needs of others.

As she matured, Peterson found her own caring heart drawn to the larger world. She began to serve on the Fair Housing Committee in her area and to practice cooking and eating habits that demonstrated her concern for the challenge of world hunger.

To become more caring:

  • Pay attention to those who are doing it well and copy them.
  • Push down your pride and receive unselfish caring from others.
  • Take note of the needs of the people God has placed right in front of your eyes.

Acceptance

“Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out.” (Romans 12:2 MSG)

Peterson warns, “A spiritual friend is someone you enjoy being with, but you may not always find the friendship simple or straightforward.” (30) As a “classic extrovert,” Janice finds it easy to take others at face value, but connecting with those who are more challenging to love can take the special effort of seeking to see the world from their perspective. Ironically, the first step in accepting others may be the task of self-acceptance.

To become more accepting of others:

  • Connect with them by participating in the things that interest them.
  • Spend time connecting with God to learn His heart of acceptance for you and for others.

Service

“Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder.” (Romans 12:11, 12 MSG)

Living her way into God’s calling upon her life, Janice Peterson swam upstream in the 1960’s when other women were leaving their homes in droves to seek employment. Called to be a pastor’s wife and a mother, she has served and loved in her own unique way, motivating others to do likewise by her example.

To serve well:

  • Be ready to spring into action, loving your community in concrete ways.
  • Serve courageously when God points out a need that you are able to meet.

Hospitality

Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality. . . Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.” (Romans 12:13, 16 MSG)

Hospitality puts into practice the caring, serving, and accepting that friendship requires. Taking time to rightly align her readers’ understanding of the term, Peterson defines hospitality through a biblical lens: “the welcoming reception and treatment of guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way.” (67) The welcome of hospitality is a bridge to wholeness as we generously receive others and let them know us, warts and all.

To become more hospitable:

  • Forget about “entertaining” guests and just enjoy them, feed them, and listen to them.
  • Start with your family and move in ever widening circles.

Encouragement

“Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.” (Romans 12:14-16 MSG)

The church provides the perfect backdrop for mutual encouragement as believers motivate one another to acts of service, use of God-given gifts, and a continual focus on God and His faithfulness. Reorienting one another gently toward an others-orientation, we discover the truest and most healthy version of ourselves, and then offer that up as a gift to God. In the process, we also become a gift to others, a spiritual friend, putting on display the caring, accepting, serving, hospitable, encouraging heart of our relational God.

Many thanks to NavPress for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

Thank you for the visit,

michele signature[1]


I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Becoming Gertrude: How Our Friendships Shape Our Faith simply click on the title (or the image) within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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The Challenge of Women’s Work and the Great Commission

The Lausanne Covenant declares that the whole church is called to take the whole gospel to the whole world, and certainly Jesus makes His own intentions clear with His Great Commission.  How then are all God’s amazing daughters to respond to this invitation while also remaining sensitive to theological controversies about the role of women in ministry, observing cultural and contextual norms–and making sure everyone has clean underwear in their drawers and sandwiches in their lunchboxes?

Without taking sides or over-simplifying the complexity of the differences that exist, Mary T. Lederleitner offers the gift of a spotlight, illuminating crucial work that women are accomplishing as they serve and lead around the world. The stories that enrich Women in God’s Mission: Accepting the Invitation to Serve and Lead are based on research Lederleitner conducted among women born and raised in approximately thirty countries. They have ministered in additional nations and represent different generations and a variety of ministries. What they all share in common is that each one has earned the deep respect of her colleagues.

For the leader committed to “influence others toward God’s purpose in the world” (12), serving and leading are two sides of the same coin. The ninety-five women who shared their stories minister in the same spirit as New Testament heroines and the great women of faith who pioneered outreach in response to God’s calling throughout the history of the church. While their contribution is indisputably significant, they reject celebrity culture and offer their highly competent fruitfulness with a heart that says, “It’s not about me.”

Is Leadership the Same Regardless of Gender?

Ministry leaders around the world show up for work every day with the same slate of financial, staffing, vision, and policy issues on their desks. Lederleitner’s research pointed out, however, that a woman’s career tends to include more twists and turns, disruption and diversity. Frequently, cultural norms wholly apart from theological influences make it difficult for women to find the “power distance” and assertiveness style that works where the sovereignty of God has placed them.

A Question to Ponder:

Would you be willing to leave behind the privilege and freedom of the North American church to serve in a ministry context where you had to walk behind your husband in public and set aside much of your own personal power for the greater gift of reaching people with the love of Christ?

The Faithful Connected Leader

In her work with ethnically diverse women, serving in a wide range of roles and contexts, Lederleitner observed a model of servant leadership that was both faithful and connected.  Modeling the faithfulness of God in their goal setting, spirit of forgiveness, and commitment to the task, these women in leadership roles are also deeply connected to “their God, to the people they meet through their ministries, and to the realities present within their ministry contexts.” (53) They demonstrate humility, dependency on prayer, a collaborative style, a holistic view of mission, perseverance despite injustice, as well as a commitment to impact and to excellence.

Carmen, a Chilean leader, embodies this philosophy of ministry:

“I am a channel and not a source. I am not the fountain.” (62)

A Question to Ponder:

In your own ministry, would you say that you value relationship with God more than your work? In what ways do you seek to connect with your colleagues and the people to whom you minister?

 The Challenge Continues

Since more than half the missionaries around the world are women, it is clear that God is calling women to serve, and they are answering the call in spite of the challenges that exist. A strong theology of hope is the key to faithfulness for women who encounter unfair treatment and frustrating obstacles. Based in the recognition that God is sovereign and justice belongs to Him, they choose forgiveness over bitterness and persevere in finding ways to be effective in their calling in spite of hurdles.

Lederleitner’s research is a snapshot, capturing a moment in time in an ever evolving obedience. In the years ahead, new freedoms–or new constraints–will change the way these courageous women pour out their lives for the gospel. They will tire, grow old, and leave this earth as will we all, and yet the quality of their work ensures that it will continue in some way as those they have trained step into leadership behind them.

A Final Question to Ponder:

How would you characterize your following life?
Are you allowing petty hindrances to sideline your ministry instead of persevering and expanding your influence for the gospel? 

Many thanks to InterVarsity Press for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Women in God’s Mission: Accepting the Invitation to Serve and Lead, simply click on the title here or within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Biddy Chambers: A Sacramental Life

Published in 1927, My Utmost for His Highest has sold more than 13 million copies and has never been out of print. Over the course of its 90+ year history, it has been translated into 40 different languages, and Oswald Chambers’s unique and timeless wisdom is quoted far and wide.

However, until recently, little thought has been given to the fact that My Utmost was not published until ten years after Chambers’s death, and that it was his wife, Gertrude “Biddy” Hobbs Chambers who took on the mammoth task of compiling and editing nearly twenty years’ worth of sermons and lessons. Michelle Ule has traced this process in telling the story of the woman behind the great man:  Mrs. Oswald Chambers: The Woman behind the World’s Bestselling Devotional

“It Is God Who Engineers Circumstances”

Trained as a stenographer, Biddy learned to type as well with the goal of financial stability and the lofty hope of one day becoming the first female secretary to England’s prime minister. While she remained very private about her spiritual life, it’s clear that her spiritual journey began under the ministry of Oswald Chambers’s brother Arthur. At some point after she was baptized, Oswald led a week-long mission at his big brother’s church, representing an early interdenominational para-church organization, the League of Prayer.

To riff on Jane Austen, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a [budding ministry], must be in want of a wife,” and although Chambers did not come seeking, he found, and to frame it with his own words:

“Love is not premeditated, it is spontaneous, i.e., it bursts up in extraordinary ways.”

The “bursting up” was followed by a long distance courtship which evolved into an on-the-road marriage in which Oswald and Biddy crossed the Atlantic and covered the Eastern U.S. as far south as Maryland, as far north as Maine (!), and as far west as Ohio, with Oswald speaking at camp meetings and Biddy faithfully taking shorthand at every venue.

When the newlyweds returned to England, they soon took up residence and took on leadership roles in a Bible Training College started by the League of Prayer.  While Oswald lectured, Biddy served as the school’s superintendent and together they grew into the kind of wisdom that taught them the folly of playing the role of “amateur providence” in other lives and the deep faith that comes with depending upon God for every need to be met.

A man of “perpetual motion” (55), Chambers became a bit of a celebrity in his small circle with everyone wanting a piece of his day. In quietly cherishing his words and in unraveling the administrative nightmares of life together in an educational setting, Biddy began to live her way into a calling of her own in an era when a Christian woman was largely seen as an adornment for the arm of her more influential husband. After the birth of their daughter Kathleen in 1913, summer traveling and school-year activities resumed in full force with a small, blonde curly-haired addition to the ministry team.

“God’s Purpose Is Never Man’s Purpose”

When England entered World War I, the Bible Training College era come to an end, and the Chambers family traveled together to Egypt where Oswald served as a YMCA chaplain. Early in their parenting life, they committed themselves to raising Kathleen themselves and keeping her with them, rather then sending her off to boarding school as was the custom of that day.

Life in Egypt was characterized by a “ministry of interruptions” in which Biddy Biddy Chambers: A Sacramental Lifeand Oswald made themselves available to anyone who needed to hear the Truth. “Washing the disciples’ feet” often meant feeding hordes of service men under challenging circumstances, and, for Biddy, it always meant patiently recording every word of her husband’s many sermons and devotionals. With amazing prescience for this time, Oswald referred to Biddy’s great contribution to their ministry in his letters:

“As for Biddy I love her and I am her husband, but I do not believe it is possible to exaggerate what she has been in the way of a Sacrament out here — God conveying His presence through the common elements of an ordinary life.”

When Oswald passed away in Egypt on November 15, 1917, from complications following a ruptured appendix, God’s Word to Joshua became a comfort to Biddy:

“As I was with Moses, so will I be with thee. I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee . . .Only be strong and very courageous.” (Joshua 1:5)

Amidst the fires of sorrow, Biddy continued what Oswald had begun and was comforted by the understanding and appreciation of the servicemen she and her husband had served together. One by one, she began producing books and pamphlets taken from her careful notes and publishing them at her own expense, and this became the scaffolding of her life in England when she returned home to a “home” that did not feel like home with a young daughter who had no memory of the family there and who was used to living amidst the bustle of an Army camp.

“Faith is Deliberate Commitment to a Person Where I See No Way.”

Because Chambers had not been employed by the military, Biddy had no pension, and times were lean for her and Kathleen as they moved from one situation to another, always typing, always publishing, and always just short of enough resources to make ends meet. The notion of publishing a daily devotional work that compiled Oswald’s teaching followed on the heels of the enthusiastic response to a devotional calendar Biddy had produced. Thus, it was in October 1927, in the days when Lewis and Tolkien were lunching at the Eagle and Child pub, when Winnie the Pooh was holding court at the London Zoo, in the year that Amy Carmichael’s Dohnavur Fellowship came into being in India, and that someone made the first transatlantic phone call to North America that My Utmost for His Highest was first published in England.

Biddy went on to run a boutique publishing house, editing and launching Oswald’s writings to an enthusiastic readership that still profits from his words — and from her skill and determination. Personally, my appreciation for Chambers’s work has been heightened by this introduction to his wife’s story. Because I learned that Biddy carefully chose the meditations for Oswald’s birthday, their wedding day, and the anniversary of his death, I want to make a notation in my copy to remind me that the message for that day is specifically assigned.  As a single mum who persevered through two world wars and lived all her days under challenging circumstances, Biddy Chambers lived out the title of her husband’s book, offering her utmost in faithfulness and focus for His highest purposes in her own life and in the lives of her readers every day.


This book was provided by Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

I have begun to experiment with including an Amazon affiliate link here in my book reviews. If you should decide to purchase Mrs. Oswald Chambers: The Woman behind the World’s Bestselling Devotional click on the title here, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Headings have been quoted from My Utmost for His Highest.

Images are shared from the Michelle Ule’s Pinterest account.

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Women in Ministry: What God Wants You to Know

We were greeted with warm handshakes and pleasantries, an outline of the morning service, and then a startling announcement:  “We assumed that your wife would want to take the children.”  In the early days of our marriage when my husband was the area director of a children’s ministry, I used to travel with him to his weekend engagements.  However, in those days, I had a full-time job, no children yet, and no — I did not carry a Bible lesson around in my back pocket. (Given the same situation today?  I’d probably go for it!  Why not?)

Ministry wives are often subject to assumptions and misconceptions, and it is with this audience in mind that Kay Warren has written Sacred Privilege.  However, her words are relevant to all women in ministry, with or without husbands.  She writes from the perspective of a life-long “church girl,” the daughter of a pastor, wife to Rick Warren of Saddleback Church and Purpose Driven Life fame, and also as the mother to a pastor’s wife.  The book is a distillation of wisdom gained from an entire life lived in the fish bowl of ministry — not from the viewpoint of “perfect wife,” but as messenger and strong survivor, as one who has taken strength from God for a very specific calling and now wants to pass that encouragement on to others who share that call.

If you are a woman in ministry, here’s what God wants you to know:

1.  “You need to embrace your own story — all of it — for the glory of God and the good of His kingdom.” (31)

Kay’s story includes a brush with a porn addiction and a rocky start to her marriage.  It includes a struggle with depression and the mental illness and ultimate suicide of her son. She assesses this terrain and concludes that the life she has lived is the exact price required for becoming who she is today.

2.  “There is no greater heritage than for children to see that ministry is not just for dads but also for moms and brothers and sisters.”  (50)

Sharing a ministry focus as a couple and also as a family protects everyone from resentment and eases the claustrophobia of the glass house that can plague ministry families.  Kay defines “thriving” over the long haul  as the ability to share a God-given dream and points to Ephesians 2:10 to affirm that God is the architect of that dream.

3.  “Success in ministry is not about numerical results or recognition but about thriving, flourishing, and growing strong in one’s calling and in one’s character.” (58)

This does not mean that women in ministry will meet everyone’s expectations.  On the flip side, it also does not mean that we will always be free to do the thing we love the most.  When it comes to defining success in ministry, the most important voice in the room is God’s.

4.  “You have a story that is worth telling.”  (125)

Sharing God’s redemption process in your life is risky because your weaknesses come out of hiding.  However, in the process, others are drawn into the Light, and true friendships can be formed that will endure for the long haul.  Life in community — knowing others and being known — is so much safer and more comfortable than life on a pedestal.

5.  “No one will take care of you but you.” (139)

That sounds cynical, doesn’t it?  And it’s not to say that God, your husband, and/or your loving church family are all out to exploit you and suck you dry, but there are some aspects of self-care that are completely in your court:  eating, sleeping, and moving every day are your responsibility.  My favorite of Kay’s aphorisms applies here:

“Control the controllable and leave the uncontrollable to God.”

Nourishing the inner life and stepping away from ministry for Sabbath rest may require some adjusting.  Cultivating this flexibility is a discipline that is well worth it in the end.

6.  “Accept the loss of privacy with God’s grace.”  (180)

Gail MacDonald and Edith Schaeffer have blazed a gracious trail for ministry wives (and all women) with their writing, and Edith is eloquently accurate on this subject of boundaries:

“A family is a door that has hinges and a lock.  The hinges should be well-oiled to swing the door open during certain times, but the lock should be firm enough to let people know that the family needs to be alone part of the time, just to be a family.”  (183)

7.  “Live with transparency and work hard to do what is right in the sight of God and others.”  (194)

Because ministry is a “sacred privilege,” God-honoring integrity is key, particularly in the crucial areas of sex, money, and power.  Kay and her husband maintain a “warnings” file with details about well-known pastors who have left the ministry because of moral failure — just to remind them of their own vulnerability.

8.  Maintain an eternal perspective.

Practicing radical forgiveness will make the battle scars earned in church conflict more bearable — and will even speed healing!  Franςois Fénelon offers wise counsel:

“Don’t be so upset when things are said about you.  Let the world talk; just seek to do the will of God.  You will never be able to entirely satisfy people and it isn’t worth the painful effort.”  (215)

The shared dreams and plans, the sacrifices and the adjustments required of women in ministry can be viewed alongside Paul’s metaphor of the Christian life as a race.  We run toward a finish line that is difficult to see, and the noise of the crowd — whether cheering or jeering — can be a distraction.  Making it “our aim to please” God is the mindset that will foster self-acceptance, a thriving family, and the ability to live out God’s calling on our lives with integrity and joy.

//

This book was provided by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

For more information about Kay’s writing and ministry check out her website here.

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.