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IDENTITY IN CRISIS
Someone—I think it was a bitter woman—once said, “Men! Can’t live with them, can’t kill them!” I have my own version of this expression: “Men! Can’t live without them, though sometimes living with them may take a bit of work.” But let’s face it, most men would say the same thing about dealing with women!
Ladies and gentlemen, I must confess that I am grieved. As I travel around the country and speak with both men and women, I have seen that our struggle to find lasting love and nurturing relationships is at an all-time high. The men are confused. They no longer know what women want or need from them. The women are disappointed and frustrated. They always ask the same questions: “Where are the men?” “What is wrong with them?” “Why are they not able to commit?” “Why are they such wimps?”
I assure you up front that I have not set out to write a man-bashing book. Instead, I hope to champion God’s original design for a man’s life. I hope to encourage men and women alike with the following truth: Though perfection in any gender cannot be achieved this side of heaven, worthy efforts can be made with the help of the Holy Spirit. Why is this so important? Because we women need real men in our lives. And because God needs real men in His service.
Let’s consider for a moment the crisis that threatens relationships between men and women today. A famous feminist once said that women have become the men they desire. Eww! Why? Perhaps because the world has distorted our roles and perspectives on gender traits. In our politically correct efforts to create a world of equality, we have created instead a great big tangled ball of yarn, with the liberating strand eluding us. We have lost sight of the God-given, unique strengths we have to offer each other as men and women.
As women have become more independent, self-sufficient, and powerful in the business world, I believe many have accepted the subtle lie that they no longer need men. The men, not knowing what is expected of them any longer, have largely abdicated (or been forced to resign) their posts as leaders, protectors, and providers.
On the other hand, the “every woman can be her own island” mentality is hard to sustain. Women have begun to groan under the weight of all they’re doing and wonder why men no longer step up to the plate. Weariness has set in. So has compromise. For the sake of having a man, countless women have begun to settle for a new, watered-down version of manhood. Yet these women long for more. Not realizing that low expectations of men further perpetuate the downward trend, women sigh, “Oh well, men just aren’t what they used to be.”
I beg to differ. I believe that in the heart of every man is a desire to be the man his spirit knows he was created to be. Yet staggering numbers of men fear rejection, and so they settle for far less than what is required of them. Even so, these same men subconsciously resent women, who in their eyes have stripped them of their manhood. A man in such a position digs in his heels. He determines that the ultimate revenge for being backed into a corner by a strong woman is to let her flail just to prove she’d have been better off if she’d let him handle things in the first place.
The Great Man Behind the Great Woman
In truth, women don’t want to handle all of life on their own. Though doing everything faster than a speeding bullet, hurdling all aspects of life in a single bound, and leaping over tall dilemmas sounds admirable, none of us is Superwoman. The average woman gets stressed just reading about the virtuous woman so highly praised in Proverbs 31.
We’ve heard so much about the Proverbs 31 woman. She could bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never let her husband forget he’s a man—all in one day. This chapter on her life has caused many a woman to have a serious inferiority complex. I’ve long made peace with her, understanding Proverbs 31 as a synopsis of her entire life, not an average week at her house. I hope that bit of good news will set you women free also.
The man behind this woman, however, has continually intrigued me. Who was he anyway? How did he feel about all this stuff his wife did? The proverb tells us in verse 28 that he praised her. He sounds like a pretty confident man. In fact, in verses 11 and 23, it says he was successful himself and not threatened by this entrepreneurial woman.
What part did he play in nurturing the kind of woman his wife became? How did he help establish the pleasant order that governed in his home? What was it about him that made others think so highly of him? What attributes did he display that filled his wife with confidence about their future, both financially and emotionally (verses 21,25)?
What did he do that made her so infused with love for him that she diligently watched over all the matters of their household to make it a haven for him (verses 12,15,27)?
As I have pondered these questions, a list of attributes drawn from various men in the Bible has emerged in my mind and spirit concerning this mysterious man. The data forms a composite portrait of him.
This strong man had not only the respect of his wife and his community but the approval of God as well. He did not diminish the strength of his wife; he supported it, and in so doing, he created a strong family unit that was a tribute to God’s design for marriage. I believe God wants to forge these attributes in the heart of every man. The many faces from that composite of the Proverbs 31 man will form the foundation for the chapters to come.
Diamonds in the Rough
Why have I written this book? Because I love men. Some of my richest friendships have been with men. Some of the wisest and soundest counsel I have received over the course of my life has come from male friends and brothers who have served up the truth to me as completely and gently as possible. I’ve listened to them as they’ve struggled with their own issues, whether in careers or in love or in simply understanding what it means to be a man today. I’ve discovered that they feel things deeply without always believing they have permission to voice those feelings. I have been processing their confusion, frustration, and pain, and I believe I have some insights to help ease it.
Men, I want to show you what God’s Word says you need to be. After receiving so many mixed signals from women and culture, who knows what is ideal? You’ve been told to be hard, soft, strong, sensitive, macho, kind, tough, and the list of contradiction goes on, to everyone’s bemusement. If you’re scratching your head and trying to figure out what women really want, well…I’m going to make it plain.
Between what God requires and what women desire, we have a lot of ground to cover. Keep in mind that growing into what God has created us to be—whether we are men or women—is an ongoing process. We walk by faith, clinging to His grace every step of the way. I hope you will consider the following chapters as guideposts to help you on your journey, that what I share will help you to reconcile your thinking in troublesome areas. I pray it will give you a new outlook on your God-ordained identity as well as on the state of your relationships with women.
This book is also for women, single and married. Did you know that your posture toward the men in your lives can dramatically affect the outcome of your relationships? Single or married, we first need to make sure our expectations of our men are aligned with God’s Word. Second, we need to understand the contribution we can make to nurturing God’s possibilities and helping them become reality in our man’s life. Women do have an important part to play in completing a man and helping him become all that God created and designed him to be.
Singles, I hope to give you guidelines on what to look for in a man and how to recognize God’s man for you. If you go shopping for diamonds without any knowledge of what to look for, any diamond will look good. Once you’ve been educated, however, you will make more careful choices. Discerning buyers know what to look for in the clarity, color, cut, and carat weight. They know what they won’t settle for. They also know the true value of the stone and whether it matches the price tag. Love and marriage are a jewel in the making. You’ve got to start with the right stone, however, in order to emerge with anything of lasting value.
Wives, I hope to give you a clear view of what God wants your husband to be and how you can be instrumental in nurturing those character traits in your man. To take the diamond metaphor a step further, it is possible to have the right stone, apply the wrong pressure, and end up with a worthless rock. I hope to help you avoid this pitfall.
For those of you who feel you married a worthless rock, just remember that all you need is the right jeweler. Under the careful hand of the Master Cutter, that rock can take on a brilliance you didn’t know was possible. Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man [or woman] sharpens another.” Perhaps in this word picture we should say that a man and a woman can polish each other until they both shine as brilliantly as God intended. So don’t get frustrated; the possibilities are endless.
Men, you might be tempted to have the same reaction to the Proverbs 31 man as women do to the Proverbs 31 woman. Again, keep in mind that we are all works in progress. How long it takes you to complete the journey does not matter, but your commitment to continue moving onward and upward does.
It is my prayer that men and women alike will be liberated in their thinking, inspired in their spirit, and spurred on by a new hope for the future of their relationships with members of the opposite sex. I hope we all will become aware of our responsibilities in forging strong relationships and willing to give and take as we submit our natural longings to the Word of God. May the blessings that come from being a man or woman after God’s own heart pleasantly surprise us all.
RECOGNIZING THE VOICE
Knowing Your God
The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.
The Proverbs 31 man has an intimate knowledge of God.
I personally envy Adam, the first man who walked and talked with God in the Garden of Eden. The account in Genesis tells us that these two enjoyed constant fellowship. Can you imagine the conversations that were held? The insights that God shared with His new creation? The overwhelming sense of well-being that Adam must have felt as God affirmed him as a man, told him of His great love for him, and instructed him in His ways. Adam knew God in a way most of us can only dream of.
Many men know about God, but do they really know Him? That is the question. Since the Word clearly states that those who believe in and serve God are not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers, it stands to reason that the first qualification for our Proverbs 31 man, if you are a believer, is an intimate relationship with and a personal knowledge of God.
One of the things that garners respect in the heart of a woman—which is a prerequisite to her willingness to submit to her man—is wisdom. A woman needs a man whom she can trust to make wise decisions. Head knowledge alone cannot make a man an effective head of the house as priest and leader. Only a man who is able to seek the rich counsel of the Lord for insight can lead his loved ones wisely. God is the source of that wisdom. The Word promises that those who know their God will be strong and accomplish great things! (See Daniel 11:32.) Wisdom and boldness are birthed out of possessing the confidence that God “has your back.”
When I think of men who possess this intimate knowledge of God, several great men of the Bible who made their mark on the world come to mind. These men walked with Him. They talked with Him. They felt His heartbeat and relayed its rhythm to others. They walked in harmony with God’s design for their lives. Some made missteps from time to time, but they got back on track and finished their assignments in life.
As we review biblical history, we see men having deep and lengthy conversations with God or even wrestling with Him! These men sought advice, reassurance, and consolation from the one true source of profound and lasting wisdom. “Should I take my family and go to another land, God?” “Which road should I take?” “Should we go to battle now, Lord?” “Give me the assurance that you will go with us.” They did not make major decisions without seeking His face.
Intimacy That Transforms
Can any man become a Proverbs 31 man? Through Christ all things are possible. Jacob was transformed from a liar and a schemer into a great man by becoming a victim of his own tricks and being broken in spirit and in body. On the day he was able to declare who was really Lord of his life, he changed. We’ll take a closer look at his life later, but it is interesting to note that his deep love for a woman named Rachel probably had a lot to do with his transformation. Sometimes God uses a woman to complete the change He has begun in the heart of a man. A woman who will not settle for a man “as is”—if she is also submitted to God and not grasping for control—can cause him to grow. The world says that behind every great man is a great woman. This is true. God has placed very specific gifts inside a woman that empower a man to be all that he was created to be. I wrote specifically on these in my book The Power of Femininity. Ladies, please feel free to read that book for more specifics on your part in this equation, as I’ll be focusing on men in this book.
No man skips the process of transformation except by his own choosing. All must first be broken before becoming a worthy vessel that can please God and gain honor in the eyes of a woman.
Consider Moses. Pampered and living large in Pharaoh’s house, he developed the temper of a spoiled child capable of murder. High on Mount Sinai, Moses came face to face with God, and the experience changed him. Standing before the burning bush, set apart from human voices and rationale, Moses dared to ask the mighty God who He was. How God longs to hear that question from the lips of every one of His creations! How willing He is to answer. Yes, Moses beheld God in His awesomeness. Moses was also humbled in His presence. The holy presence of God exposed him. All that he was and was not suddenly became clearly evident. Moses stood in the light of truth and had to respond. With all pretense and defenses laid aside, nothing could stand between this all-powerful, infinite God and this man who had finally made peace with his own finiteness. In this place, Moses came to know God intimately, which made them partners—one in mind and spirit. Moses came back down that mountain a different man, his soul bursting with divine purpose. He had an assignment from God—the deliverance of Israel—and was determined to complete it. This same man who had impulsively killed an Egyptian became a man who searched God’s heart in every decision he made concerning the nation of Israel.
No one is perfect, not even a Proverbs 31 man. No one walks in the Spirit continuously. Even Moses was given to impatience when leading his whining charges toward the Promised Land. Because his heart was tender toward God, however, Moses was quick to repent and gracefully get back on track. This is another central trait in the man we seek: He bears the consequences of his mistakes, takes a licking, and keeps on ticking. His spirit is not bowed or crushed by adversity, and he doesn’t blame others for his problems. He simply takes responsibility and finds a solution. He allows perseverance to finish its work in him so he “may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” ( James 1:4).
This maturity makes him a solid rock on which his family can stand. They are secure because he has anchored himself in God alone. He earns their trust through endurance and consistency. Moses could take the heat. He stood before Pharaoh without flinching and demanded that this powerful monarch let God’s people go. He was able to confront the enemy and stand his ground because he had the full assurance that God stood with him. He understood that it was not by might, not by power, but by the Spirit of God about and within him that he would be able to accomplish a mission that seemed impossible.
Follow That Man!
Oh, the world needs more men who are willing to be transformed by God and plugged into His wisdom! Time and again men such as Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and Daniel made decisions based on the counsel they received from on high and were blessed mightily as a result. Whenever they charged ahead in their own strength, making decisions based on the flesh and not in the Spirit, they floundered and failed miserably. Is it any wonder God grieved when Adam followed Eve’s lead and ate the forbidden fruit? The consequences of such impulses affect the lives of families, communities, nations, and even the world. Today we all bear the effects of Adam’s sin.
Women need men who will seek God’s face and secure their future by obedience to His instructions. God told Abraham to take his family and go to a place He would reveal later. Can you imagine? How ready would the average woman be to drop everything—her home, her friends, her career, her kids’ education—if her husband came home and said, “Baby, the Lord said that we should move, so get packed and let’s go."
“Oh? Well, where are we going?”
“I don’t know. He hasn’t told me yet, but I thought we would just start driving and find out.” I don’t think that would go over well unless that man had a sound record of hearing correctly from God.
Perhaps Lot’s wife looked back at Sodom even after the angels had instructed them not to because she doubted her husband’s decision to leave their home (see Genesis 19:17,26). Though they lived in affluence, Lot was an impulsive type who typically made decisions from his head. This was the same man who chose to remove himself from the safe leadership of Abraham and relocate his family to the center of an atrociously godless society (13:10-13). This same man offered his own daughters to rowdy, lecherous men in exchange for the well-being of two strangers he didn’t even know (19:8). How could his wife completely trust his choice at this juncture? He didn’t even exude confidence himself regarding the angels’ instructions (19:18-19)! Could this be yet another bad decision that would cost them everything? It’s safe to guess that Lot’s wife had doubts as she fled her comfortable life.
Though humans hold one another to a tougher standard of perfection, God is gracious to have mercy on us when we mess up. Adam’s sin, precipitated by Eve, is considered by most scholars to be a premeditated, blatant act of disobedience. Yet God reestablished him, covered him, and gave him a second chance at life. Even Abraham missed it from time to time, but he got it right often enough that his wife, Sarah—first called Sarai—gave him her confidence. Let’s take a look at the time Abraham—then called Abram—passed through Egypt, and word reached the Pharaoh that Abraham was traveling in the company of a very beautiful woman (see Genesis12:11-20). Abraham, fearing for the lives of all his entourage, encouraged Sarah to say she was his sister. Sarah didn’t put her hands on her hips and say, “Now, why would I do a thing like that?” She submitted to his instructions and soon found herself put up at Pharaoh’s palace. It took the intervention of God to get them all out of the situation.
This same scenario did not happen once but twice as they made their way to the land that God had promised to them (see Genesis 20:2). Why, even after knowing that claiming to be Abraham’s sister was not the right thing to do, did Sarah trust Abraham with her life? Some might argue that she obeyed for cultural reasons, but let’s face it: Even then feisty women had ways of getting around their husbands’ will, but Sarah followed his instructions without protesting. Why? I believe she did because Abraham had a record of following God. Most of the decisions he had made were right-on, and his family had been mightily blessed by his obedience. Sarah trusted God above Abraham to keep her out of harm’s way, and indeed, He was faithful. She mastered the art of submitting to her husband as unto the Lord, who was the ultimate authority in both of their lives.
One of the most beautiful things I ever heard a wife say about her husband was: “It feels as if God is loving me through my husband. It’s almost as if he anticipates my needs and meets them before I even say a word.” Only a man who prays and hears from God can do such a thing for his wife.
Abraham accumulated great wealth and became well known in the land. His faith brought about the child that had been promised to him and Sarah (see Hebrews 11:11). Now, of course, I must point out what happens to this same man when a woman’s influence causes him to abandon his God-given instincts. God will hold him personally responsible for any and all decisions he makes. It is already in the nature of a man, no matter how godly, to try to figure things out in his own mind when things aren’t going according to his schedule. Enter woman, in the form of Sarah, stage left. She suggests Abraham sleep with their maid Hagar in order to get the promised child, and Abraham agrees without consulting God (see Genesis 16:2). The union does indeed yield a child, Ishmael, but he is not the one God was talking about, and we’ve had worldwide problems ever since.
It is obvious that the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31 yielded to the leadership of her husband because he knew and followed the leading of God. Then, unlike Sarah, she sifted her own wisdom and intuitive gifts through the instruction of the Lord before making any suggestions. Proverbs 31:26 says that she speaks with wisdom and faithful instruction is on her tongue. “Faithful to whom?” you might ask. Faithful to the leadership of the Lord and her husband. Ladies, if you want a Proverbs 31 man, you’ve got to be a Proverbs 31 woman. Men, you need to look past the pretty face of a woman and carefully consider her character before selecting her for your wife.
After having her own son, Isaac, Sara demanded that Hagar and Ishmael be sent away. Though it grieved Abraham to part with a child who was a part of him, he followed the instructions of the Lord to maintain peace and focus on rearing his promised child (see Genesis 21:11-12). A Proverbs 31 man will make such sacrifices for the sake of his wife and household, though they might cause him personal pain. He follows the leading of the Lord at all costs, and if he must abandon something of value, he trusts God’s sovereign ability to restore it. He takes his position of leadership seriously and counts the cost of his decisions before making a move. God promised to bless and prosper Ishmael, thereby comforting Abraham and easing the pain of his mistake (21:13).
From the Trade Paperback edition.