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She Prayed with Strength and Conviction
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So may all your enemies perish, O Lord! But may they who love you be like the sun when it rises in its strength. Judges 5:31
Lord, I will go anywhere you lead (except Africa, or Cincinnati). I will do anything you ask (but please don't ask me to work in the nursery). I am your willing servant (although "servant" sounds awfully lowly; how about "kingdom colleague"?). May your will be done in my life (as long as it's not too inconvenient). Amen.
While I've never actually prayed a prayer like that, if God read my heart (which he can and does), he would know that often when I say I'm willing, I'm really not. To give myself wholeheartedly to a God I cannot see and who may ask me to do something disruptive and discomforting is scary. I may have to leave the security of my everyday routine or the comfort of my self-sufficient life. I may have to walk by faith when I'd much rather walk by sight.
If I give myself to God, he may lead me to greatness, which is a terrifying thought. Mediocrity is so much more comfortable than adventure and risk. Give me white bread and vanilla pudding any day. Foggy, drizzly days, sitting on my couch. Sipping lukewarm decaf instant coffee, munching on bland saltine crackers, working on crossword puzzles. A life without challenges. Ahhhhh!
The trouble with that is, once God has called us into his kingdom through faith in Christ, he gives us his Spirit, who stirs us out of our comfortable complacency. "I've come that you might have life," he whispers. "I've got a grand plan, adventures and opportunities you never dreamed possible."
He addresses our fear and reluctance. "Don't be afraid," he says. And then, just as Jesus did with Peter, his disciple, he tells us to do something outrageous, such as "Get out of the boat you're in and walk on water." That's when either we run for the comfort of our couch, grab the TV remote, and flip on Jeopardy! or we arise and follow God's call.
A Mother in Israel Arose
Only nine in the morning, and I've already listened to three disputes over stolen donkeys, Deborah thought as she reviewed her list of cases for the day. As a prophetess of God, and the only woman to serve as a judge in Israel, sometimes she felt torn between her duties at home as a wife and mother and her duties as one of God's chosen leaders for his people. Sometimes, she wondered if these stubborn Israelites were even worth leading.
After Joshua died, the generations that followed did evil in the sight of the Lord by serving foreign gods, including Deborah's generation. God chastised them by allowing them to be ruled by their enemies. At the time Deborah served as judge, with her "courtroom" under a palm tree in the hill country of Ephraim, the Israelites had already lived twenty years under the cruel oppression of Jabin, a Canaanite king, and Sisera, the commander of Jabin's army.
To Deborah, it seemed the more oppressed the Israelites felt, the more they took it out on each other. She had noticed her caseload growing daily: neighbor versus neighbor, relatives disputing relatives. And over such trivial things, she thought. Even my youngest children know how to share their toys!
The men had also turned cowardly or complacent. She didn't know which it was, or maybe it was both. There had been chatter lately about Sisera's nine hundred iron chariots and about how the Israelites had none. The men, and the women too, spent long hours complaining to each other - complaining about each other - but not one of them offered to do anything about anything.
After the last case of the day was settled, Deborah stood up and stretched. She had sensed a restlessness in her spirit all day, and she knew it wasn't from listening to squabbles about property lines or whose donkey belonged to whom. She had learned long ago how to keep her work from robbing her of the peace God had given her. No, this restlessness she felt seemed to come from God himself, as if he was disturbing her peace.
The people had been crying out for a leader - someone to be their champion, their deliverer, their savior, from their enemy. Someone like Joshua, they had been saying. However, for all of the men's many words and heartfelt laments, even when they turned their cries to the Lord for help, not one Israelite man stepped forward to lead the people.
That's when Deborah sensed God calling her to be the one to rise up. In a culture dominated by men, Deborah knew the risk she would be taking to volunteer as leader. It was difficult enough serving as judge! Some of the men who appeared before her bench didn't appreciate being told what to do by a "mere woman," as she had been called.
How can I be a leader against Sisera? she thought. I'm not a warrior; I'm just a mom!
Still, her spirit remained restless until she finally relented. "Okay, God," she said. "I don't know exactly what you want me to do - or even why you would want to use me - but there's no one else who's willing."
As soon as she spoke those words, God's peace returned, and she breathed deeply. "Thank you, Lord," she whispered.
Next, the Lord began to speak to Deborah and to give her his instructions. After Deborah had heard from God, she sent for Barak, a fellow Israelite, and instructed him to gather ten thousand men from the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun and go to Mount Tabor. Then she would lure Sisera to the Kishon River and into Barak's hands.
However, Barak was afraid. "If you go with me, I will go," he told her. "But if you don't go with me, I won't go" (Judges 4:8).
Deborah agreed, but told him that because of his request, the honor of victory wouldn't be his, "for the Lord will hand Sisera over to a woman."
Barak and Deborah gathered the ten thousand men, and "at Barak's advance, the Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and army by the sword." Sisera himself fled on foot and escaped into the tent of a woman named Jael. There, once he had fallen asleep, Jael drove a tent peg through his skull (Judges 4:4-21).
After the Israelite's victory, Deborah sang this prayer of praise:
When the princes in Israel take the lead, when the people willingly offer themselves - praise the Lord! (Judges 5:2) In the days of Shamgar son of Anath, in the days of Jael, the roads were abandoned; travelers took to winding paths. Village life in Israel ceased, ceased until I, Deborah, arose, arose a mother in Israel. (Judges 5:6-7)
After that, Israel was at peace for forty years.
The Bible doesn't say anything else about Deborah. We don't know about her home, her husband, or her children. All we know is that when she heard from God, she arose. She was willing to heed the voice of God spurring her toward service. And as she arose, so did the men of Israel. Together, they witnessed God's power routing their enemies in the face of overwhelming odds. Together they enjoyed a decades-long peace. Twice in her song she commends those who rose up with her and offered themselves in service to the Lord. "My heart is with Israel's princes," she sang, "with the willing volunteers among the people. Praise the Lord!" (Judges 5:9).
What, Me Willing?
Deborah heard from God and believed him. She trusted that whatever he told her was true and that he would keep his word. She knew him, she knew his character. She had heard the stories of his faithfulness to Abraham and Sarah, to Joseph, to Moses, and to Joshua. She had heard the stories of how the Lord parted the Red Sea so the Israelites could escape slavery in Egypt and how he fed them for forty years as they wandered in the desert.
She heard of his patience with his people and how he came to their rescue when they cried out to him. She knew of his compassion and his great love. Even if she were afraid - and who wouldn't be if they were faced with an enemy with nine hundred chariots? - because she knew God's character, she knew she could trust him with whatever he might call her to do. Those who know God, even if they are afraid, willingly step out on faith to follow him - sometimes with bold leaps, other times with tentative steps.
When Jesus came to Peter, walking on the surface of a lake, Peter and the other disciples in the boat were terrified. The wind was against them and the waves buffeted the boat. When Jesus appeared in the distance approaching them, they thought he was a ghost.
Jesus told them not to be afraid. "It is I," he said.
That's all he needed to say. They had spent time with him and knew his character. Peter, one who knew him best, said, "Lord, if it's really you, then tell me to walk on water too."
Jesus told him, "Come."
The gospel of Matthew records that Peter climbed out of the boat and took several steps toward Jesus. Can you imagine what that was like? Terrifying and exhilarating all at once. Look at me! I'm walking - on water! Can you believe it?
But then when he saw the wind, his fear won out over his faith, and he began to sink. He cried out, "Lord, save me!"
Jesus did. He reached out his hand and kept him from drowning. Then he asked Peter, "Why did you doubt?" (Matthew 14:22-31).
When it comes to being willing to step out on faith, to heed God's call on our lives, why do we doubt? Why do you doubt?
Why do I?
I remember a job I had years ago. With two young daughters at home and a desire to earn extra money, I took a job doing machine appliqué sewing at home, for which I was paid piecework. Eventually, the job took over my life. If I wasn't at my sewing machine doing the actual sewing, then I was cutting fabric or assembling pieces for the next day's work or trimming completed pieces from the previous day.
I did this for several years and averaged only ten dollars a day, seven days a week. Out of that seventy dollars, I still had to pay taxes, so I probably only made sixty. If I divide that by the number of hours I spent working, I come up with an hourly rate of less than a dollar.
God knew this. He also knew he had something better for me. However, I didn't know that. I was like the disciples in the boat, terrified at the raging storm but unwilling to step out.
Every morning as I sat down at my sewing machine, I heard the voice of Jesus urging, "Come. Quit the job that pays so little and takes up so much of your time and trust that I have something better."
But I wouldn't. I was unwilling ... and afraid. I thought we needed that seventy dollars a week. Money was tight enough with it, and I didn't think we could survive without it.
So I resisted the Lord for another two years. I knew I didn't trust that his love and faithfulness would be sufficient, and that made me feel guilty. I kept thinking, "What if my child didn't trust me? What if my daughter doubted my goodness and my love?"
I resist God and become unwilling to surrender to him because I'm not convinced that he loves me - it's a control issue. I'm unwilling to give up control of my life because I don't think anyone else, including God, can take care of me the way I can.
Some call this orphan thinking. Orphans fend for themselves and take control of their surroundings. After all, who else will? They are distrustful and unwilling to give themselves to anyone. But for those of us who have been adopted by the Father through faith in Jesus, there is no need to think or act like an orphan.
I have a Father who loves me lavishly and cares for me deeply. A Father who loves me with an everlasting love, who delights in me, and who rejoices over me. When I forget that, I shrink back in fear. When I am afraid, I hold onto whatever I think will make me feel secure, such as a job that doesn't bring me pleasure or satisfaction; I'm afraid to let go.
Willing? No ... But Willing to Be Made Willing? Yes!
After resisting God for two years, I finally gave in. Wrestling with the Almighty is tiring and pointless; you always lose. Except, when you lose to God, you end up winning.
One Friday I prayed: "Lord, I want to be willing, but I'm not. I'm afraid. But I'm also miserable. If you change my heart, I will do whatever you say." My prayer may have been filled with doubt and fear, but it was honest. I wasn't willing, but I was willing to be made willing.
Scripture says God "works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose" (Philippians 2:13). He makes us willing and then he empowers us to do whatever he intends.
By Monday morning, I couldn't wait to call the woman I worked for to tell her it was my last week of sewing. I felt as if I were walking on water, terrified yet exhilarated. I had no idea what lay ahead. I only knew that Jesus had bid me, "Come." So I took a breath and stepped out of the boat.
As it turned out, that was a pivotal point in my life. Shortly after I quit my sewing job, I began writing stories for Christian magazines, which led to having several books published, which led to a speaking ministry, which led to greater opportunities to trust God to care for me.
Arise - and Shine!
Willingness to follow Jesus doesn't guarantee success as we may define success. According to tradition, all of Christ's original disciples except one ended up dying violently because they chose to follow him. However, not many of us are called to die a martyr's death. But we are called to die to ourselves daily and to give our lives away for the sake of the kingdom.
What happens when I willingly give myself to God? I experience an inner calm because I stop striving. Even in the face of opposition, I can do what's right because I'm at peace with God. Also, my faith and trust in him increases. As he proves himself trustworthy, I trust him more. As I trust him more, I am more willing to give myself to him. I may even walk on water if he asks me to because I know he won't let me drown.
Deborah sang a song of victory. She could have stayed under the palm tree judging disputes among the people, but she arose, "a mother in Israel," and willingly followed God's lead into battle. Because she did, she saw him utterly destroy her enemies and oppressors. She sang,
So may all your enemies perish, O Lord! But may they who love you be like the sun when it rises in its strength. (Judges 5:31)
We all battle enemies. Sometimes our enemies are real, human enemies who threaten our safety and well-being. Sometimes the enemy is a philosophy that threatens to suppress or even overthrow the truth we believe as revealed by God in the Bible.
Excerpted from Praying with Women of the Bible by Nancy Kennedy Copyright © 2004 by Nancy Kennedy. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted March 31, 2004
Here, in one book, are gathered Biblical models of prayer who are also women. The principles of prayer they demonstrated (strength, help, courage, mercy, faith, boldness, contrition, persistence, hope, joy) should be the goal of any Christian. But Nancy endears them especially to women¿s heart with her illustrations and personal stories. Women in a marriage with a non-believing spouse, or who have wayward children, will be encouraged as Nancy tells of what God has taught her about prayer in those circumstances. One of the book¿s poignant illustrations is about praying for ¿silver¿ when God wants to give us ¿gold.¿ ¿In some instances,¿ she writes (p. 80), ¿in demanding silver form God we receive rocks instead.¿ Nancy invites us to bold faith and perseverance. With its end-of-chapter meditation guides, it offers versatility for personal or group study.
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Posted January 18, 2010
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