With a mother's love and affectionate attachment to you, we were very happy to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our lives - because you had become so dear to us. 1 Thessalonians 2:8 tpt
For Mother's Day ~ In dedication to my mom and grateful for her love and encouragement and to all the spiritual mothers out there who encourage, support and love unceasingly in Jesus' name! Thank YOU!
For two years before this previous year, I began or closed my teaching time with these words from 1 Thessalonians. I paraphrased the verse so that my message to the women gathered was more personal. It wasn't a marketing ploy or a catchy mantra to hook people into listening. These words were heartfelt because I truly did feel an affection for every woman gathered together for Bible study.
"I love you so much, ladies, I am delighted to share with you not only the Gospel of God, but my life as well because you are so dear to me!"
One night I spoke this out and from somewhere toward the back, I heard, "And you are so dear to us!" I was stunned and delighted all at the same time. It was a light bulb moment. For truly the first time I realized the affection was flowing two ways.
Unfortunately, I didn't know all the women as intimately as I would have liked. Their faces were all familiar to me. Often we greeted one another with warm smiles and salutations and left one another with hugs. But what I really wanted was to be able to meet with each woman one on one over coffee and get to know her story and her heart. There simply were not enough weeks in the year to do what I wanted to do.
Names of women resounded with joy in my heart because of the number of times I called them aloud before our Father in prayer. They were all the women Father had entrusted to me for two years with a mission of making disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ in my community through the in-depth and careful study of His Word.
It wasn't a volunteer position. I was called of God and I knew it. There was no large expanse of time in my schedule with which I could, in my own strength, fulfill this role of leading women through 30 weeks of Bible study each year. I had no margin lying open in my life so that this mission would easily make sense as my next order of Kingdom business.
In fact looking back now, I was (and still am) a pretty unlikely candidate. Teaching is not one of my prominent gifts. There's no big Beth Moore or Priscilla Shirer teaching voice booming forth from this girl. The gift of administration is not a high point on my resume. Plus, I was already working a full-time job, my mother-in-law was in hospice, my husband was forced into retirement and received a life-altering medical diagnosis all at the same time. In short, my life felt pretty stretched to capacity.
I was an unlikely candidate.
Yet, God called my name to lead this Bible study group with a mission to make disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ in my community with love and care for all the women who would come. I heard in my spirit that He was calling me to this role for a short time. My heart desire was to do this for the Lord. Still, I felt a need to tell Him about all of my time constraints and commitments and such. As if He didn't know my life...
We talked it out. The Lord and me. He knows my heart. My Father knows that I walk around my life most of the time with my hand in the air and crying out, "Ooh, ooh pick me. Pick me!" So, He knew I wanted to say yes to this, but I still asked Him for three things:
- Seeking affirmation of my call, I wanted someone from the current leadership team to call me and ask me to pray about being their new leader.
- I wanted Father to stretch and protect my time each week and provide His teaching for me to present each week.
- I asked Him to fill my heart with His love for every woman such that I could honestly say, "I love you so much I am delighted to share with you not only the Gospel of God but my life as well because you have become so dear to me."
As happens when it really is the Lord on the move and fulfilling His plans, everything happened just as He had directed me. Within a month or so I received a phone call from a woman in leadership asking if I would pray about being the new teaching director. I told her I would pray, and I did. I went back to my Father and thanked Him for answering my prayer for a phone call.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 2 Corinthians 12:9 niv
After I accepted the position, God made provision for me to go to training in Colorado Springs. My calling was confirmed way out there on the other side of the US gathered together with other called servants of God. Though I couldn't fathom how it would all come together I returned home confident that if my Father called me He would equip me.
I continued to ask my Father for His protection over my time. Truly, I wanted Him to clear my calendar and resolve all the hard things in my life so I could give this new position my full attention. However, His assurance to me was His assurance to Paul - "My grace is sufficient for you".
Nothing was removed from my schedule during those two years. I learned reliance on my Father for time and study and words. He taught me by His presence and from His word, and I was the greatest beneficiary. From the overflow of my time with Him, I had something to offer to others each week. His grace was sufficient, and I saw Him daily stretch my time.
AND... He filled my heart with love. His love was full in my heart for every woman. Not because I'm super-human in the love department. And please don't get the impression that every relationship was warm and fuzzy. There's no such thing as perfection in ministry.
Truth. Outside of my immediate family, I've never been so challenged to speak the truth in love, keep short accounts, and forgive with extravagance. Leading multi-faceted people in one unified direction is not for the faint of heart. Honestly, I was humbled by my consistent need to ask forgiveness for myself. My knees and my heart were raw in a good tenderized kind of way by the end of my term.
I learned a lot. The experiences developed my sincere appreciation for my pastors, and my prayers for all the leaders in my life became much more compassionate and loving. Additionally, I learned to rely even more on the Lord to teach me and mold me as the leader He wanted me to be.
My weaknesses were glaringly clear to me from the beginning, and probably to everyone else. Though the ladies were extraordinarily gracious toward me. The encouragement of those who had gone before and the prayers of many bolstered my desire to persevere.
However, between me and my Lord, my inability to live out this 1 Thessalonians truth was obvious. I wanted to love everyone. But how?
- How could I genuinely love such a wide variety of women with a pure heart like Jesus?
- How did Paul, the apostle do it?
Recently I have been reading the various letters Paul sent to the churches. When he wrote about his love for all the saints I had to wonder if he really meant everyone. I mean from what I gather Paul was a fairly crusty character. I imagine him with a bit of a temper and impatient.
Paul certainly had no problem separating himself from his Christian brothers, Barnabas and Mark. He too seemed an unlikely candidate to be chosen by God. Yet Paul wrote many letters of great encouragement, love, and affection for ALL the brothers and sisters in Christ.
We know from reading his letters, Paul too was humbled and tenderized by the presence of the Lord, the kindness of Jesus to bring him to repentance and God's calling on his life. Paul suffered greatly at the hands of those who opposed the message of the Gospel. His body was beaten and bloodied, and surely his heart was crushed by those God called him to serve.
Paul, along with those he discipled, chose to love for the sake of Christ. He loved in obedience. He forgave in obedience. He served in obedience. And then as he moved from place to place on his mission journeys for Christ, the love in his heart created a longing to hear about their faith and a hope for being reunited with them again.
For me, 'how to love' was found in my surrender to live out this scripture truth. When I bent my knees before the Father and lifted the names of every woman before Him, He sowed seeds of love for them in my heart. As I opened my heart and made myself vulnerable with the stories of my own life, Father added fertile soil around the sprouts of love growing in my heart. And as I shared with the women the truth of the Gospel message, my Lord watered the garden full of love blooms with each woman's name written on each one!
Lastly, I was determined to obey Jesus and follow Him where He led me in His Word. If His Word would boldly declare that sharing the Gospel and my life would develop my care for others, then I would boldly declare my love for them from my lips to their ears as often as I had the opportunity.
Father was true to His word and He called me out of that leadership place just as He had called me in. And even in the separation, the love for the women remains in my heart. I remember our time together with great fondness, and as they individually come to mind I still lift a prayer on their behalf. From time to time we run into each other and embrace with the JOY of sisterhood.
In a small way, I feel I have begun to understand the words of Paul in his letters to the churches as the gospel continued to be spread by the power of Holy Spirit.
"We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ." 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3 esv
Loving all people with a love that delights to share life and the Gospel of God is a miracle only God can do. I take no credit, and I pray my Father will continue to call my name and teach me things I don't know.
As Paul wrote in the book of Colossians, God reveals His mysteries of love and grace to us. I love to learn God's mysteries sitting right at His feet and serving side by side with Him in His Kingdom work. Here's a mystery I hope I never forget and continue to repeat for the rest of my life...
I love you so much I am delighted to share with you not only the Gospel of God but my life as well because you have become so dear to me!
Eyes on Jesus... you're shining!
What mission or project is God calling you to for which you need His grace to be sufficient?
Is there something Father God is asking you to say yes to, but you don't feel equipped? Do you seem an unlikely candidate?
Would it change your response to God if you embraced the truth that He won't fail? We all stumble and learn and grow through our shortcomings, but God does not fail!
I bless you to say yes to Father's call on your life, fix your eyes on Him and shine with His glory in Jesus' Name.