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A freeing truth: all have sinned.

Something I wrote a few years ago on Instagram:

During my family’s roughest years, I wished that for one day over the holidays, everyone could just get it together. Put away the hate, the hostility, the infighting, the pain. At least for the day, put on pleasantries and all the cheer and warmth that the holidays are advertised to be.

When things began to crack, I became bitter. “Seriously?! We can’t even keep it together on Thanksgiving?! On Christmas?! On (fill in the blank)?!”

But over the years, the most surprisingly freeing truth for me has been this: “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

All. Every single person in my family. Including me.

And seeing my family as God sees us – sinful, broken people whose most desperate need is for a Savior– has helped put my expectations in their rightful place.

What we need isn’t a façade of togetherness on the holidays. What we need is a Savior who will deeply transform our hearts and deepest agendas. We need good news in a family that spews bad news and the heart-ripping, life-shattering effects of sin.

So I can’t angrily point to this person or that for “ruining” the holidays for us anymore. Sinful people will sin, no matter what day it is. And I’m not exempt from this. But when I suffer from the crushing effects of others’ sin, I can remember that no one has greater hatred for sin, nor greater love and compassion for sinners, than Jesus.

And He entered our world to rescue us from the power and penalty and pervasiveness of sin. For real.

Immanuel.

“God with us.” It is hell’s terror … the laborer’s strength … “God with us” is the sufferer’s comfort, the balm of his woe, the alleviation of his misery, the sleep which God gives to his beloved … “God with us” is eternity’s sonnet, heaven’s hallelujah, the shout of the glorified, the song of the redeemed.

(C.H. Spurgeon)

Song in the night.

Last night, around 2 am, Cat woke up screaming. I spent some time soothing her, and when I put her down again, she spent the next hour singing and talking.

She sleeps in the big closet in our room with the door open a crack, so we had front row seats to this spontaneous concert in the night. Right when I thought she fell asleep again, she belted out the song I sing to her before bedtime,

Holy God in love became
Perfect man to bear my blame.
On the cross He took my sin
By his death I live again.

(The Gospel Song / Bob Kauflin and Drew Jones)

Of course, it wasn’t so well articulated with her 23-month old tongue, but it was such a precious sound nonetheless.

Jesus. The sweetest song in the night.

Tummy ache.

Cat (my nickname for our youngest on this blog) is two next month. Lately, she’s been coming to me with various “tummy aches.” A couple weeks ago, it was on her chin; last week, on her hand. This morning, she came to me with a new pain.

Umma, have tummy ache.”

“You do, where?”

She limped to the couch, propped her foot up, and began patting it. “Here.”

Once I rubbed her “tummy ache” away, she was eager to play again and ran off.

A silly story but dear to me. It made me wonder how many times I go to my Father with a “tummy ache,” misdiagnosing my heart and pains, and how He kindly comforts me but also, like a good Physician, heals me where I’m truly broken.

Every Woman Needs Another: A Call to Spiritual Motherhood

Growing up, I had many guides in Christ, but not many mothers (1 Corinthians 4:15). I sat under the teaching of various women and read extensively, but I did not know many believing women intimately enough to imitate them (1 Corinthians 4:16–17).

I also learned from the teaching and example of my pastors, but I could not learn from them what it uniquely meant to be a godly woman — at least, not in the same way I could learn it from a woman. This changed, however, when one woman welcomed me into her home and answered my many questions into the early hours of the morning, and when another took me under her wing in the first years of my marriage and motherhood.

Christian women need spiritual mothers. Paul showed this when he wrote to Titus to appoint elders in Crete who could “give instruction in sound doctrine” (Titus 1:9), yet specified who could intimately “teach what accords with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1) to the young women in the church: the older women in the church (Titus 2:3). Spiritual mothers were needed to model godly womanhood in their particular culture and time, and we still need the same today.

What Is Spiritual Motherhood?

Paul wrote to Titus,

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. (Titus 2:3–5)

God’s provision for his Cretan daughters amidst an ungodly culture was the ministry of the elders and the intentional ministry of the older women. Paul called for the older women to model godly character and “to teach what is good” to the younger women in the meaningful context of their homes. He wanted the older women to show and tell what godly womanhood looked like in everyday life.

Spiritual motherhood is, in a word, discipleship. It covers the spectrum from evangelism to nurturing others to spiritual maturity. It is a woman’s response to the Great Commission, teaching younger women to observe everything Christ commanded (Matthew 28:20).

“Spiritual motherhood is, in a word, discipleship. It is a woman’s response to the Great Commission.”TweetShare on Facebook

Spiritual motherhood is not a second-rate role given to women who are unable to have biological children. It is not the pastor’s cop-out answer given to ambitious women who desire to teach. Spiritual motherhood is the high calling God puts on every woman’s life (Matthew 28:18–20), because God’s way has always been to pass truth from life to life (2 Timothy 2:1–2) and generation to generation (Psalm 145:4). Ideally, in almost any season of life the same woman may be both an older and younger woman — teaching those younger than her and learning from those older than her.

Spiritual Mothers Model

When Paul refers to these exemplary older women in the church, he does not mention their giftings or charisma; he highlights their character. He does not mention a specific age or threshold; he emphasizes their spiritual maturity.

His primary concern is whether they can model godly womanhood to the younger women through their reverent behavior, wholesome speech, and self-control (Titus 2:32:7). Because unlike those who “profess to know God, but . . . deny him by their works” (Titus 1:16), a spiritual mother affirms God’s word with her life. Her example corroborates her exegesis, and she can say with Paul, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).

She has married theology to application in many, often difficult, life experiences. She has fought the good fight of fluctuating hormones. She has struggled to love the difficult family member. She has repeatedly traded the lies of lust and overindulgence for love and moderation. She has learned to rule her tongue. 

She has learned to anchor her emotions to truth rather than the other way around. She has learned how to yield in love to those placed in authority over her. She has learned to apply her joy in the gospel to her practice of forgiveness. She has persevered through seasons of unbelief and dryness and depression. She has not lived perfectly, but by God’s grace, she has lived faithfully.

So, although she is also an older sister in the faith, what makes her uniquely qualified to be a spiritual mother is her tested character, as affirmed by her church family. And she adds to her qualities, intentional ministry. Because as important as her character is, she is also called to “teach what is good, and so train the young women” (Titus 2:3–4).

Spiritual Mothers Teach

It is not enough to be a sterling but silent example when a seductive culture is fighting for the younger generation’s hearts and minds. In Titus’s time, as well as ours, many false teachers “must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families” (Titus 1:10–11). In any generation, Satan and this world love to tear apart and redefine womanhood — whether by abuse and oppression, so-called sexual liberation, gender fluidity, or other distortions. So, older women not only model but teach sound doctrine so that the younger women are not deceived by their culture’s lies regarding who God is, who they are, and “what is good.”

And in instructing older women to teach “what is good,” Paul does not ask them to teach anything new. They are to call good what God calls good (Isaiah 5:20) and teach what God says (Titus 2:1). Teach godly affections (Titus 2:4) and godly living (Titus 2:53:8). Teach that God’s design and roles for women are good. Share practically how to “renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:12). Instruct, rebuke, train, declare, exhort, remind, insist — these are some of the words Paul uses to describe a teaching ministry in his letter to Titus.

Spiritual mothers know the truth, the times, and their daughters — and they teach them diligently. They read and study Scripture together. They give them counsel. They spend unhurried time with them, speaking and applying God’s word at every opportunity (Deuteronomy 6:7). Not all their teaching is formal and structured; some of it comes simply as a result of sharing life with the younger women. In fact, some of the best teaching I have sat under was over full kitchen sinks after an evening of hospitality.

Whatever the context, spiritual mothers teach from Scripture and from Scripture applied in their experiences. They show the next generation “the ancient paths, where the good way is,” so that they might “walk in it, and find rest for [their] souls” (Jeremiah 6:16).

Godly Womanhood Is Beautiful

Just before I walked down the aisle on my wedding day, Jinny, my first spiritual mother, found me sitting by myself, happy but nervous. Very nervous. She knew me well. She knew my fears. And wrapping my cold hands in her warm ones, she looked into my eyes and encouraged me with truth. Then she prayed for me with tears. And in that moment, although her prayer for me was instructive, so was the testimony of her life. It was the prayer of a woman who had walked the uncertain road of marriage before me and could personally commend God’s goodness to me.

When I was a newlywed, Lauren, my second spiritual mother, taught me that submission is not the fruit of a weak-willed wife but of a courageous wife who hopes in God (1 Peter 3:5–6). Back then, even though I assented to male headship in marriage, at heart, I was still more secularly feminist than biblically feminine. I needed a spiritual mother to model this principle to me and to teach it to me in context of her life and mine. Lauren taught me from Scripture and from her life — from her failures and repentance as well as her victories — how beautiful headship and submission are when the gospel is central. In such a marriage, a wife’s personality and voice are not crushed but cherished and cultivated.

“Spiritual mothers know the truth, the times, and their daughters — and they teach them diligently.”TweetShare on Facebook

These women did not just mentor me; they mothered me. They let me spend long hours with them in their homes. They spent time searching God’s word with me. And they made godly womanhood look beautiful to me as they modeled it and taught it to me.

The luster of a spiritual mother’s life is not her but Christ in her (Colossians 1:27). So, when she combines faithful teaching with faithful living, her influence is far-reaching. She equips the next generation of women to defend God’s word (Titus 2:5) and to, one day, show the generation under them how to adorn the gospel too (Titus 2:10).

Call to Spiritual Motherhood

Paul knew what it meant to be a spiritual parent, and he painfully labored to see Christ formed in his children (Galatians 4:19). He gently nurtured them (1 Thessalonians 2:7). He shared with them not only the gospel but his very self (1 Thessalonians 2:8). He loved them with the affections of Christ (Philippians 1:8). Concern for them weighed on his mind (2 Corinthians 11:28). He spent himself for their sakes (2 Corinthians 12:15), and he prayed for them on his knees (Ephesians 3:14).

Older women in the faith, nurture the younger women like this. Some of them, like me, come from broken or unbelieving homes. Do not outsource their discipleship to female “Christian celebrities” who can only teach from afar and offer curated peeks into their lives. As helpful as some of their resources might be, they cannot replace an in-the-flesh relationship with a spiritual mother.

I pray that God would raise up more Jinnys and Laurens among us who pour their lives — their hearts, their time, their resources, even their sweat and tears — into other women. Spiritual motherhood is costly. It is risky. It demands much of you, much like raising a child into mature adulthood. But the hardest work of spiritual motherhood has already been accomplished by Christ in giving life to sinners (Ephesians 2:4–5) and securing their place in his family (Galatians 4:4–7). 

So, as Amy Carmichael, a spiritual mother to over a hundred orphans, once instructed, “Count the cost, for he tells us to, but take your slate to the foot of the cross and add up the figures there.” And then count the reward: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24).

This article was first published at Desiring God.

Don’t follow your heart.

Don’t follow your heart; instruct it.
“Desire without knowledge is not good, and whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way … Apply your heart to instruction and your ears to words of knowledge.” (Proverbs 19:2; 23:12)

Don’t follow your heart; guard it.
“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” (Proverbs 4:23)

Don’t follow your heart; inform its affections.
“Keep my commandments and live; keep my teaching as the apple of your eye; bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart.” (Proverbs 7:2-3)

Don’t follow your heart; distrust it.
“Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.” (Proverbs 28:26)

Don’t follow your heart; test it.
“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death … Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the heart.” (Proverbs 14:12; 21:2)

Don’t follow your heart; control it.
“Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city … A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.” (Proverbs 16:32; 25:28)

Don’t follow your heart; submit it to accountability.
“Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment.  A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion … Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” (Proverbs 18:1-2; 27:17)

Don’t follow your heart; humble it.
“Before destruction a man’s heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor.” (Proverbs 18:12)

Don’t follow your heart; discern it.
“The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.” (Proverbs 20:5)

Don’t follow your heart; remind it.
“My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments.” (Proverbs 3:1)

Don’t follow your heart; discipline it.
“Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him … Let not your heart envy sinners, but continue in the fear of the LORD all the day.” (Proverbs 22:15; 23:17)

Don’t follow your heart; surrender it.
“My son, give me your heart, and let your eyes observe my ways.” (Proverbs 23:26)

Don’t follow your heart; direct it.
“Hear, my son, and be wise, and direct your heart in the way.” (Proverbs 23:19)

He appoints our trials.

Last night, a sister from church prayed for me, and she said, “God, we know You appoint even our trials.”

Something in me broke a little when she said that. I’d been struggling against His hand in this season, and her prayer reminded me that even this thorn, even this trial, is under His sovereign, loving watch.

There is no other stream.

My eldest finished reading The Chronicle of Narnia series a few months ago, so I reread some of it with him. I love so many scenes from the series, but one of my favorites is when Jill is so thirsty and wanting to drink from the stream in The Silver Chair.

“I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill.
“Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion.
“Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”
“There is no other stream,” said the Lion.”

There is no other stream.

Not only in salvation but everything in this life that is broken and cursed by sin. We will find no final hope nor solution outside of Christ, our Living Water (Jeremiah 17:13; John 4:14).

Wonderfully small.

I went boogieboarding today for the first time in over ten years. And I’m happy to report that the mechanics of wave, board, and timing haven’t changed much during that time. 🙂

It’s been a while since I’ve felt so small, being shoved around by faceless breakers and currents while trying to get out to where the waves curled a little higher and broke away from the gritty shore.

A scraped knee, sand in my hair, and salt in my eyes later, I can report: it was wonderful. (Boogieboarding, too, of course, but especially the feeling small part. Because it reminded me that Someone bigger, wiser, and more capable than me is taking care of me and the waves and the currents and, really, everything else.)

((Hallelujah.))

Genesis 18:25.

Her: Abba, she’s gone …

Her Father, somberly: Yes, child.

Her: But how? How could she die so suddenly? She was so full of life.

Her Father: Dear one, I numbered her days without mistake.

Her: But did she know You? At the end — did she?

Her Father, gently: If you never know in this life, can you entrust this secret thing to Me?

Her: Then I’m to have no comforting answer?

Her Father, softly: Precious child, shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?