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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.”

“Submission is not the fruit of a weak-willed wife but of a courageous wife who hopes in God.”TweetShare on Facebook

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?

Lamentations 3:26.

Wrote this ten years ago, and it seems I’m still learning the same lesson in a deeper shade ten years later.

Her Father: Child, child, slow down.

Her, flying about: I’m sorry, Father, I haven’t the time!

Her Father: Child, the tortured soul will find no rest by running to and fro as you do.  Be still, My child.  Be still, and fight your battles in prayer and in silence.

Her: But I have, I have!  I’ve prayed and prayed —

Her Father: — and have not quietly waited on Me.

Communion with God.

When Christians meet, they talk to each other about their Christian work and Christian interests, their Christian acquaintances, the state of the churches, and the problems of theology—but rarely of their daily experience of God.

Modern Christian books and magazines contain much about Christian doctrine, Christian standards, problems of Christian conduct, techniques of Christian service—but little about the inner realities of fellowship with God.

Our sermons contain much sound doctrine—but little relating to the converse between the soul and the Saviour.

We do not spend much time, alone or together, in dwelling on the wonder of the fact that God and sinners have communion at all; no, we just take that for granted, and give our minds to other matters.

Thus we make it plain that communion with God is a small thing to us.

(J.I. Packer via Justin Taylor)

Thank you, J.I. Packer.

Among the top five most influential books in my life is J.I. Packer’s Knowing God. I read it during college 15-ish years ago.  Among many other things, it gave me a deeper understanding of who God is, especially His sovereign care, and gospel light to the morbid introspection that would regularly spiral me into a dark depression.

When I heard he passed away today, I went downstairs to our little library and searched the shelves, feeling like I went 15 years back as I handled my worn, much-underlined copy of Knowing God. It was like greeting an old friend, and I found some gems that I underlined in years past:

“The width of our knowledge about him is no gauge of the depth of our knowledge of him.” (p. 39)

“His love for me is utterly realistic, based at every point in prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery now can disillusion him about me…and quench his determination to bless me.” (p. 42)

“In God boundless wisdom and endless power are united, and this makes him utterly worthy of our fullest trust.” (p. 91)

“‘He knows the way he taketh,’ even if for the moment we do not.” (p. 98)

“God makes not only the wrath of man to turn to his praise but the misadventures of Christians too.” (p. 241)

“Think of what you know of God through the gospel, says Paul, and apply it. Think against your feelings; argue yourself out of the gloom they have spread; unmask the unbelief they have nourished; take yourself in hand, talk to yourself, make yourself look up from your problems to the God of the gospel; let evangelical thinking correct emotional thinking.” (p. 260)

“For God justified you with (so to speak) his eyes open. He knew the worst about you at the time when he accepted you for Jesus’ sake; and the verdict which he passed then was, and is, final.” (p. 273)

“Your faith will not fail while God sustains it; you are not strong enough to fall away while God is resolved to hold you.” (p. 275)

I trust God held him fast as both physical blindness and faith finally became glorious sight in the face of his Savior.

On Black Lives Matter.

I’ve had many conversations since my last blog post here and have read many good articles and thoughts on this topic, so I thought a little follow-up was warranted.

Along with this “social injustice” topic, I’ve also been reading about biblical manhood and womanhood. And what I’ve concluded (at least in terms of my own convictions) is that “black lives matter,” while true as a statement, might be unhelpful as a banner statement by Christians in the same way that I think it is unhelpful for believers to use “feminism” as their banner. Because while feminism might have a stand-alone definition that says something true about the equal worth of women, it’s a word that has become too loaded with other values, like the abortion agenda, to be helpful in biblical discussions.

So, while it’s true that black lives do matter because they are made in the image of God and their lives are precious to Him, it is admittedly hard to use that phrase nowadays without the assumption that its users also hold to the values of Black Lives Matter, the political organization.

I think the phrase might be helpful still as a starting point in conversation with unbelievers, that we both agree that black lives are precious, but it isn’t so helpful a starting point in conversation with believers who are taken aback by the political and anti-Scriptural baggage of the organization that bears its name.

With that said, I was surprised that some fellow brothers and sisters in Christ assumed that my decision to be vocal about ethnic partiality against blacks was a subtle alignment with Black Lives Matter the organization, critical theory and intersectionality as worldviews, the social gospel, or all of the above. I was surprised that they automatically assumed that my grieving with the black community meant that I was anti-white, anti-police, anti-government, and pro-a lot of things that wouldn’t align with the gospel message and holding it up as of first importance. Not because I’m infallible (obviously not) but because these were friends who I thought knew me well.

But I understand a little better now — this is an incredibly hard topic, even within the church, and everyone comes to the table with their experiences and assumptions. And that’s okay — as long as we come humbly, in love, and with a willingness to be shaped by God’s Word. And we can disagree over some of its applications without being divisive about it.

I’m learning that it’s helpful to give qualifying statements, to give clear definitions of the words I use, and to invite private conversation where public conversation is difficult. I’m learning that gentleness goes a long ways in these conversations. And all of these happen best in real relationship, don’t they? I stepped away mostly encouraged, at least in my circles, with the conversations, the humility, and the openness with which people engaged. And I’m grateful.

Some people asked me to share out about the various conversations I had on this topic, and maybe I will at some point if I think it’ll be edifying, but for now, I wanted to share some helpful, free resources that I’ve come across in the last several weeks:

Racism/Ethnic Partiality

Systemic Racism

Critical Theory

Gospel-Driven Action

Gospel Issues

Navigating Social Media

I’m sure I’ve forgotten some here, or maybe I never saw some that are even more helpful than these. If so, shoot me the link. 🙂

And for those who want to dig deeper, there are a handful of books I’ve also read through in past weeks, but I’ll refrain from recommending them until I’ve thought through them some more. ♥