Wednesday, December 31, 2008

from the archives: Bible reading aids

It's New Year's Eve, and many of us are making resolutions to do better at Bible reading during the coming year. Here are some ideas I came up with for how to read the Bible regularly: perhaps they will inspire you as you make your plans for 2009.

Today we continue the theme of Bible reading ideas for mums, or for anyone else who's busy and distracted.

Here are some approaches my fellow mums have tried and found helpful:

- My own personal favourite, as you know if you read yesterday's post, is The Daily Reading Bible, also found in the "Bible Brief" at the back of The Briefing. These studies are deliberately kept short so they can be done easily during a busy life. They are theologically insightful and question based, encouraging you to read the Bible closely. The readings are mercifully free from guilt-producing dates which leave you reading July 3rd's reading on December 22nd.

- From memory (I did it long ago) Search the Scriptures was a similarly helpful guide, with an introduction to each book, and 2 or 3 questions (with notes) on each passage. This gets you through the Bible in 3 years, so it's not too ambitious for busy mums. It uses a similar format to The Daily Reading Bible, but covers the whole Bible systematically, although the questions are quite complex, and the language formal and old-fashioned.

- Use the "highlight the box" method. One of my stationary loving friends enjoys this approach. She prints out every chapter of the Bible in order in a table (she uses a funky font, being that kind of girl). When you read a chapter, you get to colour in the box. This works best if you have just bought a new pack of good-quality coloured pens and want to use them - an excellent use of money if it motivates you to read the Bible! ;) She has successfully used this method off and on through many years of child-rearing, and since she's one of the more consistent Bible reading mums I know, it obviously works well.

- You can combine this with reading introductions to each book before you study them e.g. Fee and Stewart's How to read the Bible book by book (I haven't read this one) or William Dumbrell's The faith of Israel (I read it and loved it).

- Study a book of the Bible as you would while preparing a Bible study, perhaps a chapter a week (e.g. read it once through quickly, once to divide up the passage, once to work out major themes, once for application, and once with a commentary). A very energetic older mum told me she has done this for many years. But her children have grown up, so maybe she's forgetting how hard it is to do this when you have young children, or maybe she's just got more energy than me (well, that's true, she does). I find this intimidating, but inspiring.

- Use the 3-year Bible reading plan from La Haye's How to study the Bible for youself. This will get you through the Bible 3 times in 3 years at the rate of about 4 chapters a day, so it's not for the faint-hearted, and probably not for most mums, unless you're unusually dedicated! But it's a great way for new Christians to get to know the Bible (the first year focusses on the gospels and epistles, the second on wisdom literature and epistles, and the third covers the whole Bible) and it has introduced more than one person I know to the habit of reading the Bible daily.

- While we're on the subject of 4 chapters a day, there's the well-known M'Cheyne Bible reading schedule . This will get you through the New Testament and the Psalms twice, and the rest of the Bible once in a year. M'Cheyne believed you should read chapters from different parts of the Bible each day, in order to link various passages in your mind, and to carry you through some of the harder-to-read bits of the Bible. Like LaHaye, it's probably too ambitious for most mums. If you successfully complete it, I am truly impressed!

- Don Carson's For the Love of God is based on the M'Cheyne readings, accompanied each day with a thoughtful discussion of 1 of the chapters. I'm a great fan of Carson - one of our sons is burdened with Carson as a middle name - but I became a little frustrated that this book only comments on 1 chapter of the 4, and not necessarily the one I was most curious about. Did I read this as a mum? I can't remember, but I doubt it. If so, I did pretty well, didn't I?!

- I was encouraged by Barbara Hughes' Devotions for ministry wives during a time last year when I lost energy for close Bible reading.

- Pick a book, read a chapter, find something which strikes you as inspiring, write it in a journal. (LaHaye encourages you to find a promise, a command, and a "timeless principle" in each chapter.) While this has the benefit of being achievable, it's not very thorough, easily leads to taking verses out of context, and encourages a focus on your own hobby horses. You wouldn't want to do it without a good grasp of the Bible from more careful inductive study. Still, it has worked well for me at times.

- Memorise, memorise, memorise! Now there's a forgotten spiritual discipline that is incredibly suitable for mums. Learn individual verses using a topical memory system, verses related to particular struggles (e.g. over-spending, worry, envy - God's Spirit still brings verses to mind I learned 10 years ago), or whole passages and books (I find this easiest, oddly enough). Between children I printed out Philippians and Ephesians, folded them small, and took them with me on walks, where I could be seen muttering to myself like a demented woman while I plodded along and peeked at them occasionally. Can't say I remember them word-for-word, but they inspire many meditations and prayers when I'm finding regular Bible reading difficult.

- Make sure you don't forget creative ideas which fit well into a busy life: listen to sermons on CD or MP3, use visual aids like maps, read alongside a sermon series at church, or listen to Sons of Korah CDs while reading the Psalms.

- No doubt there are many other great Bible study resources out there, please add your own ideas to the comments! I just came across these free downloadable NavPress Bible studies and Bible reading plans which I've only glanced at briefly, but which look promising. There are 3 reading plans to suit different understandings and energy levels, and boxes to colour in. Get out those coloured pens!

I feel so inspired by all these different ideas that I might try some of them myself.

This blog is dedicated to my Bible reading fellow mums, especially my dear friend Jenny who wrote a study on this topic years ago, which I have borrowed from liberally.


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

from the archives: in the beginning, blog

I wrote this way back in the early days of blogging, as I started to realise what an absorbing, obsessive, self-promoting world I had potentially let myself in for. I took a day off blogging, and spent time praying and reflecting.

Some things haven't changed: same ministry, same temptations. Some things have changed: I have learned to pray about what I write, and those I write for, you'll be glad to know. But what really stands out in this post for me is the power of God's word to shine into the dark corners of our lives.

So what did I discover yesterday as I read the Bible, prayed and reflected about blogging?

I read 1 Corinthians 1-3 and was reminded:
- that God works through the foolish and weak, not the respected and wise;
- that I should discard "eloquence" and "human wisdom" in order to speak of Christ crucified;
- that those who "boast" should "boast in the Lord";
- that I am nothing - only God can make people grow;
- that the ministry I do will be tested on the last day. If it's worth doing, I will see the good results in heaven; if it's worthless, e.g. aimed only at my pride, it will be lost.

A blog is perhaps the ultimate exercise in egotism: me presenting my life & thoughts uninterrupted, daily (as if it were worth that much attention!), partly (let's be honest) in the hope that others may read it and be affected by what I write, and perhaps even (now I'm being really honest) bolster my ego through their admiration and respect.

I started this blog to get my thoughts on "paper", to reflect on things, to practise writing, to plant the seeds for future seminars and articles, to receive feedback about my ideas, to keep my brain fresh after a day with kids, to find a ministry which suits my family life and energy levels, to fill my over-active mind with helpful thoughts, and to encourage anyone who got around to reading it. Noble goals? Perhaps.

Oh, and to have fun too - and it has been a lot of fun!

But I've realised that, unlike when I lead a Bible study or seminar, I've barely prayed about what I write, or for those who read it. I've been neglecting reading the Bible, thus ensuring that most of what I write comes from my own head rather than from God (not that the blog has made me neglect the Bible, I'm pretty good at doing this on my own!).

It's easy to focus on trivialities - is my blog entertaining? is it clever? is it well-written? how many people are reading it? do they like it? - rather than on important issues - is it Biblical? is it Christ-centred? does it glorify God? is it helpful for me and my family? is it encouraging to others? The same temptations which face every Bible study leader, teacher, writer, and mentor.
So I've made a pact with myself: to read the Bible and pray for myself and you before I blog.

I've also decided to put sensible limits on my blogging: after all, my family and relationships come first. So if you notice a sudden drop in the quality of my blog, perhaps you should praise God that I'm giving more time to my family!

Blogging is no different to anything else. Whenever we minister to others - whether by leading a Bible study, mentoring someone, or speaking to someone after church - it is God's word and his gospel, not our wisdom and eloquence, that helps people to grow.

If I am proud, how it humbles me to know I am nothing, and God's power is everything. If I am discouraged, how it encourages me to know that God works through the weak. As long as I speak of his word and gospel, even in "weakness and fear, and with much trembling", he will powerfully change lives: of that I can be sure.


Monday, December 29, 2008

from the archives: cleanliness is (not) next to godliness

Cleaning has come up a few times in this blog - not surprising, since it is part of nearly every homemaker's (sorry, household manager's) life. Here's some thoughts on the place of cleaning in our lives.

I was frantically cleaning the house this morning before our staff team arrived, when the vacuum cleaner broke. I cleaned as well as I could to the accompaniment of some tears of frustration and tiredness (Andrew woke me at 4.30 old time last night, and didn't get back to sleep until 6.30 new time.) I was still cleaning when the staff team arrived, but at least the state of the floor wasn't going to disgust anyone any more.

Having forfeited my morning walk (& pray) to clean, my high stress levels led to some reflections on the godliness of cleaning.

When is cleaning godly? Well, it depends on our motivation, and the impact on ourselves and others (or even, like this morning, on our prayer life).

Cleaning can be an idol: I've heard of people who spend hours every day sweeping perfectly clean floors. Perhaps it makes them feel in control, I don't know, but I doubt if it helps their relationships with family and friends. But while most of us probably don't have this problem (I certainly don't!) cleaning can still be an idol or an obstacle to relationships.

Perhaps cleaning has become an idol for us:
a) if we make others uncomfortable because our house is too clean, so they and their children can't relax;
b) if we become irritable with our family and friends' children when they mess up our clean house;
c) if our obsessive cleaning makes others feel bad about their own standards of cleanliness;
d) if we don't let people into our house because we feel too ashamed of the mess.

Perhaps we could do with some more cleaning in our life:
a) if the chaos in our house reaches a point where it makes others feel uncomfortable or unwelcome (unlikely, but possible!);
b) if our partner finds it hard to relax because the house is so messy;
c) if we are failing to serve our housemates or family by keeping up our end of the housework;
d) if we don't let people into our house because we feel too ashamed of the mess.

Cleaning can be an obstacle to ministry. Our visitors are probably less concerned with the mess than we are; perhaps we need to relax a bit, and let them see what life is really like for us! Why do we feel a need to pretend we have it all together when we don't?

Cleaning can also be a way to serve and minister to others. I know one godly couple who made sure their house was relatively clean on a Sunday so they could invite people over for lunch after church.

That being said, if you're really struggling to keep the house clean and tidy, relax. There are more important things, like loving your family and friends. Remember Martha, whom Jesus rebuked because she was so "worried and anxious" about the state of the house that she was cooking and cleaning rather than listening to him (as a fellow homemaker, I've always felt a bit sorry for Martha).

Next time your house is a bit of a mess, perhaps you could remind yourself, "I'm more of a Mary, really!" and go for a walk and pray, or play with your kids and have fun making some more mess together.

If you're really struggling in this area, Fly Lady might help - some formerly chaotic and messy people swear by it.


Sunday, December 28, 2008

from the archives: believing the deceiver

Mornings like this only come once in a while - I don't think there was another one so lovely this past year - but when they do, oh, the joy they bring! Through the prism of joy, we seem to see the world so clearly.

I had the most glorious walk this morning. It was one of those sun-drenched Spring mornings, with a cool, crisp breeze, and the air was fresh and clear. Every dancing shadow was sharp-etched and lovely, every finely veined leaf suffused with a deeper meaning, every branch lifted a multitude of tiny twigs to the sky in praise to God.

It was one of those rare times when my eyes were unclouded by tiredness, guilt, discouragement, or illness, and the world seemed fair and unspoiled, like it was made new this morning just for me.

It struck me that this was a small taste of how Adam and Eve must have seen the world, in all its shining newness, when they walked with God in the morning of the world, and discovered its beauties for the first time, through eyes unmarred by sin, doubt, and sorrow.

It made me wonder why they gave all this up to follow their own path away from God. It's not much of a deal is it: "Here, swap this fantastic and wonderful beauty, this serenity and bliss, this tender enjoyment of one another, this intimate walk with God, for a world filled with despair, misery, decay, confusion, pain, and death."

But of course that's not the choice that was presented to them. Satan painted the way he wanted them to take in bright and glowing colours: "God didn't really say that you would die! He's actually trying to keep from you the greatest secret of all: the knowledge of good and evil."

Little did they know the desolation that an inner knowledge of evil would produce.

And is it any different for us? We also hear the taunting, lying words of Satan, the great Deceiver, whispering in our ears, accusing us, challenging us, and tempting us with false promises of wisdom and happiness.

"God can't really have meant he would forgive you, it's obvious that you're beyond the reach of his forgiveness, you've been struggling with this sin for years!" "You don't really believe the Bible, do you, no intelligent person takes it seriously any more." "Perhaps if you expressed your anger...bought this one thing...gave into temptation just this would feel comforted, fulfilled, happier."

Like Adam and Eve, we're tempted by the promise of something better, wiser, more plausible. What we don't remember when we listen to Satan's lies, is that we're giving up all that really matters, all that deeply satisfies, all that is joyful, and meaningful, and true, for a lie that will leave only bitterness and despair in its wake.

And if this world can sometimes be so heart-breakingly lovely, imagine what heaven will be like. Now there's a promise worth believing.

see Genesis 1-3; John 8:44; 2 Corinthians 11:3


Saturday, December 27, 2008

from the archives: aargh! I've maxed my credit card!

This post was the first in a long, slow, interrupted series about my battle against over-spending. You'll be glad to know that we have finally - finally! - paid off our credit card. And yes, I will be taking scissors (metaphorically at least) to that little slip of red plastic - it is about to be evicted from my wallet, and relegated to bill paying duties, perhaps to utter destruction (I haven't worked out the details yet).

Actually, I haven't maxed my credit card, but I got your attention, didn't I?

If you know me better than Jocelyn Sinclair (you know, she's minister of health in Dyslexia) then you will realise I have a long-term issue with spending more than we can afford. At least you will if:
a) you have ever been to one of my seminars;
b) we have ever talked about things we're struggling with;
c) we've ever talked about pretty much anything, actually.
As you may have realised by now, I'm a self-revelation kind of girl.

I have spent (no pun intended) the second half of this year climbing - one homebrand product at a time - out of the financial pit I dug for myself (and my endlessly patient husband) in the first half of this year, during a series of bad spending choices of such insignificance that I can't even remember them.

I have learnt how hard it is to maintain the initial impetus of that "aaargh!" moment when you look at your credit card bill, and realise that the total has passed your personal comfort levels (fairly high, in my case - it's amazing what habit can accustom you to).

If there is any one possession I would gladly relinquish (and it has taken me many, many years of soul-searching to reach this point) it is that little piece of contoured red plastic snazzily designed by Virgin. I have visions of cutting it into tiny pieces and throwing it into a pit of super-heated fire (I've thought about this a lot, haven't I?) and running away at top speed (i.e. not all that fast) only to turn and find that, like the Terminator (haven't seen that movie? you're so young/old/female) it has pieced itself back together and is still following me ... with a sub-machine gun.

No other object in my life has been responsible for so much temptation, sin, misery, guilt, self-recrimination, doubt, and so many sleepless nights and broken promises (to self, that is, I don't make the other kind any more).

So why haven't I done like Jesus said and cut it up and thrown it away? Well, I've been extremely cunning at avoiding this moment for many years, trusting instead in clever financial plans which never eventuated (perhaps if I shuffled my bank accounts around?) or in my own self-control (amazing how you can continue to believe in something so obviously lacking).

Meanwhile the bank rings me every couple of weeks and offers yet another increase to the limit on our credit card (after all, I am one of their best customers, just look at all that interest we've paid). Just think, you could buy yet more things you can't afford, with money you don't have! Your own personal ticket to greed and financial ruin!

If you have one, cut it up now! If you don't, never get one! Or you may find it following you with a hatchet, like some B-grade horror flick: "Attack of the killer..." (They're red. They're rectangular. They're deadly.).

(Of course, this may not be a temptation for you, in which case by all means keep the plastic for convenience and security, just remember what I said when you lie screaming on the ground with a chainsaw raised over you ...)


Friday, December 26, 2008

from the archives: personality tests

This is not necessarily one of my favourite posts, but it is the one which started it all! I had just discovered that I, like all the best people, Honoria and Sandra included, am an INFJ. (I've realised recently that the difference between Nicole's blog and mine is perfectly summed up by S and N - she with her lovely, insightful practical wisdom and me with my endless theorising!)

Yes, I admit it, I'm a sucker for personality tests. I love the way you can spend 10 minutes absorbed in the fascinating topic of yourself, and at the end of it - for only $2.00, people! (actually, I'm too much of a skinflint, I stick to the free ones) - you receive a complete personality profile, tastefully presented with graphs, comparisons to your Facebook friends, and even suggestions for improvement ("perhaps if you opened yourself up to new experiences...")

This week, I've discovered that I'm an INFJ - thus gaining a defining sense of self in only 4 letters - on the impressively named Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. According to Wikipedia, which is, as we all know, the source of all truth, only 1.5% of the general population belong to my type - so I now know that I am rare and unusual (the thesaurus gives the synonym "wierd"). A website on the Kiersey types describes me as having "an unusually rich inner life" (ooh, I like that - great how you can pick and choose) and have an "intricately woven, mysterious" personality which will "sometimes puzzle even" me (yep, agree with that!)

I have discovered that INFJs love personality tests from the fact that I've already met two equally obsessed INFJ friends on Facebook. I now know why my best friends see me as an "extrovert", while a colleague described me (in print) as a "shy girl from Blackburn" (I've never quite forgiven him). I have also learned why I carefully write a pro and con list, then make a life-changing decision based purely on what "feels" right e.g. on whether I've eaten too much chocolate that day, yet another thing INFJs are apparently prone to.

So how much more do I really know about myself now that I've taken the test? Well, I've realised just how self-absorbed I can be, from the amount of websites I've looked at. And I've been reminded how well that little idol, that statue of myself, is firmly seated on the throne in my heart, from the way I am ceaselessly fascinated by my own personality. I have been reminded that I, like all of us, am "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:14).

In a sense, I've learned nothing that I didn't already know. I've been reminded that God has given me particular strengths so I can help others; that I have a propensity for certain weaknesses; and that I have put myself, not God, firmly at the centre of my life. In other words, I need God's grace as much as ever.


Thursday, December 25, 2008

happy Christmas!

I hope you have a happy and blessed Christmas today, and rejoice in God's gift of his only Son - a baby who would grow up to die in our place so that we can be forgiven when we put our trust in him, and rise from the dead so that we can have eternal life.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

summer reading from the in all honesty archives

I'm following Nicole's always excellent example and declaring it to be archive week (actually, 2 or 3 weeks) at in all honesty over Christmas and the New Year.

I've spent a lovely few hours choosing posts from the first 3 months of in all honesty, so you can see how it all began. For those who've been with me from the start, I thought you might enjoy sharing the memories with me.

It's time I had a break from the relentlessness of blogging, to clear my mind and have a rest. I'll be back mid January, God willing. It's been getting a bit serious on here recently. After taking time to relax and reflect on life, I'm hoping I'll come back ready to share my life and thoughts with you again.

So during the next few weeks, there'll be some old favourites reappearing on this blog. There's some deep reflections there, but also some light summer reading - enjoy!


Monday, December 22, 2008

6 things I've learned this year

Another meme, this one from my bloggy friend Rachael, about 6 things I've learned this year. This one looked like fun! Here's some things I've learned (I'm sure there were more, but I'm too exhausted from the year to see things clearly!!).

  • That I haven't got my super-powers yet (what's going on here?). I can't teach Sunday School, lead a women's Bible study, write 3 long EQUIP book club posts, 7 blog posts and 1/2 a Sola Panel post every week, AND spend time with God and love my family and friends - surprisingly. And that when I forget I'm not superwoman, I get really, really tired and a little down. Bring on the holidays!
  • That sometimes I love spending time with God, and other times (like at the moment) it's really, really hard work - but I guess it's still worthwhile? Yes, I know it's still worthwhile. I do. Really.
  • That God takes away my anxiety when I ask him to, then I forget this and go back to old habits of worrying, then he takes away my anxiety when I ask him to, then I forget this and go back to old habits of worrying, then he takes away my anxiety when I ask him to. That God means what he says (Philippians 4:6-7).
  • That the Bible does have answers for big issues like anxiety disorders, depression, and addictions - something I've always wondered (thanks, Martyn Lloyd-Jones and Ed Welch). That it's easier to say this than to live it, especially when you're tired. That sometimes it's best to stop trying to change yourself and just ask God to change you - or to stop tinkering and look.
  • That I'm getting old. I wake with the birds, I'm wearing my new reading glasses right now, and I'm getting hard of hearing (something I inherited, not totally due to turning 40!). I do that thing people do when you say "Happy birthday" and they think you say "Hippo by the way". Inside, of course, I'm still 30. Worryingly, that's actually starting to sound youthful.
  • That God wants older women (like me) to teach younger women about biblical womanhood (Titus 2:3-5 - thanks, Carolyn Mahaney). That God made men and women to display Christ's eternal love affair with the church (Ephesians 5:22-33 - thanks, John Piper). That women can be strong, tender and beautiful, all at once (1 Peter 3:1-7 - thanks, John Piper). That this kind of beauty increases with age (thankfully). That I'm a very slow learner.
  • And one extra (you know by now I always go one over): that blogging is fun, demanding, relaxing, exhausting, distracting, exciting, absorbing, thought-provoking, worrying, enjoyable, time-absorbing, encouraging, intriguing, vulnerable-ing, and too many other "ings" to think of right now. And that it's a great way to make some very dear friends.
Rachael tagged me to do this meme, and she's tagged most people I'd want to tag - except Ali, Honoria and Sandra. Go, girls!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christmas at our house

Here's a few snapshots of Christmas at the Williams' house. I thought you'd like to see how we celebrate Christmas!

A celebration of family traditions
Every year the kids and I make a Christmas village. It's a 3D jigsaw, and every child has one house to make. I grew up with a cardboard village we put up at Christmas time, so it's a tradition for me - and fun for them.

A celebration of family memories
One family tradition which I adore and Steve tolerates for my sake (he doesn't like pine needles around the house!) is a real Christmas tree. The kids and I go to the local nursery and pick out the most beautiful tree, Steve helps us put it up, and we decorate it together.

What's really special about our tree is that every decoration has a memory attached. Some are from my family home. Some I made as a child. Every year, the children make more. Every year, I buy one or two.

As we hang them on the tree, the memories emerge: "Remember the year we made those windows out of beads? Remember when Lizzy made those stars? Remember how that sequinned star was one of our first Christmas decorations? Remember the year Jenny sewed that angel for me?"

A celebration of God's salvation
This year, I designed a Jesse Tree to make in our Sunday School class (I'd like to do a bit more work on it, and share it with you next December). Every day (or every 2nd day!) Steve and I tell the kids the next part of God's story of salvation, read a promise about Jesus, and look at a verse from the New Testament showing how Jesus fulfils both story and promise.

For a long time, I've wanted one of those wooden Christmas scenes with drawers for the Jesse Tree verses and ornaments, so I was excited to find one on sale a month ago. In the drawers go the Jesse Tree verses, some lollies, and a little figure for the nativity scene.

A celebration of Jesus
Our big nativity scene has been collected piece by piece over many years. What a pleasure it is every year to open the boxes, unearth the precious pieces from their polystyrene packing, and arrange them on our shelf!

Our nativity scene is a daily reminder that Christmas is all about Jesus: God's gift of his only Son, God in human form, living with us, and dying in our place to bring us eternal life.


Saturday, December 20, 2008

Claire Smith on marriage

The guidance [husbands]... are given about how to love their wives doesn't come from romantic movie heroes, it doesn't come from being compared to the husband of their wife's best friend, or from books on how to improve their marriage that their wife gives the for father's day ... They're to be guided by the love of Christ for the church, who expressed his headship in loving the church, and in giving himself up for her to death. ... He's to help her prepare for the future marriage of Christ and the church. ... The blueprint for marriage, the reason God fashioned earthly marriage as he did, was to provide a beautiful, earthly reflection of the eschatological love and the union of his Son with those he came to save. (Claire Smith The Divine Marriage on Ephesians 5:22-33)

What God is looking for is an attitude of trust and respect for our husbands, building up and support of their leadership, deference to their care, letting them look after us, an attitude of service and helping instead of doing our own thing and tearing down what they're trying to do, and if you're anything like me, it will all require lots and lots of repentance. ... The more you know your husband, the more conscious you will be that submission is an act of grace. It's a moment by moment choice. ... It's conscious, active, wilful. (Claire Smith Won Without a Word on 1 Pet 3:1-7)

We are to submit willingly and to happily recognise our husband's authority in everything. ... As wives we are to willingly recognise our husband's headship every day and in everything. That's what it says here [in Ephesians 5:1-7]. I'm not making it up. ... The wife is to fear, or respect, or reverence her husband ... Submission requires an attitude of trust, and respect, and honour, that graciously recognises our husband's authority, and willingly accepts his leadership and his responsibility. ...

None of what I've had to say is easy. The submission called for here is at odds with our culture, but more importantly it's at odds with our sinful nature. Ever since the fall of Genesis 3 a woman's desire has been to control her husband, and we all have ... our own particular ways of doing that. Perhaps we nag. Perhaps we manipulate. Perhaps we put him down in front of our friends. Or perhaps we never say a word, and we keep a long catalogue of all his sins that we carry around and feel quietly angry and self-righteous about. ... Submission is hard, it's counter-cultural, and it's impossible to do without the Spirit of God, but with the Spirit, we can do it.

Now what submission will look like in each of our marriages will be different, but it will be evident. At its heart, submission is an attitude, but it's an attitude that has to be expressed ... It's expressed in respect, in service, in trust, in humility. It means we'll build him up rather than tear him down. It means we'll calm the seas of home life rather than stir them up. It means we'll support his authority with the kids, and we won't whinge about him behind his back, to our mothers, to our friends, to the kids, and we'll accept his leadership and care gladly. We'll rejoice in it when he gets it right, and when he fails, we'll forgive him. In spiritual matters, and in the day to day, right down to the washing up. (Claire Smith The Divine Marriage on Ephesians 5:22-33)

Friday, December 19, 2008

biblical womanhood (8c) submission in practice

It took me many, many years of marriage to understand what submission might look like in practice. Every time I asked for advice, I was told "I believe in headship and submission, but I can't explain what it looks like." Coming originally from a feminist position, and with little guidance and few examples, I could have done with some more specific suggestions!

So what I'm doing today is sharing some examples of what the practice of submission might look like. The details will be different in every marriage, but one thing is certain: submission is an attitude which affects everything - thoughts, feelings, words, actions - every moment of every day.

Submission affects our thoughts and feelings. It means that when I think of my husband, I'll reject critical, bitter, resentful, unforgiving thoughts. Instead, I'll choose to think of him with respect and love. I don't mean I'll refuse to see his bad points! Often, because I've married a sinner, what will be demanded of me is not blind approval, but patience and forgiveness. But I'll also choose to rejoice in the times he exercises his leadership wisely, and when he fails, I'll trust in the God who has chosen this man to be my husband, remember my own sin, respect his role even when I'm struggling to respect him, and respond with forbearance and grace.

Submission affects our actions in small things. This was the first expression of submission which made sense to me. It means I (try to!) honour my husband's preferences: keeping the kitchen bench clean, filling the kettle (I kid you not!), or wearing my hair long. For you, it will mean other things: de-cluttering the loungeroom, welcoming your husband with a kiss, or keeping track of what you spend.

Submission affects our words. It changes the way we talk to our husbands, and to others (children, friends, our mothers) about our husbands. I don't mean we'll speak with humble deference: there's lots of teasing, laughter and robust discussion in my marriage, which won't surprise anyone who knows us! But I've learned not to nag or boss my husband into doing things, not to complain about him to others, and not to always offer my opinion when we're leading a group together - and I'm learning to be careful of how I speak to him in front of others.

Submission affects our response when our husbands ask something of us. Elizabeth George taught me (and I in no way live up to this!) to respond first with a "yes", and only then with a "but have you thought of ...?, when my husband asks something of me. "Yes", I'll gladly come and help you with that. "Yes", why don't we do that together on the weekend. "Yes", let's consider those ministry plans. Without noticing it, I'm often automatically set to "no", or at least to "sigh".

Submission affects decisions about our own lives. It affects how we spend our money, use our time, and make our plans. Recently, God has convicted me about two areas which I think are key for many women: spending and scheduling. Steve's an easy-going guy who doesn't throw his weight around, and it's been easy for me to take advantage of that as I manage our finances and plan my calendar. This year, I'm seeking his guidance on our budget and my plans for next year.

Submission affects how we respond to our husband's leadership. It's hard to graciously acknowledge and receive someone's authority. It's far easier to openly rebel, or to resist in more subtle ways: patronising our husbands, doing things behind their backs, or surreptitiously trying to exert control. Instead, we'll build up rather than tear down, obey when it doesn't mean disobeying Christ, and support, encourage and pray for our husbands as they lead our family.

Submission affects how we influence our husbands. There's definitely a place for wise counsel, good advice, and honest discussion (Prov 31:26). But there will also be times when words are ineffective or unwelcome. The primary way we influence our husbands, especially when words fail, is through our prayers, the godliness and reverence of our lives, and the way we honour and seek their leadership (1 Pet 3:1-7). Definitely not through sulking, nagging, manipulating, seeking revenge, or complaining!

Submission affects how we accept our husband's care. I've often observed in my own and others' marriages a tendency to be unwilling to receive compliments graciously, to welcome embraces, to hear encouragement, to enjoy sentimental expressions of affection, to accept protection, or even to allow a husband to open a door for us. We're independent modern women - we don't like to be looked after! This might be something we need to learn.

Submission affects how we use our time and energy. Instead of lavishing our time and energy on ourself and our dreams, we'll give ourselves first to helping our husbands, caring for their needs, and supporting their work and ministry. I don't think we should put our husbands on a pedestal, or that our lives should revolve around them - this wouldn't be good for either of us! Christ is our first husband, God's glory our first goal, and the gospel our first priority. But our husband will come next on the list, we'll be careful about how our ministry and relaxation affect him, and we'll work as a team, when possible, to reach out to God's world.

But what if my husband doesn't want to lead? This is a question which often comes up when I talk to married women. Since Genesis 3:16, many wives love to take over, and many husbands lazily abdicate responsibility. We may need to repent of our tendency to want to run things, ask for our husbands' advice and input when it's not offered, and gently encourage them to take greater responsiblity in leadership. I think this is one piece of encouragement most husbands would welcome! If this continues to be a major problem in your marriage, it could be helpful to talk together to a godly pastor.

But what if I'm in a difficult marriage? If God expects wives of unbelieving husbands to honour and obey their husbands (1 Peter 3:1-7) then he expects no less from those of us in difficult Christian marriages. There are no "if ... then ... " clauses when it comes to love and submission (I'm not talking about situations where it's appropriate for a wife to leave her husband, in cases like abuse and adultery). I know this is hard to say, and harder still to practise, and requires far more than a brief paragraph! Our comfort is that God knows our situation, that he watches over us and loves us more deeply than any husband ever could, that we honour him by our faithfulness in a difficult situation, that he promises never to test us beyond what we can bear, and that he gives us grace and strength when we have none of our own.

I know the things I say are not easy for many of us to hear, and for any of us to practise. But don't we love God's word, and trust him to want only what is best for us? I pray that he will help you and me to come to the Bible ready to have our minds changed, to listen to his voice even when we find it hard to hear, and to ask him for the will and grace to obey.

I've found, over the years, that submission has changed from something I reluctantly practice through gritted teeth and with resentment, to something I've grown into, as its true beauty and freedom have become apparent to me, and as God's grace has worked in the hearts of my husband and me. I hope and pray you find the same.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Sunday School - Proverbs (9) wisdom wind-chimes

You may remember that our Sunday School series on Proverbs started with an ambitious plan to make wisdom wind-chimes out of clay. The first step was a conceptual diagram:

We used cookie cutters to cut the shapes out of clay, and my art-teacher friend fired them in her kiln:

The children decorated the top sections with the word "wisdom", using textas, which worked surprisingly well (except the lighter colours, which disappeared under the varnish!):

Here's my son Ben decorating his:

And here's my daughter Elizabeth working on hers:

We found there wasn't time during most of our lessons to decorate the other pieces. Instead, we devoted the final week of term to decorating and varnishing the rest of the wind-chime shapes. This was a fantastic opportunity to revise our lessons. I asked the kids if they could remember what we've discussed (parents, friends money, words, work & gluttony, wisdom & folly), and they drew a picture or wrote a word representing each topic on one of the shapes. Here's my kids working on them:

I tied the shapes together using fine fishing line (quite a job!). Here's some of the finished wind-chimes:

They look great, don't they? What a wonderful reminder of what we've learned together about God's wisdom in Proverbs!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

biblical womanhood (8b) submission in attitude and action

What do headship and submission in marriage look like in practice? How do you define such a thing? For every marriage is different: submission has "as many expressions as the relationships it finds itself in".* It's even harder to describe what submission looks like when we see it so infrequently.

What I can tell you, after 20 years of learning how to be married, is that headship and submission can be beautiful, like a dance where the dancers know their places.

I can't imagine a relationship more lovely than that of Christ and the church. What could be more beautiful than a lover who finds a woman lying in her filth, washes her, adorns her, and lays down his life to win her (Ezek 16:1-14)? Or a woman who, having been loved with such devotion, gives herself freely and willingly to the one who died to win her? The parallel is not exact, but if human marriage is anything, it is a faint and pale copy of this everlasting marriage.

From before eternity, God planned men and women to mirror forth this divine love affair. And so he made man to work, to plant, to build and to tend, and woman to help, to bear children, to nurture and to care (Gen 1-3). He made husbands to love their wives with a self-sacrificial devotion which honours, cherishes and protects, and women to support their husbands with a love which honours, helps, reverences and yes, submits, gladly and willingly, every day and in everything (Eph 5:1-7).

You might hear people saying "The husband's job is harder". Yes, it is hard - it is desperately hard! - to sacrifice your own preferences and goals and desires for your wife. But it's equally hard to submit, for it goes against not only our culture, but also our sinful desire to run life our own way, and our familiarity with our husband's sins and failings. Submission has been hard since the day the first man and woman fell into sin, and swapped peace for a relationship where each would seek to dominate the other (Gen 3:16).

So what do headship and submission look like in practice? I'm not going to say a lot about headship, except that it demands that husbands care for their wives' needs before their own, treat them with respect and consideration, and enable them to become all they were meant to be. God never tells men, as you might expect, to rule, to command, or to demand submission from their wives. In a culture where this would have been normal, he instead turns to wives, as free and equal partners, and tells them to willingly and graciously submit.

It's easier to say what submission doesn't look like than what it does look like. It doesn't mean "mutual submission", as if sacrifice and submission are two sides of the one coin, for God demands quite different things from husbands and wives. Nor does it mean you'll pack up your brain and put it away, obey your husband when he asks you to cheat or act immorally, or never advise or influence him. Or how could women married to unbelievers freely put their trust in Christ, serve God with reverence and purity, or win their husbands for Christ (1 Pet 3:22-33)?

When you ask people what submission looks like, they'll often say "It means that if you have to make a big decision, and your husband and you disagree, he gets to make the decision." Whatever submission means, it means more than that. Submission affects everything, every moment of every day (Eph 5:24). "Submission is an attitude, but it's an attitude which has to be expressed."*

Submission affects the way we think, feel, speak and behave. It's an inner quality of the heart - a state of trust, reverence, honour, gentleness, quietness, purity, and respect - which is beautiful to God (1 Pet 3:1-6). But it doesn't stop with the heart. Like all true attitudes, submission is an attitude which leads to action.

Whatever else submission is, it's not easy. Our husbands are imperfect, and so are we. Even in a loving marriage, submission will go against every fibre of independence in our being. Submission is only possible because God's Spirit works in us moment by moment, making us more like Christ, filling us with his humility, gentleness, quietness, and trust.

I'm sorry to leave you hanging, just when I'm about to get to the nitty-gritty of the practice of submission, but this post is too long already. In the meantime, perhaps you'd like to share with us what you think submission looks like in practice. As usual, there will be far more wisdom if we all share what we think than if I just tell you what I think!

* These quotes are from Claire Smith's talks Won without a word and The divine marriage, from her series Different by Design. I owe much of what I say, but none of my clumsiness of expression, to her.

images are from stock.xchng

Monday, December 15, 2008

biblical womanhood (8a) submission strong and beautiful

Submission is beautiful. Submission is strong. Submission is not a dirty word.

Submission is beautiful. It makes us like Jesus, who gladly submits to the will of his Father (Jn 8:29). It makes us like Christ's glorious bride, the church, who joyfully submits herself to the Husband who laid down his life to win her (Eph 5:22-33). Its beauty is seen in every Christian who obeys God willingly, in every child who honours their parents, in every safe and ordered society. It springs from the unchanging, inner beauty of a "gentle and quiet spirit", one of God's most precious treasures (1 Pet 3:4).

Submission is strong. Only those who are confident in themselves, or (better!) in God, don't need to throw their weight around. Sarah left her home and follow her husband Abraham on the journey of faith to an unknown country, because she trusted in God and didn't give way to fear (1 Pet 3:5-6). Only women with a big picture of God - a God whose eternal purpose in making men and women was to display the love between Christ and the church, and who works every circumstance for our good and his glory (Rom 8:28=29) - are able to submit with trust and joy.

Submission is not a dirty word. We honour submission in Jesus, in Christians, in children. But when it comes to marriage, we have a mental block. When the "s" word comes up in a talk or a Bible reading, it makes us squirm with embarrassment.

The word "submission" may bring to mind mental pictures of a (perfectly dressed) housewife taking (perfectly baked) biscuits out of her (perfectly polished) stove, or the "little wife" who brings a "masterly man" his slippers and pipe, or the human doormat who has denied her own intelligence and personhood to say "yes" to everything her husband asks, however demeaning or stupid.

My own journey to seeing the beauty of submission was a long one. I don't remember thinking much about submission in marriage as a child. As a teenager at a girl's school, the idea would probably have seemed repellent. During my Arts course, I became a thorough-going feminist. Steve, who is now my husband, was also a feminist in those days.

I only accepted submission as God's will for marriage after much study, conversation and heart-searching. I debated every side of the issue with wise Bible teachers, read books representing different points of view (the most memorable and influential being Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood), and spent many hours studying the Bible passages on men and women (Gen 1-3, 1 Cor 11:2-16, 14:26-40, Gal 3:28, Eph 5:22-33, Col 3:18-19, Tit 2:3-5, 1 Tim 5:14, 2 Tim 1:5, 3:14-15, 1 Pet 3:1-7).

Despite all the debates, in the end it seemed to me (and to Steve!) that the Bible is actually very clear: "Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything" (Eph 5:24). You have to jump backwards through many exegetical hoops to get it to say anything else.* So we made the good old promises of love and submission at our wedding.

Even then, with not many models of submission in marriage to imitate, and few older, godly women who practise submission to teach me the practicalities, it's taken many years for me to understand what headship and submission look like in a healthy marriage.

These days, I find young Christian women much more willing to accept the idea of submission. But they are still confused about the practice. One of the questions I'm asked most often by young women is "What exactly does submission in marriage look like?" In a day or two, I'd like to write about the practicalities of submission in marriage.

* I know I've left acres of questions unanswered. This isn't the place for a huge theological debate. If you'd like to follow the issues up for yourself, can I suggest you start by listening to Claire Smith Different by Design. She is fair, thorough, compassionate, and well thought out. She answers the various objections to submission logically and well. And if you'd like to talk more about what I discovered about the Bible's teaching on submission, feel free to contact me, or write in the comments.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

oh glory, glory

Thomas - Mummy, what's "glorious" mean?

Mum - Glorious means wonderful, amazing, beautiful.

Thomas - Mummy, this lolly bag is glorious!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Claire Smith on true beauty

True beauty is a heart that is pure, ... reverent and respectful, quiet and humble. ... Although they don't look like much, these inner qualities - this purity, this reverent fear, this quiet spirit, this humility - are really worth something. They're expensive adornment as far as God is concerned. ... [Quietness is] a peaceful attitude of the heart that comes from a confident and rock-solid trust in God. It's a quiet spirit because you're trusting God. True beauty is beauty of the heart, and do you know, it's so extraordinary ... that even unbelieving husbands will find it beautiful. ... A heart shaped by moral and ethical purity and reverence for God, gentleness, trust in God that frees us from worry and anxiety, and a conscious effort and commitment to inner beauty rather than external beauty. ... Forget the face creams, forget the sales, if we want our husbands to think we're really beautiful, this is where real beauty is to be found. And better, it's beauty that improves with age.
Claire Smith on 1 Pet 3:1-7 - Won Without a Word from Different by Design

image is from stock.xchng

Friday, December 12, 2008

a question about feeding toddlers

You'd think this mother of 4 would have mastered simple tasks like feeding a toddler, wouldn't you? But the other day, I found myself pouring over the suggestions in What to Expect: The Toddler Years as eagerly as I ever did with my first child.

It's only recently that two of my closest friends were complaining about their toddler and young child not eating. "Oh, don't worry," I said breezily. "They're obviously healthy and growing. Clearly they're getting enough nutrients. Don't doctors say they will eat what they need to eat?"


Clearly I needed some humbling.

For here I am worrying because my 2 year old ate an average of 2 meals every day for the last week, that 80% of this was carbohydrate and 15% dairy, and that about 1cm of a vegetable and 3cm of meat passed his lips during this time.

Most days, I wake to an exhausting 1/2 hour of tantrums because he's hungry but doesn't want breakfast, eat dinner to the background noise of another 1/2 hour tantrum, and watch him eat nothing - nothing! - at lunchtime. He must eat something. I think it might be some dry noodles and a few biscuits in the afternoon.

My first child was as fussy as they come (no foods touching, no visible veges, and bread with chocolate spread - ouch! - for school lunches for 2 long years). My next 2 children happily ate just about anything, especially veges. But number 4, while cute as a button, is proving to be a challenge.

He hates monotony, but despises variety. He eats erratically, occasionally, and frugally. He'd happily subsist on milk, tomato sauce and icecream.

And can he throw a tantrum! His darling 10 year old sister runs to give him attention every time he cries, bless her motherly heart, which really doesn't help. He stands there wailing, alternating "Mummy! I want Mu-u-mmy!" and "Lizzy! I want Li-i-zzy!" depending on who is giving him the most attention.

Children are great levellers. Every time I'm getting proud - about my children's sleep patterns, their obedience, their sweetness - they turn around and remind me that they, and I, are far from perfect. One of the best things about having 4 children is that there is always 1, and often 2 or 3, who keep you humble. Sometimes they all gang up and humble me at once.

Anyhow, back to the topic at hand. Here are some of the approaches I've tried so far. Most worked for a time, then proved remarkably (unsurprisingly?) ineffectual. They show what an otherwise sensible but desperate parent will stoop too. You'll find most of these roundly criticised in parenting books:

  • Read to Andrew while I surreptitiously put food in his mouth.
  • Do jigsaws with Andrew while I surreptitiously put food in his mouth.
  • Put Andrew in front of the television and surreptitiously put food near him, hoping he'll eat without noticing.
  • Pander to any and all demands during mealtimes ("Climb on Mummy? Sure! Eat on the couch? Absolutely! Eat upside down with your toes? Why not?!")
  • Play trains - "Here comes the choo-choo" - actually, I've only done this twice, he just chuckles and regards me with withering disdain.
  • Get Andrew to look at me - "LOOK at me!" - and answer the question, "Toast, porridge, or cereal?" Mulish expression. Silence. I guess what he wants. I guess wrong.
  • Offer Andrew several plates of left-over breakfast to choose between. ("Lizzy's porridge? Andrew's cereal? Benny's crusts?") Surprisingly, this sometimes works.
  • Always eat with Andrew. This on the principle that "Monkey see, monkey do." Monkey doesn't do.
  • Stand in front of the pantry holding Andrew so he can see the contents, and offer him anything and everything healthy that he might want. "Biscuits? Ricecakes? Cereal? Peanut butter? Sprinkles?" He doesn't want.
  • Put plates of cut-up veges on the floor near Andrew which he happily ignores.
  • Make Andrew healthy lunches which he happily ignores.
  • Make Andrew healthy breakfasts and dinners which he unhappily ignores.
  • Ignore Andrew as he screams. Keep eating. Stay calm - on the outside. Inside, I'm joining him on the floor.
  • Put Andrew in his cot when he throws a tantrum during mealtimes. Get him out and threaten, "Bed or eat?" Put him back in bed. Get him out. Put him back. Give up.
  • Distract Andrew. "Let's read a book, darling. You don't want to read a book? How about a cuddle and a tickle. No? More crying? Why don't you watch while I tear out my hair? That would be enjoyable and instructive."
  • Carry Andrew around while I get the other children's food ready. Put him down when I need to use a knife. Pick him up when he whines and clings to my leg. Put him down when I need to measure the porridge. Pick him up when he wails.
  • Get impatient. Tell Andrew, "You really need to eat NOW! Can't you just sit down and EAT? COME ON, you can't survive on nothing!" Actually, this isn't a strategy, it's an expression of extreme frustration.
  • Feed Andrew daily vitamins because he's not eating any vitamins of the natural kind.
I know what the books say, of course. Never fight with your child over food. Never punish a child for not eating. Never bribe a child with sweet food (ha!). Only offer healthy food choices. If your child won't eat, cheerfully say, "That's ok, honey, you go and play now."

Never fill your child up on junk or milk. Never feed your child while he's watching TV. Never show your child you care whether he eats or not. Present food attractively. Don't offer too much food. Hide food inside other food. Feed your child before he gets hungry. Feed your child when he's hungry. When your child is really hungry, he will eat.

Ha. Ha. Ha.

I hear the dulcet tones of my son in his cot warming up for his early-morning tantrum. Gotta go now.

So has anyone else got any ideas? What have you found "works" with a toddler who's reluctant to eat?

images (apart from the photo of my darling Andrew) are from sock.xchng

Thursday, December 11, 2008

balancing homemaking and ministry (5) my plans for 2009

There'll be a few changes next year! This year, I was so eager to take on new ministry opportunities as I left the baby years behind, that I over-committed myself.

This blog was a surprising new ministry. Add to that new writing opportunities, an unexpected chance to lead a young mum's Bible study, Sunday School classes, an unhealthy perfectionism which means I spend too long on things and find it hard to disappoint people, and some terms double- and triple-booked with seminars and writing tasks, and you can imagine it's been a little crazy!

Family and home are still my main priority, but some months I've given my kids less attention than I would have liked, I haven't supported good friends well, and the house has started to look neglected. I'm also a little tired and burnt-out. These are precious, brief years with my children, and I don't want to waste them!

I've made my plans for 2009 with greater prayer and care. For the first time (I say this with great embarrassment!) I've sought my husband's detailed input into my plans (yes, I do seek his advice regularly, but to my shame, I've never sat down with him and gone over the next year's plans in detail). I didn't commit to anything until he agreed with my priorities and said, "I think that sounds manageable". He's far more sensible than me about what I can and can't cope with!

Here's how the decision-making looked for me:

God has been convicting me about how I often seek praise from people rather than from him: a poor motivation for ministry! I've brought my heart to God, repented of pride, ambition and people-pleasing, and asked him to make me more like Christ.

I'm naturally a workaholic, which is sinful pride. I need to learn to say "no", to be disciplined about when to stop reading or writing (right now, in fact, as I edit this post!), and to take time off each week. I'm thinking of having a weekly computer-free day to devote myself without distraction to my family.

Time for home and ministry
Here's how I've planned my time:

Daily (pretty much in order of priorities)
  • time with God in the early morning - I'm an early bird, but it takes discipline to devote that first, quiet hour to God when so much else is begging to be done!
  • a couple of hours with Steve every evening - Our marriage needs to stay healthy, for it's the primary relationship (after God) in our lives and family.
  • time for each of my 4 children - We eat, chat, learn and read the Bible together; I'm there when they get home from school; and they all know Mum is available for some one-on-one time each day - reading, chatting, doing jigsaws, cuddling!
  • home tasks - Washing clothes, cooking, getting kids ready for school, driving the family taxi, etc.
  • a nap in the early afternoon - These days, I need this to give me energy for my family during the afternoon and evening.
  • a quiet hour in the early afternoon for blogging (This is where I'm at right now.)
Weekly (pretty much in order of the days)
  • Monday, Wednesday - home duties. I've found I need 2 mornings to manage our home. Monday is for cleaning (a clean house is oddly important to my mental state - for my friend, it's cooking!) and Tuesday is for odd jobs (shopping, errands, budgetting, paperwork).
  • Tuesday - a flexible morning for people. I pray with friends, have a coffee with neighbours or school mums, take Andrew to the park, or deal with unexpected responsibilities.
  • Thursday, Friday - intensive ministry. Once I've cared for my home and caught up with friends, I have 2 mornings left for intensive ministries like writing or leading a Bible study.
  • Saturdays and Sundays - family and church. Weekends are for outings, jobs around the house, teaching piano to the kids, cooking lunchbox fillers and meals to freeze, and church (and some time off!).
One Friday a month, I put ministry aside and spend a quiet morning resting, reflecting and praying. This helps me stay on course spiritually, mentally and physically.

Ministry opportunities
Here's how I've planned my ministry:

Priority 1: help my husband in his ministry
  • prayer - Most days, I pray for my husband's godliness, love and wisdom in his leadership of our marriage, family and ministry.
  • hospitality - I get our home ready to welcome visitors for meetings and social events.
  • using my skills - I edit our uni Christian group's newsletter 3 or 4 times a year - a job I don't enjoy but try to do cheerfully to help my husband! ;)
  • ask! - I recently decided to ask Steve more often about how I can help him in his ministry (writing Christmas cards for our supporters came up - if you're one of them, tell me how I do!).
Priority 2: serve people in my church and reach out to my community
  • friends and neighbours - I keep 1 morning a week free for people. I pray with friends, spend time socially with neighbours and school mums, and visit or mentor people.
  • Sunday School - This is needed at our church, and it's also a way to teach my own children.
  • young mums at our church - It's important to care first for the women God has placed in my circle, so I lead a Bible study on 1 of my 2 intensive ministry mornings.
Priority 3: the wider church and world.
I have most Fridays left for intensive ministry, although this is sometimes taken up with preparation for Bible study or Sunday School.

This is where I need to be very, very careful. I'm a dreamer, so I'm always making big plans. If I had my way (and if people would let me!) I'd be organising women's conferences, editing on-line magazines, and teaching lots of women's seminars. Wiser Christians have encouraged me to concentrate on writing.

I've agreed to one (I've learned through bitter experience to limit it to one!) extra writing /teaching project each term (Sunday School, seminar, article, EQUIP books). I'm learning to combine different responsibilities: to blog about what I'm preparing for Sunday School, or to teach the book I'm doing for EQUIP books in my Bible study.

So in this blog next year, you might find series on handling our thought-life (seminar), Hebrews (Sunday School), spiritual disciplines (last year's seminar) and mentoring women (article)! As God wills.

Well, I hope you've found these ramblings helpful. I know I'm exhausted, and I'll be glad to leave this topic for a while! As Sarah said, its' time to stop talking and start doing! You might want to tell us about your own ministry plans for next year in the comments today.