Tag Archives: Spiritual Journey

The Problem with Proverbs 31

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The following blog was posted this week on Lift Up Your Day and is included in its entirety below. For more encouragement, check out the other posts on LUYD.


 

The Woman

If you’ve been a believer for a while, you’ve probably heard about Proverbs 31. Depending on your Bible translation, you may know this as the chapter describing the “virtuous woman” or the “excellent wife.” (See verse 10.) I used to think of this fictitious person as the Perfect Woman—Mother Theresa, Martha Stewart, and Ivanka Trump rolled into one modern day Super Hero.

Sounds cool, right? Sure, until you read the details.

This woman

  • does good things for her husband every day of her life (with no exception);
  • makes beautiful clothes and linen for her family using exotic raw materials she’s sourced in the marketplace;
  • finds time to make additional items, which she sells through her own clothing line;
  • is also a successful farmer and vine dresser;
  • never sleeps, rests, or is idle (and probably doesn’t blink for that matter);
  • still has the energy to mentor others;
  • is strong, wise, and dignified; and
  • apparently doesn’t have a negative bone in her body. (God bless her heart!)

 

The Frustration

Is it just me, or does this woman give us over-worked, over-stressed, under-paid girls a bad name? Don’t you just hate her? Can we agree to ignore this chapter all together?

Okay, so I was a little mad at the Proverbs 31 woman for a while. I was also frustrated at the preachers and teachers who lifted her up as the standard against which all women are measured. I was doing good to get out of bed on Sunday morning, so this comparison to the Proverbs 31 woman was becoming a stumbling block for me. I began to feel guilt and self-condemnation because I couldn’t measure up. My solution was to ignore that entire chapter as best I could.

 

The Truth

Fortunately, the Lord didn’t let me off that easy. Over a period of years, He kept bringing me back to Proverbs 31. Eventually, I discovered something amazing: this isn’t a to-do list of all the things we have to accomplish daily for God to love us and use us. Instead, this chapter is like a map of our spiritual journey as seen from a 20,000-foot vantage point.

For example, the woman buys a field, plants a garden, sells the produce, and then buys a vineyard with the earnings. Later, she helps the poor and needy. (See Proverbs 31:16-20.) We all recognize that we can’t reap what we don’t sow, and we can’t bless others if we have nothing to give. Even from a spiritual standpoint, we can’t offer the gifts of knowledge and wisdom until we’ve received them ourselves. Proverbs 31 contains many such natural laws, which helps us understand our spiritual journeys and track our progress.

I also realized that Proverbs 31 applies to both men and women. There are numerous Scriptures depicting God as a bridegroom courting His bride, which is the Church. (See Matthew 9:15 and Revelation 21:9-10.) So, when we read figurative Scriptures referring to the marriage relationship, we can usually put ourselves in the wife’s role and Jesus in the husband’s role. Applying this to Proverbs 31 has given me a new outlook on how we, the Church, interact with Jesus.

 

The Encouragement

Over time, I came to see that the problem with Proverbs 31 wasn’t with the Scripture at all—it was with my own misunderstanding of the Word. I encourage you to read this important chapter again with fresh eyes. Notice how the woman grows over time, from faithful servant to wise teacher. Then read the verses again as if the woman is the Church body and the husband is Jesus.

Instead of running from this chapter—like I wanted to—lean into it. Seek God’s guidance and understanding. Let go of the guilt of not being a Super Hero and pursue the greater role of an obedient child of God. May this bless you and encourage you on your journey.

“A woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised” (Proverbs 31:30 NAS).


The book I’ve been writing, Girls with Gusto, delves into these topics of perfection and Proverbs 31. As I pull these sections together, I’ll share them here with you. Please give me feedback—what you like or don’t like, what you find encouraging, and what’s difficult for you to live out in your daily life. Thank you!

I’m Teaching a Seminar!

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The Desire

It started when I was a teenager. I would lie awake at night and imagine myself teaching a group of students about something very important. I was engaging and funny—but not silly—and by the end of the presentation, I knew I had a made a difference.

When I told my mom about it, she assured me that it was not common for people to fantasize about teaching in front of large groups. It figures; I never seemed to do anything normal. But it did make me wonder if this was a “God thing:” something He was laying on my heart.

While I don’t feel called to be a full-time teacher, I still find myself dreaming of teaching, speaking, and instructing on some level. (I have utmost respect for all our amazing teachers and cannot fathom how they have the patience to persevere in light of school politics and standardized testing. May God bless you!)

 

The Reality

Finally, this year, I’ll see this vision start to become a reality. I will be teaching my first seminar at the Tallahassee Christian College and Training Center (my alma mater) on November 19, 2016!

The class, “Navigating Your Spiritual Journey,” is based on all the research I’ve done as I continue to write my book, Girls with Gusto. We’ll dive into what I call the eight major steps of the spiritual journey, from salvation to becoming the person God made us to be. This course will be heavily based on Scripture and, since we’ll be talking about the spiritual journey in general, it will be applicable for both guys and gals, from new believers to the seasoned Bible student.

As I prepare for this class, I’m beginning to realize something important. These things God places on our hearts aren’t just our “imagination;” they aren’t “possible outcomes” that we can choose to embrace or deny. They’re words from God that He has spoken over us and imprinted on our hearts. The Bible says that God’s Word goes forth and accomplishes what He desires; it does not return to Him void. (See Isaiah 55:11.) Yes, this primarily refers to God’s Word as captured in the Bible, but it also applies to words He speaks over us directly, in the here and now.

 

May Your Dreams Become Reality

Do you have a vision of yourself teaching, preaching, singing, writing, healing, counseling, etc.? Have you always had a strong or unusual desire to go to a different city or country, to be involved a particular ministry, or to change careers entirely? Do you have an idea for an invention, a new product, or a business?

Seek the Lord! If He put this desire on your heart, He means to fulfill it! (See Proverbs 37:4.) You might have to wait nearly twenty years like I have, but when it happens, you know it’s God’s doing, and you can move forward without hesitation.

May God put you in the center of His will, and may He accomplish what He set out to do with you and through you.


If you’re in the Tallahassee area, please join us for the seminar! Here are the details:

When: Saturday, 11/19/2016, from 9am-1pm
Cost: $15 for personal growth or $25 for .25 semester credit
What to bring: Your Bible and a notebook to write in.

Our goal with this class is to understand the layout of our spiritual journey so we can grow closer to the Lord and become the person He wants us to be. By the end of the class, you’ll be able to determine where you on your journey, what steps are still in front of you, and how you can continue to press forward.

Girls with Gusto: A Spirit of Joy

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Photo by Ashley Jones 2016.

It’s human nature to want what we want, to be happy when we get it, and to be unhappy when we don’t. Only a crazy person would be happy when everything is going wrong…right?

 

A Spirit of Joy

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog entitled A Clean Heart, which was about the first of eight major steps in our Christian journey. These steps, and how to navigate them, are the topic of the book I’m writing for young women: Girls with Gusto.

Step Two in our journey is A Spirit of Joy. As I researched this topic, the first thing I learned is that there is a difference between worldly happiness and godly happiness. Worldly happiness is a fickle thing, with its highs and lows determined by our current circumstances.

Godly happiness, or what I call joy, is tied to our relationship with God (see Psalm 43:4). I learned that if we will only anchor ourselves to Him, we can experience the kind of joy that never waivers, regardless of our situation.

 

An Excerpt on Joy

Here’s an excerpt from Girls with Gusto: 

If God is to be the source of our joy, we need to be sure that His direction is as true and straight as the North Star. Otherwise, our joy would be as unpredictable as if it were based on the shifting circumstances of the world. 

Thankfully, the Bible gives us assurance: “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow” (James 1:17 NAS). The KJV version states there is “no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” 

I love that! There is no variation. No variables. There’s not even a shadow of turning. Not a hint. God doesn’t wake up grumpy or go to bed angry. He doesn’t tell us one thing today and another thing tomorrow. He is more constant than the rising and setting of the sun (see Isaiah 60:19-20).

This surety and steadfastness are extremely important qualities of God. If we are to have a solid foundation we can rely on, it must be immovable.

 

The Crutch of Circumstance

When I went through a rough patch in my early twenties, I realized that the world couldn’t offer me real joy. That’s when I began to truly seek God in my life.

Ten years later, as I was writing about joy, the Lord began to convict me once again. Life has been really good and, while I’ve been thankful to God for my blessings, I haven’t looked to Him as the source of my joy. Instead, I’ve limped around on the crutch of circumstance, accepting the mediocre happiness of the world. The fact that my circumstances were good doesn’t make my reliance on them (instead of God) any less of a sin.

So what did God do? Did He punish me? No, but He sure taught me a lesson! Here’s a short list of things I went through over the course of a few months:

  • Robby began to travel a lot. For a while, we had more days apart than together. I didn’t realize how much I relied on him for emotional support as well as all the work he does around the house.
  • Our sweet kitty, Sue, passed away. She was our fur-baby for over four years, so this was a huge loss for us. [Click here to read more about Sue.]
  • My parents sold the house we moved into when I was 13. I like their new house more, but letting go of the past can be difficult.
  • My grandfather had emergency surgery and, for a while, we weren’t sure if he was going to be all right. Thank God, he did heal completely, but it was a stressful time for all of us.
  • I picked up every bacterium or bug came my way and stayed sick for days on end. These illnesses were putting a strain on my nerves, work, writing, and home life.

It was like everything in life that gave me comfort was being withheld, and every stressor had the volume turned up. Through it all, I felt God tugging me toward Himself, forcing me to look to Him as the source of my joy and comfort. It was a painful process, but I’m glad to be moving ever forward in my spiritual journey.

 

Your Joy

When things don’t go your way, do you feel anxious and depressed? Are you too stressed to seek the Lord?

When life is good, do you grow slack in reading your Bible? Do you get caught up in the day’s activities and forget to pray?

Remember that God is your spiritual food and water (see 1 Corinthians 10:1-5). Whatever the day brings, you have to eat and drink, right? In the same way, you need to seek God’s presence and read His Word. If you can make this a daily habit, regardless of the situation, you can have the joy that comes from God—a true Spirit of Joy.

Girls with Gusto: A Clean Heart

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Photo by Ashley Jones, 2016.

 

I’ve been writing a book for young women called Girls with Gusto. It’s about our mission as Christians and the eight major steps we take on our spiritual journey.

With each chapter, God has been working on me, pulling me closer to Him. It’s a wonderful reminder that I serve a living God who is interested in my well-being and desires an intimate relationship with me. But that kind of growth often brings growing pains.

 

A Clean Heart

Step One in the Christian journey is A Clean Heart. In this step, we learn that we’re sinners in need of saving. We discover God and accept His mercy and the sacrifice of Jesus. Then, God’s Spirit comes into our heart and cleans it out, making us new.

Eventually, we mess up. Like the prodigal son, we seek after the flashy, sexy things of this world, and we lose touch with the deep and meaningful ways of God (see Luke 15). If we’re to hold onto our faith, we have to come back to God and seek forgiveness. Then, He goes to work cleaning out our hearts again.

That’s the raw truth, a summation of Scripture. My own experience is harder to tell.

 

My Story

I always believed in God, even as a small child. I never had a true conversion experience, other than my baptism at age 13. I remember the feeling of a clean heart, white as snow.

At some point in my teens, I started going off-trail, detouring from the path God had outlined for me. When my grandmother passed away when I was 21, I didn’t know how to handle it. I was overcome with grief and depression for years, and I didn’t know how to rely on God. Instead, I got married so I would have someone to lean on. Of course, that didn’t work out, and I found myself divorced at 24 years old.

Robby and I have been married for five years. I now have the love, friendship, and security I searched for as a young woman. And I know that God is the one who provides us with all things—whether directly or through other people. I thank Him every day for what He’s given me.

Because of that, I tend to forget about my past and just focus on the present and look forward to the future. It sounds healthy, but it’s not always helpful. When I was writing about Step One, A Clean Heart, God showed me that He can use my past for His glory. It can be an important part of my testimony, and I shouldn’t deny it or shy away from it.

 

An Excerpt

So, I rewrote that first section. I still included the meat of Scripture but, this time, I told it from experience. I trust this honesty and transparency will resonate with readers; that it will show them what faith looks like in real life.

Here’s an excerpt from my manuscript:

Because of this situation, I know a few things I wouldn’t know otherwise. For example, I can tell you that the loneliest place on earth is inside a broken marriage. The hardest thing to hear is “I don’t love you,” even when you realize you really don’t love that person, either. And, even in the 21st Century, there is a stigma to divorce that follows you wherever you go, especially church. 

At twenty-four, I was the prodigal daughter. I had to humble myself, crawl back to my Father God, and ask for forgiveness. I had to come back here, to Step One, A Clean Heart…. 

In [Luke 15], we see that the father loves his son because he is compassionate and merciful. In the same way, God loves us because of who He is. It has nothing to do with our own efforts, no matter how domestic or diva they may be. This is great news, because it also means that He loves us even when our efforts fail. Even through grief, mistakes, and divorce. 

Our value, then, is not determined by what we do but by the God who values us.

 

Your Testimony

If you’ve tucked away your past mistakes, I want you to know that God still sees them. If you haven’t asked for forgiveness, then do so today. Start your life anew with a Clean Heart before the Lord.

If you’ve already received forgiveness, then there’s no need to hide what has been forgiven. Let the Lord show you how and when to share your story so that it can bless others and bring Him glory.

I’ll be honest with you: it’s not easy to share something painful. But I can assure you that it’s worth it, to live free of the past and to encourage others to do the same.

The Places You’ll Go, Part 2

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This week’s blog picks up where we left off last time. If you missed Part 1 of Kristen Hogrefe’s blog last week, check it out here. Thanks again to Kristen for sharing her insight and encouragement with us! ~ Ashley

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Photo and design by Kristen Hogrefe.

 

 “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where–” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

Perhaps you recognize this conversation from Alice in Wonderland.

If you’re a graduate, maybe you feel a little bit like Alice. You’d like very much to stop and ask for directions.

I hope you wrote down and started praying over your list of dreams and goals, like we talked about last time. These can become your map as you seek the next step to pursue them.

Along the way, life is going to take you places you might not expect. Last week, we saw the first two, and today, we’re going to look at two more.

 

THE DESERT

Missionary explorer David Livingston trekked across Africa from west to east and braved many hazards, including the great Kalahari Desert. If you’re looking for an inspirational biography, I challenge you to read his.

He had this perspective on where life took him:

I’d rather be in the heart of Africa in the will of God, than on the throne of England, out of the will of God. 

Although you may never cross a literal desert, you will face times of spiritual dryness or times when God doesn’t seem to hear your prayers.

That’s when waiting on Him becomes so important. Trust me, I’ve been there. The “waiting room,” as I’ve come to call it, is not a fun place to be. When is a door going to open? When is God going to make a way where there seems to be no way?

Ironically, the barrenness of the desert can produce some of the richest fruit in our lives, because it forces us to depend day by day on our heavenly Father.

But those who wait on the Lord
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31 NKJV)

Learn to face deserts with anticipation, because you never know how God will lead you through them and what will be waiting on the other side.

 

THE GARDEN

By garden, I mean quiet and still places that bring to mind shady trees, a gentle breeze and a cozy hammock.

He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake. (Psalm 23:2-3 NKJV)

The garden is a place of rest, refreshment and refocus. When you find yourself with breathing room, don’t chide that the action and drama of life have slowed. Take the opportunity to spend more time in God’s Word and enjoy the people and opportunities at your fingertips.

While planning ahead is great, counting your blessings in the here and now is also important.

Thank God for what you have, and trust Him for tomorrow.

 

COMMENCEMENT

Graduate, I’m excited for all the places you’ll go! God has good plans for you (Jeremiah 29:11), and wherever you go, He’ll go with you (Joshua 1:9). Don’t waste the precious life entrusted to you, but pursue the passions God’s laid on your heart. Give God permission to redirect as He sees best, and get ready for the next step on your journey.

As Dr. Seuss said:

You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own, and you know what you know. And you are the guy who’ll decide where to go.

~Kristen Hogrefe