When my husband and I went camping in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California last month, I kept in mind the practice of my youngest daughter who worked last summer at Sequoia National Park—even though she was surrounded by the towering majesty of the largest trees on earth, she always looked for the tiny beauties below, on the forest floor. So, as we walked among the giants, when my neck began aching from looking up, I’d look down, and there, at the feet of the trees, were delicate ferns, moss, and beautiful little flowers. Even when we drove higher into the mountains and climbed a hilltop to view the mountains surrounding Ebbett’s Pass, we found tiny little flowers hugging the ground. Not intimidated in the least by their enormous neighbors which touch the unreachable sky, these tiny treasures all declared the glory of God as effectively as the mountains and the trees, though with a quieter voice.
Over the past few months I have been working on a project that intimidates me to the point of wanting to give up. I’m feeling like a fragile, insignificant fern in the shadow of capable giants. I have written a study of 1 John, and am preparing to submit it for publication.
Before I go further, it helps to look back.
From the first time my husband and I joined a church 30 years ago, I have been going to weekly women’s Bible studies. When I began, I was just looking for friends. I knew nothing about the Bible and what I knew of theology would fit on a bumper sticker. In fact, it probably came from a bumper sticker. And it was likely wrong. But the women around the table at First Baptist Church in Grove City, PA lovingly taught me, corrected me when necessary (which was just about every time I opened my mouth, for a while), and encouraged me to keep reading and returning to the table each week. Through their compassion for me and their passion for Christ and his word I learned to cherish Christ and his word. Bible study went from a way to make friends to a lifeline of growing in my faith and the knowledge of the Son of God.
After several years of faith-establishing fellowship, the Lord, in his inscrutable wisdom and providence, allowed us to walk away from First Baptist to join a church which, though filled with people who loved Jesus, did not teach the full counsel of holy Scripture.* In particular, the small group from this church which we joined pulled us deeply into the Word of Faith movement. Much that they promised, based on carefully picked passages of the Bible, was thrilling… until it was discouraging, to the point of being soul-crushing. We jumped through hoops to make sense of many of the teachings, and were still left with doubts and questions.
But God was at work, even still, and when his time was right, he moved us to South Florida and into a PCA church. From the first sermon our discouragement and questions were met with Scripturally-based, theologically-sound, and doctrinally-rich answers. Until this feast was set before me, I didn’t realize how hungry I was. I took every class on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings that I could and joined the women’s Bible studies as soon as possible. Oh, how the blessings of truth fed my starving soul! No longer did I need to turn off my reason in order to make sense of the doctrines that were taught and firmly supported by not one, or two, but many verses and passages throughout the Bible. Praise be to God, and with gratitude to my faithful and patient teachers, my growth in faith and knowledge has been based on the firm foundation of the apostles and the prophets with Jesus Christ as the chief cornerstone for the last 20 years. The Lord blessed my growth from starving student to still-hungry teacher who has learned where in the cupboard to look for spiritual nourishment.
But when I began actually leading other women in Bible studies, I was confronted with a stumbling block: my own inadequacy for the task. You see, my formal education ended when I graduated high school. I wanted to go to college, but marrying young and starting a family right away pushed that dream aside. My goals genuinely changed from improving myself to supporting my husband as he finished university, and then a Master’s degree, and rearing my children and providing them with the education and tools to chase their own dreams. It has been an unrivaled joy to watch each of my five children excel in the gifts the Lord has given them, pursuing their dreams, higher education, and careers, and living their lives to the glory of God.
Leading Bible studies is always a humbling endeavor, with much need for grace. Year after year, for 15 years, I have learned right along with the precious women who join me. I truly believe that I have learned more in preparing to teach than I could have learned otherwise. Commentaries and stacks of books have enriched my understanding and led me in teaching. The Lord has given me a love for this work, and I’m told it comes through when I teach and write. Oh, how I hope it does. When I look at how far the Lord has brought me, I marvel at his grace and am still puzzled that he has chosen me for such a task.
Last year, after teaching studies written by others for so long, I wrote a Bible study for the women in our church. After much encouragement from others, I am preparing to submit it for publication. But now, the volume of the voices of inferiority in my mind and heart has been turned way up. The questions on the Submission Proposal forms cause me to freeze as they ask why I am qualified to write this book, what is my education (degrees and names of institutions, if you please), and why should anyone choose this book over another on the same topic? When I stare at these questions, I have no answers. I see the giants all around me who are touching a sky I cannot reach. How foolish I have been; how weak my qualifications; how low compared to the others who have published their works. Who am I to think I have anything to offer; after all, I am nobody. I am tempted to lay down this project and turn and walk away.
But when I look to God’s word I find myself.
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. Therefore it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” —1 Corinthians 1:26-31
There I am—foolish, weak, low, nobody.
God called me. God chose me. I have nothing to boast in but God, who is the source of my life in Christ, and Christ, whom God made my wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption. Elsewhere scripture tells me that I am God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God has prepared beforehand, that I should walk in them, and that the equipping I have received from my pastors and teachers has been to prepare me for the work of ministry (Eph. 2:10, 4:11-12). It has only been by the encouragement and prayers of my fellow saints, with the help of the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ that I have been able to write this offering to the Lord and his church.
I recognize that I am not a degreed scholar, but merely a humble servant of my Master. So, I will continue to press on with this project in hopes that it will be a blessing to others and will lead my sisters in Christ into a richer understanding of his word and deeper love for him.
[*I must reiterate that I do not doubt that the majority of those with whom we worshiped in the non-denominational Charismatic church genuinely loved Christ. Our lives were enriched by their fellowship and I still count many of these dear saints to be friends. I look forward to the day when we stand before our Savior in heaven with every trace of erroneous teaching stripped away (and I don’t mean only from them) and nothing but glorious truth and sinless love remains to fuel our worship of our Great and Awesome God.]