Sunday, August 29, 2010

Keep Calm and Carry On -- Being a Strong Helper after God's Own Heart

I’m going to rehash some old stuff here, with the disclaimer that this is my own lecture to myself, and I need to review it. I occasionally hear lectures or read books on “Biblical Womanhood” or the “God-centered Woman.” But I’m personally coming to love the term “Gospel-Centered woman” best. It’s becoming a goal in my life--not just to know what the Bible says about women, because knowing only what the Bible says I ought to be brings self-righteousness when I get it right or self-condemnation when I get it wrong. Instead, when I’m gospel-centered, I not only understand what God created me to be as a woman, but I understand His plan for redeeming me and reforming me back into the image in which He created me, for I can not do it on my own.

Where do I find my identity as a woman? It’s not the Proverbs 31 woman or Ruth—it’s God Himself. I was created in HIS image (Gen. 1:26-27) and am being conformed back to Christ’s (Romans 8:28-30). In Scripture, the defining characteristics of the first woman—those things that make her utterly unique to her male counterpart—are inextricably tied to the character of her Creator. Knowing Him precedes knowing ourselves. If we want to understand our identity as women, we must first understand His identity as God.

Genesis 1 26 Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."

27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

After Genesis 1 states the general idea of man and woman being created to bear the image of God, Genesis 2 then zooms in on the creation of the first woman.

Genesis 2:18 The LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him."

This woman, created in the image of God, was designed to be a helper suitable to her male counterpart. When I read this in common English, it always sounds condescending and substandard. “I’m called to be Help?! That sounds like some 18th century snob referring to their servants. I’m not the Help.” But that is simply because our English translation can’t do justice to the Hebrew term. Instead, think of the Man of Sorrows carrying His cross toward Gethsemane. As He stumbles, Simon of Cyrene steps in to carry it with (or for) Him. This is a much closer picture of the Biblical concept of Help. It is not a maid. It is more like a crutch. It is not a mindless sidekick waiting on an order. It is Morpheus or Trinity to the Matrix’s Neo. The Hebrew word is strong.

The Hebrew term for helper is most often used in the Old Testament of God Himself, which makes sense since the woman was created to bear the image of God. Consider its use in Deuteronomy 33:29.

Deuteronomy 33:29 NIV Blessed are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the LORD ? He is your shield and helper and your glorious sword. Your enemies will cower before you, and you will trample down their high places.

God Himself is called our helper, the same Hebrew word used of the first woman in Genesis 2:18. In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit is also called our Helper, Counselor, and Comforter (depending on which translation of the Bible you use). These are all translations of the Holy Spirit’s role of paraklete, or one who comes alongside in aid. When we understand God’s role on this issue, it puts this in perspective. God, Almighty Sovereign Lord of the Universe, is our helper, and we, as women, are created in his image. If I hold on to the attitude that being created as a helper is condescending and substandard, I am basically mocking the name of God and His character, for the role of helper is one He willingly embraces.

God our Help defends (Ex. 18:4), cares for the oppressed (Ps. 10:14), delivers from distress (Ps. 70:5), rescues the poor and needy (Ps. 72:12-14), comforts (Ps. 86:17), supports, shields, and protects (Ps. 20:2 and 33:20). God’s example reveals a high and worthy calling for women as helpers suitable to their husbands. We are not glorified maids, butlers, or cooks waiting on an order to perform from a master. This is not God’s example of help at all! We are called to show compassion, support, defend, and protect those in our care. We are called to deliver from distress and to comfort. We are called to be conduits of God’s grace in our homes. We are called to be like Christ.

There is a sense in which God’s call to us is a general call to be strong helpers and advocates in widespread ways. My help extends to my children, my neighbor, and the stranger that God brings across my path as He taught in the parable of the Good Samaritan. But there is also a very strategic application of this help. Eve was created to help her particular husband. I remember asking my husband one day, “What would you find helpful?” To put the question in context, I had heard much from various sources about what a Christian woman was supposed to do for her husband. I found myself judging how well I was doing by comparing myself to friends, women’s ministry leaders, book authors, and so forth. If any of them suggested a better method of fulfilling my role in my home, I either worked to adopt it or beat myself up for my laziness for not. When my husband and I talked about it, I realized he longed for my help in the strongest sense of the term. But I was constrained by lesser expectations of others that distracted me from helping him in the ways he needed. When I ask him what I can do for him on a particular day, he often tells me to simply “keep calm and carry on.” He needs me to be strong and face the chaos of the day with two small boys with calm responses. He needs me to defend and protect, to rescue and comfort, to support and care for those who can’t care for themselves. He needs me to minister to our family like God our Help ministers to me.

This may be painful to hear if you are single, widowed, or divorced. But you too are God’s strong helper though you do not have a particular man to whom to direct it. Throughout Scripture, women helped. Ruth helped Naomi. Mary helped Jesus. Phoebe helped Paul. Lois and Eunice helped Timothy. Yet, I do not trivialize the reality in which you find yourself. As God said in the garden and you well know by your own life experience, it is not good for man (or woman) to be alone. If you find yourself in this state of aloneness that God declared “not good,” you are in good, godly company.

The gospel of Christ meets us in all of these realities. Single woman who longs to be married. Married woman who longs to have a husband who loves her as Christ loves the church. Divorced woman whose marriage ended in betrayal. Widow who feels the hole in her heart daily. The truth for all of us is that the fall of man has marred the image of God in us. We are not what He created us to be. And the fall of man has marred the environment in which we lived. Others around us are not what He created them to be. Loved ones betray. Loved ones die. And sometimes, loved ones simply never show up. But, in Christ, we start to see the reclamation of His image in us through redemption. In Ephesians 1 and 2, the Apostle Paul lays out for us all Christ’s death on the cross has accomplished for us. He expounds on it more in Ephesians 3 and 4. Then he opens Ephesians 5 with the amazing phrase, “Therefore be imitators of God.” Finally, we have the tool for bridging the vast gulf between our created image in Genesis 2 and the fall of Genesis 3. Now, in Christ, we start to reclaim His image in us, and Paul fleshes out what this looks like across the board—husband, wife, parent, child, coworker, boss, and every relationship within the church.

I can’t fully articulate in this short article how exactly the gospel does this for us. Paul sets the foundation for how God does it in six chapters in Ephesians, and I have spent much time studying it there. But living it out daily will require a lifetime of gospel meditation and transformation until finally I see Jesus face to face in perfection. Today, I am simply asking God in prayer how the gospel equips me to reclaim His image in my life and what it looks like to live it out as a strong Helper in my relationships. I trust He will meet us all in this prayer with wisdom for this day’s struggles as a woman after God’s own heart.

17 comments:

  1. Please, Wendy, don't stop rehashing this--EVER. No leftovers here, but a full 7-course meal expertly cooked! As you said, this is going to take a lifetime.

    I love meditating on the fact that I am fully known, that being God's reflection and glory secures my identity as His daughter. It reminds me what it means to be holy and dearly loved. It reminds me not to fear the approbations of man, but to love the praise of God more. This way, I can get about the business of living a gospel-centered instead of a self-centered life. So thank you for helping me meditate so productively!

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  2. Love this ... every. single. word. I too have wondered about the wisdom of seeking "biblical womanhood" ... far more appealing is embracing this gospel-centered life.

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  3. Thanks for the encouraging feedback. I'll keep sharing -- 'cause I keep needing it so!!

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  4. Love this... Carolyn Custis James says some similar things. In Lost Women of the Bible, she says the term ezer is most often used to describe God being a help to Israel, and most often used in a military context. She would even argue that "strong helper" doesn't quite give the full meaning of the word. (I like your cross analogy.) And I think women definitely need to hear that being an ezer has nothing to do with whether or not we have husbands or children... we are ezers in whatever set of circumstances God's providence allows. That little piece of information has comforted me tremendously when I have questioned my place in God's family, wondering if God does His most important work through men. Good word, Wendy... keep it up. :)

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  5. Thank you so much for this encouragement! I will be sharing this with our ladies Bible study group tonight as we start going through your Ephesians book. I am so thankful that I "happened" upon your stuff... God has really used you to bless my life and redirect me to Him on some really bad days. Blessings to you!

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  6. So glad to hear I am not the only one who's husband said this. I tend to want a task (Pro. 31) and he wants a peaceful heart and me to find joy in our life, w/ the kids etc. I have friends who have chore lists in response to that question.

    It always felt like not enough but if I really apply myself to being calm in all circumstances it is no small task especially with my middle son.

    Thanks for your words.

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  7. I just stumbled upon your blog, and your words have been such a balm to me, as they are such a clear and insightful expounding of Scripture!

    Thank you for connecting our role of helper with God's character. I think I need to examine this more! One question that comes to my mind is how do our spiritual gifts play into this? I've always found the comforter role hard to relate to (when painted as our primarily role as women), probably because when I take spiritual gifts tests, I come out with a big zero in mercy/helps. (My gifting would be more teacher/prophet.) I would love to hear your insights about how our personality and gifting plays into what being a helper looks like in our context sometime.

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  8. Thank you so much for sharing this - it brings me such good perspective. Thank you for being available and willing to be used by God because you have really blessed me so much with your blog! xo

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  9. Clara, your comment was very encouraging to read first thing on a Monday morning. Thanks!

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  10. I can finally pin-point why it just didn't seem right that "helper" is so often thought of as a maid. In some circles it is being taught that a wife is there just to do maid-service for her husband. It takes away a wife's dignity and her worth as an individual. By looking at the real meaning of the word "ezer", we can hold our heads up knowing that we are correctly portraying God's image.

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  11. Again, Wendy, tears of joy...thank you so much! I need to know so much that I am at least envsioning God's own heart for my life each day, especially today when I read this blog.

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  12. Wendy, I just came across your blog. In my theology class we just did a project on the doctrine of man. It hit me as I read the Scriptures that I, a woman, have believed that men are more of God's image-bearers than women - though I would NEVER agree to that in a doctrinal statement! And suddenly I understood why I've had all those painful moments of thinking, "If I were a man, I would be more effective in the Kingdom." I had to repent and believe the Gospel with all my heart.

    Reading this brought comfort and tears. What a relief to know the truth of Scripture! What a beautiful, beautiful thing it is to know that woman was made to reflect the image of God just as much as man. Thank you, thank you, thank you, for upholding the Word of God and honoring women. God's grace be with you.

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  13. Wendy, I loved this article! I too over the 23 years of walking with the Lord have struggled with my role as "woman" in today's busy, bustling world. I love the "gospel-centered woman" wording. Thanks so much I smiled as I read this post!

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  14. As an African young woman preparing to get married, I wanted to read over and over again about God's provisions for me and His expectations of me as a wife and a mother. My search led me to your blog and I want to say keep on sharing in public all that the Holy Spirit keeps teaching you in private because you may never know its far reaching effects! I have been taught and refreshed by your piece and the part about you trying to be like other women in your pursuit of "Biblical Womanhood" couldn't have been more clearly articulated! Kudos and God bless.

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  15. Thanks Wendy. Keep sharing publicly all that the Holy Spirit keeps teaching you privately because you might never know its far reaching effects! God bless you richly!

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  16. I know this is an older post, but I just read it this morning. Thank you! Your words have blessed and encouraged me more than you can know. As my season of life has shifted to grandmother/older woman in the church, I desire to be an ezer in fresh ways and learn as well as teach younger women how to apply the Gospel in every area of our lives. Thank you for this invaluable contribution.

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