Testimony

Festivities or Fasting. You had Forty Days to Spend this Christmas.

Every year, I promise myself that I will go easy on Christmas this year.

I’ll spend less, I say. I’ll schedule less outings. No caroling this year. We can skip baking cookies; that’s just a mess anyway. We can bow out of one or two charitable activities.

Last year, I used old pictures (gasp!) for our Christmas cards. And this year, though I have bought $80 worth of Christmas stamps already…I am not going to send out Christmas cards. I thought I was compromising by opting for generic store bought holiday cards. One thing led to another, and I’m scrapping ’em altogether this year.

I’ll have seasonal greeting cards on hand for the next 40 years.

Listen, I’m gunna level with y’all here: I am pretty sure the credit cards I just consolidated were by majority “the ghosts of Christmases past.”

For someone with seasonal affective disorder– amongst other brain challenges– a desperate attempt to cheer up the dark days of December seems logical on a surface level.

My large extended family has also always been big time fans of the holidays. Forced Family Fun is an important component of familial culture on my mom’s side.

This means observance with gifts, decorations, and gluttony are vital for maintaining positive internal relations with the clan.

My daughter, mom, and grandmother also are all born on the same day in December!

So come on, we go big or go home. ‘Tis the season.

Here’s what I have noticed about the time between mid-November and New Year’s Eve: things fall through the cracks.

In the past several years, I’ve seen insurance renewals, logical budgeting, personal boundaries, and even people forgotten in the over-scheduling that is inherent to six weeks of celebration.

We can’t realistically expect to quadruple our responsibilities for a month and a half and still attend to our normal routine.

I have a hard time keeping up on a normal day, so if I’m gunna get all festive, you better believe just about everything else falls to the wayside.

I sabotage my New Year by exhausting my finances, family, and body; cluttering my calendar, home, and mind; and diverting my priorities, attention, and spirituality for 6 whole weeks out of 52!

That is 11.5% of my year– more than a tenth of my year– spent in inattention.

I sacrifice peace, calm, purpose, intentionality, and contentment to indulge for nearly a tenth of my year.

There is a lot a person could accomplish in six weeks– 40 days– with the passion, unrestraint, and commitment that we reserve for the holidays.

Like, crossing over into the Promised Land? Preparing for conquer, victory, sanctification, establishment, and blessing?

That’s what the Israelites were on the precipice of in the Book of Numbers. They were standing at the border of all things New.

About to say goodbye to their rock-star leader Moses. About to test their mettle, their resolve– their ability to lean hard on God’s promises.

But it was at this crucial point that they are sabotaged by Balaam and their attention is diverted to feasting, carousing, indulgence.

They put aside what they know is good for living and spend just a little time treating themselves to just a little bad behavior.

Do you know that Christmas Day is the deadliest day of the year?

And nope, sorry, it’s not drunk driving accidents. Nor is it suicide. Oddly, there’s a spike in suicide at Easter.

Christmas Day is the deadliest day of the year due to negligence. It is possible to stack up more deaths nation wide due to neglect!– inattention– than any other way.

Drug overdose doesn’t kill a record number of people on a single day every year. Drunk driving, shootings, smoking. None of those compare.

How does the enemy of our souls harvest as many of us as possible in a single day? Distract us.

And it’s so insidious. The way that people die on Christmas:

Not going to the hospital when he feels tightening in his chest, after all, he doesn’t want to disrupt the holiday dinner. The kids are having fun; don’t bother them.

More people die in house fires at Christmas. There are not more house fires at Christmas; but people are more distracted and therefore more likely to die in the house fires at Christmas.

We just aren’t paying attention.

Every pastor and Christian thought leader encourages us to focus in periods of 40 days.

Fast, pray, diet, give…for 40 days! That’s always the pitch.

And come on, we never do it. Or never finish it. Somehow, I am a perpetual quitter at 33 days. I can be intentional for 33 days but not 40 for some reason.

So, yeah, we can’t wage war in the spirit, we can’t tarry, for 40 days.

But we sure can drink, spend, eat, travel, instigate pointless quibbles, and have sad, lonely, “I’m-the-only-single-cousin” bar hook-ups in the ol’ hometown.

Satan easily steals, kills, and destroys your new year utilizing these 40 days of inattention and compromise.

At the borderland of your year, your promises, your hopes, your expectations for God’s goodness and purpose– His newness. And we let the enemy work us over and set us back and shake us just before we enter in.

That’s the embattlement of this season. Don’t miss it. See it. Attend to it.

 

 

Liturgical Holidays

“They cut down a tree…” Jeremiah 10:3

Before you bring out your Christmas decorations, take a moment to contemplate this:

The Bible forbids bringing a Christmas tree into your home and decorating it.

Read on before despairing, o’ ye merry gentlemen and gentlewomen.

Some would say that Jeremiah 10:3-4 proves the unlawfulness of “decorating a [Christmas tree] with gold and silver and fixing it with nails so it will not topple over” Jeremiah 10:4 paraphrase.

There is plenty of historical research readily accessible that points to the origins of the Christmas tree as stemming from a traditional component of “sun-god” worship during the winter solstice.

Unfortunately, even secular textbooks would tell you that your “O, Christmas Tree,” is idolatry.

History dates this practice of decorating trees in the winter back to ancient Babylon, Nimrod, and his wife Semiramis who was known in ancient Israel as the goddess Asherah.

Asherah poles, condemned throughout the Old Testament, are considered by detractors to be a type of Christmas tree.

Asherah (Semiramis) is purported to be the one who initiated the practice of bringing Christmas trees into your home.

This tree-idolizing practice was sanctioned by Asherah in honor of the rebirth of her husband, Nimrod who re-incarnated as Tammuz, her son. She supposedly immaculately conceived Tammuz after Nimrod’s death.

The tree was a fitting idol to celebrate Nimrod’s re-birth as he was a hunter, a mighty man of the forest.

I, myself, completely accept this account as the origin of the modern Christmas tree. Now, if you are also convinced, does that mean you must advocate for Christians to forego Christmas trees?

Well, in exploring this question, let’s examine the section of Jeremiah 10:3-4 that is often left out when equating Christmas trees to the “thing cut down and decorated.”

They cut down a tree, and a craftsman carves an idol. They decorate it with gold and silver and then fasten it securely with hammer and nails so it won’t fall over. Jeremiah 10:3-4

This little bit here: “A craftsman carves an idol.”

I feel like that little bit changes the surety of a direct biblical decree against Christmas trees substantially. The particular phrase, “carves an idol,” sounds more like a decree about graven images and not very much like a condemnation of trees (Exodus 20:4-5).

Trees are vital imagery throughout the Bible.

Starting in Genesis with the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life, we see the establishment of the tree as a spiritual symbol.

Most spiritual symbols in the Bible are only good or only bad. They are clean or unclean. They are easily defined by the “law of first usage,” meaning that how the symbol is first introduced is how you can interpret it in every other occurrence in the Scripture.

However, the tree is itself spiritually neutral.

It is the fruit of the tree that makes it good or bad. Or it is what dwells in the tree that makes it good or bad. It is how the tree is used that makes it good or bad.

It is the fruit of a tree that facilitated the Fall of Man. It was the fruit of a tree that God was protecting when He cast out Adam and Eve. Were these trees good or bad?

It was “in groves” of trees that Israelites participated in orgies to worship Asherah.

The kingdoms of Israel and Judah are imagined as trees cut down and transplanted in the book of Ezekiel. And, Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom is envisioned as a tree cut down and regrown in Daniel.

The Kingdom of Heaven is called a mustard “tree.”

Zacchaeus was a traitor to his people– a tax collector and a sinner– yet Jesus called him down from a tree so that He could commune with him.

So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree beside the road, for Jesus was going to pass that way. When Jesus came by, He looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name. “Zacchaeus!” he said. “Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today.” Luke 19:4-5

Jesus cursed a tree that didn’t bear fruit in season. But the fruit of the sycamore-fig tree bore good fruit– the fruit of a repentant sinner.

Jesus was “cursed” because He hung on a tree (Deuteronomy 21:23; Galatians 3:13).

Yet, the trees of the fields will clap their hands when God’s people are consummated in salvation; and we will be planted like trees along living waters (Isaiah 55:11-13; Psalm 1:3; Jeremiah 17:7-8).

And, while there are many references to the fashioning of idols from trees; there is also specificity in the Old Testament concerning the wood used to fashion both the Tabernacle and the Temple. The type, cut, overlay, and country of origin of each tree used is described in Exodus and 1 Kings.

The best I can tell, trees in the Bible are spiritual kingdoms and physical nations. The fruit on them is the inner person of man.

Trees as symbols are full of ambiguity and equivalency. How they are rooted and how they are used determines how they are judged and valued.

At Christmas time– in this current time of the Kingdom of Christendom– it is a practice to bring a tree into the home during winter.

Perhaps the tree is spiritually neutral. But the heart of man is not.

And the heart of man is spiritually embattled this time of year…which we’ll get into next time as previously promised!

 

 

 

 

 

Liturgical Holidays

“Job would send for his children and perform a ceremony…” Job 1:5

“Job would send for his children and perform a ceremony as a way of asking God to forgive them of any wrongs they might have done. He would get up early the next morning and offer a sacrifice for each of them, just in case they had sinned or silently cursed God,” Job 1:5 CEV.

We as humans are religion creators. We have an innate tendency to perform ceremonies, be pious, do extra, go extreme, and settle into ritualistic security.

Job was a religion creator just like the rest of us. Most bible translations add to vs. 5 that this ceremony to cleanse his children not of actual, but of fictitious sins, was Job’s “regular practice.”

Job deeply desired to please God– and God completely recognized his piety and blamelessness– but Job approached God through religion not faith. He displayed a type of existential anxiety in relation to the Lord that would be common to the pagans of his day.

I think many of us begin our journey toward faith in a superstitious religiosity in the midst of which, and despite of, the Lord extends to us an offer of experiencing Him through faith and freedom from our “regular practices.”

Job was a contemporary of Abraham– both of them would have begun as idolaters. Job was a religious man in the fashion of the spirit of the age– ritual sacrifice. At that time everyone offered sacrifices to the gods and burnt offerings. Religion always emerges from culture.

But Job’s faith emerges outside of his culture. He has an encounter with God that has nothing to do with his sacrifices.

I know that can be hard to take in, being that Mosaic religion is a religion based on atonement by sacrifice– on that note let me remind you that in at least 21 passages of scripture God says that sacrifice and offering is not what He really wants, desires, or accepts. He says it first to Samuel (1 Samuel 15:22);that His true desire is obedience.

In subsequent scriptures throughout the Bible, God relays His preferences over sacrifice as being: love, knowledge of Him, a broken and contrite spirit, righteousness and justice, mercy, to love Him with all our heart and strength and understanding, love our neighbors, love kindness, walk before Him humbly, walk in the way He commands us, delight to do His will, carry His law within our hearts, draw near to listen, faithfulness, to attend to others, to be reconciled to our brothers, to obey, to listen to His voice, and to do all He commands us.

This explains the entire book of Hebrews! Isaiah 1:11-17 says:

What makes you think I want all your sacrifices? says the Lord. I am sick of your burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fattened cattle. I get no pleasure from the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. When you come to worship me, who asked you to parade through my courts with all your ceremony? Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts; the incense of your offerings disgusts me! As for your celebrations of the new moon and Sabbath and your special days for fasting– they are all sinful and false. I want no more of your pious meetings. I hate your new moon celebrations and your annual festivals. They are a burden to me. I cannot stand them! When you lift up your hands in prayer, I will not look. Though you offer many prayers, I will not listen, for your hands are covered with the blood of innocent victims. Wash yourself and be clean! Get your sins out of my sight. Give up your evil ways. Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows. 

This is a little confusing in light that God instituted all of those rituals. But! The author of Hebrews tells us that the first model that was given us was in fact only a model! It was a model of the heavenly things put into an earthly context, but once Jesus came that earthly context was no longer needed because Jesus revealed all to us, and now our worship is not to be in the fleshly way– for the fleshly way is in fact quite replicable by the world– but rather we are to worship in spirit and in truth for God is spirit (John 4:24).

See in Hebrews 10:1-10 how Jesus’ sacrifice put an end to ritual sacrifices to make way for true religion. The Apostle James defines this true religion in James 1:27: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

The sacrificial system was in a sense a syncretistic in that the Lord allowed a world system to act as a spiritual system. It was a system that seems to have emerged from the world not outside of it.

It’s not that God didn’t act, interact, or accept the sacrifices but religious piety– which was all the sacrificial system accomplished en masse– was not the ultimate goal, but rather the goal was relationship with God through faith. We see this starting all the way back with Job– the oldest book in the Bible. He is the first to say, “I know that my Redeemer lives!” and “If only I had an advocate.” The first person whose rebirth through faith is set into record was the first to say, “I thought I knew before, but now I know.” And that knowing is knowing that religion is a shadow— it is merely a carbon-based form for our carbon-based brains.

Religion speaks to us in our fleshly, worldly context before we are born again into the spirit.

We are a people in context, but we are called to live out of context. We are treasure in a field (Matthew 13:44). We are in the temporal but are of the eternal.

As we are surrounded by a worldly context it is difficult to not be saturated by that context. It is difficult to keep ourselves “undefiled.” And by undefiled I am actually not talking about by sin, but by religion.

It is the inevitable human tendency to create religion, I say again.

We as Christians have inherited both a faith and a religion. How do we interact with the religion we have inherited– the part of our worship that is of the earth, of the age, sometimes borrowed from false religion and often syncretistic?

How do we maintain faithfulness and obedience when even our own institutions and leaders bait us into unspiritual practices that emerge from man and culture?

The liturgical holidays are a great example of practical syncretism in the Christian religion.

I will now finally define syncretism for those of you who don’t have that definition on file. Syncretism is the practice of two religions at one time. It is the blending of a person’s old religious practices while believing in the tenets of one’s new faith. It is borrowing traditions and practices in one religion for use in another.

This is why I postulate that ritual sacrifice was possibly syncretism. Sacrificing made sense to pagans– still does unfortunately. Even modernly, it is in fact, legal in America to ritually sacrifice animals, and neo-pagans in Britain are committing kidnappings for human sacrifices today.

The most important point I want to make about ritual sacrifice, is that Jesus ended it. God may have allowed blood sacrifice as the agreement for atonement for a time, but it was only for a time until a better agreement was made. There is, therefore, in the same way, no longer a place for sacrifices or any other forms of culturally emergent Christian religious practice.

Inadvertently, American Christians still practice syncretism through the liturgical holidays. (You are in fact reading the preface post for my Liturgical Holiday series.)

Let’s identify syncretism in Christian religion and contemporary Christian practice by playing a game called “Who Borrowed Whose Holiday?”

  • Halloween is actually a Catholic holiday that the neo-pagans borrow, not the other way around!
  • Thanksgiving is not actually a Puritan holiday but is an assimilation of the Catholic St. Martin’s Day, a holiday that is still huge all throughout Europe.
  • And Christmas, the holiday we consider to be ultimately Christian, is actually the only one that is not Catholic by origin but pagan!
  • And just a side note: The only holidays that are ordained in the Bible are in the Old Testament, which very few Christians even know about. And, we are not commanded to celebrate Jesus’ birth nor His resurrection day. We are however, commanded to remember Him through participating in the Lord’s Supper and providing for each other’s needs– ordinances which we treat flippantly, without cheer, and with a bah hum bug closed-heartedness.

So, with this back drop let me explain what this series on the liturgical holidays will and will not be.

It will not be an exhortation to stop celebrating the liturgical holidays. I will make the argument that it is not going to damn you to celebrate Christmas. We will be talking through Paul’s perspectives on pagan feasts in 1 Corinthians to explore our freedoms regarding the liturgical/pagan observances.

It will be an exploration of the spiritual warfare involved in the liturgical holidays. On this count we will explore Balaam in Numbers, 2 Peter, Jude, and Revelation.

It will be a spring board to critique the emergent, missional, and discipleship Christian movements to assess in what ways our post-modernist efforts to evangelize do in fact “fish” men out of their context or if we are simply falling into the same assimilation traps that resulted in the Catholics giving us the liturgical holidays– occasions that leave us fat, sleepy, broke, accidently falling prey to spiritual attack, and very little conformed to the image of Christ.

Don’t worry: I don’t hate the holidays. But I do think they are a far better litmus for the state of the American church than we think. They are a great indicator that we love our “regular practices” and our ceremonies more than we love “walking humbly” and keeping his covenant (Exodus 19:5).

Warning! Through this seasonal series, let’s keep more in mind our own failings in practicing “pure and genuine religion,” than transferring blame onto Halloween, Thanksgiving, or Christmas. This exploration’s goal is to draw us into humility not pride.

The Lord is notorious for His patience with worldliness in His holy people so that they might eventually learn to recognize godliness. None of us can boast.

The Proverbs 31 Family

“Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife,” Matthew 1:20

I want to talk about Mary and Joseph as a picture of submitting our physical realities to spiritual realities. We live in the natural but are called to the supernatural.

My favorite themes in 1 Corinthians are: first, the discussion of the physical body vs. the spirit– and how those competing appetites affect how we worship and serve God, and second is, the way that Christians are assigned, appointed, anointed, and arranged in the spiritual realm to be useful in the Body of Christ with intent and specificity by the Lord.

The interplay of the physical and the spiritual pervades the New Testament– starting in the Gospel narratives. There are a lot of picnics, meals with disciples, lunch at the in-laws, dinner parties with sinners, biblical feasts, festivals, weddings, Passover, the Last Supper. Jesus’ earthly ministry is punctuated by meals.

Jesus also tells the woman at the well that he can give her living water so that she will never be thirsty after drinking it. He speaks of us “feeding” on Him, the bread of life– A spiritual meal that does not lack, does not require more meals after.

The Gospel of John, the most “spiritual” gospel, reveals Jesus as the Holy Spirit, yet talks repeatedly of food, in order to talk about spiritual hunger, and that Jesus satisfies.

This seemed the premise of Jesus’ rebuke of Martha. Martha was busy with her, possibly usual task, of preparing the meal for Jesus and his disciples. She was attending to her physical assignment, which probably would have been fine had she not complained about Mary. Mary was not preparing a meal for Jesus but was receiving a meal from Him. She was fulfilling her spiritual assignment to feed on Jesus.

We have both physical and spiritual assignments from God, but! Our physical duties always yield to the spiritual ones. Your earthly life must punctuate your spiritual life. If your spirituality is just a comma in between your workday and dinner, don’t be surprised that your soul continues to hunger and that your flesh continues to lust.

The account of Joseph’s encounter with the angel Gabriel in Matthew 1:18-25, brings insight into the gravity of both the physical and spiritual assignments that God gives us, and how we are called to submit our physical assignments to our spiritual ones.

Joseph was physically anointed, as a man, to be head of a household, husband to a virtuous woman, father to legitimate children. He was called in the natural to be religiously observant, an adherent to the law, an abhorrer of sinfulness. Yet, Gabriel tells Joseph “she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus,” Matthew 1:21. (emphasis mine)

Before this dream of Gabriel, Joseph had planned on quietly breaking off his engagement to Mary. He didn’t want to embarrass her, but it seems that he was “afraid” (Matthew 1:20) of what the implications of marrying a pregnant Mary might be.

Could the implications have been feeling like he had botched his earthly mantle as a faithful Jewish man? That he had failed to be a strong leader over his household, in which his wife and children respected him? That he might not be admired for his morality, but that people might snicker at him as a cuckold? That he’d sacrifice the satisfaction of living a righteous life in the eyes of man?

Could taking Mary as his wife– throwing away his fear– mean throwing away everything he thought God had called him to as a man?

To be the leader who would raise, protect, provide for, and name Jesus– “And Joseph named him Jesus,” Matthew 1:25– would require that Joseph lay down every right inherent to his God-given, physical assignment as a man.

He would lay down everything he had ever been taught about being a religious man in order to take up the demands of his new spiritual assignment.

The first counter-intuitive, counter-cultural aspect of this assignment was that Joseph had to tailor the very beginning of his marriage and family life to his wife’s calling and his son’s purpose. Men in his time did not organize their lives around their wives and children.

A patriarch in Joseph’s day would probably feel that it is their right to set the agenda, to take the most important role, to delegate menial tasks to others, to arrange themselves in the natural position to receive praise. Women and children wouldn’t even be part of the plan, let alone “be the plan.”

It must have been hard to believe that this was what God was asking him to do! Wasn’t this opposed to the natural order of things?!

In his calling, to be Mary’s husband and Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph did not: set the agenda, was not even nearly the most important actor, accepted menial tasks rather than delegating them, and was completely outshone by every one else in the Nativity narrative.

Joseph, Jesus’ father, is an early and strong example of living Christianity. He completely submitted his physical duties to his spiritual assignment. He did not reserve any natural craving, but satiated his spirit with his faith in God’s word over his life.

If we continue to be hungry for the rights inherent to our physical identities, we forfeit our time at Jesus’ feet and our usefulness to the kingdom.

The Proverbs 31 Family

“She went into seclusion.” Luke 1:24

The highlights of the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth are undoubtedly their visitors: the angel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary. With such spiritual mega-stars just dropping by, I hope Elizabeth kept her guest towels clean and pressed.

But of course, I want to look at the lowly and boring aspects of Elizabeth and Zechariah’s big moment in history– five months of seclusion and nine months of silence. Seclusion and silence.

I am a SAHM to a two year old child, so seclusion and silence are painfully familiar to me. Well– my house of course is not silent, but I do hear the deafening vacuum of my voice in the world getting sucked preemptively out of my lungs. Being at home without any agency to be in public, participate, contribute, and be measurably productive has been demoralizing for me.

The cabin fever I experience is due in part to a serious illness I suffered at age 23. It took about 7 years for me to recover. This brain illness– that I was diagnosed with just one year out of college– is scientifically studied as being triggered by “life goal achievement.” In other words, the closer I get to reaching what I’ve been working toward the more likely I am to relapse. This illness clipped my wings. It cooped me up and walled me in. Seclusion and silence have been persistent and painful themes in my adult life particularly in the areas of career and calling.

I have difficulty valuing my role as a mother and wife sometimes… or a lot of the time. There is a gap in my adult experience- working before the domesticated life- that gap aches. The heady, haughty accomplishments of a young woman in her twenties are just an imagination for me. I never got to be one of the obnoxious quasi-feminist marketing-freelance-event planning activists- from a 90’s RomCom, I guess. I often feel that I didn’t get to choose, and that as a mom my choices continue to be limited. I lack agency in my life. At least by perception, I do.

The story of Zechariah and Elizabeth is a story about how lacking agency, being secluded, and being silent can be the description of the prescription God has given you right now in preparation for what is upcoming in His kingdom and on His agenda. Luke 1-3 is the preparation period for Christ’s ministry. Those three chapters have a theme of preparation, and within that theme the atmosphere of preparation is lacking agency, being secluded, and being silent.

The first character we meet in the book of Luke is Zechariah. If there is anyone who should be prepared for a special assignment, it is Zechariah. He is a priest! We meet him in the Temple burning an incense offering on an altar. A righteous man, in ministry, ceremonially cleansed for special worship when the angel Gabriel tells him personally the assignment God has for Zechariah’s life. And he blows it. He speaks doubt. So he is put on mute until God’s work is done.

You’ll notice the other characters in this story do a lot of praising and prophesying. During this prep time for both John the Baptist and Jesus Christ negative speech was silenced and only praise and prophecy were allowed. Sometimes we need to be silenced for our own sake because if given a voice we would discredit and disqualify ourselves from the magnitude of service God is hiring us for.

Zechariah also had agency. He was the one who was given a command to do something. Elizabeth had no agency. Mary had no agency. Yet, they were able to quietly and calmly ponder what was happening, and be faithful in obedience. Sometimes having agency can be a stumbling block— particularly when the day’s mission is preparation.

That preparation was a calling unto itself. Jesus was about to be born! This was a delicate and simultaneously monumental moment. The web of political movement, spiritual warfare, and human rebellion was on a knife’s edge. There was no room for error. There was no room for disbelief. There was no room for Christians who feel the need to grandstand, or demand a well-lit platform for their spiritual giftings, or to be given a more interesting assignment in a more exotic locale. God did not need people of position for this job; or people who were eloquent, or opinionated, or understanding, wise, or insightfulful, nor did He need people who were talented, young or beautiful. He needed barren old Elizabeth because she was a believer. Sometimes it’s less about what we put out into the world and more about what we take in and “ponder in our heart” about God.

The call for that day was inaction. It was quiet receptiveness. It’s expression was praise, prayer, and prophecy. Elizabeth and Mary gathered together in seclusion to share their testimonies with each other. This built them up in faith and courage for what was to happen— their ministries would both end with the broken hearts of having martyred sons.

Now, I am definitely not proposing that the role of women in ministry is a silent, secluded submission. Zechariah was after all the one who had his speech taken away. Nor do I think “a woman’s ministry is her home, husband, and children.” I am saying, that if you feel that you do not have agency; if you feel isolated, shut down, blocked, frustrated; if you are a mom with young kids; if you are a person is who ill— or taking care of someone ill– a lack of human agency has never stopped God. You don’t need to be able-bodied for God to call you up for duty. You don’t need to build up your resume before God will call your name. If God wants you qualified, He’ll qualify you.

Women as a rule lack agency more than men do. Even powerful and wealthy women often lack agency both within and outside their homes. But in her lack of agency, Elizabeth, a faithful woman led her unbelieving husband into belief. He got in his own way—kind of like I do to myself! What he had didn’t help him. What Elizabeth didn’t have did help her, and preserved her family’s usefulness to the Lord in that appointed moment.

Our belief encourages others to believe. While we believe, the testimony we build inspires those in relationship with us to turn their eyes to the Lord also. In those moments where we feel completely imprisoned by our situation, our sickness, our disability, or our social disadvantage, we have to remember that our humble morsel of belief is the thing of value.

Our belief alone can be our gentle contribution for the colossal good of our community, our relationships, our partners, our family members, and as with Elizabeth, the world.

I don’t need to be able; I need to be willing (Luke 1:38.) Today, that willingness is honoring what I don’t have, and knowing that being busy for God is not as important as being ready for God.