So how do you go from breakthrough (last week’s post) to follow-through? With a day to day, if not moment by moment, commitment to seek, hear, and obey God, no matter what. And, in my case, it was with much weeping and wailing! But once I had decided to pursue God and His design for my life, had destroyed Satan’s strongholds, and had begun earnestly seeking and allowing God’s truth to renew my mind, He opened up to me the next critical step in my ‘godly woman’ journey.
Devotion to God would mean giving up myself to Him for His plan and purposes. Yes, He was calling forth from me the very thing I had been most frightened of giving Him: my whole self – my mind, heart, will, emotions, intellect, agenda, affections, attitudes, etc. Why was I so afraid of giving in to God? What did I think He would do to me or exact from me? While my mind was full of Satan’s lies, I feared losing control of my own life, I feared God’s judgment and retribution would come against me because of my sin, and most of all, I feared losing my identity as the strong, capable, independent person I had struggled so long to become – the proud, self-made woman who could do it all and did not need anyone’s help. I had suffered the consequences of other people’s choices that had wrecked my life and broken my heart; I did not want to be dependent on anyone ever again. I could do just fine on my own, thank you very much. What folly! What faithless stupidity! If I could do just fine on my own, why was I so miserable, confused, empty, and frustrated? Are you with me?
Despite all my questions and hesitations, a miracle took place in my heart the day I stepped out in faith and devoted myself to pursuing God. Because I was beginning to operate under His influence, His truth, and His control, the thing I feared most became the thing I desired most – abandoning myself totally to Jesus Christ. I wanted to lose myself to gain Christ. As He watered and refreshed my parched soul with His love, truth, and grace, I began to delight in offering myself to Him. Jesus tells us to seek first His kingdom (where He is exalted and obeyed as King) and His righteousness (right standing before God and right living). It is in that very pursuit that we lose ourselves and find the fulfillment and satisfaction we cannot attain otherwise. A wonderful cycle continues as we abandon ourselves to Jesus. We devote ourselves to Christ, love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and seek Him first and foremost. Then, our faith is increased and strengthened as He proves Himself faithful over and over, prompting us to love and devote ourselves to Him increasingly. Pitfalls do exist, so we must be diligent to pursue God, not just godliness; to pursue the Giver, not the gifts; to pursue the King, not the kingdom benefits; to delight in His presence, not His presents. He is always drawing us to Himself, to grow us into bountiful devotees by faithfully pruning away any vestiges of our self-life that would hinder the full measure of His grace and glory reigning in our lives. How precious His promise became to me: “But from there (the place where you were scattered, helpless, hopeless and broken) you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul” (Deut. 4:29). God had begun a great work in me on the day of my salvation, and He guarantees He will complete it (Phil. 1:6). He wants to do and will do the same for you.
Finally, I was ready to explore the metaphor Elisabeth Elliot mentions in “The Soul is Feminine” chapter of Let Me Be a Woman. She cites Psalm 144:12b that pictures God’s daughters as beautiful pillars fashioned explicitly to adorn a palace, or temple: the palace of God as King. I was so ready to see how God, the greatest architect, designed me with a particular form – His own image – (Gen. 1:27) and a specific function – to love Him with all my heart, soul, and strength (Deut. 6:5). The Hebrew words David uses in this verse are specifically chosen to convey particular truths. The unique word used for pillar, zaviyth, means cornerstone, from a root word that speaks of prominence and brightness. He specifies that the pillars fashioned for the palace are to be sculptured, chatab, cut or carved according to a pattern. The sculptor decides the pattern to be followed, gives definition, form and life to the work, and employing his tools, stroke upon stroke, brings into being the pillar pictured in his mind’s eye. The hammer, empowered by the sculptor’s own strength, pounds and breaks the rock; the chisel shapes or chips away the stone; and the file smooths or rubs down the hard substance. Scripture says I exist for God (1Cor. 8:6), I am created for His glory (Isa. 43:7), and I am formed for God Himself to declare His praise (Isa. 43:21). I was OK with all these truths. But this sculpting process was sounding less desirable as I dug into its meaning: As the Sculptor of my life, God will use the tools of His grace to bring into reality His perfect design for me – to refine me and to conform me to the image of Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29), Himself the chief cornerstone (1Pet. 2:7). The cold, hard, unhewn places in my heart, when submitted to the refining work of the Holy Spirit, would be awakened and enlivened as a living pillar being formed and sculpted into the woman God has designed for me to be. Was I up to this process?
In every woman’s search for significance and fulfillment, she will look high and low for answers and avenues that provide definition, meaning, and value to her life. She looks to her own capabilities, her husband, her children, her parents, her friends, her accomplishments, her activities, even her mirror to fill the deep longing in her soul to be fully defined and valued as a woman. Blaise Pascal observes that we all have a God-shaped hole in our heart that only He can fill and we will never be fully satisfied by any substitute. Augustine writes that we are all restless until we find our rest in God Himself. Ultimately, the quest for fulfillment will lead us to the Architect’s design, the Artist’s studio, and the Sculptor’s tools to discover what it means to be a pillar fashioned to adorn a palace.
Pillars uphold and support. This is a woman’s place, and all of us need to know what our place is and to be put in it. The command of God puts us there where we belong. . . . Meekness, I believe, is the recognition of that place. . . . (T)o be meek is to have a sane and proper estimate of one’s place in the scheme of things. . . . According as a pillar is cut and shaped to fit into a particular place and carry a specified weight, it is by that cutting and shaping differentiated and limited. It is the very differentiation and limitation that that pillar has to offer. So with us. We’ve been cut to a certain size and shape to fulfill a certain function. . . .
A woman’s place, cutting, shaping, limiting, . . . stop it! Elliot’s words seemed to cut me when I first read them. Like most young women coming of age in the turbulent 1960s and 1970s, I had been unwittingly indoctrinated by feminist ideals. The loud voices of a humanistic society and my own personal experiences as a child taught me that I had to be strong, independent, self-determining, and self-sufficient; therein I would find fulfillment. With that mindset, it was no wonder I had not found satisfaction in my search for identity and purpose. Thus, I was open to consider what Elliot had written about pillars although the cutting, shaping, and smoothing of the Sculptor’s tools sounded like slow, painful ways to become a godly woman. Yet, deep in my soul I sensed this was right thinking, and my hesitation slowly began to melt away. Repeatedly, I found that my thoughts and opinions, shaped by the philosophy of the world, were diametrically opposed to what is real and true in Christ. Though my fleshly mind was often screaming in opposition to these ideas, I decided to examine God’s Word for His thoughts, and what do you think I found? All of these concepts were confirmed, and over the course of several months, I realized God had indeed used tools to refine me, to carve away ungodly thoughts and actions – tools of grace.
The tools of grace He had used primarily in my life were the tools of time in the wilderness – the place of desolation, deprivation and despair, time in His Word – the source of transformative truth – and time spent in worship – the response of my heart to the reality of God’s person and the giving up of myself to Him. It would take a year of blogs to detail for you the magnificence of this sculpting process. I didn’t want to accept that I needed as much cutting and carving as I did, but I discovered the biggest hurdle to receiving truth and giving myself to God was a lack of trust. What I really needed was to come to terms with the sovereignty of God and then learn to trust Him and entrust myself to Him as the Sovereign Sculptor of my life.
What you believe about the sovereignty of God will affect how you respond to His plan for your life. Although I initially feared God as sovereign and doubted the perfection of His love for me, it was essential at this point in my quest that I accept and submit to His sovereign plan and purpose for my life. Will you accept and submit to His sovereignty? Will you entrust yourself to Him as the Sovereign Sculptor of your life? Will you accept the gracious strokes of His hammer, chisel, and file as He sculpts you into a pillar fashioned to adorn His palace? I’m praying you’ll say yes!
Next week: the characteristics of a pillar fit for the palace – God’s masterpiece revealed