Jill Ellens and I both arrived in the parking lot of Brookside Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Mich., at 7:50 a.m. Ellens is the member and community life coordinator at Brookside. As director of the denomination’s new Leadership Diversity initiative, I was there to talk with her and others about how their congregation shares leadership.
We walked through the front entrance together, and Ellens introduced me to the administrative assistant, Nick Remelts. I also noticed Phyllis Moes, the pastoral care and worship ministry coordinator, working at her desk. We invited them to join us for the conversation.
Brookside has a team of 12 staff members (both full and part time) plus council members and other volunteers who serve the congregation and a neighborhood with racial, gender, age, cultural, and socioeconomic diversity. The staff meet together each weekday morning for a time of devotions, check-in, and prayer. It’s just one way they’ve created structure and space for various leaders to thrive.
Shared leadership is a value that Brookside holds tightly. Even before Rev. Paul DeVries accepted a call to be senior pastor at the church, the former pastor, Rev. Norm Meyer, emphasized the value of sharing leadership in order to maximize everyone’s gifts and truly serve all of the people and groups of their congregation.
DeVries said it takes qualities like self-awareness, self-confidence, and inviting others into decision-making for shared leadership to work. While some leaders might be concerned about giving up the reins for certain decisions, DeVries said, “You do not lose anything. Shared leadership is not a zero-sum game.”
As the Brookside staff pointed out, shared leadership is not always easy. It takes intentionality from everyone. Ellens explained that each leader takes responsibility for developing characteristics such as humility, good communication, respect, and trust. These variables are foundational in “wrestling through issues and supporting different opinions,” she said.
She also added that it is important “to know what we need to help each other be successful.” Working together has to do with people feeling secure and not threatened.
Moes agreed. She said sharing leadership is crucial in her role of providing pastoral care. While she considers it a gift to come alongside people in a pastoral care role, she acknowledged that she must discern when it might be necessary to ask DeVries to join her for a visit and at what point to involve him. They rely on each other.
DeVries said senior leaders have a special role to play in fostering an environment that allows for shared leadership. While the pastor can be the visionary of a congregation, DeVries said, he or she must also allow space for creativity and empower others to share their gifts and leadership as well.
“Good leaders influence and make good leaders,” he said, adding that getting to know people well is key to helping to understand people’s strengths and weaknesses. After that, it involves inviting people into leadership roles and encouraging them to take risks.
The lessons I learned from Brookside will be valuable to me as I work to support, encourage, and develop the leadership gifts in people who are underrepresented in the CRCNA. What the Brookside staff are demonstrating is that your ethnic background, age, and gender do not matter. Everyone has the potential to shine as God opens a door to shared leadership—not doing it alone, but serving together for God’s glory!
How can we equip our leaders to serve and engage with someone of the opposite gender in healthy life-giving ways? If you would like to create a culture of flourishing, where men and women are working in shared leadership roles, there are some gender dynamics we should consider.
The Leadership Diversity Women's Ministry is discovering some of these dynamics and would like to share them with you. We believe that knowing and practicing ways to cultivate a culture for men and women to thrive together in shared leadership helps individuals, ministries and congregations fully use the gifts of the Body of Christ.
Men and women bring gifts according to God's word, as stated in Romans 12:5-6, where the apostle Paul teaches, "So in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us."
Ten Ways for Men and Women Thriving in Ministry Together is an empowering resource for individuals, partnerships and small groups. Downloadable copy available.
https://network.crcna.org/faith-nurture/there-road-ahead-me?fbclid=IwAR3AUxMn-hd-14rWWIiRA_8HkGkrfxVGcaPsXLJ_c5wSRKin7v-DP_mE5SU also posted on the CRCNA Network site.
I was organizing some items in my basement one morning and came across the following prayer that has meant so much to me in my spiritual journey. Someone shared it with me over ten years ago.
I was meeting some seminary staff in the Chicago area; however, I hadn't made reservations for an overnight stay. There were lots of really nice hotels in the area, but I needed to stay somewhere other than a hotel. I drove around for awhile. It was beginning to get dark. I was in LaGrange Park, IL, when I noticed a Catholic mother house, Sisters of St. Joseph. This is the same name as the mother house in Kalamazoo, MI, where I live.
It was dark by the time I approached the front door. I knocked. This was an unusual situation. Typically reservations are made in advance. With a smile on my face I asked, "Is there a room in the inn?" I stood outside as we talked. I shared my ministerial credential, my church's bulletin with my name on it, and some names of sisters I know at St. Joseph's. They smiled and let me in.
During my overnight stay, I ate a meal with the sisters before I left for my meeting. One of them gave me this prayer and I want to share it with you.
Perhaps it will encourage those who are wondering about the road ahead. No matter how spiritual or biblical we are, sometimes we need to be reminded of God's faithfulness. Maybe you or someone in your family, church, neighborhood, or workplace needs to be reminded. May you share this prayer with them or put their name in the prayer.
MY LORD GOD,
I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude
That evening in LaGrange Park, the Lord led me "by the right road!"
God leads us each step of the way!
Workshop Description: For various reasons, some individuals respond negatively to the term “servant” to describe leadership. On the other hand, some individuals are afraid to acknowledge or think of themselves as a “leader.” How can we embrace and own “servant leadership” regardless of our history, culture and experiences? We will rediscover Jesus’ example of servant and leadership to strengthen our own leadership and embrace raising up future servant leaders in our homes, ministries and communities.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Jesus makes it possible for us to live by faith.
Question 21 in the Heidelberg Confession: What is faith?
A. True faith is not only a sure knowledge by which I hold as true all that God has revealed to us in Scripture; it is also a wholehearted trust, which the Holy Spirit creates in me by the gospel, that God has freely granted, not only to others but to me also, forgiveness of sins, eternal righteousness, and salvation. These are gifts of sheer grace, granted solely by Christ’s merit.
My illustration and vivid memory of faith --
Two little brothers about 8-9 years old in my neighborhood in Detroit were playing outside. I was looking out of my kitchen window. One brother took a jump the distance between one tree log and the next one. He made it without falling. Before he jumped to the next one, he looked back. I imagine he was looking at the distance between the logs, wondering if he could do it again. Or, maybe he couldn't believe he made it the first time. He jumped again. Unlike the other two jumps, this time, he jumped without looking back. Still, he didn't fall.
This is one way faith works. I've experienced this myself.
With that first act of faith -- maybe there was just a little bit of doubt, but I trusted the Lord! I learned that he could be trusted. He's faithful! Later in my journey, what he asked me to do required more faith in him. This time I recalled what he did before, and I trusted him. Again, he was faithful! This is one way our faith grows - it grows through experiencing God! It's not always easy, and we might fall, but there's grace for us to get back up.
Sometimes people will try to keep us down by their words and behavior! Not God, he graciously picks us up and points us to his word!
For the first time, I watched the ESPYS Awards, where the best and talented athletes are honored for their achievements and struggles. I love how they salute and bring back the heroes from the past. I saw former basketball player Bill Russell in the grandstands. He's now 85 years old. I didn't know about how he persevered against racism all during his career! He's a champion! Who's yours? It is great to know we have a great cloud of witnesses - living and/or dead. Who's cheering you on?
We have the GREATEST champion, who "for the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." Won't you "consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart?"
Stay the course! In Jesus' name!
Thirty years ago, a dark, handsome colleague and friend said, "Posie, have you ever thought about having an intimate, personal relationship with Jesus Christ?" I was confused because I went to church and knew God loved me. He told me to read the gospel of John in the Bible and a book titled, A God You Could Know. I felt compelled to begin a journey of knowing God.
Weeks later, without planning or warning, I came home from work and dropped my briefcase on the floor then dropped in bending knees crying out to God to save me. I acknowledged that I was a sinner and needed to be saved. At that moment, Jesus saved me. It didn't matter that I used to go to church and was an ok kind of person. Now, I'm a follower and lover of Jesus! He transformed and continues to transform me. I'm not the woman I used to be. This is good news!
This story is about a man who was my hero when I was 17 years old, a recent high school graduate of Detroit Public Schools. Immediately after graduation, I applied for a clerical job through the central office of Detroit Public Schools (DPS). In my mind, career options were limited. They contacted me within weeks of submitting my application to work in a temporary position as a clerk typist in the Adlai Stevenson Building in the Work Adjustment Programs. The secretary was on medical leave.
My supervisor’s name was Dr. Al (Elvin) Rasof, Director of the Work Adjustment Programs. It consisted of three citywide work programs developed for Detroit young people. It had quite a reputation for helping thousands of young people and hiring hundreds of teachers, counselors, and administrators to lead these programs. I found the work very exciting, especially during the summer programs. My network grew.
Who is Al Rasof? He is a kind, intelligent Jewish man who made decisions quickly without mincing words. He walked fast and wore soft bottom shoes. He typed fast and accurately on an old-fashioned manual typewriter using only two fingers. Sometimes a smile would breakthrough on the face of this serious-minded man. He said what he thought and meant what he said. Integrity and work ethics were highly valued.
I recall coming to work one morning, and I told Dr. Rasof about an emergency family situation. My parents received an early morning call from the police department in Ontario, Canada. They informed my mother of a terrible accident involving my paternal aunt and a couple returning to Detroit from a fishing trip. Unfortunately, they were in a tragic car accident under foggy conditions on Highway 401. Dr. Rasof always came to the office much earlier than anyone else did. He informed me of what he heard on the radio. He placed his hand on my shoulder as I was sitting at my desk, and he said, "I heard about that accident. I'm sorry to have to tell you that all three adults were killed." I immediately called my mother to let her know about the fatal accident. I was grateful for his honesty and concern. I went home to be with my family.
At work, we had an exceptional working team. Outside of a busy work schedule, we enjoyed hot soup and played Yahtzee during lunchtime. Everyone got along well.
At one point, Dr. Rasof encouraged me to pursue higher-level secretarial positions. I took his advice and prepared myself for future promotions. When I was twenty-three years old, he commended me for my work and ability to get along with a variety of people. He recognized my strengths and encouraged me to get a college degree in a field working with people. He believed in me, and I took everything he said into consideration.
One of his directors, Dr. Robert F. Shannon, a well known fraternal brother, took me to the office of the President of Wayne County Community College. The President arranged for my enrollment on the spot.
This was a significant pivotal moment in my life! I set a goal to earn a four-year degree before I turned 30 years old. I received a B.A. degree from Marygrove College when I was 29 years old. I left the Detroit Public Schools (DPS) to work at the General Motors Research Laboratories in Warren, MI, and later worked for IBM Corporation in Southfield, MI. The opportunities were limitless!
I talked to Dr. Rasof only twice since I left DPS. I had a brief conversation in 2009 when his wife Betty passed. I remembered how much he loved Betty.
Today I thought about Dr. Rasof, so I searched on the internet. I learned about his military service in WWII and France’s Knight of the Legion of Honor awarded to him in August 2018. The award was dedicated to “his fallen comrades.” This was no surprise!
He never told me about his military service. His conversations were never about himself. The impact he had on others was enormous. Find his WWII story at the following link: jewishhospice.org/media/wwii-veteran-elvin-al-rosof-awarded-frances-highest-honor/
He is one of my heroes. I am forever grateful for the Spirit's guidance on my path to God's greater purpose in my life! Whenever I tell people my life story, I mention Dr. Rasof as someone who greatly impacted my life. I want to continue my journey in life, encouraging all people, but more specifically, young people.
Thank God for the heroes in our lives.
My letter from Esther in the Bible to my readers.
Dear Women of God in 21st Century America,
And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this? Let your greatest desire be to please the King. I was nobody, powerless and a Jew. I was an outsider. That didn’t matter to God. I really want you to hear my voice and see my perspective.
There are many books written about the book of Esther; however, I don’t think much attention is given to how God used a woman like me to deliver his people. I am a real person, not a figure of imagination created by someone. God created a real woman. Don’t waste valuable time trying to be somebody without realizing that only God molds and shapes those he uses for his purposes. When we try to find significance in life, without God, it is useless. You have to release yourself to Him. He knows the plans for you.
Mordecai said to me, “…And who knows?” God knew what purpose he had in mind for my life. That’s all that matters. You will never reach your potential in life unless you follow where he leads. Are you learning to recognize His hand? It requires times being alone before Him away from the busyness of work, family, friends and even ministry. Sometimes He allows us to be in a situation whereas there is no one else to lean on but him. That is what happened to me. Maybe you can relate.
My safety net, Mordecai, was gone when I entered the gates of the palace. All of us have a safety net or two; what are yours? Who or what are you relying on more than God? Sometimes we become so attached to our careers, material possessions, status, giftedness––and, yes, even our ministries and churches that we don’t know what God has put inside of us. If any of these things are taken away, where will it leave you? Would you be able to trust God anyhow? Would you lose your rhythm in life?
Would you be so off track that you are paralyzed? Maybe you are like me. I did not realize how much I relied on Mordecai until God brought me to a new place, a place I had never been before. He thought just maybe I became too comfortable in my royal position. Mordecai didn’t realize that in his absence, God had been growing me up. I was no longer his little girl. If he had known this, he would not have spoken so strongly about my being in the king’s house as if that was all I had going for me. By the time I learned of the bad news concerning my people, I was at a point in life where God was all I had. I was thoroughly committed to doing His will because He brought me through a process of surrender. I was confident that God would take care of the results.
Now, when I look back, I see nothing but God’s favor. I experienced His favor in the past, but never to this extent. It seemed like He kept opening doors that I just walked through without manipulation, fight or plea to gain the king’s approval. King Xerxes’ focus was on finding a queen; God’s focus was on making a servant. I am a servant of God. Through my life, He saved His people.
When He makes a servant, He uses her. Many of us want to be used by God but we are not worshippers. We worship Him for who He is. If he does nothing or nothing else, His name should be exalted. True worship leads us into surrender. We let go. Obedience becomes a strong desire. Behavior aligns with His will. We live in such a way that every now and then we sense God is smiling on us! The more we know Him, the more we want to please Him. Giving ourselves to Him comes after He reveals Himself to us. Then we are open to be stretched by Him in service. He gives the opportunities; we don’t have to look for them. He will lead us.
You have many distractions today. It’s easy to put your trust in something or someone other than God. I trusted Him even when I was forced to go to the palace. I trusted from day one, but still while I was there my faith was enlarged so that my feet would not slip. When it came time for the greater assignment, I was ready. God makes you ready. I stopped thinking about those things that bring people happiness; God helped me to see those things that are important to Him. I considered a greater purpose.
I did not blindly come into my marriage relationship. No, Hegai taught me things about the king. Many women get married today without even learning what marriage is about. It was different for me; Hegai taught me how to be a queen. Who’s teaching you how to be a queen? Concubines and queens don’t behave the same way. The standards are higher for queens. Know the difference and chose to live as a queen!
The longer I was with my mentor, the more I got to know the king. Who knew the king better than Hegai? I was motivated to know him because I wanted to please him as his wife not as a concubine. Too many young ladies are settling for the concubine role instead of preparing to be a wife. The benefits in being a wife are far greater than being a concubine. Don’t settle for less! Even in our spiritual life, we settle for the "I’ll-be-with-You-when-I-need-You" fellowship with our Heavenly Father rather than a constant fellowship with Him. It all begins with a desire. The Apostle Paul passionately and consistently prayed for the Ephesians, “the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better” (Ephesians 1:17).
Knowing God is powerful and profitable. I am not talking about knowing about Him, but knowing Him. Let your desire be to deeply love Him. I never let my royal position keep me from growing intimately with God. This is what it takes for Him to walk closely with us. Have you allowed a new position, relationship or activity keep you from growing intimately with God?
When Mordecai said,“ but that you have come to royal position...” in that moment I knew God brought me here “for such a time as this.” I began to think about all that had happened to me from the day I was brought to the palace. God will never have us do something He does not provide for. It was no mistake that I had been exalted to a royal position to help God’s people. I believed it was by His providence that I was in a position to serve a doomed people. I was chosen to serve the king as his wife, but there was a greater purpose – to serve God. I was the right person, in the right place and at the right time. I believed that justice would prevail. I knew this deep inside.
It is easy to be blindsided by the ordinary without seeing how God wants to use you for an extraordinary work. This was a divine assignment and I knew it from the bottom of my heart. My deepest desire above all things, even my own desires, passions, and needs, is to serve the Lord. His fingerprints were everywhere in my life. Mordecai knew it, but he thought I got caught up in the king and all the royalty. You can imagine getting caught up in a five or six figure salary with amenities. God has always been near to Mordecai. But what he didn’t know was that I continued to grow in my relationship with God.
In fact, I got to know God better in the palace than when I was living in the province. Location makes no difference to God; it is never a barrier. He’s everywhere and we are not out of His reach! What do you believe about His providence concerning where you are in life? What circumstances did He use to bring you to where you are in life? Are you growing in your faith right where you are?
“For such a time as this” relates to a specific time. I learned that my people needed to be rescued and I was in a position to help them. Could I have ignored it? It was all in God’s timing. It was not a “just so happen” thing. He needed me in this very moment. If you are walking in obedience and sometimes even disobedience with God, He might show you where He needs you to serve for the good of others.
Abraham walked in obedience; Jonah walked in disobedience for a while. My people needed to be rescued. I saw God’s fingerprints on the situation and it made it easier for me to respond, “yes, Lord!” I had a stronger conviction after our time of fasting and prayer.
You should consider doing a timeline of your life or a map of seasons in your life listing significant events or benchmarks to see how God led you to where you are right now. Don’t be like some women who never stop to exhale to see what God is teaching them. You might be surprised by what you learn about your journey. It's beneficial for us to pause to reflect, pray, discern and imagine!
There is a price to pay in being at one with God. I was willing to pay the price of being thrown out of the palace or even losing my own life to fulfill His purpose. I meant it when I said, “And if I perish, I perish.” When I spoke these words, in my heart, I knew I was sold out to God. I love Him with all my heart, mind, soul and strength. There are those who say they will follow and there are also those who actually follow God; there is a difference. If I tried to do this on my own, I would have messed up everything. He was there for me and I knew it. He gave me what to say and when to say it.
Don’t think God is not strategic. The plan was already in motion. He was asking me to get involved with saving His people. Doesn’t this sound like a big request? He was letting me know that there is nothing too big or complex for Him. I couldn’t imagine God not asking you to do big things for Him to affect the lives of others. Maybe He's speaking now?
My response is a powerful testimony of my love for our God. I could not have done any of this without my faith in Him. My obedience in responding to His will is motivated by my love. Does that make sense to you? Even if I disobeyed God, like Mordecai said, “relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but (me) and (my) family will perish.” To me those were some strong and unnecessary words. Mordecai just didn’t understand where I stood concerning my obedience to God.
Oftentimes people on the outside make wrong assumptions about you. That’s what he did about me. Since I have been in the palace, God taught me how to stand firm believing in His word and strength, coupled with prayer. It didn’t take any persuasion to ask the Jews to pray and fast for me. I needed God’s strength, and I knew they were willing to sacrifice. I desired above all things to obey God. This assignment was entrusted to me and I took it seriously. There was no hesitation on my part. It’s not difficult to obey when you’ve experienced His faithful love.
How does your testimony reflect His faithful love for you? In what ways are your actions motivated by His faithful love? I hope the sermons and Bible studies you attend are balanced. What I mean is that too much about “you” and too little about God isn’t good. I’ve learned about who I am through knowing Him. In fact, I believe it is the only way to know your “true self.” I recognize His character and nature in me because He has revealed himself to me, through His grace. No one is perfect, but my deepest desire in life was to know God. It paid off!
God uses women to change the world in powerful ways even when the odds are against us. I am the face of many women desiring to be used by Him to make a difference in the world. More women like me are in the Body of Christ.
The 21st Century needs women of God who speak truth about the failure of systems and structures that harm and even destroy people. You cannot become too comfortable and forget about those who need your leadership. How hot is your fire for a worthy cause? Who keeps coming to mind as someone needing an advocate? In what ways is God making you ready for a royal position? How responsive are you?
You have so many wonderful role models from the past and present to glean from. Some of them appear in this book, but there are many more. Continue to learn from them. Spend time with those women who walk the talk. Pray for them. Emulate them. Give and be willing to receive. God gives so that you have something to give to others. Sow seeds for a harvest of righteousness.
Remember, my obedience to God reflects the obedience of His own Son, Jesus Christ. I did nothing out of selfish ambition but obeyed God for a greater purpose.
“Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4). “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8).
He made himself nothing by not allowing others to make Him their earthly king because they wanted deliverance from the hands of the Romans. He did not ask the Father to save Him from going to the cross. He knew it was why He came. Obedience is motivated by love. There is no greater love! This truth is revealed in Jesus words, “I will not speak with you much longer (speaking to his disciples), for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold on me, but the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what My Father has commanded Me” (John 14:30-31).
Jesus told the Pharisees, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by Himself; He can do only what He sees His Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows Him all He does. Yes, to your amazement He will show Him even greater things than these” (John 5:19-20).
God shows you what to do in life––in good and bad times. You have to know Him for yourself. Haman had no hold on me; God did. Mordecai’s initial reaction was fear, but once I sent word back by Hathach, he was at ease. He understood that God had chosen me as a vessel to save His people. I am so thankful to Him for using me. There is nothing that means more to me in life.
He has chosen all of you for something that will benefit others far greater than you can imagine. There are always people who need to taste and see that He is good. There are those who need to hear about what He has taught you so that they can experience true freedom from whatever keeps them from surrendering to His will. They might need to hear that He came to earth as a living, holy sacrifice for sinful man.
Such a great cloud of witnesses surrounds you. I am one of them. Consider the need for social justice today. The woman called for such a time as this is open to God’s leading to positions of influence, power and where He needs her to make a great impact for kingdom gain. She knows how to walk alone. She does not allow promotions to keep her from doing her Father’s business. She understands that it is not about her, but “The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed” (Psalm 103:6). She has this purpose in mind. She looks beyond where she is currently to see her role in paving the way for the next generation. She understands that systems are failing: education, law and justice, and the family institution. She is concerned with issues like the young dying to violence, premarital sexual relationships, the rise in domestic violence and many other social ills.
So many women of all races, ages and backgrounds have been encouraged by how God used me for a great purpose. They say I was pretty and smart, powerful and strategically positioned to be abundantly blessed. Some say, I was positioned for greatness. This was God’s doing; He gave me favor, which I did not deserve. I, even, love my man. I am grateful for everything! I would sometimes be overwhelmed that God used me for such a time as this!
As you encounter girls and women who want to know about our loving and awesome God, tell them about Vashti, me, and the courageous women who followed. Pray for their hearts to be open to the things of God. Teach them to emulate us and those women who are living transformed lives. We considered a greater purpose.
To God be the glory!
Lord, I yearn to live in the greater purposes of God. If there is anything holding me back from experiencing the fullness of your love and grace, please set me free from all hindrances. You are my King, Redeemer and Lord of Lords! There is none like you. I desire your will for my life. I’m open to the guidance of your Holy Spirit leading me in the path of righteousness for your namesake. Help me to be sensitive to other women who live beyond mere lip service and status quo but live in the greater purposes of God. Help me to understand, encourage, help and pray for them. Keep me from any spirits of competition, comparison and jealousy. Help me to courageously tell my own story and to be a witness to others of your greatness, faithfulness and love. In your mighty name I pray. AMEN
Excerpt from Consider a Greater Purpose, Vashti, Esther and the Courageous Women Who Followed.
Several years ago while attending a Black Arts and Cultural Center Festival in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where I live, the above wall hanging caught my attention. I kept looking at it because the metaphor of the potter's hand reminded me of my lifetime scripture, Isaiah 64:8 - "Yet, O LORD, you are our Father, we are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand." My good friend and photographer Aaron Cantrell just happened to walk by while I was looking at it; he encouraged me to get me. I can't remember his words of wisdom but what he said made sense to me; so I purchased it. In fact, I love it!
I use it as a throw on my couch, instead of a wall hanging. Sometimes I cover myself with this beautiful piece of art as a prayer shawl or wrap myself in it when it's a little bit cool in my house. I'm reminded of being in God's hand, as he gently molds and makes me --- a work of his hands! Many songwriters, preachers and teachers speak or sing about the potter's hand.
A thought of God's hand on me became clear during a time of transition after leaving my job at a major corporation and seeking God's will for the next chapter in life. He was aligning my will with his will. This metaphor of the potter and the clay was real. We have several examples of leaders in the bible who knew the hand of God was working in, on and through them. God accomplished His will through them. A couple leaders come to mind like Nehemiah, the cupbearer, who led the people to build the walls of Jerusalem after the exile; and Esther, the queen, positioned for "such a time as this" to save the Israelites from genocide. God's hand is molding and making us today. He uses this process throughout our life.
Recently I became curious about the artist Alan Hicks and Mold Me, Make Me. This is what I learned, "it depicts a distressed African American woman who has decided to let go and let God. She understands that the Heavenly Father is molding her for what lies ahead. This work of art was inspired by Isaiah 64:8 (quoted)." How applicable to God's callings in my own life! I've experienced this - more than a few times. Mold Me, Make Me is a depiction of my lifetime scripture although Hicks references Jeremiah 18:6, same metaphor. I only learned this two days ago.
On the website TwinHicks, it tells the story of Alan and Aaron Hicks. It says, "Whether or not Alan and Aaron paint an image together or single handedly produce another stroke of beauty, the results are always the same: they reveal an uncanny ability to achieve outstanding color and detail in every airbrushed image." The detail, depth and intensity shown in the face and posture of the African American woman in Mold Me, Make Me brings to my mind the "Oscar, Emmy and Tony" award winner American actress and producer Viola Davis! I experience the core of each character she plays in every movie I've seen her in. She internalizes her character. Can't you imagine Davis playing the role of this woman? She finally gets to the point where she falls before her Lord and cries out, "Lord, please mold me, make me. I don't want to be the person I am." She tried everything and now, she desperately needs God. Can you see Davis in this role? Can you imagine yourself in this role? I can.
The day before learning about the artist and his work, I attended a SheLeads ChurchTogether event hosted at Calvin Theological Seminary. One of the speakers gave a message on Cultivating Church Together: How Men Can Foster Cultures Where Women Thrive. He spoke about "groaning beauty" in the context of Romans 8:18-27,
Present Suffering and Future Glory
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
A Groaning Beauty
I understand this "groaning beauty" as a time of suffering and frustration because things are the way they are, for instance, racism, sexism and more. I think about times when we're overlooked for a position, disrespected as a person, undermined by a colleague or reminded that we are not as "good" as others. What about the things people say to let you know you're in the wrong place or you're not wanted here? The whole creation groans as it waits for liberation from those things that are sinful, outright wrong and even evil - conscious or unconscious. The Holy Spirit groans with us. He makes an intimate connection to keep us from losing hope, and he prays for us as we wait patiently as children of God.
We hope for what doesn't exist in this world now because it is broken and we are too. It's a perpetual groan until Jesus Christ comes again! The beauty of this groan is that we don't fall into a pit of defeat, sorrow and hopelessness because this is not the will of God! We also grow deeper and deeper in our relationship with the Lord through the Spirit. There is a caution we need to be mindful of. Sometimes we are drawn deeper into what's wrong with the world instead of drawn deeper in our relationship with the Lord. It takes a discerning spirit and community to help us have the right balance.
Mold Me, Make Me
In this gathering at Calvin Seminary, I felt the Spirit of the living God fall fresh on me through the lament, speakers, panelists and moderator, and the closing liturgy. I cherish moments like this when the Holy Spirit falls fresh on us to help in our weaknesses. When we're tried, frustrated and overtakenalmost consumed by focusing on what's wrong with things in this world, the Spirit initiates a love connection in our pain. He lets us know that we're not alone. We have the Spirit and those in the body of Christ who understand our frustrations and are willing to work towards bringing about change and justice in a fallen world.
Mold Me, Make Me, depicts my "groaning beauty." Whether I'm groaning in my spirit or groaning in prayer, my desire is to trust God in all things. It isn't always easy, but it's comforting to know when I don't have words to pray, the Holy Spirit intercedes on my behalf. This is - what he does for us. We pray for others and we should, but He works in our heart. He has a plan for our life and it requires molding and making us in his image. He has his hand on us.
He calls us to recognize others who are groaning and to empathize with them. I have several examples of women I know who were groaning but didn't understand how the Spirit works to bring us out of places of defeat to places of healing. I have my own examples from the past of mature believers who loved me and they recognized my inner groaning. They understood the lifetime process of letting go and letting God. I didn't at the time.
May we strongly desire Christ to reign in our life regardless of the ills of the world. I don't know what lies ahead, but God does. What we go through in the present is preparation for the future. It was the Spirit who led me to my Mold Me, Make Me throw. He knows and gives us what we need daily and for everyday of our life in this world.
Spirt of the Living God
Spirit of the Living God, fall fresh on me. Break me, melt me, mold me, fill me. Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me. I want the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (on the inside) and the filling of the Holy Spirit (under his control). I want the character of Jesus Christ to be internalized in me and be like the tree planted by the streams of water bringing forth fruit in its season (Psalm 1). I want to let go and let God! I want to do his work in his way and in his strength; then this world will be a better place for me, others and the next generations.
May the Spirit fall fresh on us. May the Spirit mold us, make us. May Christ reign in our life....
www.twinhicks.com/meet-the-twins to find Mold Me, Make Me and other products.