Girls with Swords Chapter 3

You Might Be a Hero

I’m an 80s girl…I read the title of this chapter and I’m thinking Footloose…”I Need a Hero!” Interesting because this chapter is not about us, women, needing heroes. It’s about US being the heroes. Total shift in thinking, isn’t it?

Maybe the hardest thing in this chapter is the notion that we need to “scrap our plans” and give God permission to insert us into His plan. I’m a planner…sometimes even a bit controlling, so scrapping MY plans? Oh my!

Yet…I know Lisa is exactly right. Submitting to God, surrendering to His plans, His ways, His paths…that’s really what I want at my core, so I’m glad she said this right off the bat so I can go into this chapter with the right frame of mind!

The good news is we don’t have to be “somebody” to be a hero. God can make a hero out of anyone who is willing! She uses Abraham as an example. He wasn’t someone special when God called him…at least not by the world’s standards. His faith…and his actions based on his faith…is what made him special!

Question #2 on page 35 of her Fencing Manual says, “Our heavenly Father specializes in the impossible and the improbable. He called Abraham the ‘father of many’ long before he became one. What is it that God calls you that you are yet trying to be or achieve in your own strength?”

Some responses in our group were “bold in witness,” or “unconditional with my love.” I went more direct with things like “writer” or “speaker,” or even “without fear!”  How about you?

Lisa asks us to read Hebrews 11. I’ve heard this chapter called the Hall of Faith…all these great biblical heroes who “by faith” did so much! Read this chapter…what does it awaken in you?

We’re reminded by these heroes that faith means ACTION…so these heroes are action heroes! “Believing means doing.” Look over the list of faith actions on pages 38-39 in the book. Which one(s) jump out at you? What can you attach action to?

I’m drawn to the “eyes on the eternal” in this season of my life. I think it’s two-fold. One, I have this deep longing for the eternal, heavenly, kingdom-centered. And two, I know I have a tendency to over focus on the tasks at hand, which prevents my eyes, heart, and spirit from connecting with the spiritual, the eternal!  So it’s a desire and a challenge.

So we need to surrender to God’s plans, be ready to take action, and Lisa teaches we need to seize the moment.  Anyone thinking “carpe diem?” A little Dead Poet’s Society? (Too many movie references, I know).

Here’s the crux: “So many battles you win by remaining constant.” (FM p. 38). It’s easy to give up. It’s easy to turn the other way. It’s easy to look to someone else to do it for us. In her video lesson, Lisa said something about prayer…that too often we lean on others to do our praying for us, when really we’re equipped and called to launch into our own praying.

Now, that’s not her saying never call on friends to pray with and for you…she’s just saying, don’t make it a habit of never picking up the sword and fighting your own battles! Amen!

So fight your battles. But have at least one person you can call on when the going gets tough, or in her analogy, the smoke is thick. Do you have that person? If not, maybe that’s one prayer to start with. God is so faithful. He will provide.

She shifts just a little into the idea that we’re connected into a legacy that has gone before us. I think of my great-grandparents who were Methodist missionaries in India. What a road they paved. I can only imagine the prayers they lifted up and the paths they forged for the kingdom. They had no idea the generational impact their battles would have, but they were faithful to fight the fight they were given. And I’m so grateful. I really think they paved a way for me, my kids, and their kids. I want to do the same.

Have you ever thought that way? Have you ever pictured that “great cloud of witnesses” cheering you on?

On page 40 of the Fencing Manual, Lisa says this, ” …we are part of the final act of this story. All of their heroic acts are waiting to be completed when they are joined together with ours.” Wow! We join with our forefathers and mothers and continue to carry the torch. We might even be the ones to run the last leg of the race and light the big torch (images of the Olympics are big here!).

So, Heroes are Brave! And brave doesn’t mean never afraid. Think on that! “You don’t have to feel brave to be brave. You just have to choose to do what is brave.” (FM p. 43) Don’t know about you but in my experience this is true. I recall with clarity one of my first acts of bravery as a believer was to walk up to the altar to be with a new friend who needed someone to come alongside her in her grief and sorrow. I had no idea what to do or say, but I KNEW I was supposed to go there with her, so I said a prayer, swallowed my fear, and headed up there. The beautiful thing was God provided this amazing army of prayer warriors who surrounded us and prayed, but it seems I was called to get it going. I am so glad I didn’t miss that opportunity. I know my friend was blessed…but so was I!

Lisa talks about reacting. She says that if we allow fear to rule us, we tend to react with fear. But as we mature…”as we become more skillful with the sword” … we have more control over choosing our response. We can respond to God, His kingdom, His purposes rather than protecting ourselves!

She ends this chapter with two thoughts. One, she asks a tough question: “When was the last time you championed something that didn’t actually benefit you?” (FM p. 44) You see, “heroes do things because they’re right, not because they want to be seen.” Whoa…

And secondly, she asks us to read ALOUD Ephesians 6:10-18. I highly recommend this! This chapter of the Bible changed my prayer life, my way of looking at the world and myself. It’s so empowering and challenging. As you read it, think about what God is giving you for this battle, and think of yourself as the hero God is calling you to be!

Then pick up your sword and enter the battle!

Sword in hand,

Shelley Johnson

Girls with Swords Chapter 2

A Sword is Born

God’s Word is so full…of truths, promises, and sometimes surprises! Did you have any idea how many passages used “sword”? I have read Genesis 3:24 hundreds of times and never paid attention to the “flaming sword.” One of the reasons I love Bible study with teachers like Lisa Bevere is they can help me see things I missed on my own. Flame on!

What do you think of God’s Word being a God Sword? Lisa (in her Fencing Manual) says “…we have become so familiar with God’s Word that it is rarely read as a sword…it is used as an instrument of study and devotion, but rarely as a weapon.” Ponder that for a minute. I don’t know about you, but that’s a bit convicting! How many times do I read the Word for my own benefit or even pleasure? Contrast that to the number of times I’ve spoken the Word aloud to claim a promise, speak a truth, or challenge something false. Convicting indeed.

In this chapter, Lisa describes a young girl’s dream set on a battlefield with girls who pray and wear camo, whose swords cause the very ground to shift. She uses this to illustrate the power of prayer and how the Word of God wielded as a sword is “an anchor to ground us” and “an instrument that takes ground.” She wants us to recognize that we need to equip ourselves because there’s a battle raging around us. And the very Word, that is so readily available to us today, is our weapon-in-waiting.

So. We read the Word; we hear the Word. But what does it look like to use it as a weapon?

James 1:22 says, “But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”

Using the Word as a weapon means doing something with it. Lisa says, “If we know, we must do.” This simple phrase has resonated with me since reading it. I mean, I’ve read James before, so I get it. But Lisa challenges me to think beyond doing things like feeding the hungry (which is part of the doing for sure), but what other ways can I be a doer of the Word?  What are some ways you can get involved with making the sword of God’s Word a reality in your life? (Fencing Manual, p. 20) 

Have you ever watched The Return of the King, the third installment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy? One of my favorite characters is Arwen, the Elfen Princess. In an effort to help the man she loves become the king he’s destined to become, she brings together all the pieces of a special sword that only the king can wield. Looking at all the pieces laying there, it’s pretty obvious the sword is of no use. It’s just pieces, chunks of metal. But Arwen has the magic to reforge the sword and has this awesome scene where she speaks over the pieces: 

“…From the ashes a fire shall be woken. A light from the shadow shall spring. Renewed shall be blade that was broken. The crownless again shall be king…Reforge the sword.”

And the power of her words brings all the pieces together. The sword is whole; it’s reforged. Lisa uses this imagery to demonstrate an important truth about God’s Word. The power of God’s Word comes in using it in its full, as a whole. When we selectively use pieces of it, we weaken it. She asks, Are we using the Word to mark history or make it? Is God’s Word our final authority? Are we declaring or interpreting the Word? (FM, pp. 25-6)

Our discussion group spent quite a bit of time unpacking this image of using pieces of the Word. Take time now to think through all the ways our world, our churches, and we as individuals focus on one part of the Word instead of taking it at its whole. We had some great conversation!

We’re to pick up the WHOLE Word of God and let it guide us in all we do:

Thus says the LORD: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.” Jeremiah 6:16

Lisa interprets “ancient” as “eternal.” So we’re to look for the paths and ways that are eternal. “The sword of God’s Word will separate our earthly motivations and establish heaven’s intent” (FM, p. 26). Let’s build on this a bit.  Jesus told His disciples, and us, that we need a sword. (Here’s another passage I’ve read before and missed the “sword.”)

He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one.” Luke 22:36

This is Jesus on the night of His betrayal, telling His men to buy a sword. It’s a little confusing then when Peter is scolded for using his sword only hours later, but Lisa suggests that Peter’s action was the “right thing at the wrong time.” How does this apply to us?  Instead of us needing to wield visible swords, we’re called to pick up the invisible sword of God’s Word. Combine verses like Matthew 10:34:

Do not think I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace,  but sword.

with Jeremiah 6:16, above, and we begin to put all the pieces of the sword together. We see that God’s Word is meant to be understood from eternal perspective. And too often we try to understand His Word from “an earthbound mindset,” so it’s easy to err.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  Hebrews 4:12

When we live by the whole Word, when we wield God’s Sword, our spirit and soul are separated. The sword of God’s Word has the power to reveal motives and join or separate relationships, scattering some in terror or uniting us as one body in courage. List two scriptures that divide. List two scriptures that unite. (FM p 29)

Thinking about how the Word has the power to reveal motives is humbling for me. Too many times my motives are selfish, impure. For years I have wanted to write…maybe curriculum for a Women’s Retreat or a book or a Bible Study. But every time I went to God about it, He was quick to reveal my motives weren’t for the good of others, but for my own gain. His Word was separating my will, my soul, from my spirit. It’s that age old battle between flesh and spirit.

Then one day He released me to write. So here I am! Taking steps to reach out to women who might like to further understand and apply God’s Word in their lives. I feel like that separation of soul and spirit is a fragile thing, so I work everyday to seek the “ancient paths,” the ways that God would have me travel. I pray the same for you! May you seek God in all you do, knowing that His Word, in its fullness, has power for your life.

See you next week,

Shelley

Girls with Swords Chapter 1

There is so much to take away from this first chapter of Girls with Swords by Lisa Bevere. Right off the bat Lisa invites us into “this epic battle,” and I wonder how many women are aware of the battle or even believe there is a spiritual battle going on around us. The Bible talks about spiritual battles with such clarity and at such length that when we engage in The Word, we come away with more understanding and vision of what that battle looks like.  If you want to engage a little, check out Ephesians 6!

So. There is a spiritual battle raging around us.  Lisa wants us equipped for this battle so that we can be fighters, not victims of deception. This first Chapter is entitled “You Are a Target.” And Lisa starts right off with a quote from Wendell Phillips, “Christianity is a battle, not a dream.” How do you feel about this quote? (Fencing Manual, p. 2) I don’t think I would have used either “battle” or “dream” to describe Christianity, but as I think on it, I agree. Christianity is real, active, engaging, participatory…so it’s not this dream where things are perfect or simple or easy. And it’s certainly a battle.

Do you see evidence of this battle in your everyday world? (FM, p. 3) For years I’ve watched this rise of all things spiritual. When I think back to my childhood and youth, I have no recollection of such spiritual discussions happening in my home or on television or at the movies or on the radio as I do now. Just in the last decade I see so many more options for Bible study (we even have Apps for that!) and praise/worship music. We can go online, in stores, and even catch a great flick with Christian themes and values. But at the same time the rise of things dark compete. The horror movie industry is at an all time high, our kids are exposed to much more because of internet and cell phones, evils such as sex trafficking and terrorism almost seem to be taking over. It’s been my long belief that the rise of all things spiritual, good and evil, will only continue as the end draws closer. Lisa agrees, “…with each passing generation, Satan’s hostility and hatred deepen as he runs out of time and the urgency increases.” Dig into the book of Revelation if you want a clearer picture of how things will escalate.

The overall point of this first chapter, and perhaps the book, is for us to “see the sword of God’s Word and the cross of Christ as instruments of war that fight in order for the world to experience God’s love” (FM, p. 4). Lisa teaches that “the attacks on your life have much more to do with who you might be in the future than who you have been in the past” (Girls with Swords, p. 7). With that statement, she wants us to quit looking at ourselves as victims (that looking back thing) and realize that the enemy is threatened by our potential as daughters of the One True God. We are targets (not victims). If you find yourself trapped in that victim state of mind, work with God to shift it to that of “target.” This has been a huge revelation to me…and it makes so much sense!  Be empowered and claim truths as these for yourself: “You are a beloved, royal daughter of the Most High God.” The enemy “will do all that is within his power to hinder or bend your growth to his purposes and distract you from your heavenly destiny.” In this chapter, Lisa goes on to say, “This is not about you. This is not about me. And to be quite honest, it is not even our battle. This battle belongs to the Lord. We are his weapons of light in a world of darkness.” And the “fact that you are female makes you a more specific target and the worthy recipient of Satan’s enmity.”

Here Lisa is referring to Genesis 3:15. As part of the curse, God puts “enmity” between woman and the enemy, as well as their offspring. I’ve been blessed to be part of a women’s weekend event called Awakening Our Hearts for a few years now. It’s based on Stasi Eldredge’s book Captivating. Similar themes as this are part of both that book and our weekend event. When we really start to unpack our story, digging into what the Bible has to say, we begin to unravel a history that explains so much of what we see and experience today. (If you’d like to attend our next Awakening Our Hearts, it’s coming up Feb 21-22 at New Covenant UMC. Check it out here.)

God has created women to stand for virtue, skill, nurture, intuition, life giving, and wisdom (FM p. 6). But our enemy works “hard to distract you so you will never give birth to God’s plan for your life.” Sometimes his distractions come in the form of poor health or social media or television or a novel. Other times his tactics are less subtle. He may work toward diminishing God’s assignment on your through outright oppression (mental, emotional, physical). Or he will work hard at division, dividing families and churches because “what he divides he can ultimately destroy.”

Do you notice the list of D’s? In Joanna Weaver’s book Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World, similar tactics of the enemy are described. She coined them as the Deady D’s. Her list included Discourage, Doubt, and Distract. Now we could add to the Deadly D’s Divide, Diminish, and Destroy. Six very Deadly D’s indeed. They seem to increase in intensity. The first three D’s are subtle. I can be discouraged on any given day, but if I don’t guard my heart, the enemy will use that discouragement to grow doubt in my call or in another person. And if I don’t get those feeling to God in a hurry, bitterness and resentment can grow to the point of dividing me from the people and purpose God had intended for me…which leads to a destruction of life and plans and hope.

Are we weaponless? Hopeless? Helpless? Absolutely not! We are girls with swords! God will never leave or forsake us. But we must take up our swords, the Word of God, and fight back. “Becoming who God created you to be is at once your best offense and defense against all the enemy’s strategy.” Do you believe this? (FM p. 13) Lisa teaches that “we create an environment for this to happen when we say what He says about us.” Given this insight, and drawing upon the inspiration of the Scriptures and endearments God has whispered into your life, write His description of you.

I hope you can read this chapter for yourself. Lisa gives a great many statistic and story to illustrate and demonstrate just how women are targets today…from sex trafficking to the unhealthy view of our gender (think media-driven). Back in Moses’ and Jesus’ days the enemy seemed to target the boys (examples of male gendercide), but today his focus has shifted to women. Still gendercide, but of females…an upward of 100 million women are gone from our generation. It’s time for us to become aware of this battle and take up our swords so we can enter the fight.

I don’t believe it’s Lisa’s desire, nor mine, to cause you to see the enemy behind every little bad thing that happens (that gives him more power than he actually has). We need to understand that sometimes bad things happen because we live in an imperfect, fallen world (tornadoes and tsunamis will happen). And we need to know that God values free will so much that He allows every person in His creation to make their own choices, including the bad ones, and too often we’re left battered and broken because of those choices. Then there is the enemy who seeks to kill and destroy all that he can before his time is up. But we aren’t defenseless. God has given us His Word as a sword. Next week we’ll look into how we begin to take that sword up and use it!

–A sister in the fight with you!

Girls with Swords Introduction

Our next study begins this week! It’s based on Lisa Bevere’s book, Girls with Swords. We have a group of women at our church (New Covenant UMC, www.newcov.tv) that meets every Monday morning, but not everyone can make to study so this blog gives you the opportunity to read the book in community!

Girls with Swords seeks to empower women for the spiritual battle that rages around us through prayer and God’s Word. We’ll learn what it means to live by the power of the sword, ways to disarm the enemy, and how to live in forgiveness and restoration.

Reading Lisa’s book by itself is enough to get your thoughts going, but I already like using her “Fencing Manual,” a workbook designed to supplement the book. Her questions help us apply what we’re learning to our own lives, think a little more about some very significant facts and concepts, and dig deeper into our study of The Word.

Lisa’s introduction video is great! (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mS7Ba3nBv-s) It lays a foundation for what her book is about and tells an incredible story of how God has already used and affirmed Girls with Swords. (She uses the same story in her Foreward.)

Read the first chapter (and complete chapter one of the Fencing Manual), then meet me here in the coming week!

 

Just Lead! Week Four

And, just like that we’re in our final week.

Chapter 9 – Overcoming the Communication Barrier

1. What part of communication do you struggle with the most?

2. Where do you need to be more sensitive to how your emotions come through in your communication?

3. In what types of situations do others most commonly misunderstand you?

4. When do you feel the most comfortable or confident in your communication?

SJ-“Leadership rises or falls on communication” (p. 115). The longer I’m in leadership the more I believe this. And I agree with Jenni (p. 117) that communication is a two-way street: we have to listen to understand and communicate to be understood. Here’s an outline of her steps toward understanding and being understood:

a. Be a good listener.

b. Be self aware.

c. Be sensitive.

d. Be direct and confident.

e. Pay attention to your timing.

f. Just be you.

Of all these, being a good listener might be the hardest for me…for a few reasons. Sometimes I can be too set on proving I’m right. God has been pointing this out to me for some time now. Self-awareness is a big part of this hang-up of mine, so they work together completely. Another reason I might not be a good listener is when my emotions are getting the best of me and I become too defensive.  When that happens I not only quit listening, I can quit being reasonable and rational. Her steps toward being a good listener are good. Focus and keeping an open mind (p. 120) are key, but first I have to breathe, acknowledge when I’m off course, say a prayer, and re-focus. Asking clarifying questions helps too.

Loved her “feedback sandwich:” compliment, critique, compliment (p. 125). Brilliant! Sadly, I have been that person who packed my sandwich so full of leafy condiments that the meat got lost. I have grown a lot in the department of directness, many thanks to my son and my job. I hope to continue growing!

Timing is everything. I typically have a little knack there, especially when I seek God’s timing first. Her final suggestion of just being myself I also agree with. I think we women have a horrible tendency to try to be someone else (that comparison thing). I used to apologize for my emotionality; I used to think I shouldn’t show emotion. What God has been teaching me is that He created me with emotion, so I shouldn’t shy away from it. I do need to learn to have self-control, patience, etc…but it’s okay to show passion and joy and sadness and frustration.

Gosh, I can’t say enough about self-awareness. I really think ALL this hinges on knowing ourselves as best as possible, tapping into our strengths and finding ways to compensate for our weaknesses (not to mention leaning into God for His strength). It wasn’t that many years ago that I finally realized I am an introvert. Tests were never conclusive for me…I was always down the middle, on the fence. But when I discovered at my core I’m an introvert, I began to realize what I need to do to ensure I’m functioning at capacity. I need sufficient rest, time alone, time to think/process before I can make decisions. When I’ve given myself these things, I am most confident, sensitive, and able to communicate.

Chapter 10 – Put the Boxing Gloves Down

1. Have you had painful experiences with other women that have affected your leadership? How have you dealt with them? Have you brought them into the light?

2. When you face tension in leading other women, do you find yourself reacting as Shrinking Violet, Retaliating Rita, or Cynical Cindy? Is there another reaction that you deal with? What do you do about it?

3. When leading other women, do you struggle more with jealousy, judging, or being their champion? Is there another area that causes you difficulty? What is it?

SJ-I’m a peacemaker, a pleaser…when it comes to fight or flight, I RUN. So my first reaction to a chapter like this one is, “Oh, I don’t need this. I don’t wear boxing gloves.” Then I read the chapter and realize…”Ohhhh, maybe I relate to this more than I thought!” Honestly, I’ve been all three of the extreme reactors…Violet, Rita, and Cindy. Sadly, I’m sure each one will rear their ugly heads again some day. But here’s hoping I’ve learned a little something in my years of experience and through a study like this one so that they remain FAR away most days.

Shrinking Violet happens when I’m either totally angry and my emotions have taken control of my brain OR when I’m so overwhelmed I literally don’t know what to do, so I do nothing. Early on in ministry, Violet was around often. I’m happy to say she doesn’t show up very often because I’m learning to breathe and pray through emotion, to explain my state of mind and ask for grace or more time, and to speak up even when I’m mad…all those strategies of communicating we just learned really work!

Retaliating Rita is rare. In fact, if I hadn’t just had a season where she made a surprise appearance, I might have thought she didn’t exist for me. But she does, and apparently when I’m made to defend decisions and actions that I feel are warranted. (that need to be right thing…) I learned a lot about myself in this season…some good, some not so good. But I did learn. And communication (with God and with this leader) was the ONLY thing that kept the whole thing from going bust.

Cynical Cindy shows up when I’m tired or around someone who’s constantly negative. I had a LONG season a few years ago when both were happening on a daily basis. I was new in this position and was exhausted everyday. I worked with a couple of people who seemed to be negative about almost everything. And I got sucked in. God gave me a glimpse of this negativity, and I had to do some major mind and attitude shifting to start overcoming it. I’ve learned to surround myself with optimists and keep my thoughts on God, His promises, His truths. I think that’s what the Bible calls guarding our minds!

Chapter 11 – Engaging the Next Generation of Leaders

1. Do you have young women leaders in your church or organization? If you don’t, why do you think this is so? If you do, what’s worked for you that you could offer to others?

2. What do you think holds most young women back in their leadership?

3. Do you personally encourage young women in their leadership? Why or why not?

SJ-One thing Jenni and Sherry do is challenge us with some really tough questions that if we answer honestly can be very convicting. This is one of them. If I’m honest…not defensive or “right”…I have seen how true this can be. We can ask a young person to be in a leadership role, but really what we’re doing is filling a spot because it’s expected. But are we really asking that person to lead? To try new things? I think we’re coming along in this department, but I realize after this chapter there is much more we can be doing.

So, it’s one thing for me to look at our church and ask these questions, it’s another thing entirely for me to ask myself! Ouch. And, really, control is an issue for me. God’s been working on me in this area since my Emmaus Walk in 1996. I’ve come a long way, but in leadership, I’ve a long way to go. I’m a do-er. But I am in a season of learning how to be a share-er and a release-er and a delegate-er.

Sometimes it’s a trust thing. A lot of times it’s a time thing…it’s faster just to do it myself, you know?

So this chapter slapped me across the face…and lit a fire in my heart! I love the idea of being challenged by others (young or old) and I want to love the idea of taking risks (that control thing).

When it comes to inviting the younger generation to step into leadership with me, I get very excited, so I’m grateful for the information in this chapter:

a. Place trust in people, not experience. Experience has a lot of weight in church leadership, so this is BIG.

b. Pay attention to how you speak. Now that I’m working with younger folks, I know how true “speak business” vs “speak social” really is. Funny thing is I don’t wholly fall in either camp. On that fence again…

c. Use your shoulders. LOVED this one. It’s true, I have experience and they have new ideas. Let’s figure out how to tap into both! Her suggestions to (never lead alone) invite a young person to accompany me to meetings or other experiences is another stroke of brilliance…and not hard to do. And like Sherry, encouragement comes more easily for me, but I do need to be consistent with it.

d. Operate in reverse. Oh my goodness if I didn’t buy that “Reverse Mentoring” book a few years ago at a conference. Have I read it? No. Should I? Apparently!

I feel like in some ways we’ve come full circle because as I read the end of this chapter (and the book), I feel like I’m back to the issue of needing those consistent encouragers AND challengers in my life. Now I’ll add a layer to that and challenge myself to be a champion of women leaders…which happens to be a growing passion of mine.

What is God doing here? If I’ve learned anything in this study, it’s that God IS doing something, and all I have to do is seek what THE NEXT STEP is. I don’t need to fret about what the future holds or how I’m going to accomplish big dreams. All I (and you) need to do is seek God for the next step.

Don’t whine. Don’t get defensive. Don’t pout. Just lead!

just Lead! Week Three

I wonder if your world got as hectic last week as mine did!? I suspect that’s the case as we had so many less comments.  I do hope you’ll pick back up this week, reading chapters 6, 7, & 8. Here are my responses to those chapters.  I look forward to hearing yours!

Chapter 6–Make Up Your Mind Already!

1. Where in your life is indecision holding you back?

2. Describe a time when you sensed God’s direction in making a decision.

3. Identify a situation in which you need to be taking the next best step.

4. What issue most commonly traps you with indecision: control, impatience, listening, avoidance, or fatigue? What re some ways you can avoid this trap?

SJ – Decision-making — as an introvert, I tend to do most of my processing in my own head, needing time to think through situations before responding. I have learned how important it is to also take time to talk through situations with colleagues as well..that two-minds-are-better-than-one idea. What can happen in a team setting for me is I find myself agreeing with every suggestion/idea as they’re presented, seeing good and purpose in them all…still needing time to process all of it before I can feel good about the best idea.  On a staff that has so many extroverts, I don’t always have the luxury of having that time to myself. 🙂 So I am learning to lean heavily into God, trusting His leadership, opening myself up to the promptings of the Holy Spirit in those situations. I so agree (p. 75) that we are “stewards of people and resources God has entrusted to us,” so that holy discernment is of utmost importance.

Oh, and then there’s the wanting to know the end from the beginning (p. 75). It’s so nice to know I’m not the only person who thinks like this. God is so good at giving us only the next step, and on my journey I have to say Jenni’s advice on “next-best-step decisions” is spot on (p. 76). I can’t think of a time that God gave me the big picture. He gives me the next step and I have to have “faith for the unknown and obedience to the next step of action” (p. 76).  Simply remaining faithful to our next step keeps us under God’s authority and plan, it keeps us sane, it helps to keep us from the trap of indecision.

She gives us a list of issues we deal with when trapped by indecision: control, impatience, listening, avoidance, fatigue. I can honestly say I deal with all of these at some point. God has been trying to teach me how to wait on Him for YEARS. Impatience is my natural wiring, so working toward patience take much intentionality. My own busyness can keep me from taking the time to listen for God, and I am not a big one for confrontation, so my natural tendency to avoid tough decisions is something else I have to overcome (through the strength of God). But I think fatigue is my big Achilles heel. When I’m tired, I over-react, I become very susceptible to falling into my “natural” wirings listed above, and I let my emotions run amok. I have to make myself take the time for rest in those high-demand seasons (which isn’t natural for me).

I loved Jenni’s use of Esther throughout this chapter…probably my favorite, most-identifiable character from the Bible for me, is now even more relate-able. The fact Jenni could outline the steps Esther took in making her big decision is remarkable and a great example.

“Fight against the voice of pride that tries to convince you that you have to have it all figured out” is a truth that is very freeing for this independent pleaser (p. 83)!

Chapter 7–Go Big or Go Home

1. When in your leadership do you notice tiny heart syndrome?

2. What scares you most about dreaming big?

3. Do you work in an environment that encourages big thinking? If not, are there things you can do to change this? What are they?

SJ-Tiny Heart Syndrome, such an interesting concept, and so true! How many times have I heard people say things like, “Just don’t have any expectations, then you won’t be disappointed.” Sherry is so right that we can limit ourselves out of fear instead of dreaming big out of faith (p. 86). Then I read what she says about what it really looks like to be a leader who dreams big…”exposing your vulnerabilities and putting yourself out there for people to tell you all the reasons you can’t (p. 88).” Whoa. No wonder we hold back! In my experience fear is that thing that will keep me from trying something “out of the box.” I’m a perfectionist, so the thought of not doing something successfully is tough to lean into. Being okay with trying my hardest and failing…just doesn’t compute. But I am seeing that there is an element of risk in ministry. We’ll never accomplish exceptional things without trusting that God can give us everything we need to try all that He call us to. Gulp.

Several of us did Kelly Minter’s study on Nehemiah, so maybe we can dust out the cobwebs to remember his leadership examples. One of the BIG things I took away from that study was what Sherry points out…he took a lot of time to pray and seek God before taking his first step toward fulfilling the vision God had given him. There’s that patient thing again, waiting on God to give us that next-step toward His plan.

Sherry uses the phrase “don’t step ahead of God (p. 89).” I use the phrase, “don’t RUN ahead of God.” When I get excited about something I tend to RUN with it, then I end up trying to fulfill that vision in my own strength, limited to my abilities to see and do. It’s when I slow down and WAIT for God to show me the next step that I end up walking with God through a project rather than running ahead of Him.

Loved Sherry’s napkin lesson:

1. Wait for God.

2. Do your homework.

3. Don’t do it alone.

4. Never give up.

Obstacles are a big part of risk-taking. I think we have to expect them, ready to lean more heavily into God in those instances, braced and prepared to have that “never give up” attitude.

Chapter 8–Leading Men

1. What do you love most about leading or working with men? What’s the most frustrating?

2. Where do you need to grow most in working with men: controlling your emotions; overcoming bossiness; conveying respect, honor, or trust; or some other area?

3. Is there another area of tension in working with men that we didn’t discuss in this chapter?

I think, looking back, God has always put me in situations that I had to work with men, though until I took my current position, I’ve never had to do so as consistently and directly as I do now.

I grew up with a brother. Some of my best friends were guys in high school. I hung out with my boyfriend (now husband) and his friends more in college than I did my friends. Now I raise three boys, so it’s not unusual to have 6-8 guys in my house on any given weekend. Lots of learning opportunity.

I love how most men take things at face-value. In so many ways they’re simpler than women. They typically say what they mean and take what I have to say at face-value. (We girls tend to read-between-the-lines too often). 🙂

But I nearly laughed out loud (p. 110) when Jenni said, “Many of the men I lead get bogged down by the details.” That is totally my experience. I’m a detailed person, that “implementer.” Someone throws out an idea, and I’m already a mile down the road seeing possible obstacles and challenges. The men…they just want to throw ideas out. Sometimes I recognize this (our differences), and I’m learning to find a way to bring in details when it’s necessary (because, let’s face it, some things need to be thought through, details and all) and to keep quiet when I recognize we’re in brainstorming mode or “flying at 100,000 feet.” Discerning the purpose of the conversation is half the battle, keeping that purpose in mind helps me know when to speak up and when to hold those detail questions in check.

I think Jenni and Sherry had a lot of great insight and suggestions about working with/leading men. I think most women have controlling tendencies and most of us are very emotion-based. I know for myself, keeping control of my emotions is key, and God has helped me come a long way in that department over the years. Where I am now, I think I learned the most from this chapter in the arena of how to speak respect, honor, and trust to people we work with. I have never directly managed men, except in volunteer roles. But I have had recently a huge challenge in supervising another woman, and I’d say she responded to each of these areas of respect, honor, and trust in big ways. Reading this chapter affirmed a lot of what I learned in that season of supervising this woman, so here’s hoping I’ve LEARNED these lessons and that I’ll carry them with me into my future of leading men and women.

I was really glad they addressed the “guy-girl thing” (p. 103). I have a very wise friend who, early on in my ministry, shared what she was teaching her mentor-ee about this very topic. Removing fear from the picture, it is very important to be wise in the where and when we meet with men one-on-one. I am pretty naive, so I know that was a God-thing for her to bring it up. I wouldn’t have thought twice about meeting a guy leader for lunch by myself…and it’s not that I don’t ever, but I do try to be very discerning about where I’m putting myself (and him). I would never want to give reason for anything improper to be suspected. So, I just try to be careful, discerning.

I’m sure we’ve all had such different experiences in this arena.  Can’t wait to hear what you have to say!

Blessings for a great week! I pray God is pouring into you as His daughter, a leader for His kingdom, affirming your call, and giving you some insight and suggestions that will equip you for where you lead now…and for the future!

Just Lead! Week Two

KD – Week 2 was filled with great information, but first I have to say I knew I had lots in common with Jenni! The sport she loves; tennis.  My game of choice to play too!  :)!

KD – Sherry’s ideas and thoughts on insecurity I definitely agree with; how I react to it makes all the difference.  Healthy criticism given with love can be very helpful.  Doing my laundry sorting on whether comments are given in love or mean-spirited was a great way to approach it : “encouragement”, “wisdom” or “discard”.  Unsure, go “up”! One verse, Phil. 4:8 is a great resource for defining criticism thrown towards me. (And often I need to “think on these things!”)

KD – Criticism towards my performance in a leadership position is another area all together.  Often I absorb every criticism and agonize over it.  I question whether I should even be in the position in the first place and can often fall into the fear of failure and let it paralyze me!  One thing though that Priscilla Shirer’s study on Gideon taught me was even in leadership position it’s not about me!  God uses our weaknesses, insecurities and fears to accomplish His purpose.  It is for His glory, not my recognition or accolade.  So discerning the criticism through prayer and wise council will help me to recognize that this is part of His plan and not about me!  Don’t allow the enemy to use my insecurities as a distraction to get me off track!

KD – Then there’s that ugly word again; PRIDE!  It always keeps rearing its ugly head.  Talk about a powerful tool of the enemy.  Even when I think I’m not being prideful; is that prideful?  It can appear in so many ways that it can even suck you in before you even recognize it! Pride shows up in so many lies.  I love one of Jenni’s examples of “our need to be needed”; which in reality can rob us of the joy of seeing others’ successes.  We are even so caught up with successes that we can often not be happy for even others’ children’s successes.  Such a competitive world!

What a beautiful reminder that with humility comes wisdom.  I love the thought that it is difficult for arrogance or pride to get a hold of us or consume our heart if we are constantly looking for ways to learn or improve in every situation.  What a great lesson to learn as young as possible!  (maybe it’s not too late for me!)  I definitely need to take her advice and read more and probably attend more conferences!  I know that God has so much to teach me through His word, wise leaders and mentors and books written by wise people!  I’ll try and persevere!!!

Just Lead! Week Two

Last week we talked a lot about how leadership is in our blood and considered who would be or are our encouragers and challengers.  We also talked about how fear can keep us from doing and leading as God would have us…that we need to take that fear UP to God for perspective and peace.

This week we’ll look at Chapters 3, 4, & 5 — we’ll talk about insecurity, criticism, and pride. Oh my.  

If you haven’t created an account as contributor, try to do so this week so that your comments aren’t limited in length.  And don’t forget — keep your responses as general as possible since this is an open blog.  I hope you’re being as transparent as possible with yourself and us within those bounds!!

I’m going to come at responding a bit differently this week, hoping that you’ll fill in the gaps with your responses.  I’ll list every question at the end of each chapter and do one personal response either on one particular question or a conglomeration of them. Here we go!

Chapter 3 – The Monster You Are Avoiding

1. Are there voices in your life that drain your security tank? How do you overcome their influence?

2. In her story, Tammy mentioned that insecurity tends to show up when she’s facing an opportunity to grow. When does insecurity rear its head most often in your life?

3. What are the daily routines that you’ve put into place that help you overcome insecurity?

SJ-Insecurity isn’t my biggest issue, but when it comes up I JUST HATE IT. Seems like it creeps in for me is when my environment is foreign/unusual. Just this past Christmas I attended my husband’s company party with him and have never felt so under-dressed in my life. I wanted to leave so badly, but had to swallow that insecurity and stick it out (which is good for me).  I have worn that same outfit in another setting and felt most confident.  Crazy. I chide myself for that weakness of wanting to “please man” instead of just focusing on pleasing God.  

Besides surroundings, I’d say those seasons of exhaustion and high stress are snares for my insecurity as well.  Of course, if I’m feeling stress to begin with, I’m not where I need to be spiritually. Vicious cycle.

LOVED her analogy of “mental piles,” sorting according to encouragement, wisdom, and discard.  Super! And for me (p. 39) this would work because my big downfall is mentally rehashing things, so to figure out how to ponder things LESS is a victory.

Chapter 4 – You’re Not Doing It Right

1. Do you have a tendency to take criticism personally? When do you feel most vulnerable (in your leadership)?

2. Do you fear rejection or failure?

3. What steps can you take to begin to process criticism in a healthy way?

SJ-A much bigger issue for me is taking criticism personally.  I’m a perfectionist, so I naturally avoid failure…though I’m convinced we learn the most from our mistakes. The pattern I seem to follow is that when I’m prepared for criticism, expecting it, I handle it as I should, constructively.  But when I’m in that tired place and criticism comes out of the blue, I turn to a puddle. That mental rehash thing happens, reliving the scene over and over.

SO, I really liked her suggestions to take the focus off myself then remember what is true (p. 53)…then of course PRAY, asking God to focus my mind and heart (p. 55).  And in God-fashion, He gave me the opportunity to put this in practice last week.  Just as I was starting to feel defensive, these very words popped in my head, so I said a quick prayer, asking God to show me what truth there was in what was being said.  I immediately quit feeling defensive and our conversation became much more constructive. HUH.

Chapter 5 – Growing Pains

1. How is pride holding you back from leading effectively?

2. What is the greatest lie that pride repeatedly tries to tell you?

3. What truth do you need to remember to confront that lie?

4. What steps can you take on your journey to seek wisdom?

SJ-Oh, pride. That ugly, ugly thing called pride. Here’s some irony from the inner-workings of my mind. I’ve had seasons where I’ve prided myself for being so humble. (quit laughing!) High school is my most vivid memory.  Of course, at that age, we think we know everything anyway. Must have stayed there in some fashion because it was in Beth Moore’s Breaking Free that I had my BIG AH-HA about pride. It has many faces and shades…and I had (have) a lot of it. 

Motive was mentioned in this lesson that I recall, but it’s when I check my internal motive that God helps me gauge my pride-level. Proverbs 16:2, 1 Corinthians 4:5, and James 4:5 all talk to motive in things we say, do, ask for, want, etc. I frequently ask God to reveal my motive…and His revelations are very humbling!

Her section on mentoring spoke volumes to me. I need to re-read that part many times so that it soaks in my head.  The cool thing is…I have mentors in my life right now, though these relationships were never formalized and the women aren’t the wise, “old” women who know-all and see-all (I visualize that “shaman” in a tent that you can go to for wisdom. I know, they don’t exist).  They’re women like me who also need mentoring and encouragement and accountability.

I couldn’t agree more about making the most of every learning opportunity. I’m not a voracious reader of non-fiction type books (I love story), but God is pushing me past my stubbornness to more and more books like this one to show me there is a lot to learn. And, like Jenni, I’m a conference junkie. Something about being with speakers “in person” that inspires me and pushes me to learn. And I loved the “change of place + change of pace = change of perspective” (p. 69).  There is a lot of truth to that. I can get so bogged down in my to-do’s that I need those changes to get that new perspective.

“A heart bent toward continuous growth is one marked by humility.” (p. 70) Amen!

 

Just Lead! Week One

Our group continues to grow, which is so exciting!  We’ll look at the Introduction and Chapters 1 & 2 today.  We’ll look at the questions at the end of each chapter for our main focus, but feel free to chime in on anything that catches your attention in these chapters.

Before you post any responses, please read my disclaimer in BOLD at the bottom. And feel no pressure or expectation to respond to every question.  I did to open conversations, but you respond to those parts that speak most to you.

Introduction-Humble Beginnings and Big Lessons

1.  What “voices” did you think of that influenced your feelings about your leadership?

SJ -I could go pretty far back…we had women leaders in my home church growing up who modeled great leadership and some who gently nudged/encouraged me into leadership. In high school I had incredible opportunities to learn and practice leadership..some I’d forgotten about till this study. Then I had a season as a young-married where I had several godly women who were in leadership at our church who very intentionally poured into me. It’s humbling and inspiring to realize the ways God has been preparing and shaping me my whole life.

2. I loved reading Sherry and Jenni’s stories about when they realized their leadership “wiring” at young ages.  Do you have a similar memory? Any feelings associated with the realization that you are a leader at heart?

SJ -I think my first leadership memory is 2nd grade.  I was asked to tutor kids in reading.  I absolutely loved the role.  Then in 5th grade I was captain of the patrol (don’t laugh). 🙂 Awesome experience in organization and authority…it was a fit.  I think it was then that I sensed how leadership is a responsibility & privilege…and can cause you to become too proud…I’m sure that was God.

3. Early influencers in your leadership development?

SJ -I loved the exercise of listing as many as I could think of.  I do need to go back and thank them.  Some of the influencers were people, like my choir director or youth leader…some were experiences, like Girls’ State or the Octagon Club.

Chapter 1-Only the Lonely

1. How do you handle the isolation and loneliness of leadership?

SJ -For me this has come in seasons/waves. I think so far my loneliest season was early in the current role I have (Dir of Discipleship).  I had been so used to sharing leadership in Children’s and Women’s Ministry that stepping out solo was a bit scary and turned out to be pretty lonely.  I think God did that intentionally…forced me to rely solely on Him.  In “Linda’s Story,” she used another phrase, “Heaviness with the confidentiality.”  I really identified with that too…I’m a sharer, so it’s been hard at times to bear some of that heaviness.  Again, had to rely on God and not on people…I needed to learn how to do that.  I don’t feel like I’m in that season anymore…not to that degree, anyway.

2. Age and gender…isolating factors?

SJ -maybe age?? But I don’t think so.  Call me naive, but I have rarely been made to feel like my age or gender negate any of the gifts I’ve been blessed with.  I have realized with much humility and gratitude that I have probably had that experience because so many brave women have gone before me and opened those doors. Praise God!

3.  Encouragers and challengers…what’d you think?

SJ -both are meant to be positives in our lives, but for some, looking at challengers as a positive is hard. But I hope you could identify both in your life.  It was a good exercise for me because God was showing me that those challengers are as important in my shaping and growth as a leader as the encouragers…not sure I was totally aware of that, being the non-confrontational person I am. 🙂  Gives me new perspective.  Makes me want to find at least one more challenger.

Chapter 2-I’m Not Afraid

So…God has really been working HARD in me lately about the fear that seems to be a big part of my life, my decisions, my responses to life situations. I literally laughed out loud to see that this chapter was ANOTHER one of those lessons.

1. When do you feel most afraid in leadership?

SJ -For me…it’s the weight of responsibility.  Knowing that what I say and do affects others really can cause me panic.  I start to over-think and doubt.  Fear paralyzes, which, of course, is what the enemy wants…so I pray…A LOT.

2. When you’re afraid…do you go IN, OUT, or UP?

SJ -Such a practical lesson and oh-so true.  Lysa TerKeurst teaches a similar lesson about how we tend to respond in situations.  So both Sherry and Lysa have learned (as we shall) that taking our responses (to fear, anger…) to GOD will help us be the overcomers God has equipped us to be.  Would love to hear your practical strategies. I’m learning to know myself so that when I start down my “bad” path, I can catch myself before I spiral too far.  I’m very emotion based and my mind can run away with all kinds of negative thoughts so that very soon that mole hill is an erupting volcano. Scripture and praise music are HUGE for me.  They say the truths I can’t say when I’m in that place.

If you haven’t taken time to take notes on the how-to of going up, please do so this week. Writing those important steps down will take us a step closer to being able to go UP when life throws us a yuck-ball.  Don’t hold stuff in.  Tell someone (time to go to next question!). Bring it all to light!

3. Do you have a circle of godly friends who help you attack worry?

SJ -Accountability.  So important. So hard.  It takes time and intentionality.  If you don’t have that circle of friends, start praying NOW that God will help you grow one.  And you’ll have a big role to play in that.  You may have to do the inviting, planning, and prompting. Our circles of friends are only as effective as our willingness to share and trust.  So don’t ask someone you don’t know very well.  You do have to be able to trust one another.  And maybe your circle is ONE friend.  Do it.  Make it work…with lots of prayer and leading from God.

Extra thoughts

As though this isn’t long enough already, I just want to say that God has been showing me how we’re all wired so differently from one another.  I used this particular lesson with our college group yesterday.  One of the guys bravely said that fear is just as paralyzing for him, though his response is polar opposite of mine.  The second he thinks he can’t, he just quits.  He says, I don’t worry…I just don’t.  And he regrets all the lost opportunities he’s let fear rob from him.  So, don’t hesitate to share with us how you’re wired, how you respond.

BUT — here’s a disclaimer.  We’re not behind closed doors.  Please don’t post anything here that you wouldn’t want to be read by the world…because anyone can follow a blog. My prayer is that we’ll be able to be honest without being too revealing or specific in this forum.  Don’t name names.  Don’t tell too much…especially if it will be dishonoring of someone else.  I believe God can use this medium in amazing ways…but so can the enemy, so let’s be wise in all we say and do.  When we get to the place we need to talk…really talk, let’s meet at a coffee shop or a room at the church and share hearts.

Looking forward to all the ways God will work in and grow each of us!

Shelley

Just Lead! Schedule

For our first study, we will read and discuss Sherry Surratt & Jenni Catron’s book, Just Lead: A No Whining, No Complaining, Non Nonsense Practical Guide for Women Leaders in the Church.  I’ll make a post at the beginning of each week with comments and questions, then you chime in with your thoughts.  Here’s our schedule:

For Monday, August 12th — pages 1-34 (read thru Chapter 2)

For Monday, August 19th — pages 35-70 (thru Chapter 5)

For Monday, August 26th — pages 71-114 (thru Chapter 8)

For Tuesday, September 3rd — pages 115-158 (finish the book)

Click the FOLLOW button in the margin to sign up to get automatic emails when a new post is made…then you don’t have to remember to check in!

See you here next week!

Shelley