Jani: Hello, everyone, welcome to He Restores My Soul with Jani Ortlund and…well, unfortunately, there’s no “and” this morning. Heidi is on fall break with her children, and she will not be able to record with me up for a few podcasts, so we’ll miss her. I will especially, and I know you will miss her as well.
We have been working through a series on being fearlessly feminine. And Heidi and I hope this will be as beneficial to our listeners as it has been to her and to me. Heidi and I believe that fear is the chief enemy of the feminine soul. And so we want to talk about our feminine fears, and ask the Lord to help lift us above them to trust in Him.
In our last podcast, we talked about our fears about how they fail us as we camp on them and feed them with our limited emotional energy. We also looked at God’s answer to our fears. What is it? It’s not more courage. No, it’s faith! God’s answer to our fears is himself.
How would you complete this sentence: “Fear not for…?” What would help you not be so fearful? God tells us in Isaiah 41:10 that it is our faith in God that will drive out all our fears, and free us to be fearlessly feminine. The Lord tells us,
“Fear not, for I am with you. Be not dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”Isaiah 41:10
So, dear friend, how do we develop a “fear-shrinking” faith? Well, let’s start this way. Think for a minute about what fears are pestering your soul at this time. Maybe it’s poor health, or a troubled marriage, financial uncertainties, a nagging fatigue or a deepening sadness. Maybe it’s a broken relationship, an overwhelming grief or loss, children who are distant or rebellious. What is your response to the inevitable difficulties of life? Those things that frighten us?
Your response to your fears proves where you look for strength and protection and relief from these unavoidable hardships. God has placed within each one of us an eternal soul and the human soul is so vast. It is more vast, more profound than the world and all that it contains. That’s why, dear friend, nothing, absolutely nothing in this world, can ultimately satisfy us. Not money, not marriage or children, not beauty or power or love or success or you name it, you fill in the blank. Only God in Christ Jesus has the fullness to match this vastness and bring peace and contentment to our souls.
I love Psalm 62:1,
“My soul finds rest in God alone.”Psalm 62:1
The Root of our Restlessness
Think with me for a minute about where our discontentment comes from. To be able to deal with our restlessness, we have to know where it’s started. Our restlessness and fear do not come from outward circumstances, although it sure feels like that at times. Our restlessness and fear come from within.
Did you know that the root of all our restlessness is our sin? Please hear me out on this. Try to hang in here with me. Sin is not just “making mistakes.” Sin is not just doing bad things. Sin, you see, is not what we do, it’s who we are. Sin touches a person’s very nature. We are not nice people who sometimes mess up, much as we comfort ourselves with that thought. We are evil people, proving who we really are way down deep. Sin colors everything we do and think and say. You and I are dominated by sin, warped by sin, so deeply biased by sin, that we live under its control, its consequences, and ultimately, its condemnation.
It’s hard for me to really understand this, how about you? I think that’s because we live in a culture that tells us to concentrate on the good things about ourselves to develop positive self images. Now, I have to tell you, as a former school teacher, and as a parent, and especially as a grandparent, I believe that it’s good to have a child develop a healthy self image. But it is not helpful to never let a child see his proper poor self image in God’s sight. Let’s hear, and let’s teach what God says about us. Let’s not be women who justify ourselves with flimsy excuses of fatigue or ignorance or family background. You see that self justifying impulse distances us from God.
“But I’m not a bad person!”
Now, you may be thinking, “Jani, you don’t understand me. I’m not a bad person! I go to church, I vote. I don’t litter. I volunteer at our local nursing home. I try so hard to be nice and kind and good.”
But let me ask you, “How nice is nice enough?” Where would you draw the line in your definition of niceness, of goodness? More importantly, where does God draw the line? Hmm, it’s a good question to think about. Where does God draw the line that says, “This is good enough”?
The line God draws is very clear. God demands perfection, and no one has ever measured up. What marks the human race, every one of us—you and me, Heidi, our families, our pastors, our friends, our neighbors—what marks the human race, without exception, is our sin. Now, we don’t like to believe that we like to think of ourselves as nice people who sometimes make a bad choice, good people who occasionally make an understandable mistake. But the Bible tells us the truth. The Bible says that we are evil people proving what we really are, and there are no exceptions. Paul tells us in Romans 3:10-12,
“None is righteous. No, not one. No one understands. No one seeks for God. All have turned aside. No one does good, not even one.”Romans 3:10-12
Do you resist those words as I sometimes do? That impulse in me and in you tells us that we are one of those who do not understand.
“Can I ease the tension?”
You see, we try to ease that tension of our own guilt in our own ways. Sometimes we try being extra good making new resolutions, sometimes even bargaining with God. We might even try the comparison game. I don’t know if you have, I have at times. Have you ever thought, “Well, I may not be Mother Teresa, but I am certainly better than her!”
Sometimes we even try to turn the tables on God to make him look like the bad guy. We blame him and turn our own failings into an argument that God is either too demanding or too unfair. We think, “If God were truly trustworthy, he would act more like we think he should.”
Have you ever thought, as I have, “If God were really loving and kind he would do…” (and then fill in the blank)? Do you ever find yourself doubting God because he doesn’t conform to your definition of God? He doesn’t do things the way you think he should? When you can’t understand him, do you doubt him rather than your own limited knowledge? I’m talking to myself, dear friend, oh my goodness.
You see, to have the tension between us and God erased, we must step across the line we have drawn and take God’s side, laying down all our defensiveness. I must let God be God and stop trying to remake God into my own self-serving deity. The Bible calls that idolatry, and we’ve all been guilty of it.
Let me ask you, please, please: don’t wait to trust him until he responds in the way you think he should. That is just self-centeredness. Don’t dictate to God the terms of your relationship with him. That is God’s prerogative. When we see God as He really is, all of our excuses are silenced.
When God Asks Us Questions
Think with me, of the last few chapters in the book of Job (Job 38-42). Here, Job has out talked three wind bags, and he remains convinced of his own righteousness. Then God comes to Job and asks him all these questions. Oh, I just love it. Job 38:1-41:34, question after question. Where were you job when I did this? Do you know how to do this job? One of the favorite questions of mine that God asks Job is, “Can you number the clouds?” Have you ever tried to number the clouds? Oh, my.
And the Lord asks him in Job 40:8,
“[Job] will you condemn me that you may be in the right?”Job 40:8
After all those questions, Job in 40:4, puts his hand on his mouth. It’s as if he’s saying, “Oh God, I can’t help but have this accusation come out against you time and time again. But I see now how wrong I am. So I’m just going to put my hand over my mouth until my soul can finally be quiet and bow before you.”
And then finally in Job 42:3, Job repents: “I’m so sorry, Lord, I thought I knew you. But I didn’t really. And now that I’ve seen who you really are, I repent.”
The Fear of the Lord
God, in His grace, brings each one of his children to the place where we step across that line and bow in reverent awe, yielding to him in cheerful, humble surrender. This, my dear friend is called “the fear of the Lord,” and the Bible tells us that that fear leads to life. Proverbs 19:23 says,
“The fear of the Lord leads to life, then one rests content untouched by trouble.”
Surely, this must mean an inner rest, a “soul safety” as he restores our soul. And this wonderful response from us, which the Bible defines as fear, will also bring good to those around you, not just your own soul, but those surrounding your life.
Jeremiah 32:39 says,
“I will give them singleness of heart and action so that they will always fear me for their own good and the good of their children after them.”Jeremiah 32:39
A Divine Arrangement
There is a place where every human being can step across that line of self-justification of doubting God—of actually pointing your finger at him in disappointment—that place is at the foot of the cross of Jesus Christ. The cross is the only place where we can find freedom from our fears and become fearlessly feminine. It’s the place of quiet rest and reconciliation. It’s here that Christ presents us to God because of the divine arrangement he and his father made in eternity past.
Do you ever read the “old dead guys” as my family calls them? One of our family’s favorites is John Flavel. He was a 17th-century Puritan pastor. In his sermon The Fountain of Life, he imagines a conversation in eternity past between the Father and his Son, as they were forming the covenant of redemption. Let me read this conversation.
Father: “My son, here’s a company of poor miserable souls that have utterly undone themselves. And now they lie open to my justice, Justice demands satisfaction for them, or will satisfy itself in the eternal ruin of them. What shall be done for these souls?”
Son: “Oh, my Father, such as my love to them, and pity for them, that rather than they shall perish eternally, I, I will be responsible for them as their surety. Bring in all thy bills that I may see what they owe thee. Father, bring them all in that there may be no after reckonings with them. At my hand, thou shalt require it. I will rather choose to suffer thy wrath than they should suffer it. Upon me, my father, upon me be all their debt.”
Father: “Oh, but my Son, If thou undertake for them, thou must reckon to pay the last might expect no abatements, if I spare them, I will not spare thee!”
Son: ”Content, Father, let it be so. Charge it all upon me, I am able to discharge it, and though it prove a kind of undoing to me, though it impoverish all my riches, empty all my treasures, yet I am content to undertake it.”John Flavel, The Fountain of Life (1820; Sermon III, p.61)
And indeed, dear sister, Christ did undertake it. You see, we often come to God thinking we’re making a covenant with him. No, your salvation is much larger than that! Within the triune Godhead, God made a decision with Christ about you, about me. Christ affected it on the cross, and the Holy Spirit sealed it with his very presence in your innermost heart.
Don’t Delay! Replace Your Very REal Fears with Faith
Have you come to this place yet? Will you accept the best about God and the worst about you? Step across that line to take God’s side. Let God be God to you. That’s what it means to be a Christian. My husband puts it this way.
“Trust God enough to let him be all that he is to you…don’t accept an edited version of God, whittled down and rendered manageable. Dread and delight are the two fundamental states of mind before God. And every one of us is gravitating in one direction or the other, dread or delight. The fork in the road is at the cross of Jesus Christ.”Ray Ortlund, Jr.
Maybe you have never truly come to that fork before but you are there now. Let God give you a new beginning today as you listen. He loves you he wants to bring rest to your soul. You will never be fearlessly feminine until you replace your very real fears with faith in God. Then your fears will give way to peace. As Isaiah the prophet tells us,
“You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever. For the Lord is an everlasting rock.”Isaiah 26:3-4
Through Christ, you can have peace with God beginning today and stretching on forever and ever and ever and ever.
Or maybe you are a listener, who is already traveling down the pathway of delightful rest in Christ but your delight has been diminished under the shadow of fear. You’ve bought into our culture’s elevation of self-esteem, self-protection, self-concern. You’ve sought for rest for your soul in all the wrong places. Oh, come back, and keep coming back. Find your solace in Christ alone. Discover the real joy of Christ-centeredness. Trust him so much that you’re delivered from bondage to yourself. In Christ, you will find everything worth trusting and enjoying and delighting in.
Who are the “Daughters of Sarah”?
Let me close today’s episode by looking at Abraham’s wife, Sarah. Now Sarah could have lived under the shadow of fear, as we often do. She did struggle with many of the fears women have faced through the ages: infertility, moving from family to an unknown country, a husband who asks difficult and even wrong things of her. Or think of the jealousy and conflict among the members of her household.
Yet Sarah would not let her fears dominate her, she trusted in God and he honored her for that. Her name is mentioned in the Bible, more than any other woman’s name. When Peter wanted to teach us how to be pure and reverent and beautiful, guess who he used as an example? Yes, Sarah. He said this, in 1 Peter 3:5 —
“For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him Lord, and you are her children if you do good, and do not fear, anything that is frightening.”1 Peter 3:5-6
I love that phrase: “…do not fear anything that is frightening.” I love that it recognizes that there are frightening things in our world. But we’re not to let fear rule us when we encounter them.
Sarah never had any biological daughters, but she has many spiritual daughters, and we are her daughters if we trust God enough not to let our fears rule us. To be fearlessly feminine means to trust God enough to let him be God in our lives.
None of us knows what this life holds for us. We never knew what this last year would hold for us. Sarah certainly didn’t know what her life held. The first mention of her in Scripture rings with a sadness that only a woman can fully comprehend. In Genesis 11:30, it says,
“Now Sarah was barren. She had no children.”Genesis 11:30
But God…but God, our God—your God, if you have trusted him—God has given her many spiritual daughters through the ages. The last time she appears in the Bible, we read of her enduring legacy.
“You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.”1 Peter 3:6 (NIV)
Oh, let’s be daughters of Sarah. Let’s follow her out from under the shadow of our own fears.
I don’t know what fears assault your heart today. I’m dealing with my own. You know. God knows. And he wants the perfect love that he is offering to us through His son to cast away all those fears. Let’s be women who learn to live in loveliness and serenity by letting Jesus help us fall in love with our destiny as women. Let Jesus replace your fears with a dignified confidence in the God who made you. God will make us vital Christian women who demonstrate the beauty and power of Christ and He will help us match the moment in which we live with fearless femininity.
2 Questions and a Prayer
Now I want to pray for you, dear listener, but I want to close by giving you two questions to think about.
- First of all: “What fears are hindering your emotional and relational well being?” Speak them out.
- And secondly, I want you to think about Job. I want you to read Job 40:1-8 and ask yourself, “Are there ways in which I accused God condemning him to justify myself?” Then open your heart up to your father.
Will you pray with me? “Oh, Father, we come to you with so many fears. We’re so sorry. So often, in our hearts at least, we point our fingers at you we say, “Why God? Why don’t you do this? Why did you do that?” Oh would you help us? We are just so sorry for our sinful attitudes. We can only truly see ourselves correctly if you give us the light to do it. Will you do that? That’s the only thing that will truly restore our souls. Please shed your light abroad in our hearts and help us to put our fingers down and open up our arms wide to you.”
2 Thess. 3:16 says,
“Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with you all.”
May He restore your soul. In Jesus name. Amen.