People and books reserve the right to surprise us, and it’s a real delight when both happen at the same time. I opened the pages of Barbara Hughes’s book expecting the equivalent of a heart-to-heart over a mug of steaming tea, an open Bible and a warm sharing of practices that have held us close to God throughout full and following lives. This I found, indeed, but behind the words of Disciplines of a Godly Woman beats the fiery heart of an apologist, a defender of truth!
“Train yourself for godliness” — the truth of I Timothy 4:7 — is an invitation to enter into “a godliness workout.” Coupled with the Hebrews 12:1 injunction to throw off impediments, this training process involves practicing and investing energy into the development of habits and attitudes that lead to godliness.
Barbara is careful to differentiate between legalism and discipline with wise words about relationship. Any acts of godliness that I perform, rightly motivated, will arise from a desire to do what pleases God, or, what John Wesley referred to as “a zealous obedience.” Referring to her readers as “gospel women” clinches this biblical orientation to grace.
Barbara lifts up the spiritual disciplines that she examines and allows them to catch the light like multiple facets of a single jewel. The focus of discipline impacts all the roles that we assume in fulfilling the assignments that God gives, each diverse, each unique and performed with love.
Anyone who has logged in a few years in a pew has heard or read pages of important words about the disciplines of prayer, Bible study, and worship. For those who have not, Disciplines of a Godly Woman is an extremely helpful primer, but the text moves on to the pondering of deep things of God in these important areas of “basic training.” No matter how long one has believingly followed Christ, there is always a need for growth, perseverance, and the bending of the will to God’s will.
Viewed as disciplines in my training toward godliness, issues such as contentment, propriety, nurturing, good deeds, witnessing, and giving become more than simply items on a never-ending checklist. They are exercises that build my understanding and my embrace of my role as a countercultural woman who understands that the words of Jesus identifying the Holy Spirit as “helper” have “forever elevated the position of the one who assists.”
Barbara brooks no excuses and holds high the standard of obedience. In her discussion of the call to marriage versus singleness, she says, “Maybe this sounds unpleasant to you. Obedience often feels that way initially.” My ear detects the crisp tones of Elisabeth Elliot’s no-nonsense teaching ministry. However, love is held up as the motivation for all good deeds, and may, in the end, have to be “put on” (in Colossians 3 parlance) as an act of the will — deliberately and one sleeve at a time.
With gentle assistance toward personal worship and reading of the Word in multiple appendices, Barbara puts an arm around her readers while affirming the truth that a relationship with God requires effort. Even so, there is “no contradiction between grace and hard work.” Grace says:
I will act in obedience because of my love for God . . . not to earn His love for me.
I will follow the teaching of God’s Word because I am in relationship with its Author . . . not because I fear losing that relationship.
I will persevere in the disciplines of the Christian life because I am held in a hope that is based on strong promises . . . not because I am hoping that the disciplines themselves will hold me in the faith.
Gospel women know this, of course, but we do need a reminder now and then, and sweet reassurance that we are not on this journey alone.
Thank you, Barbara.
This book was provided by Crossway in exchange for my review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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