A Word for Women
by Stefanie Kelly
We have heard the phrase “opposites attract” but some days, one may beg to differ. There are times when our differences as male and female “divide and distract” us from our foes rather than provide us with the strength to “divide and conquer” them together. However, when men like David’s Mighty Warriors of 2nd Samuel work in unity with women like Esther or Ruth, an unstoppable force of power is unleashed for the glory of God! The more our culture becomes entangled in wars, rumors of wars, and lately what is coined as ‘gender wars’, the more the message of Psalm 68:11 is an unexpected stream springing forth in the middle of the Sahara Desert. As this Scripture reminds us, to draw upon the giftings of others while being faithful to our own, is to drink from the well of Living Water.
In the context of declaring victory after battle, Psalm 68:11 says, “the Lord giveth the word: the women that publish the tidings are a great host.” In other words, after the men fought courageously and won the battle, the women continued the spirit of victory by singing songs of celebration. It was a team effort that resulted in triumph! In the NIV translation, it says, “the Lord who announces the Word and the women who proclaim it are a mighty throng.” The words ‘throng’ and ‘host’ both indicate that the women in this passage were not only ordered of God, but were great in number and influence. I like to think of these women (past, present, and future) as “publishers” of peace, to quote the prophet Isaiah. “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns,’” (Isaiah 52:7, ESV). What a magnificent privilege for women in the face of critical battles to join forces and become bearers not of bad news, but of glad tidings!
Women, this is just what we do when we faithfully lead teams that are different from us both in nature and perspective. When we gaze into the worship landscape of our diverse congregations and invite God’s people to cry “holy” with the angels, we are ministering to the very heart of God. It is not an easy calling, but our sacred influence yields much personal fulfillment and culminates with the promise of an eternal reward.
How then, can we prepare to become publishers of peace given the unique challenges we face as women? I have asked myself this question many times over the course of nearly twenty years in music ministry. It is my prayer that these five ways to publish peace will resonate in our hearts:
- Focus on the race set before us.
- Fully armor up.
- Farewell the fairytale.
- Fear not!
- Finally, forgive.
Focus on the race set before us
Whether we have ever run a marathon, we are all running a race. Our individual races are strategically planned by God, tailored specifically to our needs, and set within the course of our lifetime. Every harrowing twist and turn are meant to develop an endurance grounded in faith. And as we run this race, the Bible commands us not to look to the left or right (Prov. 4:27), but to keep our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12:2).
My personal race brings me anxiety if I turn my eyes away from my heavenly Father. I am the type of woman that would prefer not to have a Day-At-A-Glance calendar, but a Life-At-A-Glance calendar! I am also a military spouse who has moved four times in the last four years, and soon will be moving again. Being a worship leader was largely my identity until we began relocating so frequently that it became difficult to employ me and therefore I had to find a new identity (or so I thought). Of course, my true identity is in Jesus, but when my eyes are too focused house-hunting on Realtor.com, Military by Owner, or Hotpads, I fail to let Jesus carry my burdens. Matthew 6:34 gently reminds us not to worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will care for itself. When I allow this truth to envelop my heart, the clouds may not totally dissipate, but enough sunlight appears that my sense of stability returns along with my peace.
One way to publish peace in our focused races is by living in the present. If I imagine too far into the future, I become restless. If I rehearse the past, I become paralyzed. But when I live in the present, seeking my manna from God daily, I become empowered to stay in the race. One of my favorite hymns, Great is Thy Faithfulness, is bursting with wisdom in its lyric that describes the Lord as our “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.”
Fully armor up.
God’s Word is our best defense against an enemy that the Bible says is not of flesh and blood. So, when we feel defenseless, or even put on the defensive, God is ready to take command. According to Proverbs 15:1, a gentle answer turns away wrath, and the Lord will fight for us, we need only be still (Ex. 14:14, NIV).
Recently the military moved us to South Carolina. Having lived most of my adult life driving the gridlocked freeways of California, a move to the sleepy community of Beaufort was quite a change of pace. This is not to demean the South in any way, for we have grown to love its lush greenery, beautiful seas, and welcoming hospitality. However, there is some truth to the saying that “everything is out to eat you”, referring to the alligators and the bugs! Quickly after learning our newest zip code to remember at the gas pump, I also learned I was going to need a reliable bug repellent. Where we live, the bugs are on the offensive and they target you like a guided missile — even through your clothing!
My point is that just as I armor up with bug repellent when going outside, how much more important for me to armor up inwardly with God’s Word? There is a joke that when Satan fell from heaven he probably fell into the choir loft because there is often a lot of drama associated with creative ministries. This may not be far from the truth in that creatives are often so highly gifted that their supercharged emotions leave them (and those around them) vulnerable to extreme highs and lows. As their leaders, and as women who are also prone to emotional tenderness, we should seek to put on a variety of God’s full armor. Scriptures of comfort, encouragement, rebuke, reprove, exhortation, compassion, grace, and always mercy should be embedded in our hearts. Like the Red Cross, we need a vast arsenal of Scripture to call forth at a moment’s notice. We must be ready to administer the healing Balm of Gilead, often to our own soldiers.
A final point about the bugs: they bite you in the stealthiest of places. One expects to be bitten on the legs and arms, but not on the eyelid and certainly not inside the ears! Likewise, Satan also infects us with the sickness of sin in unexpected places — in subtle recesses of the heart that we may not even know exist. What we might think is just an itch or inflammatory welt may actually be the onset of an insidious Zika virus causing spiritual microcephaly. The good news is that as women of worship we have the anecdote in the Word of God! I love how Billy Graham simply left a Bible open in the living room as a reminder to spend time with his Savior. Like a city on a hill, the light of God’s Word, when allowed to shine, will always penetrate darkness.
Farewell the fairy tale.
Fairy tales make for great folklore but not much ministry good. What is better, according to the wisdom of Philippians 8, is to think about things that are real. It says, “finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
As a woman, I find myself prone to dwelling on the “what ifs” as opposed to “what really is.” The source of my imaginative folly is an idol of perfectionism based on what others think about me. I have named one such idol my “fantasy shopping” idol. I love to shop, and I think I am quite capable of it. I can smell a bargain a mile away and I can sense within moments of stepping into my favorite store whether the goods are there. Maybe you can relate. I call it “fantasy shopping” because I am creating scenarios, which, of course will never happen, or outfits, for example, that I will never actually wear. One such “fantasy shopping” outfit would be for sailing on that yacht (which we could never afford) in the middle of the North Pole (where I actually do not want to visit), with all of my favorite musicians in the yacht band (who would probably get seasick anyway). Then there was that time I found something elegant for that day when I might bump into the Queen of England…or at least William and Kate…or at least the guard at Buckingham Palace…yet to this day, I have still never been to London!
As worship leaders, perhaps we are perfectionistic in our thinking. We dream about that perfect Sunday where nobody plays a bad chord. Maybe we long for the fairy tale team that never needs to work through challenging issues because everyone gets along. The truth is that worship ministries can be difficult places to serve. Volunteers show up late, people forget lyrics, the power point operator can’t keep up, and that song is still not going to work, though we have tried it twenty-five times. Meanwhile, someone in our congregation is suffering from cancer. That person in the back of the room who never smiles is grieving a prodigal child. Your drummer didn’t show up because he was too ashamed to admit his wife left him after he lost his job. This is the reality of our world: a ripe harvest for grace. John 8:32 says that the truth sets us free. The Bible teaches in 2 Cor. 3:17 that where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. These places of truth and freedom are where God in His mercy longs for us to dwell. It is in His presence that Christ brings us freedom based not upon a fairy tale, but upon eternal truths well-tested from the beginning of time.
I have a friend recently diagnosed with cancer who sets his phone alarm every hour to pray through a healing Scripture. This is his way of publishing God’s peace to his hurting heart. It is my friend’s desire to build his life upon a firm foundation of truth rather than the tumultuous unknowns of a cancer diagnosis. As a result, he is a profoundly different person — transformed by the supernatural ability of God’s Word to change him from the inside out.
Living with fear is something I have struggled with my entire life, and I believe many women also suffer from a similar thorn in the flesh. After all, throughout Scripture, the first words from the voices of angels were to “fear not.” I often hear the words of one of my mentors ringing in my mind reminding me that “Satan may not steal your salvation, but he may steal your joy.” Fear has a way of robbing us of the very abundant life that Jesus came so painfully far from heaven to provide. Jesus says that His perfect love casts out all fear, so we know that a spirit of fear does not have to reign in our hearts permanently.
I have started nursing school, and let me digress by telling you, I am afraid! The workload is exhaustive, the curriculum is intensive, but somehow, I just keep showing up to class. I am counting my remaining time in nursing school by the number of dentist appointments I have left, and I only have 3 dentist appointments until graduation! But back to fear. This past semester, my pathophysiology teacher taught a lecture entitled “Low Energy States.” The main point of his lecture was that almost every pathological condition in the human body can be traced back to an energy deficiency. Cancer, autoimmune diseases, and inflammation are all likely rooted in low energy levels. It was fascinating to think that something so benign as energy could cause a host of terminal conditions. I believe the same is true with fear. Fear depletes us of Christ’s power to do the impossible. Just like our cells cannot function without energy, apart from Christ, our source of strength, we can do nothing.
So how do we publish peace by facing our fears? We face it head-on with a ready response. When fear creeps in and keeps us on the sidelines, we speak out against it with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. When fear prevents us from confronting a difficult situation in our worship ministry, our rapid response is activated by remembering that these light and momentary troubles are producing an eternal glory that far outweighs them all (2 Cor. 4:17).
The concept of forgiveness speaks for itself because the cross speaks for itself. Just as Christ forgave us, so should we forgive. I will say this, though: forgiveness is underrated. Forgiveness does not change the situation, it changes the person. Forgiveness is seeing a big God in a very small world.
There are people throughout my ministry years that have deeply hurt me. And I am sure I have deeply hurt certain people. The saying is true that “hurt people, hurt people.” Personally, I think we hurt so deeply because we love so deeply. Most worship leaders I know have very tender hearts. Therefore, the wounds are great, but the forgiveness is that much greater.
Taking the first step of forgiveness comes by asking God to forgive us of our original sin. I assume that most people reading this article have already taken this initial step by making Jesus their personal Lord. But if by some chance, you are reading today and do not know the Biblical Christ, simply ask Him to forgive your sins by choosing to believe He is the only Son of God, by whose death you are forgiven once and for all. Signed, sealed, delivered — now you are His.
Next, we can all pray that God reveals the names of people that have hurt us or that we have hurt. By forgiving them, we release them to God. Signed, sealed, delivered — now they are His.
Lastly, we make our act of forgiveness final. Just as Jesus’ forgiveness on the cross was an act of finality, so our forgiveness should be final. This means we are to guard ourselves against resurrecting past hurts that were inflicted upon us or by us. God has given us new life in Christ and sin is dead; let us leave the dead buried. Signed, sealed, delivered — now we are His.
In closing, my prayer is that as publishers of peace we will allow our distinct differences, purposed by God, to propel us forward in ministry. May we never lose sight that women are uniquely gifted to bear God’s great tidings. May we see the glass as always half-full. May we find joy in the journey, hope for the heart, and healing for the soul. And may we have our running gear ready, our armor loaded, our bug repellent close, and forever our gaze fixed upon the Name Above All Names, our God and Savior, our Risen Christ, our Lord.