The Gentle & Quiet Spirit – Not a Personality Trait!

“Do not let your adorning be external – the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear – but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.”
1 Peter 3:3-4

yelling-loudly-4-1469948-639x852

I grew up in the church. I remember learning that a godly woman should have a gentle and quiet spirit. I looked at women in their 70s who never said a word and hid behind their husbands, and I imagined that was what God would find most pleasing. Nobody taught me to see it that way – I just came up with my own definition.

Maybe you didn’t grow up in the church. Maybe hearing that a godly woman has a gentle and quiet spirit makes you want to scream. How could God put women in a box like that, expecting them to behave outside their personalities? Why does God command this to women but not to men?

In this post, I’d like to dispel some of the myths surrounding the definition of a gentle and quiet spirit. I’ll also talk about how to cultivate a gentle and quiet spirit in the way God intended (not by change of personality).

Let’s start by looking back up at 1 Peter 3:3-4. The author is talking about what makes a woman beautiful. He’s not saying we should never put on pretty clothes or wear jewelry. He’s saying our beauty as Christians does not come from our outward appearance. Praise God for that! Our value lies in what is being made beautiful day by day inside our hearts. Whether you’re physically beautiful (by cultural standards) or not, Christ in you is continually increasing your beauty as you grow in Him.

Proverbs 31 is the primary passage talking about a woman’s internal beauty. Verse 25 says, “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.” So this woman clothes herself with strength and dignity. Upon first glance this could sound contradictory to the woman who is gentle and quiet. However, let’s look at the second half of the verse – “she laughs at the time to come.”  What does it mean to laugh at the future?

This truth is irreversibly tied to quietness of spirit. The Proverbs 31 woman looks ahead into the unknown and isn’t afraid. She is confident in God’s provision and love, so she is able to fulfill her responsibilities and leave everything else to God. This is what makes her full of strength and dignity.

As I began to learn about this and process the vast difference between me and this godly woman in Scripture, I remembered the story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42). Martha was getting stuff done. She was working hard to serve Jesus when he came over for dinner. Her sister, Mary, was sitting around listening to Jesus talk instead of helping with preparations. Martha was angry and asked Jesus to tell Mary to help. Jesus rebuked Martha and said Mary had chosen the better thing. That story really frustrates me because I was cut from the same cloth as Martha. I know how to get stuff done. This is a great gift, but I also misuse it and begin to do things I’m not called to do. The Proverbs 31 woman fulfills her responsibilities and leaves everything else to God.

The words Jesus said to Martha haunt me: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things.” If I want to cultivate a gentle and quiet spirit, I have to take a look at what troubles me and makes me anxious. The opposite of quietness is loudness. My spirit is LOUD. I’m always talking, always trying to figure things out and plan for all contingencies. I’m frustrated when things don’t go my way. I wish I could be in charge of everything and everyone because then I could make things (and people) better. Basically, I’m taking on God’s responsibilities.

Psalm 56:3-4 says, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?” So first I need to acknowledge that my desire to control circumstances and people reveals that I don’t trust God to do His job. I think I need to help Him (or take over completely) because I don’t see Him as a good Father who provides what I need. I also need to acknowledge that my desire to control is based in FEAR. I am afraid of what is to come, so I seek to prepare and control outcomes.

When I acknowledge my desire to control and its root in fear, I must confess and repent of the ways I’ve tossed God off His throne and put myself there. Where I don’t feel the weight of that sin, I beg Him to convict me deeply. Then I receive His forgiveness and grace, knowing His steadfast love and faithfulness are from everlasting to everlasting for those who love and fear Him (Sidenote: remember previous posts about the fear of God? Dwelling in the fear of God naturally cultivates quietness of spirit!)

Finally, I must engage in the discipline of sitting at his feet, just as Mary did. We have to make the conscious choice to rest in His provision and wisdom and goodness. Warning: this will be really hard to do, especially if you’ve spent your life doing the opposite. Here is an example of a way to start the process:

  1. Set aside a 30-minute block of time when you are wide awake and free from distraction.
  2. Recognize you’ll be distracted even if there are no outside forces distracting you. Some find it helpful to write down all the things they still need to do that day and/or the things swirling around in their minds.
  3. Begin with prayer, and pray out loud. This is vital. Praying aloud keeps you locked in and focused on what you’re doing.
  4. Read a short passage such as Psalm 23 or Psalm 91. Read it out loud and slowly.
  5. Pray the passage back to God. For example: “Father, thank you that you are my shepherd and provide everything I need.” Focus on His attributes and character, and don’t ask Him for anything.
  6. Write down the ways in which you’ve seen a particular character trait displayed in your life and throughout Scripture you know. For example: If you’re thinking about His provision, write down times He clearly provided for you, and then write down examples you remember when God provided in the Bible.
  7. Make a habit of engaging God in this way on a daily basis. Stop just asking him for stuff. He wants to hear your requests, but He also wants to hear your praise and adoration.

I think the reason many people struggle to find rest in God’s presence is because they wrongly think rest means they just sit there and listen to God talk. I promise, He’s talking to you as you pray and think and write. Sitting in quietness is a good thing, but first you must learn to worship Him by reflecting on His character. As you see Him more and more correctly over time, you will find your mind and heart at rest to listen quietly.

In our next post, we’ll talk about the obstacles to becoming a woman with a gentle and quiet spirit.

What to Do with Crippling Fear

scanner-fear-3-1251133-638x452

I wanted to touch on what happens when a person becomes so crippled by fear that they are unable to function in the ways they once were. This can look several different ways, such as panic attacks, fears of particular situations or objects (we call these phobias), fears that lead to compulsions and obsessive thoughts, general anxiety that keeps a person from being able to fulfill regular responsibilities, and anxiety as a result of trauma that has happened.

When a person becomes debilitated by fear, life comes to a screeching hault. It’s difficult even to look up and see other people and God, let alone just complete simple tasks that used to come easily. I want to emphasize that, although these fears may find their root in sin committed against us or by us, they work themselves out in such a way that keeps us from living our lives. Practically, we need to find tools to help us get through the day. So if this is you, I want to speak specifically to your struggle.

Go to the doctor. If you go to a general practitioner (not a psychiatrist), you’ll need to equip yourself to share things he or she may not ask. So before you visit your doctor, gauge your level of anxiety on a daily basis (for at least a month if you can). The best thing to do is write your anxiety level as a number on the calendar each day. The scale can be 1-10 (1 is no anxiety, and 10 is the highest anxiety you’ve ever felt). The criteria for diagnosis of anxiety disorder is that you be experiencing anxiety or worry for at least six months, but it’s helpful to have specific information for your doctor rather than just saying, “Yep, I’ve been anxious for more than 6 months.”

Important Note: If you’re experiencing panic attacks and/or intense fears that are immediately debilitating, do not wait a month to visit your doctor.

When you visit the doctor, go prepared to share the following information:

  • Give him/her your anxiety calendar and explain it.
  • Share any traumatic or stressful events that have happened in your life over the past year.
  • Talk about the areas of your life that are hindered or debilitated by this anxiety.

Keep in mind: doctors function in medicine. I know, duh. But remember that your doctor will almost certainly hand you a prescription for an anti-depressant or an anti-anxiety medication. Medication may be part of what you need in order to work toward healing and hope. However, it’s definitely not the only thing you need, and it may not be what you need at all.

After going to the doctor, arrange to speak with a trusted and mature Christian friend. Talk with him or her about what’s happening and ask for prayer in making good decisions regarding your mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Finally, get in touch with a biblical counselor or program at your church that allows you to work through these difficult issues over a period of time. You are not designed to figure this out and get better on your own. You need the Body of Christ to walk alongside you. If you want to figure it out on your own, you’re probably functioning in shame. Recognize your need and move toward others and God, knowing that what you’re experiencing is not crazy or even rare. When life becomes overwhelming (which it does for everyone), it’s time to reach out with greater intentionality than ever before.

Do you have specific questions about fear and anxiety? Please comment on this post. If you want it to remain private, just let me know and I won’t post your comment publicly.

 

What Do You Fear Most?

Note: This post is the second in a series about fear. Read the previous post, “A Woman Who Fears the Lord,” to get caught up.

What’s the difference between fear of God and worldly fear? If the fear of God consists of reverence, humility and worship, what does it mean to apply those aspects to people, objects and situations?

Let’s take my example (in the previous post) of being afraid to disappoint other people. When I deeply long for the approval of others, the natural emotional response in my heart is fear when I discover I might not always get what I desire. The approval of others becomes what I give reverence to – I see it as highly important and even necessary. But instead of operating in humility (the second aspect of healthy fear), I turn to pride. Here’s why: when I look on approval of others as a god-like figure in my life and quickly discover that it cannot deliver (as opposed to God, who always lives up to His status as God), I realize I have to look inside myself to make up for what is lacking in my god. I begin to work hard to control other people’s view of me. My focus is completely on myself, thus creating pride in my heart. And who do I worship in this scenario? Absolutely and only myself.

So my main goal when I come to my senses and realize I’m operating in fear should be to run to God. In Him reside all goodness and hope and peace. But so often I don’t see Him rightly, so I approach Him in the wrong way. When I am afraid, I find myself approaching God as someone who can either give me what I want or judge me unworthy and send me away with nothing. What a sad commentary on my view of Him! The sin lies not merely in the fact that I’m afraid. The sin lies in the way I approach God and expect Him to magically remove fear and make me happy.

So practically speaking, let’s put this in perspective. It’s Christmastime. You’ll be visiting family, and this may give you a sense of impending doom. Not all your family members are fun to be around or easy to get along with. You feel your heart constricting and your mind spinning. What if that elephant-in-the-room subject is brought up? What if everyone ends up fighting and the fun gets ruined?

Or what if you’ve been watching your food intake like a hawk, and now you’re afraid you’ll blow the whole thing by eating everything in sight? What if you dread facing someone in your family who harmed you terribly? What if this is your first Christmas without a loved one, and you’re afraid of facing that grief? There are a myriad of possible dangers looming around every corner. How will you approach God when you are afraid? Will you run to Him as Father and redeemer? Or will you pridefully seek to control outcomes? Or perhaps you’ll run to Him but strictly out of frustration, expecting Him to hurry up and give you relief.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling” (Psalm 46:1-3).

No matter what fears you’re facing this Christmas season, God is your refuge and strength. In Him alone lie true peace and hope. I encourage you to reflect on Psalm 46 this week. Let your heart be reminded that He is what you need when the mountains are moved into the heart of the sea.

In the next post, we’ll talk about how to cultivate the fear of God in our lives and how to reject worldly fear.

Questions for Reflection:

  • What’s your typical go-to response when fear comes? How does your response reflect the state of your heart?
  • What types of worldly fear are typical for you?

Passages to Study: Psalm 46; Psalm 147:1-11

Homework – Fear of God

A Woman Who Fears the Lord

Fear is a feeling I’m all too familiar with. When I was a little girl, it was darkness. Into my pre-teens, it was the fear of dangerous criminals. As a young adult, I feared being alone or being taken advantage of. And now that I’m an adult, I struggle with fears that my children will be harmed, fears of failure, and fears of growing old and not mattering to society. Just to name a few.

I’ve studied fear, both in my life and in the lives of others. A few years ago I decided to study what the Bible has to say about fear. And lo and behold, fear is everywhere in those pages. If you’re anything like me, you don’t need anyone to teach you about fear of failure, fear of disaster, or fear of death. But we might do well to learn about the fear of God.

One of my favorite passages that demonstrates fear of God is Isaiah 6:1-8. Isaiah sees God sitting on His majestic throne, the robe of His train filling the temple. Seraphim cry out in worship, and the foundations of the temple shake and tremble. Then Isaiah describes himself: “And I said, ‘Woe is me!” After seeing this beauty and glory and power, Isaiah can’t do anything but try to hide. He recognizes his smallness and sin so plainly in that throne room.

Fear of God includes three aspects, two of which we see clearly in this passage in Isaiah. First, fear of God consists of reverence – seeing God correctly. Second, fear of God consists of humility – seeing ourselves correctly. If either of these aspects is neglected, we cannot fear God rightly.

Let’s talk about reverence. We only give reverence to something we highly value and see as greater than ourselves. I remember going to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington D.C. when I was 13 years old. There were probably 200 people there to watch the changing of the guard, but I don’t remember ever being so deafened by the silence. Not a sound could be heard except the footsteps of the soldiers as they walked past the tomb. Even though I didn’t really understand why that tomb was there or what all the fuss was about, I wouldn’t have dared make a sound. That’s reverence.

I’m going to state the obvious here – we cannot see God rightly unless we actually look at Him. In order to have a healthy fear of God, we have to be in His presence over and over again. We have to examine Him from every possible angle. In this examination, we will naturally respond in reverence, just as Isaiah did.

As we see God rightly, we will naturally begin to see ourselves rightly as well. You can’t help but feel small when you’re standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon. So humility consists of looking at ourselves with the beauty of God casting light into our darkness. He is beautiful – we are not. He is glorious – we are plain. He is holy – we are sinful. When I’m struggling with pride, it’s always a reflection of my lack of vision for who God is.

We’ve said that fear of God consists of reverence and humility, and now we come to the third aspect – worship. When we see God rightly and then see ourselves rightly, we are compelled to worship. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for worship literally translates “to bow down.” In our thoughts, attitudes, and motivations, are we bowing down in reverence and humility toward God? In what ways do we choose to stand upright and ignore who He is and who we are in comparison?

As you can see, this concept does not apply only to women. All of humanity is called to fear the Lord alone. As women, we may be prone to certain types of fear in lieu of a fear of God, and we’ll discuss this in our next post. But everyone, regardless of gender, understands fear. Let us pray that we grow in a rightly-directed fear of God and turn loose our fears of other things.

Questions for Reflection:

  • How does your culture influence you toward pride and self-exaltation rather than reverence, humility and worship of God?
  • In what ways do you cultivate reverence, humility and worship in your daily life? How might the Lord be prompting you to grow in these areas?

Passages to Study: Philippians 2:12-13, Jeremiah 32:36-41, and Psalm 139.

Want to study this topic all week? Click below for a homework guide, including study and reflection questions.

Homework – Fear of God