The Tale of Two Prodigals and Radical Love

Introduction

In 2012, a detailed study into the parallel meanings of the parable of the Prodigal Son ignited a deep passion within me for biblical research. I realized in that moment I had a hunger for finding depth within the Scriptures beyond simply reading the words.  That self discovery was one of the

 primary reasons I started the In-Place Missionary blog to help you, dear reader, look for hidden truths and bits of gold on your own. It’s vital to read the Bible and understand what you profess to believe. It’s a critical piece to understanding your identity in Christ and God’s love for you. The more nuggets of gold you find hidden within the pages, the more God’s nature and love is revealed. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

The Prodigal Son Revelation

I’ve been in a church most of my life, and I’ve probably heard the story of the Prodigal Son over a hundred times (seriously); however, I only knew the parable at its surface: a young, immature son leaves home and spends his inheritance on material things and has to return home to a father who is thankfully happy to have his son back. It took a small group discussion, a close friend with a powerful gift of teaching, and my own follow-up research to realize there is more to the story. Yes, these themes are important; but, as with many other stories and accounts throughout the Bible, there is more to discover than what you initially see.

Theme One — The Lost Son

The first theme of the Prodigal Son parable is the narrative about the youngest son. He grew up with the comforts of his father’s estate and had a responsible, older brother who worked the fields of his father’s property. The young son was eager to see the world at any cost; and, as a result, acted selfishly and foolishly.

In the beginning of the story, the youngest son asked his father for his inheritance, something that was generally not common in that culture until after the father’s death. However, the father agreed to his son’s request; and as quickly as the estate was split between the two heirs, the youngest son left home for his grand adventure in a far away land.

Once he left home, we learn the young man made a series of regrettable mistakes. He quickly squandered his inheritance and indulged in wild living. He lived a lavish life of blissful immaturity and youthful invincibility. However, before long, he ran out of money.

At this point in the story, he probably should have returned home. His pockets and his belly were empty, but his pride and determination likely fueled his decision to stay in the far away land in spite of his dire situation.

Eventually, the wayward son got a job feeding pigs for a farmer. The wage was pitifully small, and he frequently couldn’t afford food for himself. As he felt his hungry stomach ache for a long awaited meal for yet another night, he finally decided to make the long journey home and beg for his father to take him in as a servant to make up for his misdeeds. The young son was surprised when his father hugged him and called him “son”, ignoring the prodigal’s comments on his unworthiness.

I don’t know about you, but I can identify with the younger son. He was immature and strong-willed. He believed he knew what was best for his own life; but, obviously, he didn’t. After he lost all his inheritance, he forgot his identity as a son. He felt undeserving of his father’s love. This loss of identity is evident by his plan to ask his father to allow him to become a servant. Have you been in that place? I have.

Theme Two — The Second Prodigal

The second theme is all about the second prodigal — the older son. He was the dependable, outwardly wiser son who always tried to do things for his father to earn his rightful place.

Once the estate was divided, he decided to remain with his father. His choice to stay home may have appeared virtuous, but his character was revealed in his reaction over his father’s response to his little brother’s homecoming. When he saw a celebration happening for his irresponsible, younger brother, he became angry and said to his father, “All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!” (Luke 15:29‭-‬30)

At this point in the parable, the older brother thought his father would love him more than his brother because his actions were righteous. However, his motivation to take those actions were not pure. The ugly truth about this self-righteous attitude is it caused him to lack compassion for his little brother, compare himself to someone he felt was “less deserving”, and miss what was already available to him. The oldest son already had everything that was of his father’s estate, but he didn’t recognize it because he thought he couldn’t obtain it without first gaining approval (Wow, that hits me right in the heart!).

I can also identify with this second prodigal son. I too am guilty of the religious mindset to earn God’s favor at times. It is important to keep the Lord’s commands and follow His will, but the key question should always be what motivates us to obey the Lord? He cares more about the condition of our hearts than our words and deeds.

Consider the pharisees and how they were portrayed in the New Testament. They thought they were better than everyone who called themselves a Jew because they knew and kept the laws better than most other people could, but they missed the whole reason for following the law (Matthew 22:34-40). Also, take a look at these hard words spoken by Jesus: “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.'” (Matthew 7:21‭-‬22) Simply stated, God wants us to choose to make the right choices as a byproduct of love.

Theme Three — the Unwavering Love of the Father

The third and most important theme of the story is the father’s response to his wayward son. He was patient and longsuffering. He remained loving despite how his son’s choices grieved him, and he continued hoping his son would return to him.

During ancient times, it would have been likely taboo for a son to ask his father for his inheritance. It would have been the equivalent to saying, “I can’t wait for you to die so I can have my portion of the estate and do what I want!” How many times have we had this attitude towards God the Father, and He chooses to love us anyway? The thought makes me weep.

Even after such a hurtful request, the father divided his estate and gave it to his sons. He never berated or belittled the younger son because, out of abundant love, he allowed him to exercise free will. He was old enough to leave home afterall.

This section of the parable reveals an important detail about the nature of God. He’s a gentleman who, out of the truest expression of love, allows us to make our own choices even if they lead us away from Him. He doesn’t coerce or demean to force us to change our minds. Alternately, He grieves for us knowing we’ll have to experience the consequences of poor decisions. Instead of responding with anger, He is filled with compassion. Like the father in this story, He waits every day and night, looking intently for us to come back home. He wants nothing more than for us to return to His embrace.

When the son finally returned home, the Bible says the father saw him “from a long way off.” This detail indicates the father watched for his son, waiting eagerly for him to come home. Although the son expected to grovel at his father’s feet and beg to become a servant, his father restored him to sonship and a place of honor in the family. He dressed the son in the finest robe and placed a ring on his finger (signifying to whose house he belonged and the level of authority given to him). The father even threw a party and feast for his young son!

At this point, you may be asking like I did, “Why would the father not be mad? His son blew all his inheritance. His dad would have been right to be upset. The son didn’t deserve a party. He’s lucky he didn’t have to scrub the floors of his father’s estate for the rest of his life.” This is the part of the story that still amazes me, honestly. The father made a profound statement that provides a clue as to why he’s rejoicing and why Father God does the same with real life prodigals like you and me (my paraphrased summary): “Son, when you left home, it was like you were dead. But now you are home and brought to life again!”

When we make choices that cut us off from God, our source, we wither and die. In contrast, when we return to the Father, we come back to life again. We cannot survive without being connected to the source of our identity and lifeblood (John 15:5). It is only when we realize our desperate need for the Presence of God and a deep relationship with Him that we experience abundant life. Without Him, we are starved like the son trying to make his own way, feeding pigs to survive. Thank goodness for God’s unfailing love!

Final Thoughts

The most transformational meaning from this simple parable is understanding who the Father is and how He sees us. Do we expect God to wait and watch for us to do wrong so He can punish us? Do we expect our sins will cause us to lose our sonship? Do we believe God loses interest in us because we fail Him? He is none of those things, of course, because He is the very definition of love. He is not like earthly fathers who may be well-meaning but flawed. He does not have the same mindset or emotional responses we do. We would be wrong to try to assign human qualities to Him out of our personal perception and experiences with our own fathers.

Son or Daughter of the King, if you’ve made poor choices, feel unworthy or unredeemable, know this: Abba Father is always waiting for you to return home. He longs for your fellowship and companionship although He doesn’t need it. He chooses you anyway! His desire is to draw you back to Himself, bring you back to life, and watch you thrive. He knows that when we are most alive, we are most effective to show others around us the love of Christ and bring restoration to this broken world.

“We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!” – Luke 15:32

With love,

Heather

His Eye is on the Sparrow

What is the price of five sparrows — two copper coins? Yet God does not forget a single one of them. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows. – Luke 12:6-7 

I couldn’t believe it. God just used a faithful friend to give me turn-by-turn directions for something seemingly insignificant. How could it be that the God of the universe would care about something as small as a piece of code I was writing for a work form? Even now, my mind has a hard time catching up with my heart which knows God cares about all of the details of our lives, big and small. I hope my true story (from two weeks ago!) will encourage you.

As hour four quickly closed, I felt no closer to figuring out how to write a particular piece of application code that my supervisor wanted than when I first started. I admit to feeling a little hopeless at that point. I may be in the computer field, but I am not a programmer. I stared at the code with frustration for a long minute.

“Ask me,” the Lord stirred within in my heart in that familiar still, small voice.

“Okay,” I responded obediently, unsure what to ask exactly. “Lord, will you point me to the right resource?”

A few minutes after hearing nothing more, I texted a friend who knew the code language that I needed (I laugh now as I write this post because I think I felt like I needed to help the Lord answer my prayer). My friend tried to help and pointed me to a couple of sites, but my particular code issue was not something he was familiar with writing. The sites were useful suggestions, but after another hour fiddling with the code, I realized I was getting nowhere fast. As a last resort, I used my lunch to post a plea to Facebook for help.

“Now, what do I do, Lord?” I sighed.

A minute later, my smart phone buzzed with a message from another friend named Faith who responded to my request for help on Facebook (my friend’s name is not actually “Faith.” However, per her request, I changed her name as part of the permission she gave me to use her part of the conversation that you will read below).

“Did you ask the Holy Spirit about the code?” Faith asked.

“I asked Him for a solution,” I wrote back quickly.

“I agree He’ll lead you to a solution. I’m asking for a word of knowledge about it. I have no idea in the natural [physical world]. I’ll let you know what I hear in a few minutes.”

About ten minutes later, I received a follow-up message from Faith, “There’s something in the second part of the code. Does that make sense at all?”

I went back to my original code and started at the second sub statement, which happened to be the part I was struggling with all morning. Knowing that she had not seen the code and wasn’t a programmer, I started laughing at my excitement at what the Lord was doing through her, “Yes, your response makes perfect sense! I still need to get clarification on what to do with the second part though.”

“Okay, I didn’t know if codes have parts. LOL! I’ll ask what to do with it,” she confirmed before shortly continuing a minute later, “Delete something is what I heard. Like there’s too much maybe?” she mentioned.

I instantly recognized what she meant. “Yes, I think I did add too much to my code,” I agreed.

Although Faith could not hear me, I was laughing again as I looked at the code and removed what I suspected was incorrect from the overall module. When I was done making changes, I eagerly tested the code, but encountered an error.  However, I remained determined and I felt in my spirit that we were on the right path.

“I have no idea what I’m talking about,” Faith texted.

“That is funny to me, because I do know what you’re saying,” I confirmed. “I deleted the problematic code, but something is still missing.”

“Okay, I’m asking,” she responded and quickly followed up with “I am hearing something about a closing statement. Do they have those in programming?”

“Yes, closing statements are in programming” I confirmed.

I scrolled to the last closing statement, but nothing looked wrong. Everything appeared to be in order, and the syntax appeared correct. While I was still searching for my mistake, I received another message from Faith.

“Maybe not in the closing closing statement but one further up in the code?” she urged without knowing I was still struggling.

Her words suddenly made sense. Of course, the issue was with the end sub statement at the tail-end of the second sub command. It was the same code I had wrestled with all day. Immediately, I found the syntax error and corrected it. My fingers couldn’t press the run button fast enough when I realized that error was likely the last barrier to making the code work. Believe it or not, it worked! Perfectly! Only God could do that. I am still in awe.  

I’ve thought over the last several days why God would do such a seemly small thing. That piece of code would never have cured cancer or solved the problems of the world. It was a mundane script for a simple operational purpose at work. Why would God bother to help me with something so menial?

I believe God is involved in the details of our lives for many reasons. He’s a good Daddy. He loves us. It’s also a testimony of His great love in the little adventures of our everyday lives for others to see. If the whole event teaches someone about His love in even the smallest way, I feel it was worth doing and certainly worth sharing.

Peace and love to you, and may you experience His reality in your life — even in the smallest of things. If He cares for each tiny sparrow, He will certainly love you that much more!

Sincerely,
Heather

Giants in the Promised Land

She stared at the monumental task before her. Its completion seemed impossible. She understood how David must have felt with only a sling and a stone to take down a giant. Her mind raced. Her heart jumped. How would she get through this moment? Wasn’t she in the center of God’s Will? Didn’t she go where the Lord had called? Why was each step such an enormous effort? Did the Lord intend for her to fail?

I can think of countless times I’ve experienced that exact distressing scenario, wondering if maybe I heard God incorrectly or somehow removed myself from His Will and protection over my life. It’s not a fun place to be. Sometimes, we further confuse ourselves when we agree Arrivingwith well-meaning but uninformed clichés, suggesting God will always remove every obstacle and open every door when we’re on the right path.

It can feel distressing when you reach a new chapter, a momentary “promised land” in life and quickly discover it’s not going to be easy due to “giants” (obstacles, challenges, struggles, problems or seemingly impossible situations) in the land before you, threatening to spoil your victory and ruin you at every turn.

One evening a few months ago during my prayer time with God, I was particularly upset and confused about a giant in my life. I complained to my Abba Father for thirty minutes, asking Him why my mission field was enormously difficult and expressing how discontent it made me feel. I can almost imagine as I whined that God was calmly listening with an “are-you-done-throwing-your-pity-party-yet-so-I-can-talk” type of look on His face.

“Please speak to me through your Scripture, Lord,” I asked piously after concluding my rant (I understand if you’re snickering at me, dear reader). Little did I know how much God would use that request to teach me about how He felt my journey was going.

Soon after I voiced my request, the reference Acts 20:19-21 came to mind. As I wrote it down, another reference, Zechariah 4:10, popped in my head. I quickly wrote it below the first reference.

I was curious to know what the verses said as they were not immediately familiar references to me. I opened my Amplified Bible and leafed through until I found the first passage from Acts:

“Serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and trials which came on me because of the plots of the Jews [against me]; [you know] how I did not shrink back in fear from telling you anything that was for your benefit, or from teaching you in public meetings, and from house to house, solemnly [and wholeheartedly] testifying to both Jews and Greeks, urging them to turn in repentance to God and [to have] faith in our Lord Jesus Christ [for salvation].”

The verse and section in context was Paul explaining that his ministry was difficult from the first day he entered his mission field in Asia and often accompanied by tears and trials. However, he concluded the end result was worth the struggle because it furthered the Gospel and glorified God.

I was floored. Did I just read that right? Did I not just complain to God about the giants in my mission field being too tall and the road too hard and too long from the first day I began this journey?

“Okay,” I mused aloud. “You’ve got my attention.”

I flipped eagerly to the other verse, now acutely aware the Lord was speaking clearly about that which I was groaning:

“Who [with reason] despises the day of small things (beginnings)? For these seven [eyes] shall rejoice when they see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel. They are the eyes of the Lord which roam throughout the earth.”

The second piece of Scripture was a bit more difficult to figure out because of the metaphors, but with some simple research, I eventually understood. The passage was about the construction of the Temple and God’s pleasure as He oversaw the building process. Maybe I’m just seeing what I want to see, but the message was clear in my mind: The Father saw the construction within me, His Temple, growing pains and all, and was pleased.

I sat in my chair for several minutes, staring at the verses I just read.  I was speechless. The words were not easy to read.  God was delighted with how my journey was going. But was I? Not so much.

I wanted God to simplify my mission and agree with me to take away the obstacles, but He didn’t. Instead, I found myself having to face my giant head on. But I never fought the battle alone.

God often shows up in the most incredible ways in those dark moments when we find ourselves in Goliath’s shadow. Defeating such a giant requires faith and trust, even when the current circumstances look a lot like failure. It often means we keep fighting until we’ve reached the end. Only then do we realize God is always for us (Romans 8:28) and He’s always with us (Deuteronomy 31:6). He uses our weaknesses as His strength. Our victories over the giants in our lives grow us and prepare us to fight bigger battles. It witnesses to those who don’t know our loving God about His reality. Our testimonies of overcoming adversity teach others and build their faith to believe that they can do the same with God by their side.

Prayer: The Weapon Against My Hopeless Heart

I lift up my eyes to the mountains — where does my help come from?  My help comes from the Lord the Maker of heaven and earth. – Psalms 121:1-2

I’m a news addict.  I love to read everything I can get my hands (or eyes) on.  It’s a great blessing to know at any given moment what’s going on in the world, but it’s also a curse.  It’s hard not to be effected by stories of death, wars, natural disasters, crime, etc.; and it can seem paralyzing at times.  worried

As Christians, how should we respond to negative news or suffering around the world?  Pray for Christ to come quickly?  Shake our heads in condemnation?  Worry about the future?  Throw up our hands and just give up?

It would be easy to agree with the lie that we’re helpless.  After all, it’s a big world with plenty of big problems.  It often seems impossible for one, small voice to be effective.  However, it’s important for us to remember we have the most powerful weapon in the world against such chaos — prayer.

Negative things we see and hear often effect us deeply because we are made in the image of God.  As Christians, what grieves our Father should also grieve us.  We are His mirrors on the earth, reflecting His heart for humanity and His divine nature.  We are creative, emotional, inventive and Spirit-filled beings just like our Abba.  As we grow in our Christ-like world view, our compassion and love for others grows. As such, when we see terrible things happen, whether it’s in the news or a tragedy involving a loved one, it can be painful.  However, instead of feeling helpless and giving up on the situation, what if we used the burdens we feel for others as opportunities to pray?  Could our intercession and pleading on the behalf of others change the course of an event or a person’s life?  I can speak from personal testimony — Yes, prayer makes a difference!

Prayer is frequently used as our last line of defense when it should be our first.  It’s a direct communication line with the God who makes all things possible. When prayers are answered, it builds personal faith in God. It strengthens and reaffirms trust. When we share testimonies of God’s faithfulness through answered prayers, it can change someone’s helpless feelings to hope again. It can build the faith of others or renew a commitment to pray about a promise not yet fulfilled.

Here’s a true story about how someone else’s prayers and testimony changed a person’s life (and mine):

Mrs. Golightly, my middle school and high school English teacher, appeared visibly shaken one morning as we begin class. Her usual cheery smile was noticibly missing. Tears welled up in her eyes. As she explained the day’s lesson, she began to cry and had to stop.

“Class,” Mrs. Golightly began, “I found out this morning that a former student who is only a few years older than you all has been diagnosed with Lymphoma. The cancer is all over his body, and the doctors don’t expect him to live more than a couple of months. We are going to pray for that young man every morning before class until he is healed.”

I had Mrs. Golightly as a teacher for two straight years. Every day for two years, we prayed for the boy with lymphoma. Although there were bad reports some days about the progress of the cancer or lack of effectiveness of chemotherapy, we prayed anyway. When two months and then several more passed and the boy miraculously still lived, we prayed. We thanked God for the young man, his life, and his testimony. We prayed with hope that he would live despite the odds against him.

Then the news came: the boy was healed completely of cancer. The doctors ran several tests and claimed it must have been a miracle because the evidence of cancer was gone.

How did the news of they boy healed of cancer affect me? As a new Christian, I saw my Father in action. I saw that partnering and petitioning with Him matters. That day built my faith and laid a foundation to pray earnestly and expectantly, knowing my Father would here my requests and answer.

Scripture points us to the importance of intercession as a valuable tool of deliverance, healing, and divine intervention:

I pray this post will encourage you in whatever you are facing. Remember, you are not alone because God hears your prayers. Never give up. Never lose hope.

Old and New Testament Parallels, Symbols, and Ponderings Series: Moses as a Type of Christ (Part 1)

Moses is one of the best known types of Christ found in the Old Testament typology. His life, teaching, preaching and predictions as a major Old Testament prophet directly parallel Jesus’s life, death and resurrection. Below, you will findegypt “Part 1” on Moses’s early life and the corresponding direct parallels to the life and ministry of Jesus. “Part 2”, which will be posted in the coming weeks, will contain the second half of Moses’s life.

Born under Foreign Rulers:

  • Moses was born in Egypt many years after Joseph, who famously saved the region from famine, died. The current reigning pharaoh knew nothing of the Hebrew-Egyptian partnership and worried about the growing Jewish population and their influence within his land. Out of fear of being overthrown, he made the Hebrews his slaves and forced them into hard labor and oppression (Exodus 2:3-10).
  • Jesus was born during the rule of the infamously power hungry, murderous and paranoid Herod the Great, the king of Judea (a client kingdom of Rome). Aside from Herod, the Romans were generally considered much less oppressive than the pharaoh of Moses’s day; however, the Jews’ activities were carefully monitored by the Roman government to ensure the peace was kept and no activity would lead to an overthrow (Franz, Gordon; Matthew 2).

Child of the Poor; Born to be a King:

  • Moses’s mother was a Jewish slave; but he became a prince of Egypt. As a prince, he could have forsaken his heritage as a Hebrew and experienced the lavish riches and lifestyle of the royal Egyptian family. However, he was nursed by his biological mother and raised in his early years with his kinsmen. It was a bond he never forgot, eventually causing him to reject the Egyptians as his adopted family and resent the unfair treatment of his people (Exodus 2:11).
  • Jesus was born in a manger, but He is the Son of God and often referred to as the “King of kings and Lord of lords”, which refers to a ruler who holds complete power to exercise dominion over His realm (GotQuestions). When He walked among His disciples, His intention was never to rule over men as a “king” in the traditional sense. For His followers who were vying for control, power and a special seat of honor, this caused a great amount of confusion (Matthew 20:20-28; Revelation 17:14, 19:16).

Lives Threatened at Birth:

  • Pharaoh feared the Hebrews in Egypt and commanded the midwives of Jewish mothers to kill all newborn boys; however, the little boys were spared because the midwives feared God and protected them. As a result, God blessed the midwives for their faithfulness (Exodus 1:15-22).
  • After Moses was born, his mother hid him to ensure his safety. When she no longer could keep him hidden, she placed Moses in a basket along the Nile to be noticed by Pharaoh’s daughter who had gone to the river to bathe. The Egyptian princess took pity on the baby in the basket, and Moses’ life was spared from death (Exodus 1:15-22).
  • Jesus’ life was also threatened at birth. King Herod, who ruled over the land where Jesus was born, was paranoid and power hungry. In fact, the fear of losing his thrown consumed him to such a horrifying degree that he murdered his own family (Frankz, Gordon; Losch, Richard).
  • After Herod heard the prophecy stating a king more powerful than he would be born in his land during his lifetime, he instructed his soldiers to murder all the little boys born within his kingdom to ensure no one could take his crown (Matthew 2:3-18).

Adopted:

  • Moses was adopted into Pharaoh’s family; Jesus was adopted into Joseph’s family. Neither man was raised by his biological father (Exodus 2:10; Matthew 1:19-21).

Childhood in Egypt:

  • Moses was raised as a prince of Egypt (Exodus 2:10).
  • Mary and Joseph fled with Jesus to Egypt to hide him from King Herod (Matthew 2:13).

An Early Calling; Realized Years Later:

  • Moses felt a deep calling to deliver his people, the Hebrews, from slavery. After Moses killed an Egyptian man for abusing a Hebrew slave, he fled to Midian and was unable to realize the calling on his life until 40 years later (Exodus 2:11-15, 3:7-10; Acts 7:25-30).
  • At the age of twelve, Jesus spoke with the religious teachers in the Temple. He began His ministry when He was about 30 years old; and He completed His calling through His death, burial and resurrection at the age of 33 (Matthew 4:12-25; Luke 3:23).

Wandered through the Wilderness before Fulfilling Calling:

  • The wilderness is used in the Bible as time of change, transition and revelation. Moses wandered through the wilderness when he fled Egypt (Exodus 3). In the wilderness, he married Zipporah, had children, and encountered God in the burning bush, changing the course of his life forever.
  • Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit. In the wilderness, He fasted and was tempted by the devil. The experience in the wilderness was a necessary precursor to Jesus’s ministry (Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1).

Kept the Company of Gentiles:

Performed Miracles:

Both were Tempted:

  • Moses could have enjoyed the life of a prince, but his heart was with his kinsmen, the Hebrews (Hebrews 11:24-27).
  • After 40 days of fasting, Jesus was tempted in wilderness to turn stones to bread, test God the Father and take the world as His kingdom. However, Jesus never sinned (Matthew 4:1-9).

Became Shepherds:

  • Moses watched over his father-in-law’s sheep (Exodus 3:1).
  • Jesus is the “Good Shepherd” (John 10:6-16).

Moved by Compassion for Israel:

  • Moses saw the unfair treatment of his family and friends in Egypt, and felt called to rescue them (Acts 7:23-24).
  • Jesus chose to die for us. Even as His own people called for His crucifixion, He asked the Father to forgive them (Luke 23:34).

Other Interesting Discoveries while Researching this Topic:

  • When the mummy of the Egyptian pharaoh named Thutmoses II was discovered, scientists were surprised to find cyst-like scars covering his body, indicating he may have experienced the infamous plague of boils (www.bible.ca).

Resources:

Female Leaders, Apostles, Disciples, Prophets and Other Women of Influence in the Bible and Early Church History

The more I spend time in the Scripture and study the Greek and Hebrew lexicons, the more I believe many of our disagreements over the roles of women in church leadership are frequently based on misunderstandings of the original languages and a loss of cultural context.  The intended audiences would have easily understood the depth and breadth of the meanings of the words used.  However, our English translations often fail to sufficiently explain the authors’ intended messages and grammatical nuances.

This is not to say the Word of God contains errors.  For example, in the English language we use the word “love” to describe a wide range of feelings or actions.  It may be used to describe a deep affection for a spouse, child or close friend.  The emotions may be complex and shift in meaning depending on what, whom, how or why I love.  However, the word “love” may also be used to describe a favorite food or song on the radio, which are obviously shallow expressions of the same word.  These examples may be oversimplified, but they were my starting point for researching and understanding this topic.  After all, God’s Word never changes but my understanding should as I read the Scripture, spend time in study and commune with Him.

I humbly pray the summaries of the influential Old Testament and New Testament women below will inspire you to perform your own research. After all, our most powerful tool as Christians is knowledge. Our most destructive weapon is ignorance.

“God never violates His Word. But He’s quite comfortable violating our understanding of His Word.” – Bill Johnson

INFLUENTIAL WOMEN OF THE NEW TESTAMENT

Ancient inscriptions upon the walls of early church tombs and catacombs indicate many women were leaders within Gentile churches between the first and sixth centuries. Women were recorded as apostles, synagogue leaders (archisynagōgos or archisynagōgissa), elders (presbytera), deacons (diákonos), church mothers, bishops and other prominent roles.  Many of these inscriptions were found in Tripolitania (former province of Libya), throughout Italy, Malta (European island country in the Mediterranean Sea), Turkey and Kissamos (Greece).

Examples of a few historically recorded female deacons include Sophia he diakonoshe deutera Phoibe (the second Phoebe) and Maria of he deacons whose name and title is etched into a stele of grey marble inside a Byzantine church.  More evidence of female leaders can be found in the historical records of the reign of Trajan (98-117 C.E.).

Although some early church leadership titles were honorary or given by inheritance or marriage, many titles of these women differ from their fathers and husbands, if they were married at all. This indicates these leaders were likely given these roles for their level of importance, influence and dedication at their local churches.  Based on the root of Greek words like arch (meaning “ruler”) used to describe many of these leaders, a person with these roles would have overseen the organization of the church or synagogue, taught, preached, collected money from congregants and performed other administrative duties (Brooten, Bernadette).

PRISCILLA – AN EARLY CHURCH MISSIONARY, CO-PASTOR AND THEOLOGIAN

Acts 18:24-27 – Meanwhile, a Jew named Apollos, an eloquent speaker who knew the Scriptures well, had arrived in Ephesus from Alexandria in Egypt. He had been taught the way of the Lord, and he taught others about Jesus with an enthusiastic spirit and with accuracy. However, he knew only about John’s baptism. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him preaching boldly in the synagogue, they took him aside and explained the way of God even more accurately. Apollos had been thinking about going to Achaia, and the brothers and sisters in Ephesus encouraged him to go. They wrote to the believers in Achaia, asking them to welcome him. When he arrived there, he proved to be of great benefit to those who, by God’s grace, had believed.

Romans 16:3-4 – Give my greetings to Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers (“collaborators” or “fellow-workers”) in the ministry of Christ Jesus. In fact, they once risked their lives for me. I am thankful to them, and so are all the Gentile churches. Also give my greetings to the church that meets in their home.

I love the picture Paul paints of the powerhouse couple named Priscilla (Prisca) and Aquila. They were pastors, traveling missionaries through Asia Minor (Acts 18), church planters and theology teachers. According to Romans 16, they were well known in the Gentile churches and preached the Gospel courageously, risking their own lives for Paul’s ministry.  Together, Priscilla and Aquila taught and encouraged Apollos who was already a passionate man of God with a gift for preaching and teaching. As spiritual parents to Apollos, they, along with the encouragement of other believers, launched Apollos’s pastoral ministry in Achaia (Acts 18:24-26).

PHOEBE THE DEACONESS AND LEADER OF THE CHURCH AT CENCHREAE

Romans 16:1-2 – I commend to you our sister Phoebe (Phebe), who is a deacon (diákonos) in the church in Cenchrea. Welcome her in the Lord as one who is worthy of honor among God’s people. Help her in whatever she needs, for she has been especially helpful (prostatis) to many, and especially to me.

As the first recorded deacon in the history of Christianity and someone who was given the titles “deacon” and “prostatis”, Phoebe was a notable woman within her church. Many scholars believe the church met in her home, she was Paul’s courier for the Book of Romans and a wealthy financier for Paul and others (McKnight, Scot).

The Importance of a Courier: The role of courier was not usually given to women because the roads used to deliver letters were dangerous and full of bandits. Paul must have trusted Phoebe greatly to give her such a responsibility.  As a courier, coworker and emissary of Paul’s ministry, Phoebe likely would have read the Book of Romans aloud to congregations as a normal duty of a courier for that time period.

It’s All Greek to Me: Paul used the masculine Greek work diákonos (meaning “minister” or “servant” depending on the English translation) to describe the ministries of Phoebe, Paul, Stephen and Philip (compare Romans 16:1-21 Corinthians 3:52 Corinthians 3:6,6:411:23Ephesians 3:76:21Colossians 1:723251 Timothy 34:6 and the Greek Lexicon). The term “deacon” has various meanings to different denominations today; therefore, when looking at an New Testament character like Phoebe in relation to her role in early church leadership, it is important to understand the original Greek terms and context compared to similar Scripture passages.

The Greek word prostatis means “female guardian”, “protector/protectress”, “patroness” and “caring for the affairs of others and aiding them with her resources” (see “Strong’s Greek: 4368”, Bible Hub). When reviewing the meaning of this word, it may be helpful to review its context through the lens of epigraphical evidence to understand the complete Biblical implications of this statement (McCabe, Elizabeth).

MARY MAGDALENE THE APOSTLE TO THE APOSTLES

Matthew 27:61; Mark 15:47, 16:9; Luke 23:49, 55; John 19:25; John 20:1, 11, 16, 18; Acts 1:14; Acts 2:1-5

St. Thomas Aquinas famously said, “Just as a woman had announced the words of death to the first man, so also a woman was the first to announce to the Apostles the words of life.” (Pope Benedict XVI).

Mary of Magdala (The Magdalene) is famously known as the severely afflicted and demon possessed woman that Jesus miraculously healed. After He removed the demons, she became a devoted disciple, traveled with Him and the Twelve, and she became one of Jesus’s closest friends.

Mary is well known for her devotion to Jesus. The depth of her commitment to Him is best exemplified through her presence during His crucifixion and burial. Unlike most of the other disciples who fled or denied their association with Jesus during crucifixion for fear of being arrested or killed, she never abandoned or denied Him.

True to Jesus’s cultural taboo-crushing nature, He bestowed the high honor of heralding His resurrection to a woman — Mary Magdalene — earning her the title “Apostle to the Apostles” in early church history (Biblical Archaeology Society). This may not seem like an extraordinary event to us in our modern times; but in those days, a woman’s word was often discredited.  Women were typically not well-educated; and it was not considered socially appropriate for women to learn or debate spiritual truth with men.

According to scholars and based on Luke’s references to the women in his Gospel account, Mary was also likely present with the Twelve and the other female disciples in the upper room as they awaited the coming of the Holy Spirit’s pouring upon all flesh (Elliot, Paul).

MARY OF BETHANY SITS AT A PLACE OF HONOR

Luke 8:35, Luke 10:38-32; John 11:1-44; John 12:1-8

Jesus exalted women as worthy friends and disciples in a society that considered such behavior inappropriate. Like Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany was one of Jesus’s closest friends, a disciple, a financial supporter of Jesus’s ministry and present at Jesus’s crucifixion and tomb.  She is famously known as the sister of Martha and Lazarus and the woman who anointed Jesus with extravagant nard perfume.

Jesus exalted women as worthy disciples and broke several cultural norms when He and the Twelve went to Martha’s home for fellowship and discipleship. The act of visiting the house of a woman was not considered culturally appropriate. In addition, although Martha was fulfilling the female cultural expectation of preparing dinner for a guest’s visit, Jesus commended Mary for sitting at His feet to learn.

To Sit at the Feet of a Rabbi: The idiom to “sit at someone’s feet” is used to describe a student being formally trained as a disciple by a respected rabbi. This story illustrates Jesus’s respect for Mary because He gave her permission to sit at His feet. Women were considered to be a lower class of citizen than men and her primary role was to work in the home. As a student, Mary would have likely been actively engaged in learning and asking questions along with the male disciples (Attenberry, Shawna).

MARY THE MOTHER OF JESUS

Luke 1-8; John 2:5; Acts 1:13

Mary is one of the most intriguing women in the Bible because we know so much about her.  In fact, we know more about her than any other disciple. Her name mean’s “wise woman”, and the Biblical accounts of her certainly appear to justify her name.  Through the New Testament, we are taught her life story.  God chose and entrusted Mary to bring salvation to the world. She was familiar with the Scripture and had prophetic gifting for what it meant. We are also told Mary was at Jesus’s crucifixion, burial and resurrection; and she was present in the upper room on the day of Pentecost. She is sometimes referred to as Jesus’s first disciple. Through the development of Christian traditions over the centuries, she is regarded as a saint and an intercessor within the Catholic Church.  (Women in the Bible).

TABITHA THE RESURRECTED DISCIPLE

Acts 9:36 – There was a believer in Joppa named Tabitha (original Greek: Dorcus, meaning “gazelle”). She was always doing kind things for others and helping the poor. About this time she became ill and died. Her body was washed for burial and laid in an upstairs room. But the believers had heard that Peter was nearby at Lydda, so they sent two men to beg him, “Please come as soon as possible!”

Tabitha is one of only two people recorded in the Book of Acts as being resurrected. She is the only woman in the New Testament identified with the female version of the word “disciple” (mathetria).

PROPHETESS ANNA

Luke 2:36-38 – Anna, a prophet, was also there in the Temple. She was the daughter of Phanuel from the tribe of Asher, and she was very old. Her husband died when they had been married only seven years. Then she lived as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but stayed there day and night, worshipping God with fasting and prayer. She came along just as Simeon was talking with Mary and Joseph, and she began praising God. She talked about the child to everyone who had been waiting expectantly for God to rescue Jerusalem.

Anna, the only named prophetess of the New Testament, was present at the Temple for the purification ceremony for the baby Jesus. Anna recognized Jesus and prophesied about His significance to everyone who was “waiting expectantly for God to rescue Jerusalem” (v. 38).

LYDIA FROM THYATIRA

Acts 16:13-15 – On the Sabbath we went a little way outside the city to a riverbank, where we thought people would be meeting for prayer, and we sat down to speak with some women who had gathered there. One of them was Lydia from Thyatira, a merchant of expensive purple cloth, who worshiped God. As she listened to us, the Lord opened her heart and she accepted what Paul was saying. She and her household were baptized, and she asked us to be her guests. “If you agree that I am a true believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my home.” And she urged until we agreed.

Paul met Lydia, a merchant of expensive indigo cloth, from Thyatira (modern day Turkey) on his second missionary journey through Philippi. She holds the distinction as the first person to convert to Christianity in Europe.

An Indication of Her Wealth: The Scripture specifically states that she bought and sold expensive materials which would mean she had the money necessary to purchase expensive wares.

An Indication She was the Sole/Primary Leader of Her Household: She is never mentioned as being married, but she has a household is responsible for making decisions on their behalf. She decided to follow Christ and had her family baptized along with her. She invited Paul and others into her home.

EUODIA AND SYNTYCHE CHURCH LEADERS IN PHILIPPI

Philippians 4:2-3 – Now I appeal to Euodia and Syntyche. Please, because you belong to the Lord, settle your disagreement. And I ask you, my true partner (“companion” or “yokefellow”), to help these two women, for they worked hard with me in telling others the Good News. They worked along with Clement and the rest of my coworkers (sunergoi), whose names are written in the Book of Life.

Paul’s public letter to Euodia (her name means “prosperous journey” or “fragrant”) and Syntyche (her name means “fortunate”) serves as reminder to the Church about how to resolve disagreements and build unity within the body of Christ. Some scholars believe these two women were deacons or held some other significant leadership role in their church. They are mainly remembered for their dispute; however, Paul’s interest in their quarrel speaks to their role in the church’s leadership according to antiquity scholars (New Life).

Early church bishop John Chrysostom, who was in no way a champion of women, made this statement about Euodia and Syntyche: “These women seem to me to be the chief of the Church which was there, and he commendeth them to some notable man whom he calls his ‘yokefellow,’ to whom perchance he was wont to commend them, as to a fellow-worker, and fellow-soldier, and brother, and companion, as he doth in the Epistle to the Romans, when he saith, ‘I commend unto you Phebe our sister, who is a servant of the Church that is at Cenchrea.’ (Romans 16:1)” You can read Bishop Chrysostom’s homilies at Bible Hub.

THE “OTHER” FEMALE DISCIPLES OF JESUS

Matthew 12:48-50; 20:20-28; 27:56; Mark 10:35-40 15:40-41; 16:1-2; Luke 8:1-3; John 19:25

Jesus asked, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” Then He pointed to His disciples and said, “look, these are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother!”

Jesus referred to His disciples as his mother, brother and sister. Jesus chose twelve men as disciples, symbolic of the twelve tribes of Israel, but Scripture also references an unspecified number of women who followed Jesus as disciples in addition to Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany and Martha who were close friends of Jesus. The other named female disciples are Susanna, Joanna, Mary Salome, and Mary of Clopas known as “the other Mary.” Some scholars also include the “sinful woman”, the “bleeding woman” who traveled 30 miles to receive healing and the mother of the demon possessed child; however, the Bible does not directly call them disciples or specifically talk about them following His ministry. Many of the women became Jesus’s followers after they were healed from demons and infirmities. Some of these women were wealthy and supported Jesus’s ministry financially out of their own private means and were frequent traveling companions (Bible Gateway).

JUNIA THE APOSTLE

Romans 16:7 – Greet Andronicus and Junia (Iounian), my fellow Jews (“compatriots”, “kinsmen” or “relatives”) who were in prison with me. They are highly respected among the apostles (episemoi en tois apostolis meaning “regarded as apostles” or “outstanding among the apostles”) and became followers of Christ before I did.

Bishop John Chrysostom (345-407 A.D.) famously stated this about Junia: “To be an apostle is something great! But to be outstanding among the apostles – just think what a wonderful song of praise that is! They were outstanding on the basis of their works and virtuous actions. Indeed, how great the wisdom of this woman must have been that she was even deemed worthy of the title of apostle.”

Junia/Junias Lost in Translation: Some translations of Scripture call Junia (Julia) the uncommon masculine name “Junias.” As a result, the enigmatic Junia is fiercely debated among modern theologians because if she was indeed a she, it would mean a woman was directly acknowledged by Paul as an apostle. The oldest ancient manuscripts use the common feminine name “Junia” while newer manuscripts (the masculine form of Iounian first appeared during the Medieval period) use the less common “Junias.” In fact, there are no known ancient manuscripts or literature that mention the name “Junias” in Latin or Greek (Preato, Dennis).

NYMPHA OF LAODICEA

Colossians 4:15 – Please give my greetings to our brothers and sisters at Laodicea, and to Nympha (Nymphas) and the church that meets in her house.

Nympha led the church in Laodicea that met in her house. The passage indicates Nympha was likely a female pastor of a church that met at her home. Like Junia, the gender of Nympha is greatly debated and was altered to a masculine name and pronoun in the Middle Ages. This was likely not done intentionally to purposefully corrupt the Scripture, but instead was corrected because it was thought to be a mistake. By the Middle Ages (several hundreds of years after Christ walked the earth), the traditions of men leading the church had become well established, and it was assumed women were not allowed in church leadership roles (New Life).

Was Nympha accidentally written into the original Greek as a woman, therefore, justifying the correction by the scribes in the Middle Ages centuries later? At this point, the gender identities of Junia and Nympha are impossible to know with all certainty and will likely be debated by theologians until Christ returns, yet another reason why we as Christian brothers and sisters should be careful not judge each other’s opposing convictions.

TRYPHENA, TRYPHOSA, PERSIS, MARY, JULIA, NEREUS’S SISTER, AND PHILIP’S PROPHESYING DAUGHTERS

Joel 2:28-29; Acts 1:13a, 14; 2:17-18; Romans 16:6, 12, 15

Philip the Evangelist had four unmarried daughters who proclaimed God’s will and truth (Acts 21:7-9). They have been added to this list of influencial women because God appeared to use these women to fulfill the prophecies in Joel and Acts of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon men and women after the resurrection of the Messiah.

Some scholars think Typhena and Tryphosa (Greek pagan names meaning “delicate” or “dainty”) were likely twin sisters or close relatives who were likely missionaries or deaconesses. Paul asks the congregation in Rome to greet them as two of many friends or co-laborers in the Lord. Bible Gateway has an interesting commentary about their names and their prominence and influence in the early church.

Persis, Julia and Nereus’s sister are also listed as women “who worked hard in the Lord” or supported home churches. I have included these women on this list because, when compared to early church history outside of the Scriptures, it seems evident these ladies, along with others mentioned on this list, were the first of many women who led or co-led home churches or at the very least were prominent figures within their churches.

SAMARITAN WOMAN FROM SYCHAR

John 4:1-30

It would be easy to pass over the story of the Samaritan woman at the well who speaks with Jesus. For those of us in the West, our society see the verbal exchange between the woman and Jesus as trivial because we don’t tend to see how violating the woman’s behavior would have been of social norms of that day. I find it intriguing that she was at the well by herself as it was uncommon for woman to go out in public alone. Also, she openly held a discussion with a controversial Jewish rabbi named Jesus. After her encounter with Jesus, she shared her testimony with her community. Women in the Bible has a great article on the Samaritan woman.

 

INFLUENTIAL WOMEN OF THE OLD TESTAMENT

DEBORAH A “MOTHER OF ISRAEL”, JUDGE AND PROPHETESS

Judges 4:4-5 – Deborah, the wife of Lappidoth, was a prophet who was judging Israel at that time. She would sit under the Palm of Deborah, between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites would go to her for judgment.

Judges 5:7, 31 – (v. 7) There were few people left in the villages of Israel — until Deborah arose as a mother for Israel. (v. 31) “Lord, may all your enemies die like Sisera! But may those who love you rise like the sun in all its power!” Then there was peace in the land for forty years.

Deborah, who was considered a major judge in the Old Testament, acted as a commander-in-chief for ancient Israel. In addition to her powerful leadership role over the ancient nation, she was a gifted prophet. She prophesied the ruthless and oppressive Canaanite King Jabin would fall at the hands of the Israelites. When her commander, Barak, failed to have faith in God’s provision, Deborah foretold King Jabin’s armies would fall at the hands of a woman instead of him. In his fear and disbelief, Barak refused to go into battle without Deborah. As a result, she went with him and oversaw the battles against King Jabin’s commander Sisera and his armies, and led the Israelites into forty years of peace.

What’s a Judge: Judges were used by God to deliver the Israelites out of the hands of foreign oppressors. Judges served as reminders of God’s promise of mercy and grace to deliver and restore Israel from their enemies.

JAEL THE BRAVE

Judges 4:9 – “Very well,” she replied, “I will go with you. But you will receive no honor in this venture, for the Lord’s victory over Sisera will be at the hands of a woman.”

Judges 4:21 – But when Sisera fell asleep from exhaustion, Jael quietly crept up to him with a hammer and tent peg in her hand. Then she drove the tent peg through his temple and into the ground, and so he died.

Jael bravely used her husband’s friendship with King Jabin’s family to lure his commander Sisera into her tent to rest.  As he slept, she drove a tent peg through the commander’s skull. As Deborah had prophesied, Jael, a woman, is credited with delivering Israel’s victory over King Jabin’s armies.

ESTHER THE HEROINE OF THE JEWS IN PERSIA

Esther 1-8

After King Xerxes (Hebrew name: “Ahasuerus”) of Persia banished Queen Vashti for disobeying him, he gathered beautiful women from his kingdom in search of the “most beautiful woman.” He formed a haram from his selections and eventually chose Esther to be his new bride.

Some theologians don’t consider Esther a leader because Xerxes held the position of authority; however, God placed her in a strategic position of influence, and she interceded on the behalf of Israel and saved them from certain genocide. Plus, she gets extra bravery points in my mind because she spoke to King Xerxes without being summoned which was a crime punishable by death (Womeninthebible.net: Clever Queen, Foolish King).

MIRIAM THE OLD TESTAMENT PROPHETESS AND LEADER

Exodus 15:20 – Then Miriam the Prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine and led all the women as they played their tambourines and danced.

Micah 6:4 – For I brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from slavery. I sent Moses, Aaron and Miriam to help you.

Miriam was the sister of Moses and Aaron. She bravely saved Moses by sending him down the Nile in a basket to spare his life from certain slaughter. She was also considered a prophetess, worship leader and considered part of the core leadership tetrad that led Israel out of Egypt. She was specifically acknowledged for leading the Hebrew women from Egypt (Women in the Bible, “Mariam: Her Story”).

HULDAH THE EXCEPTIONAL PROPHETESS

2 Kings 22:8 – Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the court secretary, “I have found the Book of the Law in the Lord’s Temple!” Then Hilkiah gave the scroll to Shaphan, and he read it.

2 Kings 22:14 – She [Huldah] said to them, “The Lord, the God of Israel, has spoken! Go back and tell the man who sent you, ‘This is what the Lord says: I am going to bring disaster on this city and its people. All the words written in the scroll that the king of Judah has read will come true.'”

After the Book of the Law (Torah) was found during the restoration of the Temple, Huldah interpreted and confirmed the Book of the Law’s (Torah) authenticity. She must have had an exceptional reputation for her gift as a prophet since she was consulted instead of the famous Prophet Jeremiah.

Huldah’s prophetic words of impending judgment over Israel’s evil and unrepentant acts and the discovery of the Torah assisted King Josiah with leading the nation into revival.

THE SHUNAMMITE WOMAN

1 Kings 1:3; 2 Kings 4:8-37; 1 Samuel 25:2; 2 Samuel 19:33

Although the Shunammite woman’s name is shrouded in mystery, the Scriptures refer to her as someone in her community who was of high rank and wealth within her community. She is known for her hospitality and care for God’s people who were travelers through the Jazreel plain. There is lots more about the Great Woman of Shunem at Bible Gateway.

RESOURCES:

Spiritual Warfare: Finding Victory in the Midst of Battle

If you’re a follower of Christ and you’re trying to live out the Great Commission,savior prayng you’ve probably experienced spiritual warfare at some point or another. That’s not to say everything that happens to us is spiritual warfare. In a fallen world, bad things sometimes just happen, or we experience hardship or pain because of our own sin or the sin of someone else. In contrast, sometimes as Christians we are not prepared for true spiritual attacks because we don’t expect them to happen or don’t believe they happen. Jesus faced temptation; therefore, I believe the battles in the spirit realm are real. Scripture reminds us in 1 Peter 5:8 to always be vigilant of Satan who is always looking for ways to destroy us. Since spiritual attacks are real, how do we learn to recognize and overcome them?

In my own life, I have experienced hardship, difficulty when trying to pray, threatening dreams and other unexplained events that seem to happen without reason. Do I believe these issues were caused by spiritual warfare? It is possible and likely that not everything I just described came from the Devil, but some of it certainly seemed to be. Why would I assume the cause was spiritual warfare instead of something else?

The Bible says the spiritual realm is always active around us, fighting for us or against us. At the time, I was purposely attempting to spend quality time with the Lord because I wanted to grow closer to Him, and I wanted the friends around me to know Him. I also wanted to encourage and assist those friends with restoring hope in their lives during difficult situations they were walking through. Within a couple days, the craziest things began to happen. Everything in my life that was a stability point for me (my basic needs, financial needs and my health) was turned upside down. I also experienced trouble in my prayer life. I couldn’t focus. I went from feeling closer to God than I ever had felt to feeling like I was unable to hear His heart at all. I felt alone and completely separated from Him. If you’ve ever lost your connection to your Father then you know it feels like your whole world has ended. Then the dreams started, and they were awful. I would dream things that were not normal nightmares for me. In one of my dreams, I found myself standing alone in my house. Suddenly, I heard a disembodied voice laughing sardonically and taunting me by saying, “You keep doing what you’re doing, and I’m going to destroy you. Give up.”  This dream repeatedly occurred over several weeks. At the time, I didn’t make the connection that I might be battling spiritual warfare, but before all of those strange events were over, they intensified and got much worse and much more troubling.

What should we do when we think we’re being attacked spiritually? Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:10-18 to “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.”

In addition to following Paul’s instructions, I generally try to analyze the situation before anything else. Was I going after the things of God when the bad things started to occur? Did I cause my own grief? Did someone else hurt me? Did the issue seem to happen randomly? If my sin appeared to be the root of the problem(s), I should ask God for forgiveness. If the problem involved harming another person, I should ask the offended person for forgiveness and reconcile the relationship. What if someone else harmed me? Christ says I must forgive and pray for the person. Basically, forgiveness leads to healing and restoration. Both of these scenarios could include elements of spiritual warfare, but they are likely caused by my actions or someone else. If the issue appears random, sometimes it’s harder to figure out what to do. In any of these situations, I try to keep my eyes on Christ. I ask for protection, wisdom and help. Through God, we find our victories. As Mark Batterson puts it, “I have an unshakable sense of destiny that as long as I pursue God’s calling on my life, then God is ultimately responsible for getting me where He wants me to go.”

The verses below have helped remind me who is in control in the midst of strife. They are written on paper and affixed to my computer to remind me every day of His goodness, provision and protection:

  • Isaiah 41:10: “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.”
  • Isaiah 43:2: “When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.”
  • Isaiah 58:9a: “Then when you call, the Lord will answer. ‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply.”
  • 1 Peter 5:7: “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.”
  • Psalm 121:1-2: “I look up to the mountains— does my help come from there? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth!”

If you’re looking for a visual reminder, you are welcome to pin, download or print these Pinterest quotes: