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A few months ago a repairman was working on a project at our house while our six children sat eating lunch around the kitchen table. “Oh, do you run a daycare?” he asked as he observed them. Chuckling, I told him that all the kids were ours. He seemed shocked by my words. “Seriously?”
I smiled and nodded, telling him that we had adopted four of our six children. He took a closer look at our energetic, multi-racial brood of six and shook his head in bewilderment. “Whoa. You must be crazy. I mean, seriously, why?”
His question brought me back to a time in my life—about ten years ago—when I would have been just as shocked by the idea of adopting four children in addition to two biological ones. I was in full-time Christian ministry and believed that I was living a truly God-honoring life. After all, I was writing and speaking about Truth, counseling and encouraging women, and keeping a very demanding schedule.
But I had failed to notice how comfortable I’d become.
My life was largely centered around my wants and preferences. My free time was mostly spent on “me-focused” activities. I was very protective of my personal space, my indulgences, and my comforts. I didn’t mind pouring energy into Christian ministry, as long as I had plenty of time left to do what I wanted to do-—browsing shops at the mall, hanging out at coffee shops, surfing the web for wardrobe ideas, reading fitness and beauty magazines, imbibing adventure novels, and watching all the latest movies.
Back then, if someone had proposed the idea of raising six young children—four of them adopted—I would have laughed incredulously. I mean, something like that would take all my time and energy, rob me of personal space and comforts, and stretch me beyond my capacity. I would have felt suffocated at the very thought.
But one day, I read a verse in Ezekiel that jarred my perspective. “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom; she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease; but she did not help the poor and needy” (Ez. 16:49 NASB). I had never considered that my life might be similar to the sinful inhabitants of Sodom—one of the worst cities that ever existed. Yet as I studied God’s statement about Sodom, I began to see that I was like them. I had been filling my time with idle and frivolous activities, and shutting my ears to the cry of the poor and needy because I didn’t want to be inconvenienced.
With a remorseful heart, I asked God to shake me out of my selfishness and give me His burden for the weak. I began to read about the needs of orphans around the world. I studied the plight of street children in South America and the child soldiers in Africa. I learned about the staggering reality of human trafficking. I started paying attention to the needs of the persecuted church. And suddenly, the trivial activities and personal comforts that had been so important to me seemed meaningless.
As I began to awaken to the staggering reality of the needs around the world, God presented a clear challenge to my soul. Was I willing to not just open my eyes to the weak and poor, but open my arms to them as well, just like the woman in Proverbs 31:20? Was I willing to not just shake my head at the suffering around the world, but to take up their cause as my own, even if it meant hardship and inconvenience?
It was not easy to say yes to that question. I knew that my life would never be the same again. And I was right.
Because of saying yes to that question, people now ask me if I’m running a daycare. Because of saying yes, I have almost no personal space or alone time. Because of saying yes, I am continually stretched and inconvenienced. Because of saying yes, I am constantly deprived of sleep and other comforts. Because of saying yes, I must rely on the grace and strength of God every moment of the day. Because of saying yes, I have walked through incredible trials. But saying yes has been the greatest privilege of my life.
Jesus said, “Whoever receives one little child…in My name receives Me.” (Matt. 18:5). When we say yes to the burdens that are on God’s heart, we receive a special measure of His presence and His grace.
By opening my arms to those God had called me to serve, I discovered joy and fulfillment beyond compare.
I have only just begun this journey of learning to “open my arms” to the poor and needy. But I have come to realize that saying yes to this call is not an optional part of the Christian life.
. . .
In 1890, Catherine Booth wrote, “It will be a happy day for England when Christian ladies transfer their attentions from poodles and terriers to destitute and starving children.” She reminded women that living for pleasure and filling their days with eating, drinking, dressing, and sightseeing left no time to serve God and become His hands and feet to the poor and outcast.
We as modern Christian women can greatly benefit from this reminder as well. We may not be distracted by poodles and sightseeing, but we are all too easily preoccupied with selfish pleasure and entertainment, and indifferent to the needs of the destitute and lost.
Still not sure? Just think about this: while we are consumed with Facebook and Hollywood, 163 million orphans around the world are crying out for advocates, 27 million human slaves are longing for freedom, thousands of street children in South America are fleeing for their lives, 22,000 unborn babies are being killed weekly in America, countless Christians are being persecuted for their faith, and approximately 150,000 people are dying daily without knowing Jesus Christ.
It’s easy to think of rescue work as something better left to humanitarian aid groups or outreach organizations. But it is crucial that we as women recognize that Gospel-centered rescue work is a foundational part of our calling and purpose as daughters of the King.
Proverbs 31 isn’t just about the qualities of a virtuous woman. The first nine verses of the chapter are words from a mother to her son about the importance of forsaking trivial pursuits and taking up the cause of the weak and vulnerable. This godly woman exhorts her son: “Open your mouth for the speechless, in the cause of all who are appointed to die. Open your mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy” (Prov. 31:8-9).
This is not just a calling for men. Throughout the rest of the chapter, the description of the Proverbs 31 woman is replete with images of sacrificial givenness and love toward the poor, weak, and needy. The virtuous widow in 1 Timothy 5:10 is similar. This woman sets the pattern by which a godly woman should live, saying that she is “well reported for good works” and that her life has been marked by “lodging strangers,” “washing the saints’ feet,” and “relieving the afflicted.”
If you have been looking for clear purpose and focus in your life, don’t overlook this sacred commission to become Christ’s hands and feet to the weak, suffering, and lost. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the “go for your dreams” and “do what makes you happy!” notions of our culture and build our focus around personal pursuits, indulgences, and comforts. But the Bible clearly shows us that living a poured-out, servant-hearted lifestyle of sacrificial love is where God wants our focus to be.
This call will look different for each of us, and will take different shapes in the various seasons of our lives. But, as Jesus warned in the parable of the sheep and goats, it is not to be disregarded (see Matt. 25:41-43). When we choose to live selfishly, we ignore the pattern God has set for our lives. This decision has eternal consequences—let’s not take it lightly.
Not sure where to start? Here are two ways you can begin to respond to this sacred call to “open your arms” to the needy and weak.
When Eric and I first began to feel the call of God to reach the orphans of the world, the idea was daunting. We didn’t know where to begin. And then we heard about a baby girl from South Korea who had been abandoned because she had deformities on her feet and no fingers on her hands. And we knew this was the one God wanted us to start with. Today, this little girl is our daughter, Harper Grace. Just over a year later, He led us to adopt a baby boy domestically and build a relationship with his birth mom through an open adoption. And later, we brought home two toddlers from Haiti.
God might not call you to adopt, as He has us. There are countless ways He may lead you to lay down selfish pursuits in exchange for a life of sacrificial love. The first step is willingness. The second is prayer. If you surrender your body, your life, your time, and your resources to His purposes, you can be sure that He will open your eyes to the ways in which He desires you to become His hands and feet.
Here is a quick list of some of the people for whom God’s heart is especially burdened:
The persecuted church
The fatherless and widows
Prisoners and slaves
The sick and the elderly
Refugees and foreigners
Ask God to show you which of these areas to invest your time and energy into. It may be a combination of more than one. Ask Him to burden you with His heart and His love for these precious lives. And ask Him to open your eyes to the needs right around you, and around the world. Remember, you don’t need to go out and try to “save the world” in your own strength. Simply yield your life to Him, and take one step of obedience at a time. He will give you what you need, and He will direct your steps.
It is relatively easy for us to give money toward an orphanage fund or even go on a short-term mission trip once a year. Those acts of kindness are needed and important. But God has called us to more. He doesn’t ask us to stand for the weak every once in a while, whenever it’s easy and convenient. Rather, we are called to a lifestyle of serving them.
Rees Howells, an evangelist in the early 1900s, once described a life-changing moment where he was walking through his village and praying for a sibling group of orphaned children who had recently lost their parents. “God, be a Father to the fatherless,” he prayed, quoting from Psalm 68. Immediately, he felt God’s Spirit speak to his heart: I am a Father to the fatherless through My Body. You are My hands and feet. If I am to be their Father, I must be one through you.
This is the same realization we must awaken to. We are not merely called to pray for the weak and hope that God will somehow answer their cries. We must be willing to become His answer to their need—even if it means giving sacrificially of our time, energy, money, and lives.
This will look different for each of us.
Some of us may be called to sacrificially love the homeless; others to adopt; others to fight for the unborn; others to work in orphanages overseas; others to encourage the persecuted—and hundreds of other possibilities. Allow God to stretch you beyond what is comfortable and easy. As modern women, we usually have full lives and often don’t believe we have much time or energy available for serving those in need or sharing the Gospel with the lost. But we must remember that what God calls us to do, He enables us to do.
If you study the lives of Christian women who have made the most impact for God’s kingdom, you will notice that it was rarely, if ever, convenient for them to do what they did. Their mighty acts for God required enormous personal sacrifice and a willingness to venture far beyond the realm of ease and comfort.
As a young wife and mother of several young children, Catherine Booth dedicated two evenings a week to visiting the slums of England’s East End, ministering hope, comfort, and care to the drunkards, prostitutes, and dying children there. As a young woman with poor health and very little support, Amy Carmichael left her home, family, and comforts to rescue dying children in India. As a busy minister’s wife and mother of eight, Elisabeth Fry brought dignity and hope to the women in her local prison and eventually to the entire European prison system.
If today’s Christians are too busy, who will take up the torch of Gospel-centered rescue work in this generation?
Though God may not call you overseas, each of us is called to adopt a “missionary mindset,” no matter where He has placed us. Don’t just jump on the bandwagon of trendy social justice issues to ease your own conscience and feel like you are “doing your part.” Rather, ask God to show you how to cultivate a lifestyle of sacrificial love. Be willing to be unseen and unappreciated as you serve. In other words, don’t go out and serve others just so you can post stories and photos about it on your Facebook page and impress everyone with all your heroic deeds! Remember, this is about His glory, and not ours.
Be willing to give up comforts, pleasures, and personal pursuits that might be hindering your ability to turn outward and give to others. Be willing to be the very hands and feet of Jesus—whether to the elderly neighbor next door or the destitute child across the world.
. . .
David Livingstone wrote, “It is not to make money that I believe a Christian should live. The noblest thing a man can do is, just humbly to receive, and then go amongst others and give.”
This is the attitude and focus of a set apart woman. Christ opened His arms and received the nail-scars in order to rescue us—giving all that He had to give. He now calls us to open our arms and rescue others, giving to them the way that He gave to us. Remember that we cannot accomplish this in our own strength, but only by His enabling grace. What He calls us to, He equips us for.
Who will you open your arms to today?
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