Character Close Up: The Proverbs 31 Woman

I wish we knew her name… but there’s probably a reason we don’t.

So often Christian women hear that they should be just like the Proverbs 31 woman, but are so intimidated by the passage that they never pursue that goal purposefully.So instead we do to her what we do to so many other women – we compare ourselves to her.

Seriously, who do you know who actually lives like that? I’ve always been pretty overwhelmed by this passage personally. She seems to be the unattainable goal. For a long time, in my mind, I evaluated the Proverbs 31 woman the same way I would a Barbie doll. She sounds like “perfect woman,” and though she sounds amazing,  I’ve often flipped back and forth between wanting to be just like her and then wondering if I even wanted to try.

And if you’re like me – big dreams, a strong personality, ample will, and a desire to change the world, this chapter might inspire fear in your heart. You might begin to wonder if there’s something wrong with you if the majority of this passage doesn’t sound appealing or sound like it matches the dreams you have for your life. However, the truth about the Proverbs 31 woman is that she is strong (vs. 25). But the woman who desires to be like her has to recognize that she cannot accomplish the things that the Proverbs 31 woman did in her own strength. Instead, all that she is and does must flow out of her relationship with Christ.

I love the way that Josh Harris taught on the Proverbs 31 Woman in Fall 2009 at Covenant Life Church. You can listen to his message here. The high points are below, but I strongly encourage you to listen to what he has to say about the life of a godly woman.

Context of Proverbs 31:

1. It was written by a mother to her son (vs. 1). Thus, it’s not a man’s view of “the perfect woman,” it’s a mother telling her son what kind of attributes to look for in a wife.

2. It’s an acrostic poem (beginning in vs. 10 – A-Z characteristics of a godly woman). It’s a poetic expression of how godly wisdom plays out in the life of a woman.

3. “It’s not a demanding description of every characteristic you should embody. No, it is a joyful celebration of womanly excellence, resourcefulness, and skill.”

4. “These characteristics are like a person stringing pearls on a necklace” – John Piper. God is describing the unbounded potential of a godly woman.

4 Characteristics of a Valiant Woman:

1. She fears the Lord. This is what is most important (vs. 30). “This is the key quality that holds up everything else about her. She has placed God as the center of her life. This is the starting point of wisdom.”

– Read the rest of Proverbs 31 and understand that this verse is the context for how she accomplishes the rest of her life.

– The fear of the Lord is the quality that really matters. This is the non-negotiable. The other qualities and characteristics will vary by woman, but the fear of the Lord must be present.

– Proverbs 31 is not a list of all the household chores a woman has to do. It’s a description of what wisdom in motion looks like in the life of a godly woman. It’s wisdom applied. This is what knowing and loving God unleashes in the life of a woman who loves God.

2. She is others-centered. What she does, she is not just doing for her own gain. What she does is motivated by a desire to be a blessing to others around her. Her life is interwoven with the community around her and she is spending herself for the benefit of others. It’s not about a certain list of activities. It’s all about your heart before God and your motivation for doing things. She courageously turns her back on independence and selfishness.

3. She is capable. These capabilities go beyond mere abilities. She’s been educated and has cultivated her mind in different ways. 1 Peter 4:10

4. She is influential. Proverbs 31 shows us a woman who has incredible power. Her godliness, her example, and her determination serves and influences others. She exerts an amazing influence on the world around her (vs. 28-29). She influences and teaches others with her words – her life gives her a platform to teach others – “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue” (vs. 26). Such women are desperately needed to teach and disciple those who are coming up behind them in the church (Titus 2).

I think that my favorite parts of this passage are found in vs. 10-12:

The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain (vs. 11)

She does him good and not harm, all the days of her life (vs. 12)

vs. 10-12: These verses make a statement about the rarity of this kind of woman. This woman possesses “competent strength.” “There’s nothing wilting in this description. This is a strong woman. Womanhood, according to God’s Word, can and should be strong, even valiant. The word ‘valiant,’ means ‘strong and determined.'”

Based upon this understanding, the Proverbs 31 woman is a woman that I want to strive to be just like. It’s not about doing what she did. It’s about learning to fear the Lord the way she did… pursuing a heart like she had. This passage isn’t about DOING. It’s about BEING.

In addition, this understanding of her makes it okay for me to be me. It makes it okay for me to be passionate, determined, strong, and intelligent. And I can’t really explain the kind of relief that this understanding brings, but suffice it to say that the understanding that God created me this way with purpose brings great joy. Each believer should desire and pursue to fear the Lord, to be others-centered, to be capable, and to be influential. It should be part of our DNA as Christ-followers.

And now, the question is how. How do we attain this sort of spiritual strength? The Gospel. It’s because of Christ and His grace that we, as women, can be like this woman that we see in Proverbs 31. It’s in committing our life to Christ and in striving to live for His glory that our hearts are transformed to the point that we can live this passage out well.

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the meaning of life

I discovered the meaning of life on February 12, 1999.

I’ve resolved to remember and reflect on the Gospel constantly and some of the best ways I’ve found to do that is to remember who and what I was before I clearly understood the Gospel and to remember what it was like for the Gospel to come alive in my heart. I was only thirteen years old the day that the Gospel came alive to me and changed the entire direction of my life for over a decade.

I’ll never forget the weekend of February 12. I went to an Acquire the Fire youth conference in Houston, Texas, and I returned home that first night a totally different girl. It was then that I first understood that Christ’s purpose in coming to earth, living a sinless life, dying on the cross, and then being raised from the dead was not just to save me from hell, but to reconcile me to Himself.

The Gospel took on an entirely new light. Church wasn’t just something to do. God wasn’t just someone to worship. The Church was something I was part of… and God was someone to worship and to love.

I realized I was saved from an existence without Him… I was no longer a sinner in need of salvation; my new identity was that I am saved by grace (Eph. 2:8-9), adopted into His family (Eph. 1:4-6), transformed (2 Cor. 5:17), redeemed (Gal. 3:12-13, reconciled into right standing with God (2 Cor. 5:18-19) and a coheir with Christ (Rom. 8:16-17). And there was more! I was called to be a part of His mission (Mark 16:15).

That’s something that changes you forever.

What a beginning. I spent the weekend on my knees, so totally humbled by this revelation that I didn’t even desire to stand. It was an all-encompassing feeling, one that I’ll never forget but that if I’m not careful I can quickly relegate to the back of my mind. In just a single moment, the Holy Spirit illuminated my own heart and gave me a glimpse of the darkness abiding there –  and the knowledge that I was not in love with Christ, despite the fact that I was a “good kid,” in church and serving daily, obedient to my parents, and a memorizer of Scripture. I realized that even though I had served Christ and recognized my need for a Savior all of my life, I had never really known His heart or that He desired a relationship with me. I had never connected the “why” with the “what” and “how.” I knew we were saved by grace through Christ’s death, but I had never known why He wanted to save me.

That weekend transformed my life to from being Whitney-centered, to being focused on a pursuit of God and the people He loves. I desperately desired that my heart become His heart. I wanted to share His love with anyone and everyone that I met. I saved every penny to head to South Africa that summer to share the Gospel with people who had never heard. I was transformed from the inside out. I had finally figured out that life wasn’t meant to revolve around me. Life is all meant to be all about Christ – showcasing His love and the Gospel to everyone I come in contact with.

Beautiful Things

Gungor’s “Beautiful Things” is one of my favorite songs now. It’s such an incredible expression of God’s overwhelming grace and of salvation and sanctification.

Love these lyrics:

All this pain
I wonder if I’ll ever find my way
I wonder if my life could really change at all
All this earth
Could all that is lost ever be found
Could a garden come up from this ground at all

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

All around
Hope is springing up from this old ground
Out of chaos life is being found in You

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

You make me new, You are making me new
You make me new, You are making me new

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

Wow. A God who promises to find what is lost and make beautiful things out of dust is One who should receive all our adoration and all our lives.

Living the Cross Centered Life

C.J. Mahaney’s book Living the Cross Centered Life is incredible. Basically, he articulates in clear and profound ways all that the Lord has been walking me through in my relationship with Him throughout the past year or so.

I love the questions he asks… Questions like, “What’s really the main thing in your life? Only one thing can truly be first in priority; so what’s at the top of your list, second to none? […] What are you most passionate about? What do you love to talk about? What do you think about most when your mind is free? […] What is it that defines you? Is it your career? A relationship? Maybe it’s your family, or your ministry. It could be some cause or movement, or some political affiliation…” (13)

The Apostle Paul tells us that the Gospel is the only essential thing for our lives – “Now I would remind you brothers, of the gospel I preached to you… For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received; that Christ died for our sins.” (1 Cor. 15:1,3)

What an introduction. And that’s only the first page. Trust me – you need a copy of this book. The foreword warned that it is “nothing less than a manifesto for turning your world upside down” (9) and boy, is it correct.

We all want to say that it’s our relationship with Christ that defines us. Most of the time I firmly believe that the Gospel is the thing I love the most… the thing I lean on and cling to; the thing I strive to remember and reflect on constantly. I talk about it daily and it is always my goal to live out the Gospel to those that I interact with and lead. But does it hold the foremost place in my heart and in life? Do I love HIM most?

I’m also currently reading Gospel Coach by Scott Thomas and Tom Wood and today I read one of the most convicting things that I have ever read:

“The tricky thing about idolatry is that it is usually the pursuit of something that is otherwise good…Idolatry is enslavement to something we love… it’s a good thing that is elevated to a god thing […] a sin becomes an idol when we hold it in greater value than we value Jesus for our ultimate joy and satisfaction” (68)

This has led me to ask the following questions:

Where in my life do I pursue Christ as a means to an end? Where is merely who He is not enough for my ultimate joy and satisfaction?

Is there an area of my heart that I’m enslaved to something I love? If so, what is it?

Asking these questions is absolutely critical if I’m to live a Christ-centered life. I don’t have all the answers to them yet, but I know that I desire for the Gospel to be the thing that I’m most passionate about. I want it to color the way I look at each circumstance I walk through and every relationship I’m a part of. I want the Holy Spirit to constantly be transforming me into the image of the Son – all to bring Him glory and spread His name.

Mahaney says that “in the Scriptures we discover a profound urgency for focusing all we are and everything we do around the gospel of the cross. For not only does this good news come first chronologically in our Christian experience, but it stays foremost in critical importance for creating and sustaining our joy and our fruitfulness” (15).

I’m learning that once you fall in love with the Gospel the next step is to make your life match (be worthy of) the weight of the Gospel and Scripture. And I think that the first step in doing so is actually establishing Christ as first. Making Him my ultimate joy and expecting that He’ll make a beautiful thing of me.

Recounting Transformation

All of life is a story. It’s a swirling, tumbling, organized mess of plots, subplots, and character development. Character development always leads to transformation. I knew this going into this first year of ministry and I even asked God for the kind of change that would break me, transform my heart, and make me unrecognizable at the end.

As you can see, I thought I knew what I was in for:

“Life is about learning to trust God, after all. And in this season, instead of learning to be patient in waiting, I’m going to learn to jump off of bridges, learn to venture out, learn to be daring and brave. I can already tell that He’s going to teach me to adapt rapidly instead of wait with hope. It’s going to be fast-paced, insane, and everything I’ve dreamed of. But I can guarantee that the transformation will never stop. And I hope there will be so many moments of transformation that I can recount to you along the way (From Character Transformation).”

I know, I know. I said that such a very long time ago. If only I had known how true those words would be.

I promised you stories and moments of transformation throughout this first year of ministry. I haven’t done very well. In fact, I’ve delivered only ONE single post since I jumped into full time ministry.

One of the reasons I haven’t posted is because I’m undergoing so much transformation that I can’t begin to explain it in a single post if I try. Sometimes there are more emotions wrapped up in a single day than I ever knew existed in such combinations prior to July 1, 2010. Another of the reasons is because I’ve allowed myself to get so busy that I don’t even begin to take the time to process my days, my weeks, and my thoughts. That’s all stopping this week. There are so many stories to share and so many thoughts and dreams to process.

I’m learning that reflection and recounting transformation is part of the process of  really being changed.

“The value of a story is what you take from it and what you will use from it in your life. Anybody can write a story, but the stories people remember most are the ones that changed them somehow. (Cuyler Callahan, http://ezinearticles.com/?The-Value-of-a-Story&id=3494657)

I want to remember this year. I want to remember and cling to the lessons I’ve learned. I don’t feel like I’ve only been changed “somehow.” I feel like I’m almost completely different than before. I’m not the same girl who came to work for The Gathering last June. I’ve grown, I’ve been stretched, I’ve cried, and I’ve learned what it really means to be a part of loving and building the Church. Most importantly, I’ve learned how crucial it is to not only to understand the Gospel, but to also love it and embrace it as the means of both my salvation and my sanctification.

Before this year I think I clung to the Lord to succeed. Then I learned to cling to survive. Now I recognize that Christ isn’t a means to an end. He’s not what I need to survive. He’s not what I need to succeed. He’s ALL I need. I cannot even express in words what that realization has taught me, but check back soon for a series of posts on what it means to be Gospel-centered.