Disciplines of a Godly Woman
Crossway Books, Wheaton, Illinois, 2001, 272pp
1 Timothy 4:7—”Train yourself to be godly…”
Discipline is an ugly word in our society, but it is an essential mark of a Christian in training in godliness. It involves hard work and takes a lifetime, which is not of great appeal to our laid-back, quick-fix society! This book is about bringing all of our lives under the submission of our great Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Right from the start to the topic of the last chapter, Barbara challenges us to see that discipline does not come from legalism, but from relationship—knowing our God and living by his grace:
A Christian’s life is about bringing the will under submission to God’s will, and submission is an idea that has fallen on hard times… The only cure is a proper theology about God in order to bring every area of our lives under submission to His will. (p. 15)
Barbara writes with passion, basing each chapter firmly on God’s word, as well as encouraging us with anecdotes from her own life, those of friends and great Christians of the past. Because this book is a call to action, one of the highlights is an opportunity to “renew your mind” at the end of each chapter, which challenges the reader to look at the Bible verses and ideas explored in the chapter for themselves. This makes it a great book to look at for your own personal devotions or with a group of other women. The book is divided into five main sections: Soul, Character, Relationships, Ministry and Grace. There is also an excellent resource section, which is a huge blessing in itself.
Barbara starts rightly in her look at discipline with the gospel:
The Gospel shapes everything about you. The discipline of the Gospel is coming to God on His terms… it at once defines us… we learn that we are made in the image of God… as women, we are made distinctly female as opposed to male. Most importantly, we discover that we are of great value to God... If you don’t remember anything else about this book, remember that the Gospel is the foundation for every single thing you are and do. (pp. 25-6, emphasis original)
The gospel motivates us and satisfies us and is the best news one can ever hear and understand. To ensure that all of the readers do indeed get a chance to hear and understand the gospel, Barbara outlines a summary of the gospel using the well-known Two Ways to Live outline.
The discipline of submission follows on from the only right response to the gospel—to now ask God to enable us to live his way and submit to his will. Barbara encourages us to see that ‘submission’ (“yielding to the authority of another”) is not an offensive concept but the only proper response to our Saviour, Lord and King, Jesus, and that this submission is the “path to blessing”. This submission is something we have to learn and can only happen by fervent prayer, which leads into the “discipline of prayer: submission’s lifeline”. “Prayer bends our wills to God’s will” as meditation, confession, adoration, submission and petition are explored, with the reminder that prayer is not easy, but it is a call to work and a discipline to persevere. The final chapter in the section on ‘Soul’ is on the discipline of worship, which encourages us to see our whole lives as worship, and gives some suggestions as to how to be better prepared for and to have godly, corporate worship.
The ‘Character’ section begins with disciplining the mind, with the exhortation to “guard our hearts”, to think about things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable (Phil 4:8). We are encouraged to consider what we ‘input’ into our minds and that we can make choices for “a thought program that will produce a Christian mind… Part of having a Christian mind is saying no to ungodly influences” (pp. 68-9). We are encouraged to turn off some unhelpful TV and fill our minds with dwelling on what is good and noble, filling our minds with the word of God, with good Christian books and other good literature. Barbara provides some help in the resource section, with a Bible plan for reading the Bible in a year (using McCheyne’s calender) and a recommended reading list of non-fiction Christian books, church history, biographies and well-written fiction by Christian and secular authors.
The discipline of contentment is one I found particularly challenging. Our society thrives on discontent and we are so susceptible to fall for it as we follow in Eve’s footsteps… “So whether you are rich or poor, developing the discipline of contentment demands that we submit both our anxiety and our greed to the Lord” (p. 83). The source of contentment is in knowing our generous God, so we are encouraged to listen to, study and apply God’s word. The discipline of propriety (conducting ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel) encourages us to consider our ‘spiritual dress’ in holiness and humility, and to have our speech and attitude honouring our Lord. As this is done even through great trial and suffering, we see the discipline of perseverance. The examples of Christians showing God’s glory, even under great trial, was a great inspiration and challenge to me personally.
Relationships provide many avenues for discipline and submission to God’s will—in the church, in singleness, in marriage or as a parent. The goodness of fellowship with believers is explored, along with the joy of living out God’s good order and the urging to not “hesitate to take your rightful place in the body of Christ, the family of God, the household of faith” (p. 129). Singleness, as a Christian, “is not something to be avoided at all costs, but… is in fact a desirable option… particularly in view of the Gospel” (p. 132). This is a great thing to be reminded of. The challenges of singleness are not overlooked, but “If God has graciously given you the gift of singleness, embrace it for the sake of the Gospel because it is there, in the Gospel, that life comes together” (p. 139).
In marriage, “Christian wives must never resent or despise the term ‘helper’ or consider it demeaning. To help is divine!” (p. 152). True beauty that lasts, respect for our husbands and the goal of true and abiding love can be rare and beautiful in today’s broken world. The inbuilt desire for women to nurture is explored, as we are all encouraged to nurture the precious lives of children in whatever relationships God has called us to. Whether married or single, with or without our own children, there are so many people who are crying out for love and care in whatever capacity we can give it. We are urged not to forget the “forgotten children” (pp. 164-6), knowing that it will cost us in our self-centered, godless culture, yet the rewards are rich indeed.
The section on 'Ministry' explores good deeds, witness and giving. Once again this is a great reminder in our selfish world of how different we as Christians are called to be. Selfless acts, considering how to really love others and generosity are not always apparent in our lives. I think we often only aim as far as ‘goodness’ appears in our culture, rather than the radical love Christ shows us and calls us to in the gospel. We are also reminded that all is to be done for Christ’s glory, not our own!
The discipline of witness was a great encouragement with many practical ideas, showing the value of relationship and love. Here lies my only small criticism of the book, however, in that this chapter was based on a character study of the apostle Andrew, of which the Bible says very little. I felt that Andrew’s character was slightly stretched to make certain points that could easily have been made from other passages. Other than this, the Bible teaching was excellent throughout the book.
I personally found this book a huge encouragement to grow and ‘train myself in godliness’. It is hard to read it without being changed as you encounter God’s word and his unchanging grace. I encourage all women to read this book to see the joy in submission to our loving God and Saviour and the blessing of discipline.
Lyndy Berthon is a past member of the Steering Committee, and now lives and ministers in the Northern Territory.