On the refrigerator in the kitchen at Sycamore, a magnet once held a card given to us by a former member. On the front was a picture of some middle-aged men dressed in outdated clothing such as plaid pants sitting in a circle of lawn chairs talking in a backyard. The front said, “While the men were outside solving the world’s problems, the women were inside doing the dishes.” Then when you opened the card, the inside read, “As usual, the women got more done.” This good-natured card was given to reflect a common occurrence at Sycamore (and I imagine many other congregations). It’s one of my favorite times of the week, when the men sit around one of the tables in the Fellowship Hall after the service eating and talking about theology and the issues of life. And, yes, the women have supplied the food and the young ladies are often doing the dishes while we do this, but I digress…
Anyway, this time grew a bit uncomfortable for me a week or two ago when the conversation moved to the question, “What’s the latest book you have read?” I mockingly pleaded not to be asked, but then was pressed to reveal the answer which elicited some ribbing. “Let Me Be a Woman by Elizabeth Elliot.” I’ve also been reading some other women’s books my wife has recommended, such as Female Piety by John Angell James andFamous Women of the Reformed Church by James Good (which I noticed Rebecca VanDoodewaard recently reviewed on her and her husband’s website called The Christian Pundit). Why this interest in literature on females? I’ll be speaking at our presbytery’s Women’s Retreat this coming weekend on the topic of ‘The Quiet Strength of a Godly Woman.” The three talks will be entitled “Devoted to the Lord,” “Disciplined in Prayer,” and “Dangerous to the World.”
Besides a request for prayer, I share this with you because of what preparing for this reminds me of with respect to preaching. When speaking to a distinct group, be it a talk to college students, a chapel for men at the Mission, or a children’s sermon, understanding and identifying with the hearers so that you can bring the Word of God to bear upon their lives is always a challenge. Certainly understanding and identifying with women is a unique one (living with a wife and daughters regularly shows me this!). Yet what one must be careful in doing in preaching to a more distinctive group, which is part of the challenge, is not awkwardly pushing the differences too far. I recall as a child when the Japanese for whom my father worked would visit our house. One member in our home had the habit of raising her voice very loudly when speaking with them, thinking that volume and not language was the problem with communication. Everyone, be they men or women, rich or poor, adults or children, fellow countrymen or foreigner, churchgoer or visitor, are all made in the image of God and needful of the Word of God. Shouting too loudly about the differences can cause the hearers to miss what they need most.
So though strength is often a quality associated with men, it is not uniquely so. Women need it also, and those in their lives need their strength. They need to be able to pray like Hannah, “My heart exults in the LORD; my horn is exalted in the LORD, my mouth speaks boldly against my enemies, because I rejoice in Your salvation” (I Samuel 2:1). I hope to show the women how the Scriptures point to a particular strength, a quiet strength, they are to possess. No call will be issued to act like men or sign up for the army. But a godly woman can make wicked men shake and their prayers and actions can make armies flee.