Sunday, February 21, 2016

Women Who Have "Stood in the Gap" and Made a Difference

Active Relational Christian Mentoring involves women “standing in the gap” as well as their being a godly influence on other women. But, whether or not we individually choose to actively mentor another woman or we simply choose to befriend a woman, we are still in many ways mentoring her. It is just a matter of whether or not we want to actively reach out to mentor another, or if we just choose to passively mentor through our lifestyle and behaviors. Either way we are influencing the lives of those around us by our actions, words, life-style and behaviors. Although having positive influence upon another woman comes about through both active and passive mentoring, “standing in the gap” requires a more active part in our Christian mentoring.

Unfortunately, many women and men do not understand their purpose or role in God’s world. But it is not necessary to understand our individual purpose completely, if we at least understand that we all have a specific purpose in God’s creation. Moreover, whether we are actively mentoring another woman, or we are passively just letting our Christ-light shine upon others, we can rest assured that God also has a purpose for our individual lives, and He will use us if we allow Him to do so. The main purpose in our creation, though, is to glorify, love and honor God through His Son, Jesus Christ. For, even though, humanity sinned and rejected God’s love by eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of good and evil, God never gave up on us. In fact, God loved us so much that he sent his only Son to earth and die for our sins. Then Christ arose on the third day and conquered eternal death so that we can spend eternity with God and Christ. Our purpose, then, is to not only glorify, honor and love God, but to also glorify, honor and love Christ through our belief in Christ as seen through our actions of living for Him so that the rest of the world can come to know Christ and His Father as well. Our individual purposes encompass sharing the Gospel message with the world in some manner or another, while at the same time loving our neighbor as we love ourselves as seen through our service to Christ and to those in need.

Beyond our greatest purpose of loving, honoring and glorifying God through our Christian lives and through the sharing of the Gospel message, though, is our obedience to God. For part of our purpose is found in our obedience to God and His Word. The Bible says that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” – (John 1: 1-5. NASB). The Apostle John, in this Scripture, is telling us that Christ is the Word. Then Christ, as the Son of God, came into the world to shine the Light upon the world. Unfortunately, those who saw the Light, did not comprehend it, therefore many people have disregarded the Truth of Christ as the Son of the Living God. Consequently, unbelievers still do not feel that they have a true purpose in life, because they are lost in the darkness. But for those of us who have seen the Light, and have recognized the Light as the Savior of our souls, we know that obedience to God and His Word is part of our purpose in life.

Many women who know God as their personal Savior, still have a problem understanding what their individual purpose is in relation to those around them. Are they to be a wife and mother? Are they to be a missionary or teacher for their church congregation? How do they remain obedient to Christ in their daily life and still live in this world and do all the things that they need or want to do? But, just as important is the question: “how can I be obedient to God and Christ within my workplace”? In other words, how do I let my Christ-light shine in all aspects of my life, and how do I rise to fulfilling my individual purpose for God and still be obedient to His calling on my life?

Whether we choose to actively mentor another woman or choose to just passively let our Christ-light shine through our daily life, we have to be confident and have faith that God is moving us toward our specific and individual purpose, if we are willing to follow Him. For, God has our best interest at heart, and He constantly wants to provide blessings on our lives. However, understanding what God wants us to do to fulfill our individual purpose means that we not only have to have faith in God and His timing, but that we also have to be obedient to His directions and His voice. In other words, we have to not only listen to God, but we have to also obey His will for our lives.

Part of God’s will for our lives is to “stand in the gap” against the enemy and to influence those who need to know His Son, need to know the Truth of His Word, and need to know how to live in a morally and ethically corrupt world without falling into Satan’s traps. But when we fail to influence others through our lives, i.e. with our words and actions, or when we fail to live up to and obey God’s directions, we let ourselves down. Unfortunately, we not only we let ourselves down, but we let down God and the people or the women that God has positioned us in life to influence with the Good News and the Truth. Then if we fail to “stand in the gap” for a woman who is struggling with a particular issue for which we could pray and help, we have failed to be obedient to God.

Every day we make small choices, but these choices build upon each other until all those small choices show a life pattern, a standard of behavior or hopefully a picture of walking daily with God and His Son. Those choices will also influence our children, our family, and our friends. They could and probably do even influence strangers who are watching what we do and who see some of the choices that we make. For example, “road rage” does not benefit anyone, and it certainly is not something to which a Christian should succumb. Moreover, little things like a hateful attitude in a check-out line or things that we choose to say or not say to someone when we are upset can all influence another person about our faith and belief in Christ. What kind of choices have you made over your life? Are they choices that you would be happy to share with others, or are they choices that have let God and yourself down?

God has placed each of us in a position where we can be a godly influence on others. But we should continually ask God to lead us each day. We also have to be willing to follow His directions. In other words, we must not only be sensitive to God’s voice, but we must be willing to follow through with actions. The prophet Isaiah said, “Your ears will hear a word behind you, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ whenever you turn to the right or the left. … And the Lord will cause His voice of authority to be heard.– (Isaiah 30: 21, 30. NASB). If we open our ears and listen, and then obey God’s voice, we can not only “stand in the gap” for others, but we can have a godly and positive influence upon them.

In the Bible we are told of one woman who opened her ears and listened to God’s voice and instructions. She made a difference in her nation by heeding and then doing what God asked her to do. At the same time another woman listened to her heart and the voice of God, and she too did her part by literally “standing in the gap” for Israel. We may not have that kind of influence or be called to literally “stand in the gap” for a nation, but we can have a positive and productive influence on other women when we are obedient to God’s command “to love others as we love ourselves.” To love others as ourselves means we need to open our hearts and give of our time to help others in need. We can “stand in the gap” through prayer for another woman and her family too.

God has given us the story of these two women so that we can see how important women are in the Kingdom of God. We are important, because we are His creation, and we like men have been created with individual purposes to fulfill. Let’s take a look at these two women in the Older Covenant/ Testament who were not only obedient, but had great influence and “stood in the gap” for the nation of Israel.

Deborah and Jael

Thousands of years ago a Jewish woman was put in a position by God to save her nation. Her name was Deborah. But, before I tell you more about Deborah, I must explain the background for her life. You see, after Joshua brought the Israelite people out of the wilderness and into The Promised Land, the Israelites were told to overthrow the nations living in The Promised Land, and they were also to obey God’s rules and commandments. But like all nations, willful people often choose to do what they wish and to live the way they want. The Israelites were no exception. But in their disobedience they would find that they needed God’s help in saving them time after time.

One of the first things that the Israelites did was to disobey God’s direct order to destroy or run out of the land some of the pagan tribes as expressly commanded by the Lord. The people simply got tired of fighting, so they made peace with many of the foreign pagan tribes and allowed the pagan people to stay in their towns and homes. But, some of the pagan tribes living along side of the Israelites wanted all of their land back. To make matters worse, the Israelites started inner marrying with the pagan peoples and then started accepting their idols as gods. Subsequently, there developed a circular pattern to Israel’s relationship with God, to their apostasy, and to the foreign tribes they had failed to eliminate. The pattern would start with Israel at peace and them following and obeying the commandments of God even though they were living surrounded by the pagan tribes they had failed to eradicate.

For a while the Israelites would live under God’s direction, commandments, truth and laws. As a result, they lived in peace, while following God’s commandments and honoring and obeying His sacrificial laws. Sometimes they would have up to eighty years of peace. But somewhere along the way they would forget to teach their children about God and His commandments. Because of their failure to teach their children about God and because of their failure to follow God’s laws and commandments, it would only take as little as one or two generations before the majority of people forgot God and then fell away from honoring or worshipping Him. Without God being in the forefront of their minds and hearts, the people would then follow the examples of the pagan people who lived among them and who bowed down to idols. Then the Israelites would no longer live under God’s direction, commandments, truth and laws.

God is a loving God, but He is also a just and righteous God Who will not accept blatant disobedience. So, to get Israel’s attention and to provide punishment for their blatant disobedience, God would withdraw His protection from Israel. Subsequently, God allowed Israel to then be oppressed by a pagan tribe that wanted their land back. The Israelites would then be overrun by this foreign group of people, which ultimately led to Israel's oppression and sometimes even slavery. As a result, the Israelites were all alone and oppressed, knowing full well that the idols they had accepted into their lives would not and could not help them. At some point, after as little as 7 and up to as many as 20 years of oppression the people would finally again turn to God for help. Then. “when the sons of Israel cried to the Lord, the Lord raised up a deliverer for the sons of Israel to deliver them.” – (Judges 3: 9. NASB)

So, God raised up a deliverer for Israel. Usually, the deliverer was the judge that had been established or chosen by God to be the judge over Israel during that period of time. (Throughout the first several hundred years after entering The Promised Land, Israel did not have a king, because they were to follow God’s commands through judges that He put in place to represent God to the people. These individuals were called judges, because they would adjudicate problems and also keep the peace). The judge who rescued them was in most cases also the person who represented their obedience to God.

Generally, the person who delivered Israel from oppression was either already a judge of Israel or would become the judge of Israel for the next period in Israel’s history after he/she had rescued Israel. For, with God’s help and direction this person would lead the Israelites into battle or would set up the situation that would deliver Israel from oppression. Then when Israel would be delivered, the country would live in peace again. But, the cycle would eventually start all over again. So the cycle was: living in peace and obeying the Lord; falling into apostasy; a period of oppression; crying out to the Lord; and then delivery from their oppressors.

Then the cycle would start again; sometimes with only twenty to forty years of peace between periods of oppression. The peace would not last long, because the people would again “do evil in the sight of the Lord”. Eventually, though, the people would recognize that God was their only hope, because He was the only One who could help them, so they would cry out to the Lord for help. Being the loving and caring God that He is, God would hear their cries of oppression and come to their rescue, even though they themselves had brought on their oppression. On one such occasion, God gave a woman judge the ability to “stand in the gap” and influence the outcome of the rescue of the Israelites. Actually, God chose two women to deliver Israel from the oppression, showing us that God does not think less of women or less of their role in the history of a people. The names of these two particular women who would influence and “stand in the gap” against evil and their enemies were Deborah and Jael. With God’s help and their obedience, these two women would again bring in a period of peace for Israel; starting all over the cycle of: living for God in peace; then apostasy or falling away from God; succumbing to living in oppression; and then their crying out for help to be rescued. Finally, God would send the much needed deliverer to rescue them.

The Influence of Deborah

The Bible tells us that after the second judge of Israel, Ehud, rescued Israel from oppression by the Moabites, the land of Israel was in peace for eighty years. But we are then told that “… the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord, after Ehud died. And the Lord sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor; and the commander of his army was Sisera, …– (Judges 4: 1, 2. NASB).  Being “sold into the hand of King Jabin”, simply meant that God removed his protection and allowed the Israelites to be oppressed again. But in this case, their enemy actually came from within The Promised Land instead of outside from the surrounding territories. As previously mentioned, the Israelites had failed to eliminate or eradicate all of the tribes living in The Promised Land. Certainly, among all these tribes, the largest tribe of people that they failed to remove was the Canaanites. Consequently, when King Jabin decided to take over the land again, he had an easier time, because his people were already in the land, and they had regrouped into a large army with chariots. Who, though, would be able to rescue Israel from such a contingency of warriors, arms and machinery?

The Canaanite army had 900 chariots that more than likely had razor sharp knives extending from the wheels to cut down any foot soldiers of their enemy that got too close. Of course Israel was not powerful enough to go up against those chariots and the spears that the Canaanites carried. Remember, that Israel is a people group that farms, raises sheep, vegetables, and grapes. Furthermore, Israel is not an aggressive people group, because they worship a loving and caring God who has asked them “to love their neighbors as themselves”. Consequently, with their less than aggressive nature, as well as with their failure to have a well-trained army, they seemed to have no recourse against the aggressive Canaanite army and their 900 chariots.

Finally, though, after twenty years of unbearable oppression, the Israelites cried out to God for help. They had tried to live their own lives without God’s help, but had found that trying to control their own lives had led them into much trouble and confusion, not to mention oppression. Nevertheless, God heard their cry and with much love provided a deliverer, which in this case was a woman named Deborah who would, with the help of another woman named Jael and Deborah's trusted general, Barak, rescue Israel from oppression.

Deborah, the wife of Lappidoth, was a prophet (prophetess) who had become a judge in Israel. She would hold court under the Palm of Deborah, which stood between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites came to her to settle their disputes.”  -- (Judges 4: 4, 5. NLT).  Deborah was an ordinary woman. But, for some reason God chose Deborah to be a judge for Israel, and so He put her in a position to do so. Although she sat under a palm tree to judge or adjudicate the problems of the people of Israel, she may have had a family of her own, because in Judges 5: 7 she is described as “a mother of Israel”. But even though, we know little about her, we do know through the Scriptures and through her actions that she was a beloved judge whom the people trusted. Even the army commander, Barak, trusted and respected her judgment and leadership.

We also know that Deborah loved the Lord. She expressed this love by serving Him faithfully and by listening to and following through with the directions that the Lord gave her. Certainly, Deborah was an exceptional woman in many ways, but the biggest thing that made her exceptional was that she allowed the Lord to direct her life, and then she willingly followed through with what God wanted her to do. Do we do that? Do we follow through with what the Lord has placed upon our hearts to do? Or do we ignore that still small voice of the Holy Spirit asking us to influence or to “stand in the gap” for another woman? Do you love the Lord the way that Deborah loved the Lord?

Deborah may have thought that her days judging Israel had fallen into a routine as she heard the cases of the people as she sat under the Palm tree, but the LORD had heard the oppressed cries of the people. Then one day, the LORD spoke to Deborah to tell her what she must do to save the people from their oppression. Immediately Deborah sent for her commander, Barak, to come to talk to her about what the Lord had told her. When Barak got there, Deborah told him, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: Assemble ten thousand warriors from the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun at Mount Tabor. I will lure Sisera, commander of Jabin’s army, along with his chariots and warriors, to the Kishon River. There I will give you victory over him.” – (Judges 4: 6, 7. NLT).

Then something strange happened. Even though Barak was a commander who should not have feared going into battle, he told Deborah that he would go, but only if she, Deborah, went with him. Deborah agreed to go, but she then told Barak that he would not receive the honor for the victory against the Canaanites, “… For the LORD’s victory over Sisera will be at the hands of a woman.” – (Judges 4: 9. NLT). Perhaps Barak did not believe that Deborah’s battle plan would work, or perhaps he just wanted to make sure that the person sending him into battle would be standing beside him when it failed or succeeded. But, whatever the reason, when Deborah said she would go with him, Barak gathered the needed men from the two tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun, and together with Deborah they assembled at Mount Tabor.

Even though we don’t know why Barak insisted on Deborah coming with him, we do know that Deborah showed the character of a great godly leader. Deborah stepped out in faith, and she trusted God to do what He had said He would do, which was to protect them and give the Canaanites into their hand. Deborah’s actions show us that an individual of faith follows God’s commands and directions even when he/ she doesn’t understand or see the complete plan through their human eyes. As a result of her faith shown in action, Deborah was not only influencing Barak, but influencing all the troops through her faith shown in God. Furthermore, Deborah set the example for the troops of a godly believer and leader by stepping out in faith to “stand in the gap” for Israel against an enemy.

Hearing that Barak and a large contingent of men had gathered at Mount Tabor, the Canaanite general, Sisera, gathered all his warriors along with 900 chariots and marched to the Kishon River, which was at the bottom of Mount Tabor. Little did Sisera know, but the LORD was actually the commander of the Israelite army. For Deborah told Barak, “‘Get ready! Today the LORD will give you victory over Sisera, for the LORD is marching ahead of you.’ So Barak led his ten thousand warriors down the slopes of Mount Tabor into battle.”  -- (Judges 4: 14. NLT).

Then something spectacular and supernatural happened to Sisera’s army. The Scriptures tell us that “When Barak attacked, the LORD threw Sisera and all his charioteers and warriors into a panic.”  -- (Judges 4: 15. NLT). Out of the clear blue Sisera’s army was running in different directions and attacking each other. When Sisera saw all the mayhem, he lept from his chariot and ran for his life to escape. In the meantime, Barak chased the Canaanites and their chariots all the way to Harosheth- haggogyim eventually killing every one of Sisera’s warriors.

While all this was occurring, Sisera ran all the way to the Oak of Zaanannim, near Kedesh where Heber the Kenite, a descendent of Moses, had pitched his tent. The Kenite tribe had always been an ally of Israel, but whether it was out of self-preservation, or a true allegiance, Heber had for some reason decided to side with King Jabin. So, knowing this, Sisera must have felt that he would be well protected if he could just get to the tent of Heber the Kenite. However, Sisera did not know that Heber’s wife, Jael, did not totally agree with her husband, because she was going to literally “stand in the gap” for the Israelites against Sisera and King Jabin.

When Sisera got to Heber’s tent, he was exhausted and ready to just fall down from all his running. To his delight, “Jael went out to meet Sisera and said to him, ‘Come into my tent, sir. Come in. Don’t be afraid.’ So he went into her tent, and she covered him with a blanket.”  -- (Judges 4:18. NLT). Even though, men were not allowed to enter a woman’s tent without the husband being present, Sisera disregarded that social issue in his exhaustion. Instead, he must have felt that he had finally found safety, for no one would think to look for him there. Now, he could also receive the nourishment that he needed to replenish his strength. For, Jael immediately gave him some milk to drink, and then she had him lie down and covered him with a blanket so that he could rest. Sisera then asked Jael to stand guard at the door of the tent so that no one could suddenly surprise him and kill him. He probably thought, too, that he was only going to take a quick cat nap to replenish his strength, but instead Sisera fell into a deeper sleep; a sleep that comes from total exhaustion.

Once Sisera was in a deep sleep, Jael took a large tent peg and hammer and silently crept upon Sisera. Then she hammered the tent peg into his temple so hard that she drove the tent peg down through his temple and down into the ground. When Barak and his men, who had been searching for Sisera, finally came to Heber and Jael’s tent, Jael went out to meet him and said that Sisera was indeed there, but he was dead. Jael had literally “stood in the gap” against Israel’s enemy. You can imagine Barak’s surprise that a woman had been able to kill Sisera. But even greater was his surprise that Deborah’s prophecy that a woman would get the victory and honor for killing Sisera had just come true.

What Deborah and Jael’s Lives Tell Us

The Bible tells us that because these two women followed the directions of God that they were able to be a part of God’s plan to subdue Jabin, the Canaanite king.  “And from that time on Israel became stronger and stronger against King Jabin, until they finally destroyed him.– (Judges 4: 24. NLT). Because of their willingness to listen to God, Deborah and Jael were both instrumental in saving the Israelites from further oppression. They listened to God and obeyed His voice. Do you listen to God and do you follow through with what He has asked you to do?

From this story of influence and from “standing in the gap” for others who cannot stand for themselves, we learn that women can be used by God for great things. Some of the things that we do in life may seem small to us at the time, but can eventually can lead to even greater glory and honor for God. Certainly, Jael must never have dreamed that she would have been used by God to “stand in the gap” for Israel and used to save the people from their oppressors. Jael was a homemaker and wife. She may not have thought that she had any great attributes, but as the woman of the family, she was in charge of lowering and raising the tent when they moved their home to a different location. So, Jael was very familiar with ten pegs and hammers. That is why she could successfully destroy the enemy of the Israelites on that particular day. Had she not done what God asked her to do, though, the Israelites may not have been saved from their oppressors. Jael listened and acted as she “stood in the gap” for the Israelites.

In this story, we discovered that Deborah was a wise leader who could use her influence to direct the outcome of a situation. Women can indeed be wise leaders at home, in their church community, and at work. Furthermore, we make good mentors, mediators, planners, listeners, advisers or counselors, teachers, friends, etc. That is why women make wonderful Active Relational Christian Mentors. In many ways, Deborah was a mentor for her people. She not only judged small and large problems that arose between people, but she must have given wise advice and counseling as well. Additionally, Deborah was able to use her wisdom and her relationship with God to see strategies that would benefit her military leader and his men.

We learned that Deborah had a close relationship with God. She listened for his direction and then she followed through with what God asked her to do. She had been given great insight and leadership abilities as well as a confidence in her relationship with God. In fact, Deborah wanted to serve God in whatever way that she could. As a woman, wife, and mother, Deborah could have denied her ability to lead and guide her people. But God knew that she had the ability to be a wife and mother and to still step forward to do His will and lead her people. In fact, Deborah not only led her troops into battle, but she later for several years influenced her people to live for God.

Both Deborah and Jael’s lives show us that women can accomplish great things for the Lord, if we are willing to allow Him to lead us. But their lives also show us that we need to be available to God and to other people who may need our help, support, comfort, or advice. Actually, we should not only be available, but be willing to do what we can do for the Lord and others, and we should not worry about what we think we cannot do. For, even the smallest kindness, the smallest of helps, and the smallest of moments of comfort, can be the turning point for another woman’s life. In fact, as I have previously mentioned, just a smile can change the life of another individual. Then, when we add that smile to what the Lord has asked us to do, we can accomplish great things for the Lord, if we are willing to allow the Lord to lead us.
As Christian women, we are to tell others about the Good News of Christ. One of the easiest ways to get the opportunity to share the Good News is through the development of a godly relationship with another woman that morphs into mentoring or helping another woman see the light of Christ as you explain the path to Salvation and Eternity with God. Whether you are in the workplace, at church, at the supermarket, or at a convention, God will give you opportunities to reach out to help other people and to share the Gospel message. Like Deborah and Jael, though, we have to be willing to “stand in the gap” when there is a problem or when someone is fighting a spiritual battle against the enemy. We can do that through prayer and by reading and meditating on the Lord’s Words from within the Holy Scripture, the Bible. We also have to be willing to use our positive Christian influence to empower other women to be all they can be for God, themselves, their family.

Whether you realize it or not, your Christian influence on the world around you can be great. But, doing nothing is not the way to influence others in the world and is not the way to influence those close to you. Just start with a simple act of kindness, which can then lead into sharing the Gospel message. Start, too, by standing up for God’s Truth and by doing that which is right in the eyes of God. Do not succumb to the evils that are in this world! Instead, be that light on the hill as a beacon of hope by allowing others to see the Light of Christ in you. Your Christ-light will shine out for those who are stuck in the darkness. You can do it!  You can mentor others for the Lord and in doing so, you can be a positive influence in the life of a woman in need. 

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