The Counter-Cultural Woman: A Fresh Look at Proverbs 31Working Joyfully
Leslie Basham: If you’re a mom, it probably seems like your work is never done. There’s always one more dish to wash, one more mouth to feed, one more toy to pick up. Here’s Nancy Leigh DeMoss on how to make the work easier.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Anything that we do for love of God and love of others—the load is light. Haven’t you found that to be true? That when we do it with a willing heart, that it takes on a different perspective.
Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Wednesday, February 21st.
What’s the biggest, most intimidating job in front of you today? There’s a way to make the job more manageable. It’s to recognize you’re working for God’s glory. Yesterday, Nancy started to describe some ways of working that are uniquely feminine. She’ll pick back up on that today in a series called The Counter-Cultural Woman.
Nancy: Let me read to you a letter I received from a friend not too long ago. She said:
Nancy, when I read your letter outlining your schedule, I thought to myself, "Oh, Fran, Nancy has the greatest life—so exciting, all that travel. And what am I doing this summer?”
Well, as I sat at the kitchen table, I thought, "Let’s write out what I’ve done this month, and see what I’ve done and will do.” What a valuable exercise in seeing how busy Moms are—capital M—with tasks. And those tasks, those seemingly mundane, show our love for our children.
Tasks such as sewing in hundreds of little labels on every single sock and pair of underwear, towels, t-shirts, and things you know you’ll never see again once they’ve gone to camp—the great devourer of items from home. Addressing and stamping ten little envelopes for ten little letters, one for each day, to grandparents, mom and dad, assorted cousins at camp across the country—only to look eagerly each day for the letter in the mailbox, and finally open one the day the children come home from camp as you stop at the mailbox driving up the driveway.”
Well, my month continues with loads of fun in 100 degree plus weather of the summer swim meet. [Beau, her teenage son, swims.]Each Tuesday there’s a ritual for solar-powered families like ours to go to swim meets that last from 6 p.m. until around 9:30 p.m. Of course, the irony of swim meets comes when you realize that you’re in the pool for warm-ups at 4:30; the meet actually begins at six. Your child may swim three events and up to two relays for a total of maybe three minutes the entire night. So you spend four or five hours in the blazing heat for two minutes, 26 seconds, scattered throughout the evening.
But what joy, what utter delight, when Beau finishes strong, jumps out of the pool, and although dripping wet, looks straight at Mom [capital M], smiles, and comes for big hug—all worth it.
On Father’s Day we had the grandparents over for homemade ice cream and cake. I read from George Washington’s journals, “Father of Our Country” theme, and from Scripture about sons, fathers, and grandfathers. Then, each person around the table shared something their Daddy gave them, a spiritual blessing or otherwise. What a precious time.
She talks about how her mother shared some about her dad, her dad shared about his dad. And then little Mary Scott sharing how her daddy has given her lots of stuff that costs money, but the greatest gift was the free gift of Jesus. “Oh Nancy,” Fran says, “what a rich month I had.”
She’s discovering the value and meaning and wonder of being a woman who works willingly with her hands. And what a picture of Proverbs 31: the woman who has a heart of virtue and excellence, a spiritual, godly strength and character; and then how that character is lived out, worked out in the context of her home. We’ve been looking at the thirteenth verse of Proverbs chapter 31, and really expanding here on a theme that runs throughout this passage.
Verse 13 says, “She seeks wool and flax and willingly works with her hands.” We talked about how this woman works hard. She’s diligent. She’s industrious, and you’ll see that theme throughout the chapter. There isn’t anything lazy about her. And how she works at home—her work centers around her home, particularly in those years when she’s in the child-bearing and child-rearing years, but even beyond that as she makes a home for her family.
Then, I want to pick up on one other word in that verse. She willingly works with her hands. The New International says, “With eager hands she works.” It’s literally with delight of her hands, and this suggests—now, hold on here, because you may not believe this—that she actually enjoys her work. She does it with enjoyment. She puts her hands joyfully to work.
Now, it may not be because the tasks themselves are inherently joyous tasks. If you’re a mother or have been a wife and mother for any length of time, unless you just really love cooking, there have to come some of those times when the preparation of two or three meals a day and the cleanup after those meals just becomes a labor.
But here’s a woman who has a joyful and willing heart, which gives joy and meaning to the work of her hands. She puts her hands joyfully to work. It speaks of her attitude toward work. She’s not only a worker, a hard worker, a worker at home; but she’s a willing worker, a glad-hearted worker. She’s cheerful about her work.
We read in Ecclesiastes chapter nine, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might” (Ecclesiastes 9:10, ESV). For this woman, her work is not drudgery. It’s not chores, though she could certainly look at it that way. But she’s chosen to have a different kind of attitude about work because she sees the end results. She sees the purpose. She sees the meaning. She sees the motivation behind that work. It’s love. It’s love for others. It’s love for God. It’s her love for God that makes her willing to work with her hands in providing food and clothing and cleanup around the house. It’s motivated by love.
Now, that doesn’t necessarily make the work any easier, but anything that we do for the love of God and for love of others, the load is light. Haven’t you found that to be true? When you do it with a willing heart, it takes on a different perspective? She’s not living for herself; she’s living for others, and she finds her greatest joy in loving service for others.
Now, I’m not just trying to romanticize something that is really just tough, menial, manual labor. And I’m not saying that if you don’t scrub the kitchen floor with singing as you do, that you’re not a godly woman. There are time when we just, in all of our lives, have work that we just have to do because it has to be done. But there’s something that I want to have in my work, that I want you to have in your work, that is a willingness of heart as we work—a cheerful heart about our work.
One writer I read on Proverbs 31 said, “Only love can make such diligent service sweet and delightful. Where love is lacking, this work will be the worst drudgery.” Some of you are familiar with the name Brother Lawrence. He was a 17th century monk whose job in the religious order that he was in was to work in the kitchen. But he learned to do it with a cheerful heart, out of love for God. And then there comes to us in his book, The Practice of the Presence of God, the great little classic, that I think is so encouraging to us as women as we do our work.
He said, “The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer.” And keep in mind what his business was: working in the kitchen—kitchen crew, kitchen cleanup—that was his job. He said, “My job, my work, does not with me differ from the time of prayer, and in the noise and clutter of my kitchen, while several persons at the same time are calling for different things.”
Does this sound like your life? Any of you that are mothers at home—several persons calling at you at the same time for different things? He said, “In the midst of all that noise and clutter, I possessed God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees in prayer.”
Isn’t that great! Now, he didn’t start out that way, I’ll just tell you that. As you read The Practice of the Presence of God, you see that this was a process for him. But that most menial and manual labor becomes holy. It becomes sanctified, consecrated, when I give it up to God as an offering.
And you can think as a mom, in the midst of the cleaning up, the picking up, the straightening up, the putting up, the cooking, the cleaning, the shopping, all the things that you do to help make a home for your family; that you can possess God in your spirit in as much tranquility as if your were on your knees with your Bible open and in prayer, because you do your work as unto the Lord, with the willing heart.
The verse that has come to mind is where Paul said in 2 Corinthians chapter 12, “I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls” (2 Corinthians 12:15). So what’s the apostle Paul—he had glamorous work. We always think somebody else’s work is more glamorous than ours. Paul said, “No matter what it costs me, I will do it gladly because the purpose of my life is to be spent for you.” That’s the purpose of my life: to glorify God by being spent for you. And those of you who are wives and mothers, that’s how you glorify God, by spending and being spent and being used up for others.
So, you’re going to do it. The question is: Are you going to do it gladly, or are you going to do it resentfully? Jesus said when He spoke about doing the work of the Father, “I delight to do Your will, O God” (Psalm 40:8, NKJV). And I realized as I reviewed that phrase recently, that I generally sooner or later submit to do the will of God, but often I don’t delight to do the will of God.
If I want to be like Jesus, then I need to pray, “Oh Lord, give me a heart that delights to serve, that delights to work, that delights to be spent on the behalf of others. If this is Your will for my life, if these are tasks of Your appointing, then help me to do them with joy. Help me to work willingly with my hands.”
There’s a prayer at the end of Psalm 90 that I’ve made my prayer many times. Let’s offer up this prayer to the Lord: “O God, we pray that You would let Your work appear to Your servants and Your glory to their children. And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us and establish, direct, and determine the work of our hands for us. Yes, establish the work of our hands” (Psalm 90:16–17, paraphrased).
Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss will be right back with the second half of today’s program. She’ll talk more specifically about what it means to work with our hands. During Nancy’s teaching series called The Counter-Cultural Woman, what new insights have you gotten out of Proverbs 31? Would you share them with everybody else? Add your thoughts to the Revive Our Hearts listener blog. Visit ReviveOurHearts.com, read what other listeners are writing, and add your own ideas.
Maybe you know someone who would get a lot out of today’s teaching. There are many ways you can become a Revive Our Hearts ambassador to them. You can send an E-Card or email them today’s transcript. Or here’s another great idea: add a Revive Our Hearts banner to your blog or website. Get more details at ReviveOurHearts.com.
You can also share Nancy’s helpful booklet, “A Biblical Portrait of Womanhood.” This is a quick read that introduces the topic of biblical womanhood in a clear, concise way. Order a pack of ten and pass them out. Visit our website to order and to get even more ideas on becoming a Revive Our Hearts ambassador. Now, let’s get back to Nancy’s teaching on a woman’s important work.
Nancy: It’s interesting to me that there are six references to hands in Proverbs chapter 31: verse 13, verse 16, verse 19, verse 20, and verse 31. And we have specifically here in verses 13 and 19 a woman who is getting the raw ingredients of wool and flax and is working with her hands to spin those raw ingredients into thread, and then to make fabric, and then out of that fabric to make clothing.
As we see all those references to her hands (the work of her hands, the fruit of her hands, the profits of her hands depending on which translation you’re using), so I say, what is the significance of that? And then I begin to think about other biblical references to hands, and that will perhaps be a little insight to you in your own study of God’s Word.
Biblically, there’s a special significance to working with our hands, starting with the fact that God works with His hands. Psalm chapter eight tells us that the heavens are the work of His fingers (Psalm 8:3), and when that passage is quoted again in Hebrews one, it says, “The heavens are the works of your hands” (Hebrews 1:10). Psalm 8 tells us, “You have made man,” God has made man, “to have dominion over the works of your hands” (Psalm 8:6).
This earth is the work of God’s hands. Psalm 111 tells us the works of His hands are truth and justice (Psalm 111:7). And then, we know that Jesus worked with His hands. Growing up as the son of a carpenter, it’s certain that He did labor as a carpenter with His hands. He also used His hands to be a means of blessing to others. Matthew chapter 19: “He laid his hands on the children” (Matthew 19:15). Luke 24, as Jesus was getting ready after His resurrection to be ascended back into Heaven, the Scripture says, “He lifted up his hands and he blessed them” (Luke 24:50). He blessed His disciples.
The apostles worked with their hands. First Corinthians four, the apostle Paul said, “We labor, working with our own hands” (1 Corinthians 4:12). Acts chapter 20 tells us, again Paul is speaking to the elders at Ephesus. He said, “You yourselves know that these hands have provided for my necessities and for those who were with me” (Acts 20:34).
Isn’t it interesting that the great apostle Paul who penned, I think, 13 books in the New Testament, was not above working with his hands? You see, working with our hands is the cure, the antidote, to laziness, to stealing, and to uselessness. And that’s why we read in Proverbs chapter 21 that lazy people won’t work with their hands. “The desire of the lazy man kills him,” Proverbs says, “because his hands refuse to labor. He covets greedily all day long, but the righteous gives and does not spare” (Proverbs 21:25).
Do you see the difference there? Lazy people are always wanting to get. They want to be on the receiving end. They won’t work to give. They want to get. And ultimately, if they can’t get what they want, that can even cause them to turn to stealing out of laziness. But people who are hard workers are willing to work with their hands so that they can have something to give to others. That’s the heart of this virtuous woman.
So we read in 1 Thessalonians chapter four, “We urge you,” Paul says, “that you aspire to lead a quiet life and to work with your own hands, that you may walk properly toward those who are outside and that you may lack nothing” (1 Thessalonians 4:11–12).
Now, this is serious business because Paul’s not just saying this is something you ought to consider doing, to be hard at work with your hands in whatever tasks you have that require that. He goes on to say in 2 Thessalonians chapter three that there were some in that church who were idle—they wouldn’t work with their hands. And Paul said, “Look at our example! We did not eat anyone’s bread free of charge, but we worked with labor and toil, night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, to make ourselves an example of how you should follow us” (2 Thessalonians 3:7–8, paraphrased).
“Do not be weary in doing good” (Galatians 6:9, paraphrased). That’s a good word for mothers, isn’t it? He goes on to say, “If anyone does not obey our words, note that person, and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed” (2 Thessalonians 3:14). Now, that’s not only something to model in your home, but it’s an important thing to teach your children. Your children need to learn how to work, and how to have a work-ethic, but also practically how to work.
Some of you found that when you got to be wives and mothers, you did not have the practical skills that you needed to know how to meet your family’s needs in terms of food and clothing and shopping and administering and organizing your home and cleaning. Some of these skills you had to learn. And let me say, if you still don’t know how to do those things, if you don’t have the skills, find a woman who does have those skills and ask her if she would help you learn.
You say, “I’d be so embarrassed to tell a woman, ‘I don’t know how to organize my house, or I don’t know how to clean my house, or I don’t know how to cook.’” Better to be embarrassed and go and find someone who will mentor and help you learn those skills, than to go through life not fulfilling, not able to fulfill, part of God’s calling for your life.
But mothers, make sure that your daughters are learning those skills so that they won’t get to be your age and have to admit that they don’t know how to fulfill those basic homemaking and home-keeping tasks.
Well, there are so many ways that a woman in the context of her home can use her hands. I made a list of some of those, and you will think of others: sewing and mending clothes, curtains, linens. Cleaning—cleaning dishes, cleaning clothing, cleaning children, cleaning toilets, cleaning floors, cleaning spills. And there’s always plenty to do with the hands, picking up after the family, cooking, baking, food preparation, shopping, crafts that are used to make your home beautiful: painting, stenciling, gardening, planting, weeding, tending the garden.
Working with your hands: flower arranging, needle work, writing notes of encouragement—that’s a way you can use your hands to minister grace to others. And by the way, start at home with those notes of encouragement. Some of you are great at thank you notes and notes of encouragement, but do you write your husband and your children notes of encouragement?
Use your hands! Bookkeeping, that may part of your task in your home. It’s something you can do with your hands to help minister grace to your family. Caring for sick children, braiding hair, trimming hair, all kinds of fixing hair, driving children to school, to piano lessons, to sports. This woman seeks wool and flax—she looks for the raw ingredients that she needs, and then she works willingly with her hands.
Let me ask you right now to stop and look at your hands. Just look at them. If you’re a Proverbs 31 woman, or becoming one, as we are committed to becoming together, your hands may not be model’s hands. You may not have perfectly manicured nails. But let me ask you this: Are they serving hands? Are they hands that you’re using to bless and to minister in practical ways to the needs of others?
If they are, then though they may not be beautiful hands, they’re hands like the Master’s. See, Christ’s hands were nailed to a cross. He endured that, out of love, out of the heart of a servant, for the sake of the Gospel, for the sake of the plan of redemption.
Can I say that when you serve your family with your hands, when you work with your hands, when you clean and cook, whatever you do with your hands around your home, you’re doing it for the sake of the Gospel. You’re doing it so that your children may know what Jesus looks like, so they may be drawn to Him, so they may want to know Him.
There’s a wonderful word of encouragement in 2 Chronicles chapter 15. The prophet came to King Asa. Asa was a man who had a heart for God, and he was seeking to establish reform in the nations which desperately needed reforms, but it was hard work.
It would have been easy for Asa to get weary in the work and to give up. God sent a prophet to him to say what I want to say to you today. He said, “[But you, King Asa,] Be strong, and do not let your hands be weak, for your work shall be rewarded!” (2 Chronicles 15:7).
Let me say it again. Let me say it to you. “But you, be strong, and do not let your hands be weak, for your work,” if it’s done as unto the Lord, “will be rewarded!”
It will be.
Leslie: The Bible is so practical. Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been explaining how Proverbs 31 relates to the pile of work you’re facing this week. Today’s program is part of a series called The Counter-Cultural Woman. It’s an in-depth study of Proverbs 31, and an exploration of biblical womanhood.
Now, if that phrase “biblical womanhood” is foreign to you, I hope you’ll explore the topic more deeply in a book Nancy and some other wise authors wrote called Becoming God's True Woman. Look for the book at ReviveOurHearts.com.
You know, a woman’s work isn’t just about checking tasks off a to-do list. People are watching, and while you’re working, you can show them a picture of Christ. Hear more tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.
Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.
Scriptures were taken from the English Standard Version and the New King James Version.Offers available only during the broadcast of the radio series.