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Wednesday, April 25, 2018

"A Woman God's Spirit Can Guide" (Alice Mathews)

TITLE: A Woman God's Spirit Can Guide: New Testament Women Help You Make Today’s Choices
AUTHOR: Alice Mathews
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House Publishers, 2017, (224 pages).

One big question that often pops up for anyone is this: "What is God's will for my life?" In evangelical circles, one might have heard people say things like: "I heard God spoke to me" or "God told me this" or "God told me that" and so on. We are not sure exactly how those conversations between the divine and the human transpire. We are not even given a lot of details when we read Scriptures talk about how God communicated with Moses, David, Samuel, Mary, and the Early Church. Yes, there are cases of angels and voices from heaven. How can we listen more intently; hear more clearly; and understand more succinctly? Even if we have heard God's tones through various circumstances, what does it take to sustain this level of spiritual sensitivity? How could we verify the authenticity of such voices? Is there a biblical pattern we can learn from? How does God guide the New Testament women? Writing particularly to women as the audience, experienced Bible teacher Alice Mathews fills in some guidelines as to how God could guide, in a world of noise, distractions, and deceitful attractions. She helpfully distills over 12 different examples of how God leads women in the Bible. Along the way, readers would learn about women in ministry leadership; through both their abilities and disabilities; strengths and weaknesses; and especially their obedience; one step at a time.

In Joanna (Luke 8:3), Matthews takes us through the complex lives of women in first century Palestine before showing us how God healed her of her sickness and ministered to her obvious needs. Through these opportunities, we see how our gifts are utilized. In Dorcas, we learn about how through her faithful good works, discerned God's will for her by matching her gifts with the prevailing needs. Matthews uses the chapter about Hungry Greek widows in the Acts incident to show us the significance of caring for widows in an age of racism and discrimination. Through such "negative examples," we learn of what NOT to do. Lydia comes across as a God-fearing businesswoman who used her influence for God's purpose. For Damaris, it is a discernment about truth. For Priscilla and Aquila, it is about tentmaking through the tough times. Phoebe shows us how God guides through our acts of servanthood while Junia and Andronicus remind us about the importance of identity. Others like Mary, Tryphena, Tryphosa, Persis, Lois, and Eunice give us a huge spectrum of how God leads. Even the disagreements between Euodia and Syntyche have a teaching point. Not all the characters in the book are women. Aquila, Andronicus, and Philemon are described with their female partners Priscilla, Junia, and Apphia respectively. Matthews takes these pairs as partnerships that bring out the best of both genders.

My Thoughts
First, the title of the book about God's guidance is already a big draw. Unlike books about steps to get guidance, this book is more about describing the lives of female characters, their backgrounds, and the challenges they face in New Testament times. Put it another way, it is more inductive than deductive. This is not surprising, given the author's skills in Bible teaching and applications. She paints the contexts and the related background information before drawing out hints of how God guides. The reader hard-pressed for time might find the questions at the end of each chapter a helpful cheat-sheet to finding out the main points of interest.

Second, Matthews bridges the ancient texts to our contemporary times using personal stories and various illustrations. The chapters are easy to read and the messages compelling enough to ponder about. There are lessons about leadership, bible interpretation, meaning of ministry work, and skills in Bible study and background awareness. It's amazing how the author is able to squeeze out so many details out of relatively unknown characters like Damaris and Andronicus.

Third, it is important not to be too hard on ourselves or to worry about missing God's will. God is not miserly when it comes to giving opportunities for us to discern His will. In the chapter about Dorcas, she relates search for God's will when she was a teenager and learns that it is all right to take the pressure off having to always hit the bulls-eye of any perceived God's will. This is perhaps the biggest takeaway I have about the book. Sometimes, our rush to find out a silver bullet will can hamper our discernment process. I appreciate the chapter on Junia's identity which is something that Bible scholars have struggled with. Who is she exactly? What is the history behind this person? More importantly, what does that say about our own identity? Matthews reminds us that we live out our calling and identity by "recognizing our need for one another and working together with one mind and purpose." Moreover, the several couples and partners described in the book highlight the need for believers to work together. Discernment is a community initiative. This is a powerful corrective to an overwhelmingly individualistic culture of ours.

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Discovery House Pubishers and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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