Faithful Women. Faithful God.

Oxygen 11 | Sydney, Australia

Camilina Reed: Noël, welcome to Australia.

Noël: Thank you. Glad to be here. It’s been wonderful.

Camilina Reed: Noël, you once famously said, “I will never marry a pastor.”

Noël: That’s right.

Camilina Reed: And then a couple of months later you met Dr. Piper. Is that right?

Noël: That’s right.

Camilina Reed: And now you’ve been married for 43 years and you’ve been in ministry together at Bethlehem Baptist Church since 1980?

Noël: Right.

Camilina Reed: And you have four sons — I’m not quite there, I’ve only got three — four sons and one daughter, Talitha?

Noël: That’s right.

Camilina Reed: Now, Talitha is adopted. Can you tell us a little bit about what led to the process of adopting her?

Noël: Sure. We had been really involved with pro-life activities for several years. My husband was arrested a couple of times for sitting peacefully in front of an abortion clinic. And my sons and I would often be part of a group that was just walking silently up and down the area, praying and gathering for rallies at the state Capitol, things like that.

And I began to have a burden to do something — as good as those things were for making the problem public — that involved more of my life, and adoption was it. We knew some people who had adopted and that began to lay on my heart. So I would bring it up periodically and my husband and I would talk about it. We never did really quite decide, “Yes, we will.” But then we heard about this particular little girl who had been born, who needed a family, and so then the question was, would we consider adopting her? And then we had to come to a decision. So that’s the short version. There’s more at my blog.

Camilina Reed: And can you tell us a little bit about Talitha? How old is she?

Noël: Talitha is almost 16. She’s African American. She probably would’ve come with us on this trip except that she had just arrived back in Minnesota from a mission trip to Germany where she was with a team from our church that was doing childcare while the missionary parents were gathered in a conference from all over the world. She’s really, really gifted at taking care of kids. So she was really having a good time using her gifts that God’s given her.

Camilina Reed: Maybe next time I’ll have to get you back to Australia to get her to come with you. Now if you look up Noël’s blog, you’ll see that one thing she’s very interested in is. It says that you are a “missions traveler”. Can you tell us where you’ve been and what you mean by being a “missions traveler”?

Noël: At first it was going with my husband when he was speaking in other places, but now I probably have traveled more than he has. I’ve done different things. Sometimes I’ve been part of a prayer team that’s going to a place specifically to pray for a city or people group or an area. Whatever kind of group it is that I’m with, I find that I’m connecting with the missionary women and having personal conversations and praying and encouraging.

I’ve been several times to Cameroon with Joni & Friends, helping to deliver wheelchairs and fit wheelchairs for people who otherwise wouldn’t have that kind of equipment. So I’ve done various kinds of things. Sometimes I travel to speak, and I’ve been to several places in Africa. I’ve been to lots of different places. It’s hard to name them all, but I really like traveling and I feel like that’s a gift God has given me too.

Camilina Reed: And what about your hobbies? Do you have any time for hobbies?

Noël: I really like reading mystery stories, especially the stories of female British writers. And I really like Ngaio Marsh in case there are any New Zealanders here. And I’d love to find her biography, if anybody knows where to get hold of it. I also like knitting, crocheting, and cross stitching.

Camilina Reed: And what makes you go to sleep at night? There’s a hobby that makes you go to sleep.

Noël: Yeah. When I get to bed, my mind’s going on and on, and so I lie flat on my back with my iPhone over my face doing Sudoku until my eyes won’t stay open, and then I go to sleep.

Camilina Reed: We’ll have to try that, those of us who suffer from insomnia. Well it’s been lovely just to get to know you a little bit. Soon we’ll hear you.

I forgot to introduce myself. I’m Camilina Reed, and I’ve had the pleasure of being involved in the committee organizing the Oxygen Conference. But for now we’re going to read the Bible together. So if you would like to open up Psalm 46, Lisa Thompson, who is the women’s worker at St. John’s Parramatta Anglican Church, is going to come and read the Bible to us.

Lisa Thomson: Hello ladies, lovely to see you all. How about we pray to our great God before we read from his word. Let’s read from Psalm 46:1–11:

God is our refuge and strength,
     a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
     though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam,
     though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
     the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
     God will help her when morning dawns.
The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
     he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
     the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

Come, behold the works of the Lord,
     how he has brought desolations on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
     he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
     he burns the chariots with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God.
     I will be exalted among the nations,
     I will be exalted in the earth!”
The Lord of hosts is with us;
     the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

Noël: I’d like to pray too as we get started.

Our Need for Stillness

Like my husband, I became a Christian when I was very young. Unlike him, I do have a few memory snapshots of events and conversations around that time. And one thing that I know is that for as long as I can remember from even before that time, there were a few verses that I had heard enough that I knew them a lot, and one of them was Psalm 46:10 from what was just read: “Be still and know that I am God.”

It’s a short verse, so it’s easy for a child to remember. But it’s also a short verse for us to remember when we need a reminder to stop and be with God. And that is the way that I’ve thought of it for most of my life — namely, that verse is saying, “Just stop, step aside from everything, and have some quiet time with God. Step out of the rushing and the busyness.” That may be what these days here feel like for some of you. And that’s a really important part of what that verse does mean.

But over a lot of years of being a Christian and ministering as a member of a church and as a pastor’s wife and as a mother, in all the different kinds of roles that a woman has, I’ve realized that there is a lot more to the verse than that. Because if you just listen to the Psalm itself, you hear the pattern of the whole Psalm building up to chaos almost and then settling back to God:

God is our refuge and strength,
     a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
     though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam,
     though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
     the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
     God will help her when morning dawns.
The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
     he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
     the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

Come, behold the works of the Lord,
     how he has brought desolations on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
     he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
     he burns the chariots with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God.
     I will be exalted among the nations,
     I will be exalted in the earth!”
The Lord of hosts is with us;
     the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

Peace, Be Still

After all the clamor comes the pause, comes the command to pause, “Be still and know that I’m God.” Now there’s a story in the New Testament where I see an example of this playing itself out, and that’s in Mark 4:35–41. If you have your Bibles and you want to turn there, you can. Otherwise, you can just listen. This is a situation in Jesus’s life with his disciples where they needed some outward stillness in Mark 4. But the outward stillness wasn’t the only thing they needed. So I think this is a good example of how God works in the stillness more than just making it peaceful.

Mark 4:35–39 says:

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.

So what happens there is first he speaks to the wind, he speaks to the sea and to the outward chaos. And then he turns and addresses the storm that’s within the disciples. Mark 4:40–41 says:

He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

A storm at sea is the very opposite of being still. And the disciples’ terror is the opposite of being still because it meant they didn’t know who Jesus is or what he can do. So it took just three words, one command from Jesus, to flatten the sea and still the wind. So all was quiet outside. So the disciples had gotten what they asked Jesus for, what they thought they wanted. So that should have made them peaceful. But it didn’t. A quiet sea did not bring a quiet spirit to the disciples.

After the storm was still, Jesus said to his disciples, “Why are you afraid?” He didn’t say, “Why were you afraid?” He said, “Why are you afraid?” They were still filled with great fear and not because of the storm now, but because of Jesus. And then in Mark 4:41, they asked exactly the right question, “Who is this that even the wind and sea obey him?”

Stillness for the Sake of Seeing

Several things were happening in that boat. Jesus stopped the storm, stopped the wind, and he created stillness. But that wasn’t the greatest thing that happened there. We think of that as the miracle that happened. That wasn’t the greatest thing that happened there. Even greater was that he created stillness so that his disciples looked at him in a new way. And then, even more important than that was, a step further, creating the stillness in the weather so that they looked at Jesus and recognized who Jesus is.

That’s the real point of stillness, to be still and know who God is. In these days here, or anytime, in whatever situation in our life, the times of stillness, whether it’s outside or the stillness in our heart (which is the most important thing), the point of stillness is that it is causing us to look at Jesus and see who he is and give him glory.

And we always stop Psalm 46:10, saying, “Be still and know that I am God . . .” but that’s not where it ends. It goes right on to say, “Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted."

Now when I hear that verse, my tendency is to land really hard on the be still, thinking, “Oh yeah, I really need some peace and quiet,” especially back in the days when there were four boys in the house at one time. But you don’t have to be a Christian to want that kind of peace and quiet. So the kind of stillness I need is to remember the reason for being still, God’s reason for me being still, which is to know who God is and that he will be exalted.

The Life of Gladys Aylward

What I want us to do while we’re here is to think about how we see this kind of stillness working out in our lives. What I’ve recognized by enjoying biographies is that a lot of times it’s easier to see how God is working in somebody else’s life than it is to recognize it in my own life. So I want to use some of the stories from a couple of godly womens’ lives to help us think about how God has worked in their life. And then I’m praying, and I want you to be praying, that God will transfer what you hear from their lives into recognizing how he works in your life, or how you want to pray that he works in your life. That’s one of the reasons I recommend reading biographies to you by the way.

I’m going to start with Gladys Aylward. She was born in 1902 in a working class area in London. She dropped out of school. She really didn’t have any interest in academics. When she was 14, she wasn’t trained for any particular kind of work, so she went to work as a household worker, as a parlor maid for instance. But God was getting her ready for something else besides that. In her autobiography she wrote:

One night, for a reason I can’t explain, I went to a religious meeting, and there for the first time I realized that God had a claim on my life, and I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior. I joined the Young Life campaign, and in one of their magazines I read an article about China that made a terrific impression on me. To realize that millions of Chinese had never heard of Jesus Christ was to me a staggering thought, and I felt we ought to do something about it.

Sometimes God shakes us up and makes us feel uncomfortable and discontent because he’s getting us ready for something else.

Now she began to try to persuade her friends and her brother that one of them, or more of them, ought to go to China. And finally her brother said to her, “Why don’t you go?” So she applied to a missions agency and she went through part of their training. They finally had to tell her with regret that they were going to have to drop her from the program because she was not a very good learner. She was not a book person, and they were really afraid that she was going to get off to China and not be able to learn the language and that would be disastrous.

A Circuitous Calling

Now, it would be really easy to shortcut her story at this point and say they turned her down so she went on her own. But stories are never that simple, are they? This was a great time of perplexity for her because she didn’t know if the mission agency saying “no” meant that God was saying “no”. And some of you are in that situation. Some door is shut and you don’t know whether that’s God saying no or whether he is saying go at it a different route.

Being perplexed is not stillness. That’s where she was. She was confused. That’s not peaceful and still. So what did she do? She didn’t know if God wanted her to go to China, but she took steps. She said, “I’ll just go ahead and do things that would help me be ready for China if he does want me to go.” And she knew she needed to know the Bible better. And if he didn’t want her to go to China, well, that was going to be important in England too. She was a very straightforward person. If she was going to learn the Bible, she just needed to start at page one and go through it.

When she got to the story of Nehemiah, that’s where God brought stillness to her perplexity, to her uncertainty. She was paying special attention to Nehemiah’s story because he seemed something like her. Like her, he was a servant in a fine house, in the king’s house, and he had to obey his master’s orders, and yet, he was still able to follow the call of God.

She said later that it was almost like there was a voice in the room with her saying, “Gladys Aylward, is Nehemiah’s God your God?” And she answers inside herself, “Yes, of course.” And she heard, “Then do what Nehemiah did and go.” “But I’m not Nehemiah,” she thought. And she heard back, “No, but I am his God.” And she said later that settled it. She believed those were her marching orders. So perplexity and confusion are not stillness. “Be still and know that I am God.” He’s the God of Nehemiah, he’s the God of Gladys Aylward, and he’s the God of us. And he shows himself to us through his word.

He Gives to His Beloved Sleep

Perplexity isn’t stillness, and fear is not stillness. To get to China, Gladys traveled the cheapest way to get there, which was across Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railway, which is something I want to do someday. I know we’ve got missionaries along the way, so maybe I could stop and visit.

At one town there was a battle being fought on the tracks of where the train was supposed to go. So the train just stopped and it didn’t go forward and it wasn’t going to go back. So she had to get off the train and get back to the previous station to try to get another train going another direction. So she’s trudging through the Siberian winter, dragging her belongings with her, and finally she’s exhausted and she laid down to sleep. She covered herself up with a fur coat, an old fur coat that one of her friends had given her as she was leaving England, and she went to sleep.

She woke up — which seems to me like a miracle in itself that she didn’t freeze to death — and she could hear dogs howling nearby when she woke up. Years later, she realized those weren’t dogs. They were wolves. When I read that, I realized that sometimes God uses our ignorance to give us peace, to allow us to be peaceful and to be trusting in him. I think ignorance can be a really important thing sometimes. I mean, I say it as a mother. When somebody wants to tell me some of the things my kids are doing, I say, “You know what? You’re telling me more than I need to know because if you tell me I’m going to have to do something about this.”

The important thing was that she gave herself up to physical stillness, to sleep. That’s the time that, if you think about it, you really are giving yourself most into God’s hands because you have no defenses when you’re asleep and no awareness. It’s all in God’s hands. It’s like that all the time, but sleep is a really, really good picture of it. He proved himself to be the God that she thought he was. If she did not wake up, she would be in his hands. If he chose to wake her up, she would be in his hands with him leading her. Psalm 127:2 says:

It is in vain that you rise up early
     and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
     for he gives to his beloved sleep.

Fear and anxiety are not stillness. “Be still and know that I am God.”

Breaking Up a Prison Riot

Then one of the things that happens when God steals our hearts is that we get to know God even better. Knowing God helps our hearts be still so that we get to know God better. After Gladys had been in China for a while, there was a riot in the prison in town. And she didn’t know about it, but she heard about it when the Mandarin, the local ruler, sent one of his servants to come and get her to go to the prison and solve the problem there. She had no idea why he was calling on her, but she arrived and she was going to do what the Mandarin said. She arrived there and she found the soldiers standing outside the prison because they were too afraid to go in. Well, she wasn’t all that eager to go in either, but the governor of the prison said, “You preach the living God everywhere. If you preach the truth, if your God protects you from harm, then you can stop this riot.”

Well, now she knew it wasn’t her reputation on the line; it was God’s reputation. She knew God and she knew his reputation was at stake. So she went into the prison and she was stunned by what she saw in there — blood everywhere, somebody wielding an axe, men fighting. I mean she was only four feet ten inches. She was probably half the size of some of these men.

She grabbed an axe from the hand of a murderer and she started ordering those men around. She had a really shrill voice so you can just sort of picture this tiny little school mom telling those great, big-old criminals what to do. And they did it. Knowing the power of God gave Gladys enough stillness of heart, enough assurance, to walk into the middle of a prison riot. And as she lived and moved within that knowledge of who God is, he showed her more of himself than she’d known before. It wasn’t her who was able to make those men be still and listen. It was God.

Knowing God even just a little bit helps our hearts be still so that we get to know him even better. And of course we know there always will be more to know, as Romans 11:33–36 says:

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

“For who has known the mind of the Lord,
     or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him
     that he might be repaid?”

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

So God is saying, “Know that I am God who will help you be still so that you can know that I am God.”

Stillness in the Storm

Disaster and death don’t kill the stillness that’s from God. And besides that, we don’t have to be strong to be still within the tumult. In 1938, her village was bombed and her home, the Inn of the Eight Happinesses, was damaged. She was trapped under the rubble on one end and had to be dug out. Later, she came back and she found on one of the damaged walls, the scrap of paper there that had her motto for the year, which is taken from two verses in the Bible: “God has chosen the weak things . . .” (1 Corinthians 1:27), and, “I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13 KJV). And she found that promise to be true right that very hour.

She went out from the rubble of her home and faced the villagers who were stunned. They lived in a walled village. They’d never had to fight enemies or fear attack because they were protected by a wall. Nobody had ever thought of the possibility of attack coming from above, from airplanes dropping bombs. So she rallied people to remove the dead, to tend to the injured, and to dig out the trapped. She was just one woman, small and weak by earthly standards, who had a still heart and knew God. God has chosen the weak things. She could do all things through Christ who strengthened her. That’s the God that Gladys Aylward knew when she was still and knew that God is God. And that’s our story too.

Now, I doubt if any of us has exactly the same story as Gladys Aylward, but it’s our story because her God is our God too, and Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Disaster and death don’t kill the stillness that’s from God, and we don’t have to be strong to be still within the confusion and chaos around us because we know the God who is strong, who is all powerful.

The Life of Helen Roseveare

Now I want to move to the story of another great woman, still looking at what it means to be still and know that God is God.

Helen Roseveare was born in England near London in 1925 and she lives today in the Belfast area. She and her family attended their Anglican parish church regularly, but the place of the church and their family was greatly overshadowed by their drive for scholarly and professional achievement. That was sort of the personality of that family. So from early childhood, she describes herself as bearing the weight of being good enough. And as she grew this developed into the drive in school to be number one. And from childhood you can see her plagued by the same kinds of doubts and insecurity and pride that are going to be the center of her recurring spiritual struggles throughout her life.

The way you know about Helen Roseveare is to read the books that she’s written herself. Most of the books are not directly autobiographical, but they’re her stories scattered throughout it and she’s very open in expressing her own weaknesses. Doubts and insecurity and pride as a young person, those are weeds that are infesting a garden where there isn’t the fruit of stillness with God.

Striving After Wind

Throughout her secondary school years her hunger for God was growing and she tried really hard to be kind, to be sincere, to help other people, but those efforts weren’t coming from a still heart, they just made her work harder and harder because she couldn’t be perfect enough in all these things she was trying to do. She says she was stretching out after the unseen power who could meet all needs, and yet, the needs were getting bigger. The hopelessness was more hopeless. The futility of life itself at times became almost unbearable. Perfectionism, hopelessness, futility — these are not the fruits of stillness. Some of you are feeling those things right now, and I pray for stillness in your hearts.

Under the influence of Christian friends, Helen began to read her Bible and they thought she had become a Christian because she was reading her Bible a lot, but she said, “As yet, I had no peace, no heart satisfaction. I was sure this was the truth and that it was real, but I lacked something.” She had no peace and no heart satisfaction. She lacked the stillness to be still and know that he is God.

In 1945, Helen was a medical student and her friends arranged for her to go with them to a Christmas house party, which was a training time for a Christian organization they were part of. And during that time, to prepare for one of the classes, she dived so deeply into Romans one night and she got so immersed in what she was reading and seeing there, that she stayed in Romans all night long and didn’t even realize it was morning by the time she finished. She was filled with what she had seen there and was in the heights with that.

Then later that day, there was some trivial argument at a meal table, and she just plummeted with arguing. She said, “I rushed upstairs bitterly ashamed of having been drawn into the argument and losing control of myself.” She really wanted to know God. After this event, she said:

Suddenly, I flung myself on my bed in a flood of tears and loneliness with an overwhelming sense of failure and helplessness. I cried out to God, if there was a God, to meet with me and to make himself utterly real and vital to me himself. I raised my eyes, and through my tears I read a text on the wall, “Be still and know that I am God.” Immediately, the whole burden fell away in a moment.

She thought, “Be still and know the God whose name is I AM. Stop striving to understand with the intellect. Just be still and know him.” She said:

In that moment, a great flood of peace and joy and unutterable happiness flooded in, and I knew that he and I had entered into a new relationship.

The One Great I Am

I was really, really happy today to find online a blog from my son Barnabas, who was writing as if he knew what we were going to be thinking about today. He was quoting somebody who said, “That’s just who I am,” or, “That’s not me.” And then Barnabas said:

That’s just arrogant. It smacks a faithless fatalism. Phrases like these assume a certain achievement and superiority in the status of me and “I am”. Only God can rightfully be described as I AM. The rest of us are becoming.

So in that moment, Helen became a child of God. She had a relationship with God as she described it in that moment of God giving her the stillness of heart to recognize him as “I am”. And peace, joy, and happiness came. Those are fruits of stillness. We do often have to find our stillness in the midst of busyness and confusion and things being hectic. But there is a time in our lives for literal stillness too. Perhaps it’ll be just slipping away for a moment to the bathroom if you have to in order to be by yourself. But to find a few moments.

Involuntary Silence

Sometimes God will enforce that silence on us. That’s what happens in this part of Helen’s story. She lost her voice. She had to have surgery to remove nodes from her throat, from her vocal cords, and then she wasn’t able to speak. She wasn’t allowed to speak for a few days. She said that one day, in the stillness of her hospital room, she experienced the presence of God invisibly, but that it was as if she could almost see him. And in that literal, physical stillness, she met God and knew him as she hadn’t before. She knew his holiness.

Now, when somebody says they have an experience like that, you can tell whether it’s real or not by what you see as the fruits in their life after that, and here’s what she said was true after that. She said:

From that morning, a hatred of sin was born. Till then, I had hated the consequence of sin, the shame of failure, the fear of exposure. Suddenly, I now knew an intense hatred of all that had crucified my Lord. It was a turning point for me.

When she was still, when she had to be still, God showed himself to her. Now she felt great assurance in that, but that assurance took a blow because when it came time for her to try to speak. All she could do was croak. She was really afraid. What was this going to do to her future as a doctor, to her plans to be a missionary? And here’s what happened. She said:

It was as if God were speaking. Another voice began to force itself through the night into my heart. “Can you not trust me?” it seemed to whisper. “Have you not used your voice for your own ends, for your own glorification for years? I’m going to give you a new voice to use in my service.”

She was released from the hospital on Good Friday, still not able to do more than a croak. That Easter evening she and some friends heard a sermon about letting the Holy Spirit take possession of their lives and fill them with God’s holiness. And when the friends questioned whether this was possible, Helen answered with a ringing voice, “Yes.” God healed her voice to speak for him. There is a time for literal stillness and there is a time to speak and act within the stillness of a heart that knows who God is, that God is God, that God is I AM.

Impatience with God

From her medical training, Helen went almost directly to Congo where she served as a missionary until the 1970s. She went in the 1950s. It was a recurring struggle for her to recognize God as God. She would have always said and acknowledged that God is God, that God is I AM. But over and over she had to be reminded that God is I AM, and Helen is not.

Impatience with God is not stillness. I think this is the one that speaks to me most regularly and in the most ongoing way, and it may be true for you as well. For Helen, it was impatience that God was not doing things the way she would’ve done it. I have my own stories of impatience with God like that when I would certainly do things differently if I were God. Well, here’s one of Helen’s times.

Early in her years, she and her colleagues were building a medical center. I mean literally they had to build the building from making the bricks on up to putting it into the building before they had a place to have a medical work and training center. One morning she was at the brick kiln working on the bricks. Her hands were rough and she was called to the hospital to perform an emergency surgery. She said:

I began to scrub up. My hands smarted under the bristles. I held out my hands for the nurse to pour on the alcohol. I drew my breath up sharply at the stinging pain, and in my mind a small voice of complaint started. Why had God not arranged for another missionary to see to the buildings so that I could be free to give the people the best medical care of which I was capable? The following Wednesday evening, I mentioned all this to the church council and asked their prayer that I might not become resentful.

One godly man, after leading the group in believing prayer, smiled at me and offered a kindly rebuke. “Doctor,” he said, “when you’re being a doctor in your white coat, stethoscope around your neck, speaking French, you are miles from us. We fear you. We just say, “Yes,” and we hardly even hear what you say. But when you’re down at the kiln with us or you’re in the market trying to speak our language and making howlers, we all laugh at you, and that’s when we love you, and that’s how we’re able to hear you, to trust you, and to know what you’re saying when you talk about God and his ways.”

Dissatisfaction comes from a heart that’s not still. But here’s the catch. Our heart doesn’t necessarily find stillness when we get what we thought we wanted. God has his reasons for doing what he does, even when it doesn’t make sense to us. We know that. But when we’re actually living it out, we can get kind of impatient about that. So here’s what happened to Helen, and let this be a reminder to us that our lack of contentment isn’t caused by our outward circumstances.

Part of a Team

Within a year the hospital building was completed and now there was no more construction work demanding any distractions of her and her energy. This is what she had been waiting for, to be able to do medicine. And this is where we see that the lack of builders was not Helen’s real problem, because now that the building was all done, she still wasn’t satisfied. She said:

My complaint was reversed. The hospital was built and functioning and the news had gone round and patients began streaming in. I had no time for anything but medicine, medicine, medicine. There was no let up. There was no off-duty (this is coming from a good heart). I had hoped to be a good missionary to be able to sit by bedsides and tell the good news of salvation, but there was time for nothing but medicine.

And again, fortunately, she took it to the church elders for their prayers. And again, not only did they pray for her and comfort her, but they graciously rebuked her. They said, “Doctor, how many patients come to this hospital every day?” And she said, “About 200 or 250.” They said, “Surely they come because you are here. They wouldn’t come if there were no doctor. And what are we doing all day long, every day? Wherever you go, we go. Doctor, do you realize that we’re having the joy of leading five, 10, sometimes even more people to the Lord every week? If you weren’t here, they wouldn’t be here.”

She said:

God had to teach me to be willing to be a member of a team.

Let God Be God

Here’s another story. It takes a still heart to be willing to be taught by God through the mouths of other people. I want to read something else that was in Barnabas’s blog today. He said:

Let the word “you” be a fluid concept in the hands of God. Have the humility to recognize needed changes and to appreciate outside input.

Not only do we get impatient with God, it’s really hard to have other people telling us what would be better for us to be doing. He continues:

Yes, God gave you tendencies and a personality, but God is I AM. You are becoming.

So God is God even when things aren’t running the way we want to have them, the way we would’ve arranged it. I don’t know if you’re like me, but I can think of lots of ways to manipulate situations to get my children talking to the people that I think they need to talk to or whatever. God is God and I’m not. And it’s not our outward circumstances that make us discontent. It’s our hearts that are not satisfied that God is God.

A Mustard Seed of Faith

Another lesson to be learned about stillness is that sometimes even a very tiny, mustard seed of stillness, a mustard seed of faith, is blessed by God in really unexpected ways. There was a woman in the hospital who died giving birth. So she left behind the tiny premature baby and a two-year-old daughter. There weren’t any incubators because there was no electricity, so a hot water bottle was the way to keep a baby warm. But in the tropics, the rubber deteriorates quickly, and their last water bottle burst when they tried to fill it with water. So the baby was handed off to a nurse whose sole responsibility was going to be to hold that baby against her and keep it warm.

The next day, Helen met, as she usually did, with the orphans who were in a home there on the compound and she told them. And she would pray with them when she was there with them. One of the things she told them was about the baby and about the little sister who was crying because their mother was gone. There was a little girl named Ruth who started to pray. And Helen’s response to that prayer might be what mine would have been. Here was the prayer:

Please God send a hot water bottle. It won’t be any good tomorrow because the baby will be dead. So please send it this afternoon. And while you’re about it, would you please send a dolly for the little girl (the sister of the baby) so she’ll know you really love her.

Helen said:

Could I honestly say “amen”? I just didn’t believe that God could do this. The only way God could answer this prayer was by sending me a parcel from the homeland, and I’d been in Africa for almost four years and I had never received one parcel the whole time. By the time I reached home (you all know what’s going to happen, don’t you?) there was a parcel on the veranda bearing UK stamps.

So she sent for the orphanage children. She couldn’t open that box without them being there. She continued:

Some 30 or 40 pairs of eyes were focused on the large cardboard box.

After she’d pulled out a few things, she reached in and felt a hot water bottle. And then Ruth, the little girl who had prayed, rushed forward and said, “Okay, if God sent the hot water bottle, there’s a doll in there too.” And she scrambled through the rest of the stuff in the box until she pulled out a small, beautifully dressed dolly. She had never doubted that God would answer her prayer. Her child’s heart was still and knew God in a way that we who “know better” instead of knowing God could hardly believe. Helen said that parcel had been on its way for five whole months in answer to the believing prayer of a 10-year-old to bring it that afternoon.

By the way, that story is written up in a book. I’m not quite sure what the title is, but it’s published by Christian Focus. And I think stories like that where we are reminded and children are reminded that God is a God who answers prayer. True stories, those are really good. Sometimes we don’t have much of a still heart that can look at God and know him. But even a small stillness, a small faith, is blessed, and it’s much better to know God than to know better than a child. And God is gracious at that moment. The kind of blessing we get is that God is gracious to show us that we should have known that he is God. We should have been still and recognized who he is.

Knowing God in Great Terror

Now in a quite different situation, even in great terror, God can show himself as God and bring us peace and stillness. This is the part of Helen’s story that perhaps is most well known because it is the hardest. This took place in Congo, which, by the way, used to be Zaire and is now the Democratic Republic of Congo in case you want to get oriented in Africa. The Simba rebels in 1964 were ravaging Congo and white foreigners were a special target of theirs. And one October night in 1964, her house was raided and they destroyed and ransacked and plundered whatever they could lay their hands on. When she tried to escape, she was battered. Her back teeth were knocked out. And then after everybody had left except one man, that man caught her, raped her, and arrested her. And she writes about how abandoned she felt that night:

I was crying to God, “Why have you forsaken me?”

And in his answer to her, she said, was as if her fear had been rinsed right out of her by a flood of water. Her fear was replaced with stillness and a strong sense of his arms around her, holding her and comforting her. And she felt as if he were saying, “When I called you to myself, I called you to the fellowship of my suffering.” That’s from Philippians 3:10, which was an important passage of Scripture in those hours around her conversion that I already told you about. She felt like he was saying, “I called you to the fellowship of my suffering. They’re not attacking you. They’re attacking me.”

So the stillness that God gave her and the peace that God gave her did not remove the suffering, but she knew God and knew that he was holding her through it. What greater stillness could there be, whatever the outside circumstances are, than to know that we are held in God’s strong arms? These are the arms that would carry her to himself if she died, or would bring her through this night, if she lived. Even in our greatest terror, God can show himself as God and bring us peace and stillness inside.

A Burden to Intercede

Here’s another really important thing for us to know. Sometimes God uses us to pray for someone else’s stillness of heart when they can hardly do it for themselves. Later, when Helen was back in England there was a woman, a stranger, who asked her if this one particular date in October had any significance. That was the night that Helen had been attacked.

The woman told her that she’d been woken from sleep that night and felt compelled to pray for Helen, who she didn’t know. She’d heard of her but she didn’t know her. And she prayed until she felt released from praying. She told Helen what time that was and when they took the time differences into account, of course — you know what I’m going to say — that was the time when Helen felt that God had rinsed the fear from her.

Sometimes God uses us, maybe when we don’t even know exactly what’s going on, to pray for somebody else who can hardly pray for themselves.

Crossing out the “I”

And then finally, just a reminder that be still means not I, but Christ. Be still and know that God is God.

Helen Roseveare wrote:

One morning at our Bible study hour, I broke down. The Holy Spirit was working in the hearts of African students and pupils and workmen, but not in my cold, hard heart and I could bear it no more. Suddenly I knew I had to get away from it all and sort myself out and seek God’s forgiveness and restoration if I was to continue in the work.

Now, one of the first things that struck me when I read this the first time was that she didn’t say what I might be more likely to say: “I just have to get away from it all and get some peace and quiet and some rest.” No, she said, “I need to get away from it all to seek God and find his forgiveness and restoration.” “Be still and know that I am God.” That’s a real retreat. Whether it’s five minutes, five hours, five days. That’s where we have what really is a retreat, to know God.

She went to another village to stay in the home of pastor Ndugu and his wife, Tamoma, who had become very dear friends of hers. At night she came and sat with them outside by the fire, and pastor Ndugu began to speak to Helen. Here’s what she writes about it:

Opening his Bible at Galatians 2:20, he drew a straight line on the dirt floor with his heel. “I” he said, “the capital ‘I’ in our lives, self, that’s the great enemy.” He said, “Helen, the trouble with you is that we can see so much Helen that we can’t see Jesus.” My eyes filled with tears. He said, “I noticed that you drink a lot of coffee,” apparently going off on a tangent. “When they bring you a mug, you stand there holding it until it’s cool enough to drink. So may I suggest that every time you stand and wait (in other words, being physically still), you should just lift your heart to God and pray.” And as he spoke, he moved his heel in the dirt across the “I” he had previously drawn. “Please God, cross out the I”. And there in the dirt was his simplified theology of the cross, the crossed-out “I” life. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.

And that’s my prayer for you. May you be filled with Christ so that it’s no longer you but Christ who lives in you, so that you can be still and know that God is God and you are not. Amen.