August is traditionally a time when many of us pull out our calendars, prayer journals and Bibles – asking God to show us where to invest our time and energies this fall. To help provide clarity, today’s guest post is by Lucinda Secrest McDowell, author of 13 books including Dwelling Places which was just awarded the Christian Retailing Best Award for Devotional 2017 (voted by the bookselling/publishing industry professionals). Like my book Faith and Culture, Dwelling Places is rich with sturdy content for the mind (a devo with footnotes!) and deep reflections for the heart. May Cindy’s words challenge you to say yes and no wisely to the opportunities for impact in the months ahead:
She could not have been more ordinary.
Gladys, was also a poor student and had quit school by age fourteen. She grew up to be a London parlor maid with few prospects. But then God got a hold of her heart and after hearing about the needs in China, she was determined to serve Him there.
Only no mission board would accept her.
In 1929 China Inland Mission declared she was not qualified and her educational background was too limited. So Gladys Aylward decided to reserve a one-way train ticket to China and every month made a small payment to the travel agency. By age thirty, she was on her way, not knowing where, what or with whom she would minister, but determined to serve God there.
Through a miraculous journey across Russia and many war zones, Gladys arrived in this very foreign country, ready to take on the world. Years later she said: “I had two childhood heartaches: 1. Everyone else had golden curls and I had short dark hair 2. Everyone else kept growing but I stopped at four foot ten inches. I always wished things were different. But when I got off the train in China I was shocked to discover that everyone else around me was short with dark hair. I was home.” [Elisabeth Elliot, “Gateway to Joy”]
Gladys first mission was at “The Inn of the Eight Happinesses” where she watched over orphans and had a government job of inspecting feet to help educate women on the new law banning foot binding. This gave her an ‘in’ with the community and from then on she became one of them.
By the time war came, she had adopted several children and bravely escorted hundreds of orphans safely across the mountains and the Yellow River. Throughout the Shanxi Province there were churches and believers when she finally left China.
An ordinary woman living an ordinary life? Perhaps. But her story became a bestselling biography by Alan Burgess – “The Small Woman.” And none other than screen star Ingrid Bergman (who was definitely not short) played Gladys Aylward in the Hollywood movie “Inn of the Sixth Happiness.” [Alan Burgess, “The Small Woman”]
Gladys gave up her ordinary and left a legacy of faith and transformed lives.
Our God loves to take an ordinary person and do extraordinary things through them.
Peter and John, for instance. “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4.13 NIV) People were amazed by these men and marveled that “they were unschooled, ordinary men.” What was the deciding factor that catapulted them into the extraordinary?
“These men had been with Jesus.” And it showed. The very act of drawing close to the Lover of their souls had changed them and empowered them.
What will your story reveal?
As we consider our options for life and ministry this fall we pray that we will say ‘yes’ to those endeavors that enhance our season and our calling. And that we will have the courage to say ‘no’ to those often tempting opportunities that, while good, are not God’s best for our particular limits and responsibilities.
Is it harder for you to say ‘yes’ or harder to say ‘no?’ For those who hold back, may I encourage you to believe that though you may feel “ordinary,” God in you can accomplish extraordinary things – as you spend time with Him. And for those who jump ahead too quickly and tend to overload, my prayer is that you will learn to let go of a need for external affirmation and draw close to the One who knows you best and loves you most.
I truly believe He will use EACH OF US in Kingdom work this fall – both within and without. May we be like Gladys Aylward and never stop offering hope to a broken world.
Benediction: My child, you may feel ordinary and nothing special, but I assure you that, to Me, you are uniquely gifted for the life I have planned. As you live out your story on the stage of human reality, you will be supernaturally empowered for extraordinary kingdom work. And others will notice that you are pointing to Me.
Lucinda Secrest McDowell is passionate about embracing life — both through deep soul care from drawing closer to God, as well as living courageously in order to touch a needy world. A storyteller who engages both heart and mind, she offers “Encouraging Words” to all on the journey. A graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Furman University, Cindy is the author of 13 books, including Ordinary Graces (fall 2017), Dwelling Places, Live These Words, Refresh!, Quilts from Heaven and Role of a Lifetime. Whether co-directing the “reNEW – retreat for New England Writing,” mentoring young moms, or leading a restorative day of prayer, she is energized by investing in people of all ages. Cindy’s favorites include tea parties, good books, laughing friends, ancient prayers, country music, cozy quilts, musical theatre, and especially her family scattered around the world doing amazing things. She writes from “Sunnyside” cottage in New England and blogs weekly at EncouragingWords.net
That’s the official bio, but I can tell you that this woman, mentored by Elizabeth Elliot, mother of four (three adopted when she married their widower Dad), writer of wonderful books that connect theology to everyday life, is among my most treasured friends. I hope you enjoy her encouraging words.
As you consider your commitments this fall, what doors do you think God may be opening for you? Please respond in the “Comments” section below…