Heroines of the faith: Madame Guyon

Jeanne-Marie Bouvier de la Motte-Guyon, usually known as Madame Guyon, was a French mystic. Born in 1648, she spent a number of years imprisoned for her beliefs, which the Catholic Church deemed heretical.

Madame Guyon was a sickly child  in a religious family. When she was young she wanted to be a nun, seeking God within her Catholic faith through times of private prayer, devotional reading and visiting the poor. She married at sixteen years of age (her father arranged her marriage to a man, 22 years her senior, and she didn’t meet her husband until three days before the wedding), and was widowed twelve years later. She lost many of her family, too, including two of her five children to smallpox, before her husband died.

After her husband’s death, Jeanne found herself a wealthy widow. She put most of her money into trust for her children and planned a new life with the assistance of Abbe Francois La Combe, her spiritual mentor.  She moved to Geneva to be near him, and together they worked to relieve suffering through helping the poor and developing hospitals. At this point Jeanne began writing books. However, her views were so controversial that the Bishop of Geneva asked them to leave.

What were Madame Guyon’s views that were so controversial? She believed that prayer should be constant–that all the time one could live in the presence of God, and that was the way to become perfect . She also believed in salvation by faith rather than works–that it was a gift from God.

Quietism, (defined as a system of religious mysticism teaching that perfection and spiritual peace are attained by annihilation of the will and passive absorption in contemplation of God)  was soon declared a heresy. La Combe was imprisoned for 27 years until his death. Madame Guyon was also charged and imprisoned, but due to the intervention of friends, was released.

Soon, Madame Guyon met Fenelon, a prestigious priest, and together  with others they met secretly at the Court of Versailles for times of intimacy with God and to pray for the conversion of King Louis XIV and spiritual reformation in France. However, she was betrayed, and when it was discovered she was a Quietist, she was incarcerated once more–this time with false accusations of adultery with La Combe–in a solitary, bare cell in the Bastille, a notorious French prison. All the time protesting her innocence of immorality, Madame Guyon was finally released seven years later following a prophetic word to the King. She had to be carried out on a litter.

Jeanne’s message was the importance of dying to self, that Christ himself desires to live his life out through us, that suffering is a gift, that joy can be found in any circumstances.

Jeanne’s ministry increased from this point. People from many different nations visited her cottage seeking spiritual help. She influenced many both personally and through her writings–John Wesley, Watchman Nee, Andrew Murray, Jessie Penn-Lewis to name a few.

She died at the age of 68, faithful to the Catholic Church to the end.

Photo credit: Christianity.com

Information for this post taken from here and here

Heroines of the faith: Jessie Penn-Lewis

Jessie was born in South Wales, UK, in 1861. The daughter of a mining engineer/Methodist minister, she married William Penn-Lewis at the age of 18. Eighteen months later she realized that if Christ were to return, she wasn’t ready, and so began to seek the Lord. Soon she met Jesus and began a deep walk with him.

When she turned 19, she was found to have tuberculosis and given six months to live. God miraculously healed her and she had remarkable resilience and strength to accomplish all that God called her to through the rest of her life.

At the age of 31 she was filled with the Holy Spirit. She had great insight into the Word of God and taught before huge audiences at conventions around the world including the Keswick Convention, a famous annual conference on the deeper life.

Jessie Penn Lewis was involved in the Welsh Revival of 1904-5, a revival that was cut short by the illness (both physical and mental) of Evan Roberts, the main leader. Evan Roberts stayed with her and her husband for a couple of years following this.

Jessie’s ministry took her to other countries including Russia, India, Canada and the USA.  She had the privilege of speaking at the Moody Bible Institute Worker’s Conference where R.A. Torrey introduced her as “one of the most gifted speakers the world has ever known.” She had the privilege of being friends with some other spiritual giants of her day, including F.B .Meyer, Andrew Murray, Oswald Chambers and D.L. Moody. She was a prolific author, and her book,War on the Saints, written in collaboration with Evan Roberts, is a classic on spiritual warfare. She founded the magazine, “The Overcomer.”

Jessie Penn-Lewis had an influence on her generation, including such people as Frank Buchman (who founded the Oxford Group) and Norman Grubb (who, as president of WEC International took if from a small group of 35 missionaries to thousands of workers around the world.)

But gender was also an issue:

“I saw that God had given me a specific commission . . . but the one objection was the fact that I was a woman. There was no quarrel with the message . . . no denial of the divine seal . . . no getting away from the evidence of the results. But none of these . . . did away with the fact that I was a woman, therefore I could not but see that, whilst God opened doors . . . in some quarters, others were fast closed to the message I bore, purely, and only, because I was a woman.”

The great cry of this heart was, “Why did God not commit this vital message to one who could . . . deliver it without restriction?” Often, in the early years, as she labored to deliver the message, she also gazed out upon the audience, “watching with eager eyes to see whether there was not some hidden and chosen instrument to whom God could transmit this burden, who would rise up . . . and let me step aside. . .” The following expresses her deep concerns. . . “for years I cried to God that He would raise up a man . . .” to fill “the commission He had given to me . . . many tears did I shed over this, . . . . until at last, . . . I saw and could say with the Lord, ‘I beheld and there was no man,’ . . . . . . God had committed this message to me, and at whatever cost, I must go forward.”

On one occasion, “a gentlemen with strong prejudice against the ministry of woman” was in attendance at an Overcomer conference. . . . In conversation afterwards, he confessed: ‘I would not have believed it possible, had I not seen it, that God would use a woman like that!’”  Her response? “God never does use a woman like that . . . or a man either! God only uses the NEW CREATION.” (http://bit.ly/10Mcj4D)

“All that I have, all that I am, all that I may be is Thine, wholly, absolutely, and unreservedly” Jessie Penn-Lewis.

Photo credit: Taken from www.jessiepennlewis.com

Information for this post came from here and here

Heroines of the faith: Phoebe Palmer

Phoebe Palmer was “the mother of the Holiness Movement.”

Born Phoebe Worrall in 1807, she was brought up in a devout Methodist home. She married a Methodist homeopathic physician, Walter Palmer. Their first two children died within months of their birth.

In early Methodism, conversion was an emotional experience, and the fact that Phoebe hadn’t had such an encounter was a source of trial to her. Finally, she came to understand that belief in God was enough–that if she laid her life on the altar, God himself would make her holy.

Phoebe and Walter became very interested in John Wesley’s writings, especially his doctrine of Christian perfection which is the belief that a Christian can live free of voluntary sin, and that this can happen instantly through a “second work of grace.”  She and her family experienced “entire sanctification” some time during 1937, and felt they should teach others how to experience it for themselves.  Phoebe’s developed a process that divided John Wesley’s perfectionism into three parts:

  1. Consecrate yourself  totally to God
  2. Believe God will sanctify what is consecrated
  3. Tell others about it.

Phoebe and her sister began a series of women’s prayer meetings in her home, which became known as the “Tuesday Meeting for the Promotion of Holiness.” Soon men were included too. They brought together people of many different backgrounds and inspired similar meetings around the country. Phoebe soon became the most influential woman in the most rapidly growing group in America–the Holiness Movement. She and her husband went on the road teaching the concept of Christian holiness. She started missions, camp meetings, and around 25,000 Americans became believers.

Phoebe inspired other women to follow her example, notably Catherine Booth of the Salvation Army and Frances Willard of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Her theology gave rise to denominations such as The Church of the Nazarene, The Salvation Army, The Church of God and The Pentecostal-Holiness Church.

Photo from http://www.cyberhymnal.org/img/k/n/knapp_pp.jpg

Information for this post comes from here and here.


A personal story for Memorial Day: in memory of my father

My father, Peter English, was one of the kindest, gentlest men I’ve ever known.

Peter English: 1919 – 2003

In World War 2, my father volunteered to serve in the British Army. His regiment was sent to Singapore, where he was captured by the Japanese at the fall of Singapore and  taken to Burma. He labored on the infamous Railroad of Death, helping to build the bridge over the River Kwai. He watched from a few hundred yards away as the bridge was bombed by the Allies. (If any of you have read the book,  Miracle on the River Kwai
on which the movie, To End All Wars was based, my father was with the author through most of that time.)

The torture and atrocities of life in the POW camps were unspeakable–and my father was silent on the topic for most of my growing up years. Yet the war was always present with us–in the nightmares he suffered, in the fact that we never had a Japanese product in the house. His closest friends were always those who had been with him through the war.

I therefore had mixed feelings when Tony and I took our first trip to Japan. What would I think about the race of people who had been responsible for my father’s pain? In one sense it was nothing to do with me–it had all happened to a previous generation. Yet I found myself surprisingly troubled by being there, especially when I saw someone elderly or in uniform.

At the end of our first conference, we had a time for feedback. I mentioned how healing it was for me to have Japanese friends because my father had been in a Japanese POW camp. To my surprise, the Japanese we were with broke down in tears.

“Please give your father a message from us,” they sobbed. “Tell him we are so very, very sorry for the way we treated him.”  These people were far too young to have been in the war.

Also present in the group were two others who had been personally impacted by the war. There was a Korean girl whose parents had been captured by the Japanese and deported to Japan. And then there was a Japanese girl from Hiroshima whose family had been deeply affected by the nuclear bomb that ended the war. If I remember rightly, her grandmother had survived the bombing even though she was quite close to the center of the blast, but never spoke of it until towards the end of her life. The people of Hiroshima live with the constant reminder of “The Bomb.”  They are taught about it from a very young age in their schools; they live with the sickness that has resulted from the radiation.

The group of people we were with then prayed through the situation. With tears, we repented on behalf of our nations for what had happened during the war. We prayed for healing. It was a powerful, Spirit-breathed time of restoration.

I look back on that time of prayer as one of the most healing times in my life.

(A repost from Memorial Day 2012)

Healing through foot washing

Twenty or so of us were gathered in a circle. I don’t even remember how the topic came up. But one of the men at the conference, tears running down his face, repented deeply on behalf of the men in the church for all the wrongs that have been perpetrated against women down through the centuries, and specifically prayed for healing for any of the women in the group who had been hurt. He offered to wash the feet of the women. Other men prayed too, saying sorry for how their own attitudes had caused pain and suffering to women and committing to change. It was a Holy Spirit moment. Tears flowed freely–both men and women.

Then the men washed the women’s feet. They prayed over us, releasing us into whatever destinies God might have for us.

Was the foot washing the important part? No, but it spoke volumes. What mattered was the men understood at a deep level how the marginalization of women has damaged the body of Christ and were prepared to both repent and commit to change.

I was one who had been hurt by the attitude of the church towards women. For me, it was a profoundly healing time–and the same for the other women present. I view it as one of the events that released me into any ministry I now have.

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Inviting women to join the ranks

I am so grateful for the men who have invited me to co-labor alongside them in groups that have Kingdom significance–not as Tony’s wife, nor as the “token woman,” but in my own right, based on my calling and giftings.

The roles of leadership (servanthood) in the church are mostly dominated my males. But God is changing things. The perception of the body of Christ at large is shifting as God is bringing fresh revelation on the Scriptures that used to relegate women to passive roles, waiting for a man to take the initiative.

Many men may talk about women being co-equals, but their leadership teams are comprised of males, they speak at conferences where there are only men on the platform, they hang out in the halls of strategic influence with their male friends. Any woman of spiritual caliber is not going to bludgeon or force her way into those ranks. But will she come when invited? You bet.

Where are the men who will welcome women to join their ranks, opening the door for their participation and leadership?

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Contested territory

Some time ago, I watched a fascinating video by Lance Wallnau called Piercing the Veil. Here’s what I understand to be his basic concept.

“Once you reach critical mass on a revelation, everyone gets access easily to what was once contested territory.”

Up until recently, the idea of women co-laboring alongside men equally has been contested territory. Strategic authority in the church, has, with notable exceptions, been the domain of men. I believe God is bringing fresh revelation to the Scriptures whereby they can, with integrity, be interpreted in such a way that women are not relegated to following men, but under the direction of the Holy Spirit, can initiate and lead Kingdom ventures. God”s gifts to his people are not based on gender. And, like the parable of the talents, whoever uses their gifts wisely will be given more responsibility.

When I was in medical school, only around 10 percent of the students in my year were women. Being a physician was thought to be a male profession. In one short generation, that has changed, and now in the UK, more than 50 percent of medical students are women. 

I always hesitate to use the word “leadership” in these posts, because it can be so easily misinterpreted. Leadership is about servanthood and going lower; it’s not about hierarchy. But God does entrust certain people with more influence. I believe that God is changing the perception that church “leadership” has to be male. He’s doing it by giving fresh revelation on the Scriptures (just as he has done throughout history–for example, with the understanding that salvation is by faith and cannot be earned.) We are fast approaching that critical mass, the tipping point where it’s generally accepted that women are valued and equal co-workers in the Kingdom. And we can all gain access to what was once contested territory.

What image does a Christian woman convey?

Since I’m working very hard on completing the book on women that I’m compiling, this morning I decided take the easy way out for the next few blog posts and find some quotes about women. So I googled “quotes, Christian, women” looking for inspiration. The majority of what came up was I’m sure really good, but everything struck me as sickly sweet, sugar coated, milky, vanilla. Maybe it’s just me, but I found the quotes incredibly unattractive. They were mostly about being a good wife and mother–don’t get me wrong, these concepts are all vital–but so stereotyped.

Then I came across these quotes by John and Stasi Eldredge, from their book,Captivating Revised & Updated: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman’s Soul. This was more what I was looking for.

“A woman is a warrior too. But she is meant to be a warrior in a uniquely feminine way.”

“You see, women have been essential to every great move of God. Yes, Moses led the Isaelites out of Egypt, but only after his mother risked her life to save him! Closer to our time, Clara Barton was instrumental in starting the Red Cross. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin put fire into people’s heart to end slavery in the United States. Rosa Parks kicked the Civil Rights movement into gear with her quiet act of courage. Eunice Kennedy Shriver created the Special Olympics. Mother Teresa inspired the world by bringing love to countless thought unlovable. And millions of other women quietly change the world every day by bringing the love of God to those around them.”

This last week I had an email conversation about the type of image a Christian woman conveys, especially in leadership. The man commenting wrote that he didn’t want a woman leader to have “a masculine message with a masculine demeanor… deep authoritative voice… in a women’s body. Not repulsive, just not attractive.”  He linked to a picture that he thought demonstrated what a Christian woman might be like that at first shocked me–it was of a fairly provocatively dressed but very beautiful woman who I doubt is a believer. But the image has not left me, because the message it conveyed was very feminine and yet very powerful. A woman can be strong, a warrior,  and yet retain all the beauty of her femininity. The warrior princess that Stasi talks about.

This picture is of a famous statue in London. A warrior queen named Boadicea

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What do you think?

Some feminine wisdom

In the church that meets in our home, we’re studying through the book of Proverbs. We came across some interesting verses last Friday on the topic of wisdom. There was some lively and spirited discussion. At the end, someone commented, “I predict a blog post coming on!” They were right, and here it is.

Here are the points that we noted:

  • Wisdom is personified. The Greek word is Sophia.  I, Wisdom live together with good judgment (Proverbs 8:12). Listen as Wisdom calls out!… She takes her stand at the crossroads (Proverbs 8:1-2)
  • Wisdom is female. She offers you long life in her right hand…Wisdom is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire compares with her (Proverbs 3: 14-15)
  • We are to seek Wisdom, and in doing so find life.  Those who search will surely find me (Proverbs 8:17) Whoever finds me finds life (Proverbs 8:35)
  • Wisdom helped create the earth. The Lord formed me from the beginning, before he created anything else. I was appointed in ages past at the very first before the earth began (Proverbs 8:22-23)  I was the architect at his side. I was his constant delight,
        rejoicing always in his presence. And how happy I was with the world he created; how I rejoiced with the human family! (Proverbs 8: 30-31)
  • Wisdom sounds remarkably like Jesus. In the beginning the Word already existed.  The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him,  and nothing was created except through him. (John 1:1-3)  …Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30) I am the way, the truth and the life (John 10:10)
  • Wisdom sounds like the Holy Spirit too. She will guide you down delightful paths (Proverbs 3:17) When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth (John 16:13)  I know where to discover knowledge and discernment (Proverbs 8:12) Think of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

One can come up with some interesting ideas about the interplay of the feminine with the godhead from this. What do you think?

Why I submit to my husband

I’m so thankful for my husband, Tony. The blessings of being married to him are beyond words.

 Photo Credit: 96dpi via Compfight cc

It’s my delight to serve Tony and submit to him. And it’s his joy to serve me and lay down his life for me. Really, it’s a race to go lower. A mutual submission.

It wasn’t always that way.

Early in our marriage, I might have been sitting down on the outside, but inside I was standing up. I might have appeared to be quiet and submissive. Inside, I was screaming, “But it isn’t fair!”

What’s the difference?

Early in our marriage I was taught a legalistic hierarchical view. God is over man. Man is over woman and specifically husband is over wife. Jesus said, “It shall not be this way among you” (referring to hierarchy).

When hierarchy is removed, it’s easy to obey Ephesians 5–Submit yourselves to one another, wives to husbands, and husbands laying down their lives for their wives. And it makes for a wonderful marriage relationship.