When I read Proverbs 31, it is easy for me to feel despair, guilt, and anxiety, because I will never be a 24-hour super mom. Besides the fact that I have mental and physical limitations that stand in the way of being as productive as I would like to be, it seems highly unlikely that I will ever be able to have children unless God performs a miracle. Have I failed in the eyes of God? Will God think less of me because of this lack of fruitfulness?
No, this does not have to be the case, for at least 3 reasons. I’ll start with the more obvious two, and I’ll end with the one that I think trumps them all.
God is not impressed by works if they are not motivated by the right Spirit
You can do all the right things for the wrong reasons. God looks at the state of your heart more than anything, so when good deeds flow from an unclean heart to Him they are nothing more than filthy rags or polluted garments (Isaiah 64:6). Those deeds are stained by evil motivations. They could for example be stained by a need for people’s appreciation, or by sinful self-preservation.
Profitable merchandise as stated in Proverbs 31:18 can be a good thing, but if you are a woman who sells her stuff at the market to get rich for the sake of being rich, then you are in great danger.
Works by themselves don’t bring salvation. Someone can preach God’s truth beautifully and be unsaved, and someone can give money to the poor on the way to hell.
Jesus taught us that drinking from a dirty cup can’t defile us. As a matter of fact, nothing that enters a person from the outside can (Mark 7:15-22). But when you think about it, this works both ways because you can’t become clean by doing the right thing from an unclean heart (Matthew 23:25-26).
Some preachers and teachers will tell you that you can (“Fake it till you make it”), but I believe this is a sinful teaching. Why? Because if this were true, Christ died for nothing. In that case, evil people could go to heaven, simply by their own strength and by doing “good” works. Their actions would look holy from the outside, while their hearts might be rotten to the core. Jesus calls these people hypocrites (Matthew 6, 15:7-9, Matthew 23).
That’s why we should first and foremost make sure our hearts are pure. That will bring us to a place where good deeds will overflow from our hearts.
Therefore, it is always important to check why you do what you do, and the only appropriate motivation is the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). So, with the right state of heart, even when you don’t have tons of physical strength, and have to deal with a broken body that is riddled by pain, discomfort, or fatigue, you will find a way to glorify God – by the strength He provides.
God expects you to be fruitful with what He gives you
Matthew 25 teaches us that God might give one person one talent and another five, each according to his ability. So God is aware of our natural abilities and knows what He gave us on top of that. And so He knows that you can very well be fruitful with what He gave you. Don’t let fear debilitate you and take away your blessings.
This for me was always the hardest part. I was a perfectionist by nature so the fear that I wouldn’t be able to do enough, or do a task well enough, could completely paralyze me. I often felt that I had to do this or that before I could start the ministry and then I would be all set. But there was always a this or that. I was never set and so I did hardly anything to fulfill my call. I was running fast, but it seemed I was running in circles. Then in my weakness and tiredness, I was worried that I was downright lazy, or angry with God that I was ill so often.
I had become a slave to fear, which stopped me from obeying God. After prayer, thoughtful words from other Christians, and searching the Scriptures, I finally realized that the only way to glorify God was to do what I could with what God gave me. An old friend of mine once said that if I would be in the kitchen endlessly perfecting a meal for my hungry husband, eventually my husband would starve. I need to feed the hungry now.
So, I created a sign on my desk saying: “Done is better than perfect” to remind me of that, and since then I have been more and more productive. Sometimes my spiritual meal might need a tad more salt or a little less chili as I’m growing my cooking skills, but I’m grateful that within the boundaries of my limitations, I can now use my God-given talents to produce food so that you and others don’t have to starve.
Women like me are often painfully aware of their limitations, but God is also aware of what one can and cannot do. He is a righteous Judge, the Good Shepherd, so He will stretch your boundaries so that you can grow, but He won’t expect more of you than you can handle. And don’t forget that it takes only one seed to grow a tree with enough fruit to fill an entire field of trees.
The heart of the matter
People look at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). This is also true for this Bible text. Outwardly, we read about a woman who is praised for her diligence and excellence, but the heart of the matter is much deeper than that.
God showed me that this text is actually about the bride of Christ (the church and as part of that each believer) and her fruitfulness. And then we can decipher some of this woman’s beautiful qualities:
- She is willing and eager to work for God’s Kingdom. (Prov 31:13, 31:15)
- She is always looking for spiritual food and holy “clothing” to give to the people assigned to her so that they will be fed and protected. (Prov 31:13-15)
- Darkness and discomfort don’t stop her from delivering spiritual food, as she always carries the Light of Christ. Just like the wise virgins mentioned in Matthew 25, she obviously has enough oil in her lamp to keep the fire burning throughout the night. (Prov 31:15, 31:18)
- She stands firm in the truth of the Lord that she exercises. This strength is built like a muscle. (Prov 31:17)
- She always gives to the poor and needy. (Prov 31:20)
- She does not worry about threats from the outside, because she and her household are under the blood of Christ. (Prov 31:21)
- She (prayerfully) rests in the protection of the Lord and walks in a holy priesthood. (Prov 31:22)
- Jesus, her first authority, is the One Who decides who enters heaven or not. (Prov 31:23)
- She prepares teachings by which she shows people how to clothe themselves in holiness and Christians how to walk in Truth as a child of God. (Prov 31:24)
- She knows from Whom her worth and her strength come and rejoices in the fact that the future will be better than today. (Prov 31:25)
- The Word of God is in her mouth, so she speaks with God’s wisdom and love. (Prov 31:26)
- She continually checks if her spiritual children are still walking in step with the Lord. (Prov 31:27)
- She consumes the Bread of Life (Jesus, the Word of God) rather than doing nothing. (Prov 31:27)
- Her spiritual children call her blessed, and Jesus is very pleased. (Prov 31:28-29)
- Outwardly someone – or a church – can seem pretty, attractive, charming, and so very successful. But in the end, only the one who fears the Lord will be praised. (Prov 31:30)
- Only the woman who fears the Lord will be rewarded for what she does, and her good deeds will return to her as she reaps what she sows. (Prov 31:31)
Now, this shows how important it is to start with a “heart change” rather than an “output change”. Because all of this is about attitude, from which good deeds flow almost naturally.
All of us can strive to have the right attitude 24/7, even when we are sick in bed. And most of us can pray for ourselves and others, and read or listen to the Bible.
Next, you can find a way to share the outpour of God’s blessings, His hope, and His love. Can you write? Then write! Can you speak? Then speak! Can you donate? Then donate! But always do it from a heart that eagerly seeks to glorify God.