Our church's second annual Women's Conference was this past weekend and Friday night we all got together at the church to prepare everything for Saturday's conference.
Friday started out as a terrible day for me, filled with contention and divisiveness and hurt feelings and lots of pain. I'm not a big crier. Some people cry easily but I don't. If you see me cry it is probably because I am being significantly moved and melted by the Spirit or I am mourning for someone I love. I cried on the way to the church Friday night. Not boo-hooing, but a weeping of the Spirit. I had allowed myself to lose my joy and I was weeping for some women who I have come to know and love and who had attacked one another and literally caused the Spirit within me to groan and my heart to break. I haven't known these women long and I've never personally met any of them, yet they have become part of my eternal family. They have shared their trials, their joys, their pain and their happiness and I have prayed for them and rejoiced with them. They are all Christians and I met all of them through an online organization.
In a way it seemed incredulous to me that I could care so much for these women that I have never even met face to face but what was more incredulous to me was to realize at any given moment we Christian women each have the capability to quench (extinguish, put out, cool off) the fire of the Holy Spirit (1 Th 5:19,) both within ourselves and to some extent in others, by our actions and our words. We are each capable of the evil that Paul talks about in Galations 5:19-21, if we allow ourselves to give into the desires of the flesh. Some might look at that list and immediately see the "bad" sins such as murder, adultery and lewdness and overlook some of the other sins like contention, jealousy, selfish ambitions and outbursts of wrath. Maybe because these are so widespread in our society as normal behaviors, we don't consider them "bad" sins like we do murder and lewdness, but Paul put all of these things together for a reason...they are all equally as offensive in the eyes of God and to the Spirit within us. When we engage in any of these behaviors, we are quenching the fire of the Spirit. We can do this so often that we reduce the fire to a glowing ember that has little effect on the enemy. Paul cautioned earlier in verse 17 that the "flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another..." The Spirit doesn't leave us, but we can quench the fire of the Spirit to such a degree that we don't even know the Spirit's there and we stand virtually defenseless against the enemy and the sins of the flesh.
When I arrived at the church, I guess my day was written all over my face because no one believed my semi-permanent response of "good" or "fine" when asked how I was. Concerned, they probed and not wanting to get into it all, I justsmiled ruefully and said what I've heard my husband say so many times before, "I just don't understand women!" and kept walking. Considering the feelings I was having about women at that moment, I didn't want to be among those who were lined up in the hallway, chatting happily while they ironed tablecloths. So I dropped off my ironing board and iron and went to clean the nursery and kid's rooms. This I could do alone. Yes! While I dragged rugs into the hallway and swept and cleaned, I could hear the women talking about their lives and I found myself wanting to add a comment here or voice a word of comfort there and gradually I opened my heart to these women that I love and I felt my joy begin to return. I went about my tasks happily as I allowed the fire of the Spirit to grow within me and while we each reached out to be an active part of the body. We worked and ate pizza and laughed and listened to our worship team practice and we shared our excitement and I left believing that God was going to do great things in our church, in our community and across the nation.
I still don't understand women mind you, but God is working on that. He's helping me realize that I don't have to understand them, I just have to love them. I have to love them with agape love, not human love. Agape love is unconditional. It is the love that comes only from the Spirit and when we allow the fire of the Spirit to be stoked, that agape love starts pouring out and that's really all that matters!
I'll have to write about the conference later but I will say that we were right about God...He showed up and He showed out!