When life feels dark or the way ahead is unclear, God’s Word remains a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path. Here, ten women reflect on Scripture passages that have strengthened and encouraged them during difficult times.
Jo Saxton on Matthew 14:22-36
“Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus” (Matt. 14:29).
As a child, I loved this passage. It resonated strongly with me when I realized COVID-19 would change our lives. The rise of the pandemic was like watching a storm brewing: Relatives around the world shared their stories, school was canceled, and my work was canceled or postponed. I read this passage multiple times a day for over a week.
When Peter stepped out of the boat before the storm was still, he walked on the words Jesus said to him. I am challenged to walk on Jesus’ words to me amid life’s storms, even if they don’t make sense. God not only speaks to us through the storms of life, but he also meets with us and speaks to us in the heart of the storm, when we’re at the end of ourselves and all hope is gone.
As a child, I was stunned by the power of God. Now, this passage reminds me of God’s tender kindness, the extraordinary lengths he went to for his friends in need, and how he transformed their lives. Jesus takes time to heal the crowd (vv. 35–36) even though initially he’d avoided the crowd to get some rest. Would I go to extraordinary lengths so my friends could encounter peace, hope, and love?
Jen Wilkin on Psalm 139
“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts” (Ps. 139:23).
As a young, overwhelmed mom, growing in my awareness of my own limits, I needed a vision of a transcendent God to reorient me. Psalm 139 delivers. “Search me, God,” David wrote. "See if there is any offensive way in me” (vv. 23–24). His worshipful response to meditating on the limitlessness of God is a desire to slay what opposes God. I want to be the same: “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature” (Col. 3:5). I want my adoration of God to result in an abhorrence of sin.
In times of difficulty, we tend to look inward or to another person or a created thing for help. Initially, I viewed Psalm 139 as God showing interest in all that made me special. But I was surprised to connect the end of the psalm to the beginning, which asks that God continue searching and knowing, testing me, regarding my anxious thoughts and offensive ways. God reads my sins and weaknesses perfectly, and I should ask him to keep doing that. Healthy human relationships are predicated on honoring one another as image-bearers rather than worshiping or demanding worship from one another. When I put my sin to death, my neighbor benefits. Right love of God leads to right love of self and neighbor.
Jeannine K. Brown on Hebrews 12:1-3
“Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus” (Heb. 12:1–2).
I love the image of my journey with Christ as a race. We “press on toward the goal” (Phil. 3:14) with passion and with perseverance. It brings to mind Eugene Peterson’s phrase “a long obedience in the same direction.” The author of Hebrews challenges me to shed whatever hinders me in the race (12:1). Moreover, in this race of faith, I have someone on my side who’s fully invested in that same race. In Jesus, God is on our side, and God is by our side.
Recently, I was struck by the language of joy when meditating on this passage. “For the joy set before him,” Jesus endured the suffering and shame of the cross. Jesus, who reveals God to us, is characterized by joy. Additionally, the first line points us back to Hebrews 11. While meditating on this image of a “cloud of witnesses,” I think of my grandmother, whose faith was enlivened at a revival meeting a century ago and who taught me one of her favorite hymns, “Children of the Heavenly Father,” in Swedish. I am not alone in my journey of faith. We are surrounded by faithful others, both past and present. And Jesus, at the center of our faith, is our guide.
Brown is a professor of New Testament at Bethel Seminary and a member of the NIV Committee on Bible Translation. Her most recent book is The Gospels as Stories.
Anjuli Paschall on Mark 10:46-52
“‘What do you want me to do for you?’ Jesus asked him. The blind man said, ‘Rabbi, I want to see’” (Mark 10:51).
I have five kids. When I was struggling, drowning in diapers, a dear friend asked me, “What do you want?” I could tell people what I needed, but I didn’t know what I wanted. I would have a desire—like wanting time alone—and stuff it or suffocate it and then get so angry. I finally grew to understand that for me to love others well, I need to be vulnerable by expressing what I want.
When Bartimaeus gropes his way over to Jesus, they stand face to face. Jesus wants to hear Bartimaeus tell him what he wants. This passage reminds me: God loves me and says, Come over here, get face to face, tell me what you want. It’s vulnerable to tell Jesus what you really, really want. But expressing our wants and longings shows the movement of our hearts, our formation, part of what makes us whole. Speak your greatest heart’s desire to God, whether people tease you, or it’s embarrassing, or it doesn’t make sense. That’s Bartimaeus, right? Even important people told him to be quiet, but he spoke up. May we speak louder like Bartimaeus!
Paschall is a spiritual director and the author of Stay: Discovering Grace, Freedom, and Wholeness Where You Never Imagined Looking.
Carmen Joy Imes on Psalm 10
“You, God, see the trouble of the afflicted” (Ps. 10:14).
Years ago, I was under a gag order during an investigation. I felt powerless and alone, with no one to advocate for me. Psalm 10:14 was balm to my soul: “You, God, see the trouble of the afflicted; you consider their grief and take it in hand.” I discovered how powerfully the Psalms address the powerless. They gave me words when I did not know how to pray.
Some people struggle with the apparent violence of the Psalms. In my crisis, I discovered that these psalms align with God’s justice. Yes, God is merciful and compassionate, but he also does not leave the guilty unpunished (Ex. 34:6–7). He not only comforts us but is the kind of God who stops the wicked in their tracks before they can do more harm (Ps. 10:15). The Psalms bolstered my trust in a God who fights on my behalf. They also chasten and challenge me not to participate in the oppression of others. Now, when friends feel powerless or abandoned or attacked, I pray the Psalms on their behalf. God does not ask us to put on a happy face; violent psalms like Psalm 10 invite us to come to God with our most desperate prayers.
Imes is professor of Old Testament at Prairie College. She is the author of Bearing God’s Name: Why Sinai Still Matters.
M. Sydney Park on 1 Corinthians 2:1-5
“For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2).
This passage is always meaningful, especially in the past two decades as we face a pervasive culture of self-promotion in the evangelical church. Believers seem to have lost sight of the necessary mindset of the church as outlined in Philippians 2:5–11: “Have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who … made himself nothing … becoming obedient to death.”
First Corinthians 2:1–5 reminds me of the palpable testimony given to the world by the apostles. Conformity to the world is not inevitable, but true proclamation of the gospel message must come by means other than worldly wisdom. This requires cruciformity not only in ethics and identity (being) but also in our method. Paul reminds us that such complete conformity to Christ crucified necessarily results in the mighty work of the Holy Spirit and the power of God. The only way to love our neighbors as Christ loved us is through self-sacrifice.
Park is a professor at Beeson Divinity School with a focus on New Testament theology, biblical interpretation, and Greek.
Kristie Anyabwile on Psalm 18:30
“As for God, his way is perfect: The Lord’s word is flawless; he shields all who take refuge in him” (Ps. 18:30).
Nothing is beyond the reach or the knowledge of God; his way is perfect. Even though this pandemic and its effects are painful and hard for so many people, God doesn’t change. That helps me to put this season in perspective. It ain’t gonna last; it’s not the end. All we see and experience in this life is but a vapor. Nothing and no one can thwart the outworking of God’s providence. He proves true and will effect what he intends to accomplish in our lives and in the world.
The implied imperative in Psalm 18:30 is to seek God for safety and security—but that’s not always easy because we have our own ideas about what we think we need to have a sense of security. Particularly during these coronavirus times, a verse like this exposes our rugged independence and makes us aware of how out of control we really are. This verse challenges me to be fully dependent on the Lord, to seek him for refuge, and to not seek security in the conveniences of this life.
Anyabwile is a Bible teacher and the editor of His Testimonies, My Heritage: Women of Color on the Word of God.
Vaneetha Rendall Risner on Isaiah 43:1-2
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you” (Isa. 43:2).
When my ex-husband left our family, I was terrified. How would I manage with my disability? Would my daughters walk away from their faith? How would I manage my household on my own? I felt betrayed and alone, my self-image shattered.
I love how Isaiah 43:1–2 tells me that God calls me by name. He tells me not to fear. He redeems me—which gives me worth. This passage reassures me that whatever I go through, God will be with me and my trials won’t overwhelm me: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.”
I’ve sensed God’s presence most closely in suffering—a gift he offers to comfort us in pain. That doesn’t mean we won’t struggle, suffer loss, or even die. I have a close friend with ALS who knows all three will happen. What God promises here is that we won’t be overcome with despair. No matter what’s going on around us, we can be sure God will never leave us. He will walk through every fiery trial with us. He will make sure the rivers do not overwhelm us. And with God beside us, we know there is nothing to fear.
Chrystal Evans Hurst on Philippians 4:6-7
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Phil. 4:6).
My 15-year-old son had a traumatic birth, resulting in nerve damage that led to difficulty in using his right arm his first few months. I was especially anxious and worried during that time—I so badly wanted him to be healed. Peace came over time as I turned to prayer and focused on thinking profitable thoughts—dwelling on what was good and right despite what I couldn’t change.
This passage challenges me to maintain peace by continually coming to God instead of only reactively coming to God when I feel anxiety. If we only focus on the source of anxiety or pain, then we miss the other wonderful things God is doing. Prayer is a weapon, a tool, a source of strength and power.
We don’t have to handle it, or figure everything out on our own, or move mountains in our own strength. We can bring our concerns to God with thanksgiving, ask him for what we want, and then yield to what he wants for us and for those we’re praying for. Prayer will keep our hearts and minds from racing and ease our physical bodies from the havoc stress can wreak on them.
Ann Voskamp on Romans 8:31-32
“He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32).
As farmers, we have been living on the edge for 25 years. Our life requires that we trust God at a really deep level—we have droughts, we have bad weather, and so on. Romans 8:32 is our life verse: “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” This verse has given us Jesus. He will not necessarily give us what we want, but he will give us what we need. If he gave himself up for us all, gave me everything, then he will give me what I need each moment. It is safe to trust.
Trust is the bridge from yesterday to tomorrow, built with what God has done in the past. In trust, we can walk from the known to the unknown. Today, with what we see happening in terms of many of our livelihoods, it looks like the bridge underneath us is going to give way. But when it seems to give way, we are falling into Christ’s safe arms.
So, in trust, I can live generously toward others, thereby destroying the myth of scarcity. We get to live life given away—a cruciform life—and show the world what it means to live in Christ. Stepping into trust is actually what faith means. If I keep thanking him, it builds all those planks of trust for me to step from the known into the unknown.
This article is part of “Why Women Love the Bible,” CT’s special issue spotlighting women’s voices on the topic of Scripture engagement. You can download a free pdf of the issue or order print copies for yourself at MoreCT.com/special-issue.
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