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I just reread Stepping Heavenward this past weekend. It is a fictional story, told mostly through journal entries, of one woman's sanctification over the course of several decades. It's been "soul food" for me, full of Titus 2-type wisdom as that from an older woman in the faith. The first time I read it, I was fairly recently married. I don't remember if I was expecting or had given birth to my daughter or not. I know in my ignorance my view of Christ and my need for Him was smaller. In any case, I found the book much more helpful, much more inspirational this time around. I'd have it on a must read list for any Christian wife or mother.
It seems like there is no shortage of "conversational" Christian books right now, there are plenty of men and women telling their own stories, their own fumblings and what they've learned or think they've learned. Some elevate personal feelings above Biblical truth, some elevate social justice above the fame of Christ. What I like about this book is that I think it accurately depicts who we are (sinful, wicked, fallible, helpless, mortal), who God is (holy, sovereign, Creator, Redeemer, righteous, merciful), and the right motivations for attending to the poor, lowly, fatherless, etc. It makes much of the discipline (and privilege) of prayer. It tells of suffering with purpose rather than preaching prosperity and ease. There are some particularly poignant words on suffering and trials. I'm not sure I agree with the theology behind every word of the book, but overall, I think Prentiss (the author and writer of the hymn, "More Love to Thee, Oh Christ") captures perfectly the struggle of a woman working out her salvation with fear and trembling, learning to treasure Christ and lean on Him above all else. I can certainly identify with the protagonist's hotheadedness, quick tongue, and emotional extremes, as well as her frustration over, as Paul describes in Romans 7:18-20, "For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me."
These are some of my favorite passages, bookmarked while reading.
But if God chooses quite another lot for you, you may be sure He sees that you need something totally different from what you want. You said just now that you would gladly go through any trial in order to attain a personal love for Christ that should become the ruling principle of your life. Now as soon as God sees this desire in you, is He not king, is He not wise in appointing such trials as He knows will lead to this end?
"I do not mean that I have no happiness; I mean that I am in a disheartened mood, weary of going round and round in circles, committing the same sins, uttering the same confessions, and making no advance."
"My dear," she said after a time,"have you perfectly distinct, settled view of what Christ is to the human soul?"
"I do not know. I understand, of course, more or less perfectly that my salvation depends on Him alone; it is His gift."
"But do you see with equal clearness that your sanctification must be as fully His gift as your salvation is?"
"No," I said after a little thought. "I have had the feeling that He has done His part and now I must do mine."
"My dear," she said with much tenderness and feeling, "then the first thing you have to do is learn Christ."
"On your knees, my child, on your knees!"
She was tired, and I came away; and I have indeed been on my knees.
"I am not singled out, dear. There are thousands of God's own dear children scattered over the world suffering far more than I do...I was bound to my God and Savior before I knew a sorrow, it is true. But it was by a chain of many links; and every link that dropped away brought me to Him till at last, having nothing left, I was shut up to Him and learned fully what I had only learned partially, how soul-satisfying He is."
Yes, I suppose I am as happy in my dear precious husband and children as a wife and mother can be in a fallen world, which must not be a real heaven lest we should love the land we journey through so well as we want to pitch our tents in it forever and cease to look and long for the home whither we are bound.
I want to see little children adorning every home as flowers adorn every meadow and every wayside. I want to see them welcomed to the homes they enter, to see their parents grown less and less selfish and more and more loving because they have come. I want to see God's precious gifts accepted, not frowned upon and refused.
I am afraid it is only too true, as someone has remarked, that "this is the age of obedient parents!" What then will be the future of their children? How can they yield to God who have never been taught to yield to human authority? And how well will they be fit to rule their own households who have never learned to rule themselves?
What I am, I must be, except as God changes me into His own image. And everything brings me back to that, as my supreme desire. I see more and more that I must be myself what I want my children to be and that I cannot make myself over even for their sakes. This must be His work, and I wonder that it goes on so slowly that all the disappointments, sorrows, sicknesses I have passed through have left me still selfish, still full of imperfections!