It's a rainy Tuesday evening at Houston's First Baptist Church. Outside the closed doors of the main sanctuary, nearly 3,000 womensome of them coming from as far away as San Antonio, Texas, 200 miles to the westeagerly await the moment when the doors swing open and the mad scramble for a good seat begins. At 6:30 p.m., the church's weekly women's Bible study kicks off with rousing worship. Once the praise is flowing and the focus is clearly on Jesus, well-known Bible study teacher, speaker, and author Beth Moore lies facedown on the floor of the front-row aisle and beseeches God for his blessing on her message that night. Then she ascends the platform to teach. Tonight we're on the fourth session in her Bible study series on the Old Testament book of Daniel (available June 2006 through LifeWay).
There's no doubt about it: Beth Moore live is fiery and funny. She may don her husband Keith's hunting camouflage to hit home a point, or unroll a literal laundry list of family dysfunctions that extends down the stage into the audience ("That's why," she cracks, "we're the 'Moores'more of this problem, more of that "). But fun isn't her main agenda; it's to communicate the transforming power of Jesus and his Word to the women worldwide for whom she says God's given her a supernatural love. She's passionate about this message because Jesus transformed her from what she calls her "miserable past."
Born in a small Arkansas town, Beth was raised by loving Christian parents. But early abuse occurred at the hands of someone she declines to name. As a result, Beth, a shy, troubled girl, grew into an insecure woman who made many wrong choices. "I've been in the pit, but I also know the One who pulled me from the pit," she says.
With her background, Beth admits she never imagined she'd one day have an international teaching ministry. But when her hunger for God's Word exploded a couple decades ago, Beth began writing Bible studies and teaching them to an ever-expanding group of women. Requests for Beth's material became so numerous that she formed Living Proof Ministries in 1995. Today women of every denomination around the world participate in her Bible studies series through the Internet, DVD, video, or audiotape. Countless others listen to her on radio, attend her Living Proof Live! events, or read one of her books, including Breaking Free, A Heart Like His, When Godly People Do Ungodly Things, Feathers from My Nest (all Broadman & Holman), and Voices of the Faithful (Integrity).
Despite her high profile, Beth, "48 and holding," is a private woman whose home is her refuge from the pressure cooker of ministry. Married for 27 years to Keith Moore, she's the mother of two daughters, Amanda, 26, and Melissa, 23. At Living Proof's Houston headquarters, photos of her family and her beloved dogs, Sunny and Beanie, sit everywhere.
In this exclusive TCW interview, Beth talks not only about her past but also about her passion for God's Word and why she's compelled to teach other women how to develop that passion.
Beth, I've seen you teach in person and on DVD. And in both you come across as very intense.
That's probably the most common word I hear!
Where did this intensity come from?
Even though I committed my life to Christ as a child, as a young woman I lived the Christian life through my own determination. I was a very unhealthy person who made lots of destructive choices. I didn't yet understand about God's Spirit living through me.
The odd thing is, I didn't know I didn't know the Word. Having been raised in the church, I'd memorized a fair amount of Scripture. But as far as God's Word empowering me to have the renewed mind of Christ and to live differently, I was a long way from that.
By the time I was married and in my mid-twenties, I'd taught children's Sunday-school classes, led a Christian fitness class, and done some speaking. When a position for an adult Sunday-school teacher opened up, I was encouraged to go for it. But I was absolutely terrible at it. And I do mean terrible.
That's hard to imagine!
I've got such a "blonde" personality; I'd say something funny, then tack a Scripture onto it. How in the world did my first class ever put up with me? We had some fun together, but I'm not sure we learned anything!
But when I read in my church bulletin about a Bible doctrine class on Sunday nights, I knew that while it would bore me to tears, God wanted me to go. At the first class, this former football player threw open his Bible and taught us with such a passion that tears filled his eyes. I couldn't take a single note. When it was over, I ran to my car and burst into tears. I don't know what that was, I told God, but I want it. That night God lit a fire in my heart for his Word that continues burning to this day.
I'm adamant about this: I want more than anything for my sisters to follow hard after Jesus. Because even when we can't diagnose our problems, God's Word can bring us healing and wholeness. It wasn't until I fell in love with Jesus through his Word that the chains of sin began dropping off me.
What do you mean by "chains of sin"?
I'm careful to stay general with the details, but I've been open about the fact I was victimized as a child.
The first time I can recall anything about my abuse, I was very young. My victimization wasn't constant, because my victimizer didn't have continual access to me. But it certainly was enough to mess me up at a time when I was figuring out who I was. I was pigeon-toed. I had buckteeth. I had the hairiest legs in the free world. My mother wouldn't let me shave them for the longest timeand fishnet tights were in! Even though I did well in school, I had the worst self-esteem imaginable.
Many wonderful things happened to me as a child. I was loved. I was raised in the church. But I'm not convinced there's enough good to offset the devastation of abuse.
So what led you to Jesus?
My Sunday-school teacher would hold up pictures of Jesus, and he looked so nice. I needed a hero, and Jesus seemed like one. I'd lie on the grass, stare up at the sky, and wonder what Jesus was like. Even as a child, I fell in love with him.
After my freshman year in college, I was a camp counselor for sixth-grade girls. Early one morning, as the girls were sleeping, I sensed God's presence enfold me. There were no audible words, no bright lights. But suddenly I knew, without a doubt, my future was entirely his. You are now mine, he told me.
It took me a long time to break free from self-destruction. Yet even in those turbulent years, Jesus drew me back every single time. I couldn't stand anything that put a distance between Christ and me. I still can't. His presence is everything to me.
How can we experience that kind of passion?
By studying his Word. I tell women to pick a Bible study and fully participate. Do the homework. Get together with the other women. And ask God to light a fire for his Word in your heart. That's a prayer to which he'll never answer no. It doesn't matter whose Bible study series it is; if it has a sound approach to God's Word, for crying out loud, do it.
I love what it says in Matthew 13:11-12that to those who've been given kingdom secrets, he gives more. In other words, Jesus reveals himself progressively as we seek him. He becomes a glorious, holy addiction.
As you've taught on Daniel recently, have any insights knocked your socks off?
Absolutely. I was struck by the parallel between ancient Babylon and today. Babylon was a spectacular city, the center of commerce, not unlike our self-absorbed, consumer-oriented culture. Isaiah 47:8 talks about the daughter of Babylon saying, "I am, and there is none beside me." That's the mindset we're surrounded by today.
One point I'm trying to get through to myself and to my sisters is that if we're not combating self-absorption, we're giving way to it. If we really want to walk in Christ-likeness, we have to be deliberate about it. It will not happen accidentally.
How do you keep from being self-absorbed?
The more I become aware of this danger, the more I glimpse things in me I don't care for. Maybe it's buying something I really don't need just because I can afford it. So I practice saying no to myself.
The Lord's also shown me how important it is to stay in tune with what's going on in the lives of oppressed people around the world. I pray daily beyond my own little world to keep me not only from being too self-centered but also too family-centered. There's a big world out there. I can implode with the self-absorption if I'm not careful.
Do you ever struggle with pride?
One of the most wonderful things God's done for me is to leave my memory about my miserable past intact. I'd be an idiot to think highly of myself after where I've been! The very thing I hate the most is the thing that protects me from pride. I have other strugglesbut buying into the press of this public ministry is not one of them.
This only happened one time, but it broke my heart. A pastor became aware I'd had a sinful past and decided I wasn't appropriate for his women's group. I bow to that. If what you need's a sparkling testimony, you're not going to get it from me. But if you could use a testimony that there's life after pit dwelling, then maybe I can be your girl.
I'm ashamed of my sins, but all I can do now is walk in the Holy Spirit's power. That's my life's pursuittill I see him face to face.
Have you confronted your past?
Yes, I went through a season of uncharacteristic despair in my early 30s. I'd never before looked straight at my victimization, never allowed my mind to replay the images. Every single time they began to erupt, I pressed them down. But I no longer had the energy to do that. The victim in me took over. I felt like I was jumping off the highest cliff and descending into the bottom of a canyon. While Amanda and Melissa knew I was sad, they didn't have an idea how severe it was. I was good at hiding it; you don't have my kind of background and not develop a way to do that.
Did you seek counseling?
Yes, I'm a big believer in sound, godly counsel. So is my husband, Keith. You don't go through what I went through and not get counsel. I needed someone to talk me through it.
It was the worst season of my life. But God, in his goodness, brought such fruit out of my turmoil and despair. I like to translate 1 Peter 1:6-7 into layman's termsour fiery trials burn the fake out of us. For me, the fake was over. I didn't have the desire for it anymore.
What do you tell others struggling with grief or despair?
Grieve your loss, wrestle it out, throw a spiritual fit. But through those tears, allow the Word to reside in you.
Psalm 126:5-6 means the world to me: "Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him." Even when we think, I'll never get over this as long as I live, if we stay faithful, God promises we'll reap a harvest of joy. He'll never forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). That's why we've got to know his Wordso when our feelings don't match what we know to be true, we can still put one foot in front of the other.
You've admitted your marriage hasn't been perfect.
Keith and I came as close to divorcing as you can and not divorce. We married when I was only 21, and I discovered I was pregnant with Amanda only eight weeks after our wedding. We each entered marriage carrying a deluxe, five-piece set of emotional baggage. We used to fight like cats and dogs! We're an odd mix, but we've always been very attracted to each other. We've laughed repeatedly over how we saved the courts and us so much money, because we would have kept remarrying!
I'm a proponent of couples sticking things out. But I mean sticking it out and being in love. Fighting not with each other, but for each other. That should be our goal, unless we're being misused or abused. Then we need to fly as fast as we can to godly counsel, and get to a safe place.
What advice would you give those with troubled marriages?
Let me lay it out for you: Keith wasn't always a man of faith. In the past, he would go to church as often as he wouldn't. But God told me to treat Keith as though he were already the spiritual leader of our home. When I needed advice, I'd think, I don't even know if Keith has a prayer life. And I'm to ask him what to do? And God would say yes.
That feels risky.
Yes. But a mentor told me early on, "Beth, if you treat that man like he already is everything you want him to become, he'll become it." I could have cut Keith down with my tongue, but I didn't think that was wise. A man needs his woman's respect. So I asked God to raise Keith into a prayer warrior, for him to produce spiritual fruit through Keith's life. And slowly but surely, I began to see those things happen!
I'm a big believer in the power of prayer. If your husband isn't a believer and won't let you go to church, pray for favor with that man. If you constantly make it a fight with him, that's not going to win him over to Christ.
You seem to have such a heart for women.
I love the women to whom God's called me to minister. As I type out Bible studies, I'm talking to them. I'll write, "Sister" or "Dear One." It's a Southern thing. We call it "sweet talk."
I got the best letter the other day that said, "No one calls me those names but you." My heart was overwhelmed.
What legacy would you like to leave?
I love Acts 3. The apostles Peter and John say to the beggar at the Gate Beautiful, "Silver and gold have I none, but that which I have give I thee." I tell my girls, "I don't have a testimony of a mother's victorious walk. I can't give you the testimony of a virgin bride. [Tears up.] But I can tell you the Lord is my whole life. I love him more than anything in this world, and I know he's real and he's powerful. I know he transforms lives. I can't give you a good past, but I can give you passion for your present and passion for your future."
I'll never understand God's grace. Not only did Jesus pull me out of a pit and restore me, but he also appointed me the privilege to serve others. I cannot even speak what that means to me. I just want to be a servant. My life is Jesus.
To learn more about Beth and Living Proof Ministries, check out her website at www.lproof.org.
Copyright © 2005 by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian Woman magazine.
Click here for reprint information on Today's Christian Woman.