Called. Empowered. Gifted. Uniquely made with a God-given purpose!
Can't you just hear the inspiring background music as you read those words? A swelling, triumphant anthem for a woman in a chic power suit . . .
Chunky necklace, and trendy orange heels leading a boardroom in triumph.
Or for some woman in a distant land who's translating the Bible into a rare language while simultaneously caring for orphans and drilling wells.
Or for a woman singing her heart out on stage, or speaking on stage to a packed house, or basically doing just about anything on stage with zillions of people wanting to see her or hear her or have their life amazingly changed by her.
Or some other woman—you can picture whoever it is—who is "empowered." Who is living out an amazing, exciting God-given dream. Who is following God's calling on her life in a powerful way.
While you, on the other hand? No swelling music accompanies those aforementioned words for you. Instead, they're accompanied by a pit-in-the-stomach feeling of sadness or emptiness or disappointment or just plain dullness. Because you? Well, you're just normal. Your life is. . . regular. You're not doing anything amazing or article-worthy or arena-packing.
And that doesn't feel very "empowered," does it?
Welcome to normal-town
The truth is that a lot of us live in the less-than-exciting land of normal. We have our regular jobs or our ordinary childcare routines (or sometimes juggle both). Of course we have our dreams, our if-only-I-had-time-I-would _____________ wishes, but they're squeezed in or set aside or put off for later while we tackle our daily responsibilities.
And when you live on Ordinary Street, those "empowered" women with exciting stories can make regular ol' us feel like total duds. Like somehow we aren't doing what's really important or aren't living out God's call for our lives. Like who we are and what we do just isn't "enough."
But the truth is: God lives in normal. "The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood," The Message reminds us (John 1:14). In the Incarnation, the glorious, all-powerful God clothed himself in normal and entered our ordinary world. He ate, he slept, he was part of a family and went about the regular business of living. Jesus' earthy normality (alongside his supernatural divinity) christens our normal and brings sacredness to the ordinariness of our lives.
But still, I must admit: I suffer from "calling envy" sometimes. I think all of us in Normal-town sometimes wish we lived in Exciting-ville or Radical-opolis. It can be difficult to feel "empowered" or like we're living out God's calling in our life if we're in a season that feels run-of-the-mill.
And yet what Scripture says of each of us remains irrevocably true: "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10 esv). God made us to join him in doing his good work in this world! To do the good he has prepared for each of us to do. To walk the unique path of our life in obedient and joyful submission to whatever those good-working opportunities are that he gives us.
Despite what we may think it means, empowerment isn't actually about impressing others or living some exciting dream that puts normal to shame. It isn't even about amazingly changing the world for God.
Nope, biblical empowerment starts with fidelity to and connection with the true source of power within you: the Holy Spirit. It's the power we find in noticing the Spirit's leading, heading the Spirit's guidance, and obeying the Spirit's will. And while the Holy Spirit may be at work in others' "exciting" lives, the Spirit also dwells deeply and richly in Normal-town, giving us a different understanding of what it really means to live an empowered life.
The power to humbly serve
"Don't be selfish; don't try to impress others," Scripture urges us. Instead, "Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don't look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had" (Philippians 2:3–5). It takes tremendous strength to really live this out—and we find that power in and through the Holy Spirit. In our normal, everyday lives, we live truly empowered when we put others first. When we serve our families, often doing thankless jobs. When we treat coworkers with courtesy and humility. When we choose to pattern our attitude after Jesus who "humbled himself in obedience to God" (verse 8).
The power to bless and love
Our words carry a power, as do our hugs, our smiles, and our body language: the power to bless or to curse. In a world that often hurts, humiliates, and beats others down, we live truly empowered lives when we "encourage each other and build each other up" (1 Thessalonians 5:11). Daily acts of love, intentional words of blessing, a demeanor of welcome and acceptance—these are the real marks of a Spirit-shaped life.
The power to live justly
Even if our lives seem normal, that doesn't mean we have to live by "the norm"—the lifestyles of consumerism, entertainment, and self-centered entitlement that tend to dominate our culture. Instead, even within the context of everyday living, we can follow God's lead by making choices for justice, concern for the vulnerable, and compassion for the hurting and oppressed. "He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8 niv). From habits like child sponsorship to fair-trade shopping to activist blogging to a steadfast commitment to prayer, even in Normal-town we can embody God's compassionate justice.
The power to work (and work and work)
Normal, for many of us, involves work—be it work outside the home or the hefty tasks of homemaking (or again, for many women, both). Yet even seemingly unspiritual tasks at the workplace or in the home can be critical expressions of our faith. Consider Paul's admonishment to the Thessalonian Christians. He didn't urge them "Go out there and do something radical, exciting, amazing, admirable, gutsy, powerful, and impressive for God!" Instead he admonished them: "Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before. Then people who are not believers will respect the way you live" (1 Thessalonians 4:11–12). Now, this is a passage that's easy to ignore. . . because it sounds so plain and dull (and, let's face it, not much like the stirring Great Commission). And while this "live a quiet life" business certainly isn't the only statement in Scripture on what we should do with our lives, it is a statement of critical importance because your normal, everyday work—your daily tasks, your use of your talents and abilities, your effort—brings glory to God. There's an essential goodness in doing a job well done, in providing for or caring for your family. In the working that leads to a respect-worthy way of living.
The power that's not yours
The more you rely on God's Spirit, even in Normal-town, the more you'll find yourself in opportunities to do things that require the Spirit's power. This is the essence of spiritual gifts: being empowered by the Holy Spirit to do something you may not be able to do on your own. From teaching to leading to showing mercy to making wise decisions, when we minister from our spiritual gifts, we're experiencing a whole different level of "empowerment" as we do God's good work for his good purposes.
Yet even in the arena of spiritual gifts we can easily start to rank some gifts as better than others—like the exciting gifts of evangelism or being a pastor (WOW!) in contrast to the meek, backgroundy gifts like administration or "helps" ( . . . yawn . . .). Yeah, the Corinthians had that problem too. Paul challenged them on their tendency to jockey for position and for perceived spiritual importance. Though Paul said, "eagerly desire the greater gifts" (1 Corinthians 12:31 niv), he then pointed them toward what was actually even greater. Paul continued, "And yet I will show you the most excellent way" and launched right into his amazing treatise on love in 1 Corinthians 13. In this sense, love is the ultimate expression of gifts from the Spirit—the most excellent means of living empowered by God.
The power that's changing you
And, trust me, it takes God's divine power to enable a human to love like this: "Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged" (1 Corinthians 13:5–6). In fact, the real evidence of a Spirit-empowered life isn't how dramatic or exciting or beautiful one's journey or calling seems to be; instead it's in one's character. It's in the gets-no-attention and garners-no-applause way of being where the real power shows up. The power that is at work, changing a selfish, resentful, stubborn woman into one who exhibits "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control" (Galatians 5:22–23). Now that's a kind of empowerment that beats the trendy, orange heels every single time.
In his book The Me I Want to Be, John Ortberg reminds us of a critical truth about Ephesians 2:10: "You are not your handiwork; your life is not your project. Your life is God's project. God thought you up, and he knows what you were intended to be." When we embrace this attitude, we can accept our everyday calling (even if it's as plain-Jane normal as can be) with joy! With gratitude! With a sense of purpose! And with power we find in our reliance on the Holy Spirit.
Rather than viewing our lives as second-fiddle to "amazing women" who seem to be really empowered, gifted, or called, we can choose an entirely different attitude. Ortberg explains, "It is humbling that I cannot be anything I want. I don't get to create myself. I accept myself as God's gift to me and accept becoming that person as God's task set before me."
If these God-given tasks include world travel or missions? Go for it. If your calling means making a difference as a successful leader in your workplace? Do your thing. And if your particular calling is in the realm of average, ordinary, normal? Embrace it.
Rely on the Holy Spirit and live within his power as you humbly serve others, as you love and build up lives, as you aim to live justly, as you strive for excellence and commitment in your daily work, as you employ your spiritual gifts, and as you embody the traits of godly love and the fruit of the Spirit. Though they may not get attention or pack arenas, this is what it looks like to live a life truly empowered by God's Spirit.
Kelli B. Trujillo is a TCW regular contributor. Her Bible study, Enrich Your Marriage, can help both complementarians and egalitarians build healthy relationships. Join her in conversation at KelliTrujillo.com and follow her on Twitter @kbtrujillo.