As mentioned earlier in this series and book, I (Allie Anderson) struggled for years with such words as “inspired” or “enthusiastic.” I found them to be emotional terms by which people would subscribe to the flavor-of-the-month—whatever it may be. But, as the emotion wore off, so did the momentum. It bothered me to watch because it seemed as though an individual never held any capacity of control over his or her own actions; but instead was commanded by the uncontrollable “feeling” which seemed to carry a person to and fro: “like leaves in the wind at the mercy of whither we blow.”[i] Essentially, such words were usually indicative that an individual was on a kick which would lack any real staying-power in one’s life.
So, imagine my position at being asked to help Donna and Nita write this “inspirational” book. The last thing I would ever want to do is foster someone’s short-lived, robust outburst toward any given direction or cause which is not well-thought-out, and possibly not God-ordained, and thus will not last. Vital energetic resources are wasted in such cases, and that would break my heart. So, at this point, I will ask the reader, “Are you inspired?” “Do you feel enthusiastic?” “Excited?” “Impassioned?”
If the answer is an exuberant “yes,” bolstered with a bouncing need to expel this morning’s extra breakfast calories, then I daresay I’m disappointed. Why? Because once your latte has worn off, there’s the chance that it will take with it the drive which currently fuels your purpose.
Unless, you understand what you’re truly saying when you call yourself these things.
Let’s begin by discussing the word “inspire.” During those years when I cringed at the word, I had yet to make the connection to what it really meant, and that was a big game-changer for me.
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Wait a minute—does this passage mean that God got really excited, and giddy, and in His thrilled jitters He threw out something that we use for dogmatic boundaries, rectification, and religious teaching? As silly as it may seem, that’s what I thought when I read this passage as a child. But that assessment doesn’t balance…
Unless inspire means something else. Turns out, it does.
Upon doing an etymological study (which will be vastly truncated here for the sake of space), one will find that the word does have an emotional component at times, but is not limited to this. The mechanics of the word break down as follows: it is built upon the latin prefix in, meaning to put “in or into, on or upon,”[ii] and the latin spiritus. The latter term at times denotes the concept of the sound of moving air: breathing, wind, whistling, or “blowing into” which directly connects the term to the notion of one’s soul. [iii]
According to the Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology, however, the word inspire, when put together, actually takes on a uniquely spiritual element—it is not just emotional state. It defines the word as to “infuse into the mind; impart or suggest by a divine agency…”[iv]
So, when we say that Scripture is inspired by God, and we understand the true meaning of the word, we realize that God breathed His own word into authors who penned according to His instructions through the means provided by His power and authority. It is His essence, exhaled from Himself and put into human beings who become sanctioned to fulfil His directive. It’s strangely similar to when, in Genesis 2:7, God “breathed” (Hebrew nâphach, meaning literally to blow[v]) life into man’s nostrils at the point of his creation.
This was God’s original inspiration into mankind. He filled us with life through the power of His breath. He gave us purpose when He filled our lungs with air. And He empowered those who wrote His Word, carried out His work, and spread His Great Commission with His divine impartation. He alone holds the power to inspire us, to call us, to empower us.
Inspiration is not feeling giddy about a new path, relationship or project. It is not going to a religious camp or conference and listening to a speaker who ramps the crowd up for a week or two. It’s not too much coffee alongside a sugary muffin and a cool, new idea that sounds fun.
And, it should never wear off…
It is the consistent, life-long empowerment to follow what He reveals—including our calling and identity in Him—for as long as there is breath in our lungs.
So, I ask you again: are you feeling inspired? (Now if you say “yes” I will be so happy!)
There are many words that have been rendered the injustice of selling them—and their true meanings—short in our modern society, and thus we miss the depth of that which we claim to be experiencing. If only we knew what power these words could hold in our lives if we understood them and how to use them. There are many examples, and the studies can become very deep, so we will not linger long. However, a few more enlightening definitions may cause the reader to more greatly appreciate the depth of placing such labels upon ourselves. Since we have re-defined one commonly misunderstood term in a way that seems a game-changer, let’s quickly visit a few more:
“I Feel Passionate/Am Impassioned”
While many use the word passion to refer to romantic love or arousal, to be impassioned actually means something much deeper. It is defined by components of suffering and pain, infused with a “powerful affection of the mind,” which, at its origin, referred to the suffering of Jesus on the Cross.[vi] (Because of the connection here between angst and love, this word has since morphed to become a descriptor for emotional, combative outburst.) This term originates, not to describe how one may feel about a romantic interest, but to outline the severity of a self-sacrificing adoration for which One suffers greatly for those He lays His life down for. When we say we follow God with passion, this does not mean that our emotions will always be positive and that we will enjoy the whole experience. It means that—come what may—we remain faithful to Him as Job did: “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him… He also shall be my salvation…” (Job 13:15&16).
“I Feel Enthusiastic”
Enthusiasm is derived from the components en and theos, this word literally means “god-possessed.”[vii] It stands for something more than a cheerleader who shouts loud and makes crisp moves with a bright smile—it means to be completely owned by God and frenzied, zealous, and inspired[viii] toward a God- owned cause. For those who think they have been called toward a purpose, they must understand that to truly be enthusiastic about it means that one is acknowledging that their entire life belongs to God, even when it is unpleasant. I knew a young woman who recently met a man who seemed perfect for her until God revealed to her that he was not the one. She had to make the hurtful decision to let him go. It was an act of faith that God would send another, better match to her when the timing is right. In a conversation with her friend, the comrade was pointing out the young man’s qualities (which were many!), and urging her to reconsider. The lady’s answer was both impassioned with her love for God and enthusiastic by their true meanings, even while her heart was breaking: “I gave God my whole life. The whole thing. He’s telling me that this is not the spouse he has for me. Being with the wrong mate could interrupt the work He has for me down the road, and I can’t risk that. There’s just nothing more to say on the matter.” She understood that her entire duration on this planet is owned by the Almighty, not just her “ministry” segment (true enthusiasm). Out of that knowledge and driven by her love for her Master, she willingly took and suffered that loss (passion).
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW VIDEO:
DO YOU FEEL LIKE A MISFIT? PERFECT! GOD HAS BIG PLANS FOR YOU!
“I’m So Excited”
At its origin, the word excited is not about the euphoric feelings that many perceive it to be, but rather pertains to instigating a desired response. It has components which include prompting urges, stirring up emotions, disturbing or agitating, and even “magnetically or electrically…[stimulating].”[ix] The irony with this word is that it is probably used the most often by people who automatically assume that being excited is a positive thing. But the outcome or direction of the word is completely dependent on the prompting involved. Many are unaware that as a hobby, I (Allie Henson) make lye soap. There is a chemical process that the mixture must undergo, wherein the caustic substance is added to an lard and oil blend at a certain temperature. This is then agitated by a hand blender for a matter of time, after which the liquid begins to solidify and can be poured into molds. After a few days of curing, it reaches a solid state and I proceed to hand it out to friends and family. By agitating this mixture with heat, whipping, and forgetting about it, I have an end product that can be used—by provoking a response through stimulation. Perhaps one would say that I have “excited” a bucket of lard to become something that can serve a purpose. However, to say that this is a euphoric experience is incorrect. When we say we are excited about what God is doing in our lives, it is vital that we remember this word points to an outcome—not an emotion. We must remember our commitment to said excitement when the transformation begins to push us out of our comfort zone and into something He can use.
God Built His Kingdom for Misfits
A strange dichotomy can be observed amongst those who believe Scripture to be true, but still somehow feel they cannot be used of God. It is observed through the notion that we readily believe that God used imperfect people in ancient history, but that we are somehow exempt from this potential. If there are outcasts and oddballs all throughout Scripture that the Lord used for His eternal glory despite their innumerable human failures, then why do Christians today struggle with feeling they can be used the same way? Why do so many appear to respond to the calling on their lives with, “Surely, you’re not calling me, Lord… You must be looking for my brother Aaron, right?” What’s the hang-up?
Many pessimistic (but sadly accurate) reflections on this problem could be offered, stemming from laziness, to apathy, to the fact that many Christians can’t seem to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit above the staticky din of their busy lives. However, for others, there’s an almost unexplainable disconnect between believers in the modern world and those imperfect people He called forth in Scripture. If He could use them, why wouldn’t He exact unbelievable miracles through us? What’s stopping us from jumping into action and watching as mountainous movements of God heals our land and erupts in revivals and Great Awakenings?
One theory is worthy of mentioning here.
The Over-Perfecting of the Saints
Ever heard of a “hagiography”? Or, have you ever heard a sermon or a presentation by one of those I-want-to-sound-smart personalities, and suddenly he or she slips phrases like “according to the hagiographical accounts of St. Peter” into the teaching without offering any explanation? (These authors have noticed this word is one of those that nearly half of scholars assume their audience is already familiar with, and the others don’t stop to explain it, which is annoying.) As fancy as the term sounds, it’s easy to understand. A “hagiography” is a biography of the saints in extrabiblical history—i.e., whatever happened in the lives of the men and women of the New Testament (or important leaders of the early Church). These texts often cover the saint’s past, additional details surrounding their response to the call into ministry, miracles or major events during their peak years that the Bible doesn’t record, and frequently their eventual martyrdom.
At times, the evidence backing up these stories is sizeable enough to take a little more seriously than others. One example that Howell brought up in her previous work, The Handmaidens Conspiracy, was of the woman at the well from John 4. According to her biographers, after the face-to-face with Jesus that changed her forever, this Samaritan woman was baptized by the apostles and renamed Photini (“light” or “enlightened one”). Following the Ascension, Jesus came to her in a dream and inspired her to boldly head straight for Rome, wherein she proceeded to witness Christ to Emperor Nero, in person, regardless of any threat of death. Nero, angered by such an act and unable to intimidate her, ordered that Photini (and those with her) be tortured. For hours, unthinkable acts of torture were attempted against Photini and her cohorts, but to no avail. (For instance, when Nero ordered their hands to be smashed with iron rods for an hour, Photini calmly sat quoting from the Psalms, and nobody in her group could be injured no matter how hard Nero’s men tried.) Afterward, Photini refused to denounce Christ in exchange for unthinkable wealth and treasures that would have been bestowed upon her and her company by Nero’s daughter, Domnina. Instead, Domnina’s offering of riches provided the opportunity for Photini’s assembly to witness, and Domnina accepted Christ and was baptized on the spot, along with a hundred or so of her palace servants and a sorceress who had been brought in to poison Photini. Nero, enraged at the news of his daughter’s conversion, ordered Photini and her people to be burned alive, but they could not be harmed. Nor did any injury befall them when they were subsequently lined up and forced to drink poison in the presence of the emperor. Nero, in desperation and running out of ideas, threw the lot of them into prison to rot, never thinking that Photini would then proceed to convert all the prison guards and scores of Romans who, out of mere curiosity, went to visit this woman who Nero could not kill.
This “other side to the story” regarding the Samaritan woman is documented in Eastern Orthodox tradition, writings of the Church Fathers, historians and biographers of the Byzantine era, and ancient Greek sermons from the fourth to the fourteenth century. Because of the span of years and number of people/witnesses from varying geographical regions who all claimed these events were true, there may actually be some (or a lot of) truth behind this story. On the other hand, since it’s extrabiblical, we cannot know for sure that any of it is, and no believer should put all of their faith in God into something outside the Word. On the other other hand, no texts or documents hold the same authority as Scripture, yet many historical documents (including biographies) are true. (It cracks these authors up when believers get nervous about reading extrabiblical, noncanonical texts regarding Bible events or characters on the grounds that they aren’t in the Bible and are therefore automatically suspect…but these same believers will pick up a biography of Albert Einstein—also extrabiblical information—and not even think to question whether Einstein’s biographer was romanticizing a portion of his life. If a person can bring themselves to believe the miracles of the Bible, there is nothing shocking about the idea that Jesus inspired a radical female minister who lived to see miracles similar to what occurred around the apostles in the New Testament.) Either way, true or false, this story of “Saint Photini” is what is known as a “hagiography.”
Granted, many (though not all) of these documents are suspect anyway, as they are sometimes traced to biased record-keeping of the earlier Roman Catholic Church whose political and social agenda at the time was power and domination, and therefore mass manipulation. Hagiographies assisted religious leaders in this goal, and it kinda makes sense, even though it’s tragic deceit at its worst. The hagiography of an early-Church saint who was flawlessly pious, morally perfect, great in charity and less in pride (and so on and so forth; flowery words) could climax in some grand act that would then be championed by the Roman Church in support of whatever scheme she was brewing that season… Consider it the influential “fake news” memes of the early Church leading up to the Protestant Reformation. For instance: If an early pope wanted to sell indulgences (these, literally, are monies given to papal leadership in exchange for the absolving of sin and less punishment in the purgatorial afterlife scenario), he would never find support for such an evil thing in the Bible unless he was willing to twist Scripture (which some of them did). However, he could easily make up the words or actions of a saint from a totally fake biography to set an example about the sales of indulgences and sway the masses with a sort of, “If the holy Saint Peter did [fill in the blank], then it must be fine” stance. (Additionally, many of the events described in the hagiographies of other saints aren’t verifiable in any other historical texts outside the hagiography itself, which casts doubt on the credibility of the story.)
But aside from suspicious origins, papal manipulations, and lack of proof, unfortunately, the hagiographical accounts of the saints are often perceivable as the fabricated imaginings of a poorhouse scribe because they tend to paint pictures of unrealistically perfect people: Men and women who are impeccably spotless to the point that they defy the fallen nature plaguing every human since Adam and Eve.
Any mistakes they may have made over the course of their lives are either whitewashed away completely, or become the pinnacle event by which the rest of their lives are launched into tales of religious success; which, in its own way, likewise memorializes any human blunders under the always-justified header of “yeah, this guy totally blew it! But it’s good, because look how God used him next!” In hindsight, we are able to see God’s redemption. The deed has been forgiven and its aftermath used for the good of God’s plan for the individual’s life, so the act of sin itself is diminished. Yet, as human beings traversing the course of time, we are not afforded such a perspective during our own lives: we are experiencing this in real time—not as rendered by a historical media printed a hundred years after our deaths, when our own mistakes would be diminished and weighed against the positive output of our own lives. It’s often said that an artist is not appreciated until he or she passes away. The same is true of the glorification of these people who once walked the earth just like you, myself, and every other flawed human being seeking to navigate the awkward, painful, and challenging course of life.
I was talking one day with my husband about the crafty art of hagiography and how it has impacted people’s view of lofty religious characters, when he said, “The Roman Catholics introduced a standard that was unmatchable and even unobtainable. So, today’s saints are misled to believe that we shouldn’t even try. What chance do we [who see the world in real-time, as I just explained] have to be like those saints? These records must be describing somebody else…”
For some bizarre and unexplainable reason, we occasionally hear someone say they find the Bible hard to believe because the characters within it are such a mess. From Adam forward, just about every key person in the Word, at one point or another, knowingly participates in some horrible act of sin against God, which oftentimes also inflicts pain or calamity on those around the offender. These men and women of the Bible are so frequently the opposite of good behavioral examples. The Bible is supposed to be a moral compass, but its central characters—whose lives and decisions we’re expected to learn from—can’t even conform to the holiness standards within itself. How can the “Word of God,” the very revelation of God’s perfect nature and will to humankind, be told through a bunch of reckless sinners?
Derek Gilbert’s favorite response to this can be heard floating through the air right about now… “Anything less would present a historical record of human nature that could never be believed. Actually, it argues for the authenticity of the Bible that many of its central characters are part-time reprobates.”
However, at the end of the day, there is no denying that our Lord chose regular, human individuals with regular, human problems and weaknesses to accomplish great things for His Kingdom.
God chose the misfit, the outcast, the awkward, and even the sinful to become those whose lives were transformed to holiness and eventually memorialized in Scripture precisely because they would seem the least likely for such ambitions. It is in their flawed humanity that these people are relatable and even familiar to us.
Many of us have personalities that can be compared directly to one of these Biblical examples which are now elevated in such realms as our churches or Bible studies as great examples of God’s power working through everyday people. We identify their character traits in ourselves—how we calculate decisions, what passions we have, our quick ability to doubt when we should have faith, and even when we blow a gasket in anger or cry over something that touches our heart.
Consider, even those twelve misfits that Jesus surrounded Himself during His days on earth. We struggle just as they sometimes did, and yet these were the ones who lived in close proximity with Jesus, witnessed His death and resurrection, were given the Great Commission first-hand, (Matthew 28:19), and most of whom were eventually martyred for this cause after launching the most revolutionary and world-changing new religion the world has ever seen. Perhaps we face overwhelming odds in life and, in that moment, feel a touch of Peter-like fear such as that he manifested on the night of Christ’s arrest that contributed to his denial of the precious Messiah (Matthew 26:33–35; Mark 14:29–31; Luke 22:33–34; John 18:15–27). Maybe, on occasion when we experience rejection, we, too, throw out a kneejerk reaction similar to the time James and John asked Jesus if they should call fire down from heaven to consume a town that didn’t show them hospitality (Luke 9:54). Or, possibly, we have “pulled a Thomas” once or twice in the past when the Bible doesn’t align with our expectations and we, too, demand satisfying proofs from God before we can accept what testimony He has provided through His Word (John 20:25). Each of these had to make a conscientious decision to set their humanity aside and plough straight into what they have been called to do for the Messiah, and the result was the eventual launch and growth of the largest religion in the world—all for the most part stemming from the tenacity of twelve regular guys.
Although some readers might know the basics regarding the Twelve, there may be some who are newer to the subject, so I will include this as a friendly reminder here… Ahem…
The disciples were not theologians!
Jesus didn’t have “a type” when He called these men. They spanned a wide variety of social classes and societal credentials as well: everything from tax collectors to zealots to fishermen to tradesmen to craftsmen and all in between. He absolutely could have chosen to empower from on high only twelve rabbis, or even some more powerful names from the Sanhedrin. Don’t think it isn’t possible…and don’t kid yourself for a moment that this fact isn’t enormously important. The interest that the Sanhedrin’s own Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea had taken in Jesus shows that Christ could have easily handpicked wealthy, respectable theologians of His day to represent Him and inaugurate the fledgling Church. The fact that He didn’t is crucial. God, Himself, in the flesh, specifically sought out and called those who were not scholars, theologians, rabbis, scribes, or any kind of textual experts. As one scholar puts it: “The propagation of the gospel and the founding of the church hinged entirely on twelve men whose most outstanding characteristic was their ordinariness.”[x] This same scholar points out a page or two later that, within the three years’ ministry of Christ—the disciples’ calling of which took place almost exactly at the midway point—the disciples received less than half the training time under Christ as a modern seminary degree before they were released on their own to spread the Good News to the ends of the earth.
There appears to be an attitude of exclusion in today’s world against anyone who wants to join a discussion on biblical topics but who doesn’t have ten seminary degrees behind his or her name. (And if the person is a “her,” the oppressive spirit becomes twice as hard to fight against in many religious circles where Scripture is still erroneously being interpreted to oppose women teachers, preachers, pastors, etc. I dealt at length with this issue in my former book, Handmaidens Conspiracy.) We see this online a lot: Someone will post a YouTube video about a Bible verse (or something similar) and online trolls will be quick to question why this person felt qualified to say a word when their expertise is in another field. And whereas it is very important that every true disciple of Christ is careful what he or she says about the Lord’s Word (the responsibility we take to know the Word before we speak about it is a heavy burden, indeed!), the opposite approach—that one must be officially trained as a minister in some official capacity before he or she can be effective—is unnecessarily limiting, and the Bible is filled with men and women who prove this point.
It’s crucial that we make this point: every Christian has been called into ministry or service of some type. If you have been doubting this, then pretty-please-with-a-cherry-on-top, wipe all of that from your thoughts and start over by looking at Who was present at the true beginning: the almighty, all-powerful Ruler over every force in the cosmos. And, He made a personal appearance to offer salvation and empower His followers here on earth.
Followers like you and me. Regular, everyday people. Do you get my drift yet? The Church Jesus came to build is made up of average, flawed, non-seminary, non-theologian folks whose lives were as imperfect as yours and mine are.
That following started as twelve average men. That’s it. Jesus was Himself a rabbi, so He was personally viewed as an expert of the Scriptures, but the Twelve were not. Nor, by the way, were they masterful orators. They weren’t trained philosophers, and none of them held any special education in the art of challenge and riposte so expected from the great Greek-cultured minds of that day. Even Jesus personally acknowledged that His disciples were less familiar with the Scripture than they should have been, and that deficit impacted how “slow” they were at recognizing what the prophets of old had said would be regarding His death and suffering (Luke 24:25–27). Let this stand as a shining example as to why you, yourself—whether you be male, female, boss, or employee (c.f. Galatians 3:28)—do not have to be an expert on the Bible or have any background in the art of speech to be used mightily of God in the area of your calling.
You could be an individual like any one of the Twelve who, ordinary as they may have been, “turned the world upside down” for the sake of the Gospel (Acts 17:6).
UP NEXT: Cornelius: The Roman-Centurion-Orphan-Misfit Who Changed Church-Growth History
[i] Murphy, Jack, lyrics. Wildhorn, Frank, composer. As recorded by Linda Eder, vocalist. Gold. New York, NY: Right Track Studios. 2002.
[ii] Smith, William. A complete Etymology of the English Language. 1867. New York, Cincinnati, Chigago: American Book Company, p. 52.
[iii] Ayto, John. Dictionary of Word Origins.1990. New York, NY: Arcade
Publishing, p. 494.
[iv] “Inspire.” Onions, C.T., editor. The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. Oxford, Great Britain: University Press, p. 477.
[v] Strong’s H5301, Blue Letter Bible Online, last accessed July 26, 2021, https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/h5301/kjv/wlc/0-1/.
[vi] “Passion.” Onions, C.T., editor. The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. Oxford, Great Britain: University Press, p. 656.
[vii] Barnhart, Robert, editor. The Barnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology. 1995. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers, p. 245.
[viii] “enthusiasm” Chambers Dictionary of Etymology. New York, NY: Chambers Harrap Publishers, LTD, p. 333.
[ix] “excite” Chambers Dictionary of Etymology. New York, NY: Chambers Harrap Publishers, LTD, p. 352.
[x] MacArthur, J. F., Jr., Twelve Ordinary Men: How the Master Shaped His Disciples for Greatness, and What He Wants to Do with You (Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group [a division of Thomas Nelson]; 2002), xiii.