Friday, July 08, 2005

"Faithful Women": My interview with Noel Piper

"God uses the weak things"

"I think one of the reasons there are so many stories of people in the Bible is that we learn by seeing what happens in other people's lives. God could have just given us a book of teachings, but but he gave us a lot of people's stories."--
Noel Piper

CINDY: I recently read a book that both blessed me and really challenged me in my walk with Christ. That book was Faithful Women and their Extraordinary God, by Noel Piper. The book tells the stories of five Christian women who faced difficulty and sacrifice, and the amazing things that God did through them. And I'm delighted to have as my guest today the author of that book, Noel Piper. Noel, welcome to Weekend Rockford.

NOEL: Thank you, I'm glad to be here.

CINDY: I know that you are a pastor's wife, and that you are the wife of John Piper of Desiring God ministries. Noel, tell me a little about yourself and your family and your husband and your ministry.

NOEL: Well, we have five children--four grown-up boys who are all married, our youngest just got married this spring, and a nine-year-old daughter who I home school. She's at camp this week for the first time ever, so we have an empty house, unusually.(laughing)

We're at Bethlehem Baptist Church (Minneapolis, Minnesota), and we're celebrating our 25th anniversary this year of my husband being one of the pastors there, the preaching pastor.

CINDY: Noel, this book--I've got to tell you--it's just really impacted me. I remarked to myself that it's been a long, long time since I read a book that so impacted me spiritually, I've got to tell you that. I sat there reading just in awe and amazement--

NOEL: Well, that's a real answer to my prayers for what the book would be.

CINDY: Not only is it an entertaining book in its way, in the fact that it tells fascinating stories that you just want to keep reading, but it really impacted me because all of these women that you profile--Sarah Edwards, Lillias Trotter, Gladys Aylward, Esther Ahn Kim and Helen Roseveare--I had heard snippets about all of these women and read snippets about them, but reading their entire stories just honestly blew me away, they were so amazing.

What led you to write a book about Christian women of the past?

NOEL: For several years now I've been each year focusing on one woman that I would do research on and find her story to prepare to tell to the women at our church in a special summer Sunday School class. And then I find myself when I'm speaking at retreats, whatever the Biblical topic is I'm speaking about, one of the sessions would be, I would use one of these biographies as a lived-out example of what we were talking about.

Because I think one of the reasons there are so many stories of people in the Bible is that we learn by seeing what happens in other people's lives. God could have just given us a book of teachings, but but he gave us a lot of people's stories.

And so, there are people after the Bible as well--we can just look at the people next to us, for that matter, to see how God is working, and sometimes we can see it more clearly in somebody else's life than can in our own.

Sarah Edwards

CINDY: Let's just take a look at some of the women in particular. Sarah Edwards was the wife of Jonathan Edwards--best known, probably, for his sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"--

NOEL: Ah, but so much more than that (laughing).

But so much more than that, you're right...and the profile you give of Sarah really gives us a lot of insight into Jonathan as well. This woman raised 11 children. She died at the age of 48, which is the age I am, which touched me right there. But one thing you point out, and I had heard this before, but the descendants of Jonathan and Sarah, according to a study that was done by a man comparing two different families--their descendants just did remarkable things. Can you kind of share that?

Well, I list here in the book, all the pastors, teachers, government officials, authors, missionaries "by the droves"--this was in 1900, so about 150 years after Sarah and Jonathan were living.

One biographer says, "Can there be any other mother in America who has contributed so much to America?" and I take that--not that I'll ever have as many descendants as Sarah Edwards, for one thing (chuckling)--but as an encouragement.

She was just drudging along every day, doing things that took a lot more effort for her to do than for me to do, and she had no way of knowing how God was going to use that in the lives of her children and on through the years.

Esther Ahn Kim

CINDY: One of the stories that impacted me the most, I think, was the one of Esther Ahn Kim, because she endured amazing amount of persecution that there's no way we as Americans could ever identify with. Tell us a little about her story.

She's Korean--she's dead now, but she lived at the time of the Japanese occupation of Korea. And the burning issue for Christians then was whether to bow at the Shinto shrines, which was required by the Japanese in their country. She refused, and she was a teacher in a school, so that made her a leader of sorts.

So she was imprisoned for six years. And one of the things that really struck me was how much Scripture she had just right at the tip of her mind's tongue to speak to herself--not time to pull a Bible out, or look up in a concordance, "Where's that verse about what?" And so, I think that's one of the powerful things about her story is the power of Scripture that is hidden away in our hearts.

One thing that I think we can all gain encouragement from is the fact that none of these women were really remarkable women in their own right--well, of course, Helen Roseveare was a doctor, but you know, most of them were just ordinary women.

Gladys Aylward, in fact was deemed too uneducated to be approved as a missionary by the China Inland Mission. Tell us a litte about Gladys; her story is amazing as well.

Gladys Aylward

NOEL: She was a parlour maid. She decided she felt God was calling her to China. She had about two cents and her Bible, not much more than that. But she said God said to her, "I'm the God of Nehemiah, I'm the God of Moses; if I can do for them, I can do for you." And so she just saved up her money and went to China on her own.

That is truly a story of how God uses the weak things. I really see that as a theme through this book.

They were women who didn't think of themselves as doing anything extraordinary. They were what 2nd Corinthians says "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." That would be a main theme of all these stories. It's God who is powerful.

CINDY: was actually God doing these amazing things through these women.

What do you hope that we as Christians, and particularly Christian women, take away from reading the stories of these women?

NOEL: I'm glad there are five stories in this book, because I think it will be different for different women.

For someone who reads Gladys Aylward's story, it might be an encouragement that ou don't have to have a college degree in order for God to do great things.

For Sarah Edwards' story, it might be that you don't have to be away from home doing things out in the world; you can be doing the daily mundane things, wiping noses and dirty bottoms and whatever, and God is using you through that and doing His work through that.

For Helen Roseveare, who was a doctor in Congo, she felt inadequate almost entirely because she didn't feel like she was trained specifically for the kind of work she was called to do, but she saw God working through her weakness as well. She underwent terror and attack during the revolution that was happening there, and she saw God saying, "They're not attacking you, they're attacking Me."

So, each of these stories is for a different woman in a way, although I hope they're all for all of us.

CINDY: A couple of the things that I took away from the book was that every single one of these women--and it sounds so basic--but reading God's word and praying were just major in their lives...

Absolutely necessary.

CINDY: ...And then just the power of prayer in all of these women's lives, how they just relied on that so much.

NOEL: Here's another thing that I would hope women would see from this. What I see in my life and the women around me, is that the women who want to be the best mothers, the women who are most involved in ministry, are the ones for whom it is the very hardest to find the regular time in God's word and praying. And we are the ones who need it most--I mean, if it can be said anybody needs God more than somebody else. But here are women whose lives dictated against them having any time in God's word, and yet, it was crucial to them.


Noel tells me that there will probably be a sequel to Faithful Women and Their Extraordinary God. She says she'd like white modern-day Christians to see how God has used women of different colors and cultures, like the first single female missionary from the United States, a freed slave named Betsy Stockton.

You may want to check out Noel's other books:

Treasuring God in Our Traditions

and a children's book, Most of All, God Loves You

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