Here’s the Short Version: Read This Book.
There are different kinds of books in the Christian world. There are the worship books, like Knowing God by J.I. Packer; books that set the manifold beauty of the Lord on display and draw your heart to behold and wonder. There are the paradigm shifters, like Desiring God by John Piper; books that make you stop and think and think and think some more. There are the deep books: the systematic theologies, Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, various commentaries and sermon collections that, like old, wise friends teach and explain and call us ever upward into the limitless glory and unshakable truth of God. And then, there are the Just Do It books. Personal. Practical. Pointed. Oh there is beauty, and there is truth, and there even might be a paradigm shift or two; but for the most part, these books are like physical therapists. They help you to evaluate your weaknesses and point out exercises you can do to grow strong.
That is, in essence, the point of Mary Kassian’s book The Right Kind of Strong: Surprisingly Simple Habits of a Spiritually Strong Woman. God wants His people, He wants His daughters to be strong, mature, grounded and growing, in faith, in wisdom, in truth, and in godliness.
In 2 Timothy 3:6, Paul warns the women in the Ephesian Church against six traits that were hamstringing their pursuit of a strong godly life. Kassian uses these six traits as the framework for her book. In each chapter, she unpacks what the weakness is and what it looks like and, more importantly, how to replace it with strength.
- Complacency gets replaced with Vigilance
- Captivity turns into Renewal
- Guilt and Shame are drowned in Confession and Forgiveness
- Emotionalism is reined in, engaged, and managed through Obedience
- Stagnation gives way to Growth
- And Susceptibility is toughened through Discernment
Pulling from Paul’s epistles, from Peter, and from James, Kassian lays out a spiritual workout plan to strengthen the believer’s soul. She calls each trait a habit because they’re meant to be habitual: small steps of obedience, little questions to ask in the moment, guiding truths that target the weaknesses we are susceptible to on our walk with the Lord.
If Bible reading and prayer and fellowship are the steak, potatoes, and green beans of the Christian life, think of these traits as your daily multi-vitamin. They don’t replace, they supplement.
Chains and Lies
Each of Kassian’s chapters focuses on a weak link in a weak chain that makes a weak woman. Last October, two of these weak links broke in my own life as God brought me to confront and confess several deep and ongoing sin patterns. Coming alongside me in my crisis, Anne Baker gave me this book and suggested that I work through the chapters on dealing with guilt (ch 4, "Ditch the Baggage") and emotionalism (ch 5, "Manage Your Emotions").
But because I am a former homeschooler AND a major overachiever AND book crazy, I started with the introduction. And realized that I needed to read the whole book.
Replacing one or two weak links in a weak chain of weakness isn’t going to make the chain strong. Every single link must be examined, cut out, and replaced, because each area of weakness flows out of and flows into another. My weakness to be ruled by sinful emotions and desires were fed by wrong thoughts (ch 2, "Master Your Mind") and reinforced by pharisaical hypocrisy (ch 6, "Walk the Talk"). My overwhelming guilt and shame about my sin were based on lies I brought past the gateway of my soul (ch 1, "Catch the Creeps") and instead of fighting them with biblical truth (ch 7, "Stand Your Ground") I was sabotaging myself, believing the lie that if I didn’t do well enough, God would stop forgiving me.
Sisters, that is a lie. If you have put your faith in Jesus Christ as your only Savior; if you believe that He is the only begotten Son of God, born and crucified and resurrected; if you believe that He offers full and free forgiveness to you; if you believe that He will cover and remove your sins through His sacrifice on the cross, you are saved. You are forgiven. You are free from your slavery to sin and shame and guilt. You are adopted as a child of God, never to be cast out. You are full of God’s own Spirit, His Presence, His Power. His Strength.
And that is the last link in the chain: Replacing self reliance, which is the essence of all other weakness, with dependence on God, which is the source of all your strength.
"Cast Yourself on Jesus"
Kassian weaves this gospel call of “Cast Yourself on Jesus” into every chapter. Be vigilant against sin by running to Jesus. Renew your thought life by putting on the mind of Christ. Dump your guilt and sin and shame at the foot of His cross and be free! Freely experience emotions and desires in a way that honors and follows after your savior. Freely obey, not from a cringing fear of rejection and punishment, but from a joy-filled knowledge that Jesus’s sacrifice has removed all judgement and Jesus’s righteousness has met all the criteria and Jesus’s Spirit is alive and at work in you to draw you ever onward into holiness. Listen to His words and believe Him over and against all the twisted lies of the enemy. Rest in His strength.
It is only, ever, always Jesus. Through Him, we can obey the call to “Clothe [ourselves] in strength and make [our] arms strong” (Prov 31:17). Jesus says to our anxious hearts “Be strong! Fear not! Behold, your God will come and save you” (Isa 35:4). He is the reason we can “Be strong and very courageous. Do not be frightened, do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you, wherever you go” (Josh 1:9).
Paul’s letter to Timothy was full of wisdom for the young pastor. Warnings to keep the gospel central, to hold Scripture as the highest authority, to grow in personal holiness, to preach and keep preaching the good news of Jesus Christ. Sandwiched in between is warning against false teachers who “opposed the truth... corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith (2 Tim 3:8). These false teachers were targeting the “weak women” in the Ephesian church. Why? Why the women? I think it is because women are relational gatekeepers for our households. God has generally designed us as women to be bridge builders, connecting with those around us, living life with and loving on and influencing our households. If Satan can influence us, how many other people will also be affected? Kassian writes:
Mama Bear is the perceiver, the watcher, the snoop, the detective, the weeper, the burden-carrier, the pray-er, the checker-outer of girlfriends and boyfriends and best friends. That’s the way we’re wired.
You don’t have to have a husband and kids to be the mama of a household. Your household may be your volleyball team, Sunday school class, sorority, coworkers, the women in your recovery group, or your nursing home. It may be your nieces and nephews or neighbors.
Think carefully about the people in your life who you have some influence over. God wants you to take up your mantle of Mama Bear and start looking after your household. Watch out for the [creeping negative influences] in their lives. Be a strong woman. Do what you can to protect and warn and persuade them about the danger. (emphasis added)
Sisters, there is a war going on for your heart and mind and the hearts and minds of every person around you. You must be strong. You must be the right kind of strong. You must daily exercise the habits, vigilance, renewal, confession, obedience, growth, discernment, and dependence on the Lord through bible reading, prayer, christian fellowship, fasting, memorization, and learning and applying truth. Kassian’s book is a resource, and one that I highly recommend, to help you grow in your spiritual strength.
Finally, [sisters] be strong in the Lord and the strength of His might. Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand in the evil day. And having done all, stand firm. (Eph 6:10-13)