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Betsie ten Boom always had a special gift for creating beauty. Her family did not have much money, but somehow through the years Betsie always managed to add a sparkle of loveliness and warmth to each room in their house. Friends and strangers alike felt a calming sense of order and peace whenever they visited the ten Boom home.
That changed abruptly on the day that Betsie and several of her family members were arrested by the Gestapo for helping Jews. Betsie and her sister Corrie were placed into a dank Nazi prison for several months before being transferred to a German concentration camp. The ten Boom house sat cold and empty, devoid of the hospitality and welcome that Betsie had so lovingly created there.
Corrie and Betsie were separated in prison, and for many weeks Corrie wondered how her sister — who had always loved color and flowers and beautiful things — was handling the lifeless, gray prison cell to which she was now confined. One day Corrie was taken through a hallway of the prison and happened to catch a brief glimpse of the cell where Betsie was staying. She was amazed by what she saw.
“Unbelievably, against all logic, the cell was charming,” Corrie wrote. “The straw pallets were rolled instead of piled in a heap, standing like little pillars among the walls, each with a lady’s hat atop it. A headscarf had somehow been hung on the wall. The contents of several food packages were arranged on a small shelf. Even the coats hanging on their hooks were part of the welcome of that room, each sleeve draped over the shoulder of the coat next to it like a row of dancing children.”
Betsie’s example of creating beauty and order in a drab prison cell is a powerful reminder that when our soul is rightly ordered, our outward life reflects the same — no matter what our circumstances. Whether we are in a cold, dark cell, a crowded dorm room, a dingy apartment, or a comfortable home — any place we find ourselves can become a sanctuary of peace when the Spirit of Christ is there.
I have heard some women argue that the idea of creating order is merely for those who happen to have the knack for organizing and decorating — and that the rest of us should just accept chaos in our lives. But I disagree.
I believe that Elisabeth Elliot expressed it perfectly when she wrote, “The way you keep your house, the way you organize your time, the care you take in your personal appearance, the things you spend your money on, all speak loudly about what you believe. The beauty of thy peace shines forth in an ordered life. A disordered life speaks loudly of disorder in the soul.”
Not everyone appreciates this principle. I remember posting this quote on our ministry Facebook page and receiving some angry backlash. One woman responded, “These words only put unhealthy pressure on women and make them feel like they aren’t good enough!”
With the social media craze in full swing, it’s all too easy to start comparing ourselves to others and feel like we’re always falling short in one area or another. Whether it’s viewing spectacular creativity on Pinterest, observing domestic divas whose homes seem to run flawlessly, or measuring our decorating abilities against a Martha Stewart Living magazine, the temptation to become insecure about our own skills is never ending. We’ve all seen examples of women who make an idol out of organization, personal style, or homemaking — finding their identity in perfectionism and making everyone around them feel inferior. As a result, it can be tempting to forsake the idea of adding any kind of order and beauty to our home or lifestyle, and instead embrace the “just be real” slogan and let slobbish behavior reign.
But God’s pattern for womanhood is one of excellence and diligence, not sloppiness and chaos. A study of Proverbs 31 reveals a woman who is vigilant and watchful over the ways of her home, attentive to the needs of those under her care, energetic and hard-working, and purposeful about creating a beautiful and orderly life.
In recent years, I’ve noticed more and more Christian women snubbing the idea of becoming a Proverbs 31 woman — especially in the area of building an orderly life. One time a woman sarcastically told me, “I’ll become the Proverbs 31 woman just as soon as I get all those Proverbs 31 maids!”
A popular Christian book for women seeks to “release” us from the notion that we are called to rise up to the standards of the Proverbs 31 woman. The author writes, “We are all living in the shadow of that infamous icon, ‘The Proverbs 31 Woman’ whose life is so busy I wonder, when does she have time for friendships, for taking walks, or reading good books? Her light never goes out at night? ... Somehow she has sanctified the shame most women live under, biblical proof that yet again we don’t measure up.”
Because of these prevalent ideas, countless women are swinging to the opposite extreme of what is portrayed in Proverbs 31 — embracing and even celebrating chaos in every area of our their lives. For example, young moms are being led to believe that having a messy home is what leads to well-adjusted kids. While shopping for Christmas gifts online, I came across a decorative sign that read, “Good moms have sticky floors, laundry piles, and happy kids!” A popular international ministry for young moms recently developed the motto “A Beautiful Mess” for their year’s theme.
But it’s not just young moms who are being targeted with the message that “chaos is good!” Many churches are promoting the idea that chaos in our spiritual lives is healthy and normal. Rather than expecting order and peace in our inner life, we are told that defeat, mediocrity, doubt, and depression are par for the course in every Christian’s life. Instead of being exhorted to bring our emotions under the control of God’s Spirit, we are taught that anger, fear, jealousy, and cynicism should be expressed and even given a stage.
“Spiritualized chaos” is what defines much of modern Christianity. Whether in our spiritual lives, our emotional lives, or our physical lives, disorder is being accepted, welcomed, and applauded.
What a different picture from the joyful serenity and heavenly loveliness reflected in Betsie ten Boom’s prison cell. Betsie had every reason — circumstantially speaking — to let frustration, anger, defeat, depression, and chaos rule in her soul and in her outward environment. Yet she chose a different pattern — God’s pattern. Betsie allowed the light, joy, peace, and order of Jesus Christ to transform her from the inside out, and it affected everything about her life—from her countenance, to her words, to the very atmosphere of beauty she created in the prison cell.
This is the kind of well-ordered life to which we are called as daughters of the King. It’s not a worldly, self-focused perfectionism where we stress about how organized our closet is or how perfectly coordinated our outfits are. Rather, it’s a joyful yielding to God’s Spirit — allowing His order and peace to come cascading through our lives, even when our circumstances are difficult or frustrating. When we surrender our lives completely to Him, every aspect of our lifestyle will begin to reflect His nature, just as Betsy’s did.
Katherine Howard, the mother of Elisabeth Elliot, once wrote about the biblical importance of cultivating order in our homes: “There is a great deal of talk these days about having things unstructured. Just how can a Christian make this jibe with such Scriptures as ‘Let everything be done decently and in order’ (1 Cor. 14:40), or with a careful study of God’s creation? What would happen to the galaxies if they were unstructured? Certainly there should be order in the home.”
All we must do is look outside to realize that God loves order and beauty. “Chaos” is not something He cultivates or celebrates, either in His creation or in His Word. That is not to say there isn’t laughter and spontaneity in God’s Kingdom. Godly order doesn’t mean stiffness and prim, prissy behavior. Rather, having godly order in our lives helps us make time for the things that are truly important — winning souls, deepening our relationship with Him, serving others, and practicing hospitality. It’s nearly impossible to have an effective quiet time with the television blaring. It’s difficult to build meaningful relationships in a room piled with dirty laundry. It’s challenging to be hospitable to others when your guests can’t walk across your floor without tripping over clutter. This doesn’t mean our homes or dorm rooms need to look like magazine covers or Pinterest boards in order to reflect God’s beauty and order. It simply means we should look around at the ways in which we can honor God’s priorities in our daily lives and living environments.
Did Jesus live an orderly life when He was here on this earth? Scripture makes it clear that His life was not haphazard and chaotic, but peacefully disciplined and rightly organized around God’s priorities. No matter how busy He was or how many multitudes came to him, He guarded time for prayer. The Bible says that He often rose up early in the morning and went to a mountain alone to pray (see Mark 1:45, 6:46). He was also purposeful about cultivating rest and meaningful time alone with his disciples (see Mark 6:31). Jesus was also orderly with regard to practical things. When He fed the five thousand, it wasn’t a chaotic “free for all” type of scene. Rather, He told His disciples to have the multitude sit down in groups, and had them distribute the food in a calm and orderly way. Afterwards, He instructed them to gather up the leftovers so nothing would be wasted. When Jesus left the tomb after He had rose again, He even took time to fold the grave clothes that had been covering his head (see John 20:7). All of these little details speak of the value He placed on doing everything “decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:40).
If our Lord values both spiritual and physical orderliness, should we not also treat order as important in our own lives?
This can seem easier in some circumstances than others. When I had four children ages four and under, with three in diapers at once, having an orderly life felt next to impossible. Even now, managing six children along with the demands of full-time ministry, there are many days when I am tempted to shrug my shoulders in defeat and allow chaos to reign. But I have found that no matter how chaotic my life may feel, there is always supernatural grace to embrace godly order if I am willing to receive it.
In fact, that is the secret to the Proverbs 31 woman’s ability to live a seemingly impossible lifestyle — relying on God’s enabling grace and not her own wisdom and willpower. Proverbs 31:10 (KJV) says, “Who can find a virtuous woman?” The word virtuous here is actually a masculine noun that means “strength, might, valor, and power.” It’s the very same word that is used to describe the valiance of David when the Lord chose Him to be Israel’s mighty king: “I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, who is … a mighty man of valor, a man of war … and the Lord is with him” (1 Sam. 16:18).
The chief word used to describe the Proverbs 31 woman is the word strength. It’s mentioned no less than three times throughout the chapter (in addition to the “virtuous, valiant” opening description). Contrary to what some modern Christian voices insinuate, the Proverbs 31 woman is not harried and haggard, never having time to slow down and take care of herself. It says that “she makes coverings for herself; her clothing is fine linen and purple … Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she smiles at the future" (Prov. 31:22,25, NASB). That doesn’t sound to me like a stressed-out, overtired, overworked, exhausted woman!
The Proverbs 31 woman is a set apart woman. She lives a miraculous, beautiful, orderly, outward-focused life. But here is the key — the source of her strength does not lie within herself. She relies on a power wholly not her own. Just like David, her superhuman strength comes from God alone.
Instead of rolling our eyes at Proverbs 31, let’s ask God for the same supernatural strength to live the impossible life He has called us to. Because, as Elisabeth Elliot reminds us, “God never issued instructions that He is not prepared to enable us to obey.”
The most important area in which to cultivate order is within our inner lives. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.” All true order must flow from a rightly ordered soul. In my book Authentic Beauty, I wrote about the importance of removing lies, sinful habits, and idolatry from our hearts in order to create a sacred sanctuary in which we can experience an unhindered relationship with Christ. If you are weighed down with lies, fear, worry, doubt, cynicism, and other forms of spiritual chaos, be assured that God does not intend for you to live this way. We can never possess a well-ordered soul unless we first allow God to remove the spiritual clutter from our heart so that Jesus Christ has absolute control over our inner life.
If you are struggling with a chaotic inner life, I encourage you to take time to walk through an internal cleansing process, letting the Spirit of God shine His searchlight into your heart and gently remove anything that may be standing in the way of the thriving, victorious, Christ-centered life He desires you to live. (If you are wondering where to begin, my books The Set Apart Woman and Authentic Beauty can help walk you through this journey in more detail.)
Take some time to prayerfully consider which areas of your daily life reflect the peaceful beauty and order of God’s Kingdom, and which reflect the selfish chaotic frenzy of the world. Ask God to enable you to exchange the chaos for His order and peace — whether that be in your morning routine, your living environment, or areas of personal discipline — like sleep, exercise, and quiet times. There are times when I feel God prompting me to better organize my physical environment in order to remove clutter and distractions and create a more peaceful environment for my walk with Him, my family, and those who come into our home. Other times, I feel Him asking me to set aside my longing for a perfectly organized sock drawer or a stunningly pristine closet (usually this happens after I’ve looked at Pinterest for too long!) and focus instead on strengthening the spiritual atmosphere in our home. Still other times, I feel convicted to develop greater personal discipline in my daily life in order to protect what is truly important. If you yield each area of your life to Him, He will be faithful to gently direct you in building a well-ordered lifestyle — one step of obedience at a time.
When George Müller opened one of his first orphan homes for homeless children in England, he received a lot of criticism and misunderstanding from the public. One day, the famous author Charles Dickens came unannounced to the orphanage to find out for himself whether the many rumors he’d heard were true — that the children lived in squalor and were treated like slaves. Instead of angrily refuting the charges, Müller simply smiled and told his staff, “Show Mr. Dickens any part of the orphanage he desires to see. Open any door he asks to see behind. And do not bring him back until he is completely satisfied he’s seen everything he wants to.”
For three hours Mr. Dickens inspected every aspect of the orphanage. What he saw delighted and amazed him. Everything was orderly, fresh, and impeccably clean. The children were happy and well-cared for.
“The children’s rooms were divided by ages. The babies and toddlers were housed in a large room with a row of cribs on one side. On the other side of the room were a number of cubbies filled with toys for the children to play with. The southern end of the room was set up as a diaper changing area. With up to sixty children in diapers at one time, the laundry was kept very busy."
“The other children’s rooms were set up with places to practice the practical skills they learned while in school. All of the children were taught to knit and make all the socks and stockings for the orphanage. The older children were taught to mend their own clothes and darn their own socks. George accepted between five and eight new orphans a week. Because many of the children came from dreadful conditions, they brought with them a constant threat of deadly diseases like typhoid and cholera. Special care was taken to ensure that everything was kept clean. The children each had a little bag with their toiletries in it, and the bags hung in neat rows in the bathroom.”⁵
As a result of what he saw, Dickens promised Müller he would write an article giving a glowing report of the orphanage and destroy the false rumors once and for all.
Imagine if a non-Christian spent three hours inspecting our daily lives the way Dickens inspected Müller’s orphanage — observing how we spend our time, how we discipline our bodies, how we order our environment. Would that person be drawn to Jesus by what he or she saw? Would they see the beauty of a well-ordered, Christ-centered soul, or the chaos of a selfish, pleasure-seeking heart?
2 Timothy 4:2 says, “Be ready in season and out of season.” By God’s grace, may we order our lives around Him so that whether in season or out of season, we will reflect the nature of our beloved King.
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