3 Ideas to Shape Your Life

Virginia Watson, a longtime parishioner at The Falls Church Anglican, was asked by Women’s Ministry to give a short talk on some things that shaped her long life. She also expanded upon these life lessons last year, at age 94, during a retreat with Coracle, a non-profit organization that offers spiritual formation and Kingdom action. This blog post is part of a ten-item list Virginia titles “Some Ideas that Shaped My Life” at age 95, including an up-to-date reading list of Christian biographies.


1) Hang out with God’s people and develop classic spiritual disciplines.

I read a little story one time about some people who found a cardinal with a broken leg. They bandaged it up and put the cardinal in a big cage on their covered porch. The cardinal’s leg got well and he flourished. When he was first in there he sang all the time. He was happy. As he’d been with them a while they loved him, so they just didn’t let him go. They kept him in his cage on the porch. It got to where he just chirped. He didn’t sing his song anymore. The man of the house said to the wife one day, “You know, I think he’s forgotten his song because he doesn’t have any other cardinals to be with.” They decided to let the cardinal go.

I think there’s a principle in that for us. We need to be with some other people who know the song of singing “I Love Jesus” and “Jesus Loves Me.” We need to hang out with people who love God and are trying to develop and grow in their spiritual lives, developing spiritual disciplines. That is a basic principle. We run great risk if we avoid spiritual disciplines because we will find out that we don’t have the song anymore and we can only chirp.

In his book The Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster talks about inward disciplines, outward disciplines, and corporate disciplines. We need to get that balance. The inward disciplines are prayer, meditation, fasting, and study. Every last one of us needs that. We all need the outward spiritual disciplines, which are not as much thought about among us as the inward ones are. Outward disciplines are simplicity, solitude, submission, and service. Finally, the corporate disciplines are celebration, worship, confession, and guidance.

2) Trust God and do not lean on your own understanding.

In the movie “Bridge of Spies,” Tom Hanks plays an insurance lawyer who is forced to defend a Russian spy in this country and to negotiate a swap for a person of ours in the Soviet Union whom he’s rescuing. Tom Hanks is doing his very best to represent his spy because he’s a good lawyer. Tom Hanks would ask the spy, “It’s not going well, it looks like you’re going to get executed, aren’t you worried?” The spy would look at him and say, “Would it do any good?” Over and over there was that line.

I’m like that spy. I’m not going to worry about those things that won’t do me any good. Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” This doesn’t mean I don’t have pain on the path. This doesn’t mean everything will turn out the way I want it. But He will not leave me or forsake me, and He will be with me. Fear is a way that the Devil gets to us. Fear is real because there are a lot of things out in the world to fear. We can fear old age, illness, loss of relationships, or what will happen when … My mother was right, and Jesus was right before she was, but my mother used to say, “It’s a waste of your time to worry and be fearful about something because generally the thing you worry about or are most fearful about doesn’t happen, something else does.” So often the things we worry about don’t really come our way. We just think they might.

Take your fear and write it down - write a list of what you’re afraid of and turn it over to God. Ask Him to help you with it. Tell the Devil you’re trusting it to Jesus. If it’s something that you can do something about, by all means do it. But if it’s something that there’s not a thing in this world you can do about it, just let it go. Just beg God to help you let it go because you need to trust in the Lord and lean not on your own understanding.

The Scriptures are full of exhortations to trust:

Fear not; for I am with you, be not afraid for I am your God. (Isaiah 41:10)
I will never leave you or forsake you. (Hebrews 13:5)
Be strong, be confident, I’m with you. (Deuteronomy 31:6)

3) Read some good Christian biographies.

We all know Eric Liddell because of the movie Chariots of Fire and because he refused to run on Sunday. Even though all the pressure of England was against him, he said, “No, I’m not running on Sunday. Sunday’s God’s day to go to church. I don’t run.” He then ran a race on another day that he was not trained for, not good at, never would have believed he would win, and he threw back his head and ran for the glory of God and won. All of you know about Chariots of Fire and about that part of his life, but mostly you may not know about his early life or about his life as a missionary in China afterwards. I recommend the book For the Glory: The Untold and Inspiring Story of Eric Liddell, Hero of Chariots of Fire.

There’s another one I recommend, the autobiography of George Muller. This man fed thousands of orphans who were on the street in England back in the day when there weren’t orphanages. Although he told people about his need, he raised the money to feed these children by prayer only. He never asked anybody for a direct contribution. Incredible stories of how he fed them! One little incident I remember is that they had no bread one morning when they were gathered at the table to eat. He had the children say a prayer and, lo and behold, a bread truck broke down in front of the orphanage and they gave them all the bread. On and on, the book has incredible stories of his life and example of totally trusting in God to supply what he needed for the work God had called him to do.

Back in 1990, I started a Christian classics reading group. We continued meeting to discuss our books until December 2015. Although we did read biographies and autobiographies, that was not our intent. We read them because they were either Christian classics or about very important Christian actions or principles. Now, I think books like this are inspiring because they show how God steps in and provides when there is dedication to Him. Reading biographies of ordinary people whom God gifted in some special way or who responded to His nudge in some special way is encouraging in our lives.

More titles that will shape you:

David Livingstone by Mrs. J.H. Worcester (It is reported that each morning Livingstone repeated Psalm 37:5 - "Commit your way to the LORD, trust Him and He will act.”)
The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom together with John and Elizabeth Sherrill
A Foreign Devil by John C. Pollock (about Ruth Bell Graham’s father, a missionary in China)
Mother Teresa: No Greater Love
A Simple Path by Mother Teresa and compiled by Lucinda Vardey
Something Beautiful for God by Malcolm Muggeridge (about Mother Teresa)
Miracle on the River Kwai by Ernest Gordon (there is also a movie called “War to End All Wars”)
In His Steps by Charles Sheldon
Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret by Dr. and Mrs. Howard Taylor
Faithful Witness: The Life and Mission of William Carey by Timothy George
The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence
Through Gates of Splendor by Elizabeth Elliot
Gladys Aylward: Missionary in China (Heroes of the Faith Series by Sam Wellman)
The Lottie Moon Story by Catherine B. Allen
Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust by Immaculee Ilibagiza
Mary Slessor of Calabar: Pioneer Missionary by W.P. Livingston
Inspiring Women of Faith (Sojourner Truth, Florence Nightingale, Amy Carmichael, Corrie Ten Boom, etc.)
He Leadeth Me by Walter J. Cisjek (This is about a Catholic priest in a Soviet prison in Siberia - amazing life and book.)
Tortured for Christ by Richard Wurmbrand
Saint Therese of Lisieux (She was deeply devoted to doing little things for the love of God.)