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Deborah, the Encourager of Manhood

Women possess a unique opportunity to encourage men to step up and stand up

Today we're looking at Deborah, the encourager of manhood. But before we look at the life of Deborah, you've probably seen church bulletin announcements that didn't receive a proper proofread. As a result, they said something that they surely didn't mean. Let me read a few examples of these church announcement bloopers:

"The peace-making meeting scheduled for today had been cancelled due to a conflict."

"The sermon for this morning is Jesus walks on water. The sermon tonight: searching for Jesus."

"This evening at 7 pm there will be a hymn sing across from the church. Bring a blanket and come prepared to sin." (They dropped the "g," as in "come prepared to sing.")

"Women's Bible study will be held Thursday morning at 10. All women are invited to lunch after the B.S. is done."

"Women, don't forget the rummage sale. It's a chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house. Don't forget your husbands."

Of course husbands are actually worth a lot, not just around the house but in the world. God created men as the head and authority to cover women. He called women to come alongside to encourage and help as they also bring the purposes of God on the earth. Together men and women reflect the image of God. They are both important as they live interdependently, inextricably linked in carrying out God's plan. Just as a human body needs both head and heart, we need both men and women. As Genesis 1:27 states, "So God created man in his own image … male and female he created them."

Now having said this, how does a woman encourage a man to be all that he should be? Deborah was prophetess, a wife, a leader, and one-person Supreme Court Justice. But at the same time she encouraged manhood, even from her high position. Based on her example, I hope we can learn how to honor one another as men and women according to God's design.

Let's start with Deborah's story as it's found in Judges Chapter 4:4-14. Based on this section, what can we learn from Deborah, this great national and spiritual leader? We're going to learn how she encouraged manhood. In this story, God commanded Barak, the head of the Israelite army, to lead the army in battle. Barak's counterpart for the opposing army was a man named Sisera. (Sisera worked for Jabin, a king of Canaan who had enslaved the Israelites.) Barak was supposed to attack Sisera, win the battle, and secure peace for Israel for years to come. By the end of the story that's what happened - largely through the encouragement of Deborah, the judge.

But I want you to know how Deborah could have responded to Barak when she told him to go and Barak said in verse 8, "If you go with me, I will go; but if you don't go with me, I won't go." Can you imagine what would happen if the commander of our armed forces in Afghanistan told President Obama, "If you go with me, I'll go; but if you don't go with me, I won't go"? When a commander gives you an order, you do it. But there was something about Barak that would not let him step out and be the man God had called him to be.

Notice how Deborah could have responded. She could have fired him for his outright disobedience. She could have replaced him with somebody better. She also could have taken over his job. How many of you have taken over someone's job because you could do it better? She could have berated him by saying, "What's wrong with you? Why can't you step up and do what you've been called to do? Let me get someone else who can do it." But she didn't do any of those things.

She also could have tried to fix him. Sometimes we sure try to fix people, but how long does that take? How many of you believe that only God can fix people? And yet we try to do it anyway. We think that if we try long enough we'll eventually change people.

Some people get married because they think they can change their spouse. Guess what? None of us have the power to fix others. Only God can fix broken people. When you love someone who is broken and they need fixing, all you can do is ask God to change them, and ask God to give you strength to deal with their brokenness. Because when you're in relationships with dysfunctional, broken people who have issues from their past, you're not going to fix them. All you can do is love them and ask God for the grace to deal with them.

Deborah wasn't trying to fix Barak. I'm going to tell you three things Deborah did to encourage Barak's manhood. They're also the three things that women can do to encourage the men around them and to help them do what they've been called to do. Because guess what? They really are worth having around; don't take them to the rummage sale.

If we can read Deborah's actions and her life and her attitudes, we can find three things that will help us encourage the men in our lives, whether they're fathers or brothers or sons, or coworkers, or neighbors. Ladies, if you want to be encouragers of manhood, take a page out of Deborah's book. In fact, take three pages because there are three things she did.

Deborah fortified Barak

Deborah fortified Barak by coming alongside of him. In verse 9 she says, "I will go with you." I will go with you. The end of verse 10 says, "And Deborah also went with him." She didn't have to go with him. She was the leader; she could have delegated it to someone else. But she fortified Barak with her presence. She came alongside of him because she knew what God was calling him to do; even though he was intimated, insecure, and fearful.

She did not step in front of him and do it for him. She did not fire him. She came alongside of him, and she brought the ministry of presence. And her ministry of presence fortified him and gave him the inner strength he needed to do what he was called to do in the first place.

That's a page from Deborah's book that we can learn from: the strengthening presence of a woman who comes alongside a man, not to get in front of him, or behind him, but as God created her to come beside him as a helper. In that sense, even those who are unmarried can come alongside men to help them do what they've been called to do, emboldening them with the kind of strength they need to be boys and men who step up and stand up.

The reality is that guys won't do what they're called to do because we have fear. We have fear of failure. We have fear of losing. And we need our mothers and sisters, and our ladies to encourage us to do what we've been called to do. Because men will quit if they don't see victory anywhere near. Did you know that? If men don't believe they can win, then they'll stop. The will stay up for the entire game until the last two minutes, as long as there's a little bit of hope that the underdog can come through. There's still time. There's still time. It doesn't matter how late Monday Night Football lasts and what they have to do the next morning. If there's still time, men will watch the last two minute of the game. There just needs to be a little hope that the underdog can still win, even if they're losing.

But in the last two minutes of the game, even if it's a blowout, even if there's no way whatsoever, because the other team is up by seven touchdowns, there's still two minutes left. Guess what? Click: we turn it off. There's no reason to watch; we'll turn it off at halftime. Because guess what? There's no reason to watch that basketball game. There's no reason to watch that football game if there's no possibility of winning.

And in one sense, ladies, that's a trick for you, it's a skill for you. Here's a jewel to keep inside you: as long as a man feels he can still win, even if it's a slim chance, he'll hang in there. But if he's absolutely sure that he cannot and will not win, off goes the remote - even at halftime.

So Barak is saying to Deborah, "I can't make it without you." And what does she do? She steps in there to say, "No, no, no, I'll go with you because you're going to win this." Barak just didn't have the courage to step forward and do it. So her ministry of presence fortified his inner man. I'm going to tell you that women have that ability.

For instance, I remember that as a younger man, before we parachuted flyers to start Bridgeway Community Church, there were two other locations and two other opportunities prior to that. I thought I was going to take a church of about 30 families that wanted to start a multi-ethnic church down in the Fort Washington area. Then I was also thinking about starting a church in Prince George's County in Langley Park. That church would have allowed me to go back and redeem some stuff I had broken in my years when I didn't know the Lord. Evidently that area still needs some help (and we need to pray for them), and I was going to take it, but it wasn't God's will. Instead, he really wanted me to start with Bridgeway with a totally different core group of people. But I remember how broken and upset I was. And guess who was right there? Who came to my rescue? It was my mother. I wasn't married yet, and my mom had a way of showing up with her presence. She didn't solve my problem, she didn't fix my problems. She was just there as my mother to say, "I know there are some issues, I know this feels like failure, and I know you're feeling weak, but God is still in control." Her presence meant something to me.

This incident took me back to when I was a little kid crying in church. Half the time I was crying because she was pinching me and disciplining me. But there were also times when I was crying in church and my mom would take my little self and lay me down, with my head on her lap, and she would just rub my back. And she would do this thing with her leg. I don't know if all of you ladies do it, or if it was just my mom. But somehow, I don't know it was the heels or what, but I would be crying and this would start, and I don't know, if it's magic in the knees or what. But she would just do that, and she would rub my back, and I would hear the sound of her stocking or whatever. I guess that's probably too much information.

So, anyway, I'm with my mom feeling that sense of comfort; I felt her presence as a young boy but even now as a grown man. My mom must be as short as (my wife) Amber; now my son is taller than her. But I tell you what: if my mom tells me to jump, I'll ask, "How high?" How in the world can that little woman ask me to do something, either telling me to do something or encouraging me to do something, and I'm willing to do it? She's just encouraged that in me.

And, by the way, when all of the men had disappeared at the crucifixion, whose presence was still there? Jesus would look down and say, "Mother, behold thy son. Son, behold thy mother." Again, there's something about the fortifying presence of a woman to come alongside a man and say, "You can hang in there. Even when they're crucifying you, you have somebody who will be there for you."

So here's a practical application for this first point. Ladies, do you want to know how to fortify a man in your life? Ask yourself, What can I do to fortify the men or the males in my life? How can I come alongside him or them to help strengthen him or them? And if you're not sure when you ask yourself those questions, then ask the significant men around you: "What can I do to make you stronger, more courageous? What can I do to help you succeed?" Any man worth his IQ will accept the help of a woman. God created Eve specifically to be a helper for Adam because us men need all the help we can get!

Deborah turned Barak's attention to God

So that's page one from Deborah's book "How to Encourage Manhood." Now here's page two: Deborah turned Barak's attention to God. Look at verse 6 again: "The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: go take ten thousand with you." The Lord. Then look at verse 14: "And Deborah said to Barak, "Go. This is the day the Lord has given Sisera into your hands. Has not the Lord gone ahead of you?"

Notice what she's doing. Deborah is not jumping out in front of Barak; Deborah is saying, "The Lord has already gone before you, hasn't he?" She turns his attention to the Lord. Remember what Amber said during Father's Day? She said that I'm the head but she's the neck. The man may be the head, but the woman is the neck that turns the head. And here Deborah is turning Barak's head, turning his attention to the Lord. And I have to say something: you ladies are quite the head-turners. I mean, you have the ability to turn men's heads. And what has Deborah done? She's taken that head-turning power. You can take that power and steward it in such a way just because of who you are. You have the power to turn a man's head - not just with your physical beauty, but also with your femininity and the words you use. There's something about a woman that can make a man turn his head, turn his attention, turn his thoughts.

A woman can use this power for good or bad, right? She can take that power and use it in the wrong way, by using the wrong words to turn a man in a different direction. But then she can also use her power in the same way Deborah did. What did Deborah do? She said, "Hasn't the Lord gone before you?" In other words she said, "You can do this because God has gone before you. Look at God. Don't look at me! Don't look at your ego; don't look at your failures; don't look in the mirror. Look at God! Put your faith in God, Barak. Has not the Lord gone out in front of you?"

I tell you it's encouraging when women can help turn men's attention toward the Lord. And that's what she did. She not only fortified him, she also turned his attention toward the Lord, toward God.

My wife Amber did this early in our relationship. There are at least three or four things that Amber did for me during our dating and courtship days that let me know she was the woman that I wanted to marry, that out of all the ladies out there, I was going to spring a ring on her and marry her.

What was it about her? I'm going to tell the one main thing she did in a string of considerations. This was absolutely amazing, because out of all the women I had dated prior to Amber no woman had ever done this for me. So this is what happened: while we were dating at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, I had this feeling that we don't need to date anymore. It's time to break up. Anybody ever had a bad break up? Now guys don't know how to break up well, and I fall into that category. But when you're at a Bible college you tend to spiritualize things. You don't know how to say, "We need to break up. I'm not into it anymore. I don't want to see you anymore; so I'm really, really sorry. You're going to cry so here's a tissue and God bless you."

Here's what I said instead: "I think we need to take a break. Or maybe we should fast from one another." I mean, what is that? So I'm trying to mumble through my words and say that it's time to break up, and Amber says, "You know what? I want you to go to the Lord and pray. And if God tells you that we need to break up, I'll submit to that and we'll break up. It'll be sad for me, but if that's the Lord's will, I'll do it. And if he doesn't say that, then I'll stay in this. So it's whatever the Lord says to you."

"Are you kidding me?" I said, "You expect me to get on my knees and go to God and whatever God says to me you'll do it? This could be good! Let me clarify: you're saying that you want me to go to the Lord, pray about it; and whatever he says to me, I'll tell you about it, and you'll submit to me." She said, "Yes," and I said, "Okay." And I went and prayed to the Lord, and of course you already know the end of this story: we've been married for almost 20 years. But let me tell you something: I did not know what God was doing through that. God was showing me what submission and authority and headship and responsibility and stepping up as a man was supposed to look like. He was also teaching me through that experience by saying to me, "One day people will trust that you will hear from the Lord; and when you speak, they will take what you say and follow it." And through all of that I knew that this woman was going to get a ring from me.

What am I saying? I'm saying that Amber turned my head towards God as she also turned my head away from all the other emotional, egotistical things I had been thinking. It forced me to go back to God. And guess what? God honored that. And that's what Deborah did for Barak by saying, "Has not God gone in front of you?" She turned his attention toward the Lord. Ladies, if you could do that more and more, maybe us guys would get a clue. Because the clue phone is ringing, and guys, it's for you. But we've got to answer what God is saying, and how will we know what that is unless we get on our knees?

Deborah sought Barak's dignity

We can take one more page from Deborah's book. Not only does she fortify Barak with her presence, and not only does she turn his head and his attention toward God, Deborah also sought Barak's dignity. Notice verse 9 where she admonishes Barak that disobeying the Lord would mean he would not get the honor God intended for him. Although Deborah wasn't completely successful in getting honor for Barak, she showed that she was concerned for his dignity. When he won, he was able to get some of the credit. She delivered dignity to the point where Barak is even mentioned in Hebrews 11:32, the Hall of Fame for Faith. Guess who also gets mentioned? Deborah. Now that's a woman!

Women, you have the ability to set men up for victory, and there has to be something humbling about that, especially when you have the power of Deborah to get behind and set someone up for victory. That's exactly what she did: she gave Barak dignity. She could have shamed him; she could have berated him up and down; she could have thrown him out. Instead, she said, "No, I'm not only going to come with you with my presence; I'm going to set it up so you can win."

Did you know that's how God acts with you and me? He sets us up so we'll win. At the end of the day, God wants us to win. We're still in a battle, but at the end of the day, we win. He wants you to win. He doesn't want you to lose; he doesn't want you to be defeated. He is the one who sets us up for victory. He delivers dignity to us. He doesn't hang us in shame. He allowed his son to be hung on the cross in shame so you and I would never have to. Anytime someone tries to shame you, remember that's not coming from God. He took all the shame; he took all the sin; and when we sin and fall short, we go to him and he says, "Yep, I paid for that one too. Now lift your head. Lift your eyes, from whence cometh your help? Your help cometh from the Lord who made heaven and earth. You are still a conqueror. You are still an overcomer. You are still a son and a daughter of Almighty God. You are still blood-bought. You're still my child. I don't care what the enemy says about you. I don't care what the enemy throws at you; you're still my child. Lift up your head. And the days that you can't lift up your head, the days that you're tired and you're weary, the days that you're feeling that shame, then come to me, all you who are weary, heavy-laden, and burdened, and I will give you rest. You need me to hold on to you? You come here. Lay your head down here, and in the presence of the Holy Spirit I will give you the comfort that you need. But that comfort will last for a little while. Then you get up, and you get on out there, because haven't I gone in front of you?"

Deborah the teacher is telling us, as we go from page to page, is that even with power, even with authority, even with money, even with armies, she still has the ability to encourage manhood, because she understands the beautiful order of God's favor and blessing. She gets behind God's order even better than the man. I love this because Barak could have left, but because he had the encouragement of Deborah, he hung in there another day.

And so what are the three pages? Let's review. She fortified with her presence; she turned his attention toward God; and she delivered dignity. And that doesn't spell a word, but it does give you an acronym: FTD. There you go: fortified, turned, delivered—manhood delivered fresh daily, right here.

The bottom line is this: everyone needs to be FTDed. It's not just women FTDing men—fortifying and turning their attention and delivering dignity. Everybody needs to be doing this. But here's the issue, and this is what I want you to catch: if another guy doesn't FTD me—doesn't fortify me with his presence, and he doesn't turn my attention toward the Lord, and he doesn't deliver dignity unto me and help me and set me up to win and succeed and all that—if a guy doesn't do that for me, it might hurt. But it doesn't injure my manhood. Are you with me here? If a woman doesn't FTD another woman, it might hurt, but it doesn't injure or assault her femininity. But when a woman—when a mother or a sister or a spouse or a girlfriend—when she doesn't FTD a guy (and I don't know all the psychological reasons), but when she doesn't do that, it more than hurts him: it actually injures something in him. And this is why I think we have a generation of men who find it hard to step up and to stand up to be the men that they need to be. Somewhere along the line we have not had enough men experience the fortification and the direction of healthy women in their lives.

Now I don't understand this mother-son relationship thing. And I don't understand this father-daughter relationship thing. But God understands it because he knows the way we have been created. There is something special between a son and his mother, and it doesn't matter how old he gets. Even at the crucifixion of Christ there was something special there.

What am I saying to you ladies? I'm saying I know our generation hasn't delivered a lot of strong men; there are a lot of Baraks in your world. But it's OK. You have the ability to encourage his manhood, and he will step up. He will stand up, with the power of Christ—if he puts his faith in God—he can become the kind of leader that you pray he will be. Your young boys can grow up to be the kind of men who can step out when they are called by their commander to go forth. Ladies, you can do it. Men, we can do it. We can do it! We need to hear from other men and we need to hear from other women that we can do this! But our faith is not in the vibrato of our chests; our faith must be in the One who fights our battles for us, and if he goes before us, he is literally setting us up for victory! But we must put our faith in him.

Jesus Christ has FTDed all of us. He fortifies us with his presence. He says, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." If you accept Christ as Lord and Savior, the Bible says that the Spirit of God comes into your life, and all those old things become new. Whatever brokenness, whatever dysfunctionality is inside of any of us - do you know the Lord can bring healing and deliverance to that area in your life? He's FTDed all of us. He turns our attention toward the cross, which is a symbol of his love; and when you see the cross—the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus—you see that he takes all of your sin and your shame. All the punishment of hell falls on him so that we can live forever with him. He wants to be present with us forever. Did you know that? And delivering dignity to you—can you believe it? He took all your sin and shame so you wouldn't have to. We don't have to hang our heads, because Christ lifts them up.

For Your Reflection

Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul? ___________________________________________

Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach? ____________________________________________________________________________

Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________

Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart? ____________________________________________________________________________

Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points? _____________________________________________________________________

Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________

Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________

Credit: Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it?

David A. Anderson is the founder and senior pastor of Bridgeway Community Church, a multicultural congregation in Columbia, Maryland.

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Sermon Outline:


I. Deborah fortified Barak

II. Deborah turned Barak's attention to God

III. Deborah sought Barak's dignity