I was a regular participant in a women’s bible study during the time I was working towards my license to pastor in the United Methodist Church. One day the discussion turned to women who preach. Another student spoke up and said, women who preach will go to hell. Ouch.

On the surface, the comment probably seemed to just roll right off my back. I mean, it didn’t really change my life or my plans. I obtained my license and served a little church. I filled the pulpit week after week for almost nine years.

I didn’t completely understand the impact of her comment until a couple of years ago. I realized it had planted a seed of doubt deep in my heart that grew over time. It made me aware that there were critics out there. Maybe they weren’t in the pews of the church where I preached each week, but they were somewhere. In places I preached and led worship, I scanned the group looking for that face. The face that communicated, it isn’t right for you to be doing what you are doing.  I looked for the face of disapproval.

To define is to identify the essential qualities of something. Or someone. What do we let define us? Jesus followers will stand at a crossroads at different times in our spiritual walk. We will feel His call, but we will also hear other voices that make us pause and consider the risks that come with answering His call. In those moments, what we decide is based largely on what we allow to define us.

We won’t have to go looking for the obstacles. They will be obvious and plentiful. They will give us good reasons to push His voice away, the voice that beckons us to take a risky step of faith. The voice that calls us to trust Him. Will we allow our doubt and fear to define us? Or will we allow Jesus – only Jesus – to be the author of our identity?

When I preach, I’m a little nervous about how I will be received. It is always a possibility that someone listening will be a critic. But in recent years, I have developed a prayer habit before I speak. It includes a version of this plea, remind me that whatever I offer today is for an audience of One. The One. Who calls me, equips me, and strengthens me as I step out. Peace.