Podcast: Disciplines of a Godly Woman (Barbara Hughes)

This article is part of the The Crossway Podcast series.

Cultivating a Life of Discipline

In this episode, Barbara Hughes discusses why discipline is important for Christian women. She highlights her own struggle to cultivate a disciplined life over the years, reflects on an important lesson she learned from key mentors like Elisabeth Elliot and offers encouragement for the listener who feels like she's struggling in her spiritual walk right now.

Disciplines of a Godly Woman

Barbara Hughes

Barbara Hughes encourages women to joyfully pursue a disciplined life of godliness through insightful reflections on Scripture, wise questions for self-evaluation, and helpful suggestions for direct application.

Subscribe: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Google Podcasts | RSS

Topics Addressed in This Interview:

01:11 - You’re Not Alone in Your Struggle with Discipline

Matt Tully
Barbara, thank you so much for joining me today on The Crossway Podcast.

Barbara Hughes
Thank you for having me. I’m very pleased to be able to talk to you.

Matt Tully
In the opening pages of your book you talk about your struggle with being disciplined and staying organized, both in the early days of your marriage to your husband Kent but even ongoing to today. My sense is that many people—men and women alike who might be listening right now—might resonate with those feelings of, I’m just not good at being disciplined and organized! Maybe even when it comes to conversations like we’re going to have about spiritual disciplines and discipline in the Christian life, they can immediately start to feel a sense of guilt or dread because they feel like they’re not doing well with that. Can you speak to that dynamic in your own life? How have you grown in discipline over the years?

Barbara Hughes
First of all, I never wanted to write a book called Disciplines of a Godly Woman. That was just not my cup of tea. I wanted to write a book called Living as Gospel Women; Disciplines of a Godly Woman terrified me. They wanted us to do it because it’s a sister book to Kent’s manly book—Disciplines of a Godly Man—so that was not my choice. I understand how that is so intimidating to think about discipline. A lot of people, like my husband, are very disciplined by nature. He’s just made up that way and I think many people are. We were raised differently—he had a nice, neat little bedroom to himself with a nice, tidy little desk. I slept in a room with all three of my sisters and we shared beds and we were together all the time. There was very little time to be alone and to find a place to have quiet was not easy. Whether that influenced me to be haphazard, I don’t know; but I do know that by nature I’m impulsive. I send kisses to all the women out there who are impulsive by nature because you can be easily distracted and it’s hard to wear that title—disciplined. It’s terrifying. The way that I’ve grown looks so different than my husband, but the good thing is that we do a lot of different things together. We use the ESV Devotional Psalter that Crossway has published, we have the manuscript for Johnny Gibson’s new book on worshiping the Lord in the family, and we do both of those together. Now that we’re retired, we can do that; but even then, we can’t do it every single morning at a certain time. I don’t want to give the impression that it’s just been easy. It’s never been easy for me. I will tell you: I remember going to Elisabeth Elliot’s house—she invited me and then the two of us. We became friends and I had always worshiped her. I had always felt like she was my mentor from a distance from the time I was in high school in the 50s when she was in Ecuador and her husband was killed by the Quechua Indians when taking the gospel to them. That was such a big thing here in the states, and I looked at her as the perfect disciplined person. But it was really interesting because when we sat with her and talked she asked us about the discipline of prayer. She said that was the most difficult thing for her, to actually have a disciplined time of prayer on a regular basis. I can’t tell you how that encouraged me because I really did look to her, and to know that this perfect woman—from my vantage point—struggled with having regular prayer time was an encouragement to me.

Matt Tully
Unpack that. I think many of us have had similar experiences of realizing afresh, even though we should have known it already, that a Christian we looked up to still struggled with things and still wasn’t perfect in all the ways that they might want to be. Why do you think that can be so helpful for us?

Barbara Hughes
It makes us realize that we’re not alone in our struggle. She was able to confess that to us. It wasn’t like a big confession, it was just saying the truth of her situation and her struggle. That encouraged me, just simply the fact that she did struggle with that. One of the things we talked about was distractions. For example, you can be praying for your mother and then your childhood home comes to mind, and then you’re in the backyard picking vegetables from dad’s garden. Your mind starts wandering and then all of a sudden, you’re not praying. We talked about the things that do distract us or keep us—I won’t tell you about our distractions because everybody has their own. It was just good for me to know that she struggled with that.

Matt Tully
How much of that dynamic is at play in why we sometimes can be so discouraged about discipline? You mentioned how even today the time that you spend reading Scripture together with Kent or reading a devotional book together, it doesn’t happen everyday or at the exact same time. Do you think sometimes we get so concerned about the schedule and the rhythm that it unnecessarily discourages us?

Barbara Hughes
I think that it does. For instance, this week we had a pastor and his wife up from southern California that had called and were discouraged because of the effect COVID-19 was having on their church. We’ve heard this a lot from different corners. They took over our thoughts and they came and spent two nights and two days. Every day and every week is different, and there’s always these things that come that you didn’t know were going to happen. So for me, if I thought that I had to have a specific time every day at a certain time, I would be totally defeated because my life isn’t like that. It’s amazing how the Lord orders our days and they’re not always the way we would order them. Kent would always make it this way, but it just doesn’t happen that way. So I think we should not be overwhelmed because that just makes you fail. It makes you say, What’s the use? I’ve tried that before and I’m no good at it. You just have to press on and remember that each day is new. And you have to look for times throughout the day. One of the things I did when my children were little, especially when they were infants and I was awake nursing them, I would use that time to pray, meditate on Scripture, and pray for them. Or when I drove the children to and from school I had time alone in the car. There’s not many times you’re actually alone, but there are some! That’s one of the things I love about the ESV—maybe other translations do this too—if I’m awake in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep, I can just listen to the book of Ephesians or Galatians or Genesis or whatever. I can just listen, and then I fall asleep. But at least it’s coming into my mind and I don’t even need to use my eyes. So there are ways to get time in there.

11:41 - Everyone’s Discipline Looks Different

Matt Tully
You mentioned how easy it can be to feel discouraged or disappointed in ourselves when we’re not living up to an unrealistic standard or maybe we really aren’t event being disciplined at all, but how have you dealt with those seasons of discouragement when it comes to your own Christian life and your devotional time with God? How have you sought to move through that without letting it push you further away from being disciplined?

Barbara Hughes
That’s a hard question. In my case, of course, because I have a strong Christian husband, I can always talk to him about it or ask him to hold me accountable. Sometimes he’ll just say, Today we’re going to do . . . —he’ll do that for me. But I can’t just depend on that because he’s not going to be around forever. I would just say I have books and Bibles around the house so that I can read it wherever I am in the house. As I said, I love to listen to the Bible now, like in the car for example. There are things you can do that aren’t a pattern, they’re irregular. I’m an irregular person in that way, so I have to think that way—irregular—and not be discouraged by it because I’m easily discouraged if I think I have to be perfect. I joke about it in the first chapter of the book, but it’s just my personality. Like I said, God has created me with an impulsive personality. He made me. I would like to be different in some ways, but that’s not my option. Does that help at all?

Matt Tully
Yes, it does. I think that will be encouraging to a lot of people who resonate with what you’re saying and maybe sometimes resent parts of their own personality that make it harder to be disciplined the way they feel like they should be.

Barbara Hughes
In the back of the book there’s M’Cheyne’s Bible reading plan. I will confess that in all of my days I have never read the Bible through according to one of those reading plans. Day 1 . . . Day 2 . . . Day 300 . . . Day 345—right on schedule. I’ve never managed it! Not that I don’t read the Bible, but I have not been able to do that rigidly. I haven’t been able to manage that. But I love God’s Word! I think it was J. I. Packer who said he did not like to tell people how he did his devotions because he didn’t want somebody else thinking that was the standard, or because maybe what God would have them do is greater than what he could do. And that’s how I feel. I don’t know how somebody else should do it, but the main thing is that the Lord knows you want to.

Matt Tully
That’s so helpful. It seems like you’re saying discipline is going to look different for different people. As long as there’s a passion to know God better, to understand his Word, to read his Word, that might look different for everybody, and that’s okay.

Barbara Hughes
That’s true. Absolutely.

15:47 - Challenges Specific to a New Generation

Matt Tully
One of the things that we’ve heard a lot of in recent years—specifically related to women, and young women in particular—is the increasing rates of anxiety and depression that women seem to be facing in our culture today. Generally speaking, we hear that women today are feeling more pressure to act a certain way, to achieve certain things, to live up to a certain standard, and there’s a lot of guilt and depression that comes from that. Specifically for Christian women, do you think that sometimes there are these spiritual ideals or goals—even conversations like what we’re having right now about spiritual discipline—that contribute to this pressure that women are feeling and to some of these challenges that they’re facing?

Barbara Hughes
Definitely. I feel really sorry for this generation of women. I think that there are several factors that have brought them to this point. One of them, of course, is the feminist movement that persuaded them—and this has come a lot through our universities, but it’s everywhere and it has been since it began in the 60s—there was this second wave of feminism that began to make women feel totally dissatisfied and driven to become. So then they bought into the I can be anything I want to be! Well, no, not really. You can be whatever God wants you to be. Our young women feel driven and they have bought the lie. They believe that if they’re not accomplishing great goals that they’re miserable. They feel they need to achieve. But the other thing is, I think, the Internet. If they’re on Facebook, they compare themselves to what everybody else is doing and what everybody puts online—even spiritual talk! Everything is just in their face and women are just into it. They look at it and they read it and they go, Oh! She’s terrific at everything! Her kids are in order and their house is clean . . . —everything is there visually for her to see. I love the passage in Matthew 11: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28–30). It’s everybody around us that makes the burden heavy, but Jesus says that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. What he puts on us, what he asks us, we were made for. But what everybody else out there is persuading us that will make us be good, look good, act good—it’s heavy. Even in the church people put so much expectation on each other and it’s a terrible burden. But Jesus’s burden is light and his yoke is easy. When you’re feeling that you need to think, Lord, what is it that you want from me? You love me. You made me. You know me. Help me not to fall into the pit of comparison. I struggle with this all the time: believing that Jesus expects me to earn it. No, he just gives it to me. He gives me salvation; he gives me forgiveness of sin; he loves me; he doesn’t expect me to do what the world expects of me. Here’s another one: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:8–10). In a different translation it says we are his masterpiece. We’re called to do good works that he preordained for us before the foundation of the world. Before the foundation of the world he made me in order to accomplish works for him, his pleasure, because we’re his masterpiece; not because we’re earning it. We’re saved by grace, not by works; but he’s created us for good works. Those good works are not a burden. I’ve been rambling on here about what these young women are struggling with and I do think they struggle over really, truly being satisfied with the things that God has given them. And I shouldn’t say just young women because I think so many older women struggle with these things too. They feel inadequate, useless, especially if they get older and they’re no longer needed in the ways they were in the past. They don’t see that there’s good works for them that God has foreordained that they should walk in. So anyway, is that making any sense?

Matt Tully
Absolutely. I think it can be easy for younger Christians to look at older Christians who have been Christians for thirty, forty, or even fifty years and just kind of assume, If you’re still following Christ then you must have it altogether. The Christian life must be pretty easy for you. It doesn’t mean life itself is easy, but the Christian, devotional life side of things is just pretty straightforward at that point. Is that the case?

Barbara Hughes
No, that’s not the case. I have not found it easier. This is something I would encourage people to do: keep your old Bibles. I have my Bible from high school. I went to visit my high school friend—we both became serious about the Lord in high school and we both married pastors—and we read together from our Bibles that we were having devotions from when we were in high school. In that Bible it’s all underlined in red pen, and the funny thing is that we laughed and laughed and cried when we looked at what we did not underline. We talked about how we’re “more than conquerors” and we underlined that; but that we would be sharing in his suffering, we left that out. We didn’t underline that. We didn’t understand that. We only got together again about ten years ago and we realized how the Lord had called on us to suffer for his sake through all kinds of trials. People don’t want to go there, but that is true. When we are called to walk with the Lord, yes, we’re going to conquer; but we will also walk with him through his sufferings. We will share his sufferings, and we don’t like that part.

Matt Tully
That brings up a really interesting point. You say this in your book: "Discipline is the path by which the good news of Christ gives meaningful shape to our lives." I think that’s especially the case when we face suffering, when we’re in the midst of pain and trials. Could you speak to that a little bit?

Barbara Hughes
I do talk about it in the book quite a bit. First of all, it defines us. It tells us who we are. So many women today really don’t know who they are. They get their identity from a career—lawyer, doctor, etc. They’re trying to find their identity, but it is only found in the Lord Jesus Christ and his gospel. That defines your life because you become a child of God. A brief summation of the gospel is: Jesus Christ is Lord. When he is Lord, you’re living a life of submission to him in everything. He defines you, first of all. He helps you know who you are. You’re his child and you’re his masterpiece created for good works before the foundation of the world. It gives you direction in your life. You’re not struggling with Who am I? You know who you are. I remember when all this balderdash started back in the 60s and Christian women began to leave homes and children because they were going to “find themselves”—that was the big term then. It was just so silly because of course they knew who they were, but it wasn’t enough to be a child of God. They did not understand that Jesus Christ is Lord. When he is Lord of your life, it gives everything meaning because he defines you. He tells you how to live, he tells you how to dress, he tells you how to think—"by the renewing of your mind (Rom. 12:1). So everything has purpose and meaning and direction, and so you’re not out there searching. You know! It’s a wonderful thing. The reason that women get off track today—both young and old—is they’re looking at the world’s measure. They’re not looking at how Christ looks at them. His yoke is easy and his burden is light.

27:24 - The Role of Mentors in Our Spiritual Life

Matt Tully
As we’re talking right now, I’m struck that it can be so helpful hearing from Christians who have gone before and experienced more of life than we have and who know what’s coming, to some extent. All of our lives are different, but they have that experience. What role have mentors—older women who were a few steps further along than you—played in your life? You mentioned Elisabeth Elliot as someone who you looked up to and you actually got to spend time with, but have other women served in that role for you as well?

Barbara Hughes
Yes, a few. First of all, Elisabeth Elliot helped me tremendously because she gave me confidence. She said to me very sternly: Remember, you’re right. She gave me the confidence to say that what the Bible was teaching me was true truth. I could trust it and I could know that I was right. I didn’t have to put everybody else down, but I needed to have the confidence in my own mind about the way that I lived. I’m right because I’m a follower of Christ and I understand what he says on the subject. And so whatever the subject is, you’re right because this is God’s Word. She helped me tremendously with that. Mary Lou Bayly, who was Joe Bayly’s wife—he was head of InterVarsity Press and then David C. Cook Publishing and he wrote The Gospel Blimp and The Last Thing We Think About, which was about death and dying. They lost four children. They were a great help to us. When Joe died, we were with her. He went in for heart surgery, and she was just in her 60s. I’m considerably older now than she was then. She was just sobbing and crying because she loved Joe intensely. She straightened up and she said, My assignment as Joe’s wife has ended. Now I must see what it is that the Lord has for me to do until he takes me home. That struck me because over the years as a pastor’s wife, I’ve seen so many widows get so hung up on how they’re alone and how they’ve lost their meaning for life. No. Mary Lou had it right. That was her assignment, but she was no longer Mrs. Joe Bayly. She was the Lord’s daughter and he had work for her to do.

Matt Tully
I fairly regularly hear Christians say, I would love to have an older believer mentor me. Someone who has walked a little bit further down the road, but I can’t find someone and I don’t know where to look. What encouragement would you offer to the older Christian listening right now? Maybe they feel like, I couldn’t mentor someone; I don’t feel like I have it altogether and know what I’m doing even after decades of following the Lord! What would you say to that person about reaching out to somebody who might be a little bit younger?

Barbara Hughes
First of all, I think they are totally intimidated by that. I’ve heard this many times. Just the word “mentor” scares older women. There’s an expectation, and they’re sure that they won’t meet that expectation. I think that you should be careful who you choose to mentor you. You should choose someone who is living a godly life. By that I mean that they love the Lord, they read his Word, they are devoted to the church and are serving the Lord in the church. I think church life has faltered for so many these days, and I don’t think COVID-19 has helped because you’re not together. People are falling away from the benefits of being together. We are to be together; the Lord wants us to be together and to serve one another. I think a young woman looking for someone should find a woman, and it doesn’t even have to be in her own church or same town—just somebody she knows that is a godly woman and that loves the Lord. A mentor doesn’t have to be a great teacher or anything, but she loves the Lord and she loves his Word and she loves his church. I think older women are terribly intimidated and I think the expectations of the younger women are too great. What they need is just an older woman to befriend them—Can we get together and pray together? Would you pray with me? Or, a really good thing to do is just say, Can we just read the Bible together and pray? Not study the Bible; read the Bible together and pray.

Matt Tully
Why do you make that distinction?

Barbara Hughes
Because I think that reading the Bible with somebody one-on-one is a wonderful way of just beginning a relationship. Just ask, Would you read the Bible with me? You would be amazed how many people will say yes.

Matt Tully
That’s really helpful. I think it’s good to remember, as younger people, that just because someone is twenty, thirty, forty years older doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t still struggle with the same insecurities or self-doubt or things that we would.

Barbara Hughes
Oh, I think older women get into great insecurities because of depending on their husbands or just being alone and not knowing where they fit. It happens a lot, so you’re right.

33:49 - Encouragement for the Weary

Matt Tully
What final word of encouragement would you offer to the woman listening right now who, even despite everything you’ve said, still feels discouraged, anxious, drained, and maybe even a bit depressed sometimes, especially when thinking about her own spiritual walk with Christ?

Barbara Hughes
I know that feeling. The reason I said earlier that I think it gets harder is because life doesn’t get easier. That’s what you think when you’re young. You think, When I’ve got these kids raised, everything is going to be easier. No, it’s not. Children grow up to be adults, and the one thing you want more than anything is that they know and love the Lord. If you have that, it’s a wonderful firm foundation. But then you get grandchildren—and I have great grandchildren! Those people connect with you, and their trials become yours. Their sicknesses and surgeries and accidents and sins are a weight on you. So It doesn’t become easier. Do you see what I’m saying? So that’s where you need to know the Lord. I write about it in the book in the chapter on perseverance. It talks about how I came to know the Lord in ways I had never known him before. Isaiah 45 says, “I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the LORD, who does all these things” (Isa. 45:6–7). I began to see the Lord in a way that I had never seen him. He caused me to have a year that was intensely difficult (and a seven year recovery). Why? The Lord did it. He is able to take care of you and he has a purpose for what he’s doing in your life. So don’t think, If I just get these kids raised it’s all going to be easier! Trials of life come more and more with the children, with their children, with your health issues—all kinds of things. But God is the creator of light and calamity, and he loves you. It’s a wonderful thing to know this God and know what he is capable of and what he’s doing and when you don’t see it, he creates dark and he creates light. He’s there for you. Keep praying that the Lord would reveal himself in your world, in your life, in your home, in your situation—not anybody else’s. Not anybody on Facebook, not your neighbor, not your Sunday school class. You in your situation. He determined where you would live, when you would live there—”in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 18:28). He is the source of all that you need and he will make himself known to you. And you can trust him.

Matt Tully
Barbara, thank you so much for taking some time today to share some of your wisdom from years of walking closely with the Lord, years of being a wife and a mother, and for offering some real encouragement for people listening today.

Barbara Hughes
Thank you. Thank you for having me.


Popular Articles in This Series

Podcast: Help! I Hate My Job (Jim Hamilton)

Jim Hamilton discusses what to do when you hate your job, offering encouragement for those frustrated in their work and explaining the difference between a job and a vocation.

View All


Crossway is a not-for-profit Christian ministry that exists solely for the purpose of proclaiming the gospel through publishing gospel-centered, Bible-centered content. Learn more or donate today at crossway.org/about.