The Good That Can Come From Our Pain

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A few years ago, when I went through my second miscarriage, I slipped into a deep period of grief and suffering that lasted several dark months.

In the midst of that season, I didn’t know if I could ever feel joy again. I felt confused as I looked around me at the healthy, happy people. How could others smile and enjoy life while I was too sick to stand on my feet for long periods of time?

While my physical health was on the mend and my emotions in an even more precarious state, I felt during that season that I was falling in a deep black hole. When I cried out to God for relief, He stitched across the divide and created a bottom to that bottom-less well. There would be an end to the grief, I found. I would climb out of the hole and find light and happiness once again.

A year after I had the miscarriage, I regained my health and was in a place where I could try again for another baby. However, I didn’t know if I had it in me emotionally and physically to go through another pregnancy. Before I had the chance to decide whether or not I could try again, I got the surprise of my life: I was pregnant!

I couldn’t believe it when I began to feel the tell-tale signs of a pregnancy. God, in His goodness, had allowed me to conceive again. And just because He is God, I got pregnant with my daughter Ansley exactly one year after my miscarriage date. I saw her on an ultrasound screen for the first time when she was 11 weeks — exactly the age of the one I had lost.

God Is Still Good When We Hurt

If only I had had the perspective following my pregnancy loss that I have now. It’s easy in times of intense suffering to believe that circumstances will never get better and assume God doesn’t care. While I don’t know everything entailed in your journey, I do know this: He is still good even when it hurts, and we can’t understand.

Recently, an unexpected medical situation popped up in my life. Doctors gave me a diagnosis of an internal tear, and it brought me to a place of pain for several weeks. Medical staff informed me painkillers would aggravate the problem, so I wasn’t given any. I was sent home with the same excruciating pain I felt going in and a small tube of numbing crème that didn’t numb anything at all.

And though the physical suffering was on a much smaller scale than the suffering I experienced after my miscarriage, I still suffered. And the questions still came: Why is this happening? Have you forgotten me, God? Why am I not getting better? Really? Did I have to get sick with a condition where they can’t give me any painkillers?

There was a point the morning after I spent the night in the urgent care where I was in so much pain (and so overwhelmed by the lack of pain management they were able to provide) that I burst into tears with the morning supervising nurse, saying: “I am a mom. I have three kids to take care of. How am I supposed to function?”

She surveyed me calmly, “What do you want me to do?” She wasn’t being rude, but she obviously had never suffered from this particular malady.

“I want you to fix me! I want a solution!” I felt like screaming these words, but instead I took a moment to edit them and present them in a much calmer manner. She gave a few suggestions, and I eventually stumbled out of there with a prescription for more crème and promises that a surgeon’s office would call me.

Why Suffering Can Be a Blessing

In retrospect, perhaps my grief in the urgent care was such because there was no easy fix. Suffering — physical or otherwise — takes us to that realization: Our bodies fail us. Our health isn’t forever what it was when we were teenagers. We realize again that our world is broken. We need only look around to survey the epic suffering all around us — and in us — and assess that things aren’t the way they should be.

Matthew 5:4 tells us, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

Certainly, as many theologians assert, this verse refers to those who become aware of their own sin and the sin of others and weep over that. In their repentance and remorse for sin, Jesus comforts by taking away their guilt. However, a second application exists as well. For those of us who mourn because life’s trials become too much, Jesus is there to comfort us then as well.

So, you might say, “Well, Jesus may be there for us in our sorrow, but isn’t it still a bit of a stretch to say a person is ‘blessed’ if he mourns?” That is a really great question, and I have a great answer for it. The word “blessed” means “fortunate.” It sounds completely upside down in all ways to say that a person who suffers is “fortunate.” However, suffering can at times be viewed as a very good thing. Here’s why: It points us back to our Creator.

C.S. Lewis wrote this: “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” What he meant is for the person who lives a life of ease and experiences very little pain, he may feel he can get along fine leaning on his own strength, but it is suffering that awakens him to his need of a Savior.

I once read a story about a proud atheist. He had a Christian grandson who tried unsuccessfully to witness to him. The grandfather lived as he pleased with great wealth, health, and happiness. However, in his later years, his health broke down. It was only in that place that he could receive the good news of the Gospel, sick on his deathbed, when all his worldly supports had failed him.

Similarly, sometimes our suffering is that which reminds us how weak we are on our own. Blessed are we in our suffering when we can look through our pain to the One who made us and call out to Him. God didn’t create the suffering on earth. He intended that we not live with sin or sickness.

However, He can use the suffering in our lives to help us reach a deeper awareness of Him. We may never find ourselves in such a position of utter dependence unless we first experience suffering.

Conclusion: God’s Grace Is Sufficient for Us When We Suffer

What can we conclude, then? In times of great affliction, a human solution doesn’t always exist: medicine that will take away the pain or a doctor that can make our body or mind go back to perfect health with a snap of a finger.

But no matter the diagnosis or circumstance, we can rest as believers in the truth that Jesus never leaves us, and He knows what we’re going through.

Admittedly, Jesus doesn’t always give us the physical healing we want right away. Some of us have to wait for eternity for that. But what He does give us is comfort and the strength to make it through each day relying on His power and not our own. In Him, we have a hope we can anchor ourselves to when everything has gone askew, and we can’t be sure of anything any longer.

In my most recent situation, I’d love to say that Jesus immediately took away my medical ills. But that’s not what happened. I improved slowly over a several week period. Some days I called out to Him in desperation to speed up the process — but did not get the immediate resolution I wanted. Rather, in one prayer time when I asked Him how he expected me to get through another day, these words came to mind, “ ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

More time passed where I experienced this same level of desperation. As more days went by, the pain lessened. And one morning, I woke up without pain. God had healed me.

I realize that not every story ends this way. And, certainly, I have had other situations that have had less desirable outcomes. However, Matthew 5:4 reminds us that we’re blessed when we mourn. Not just when the healing comes or life is going great.

We’re also blessed when we let our suffering remind us of our need for our Maker and allow His grace to be sufficient in our pain.

 

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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What Is Preventing You From Living a Set-Apart Life?

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Tune into the Beulah Girl Podcast. Co-hosts Carol Whitaker and Suzy Lolley explore finding identity in Christ. Episodes cover topics such as spiritual growth, relationships, emotional health, physical healing, ministry, and more. Subscribe to get each episode on Soundcloud or simply listen to the individual episode here.

Recently, my daughter was moved from her third grade class to a new class. The school had more third graders than they anticipated, so not even a few weeks into the school year, they are getting a new teacher and placing students in a new class.

This is very good news in many ways because my daughter will have a smaller learning environment, more one-on-one attention from her teacher, and less noise and chaos (as she was experiencing in her much bigger class). However, my daughter is sad about the move because she has to leave behind the comfort of her old classroom and her friends. Her best friend and the other girls she has befriended are not coming with her on the move.

The reason she was selected for the move was because of her high test scores — so while we can celebrate that her scores are so high, she is not excited because she feels like this move is a punishment.

Spiritually, sometimes we may feel like this as well. It’s exciting to be chosen by God for our specific calling — to be set apart to do His purposes, but the reality of the life we live as Christians is that we have to give up some things in order to be live a consecrated life. When we leave behind friends that we wanted to keep or lifestyle choices that we don’t really want to give up, those decisions can be painful.

However, if we choose not to let go of what God asks of us, these things we hold onto can become obstacles to following God’s will and letting ourselves be set apart for His purposes.

Consecration: A Life Set Apart

Before we continue on in our conversation, it’s important to understand what consecration is. According to Easton’s Bible Dictionary, consecration is “the devoting or setting apart of anything to the worship of God.” The Bible tells us that we are “living sacrifices” (Romans 12:1) and the “temple of God” (1 Corinthians 3:16, 17). Offering ourselves to God and living lives in His holy service is pleasing worship to him. In 1 Peter 2:9-12, we see our position as members of one body:

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praise of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, abut now you have received mercy. Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

This passage informs us that as believers we are a “chosen people, a royal priesthood” (v. 9). However, this means we are “foreigners and exiles” in this world, and we have to live differently than unbelievers and “abstain from sinful desires” (v. 11). While we can’t do anything to add to Jesus’ work on the cross in terms of our salvation, living a life that pleases and honors Him is a continual choice we make.

What it Means To Live a Consecrated Life

In The Spirit-Filled Life on Biblehub.com, John MacNeil stresses that consecration involves surrender, a transfer of ownership, and enthroning Christ. All of these points are interrelated, but what he means by “surrender” is that after conversion we give God our bodies, too, not just our souls. He quotes Dr. Chalmers as saying, “In conversion, God gives to me, but in consecration I give to God.”

By “transfer of ownership” he advocates that we live our lives ever aware of the fact that we have been purchased. MacNeil cites 1 Corinthians 19, 20 as support for this idea, which says, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price; therefore, glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” Consecration means that we continually remember that we belong to God and that our lives no longer are ours to do with as we please.

Additionally, when MacNeil says that we need to “enthrone Christ” in our life, he rightly advocates the idea that a consecrated life involves more than just conversion. At conversion, we invite Christ in the throne room, but to sanctify ourselves (in the sense of the New Testament usage) means to set apart ourselves so we put Christ on the throne and glorify Him in all we do.

However, as I previously mentioned, obstacles exist that can stand in the way of living out a life that is set apart for God. We must identify and remove these hindrances so we can live the Christian life we were called to live.

Obstacles That Stand in the Way of a Consecrated Life

1. Unbelief.

When many people hear the word “unbelief,” they think of unbelief in God’s existence. While it can mean that, unbelief is not believing in the truths we encounter in God’s Word or the promises of God. We can be a Christian and still struggle with unbelief.

In our spiritual walk, God continually grows and refines us as we walk with Him. However, at times we will come across truths in His Word that don’t sit right with us for whatever reason. We resist them because they go against our common sense or what we were taught when were young. Or they may urge us to do something that we don’t think we want to do or think we can do. In those moments, we have a choice to take the path of belief or the path of unbelief.

The famous evangelist Billy Graham had an experience in his Christian walk where he felt unsure about some of the truths he encountered in God’s Word. In fact, another prominent Christian pastor urged him not to take everything in the Bible as truth. However, Billy Graham prayed about it and came to this conclusion: By faith, he would accept everything in the Bible as truth even when he didn’t understand.

We must do the same. If we choose to walk our own way, we choose not to walk in God’s benefits and blessings that come from our obedience. We will get stagnant in our walk. It is impossible to please God without faith, and we must determine to stake our lives on the truth of the Bible whether it always sits right with us or not.

God invites our questions. His Word says that any who need wisdom should ask (James 1:5). It’s OK to wrestle and work out things — but not to walk away from God’s truth and choose our own.

2. Ignorance.

While unbelief is coming across a truth and not accepting it, ignorance is simply not knowing the truths of God.

I am a former English teacher. I love to delve into the Bible and analyze the meanings of passages and look up commentary. The Word of God is an endless source of wisdom for me. However, even if I study every second of every day for the rest of my life, I will never know every truth there is to know. There are some things that I will still not understand. However, even though I will never know everything, I need to make it a priority to learn every day about God. I need to carve out time with Him and open myself up to His truth. The Bible says that people die for lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6).

God honors our feeble steps of faith. When we are young in the faith, if we make attempts to learn about God and read His Word, the Holy Spirit helps to fill in the gaps. There have been times when the Holy Spirit counseled me from within on what to do in a particular situation before I had ever read the right passages. However, we need to make sure that we are learning continually from His Word and opening ourselves to hear from Him. When we don’t know the truths of God, we won’t be able to withstand the enemy’s attack or be prepared for the circumstances that come our way.

God doesn’t expect us to know or understand everything, but the Bible is clear that the wise learn and adhere to the commands of God. Proverbs 6:20-22 tells us this:

My son, keep your father’s command and do not forsake you mother’s teaching. Bind them always on your heart; fasten them around you neck. When you walk, they will guide you; when you sleep, they will watch over you; when you awake, they will speak to you.

Ignorance can prevent us from knowing how to live our lives in in a God-honoring manner. In addition, if we aren’t opening ourselves up to learn from God and hear from Him daily, this can be a major obstacle in our spiritual life.

3. Fear.

Lastly, I don’t know about you, but fear is a struggle for me. As a recovering people-pleaser, I don’t want to disappoint the people around me. I generally don’t choose actions that will make me stand out or look different because I fear the negative reactions or rejection of others. However, the Bible tells us that instead of fearing man and his reaction to us, we need to concern ourselves only with God’s view of us and instead fear God. Matthew 10:28 says, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

Similarly, Paul in Galatians 1:10 says, “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Proverbs 29:25 says this: “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.”

Rather than look at obedience as drudgery, we can view it in a different light entirely. The Bible tells us that giving ourselves to the work of God is a privilege. In Through My Eyes, by Tim Tebow, he talks about how he looks for opportunities to witness to others. In fact, he likes to be different and stand out. He defines being the same as everyone else as “average” and “mediocre.” He says this: “As I got older and heard kids talking about wanting to ‘fit in,’ or wanting to be ‘normal,’ I never quite understood why they felt that way. What’s the point of being ‘normal’? That sounds average to me, and I never felt like I was created to be average.”

I love his explanation and definition of being different. It inspires me to embrace obedience and the “peculiarity” we have as believers — viewing it as a special undertaking, not something we are forced to do out of obligation. To truly be vessels that God can use, we must not allow our fear to prevent us from stepping out and doing the will of God.

Consecration: Giving Back to God

Living a consecrated life means choosing to give back to God because of what He has done for us. Consecration means acknowledging that we belong to God, and we must allow Him to choose to do with us as He wants. However, as Rick Warren says in The Purpose-Driven Life, sometimes the “living sacrifice” likes to crawl off the altar. In other words, sometimes we don’t want to do what God would have us do.

However, in those moments we must remember that God knows what is best for our good and the good of others. He is making out of us a masterpiece to put His glory on display — and we must let Him do as He likes and trust Him even when it doesn’t make sense or He points us in a way that we don’t want to go.

Once, I had a choir director that gave me a part for a musical that I didn’t even try out for. I was getting back into music and tried out for a solo. He talked with me and selected instead a shorter duet over the background of a children’s choir. While the part wasn’t one I would have picked for myself, I realized that it was the perfect part for me. I am not sure I could have made in one piece through the longer solo as I was dealing with a lot of nerves getting back on the stage again — and the audience we had was a couple thousand. His judgment was better than mine, and he knew what was best in that situation.

Similarly, God doesn’t always pick for us the “part” we would pick for ourselves. Sometimes with our limited perspective, it’s hard to see what He’s doing or feel like His plan for us makes sense. If we surrender, however, as Charles Stanley notes in The Blessings of Brokenness, we will live a life that is much better and more fulfilling than we could have ever envisioned or orchestrated for ourselves.

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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Set Apart for God’s Special Purpose

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In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for special purposes and some for common use. Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work” (2 Timothy 2:20-21).

Vessels are meant to be used. Vessels are empty (“What Is a Vessel?”). As vessels of God, we don’t have to worry whether we have anything to put in the cup; we only need concern ourselves with what kind of cup we will be; God will do the infilling. We have a choice in this faith of ours (“What Is a Vessel?”). We can be rich or poor. We can enter heaven “like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames,” or we can receive a warm welcome into “eternal dwellings” (1 Corinthians 3:15 NLT; Luke 16:9). We can bring great riches into our eternal account, or — as harsh as it sounds — everything we did on earth can be burned in God’s fire (1 Corinthians 3:13-15).

As emphasized by Reverend Norman Holmes in “Vessels of Honor,” we make those choices now — will we be spiritually rich, fancy vessels of gold and silver, experiencing great supernatural experiences and mind-blowing visitations, or will we be like a coffee mug of the dollar store variety? God wants us to choose the precious. As we set ourselves apart for His purposes, He will Himself make us into that vessel He can use for special purposes — not a vessel that is left on the shelf and rarely used.

Consecration: Living Set-Apart Lives for Him

The word consecrate, according to Merriam Webster’s Dictionary, means to “set apart.” In a slightly different sense of the word, sanctification means to set apart as different but also carries the denotation of a cleansing occurring. If God calls you to set you apart, you are going to get a bath! For this reason, the two terms have come to be almost interchangeable over the years — not to be confused with justification, the just-as-if-I-had-never-sinned word. Justified is what Jesus did for us on the cross, consecration is what do out of gratitude for the fact, and sanctification is the ongoing outworking of the cross’s cleansing.

As a sidebar, as John MacNeil points out in The Spirit-Filled Life on Biblehub.com, it’s interesting to note Jesus said that He “sanctified Himself” (John 17:19). Obviously, He didn’t have to cleanse Himself. That sense of the word sanctified or consecrated — according to Ellicott’s Commentary — is thought of as He set Himself apart for “the work which was immediately before [Jesus] — the offering [up of] Himself.” It’s a good idea to be thinking of the work before us — God wants to use us!

So, consecration means we separate ourselves to God by giving ourselves back to Him in surrender. However, as MacNeil observes, in that surrender, we have choices. Will it be a total surrender, or will we maintain veto power? Will it be complete or will we reserve the right to indulge in “small” sins like venting our anger on social media? Will we have doors in our hearts that say “Do not enter” to God? Or will we allow Him to turn the light on in every area?

The Word says, “Deep calls to deep” (Psalm 42:7). The deeper we allow God to go — “Lord, instead of venting here, I will just tell you right now I don’t like this person, but I’ll make it between You and me. You see all,” the deeper His river can flow through us to the depths of others (MacNeil).

If we seek anointing, we have to let it go deep in ourselves first. In America we can be tempted to insulate our lives from suffering as so many entertainments are available to us here that can easily placate our souls, but God invites us to suffer in our flesh by allowing it to be crucified with Him, so He can flow through us into deep places to others. Like Jesus who “poured out His soul unto death,” if we pour out our souls in such a way, we will indeed know His anointing is flowing through us (Isaiah 53:12, AKJV).

Choosing to Be a Vessel God Can Use

As we choose what type of vessel we are going to be — silver and gold, or wood or clay — we must choose to leave some things behind. Like Jeremiah, we have to “extract the precious from the worthless” (Jeremiah 15:19, NASB).

Achan, a character in the Old Testament, chose to sneakily keep some spoils of war hidden in his tent. The result was all Israel suffered from his sin at the battle of Ai, where God allowed a defeat to the enemy’s forces. It’s not clear exactly what Achan stole from Jericho when it fell, but the Hebrew renders it “devoted things.” These devoted things were that which the Lord had said were to be destroyed — devoted to destruction. Nonetheless, Achan piled up a heap of the forbidden things in his tent. It wound up costing him his life.

Have we held on to that which God has devoted to “destruction”? If we hold on to sin, we are harboring a heap of trouble in our “tent.” Sexual sin, especially, as well as pride and the fear of man are “gateway sins” that open the door to other sins. We must allow the Holy Spirit to set us apart from who we used to be and the things we used to desire before the Lord can give us that ministry He so longs to.

As we allow God to take away our old self-image, our consecration results in purification. Otherwise, instead of being a precious vessel God can use, we are not only not that, we are — along with our hidden sins — like a rusty, old tin can. Instead of honor, we will, like Achan, experience devastation in areas God had never intended. This does not mean we won’t go to heaven, but it may mean huge areas of our lives will be subject to, well, destruction (1 Corinthians 3:15). Paul says, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap” (Galatians 6:7, NASB). Consecration and purification go hand-in-hand.

Part of separating oneself for God’s special purposes involves allowing God to bring boundaries into certain relationships, especially ones with unbelievers. Paul writes, “Therefore, come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you” (2 Corinthians 6:17).

I remember as a new hire at a workplace when a dear friend was throwing a party — one I very much planned to attend. Suddenly, the Holy Spirit crashed into my world and said, “Don’t go.” I was shocked! Didn’t the Lord realize I had already RSVP’d — that a last-minute cancellation wouldn’t be a good “witness”? Besides, everyone who was anyone was going to attend — namely, those I perceived that could solidify my standing at work.

Though I really wanted to go, I slowly began to concede to God’s plan. Just to show you what a coward I was, I did not have the guts to tell my friend I wasn’t coming, so, I was forced to write a note and deliver it. Soon, I sensed the presence of God on my life in a new way, but first I had to “die” to expectations to be a certain way. Remember the Bible says, “They are surprised that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of wild living, and they slander you” (1 Peter 4:4, HCSB). God began to deliver me from the fear of man. I was on the path to being the special, consecrated vessel I was created to become, and I eventually enjoyed becoming the leader of a blessed Bible study there.

Useful for God’s Kingdom Work

We can fit into American culture or fit into the culture of the kingdom of God. Paul writes, “For no one can lay a foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, his workmanship will be evident, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will prove the quality of each man’s work” (1 Corinthians 3:11-14). This is not something to fear but to anticipate. If we’re going to do this thing, we might as well do it right, surrender, step out in faith way beyond our ability to save ourselves, let Him set us apart, and see what God might do.

We live in times that demand our greatest efforts to draw near to God’s throne as people are paralyzed with fear and anxiety; they are wrestling with eternal questions now as never before. Ironically, the nightly news that can make us despair — with ISIS attacks, the sharp political divide in America, growing racial tension, threats of international war and natural disasters — has forced the discussion of religion back into people’s minds. The harvest is ripe as never before. We must be ready for the Master’s use in such a time as this.

As Joshua said to the Israelites before crossing the Jordan, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow, the Lord will do amazing things among you” (Joshua 3:5). It’s time to allow God to do the sometimes painful, but always wonderful — work He wants to do in us. Choose wisely today to be the precious, beautiful silver and gold vessel God wants you to be, and you will not only shine brightly now, you will reap a great reward.

 *Updated from the original version September 30, 2017

Stacey Crayton

Stacey Crayton

Stacey Crayton lives in Canton, Georgia, with her husband and feline despot, Gideon. Stacey's name means "resurrection," and it also is a story of her life -- many "deaths" in different areas that seem to keep returning as empowering events. She is a former contributing editor to "Living Water Journal" and enjoys hiking, biking, painting in oils, acrylics -- and recently, watercolors -- and loves nothing more than to wake up watching tree shadows flicker on the top of her tent. A teacher, Stacey holds a master's in Teaching English as a Second Language and is learning to praise God even in a current season of being in "God's waiting room." Her dream is to hold prophetic and deliverance conferences to see God's people get set free around the globe. Until then, she keeps practicing on herself, her family, and whoever will listen to her ministry in the "highways and byways." Stacey is a bold believer who specializes in witnessing for the kingdom of God.

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When Obedience in the Christian Life Is Hard

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As a high school English teacher, I remember my former department head telling me that after leaving teaching to become a stay-at-home mom for a few years, she cried every time she looked outside and saw the school busses come around each fall.

She missed her job as a teacher that much.

I had no idea what she meant at the time. I was a young motivated teacher with no children, and I didn’t consider that I would ever leave the field of education.

And now, into this current phase of life, I have been out of the education field for six years and have since birthed two more babies. It is very unlikely that I will ever go back. I left not only to be more present with my little ones but also to follow God’s leading.

And I can tell you, friend, sometimes the way He leads hurts.

Now, I am the one who gets a little weepy every time a new school year begins. I eye my children’s classrooms — the brightly colored bulletin boards, work bins, and neatly organized curriculum binders, and I get a little nostalgic.

Teaching is in my blood. My mom was a teacher. Several of my aunts. I lined up my stuffed animals as a child and pretended to teach them.

The truth is that leaving your old life to answer God’s call isn’t without cost. I remember my life as a teacher. How neat it all was. All the pieces wrapped up in a little bow. A paycheck. Summers off. All our debt paid. Vacations twice a year. A retirement pension.

I shudder now as I remember once callously telling a struggling single mom that I never let my bank account get under a certain amount. Wince. Double wince.

I think about that prideful statement now whenever I can’t buy shoes for my kids. On our current one-income status, my outfits the last few years have been mostly supplemented by my mom. It’s a good thing she is a gift giver and likes to send gifts! My maternity wardrobe while pregnant with my last child consisted of 9-year-old maternity dresses (when I got really big, only about five of these actually fit) that I rotated throughout my pregnancy.

In Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott, Josephine, a strong-willed sister and main character, sells her long beautiful tresses of hair to fund a ticket for her mother to go to Washington to see her wounded soldier father. Her sister asks her that night why she is crying, assuming the tears are for her father. Josephine laughs and explains the real reason, saying, “My hair!”

And they both crack up over her vanity. I can relate. Sometimes my own tears are equally as vain.

However, I need only look to Scripture to see what God says about the sacrifices we make to follow Christ. Perhaps these will help you as well if you long for a simpler time in your life without the trials you are currently facing:

 “Go, sell everything you have … . Then come, follow me” (Mark 10:21). These are the words of Jesus to a young rich man who inquired of Jesus what he needed to do to earn eternal life. The young man had observed outward regulations of religion, but Jesus looked at him with love and said, “One thing you lack. Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Mark 10:21). The man went away with a sad heart because he was unwilling to give up his wealth.

Jesus wasn’t really interested in the man giving up his money. He was interested in the man giving up what was closest to his heart. Essentially, we all have “wealth” — things that Jesus will ask us to surrender to follow Him. These could be relationships, jobs, material things, ideologies; Jesus wants us to give up the things we are holding onto to make room for Him.

 “Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it” (Luke 17:33).  Again, we have a few more lines on the same theme. Just like the rich man in the verse above, we will continually have choices as to whether or not we obey God’s voice in our life and follow His call or go our own way. Though there may be pain in the letting go, when we release what we think we want, we find real life and meaning.

 “Narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:14). Jesus said these words because He knew that not everyone would want their lives to be restricted by a narrow definition of right and wrong, salvation and purpose. Our world is constantly broadening the definitions of morality, marriage and family, identity, and salvation.

Why? A broad, encompassing definition of these areas makes life so much easier. It feels easier in the moment not to discipline oneself to read the Bible and follow its precepts. It feels easier not to commit to a marriage relationship over a long period of time. It feels easier to not be obedient to God’s call when there are far more alluring paths that call for our allegiance. However, the Bible is clear that those who walk the narrow path He offers will reap the benefits and avoid destruction.

I listened to a sermon this past Christmas Eve that stuck with me. It was an odd message for a Christmas Eve service, as the pastor acknowledged, because it didn’t cover the usual topics of Mary, Joseph, and the wise men. It covered Revelation 12:11, and as the pastor read the verse, one line jumped out at me: “They did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.” As my friend Suzy Lolley explained in in a past blog post (on an unrelated topic), the verse was a rhema word for me. Scripture came alive for me in that moment.

I had been asking God for a breakthrough in a few areas and here was a major key for me: I needed to stop loving my life more than I loved the things of God. When I hold onto my life loosely and care not what I lose in my devotion to Christ, I don’t see the things I let go of in the same way.

Around the same time I heard the Christmas Eve sermon, I read The Magnolia Story: Chip and Joanna Gaines; what struck me was Chip and Joanna’s obedience. They struggled and wrestled over God’s directives, but then they got over themselves and just did what God asked. Though they have a hit TV show, most of the homes they’ve done for others have been larger and grander than the homes they were living in at the time and the home they are living in now. They say this: They had learned to thrive even when things weren’t good.

I can’t say that my life has been without blessing. It has. But following God means letting go when He says and not holding on (even in my thoughts) to that which He has told me to release. It also means willingly following and obeying even if it makes me uncomfortable, I am afraid what people think, or I don’t like the way God is pointing.

Psalm 37:3-4 reminds us of this truth: “Trust in the Lord and do good. Then you will live safely in the land and prosper. Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 31:19 says it like this: “How abundant are the good things that you have stored up for those who fear you, that you bestow in the sight of all, on those who take refuge in you.”

We don’t suffer or go through hardship just for hardship. Sure, we get refined in the process, and our trials are those He allows because they bring Him glory. But we also do so confident in the knowledge that when we walk with Him and surrender to His leading, He has good in store for us.

Those tasks we do in obedience to Him — however hard — are the same ones that birth in us joy (Psalm 126:5).

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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Overcoming Fear in Doing the Will of God

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As believers, we’re called to serve God and offer ourselves as “living sacrifices for His glory” (Romans 12:1). However, there are real obstacles that threaten us in the midst of being faithful in living out His will for us. One of the major obstacles Christians face is fear.

As I explained in a previous post, Matthew 14:28-32 gives us a good illustration of what it looks like to falter in our walk of faith. In the passage we see that Peter goes on a faith walk towards Jesus but then begins to sink when he looks at the obstacles around him — the wind and the waves — and becomes afraid. Jesus pulls him up and chastises him for his lack of faith, but Jesus does not leave him in his failure. He tells him why he was sinking, and the two are able to climb back in the boat together and get to their destination.

However, Peter had to get past his very real unbelief and fear he felt in the moment, and Jesus addresses it. Similarly, many of us are desiring to be obedient to God, but we are dealing with crushing fear or another obstacle. How do we get past our fear when we are attempting to follow the will of God?

Not too long ago, I asked God this very question as I had been dealing with my own fear. Sometimes God answers me right away, and other times He waits for a season to respond. This time His answer came just a day or so after I had posed the query. I was looking for a calendar in a desk drawer, and a sheet of notes I had taken on Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life caught my eye. I’ve read this book from cover to cover on a few different occasions, but I have no recollection of taking these notes and can’t remember why I wrote down these ideas.

However, when I glanced over the scribbled words, God gave me an answer. Yet, as He often does, God didn’t respond in the way I thought He would. He gave me an entirely different response that I want to share with you.

Lessons from Rick Warren that we can apply to overcome our fear:

1. We have to understand what it means to rely on God and operate in His power.

While we may think of relying on God as a passive endeavor — one where we do absolutely nothing and He does everything — that is not the case. As Warren stresses, reliance on God doesn’t mean we don’t do anything. Trust in God means that we are co-workers with God. A few of the ideas I jotted down from Warren’s book:

  • Christ-likeness is not produced by imitation, but by inhabitation. We allow Christ to live through us.
  • We choose to do the right thing and trust God’s Spirit to give us His power, love, faith, and wisdom to do that.
  • The Holy Spirit releases His power the moment you take a step of faith.
  • Obedience unlocks God’s power.
  • God wants you to act first — move ahead in your weakness, doing the right thing in spite of your fears. That’s how you cooperate with the Holy Spirit.
  • Effort has nothing to do with your salvation, but it has much to do with your spiritual growth. At least eight times in the New Testament we are told to “make every effort” in our growth toward becoming like Jesus.

We need to pause for just a minute and let these wise words sink in. When we follow in God’s way, we won’t necessarily feel an absence of fear. However, God’s power meets us when we act in obedience. Psalm 63:8 says, “I cling to you; your right hand upholds me.” The King James 2000 Bible version says, “My soul follows hard after you: your right hand upholds me.” Some of us are waiting to not feel fear before we act or waiting for our feelings to line up with what God would have us to do. However, it is in taking the steps ordained for us by God that we are met by the Holy Spirit’s power.

Similarly, another place in Scripture where this concept of walking in trust and God’s power is illustrated is John 6:28, 29. In this passage, a crowd asks Jesus what they should do to do the work of God. Jesus responds by saying, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent” (v. 29). The word “believe” that is used can be translated in the Greek as “pisteuó,” which means to “believe, entrust.” According to Helps Word-Studies, this means “not only to be persuaded of something, but means to be persuaded by the Lord: it is belief that leads to/proceeds from God’s inbirthing of faith.”

The word “pisteuó” is a verb. So, not only does it mean what we believe in our thoughts — it refers to a giving up of oneself to God. This kind of entrusting leads to action in our lives as we follow His lead. According to the Encyclopedia of the Bible, faith is “that which responds to and is sustained by God’s faithfulness.”

A few years ago, I went through a hard season where God had me go back to my previous place of employment. He was walking me through healing from an addiction to others’ approval, and one of the hard tasks He had me do in walking out of my people-pleasing behavior was do the thing I fear the most: face people and reveal the ways that I had fallen short.

I had been a former high school teacher, and I had spent years cultivating the worship of my students. As a young teacher, I was flirtatious and had a male fan club in every class. Though my actions were not those that constituted an inappropriate relationship or illegal activity, I knew that I had not been a Christian role model for my students. God nudged me to make some hard contacts with my former classes and administration and apologize for not being a Godly role model and state that I was making a turn in my Christian walk.

This was difficult for me in many ways. You might think that I had great courage that enabled me to do this, but that isn’t the case. I knew I had no choice. I was terribly afraid, and it was not an easy task. I knew that that was the way God was pointing and for me to continue to walk with Him, I was going to have to obey Him. I did those actions in fear — but God enabled me in the process as I did what He asked, and He gave me grace as I was speaking to people.

2. Spiritual transformation is a process.

Saying spiritual growth doesn’t happen instantly is not a cop-out. Certainly, it says nowhere in the Bible that we should sin because it really does not matter. In fact, the Bible tells us the opposite. It tells us that if we know the right thing to do and don’t do it, for us it is sin (James 4:17). However, we need to know that spiritual maturity is a process that does take time. God gives us opportunities to learn and grow and become more like Him.

Warren emphasizes that God uses His Word, people, and circumstances to shape us. Therefore, our transformation away from fearfulness to courage — the kind Christ had — is not automatic. It will be gradual. In fact, God puts us in particular situations so that we can practice Christlikeness (Warren).

If we are having an issue with fear, He is going to put us in circumstances where we can practice breaking through this barrier to do His will. We may literally be shaking as we type up the email to send, tell our testimony to someone, or step away from a safe comfort zone (perhaps a stable job or living situation) to answer God’s call on our life. However, as we encounter more and more situations like this, we will become less fearful and more like Christ.

Salvation is worked out in each of our lives with the help of the Holy Spirit. In other words, God is always working in us to know and do His will (Philippians 2:12, 13). Warren explains a few things about this:

  • There are two parts to spiritual growth: work out and work in.
  • “Work out” is your responsibility. You don’t work for your salvation because you can’t add anything to Jesus’ work. You work out to develop the body, not get the body. We should make every effort to grow spiritually.
  • “Work in” is God’s role — as we make efforts to grow spiritually, God makes us more like His Son.

Again, we have here the idea, just as we discussed in the previous point, that overcoming our fear is a collaborative effort with God. It doesn’t happen right away. Whatever obstacles are hindering us from answering His call are those that we can overcome with His help when we believe that His power is enough. But He gives us lots of opportunities to work on making gains against whatever is holding us back.

Conclusion:

Fear will often prevent us from doing what we know to do in the moment of following God. However, we are not left alone in our fear. God promises us in His Word that when we step out in obedience into what feels like thin air, we will feel a solid rock under our feet. He will uphold those who put their trust in Him and follow Him when it feels hard, it feels scary, and we don’t know what to do.

The more we adopt this philosophy of believing that God will meet us in our weakness and stepping out even when our own strength is small, the more victory we will have in breaking past the obstacles that prevent us from being obedient and following Him. This isn’t a willpower thing — this is “I can do all things through Christ” kind of thing (Philippians 4:13).

Let’s pray: Dear God, help us in those times when we want to follow you but are afraid. Help us believe in your promises in the Bible and trust in Your power that You have made available to us as Christ followers. Forgive us for the times we have fallen short of Your perfect will. Help us be more bold in the future as we follow You. Amen.

How about you? Do you struggle with fear? Share with us in the comments!

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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