How God Comforts and Nourishes Our Souls

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Chicken Soup for the Soul has sold more than 100 million books in the United States and Canada and has been translated into more than 40 languages. After the first book was published 23 years ago, it was so successful that more were written. And now, there are over 250 titles in what has become a Chicken Soup for the Soul series.

The book was developed by motivational speakers Jack Canfield and Mark Victor, who used inspirational stories in their talks. When people repeatedly asked if the stories were written down somewhere, Canfield and Victor decided to compile their best 101 stories in a book — and they called it Chicken Soup for the Soul. Their hope was that they could help others by sharing stories and provide comfort and encouragement, much like a bowl of hot soup on a rainy day.

While the stories of others can be inspirational and motivational, and we connect to others through story and can be soothed by reading or hearing what others have gone through, our souls need to be fed by the Word of God and time spent with God. Just as our bodies need food and water, our souls need spiritual nourishment that can only be found in walking with God.

The Bible speaks of receiving our “daily bread” each day (Matthew 6:11). When tempted by Satan in the desert to turn stones into bread, Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). In other words, Jesus pointed to the reality that man needs spiritual nourishment and that our souls are designed to feed on the sustenance God provides.

We Find Nourishment When We Go the Way God Leads

Isaiah 49:9 says this: “[I will say] to the captives, ‘Come out,’ and to those in darkness, ‘Be free!’ They will feed beside the roads and find pasture on every barren hill” (emphasis mine). To give us the context of this verse, earlier in Isaiah 49, the Messiah is the speaker and is addressing the nations. He tells of His purpose in restoring Israel to himself and being a light to the Gentiles. Here in this section of the passage, the verses speak further of the Messiah’s purpose in bringing captives out of their slavery to sin and into freedom in walking with Him. Certainly these verses can speak of unbelievers becoming saved, but also can be representative of our Christian journey when we have put our faith and trust in Jesus and follow where He leads.

However, this verse also speaks of the Israelites in captivity to Babylon and talks about how they will be led by a Savior back to their home in Israel. (Side note: Obviously, at this point in history, Jesus had not physically come to earth yet as the Messiah, but was still very much present in the story of the Old Testament.) If we look at the history of Israel, the Israelites were taken from their homes and put into captivity in Babylon when they fell into idolatry and disobedience and broke the terms of their covenant with God. God allowed them to suffer the ruin of Jerusalem and their temple and be taken from their homes, but then, in his loving kindness, after a time period of 70 years, He allowed them to return back to their homes.

We can further observe 2 things:

The passage tells us that “they will feed beside the roads.” Here, the passage gives us a picture of the captives being led home. Like sheep following a loving shepherd, they were given nourishment and taken care of when they went the way that God led. In a similar way, we will receive nourishment when we walk in the path God has for us. In some translations it reads, “They shall feed in the ways” (emphasis mine).

We can’t miss that the food showed up alongside the roads. It wasn’t given beforehand. They were actually underway on the journey when they encountered the needed sustenance. As Alexander MacLaren points out, they were fed as they went. While we may hesitate to follow Jesus when His way looks hard and we don’t like what He tells us to do, we can be assured that we will be refreshed and strengthened when we make time to listen to His voice and follow Him. Though another way may be easier and more comfortable initially, if it’s not God’s way, it will lead to spiritual stagnancy and starvation.

Also, along those lines, as MacLaren also explains, the ways will feed us. Those things we do in obedience to Him will be those that give us strength:

If you wish to weaken the influence of any principle upon you, do not work it out, and it will wither and die. If a man would grasp the fulness of spiritual sustenance which lies in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, let him go to work on the basis of the Gospel, and he ‘shall feed in the ways,’ and common duties will minister strength to him instead of taking strength from him. We can make the smallest daily incidents subserve our growth and our spiritual strength, because, if we thus do them, they will bring to us attestations of the reality of the faith by which we act on them.

Secondly, we should note that not only will we feed beside the roads, we will “find pasture on every barren hill.” We can easily miss the contrast here if we don’t examine the words closely, but a juxtaposition exists between the pasture and the barrenness of the hills in which they walk. To understand this, we need to know that the landscape described is such where the pastures in which the flocks feed are down in the valleys, or low parts. There is no grass or landscape to speak of on top of the hills or mountains.

We can be encouraged that not only will we be fed in the ways God leads, even when God leads us to a place that appears to be a bare place or wilderness, He will provide for us in those places and keep us sustained. Though we all want our walks with Jesus to lead us to places that are trouble-free, that isn’t the reality of what will happen as Christians. In many ways, our lives may get more difficult when we become Christians because we will encounter more stress and trouble when we attempt to live out the counter-cultural mandates of the Bible. In addition, we live in a fallen world where we have sadness, sickness, and many trials.

Yet, even in those places of trouble and hardship, though God won’t necessarily take those trials away, God will be with us providing strength and encouragement. We may be lead to barren places where we are in great pain, but in those places of pain, we will have the help of God. Though it may be a struggle every day for us to get out of bed, when we turn to God, we have a place where we can take our anxiety, depression, guilt, sadness, anger, frustration — whatever ails us. Scripture tells us that God is close to the broken-hearted and crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18; Psalm 147:3). It is better to walk with Him in those hard places than look for the comfortable path where we may have all we think we want, but be destitute in our souls.

Drawing the Sustenance God Offers

Friend, through our everyday trials, God is with us. He nourishes our souls in a way that only He can. And yet, we have to reach out and grab hold of the nourishment He offers. As MacLaren points out, “It is only an active Christian life that is a nourished and growing Christian life.” We have to intentionally draw close to God each day and read from His Word, and also obey His precepts. When we walk after Him and complete the tasks that He asks of us, He offers refreshment and strength and instruction to us in the process. We grow spiritually dry and stagnant when we neglect to carve out time for Him and His Word and ignore His voice or don’t attempt to hear His direction for us at all.

And what if we are far away at the moment? We can turn to Him and ask Him to help us get back on the right path. We can’t miss that the Israelites led were former captives — captives because of their sin and rebellion. And yet, God freed them from captivity. Just as the Jews are depicted in this passage as sheep led by a shepherd, we, as Christians, are also depicted as sheep elsewhere in the Bible (Psalm 100:3, Luke 15:4-7, John 10:11). When we allow God to lead us, He takes to places where there is an abundance of “food” for our souls. This truth can give us hope no matter what place we walk through — whether fertile valleys or barren heights.

Related Bible Verses:

Psalm 42:1: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.”

Philippians 4:19: “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.”

Related Resources:

This article is the second in our series “Finding Hope in the Midst of Disappointing Circumstances.” Check out Part 1: “Work That Truly Matters” on finding meaning and purpose when you are disappointed in the work God has given you because you aren’t seeing the results you want or you feel hidden in your place of service. Stay tuned for the next two weeks as we will continue through the series.

Podcast Notes and Corrections:

Proverbs 11:25 says: “A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” Many scholars and Bible teachers recognize the proverbs as providing principles, rather than sure-fire promises. However, because this idea can be found as a guarantee in other places of Scripture, we can refer to it as a promise.

For more study on Isaiah 49, Biblegateway.com and Biblehub.com provide some great free commentaries. I referenced Alexander MacLaren’s, in particular.

In reference to Canfield and Victor, founders of Chicken Soup for the Soul, they used the inspirational stories of others in their talks — not their stories.

*Updated February 9, 2019

 

 

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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Work That Truly Matters

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The English poet John Keats had the following written on his tombstone: “My name was writ in water.” Some mystery surrounds these words, but his epitaph most likely indicates a concern that plagues us all: We want our work to matter, and we want to be remembered and leave a lasting mark.

Though the world views meaningful work as making a name for ourselves, receiving recognition for an accomplishment, and/or amassing wealth and worldly goods — the Bible defines a life well-lived as one lived in obedience to God and one lived for the glory of God. Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work” (John 4:34). Similarly, when asked what work God required, Jesus answered, “Believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:29). The word “believe” in the Greek is “pisteuó,” and it means not only to be persuaded, but to give oneself up to God. Jesus was saying that the work of God is to be entirely dependent on God and go where He leads.

Although, at times, such a life following Jesus’ lead may include accomplishments that draw the attention of others or accumulate wealth for us, sometimes the path will be one that is out of the public eye and will involve acts of service which may not be applauded or noticed by anyone other than God. In fact, living a life for God may even lead to a life that appears, from a worldly perspective, to be a failure.

If we find ourselves in such a position where success as the world defines it is not ours, even as we are familiar with Scriptures that speak of losing one’s life to gain it for Christ, we may feel disappointment or discouragement. I love how The Bible Dictionary of Themes defines disappointment: “The sadness experienced when people or circumstances do not fulfill expectations.” Disappointment happens where there is a discrepancy between our reality and what we envisioned in our head. Why are we not seeing visible results, God? Why do I appear to be hidden in this place of service? Why have you allowed so much pain in my life?

Truth to Dispel Our Disappointment

Isaiah 49:4 tells us this: “But I said, ‘I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing at all. Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand, and my reward is with my God.’” The Message Translation says: “But I said, ‘I’ve worked for nothing. I’ve nothing to show for a life of hard work. Nevertheless, I’ll let God have the last word, I’ll let him pronounce the verdict.”

Although these words were written by Isaiah, the speaker is most likely Jesus here. He refers to Himself as Israel in other parts of Isaiah 49, and that can be a little confusing as He also speaks about Israel in sections of the passage. But we can gather from the other details He gives in the passage that the Messiah is indeed the speaker. For instance, if we jump down to the very next verse, the speaker says that His purpose is to “bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself” (v. 5). Furthermore, Jesus notes in verse 6 that He will not only restore the tribes of Jacob to himself but will be “a light for the Gentiles” (v. 6). We might understand His reference of Himself as Israel because He embodies the ideal attributes of the nation. In addition, we might also understand His choice of name when we look at other sections of Scripture and note that it is not uncommon for individuals to have more than one name.

Interestingly, Jesus speaks of one aspect of the pain of His ministry on earth in the passage: “I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing at all” (emphasis mine). He suffered in many ways, but one way that we don’t often think about in terms of His suffering is that Jesus spoke “in vain” to His own people. Certainly, His overall ministry was a success. He accomplished just what He came to do, and His death — perhaps what looked to be the biggest failure of all — was right in the Father’s will and accomplished what the Father wanted.

However, though He healed many and ushered in many to the kingdom, His own people, as a whole, rejected Him. In fact, only 120 disciples met after his ministry on earth ended (Acts 1:15). As Christ followers, we will have similar experiences when we minister. We, too, will suffer in that we won’t always get the results we hoped for. There will, many times, exist a discrepancy between our expectation and what actually happens, and this can lead to disappointment.

However, what can we take away from this passage? We have the encouragement provided in the second half of verse 4: “Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand, and my reward is with my God.” In other words, the speaker reassures Himself with the idea that He is approved by God and His work will be evaluated by God — and God’s evaluation is the only one that matters. Because here’s where our unmet expectations will turn to disappointment and despair: If our desire to follow God hinges on the results we’ve envisioned in our mind and our happiness is determined by whether we meet our goals. We may not.

In fact, chances are God will re-write our goals and His ideas won’t be anything like ours. But success (i.e. meaningful work) is centered not on what the world thinks of us, but rather, whether or not we attempted to obey Him and labor in accordance to what He asked us to do. Of course we will slip up and slide away and fail Him. But He will keep pulling us back to our course and though our labor may feel like it’s in vain, it isn’t if we keep looking to Him and following where He leads. We read in 1 Corinthians 15:58: “Therefore my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is never in vain.”

However, engaging in work that God directs may not always feel successful. Verse 5 tells us that Jesus was “honored in the eyes of the Lord,” but yet, as it says later in verse 7, “abhorred and despised by the nation.” He spent all his strength laboring for a people who refused to accept Him as the Messiah, but this wasn’t His only mission: He was to reach all the nations. And the moment that the Jews might point to as His biggest failure — His death — made it possible for us to receive salvation. And, we know from reading the rest of Scripture that a remnant of Israel will be saved. God is not done with the Jewish people yet.

Might this encourage us when we consider that the work we have done in service to God has a bigger purpose than we know, and that God is using our story for His glory, even though we can’t necessarily see His plan for our struggles at the moment?

Conclusion:

This past week, we had a ladies event at our church and the speaker was a woman who recently adopted a child from China. The boy she adopted had only half a heart, and she knew when she adopted him that he had severe challenges associated with his health. It wasn’t clear how long he would live or what his needs would be, but as an 18-month-old, he lay in his crib all day long and couldn’t even move his hands.

Yet, she felt God nudging her to adopt him. Not even knowing if he would make it on the plane ride back to the states or through the heart surgeries that would have to be performed when he arrived, she took a leap of faith. She and her husband determined that they would love this little boy whether he lived a day, a week, a month, or many years. He did make it through the plane ride and heart surgery (and other successive surgeries), and he is now a thriving 4-year-old little boy. He is completely non-verbal and has special needs, but still manages to communicate in his own way and is well-loved by her family.

However, as she relayed her story to us, she told us that her family has had to make some major changes. They can’t stay out late or go certain places because her son gets over-stimulated very easily and simply can’t handle certain types of outings. She could easily sink into disappointment about what she can’t do in her life at this point because of the constant care she has to give to her son, but she emphasized that her work right now is to be the mommy of this little boy.

For all of us, our work is individually tailored to us. Our work that God gives us might not look like adopting a boy for China, but it may mean being a light to the co-workers at our office. It may look like teaching children in the public school system. It may look like being a missionary overseas. A verse that she shared during her talk that has been personally meaningful to me is 1 Corinthians 3:9-13:

For we are co-workers in God’s service … . But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work.

As I wrote in a previous article, when we fulfill the tasks God ordains us to do and walk in His will, we build on the right foundation using “gold, silver, costly stones” (v. 12). In contrast, if we try to build in our own power, our work will not stand the test of time. As Bill Gillham notes in Lifetime Guarantee, our own fleshly pursuits are merely “the wood, hay or straw” that will not last, even if built on the right foundation (v. 12).

Even if we don’t like the place God has us, if we are doing work in the Father’s will, we can be encouraged that God is the evaluator of our work. Even if we don’t see any accolades or praise from others in this life, God knows just what we have done and promises to reward us.

Let’s pray: God, You may have some of us in difficult places that stretch us and make us uncomfortable. We might look at other people around us that appear to have more results or success and feel that our work isn’t important. However, if You have called us to the place we are in, we can find hope in your Word that our reward is with You. What appears to be failure may not be failure in Your eyes. Help us to use Your evaluation of us as a measuring stick for success, rather than the world’s measuring stick. When we’re disappointed by our circumstances, help us turn to You and continue to be faithful in the place You have called us to serve. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Related Resources:

This is the first post in a brand new series over Isaiah 49: “Hope in Disappointing Circumstances.” Check out the next few episodes to hear more on the hope we can have in the midst of challenging situations.

Are you new to Christianity and have not yet received Jesus as your Lord and Savior? Stop by our Know God page to learn more and consider inviting Jesus into your life.

Podcast Notes and Corrections:

John Keats example as one who had anxiety about leaving a legacy given in The Biblical Illustrator, commentary over Isaiah 49.

 

 

 

 

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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