5 Strategies for Dealing With Depression, Part 2

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Depression steals into our lives wrapping us in a blanket of gray. What can we do in those times? In Part 1 of the podcast segment, we discuss how thanksgiving and prayer can help lift us out of depression. In Part 2, we wrap up with three more strategies including knowing it’s a season, keeping up with activities, and focusing on others.

If you are struggling with depression and are having thoughts of suicide, you can reach out and get help. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The hotline is open 24/7, and the call is free.

Related Resources:

Ever been in a bad situation and it just gets worse? Join us for our brand new series “Hope When You’re at the end of Your Rope: Lessons From Ruth on Trust, Surrender, and Healing.” In the study, we will look at the story of Ruth where will draw lessons the next few weeks on the hope we have when life gets hard, and we feel abandoned and in need of rescue. With this new series, we will begin a new podcast/post schedule where we post podcasts  during the week instead of the weekend. We will continue on with this series after next week when we wrap up talking about depression.

If you haven’t read the articles yet or listened to the podcast segments in the Ruth series, check out Part 1: “Why God’s Way Is Always Best” and Part 2: “Pushing Past Our Breaking Points to Do the Will of God.”

If you are not yet a follower of the blog and want to receive our latest posts, follow us on Twitter or Facebook. Or leave a comment with your thoughts. We’d love to hear from you!

 

 

 

 

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.

More Posts

5 Strategies for Dealing With Depression

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When I first moved to Georgia at the tender age of 21, a newly married bride with not a clue about how to be a wife or an adult for that matter, I slipped into a profound depression that lasted for three years.

I really didn’t realize it at the time, but I had walked into the perfect storm, a whirlwind of stressful life changes: a move to a different state into a new role as wife away from my support system of friends and family, a start as a transfer student in a much bigger university, and a transfer to a new branch of my job. I had no idea why I felt the way I did or how to make myself better. “Depression” sounded like a textbook term that had nothing to do with me. It never occurred to me that I was suffering from depression or what the root causes for that could possibly be.

Everything was new. And, to make the transition that much more difficult to embrace, I began to suffer renewed feelings of loss over a previous relationship that I had never been able to find closure in. I faked my way through lectures in lecture halls, shifts at work — and then fell into bed feeling like I was at the bottom of a cycling torpedo of black despair.

I didn’t think there was any way that I could possibly claw my way out of how I felt. One of the reasons that it went on so long is because I didn’t talk about it with anyone. I lived a double life — presenting a smiling façade to the world and suffering alone with my own angst. It was not until I went forward for prayer one Sunday, and the pastor mentioned that he felt someone needed to forgive someone and say that person’s name, that some things began to click for me. I said the name of the person I needed to forgive; instantly, the black clouds enveloping me parted.

Although I didn’t have all the answers leaving the altar that day, I understood something important about myself: I had been carrying the weight of unforgiveness and the other person’s negative view of me around for years and carried it right into my marriage. I felt so depressed partly because I had so much repressed anger at the individual in the relationship and anger at myself for “failing” in the relationship. Even though I was married, I had never processed through the emotions from the previous relationship; therefore, those emotions reared up at a time when I was feeling insecure, vulnerable, and out of my element.

Christians Get Depressed

Somewhere along the way I got the idea that as a Christian I have to be happy all the time or the world will not want what I have to offer, but what I didn’t realize is that the world does not need a false façade or a fake person. The world needs authentic, flaws and all.

The reality is not that Christians will never get depressed. Christians do get depressed. We need to look no further than the book of Psalms to see a man often in the depths of despair. David got depressed! He expressed great despair when God took his child that he conceived with Bathsheba; when armies advanced and his enemies outnumbered him; when troubles overtook him and his body was weak and sick as a result.

Depression is not something to hide or pretend away. When we are depressed, our mind is processing through a loss of some kind or reacting to a stressful event or situation. The solution is not to pretend that we don’t have a problem but instead look to the root of the depression and determine the source of our negative feelings. Is there a relationship that we need to reconcile? Do we have unresolved anger towards a person, an individual, ourselves, or God? Have we just experienced a loss of some kind such as a death of a loved one, a loss of a position, or the loss of our health? Those circumstances can encourage negative thoughts that leave us feeling depressed. (More here on Forgiving Others: Taking a Relationship Inventory.)

David had the right idea. He poured out his heart to God and penned his very real emotions into poignant psalms. He didn’t put on a brave front to God and pretend like he had everything under control. He got real and admitted his need for God. However, nowhere does it say in Scripture that God was upset at him for having those emotions. God can handle our bad feelings.

Because of my own struggles since that day at the altar, I have come to understand more about how to overcome depression and accepted the fact that Christians do get depressed, but we don’t have to stay depressed. We may not get to choose the circumstances that leave us feeling down or the reactions people have to us that make us feel isolated and unloved, but we can choose the way we handle and react to those times when a blanket of gray envelops our souls.

5 Things We Can Do When We Are Depressed

1. Practice thanksgiving in the moment.

I used to consider myself a realist. I thought that in order to see the world realistically and shield myself from unneeded pain meant anticipating when this pain would rear its ugly head. However, this just made me a paranoid, critical person who wasn’t very fun to be around. Thanksgiving didn’t seem like something that would help me crawl out of the pit of pain I had fallen into.

However, it is no coincidence that so many verses in the Bible stress being grateful in all circumstances. Thanksgiving helps to take the edge off of the pain — even forget it. Ann Voskamp recommends listing gifts daily in her study One Thousand Gifts. She carries around a list and writes down her “gifts” as she goes through her day.

This may not sound like a profound activity, but when we meditate on the negative problems happening in our life, it takes our mind to a dark place. The more time we spend stewing over what is wrong and the people who have wronged us, the more time we spend in the throes of depression.

Habitually listing what we are grateful for and rehearsing that in our mind may feel a little forced and silly at first, but as we continue to engage in intentional gratitude, we will find that our depression lifts much sooner — and we can have peace even in the midst of very stressful circumstances.

2. Prayer.

Prayer sounds like a no-brainer solution that well-meaning people offer you when they don’t know what else to say, but it really does work. Even though it is helpful to talk to others, no one else can help us in our situation like God. We can be honest with him about how much that person’s remark hurt us, or how scared we are about taking a step of faith, or how angry we are at our spouse.

Prayer time is a great emotion neutralizer. We come into it with angry, despairing, devastating emotions and walk out of it with a different perspective, a sense of calm, and a release from all of the bad that has been swirling inside of us. As Philippians 4:6-7 recommends: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

When we are at our lowest, we just don’t feel like praying at all, but when we pray despite not feeling like it, we really see results. In fact, as this verse suggests, God promises to guard our heart against the anger, despair, and bitterness that threaten to overtake us. God’s peace becomes our protector. However, as this verse suggests we need to present our requests with thanksgiving to experience God’s peace in our situation.

3. Know it’s a season.

Depression can sometimes last for a long time — especially if it is following a loss of some kind. There may be quite a bit of time that passes before we begin to feel good again. In her CNN article “Going Public With Depression,” published shortly after Robin Williams’ death, Kat Kinsman reflects on her own journey battling depression at fourteen and how she feels now as an adult:

Now, 25 years later, I’ve lost too much time and too many people to feel any shame about the way my psyche is built. How from time to time, for no good reason, it drops a thick, dark jar over me to block out air and love and light, and keeps me at arm’s length from the people I love most.

The pain and ferocity of the bouts have never eased, but I’ve lived in my body long enough to know that while I’ll never ‘snap out of it,’ at some point the glass will crack and I’ll be free to walk about in the world again. It happens every time, and I have developed a few tricks to remind myself of that as best I can when I’m buried deepest.

While I can’t agree with everything Kinsman says concerning depression (namely, I believe that we can overcome our negative thinking patterns), I like how she acknowledges that we can look to the hope that we may be in a hard season, but it won’t last forever.

Knowing that the depression will pass and that there will be a day when we wake up and no longer feel trapped in a black hole helps us when we don’t feel like talking about it, praying about it, or keeping in touch with the outside world.

4. Keep moving.

In yet another juncture of my life, when I had quit teaching and was feeling isolated and insignificant in my role as stay-at-home mom, I felt like I was in a major slump. Something told me to just keep going. Keep attending church events. Sign up for a mom class. Keep searching for a school for my daughter. Keep showing up at my husband’s basketball games.

Sometimes when we are praying and working through things, and we still feel like we are in the valley, choosing to continue to engage in social avenues helps to lift some of the heaviness. As Joyce Meyer suggests in Approval to Addiction:

When we are hurting, our natural tendency is to nurse our wounds. We may want to isolate ourselves and think about how pitifully we have been treated. I have discovered that when I am hurting, the best thing I can do is keep moving. While I am hurting, I just keep doing what I would be doing if I were not hurting. I go to work, I study, I pray, I go out and preach, I keep my commitments. I keep doing the good things God has given me to do, and I trust Him to take care of the evil things.

5. Focus on others.

As I detail in another post, I was at the doctor’s after a miscarriage for an ultrasound and follow-up visit, and I felt God’s nudge to minister to some of the nurses and patients at the doctor’s office. I have to admit that I was very uncomfortable with the idea. Offended, even. Are you serious, God?  Do you really want me to say some things to these people when my own heart is broken?

It turns out that reaching out to others in my own pain and sharing my story had a very healing effect on me. I actually started feeling more sorry for some of the pregnant women in the office then for my own un-pregnant state. I have to attribute this feeling to God because my own feelings did not suggest to me that I should do anything but focus on my own state. God knew by pulling my heartstrings that I would help myself by turning outward and aiding others.

As a side note, we can often swing to drastic extremes where we try so hard to pretend nothing is wrong and only focus on others that we lose ourselves in the process. With keeping our commitments and focusing on others, I definitely am not suggesting doing these things without taking care of ourselves. There definitely needs to be some alone grieving time after painful events or losses; however, sometimes we can isolate ourselves to the point where we hurt ourselves more.

Conclusion:

As I look back on some of the seasons where I thought that my depression would consume me whole, I can reflect quite happily on the fact that I made it through. In time, the feelings lifted, and I was able to enjoy life again. Although I was fortunate to get the healing I needed at the altar as a young bride, there have been other seasons that took some persistence and perseverance to make it through the tough valleys.

Simply knowing that bad things will happen, and we will experience negative emotions but do not have to let these things derail or define us — helps a little when sadness steals its way into our lives.

For a discussion on the first two points of this article and a story of a holiday meltdown, check out the podcast. We will return next week with a discussion of the last three points of this post:

Podcast Notes and Corrections:

Curious about the hymn and hymn writer mentioned in the podcast? Check out the following article on William Cowper about his life: “Depression Fought Hard to Have Him” by John Piper of desiringgod.org. For a recording of the song, click here.

Related Resources:

Ever been in a bad situation and it just gets worse? Join us for our brand new series “Hope When You’re at the end of Your Rope: Lessons From Ruth on Trust, Surrender, and Healing.” In the study, we will look at the story of Ruth where will draw lessons the next few weeks on the hope we have when life gets hard, and we feel abandoned and in need of rescue. With this new series, we will begin a new podcast/post schedule where we post podcasts  during the week instead of the weekend. We will continue on with this series after next week when we wrap up talking about depression.

If you haven’t read the articles yet or listened to the podcast segments in the Ruth series, check out Part 1: “Why God’s Way Is Always Best” and Part 2: “Pushing Past Our Breaking Points to Do the Will of God.”

If you are not yet a follower of the blog and want to receive our latest posts, follow us on Twitter or Facebook. Or leave a comment with your thoughts. We’d love to hear from you!

*Adapted from “A Christian Perspective: How to Overcome Depression,” published November 18, 2014. Updated December 1, 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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Pushing Past Our Breaking Points to Do the Will of God

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“Call her back.”

I felt God’s nudge when I hung up the phone with the call center representative. After making an appointment, I had felt led to ask her if she needed prayer for anything. She gladly consented and shared her needs. I prayed with her on the phone and then hung up. I then heard God’s nudge to call her back.

I put my head in my lap and groaned in exhaustion. This woman hadn’t been the first one I had talked to that day. I had been on and off the phone for two and half hours, and she had been the fifth woman I had talked to. I had no idea I would be on the phone so long when I had called in the morning to make an appointment.

Yet, with each person I talked to I felt God’s nudge to witness, encourage, or pray for the person on the other line. Each time I got off the phone, I felt God’s whisper to keep calling. Therefore, I hadn’t planned to make appointments for my entire family, but I went ahead and scheduled appointments for the rest of my family that I had planned to do on a different day and listened to God’s voice with each new person that came on the line. I had had some breaks in between, but I hadn’t eaten lunch as of yet and needed to get my kids off the bus. Therefore, when I felt His voice once more with the fifth person after a good portion of my day had been taken up already, I felt irritated. I was hungry, cranky, and tired. As an introvert, I found it anxiety-inducing talking to strangers on the phone just to make regular appointments — let alone have spiritual conversations with said strangers.

“Lord, why would you ask me to do this? Am I even hearing from you?” I voiced in disbelief. The verse “Not my will but yours be done” popped in my head, but I dismissed the words. Surely, God’s will for me on that day wasn’t to talk to the majority of the call center. I felt a resistance rising up in my heart. This had been a day in a series of days this week where God had asked more of me than I felt I had to give. While I often had God assignments in the course of my days that stretched me –the assignments that week had been much more relentless and time-consuming to the point that I questioned if I was even hearing from God.

Shortly after my pity-party, I read in the study I am going through how Lysa Terkeurst’s daughter felt led to fast and pray for a family all day long. Her mom — yes, Lysa, the Bible teacher — tried to talk her into only fasting until the end of the day, but she insisted. The all-day part got my attention when I read it. Yes, I knew God really wanted me to call the fifth woman back. So, after some grumbling, I picked up the phone once more the next day and called. I had to leave a message and missed her call. I called back once more and was told she would call me. I explained what I was doing to the woman on the line helping me and must have sounded insane, but perhaps she was the person that needed to hear the story.

Whatever the case, I finally felt a release when I just went ahead and did what God asked — but there are other assignments that week that I am still praying about because God brought me to my breaking point, and I felt that I left some unfinished steps. I wanted to do what He asked, but I didn’t realize that I had drawn up boundaries for Him. I had places that I didn’t want Him to go and lines that I didn’t want Him to cross. I didn’t even know I had those limits, but He showed me exactly where those were.

All of us have breaking points. Certain aggravating circumstances present themselves and we hit a wall and feel that we can go no further.

“I can’t!” we cry to the Lord. Yet, to get to our desired destinations requires that we push beyond our feelings of exhaustion, doubt, or discomfort in the moment.

A Woman Who Perseveres Past Her Breaking Point

In Ruth 1, Ruth and her sister-in-law, Orpah, face an important crossroads. After their father-in-law and husbands die, they set out with their mother-in-law from Moab for Judah. However, after they travel with Naomi some of the distance, Naomi urges them to go back.

The journey has been long and hard up to that point, and it has no promise of getting easier. If they continue with her, they will be traveling to an unknown place and will have to rely on the kindness of others. We pick up the story in Ruth 1:8-17:

Then Naomi said to her daughters-in-law, ‘Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the LORD show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me. May the LORD grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.’

Then she kissed them goodbye and they wept aloud and said to her, ‘We will go back with you to your people.’

But Naomi said, ‘Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands? Return home, my daughters, I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me — even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons — would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters, it is more bitter for me than for you, because the LORD’s hand has turned against me!’

At this they wept aloud again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to her.

‘Look,’ said Naomi, ‘your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.’

But Ruth replied, ‘Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay.’

What can we learn from Orpah and Ruth’s different reactions when brought to their breaking points?

1. Getting to our promised land requires that we continually move forward, not back.

The point where Orpah parted from Naomi and Ruth was possibly at the Jordan River. To go forward meant to push into the land promised and given to God’s people, but to turn back at that point meant moving backwards into a land that stood as an obstacle between the Israelites and the Promised Land when the Israelites initially set out to possess the land. Orpah traveled some of the distance with Naomi and Ruth, but then she got to a point where she would not go any further. Her words indicate that she was a caring daughter-in-law, concerned about her mother-in-law and attached to her, but her faith did not sustain her past a certain point.

Therefore, though she cried tears when faced with the prospect of going back, she made no move to stay committed to the course she was on. Therefore, even though she had traveled some of the distance and may have even intended to travel the entire distance, she turned back and returned to her gods. Ruth on the other hand, as we discussed last week, “clung” tenaciously to Naomi and declared, “Don’t urge me to leave you to turn back from you. Your people will be my people and your God will be my God” (v. 16).

All of us have places that will be breaking points for us if we’re not careful. We may traverse a certain distance with God and even do it quite cheerfully, but then turn back when we face unexpected trials or simply lose steam in our walks with Christ. When we’re tempted to turn away from God, we can confess our struggle to Him, ask Him to renew our resolve, and ask Him to help us make it past the point that threatens to break us.

2. Pushing forward means pushing past the opposition.

Not only does Ruth have to persevere in her tough circumstances by travelling from Moab to Judah by foot and deal with all the emotions she must have felt as a widow, she also had to push ahead when opposing voices tell her she doesn’t have to take such a difficult path. When God calls us to a particular course, we will have naysayers that urge us not take the course. These may be people who are not in close relationship with God or these may be godly people who may not know or understand what God is telling us.

Naomi urges Ruth to return to her people so that she can find “rest” once again in the home of new husband (v. 9). Although Naomi is a godly woman, she tries to persuade her daughters-in-law to return to their family and gods so that her daughters-in-law will avoid the suffering and hardship that would most likely be inevitable if they continue on with her.

In this day and time, a woman’s role centered around being a wife and mother; therefore, her daughters-in-law only hope of finding security and provision they needed would be in the home of a husband. Naomi is concerned that if her daughters-in-law travel with her that they will lose all chance of finding husbands as she has no more sons and is too old to bear more. Ruth does a truly noble thing here in that she understands that the only rest she needs is that which she finds in Naomi’s God. So, she maintains her insistence that she go with Naomi and Naomi relents. However, Ruth’s move is bold as she, a widow, has no promise of provision or protection in Judah.

Ruth not only has to firmly hold her own when Naomi attempts to persuade her to go back, she also has to maintain her position when Orpah decides to turn back. Orpah and Ruth were both Moabites. They could have helped and supported each other once in Judah, as they both would have been foreigners. They had developed a close relationship as sisters-in-law, and no doubt Ruth was disheartened and discouraged when Orpah decided she could go no further.

What can we learn from Ruth’s actions here? Godly friends are good, and we should seek out godly counsel. But our decision to follow God will be tested. At times, God will allow us to walk through circumstances where we feel alone and others don’t rush in to give us the support we need or may even draw back from us when we forge ahead with God’s plans. Even in those circumstances, as Ruth does here, we should not be discouraged from going on but keep walking down the path God has for us.

3. Our breaking points may not be far from God’s blessings.

Even though it appeared that Ruth would only find more tragedy in leaving behind promising connections in Moab and going to Judah, she, in fact, by choosing to follow God, walked straight into unimaginable blessing. However, she could not have known what awaited her down the road leading away from Moab. What if she had followed Orpah and turned back at the point when circumstances looked and felt the worse? What is she hadn’t trusted God in her bleak circumstance — and turned back to her gods?

Sometimes our biggest blessings await us on the other side of our pain. While it might appear that nothing but suffering and hardship await us when we walk in God’s way, we see when we fast-forward in the story (Ruth does indeed find a husband and bears a son in the lineage of Jesus!) that God can work in our most difficult situations and turn them not only for our good but His glory. A.A. Thomson says this in The Biblical Illustrator:

How unfit we are to judge of an unfinished providence, and how necessary it is, if we would understand aright the reasons of God’s ways, that we should wait and see the web with its many colors woven out! Three short months, during which those dark providences were suddenly to blossom into prosperity and joy, would give to that sorrowful woman another interpretation of her long exile in Moab. When the night seems the darkest we are often nearest the dawn. Begin to tune thy harp, O weeping saint and weary pilgrim! ‘The night is far spent, the day is at hand.’ Learn to wait. When the great drama of our earth’s history is ended … God will again pronounce all to be ‘very good.’

Conclusion:

All of us will reach places in our spiritual walks that threaten to break us. “I can’t take another minute of this, God,” we may shout. We may want to turn away, escape to worldly distractions and comfort. We can learn from Ruth, though, that a woman who perseveres is a woman who finds blessings on the other side of her pain.

While me may not always know or understand why God allows what He does or why we’re in the situations we’re in, we can trust that all works for good for those who love God and walk in His ways.

Related Resources:

Ever been in a bad situation and it just gets worse? Join us for our brand new series “Hope When You’re at the end of Your Rope: Lessons From Ruth on Trust, Surrender, and Healing.” In the study, we will look at the story of Ruth where will draw lessons the next few weeks on the hope we have when life gets hard, and we feel abandoned and in need of rescue. With this new series, we will begin a new podcast/post schedule where we post podcasts  during the week instead of the weekend. (Correction from last week: Oops! Sorry, we said we would post podcasts at the beginning of the week. We were late this week on posting and will post during the week for the duration of this series.)

Check out last week’s post on Ruth 1, where we discuss how God’s will is always best even when He leads us down paths that don’t look the most advantageous.

If you are not yet a follower of the blog and want to receive our latest posts, follow us on Twitter or Facebook. Or leave a comment with your thoughts. We’d love to hear from you!

 *Revised November 22, 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.

More Posts

Why God’s Way Is Always Best

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“Two paths diverged in the wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

I’ve always liked this line from Robert Frost’s poem, and I like these words even better as I’ve grown older and experienced the truth that these words represent.

We will often have two paths before us and the best path isn’t always the one that looks to be the best. As humans we’re used to choosing what will be to our advantage, but we’re not always adept at determining how a decision will turn out. God can trace down and see where a path will lead whereas we can only see the inviting entry point. Sometimes the path that God leads us down won’t look at the outset like the most advantageous path for us, but it is if God is leading us.

Ruth: A Woman Who Chooses a Harder Path

In Ruth 1, we see a woman who chooses a path that does not look initially to be the best for her. When hard circumstances hit her family and her husband and brother-in-law dies (after her father-in-law died several years before), her mother-in-law decides to go back to Judah and urges Ruth and her sister-in-law, Orpah, to return back to their families. While both Ruth and Orpah travel with Naomi initially and say they will go with her, only Ruth stays with Naomi. Let’s take a look at the story in Ruth 1:1-18:

In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. The man’s name was Elimilek, his wife’s name Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.

Now Elimilek, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband. With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah.

Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, ‘Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the LORD show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me. May the LORD grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.’

Then she kissed them goodbye and they wept aloud and said to her, ‘We will go back with you to your people.’

But Naomi said, ‘Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands? Return home, my daughters: I am too old to have another husband … No my daughters. It is more bitter for me than you, because the LORD’s hand has turned against me!’

At this they wept aloud again. Then Orpah kissed her mother in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to her.

‘Look,’ said Naomi, ‘your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.’

But Ruth replied, ‘Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and you God will be my God. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.’ When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.

What can we learn from this passage about choosing the path to follow God even in tough circumstances?

1. God remains sovereign in situations that seem out-of-control.

One detail in the story that we might overlook is that it was “questionable,” as one commentator put it, that Elimilek’s family was in Moab to begin with. God had brought the Israelites to the Promised Land, and though they suffered a famine in Bethlehem, God sustained His people in the midst of the famine.

Elimilek sought to escape from the famine, and although he encountered plenty in the land of Moab, he eventually lost his life. Therefore, though he hoped to find better circumstances in Moab, he was worse off than he would have been in Bethlehem. His move to Moab was a backwards move for his family, rather than forwards. Furthermore, after he died, his sons married foreign wives even though God’s covenant with Israelites specified that they not take foreign wives.

Some scholars suggest that the tragedy that came on Elimilek and his sons may have occurred because they violated God’s law. I like how David Guzik discusses this passage: “It is hard to say that this was the direct hand of God’s judgment against them. It is sometimes difficult to discern why tragic things happen. What is certain is that the change of scenery doesn’t make things better. We sometimes think we can move away from our problems, but find we just bring them with us. No matter where you go, you bring yourself with you — so the same problems can continue in a different place.”

No matter the reason for the deaths of Elimilek and his sons, we can determine that Ruth was in the situation she was in because of the decisions of others and circumstances beyond her control. Often, when we find ourselves at the bottom of confusing, painful circumstances that we didn’t cause or choose — we can wonder what God is doing and why He has allowed what He has. Yet, if we fast forward just a few passages, God was sovereign and already had provision planned for Ruth when she arrived in Judah.

Ruth wasn’t the only recipient of God’s grace and provision. Naomi, too, received God’s provision. We don’t know what role Naomi had to play in her husband and sons’ decisions, but she declares that God’s hand has turned against her (v. 21). She may have said these words merely in recognition of God’s sovereignty or because she felt that God dealt with her family for their wrong choices.

Whatever the case, Naomi, like Ruth, turns to God and He works on her behalf. God works through hard situations — whether caused by the actions of others or our own actions. And we should know that there is hope for us just as there was hope for Ruth and Naomi. We, too, can turn to Him in our struggle, and He can work all things (even our mistakes and missteps) together for our good (Romans 8:28).

2. Even in hard situations that we didn’t choose, we can trust God and follow Him even when it doesn’t make sense.

Because of the circumstances that happen to Ruth’s family, she, Naomi, and Orpah are left at a difficult crossroads. At first, Ruth’s sister-in-law, Orpah, says that she plans to travel with them and go to Bethlehem. But then, she abandons that plan and returns to her family and gods. As a Moabite, she had grown up serving other gods, but in marrying Elimilek’s son, she had been exposed to the one true God. Perhaps she had exhibited allegiance at one point, but then when she considered the hardships ahead, she decided to abandon God for what appeared a more advantageous path. If she returned home, she would surely find a husband again — even if it meant no longer following God.

Ruth, on the other hand, “clung” to Naomi with a rare tenacity and makes this declaration in verses 16 and 17: “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God will by my God.” She chooses the harder path: to go with Naomi meant to leave her homeland, family, and gods and walk towards a life that by all appearances did not look so promising. As a widow, she would be poor and could not expect more beyond hard work and a low status.

Certainly, as we see in the next few chapters, Ruth had to work hard gleaning wheat in a field all day in the hot sun, relying on others’ kindness to get needed sustenance. She could have followed Orpah out the door, but she instead went the harder way of following God when she couldn’t see how such a move would benefit her.

3. We have to commit to the course, having a “whatever it takes” attitude.

Ruth committed to following God and then kept faithfully on that course. Naomi tries to talk her out of going with her, but then stops when she sees that Ruth is “determined” to go with her (v. 18).

We will have those in our lives who attempt to talk us out of certain parts of our calling, but if we are walking in the will of God, we can gently put those arguments to rest and persevere on against the odds to live out our calling. Paul says in Philippians 3:13: “Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.” For Paul, answering God’s call meant leaving behind his prestigious titles and standing in the community and embracing prison, shipwrecks, hunger, opposition, and execution.

Similarly, Ruth here will not abandon God and go back to her former life, but instead presses on. When they arrive in Bethlehem, she demonstrates her tenacity further by doing what she could to support herself and her mother-in-law. Were there moments when she felt her hope slip away when she viewed married women in the community happily established and enjoying the protection and care of a husband? Did she remember longingly at times all that was familiar in Moab? Did she at times wonder if the new God she was following actually was going to come through for her? I am quite sure she did. We don’t know her thought processes, but we can imagine that the hard path she had chosen, although the right one, must have been burdensome.

Walking in God’s Will Brings Blessings

God’s ways aren’t our ways. Often what looks to be the right way in our own eyes will only lead to bondage and suffering. I love what Lysa Terkeurst says, “The safest place to be is in the center of God’s will.” Proverbs 3:5, 6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.” We will encounter obstacles when walking in His will, but they will be those that God will help us overcome and see us through.

In my own life, years ago, I felt God asking me to step away from music for a season and instead pursue a ministry training program and start the blog. I fought against what God told me because a better opportunity appeared to open in front of me. It was right there for the taking. But God gave me a firm no, and it broke my heart. At first, I rejected what I thought I was hearing. How can this be, God? I have a calling to be used in music. So, I persisted in going the direction I wanted to go, but I didn’t get far. His “no” to me was relentless, and I eventually felt such a lack of peace I stepped away from the opportunity a few days later. As it turns out, sometime later we ended up moving. That particular collaboration with certain individuals would not have worked out.

If God is a good God and knows what is best for us, He will only lead us in the best way. But it won’t always feel like it. When tempted to go our own way, which might initially look more advantageous, we can look at the story of Ruth and see how she was blessed when she went the harder way — at the center of God’s will.

Related Resources:

Ever been in a bad situation and it just gets worse? Join us for our brand new series “Hope When You’re at the end of Your Rope: Lessons From Ruth on Trust, Surrender, and Healing.” In the study, we will look at the story of Ruth where will draw lessons the next few weeks on the hope we have when life gets hard, and we feel abandoned and in need of rescue. With this new series, we will begin a new podcast post schedule where we post podcasts at the beginning of the week instead of the weekend.

If you are not yet a follower of the blog and want to receive our latest posts, follow us on Twitter or Facebook. Or leave a comment with your thoughts. We’d love to hear from you!

 

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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Can We Trust What Jesus Tells Us?

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A few years ago, I had a medical issue and went to the urgent care. In response to the pain I was experiencing, a compassionate nurse acted very concerned by my symptoms and administered several pain medications before the doctor even assessed what was wrong with me. The doctor, on the other hand, appeared a little too aloof for my liking. Why wasn’t she doing anything? She was the only doctor on duty, so I waited hours for answers. She ran tests, consulted other doctors on the phone, and told me very little in the process.

When she did inform me what she thought was going on, in the early hours of the morning after I had spent the night in the urgent care, she discharged me with a prescription for pain management and an appointment with a specialist. However, the appointment would not be for another day, and I fumed that they were sending me home when I was in so much pain and had still so little answers. Why weren’t they sending me to the hospital or giving me more immediate relief?

I checked myself into the hospital the next night, but the ER doctor told me that the best solution for me would be to see the specialist the doctor had recommended. And when I went to go see the specialist, he gave me a diagnosis within a few minutes. As it turns out, the nurse who looked so compassionate had administered drugs to me that were useless in helping the problem I had — and even made the situation worse as two of the remedies she gave me even exacerbated the problem. While the nurse initially looked more competent because she actually “did something” from my vantage point, I discovered that the doctor who was careful to run tests and consult with other doctors before taking action steps actually pointed me to the solution I needed.

Can We Trust What God Tells Us in Our Situation?

Similar to my experience at the urgent care, we might be walking through a situation in our lives where we want God to act, but He seems to be slow in responding. We wonder if He knows what is going on or why He allows what He does in our lives. Or, perhaps after praying about a situation, God may give us an answer we don’t expect or don’t believe will actually help our situation. Maybe we assumed that another person needs to change to remedy a relationship, and Jesus tells us to change and not worry about the other person. Maybe we are hoping for an exit in a difficult job or position in ministry, and God tells us that we are needed where we are. Maybe we envision the steps to a particular goal unfolding in a certain way, and God points us another way that doesn’t seem to make any sense.

The church of Laodicea certainly did not expect the diagnosis that Jesus gave them in His message to them recorded in Revelation 3:14-22. They believed that they were rich and in need of nothing, whereas Jesus assessed that they were spiritually poor and blind, in need of “gold refined in the fire, white clothes to wear, and eye salve so they could see” (Revelation 3:17, 18). To break through their complacency and self-reliance, Jesus counsels them to buy from Him.

We don’t know how the church reacted to Jesus’ words, but we can imagine that some probably didn’t like the message or had a hard time believing what Jesus said. However, for those who may have been tempted to discount or ignore His message, Jesus offers a few morsels of information that could reassure the doubters in the crowd –- and can reassure us. Revelation 3:14, 20 says: “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation … Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”

What can we learn?

1. We can always trust what Jesus tells us because Jesus is truth.

While we may not think of Jesus in this way, Jesus is the ultimate physician and can give us an accurate diagnosis for any problem we face. His prognosis is always true. Note, the beginning of the passage identifies Jesus as the “Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.” Similarly, if we look at the beginning of the other seven messages given to the churches in Revelation, we will find similar descriptions of Jesus. Why are these descriptions there?

We might easily skip past these introductions, but each describes key attributes of Jesus and prepares us for the message that follows by establishing His authority to make an assessment of each church. Here, we see in the message to Laodicea several words to describe Jesus that let us know that the church and believers reading His message can trust what He says:

The “Amen.” Jesus is identified as the “Amen.” “Amen” can mean “so be it,” indicating that we agree with a statement or want something to come to pass. We commonly use the word at the end of prayer in this way. However, the word also means “certain” and “true.” In Isaiah 65:16, God is identified as “the God of truth” or some translations read “the God of the Amen.”

By calling Himself the Amen, Jesus may be identifying with that statement in the Old Testament, but He is not only the God of the Amen, as part of the Trinity, but also, the amen to God’s promises. He fulfilled God’s promises to mankind of a Messiah. By looking at Jesus, we can see the faithfulness of the God we serve becomes He comes through on what He says He will do. As theologian Albert Barnes notes about Jesus, “What he affirms is true; what he promises or threatens is certain. Himself characterized by sincerity and truth.”

“Faithful and true witness.” More description follows after Jesus identifies Himself as the Amen. He then calls himself the “faithful and true witness.” This, essentially, further establishes His reliability. A good witness is one who has firsthand experience of an event and testifies truthfully. Jesus is the “faithful and true witness” because He knows the Father’s will and purposes and communicates the Father’s will faithfully to us. As J. Culross in The Biblical Illustrator writes, Jesus can be relied on to the last “jot and tittle.” Jesus faithfully reports to us what He hears and sees — and never lies or distorts facts.

“Ruler of creation.” Lastly, Jesus uses the title of “ruler of creation.” He isn’t a mere created being throwing around opinions on our actions. All things exist through and for Him. We were created by Him for His glory. Romans 11:36 says: “For from him and through him and for him are all things.” Similarly, Colossians 1:16 says, “For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rules or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.”

Does Jesus have a little weight behind His words? Absolutely! One commentator I read made the point that while the Laodiceans were busy worshipping the things of creation (i.e. themselves and what their hands had made), Jesus reminded them to worship the One who made all things.

Clearly, as all of these titles indicate, Jesus is trustworthy! We can trust what He tells us. Jesus always knows what is going on in our lives and gives us a prescription that is reliable and will truly heal the problem in our lives. Although we need medical professionals, and God many times works through medical professionals, we will face problems that earthly doctors cannot cure. Unlike the medications administered to me by a nurse that had the best of intentions but limited knowledge of the problem I was facing, Jesus always knows what the problem is and the best remedy for it.

2. Sometimes Jesus’ prescriptions won’t make sense to us.

Though Jesus is trustworthy, His prescriptions won’t always make sense to us because He knows things we don’t know and sees things we can’t. In the passage, Jesus stands outside the door and knocks, saying, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock!” The human heart often in its pride wants its own way and does not want to rely on the advice and promptings of Jesus. We simply won’t like or understand, at times, the way Jesus points. Yet, in order to experience breakthrough and healing, we have to open the door to Jesus and allow Him in. We have to trust His ways over our own and make room for Him in our heart.

When He tells us what we don’t want to hear or points us down a path we would never willingly walk down, we have a choice as to whether or not we will go the way He is leading or shut the door of our hearts to His promptings. Of course, we must be sure that what we are hearing lines us with Scripture and we’re not merely stepping out recklessly on impulse — but we allow Him in even when we would rather lean on our own counsel and do things our own way.

Because God Can Be Trusted, We Can Do What He Says

In 2 Kings 5, Naaman, a commander of an army, has leprosy and is advised by a messenger of the prophet Elisha to go and wash in the Jordan River seven times. When Naaman hears the solution to his illness, he is angry. He thought that Elisha would come out and call on the name of his God and wave his hand over him. His servants calm him down and tell him, “My father, if the prophet had told you do some great thing, would you not have done it?” (2 Kings 5:13).

In other words, his servants tell him that even if the prescription wasn’t what he wanted, why not just try it? Naaman relents and washes himself in the Jordan and his skin is restored. The prescription isn’t what he thought it would be, but when he obeys the prophet, he receives the healing that he wanted.

We might be seeking an answer from God for a problem in our life, yet we might not always like what He tells us. We might wonder, “Is this really the solution to my problem at the moment?” We might have hoped for Jesus to give us a different answer.

However, as Naaman and Jesus’ address to the church of Laodicea remind us, God can be trusted. And because He can be trusted, we can do what He says. Of course, we must make sure we are hearing from Him. Stepping out before we clearly know the direction we should in take in a situation can be disastrous to us or others.

If we have no idea what to do in a situation and don’t have a clear sense of direction we should keep praying and wait to hear from God. If we think we have an answer, but still aren’t sure, we should pray for confirmation before we step out. However, when we know He is speaking, we can act confidently walking in His will knowing that what He says can be trusted.

Related Resources:

Are you tired of fighting a battle that doesn’t seem to quit and feel tempted to let up on your vigilance when it comes to keeping the faith? Join us for a brand new series “Holding Fast to Our Faith in Troubled Times.” The series draws lessons from Jesus’ messages to churches in Revelation 3 and will encourage you in those places where you feel despair and a lack of hope; help to revitalize the vitality in your relationship with God; and reveal steps, if needed, to help get you on the right track again.

Check out Part 1: “Stopping the Drift Into Spiritual Apathy,” Part 2: “Heeding God’s Warnings in Our Spiritual Life,”   Part 3: “The Work That Pleases God,” Part 4: “Maintaining a Firm Faith in Difficult Circumstances,” and Part 5: “What It Means to Live a Transformed Life” to get a better understanding of what spiritual apathy is and how to guard against the drift in your life.

Want to learn about salvation? Read more about what it means to put your faith and trust in Christ on our Know God page.

Working through a decision and not sure which direction to turn? Check out the following devotional on hearing from God.

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 It Means to Live a Transformed Life

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“Addiction to approval.”

A jolt went through me as I stared at the phrase on the page of the Joyce Meyer devotional in front of me. I had never heard of that term and even questioned that God was truly speaking to me. I prayed for confirmation and understanding, and shortly after, I opened the devotional and saw the same words stamped on the page.

Stepping Away From Addiction

After I left my job in teaching, I began to get nudges to contact some people from my past. Memories came up of past wrongs that I had never dealt with, and I felt that I was to go and do something about these wrongs.

I felt led to send a letter to a manager I had at my first job as a teenager for taking some candy from beneath the counter. God nudged me to contact my teaching job and let them know that I had been haphazard in my collection of money for vocabulary books — and there was a field trip sum still left in my desk that I was afraid to turn in (because I had let the time pass when it needed to be turned in). In addition, I felt that I was to tell them that I hadn’t been a Christian example as a teacher.

I had laughed at inappropriate moments in the classroom and cultivated the worship of my students — including my male students. I prided myself on drawing professional boundaries and never had inappropriate contact with students. However, I had a flirtatious demeanor around the males in my classroom and workplace. In the process of taking these hard steps, God gave me the phrase “Addiction to approval” by first giving me the thought one day that I was addicted to approval and then showing me this phrase once again in a devotional.

After praying and doing a little more research, I found out Meyer wrote a book on the very topic, and I went and read her book. In reading her book, I discovered I compensated for deep feelings of unworthiness by pleasing others and gaining others’ approval. I learned that many of the wrong choices I had made as a teenager and a young twenty-something teacher had a common denominator: I wanted to please people and based my sense of worth on others’ positive reactions to me.

In the case of the candy I had taken from a manager, I did that when an older co-worker suggested it. I had no intention before that of taking anything from the manager, but I did it to look cool, and also, because I had a hard time saying no. At my teaching job, I was afraid to admit to my department head how unorganized I was when it came to collecting vocabulary fees and field trip funds. In an effort to look like I had it all together, I didn’t admit to her when I let my book-keeping slide and had some slips for money I couldn’t account for and a sum of money for a field trip from years back that had been in my desk for several years. In the case of my classes, I was flattered by others’ attention and felt good about myself when others paid attention to me and seemed to approve of me. Though it is not wrong to want others to like us, the desire for approval had certainly taken over my life in that I was doing what others wanted, rather than what God wanted.

God taught me the problem I was dealing with not merely by giving me a phrase and leading me to read Meyer’s book. Each nudge of His that I followed led me to eventually discover what He wanted me to learn. I had to give up habits I didn’t even know I had. In exchange, I began to change and be transformed into a different person that didn’t need to rely on unhealthy behaviors to get me through my life.

Living a Transformed Life

Our inner man, as the Apostle Paul says, is ever being renewed as we walk with Him. As 2 Corinthians 4:16 says: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” What that means is that as believers we are on a journey with Jesus to be changed day by day. Each of his promptings to us are an invitation to partner with Him as He uses us to change the lives of others, but also be changed ourselves.

At the end of Revelation 3, the church of Laodicea receives an invitation from Jesus for renewal and restoration. While the passage comes across like a harsh rebuke — and it is that — the message is also an invitation to the church to leave behind their complacency and self-sufficiency. At one time they had been zealous for the Lord, but that enthusiasm had cooled and been replaced by self-satisfaction and empty fulfilment found in wealth and worldly comforts. To this Jesus says in verses 15-20:

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm — neither hot nor cold — I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so that you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

The church of Laodicea is identified as “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” Jesus counsels them to “buy” from Him what they need: gold refined in the fire, white clothes, and eye salve. What He offered couldn’t be found anywhere else. They had everything they needed physically, and yet, the world could not give them what their spirits desperately needed. What can we learn from the church?

1. What we need to live a transformed life can only be found in Jesus.

We do not do the work of salvation. We don’t do the work of sanctification — in transforming ourselves from the inside out into a new creation — Jesus works in us. However, we do participate in the process of our renewal. We do as Jesus says and He changes us.

With Jesus’ use of the term “buy,” the idea given is that even though we don’t use money, a transaction does take place when we walk with Jesus. In the process of becoming more like Him and growing spiritually, we continually exchange and give up something in return for change in our lives.

In his commentary of the passage, S. Martin in The Biblical Illustrator says this: “The word ‘buy’ here does not mean to give an equivalent, but to ‘part’ with this self-sufficiency, and to part with it for something valuable.” What might this exchange look like? It varies in every situation, but Jesus will identify to us in particular seasons what we need to give up or let go of in order to see needed change in our lives. This isn’t about trying to somehow earn God’s favor or be good enough for Him, but simply yielding to Him in our lives.

In Lysa Terkeurst’s study What Happens When Women Say Yes to God, Terkeurst describes how she went to a conference and was inspired afterwards to pray a prayer declaring to God that she wanted to be radically obedient.

Almost immediately after Terkeurst prayed, God told her to sell her house and give up TV. She clarifies that not all Christians need to do this, but for her, this is the road God pointed her down. Television had become a way to comfort and relax her after a long day, and God pointed out that she was filling herself up with the world’s views at night when she was “vulnerable and empty.” God wanted to fill her with Himself. In addition, she and her husband had spent a lot of time fixing up their home to get it just the way they wanted it. God pointed out to Terkeurst that she and her husband were looking to her house, a temporal structure, to fulfill them.

For Terkeurst, at this juncture in her spiritual life, she knew that God wanted her to let go of these attachments. This wasn’t easy, but Terkeurst wanted to be obedient, so she gave up TV and put the steps in motion to sell her house. After she stopped watching her shows, she found that she had clearer thinking and didn’t miss them. In addition, after reluctantly putting up her home for sale, her house did not sell! God let her keep her house. He just wanted to test her devotion to Him.

Philippians 2:13 tells us to “continue to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose.” This verse tells us how we cooperate with the Holy Spirit to grow spiritually. I love the way Rick Warren explains this verse in The Purpose Driven Life:

This verse shows the two parts of spiritual growth: ‘work out’ and ‘work in.’ The ‘work out’ is your responsibility and the ‘work in’ is God’s role. Spiritual growth is a collaborative effort between you and the Holy Spirit. God’s Spirit works with us, not just in us. This verse written to believers, is not about how to be saved, but how to grow. It does not say ‘work for’ your salvation, because you can’t add anything to what Jesus already did. During a physical ‘workout,’ you exercise to develop your body, not to get a body.

In other words, Warren explains that “working out our salvation” is not working for our salvation after we come to Christ because, as He says, we can’t add anything to what Christ has done. Rather, “working out our salvation” is growing in Christ after we are saved.

Jesus changes us and molds us into His image. We don’t do that part, but when we do what He tells us and give up certain thoughts, behaviors, habits, and idols we are clinging to, He, in exchange, transforms us in the process and makes us into His own image.

2. Some of us are attempting to live a transformed life without Jesus.

My pastor said something the other day that struck me: Some of us are trying to live the Christian life without Jesus. Doesn’t that sound absurd? We get the idea in the passage that even after we have accepted Jesus as our Savior, we can shut Him out of our hearts. Verse 20 says, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” I don’t mean by shutting Him out that we lose our salvation, but we live without a dependence on Him. Our flesh continually fights for control against the Spirit of God.

My 3-year-old frequently struggles against me and insists, “I do it.” She wants to do things for herself that she isn’t capable of doing, but she won’t let me help her at times — even though she can’t do every task for herself. And we do the same with God. We leave Him outside of the door and ignore His promptings at times. But the passage tells us that Jesus longs to come in and eat with us — and He calls to us at the door of our hearts. It is only in continually allowing Him to come in that we can be changed.

Conclusion:

Not one of the actions I described in my own journey of freedom from an addiction was easy. Would I have ever chosen willingly to do what He asked? Of course not. But in exchange for giving up my pride and wrong habits — I gained freedom from bondage. I exchanged shame for clean robes. I learned how to conduct myself as a godly woman secure in her identify (and I am still learning). I would not have been able to see the reasons for my behavior and pattern of people pleasing if Jesus hadn’t pointed it out to me. The truth is — we all drift and mess up. We need Jesus to help us sort out the tangled messes we make and extract us from the rubble.

As Revelation 3 suggests, Jesus is in the business of rescue and renewal. We get so much more than we could have hoped for when we walk with Him. But sometimes, we don’t recognize His invitations. We brush off the nudges because we doubt we heard right. We wonder how what He is telling us has anything to do with the problem weighing us down spiritually. And yet, when we listen and follow His nudges, we are transformed. Yet the path there often looks different than we wanted or imagined.

Laodicea didn’t even know they had a problem or what do to do about it, but Jesus did. He says at the end of His message to the church: “Whoever has ears, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” In other words, the entire church would hear this message, but to “hear” meant there would only be some who would truly heed His message.

Continually, in our spiritual life, we will face a choice — to yield to what God wants to do in us and trust He knows best or go our own way. When we choose God’s way, we find healing, restoration, godliness in exchange for our sin and the ability to truly see from a spiritual perspective. We can allow Him to work on us today and every day — knowing that a transformed life is one that happens when we willingly yield and participate in the process of what God wants to do in our lives.

Stay tuned for next week’s episode as we wrap up this series and dive deeper into the concept of Jesus as a reliable and trustworthy physician — capable of diagnosing any problem we’re going through and giving us the solution for whatever problem we face.

Related Resources:

Are you tired of fighting a battle that doesn’t seem to quit and feel tempted to let up on your vigilance when it comes to keeping the faith? Join us for a brand new series “Holding Fast to Our Faith in Troubled Times.” The series draws lessons from Jesus’ messages to churches in Revelation 3 and will encourage you in those places where you feel despair and a lack of hope; help to revitalize the vitality in your relationship with God; and reveal steps, if needed, to help get you on the right track again.

Check out Part 1: “Stopping the Drift Into Spiritual Apathy,” Part 2: “Heeding God’s Warnings in Our Spiritual Life,”   Part 3: “The Work That Pleases God,” and Part 4: “Maintaining a Firm Faith in Difficult Circumstances” to get a better understanding of what spiritual apathy is and how to guard against the drift in your life.

Still confused about sanctification and how we are made into Christ’s image in the Christian walk? Check out this article from Crosswalk.com: “Justification and Sanctification: What Do They Mean & What Does the Bible Teach about Them?”

*Updated October 16, 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.

More Posts

Maintaining a Firm Faith in Difficult Circumstances

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“This world is shaking, but we will not be shaken / My heart is breaking / but it’s not broken yet,” a popular worship song says.

All of us can attest to living in a world that is shaking us and may even be breaking our heart. Even if we’ve been fortunate not to have tragic circumstances in our lives at the moment, we only need turn on the news or talk to friends to hear about appalling situations causing havoc in people’s lives. In fact, this week as I’m writing this, a few headlines are as follows … Category 5 hurricane hitting the Bahamas … man pulled over at traffic stop goes on rampage killing 7 and injuring 22 … man imprisoned for putting his baby in the freezer.

Many of us have circumstances we’re walking through that are shaking us … breaking us … and yet, how do we live in a world that is broken and walk through circumstances that devastate us without shaking us and breaking our hearts beyond repair?

Revelation 3:8-12 says this:

‘I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars — I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. Since you have kept the command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth. I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one can take your crown. The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name.’

The church of Philadelphia knew about being “shaken.” They lived in an area prone to earthquakes and volcanic activity — while the soil was rich and fertile for planting, it made day-to-day life unsettling and scary. Residents never knew when another earthquake would hit, and yet, this church that was situated in a place notorious for its unstable ground and tremors that would send city dwellers running for safety was also known for its steadfastness and faithfulness.

In looking closely at the church of Philadelphia and Jesus’ message to them, we see in such a vivid way what it looks like to do God’s will even when life is a little shakier than we planned.

What can we learn from this passage to help us in our own time of trial?

1. We must build our lives on the firmest foundation of all.

The most obvious truth that we can observe is that the church makes their place of stability the truths of Christ rather than any worldly possession. Jesus tells them that they have “kept [His] word and have not denied [His] name.” They have prioritized serving Him and holding fast to His truths and being held by these when times have been tough.

While they live in the world and must deal with the challenges that everyone else in the city faces, they have a hope that anchors them in the midst of their daily trials that helps them to rise above earthly circumstances and ground themselves in truths that are stable and unchanging. Jesus tells us in John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Trouble can be expected, but we can take heart when we draw strength from a firm foundation that can never be moved.

2. When we walk with Jesus, we will be victorious in our difficult situations.

Within the passage is another idea that their stability and steadfastness will be that which even their enemies take note of. Verse 9 says, “I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars — I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you.”

In other words, the turmoil in their lives wasn’t merely due to their physical landscape. They had enemies that were shaking things up for them. For Philadelphia, these were most likely Jews persecuting them that claimed to know the truth but were blind to the truths of the Gospel. In our own lives, this could be people claiming to be believers that are not actually following God’s commandments.

Jesus says that this church will be vindicated in that even their enemies will “fall at their feet and acknowledge that [Jesus has] loved them.” This could mean several things, but we can take away from this that if God is calling us to walk through a tough season or we are in the midst of one, when we persevere, our enemies will not be victorious over us and may eventually acknowledge that we belong to God (whereas before they may have mocked and opposed us). In addition, they may even come to Christ when they see how we navigate our tough situations with calm and steadfastness, as we rely on Christ.

The natural instinct in all of us in the midst of difficult situations is to instantly get out of those situations, but sometimes, God will urge us to stay in the difficulty and we have no idea why. We don’t feel release from our current job, church, or ministry — even though we have been mistreated. We may say, “God, why do I have to stay?” He may be working out in others repentance and salvation. We are encouraged here to persevere and see what God can do in the midst of our tough situation.

3. When we walk with Jesus, we receive protection and special aid in the midst of our trials (as well as other promises).

Not only will Philadelphia see their enemies bow at their feet, they also are promised to be kept from “the hour of trial” that is coming to “test the inhabitants of the earth.” We don’t know what trial Jesus is referring to, but some circumstance is coming in their lives would be that which would cause them trouble. While it is not entirely clear what is meant by being “kept out of trial,” this could mean that God would keep them out of the trial or could simply mean that God would give them special help and grace in the midst of their trial.

Secondly, they are promised that they will be “pillars in the house of God” and “God will write His name on them.” As the city of Philadelphia was prone to earthquakes, it is possible that the image of pillar is given as a contrast. To these people that constantly feared the shaking of the ground and had great uncertainty in their lives, they had the promise of contributing to God’s kingdom in a way that could not be shaken or taken away.

Similarly, we have the same promise that what we are building in God’s kingdom is that of stability and permanence. While our earthly projects may crumble, we are working on that which has eternal value when it comes to God’s kingdom — the results of which will always stand. We aren’t mere observers or receivers of God’s works. We are co-workers: we work with God as we yield to His plan for our lives, and He works through us to accomplish His will. In doing so, we become part of what God is building (1 Corinthians 3:9; Philippians 2:13).

We “like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). On us, God writes His name. He gives us a place and position within His kingdom that is ours alone — and is one we can’t manufacture ourselves.

In addition, we are further reassured with the idea that “never again will [we] leave it.” While we may be in great pain in our current circumstances, we can look forward to a time when we enter eternity and never again face hardship, loss, instability, pain, or persecution. Heaven awaits believers and provides us a hope to cling to on our worst days when we anxiously long for a resolution of the conflicts and pain that grip us here. Theologian Albert Barnes says on this, “Happy moment I when, emerging from a world of danger and of doubt, the soul shall settle down into the calmness and peace of that state where there is the assurance of God himself that the world of bliss is to be its eternal abode!”

Conclusion:

Friend, whatever situation we’re walking through that may be breaking our heart or shaking us to the core is not too big for God. We have an unshakeable God who is immoveable, steadfast, and unchanging. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. While He doesn’t always change situations to give us the outcome we want, He walks through them with us and gives us His strength, comfort, wisdom, and encouragement to make it through.

This should give us great confidence to continue walking through our hardship knowing that Jesus is with us helping us every step of the way.

Related Resources:

Are you tired of fighting a battle that doesn’t seem to quit and feel tempted to let up on your vigilance when it comes to keeping the faith? Join us for a brand new series “Holding Fast to Our Faith in Troubled Times.” The series draws lessons from Jesus’ messages to churches in Revelation 3 and will encourage you in those places where you feel despair and a lack of hope; help to revitalize the vitality in your relationship with God; and reveal steps, if needed, to help get you on the right track again.

Check out Part 1: “Stopping the Drift Into Spiritual Apathy,” Part 2: “Heeding God’s Warnings in Our Spiritual Life,” and Part 3: “The Work That Pleases God” to get a better understanding of what spiritual apathy is and how to guard against the drift in your life.

To listen to a discussion of this topic, check out the podcast where co-hosts Suzy Lolley and Carol Whitaker sit down at the Daily Grind Coffee Shop to chat about spiritual apathy. They walk through the points of the post but also add in a few bonus extras that you don’t get in the written version.

Podcast Notes and Corrections:

Correction: Update: The man in shooting spree cited at beginning of podcast killed 7 and injured 22.

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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The Work That Pleases God

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“Use it or lose it” is a principle we can observe in our everyday life.

An athlete continually practices to maintain a certain level of performance and grow better in his sport. A musician devotes time to practicing his instrument and learning the music in order to walk on stage and play a concert. Speaking another language requires a person to not only learn a language but speak it with others in order to retain the vocabulary he has acquired and grow more fluent at speaking the language.

Spiritually, we have to develop and use the gifts God has given us (2 Timothy 1:6; 1 Timothy 4:14; 1 Peter 4:10-11), or our gifts will fall into disuse and decay. In addition, we are told in the New Testament to “make every effort” to grow spiritually and “confirm our calling and election” (2 Peter 1:5-11). So what exactly does it look like to do work that God commends?

While Jesus rebukes the church of Sardis in Revelation 3:1-5 for their apathy and lack of meaningful service, in contrast, Jesus commends the church of Philadelphia in Revelation 3:7-12 for their work. In this passage, we can find a clear picture of what it means to be a faithful steward of the gifts God has given us and engage in meaningful Christian service:

‘To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. I know your deeds. See I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars — I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. Since you have kept the command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth. I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one can take your crown. The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name.’

What can we learn from this church about faithful service?

1. Faithfulness means standing firm.

Jesus’ commendation comes to the church of Philadelphia not because they were perfect and never sinned. His commendation comes to them because they had held firm to truth and used what little they had to advance the Gospel and honor His name.

Philadelphia had limited resources and small numbers. They didn’t have the resources or reputation for works that Sardis had, and yet, they had not compromised to receive approval from the community or given up in the midst of persecution. Jesus tells the church in the passage, “I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name” (emphasis mine).

Later, in verse 10, He notes that they have kept His command to “endure patiently.” As I stated in my previous post, endurance or “holding firm” in the faith or “enduring patiently” is not merely holding our ground and sticking out the storm. Endurance is also active obedience in our difficult circumstances.

When James talks about perseverance or “patience” finishing its work in James 1:4, he refers to both endurance in the midst of trial and active obedience to God’s will. As Alexander MacLaren explains, the idea of “enduring patiently” includes the following:

The New Testament patience has in it the idea of perseverance as well as of endurance, and means, not only that we bow to the pain or the sorrow, but that nothing in sorrow, nothing in trial, nothing in temptation, nothing in antagonism, has the smallest power to divert us from doing what we know to be right. The man who will reach through the smoke of hell to lay hold of plain duty is the patient man of the New Testament.

In the King James Version of this passage and some other translations, verse 10 reads not, “Because you have endured patiently,” but, “Because thou has kept the word of my patience.” The “word of my patience” referred to here is the model given to us by Jesus of someone who does the will of God in the midst of affliction, temptation, and persecution. Just as Jesus obeyed the Father in the midst of great trouble and sorrow, the church of Philadelphia had also remained steadfast in their work — though it would have been easier to backslide and quit because of their small means and limited strength.

2. Faithfulness means walking through the doors God opens on our behalf.

Not only does Jesus encourage them with His commendation of their endurance and adherence to the Gospel, He encourages them earlier in the passage by telling them that He has placed an “open door” before them. By “open door,” we understand that He means opportunities for service.

In the passage, Jesus is identified as the One who “holds the keys of David” and “what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.” The idea given is that God continually places before us opportunities in our service to Him, as we walk in His will, and it is up to us to walk through those doors into continual advancement and blessing in His kingdom. By “advancement and blessing” I don’t mean bigger cars and a larger following necessarily, but rather, spiritual blessings such as further understanding, spiritual growth, and opportunities for service.

While we are the ones that walk into the opportunities God places before us, it is clear that God is the One who orchestrates these opportunities. As we are faithful in a little, more will be given to us and opened for us (Luke 16:10; Matthew 25:23). A successful Christian life is one where we walk in His will by staying tuned into His Spirit through daily time in prayer and the reading of His Word (John 15:5). Our growth happens not by just attempting to fulfill a list of Christian “do’s and don’ts” — but by listening to His Spirit and doing what He says.

We all have our eye on a particular door of opportunity or advancement — and that will be opened to us (if God has promised it to us) when we are faithful in walking through the smaller doors set before us. Oftentimes, we focus on the large door and despise or neglect the small doors. In order to keep what we have and walk into greater things, we have to use what we have and walk through the doors (however small) Jesus puts before us (1 Corinthians 4:2).

3. Faithfulness means guarding what we have.

Although the words of Jesus to Philadelphia are a commendation, He admonishes them not to fall into apathy, saying, “Hold on to what you have, so that no one can take your crown.” Therefore, while the church of Philadelphia had been faithful, they still can fall into the situation of Sardis if not vigilant. Therefore, they are warned to “hold on” and not lose their crown.

Although many have interpreted “crown” to mean we can lose our salvation if we are not diligent in our work, as it says elsewhere in Scripture that salvation can’t be earned, I believe that this verse is actually referring to the rewards and blessings we miss out on when we don’t walk through the door of opportunity God places before us. The crown in the passage refers to the crown of victory awarded to a winner of ancient athletic games (like the Greek Olympics). The idea here is not that someone else can steal our crown, but rather, that when we are not faithful in using what God has given us, someone else will receive the opportunity that could have been ours.

We may watch as someone else excels and advances in area that we had hoped would be opened to us. Certainly, there are times that we watch others promoted because it’s a timing issue for us or is not the area God intends for us. However, we can lose our “crowns” when we do not accept the assignments God puts before us.

In the Parable of the Talents, the “wicked servant” was the one who buried the talent the Master gave him and did not use it. The other servants were commended for investing their talents and given more because they used and increased what the Master had given them (Matthew 25:29).

Holding Fast To What God Has Committed to Us

While the message to Philadelphia is a commendation, we can still find the words of Jesus about faithful service challenging. We may be painfully aware in the reading of these words of where we may be lacking. We may further feel this way in reading both the messages to Sardis and Philadelphia, comparing Jesus’ messages to them on sloth and diligence.

Maybe affliction has caused us to get complacent. Maybe fear or doubt or unbelief has crept in — and we’re in a place where we’re so tired that we fear we can’t take another step. Yet, we must remember why Jesus speaks these words to the churches in the first place: Jesus loves these churches and He loves us. He tells them what He does so that they can make the needed changes (as in the case of Sardis) and continue in the right path (as in the case of Philadelphia).

If we skip over to the end of chapter 3, it says, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me” (v. 19, 20). He tells us the hard truths we need to hear because He loves us and wants to help us turn if we have strayed down the wrong path.

In addition, such a message to Philadelphia may make us fear that we will miss out on what God has for us and send us into a frenzy of activity or striving. Again, the work that Jesus commends is that we 1) Hold firm to His truth and actively seek to hear from Him and learn from Him through prayer and His Word 2) Act in obedience to His Spirit.

It can be very freeing to know that some work is just not our assignment. There have been times when I’ve tried to witness to someone or force a spiritual conversation without allowing the conversation to naturally open up or God to nudge me to have the conversation, and it went nowhere. The person was usually already a Christian!

Lastly, we must remember that “holding fast” isn’t an endeavor where we’re all alone trying to do it all in our own strength. God holds us! It says in Psalm 63:8: “I cling to Him; His right hand upholds me.” We do what we do in His strength and power. When we seek out His will, listen to His Spirit, and step out in obedience to His Spirit, God enables us to do His work. I love what James Vaughan in The Biblical Illustrator says on this point: “The only way to hold fast is to be held fast.”

Friend, knowing what door we want to walk through that we haven’t walked through can lead us to feeling like we have perform. We might feel an enormous amount of pressure to make things happen, but God makes doors open and close. We just have do what He asks of us. As Lysa Terkeurst says: “Big things are built one brick at a time. Victories are achieved once choice at a time. A life well lived is chosen one day at a time.”

Doing the work of God isn’t about perfection on our part — but mere willingness to listen to the Spirit of God and walk through the doors He opens on our behalf.

Related Resources:

 Are you tired of fighting a battle that doesn’t seem to quit and feel tempted to let up on your vigilance when it comes to keeping the faith? Join us for a brand new series “Holding Fast to Our Faith in Troubled Times.” The series draws lessons from Jesus’ messages to churches in Revelation 3 and will encourage you in those places where you feel despair and a lack of hope; help to revitalize the vitality in your relationship with God; and reveal steps, if needed, to help get you on the right track again.

Check out Part 1: “Stopping the Drift Into Spiritual Apathy” and Part 2: “Heeding God’s Warnings in Our Spiritual Life” to get a better understanding of what spiritual apathy is and how to guard against the drift in your life.

To listen to a discussion of this topic, check out the podcast where co-hosts Suzy Lolley and Carol Whitaker sit down at the Daily Grind Coffee Shop to chat about spiritual apathy. They walk through the points of the post but also add in a few bonus extras that you don’t get in the written version.

*Updated September 21. 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.

More Posts

Heeding God’s Warnings in Our Spiritual Life

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“Ma,am, they won’t let you in with a purse that size,” the security officer said to me.

My husband and I had just parked our vehicle and left the parking lot to walk to a stadium for a NFL pre-season football game when an officer stopped me to warn me about the size of my handbag.

Surprised, I responded, “I’m sorry. I didn’t know!” Quickly, I turned around with my husband and retraced my steps to the car to rid myself of my sizeable accessory. Taking out my phone, lip gloss, and essentials from my wallet, I left my bag behind in the car. I then walked past the security officer once again and then down a street, up several flights of stairs, and through a park to reach the stadium.

At the stadium gate, I put my meager items in the security checkpoint and got through with no problems. I looked around me and noticed other women had small purses or transparent bags. They had obviously gone through this routine a time or two before. I hadn’t been to a stadium in several years and didn’t know the proper protocol. Thankfully, the officer’s warning outside the parking lot helped me avoid an extra 20 minutes of walking.

God Warns Us When We Veer Off Course

Warnings exist to tell us that there is danger ahead or to help us turn from the wrong course. Not only do we have warnings in daily life that help us avoid inconveniences or even warn of danger, God gives us warnings to help us stay on the right path. As I expressed in the first segment of this series, we don’t always love Jesus’ warnings, but He warns us because He loves us and wants the best for us.

In Revelation 3:1-3, we see a church that had fallen into spiritual complacency. While they still maintained programs and had a good reputation in the community for their works, Jesus assesses that the church is far from Him and involved in outward forms of religion only. Note what He says:

‘To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you. Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy.’

What we can learn from God’s warning to Sardis:

1. God gives us a prescription when we stray.

Out of His love for Sardis, Jesus tells Sardis not just what is wrong, but how to remedy their problem. He tells them, “Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent.” Essentially, Jesus prescribes repentance as their prescription, and tells them what that should look like.

Repentance in the New Testament sense means to “change one’s mind.” Essentially, repentance is more than just confessing wrong to God and asking Him to forgive us. Repentance means also to change our course of action. If we look earlier at the instructions given for the church before the word “repent,” we see a few ways that the church of Sardis can change their course of action. They are urged to “strengthen what remains and is about to die.”

While it doesn’t tell us specifically what “strengthening” means here, it most likely included two things: resurrecting their devotion to God by returning once again to prayer and time spent in God’s Word. Perhaps they were neglecting this time or reading the Word and praying more as a “check in the box,” rather than a vital time of connecting with God. In addition, most likely repentance included “stirring up” their spiritual gifts by developing and using their gifts in accordance to the will of God (2 Timothy 1:6; 2 Peter 1:5-7).

Spiritual death occurs when we allow anything to stand in the way of the flow of God’s Spirit. We can receive the gift of salvation and even engage in Christian service and serve Him — and yet, still allow obstacles to creep in that impede our ability to do meaningful work for Him. That had happened to the church of Sardis. By reconnecting with the Source, they could once again receive needed nourishment to fuel their spirits, know what His will was, and do His work. And, for some, they may have been connected to Him, but were blocking his Spirit by simply attempting to abide in Him without exercising their faith by obeying what He said as well.

In addition, Jesus urges them and believers in a similar state to “Remember” and “hold fast” to the instructions they have received. In other words, Jesus tells them and apathetic believers not only to revive their relationship with Him and engage in meaningful spiritual work again by remaining connected to and walking in His Spirit, but also, to continue to cling to what He had told them and the truths of the Gospel in future days.

 2. We can avoid unneeded consequences if we heed the warning.

In addition, also out of His love for them, Jesus warns Sardis to turn away from their apathy not only to revive their spiritual life and connection to Him, but also to help them avoid unnecessary consequences. Therefore, not only does Jesus warn Sardis to wake up; he includes an additional warning about what will happen if they do not heed his words: “But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I come to you.”

This can be terrifying passage to look at. What does Jesus mean here exactly? Why does He refer to Himself as a “thief”? While this passage certainly can refer to Jesus and His second coming, returning at a time that may catch some by surprise, I believe the application isn’t merely in relation to end times. As theologian Albert Barnes advocates, Jesus is clear by His words that the church will run into consequences if they do not heed His warnings. The mention of Jesus coming like a “thief” suggests that they will not know at what time they will experience trouble and trials because they did not heed the warning, but rather, they will be taken by surprise.

What is the application for us? While we may not experience any adverse situations at the moment for our wayward actions, there will be a time when we will experience repercussions if we do not heed Jesus’ words. Many times we hear of a scandal related to a minister who hid an affair or mismanagement of money for some time; then details of their hidden sin came out, and the person lost his or her ministry, marriage, and the respect of others. Certainly, that person can still repent even after wrong choices such as these, and Jesus may be gracious enough to restore what was lost. However, the point here is that Jesus’ warnings help us to avoid such heartbreak altogether.

Many of us struggle with the idea of Jesus bringing consequences into our lives or allowing them. Isn’t Jesus full of grace and mercy? He certainly is, but one idea I found in my study of this passage is that grace does not encourage us to keep sinning and continue down our own path when Jesus has pointed out another one for us to follow (Romans 6:1, 2; Romans 6:14, 15).

Conclusion:

Recently, a pastor at our church shared a story of a man he met in his travels that had been restored back to the faith. He had been working as a website developer for a pornographic site and had been paying for prostitutes without telling his wife. One day, when waiting for a prostitute, he heard very clearly, “You’re breaking my heart.” It was the Lord, telling him very clearly to step away from his poor choices. He went home, confessed to his wife, found a different job, and stopped seeing prostitutes.

Friend, when Jesus warns us, it is always for our good. Has Jesus been speaking to us lately? Can we receive His words or have we been resisting His words, telling ourselves we are in no real danger? As Revelation tells us later in the passage, those who listen will be “dressed in white.” In other words, when we stay in communion with God and do as He says, we begin to exhibit the very likeness of Christ. We “walk” with Him. We are ever growing and advancing in God’s kingdom — rather than slipping into spiritual uselessness and decay.

This is the second article in a series on holding fast to our faith. To get a more complete picture of what this passage tells us about breaking out of spiritual apathy (or avoiding it), check out the first article by clicking on the link below. Next week, we will continue to explore this topic by looking at using our spiritual gifts and walking in God’s will.

Related Resources:

Are you tired of fighting a battle that doesn’t seem to quit and feel tempted to let up on your vigilance when it comes to keeping the faith? Join us for a brand new series “Holding Fast to Our Faith in Troubled Times.” The series draws lessons from Jesus’ messages to churches in Revelation 3 and will encourage you in those places where you feel despair and a lack of hope; help to revitalize the vitality in your relationship with God; and reveal steps, if needed, to help get you on the right track again.

Last week, we started the series by diving into a discussion of what spiritual apathy is and how it happens. Check out Part 1: “Stopping the Drift Into Spiritual Apathy” to get a better understanding of spiritual apathy and how to guard against the drift in your spiritual life.

To listen to a discussion of this topic, check out the podcast where co-hosts Suzy Lolley and Carol Whitaker sit down at the Daily Grind Coffee Shop to chat about spiritual apathy. They walk through the points of the post but also add in a few bonus extras that you don’t get in the written version.

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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Stopping the Drift Into Spiritual Apathy

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“Why are so many Christians finding it difficult to hold fast to their faith?”

I looked up from the remote I was holding, my jaw agape. In the wake of a thunderstorm, our cable had gone out. When I tried to turn on “Paw Patrol” for my 3-year-old, I saw instead a blue screen. When I looked down once more at the remote to turn the TV off and back on to see if it would work, I heard these words about Christians and “holding fast.”

The TV had changed from a blank screen to show a snippet from a television show on the Christian Broadcast Network. In the clip, the host discussed the recent renouncement of faith by two prominent Christians (author Josh Harris and worship leader Marty Sampson) and dissected their decisions to leave the faith (as in the case of Harris) or publicly question it (in the case of Sampson).

The words caught me by surprise because the series that I had been preparing in the previous weeks delved into the topic of “holding fast.” I had asked God to confirm for me that I was on the right track with the message, as I often do, and I stood in surprise as I watched the discussion on “holding fast” unfold in front of me (on a TV that wasn’t even working a minute before and a show that I had never watched and hadn’t even turned on purposefully).

So, with that wonderful confirmation that “holding fast to our faith” is a topic that we need to be discussing on the blog, I want to begin in this first segment by looking at how spiritual apathy and complacency occurs — and how we drift in our faith and lose the vitality and belief that we had at the beginning when we accepted Christ.

Revelation 3: Jesus Rebukes a Complacent Church

In Revelation 3, Jesus gives messages for three churches. With two of the churches, He rebukes them for their complacency. Although the messages are for these churches of biblical times, the message is not only for these believers but for all believers. Note what Jesus says to one of these churches, Sardis, in verses 1-3:

‘To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you. Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy.

With this passage, we see a church that was spiritually dead. They were active and met for worship, but they were Christian in name only. They exhibited outward forms of religion, but were engaged in meaningless religious activity. In addition, they had allowed sin to creep in and had compromised their values in order to better fit in with the pagan community.

While this example may be more extreme than where we find ourselves spiritually in this moment, this passage is an admonishment not only to Sardis, but to churches everywhere and individual believers that we are careful not to fall in the same state. Or, if we have allowed indifference to seep in, that we return to our former zeal and allow God to correct and revive us.

How Spiritual Apathy Begins

To better understand apathy and complacency, we can look further into what it is and how it happens. The Cambridge Dictionary defines apathy as the following: “lack of interest, or the attitude of not caring resulting from it. Behavior that shows no interest or energy and shows that someone is unwilling to take action, especially over something important.” Complacency, a similar word, is the feeling of being satisfied, but unaware of actual dangers or deficiencies in one’s self or situation. How does this happen?

I looked up a few ideas in The Biblical Illustrator Commentary, and I want to share those with you. One way is that we stop feeding ourselves with nourishment from God’s Word. We may get distracted or busy and neglect to spend time with God by communing with Him and reading His Word. We stop allowing Him to nourish, instruct, and correct us — and thus, begin to drift away.

Another way we grow complacent is we quench the Spirit by resisting Jesus’ instruction to us. We may not like what He tells us or not want to do what He says. We may simply get tired or busy with other things. We skip over His instructions to us because it’s not convenient in the moment, or we are not being vigilant in keeping up with what He tells us do.

One more way is that we allow worldly pursuits and comforts to distract us. Instead of putting priority on God’s kingdom and His commands, we allow ourselves to be consumed with worldly ideas and pursuits. We spend hours of our days surfing social media, watching television shows, and engaging in other pursuits that may not be bad in and of themselves. These become our sources of “nourishment,” rather than time spent with God and meditation on His Word.

Obviously, spiritual apathy is serious. What, then, can we learn from the church of Sardis in Revelation 3 so that we don’t fall in a similar state or wake up if we are drifting into a spiritual slumber?

2 Lessons From Revelation 3 on Spiritual Apathy

1. God knows.

God knows everything about us. There is nothing that escapes His notice. Psalm 139:1-3 says: “You have searched me, LORD, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.” There is nowhere we can go where He doesn’t see us, and there is nothing that we can hide from Him.

We might be able to appear a certain way in front of others or even deceive ourselves, but God sees everything. We can’t fool Him or pull one over on Him (Galatians 6:7). Here in this passage, the church appeared to be active. They had a good reputation for works — but Jesus knew that they were dead. He saw past their useless activity and had this to say, “I know your deeds; you have a reputation for being alive, but you are dead.”

Similarly, in our own lives, God knows us and at certain points will warn us when our actions are leading us to harm. And this is not easy at all. We love the Jesus that died for us, that unconditionally loves us, that comforts us. But Jesus who warns us is not always our favorite. His warnings are never easy to hear because they put a choice in front of us: We choose His way (which is harder and may be to a place we don’t want to go) or our own way (which is easier and feels a lot more comfortable initially).

2. God warns us because He loves us.

Jesus telling us we need to change in an area isn’t pleasant, but Jesus gives this warning to the church of Sardis not as a sentence of doom, but because it’s not too late for them to turn things around. He sees what lies down the road for them if they continue on their current path, and He admonishes them to turn and repent.

Often, we get angry when God corrects us or we feel despair because we feel that there is no hope for us, why try? But God tells Sardis what He does here so that they can make the correction and be restored to their former zeal and effectiveness.

In addition, the Bible tells us that it is because of His love for us that He corrects us (Proverbs 3:12; Hebrews 12:6). A love that corrects may sound strange, as our culture today advocates a permissive love that says, “If it feels good, do it.” However, God not only encourages us and commends us in His love, but also, seeks to protect and guide us, steering us away from harm to ourselves and others. God in His love gives us what we need — not just what we want. What we want, may times, isn’t always good for us.

Conclusion:

If we feel a drift taking placing in our spiritual life or maybe see those around us lacking zeal in their walk with God and that is causing us to feel shaky in our own walk with God, the solution is Jesus.

We can stay attached to Jesus and continually open ourselves up to Him for His evaluation of our actions and His guidance in our lives. We can listen to His warnings and understand that He tells us what He does because of His love for us. Or if we have drifted, we can repent and ask Him to restore our former vitality.

To hear more on what we can do to break out of spiritual apathy and the process of turning from complacency, listen in next week for two more points on Revelation 3 and the conclusion of this article.

Related Resources:

Are you tired of fighting a battle that doesn’t seem to quit and feel tempted to let up on your vigilance when it comes to keeping the faith? Join us for a brand new series “Holding Fast to Our Faith in Troubled Times.” The series draws lessons from Jesus’ messages to churches in Revelation 3 and will encourage you in those places where you feel despair and a lack of hope; help to revitalize the vitality in your relationship with God; and reveal steps, if needed, to help get you on the right track again.

To listen to a discussion of this topic, check out the podcast where co-hosts Suzy Lolley and Carol Whitaker sit down at the Daily Grind Coffee Shop to chat about spiritual apathy. They walk through the points of the post but also add in a few bonus extras that you don’t get in the written version.

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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