Giving When You Have Nothing to Give

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Some time ago, I went to a large children’s consignment sale.

Because the consignment only accepted cash or check, I had to withdraw a set amount of money before I entered. Of course, I did not remember this until after I pulled in the parking lot, turned off the car, lifted my son out of his car seat, strapped him in his stroller, and headed towards the building.

When I realized my dilemma, it was a great deal of trouble to retrace my steps, lift my son back out of his stroller, strap his unwilling little body back into his car seat, fold up the stroller, and drive in the direction of an ATM (when the consignment sale was located in an out-of-the-way location).

Therefore, when I retrieved the $60 cash from the ATM and headed back to the sale, I was determined to spend every cent of it. I had a list in my head: My daughter was growing out of the size 5 clothes I had just bought her, and I knew they weren’t going to last the winter.

Once inside, I zoned in on the girls’ section, size 6 racks — a woman on a quest. I gave my son his first snack (to buy myself a few minutes of browsing time), and I started to pull item after item off of the racks. Everything she needed: pajamas, pants, long-sleeved shirts, jeans, skirts.

A few women came near me, perusing, but I wanted them to go away. I needed to get to the best clothes first. I needed to clothe my rapidly growing daughter. And as I was hurriedly hoarding most of the size 6 rack on my pile, I felt a tugging on my heart.

The worship music playing in the background blared a little louder, like someone had turned up the volume — each word pushing into my spirit. I could hear all the verses about letting others go first, about giving and serving — about trusting. And then I felt it — God’s whisper to me: Carol, I want you to give some of that money away.

What? I didn’t want to. In fact, I was most annoyed at being bothered in the middle of my IMPORTANT SHOPPING MISSION. My arguments:

Me: My daughter needs clothes.

God: I will provide.

Me: I am doing a good thing by shopping at a reduced price establishment — this ain’t Macy’s.

God: She really doesn’t need these items yet.

Me: I’m being a good mom by stocking up and preparing for the months to come. Hello, Proverbs 31 woman, anyone?

God: Do you trust me?

I sighed and surrendered, painfully eliminating a third of the clothes on my stroller, and then I began looking for a target. Everyone near me had moved away.

“Whom do you want me to give the money to, Lord?” I asked.

I felt that it didn’t really matter. The point was to open up my selfish heart.

I got into line behind a woman with her grandchild. As I looked closer, I noticed the stroller was shabby. The woman was dressed in workout clothes — her grandchild in a T-shirt. They only had a handful of items.

I struck up a conversation with her — and when the line neared the cash register, I told her that God had impressed it on my heart to give someone money for her purchases that day. She didn’t want to accept the money, but I insisted, and then there was an awkward silence as we waited for an open cash register.

I don’t know if she really needed financial assistance. Nothing profound happened other than she got a big smile on her face. But it felt good to be obedient and to not ignore God’s nudge. So many times before I have refused.

I was reminded of some words from my Joyce Meyer New Day, New Day devotional:

One time I gave a woman a nice pair of earrings. My flesh wanted to keep them for myself, but my spirit said to be obedient to the Lord and give them away. Later that woman stood up in a meeting and told how she had been given the earrings she was wearing as a “free gift.” The Lord spoke to me and said, “Yes, it was a free gift to her, but it cost you, just as salvation is a free gift to you but it cost Jesus His life.” Love is the greatest gift of all. When you show forth the love of God, do it freely, sacrificially — and aggressively!

The very next night, my husband came home with a $25 gift card from one of his drivers. He had picked up an extra job at a driving school when I quit teaching to help cover some of our expenses. One of his students’ parents had given him an unexpected tip.

Not even one day had passed and I got the return for the small bit I had given away. With $5 added to it. Instantly, I felt ashamed of how I had doubted God could supply for me in my want.

My idea of giving is to give out of abundance — when I have something extra to spare. But God’s idea of giving is to give out of my need when it will cost me something.

And when I do — He delights in showing me what an easy thing it is for Him to replace, even surpass the little that I give away.

Related Bible Verses:

1 Kings 17:13-16: “Elijah said to her, ‘Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make me a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the Lord sends rain on the land.’ She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. For the jar of flour was not used up and jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah.”

Luke 21:4: “All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

Luke 6:38: “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

*Adapted from a post originally published December 16, 2014.

Related Resources:

Want to listen to co-hosts Carol Whitaker and Suzy Lolley talk through and explain the points in more of our latest posts? Subscribe on Soundcloud and receive all of our latest episodes!

 

 

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 the Wise Men Teach Us About Following God

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Years ago, when I was a child, I took a trip with my family each summer to visit my grandmother. Her house was located two states away, so we had to drive for a few days to get to her house. I grew up in the 80s before Internet, email, and GPS. Therefore, we used a paper map to navigate the route.

I laugh when I think of the memory. Now, when I need to find my way to a particular place, I pull out my iphone and type in the destination. Two years ago, when we moved to a new community, I found my way around quite easily because I had the automated voice on my phone’s GPS to tell me the way.

In my spiritual life, I have often wished that God’s voice was always as crystal clear as the guide on my GPS. At times, I have faced a decision and wished it was more obvious what God would have me do or would say to me in that situation. Although the Bible says that He guides those of us who are followers of Jesus Christ (Psalm 32:8,9; John 10:3-4; John 16:13), hearing from God and discerning His will isn’t always so easy. It takes time to develop the ability to recognize His voice and know which way to go.

One story we can look to for guidance in this area is the story of the wise men in Matthew 2:1-12 (ESV). A few lessons we can learn about following Jesus:

1. It doesn’t matter who you are.

What we should note in the passage is the wise men were magicians. They weren’t part of Israel’s elite or Jewish rabbi. They were Gentiles “from the east” (v. 2). And yet, they saw God’s star and followed it to Jesus.

If we have never accepted Jesus as our Savior, we may disqualify ourselves from coming to Him based on our background or the choices we have made in our past, but we must remember that God doesn’t disqualify us from coming to Him based on what we’ve done. He wants all to come and seek Him. John 6:37 says, “All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.”

Similarly, as believers, we may think that we can’t hear from Him in our Christian walk like other believers. However, we can approach Him not because of our merit but because of His work on the cross (Romans 3:23; Ephesians 2:8,9; Titus 3:5). We may not feel good enough for Jesus, but we must remember that even the most religious looking person — the person with spotless clothes and an even more spotless past — is not good enough to stand on his own righteousness in front of Jesus. In fact, our own unbelief that He will speak to us can be an obstacle that hinders us hearing from Him (James 1:5, 6).

Certainly, there are certain behaviors He will ask us to let go of as we walk with Him; however, he will help us in that endeavor. When we mess up, we can come to Him, confessing our sins knowing that He cleanses us (1 John 1:9). As 2 Timothy 1:9 says, “He has saved us and called us to a holy life — not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.”

2. The way Jesus leads is often treacherous.

Often, the assignments of Jesus are difficult and those we would rather not do. They may cost us our social standing with a group. They may cost us our job. They may cost us our pride because we have to humble ourselves and take a lower position than we would want for ourselves. They may cost us delays and alterations in our own plans. But all the assignments of Jesus are perfect and lead to goodness in our lives and the lives of others (Psalm 18:30, NLT). But we have to be willing to follow where He leads.

The wise men had planned their own way back to their home, but their plans were interrupted. Instead, they had to go back a different route they had not intended, as they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod. While Jesus’ directives may appear arduous at times, His “burden” is described as “light” in the Bible. Matthew 11:28-30 says:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

I once had a discussion with God about this passage. In the midst of a season where He put particularly challenging tasks in my own path, I told Him I didn’t think His burdens were light and easy at all. In fact, I told Him His way was hard and His burdens heavy. It was only a moment after I had made this accusation of God where a revelation washed over me that our burdens are not light because we never have to do hard things — the hard things we do in obedience are what make our burden light.

Conversely, when we go our own way, however easier it may be in the moment, is when we collect heavy burdens that we do not have with Jesus (Psalm 84:10). As Thomas á Kempis is quoted as saying in this Transformation Garden devotional:

What can the world offer you without Jesus? To be without Jesus is a hell most grievous, to know Jesus the sweetness of heaven. If Jesus is with you, no enemy can harm you. Whoever finds Jesus, finds a rich treasure, and a good above every good. He who loses Jesus loses much indeed, and more than the whole world. Poorest of all is he who lives without Jesus, and richest of all is he, who stands in favor of Jesus.

3. God maps the course.

What we notice in the story is that the wise men weren’t responsible for the course, they were just responsible for following. If we commit our way to Him and continually seek His counsel, He will show us what path we should take. As Matthew Henry says, “There arises a day star in the hearts of those who seek Him.” Isaiah 30:21 says, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’ “ (See my previous post on this topic.)

How does God communicate to us which way to go? In a variety of ways — through dreams and visions, directly speaking to us, through others, etc. We hear from God by spending time in His Word every day, praying to Him, and learning about Him in a corporate worship setting with other believers.

Often, when God gives us a specific word for our lives, He will confirm it by giving us the same word in different ways more than once. For instance, 2 Corinthians 13:1(NKJV) tells us, “By the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established.” In that passage, the word “word” in Greek is “rhema.” According to Helps Word Studies,Rhema is a spoken word, made by ‘the living voice’ (J. Thayer). Rhema is commonly used in the NT for the Lord speaking His dynamic, living word in a believer to inbirth faith.”

When we listen to a sermon, read a passage, or talk to a friend, and their words deeply penetrate us and we know that word is for us from the Lord, that is a “rhema” word. If we see the same message more than once, we know God is speaking to us. We need only watch for His answer to us and look for what He will say (Habbakuk 2:1).

On thing we must note, however, is that God’s instructions to us will never violate what He says in the Bible. We must be careful to not attribute every passing thought to God and be in His Word so we know the difference.

4. Those who trust His way get to where they need to go.

The wise men followed His star and found Him. In contrast, there were those who did not find him on that night because they weren’t looking. In fact, the wise men had to knock on doors and inquire about the Son of God because no one else was apparently all that interested. Similarly, when Jesus was born, there was no room for Him in the inn (Luke 2:7).

God has given us all promises of what He will do in our lives. Often the path to those promises is confusing and twisted and difficult. It doesn’t tell us how long wise men traveled to get to Jesus, but it was months and possibly more than that — before they found Christ. Surely, in that time they questioned the route, got discouraged, wanted to give up — but they didn’t give up and got to where they were going.

Similarly, in Mark 6:45-53, the disciples encountered a storm when Jesus sent them on a lake to row over to the other side. But though they were met with trials, they still got to where they were going because Jesus was the One who had sent them in the boat across the lake.

If we want the kind of life that is possible only with Jesus — a life where we live out our God given-purpose, we have to let Him have His way and lead us where He wants. We can chart our own path, sure, but we cannot generate the results that come from walking with Jesus. When we try to take matters into our own hands, we won’t get to where we are going. As Charles Stanley notes in The Blessings of Brokenness, “Do your part, and God will do the part only He can do!”

Conclusion:

Learning to hear from God and follow His will for our lives is a process that takes time to learn, but when we put ourselves in a position to hear from Him, He will speak to us. No matter if we like the way He leads, it is in following Him that we encounter blessings that we would not apart from Him.

As J.R. Miller is quoted as saying in Streams in the Desert:

Every difficult task that comes across you path — every one that you would rather not do, that will take the most effort, cause the most pain, and be the greatest struggle — brings a blessing with it. And refusing to do it regardless of the personal cost is to miss the blessing.

Every difficult stretch of road on which you see the Master’s footprints along which He calls you to follow Him leads unquestionably to blessings. And they are blessings you will never receive unless you travel the steep and thorny path.

*Updated December 16, 2017.

Related Resources:

Want to listen to co-hosts Carol Whitaker and Suzy Lolley talk through and explain the points in more of our latest posts? Subscribe on Soundcloud and receive all of our latest episodes!

To read the poem by T.S. Eliot I mention in the podcast, click on this link: “Journey of the Magi.”

Interested in salvation but want to read more? Check out our Know God page or contact us through the Contact page.

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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Joy in Difficult Circumstances

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Recently, I picked up a prescription at the pharmacy. As I was waiting in line, I overheard the cashier say to the person in front of me, “There’s not much you can do.”

She was referring to the recent disaster of Hurricane Harvey as it ravaged the Houston area, and the fact that there is not much an individual can do to prevent or prepare for this kind of tragedy in one’s life. When it was my turn to step up in line, I said, “There may not be much we can to in terms of preventing these tragedies, but there is something we can do: Put our faith in God.”

She didn’t disagree with me. In fact, she nodded her head and gave me a professional smile that indicated she wasn’t entirely sure what to do with me. At a later time, because I am attempting to be less fearful and bolder in my faith, when I called to ask a question of the pharmacist, I talked with her once more and clarified that Jesus has made it possible for us to have a relationship with God. Putting our faith in Him gives us the strength to navigate tough situations.

How We Can Find Hope This Holiday Season

This Christmas, as we usher in the holiday, we may survey circumstances and feel like the cashier “there’s just not much we can do” to feel a sense of hope or joy or remedy some of the situations in our lives and world.

We live in times where fear is rampant and bad news comes at us every day: new terrorist attacks, threats from foreign countries, uncertainty in our political climate. In addition, the holidays may trigger for us painful losses, reminders of fractures in our families, discontent because our funds are low, or reminders of more peaceful times when we weren’t dealing with the stresses we are now.

However, the Word of God has much to say about how we are to approach life when we are afraid or unsure of our circumstances. In particular, Luke 2:9-15 (NKJV) addresses a group of shepherds in the field and assures them of the joy they can feel because of Jesus’ birth:

And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on the earth peace, goodwill toward men!’

So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.’

While the message was meant for the shepherds and people of that day, it is also intended for us in our present day. We can draw a few key ideas from the angels’ proclamation that will help buoy our spirits, just as they did the shepherds’ spirits, if we are bogged down by negative thoughts and wish for a better time.

1. The message is for all people.

As Dr. Ralph F. Wilson notes in his exposition of the passage, the news was for “all people” (v. 10). For the listeners of the time, this meant the nation of Israel. However, we know from reading the rest of Scripture that the Gospel was intended for all the world. It is clear from the outset that this wonderful news the angels declare is not just available to an elite group of people but for all people to accept and receive. The Bible tells us that “whoever believes will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

We must note that in some versions the text says that the good news is for all people “on whom His favor rests.” As I explain in a previous post on this passage, this small line means that the Gospel is available to those with hearts open and ready to listen. While salvation is extended to all of humanity, we don’t get saved by living a good life or simply believing there is a God. We are only saved by accepting God’s plan for salvation and putting our faith in Jesus Christ (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; Matthew 7:13,14; Romans 10:9,10).

In addition, as Wilson also emphasizes, this extraordinary message was delivered to a group of ordinary shepherds. While shepherds to us may represent a certain nobility as part of the nativity scene, shepherds in Jesus’ day were humble members of society. The fact that God chose these shepherds to be the recipients of this heavenly message, rather than an emperor or other important government official, should encourage us. God is not merely interested in those who have importance by the world’s standards. We know from this story and repeated other places in Scripture that God notices and uses the marginalized, forgotten, rejected, and unwanted.

You may think that you couldn’t possibly be chosen to be used by God or singled out for a particular calling, but He delights in using the humblest of vessels to shame the strong (1 Corinthians 1:27). Just as God showed up in an ordinary place to declare good news to these shepherds, He will show up to those who put their faith and trust in Him.

2. The message is one of peace.

There have been a few times in my life when I received really great news: when we were gifted a week at a vacation condo for my college graduation, when my parents offered to pay off our vehicle debt so that I could quit my job, when I was hired at my dream school teaching English, when I found out I was pregnant with each of my children.

However, the good news spoken of in this passage is beyond the good news we all look forward to in our lives: It is the best news mankind could possibly hear. Up until this point, mankind had been living in the fallout after Adam and Eve’s sin with hope of a future Messiah that hadn’t yet come. Life included rituals under Old Testament law that were hard to live out — and access to God only through priests.

Jesus was the prophesied Messiah — God’s plan to redeem fallen humanity. When the angels sing, “Glory to God in the highest. And on earth peace, goodwill toward men” (v. 14), the peace the angels sing about is a reconciliation in our relationship with God. Jesus came to earth to repair the relationship that was broken between man and God by man’s sin. In 2 Corinthians 5:18 it says, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” Similarly, Colossians 1:19-22 reads:

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him [Jesus], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.

Though our world may look out of control, and it may seem there is nowhere to put our hope — we have Jesus who came and provided a way for us to be connected once again to God. The Bible tells us that Jesus is holding all things together, and nothing is outside His control (Colossians 1:17).

3. The message indicates God’s intentions toward us.

The verse the angels sing speaks not only of the reconciliation or peace Jesus would bring between God and man but also of God’s “goodwill.” The word “goodwill” is an old-timey word that we don’t use all that much anymore, but goodwill is kindness, a favorable attitude toward someone.

God’s sending of His Son, as detailed in this passage, indicates God’s good intentions towards His creation. Though in many religions God is depicted as distant, uninterested, or uninvolved, God — the only true God — is very passionate about and interested in His creation. When God created mankind, He made us as the very climax of His creation (Genesis 1:26-2:3).While He spoke the other elements of the universe into existence, He bent over His creation of man like a tender mother — and personally formed Adam out of the dust, and then later, Eve out of Adam’s rib (Genesis 2:7, 2:22).

With scary events on the news, we may wonder how God could possibly have good intentions toward us or be a good God with all the bad we see. We should know that we aren’t the only ones to feel this way. Our first parents, Adam and Eve, had doubts about God’s goodness even though they lived in a perfect environment.

They gave into the temptation to doubt when the serpent gave Eve the idea that the only reason God didn’t want them eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was because he was holding out of them. If Adam and Eve succumbed to doubt even though God had given them every reason to believe in His goodness, how much more are we susceptible to these same thoughts?

The Bible tells us over and over of God’s love for us (Romans 8:37-39; Eph. 2:4,5; 1 John 4:9-11). In fact, God didn’t create suffering or sin. The very reason He allows it is because you and I wouldn’t be here if He had ended the world long ago. It’s because of His patience and kindness that He has not demolished His creation broken by sin. At one point, God will send Jesus back to earth to judge humanity and bring an end to this earth (Revelation 20:11-15; Mark 13:31).

However, in the meantime, we have hope in the midst of our circumstances. We have Jesus who provided a way for us to be in right relationship with God despite sin. As this passage tells us, it is because of God’s goodness and love for us that He sent His Son to earth to save humanity.

Some of you listening may struggle with the idea that God loves you. Maybe no one has ever shown you love before or perhaps events in your life have led you to believe God doesn’t love you and you are unlovable. The opposite is true. Belief in God’s love is the key to experiencing His love. As you believe, you will begin to see and experience more and more God’s incredible goodwill toward you.

Conclusion:

With so much uncertainty and turmoil in our world, it’s easy to get swept up in fear or other negative emotions. We may long for a time when life wasn’t so complicated or look around us and have difficulty feeling joy in the midst of all we see. Just as the news given to the shepherds so long ago was meant to give them great joy and lift their spirits, so the news of Jesus is that which we can accept with joy years later and celebrate when all around us looks bleak.

In response to the news, the shepherds went to find Him. Similarly, if you are reading this and haven’t yet put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ or have received Him but are far away at this point, God promises to be found by those who seek Him (Jeremiah 29:13). Let’s take a moment to thank God for His wonderful gift of Jesus. And if you haven’t received the gift of salvation, I encourage you to do so now so that you too can live with the kind of peace and joy possible only when you are in relationship with Jesus Christ.

Prayer of Salvation: Dear Lord, thank you for Jesus. I believe in You and the fact that You sent Your Son to die on a cross for my sins. I admit I am a sinner in need of salvation. Please forgive me for my sins and walking apart from you. I ask you to be the Lord of my life, forgive my sins, and walk with me for the rest of my days. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Related Resources:

Want to listen to co-hosts Carol Whitaker and Suzy Lolley talk through and explain the points in more of our latest posts? Subscribe on Soundcloud and receive all of our latest episodes!

Interested in salvation but want to read more? Check out our Know God page or contact us through the Contact page.

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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How Gratitude Helped Me Feel Joy in My Pregnancy After Miscarriage

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I sit in the doctor’s office.

It has been several months since I have had a doctor’s appointment. I want to have a check-up to see how my iron levels are — where my health is at the moment. I have had a long road of recovery this past year after a miscarriage and surgery. Immediately after my pregnancy loss, I wanted to try for another child, but I had to hold off for some time because my body needed to heal.

As the year wore on, I began to hesitate on that desire. Each month where I combatted dizziness and fatigue made me question whether I wanted to put my health on the line again with another pregnancy.

And now, one year later, as I sit flipping through pregnancy magazines, I am still unsure. I look at the young moms in the photographs with smiling, chubby babies. I eye the modern strollers and diaper bags these magazine moms sport, and I feel detached from these women.

My youngest son has been potty-trained and is now in preschool. I recently turned 36. I have given away most of our baby stuff, and I have just two small bins of baby items in my son’s room.

As these thoughts swirl in my mind, I think as I am sitting here that I don’t feel well. I feel like I am coming down with the flu. I want to go lie down for a nap. A really long one. I had a daydream that morning that I had asked the nurse to give me a pregnancy test and it came up positive. I keep having this persistent thought that maybe I am already pregnant. But I brush that thought aside and decide not to say anything about that to the doctor.

Once in the examination room, I tell the doctor my health history and that I might want to try for another child. Even as I voice the words, I can feel myself retreating further away from that decision in my own mind. I don’t feel committed to this course of action at all. I think that maybe this noncommittal attitude is for the best. I can be happy with the children I have. It will probably not be the easiest thing for me to get pregnant after all. I am over the age of 35, and from everything I have read, I know my fertility rate is on the decline.

I continue to feel worse as the day progresses. I feel an onset of nausea when I am cooking dinner. I am starving hungry but nothing sounds remotely edible. Repulsed by the smell of raw chicken near me, I am reminded of the fact that I only have a bad reaction to meat when I am pregnant. These symptoms assaulting me are only those I have when I am growing a life in my womb.

Later that evening, I rummage through the cupboard, almost on a whim, to see if I have any pregnancy tests in the vicinity. I am surprised to see one unopened in a box. The expiration date has already passed, but I reason that it still might work. I go upstairs alone to my bathroom. My husband is watching TV and my kids are asleep. I watch the first line color in, and I pause for a moment because I see just one line. How can this be? I say to myself. I feel pregnant. I glance away for a moment and then I look back. A little jolt goes through me. A second line has colored in — ever so faint. But it is there.

I call my husband upstairs and I show him. We don’t smile or celebrate like we did with my other positive pregnancy tests. We just look at each other over the double lines, and I mostly feel numb. A little tremor of excitement ripples deep inside, but I push it down because it’s still really early. And I don’t know where this is going.

A Diagnosis: Foreboding Feelings

The next few days are a blur, and I am functioning more like an I-don’t-feel-anything zombie than an expectant mother. I don’t feel like I think I should.

But because I have been writing about emotions for some time, I know better than to beat myself up for the way I am feeling (or not feeling, rather). So I decide I need to explore what is going on with me a little more in-depth. I tell God during my quiet time that I am not sure why I am so numb. I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but why don’t I feel joy?

Not too long after that conversation with God, I get a phrase in my mind that I remember reading about, and the phrase is this: “foreboding joy.” I know who coined that term so I pull up some videos and articles on the Internet from researcher Dr. Brené Brown. In one such resource (*see my note at the end of this article), Brown says something that immediately resonates with me: “The most terrifying, difficult emotion we experience as humans is joy.” She continues on to say that we often don’t want to “soften into [a] moment of joy because [we are] scared this moment of joy is going to be taken away.”

When I hear Brown’s explanation of foreboding joy, I have an aha! moment. Yes, that’s it! I am experiencing foreboding joy. I am afraid to let myself feel joy because I don’t want that moment to be stolen. That little ripple of excitement I felt after the pregnancy test? I suppressed it. Something inside of me said, “No ma’am, not again. Remember how happy you felt when you found out you were pregnant last time? How foolish you felt when that all came crashing down?”

However, according to Brown, what I am doing is attempting to anticipate tragedy before it happens so I won’t be hurt by it, but what that is doing in me is making it impossible for me to experience joy. Brown stresses that truly joyful people don’t attempt to “shut it down” when they get a “tremor of joy.” Instead, they choose thankfulness.

Quite interestingly, Brown’s statements about not attempting to forecast negative events in advance are those that have a biblical basis. The Bible, the ultimate authority by which we are to measure our thoughts and actions, warns against foreboding thoughts. Proverbs 15:15 says, “All of the days of the despondent and afflicted are made evil [by anxious thoughts and forebodings], but he who has a glad heart has a continual feast [regardless of circumstances]” (AMPC).

Joyce Meyer illuminates the meaning of this verse, saying:

Because I had been hurt so much in my life, I was really negative and expected the worst all of the time. Even after I had a strong relationship with God, I still struggled with this for a while. Then one morning, I was standing in the bathroom and I remember noticing this pressure, this evil presence around me. It wasn’t new; I realized that I’d always felt it. It made me think, ‘What bad thing is going to happen next?’ I asked God what this feeling was. He spoke to my heart that it is ‘evil forebodings.’ Later I found Proverbs 15:15 … Once I read that verse, I realized what it meant. It was the fear of something bad happening when nothing was going wrong.

Meyer goes on to say that we should expect good to happen to us rather than bad. As the Pulpit Commentary states, the “afflicted” in the verse is referring to those people who “take a gloomy view of things” and “are always taking anxious thought and forecasting evil.” The days are “made evil” by the person’s continual fretting!

Though I wasn’t necessarily “forecasting evil” to happen in my situation with the pregnancy, I was choosing to try to not let myself get too thrilled in order to brace myself for the worst — and in a way, that was choosing to take a negative view of things. And although Brown makes her statements about joy and gratitude from a slightly different angle than the writer of Proverbs, Brown ultimately advocates a similar point: We must embrace joy and not try to push it away. As Brown asserts, we can’t embrace joy by willing ourselves to be happy. We do this by practicing intentional gratitude.

Certainly, gratitude does not feel like the right option for me in this moment. Numbness does. However, as Brown states elsewhere, foreboding joy is a type of armor we strap on ourselves to feel safe. And even if that option feels safe, it isn’t. Proverbs reminds us that allowing foreboding thoughts can actually bring the bad things we fear our way.

So, while I think I am protecting myself by freezing my feelings, attempting to be “practical” by not anticipating a good outcome, I’m not. Instead, I need to wrap my arms around the moments I feel tremors of joy, however scary. And even if I don’t immediately feel joyful feelings, I can fix my mind in the moment and focus on what I can be thankful for in the situation. And my intentional thankfulness opens the pathway to joy.

A Conclusion: Dictating My Emotions

I’d love to tell you that after my research on foreboding joy I have been able to immediately feel the way I want to feel. But every day has been one step at a time for me: listing what I am grateful for; choosing to give thanks even when I want to put my emotions on lockdown; fixing my thoughts on positive things when I feel scared about having another miscarriage.

My conclusion is this: Though I should pay attention to my emotions as they are useful in letting me know there is a problem, in some cases, they aren’t reliable. I can’t in this instance let them dictate how I will respond because what feels like the right way is actually not helpful, but harmful.

I have to go with what the Word tells me in Proverbs 15:15. I need to expect for and look for good. Not only that, I need to look around me and notice the things that are good right now.

Thankfulness is God’s will for me in every circumstance (1 Thessalonians 5:18) — even in this situation that feels so scary and unexpected, yet wonderful all at once.

Really, when I think about it, choosing intentional gratitude isn’t just about creating the capacity in me to feel joy; it is really about letting go of trying to somehow control or minimize pain in a situation I can’t control and choosing to plant my thoughts on good as a way of telling God that I am submitting to Him in this circumstance.

Because as the author and finisher of my faith, He has already gone before me — already knows the outcome. And though I detest uncertainty and situations that feel messy and unpredictable, this pregnancy is a chance for me to let down my human defense mechanisms and say …

Lord, even in this, I trust you.

*Author’s note: This article was originally published November 20, 2015 and has been updated from its original version. Please note that many of the comments I included from Brown are from an interview Brown did with Oprah. In my original version of the article, I included the link to that interview, but decided in this revised version not to include it, as our site does not wish in any way to promote Oprah.

Oprah believes in many New Age views that denounce what the Word of God says — and add and subtract from it in a way that we as Christ-followers cannot support. Brown is a legitimate researcher and many of the truths she has discovered in her research are those that we can find a foundation for in the Word of God; however, I would approach her materials knowing that she has taught many life classes for Oprah and herself promotes faith — but one that is quite inclusive.

Keeping this in mind, I would urge you to be cautious when looking up Brown’s materials — as many of them you will find on Oprah’s magazine site or on her Super Soul Sunday segments.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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Learning to Depend on God

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“I can do it myself!” my daughter announced as she raced ahead of me down the sidewalk. My heart did a little sideways flip-flop as I watched her neon shoes hit the pavement, causing her Lalaloopsy backpack to bounce against her narrow frame.

It was the second day of kindergarten. At my oldest daughter’s pleading, I had allowed her to ride the bus home from school. As the bus rumbled to a stop and the kids filed out, I did not catch sight of her. Worried that she had been placed on the wrong bus, I peered in to ask the driver and found my daughter giggling with two new friends on the front seat.

Looking surprised to see me, she jumped out of her seat and bounced down the stairs onto the sidewalk. Her feet had barely hit the pavement before she whirled around and insisted, “I can do it myself!”

Obviously, she had no idea where to exit because this was her first time riding the bus home, but rather than admit her need for my help, she declared that she would have been just fine had I not leaned in and collected her.

Watching that determined little girl skip away down the sidewalk, I felt a rustle in my spirit. Isn’t this what I do to God on a regular basis? How often does He fetch me off the “bus” only to see me claim that it was all my own doing?

Perhaps that heart flutter I felt was because I am often the little girl in this interchange. I am the one telling God, “I can do it myself.”

Independence as a Coping Mechanism

A can-do spirit has always been stitched into my DNA. My parents would most likely corroborate, but in looking back, I also developed self-reliance as a weapon I used to fight back against circumstances I couldn’t control.

Unfortunately, I had some situations in my childhood where I tried to voice my needs, and I was answered with irritation, anger or silence. I soon discovered that it was easier not to assert myself in some situations. Easier not to create a problem.

I became self-sufficient so that I wouldn’t impose on anyone. I built a fortress of one to protect myself. I didn’t realize that whether or not people always have good reactions to me, I need to share my needs. God doesn’t want me to cover up who I am in an unhealthy way to please others. I am not a problem if I speak up or express how I feel.

Giving up Self-Sufficiency for God-Dependency

Self-sufficiency wasn’t the only way that I tried to manage those people around me and make them like me; I also made the decision to be really useful. Not only would I never inconvenience the people in my life by expressing what I wanted, but I would also display how productive I could be — how successful. I would prove to everyone I was worth it.

Particularly in college and the first few years of teaching, I became extremely performance-driven. Although I didn’t recognize it as such, I was relying on my own fleshly attitudes to make it through my life. I believed in God, but I didn’t really know that He could help me with all the finite details of my emotions. I didn’t think He cared about that. My “It’s all up to me. I have to make this happen” attitude in college took a toll on my body.

I developed a nervous stomach and paralyzing fear and anxiety. While other people agonized over the extra pounds they were gaining, I fit easily in size zero jeans. All of my worrying whittled me down to very thin. One particular Sunday, I went forward at church for prayer when stress had brought me to the point of near collapse — and the preacher happened to say something about the cause of anxiety during the prayer time: fear.

A light bulb went off in my head, and I began to see how my terror that I wouldn’t measure up or succeed was paralyzing me and causing me to over-work myself in an effort to succeed. When I realized that the antidote to fear is trust, and I could hand over my worry to God and rest, my schoolwork became a lot more manageable. Because at the bottom of all of my self-reliance was a huge fear: that I would fail. I would fail in relationships. I would fail at being successful.

And when I failed, I had an even bigger fear — I would be rejected.

Acting Out of the Flesh

What I didn’t realize a few years ago is that by trying to change myself to please people, I was attempting to manufacture acceptance from the people around me with my actions. The desire to do things without God is something every person attempts to do whether he or she recognizes it or not. Even Christians can operate in the flesh.

According to a By Divine Design conference I attended, living in the flesh is when we attempt to meet our own needs for love, acceptance, worth and security apart from God. This desire to be independent came into the world when Adam and Eve sinned (Genesis 3:1-21). Our flesh wants control, but we cannot experience abundant life when we live out of our flesh rather than His Spirit (John 6:63).

I’d grown up in church and had only heard flesh defined as our sinful nature that leads us to lie, cheat, steal, lust, etc. However, I didn’t realize that flesh is a little more encompassing. Certainly, we may be tempted in those areas that I just listed, but acting out of our flesh also includes the ways we try to do life in our own strength and the coping skills we use to get what we want out of our environment —  even those skills considered socially acceptable (By Design). I tried to do this with my independence and performance; however, there are other coping strategies that exist as well: criticism of others, workaholism, stoicism, escapism, perfectionism, and the list goes on.

The more I tried to cope by using my own flesh patterns, the more tied up in knots I became. It’s not wrong to have needs or express them, as I learned, or let the people in our lives help us feel loved and cherished; however, it’s a problem when we lean the entire weight of our identity on others’ reactions and our own achievements. God never intended us to generate our own devices to get through our circumstances. Consider what God says about how we are to approach life in Proverbs 3:5,6:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all of your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.

The New Living Translation actually says that this means “do not depend on your own understanding.” Therefore, the Bible teaches a dependence on God — not on our own flesh. In practical terms, this means seeking out the advice and will of God in our choices, relationships, and actions. In fact, The NIV Application Commentary suggests that not leaning on our own understanding goes beyond just asking for help in daily decisions; depending on God means “not being wise in [our] own eyes” (Prov. 3:7).

We shouldn’t necessarily feel guilty if we go somewhere for lunch before consulting Him; however, this does mean that our attitude is one of acknowledging God’s wisdom as surpassing our own. Trying to bull-doze through life on our own strength is being wise in our own eyes. Being dependent doesn’t mean we don’t have a personality or a brain. Being dependent means giving up our self-made strategies and learning God’s better ones. Being dependent means trusting so that we don’t have to fall for the lie that “it’s all up to me.”

Because the other part of Proverbs 3:5-8 is this: When we choose to depend on God’s ways over our own, He “makes [our] paths straight.” The Hebrew word for “straight” indicates “travel made safe by clearing and leveling the road” (The NIV Application Commentary). That means when we choose to lean on God instead of ourselves, He literally clears the way. It doesn’t mean we won’t be met with obstacles, because we will, but we will be traveling a way leveled in advance for us by the Almighty God.

We can rest because He’s got our back. And I don’t know about you, but that way sounds a whole lot better than trying to “do it myself”!

*Revised from a post originally published February 5, 2015.

Editor’s Note:

Please note that in the articles “Set Apart for God’s Special Purpose” and “Having the Faith to Get Through Your Storm,” changes were made to account for sources that were not included in original draft and/or bring clarification to key concepts. While we make every effort to correctly identify sources in original, at times corrections do have to be made after publication. We apologize for not including those in original draft. Please check out our new publication policy on our About page.

Related Resources:

Want to listen to co-hosts Carol Whitaker and Suzy Lolley talk through and explain the points in our latest posts? Check out the brand new Beulah Girl podcast on Soundcloud. Subscribe on Soundcloud and receive all of our latest episodes!

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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When We Suffer for Doing Good

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

Have you ever wanted to fight God on an issue even though you knew that He would blow you out of the water with an argument or action that would show you how wrong you were? Have you ever wanted to wrestle against God even though you knew He would win?

I know the fallacy of using my own human logic to try to guide my life or figure out God. I’ve been walking with him long enough to know that His ways are not my own. He has shown that to me over and over.

But recently, even though I knew that it was pointless, I wanted so badly to accuse Him and turn away. I’d been in this place many a time, and I know the danger of going my own way, but I wanted to flee anyway.

When Doing God’s Will Leads to Suffering

Here’s what I was all tied up in knots about: If He was going to ask me to do an action for Him, I felt that it should end in good. The situation should end with a happy ending, with a ribbon tied in a bow on top. But yet again, I had stepped out to do an uncomfortable action because He had told me to, and it had ended in circumstances that were not what I wanted or expected.

Quite honestly, I felt that there had been too many of those situations lately. It makes sense to do the hard thing that will end in the award, the raise at work, the leading of someone to Christ, the healing, the miracle. But what about the hard action that leads to persecution, the argument, or the confusing events that don’t add up. What then?

In those scenarios, we can feel like God is being cruel to us because of what He has asked us to do. We may be infuriated by the fact that He has led us to a place where we are encountering hardship that we wouldn’t be encountering if we hadn’t listened to Him. We wouldn’t be the first to feel this way.

In the book of Job, Job becomes fed up with the hardship that has come in his life. He essentially tells God as much, accusing God of cruelty and persecution (Job 30:21, ESV). However, we know from reading the rest of the book of Job that God was not being malicious to Job — nor is He that to us. God allowed the affliction in Job’s life not to be “cruel” or play a mean game with Job’s life, but because He had a purpose. And Satan — not God — was the responsible party for the trouble that came into Job’s life. As Jon Bloom points in “When God Feels Cruel” on desiringgod.org, God did permit Satan’s actions — but He did so to prove Satan wrong and provide encouragement to many other sufferers who would come after Job.

In fact, God responds to Job’s accusation of cruelty and asks him this important question, “Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right?” (Job 40:8, ESV). The Message translation words it like this: “Are you calling me a sinner so you can be a saint?” In other words, God asks Job if he is able to stand against Him on his own righteousness.

In our own lives, when we feel that God is being cruel to us because He has allowed or led us into undesirable circumstances, we see that God is more than capable of running the universe — and often our accusations of Him are made because we don’t understand things from His perspective. As Bloom notes, we have to trust in God’s goodness despite what our feelings tell us.

Certainly, after listening to God’s argument, Job repents of his original position and acknowledges that God is sovereign and worthy of praise no matter the events in his life. Similarly, in my own situation, while I didn’t get the same monologue God gave Job, God stopped me in my tracks by offering a divine response to my human argument.

What God Says About the Suffering That Comes From Doing His Will

The next morning during my quiet time, as I was still fuming over the injustice of the reality that good doesn’t always come to you for doing God’s will, I came across this gem of Scripture in 1 Peter 4:19:

So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

Say what? I didn’t have to wait for a thunderclap from heaven to signal God’s answer. His response waited quietly right in front of me silencing every complaint I wanted to raise in His direction. I knew He wanted me to stop resisting Him and accept the situation He had ordained in my life. Like Job, I had to acknowledge God’s supreme power and knowledge even when things weren’t making sense according to my own wisdom.

When we’re in a place where we don’t like where God has brought us, we can break down this verse and look at a few ideas that may help us in our circumstance:

1. We will suffer for doing His will.

If we look at other translations of this verse, the wording is arranged to say not “those who suffer for doing the will of their Creator” but to say something more along the lines of “if God’s will is for you to suffer.” For instance, the New Life Version says “if God wants you to suffer” and the New Century Version says “then those who suffer as God wants.”

No matter which translation you look at, the passage highlights the idea that God’s will and suffering are not mutually exclusive. Sometimes God’s will leads straight into suffering, and it’s difficult to grapple with in those moments because we don’t always know all the whys.

However, if we look at other sections of 1 Peter, we see that suffering in doing God’s will is something we should rejoice over — not something that should derail us from our calling.

2. Despite what happens, we need to commit ourselves to Him.

I love this next section. The verse tells us what we should do in the situation where obedience doesn’t appear to be paying off: “Commit ourselves to our faithful Creator.” The temptation is to get angry, to tell God we will control things, that we will “take it from here.” But this is where trust comes in. Do we believe He loves us? Do we believe His way is perfect and He knows all things? Do we believe He is worthy of our trust?

The passage assures us that He is trustworthy. In fact, quite interestingly, Peter uses the word “faithful” to describe the One who holds us and all of our circumstances together. He is faithful not just when events are favorable in our life — but even in the midst of suffering.

3. Even when we suffer, we need to continue to do good.

Lastly, the verse urges us to continue to do good even when it doesn’t make sense, the way is hard, and we want to give up. Quite honestly, what we all want to do when our situation doesn’t pan out the way we thought it would is run in the opposite direction. But this verse urges us to “continue to do good.” And that sometimes is the hardest thing. To continue when you don’t have the results you want, you don’t know why, and it doesn’t make sense.

Friend, we have a God who knows what He is doing. When the way is unclear, and we can’t see what He is doing, the passage urges us to keep on doing what we know is right. My former senior pastor used to say, “When you can’t see His hand, trust His heart.” In other words, when you have no earthly idea why circumstances are going the way they are or why He has allowed what He has in your life, you can still trust that God is good and His way is flawless.

When I survey my life, I know Him to be a faithful God. I can look back and see how he was constant through times where I was not. He has always been there for me and you, and He will continue to be faithful, or as one of my favorite worship songs says — “do it again.”

Let’s choose to trust Him even when His will leads to hardship rather than good.

Related Bible Verses:

Proverbs 16:9: “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.”

Galatians 6:9: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

*Updated October 30, 2017

 

 

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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Where Is God When We Suffer?

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

It is easy when times are good to say we trust in the Lord, and He is a good God. But how about when times are bad? Can we still say those words then?

When chaos takes place in our lives, when circumstances aren’t going as we would want, proclaiming God’s goodness and faithfulness is much more difficult. Some of us have been through or are going through such tremendously hard situations.

Oftentimes, there are layers to our trials. We have multiple problems occurring on multiple fronts; it can be overwhelming. We may feel crushed down by the weight of them. Paul said on his journey in Asia: “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself” (2 Corinthians 1:8). So deep was the agony, so great the torment and trials, Paul didn’t know if he would find his way through them. And yet, he persisted and put his full trust in Christ.

While Paul is a man in the New Testament who met with tribulation, Job is a man in the Old Testament who met with affliction. He lost his estate, wealth, and children in one day (Job 1:1-22).

Unbeknownst to him, prior to his devastating loss, a discussion happened in the heavens between God and Satan. God gave Satan permission to afflict Job’s possessions and family. Then, to add insult to injury, God granted Satan permission to afflict Job’s health. Job’s body broke out in painful boils. Job’s suffering was so great, he cursed the day he was born. His wife suggested he curse God as well, but Job replied, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:10). Job was unwilling to abandon his faith even in the midst of heavy trials.

To make matters worse, Job’s “friends” came to sit with and comfort him; however, they made Job feel even more terrible by heaping blame on him for the tragedy that had fallen on him. Although each friend had a slightly different view, they all arrived at the same conclusion: Job’s suffering was due to sin. In order for him to get out of his situation, he needed to confess his sin.

Talk about a miserable time for Job! His wife abandoned him emotionally when he needed her most, his friends told Job he was to blame for the trouble that had happened (even though that wasn’t the case), and Job stood accused by everyone close to him in his life.

No one understood or supported him. He was not even sure of what God thought of him initially. We can learn a few ideas from Job’s journey of suffering.

On a side note, these points are those I’ve loosely based on the information from a Suffering and Sovereignty study from the First5.org app from Proverbs 31 Ministries. I’ve been reading the study these past few weeks, and even as I’ve chosen to talk about the concepts in a slightly different way, they are those I developed while going through the study.

1. Suffering falls on the righteous and the wicked.

While clear connections can sometimes be drawn between our actions and the events happening in our life, sometimes they can’t. Certainly, the Bible talks about God bestowing blessings on the righteous and evil on the wicked. Psalm 51:12 says, “Surely, Lord, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield.” Proverbs 33:3 says, “The Lord’s curse is on the house of the wicked, but he blesses the home of the righteous.”

However, the book of Job reveals a more complicated view of suffering. Sometimes the wicked flourish with no recompense and the righteous suffer through no fault of their own (First5.org).

In both scenarios, God is still sovereign and in control. We as Christians must accept both good and bad — knowing He allowed both in our lives. That doesn’t mean we let people abuse us or mistreat us, let ourselves be passive doormats, or resign ourselves to situations that are not God’s best for us.

However, we understand that suffering is part of the Christian experience. We also understand that eventually, a man’s evil will catch up with him. He will be judged for his wrong and suffer the consequences of his disobedience against God.

2. Friends are good, but only One will never abandon us.

Friends are good, but we can’t always rely on them to say the right things or know what to do when trouble comes into our life. As we see in Job’s story, Job’s friends meant well, but they had no knowledge of what was really going on. By Job’s response, we see that their words did not comfort him and did not ring true for him. Similarly, we will have people completely misunderstand us and offer us advice we shouldn’t take (First5.org).

The only way we can know what to do and find true comfort is to turn to the only One who will not abandon us. We may feel like God is far off and silent, but He is close to the broken-hearted (Psalm 34:18). God is the only One who will have an accurate perspective of each situation we face. We can easily be lead astray by friends with good intentions who give us human wisdom and logic — maybe even a few Bible verses thrown in that might be right in another scenarios. We need to seek and listen to God’s voice above all others.

It can be scary to be the one voice in a situation that is dissenting when everyone else is assenting. We may think something is wrong with us if we are the only one offering a different point-of-view. However, sometimes our Christian faith walk requires us to think and act differently than those around us. Sometimes differently than even our Christian friends and family members.

The voices around us may tell us we’re wrong, that we’re not in God’s will, that we have brought the suffering on ourselves. But what is God telling us? At times, God will pinpoint an area of our life that He’s working on. His methods for bringing this to our attention may be extremely painful. However, other times the suffering we go through is not necessarily brought on by our own choices, but rather allowed for reasons only God knows.

3. God doesn’t expect us to be stoic in our suffering.

As repeatedly emphasized in the First5 study, Job didn’t curse God, but he was not emotionless or stoic in his suffering. He attempted to process through what was happening by pouring out to his feelings to God and his friends.

Similarly, it’s OK in our pain to express how we feel, to be honest with God. Job basically wanted to die, and He told people that. He didn’t try to play the religious role and pretend like these events weren’t devastating to him. He poured out his pain to others and told his friends what he thought of their comments.

In our own pain, we need to tell God how we truly feel. We don’t need to gloss over our feelings or pretend they are not there. We can be truthful with God. He can handle our grief and raw emotions. Certainly, Job went a little too far towards the end of the book of Job by accusing God (rather than just raising honest questions). However, we can learn from Job to take our questions to God and wrestle through our grief — rather than pretend it doesn’t exist.

Conclusion: God’s Purposes Are Supreme Through Our Suffering

Jesus told his followers before leaving the earth that they would have trouble, but to “take heart” because he had “overcome the world” (John 16:33). As Jesus’ followers, we will share in His suffering.

While our suffering can happen as a result of our sin, at times we will suffer without knowing the reasons or causing the suffering in or own lives. In those periods, as hard as it may be, we need to cling to God, ask Him our hard questions, but say as Job did, that we will accept both the good and bad seasons God allows.

At the very end of Job, after God spoke to Job, Job responded by saying in Job 42:2-6:

I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.

Ultimately, as the NIV Study Notes state, Job decided that God and His purposes were supreme, and he simply surrendered to God’s plan for him, which included suffering. After this, God made his friends go to back to Job. Job prayed for them, and his fortunes were restored.

Also in the NIV Study Notes, it says: “God does not allow us to suffer for no reason, and even though the reason may be hidden in the mystery of his divine purpose — never for us to know in this life — we must trust in him as the God who only does what is right.”

In other words, when our circumstances are such that they feel out of control, we have a God we can rely on and trust because His purposes for us are always good (Romans 8:28), even if they don’t feel good. Like Job, we can wrestle with God in our pain and request that God take the difficulty away. Ultimately, though, if He doesn’t — and we know our suffering is not a result of our own folly — we can trust that God has a reason to allow it and will bring good in our life through it.

In addition, we see Job say something very interesting in response to God. He said that he had “heard” of God, but due to this experience he had “seen God” (Job 42:5). Similarly, in our pain, however great, we will have the opportunity to learn more of God as we share in His suffering.

Interestingly enough, when I wrote the lines above to conclude this article, I penned them before I had read the end of the First5 Job study I mentioned earlier. However, quite fittingly, when I watched their last teaching video, I saw that Wendy Blight read Job 42:2-6 and came up with a similar conclusion. I thought it was cool that we shared some of the same thoughts about the end of Job.

In conclusion, then, what we can say about God’s whereabouts when we suffer is that God has not abandoned us. As believers, we can be assured of this truth found in Scripture: God is with us, a constant friend (Matthew 28:20; John 15:12-15).

Related Bible Verses:

2 Corinthians 5:14: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is seen.”

Podcast Notes:

In podcast episode, please note that there are two corrections: the reference to 1 Corinthians 1:8 in intro is actually 2 Corinthians 1:8. The Psalm 51:1 reference in the first point is actually Psalm 51:12.

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 Good That Can Come From Our Pain

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

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

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

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

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

God Is Still Good When We Hurt

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Suffering Can Be a Blessing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consecration: A Life Set Apart

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

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

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

What it Means To Live a Consecrated Life

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

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

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

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

Obstacles That Stand in the Way of a Consecrated Life

1. Unbelief.

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

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

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

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

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

2. Ignorance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Fear.

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

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

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

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

Consecration: Giving Back to God

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

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

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

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

Carol Whitaker

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

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When Obedience in the Christian Life Is Hard

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

She missed her job as a teacher that much.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carol Whitaker

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

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