3 Lessons From Paul About Walking in Our God-Given Calling

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We hear the word “calling” thrown around in both the church and the secular community, but what exactly does it mean to walk in our calling?

According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, calling is defined as “a strong inner impulse toward a particular course of action when accompanied by conviction of divine influence.” I find it so interesting that “conviction of divine influence” is included in their definition. Truly, not every dictionary includes acknowledgement that calling has to do with the divine. “Calling” in the Oxford English Dictionary is “a strong urge towards a particular way of life or career; a vocation.”

While a secular dictionary may have a variance of definitions of the word — some with reference to God and some not — calling in biblical terms is a divinely initiated invitation to live out God’s purposes for our lives. According to Holman Bible Dictionary, calling is an “invitation, summons, commission, or naming.” As this definition suggests, calling means not only to be called to an area of service, but it is also an invitation and a naming. When we are called by God, we are told a piece of our identity and purpose in Him.

To further understand the word “calling” in terms of Christian service, it is also helpful to look at how the word “apostle” is used in the Bible. Paul speaks on numerous occasions of his calling to be an apostle to the Gentiles. His use of the word “apostle” is key in helping even those of us not necessarily called to plant churches or travel as missionaries understand our own callings. “Apostle” means “sent” or “one who is sent out.” Just as Paul was chosen by God to preach to the Gentiles, we, as Christians have also been “sent” and commissioned by God to a particular area of service by God — and He is the One that reveals that to us (Ephesians 2:10).

In Galatians, Paul essentially gives us the blueprint of what calling in biblical terms looks like. Though he is writing with the purpose of defending his apostleship against the accusations of false teachers and seeking to correct the church and uphold the Gospel, we can gain so much from looking at his words about what it means to live out our God-given callings and retain the right focus in the process.

3 Things We Can Learn From Paul About Calling:

1. Our calling comes from God.

In Galatians 1:1, Paul starts his letter to the Galatians by identifying himself as “Paul, an apostle — sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead.”

Paul’s words may seem arrogant, but he says what he does not to put himself on a pedestal but defend his apostleship against attacks from others who claimed he wasn’t a real apostle and establish to his readers the greater power behind his calling.

As we see here by Paul’s words, our calling by God is that which is initiated by God and gives us the foundation to do what we are doing. Not only is our calling that which gives us the authority to do what we are doing, it also helps us continue along the right course when the going gets tough. How so? When we look further into the word “apostle,” not only does it mean “sent,” a further shade of meaning exists. As Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary suggests, “apostle” is one given a task to fulfill, but the emphasis is on the one who sends, not one sent.

When we are starting out, bogged down in the middle, or trying to make a good finish in our calling, we may feel like we don’t have what it takes. Though we are called by God and are given authority to do what He has called us to do, our ability to do what He has called us to is not based on who we are but on who He is. Paul says this later in Galatians 6:14 when he says he boasts of nothing but the cross.

Calling is that which always starts with God and is meaningful because it is done in His power and authority. So, in places where we question our ability or have others questioning us, we can always draw on the fact that we are doing what we are doing because God calls us — and the emphasis isn’t on us so much on us as the “sent” as it is on Him who sends us.

2. Our message comes from God.

Not only does Paul emphasize that his calling comes from God, he also emphasizes that his message is from God as well. Note what he says in Galatians 1:11: “I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it: rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.”

Again, we must remember that Paul says what he does here to defend himself against attacks against him. In addition, we should note that we are in a different position than Paul in that the Bible has been written in its entirety at this point in history and given to us for our instruction. Paul, on the other hand, was in a unique position in that he received revelation from Jesus to write a good portion of the New Testament. However, what we can take away from Paul’s words is that we, too, carry to others the Gospel which is not a mere work of men, but the divine words of God.

Just as our call is not our own or given by men — neither can our message be man-made. While we may be tempted after our call to go and do our own thing with our God-given talents and abilities, we must always remember that we do what we do in God’s power. We have a responsibility to stay attached to God (as it is only through His power that we do what we do) and ensure our message is that which is in line with the Gospel.

Certainly, there are false prophets that minister in God’s name that declare a gospel that departs from the Gospel given to us in the Bible, but as the IVP Commentary points out, we are only valid apostles (or those sent out by God) as long as our message and mission align with the Gospel. The IVP Commentary says the following about Paul: “His apostolic power is not arbitrary; it is only valid as long as he adheres to the true gospel.”

3. We are accountable to God.

As I’ve alluded to in my previous two points, it might make our heads swell a bit if we focus too much on the “called by Christ with a message from God” theme only when it comes to walking in our calling and leave out the important idea that though we have been called to serve others using our spiritual gifts and share the Gospel of Christ, when we do so, not only do we need to align ourselves with the Gospel — we are always under the authority of Christ.

According to 1 Corinthians 12:4-7 (check out 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 for a more complete idea of the different types of gifts), it says this:

There are different kinds of gifts but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

If we notice in this verse, there are different kinds of service and working — but the same Spirit. The Holy Spirit gives us the gifts that we are to use, but although different, they are all used in service to God, under His authority.

As the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility. We aren’t given a great mantle of authority and sent out to be Christ’s representatives without the heavy responsibility that comes with such a directive of staying aligned with God and His Word with how we use our gifts and live out our call.

This also means we don’t just preach the message of the Gospel and know it to tell others. We have to live it out. In Galatians 1:12-24, Paul points to his own conversion story to show his 180 degree turn from his former life. He urges other Christians to consider how he has lived out the Christian life. I love what the IVP Commentary says on this point:

He [Paul] does not call on his readers [the church members of Galatia] to do anything he has not done himself. He does not simply point to the way; he has lived out the way of faithfulness to the Gospel of Christ. We might well learn from Paul that the best way to challenge others to live for Christ is by our own example.

Conclusion: Our Calling Always Points Back to God

As I mentioned previously, some dictionaries do not reference God when it comes to the definition of calling, simply stating that calling is more about our own impulse toward a certain direction. The difference in a secular definition of calling and a biblical definition challenges us because the definition of pursuing a course of action without divine influence is how many live out their lives.

As Christians, even as we know that calling comes from God, there is always going to be the temptation to define our own calling and use our gifts the way we see fit, as the world does. Yet, as we see with Paul’s discussion of calling and apostleship, which can very much be applied to our lives as Christians as well, walking in our calling is that which is not only initiated and sustained by God — it is that which points back to God.

Acts 17:28 tells us, “For in him we live and move and have our being.” Similarly, we are told in John 15:5 that it is by remaining in Him that we accomplish what we were designed to accomplish. Apart from Him we can do nothing.

In Hebrews 3:1 Christ is referred to as an apostle because He was “sent” by the Father to complete a specific mission. As Baker’s observes, just as Christ was sent, He sent out disciples — “thus, all apostleship finds its meaning in Jesus the Apostle, sent by God to be the Savior of the world” (1 John 4:14).” Even if we don’t know what that our specific calling is yet, we continue to walk in God’s will and use our gifts to serve others and allow God to show us our purposes in Him.

If we do know our calling, we may be excited by the great assignment God has given us, but with that assignment comes the task of remembering we have been called because of God’s grace and not our own ability. Our message is not our own and must adhere to the Gospel, and lastly, we must preach this Gospel message not just with our words but with our lives.

Though we have been given the awesome task of acting as those “sent” and chosen by God to fulfill whatever task He has called us to fulfill, we are never outside of the boundaries of the Gospel or God’s hand — and this keeps us humble in the process of carrying out our call.

Related Resources:

This is the second episode in our series “Staying True to Your Calling.” Check out Part 1: Being Bold in Our God-Given Calling last week where we explored what it means to boldly declare your identity in Christ and what He is doing in your life and not hide who you are to please others or fit in.

Not yet a follower of Jesus Christ? Check out our Know God page to learn more about what it means to accept salvation or send us an email through the Contact page. We would love to hear from you!

Podcast Notes and Corrections:

1. The use of word “apostle” in the Bible that denoted a person authorized to fulfill certain function that emphasized one who sends, not one sent — taken from Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary (as cited above in the article).

2. Correction: The Galatians 6:15 reference in the podcast (when Paul says he only boasts in the cross) can actually be found in Galatians 6:14.

*Updated March 16, 2019.

 

 

 

 

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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Being Bold in Our God-Given Calling

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“I don’t think she likes me,” I thought to myself as I surveyed the expression of a woman in my Bible study. Whether this dislike from the other woman was real or imagined, I found myself feeling conflicted about sharing during our discussion that day.

I had a specific story that popped in my mind as we discussed the lesson, but I wrestled with the following thought: Would this story be one that would further this person’s negative (in my estimation) view of me or one that would gain me more friends in the group? I wanted to stay silent, but I knew I wasn’t going to grow if I didn’t attempt to share my struggles and be vulnerable with the women in my group. I wasn’t going to add anything to the class by being a mute.

So, I launched into my story. But all the way home I thought about if I should have said some comments differently or remained silent.

Sometimes my insecurity and fear that others will reject me causes me to clam up. I can remember times when I was laughed at or failed in some embarrassing way, and I still struggle to be present and show up and be myself in relationships when it feels easier and safer to hide. Can you relate?

You hide parts of yourself or your story that might be rejected or even hide that you are a Christian around those who might reject you. It feels too hard sometimes to be who we really are, say what we really think, share what we are really going through, and/or openly declare to the world that we are Christians.

Of course, we need to use wisdom in our speech. We should think about what words are exiting our mouths and edit or delete some of our thoughts before they ever make their way into our speech. We should also use wisdom and discernment in our actions around others. There were times that Jesus chose not to minister openly in public because He did not want to catch the attention of authorities who wanted to kill Him. Yet, in certain situations, we shouldn’t delete ourselves or edit who God has called us to be to present ourselves as a more socially acceptable package to others.

Jesus Boldly Walked in His Calling

In John 8:12, we see how Jesus boldly lived out His identity. In this passage He says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

At first glance, these words may not seem profound in terms of revealing who Jesus was. As modern-day Christians, we are quite familiar with the idea that Jesus is the light of the world. However, to Jesus’ audience of the day, these words were bold indeed. Jesus spoke these words either during or right after the Festival of Tabernacles, which commemorated God’s deliverance and provision when Israel was in the wilderness

During the festival, a lamp-lighting ceremony took place every night in which large lamps in the Court of Women were lit. These lights would remind the Israelites of God providing a pillar of fire to follow in the desert. With His statement, Jesus points to Himself as the true light of the world, or “pillar of fire” that should be followed — possibly one evening while these lamps were lit, or shortly after the festival, when these images would be fresh in his listeners’ minds.

Earlier, Jesus identifies Himself as living water (John 7:37). With these words, just as with His description of Himself as the “light of the world,” Jesus uses an image from the festival. At the festival, priests dipped pitchers into a pool of water and poured the water on the altar to celebrate God’s provision of water to Israel in the desert. By saying He is the Source of water, Jesus claims to be God because it was God who gave the Jews water in the wilderness. With both His claims to be living water and the light of the world, Jesus essentially reveals He is the Messiah. Obviously, there were going to be those present in the crowd who had a problem with Jesus’ claims, and they were not shy about speaking up.

Immediately after claiming to be the light of the world, the Pharisees challenge the validity of his claim. Jesus maintains His stance with the Pharisees, replying: “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I come from and where I am going … I stand with the Father, who sent me” (John 8:14, 16). Later, before He slips away, He brings His statements about who He is to a climax by saying, “Very truly I till you, before Abraham was born, I am” (John 8:58).

What can we learn from Jesus’ bold proclamation of identity?

1. We should never hide the person God has called us to be.

God has chosen us for different callings, but the ways He uses us can often be unusual, and we may try to dilute our purpose and the giftings He has given us around those who may stare at us and call us strange. However, Jesus never compromised who He was to fit in. He was secure enough in His identity that He didn’t need to have the approval of others to feel good about Himself and knew that in order to do His Father’s will, He needed to walk in His identity and purpose — and we must do the same. I love what Ann Voskamp shares on this point in a recent blog post:

You are not too much. You do not have to disappear. This can change all the things beating loud in your heart. To feel the truth of this … Don’t take it down a few notches. Take risks — and take all of you to the table. It can feel terrifying — but it is far more terrifying to live anything less than being fully seen — so his work can be fully seen in you.

2. We must be prepared for opposition.

Jesus didn’t run away from opposition, He was prepared for it and met it head-on . Similarly, we needn’t hide our identity but be prepared to answer those who challenge us, knowing that our answers may sway their opinion and even cause some to come to Christ (1 Peter 3:15, 16). While the Pharisees weren’t swayed by Jesus, there were those in the crowd listening to their exchange that came to believe (John 7:31).

Recently, I went to lunch with some individuals that had different religious beliefs than my own. I went into the lunch confident of my biblical knowledge, but was stunned to find them very well-versed in certain Bible verses and slinging out verses that I had not previously studied. While we won’t always know in advance what people will say and know how to respond to every accusation or point that our opposers raise, we can and should prepare ourselves for opposition by knowing God’s Word and different belief systems we may encounter. Jesus calmly answered back with truth. He wasn’t flustered by the Pharisees’ comments. He didn’t run. He took the time to explain and answer their questions so they could understand, but He wasn’t taken aback or unprepared when the opposition came.

3. We need to rely on God’s view of us.

It’s easy to look at a passage of Scripture such as this where Jesus announces who He is and then gets attacked for it and not get the full weight of what Jesus experienced, but if we place ourselves in His shoes, we can imagine just how stressful constant opposition must have been. Jesus was accused of being demon-possessed, working in Satan’s power, you name it. Yet, Jesus never forgot the One who had sent Him or His purpose.

We, too, friend, must always rest on this foundation or else we will easily get discouraged, rattled, or doubtful about our own calling when we are constantly surrounded by those who disagree with the Gospel message, question our calling, or tell us that we don’t have what it takes. We have to constantly remind ourselves of the truth of how the Father sees us or we will collapse in the face of crushing opposition.

To clarify, though, being ourselves isn’t a justification to act in sinful ways and do whatever we want. In today’s society, you’ll hear people defend bad behavior or sinful choices with, “This is just who I am,” or “I am just being me.” Unfortunately, these individuals use this defense for behavior that is harmful to themselves and others. A calling in biblical terms is that which is given by God and sustained by God, and thus, does not go against the principles in God’s Word.

The Reason Some Will Oppose Us

The truth is that when some oppose us, it won’t have anything to do with us. Jesus told the Pharisees later in the chapter that they could not recognize Him as Messiah because they did not belong to God, but rather, their Father the devil (John 8:42-47). Ouch! Many times when we are walking in our God-given calling, we will receive resistance, even from Christians.

Remember, the Pharisees weren’t heathens that didn’t believe in God. They were religious leaders that everyone looked up to and tried to emulate! Is it possible, then, that if we are walking with God and acting in His will that when some who claim to be believers oppose us, that these individuals are not walking in the light, but rather, walking in darkness? I have had conversations with individuals who claim to be Christians that believe errant doctrines about salvation and God, but these individuals have never accepted Jesus as their Savior and believe there is nothing wrong with adding to or deleting certain truths of Scripture.

Often, when we receive resistance from others, it will boil down to two things regarding these individuals: 1) They don’t know God or aren’t truly walking with Him in a relationship, and so, can’t accept truths from the Gospel. 2) They are walking with God, but haven’t yet encountered certain truths in Scripture. The Bible gives us guidelines for those scenarios where we disagree with fellow believers, telling us to be patient and understanding with new believers and make every attempt to live in unity with believers we don’t agree with (Romans 14:1; 1 Peter 3:8). However, in our attempt for unity, we shouldn’t cover over the truths of the Gospel. Jesus didn’t water down the truth, but instead, He offered the path to salvation to whomever was interested (even His enemies).

Conclusion:

In all scenarios, whether with unbelievers or fellow believers, we need to boldly live out who we are and declare what God is doing in our lives — confident that we are following the example of Jesus, who never tried to change or cover up who He was in order to fit in. Jesus always did the Father’s will, even if it meant inciting the fury or hatred of others. As Christ-followers, we must do the same.

Let’s pray: Lord, following you is tough. It will lead us to dicey situations where we want to cover up who we are and appear more likeable or “normal” to those around us. But You’ve called us to be different. You’ve called us to be a light to others and do what You’ve called us to even when we might be met with opposition or persecution. Help us follow Your example. You never took the easy road in order to save Yourself or fit in. You always did the hard but better thing in being truthful about Your identity. Help us do the same. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Related Resources:

This is the first post in a brand new series on calling. Check out the articles throughout the month for more on being true to your God-given calling. Leave a comment below on your God-given calling and where you currently are on the journey. We’d love to hear from you!

For a better understanding of the ideas in this article, read John 7 and 8 in its entirety.

 

Carol Whitaker

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

More Posts

A God Who Loves Us

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God doesn’t love me. If He loved me, He wouldn’t let me go through this.

How many times have we muttered a similar phrase or pulled back from God when our circumstances were disappointing, heartbreaking, or just plain hard?

Rather than step aside and let us alone until we’re up to the task of spiritual warfare, Satan seizes on those times when we are at our weakest and inserts subtle thoughts of doubt hoping to get us into agreement with lies and out of relationship with God.

In the Garden of Eden, Satan tempted Adam and Eve into believing that God was holding out of them, telling them that the only reason God didn’t want them to eat fruit from a particular tree was because they would be “like God,” or, as the KJV says, “as gods” (Genesis 3:4, 5).

If Adam and Eve fell for this temptation even though God had given them a perfect environment and had met every one of their needs, how much more are we susceptible to the lie that God is holding out on us or doesn’t love us when we encounter frustrating situations in our fallen world that disappoint us?

The reality is that God forbade Adam and Eve from eating from the tree to protect them. And yet, Satan got them to question God’s goodness, and he’s still spinning the same lie to those of us willing to listen.

However, when Satan attempts to get us to doubt God’s character, we can combat his lies with the truth of God’s love for us found in His Word.

Assurance of God’s Love

One such place where we can find an assurance of God’s love is Isaiah 49:14-16:

But Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.’ ‘Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.’

The passage gives a conversation between Israel and God that is projected in the future. Israel voices a complaint to God, saying that He has forgotten her. In essence, Israel questions God’s love and care for her in these lines.

Although it isn’t entirely clear why Israel is unhappy with God, scholars say that Israel expresses this complaint because the Jews are in exile in Babylon. In looking at her current circumstances, it is easy to see why Israel feels forsaken. The Israelites have been taken to a foreign land and removed from the land that was given to them.

It is also possible that Israel could be saying this out of jealousy in terms of what the rest of the passage talks about in God extending salvation to the entire world, not just His chosen people. Whatever the case, the passage is applicable not just for Israel, but for Christians on our Christian journey.

We can learn much about God’s love for us based on His response to the complaint recorded here that many of us have also raised in His direction:

1. God’s love is steadfast.

First of all, we should note that God’s response to Israel is this: “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!” (v. 15).

God uses a striking picture of a mother and an infant in His reply. If we think about the love of a mother, we know that a bond between a mother and infant is a strong bond — perhaps none stronger on earth. Though mothers do abandon their children in some cases, we are always shocked by these stories because they are not what we expect to hear about a mother.

A mother stays up late to wash her child’s favorite shirt so he can wear it to school the next day. A mother comes to her child’s games even when no one else is sitting in the stands. A mother listens attentively to the small happenings of her child’s day and rejoices over the happy moments and feels her child’s pain over moments of rejection.

And yet, an earthly mother is not perfect, and God stresses that His love goes beyond that of a mother. In addition, an earthly mother may fail or abandon her child. However, by using the picture that He does, the Lord emphasizes that He is not like an earthly mother in that He will never abandon His people.

2. We are engraved on God’s hands.

Secondly, after emphasizing that His love exceeds that of the best earthly mother, God says that Zion is “engraved on the palms of His hands” (v. 16). During this time, in Asian countries, it was common for people to have the pictures of friends inscribed on their hands. In other places, people would have the names or marks of their gods inscribed on them.

Even in society today, individuals will often have a religious symbol or the name of a loved one tattooed on their body. I have often thought as I looked at the tattoo of a boyfriend or girlfriend’s name, “Was that really such a good idea? I hope the relationship lasts!” Tattoos are a very permanent decision, and they are not easy to remove.

God says that Zion (representative of Israel and the church as a whole) is literally cut into His skin. We are cut into God’s hands! He can’t forget us. And we can’t miss how permanent an engraving is. It’s there to stay. With these words, God reminds the Israelites then and us now that though we may feel forgotten, God is constantly thinking of us and aware of our every situation.

I love how C. H. Spurgeon describes God’s love in this passage:

It has been the custom, in the olden days especially, when men wished to remember a thing, to tie a cord about the hand, or a thread about the finger, by which memory would be assisted; but then the cord might be snapped or taken away and the matter forgotten, but the hand and that which is printed into it must be constant and perpetual. Oh, Christian, by night and day God is always thinking of you.

3. God does more than just remember us.

Lastly, we can also observe that Zion isn’t simply engraved on God’s hands for Him to look down and remember her; Zion is engraved on the very part of Him that can act on her behalf. And we, too, are engraved on the very part of God that works on our behalf!

What we can conclude when reading these lines, then, is that God isn’t a God who merely thinks about us. He is One who works out things for our good. I love what Alexander MacLaren notes on this point: “The palm of the hand is the seat of strength, or work; and so, if Zion’s name is written there, that means not only remembrance, but remembrance which is at the helm, as it were, moulding and directing all the work that is done by the hand that bears the name inscribed upon it.”

When we feel like circumstances must be those beyond the help or knowledge of God, we must remember the God we serve — a God who doesn’t forget us and knows everything about us. He doesn’t stand idly by when His children are in a tight spot, but instead actively comforts, instructs, and rescues us (2 Corinthians 7:6; Psalm 25:12; Psalm 107:19).

4. God sees things are they can be, not as they are.

Lastly, God says here that the walls of Zion are “ever before [Him]” (v. 16). However, what is interesting is that when God says this, He is speaking to a people whose walls had been destroyed! Because King Zedekiah did not heed the words of the prophet Jeremiah when told to submit to the Babylonian king, Jerusalem was invaded and its temple burned. Why would God tell Israel her walls were ever before Him if Jerusalem’s walls had been reduced to rubble?

As MacLaren emphasizes, God saw a reality for His people that they could not see. While they saw the ruins of a city that they loved, He saw a glorious future in which His Son would come to earth and Israel would be restored. And the same is true of us. In our hardest places, we survey the wreckage and say, “God, everything is destroyed. This can’t be fixed. Nothing can change here.” However, God looks at the ruins and sees what can be and isn’t discouraged by failure as we are. All things can be made purposeful and be restored in His plans for our lives (Jeremiah 29:11; 1 Peter 5:10; Romans 8:28).

Conclusion:

Here, with these words in Isaiah, God knows His people need reassurance and He speaks these words to the Jewish captives to let them know He hasn’t forgotten them. He did lead them home, sent a Savior as promised, restored Israel back to a nation out of the hands of foreigners — and will save a remnant in the future (Romans 11:26, 27). God hasn’t forgotten His people and He hasn’t forgotten us.

The next time we feel forsaken we can remember that our name is etched on His hands, and He can’t stop loving us. It’s against His nature to do so. God doesn’t ever forget any one of us. We aren’t lost in the crowd, and He is aware of everything that happens to us. Best of all — He isn’t just familiar with us in a detached sense. He moves on behalf of those who have put their faith and trust in Him.

 Related Resources:

This article concludes our series “Finding Hope in the Midst of Disappointing Circumstances.” Check out articles from previous weeks: Part 1: “Work That Truly Matters,” Part 2: “How God Comforts and Nourishes Our Souls, and Part 3: “How God Helps Us Overcome Our Obstacles.”

The series covers Isaiah 49. To better get a feel for the passage and understand the context of each verse we have been looking at, check out the link for the entire passage.

*Updated February 25, 2019.

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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How God Helps Us Overcome Obstacles

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My kids love the animated movie Trolls, and they recently discovered the cartoon version on Netflix. In one episode, Branch, a major character, helps out another character learn how to win the affections of a lady. However, when said character puts his advice into practice around Poppy, Branch’s love interest, Branch begins to fight for her attention in a way he hadn’t before and reveals to her that he had saved his hug for her on Hug Day.

As he discloses this information, the character acting interested in Poppy reveals that he was feigning an interest to give Branch the proper motivation to tell her his feelings. The episode highlights what is true for us all: In some situations, we know in our head what we want to do or should do, but we need a little push or extra motivation to make it to the finish line. And sometimes, our hardships serve to propel us there.

How God Can Turn Our Obstacles Into Roads

In Isaiah 49:11, it says this: “I will turn all my mountains into roads, and my highways will be raised up.” In this passage, the Israelites are being led home from Babylon into Israel. After being exiled for 70 years from their own land, they are freed, and we are given an image of God leading the captives home, like a shepherd guiding sheep. The words are not only representative of the captives, but also of Christians on their spiritual walks with Jesus.

We can make two observations. First, we can’t help but notice that that the mountains say “my” before them. At times, the difficult situations that are so disappointing and discouraging that we wish to escape are those God placed in our path because He knows what is needed to form us into the person we were meant to be. Obviously, other times, we create obstacles that stand between us and where God wants to take us — but with the use of the words “my mountains,” we see that even those areas of unbelief, fear, self-sufficiency, pride that we’ve erected are still under God’s control. Whatever the case, the passage tells us that God is able to make what stands before us into a way.

Secondly, as I’ve already hinted at, we should also observe that the people were not only led up to the mountains, but through the mountains. If you notice the wording, it does not say that God removed the mountains or led them around them. Certainly, He could have. God can remove our obstacles and sometimes does. However, other times He chooses not to take away the impossibilities, but instead, makes a way through them. As F. B. Meyer*, a British pastor and author in the late 1800s and early 1900s, notes:

We all have mountains in our lives. These are the people and things that threaten to bar our progress in the Divine life. Patience can only be acquired through such trials as now seem unbearable. Submit thyself. Claim to be a par.taker [sic] in the patience of Jesus. Meet thy trials in Him. Thus shall the mountains that stand between thee and thy promised land become thy way to it. Note the comprehensiveness of this promise. ‘I will make all My mountains a way.’ The promise is in the future tense. When we come to the foot of the mountains we shall find the way.

Here Meyer explains that when we meet our trials in Jesus, the very mountains that “bar our progress” are those God uses to make a way for us. A story that came to mind as I was writing this was that of retired U.S. figure skater Scott Hamilton. He knows what it’s like firsthand to encounter obstacles and have those hard places turned into paths to blessing.

Hamilton had a brain tumor as a child, but doctors didn’t know what was wrong with him and misdiagnosed him, even as this tumor inhibited his growth. He got into skating as an outlet and discovered he was really good at it. Part of the reason he’s such an outstanding skater is that he’s only 5’ 4”. He has a remarkable outlook on his suffering. Now a Christian, Hamilton says this:

Who would I be without a brain tumor? I am 5’ 4”. If I were 5’ 8” … I would have grown those years … 5’10” … where would I be? Who would I be? I could choose to look at it as debilitating. I could choose to focus on the suffering. I choose to look at that brain tumor as the greatest gift that I’ve gotten because it made everything else possible.

In other words, Hamilton happily acknowledges that his brain tumor “made everything else possible.” Though Hamilton didn’t come to know the Lord until later in his life, might we say that the difficulties placed in his life have helped him become what he was meant to be? It was also through his health challenges (which have included more than I have mentioned here), that he developed a hunger for something more — to know what his purpose was — and this led him to accept Christ.

How We Scale Our Mountains

No one likes pain. We despise it. We run from it. It’s not fun. But sometimes our suffering and the different obstacles we encounter are set in our path by God because He knows what is needed to further our development. Even if our mountains exist because of choices we have made, God can use all things for our good in the story He is writing in our life (Romans 8:28).

It can be terrifying to look at the idea that God places difficulty in front of us. What kind of loving God does that? Did God give Hamilton his health problems or the doctors that couldn’t find out what was wrong with him when he was a child? I don’t know that. Certainly, difficulties can exist because of the fallen world we live in and Satan can be the force behind the affliction that we face. But what I do know is that God allowed what has happened to Hamilton — but has turned and made every affliction in his life a platform to display His power.

We can’t get away from the truth in this passage that God cared for the captives’ every need and led them tenderly like a shepherd, though their path lead to mountains and barren places. Similarly, as Christ-followers, if we’re following God, we can be assured that God is still looking out for us even in our toughest trials. If we back up to verse 10, it says this: “They will neither hunger nor thirst, nor will the desert heat or the sun beat down on them.”

If we read it in the King James, it says this: “They shall not hunger nor thirst; neither shall the heat nor sun smite them” (emphasis mine). To “smite” means to “destroy.”

As Matthew Henry explains, those that are under divine protection because they have gone God’s way, will be “enabled to bear the burden and heat of the day.” In other words, as Henry so aptly explains, we will be given the strength to bear what God has given us and protected from that which He knows would completely destroy us. Elsewhere in Matthew 11:30, we are told that the yoke Jesus gives us is “easy” and the burden “light.”

So, if we’re in a place where it all feels like too much, we can rest in the truth that if He has placed the difficulty in our way, the difficulty will not be that which we cannot surmount with His help, nor the burden be so great that it will be more than He can help us carry.

When the Israelites were up against the Red Sea, they were there because God led them straight up to the sea — the water in front, mountains and rocks on the sides of them, and Pharoah’s army behind. He led them to a place that looked like a trap from all appearances, but in that experience they learned to trust Him.

And here, in this passage, He made a way for His people through the mountains. God’s people would not have learned to trust Him without the route to the Red Sea. Similarly, we might not learn what we need to without the difficulty God has allowed in our lives.

What It Means to Scale Our Mountains

So, then, on a practical note, how do we scale our mountains by “meeting our trials in Jesus”? First, we cast our cares on Jesus. We spend time daily with Him and place our burdens on His capable shoulders and ask for His direction. Next, we trust His direction and we follow.

I love this picture that I got recently while reading She’s Still There, by Crystal Evans Hurst. In one of the chapters she describes her grandmother having her leg amputated and learning to walk on a prosthetic leg. Each day, at the doctors’ orders, she spent time out of her wheelchair walking on her new leg. The pain in her leg was so great that it would have much easier for Crystal’s grandmother to stay in her wheelchair, but she knew she needed to work on getting stronger if she ever hoped to be mobile again.

We, too, have areas where God is working on us and making us stronger. Each directive from God is a round out of the wheelchair, walking with the walker. Maybe He is working on us in the area of fear or pride or self-reliance, and He gives us hard things to do that chip away at the things He wants to work out of us to make us more like Him. He does the work in us as we obey Him, but we slowly conquer our mountains of fear, self-sufficiency, inadequacy, etc., when we take steps at His command.

We might say, “God, please take this thing away. Can’t you just remove this fear or this insecurity or this sin issue? Can’t you make me different?” And sometimes He doesn’t remove it, but rather, He takes us through it, making us different each step of the way. He’ll choose the one thing that we could never conquer on our own and works in us to display His glory.

If God has placed your mountain there or it’s one of your own making, He can make the impassable into a highway. Our only hope is to rely on Him. We can’t do it. But Jesus knows the way, and He’s going to get us through it. We just have to follow step by step.

Author’s note: The difficulties referred to in this article do not include physical or emotional abuse. If you are being abused by someone, please seek out the help of a Christian counselor or pastor.

*C.H. Spurgeon quote taken from The Biblical Illustrator Commentary.

Related Resources:

This article is the third in our series “Finding Hope in the Midst of Disappointing Circumstances.” Check out Part 1: “Work That Truly Matters”  and Part 2: “How God Comforts and Nourishes Our Souls.” Stay tuned next week for our last episode in the series.

The series covers Isaiah 49. To better get a feel for the passage and understand the context of each verse we have been looking at, check out the link for the entire passage.

 

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 God Comforts and Nourishes Our Souls

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

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

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

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

We Find Nourishment When We Go the Way God Leads

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

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

We can further observe 2 things:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drawing the Sustenance God Offers

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

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

Related Bible Verses:

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

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

Related Resources:

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

Podcast Notes and Corrections:

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

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

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

*Updated February 9, 2019

 

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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Work That Truly Matters

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

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

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

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

Truth to Dispel Our Disappointment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Resources:

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

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

Podcast Notes and Corrections:

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

 

 

 

 

Carol Whitaker

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

More Posts

How Trust in God Can Alleviate Anxiety

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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.

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 others 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 all the ways — even those skills considered socially acceptable — we try to do life in our own strength and the coping skills we use to get what we want out of our environment (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 not to depend on our 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 us.

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 Comm.). 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”!

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 Beulah Girl podcast on Soundcloud. Subscribe on Soundcloud and receive all of our latest episodes!

Already a subscriber to our podcast but want to revisit past episodes? Stop by our podcast archive for a complete listing of all past episodes.

Looking for more resources on anxiety? Check out the article links below beneath the author box (under “Related”).

*Adapted from a post published November 3, 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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Suffering That Comes for Doing God’s Will

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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.”

*Adapted from a post originally published October 9, 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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How Double-Mindedness Causes Inconsistency in Our Christian Walk

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This past weekend, my phone died. I tried plugging its charger into different sockets, but it wouldn’t turn back on. I know this isn’t a major crisis, but I have come to rely too much on that little device! As I had to take my daughter to a party for her dance academy that day, my husband offered to go to the Verizon store and see about getting a new phone. When I returned from my daughter’s party, my husband had transferred all of my contacts, notes, and apps onto my new phone. He had also gotten my old phone to turn on once again. Though I didn’t have to re-enter contacts or notes that I had already saved, I did notice on my new phone that I had to re-install certain apps again.

Because I have been busy these past few days, I haven’t had time to go through and do this, so I’ve been using two phones. I have been using my new phone to call and text and my old phone to get into certain apps that are not yet installed on my new phone. This two phone situation is driving me a little crazy for sure, and I am resolving as soon as possible to consolidate everything on my new phone so I won’t have to be switching back and forth any longer.

Balaam: A Man With a Divided Heart

This idea of not being divided can be applied beyond my phone situation. In fact, in our Christian life, the Bible talks about not being divided in our devotion to God, and for good reason! A divided heart is one that is distracted and unable to focus as well on what it should. Matthew 22:37 tells us, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and with all your mind” (emphasis mine). This word all means our whole self — literally all the parts of us. Similarly, Matthew 6:24 says, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” God wants us to love Him more than anything else because loving anything else more than God will get us into trouble in our spiritual walk and lead us down the wrong path.

To illustrate this point, we need only look at the story of Balaam in Numbers 22. You may know of his story because it is unquestionably a little odd — as his donkey turns and speaks to him in the course of his story. However, before we ever get to that point of his tale, we see a man who looks good on the outside, but has a heart issue. He has a covetous heart: He desires wealth and prestige and honor, and yet, he is not completely bent on his own sinful desires. He also desires to do what God tells him. He is a prophet of sorts, but the Bible is clear that he is not one of God’s prophets. He does hear from God, but he is a soothsayer or diviner.

When we first meet Balaam, Balak, the Moabite king, is concerned about Israel advancing near his land and wants Balaam to pronounce a curse on the Israelites. He sends messengers to Balaam with his request and money for Balaam’s services. Balaam invites the messengers to stay the night. Over the course of the night, Balaam asks God what he should do and receives this reply from the Lord: “Do not go with them. You must not put a curse on those people, because they are blessed” (Numbers 22:12). In the morning, Balaam conveys the words of the Lord to the messengers, saying: “Go back to your own country, for the Lord has refused to let me go with you” (Numbers 22:13).

By his actions, Balaam looks like is being obedient, but we notice in his reply to the messengers that he doesn’t entirely close the door on the king’s offer. Rather than say “I can’t do as you ask because God will not permit me to do so,” he says instead, “The Lord has refused to let me go with you” (emphasis mine). He sounds a little reluctant in his message. Rather than firmly close the door on the offer of the king, he leaves a little room for a better offer. I love what the S.S. Chronicle from The Biblical Illustrator notes here: “There are many people who say, ‘No,’ but so faintly that there seems a ‘Yes’ in it, so that it only invites further persuasion. Many a man, tempted by appetite within, and by companions without says ‘No’ feebly and faintly. His ‘No’ has a ‘Yes’ in it.” Might we say that Balaam’s “No” leaves room for a “Yes”? I think so.

When the messengers return and tell the king Balaam’s reply, Balak isn’t thwarted. Being a pretty shrewd guy, Balak assesses correctly what may change Balaam’s mind and sends back new more honorable messengers and promise of a greater reward.

When the second group of messengers shows up with the same request, Balaam doesn’t turn them away. Even though Balaam already knows God’s stance on the issue, he invites the second group of messengers in and prays a second time asking to find out more from the Lord. Again, on the outside his actions look pious enough. He is praying, after all, and hasn’t disobeyed God directly, but by inviting the men in a second time, he cracks the door open to sin just a little further. He has no need to ask a second time as God has already given him an answer, and yet, Balaam prays because he is hoping to receive a different response from God. He wants the honor of association with the princes, the reward that will be offered, and the favor of the king.

Notice what happens. Numbers 22:20-22 says this: “That night God came to Balaam and said, ‘Since these men have come to summon you, go with them, but do only what I tell you. Balaam got up in the morning, saddled his donkey and went with the Moabite officials. But God was very angry when he went, and the angel of the Lord stood in the road to oppose him.”

Double-mindedness Causes Contradiction and Inconsistency in Our Actions

Did God change His mind? Why did God first say he could not curse the nation, but then permit him to go with the men who were leading him back to the king intent on such an errand? Did God contradict Himself here? Scholars provide different arguments on this issue. Some say that God granted Balaam permission to go with the men as long as he did not speak a curse. Some say that God gave Balaam over to his sin because he was determined to go in that way. Others says that what Balaam thought was the voice of God granting him permission was really the voice of his own desire telling him what he wanted to hear.

In studying this passage, I find value in all of these interpretations, but one that resonates with me and helps to explain God’s actions is that Balaam may not have even heard clearly from God and heard the voice of his own desires telling him to go. Such a reading helps us understand why God would “permit” Balaam to go, but then get angry with him for going and send an angel to block his path. Certainly, Balaam is met with one difficulty after another on his journey because of God’s anger and the opposing angel: His donkey sees the angel before Balaam does and turns aside to a field, crushes Balaam’s foot against a wall, lays down under Balaam, and talks back to Balaam (Numbers 22:23-31). When Balaam does see the opposing angel, he repents but again seems to hear that he can go, so he just keeps on going. None of the strange events on his trip deter him from moving forward.

When we observe Balaam’s actions and what happens to him, the passage appears confusing and contradictory. However, the contradiction exists in Balaam, not in God. If we think about it, Balaam’s actions perfectly depict what happens when we wish to obey God but have another desire that we also wish to see come to fruition that is greater than our desire to obey. James 1:8 tells us that a double-minded person is unstable in all they do. When we look at what it means to be double-minded, the word used in the Greek is “dipsuchos” and means one who has two souls: one directed towards God and the other directed towards the world.

True, later in Numbers 22:38, when Balaam finally reaches the king, Balaam does say that he can only speak the words of God and holds to that in the presence of Balak, speaking blessings over the nation of Israel rather than curses. But unfortunately, just a few passages later, Balaam, so intent on only speaking the word of the Lord in these earlier passages and refusing to curse the nation, advises the king to seduce Israel to worship other gods and commit sexual immorality (Numbers 31:16; Revelation 2:14).

Avoiding the Way of Balaam

It is puzzling that Balaam would not curse Israel at Balak’s request but then go back to him and advise him on another way to destroy the nation God had said he must not be curse. Why would he not just stay away from Israel altogether? Bob Deffinbaugh offers the insight that Balaam hatched the perfect plan to please the king so he could get the wealth and honor he was after — without directly disobeying God. He knew that the Israelites were bound by a covenant with God, and sexual and spiritual adultery would be an indirect way to bring God’s curse upon Israel. So, essentially his counsel to Balak was, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” And 24,000 Israelites were killed because of Balaam’s counsel!

At some point in his return home from blessing Israel, Balaam allows his covetous heart to win the fight. Whereas in the first part of story we see a man struggling with his competing desires, he eventually allows his own desire to overwhelm the voice of God and suffers a complete collapse of morality. Elsewhere in Scripture, Balaam is described as the epitome of evil, and we are warned not to go the way of Balaam (Deuteronomy 23:4,5; Joshua 13:22; 2 Peter 2:15).

So, how can we ensure we don’t follow in his footstetps? Note what T.T. Munger says on what Balaam’s actions teach us, as recorded in The Biblical Illustrator:

It is the old story of humanity — dallying with temptation in the field of the imagination, bribing conscience with fair promises, yet all the while moving up to the forbidden thing … I shall never become a drunkard, but I will drink in moderation. I shall never permit myself to be called a selfish man, but I will take good care of myself in this rough world. I shall never become dishonest, but I will keep a keen eye for good chances. Thus it is that men are passing to ruin over a path paved with double purposes.

In other words, Munger makes the point that many of us attempt to play with temptation and get near to that that which is forbidden without actually being overcome by it, but that is a game that we will inevitably lose. If God has told us no, we need to abide by what He has said and stay far away from whatever He has prohibited. As I have heard it said before, we can’t expect to play with sin and treat it like a pet, when it is a wild animal that will devour us. Balaam had many chances to shut the door on this temptation, but instead, entertained it until it eventually consumed him. His story admonishes us not to follow his path and let our hearts lead us away from what God tells us to do.

Devoting Ourselves to God Alone

Friends, this story was deeply convicting for me because I struggle with inconsistency in my spiritual walk. In one instance, I am a bold witness and in another, I shrink back in fear. I want to do the will of God, but I have other desires that compete with His will — and sometimes they win. However, though we might feel despair when we read Balaam’s story, the truth is that we all are double-minded at times. We all struggle with sin and our own fickle hearts. This story is meant to instruct us and make us aware of the reasons for our own inconsistency in doing the will of God, but is not meant to condemn us. Proverbs 24:16 tells us that a righteous man falls seven times but gets back up.

As believers, we are made perfect through Jesus’ blood on the cross, and when we come face-to-face with our own failures, we can repent and ask for God’s help. We don’t have to beat ourselves up for chasing after the wrong things. We trust God’s promises and understand that it is through Jesus that we have forgiveness of our sin and the power to walk away from the temptations that ensnare us and lead us from the path God has for us.

If we are struggling with inconsistency or hearing the voice of God, we can pray a few things:

  1. We confess to God and ask for His help. While we may feel guilt and shame that we have wandered again or chased after something harder than we’ve been chasing after God, we lay bare our hearts before Him (knowing He knows everything about us before we say a word) and we tell Him that we want to be devoted only to Him. We accept His mercy and leave our guilt and shame for our failings at the altar.
  2. If we cannot see it on our own, we ask Him to help us see if there if an overriding desire/idol in our lives driving our decision-making. What desire of ours is seeking to lead us down the wrong path? What do we want so much that we are sacrificing our effectiveness as a Christian and obedience to God to have it?
  3. Once we have identified what desire is attempting to derail us, we can evaluate our actions that were perhaps made because of this desire. Are there ways that we have compromised? Are there actions we need to go back to made in following our desire rather than God that we need to go back to and make right?

How about you? How has Balaam’s story impacted you? Are there ways you would like to be more consistent in your Christian walk? Share with us in the comments.

Related Resources:

This article is one in a series “What Happens When We Believe God’s Words Are True.” Check out the other posts and accompanying episodes in the series:  Part 1: “When You Need a Miracle,” Part 2: “Choosing not to Fall Into Doubt and Unbelief,” Part 3: “How to Respond to the Miracles of God,” and Part 4:  “The Reason We Celebrate.”

Click on the podcast link above to hear my own personal story related to double-mindedness. Want to hear more articles in podcast form? Visit our podcast archive to listen to past 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.

More Posts

The Reason We Celebrate

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In praying about what to write about for this holiday season, God gave me the word “celebration.” As I looked over the story of Luke 2, I asked God to help me see what he wanted me to see, and I noticed, in particular, the reaction of the shepherds to the angels’ celebration and proclamation of Jesus’ birth in Luke 2:20: “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” (emphasis mine)

The shepherds’ reaction highlights a major reason we celebrate in our faith: when God does something on our behalf and does what He says He will do.

As if to emphasize that I was onto the right idea, the next day I was listening to the radio and heard an interview with Matt Maher in regard to his recent Christmas album. They played his song “Always Carry You” from the album, which he wrote with Amy Grant, and one line stood out to me: “I will not be afraid. All your words are true.”

Just to put it in context, the song is sung from the perspective of Mary when she receives news that she will become pregnant with the Messiah. For those of you not drawing the connection, the song underlines in a similar way the same idea expressed in Luke 2: God’s words are true, and when we see before our eyes what He said will come to pass, the feelings of joy and excitement are unsurpassed.

Celebration by the Shepherds in the Christmas Story

In Luke 2, the shepherds were just engaging in their nightly duties, nothing out of the ordinary, and all of a sudden, they were interrupted. An angel appeared, saying: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (vv. 10-12). Then a host of angels appeared, praising God.

When the angels left, the shepherds said to each other, “ ‘Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’ So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them” (vv. 16-18). It is at this point in the story, in verse 20, we are told: “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”

What can we observe from the shepherds?

1. Celebration centers on what God has done for us.

The shepherds were told of the Messsiah’s birth in an amazing way — by the angels, and then they went and saw the child that they had been told to go and find — and they were aware of the prophecies surrounding His birth. This would have been an event of a lifetime! The shepherds could hardly contain their excitement that they had been given front-row seats to such a miracle.

All of the events that they witnessed could only be attributed to God. Before the shepherds were praising God, the angels in the story were praising God for His mighty work in sending the Messiah to repair the broken relationship between man and God (for those willing to accept Jesus as their Savior). Multiple other places we see that miracles are performed by God for various reasons — but one reason is that they display His greatness and power. And viewing His power sparks a response within us … which leads me to my next point.

2. Our celebration is a witness to others.

I’ve never thought about it in these terms before, but as I was perusing a Bible dictionary, I noticed that praise of God is listed as a witness to others (Psalm 9:11, 2 Corinthians 9:13). When we praise God, we tell others to get on board with His goodness and inspire others to either come to the faith or encourage other believers already in the faith.

In this passage, the angels first celebrated the miracle in the birth of the Messiah. Then, just a few short verses later, we can’t miss that the shepherds were “glorifying and praising” God in a similarly exuberant way. Why? “For all the things they heard and seen.” They had witnessed the angel announcing the message of the Messiah’s birth and then a host of angels singing praise to God. And the Messiah in human form. Witnessing all of these events caused joy and praise to bubble up within them.

If you’re not getting it yet, we see that the angels’ witness to the shepherds inspired a chain reaction — a circular motion. The shepherds were inspired by the witness of the angels and went to see for themselves what the commotion was all about. When the shepherds followed to find more of God’s goodness, this, in turn, lead to telling others, and more people knowing about and being able to celebrate the goodness of God.

3. We celebrate Him when we experience Him.

However, while the shepherds praised God for what He alone could do, they were not merely inactive bystanders up until the point where they broke out in praise. They were given a directive to go and see the child and they “hurried” to go and find Him (v. 16).

What if they had decided to sit back and wait a few days? What if they had doubted the angels’ message? As a result of choosing to act on what they had seen and heard from the angels, they went and found another miracle in the Savior. Therefore, while God was responsible for the miracles the shepherds saw in the angels and the person of the Messiah, the shepherds had a role to play in going to see about what God had said they would find. And then they praised Him because they went and experienced Him. Similarly, we, too, will have experiences that elicit praise when we make it our mission to know and seek Him in response to His pursuit of us.

There were individuals in the story that responded with awe to the shepherds’ story, but their amazement ended there. They did not go and investigate what the shepherds had told them. How often we will pour our heart out for others and feel that we don’t make any impact. Or do we? The story of the shepherds is one that moves out of view as we progress through Luke, and yet, their story is one that has encouraged millions, particularly at this time of year.

Though there were some in the shepherd’s immediate realm that didn’t act on what they heard — the shepherds’ message is one that has had a ripple effect and has gone so far as to touch you and me. Surely, the shepherds could not know in the moment what impact their small role in the Christmas story would have on future generations. What might our reactions and telling of God’s actions do to others around us when we step out in faithfulness, as the shepherds do here, and act as witnesses of God’s glory?

Conclusion:

When we walk with God, we will continually have moments of celebration and praise because as we grow in Him we will learn more about His praiseworthy nature and see more of His works on display. We will continually have moments where He will show up for us in big ways — and this leads us to be able to have stories of praise to share with others.

Though you might not feel big or important or as pulled together as other Christians, your praise of Him matters. Like the ordinary shepherds keeping watch out on fields one night, you have a sphere of influence that God would like to use for His glory. Though we celebrate God in response to what He does for us — we also celebrate to show others what we have in our great God so that they, too, will want to seek Him.

Related Resources:

This is the fourth post in a series called “What Happens When We Believe God’s Words Are True.” Check out the other posts and accompanying episodes in the series:  Part 1: “When You Need a Miracle,” Part 2: “Choosing not to Fall Into Doubt and Unbelief,” or Part 3: “How to Respond to the Miracles of God.”

Feel like you need more Christmas? Read this Christmas-themed post to help you continue to praise God for sending His Son: “What Jesus Came to Do (and the Best News This Christmas).”

Are you new to this whole Christianity thing? Would you like a personal relationship with Jesus but don’t know where to begin? Visit our Know God page to learn how to receive salvation and make Jesus the Lord of your life.

*Updated December 27, 2018.

 

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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