There Are No Shortcuts to God’s Promises

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My kids own a Charlie Brown Christmas board game that has a winding path from the start to the finish line. Although there are many different actions that a player may have to do (depending on what square he lands on in his journey), a player can land on North Pole slides that shoot him up several spaces ahead. These slides give the player a distinct advantage by allowing him to bypass several squares in one turn and get further ahead than he can just by rolling the dice on a turn.

Shortcuts are a positive in more than just my kids’ board games. I am always looking for shortcuts to make life as a stay-at-home mom of three kids more manageable and less overwhelming. I get excited when I can make a meal in less time, drive a shorter route to a destination when I am running late, or locate a simpler set of instructions to explain a concept to my kids to help them understand their homework. In these ways, shortcuts are desirable and give me valuable time and energy that I can spend on another task.

When Shortcuts Aren’t a Positive

However, shortcuts aren’t always good. When we cut corners to arrive at an intended goal but do so in a way that is wrong — that’s when shortcuts aren’t helpful to us and can actually hinder our growth. Particularly, spiritually, when we’ve been on a journey to a promise God has given us a long time and despair that we’ll ever reach the place God has for us, we can be tempted to take shortcuts, rather than the longer route God is pointing out to us.

At the end of Ruth 4, we see that Naomi has arrived at her intended destination. She left Moab a bitter woman grieving over the death of her sons and her shattered life. However, she transforms into a woman who has a place of rest and security in the family of Ruth and Boaz. She has the financial provision she needs (no more stressful days eking out a living), and her arms are full with a precious grandson.

So, how does Naomi move into what God intends for her? What can we learn from Naomi about moving from a place of bitterness to a place of fullness without compromising and taking shortcuts?

1. We walk in God’s way despite our feelings.

In Ruth 1:20-21, on the heels of the tragic death of her sons, Naomi reveals that she believes that the Lord’s hand has turned against her: “ ‘Don’t call me Naomi,’ she told them. ‘Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The LORD has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune on me.”

Clearly, with these words we see a woman who does not like her situation, but she does not turn away from God. While she may have found every excuse not to return back to God, Naomi decides that she has no other place to go and accepts God’s hand in her affliction. Similarly, we will have times when we don’t like what is happening in our lives or will struggle to trust what God tells us. And yet, even in those times, we trust Him instead of taking the easier way out.

Ezekiel is another such example of a man who trusted God despite his outward circumstances. Ezekiel’s life was disrupted and thrown into upheaval when he was called to be a prophet to the rebellious nation of Israel. Up to that point, he served as a priest, and his life was humming along quite nicely. Then, God asked Ezekiel to do some pretty strange actions and serve as a living representation of the difficult message God wanted to give to Israel. God told Ezekiel that the people would not listen, but that he was to go anyway. In response to God’s instructions, Ezekiel says in Ezekiel 3:14, 15: “The Spirit then lifted me up and took me away, and I went in bitterness and in the anger of my spirit, with the strong hand of the LORD on me. I came to the exiles who lived at Tel Aviv near the Kebar River. And there, where they were living, I sat among for seven days — deeply distressed.”

Clearly, Ezekiel is distraught over the message he has been asked to give. Although he wants to obey God, he knows that the message will not be well received. We can almost imagine him saying to God: Really, God? Why are you sending me to say this? Don’t you care about how I am going to be treated when I do what you ask of me? Are you trying to ruin my life?

Ezekiel and Naomi’s situations differ in that Ezekiel did not enter into affliction because of his choices. He was a faithful servant of God and God shook up his world with some very difficult assignments. He suffered persecution because he walked in God’s plan whereas it is highly probable that Naomi’s family swerved from God’s plan by going to Moab (we aren’t given all the details), and yet, Naomi is used mightily by God when she returns to Him. However, both individuals show us that what it looks like to keep following God even when He allows situations we would not have chosen for ourselves or calls us to tasks we don’t want to do.

In his analysis of Ruth, Bob Deffinbaugh says this: “Doing what is right in God’s eyes requires faith for we often cannot see how doing the right thing will produce what God has promised.” John Piper says it another way, “If we could learn to wait and trust in God, all our complaints against God would prove untrue.” Certainly, neither Naomi nor Ezekiel knew how their situations would turn out, but chose to do what was right believing that God would work out all the details for their good in the end. Similarly, we can’t always see how our right actions will benefit us, but we should keep doing them knowing that they are leading us to God’s promises.

2. Instead of allowing our bitterness to make us turn inward, we keep showing up for God’s purposes.

When we feel angry or resentful, it’s natural to want to hibernate or take a break from serving others. But we find healing when we continue moving forward and keep an “others mindset.” Naomi is in pain at the beginning of her journey and has gone through a great tragedy, but she continues to look out for others and orchestrates a marriage for her daughter-in-law, saying: “My daughter, I must find a home for you, where you will be well provided for” (Ruth 3:1).

Interestingly, when she reaches out and helps others, she helps herself. It tells us in chapter 4 that she is nourished and sustained by Obed, Ruth and Boaz’s son. The work she invests in ensuring the welfare of Ruth is that which, in turn, helps to restore her own soul. The woman who describes herself as “empty” in the first chapter brims with hope and happiness in the last chapter. Is it merely because her circumstances change? No, I don’t believe so. Certainly, her grandson brings her joy. However, she learns how to fill herself with the Lord. And though she lives to see her family fortunes restored and hold a grandson — her true joy comes when she chooses to accept God’s sovereignty and faithfully follow God despite her questions and her pain.

3. When tempted to veer from God’s path, we should remind ourselves that shortcuts don’t lead us to God’s promises.

When we are angry and resentful and believe we’ve that we’ve been dealt a bad hand, we can use our poor circumstances to justify poor choices and cut corners to get out of our circumstances and arrive at our intended goal.

Some commentators assert that Naomi tries to take a shortcut to her intended goal of provision for herself and Ruth by forcing a marriage between Boaz and Ruth. They believe that she instructs Ruth to seduce Boaz and argue that Ruth did more than lay at his feet on the threshing floor. But I don’t view Naomi’s advice in this way at all. From all we see of Boaz and Ruth’s conduct, both were concerned about acting honorably in all situations.

Ruth is careful to lay at his feet and wait for him to wake up. When he does wake up and enquires about who is at his feet, he makes no move to take advantage of her. Rather, he protects her by allowing her to remain at his feet until morning and then sends her out early to preserve her reputation. When the morning comes, she immediately goes home, as he instructs her to do, while he goes and follows the guidelines of the law in order to redeem the land and become Ruth’s guardian-redeemer and husband.

While Naomi’s plan for Ruth at the threshing floor is unusual, she works within the boundaries of God’s law at the time and does what she can to change their situation without deviating from God’s guidelines. In addition, she gives the advice that she does knowing that both Boaz and Ruth are virtuous and will do what’s right in the situation. Rather than resist against God’s instructions to us or forge our own path apart from His purposes, we end up where we’re intended to go when we submit to the instructions God gives us and don’t attempt to make our own plans apart from His.

Conclusion:

Naomi makes good choices when she returns to Judah, but do you know what I find the most encouraging about Naomi? Her story begins a different way. We might say that in turning back to Judah she recovered from a shortcut her family made. Even though her family made some mistakes in going to Moab, she still received God’s provision and blessing because she returned back. And the same is true of us. Maybe we’re in the wrong place at the moment and we need to make a U-turn. It’s not too late.

Maybe we’ve strayed to Moab, but like Naomi, we can come back and God still has great plans for us that are waiting to be fulfilled. God even graciously worked through the mistakes of Naomi’s family and worked all the details in Naomi’s life — good and bad — into His purposes. Had her family never gone to Moab, her son would not have married Ruth, Ruth would not have come with her to Bethlehem, Ruth would not have married Boaz, and Obed would not have been born. God would have found another way to achieve His purposes, but don’t you love that God used all the parts of Naomi’s life for her good? Satan wants us to believe that our mistakes and missteps have derailed us from the plans God has for us, and we can see here that we can turn around and go back to God. Even the bad choices we’ve made while in Moab are not too great to deter us from the plans He has for us.

However, when we’re on the right path, we can’t leap ahead to God’s promises without the journey God wants to take us through. Naomi returned to Bethlehem, but she didn’t fast track to God’s blessings in a day. She took a long journey with her daughters-in-law — one left along the way. Once in Bethlehem, she and Ruth scraped out a living as impoverished widows. Because she chose to travel God’s way in no way exempted her from hardship or trials.

In my kids’ Charlie Brown game, North Pole slides not only fast track players ahead, these same shortcuts work the other way as well. If you land on the other side of the shortcut, you slide backwards. In fact, when we first played the game, it took so long to end the game because as players we were constantly moving back and forth along these chutes that shot us forward and plunged us back. We eventually changed the rules so that players only go forward because it took too long the other way to get to the finish line!

What a very real picture of what it looks like to try to move ahead when God isn’t directing us in that way or has told us that we aren’t to take a certain step. Though God can certainly use our missteps in His plan, the “shortcuts” don’t really get us anywhere and prolong our journey. Instead, when we follow after God and go where He leads, what feels like the longer way will get us to where we need to go much faster than if we try to route around the difficult assignments He gives us and go an easier way.

Related Resources:

Ever been in a bad situation and it just gets worse? With this article and podcast episode, we conclude the series “Hope When You’re at the end of Your Rope: Lessons From Ruth on Trust, Surrender, and Healing.” In the study, we’ve examined the story of Ruth where we have drawn lessons on the hope we have when life gets hard, and we feel abandoned and in need of rescue.

Check out the previous posts in the series: Part 1: “Why God’s Way is Always Best,” Part 2: “Pushing Past Our Breaking Points to Do the Will of God,” Part 3: “The Blessings of Following God,” Part 4: “Trusting God When It Doesn’t Make Sense,” and Part 5: “Walking Into All God Has for You.”

Carol Whitaker

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

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Growing in Our God-Given Calling

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Years ago, the phrase “No pain, no gain” gained popularity in the fitness industry. The meaning was that if you wanted to make progress, you were going to have to go through some personal hardship and physical pain. In doing some quick research into this phrase, I discovered that the phrase became popular after Jane Fonda used the slogan in her exercise videos. She did not come up with the phrase herself, but simply used the words and others picked up on it.

Spiritually, the principle can also be applied. If we want to advance in our calling, we will experience some pain and discomfort in the process. While as humans we tend to be creatures of habit and like our comfort zones of familiarity and predictability, God will push us outside of those zones and challenge us to do new, bold tasks that won’t necessarily be tasks we would have chosen for ourselves. And yet, letting Him continually work on us is what we need to grow spiritually and become who God calls us to be.

In the process, however, we will struggle with the temptation to abandon what He has asked us to accomplish and go back to what we knew before He called us.

However, if we are going to stay committed to our calling, we have to allow the pain and the discomfort that following Him brings, knowing that no growth will happen without it. I love the illustration of this idea Lysa Terkeurst uses in a devotional aptly titled “When Comfort is My Enemy.”

Drawing from a passage in Jeremiah 48, she notes that winemakers in Old Testament times would pour wine from vessel to vessel so that the wine would not absorb the flavor of the vessel and to also rid the wine of impurities that would settle on the bottom. As she explains, just as this wine couldn’t be left on its dregs in order to have the purest taste, God continually challenging us and leading us to new places helps to purify us so that we don’t rely on ourselves and become so complacent that God can’t use us.

When God turns up the heat in our lives, what should we do rather than bail on our calling and/or flee to a place of security and complacency?

1. We have to trust the plan.

Proverbs 3:5, 6 tells us: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit [acknowledge Him], and he will make your paths straight.” If we look closely at a few of the words in this verse, “trust” means to “have confidence in.” Trusting in God is having confidence in Him to the point that our security in decision-making that lines up with His will comes from our confidence in Him.

In contrast in this verse, we see that we are not to “lean” on our own understanding. In the Hebrew, the word “lean” means to “support oneself.” Rather than rely on our own instincts and feelings, we have to choose to rely on God and decide that God knows best even when His will leads to pain and hardship that is confusing and doesn’t make sense.

To illustrate this concept, we can look at how pilots fly a plane. When learning to fly, flight instructors teach their students to fly using the cockpit instruments. At times, in certain situations such as a storm, a pilot will experience “spatial disorientation,” where they will not be able to tell where they are in space in relation to the sky and the ground. At those times, they have to rely on their instruments to instruct them, rather than their own perceptions.

Similarly, in times of turbulence in walking out our own calling, we may be tempted to abandon our trust in God and instead rely on our own perceptions when what God is telling us doesn’t appear to be working or making sense. However, as Proverbs 3:5, 6 reminds us, acknowledgment of Him will keep us in the right way that we are to go, no matter how it feels in the moment.

2. We have to continually submit to God’s work in us.

When I was a teacher, I often heard other educators using the phrase “lifelong learner.” A lifelong learner is someone who always pushes him or herself to learn new things, evaluate practices, implement new ideas  — remaining teachable throughout his or her teaching career.

Good teachers are lifetime learners. They go to workshops or higher education classes to increase their own knowledge, evaluate their practices and mistakes, consider ways to constantly improve, and talk to other teachers to gain new ideas and feedback on their practices. In other words, they don’t get stagnant and retain the same lessons and practices for the duration of their career. They constantly change and grow, keeping what works and discarding what doesn’t.

Similarly, in order to keep ourselves moldable in the process of walking in our calling, we need to continually yield in our journey. We may start out on fire and resolve to do everything God asks, but then as the years go by and the trials add up, we may get tired and less responsive to doing the will of God. We may get through a few hard tasks and then want to coast, but that isn’t the reality of what happens as we answer our call. We have to continually submit to God’s plan and allow Him to work on us.

Staying Committed to Our Calling Means Choosing Discomfort

A family member recently had back surgery, and I was surprised when we went to go see him this past weekend that he was up and moving around so soon after surgery.

However, as he explained, the doctors had instructed him to walk around daily and not just lay in bed because movement would help by strengthening blood flow, muscle tone, and other systems of the body. In addition, walking would also help him heal faster. However, because of incisions in both his back and stomach, the walking was not done without some discomfort.

Yet, he pushed himself to get out of bed and walk around because he knew of the benefits his actions would bring. The same is true of us in our Christian walk. God is going to challenge us and push us and let us be uncomfortable as He works on us, and although our instinct may be to shut down or resist the work, we need to open ourselves up to Him knowing that the work is good for us and is forming us into what God intends for us to be.

This week, as I have been working through a study of Nehemiah, I ran into a similar concept. Nehemiah, in the process of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem with his fellow Jews faced much opposition. He was advised to run to the temple and hide from men attempting to kill him (Nehemiah 6:10). But here’s the thing: to do so would have been wrong according to God’s law. Only priests were permitted in certain parts of the temple (Numbers 18:22).

Obviously, we don’t have the same regulations as they did in the Old Testament regarding the temple and priests, but we, too, have the temptation, when difficulty comes, to choose a place of refuge that wouldn’t be right for us, but does look like it will provide us security: a relationship that veers outside God’s boundaries in His Word but fills a void in us. Bitter attitudes that consume us that are easier than forgiveness and letting go. An unhealthy attachment to social media or some other thing to numb our pain and get our mind off of our current situation. A career that has a steady paycheck, but is one God has called us away from.

All of these refuges “promise” the safety and comfort we long for, but won’t satisfy or save us in the end. I love Nehemiah’s response to the suggestion that he run: “Should a man like me run away? Or should someone like me go into the temple to save his life? I will not go!” (Nehemiah 6:11). Nehemiah refuses to give up on the will of God to save his own life. He chooses to go through the hardship inherent in God’s will. Just a few short verses after Nehemiah’s resolve to stay committed to the task God had given him, we learn that the wall was finished and the work done with the help of God (Nehemiah 6:15).

We, too, rather than running can stay and build what God has called us to build, letting Him work on us in the process. But to do so means we will have to embrace the continual work God wants to do in us and allow suffering into our lives, knowing that we will not make gains without the pain.

Related Resources:

1. This is Part 4 in our series “Staying True to Your Calling.” Check out Part 1: “Being Bold in Our God-Given Calling,” Part 2: “3 Lessons From Paul About Walking in Our God-given Calling,” and Part 3: “3 Fears That Prevent Us From Persevering in Our God-Given Calling.”

2. Ever feel like you wish you could understand God’s ways just a little better? Check out the following: “When We Suffer for Doing Good” and “Making a Change to Receive God’s Promises.”

 

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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3 Fears That Prevent Us From Persevering in Our God-Given Calling

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Each morning, I read from my First 5 app from Proverbs 31 Ministries. Daily, I am given a suggested passage of reading from the Bible and an analysis that goes with it. Currently, the study is on the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.

As I read my passage of Scripture the other day before diving into the analysis provided in the app, I noticed a description in the Bible I was reading that caught my eye. I have a few Bibles scattered around the house and use whichever one I can find for that day. The one I had in my hands was a NIV Youth Devotional Bible that my husband had received in high school. Both Ezra and Nehemiah are books that talk about the rebuilding process of Jerusalem after the Jews return from exile. Nehemiah, as cupbearer of the Persian king, asks permission of the king to go to Jerusalem and help his fellow Jews finish the rebuilding process — but this one line stood out to me: “Because of stiff opposition, the people must work with weapons in one hand, tools in the other.”

To put these words in context, Nehemiah and his fellow Jews, in the rebuilding process, not only had to focus on the work of rebuilding at hand, but also had to fight against attacks and defend themselves in the process. Talk about exhausting! And yet, this is the reality of what we will experience when we answer God’s call for our lives — we will have work in front of us to complete, but it won’t be without opposition from others and attacks from the enemy to get us to give up on whatever God has asked us to accomplish. And often these attacks will be in the form of fear and doubt to get us to abandon the work God gives us (or never even begin in the first place).

And yet, just as the Jews rebuilt the temple and the walls in the midst of opposition, we, too, when we stay connected to God, will complete what He has asked us to complete (Philippians 1:6). Yet, in the process, we need to fight against doubts that will get us discouraged and continually remind ourselves of truth in order to keep ourselves committed to the calling He has given us.

To help in that endeavor, I want to look at some common fears that may derail us and a model of faithfulness in service that we can emulate. In Luke 2:36-38, we encounter Anna, a prophetess, who served as a witness of Christ as the Messiah. One day in the temple, she saw Jesus as a child with his parents, spoke to them, and then went and shared with the community about what she had seen. This is her account:

There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them [Jesus and his parents] at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

These few lines tell us so much about a woman who lived an effective life of Christian service. Although Anna didn’t struggle with fears from what we are told, her example is one that can remind us of the truth of what God can accomplish through us if we don’t let fear get the best of us.

A few fears that we will combat when walking in our calling (and how to combat those with truths from Anna’s story):

1. Fear #1: God can’t use me.

One major fear that we will have to combat when first answering God’s call and continuing on in our service to God is that God can’t really use us. I remember going through a Bible study years ago and hearing the idea that God delights in using broken things and can restore anything and make it useful. The author of the study used an illustration to make her point and it was of a gardener who was planting a garden and asked a hardware store if he could have their discarded plants. They had a pile of plants that had been thought to be unusable — and this gardener took what others had deemed unusable and coaxed these plants back to life. Others commented on the beauty of his gardens and would not have known, if he had not told them, that his beautiful blooms had been rescued from the trash dump.

Some of us feel as unusable as a plant on the trash heap. Maybe others have made us feel like we can’t be used or maybe we have a dark spot in our past that we keep coming back to, but the truth is that God uses broken, imperfect people. And, quite interestingly, it’s the broken places we want to hide that can often be the places God can use to minister to others. Personally, when I answered God’s call to leave teaching, I thought it was to answer His call to use me in music ministry. I had no idea that He was going to call me to start a ministry that I have now. I wanted to stand on a stage and look good and never tell anyone about my past or the mistakes I had made. But it was those very places that God used to be the platform for what I talk about in my ministry, but He had to break me down to the place where I was even willing to talk about those places to begin with.

What we see with Anna in the story is that service to God is more about making ourselves available than it is about our impressive skills or qualifications. Although Anna didn’t have a questionable past or insecurities about her ability to be used, she had little status in her society. A woman in her time was not considered as reliable as a man to be a witness in a courtroom, and yet, God entrusted her with the task of serving as a witness to the Messiah to her community. Anna could have easily said, “God, I am a nobody. I don’t have anything to offer. I am a widow and don’t think you can use me.” Instead, she offered what she had to Jesus and gave her life in service to Him, doing what she could with what she had.

Clearly, we can see that God is not limited by what we think He is. Although He certainly works through our gifts, He is not limited by our individual or society-based perceptions of what we can or can’t offer. As the One who made us, He knows just what we were made for — and we can serve Him best when we totally rely on Him for His version of us.

2. Fear #2: I don’t know how to make this happen.

Not only do some of us worry that we’re not amazing enough for God to use, we also may have doubts about how we will accomplish what God has asked of us. When God calls us, He doesn’t give us a complete blueprint of what He plans to do in and through us. He unveils His plan step-by-step. When He calls us, we may still be seeped in whatever habits He wants to deliver us from and we may not know how we are going to get from being our old self to becoming the new self that He is calling us to be. However, not only can we be assured that calling is more about God’s ability than our own, God fills in the details and transforms us as we follow Him.

What we can see through Anna’s example is that just as she gave her life to God and didn’t argue with God about the ways He wanted to use her, she understood that God would come up with the plan. She did what she knew to do with quiet, faithful work — and it was in that seemingly insignificant place that she looked up and saw Jesus in bodily form with His parents one day in the temple! And she must have known in that moment what God wanted to accomplish through her.

We don’t have to generate the plan or the results. We just have to be faithful where God has placed us — in the thing that might feel so small and unimportant to us. If He has placed us there, and we do not have the green light to move on or see no other open door, we can be content that He has a purpose for us even if it feels to us like we are in the background or no one notices us. We may look back at a later date and see how that place that felt pointless was the place God used us to bless others, to grow the traits in us that we needed, and to connect us with the individuals He desired us to learn from.

3. Fear #3: What if I don’t have any results?

Another fear we may have when we step out and answer God’s calling is that we won’t have any results or that it will be up to us to generate a specific outcome. But what we need to notice in the passage is that it tells us that that Anna went around to those who were “awaiting the redemption of Israel” (v. 38). Did you catch that the people were already “awaiting” the message she brought? The WORD® Translation puts it like this: “She spoke about Jesus to all who were waiting for Jerusalem to be set free.” Just as Anna was waiting for the arrival of the Messiah before He showed up, there were others needing the same freedom and healing He would bring.

God was working in their hearts before Anna showed up, and they were prepared for what she was going to say to them because God had prepared them. Therefore, while Anna spent a lot of time going around and talking to people, she didn’t spend her energy trying to force others to listen or react in a particular way.

In our zeal to answer God’s call, we might feel responsible for how people respond or expect a certain outcome, but we’re simply responsible for the part God gives us to do and God does the rest. He sends us because He already knows what is going on with the people that we will encounter. Just as God orchestrates our calling and gives us our plan of action, He will also direct us to the specific people He wants us to reach out to — and He does a work in them as they hear our message. If we lose sight of this, we may strive or wear ourselves out in the attempt to achieve a particular result or persuade a person in a certain direction, but just as God calls us and designs our mission and message, it is God who will work in others as we walk in the way He has pointed to us.

I can’t tell you how many times I have walked into a service at church and been shocked as the pastor begins to speak on the very topic I needed to hear, sometimes even using within his talk the exact questions or struggles that had been running through my mind that week. How did that pastor know what to say or how to address the problems I was having with a spiritual solution from God’s Word? Only God could orchestrate that. The pastor, in being obedient and seeking from God the right message to speak and approach to take, was able to minister to me — a person he may never know personally or talk to face-to-face. And God will work through us in similar ways when we let Him have access to us.

God Does His Part When We Do Ours

In answering God’s call, we can be plagued with many insecurities and doubts about our ability to be used. We might worry about which way to go, what we will say, the people we will speak to, and how we will accomplish what He has asked of us. However, we can lay these worries down. He will direct us in all these areas. He knew these things before He even called us to the particular area of service we’re in (or going to serve in)!

While we may believe that we need certain qualifications, contacts, skill sets (and I am not diminishing the importance of any of those things), the thing we need the most in any ministry venture is God. And the thing He requires of us won’t be all the impressive talent(s) we can offer but our surrender to let Him use us as He will.

While it may feel when we follow God that we’re going nowhere or aren’t getting to our desired destination as quickly as we would like, if we trust Him and keep following Him, we will be able to look back one day and see that there was a plan and there was a way God was leading us all along. As pastor and author Charles Stanley notes in The Blessings of Brokenness:

God says the same thing to us anytime he calls us to supernatural ministry. He says, ‘I am the one who will do it. I will accomplish the task. You do what I tell you to do, and I will cause it to come to pass.’

Therefore, to best know the way, we need to put ourselves in a position of surrender. Like Anna, when we give ourselves over to a life of diligent devotion to Him, doing what we know to do now, we can trust that God will reveal His purpose for us when we put ourselves in a place of total trust and reliance on Him.

As Stanley notes, it is when we do “our part” that God does “the part that only God can do!”

“Here I Am” by Downhere:

Sometimes Your calling, comes in dreams

Sometimes it comes in the Spirit’s breeze, yeah

You reach for the deepest hope in me

And call out for the things of eternity

 

But I’m a man, of dust and stains

You move in me, so I can say

 

Here I am, Lord send me

All of my life, I make an offering

Here I am, Lord send me

Somehow my story is a part of your plan

Here I am

 

Setbacks and failures, and upset plans

Test my faith and leave me with empty hands

Are You not the closest, when it’s hardest to stand?

I know that You will finish what You began

 

These broken parts, You redeem

Become the song, that I can sing

 

Here I am, Lord send me

All of my life, I make an offering

Here I am, Lord send me

Somehow my story is a part of your plan

Here I am

 

Overwhelmed by the thought of my weakness

And the fear that I’ll fail You, in the end

Oh, in this mess, I’m just one of the pieces

I can’t put this together, but You can

 

Here I am, Lord send me

all my life as an offering

Here I am, Lord send me

Somehow my story, is part of Your plan

So here I am

 

Here I am, all my life an offering to You, To You

Somehow my story is a part of your plan

Here I am

Related Resources:

This is Part 3 in our series “Staying True to Your Calling.” Check out Part 1: “Being Bold in Our God-Given Calling” and Part 2: “3 Lessons From Paul About Walking in Our God-given Calling.”

Want to read more about my journey into my calling? Check out the path of healing from low self-worth I embarked on with God in “3 Keys to Emotional Healing” and how failure along the way helped me to learn to trust God in “Why God Lets Us Fail.” In addition, check out the original version of this article that explains my process of answering God’s call to start this ministry: “The One Thing I Have Needed the Most in Ministry.”

Podcast Notes and Corrections:

1. When it refers to Nehemiah returning home, it should be noted that he was born in captivity, but as a Jew, he identified with Israel as his homeland.

 

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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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

being-bold-in-our-God-given-calling

“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.

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