Christian Ministry: When You Want to Know That There Is a Point to What You Do

christian-ministry_-when-youre-not-sure-theres-a-point-to-what-you-do

Several weeks ago, I did a video chat on fear. All of the other members of my blog were busy, so I decided to do it alone because I felt the message was one that was important and needed to be put out there.

I typed up an outline of notes, went to the library to print them out (because our printer hasn’t been working for some time), and went through them a few times to rehearse for the event.

I fed my kids, put them to bed and then hurriedly touched up my makeup and changed into a nice shirt and finished off the outfit with a necklace (which, by the way, I hardly ever wear because jewelry is a thing of the past now that I have a brood of messy kids).

I went downstairs, laid out my notes, and logged into the computer to start the chat. I began it right at 9, but as I began talking, it was like a giant pin burst my bubble.

The one person in the chat who had shown up decided to leave and swing back around. Approximately no one was in the chat area after that. I couldn’t hear my voice in my headphones like I normally do, and slowly, I began to melt down like an ice cream cone in August heat.

The one thought in my head: Why am I doing this?

And I considered just stopping right then and there. Closing up shop. The careful notes I had written, the frantic run to the library to print out notes, the effort I had taken to put my kids to bed (with promises of “sugar cereal” in the morning if they stayed quiet and in their beds), the rallying of my tired, then very pregnant body to get in front of the computer at night for less than three people to show up (and a few more that didn’t identify themselves in the chat).

I paused the recording to get in touch with help because I wasn’t even sure if my voice could be heard. The technical person got me back on track within minutes, and I finished the chat as best I could — feeling silly, alone, and pointless.

What is this all for, Lord? My heart cried before I went to bed that night. But I suppose the better question should have been: Who is this all for?

Because that is what I really wanted to know. The planning. The preparation. The work. The sacrifice.

And what I mentioned was just some surface stuff. I had some real and troubling conflicts in my life at the moment because of the blog and the choices I constantly made to make time for it.

I woke up the next morning, and the Holy Spirit immediately got my attention during my morning devotion. I read these words by Matt Chandler: “[You’re] not the point.”

It was almost like the Holy Spirit had inserted my name right in those words: “Carol, you’re not the point.”

I was a little ticked off in reading that because I wanted to be comforted, not assaulted by my own self-absorption.

However, wanting the applause of people was a constant struggle for me. Even in a ministry aimed at pointing women to Jesus and finding healing, I wanted to be the point. I wanted to be liked and have millions of Twitter followers and be esteemed for my message. I didn’t think I was successful if only a handful of people showed up for my video chat.

But maybe that handful were important enough to Jesus that He send me that message for them. After all, Jesus was willing to leave the 99 for the one. He didn’t worry when He was talking to the woman at the well or the young rich man or the crippled man on a mat that He was spending so much time on one. He wasn’t urging His disciples to catch the moment on Instagram or send out a Tweet about His good deed that day.

No, He did it because He was always about His Father’s work, and His Father’s work often included the one.

The Point of Our Ministry Efforts

I heard a story once of a man who felt he needed to go to a particular logging town and give a sermon. When he got there, he found the town completely deserted. No one was there. Confused, he walked into the chapel they had there and felt very strongly to give his message to an empty room. So he did. And after the message, he felt like his mission was accomplished, so he left and had no idea why he had done what he had.

Years later, he was approached by a man and thanked. The chapel hadn’t been empty after all — there had been a man hiding in the back. He chose not to reveal himself, but he had heard the entire message — and when the rest of the camp returned, he told everyone the message, and the entire camp was saved.

When we make Him the point, there is always a point to what we do.

You see, we do what we do not for others or to be seen by others, but for Him. And it just so happens that others get blessed in the process of our obedience — even when we give chats to invisible audiences and sermons to “empty” rooms.

John the Baptist said about Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30, ESV). When he said these words, John had no idea how these words would come to play out in his own life. Some time after he made this statement, John was thrown in prison.

And while in prison, John had a very human moment when he sent a messenger to Jesus and said, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Luke 7:20). Clearly, John was concerned because things weren’t exactly going the way he thought they would.

And Jesus sent him back this response, “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me” (Luke 7:22, 23).

Seems kind of terse, doesn’t it? Clearly, John was looking for some kind of reassurance and comfort in his situation, but Jesus didn’t exactly provide that. Instead, He stated that His ministry was advancing in the way it should and people who did not “stumble” because of Jesus were “blessed.” If we look at the word “stumble” there, in other translations, this word is actually “offend.” In other words, Jesus said that anyone that wasn’t offended by the unusual methods of His ministry was “blessed.”

John the Baptist, considered by Jesus to be one of the greatest in the kingdom, didn’t get an explanation as to why things were going the way they were. Only that people were getting healed and set free, even as John himself was in the background, in the shadows — about to be executed.

Why Taking Risks and Doing Ministry Jesus’ Way is Worth It

Have you ever felt like your work is in vain? The risks you have taken? The hard conversations you have had at Jesus’ prompting? The relationships that have been strained or lost when you did what God asked of you? And it seems like what God asks of you just requires you to decrease more and more, and you wonder what He is up to?

Yep, me too. But John the Baptist’s words and life remind us that success in the kingdom of God often looks upside down or backwards to us. Some of the ways God will ask us to minister won’t make any sense to our human reason. He won’t always answer our whys or respond to our questions in the way we expect. We might wonder if what we’re doing matters. If what we’re doing for Him is worth everything we’ve lost.

In a devotional, blogger and author Bonnie Gray encourages us with these words: “If we are being faithful to express who God is calling us to become, then it’s worth it. Faith in Jesus is always worth whatever comes.”

And so, I’ll continue. To dress up. To show up. To do things that feel pointless and confusing because He has told me to.

Because it’s not about me. When I make myself the focus, I look for the huge audience and recognition. I look for things to go the way I want. But when I make Him the point, I let Him orchestrate events the way He wants to. And I leave the results to Him.

Because after all, isn’t that the point?

Related Bible Verses:

Ephesians 6:7: “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people.”

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 is never in vain.”

Hebrews 6:10: “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.”

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 write music lyrics (that no one has ever seen) 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 two children.

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Upcoming Book Study: The Blessings of Brokenness

THE BLESSINGS OF BROKENNESS (5)Ever wonder why God has allowed hard times to come into your life? Even though you may not have enjoyed the trials or may be walking through them now, have you considered that God has a great blessing for you in the midst or aftermath of your brokenness?

Friends, I would like to tell you about a book study opportunity that will run for five weeks June 10 through July 8 over Charles Stanley’s The Blessings of Brokenness: Why God Allows Us to Go Through Hard Times. I stumbled across this book in the library a few months ago, and I loved how simply it delved into the very hard questions that all of us ask at one point or another: God, why is this happening? Why did you allow this?

As I have shared in other places of my blog, I have had to confront the truth in my own life that God allows brokenness at times in my life for a specific reason. In a simple, eye-opening way, Stanley unpacks the possible reasons for hardship and brokenness in our lives in his book — and then shows us how we can confront that brokenness and find blessing in it, rather than just suffering.

There are several ways you can participate with us in the book study. I have written five posts that correspond with the chapters in the book, and we will also have some live chats on the weekly reading with other writers on the blog. You can receive the posts and links to the chats by following us on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+ (if you are not already following us).

I would highly encourage you to get the book and read it along with the study. However, it is also possible to join us in the study without purchasing the book, and you can get something from the study just by reading the weekly posts. (Click here if you would like to preview or buy the book.)

To get a sample of the format of the study, I’ve included a preview of my first post for chapters 1 & 2. I encourage you to read it and look at the book study schedule below! Blessings!

Sample Book Study Post: Response to Chapters 1 & 2

A few years ago, I sat in a small prayer service at my church. While the people around me had upraised hands and cheerful expressions on their faces, I stewed on my pew.

I was angry at God. During the worship and prayer, two continual questions played like a tape recorder in my head, over and over: Why is this happening? Why are you letting me go through this, God? I had never been so confused or doubtful in my Christian walk. Whereas a few months before I had joyfully left my job to follow down a new path at His leading, I had no idea that it would lead to what felt like such chaos and suffering.

Our money had dried up. God hadn’t directed me to a way to replace the income we had lost when I had quit. All of the part-time work I looked into didn’t pay what I needed or would demand too much of my time.

My marriage was hanging by a thread. My husband and I were constantly fighting over finances and this “new direction” I felt I was to go.

My newborn son was difficult and colicky. He cried all the time and added to the tension of our already tension-filled household.

The area I had felt God ask me to step into wasn’t opening up like I wanted. I kept coming up against walls in relationships and opportunities. I made adjustments, worked on my skills, practiced in any spare second I could — but none of that made any difference.

I felt stuck. I knew this was where God wanted me. But why did He want me here? Although I would never admit it out loud to anyone, there was a voice inside that said, “This isn’t working. You should give up.” I wanted to run away. I didn’t want to follow God anymore if He continued to lead me  down this path.

As I wrestled inside with these questions that I am sure everyone around me would find so shocking, there was also part of me that wasn’t completely void of hope. Part of me that knew that I didn’t have any other options. And because I didn’t know what else to do, I walked up at the end of the service to the altar call. There were hardly any people standing at the front of the church. I felt really foolish and silly standing there.

My bad mood hadn’t completely left. I really didn’t think anything would happen in that moment. But as I stood there, I heard the pastor say, “Don’t turn away. Don’t turn away.”

He was on the stage. He wasn’t talking directly to me, but I knew that God had put those words in his head for me. And, who knows?, maybe there was someone else sitting in the congregation — even in the midst of all those people with saintly expressions — who needed to hear that too.

Don’t. Turn. Away.

And that was it. That was enough. I felt the searing heat of God’s presence in my soul. I still didn’t understand what He wanted from me. I didn’t understand why He was letting me walk through such hardship, but I did understand this in that moment: He knew what I was going through, and He wanted me to stay with Him in the process. He wanted me to stick it out.

I didn’t get any other answers in the service that day. God didn’t reveal to me the reasons I was going through what I was — but I got the reassurance that God had me on a journey. And that there was a purpose for me in what felt like utter agony and disorder.

The reality is this. As Charles Stanley notes in The Blessings of Brokenness, “Brokenness is not something to be shunned and avoided at all cost. Rather it is something to be faced with faith” (12).

To be continued … read the rest of my post starting June 10.

Here’s How You Can Join in:

1. Read two chapters a week, starting June 10 and ending July 8. (Again, reading the book is optional but will help to bring clarity to the weekly posts.)

2. Read the weekly posts starting June 10 and write comments underneath in response to what I wrote and add your own reflections and insights. You can write comments in response to just my post (if you haven’t read the chapters), or you can write comments based on what you are reading in the book.

3. Each Monday starting June 13 (with the exception of the week of July 4), writers here on the site will lead a Blab chat on the two chapters for that week. You can look for the link for the chat on Facebook, Twitter or Google + and submit questions or comments in response to the chats — or listen in on them later during the replay if you are unable to make it to the chat.

A Breakdown of the Schedule:

June 10: Chapters 1 & 2

*Blab Chat: June 13 @ 9 p.m. EST

June 17: Chapters 3 & 4

*Blab Chat: June 20 @ 9 p.m. EST

June 24: Chapters 5 & 6

*Blab Chat: June 27 @ 9 p.m. EST

July 1: Chapters 7 & 8

*Blab Chat: July 5 @ 9 p.m. EST (Note, this chat takes place on a Tuesday night to account for the July 4 holiday.)

July 8: Chapters 9, 10 & Epilogue

*Blab Chat: July 11 @ 9 p.m. EST

We hope you will join in!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 write music lyrics (that no one has ever seen) 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 two children.

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The One Thing I Have Needed the Most in Ministry

Beulah Girl Feb 2016 (1)Without even meaning to, I often let messages from our culture dictate my thought processes. And then I encounter a truth or story in God’s Word and discover I have been backward in my thinking about a certain idea or issue.

In particular, I have carried some very worldly ideas about ministry these past few years. God has continually shown me how His version of Christian service and calling is very different than mine. I have thought at certain points that ministry is about my efforts for God and that I have been responsible for creating some sort of stage for myself with which to declare His glory (and also look good myself!) — more of the latter if I am honest.

Recently, however, I encountered a story in the Bible of a woman who gives me a model to emulate concerning ministry. In Luke 2:36-38, we encounter Anna, a prophetess, who served as one of the first witnesses 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. Though she didn’t seek out attention or applause, she still encountered Jesus and was used by Him in a big way.

A few lessons you and I can learn from Anna about ministry:

1. Jesus wants to use us.

One major worldly notion I held about ministry a few years ago was that it was about what I had to bring to the table. If the truth be told, although I left teaching four years ago to answer a call to go into music and women’s ministry, I was secretly afraid that I wasn’t qualified enough to serve God. My main concern had to do with poor choices I had made in my past.

Even though I knew God forgave people of their sins, I thought that maybe I had stepped too far over the line. After all, I rationalized, it was fine if you sinned in your life before Christianity and then got cleansed of those things upon salvation — but what if you were a big sinner even as a Christian? At the age of 18, I had been in a band and had begun writing music, but I left that to pursue a career in education. The longer that I served as a teacher, the more I began to think that I needed to forget about my dream to be used in music. I figured that I had messed things up too badly in my life for God to allow me to be used in worship again.

Therefore, when I felt Him telling me to go down a music path and create a ministry, my natural response was that I thought I needed to hide those ugly blots from my past and not bring them up. Surely, if people knew some of my deeds, they would never listen to anything I had to say. Therefore, it surprised me greatly when God began to prod into those very areas and encouraged me to begin sharing with others about my past and how He was healing me. It never occurred to me that He would be able to use such ugly things and use them as a platform on which to base my ministry.

And not only that, I worried that I wasn’t qualified enough in terms of abilities. Like Moses doubted he could be used because of a speech impediment (Exodus 4:10) and Jeremiah doubted he could be used because of his youth (Jeremiah 1:6), I worried that I wasn’t talented or capable enough to be a vocalist or spokesperson for God.

However, as we see with Anna in the story, 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 or clout 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.

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 the person who can serve Him best is the person who totally relies on Him for His version of who He made him or her to be.

2. God gives us the message and the plan.

Another notion I had about ministry that strikes me as being a little funny now is not only did I think I had to be more amazing than I was to really be used, I also held the idea that I had to come up with what I would say and the vision. You see, I didn’t realize that ministry is more about God working through me than it is about what I do for Him.

When I first left teaching, I put a lot of pressure on myself to make something happen. I didn’t even know what God specifically wanted to me to do (in and through me) — and I tried to generate a plan before I really knew what His plans were. Yes, I had a vague sense that He wanted to use me in music and later got the memo that He wanted me to start a self-worth ministry, but I tried to get ahead of Him and create the logical steps to make this happen. However, I kept running into roadblocks, and I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t getting anywhere.

When I prayed about what to do, God kept giving me odd answers. I felt nudges to contact people from my past. I felt I was to quit the worship team and serve in the nursery. All of the things He was telling me to do seemed to be leading me further and further away from the destiny I felt He had for me. However, it was in these small acts of obedience — these small areas of service that I began to get answers about what I was to do and where it began to dawn on me what God was even calling me to. And it was in these seemingly insignificant places where God revealed Himself to me in ways that astounded me and helped me to know what His purpose for me and the message He wanted me to share was.

Similarly, 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. And 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, or to connect us with the individuals He desired us to learn from.

3. God has a specific audience in mind for our message.

Just as God has a specific objective He wants to accomplish through you and me in ministry, He also has a specific audience in mind that needs to hear our message. Yes, vast evangelization efforts in a more general sense are needed — the world is starving for what Christians can offer. However, there are specific people (possibly in our immediate realm) who can connect with our specific testimony — and God knows who those people are.

Beulah Girl Feb 2016

In our passage, after Anna encountered Jesus in the temple, she went around and told people that she had seen Jesus in the temple. It says that she shared with people “awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem” (v. 38). The WORD® Translation puts it like this: “She spoke about Jesus to all who were waiting for Jerusalem to be set free.” Although not much explanation is given here, just as Anna was most likely awaiting Jesus’ arrival long before He showed up in the temple, there were others also hungry and searching for Him — needing the hope and freedom He would bring.

Not only did God orchestrate a miraculous moment for Anna in the temple when she saw Jesus in person with His parents, He had people within her community that needed to hear about the experience that impacted her so greatly — and had apparently worked in the hearts of her audience before she even knew what her message would be! Anna’s encounter with Christ intersected at the perfect moment when others needed to know how they, too, could intersect with Him.

Similarly, God has had a particular group in mind for me to speak to. Just as I didn’t know really what God wanted from me originally when He nudged me to leave my career and didn’t know what my message would be, I haven’t known whom I was supposed to deliver this message to. I thought originally that I would work with high school age girls — perhaps start a ministry at this level because I had been a high school teacher and had experience with this age group.

But over and over, when I asked Him whom He wanted me to speak to or serve, I kept recalling the morning I had woken up and gotten the revelation I was to start a self-worth ministry — and God had used the word “women” in His message to me. And this thought terrified me!

As an instructor, I felt very comfortable speaking in front of adolescents, but not adults. Whenever I had to speak at a faculty meeting or give a presentation for an adult learning class, I got very nervous. But I’ve aimed my entire blog ministry towards women because God told me to.

Therefore, just as God has an objective for us concerning our message and mission when we answer His call — whether that be into an actual pastoral or care ministry or ministry in a different setting — He also will most likely burden us with a desire to reach out to a particular group of people. And as we walk in obedience in what He asks us to do, we will naturally get a revelation about who those people are or encounter them in our daily doings.

Does this mean that we won’t ever be prompted to speak to someone outside of our “target” group? No, I don’t believe so at all. Quite frankly, I believe Jesus will orchestrate events in such a way that we naturally encounter all kinds of people in our ordinary happenings that need to hear our story or need us to show Jesus’ love to them.

However, I believe that we will be amazed at how when we allow Him to have access to all of us, He will show us how our personal story can impact others not in a broad, impersonal sense but with individuals in a more focused sense — with individuals who have had certain experiences that parallel ours and who can benefit from hearing how God has healed us or is working in our lives.

God’s Idea of Ministry

As I survey the list, I realize that God has had to change my ideas of ministry completely and continues to do so. I have been worried at every turn about which way to go, what I will say, whom I will speak to, and how I will accomplish what He has asked of me. And my anxiety has been in vain. He has directed me in all of these areas. He knew these things before I even knew I was to leave teaching!

While I have believed that I needed certain qualifications, certain contacts, certain skill sets (and I am not diminishing the importance of any of those things), the thing I have needed most in my ministry venture is God. And the thing He has required of me hasn’t been all the impressive talent(s) I can offer but my surrender to let Him use me as He will.

While it has felt these past few years that I have been going nowhere, and that there has been no plan, I can see that God had (and does have) a way He was leading me 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!”

In closing, consider these lyrics from “Here I Am” by Downhere:

And these broken parts you redeem

Become the song, that I can sing …

Somehow my story is a part of your plan

Here I am.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 write music lyrics (that no one has ever seen) 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 two children.

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When You Are Unsure of Your Purpose

Beulah Girl Feb 2016 (1)

God made both you and me for a specific, unique purpose. He has a plan for every one of us, right? It’s something I have heard many times at church, youth retreats, and small group meetings. Jeremiah 29:11 comes to mind, ” ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord. ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a hope and a future.’ ”

Well, let me be honest for a second. Sometimes, I am very unsure as to whether or not I am living in His purpose and plan.

I am currently in my fourth year of teaching middle school. Like many teachers, I decided to go into education because I really want to make a lasting impact on students’ lives. I have dreamt of being Teacher of the Year, being my students’ favorite teacher, and leaving a legacy for students and other teachers alike to follow. That way, I would certainly know that I am where God wants me to be … or so it seems.

Here’s the problem. I look at teachers around me who have gotten these kind of awards and recognitions, and I wonder if my personality and abilities are even comparable. I can be shy. I am usually not the most charismatic personality or the life of the party. I am not the one leading meetings, organizing the next after-school club — and probably not thought of as the “coolest teacher.”

Because of these “flaws,” I begin to compare myself to other teachers and come up with reasons why it sometimes feels like everyone prefers them over me. Why can’t I be more funny, like that one teacher? Why is it so hard for me to be organized, like that other teacher is? Thoughts of inferiority swirl around in my head, and I start to wonder if who I am is enough for this job. I wonder if I am in the career I was MADE to be in. I start asking God these questions:

Are you sure you want me here, teaching? Is this really what I am suited for?

What about all those days when I feel like I am making no impact … anywhere?

Perhaps I should look more into something else that I am interested in? Psychology? Photography? Or maybe I should be a stay-at-home mom because my family really needs me there? Maybe I would shine more in one of those things? Yeah, any of that sounds better to me right now.

How have You gifted me? How can I use my gifts here in this environment?

This is not a cry for an award or recognition or any change other than the one that I know God wants to do in me. I believe that God wants you and me both to better understand who He made us to be — uniquely ourselves, in Christ.

Here are three simple things that God is teaching me to do when I am unsure of my purpose and begin to compare myself to others.

1. Acknowledge your gifts.

Make a list of the things that you are good at. Focus on them and how you can incorporate them into most days, if not every day. As my husband has told me MANY times, “God placed certain gifts inside of you for a reason.” Stop discounting your gifts, and start using them.

Romans 12:4-6 tells us, “Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well.”

Beulah Girl Feb 2016 (1)

I may not be the most outgoing person, but I do care about people and enjoy encouraging others. I enjoy having real, honest conversations. So instead of wishing I were the life of the party, I will tune in to opportunities from God to encourage those around me. I will seek to speak into their lives the way that I know how, the way that I was made to. I will focus on my gifts.

What are your passions? They are usually things that you enjoy doing and that come naturally. Pray that God would bring those to the surface.

2. Be thankful for the gifts of others.

Instead of comparing yourself to others, appreciate them. God places certain people in your life for a reason. They may be able to do things that you can’t and help in areas where you fall short. Be humble. Be thankful for that. Maybe you can even learn from them! Don’t try to exalt yourself over anyone or prove that you are better. We are all on the same level in God’s eyes. He has made us each with a unique purpose, and no one is greater than another. Celebrate the gifts you see in others. Thank God for them and believe that He uses those things to benefit His kingdom.

When I see others around me doing something well, I want to tell them. I want people to know that I am thankful for and appreciate them. I am blessed with the opportunity to co-teach with someone who has been teaching for almost 20 years! He has a great sense of humor and knows how to relate to our middle school students. His passion for the kids and for music shines every day, and I am grateful to work alongside him. I hope to one day be half the teacher that he is, and God knows I wouldn’t be able to do this job without him!

3. Remember whom you belong to.

There will be days when your gifts and works go unnoticed. There will be times when you feel like all of your efforts fall short. And they do, when you are trying to do it in yourself. Without Christ, we are nothing and can do nothing that is of true worth. Jesus says in John 15:4, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” It is only when we are in Him that we can produce much fruit and live a life that will impact eternity. Let us remain in Him.

Ongoing prayer is probably the only thing that gets me through those hard days. Prayer helps me to keep my eyes on Jesus and remember who I am in Him. It helps me to “remain in the vine” and to focus on my biggest purpose — to glorify Him in everything I do.

Dear Jesus, I pray that you would help me to actively use the gifts you have given me and to not compare myself to others. Help me to understand where I fit in Your body. May I remember that, apart from you, I can do nothing. Amen.

Rachel Howard

Rachel Howard

With a degree in music education, Rachel Howard is a middle grades chorus instructor who has a passion for teaching students about her love for music. In addition to inspiring adolescents in the public school system, Rachel is currently taking piano lessons and also enjoys photography, scrapbooking and Francine Rivers novels. A small-group leader at her church, Rachel leads worship on occasion and is currently enrolled in a women’s mentoring program through Broken Chains International (a Christian organization that provides Christian counseling and life coaching to individuals). In addition to these roles, Rachel is a wife and new mom to a 9-month-old, Isaac. Rachel has recently begun writing here at Beulah Girl about what God is teaching her through her struggles –- as a way to bring healing to herself and others. Rachel currently resides in Georgia with her husband and son.

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How to Finish Well

finish-well

I often think about my own funeral. As morbid as that may be, I have the whole thing planned out. I want people to bawl their eyes out and dive in the casket. (A former student, LB, has already called that role.) I want the saddest songs played, and I want it to be standing room only, even if the people in the room had to be compelled to come.

I’m totally teasing about this funeral of course. My main desire is really that people give their hearts to Jesus there. Why? I want to leave a legacy that people will miss when I’m gone. I want to finish well. To accomplish this is to start in one direction that is God-ordained and to end up there, despite obstacles, with fruit to show for it.

That’s why it was so hard for me to leave my teaching job after eleven years. I left feeling like a failure. Two of my favorite movies are Mr. Holland’s Opus and Sister Act II, probably because the teachers in both persevere against seemingly-impossible odds. They affect their students beyond the sphere of the classroom and help them rise to meet school challenges as well.

In my class, on the other hand, I usually had the highest failure rate. Though I loved my students and prayed for them daily, I was told that I was “leading the league on parent complaints.” And though I always looked forward to the last day of school when I would sing “I Hope You Dance” (yes, it’s cheesy!) for each of my classes with tears, the behavior in one class last year was so bad that I couldn’t muster up the good will necessary to sing them my best wishes.

My whole teaching journey started, like that of so many others, with a desire to change the world, and it ended with what felt like escaping to another job instead. In my mind, I did not finish well.

7

In the book of I Samuel, Saul was a perfect example of someone who started very well and finished, um, not so well at all. When God’s people didn’t trust Him enough to be their king, they asked for another. And what they got, from the outside, looked like the perfect fit. He was tall and handsome, the obvious choice. In spite of his attractive physical traits, he still was humble, a beneficial combination to start a rulership. That humility was what caused him to hide among the baggage when it was time for him to be anointed, because he was scared to death and certainly not seeking any kind of attention (1 Samuel 10:22-23).

Saul not only started humble, but he started holy. After he was anointed king in private, he was given the power to prophesy with some prophets on the road. Once he became king, he warred for God’s name, adding bravery to his strong start. His men followed him, and they won the victory time after time.

Saul seemed to have such a strong start, but a start means nothing if the finish is weak. Three examples from his life might show us how NOT to fall into the same trap.

Three Ways to Finish Well

1. We must stay focused on whom we’re following.

Samuel was the one who poured out his heart and his oil to anoint Saul king. Thus, Saul should have been following this spiritual father. But one day when Saul grew impatient waiting for Samuel to offer the priestly fire in battle, he kindled it himself and lost the Lord’s anointing hand in the self-same moment. In this New Testament life, we are following Jesus as our great high priest (Hebrews 7:15-17). Should we then try to take the reins from Him? If we are to finish well, I think that following the one who knows the way is a much wiser decision.

2. We must let God be our defense in trouble.

As the bitterness of Saul’s lost anointing grew in his heart, the forsaken king even turned his back on his son’s best friend David, his rival to the throne. There was probably no way that Saul could have reversed God’s decision on choosing another, but did he have to focus on revenge and hatred? Couldn’t he have run to his Father for help in living the rest of his days well?

We read this story and judge Saul, but we also try to defend ourselves and get revenge, even if in our thoughts. Instead, we have to do what the old song says and begin “learning to lean on Jesus.” Psalm 46 calls him our “very present help in trouble” and a “fortress of strength.” He knows how crazy and full of sin this world is, and He’s the only one who, in us, can help us finish well despite the trouble around us.

3. We must remember that someone else’s abundance is not our lack.

Jealousy robs us all of peace, and such jealousy had the same effect on Saul. When torments came on him, a young harp player named David was able to soothe them with his playing. If Saul could have accepted the peace of a gentle musician, his life wouldn’t have been in torment. However, once David was called to strip Saul’s kingdom from him, envy blinded Saul to any possible peace. God had enough to give both Saul and David blessed lives, but Saul couldn’t see that.

If we are to finish well, we can’t run someone else’s race. That’s why I want to follow Paul’s example and run hard, getting back up when I fall, and crossing the finish line to hear my Jesus say the most precious words I’ll ever hear: His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord’ “(Matthew 25:23 — NKJV).

Remember that I said I did not finish my teaching journey well? I think that’s only partially true. When I moved from one high school to another, I received emails from a handful of students to tell me that they missed me, that they remembered my birthday, or that I had secretly been their favorite teacher. Another student that I taught in eighth grade ran into me in the Dollar Tree and called his friend over to tell her that I had changed his life. Yet another introduced me to his wife and daughter (I’m old!) and apologized for his behavior in my class.

However, there were many days that I walked the halls of a public school and was just like Saul. I lost my focus on the largest mission field I could have possibly had at a job. I cried and called my husband to tell him I was quitting on the spot instead of running to the strong tower of my Savior. And I looked at other teachers, who seemed to have the love of the students and the good grades, with doubt that God could ever use me the same way. I was a Saul, and that convoluted my race and made my finish line seem impossible.

Will God resurrect my teaching career? Will hundreds of students attend my funeral? I don’t know, but I do know that whatever I do from here on out, it has to be led by God if I am to accomplish His purpose. And He will accomplish it, because this verse is true: “For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day” (2 Timothy 1:12 — NKJV).

My teaching journey is not over because my legacy has been planted in the more than one thousand students that I taught, and those seeds just might germinate after all.

He will keep us, Friend, and everything we commit to Him. Let’s run the race so that we will win the crown of life He has stored up for us (James 1:12). Would you be bold enough to leave a comment here and ask us to pray for you if you’re struggling to finish well? We are here to help each other up, so don’t stay down a moment longer.

Suzy Lolley

Suzy Lolley

Suzy Lolley taught both middle school and high English for many years, and is currently an Instructional Technology Specialist for the public school system, a wife, and a workaholic. She loves nothing more than a clean, organized house, but her house is rarely that way. She enjoys being healthy but just can’t resist those mashed potatoes (with gravy) sometimes. When she cooks, she uses every dish in the house, and she adores a good tea party. She loves Jesus and is spending the next year documenting her journey to a less independent, more Jesus-dependent life on her blog.

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My Biggest Assignment in Christian Ministry

assignment When I launched my blog a few months ago, I received positive response from a series of articles. Excited about the feedback, I voiced these words to a circle friends, “It is totally worth it to me if I helped someone.”

A wise friend stopped me after the conversation and pulled me aside to tell me that she writes for God’s pleasure and no one else’s. I thought about that for a moment and had to agree with her. Before her comment, I had started thinking of posts that would draw more favorable reaction, topics I could talk about that would appeal to readers. But I had to stop myself.

It is totally worth it to me if I please God. Even though I very much want to help others with the content of my blog, I write the posts that God gives me and directs me to write. I know they will help people, but I must do it not for my readers but for my audience of one: Him.

I can’t let my desire to attract readers and grow a ministry distract or divert me from what God tells me to do. An important observation that Oswald Chambers makes about Christian service is this:

The great dominant note is not the needs of men, but the command of Jesus.

My motivation for what I’m doing is because He told me to and no other reason. If I orient myself instead solely around the needs of others, I’m bound to get burned out, frustrated and irritated. I’m also bound to get caught up in self-worship and set myself up as the object of others’ worship rather than just the conduit God uses to channel their worship to Him.

Paul was very careful to always point his ministry back to Jesus. When a crowd started to worship him and Barnabas for healing, he “tore his clothes” and declared, “Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you” (Acts 14:15).

My tendency is to want the praise and want the spotlight. But God wants me to worry about pleasing Him alone. I need only look at the ministry of Jesus to discover what boundaries I need to set up in my relationship and ministry endeavors to ensure that I do just that.

Jesus Practiced Self-Care

Although it may appear like an illogical place to start, one of the best ways I can serve others best in ministry is by first taking care of myself. A guest blogger I had post several months ago wisely noted that we need to apply the oxygen mask to our face first before we can assist others with theirs. She was speaking in the context of motherhood, but the same can be true in a ministry sense as well.

The oxygen mask I need in ministry is time spent alone with God.

Serving on a worship team a few years back, I was totally unprepared for the spiritual attack that came against me on the weeks I would sing. I assumed that since I was ministering to the body of Christ that I would have some sort of special grace and protection — and God does protect those who serve Him. However, I had more than a normal amount of appliances break down within a few month span; instances where my children contracted strange illnesses; foreboding thoughts and moments waking up afraid at night; and situations where conflict would break out despite my best attempts to be peaceable with others.

I collapsed under the weight of the spiritual hurricane like a cheap tent. I was a complete wreck. I didn’t realize I had to prepare for spiritual battle by immersing myself daily in the Word and communion with Him.

The same has been true of my blog writing. The attack has come in the form of fear and doubt every time I write a post. Ugly thoughts invade my mind: No one is going to read this. You’re not a good writer. Why can’t you sound like this other writer? You probably didn’t hear God right. Are you sure you understood that verse?

The onslaughts are real and exhausting and make me want to close down my site and hide from the internet. They make me cry out to God, “Where are you, Lord? Why is this happening to me? This isn’t normal!” And I think that serving God can’t or shouldn’t possibly be this hard. But it is. I wish my Christian walk only consisted of those graceful moments sitting in my Grandma’s church watching sunlight beam through stain glassed windows casting patterns of bright color on the floor, the choir singing “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”

But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” — Luke 5:16

Jesus modeled how to combat the pressure and conflict He experienced as a public figure in ministry by going into the wilderness alone to pray. Jesus made Himself available to the masses, but He also was intentional about the time He spent in solitude.

He knew the importance of drawing boundaries around Himself. He didn’t apologize or make excuses for the times He slipped away from the crowds. He knew that He had to spend time with God to carry out God’s will — to know the words to say and have the energy to meet the demands of those who continually pressed in on Him. As commentator Adam Clarke observes:

A man can give nothing unless he receive it; and no man can be successful in the ministry who does not constantly depend upon God, for the excellence of the power is all from him.

Others’ Expectations Can’t Trump God’s

Not only do I need to make time for solitude; I need to set clear boundaries so the needs of others don’t distract me from what God has asked me to do. For a long time, I thought that being a Christian meant being nice to everyone, and I mistakenly equated nice with doing what other people wanted me to do even if it meant that I had to suppress how I really felt about a situation inside.

However, Jesus never put others’ wants above His Father’s commands. Note what He says when He is teaching a crowd and someone informs him that his mother and brothers are waiting outside to speak with him:

Who is my mother, and who are my brothers? (Matthew 12:48)

Ouch! Jesus is painfully forthright here. Jesus clearly wants everyone to know that there is “no tie of relationship more sacred than spiritual relationship” (John Calvin commentary). Although we are not told why His mother needed Him, she clearly felt that the matter was urgent enough to interrupt His teaching to get to Him. He, however, lets the informant know that His Father’s work cannot be interrupted, and He gives His reply in the hearing of all listening to make a lesson out of the incident.

Jesus’s answer demonstrates how I am to handle those persistent matters that press in on me each day as I decide what tasks to invest my time in. Jesus doesn’t intend for me to starve all of the relationships in my life and spend every waking hour working on ministry projects. However, serving God means putting Him above the other relationships or other obligations in my life. That means that I may have to disappoint other people at times or do things that aren’t always comfortable for me.

Several years ago, in a different season as a new, scared young mom, I held my daughter out of the nursery on Wednesday night services up until the time she was seven months old because I was afraid that she would get sick if I put her in with other babies, and I would have to call off work. I had watched other co-workers provoke irritated responses from superiors when they had to leave early or call in sick to tend to sick little ones.

Petrified of disappointing my administration at my job but very much wanting to get back into Wednesday night choir practice, I didn’t know what to do. As I was trying to come up with a solution while walking the hall of the church one night, I felt the Lord very clearly speak to me and say, “Carol, you are putting your daughter above me.”

Whoa! I felt for sure that God would admire me for being a protective mother, but I learned that God was asking me to obey Him and get back into singing in that season without letting the expectations of my work or my own self-generated expectations about being a good mom take precedence over what God was asking me to do. (Rest assured that there are certainly times God asks us to set aside time just to mother, but for that particular time He had called me to another role as well.)

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. (Galations 1:10)

What my biggest assignment truly entails is being a daughter of the King and letting my service to others flow out of that secure place I find when I put my relationship with Him first. Although I have other important jobs that I am called to — mom, blogger, friend, wife, sister — when I keep my eyes fixed on Him, He helps me prioritize and balance the demands in my life so that I don’t end up sidetracked or overwhelmed.

Because when I fillet open my motives, lay them bare like a fish on a carving board, what lies underneath my desire to have glowing feedback to my writing and ministry is me. My desire to look good. And my job is actually to make Him look good. Yes, I am called to lay down my life for others, but I am called to lay down my life for Him first.

And His approval of me must be more important than the fleeting words of those around me.

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 write music lyrics (that no one has ever seen) 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 two children.

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Spread Thin

Suzy Lolley

I taught public school for eleven years. During that time, these were just some of the jobs I had:

Relay for Life Team Captain. Who knew that volunteering to help meant you were the leader? Not a second-year-teacher, apparently. Reading Department Chair. Beta Club Sponsor. Academic Bowl Coach. Cheerleading Coach. Don’t you have to be able to at least do a cartwheel for this? Hospital-Homebound Tutor. Helen Ruffin Reading Bowl Coach.

I’ve been involved in the same small church for twenty years, and the story there is the same. Worship leader. When-there’s-a-choir director. Sunday school teacher. Missions advocate. Wedding and funeral singer. Camp and retreat director. There are a million more, but I’m getting tired even looking at my own list…

I can’t even count how many times people in my life have asked me, “Suzy, why don’t you slow down?” Ironically, they are the same ones who ask me to help and appreciate my volunteer spirit.

I’ve tried slowing down. It’s almost impossible for me. I told my brother that I must have four times the average number of thoughts in a single day. Even if I’m lying down, my mind is running a constant to-do list.

You can see it. They can see it. I can see it.

I’m spread thin.spread thin

No one could possibly do all the things I feel I must do and still do them well. As the old adage goes, I often find myself being “Jack of all trades but master of none.” There was a woman in the Bible who I’m sure could have related to me. Martha.

She always gets a bad rap from those who would say to be more like Mary.

I appreciate worship. I love it and have led it for years. But I’m sure I’m not the only one who has yelled at times, “Why am I the only one doing all the work?” Most times the rage has been pointed inward, but at other times, I’ve let it spill over onto those “Marys” sitting there hanging out while I cook or clean or break my back.

Maybe they’re worshipping or taking time for the important things, but all I see is one thing. Laziness. Was that too forward? No, hopefully you were hoping for some honesty and relatability in this post.

I’m not going to stop being Martha. My husband has earned the nickname “Crockpot” because it seems we can never leave the house for a function without my asking him to carry his namesake.

But if I am destined to be Martha, how can I use it to my good? What practical advice can I take away from the Martha vs. Mary saga? Let’s read their story first from Luke 10 (NKJV):

Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, ‘Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.’ And Jesus answered and said to her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.’ “

Here are some practical takeaways I get from the story.

1. There are two distinct types of people in the world. Don’t get me wrong. I have very worshipful moments. My sister-in-law Rachel is a Mary, but she has some powerful serving moments. But we are not the same person. It doesn’t matter how I try to be a reflective, thoughtful, even-tempered Mary. I’m not one.

I’m a doer on most days. I just have to learn to do what adds to the kingdom, and over-extended busyness is not it. I can work and work, but I don’t want to get to the judgment seat one day and see that all of it amounted to no souls being saved.

2. It’s OK to be a Martha; you just have to temper your gifts. Martha is not a curse word. If Jesus hadn’t appreciated His friend’s cooking and serving, He wouldn’t have been in her house. But she was treating her Lord and Savior rudely. She wasn’t paying attention to Him at all, and she was asking Him to break up a fight of all things. And we are left with a Bible story that makes her look like a witch.

I wish I could say I didn’t relate to a lack of hospitality or putting my guests in the crossfire of my agitated mood. I wish that, but I can’t. Martha teaches me that I don’t want either of those traits to be my legacy.

3. The third takeaway is this. There are many good things, and then there is the best thing. Cooking is good. Cleaning is good. Planning and organizing and working are good. But worship is better. Not just better — best. When you and I lay down the tendency to be spread thin and instead embrace the arms that were spread out on the cross, all our work and all our plans will start to mean something.

I don’t want to be spread thin. I want to be a Martha Suzy with a purpose. As Psalm 127 says:

Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat — for he grants sleep to those he loves.”

Accept the gift of rest today, beloved. Let’s not do our work in vain.

Want more Suzy? Stop by and visit her brand new blog where she is taking a year to write about her journey from independence to Jesus-dependence.

 

 

 

Suzy Lolley

Suzy Lolley

Suzy Lolley taught both middle school and high English for many years, and is currently an Instructional Technology Specialist for the public school system, a wife, and a workaholic. She loves nothing more than a clean, organized house, but her house is rarely that way. She enjoys being healthy but just can’t resist those mashed potatoes (with gravy) sometimes. When she cooks, she uses every dish in the house, and she adores a good tea party. She loves Jesus and is spending the next year documenting her journey to a less independent, more Jesus-dependent life on her blog.

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