Work That Truly Matters

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

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

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

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

Truth to Dispel Our Disappointment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Resources:

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

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

Podcast Notes and Corrections:

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

 

 

 

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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Embracing Small Moments of Ministry

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As an English teacher, one of the core concepts I learned to teach was theme. It’s the author’s underlying message. It’s what he wants us to take away from a piece of literature. And one of those most common themes is that things are not always as they appear. They’re not as insignificant or even as accidental as they might first seem to be.

One such non-coincidental encounter started as many weekend days of my life do, at the thrift store. I am always drawn to a beautiful book cover (English teacher, remember?), and on this particular day, it was the cover of an anthology on Southernness from the editors of Garden and Gun Magazine. As I opened the book to a “random” page, I landed on an article that purported that Knoxville’s Chintzy Rose tea room and junk shop served tea that surpassed any other in the South. That’s saying something.

Well, how “concidental” then that I just happened to be planning a trip to my hometown in Virginia, and that Knoxville is the halfway point. How “strange,” too, that anyone I had asked to take the trip with me was unavailable. I was a little depressed about going by myself, but when I saw that article about the tea room, I determined to make an adventure out of my trip after all. When the day arrived, I put on an extended episode of my favorite podcast and set my sights on the halfway mark, where my personal roadside attraction was waiting.

When you’re alone, which for many of us happens in small doses and for others too often, you have time to reflect. As I prayed, worshipped, and listened to God on the way, I specifically prayed that I would not miss any plans God had for me that day. Four hours went by, and a little after lunchtime, I arrived at the Chintzy Rose, which was actually out of my way. I missed the little place the first time and even had to turn around to go back to it. When I walked in, antiques were everywhere, and I mean that literally. The shop was more than a little disheveled, but I felt so much at home already.

You see, my artist grandma, who taught me that a teacup should always have a thin lip and what it was to read Victoria magazine, always kept our house a little disheveled with her projects as well. I made my way to the back, beyond the shop, to the smallest tea room you’ve ever seen. There was one empty table, out of three, so I seated myself there. However, Knoxville is in the South, so I when I mentioned that I had driven all the way from Atlanta for the best sweet tea in the region, three ladies from an adjoining table insisted that I sit with them, the embodiment of Southern hospitality.

We sat and laughed together like we had been friends for years. These Christian ladies talked about their kids and grandkids, their work, and their ministries. We bantered back and forth with the owner and with the lady at the third table, and we even met Mrs. Tennessee America. We passed what was surely more time than they had allotted for their lunches, and by the time I said my goodbyes, I had an invitation to go on a thrift-store run with them.

One of the ladies in particular, Caroline, seemed more drawn to me than the others. I don’t recall what it was about her story at this point that connected us, but I do know that I ended my time there with her phone number and an invitation to come stay at her house the next time I was passing through. She came from a broken marriage and seemed to want genuine connection with other women, and I was happy to fulfill my same desire for connection too.

I left that little restaurant with more than just the vintage embroidery hoops I’d purchased and the refill of great sweet tea (it was, after all) in my hand. I left with an overwhelming peace and joy in my heart. I left knowing that, despite the fact that no major miracle had transpired, I had just had a divine appointment. I call that appointment, the one any outsider would have missed, even if they had been looking for it, small ministry. I went out of my way and by doing so encountered someone who needed me in a situation where I needed respite as well.

If you look at every area of my life, there appears to be chaos. From my physical house to my body to ministry transitions, it appears like I’m waiting for my big moment, the time when God will deliver me and finally bring me into the purpose He has for me. But does that mean He wants me to waste all those sweet-tea-and-small-ministry days? Not at all. So let’s examine three ways we can integrate small ministry so that it becomes perhaps the most impactful ministry of all.

3 Ways We Can Integrate Ministry Into Our Everyday

1. The more we take time to look for small opportunities, the more we naturally notice them.

If you’ll recall in my story, before I went to the teahouse, I was already praying and worshiping and asking God to do something with me. I’ve been much more conscious in recent years that the days in between my big moments must be used for some purpose. I’ve put myself in the mindset to look for opportunities to give people a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name. You will find what you look for. As my husband always says about spotting a million silver Hyundais on the road now that I have one, it’s true. In Jeremiah 29:13, Jesus says that very thing. We will find Him if we seek Him with all our hearts. He wants to be found by us. So if you’re waiting for your big moment, don’t miss all those other little moments in between.

2. We change ourselves when we help others.

I went to that teahouse lonely and stressed and concerned with my life’s current state. But I came out full of peace and hope. And even having had an encounter with a new friend. When I sat down at the table, I made it my purpose to return kindness for what had been shown to me when the ladies invited me to sit with them. But I ended up being the one to gain. Isn’t God like that? When we give to others, He says it comes back to us pressed down, shaken together, and running over. If you take time for small ministry, you will be the one ministered to.

3. Your ship may not have come in today, but I bet a kayak did.

In the last few years, my husband and I have joined what’s playfully called the “kayak clique.” There are six of us and hopefully more soon who have kayaks and like to get together to go out on the water. But kayaks aren’t easy. You are physically paddling and when a storm comes, you’re not in one of those boats with a big engine that can escape quickly.

You’re doing all the work and having all the pain. And it can make you feel like it would be so much better to have that big boat that everybody else is in. So many times, we are looking for a big ship to come in. That big opportunity or change, but we have to make sure not to neglect the days that come before. Next time you’re waiting for your big yacht-sized encounter with God or with others, don’t neglect that little kayak of opportunity that might be tied nearby.

You see, God is not interested in us just getting to our big destination. We might be goals-focused. We might want the next job or a bigger house or a better situation. But God is more interested in transforming us on the journey, burning up the dross, and transforming us to pure gold along the way. The kind of people who will actually be strong enough to bear up under the big opportunities when they come. That’s what small ministry is all about — taking time not to miss the opportunities in the everyday, the ones that will build us and transform us … and maybe not be so insignificant after all.

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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Is Jesus Worth the Cost?

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“I like the design on your shirt.”

I snapped out of my daydream at the teenage bagger’s words. “Oh, thank you!” I replied. Standing at the checkout line at the grocery store waiting for my groceries to be bagged, I hadn’t expected a comment to come in my direction. In fact, I hadn’t even given much thought as to the outfit I had on that day, but had thrown on an Old Navy tank top with a printed floral pattern and a zip-up sweatshirt. In an effort to engage him in conversation, I noticed the pattern on his necklace he was wearing and complimented him.

“Yeah, I like designs,” he admitted, as he bagged the last of my groceries. He then asked me if I had ever been to a particular medieval festival. I told him I had but I wasn’t really a fan of that festival. I debated whether or not I should tell him I was a bit wary of the festival because of the prevalence of art and trinkets that were relics of Wicca and other pagan religions. However, I decided against continuing the conversation as I was sure my comments would lead to controversial and uncomfortable spiritual territory. Instead, I thanked him and walked out. But all the while that I traversed the distance to my car, I thought about how I had left the conversation hanging and walked out on a perfectly good opportunity to witness.

After loading my groceries in the car, I pushed my car back into the store with a resolve to finish our conversation. I found him near the carts, putting a few away. He seemed a little surprised when I approached him and said, “Hey, I wanted to explain to you why I don’t like the festival you mentioned. I wasn’t trying to be rude.” I then explained that I was a Christian — and much of the focus of the artwork at the festival went against what I believed. Though I didn’t think it was wrong for people to go there, I wasn’t able to embrace much of the art being sold because the trinkets spoke of worship to other gods other than my own.

To my surprise, he opened up after that and told me that he had grown up in a Christian home (was still living at home as a college student), but that he had developed questions about Christianity and was looking into other religions. I asked him what some of his questions were and he explained them. They were easy ones to address — so I told him what the Bible said about those and encouraged him to investigate further. He said he would, and I walked back to my car.

Since then, I have seen him on occasion at the store. He has bagged my groceries a few more times, and we haven’t talked about religion since then, but he has been on friendly terms with me. Though he hasn’t abandoned his search for other religions, I am glad that we talked as I had no idea that he was searching when it came to what he believed.

Choosing Jesus or Choosing Comfort and Our Own Self-Interests

Our encounter reminded me that we will have moments throughout our day when we are presented with a choice: to choose Jesus or choose our comfort or what will appear to benefit us the most. Though my conversation with the bagger wasn’t as costly as other conversations I have had (where I have been sweating out more profusely what I will have to say), it did cost me in that I wasn’t sure how my comments would be received, and I had to linger around a little longer than I originally intended when I just wanted to go home.

Perhaps no other story highlights this idea of sacrificial giving as poignantly as John 12:3-8. This account is also given in Mark and Matthew but tells the story of Mary anointing the feet of Jesus with a costly nard. However, in John’s account, the story takes on an angle that veers slightly from the other Gospel accounts.

Where the Mark and Matthew accounts highlight the beauty of Mary’s generous act, the account in John contrasts her action with that of another person — Judas. Let’s take a look at the passage:

Then Mary took a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But one of the disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, ‘Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.’ He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. ‘Leave her alone,’ Jesus replied. ‘It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.’

While Mary gave all she had out of sheer devotion to her Lord and gratitude for what He had done for her (in his most recent act of raising Lazarus, her brother, from the dead), Judas was concerned only with how such a large sum would be “wasted” in her service an ministry to Jesus.

However, as John explains, Judas’ “concern” was merely a pretense, saying: “He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief” (v. 6 ). Judas was the treasurer of the group and frequently helped himself to the money. As scholars say, Judas was most likely eyeing Mary’s costly gift and wishing he could get his hands on it.

Jesus quickly set him straight, however, and said to all in hearing that Mary’s gift would prepare his body for burial. In the Matthew account, he called Mary’s act “beautiful” (26:10). The word in the Greek is one that refers to that which is honorable — an outward expression of an inner good. Both Judas and Mary’s actions revealed to us what was in their hearts. Mary was willing to give away her most precious possession, as well as humiliate herself and endure ridicule for the sake of His name, whereas Judas was clearly only interested in that which would require no sacrifice and would serve his own interests.

Sadly, just a few passages later, we see Judas’ greed reach new levels. After the last supper with Jesus, he went to the chief priests to negotiate the terms to hand over Jesus. As some commentaries note, Judas leave of Jesus wasn’t a split-second decision he made during the last supper. Most likely, Judas had been planning to desert Jesus for some time — as hinted at earlier in his rebuke of Mary. As commentator Warren Wiersbe notes, perhaps Judas made plans to leave Jesus because he was disappointed Jesus wasn’t going to conquer Rome. Or perhaps he didn’t expect the road with Jesus to look like it had. Whatever the reasons, they were ones he had been cherishing for some time.

Repentance Helps Us Turn When We Don’t Choose Jesus

Unfortunately, don’t all of us have a little Judas in us? At different junctures, when our walk with Jesus leads us to moments like I had in the grocery store where we will have to engage in an uncomfortable conversation, give up some of our time, or look different, we might say, Should I really give away this much for Jesus? Is He really worth the cost? We may be tempted to forego talking with others or standing up for what we know to be right because such actions in the moment may require an extreme sacrifice of time and effort. But that’s the upside down aspect about Christianity. We give up what we want to gain everything and lose everything we think we want when we try to keep it (Matthew 16:25).

What we see with Mary and Judas is that Mary’s gift, while initially very expensive both in terms of financial and social cost, was absolutely worth the cost — and a gift that she actually received a return from. Her act brought honor to her Lord and has been a story told for generations to highlight her goodness. Judas’ story, on the other hand, has also been one told for generations for the worst kind of reasons — to show us what we shouldn’t do.

Judas, filled with guilt over betraying a close friend and an innocent man, returned and pleaded with the chief priests to take back the money and release Jesus. But they had what they wanted, so they had no use for the money. When they didn’t accept it back, Judas threw the coins on the temple floor and then went and hung himself.

Judas’ life didn’t have to end this way — in ruin and misery. So, what could he have done differently? He could have responded to Jesus’ call to restoration. When Jesus instructed him firmly, saying, “Leave her alone … You will always have the poor among me, but you will not always have me” (vv. 7, 8), Judas could have agreed with the Lord’s words and repented — allowing Jesus to do needed heart surgery. But instead he simply kept going where his own heart desired.

When we realize that we’ve made poor decisions or haven’t lived the way we should as Christians, we can heed Jesus’ call and return. We don’t have to keep going down a path that leads to ruin. Jesus knew all along what Judas was doing — in pilfering from the money bag, in criticizing the service of others — and yet, he kept Judas close, even sitting right next to Judas at the last supper, to give Judas every opportunity to make a change and go the right way. And yet, Judas persisted in his own way — and each action led him further and further away until he left Jesus completely.

The world’s temptations call for us to get off track, to go the easy road that has no resistance, persecutions, or pain, but we can follow a higher call. The road is hard and twisted with thorns, but it leads to life. We won’t be perfect in our Christian walk. We’ll make mistakes and act more like Judas than Mary sometimes. But when Jesus confronts us with our own wrongdoing, we can accept His correction and choose to change .

If we don’t, our wrongdoing will simply lead to more wrongdoing until we find ourselves in a place, like Judas, where we never meant to be. The Bible tells us that it is the Lord’s “kindness” that leads to repentance (Romans 2:4), so let’s not harden our hearts today but accept whatever discipline God sends our way (Hebrews 12:6).

“The lesson of faith once learned, is an everlasting application and an eternal fortune made; and without faith even riches will leave us poor.” — Days of Heaven upon Earth, Streams in the Desert

Related Bible Verses:

1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

Related Resources:

The chronology of events described in Jesus’ last days leading up to his death differs slightly in John from the other Gospels. For instance, John places the date of the Passover meal of the Jews after the last supper, whereas the other Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) identify the last supper as the Passover meal. Read more about this here.

Would you like to hear the song mentioned in the podcast? Check out Crowder’s “Come as You Are” for more encouragement.

Like the podcast episode that accompanies this article? Check out past episodes in our brand new podcast archive.

 

 

 

 

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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Competition and Jealousy in Christian Ministry

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As I shared in a previous post, I served as a volunteer on a church launch team years ago. While many churches in the community celebrated and came alongside us to help promote our new church, the church office also received a call from a church that didn’t have a friendly agenda. They weren’t excited about a new church in the community taking away new members.

The story made me think about the unfortunate reality that sometimes we feel jealous of others in a ministry setting. We may have to watch while they get a position that we want for ourselves or they are successful in an area we are struggling in, and the temptation in that moment is to question God and act in ugly ways to promote ourselves.

However, there is a correct way to respond. When we’re not in the place we want to be in ministry or otherwise, we can rest in these three truths from Scripture:

1. Promotion comes from the Lord.

If we aren’t in the position we want in ministry, the temptation is to run to complain to another or demand whatever position we think we should have. However, we need to go to God first in prayer. God may tell us some things we don’t really want to hear when we go to Him, but He is the One who elevates. Psalm 75:6, 7 says: “No one from the east or the west or from the desert can exalt themselves. It is God who judges: He brings one down, he exalts another.” Similarly, 1 Peter 5:6 tells us, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.”

We need to not only pray about our situation, but pray for and support those in leadership over us. God has raised them up to be our leaders and put them in those prominent positions. Obviously, there can be those who abuse power and create unhealthy situations in ministry. That does happen and is a topic for another post; I am not suggesting that you accept an abusive situation.

However, I am saying that when we view our situation with the knowledge that God promotes, we view Him as our Source rather than the leader. In a healthy situation, we can serve faithfully in whatever role we’re in (however small), and we can trust Him to raise us up in His timing. If indeed we need to have a conversation with a leader about a role we would like to have, we can do so with wisdom and grace.

2. The Lord has an appointed time for everything. His timing is often not our timing.

Abraham and Sarah in the Bible waited a really long time for their promised child, and yet God had an appointed time to give them the child He had promised, and He wasn’t on their timetable.

They got frustrated and worried and hasty and tried to make the promise come true on their schedule by formulating a plan to receive the promised child through Sarah’s maidservant, Hagar, but it only made things worse. Though Hagar did become pregnant and had Ishmael, he wasn’t the child that God had promised.

As these events show us, we cannot make happen in our own lives what only God can make happen. Period. The end. Only God can orchestrate supernaturally the right events to make happen what He has promised. We can try to force events to go our way, but then we’ll be fighting against God, and we will create an “Ishmael” in our lives. The best thing we can do is submit and simply work on what He has given us to work on at the moment and trust Him to take care of the rest. As Ecclesiastes 3:1 reminds us, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” Along the same vein, Daniel 12:12 tells us, “Blessed is he that waits.”

Streams in the Desert, my favorite devotional, pairs the passage from Daniel with the following excerpt from Morning by Morning: “It may seem an easy thing to wait, but it is one of the postures which a Christian soldier learns not without years of teaching. Marching and quick marching are much easier to God’s warriors than standing still.” Waiting is a discipline — just like marching — and if we have been given no new orders by God, we need to be patient and make sure we don’t get ahead of God.

3. Getting to the promise is a process.

As I expressed in my previous two points, when we are promised something, we want it right way. However, God has refining and teaching work He plans to do before He allows us to have what is promised.

It has been said that Israel had a whole lot of Egypt to leave behind when God led the Hebrews out of Egypt. They spent 40 years in the wilderness learning to trust God and learning about God before God led them into the Promised Land. Years of living in Egypt had influenced them in wrong ways. And, at particular points in their journey, they begged to go back to Egypt because even though they were in bondage there, they knew what to expect and were not in a wasteland.

Similarly, when Paul was called on the road to Damascus, he still had to go through an intense 3-year period to get to know Jesus and more about His mission. He had spent the greater part of His life persecuting Christians and those in what He called “The Way.”

Joseph had a dream in which his brothers bowed down to him, but they hated him and sold him into slavery. After the dream, he was falsely accused by his master’s wife and thrown into prison for 12 years. God used that time to grow him before he rose to prominence as a governor in Egypt.

David went back to sheep-tending as a lowly shepherd after he was anointed king. There was a whole long process of training and experience that would happen before he ever reigned in a palace. He spent years on the run from King Saul. He often must have wondered, “What in the heck is going on? Aren’t I supposed to be king here?” Yet, such a position demanded years of preparation and situations that would train Him for the role.

In my own life, as I’ve surveyed some of the difficulties and conflict in answering God’s call, I’ve wanted to know why in many cases. I believe God has allowed certain situations for training purposes. I’ve begun to see them in that light. Just as with the military, they allow soldiers to simulate the type of experiences they might have in combat. God gives you those experiences you need in your life to train you for the role He has called you to (2 Timothy 2:3, 4).

The training God has us go through is not about being “good enough” for God — we are called “saints” and “holy” upon conversion because of Jesus’ work on the cross. But in our lives as believers, God works out unfavorable traits and attributes in a sanctification process. Especially if God has called us into a role where we will be teaching others, He will expect from us more than He will expect from others. Building that kind of character takes time (James 3:1).

Conclusion:

Being patient and waiting for God to work out what He has promised in our lives and not rushing ahead of Him when we get impatient is not easy. My former pastor once gave a story of a time he went to Disneyland and couldn’t get in the gate because something went wrong with his ticket. God’s promises can be like this pastor’s ticket — we have it in our hands, and when it hasn’t yet come true, we look longingly onto the other side of the gate where we long to be.

However, we have to submit to God’s plan and timing if we want His plans to work out in our lives. Although we may not like the wait or the path that leads to His promises, we should know that though we may suffer and have trials a little while, these will not last forever — and in time, He will give to us what has been promised. As 1 Peter 5:8-11 (MSG) says:

Keep a cool head. Stay alert. The Devil is poised to pounce, and would like nothing better than to catch you napping. Keep your guard up. You’re not the only ones plunged into these hard times. It’s the same with Christians all over the world. So keep a firm grip on the faith. The suffering won’t last forever. It won’t be long before this generous God who has great plans for us in Christ — eternal and glorious plans they are! — will have you put together and on your feet for good. He gets the last word; yes, he does.

What about you? Are you waiting on a promise from God that is taking a really long time? Share with us in the comments!

Related Resources:

For more on the topic of combatting comparison, listen to our previous episode on avoiding comparison that leads to depression.

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

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

*Updated January 17, 2018

 

 

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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What Christian Service Really Is

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My mom, an elementary school teacher, taught until she became pregnant with me. During her pregnancy, she had a few health concerns at the beginning. Thus, the doctor recommended that she quit teaching in order to take care of herself and better fulfill the demands on her at home.

After that conversation with the doctor, my mother stepped away from her teaching job and became a stay-at-home mom. She always talked about going back to teaching. She had bins of elementary school materials “just in case.” However, except for a few subbing jobs and brief temporary positions, my mom never went back to her former career.

Certainly, I am thankful for her sacrifice. I know that she missed teaching and put aside a job she was very good at to better serve us at home. Indeed, we admire those who give of themselves to make our lives better: police officers who put their own safety on the line to make our community safe; nurses who work overnight shifts to care for patients; military men and women who leave their families for months to go on deployment. These individuals have our admiration because we know the personal cost of their choices.

A Woman Who Gave up Much for Jesus

A woman in the Bible who sacrificed much for Jesus was Mary of Bethany, as told in Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9, and John 12:2-8. After Jesus raises Mary and Martha’s brother, Lazarus, from the dead, they hold a dinner where Jesus is in attendance. During the dinner, Mary goes quietly into the room where males are reclining with Jesus around a table and pours an expensive bottle of perfume over Jesus’ head and feet. She then wipes his feet with her hair.

Many in the room are shocked or offended by her lavish display of affection. The disciples complain that the money from the sold bottle of oil could have been given to the poor. Others see her behavior as inappropriate, as Jewish women normally wore their hair bound. Jesus, however, defends Mary’s action. He is pleased by her costly gift to Him and remarks that she has done a “beautiful thing” and her action will be told “in memory of her” wherever the Gospel is preached (Matthew 26:13).

Surely, when others jeered at her, staring at her in scorn, she could have retreated in fear and chosen not to pour the nard on Jesus. But she persevered, and in doing so, she ministered to Jesus. As a result of her anointing of Him, the beautiful fragrance of her act filled the entire room. Despite their disapproval, others were unable to erase the lingering effects of her gift.

What Mary’s Act Teaches Us About Serving Others

When we read this story, it’s easy to skim through the details without getting the full effect of their meaning. Mary not only gave away a very expensive jar of oil that cost her a great deal in terms of finances (a year’s wages to be exact), she gave away that which was even more precious: herself. She used her own hair to wipe Jesus’ feet.

While God will ask for our money or resources in our service to Him, He will also ask us to sacrifice other things: our time, reputation, dreams, and personal goals. When we act kindly to others and act as the “hands and feet of Jesus,” those acts require us to give of ourselves. For instance, we may be in the grocery store just trying to get our shopping done when God nudges us to speak to someone. We may be enjoying some time with our kids at the playground when we encounter a woman who is lonely and wants to share her story.

We want to be compassionate, but our flesh screams against giving ourselves to the work of God because the gift will cost us something. In her New Day, New You devotional, Joyce Meyer explains that she felt called to give away a pair of earrings. She didn’t want to give the earrings. She wanted to keep them for herself, but she felt the Holy Spirit tell her that the free gift we give to others is never free for us; it will come at a price. Ultimately, though, we can give up whatever God asks of us because of Jesus’ sacrifice for us on the cross.

In America, we always want to know, “What’s in it for us?” Most of the marketing campaigns are designed to lure us with promises of “You need this. You deserve this. It’s all about you.” We can have that same approach in our spiritual life. Following God’s call is desirable if there is something in it for us. And unquestionably, we gain everything when we follow God. The Bible is clear about the blessings and benefits of following Christ, but it comes at a cost of losing worldly possessions and pursuits (Philippians 3:7-10).

To follow God requires us to allow God to strip away our own aspirations and ideas about how He will use us. While not all of us are called to a vocational ministry role, all of us are called to serve others and share the love of Christ right where we are. As Chrystal Evans Hurst said in a Proverbs 31 Ministries She Speaks conference, ministry isn’t about a stage or a book deal; ministry is about people: your neighbor, the person sitting next to you in the waiting room, your atheist family member. Personally, I can get so focused on “ministry” as far as the work I do in writing blog posts — and I do consider that ministry — I can neglect the people that God has put right in front of me.

A song that’s been running through my head this week is “Open Hands,” by Laura Story. The lyrics say this: “I’m not afraid of what I’ll lose / My greatest joy is finding You.”

Maybe we’re afraid to live with open hands because we’re afraid of what we’ll lose, but here’s the amazing thing about God: When we give it all, we aren’t left empty-handed. When we are kind, God repays us for our kindness and takes care of our needs (Proverbs 11:25).

I am not saying this as a prosperity message; we shouldn’t give to just get from others. But I am saying that when we give of ourselves, God fills us up in return.

Mary’s gift didn’t just minister to Jesus. Her gift has ministered to millions of people — through the Word of God. As Jesus predicted, the fragrance of Mary’s act affected not only those in the room that day but scores of others who have read of her story in Scripture.

However, to give her gift, she had to break the seal holding tight the jar of nard. She had to break past her societal inhibitions and say no to her flesh that would tell her that such a gift was insane and extravagant. She had to fully empty herself to best give herself to Jesus.

Similarly, it’s when we allow ourselves to be broken open for others, when we offer to use our own hair to wipe the feet of Jesus — God can use that which we are holding onto to minister to others. Because that which we release in the service of God for His glory, however costly, is that which comes back to us in full measure (Luke 6:38). In contrast, that which we hold onto that God asks of us, is that which we will eventually lose.

I don’t know about you, but I want to be a person willing to give my life to Jesus in such a way that I am grateful and happy to give away whatever it takes without lamenting the cost.

Related Bible Verses:

1 Corinthians 15:58 (MSG): “My dear, dear friends … don’t hold back. Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for Him is a waste of time or effort.”

Romans 12:1: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God — this is your true and proper worship.”

Deuteronomy 15:10 (NLT): “Give generously to the poor, not grudgingly, for the Lord your God will bless you in everything you do.”

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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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 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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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 love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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The 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 love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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When 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 also leads worship on occasion. In addition to these roles, Rachel is a wife and mom to two kids, Isaac and Evelyn. Rachel currently resides in Georgia with her husband and kids.

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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.

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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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