Avoiding a Place of Spiritual Stagnancy by Allowing God to Work on Us (Blessings of Brokenness Book Study)

THE BLESSINGS OF BROKENNESS (4)

In HGTV’s “Fixer Upper,” married couple Chip and Joanna Gaines take run-down houses and fix them up into beautiful, livable spaces.

In each episode, the Gaines show a client three different properties (generally houses in need of repair) and then remodel the house to the client’s specifications within a specific budget.

The condition of the houses varies depending on the episode; however, I was surprised to see one particular segment where the clients selected a “shotgun house” from the 1920s. After the Gaines discovered that the property was already sold to an investor who was tearing the houses down (but willing to give the dilapidated house away to anyone willing to move it), the buyers still decided to opt for this house and have it moved to another piece of property.

I say “surprised” because the house was in such terrible condition I couldn’t imagine how it would survive a transfer to another location. I made the comment to my husband that the house just needed to be bulldozed down.

However, to the Gaines’ credit, they very carefully moved this old, forgotten house, set it on a new foundation, and went to work bringing new life to the ancient structure. Chip had to evaluate what could stay as far as structure and what had to be added. I was amazed at the care and effort that went into restoring this house that, in my opinion, should have been condemned.

It got me thinking about the fact that God comes in and does the same kind of restoration work in us.

Chapter 7 of Charles Stanley’s The Blessings of Brokenness reveals just how much effort God is willing to go with each of us in the breaking and rebuilding process. While we may look just as unusable and worn out as the shotgun house in the “Fixer Upper’ episode, God looks at us and sees what we can be made into — not what is already there.

A few things we can keep in mind about the restoration process:

1. There is a plan to the breaking process.

Just as Chip had to survey the shotgun house in its current state and determine what needed to be ripped out and rebuilt, God does the same with us.

However, as Stanley notes in The Blessings of Brokenness, God’s breaking process is controlled (86). What looks to us like total chaos is in the total control of our Maker. He looks at us and knows what elements are rotten and broken — what needs to be stripped away — and what can remain.

Though it may not look initially to us like any progress is being made, as our Master Carpenter rips out old pieces of us, He has an end result in mind. It looks ugly before the renewal and new construction can begin — but the final result will be worth it.

2. Part of the plan is that God “targets the areas” that keep us from relying on Him.

As part of the breaking process, God identifies areas that are not contributing to your growth. As Stanley observes, you may already know the area of your life that God is “drawing a circle around” because it forms a barrier between you and God, and He will destroy and remove that area (90). Just like a house cannot be enhanced by old rotten boards or materials, there are places we have that God needs to rip out so that He can put in fresh, new materials.

We know when something hinders a free flow of the Spirit of God in us. We know when something stops us from witnessing or from having victory in our daily lives. We know when something consumes our attention, disrupts our peace, or magnetizes our thinking. God certainly knows when this happens, and he knows far sooner and more completely than we know it! (The Blessings of Brokenness, 90)

When we know God is targeting an area, what should we do? We should submit to the process and give up our “right” to have a final say as to the outcome. As Stanley suggests, we should ask God, “What would you have me do?” (103). Unfortunately, the rebuilding process for many of us is one that we want but also resist because it is so painful.

As much as we want to be used by God and be built into His perfect masterpiece, we are human. We don’t want the pain. We don’t like the methods God uses, and we want control.

But, as Stanley warns, if we resist, it will not go well for us. The pressure may intensify, and if we resist long enough, we will face a place of stagnancy in our Christian walk. God leaves us in the state we’re in. And there’s nothing worse than an unfinished masterpiece. I know because I lived in a house for years that was unfinished. My dad started the project of building my childhood home but left it undone for many years.

Living with particle board floors, knob-less doors, scaffolding outside the house, and constant construction chaos wore on me. I always longed for a completed house that we could be proud of. There was a sense of closure inside when I saw the house finished my senior year of high school.

Just like the satisfaction I felt when I saw my own house finished, the clients in the “shotgun house” episode of “Fixer Upper” also expressed that same satisfaction when they saw their house finished. The aging wood had been ripped out and replaced. New drywall, plumbing, and electrical had been installed.

The floors had been sanded down, stained and restored to their former glory. New cabinets, paint and fixtures sparkled in every room. It was astounding to see the transformation. Who would have thought such a reformation possible?

The question is, when we feel like God is circling an area of our life for transformation — fear, pride, self-sufficiency, whatever it may be — will we yield to the breaking or resist?

We can be assured that “God makes no mistakes in the breaking process … “ (104). Ultimately, His purpose is not to “destroy us, but to bring us to a position of maximum wholeness, maturity and usefulness in His kingdom” (102).

Questions to Consider: Is there an area of your life God may be drawing a circle around? What is He telling you in regards to this area?

Book Study: This post is part of a five week book study over Charles Stanley’s The Blessings of Brokenness: Why God Allows Us to Go Through Hard Times. We will have a live video chat over chapters 7 & 8 this Tuesday, July 5, @ 9 PM. Please note the date change from our usual Monday night time to Tuesday to account for the July 4 holiday. Click the video chat link to subscribe or watch the replay. To join us for next our last week, read chapters 9, 10 & Epilogue by next Friday, July 8.

 

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to write music lyrics (that no one has ever seen) and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and two children.

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Letting Your Dream Die In Order to See It Live (Blessings of Brokenness Book Study)

THE BLESSINGS OF BROKENNESS (2)

“Before any of us can fully live as God created us to live, we must first die to our desire to control our own lives or live life according to our plan and will” (The Blessings of Brokenness, 28).

Sometime this past summer, before the air grew crisp and the scents and sights of autumn were in the air, I took my kids outside to let them play in the backyard.

As I sat observing them while they ran around and played, I watched my daughter beat a small tree with a stick. Pretty soon my son joined in with a stick he had found, following his sister’s lead.

“What are you doing?” I asked after a few minutes.

“I want it to be fall,” my daughter said as she continued to beat determinedly at the slender trunk, trying to shake the green leaves off.

“Oh sweetie, you can’t make the leaves come off before they are ready,” I said. As I spoke, I thought of the spiritual lesson that could be taken from my children’s insistence on creating a season that hadn’t yet come. Don’t many of us do the same thing?

A Desire to Be Used in Music Ministry Out of Season

Some time ago, I sat in a church service with an uneasy heart. There was a music opportunity that I wanted to be a part of, but I felt unsettled in my spirit. That very afternoon, I was scheduled to meet with a new worship pastor, and yet I felt a tugging deep inside. A pause.

During the course of the sermon, it began to dawn on me that perhaps I wasn’t to walk into this opportunity. Perhaps I was to say no. The pastor didn’t mention music in his message or say anything about my specific situation.

Instead, he gave a story about his brother having a choice from the school about taking a 7th grade math course over and not wanting to do it, but his parents insisted on it because his math skills were weak. And I knew right then that there was “a 7th grade math” that God wanted me to take. To do so was going to take discipline and was going to be a lot less fun than singing on a stage and writing songs.

There was a training that I was to go to instead and project I was to finish. I was going to try to do all of that and music at the same time, but I began to get the sense that I wasn’t to go that route. I agonized over that decision all afternoon. I even went to the meeting hoping that maybe I heard wrong during the sermon.

But like a bell tolling in my spirit, the ring getting louder and louder throughout the day, I knew that God was telling me “no” in regards to music. And it was the hardest no I have ever had to accept. I didn’t like the idea that God could control my talents. Yes, I wanted to surrender and do all of the things that you hear about in worship songs. But when it came down to it, I only wanted to surrender if it was easy and God didn’t ask for hard things from me.

I wanted to be in a different season than the one I was in.

It wasn’t until later that I remembered a phrase I had heard once in a sermon: sometimes you have to kill something first to make it live.

A Test of Faith: When God Asks You to “Kill” a Talent or a Dream

In Genesis 22, as Charles Stanley notes in The Blessings of Brokenness, Abraham is instructed to sacrifice his only son. Obviously, I am not instructing you to murder anyone and neither is God — and that’s not a discussion we’ll be getting into in this post — but Abraham was asked to step out in faith.

Abraham obeyed and prepared to do what God asked. As he was preparing the altar, his son asked him, “Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” (v. 7). Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son” (v. 8). Right at the moment when he was going to plunge a knife into Isaac, an angel intervened and offered Abraham a ram. Verses 14-17 tell us:

And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called the name of that place, ‘The Lord will provide’; as it is said to this day, ‘on the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.’ And the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven and said, ‘By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore.’

Abraham believed the whole time that he was being asked to sacrifice his son that God would provide a lamb. And sure enough, when he presented all he had to God in the ultimate test of faith, God came through for him.

Clearly, God has our good in mind even if what He instructs us to do initially looks like a death of some kind. A death of a dream. A death of our reputation. A death of an opportunity. We can trust that where He leads us, even if it means giving up something precious, will end in good. He will provide when we give up all we have.

In fact, His plans for us will be better than those we come up with ourselves. As Stanley observes:

If we are willing to give up striving [after our own goals] and seeking after them no matter the cost, and instead, turn to God, he will satisfy all of our longings for the future with perfect fulfillment. If we are willing to give up defining our own future, he’ll give us something better than we could ever arrange, manipulate, or create. (34)

… You can never lose in surrendering your all to God. You can never lose in giving yourself away. (41)

But we have to trust even when that means giving up something very promising or attractive that we don’t want to let go of.

Being Obedient to God and Accepting the Season He Has Us in

As of now, I am still not in music. I believe that is yet to come, but let me share with you what did happen as a result of giving up that promising opportunity two years ago:

  • I went to a training that answered the spiritual questions I was battling with at the time. Many of the principles I learned in that training are those I write about here on this blog and share with you on a regular basis.
  • I worked on a project I had started that involved going back to my former school community. During the process of going through that project, God revealed to me the wounds I was struggling with (mainly, an addiction to approval). Identifying those wounds helped me find inner healing and helped me be able to find forgiveness and restoration where there had been guilt and shame in my past.
  • God worked on my pride and my competitive spirit by placing me in a different position in the church. He worked out some of my unfavorable traits week after week by putting me in a position of service to others rather than a position of prominence.
  • God gave me the directive to start a blog to share my journey and story of healing with other women. The time and energy I had to invest to learn the world of blogging was more than I would have been able to invest in if I had been in music.
  • As a result of the school project that I really didn’t want to do, God opened a door I did not expect by orchestrating a job change for my husband and a move for our family to a new community. Although I didn’t know it at the time, we were not meant to stay at the church we were at but instead were intended to move to an entirely different area.

Friend, as Nicki Korzaiz emphasizes in 5 Habits of a Woman Who Doesn’t Quit, we need to “accept the season” that God has put us in. Perhaps we are in a season of refinement or hardship, and we don’t like it. But He knows what we are going through, and if we believe that He truly has our best interests in mind and will make more out of us than we can in our own strength, we can submit to the hardship knowing that there is a blessing on the other side.

As Abraham reasoned when he bound his son to the altar in obedience, God can provide a lamb where there is none or bring the dead back to life (Genesis 22:7,8; Hebrews 11:17-19). Therefore, there is no sacrifice too great — not even that which we perceive as the death of a dream or our most precious talent or possession — because God can give to us or resurrect whatever it is He asks us to lay down.

Questions to Consider: Is there something God is asking you to put aside or sacrifice at the moment? Are you questioning His wisdom because it doesn’t make any sense? Leave a comment below.

Book Study: This post is part of a five week book study over Charles Stanley’s The Blessings of Brokenness: Why God Allows Us to Go Through Hard Times. We will have a live video chat over chapters 3 & 4 this Monday, June 20, @ 9 p.m. EST. Click the video chat link to subscribe or watch the replay. To join us for next week, read chapters 5 & 6 by next Friday, June 24.

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to write music lyrics (that no one has ever seen) and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and two children.

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The One Thing I Have Needed the Most in Ministry

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

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

Recently, however, I encountered a story in the Bible of a woman who gives me a model to emulate concerning ministry. In Luke 2:36-38, we encounter Anna, a prophetess, who served as one of the first witnesses of Christ as the Messiah. One day in the temple, she saw Jesus as a child with his parents, spoke to them, and then went and shared with the community about what she had seen. This is her account:

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

These few lines tell us so much about a woman who lived an effective life of Christian service. Though she didn’t seek out attention or applause, she still encountered Jesus and was used by Him in a big way.

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

1. Jesus wants to use us.

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

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

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

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

However, as we see with Anna in the story, service to God is more about making ourselves available than it is about our impressive skills or qualifications. Although Anna didn’t have a questionable past or insecurities about her ability to be used, she had little status or clout in her society. A woman in her time was not considered as reliable as a man to be a witness in a courtroom — and yet, God entrusted her with the task of serving as a witness to the Messiah to her community.

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

2. God gives us the message and the plan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beulah Girl Feb 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s Idea of Ministry

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

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

While it has felt these past few years that I have been going nowhere, and that there has been no plan, I can see that God had (and does have) a way He was leading me all along. As pastor and author Charles Stanley notes in The Blessings of Brokenness:

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

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

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

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

And these broken parts you redeem

Become the song, that I can sing …

Somehow my story is a part of your plan

Here I am.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to write music lyrics (that no one has ever seen) and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and two children.

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When You Are Unsure of Your Purpose

Beulah Girl Feb 2016 (1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Acknowledge your gifts.

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

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

Beulah Girl Feb 2016 (1)

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

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

2. Be thankful for the gifts of others.

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

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

3. Remember whom you belong to.

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

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

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

Rachel Howard

Rachel Howard

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

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When You Want to Give up on Your God-Given Dream

God-given-dream

Do you ever have those moments where your heart forgets that you’re a stable adult abounding with maturity, wisdom, and credit card bills? And instead, you find yourself believing in magic and fairy tales again like you did when you were four? I had one of those moments last night. My sister and I went to the Fox Theater in Atlanta, Georgia, to see Rogers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella. It was a part of a wonderful birthday gift from her, and when we were finally at the box office, our faces aglow under the light of the marquee, we knew that our night would be a magical one.

I think every little girl can relate to Cinderella. I certainly did growing up. And if last night is any indication, I still do. So much of what I saw struck a chord in me. Sorrows don’t last forever. Kindness is always the high ground. There is worth in us even when we don’t see it. Faith and hope are powerful weapons. But there was one line in the show that stayed with me.

After Cinderella’s magical night at the ball, her dreams to see the prince again are thwarted by her stepmother. As she cries in the dirt, her dress ripped to tatters and her hopes dashed to pieces, her fairy godmother arrives once more on the scene. And she says this to the broken Cinderella: “When you have a dream, expect that you will have to fight for it. Otherwise, how will you know that dream is yours?”

Important things are worth fighting for. And dreams from God are important things. Every step in His plan is essential. Every life is significant. Every promise He makes is crucial. And every dream He gives is vital. Take a moment and examine your life and recall the dreams that the Lord has put in you. I don’t mean glass slipper dreams of fancy living with a handsome prince and easy living because God doesn’t promise those things.

I’m talking about the God-inspired kingdom-driven dreams — the ones where the Savior of the world looked at you and invited you to join Him in His plan to rescue mankind. The ones that you leapt at and immediately started planning and walking in. The ones that you maybe were so jarred by or embarrassed of that you didn’t dare tell anyone.

Are you still walking towards them, still believing for them? Are you still fighting for them? Or have they been deemed “impossible” and discarded?

Oftentimes, when God gives us dreams and hopes, we squash them down as compact as we can get them, shove them in a lockbox, and swallow the key for good measure. Usually, it’s because we look at ourselves in the mirror and see the words “unworthy” and “incapable” written on our foreheads in sharpie. Or we entertain lies from the enemy that convince us those dreams aren’t from God at all but are products of our own selfishness or imagination.

But here’s the truth of the matter. If God has birthed something in you, something for you to do or say or start or carry out or whatever the case may be, then He must know something that you don’t. He must see something that you can’t. Isaiah 14:24 says, “As I have planned, so shall it be. As I have purposed, so shall it stand” (ESV).

Whatever it is that’s stopping you from fulfilling the calling of God on your life — thinking that you’re too small or sometimes thinking that the calling is too small — I urge you to remember that He makes no mistakes. God creates in all of us the capacity to hope for big things and the capacity to believe in Him for those things. And the dreams that you’re wrestling with, if they’re from the Lord, then they are for you to pursue and bring to the light. God did His part by giving them to you. It’s your job to chase them down before the clock strikes midnight.

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Cinderella had no problem letting her fairy godmother doll her up for the ball. She had no problem being charmed by and dancing with the handsome prince. But when it came time for her to fight for what she wanted, she wilted like a shriveled up rose and said, “If he sees who I really am, he won’t want me anymore.” I think that claim resounds in all of us. It’s the one that says that you and I aren’t enough. But she was enough as are we though it isn’t by our efforts. It isn’t by any measure of worth or capability that we might possess.

God looked at Jeremiah and told him he had appointed him to be a prophet to the nations when he was still forming inside of his mother, before he had strength or ability to boast of (Jeremiah 1:5). We’re enough simply by virtue of being God’s children. Isaiah 58:11 says, “The Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; you shall be like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail” (ESV). He makes us enough. He gives us dreams. Then He makes us strong enough to carry them.

If you’re looking for the typical fairy tale to motivate you, here it is. Once upon a time, you were lost and dirty and trapped. Then the King arrived astride a white horse with His sword in hand, and He looked at your cinder-covered face and found you worthy. And in order to win you, He exchanged His freedom for your bondage and laid down His life for you. He dressed you in the whitest robes He could find, placed shoes on your feet, and a ring on your hand. He calls you beloved, and He’s waiting for you on the other side of happily ever after.

But the fairytale doesn’t stop there. This same King exchanged your stone heart for a heart made of flesh, and He planted dreams in that flesh heart. They are dreams that accomplish His good pleasure and fulfill His Great Commission. Psalm 37:4 says that God grants us the desires of our hearts when we delight ourselves in Him, and the amazing thing is that when we walk with God, the desires of His heart become the desires of our hearts.

His Word tells us over and over again that if we trust Him, lean on Him, and acknowledge Him, He will establish our steps. And those steps will guide us to leading small groups, writing music, missionizing our workplaces, publishing a book, fostering children, starting businesses, earning degrees, launching ministries, winning our lost friends and family, whatever dreams God has planted in us.

If dreams were easy to come by, everyone would run after them. When dreams don’t unfold easily, human nature leads us to give up. But we aren’t slaves to our natures. If the Son has set you free, then you are free indeed. So walk in that freedom. Examine your dreams again, the ones you know came from God. Reawaken yourself to the idea of them. Invite the possibilities, whatever they are. And when your dreams buck against you as dreams as apt to do, plant your feet, straighten up the backbone that God gave you, and fight.

Whether that means silencing the voices of doubt and unbelief coming against you, re-submitting the article you wrote again even though it’s been rejected three times, or waiting expectantly for the next step God gives you instead of wallowing in disappointment. Whatever this looks like for you, grit your teeth, trust in the Lord, ball up your fists, and stand your ground. He’s worth it.

And the dreams He’s given you — however large, however small — are worth it, too.

Adriana Howard

Adriana Howard

Adriana Howard describes herself as "sort of a mess in pursuit of a great story." Adriana spent a year teaching high school English, and currently, she is teaching theater after school at a local elementary school. She also serves with her husband as a youth pastor at her church. One day, Adriana hopes to be a published author. For the time being, she wants to travel the world, adopt children, learn how to really love people, maintain a garden, go back to India, and work alongside her husband in ministry. Other passions of Adriana's include love war films, cooking, bulky typewriters, crowded airports, winter’s first snow, Elizabeth I, and books of all shapes and sizes. Last but certainly not least, Adriana has a passionate love for Jesus. You can connect with Adriana on her blog where she dabbles in fiction, nonfiction and poetry.

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Encouragement When the Road Feels Broken

Beulah girl dec jan

Our house has been for sale since the beginning of the summer.

After just a few weeks on the market, we received two offers. However, through a series of events, both offers fell through, and we’ve had a long stretch since then of realtors texting me at all hours of the day to see our property and the continued challenge of keeping it clean with two small children underfoot.

My husband’s new job (the one that necessitated our move) has been proving to be a stressful transition for my husband and our family. He has been commuting long hours and putting extra time into the basketball program where he is serving as a coach. As a result, I have had many long evenings and weekends alone with my small children.

To add to the mix, shortly after we lost the offers, I found out that I am pregnant.

While this is exciting news, at 36, everything in my body hurts — my knees, my legs, my stomach, everything! I’ve been fighting all-day nausea, so each day feels like an uphill battle. And to add to that, God keeps pruning away at character issues in me that has me feeling so worn out. All the cutting away God has been doing has left me feeling like I should just give up on myself. At certain intervals these past few weeks, I have wanted to back out on selling our house, on starting a ministry, on continuing to step out into the difficult territory God keeps calling me to.

However, just in the past two weeks, I’ve received texts from several old friends I haven’t spoken to in some time asking how I am doing, letting me know they were thinking of me. Another friend from years ago messaged me to ask me if she could pray for me. She said God had put me on her heart. Just her simple few lines brought me to tears because I felt so cherished and loved when I received her words.

I knew God had orchestrated these special contacts on my behalf. I knew that He was looking out for me and sending me much-needed comfort. I was reminded by my friends’ words of all the other times God had rejuvenated and motivated me to keep following Him down the path He had for me even when so many trials made me want to look for an easier way.

A Woman Who Walked a Difficult Road

Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a woman who must have longed at times for a simpler course. We often think of the Christmas card pictures of Mary — a serene woman garbed in blue cradling an equally serene Jesus. But what that picture does not portray is the pain she had to go through in being the mother of the Messiah. Let’s take a quick peek at Mary’s early road as the mother of Jesus:

— She was impregnated by the Holy Spirit as a virgin and had a whole lot of explaining to do to her family and fiancé.

— She was pregnant out of wedlock in a time when it was not socially acceptable for women to be pregnant without being married.

— She endured a long expedition on a mule while pregnant.

— Once the trip to Bethlehem was complete, the inns were too crowded to house her, so she had to give birth to Jesus in a stable.

And this was just at the beginning of her role as Jesus’ mama! I don’t know about you, but at this juncture I might have been ready to throw in the towel and tell God that I wasn’t cut out for this job, you know?

However, at this point in her journey, after the birth of Jesus in the stable, shepherds saw angels in the sky proclaiming Jesus’ birth and came to see this new infant king. And then the shepherds left to tell everyone in the town what they had seen.

These shepherds were strangers to Mary. They just showed up after Jesus was born and spoke of her baby with awe and wonder because of the message they had been given through the angels. After the proclamation of the shepherds’ news, the Scriptures tell us that Mary “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). To “ponder” means to “think about or consider something carefully” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary).

Most likely, the shepherds’ confirmation and joyous proclamation of her God-son was just the news Mary needed after a hard, long journey — a journey that was only beginning. Surely the shepherds’ visit validated Mary in a way that helped to lift her up after enduring tough circumstances.

Mary Examined the Other Moments in the Past

And perhaps Mary, in her pondering of the shepherds’ visit. was not only encouraged but was able to examine these newest developments in her story and her son’s story and gain further insight into the person she had birthed.

She could compare this newest spiritual occurrence with instances in the past: when the angel had visited her to tell her of the child she would bear; when she met with Elizabeth, and Elizabeth’s baby leaped for joy in her womb; and when Joseph was told by an angel in a dream that Mary had been impregnated by the Holy Spirit.

With each of these events, Mary could further be assured that God was with her and was indeed going to accomplish what He said.

Because so often God tells us a vision of what we will accomplish for Him but provides us with no other details, and those are not filled in until we are actually underway on the journey. Personally, I, too, have had a string of events that have gone beyond just the most recent messages from friends that have helped to not only comfort me but clarify a call that felt very fuzzy initially.

A few years ago when I was just starting to get a sense that God wanted me to start a ministry, I was visiting my parents in my home state of Washington and happened to attend a small church where no one knew me or my story. The first time that I visited, I received prayer from a woman who told me that God was going to use me in a big way in ministry. I gave her no details about myself, but she repeated and even expanded on what God had already told me.

The second time I visited, exactly one year later, the pastor himself approached me and gave me a prophetic word. He told me that God was going to use me to write curriculum for others and how God had given me administrative gifts that He was going to utilize in me to lead others. Just a few months after visiting his church, I knew what that “curriculum” was going to be. I felt God specifically tell me to write down the lessons He had taught me in a blog.

Even with these past occurrences where God has confirmed to me the direction I should go — I have felt distracted and pulled down by just how hard everything has felt the past few months. That big vision God gave me concerning how He wants to use me feels suffocated by the other things going on in my life.

His Comfort Keeps Me Going

But by receiving the comfort He is providing now and meditating on key times He has shown up for me in the last few years, as Mary did when she saw the shepherds, I have been able to find fresh inspiration and strength to continue on in my course.

Because the promise we have is this: whatever God has called us to as far as kingdom work is not work we do alone. He will refresh us in the process (Proverbs 11:25). Yes, there will be hardship and inconvenience and trials, but God is there to renew us at pivotal points.

And when I survey His faithfulness, I can rest knowing that the next stretch of the journey, whatever it is, however hard it is — is that which He has already charted.

I can know that those moments in the future, just when I am about to plunge into despair, when I am too weary to go on, is right where God will provide again — another pearl of encouragement to ponder.

Related Bible Verses:

“But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31).

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26).

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to write music lyrics (that no one has ever seen) and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and two children.

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When God’s Plans for You Are Different Than You Thought They Would Be

When God's Plans For you Don't Look Like You Thought They Would (2)

“Are you ever going to go back to teaching?”

The question comes from a neighbor of mine as I sit on the edge of the neighborhood pool, my legs dangling in the warm water. I am here with my kids soaking up one of the last days of summer before a new school year begins.

In hearing her question, I can feel myself tensing up. Of course she doesn’t know how much I dislike when people ask me that. People always have the best of intentions when posing the question, but I feel the implication: You know, are you ever going to get back to doing something?

Because the thing is, since leaving a career in education four years ago to follow a call into music and start a ministry, I’ve wrestled with the fact that I do things, but they just aren’t visible to everyone — and sometimes the results are not even visible to me. So yeah, on most days I feel like I do nothing at all. I take a deep breath. I can remark casually about how I am still needed at home and then change the subject. Or I can tell the truth.

I opt for the truth. Most of it, anyway.

“I am a writer,” I say. Even as the words tumble out of my mouth, I want to reel them back in. I feel ridiculous saying them. I quickly clarify. “Well, a blogger, actually. I am a singer, too.”

And that sounds equally ridiculous.

Sigh. Why is my life so complicated? I remember how easy it was to tell people what I did when I was a teacher. I brought it up myself in most conversations. The teacher title felt right because I had an official badge from the county, a classroom and 120 students on my roster every year who called me “Mrs. Whitaker.”

I felt the title must be true because others said it was. They validated what I believed I should do at the time by how they treated me and what they said.

But what if God is the only One who tells you do something? What if it feels like no one sees what you do? Does it make your calling any less true?

My Ministry Journey

As a child, I had the benefit of a huge community that supported me in singing — and whatever endeavors I set out on. I always had people asking me to perform solos at church and approaching me after the service to compliment me on my voice. Similarly, when I moved into my career as a high school English teacher, I received glowing praise and reviews from my department head and administrators, so it inspired confidence in me that I was right where I needed to be.

However, although I have had prophetic words to encourage me and people who have cheered me on in my journey into ministry, in my most current stage I have not had the supports I became so accustomed to in my earlier years. God has been clear to me on what I should do with certain gifts, particularly writing, but I feel a little ashamed to tell people what I do because I no longer have a badge or a contract with a company.

I’ve felt eyebrows raise and people give me polite smiles when I tell them what God has called me to. Because so much of what I do is unseen behind a computer screen and so much of my call has unfolded in a way that is unusual or hasn’t happened yet — it makes me not really want to explain.

He’s called me to use my writing to tell how He has freed me — but that requires me to share awkward parts of my story. I want to hide sometimes. I am a people-pleaser by nature. So much of my testimony goes against the grain of what people normally reveal about themselves, I feel like I might as well wear a sign that says, “Freak.”

He’s called me to music, but He asked me to give it up for some time and walk away from the worship team I wanted to be a part of. I have no musical prospects or contacts at the moment. Like Abraham waiting on a child — I am believing God to open a door in music again. But I feel that people must look at the reality of my situation and say, “Yeah right, that’s never going to happen.”

He tells me things and has given me a prophetic gift. But I am an extremely introverted person by nature — I am terrified of approaching people I don’t know. I have terrible anxiety when I do, and yet He often asks me to say very bold statements to people. And I think, Lord, why me?

Though I don’t argue with how He has gifted me, I’ve questioned the way He’s asked me to use these gifts. And I’ve questioned how His promises in allowing me to use these gifts have played out.

In Isaiah, we see a nation, like me, that was a bit stubborn in their thinking. Anticipating that they would resist God’s methods of deliverance from Babylon by the heathen King Cyrus, Isaiah warned them with these words:

“What sorrow awaits those who argue with their Creator. Does the clay pot dispute with the one who shapes it, saying, ‘Stop, you’re doing it wrong!’ Does the pot exclaim, ‘How clumsy can you be?’ ” (Isaiah 45:9 – NLT).

Essentially, Isaiah challenged what right the nation of Israel had to question the plans of the Almighty. God, through his prophet, used some vivid imagery to remind them that they were but earthen pots in the hands of the ultimate Potter. While they might be able to contest with other people or “pots” on the same plane — who were they to question the Lord of the entire universe?

And truthfully, when we look at the Israelites’ possible arguments, they seem silly in light of the fact that God was bringing them the deliverance they wanted so badly. They seemed to forget that God had their best interests in mind — although His modes were nothing like what they expected.

The Root of My Fear in Using My Gifts

Abraham’s wife, Sarah, was another person in Scripture who struggled to accept God’s plans. She laughed in her old age when she heard that she was going to deliver a child within a year’s time (Genesis 18:10-15). And then she denied that she had laughed!

Like Israel, she found God’s methods to be different than she thought they would be. So different she found it difficult to believe He would do what He had said. But God wasn’t fooled when she tried to back-pedal and say that she hadn’t laughed. He said, “Yes, you did laugh” (v. 15). Or, in other words, “Yes, Sarah, you did doubt me.”

And so it is with me. The Lord showed me the other day why I was afraid to use my gifts. Not only do I contest the way He has chosen for me to use them — I don’t believe half the time what He has said will come true because my circumstances have been so challenging, so not conducive of the dreams He has put in my heart. Although fear is most definitely a struggle for me — the bigger struggle for me is unbelief.

I am afraid to write because I doubt He gave me the words. Did you really tell me to say that, Lord?

I am afraid to tell people my destiny in music because I doubt it will come true. Are you sure you told me this, Lord?

I am afraid to give people a prophetic word because I doubt I really heard God. Did you really speak to me, Lord?

It is not easy to tell people, like the woman at the pool, the truth when they ask what I do because my answer is an act of faith.

But what I can learn from Isaiah’s words and Sarah’s response is that not believing God is offensive to Him. He had a warning for the nation of Israel and a rebuke for Sarah over their unbelief and distrust of His methods. While I think He wants us to be honest with Him, He also wants us to trust Him.

And even though both displayed doubt in His ways — He still graciously came through for them.

The Key to Using My Gifts: Letting God Have His Way

While I want to blame other people or my circumstances and say that I would be able to have more confidence if I had the support I needed — what does it matter how many people I have rooting for me if I am convicted inside of what God has said? And what does it matter what way He accomplishes what He has said as long as it is accomplished?

A poem I never really understood in college but understand now is John Donne’s Holy Sonnet 14. In it, the speaker struggles because he knows that God’s way is best, but his own human reason gets in the way. He records the struggle in these lines:

Batter my heart, three person’d God; for you

As yet but knock, breathe, shine and seek to mend;

That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend

Your force, to break, blow, burn and make me new.

I, like an usurped town, to another due,

Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;

Reason your viceroy [appointed ruler] in me, me should defend,

But is captiv’d, and proves weak, or untrue.

Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov’d fain,

But am bethroth’d unto your enemy;

Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,

Take me to you, imprison me, for I

Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,

Nor ever chaste, except you ravish thee.

The speaker concludes that he will let God “batter” him until he is God’s prisoner — in order that he can be free of himself, free to do God’s work as God intended.

Sometimes, because God’s way is so counter-intuitive — so foreign to my thinking, I think, God this cannot be the way. And because His plans require me giving up my own preconceptions, I want to fight Him even though I know He knows what He is doing.

But it is only in letting Him have His way that He can make me into what He intended me to be. It is only in laying aside my ideas of how His work should be accomplished in me that I accomplish His work at all.

Related Resources:

For more inspiration on not being ashamed to follow your call, Pam Jenkins’ Pearls of Grace devotional provides some words from a martyred African pastor about giving up all to follow Jesus Christ where He leads.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to write music lyrics (that no one has ever seen) and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and two children.

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Facing Conflict and Criticism in Leadership

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I like to lead things. As a former high school English teacher, I loved to sit down in the summer and map out my curriculum for the year. Although I had state standards and department guidelines, I had quite a bit of autonomy as far as how I wanted to arrange the texts and teach the content. The decisions about how I wanted to present the information and break down the concepts were very much up to me. And I liked it that way.

However, what I didn’t like so much about leadership was the pressure I felt to make the right decisions and the pressure I felt to appease others who critiqued me on the decisions I made. My last year teaching, the week before school began, I developed painful cold sores all of over my tongue. I was that stressed about a new course I was teaching. I did make it through that year — but not without any conflicts.

Though my teaching days are past, I am relearning again through heading a ministry that leadership is hard. It brings with it all sorts of problems and conflicts. Part of the reason I felt so much pressure my last year teaching is because I didn’t feel I was adequately skilled to teach that particular course. I felt that any criticism that came would most likely be valid. Similarly, I don’t feel skilled enough to be doing what I am doing now. Because my own self-confidence is so precarious, it can feel extra-debilitating when I get criticism.

A story that I have been gleaning much from as of late is the story of David. He provides some interesting lessons in dealing with conflict as a leader:

1. Sometimes criticism comes even when we’re doing the right thing.

As I mentioned in my previous post, David was unfairly criticized by his brother when he brought supplies to the battlefield. His brother confronted him and said, “Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the wilderness? I know how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle” (1 Samuel 17:28). David had been told by his father to go to the battle and had no bad motives. The scene highlights an example that I think will happen to all of us who decide to attempt to lead or put ourselves out there in some capacity: we will get criticized even when we are making the right decisions or do what God told us to do.

This idea that sometimes another person brings up a problem “just because” has been very freeing for me personally because I am the type of personality who over-analyzes things and hyperventilates when any sort of issue is brought to my attention: I immediately assume I did something wrong. My mind goes into overdrive, and I start feeling shame and all sorts of horrible feelings even if I made the right choice. My insecurity makes me tend to believe that the people around me and second-guess myself.

One thing I found really surprising when I told other people what I felt God called me to in ministry was that some people just did not believe me. I really have no idea why I thought everyone would be on the same page as me (but, I did think that), and I was very confused and rattled when I didn’t feel others’ support. The resistance I felt made me feel like I should just quit.

If we are in that place where a spouse, close friend or another acquaintance that we respect does not believe what we are saying, it can make us hesitate and doubt the calling God has given us. However, when God chooses us and calls us for a particular task, He makes it very clear. I had multiple confirmations — through sermons, books I read, prophetic words — and God speaking directly to me.

Sure, we need to listen to feedback and advice, but we also need to really look at the place and the person this criticism is coming from. We need to ask God, “What should I be taking away from this conversation?” And just know that although it’s good to listen to others and not put ourselves up on an unreachable pedestal — some criticism we just need to throw out.

2. Sometimes the biggest critic you need to silence is yourself.

Shortly after David’s conversation with Eliab, he walked out on the battlefield in shepherd’s clothes, and took the mighty Philistine down with a stone and a slingshot. David’s approach to Goliath was much different than Goliath’s approach to him. While Goliath trusted in his size, his impressive sword, spear, and javelin, David trusted in the Lord (1 Samuel 17:45).

David put his confidence not in outward things — but in He who was within him. He was confident that God had equipped him already, and he acted like it. Because I often feel acute self-doubt, the lie that I am often tempted to believe is that I would be better at what I do if I had this trait. Or if I were more like this person. Or if I were more impressive looking. Or if I were like Goliath and respected by everyone.

Because as much as I know that I have been equipped to do the work of God, I don’t always feel that way. I fall into a trap of trying to be impressive with my skills rather than in relying on God in all situations. Because of the comments or reactions of a few, I feel extra pressure to “prove” myself. Not only do I feel torn down from the outside, I have a critic inside my head that is louder than the voices outside.

In regards to writing for this ministry, I rarely meet my own standards. And it frustrates me. I often write several versions of a post. I tear apart what I’ve written. I worry about choosing the best words and making my articles really amazing. But that is not important to God. It’s vanity, really.

I came across a piece of writing by D.L. Moody, and he says this: “The message is more important than the messenger.” Moody argues:

If God has given you a message, go and give it to the people as God has given it to you. It is a stupid thing for a man to try to be eloquent. MAKE YOUR MESSAGE AND NOT YOURSELF, the most prominent thing. Set your heart on what God has called you to do, and don’t be so foolish as to let your own difficulties or you own abilities stand in the way.

I have to agree. I can get past that critic inside of my head when I make God’s message He wants to convey through me the most important — rather than the way I convey it. God’s servants don’t need impressive displays of skill or might — the One inside of us should be the most impressive thing about us.

3. Sometimes the best reaction to conflict is to wait for God.

After David had fought Goliath, he was utilized by King Saul and sent on many more military conquests — and David was successful in every one. So much so, that Saul became jealous of David and wanted to kill him. In one particular scene, David followed Saul out of a cave, cut off a piece of his robe and then thought better of it and refused to retaliate against the murderous Saul (1 Samuel 24:1-21).

Softened, Saul’s reaction was to return home. This was not the last time he tried to kill David, but we learn that David’s approach was very wise. He did cut off a piece of Saul’s robe, but he then restrained himself. Although his men urged David to kill Saul right then and there, David did not feel that the Lord had delivered Saul into his hands. Therefore, he chose to use self-control and put the situation in the Lord’s hands. And certainly, his self-control was called upon again as Saul pursued him one more time (1 Samuel 26:1-14). But in both instances, David respected that Saul was the Lord’s anointed and would not put a hand against him.

It’s tempting to retaliate when we get in situations where people don’t believe us or come against us. I know I have certainly felt the need to do that and have succumbed at times to launching counter-attacks.

However, once more we can learn from David here in his exchange from Saul. David never demanded that people recognize his God-anointing. He just accepted that God had appointed him and didn’t need any other commission. He treated Saul well even when Saul came against him. He was content to wait for God’s timing in his rise to kingship.

Not only that — he waited for the Lord’s vindication of his situation. Even though he had ample opportunity to “take matters into his own hands” and get rid of Saul and all of the conflict he caused, he waited instead for the Lord to take care of it.

While it can be very hurtful to not have the support we want moving into our ministry or call — and there are times we need to confront or have a discussion with a person, it is essential that we not repay “evil for evil” (Romans 12:17). We should wait for God to move. We should wait even when circumstances seem against us, and it appears that what God has said will not come to pass.

Dealing With Future Conflict and Criticism

Conflict is normal. As Brené Brown notes, we should reserve a chair for our critics in our arena. Rather than hope they don’t show up, we should just expect them to be there.

I told God a few years ago that I didn’t think it was “normal” how much conflict was in my life after I said “yes” to following him away from my former career. Not too long after that conversation, I “happened” to open my Bible to the story of Paul. I read about all the churches that had problems with him. Leaders who called him to trial for no other reason than he was testifying about Jesus. Conflicts he had with people just about everywhere he went.

I told God, “All right. I see your point.”

None of us should walk around with the attitude of “I am always right and you’re always wrong.” But it is freeing to know that there are times when conflict comes even when we are acting in ways we should.

In some cases, we should consider it an indication that we are right where we need to be.

Our strength doesn’t come from the support of others or our own abilities — the fact that He has asked us to do what we are doing should give us the confidence to face both critics outside and within. As Brown notes, we may not have a choice about the critics that show up — but we do have a choice as to the criticism we accept.

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to write music lyrics (that no one has ever seen) and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and two children.

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When You Feel Insecure as a Leader

when-you-feel-insecure-as-a-leader

For the longest time, I asked God to give me a ministry. It was driving me crazy when I left teaching that I ended up in a desert season where I didn’t have any sort of project or outlet for my creativity. Once up to my eyeballs in paperwork, lesson planning, meetings, and grading, I found myself staring at a blank schedule when I became a stay-at-home mom. The only things on it were the monotonous tasks associated with mothering my then infant son and toddler daughter.

Don’t get me wrong — motherhood is a noble job, and I know that some stay-at-home moms feel called to do just that, but I was itching to get back into the workforce almost the moment I left it. I wanted God to plant me into a ministry and give me another career. I didn’t want to wake up to another day of naptimes and bottle feedings. Another day of living in the same T-shirt and spit-up stained sweats.

When it dawned on me that God wanted me to start my own ministry blog (a prospect that scared the heck out of me), I found it to be way harder that I thought it would be. Most days I tell Him that someone else could do a better job. There are people who are better writers, better speakers, better administrators. People who know about SEO and WordPress plugins and social media. People who know more about blogging and write posts with no anxiety whatsoever. People who don’t have to potty-train reluctant little boys while trying to simultaneously revise paragraphs and look up commentary for verses.

But I keep coming back to the same idea that God chose me for this. And because He chose me, I have a choice — to embrace this calling or hide.

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When I get conflict-ridden emails to answer, look at ways to grow the ministry and then look at my lack of funds and know-how, stare at blank paper asking God what I need to say in a meeting, I sometimes want to run away.

The bottom line is I don’t feel like a good-enough, equipped-enough leader. I’m barely surviving most days. But a story that has inspired me lately is the one of David because he was the least likely on the planet to lead Israel, but he is the one God chose.

There are a few things we can learn about combatting our own insecurities in leadership from David’s story:

1. Good leaders get their confidence from God’s acceptance of them.

David was the least significant of all the brothers in his family. He was out tending sheep when Samuel stopped by to anoint the next king. No one in his family saw that he had the potential to be the next great king, but God did.

Surprisingly, David didn’t seem put off by the fact that no one in his family believed he was fit for leadership. He seemed to just take the anointing in stride and then go back to tending sheep. He accepted the Lord’s promotion of him even when no one else other than Samuel believed him equipped for the job.

Similarly, when Mary learned from the angel that she would become pregnant with child, she accepted the Lord’s assignment in bearing Jesus (granted, she didn’t have much choice as to what happened inside of her body), but she did have a choice as to her attitude towards the situation. She said “yes” to God with these words: “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true” (Luke 1:38 — NLT).

I’d love to say that I have been as accepting as David and Mary of the Lord’s assignment for me, but I haven’t. I’ve wanted the assignment to be different. I’ve asked Him not to make me write about the parts of my story I don’t want to share. And I’ve wanted others to see immediately the calling He has had for me. But what I can learn from David and Mary is that God calls things before they are (Romans 4:17 — NKJV). I need to accept what He has said of me because He has said it.

2. Good leaders don’t let others derail them from their God-appointed task.

A few years ago, when I was begging God to let me do something for Him, I had forgotten all the conflict and opposition that comes with leadership. Leaders have to make decisions that are not always well-received or popular. As you may have guessed from my last point, I like people to understand me. Because of this, I feel inside a need to defend myself, to justify my actions when people don’t agree with me, but another leadership quality I can learn from David is that he didn’t allow the misunderstanding of others to derail him.

We see in David’s story after he was anointed king that he was instructed by his father to bring supplies to the battlefield. (Yes, David still lived at home for a time even after he was anointed king.) The Israelites were fighting the Philistines, and David did as his father instructed and brought cheese and bread to the battle lines.

His older brother, perhaps a bit peeved about David’s recent anointing, said, “Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the wilderness? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down here only to watch the battle” (1 Samuel 17:28). Talk about major injustice! Major misunderstanding! David had been told to go by his father. He had no ill motives, yet his brother assumed he did.

David, seeing right through his brother’s jealousy, responded: “Now what have I done? Can’t I even speak?” (v. 29). By his words, we see his rejection of Eliab’s critique. Because, as the Reformation Study Bible points out, Eliab’s words contradicted what God had already said about David. Note, earlier, God defined David as a person after His own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). And, when Samuel anointed David, God made it clear that He looks not at what man looks at but the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). And He clearly found David’s pleasing.

David wisely chose not to allow his brother’s cut-down to change his mind about who God had called him to be. In fact, right after this conversation, David went and asked Saul if he could go out and fight Goliath.

As it turns out, David had a Goliath in his own family to conquer before he ever made it to the battlefield.

People will say things that go against what God has told us — and many of us believe those words over God’s. As commentator Matthew Henry notes:

Those that undertake great and public services must not think it strange if they be discountenanced and opposed by those from whom they had reason to expect support and assistance; but must humbly go on with their work, in the face not only of their enemies’ threats, but of their friends’ slights and suspicions.

I have not been like David in my own transition into leadership. The second that criticism comes, self-doubt and insecurity set in. The solid rock I feel myself standing on feels shaky, crumbling. Maybe I am not the person for this job. What if I fail? Did God really tell me to start this? Maybe others are right. I need to quit. I can’t do this anymore.

When moments like these come, my mind races. And I feel panic and anxiety. God, don’t make me do this any longer! But God, through the story of David, has been reassuring me to not give up. To keep going and see myself as a leader because He has said it is so. The only person that needs to accept that other than Him is me.

I have to believe it for myself.

David models for us how to not allow others’ voices to drown out God’s calling on our lives. It’s good to listen to feedback and gain advice, but not if the advice counters what God has said is so. It’s easy to lose confidence as a leader based on what others believe or say about us unless we continually keep in view the foundation of our confidence: Him.

I haven’t lost my fear or insecurity in this process, but I’m making the decision to ask God for strength to face my Goliaths and depend on Him when I don’t feel like I can possibly do what He has asked of me.

What about you? Has God called you into a position that feels a little too big for you, and you feel like maybe your heard Him wrong? Tell us in the comment box below about a struggle or leadership problem you are facing.

 

 

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to write music lyrics (that no one has ever seen) and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and two children.

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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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