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 three children.

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The Blessing of Failure in Ministry

 

rain Christian singer and songwriter Laura Story poses the following questions in her song “Blessings”:

What if your blessings come through raindrops? What if you healing comes through tears? What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know you’re near?”

For the last few years, I have learned what it means to receive blessings wrapped in a package of pain. Shortly after I quit teaching and launched into the journey of ministry, I entered a period of my life where my abilities and talents came up short, our money dried up, and the ministry I felt called to did not open up for me. This chaos unfolded in several ways.

A month after I left the education field, I gave birth to our son; he was colicky and had reflux. For quite some time, I slept two hours a night and woke up to face an intensive day of caring for a newborn and two-year-old. The savings fund that was supposed to last for the first year depleted within three months after I quit teaching. We had some expensive repairs on two sets of air conditioning coils that came up to the cost of a few thousand dollars. That and the cost of the new baby’s hospital bills ate away at the amount we had set aside.

Before I knew it, I was in line at the school district office to pick up my cashed out retirement fund just so we could afford to live. To add to the mix, we left our home church campus (where we had been established for ten years) to help launch a new church campus. I mourned the loss of relationships, the choir community I had grown to love, and all the amenities and benefits of a bigger campus. The ministry that I had felt called to in music — didn’t exactly happen like I had pre-written in my own script.

Rather than step into a key position in music in the new campus — I was disappointed to find that I was not really part of the actual band, but more a secondary singer they rotated in occasionally. All of the new changes, the loss of identity with my change in job and our change in church campus brought me to a dark place. I started having a relapse of emotional issues that I hadn’t felt since college. Anxiety and depression. I thought my way out was just to try harder. But with each attempt I made to get things going, make things happen — I experienced more failure.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, my experience is one that is not uncommon — particularly for those called to serve in a specific capacity in ministry. Streams in the Desert, a devotional with a collection of excerpts from various authors, gives many stories of individuals stumbling through the desert after a season of relative prosperity, experiencing confusion and darkness right after God gives them a directive to go. In one particular excerpt from Soul Food, the author explains:

At certain times and places, God will build a mysterious wall around us. He will take away all the supports we customarily lean on, and will remove our ordinary ways of doing things. God will close us off to something divine, completely new and unexpected, and that cannot be understood by examining our previous circumstances. We will be in a place we do not know what is happening, where God is cutting the cloth of our lives by a new pattern, and thus where He causes us to look to Him.”

In yet another excerpt from Streams in the Desert, Frances Ridley Havergal explains a situation that closely paralleled mine when she was called to a ministry and then found no opening for several years. She recalls the situation, saying:

Once when I thought the door was being thrown open for me to enter the literary field with a great opportunity, it was just as quickly shut … The year was 1860, and I did not come out of my shell of isolation with my book Ministry of Song until 1869. By then I saw the distinct wisdom of having been kept waiting for nine years in the shade … He often withholds our enjoyment and awareness of our progress, because He knows best what will actually ripen and further His work in us.”

A Dream About Gifts

About two years into the process of transitioning into ministry, I had a dream about gifts. In the dream, my sister was a post mistress and was driving through her route, delivering Christmas packages. She was in a hurry to get through her round and was not carefully placing the packages in the mailboxes, but throwing them haphazardly in yards as she went. She stopped in front of the house of one particular woman. After repeating her pattern of tossing a package, the woman came up to the vehicle and insisted that the post office take back the package, return it to the sender, re-send it in the proper manner and place it carefully in her mailbox. She did not want the gift unless it was sent to her in the way that she thought it should be sent.

I woke up from the dream, and I felt God’s whisper: Carol, what difference does it make how the package is delivered if it ends up being a gift? 

Obviously, I was the cantankerous woman in the dream. I didn’t want a gift delivered in a package of suffering. I didn’t think a package of suffering was any kind of gift at all.

A New Life and a Death of the Old

What I didn’t know at the beginning of my journey is that it takes great pain to birth a new life. I thought because I had been walking with God for a long time that I didn’t need to go through such a process, but I didn’t realize how much I relied on my own flesh patterns to make it through life. I thought that because He had called me to a ministry that His favor was on me.

I did not see floundering miserably as a sign that He might be working in me and creating the new self that would be the most effective in His kingdom. In the Old Testament, it took Jacob wrestling with God to wrench the old life from him and “fall” into the new life God had for him. He had to feel the heavy pressure of God “pressing the old life out of Him” before He could be named Israel and not Jacob (Streams in the Desert).

So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, ‘Let me go, for it is daybreak.’ But Jacob replied, ‘I will not let you go until you bless me.’ The man asked, ‘What is your name?’ ‘Jacob,’ he answered. Then the man said, ‘Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.’ ” (Genesis 22:24-26)

As author and pastor Steve McVey emphasizes in Grace Walk: “In the breaking process, God has no intention of helping you get stronger. He wants you to become so weak that He can express Himself as the strength you need in every situation.”

McVey cites Watchman Nee’s observation that the basic dilemma of the Christian servant is for the “inward man to break through the outward man.” According to Nee, the outward man is a hindrance to our Christian service and our outward man has to be “broken by the Lord so that the inward man can pass through the brokenness and come forth.”

The gift we can receive during our struggle with God is a loss of dependence on self. As McVey notes, “God cannot use a Christian to fullest potential until that person has come to the end of confidence in personal abilities.” Like Havergal and McVey attest to, I did not see the purpose of the suffering at the time nor want it for myself, but I can see as I am moving past it the distinct gift that God handed me in not allowing things to happen my way.

[For some notes from my journey on some ways to survive when you’re walking through a place of brokenness, I discuss some strategies for when you’re in the thick of not really understanding the place God has for you in ministry that may be encouraging to you.]

Related Resources: Streams in the Desert is a devotional by L.B. Cowman that specifically speaks to and encourages Christians in tough spiritual desert places. Cowman includes her own writings as well as a compilation of excerpts from well-known preachers and writers. Grace Walk by Steve McVey discusses your identity in Christ and how to best to allow God to use you. McVey shares his story of hitting rock bottom as a pastor of a church and how God used that situation to show McVey how to walk in grace in his Christian walk rather than legalism.

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 three children.

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When God Says No

This past summer, after a miscarriage and surgery, I went home and immediately felt something wasn’t right in my body. I called up the nurse, and she rationalized that I was most likely experiencing side effects from the drugs administered in the emergency room.

But I still felt really funny.

My heart raced uncontrollably even when I was lying down. I felt so out of breath, foggy — I couldn’t think clearly, and my heartbeat pulsated in a painful way right at the top of my skull.

A few days later, I tried to make an effort to go out for my birthday — just pizza and shopping at a local outlet mall. “Something is wrong with me,” I told my husband as I struggled to walk the distance of the parking lot. I just didn’t feel good. My body felt so sluggish — my mind in a fuzzy cloud.

A doctor’s visit the next week revealed the problem: my hemoglobin levels had dropped very low, and my heart was working overtime to circulate oxygen. I couldn’t get out of bed without feeling like I would collapse. My doctor’s office wanted to set up a blood transfusion, but when I discussed it with my husband, he didn’t like all the risks.

We made the difficult decision for me to let my body heal itself in a slow process over the next few months. I rested at home for several weeks, and when I did finally get enough strength to go back to church, I was devastated. My first Sunday back corresponded with the release date of our church worship team’s first single.

My dream had always been to sing and write music. But I had walked away from the worship team a year before that to enroll in a Hope ministry training when God had asked me to give up music. Not only that, another opportunity had already shattered and fallen at my feet.

I had been asked to volunteer to serve on a leadership team for a brand new women’s ministry for young moms. Comprised of many of my close friends, the team was a perfect fit for me. Or so I thought. I had been praying for a long time that God would open a door for me into ministry.

However, the women’s event was scheduled just a few weeks after my surgery. I kept praying and hoping God would let me get well enough to help. But that didn’t happen. I was too sick — I couldn’t stay on my feet for long periods of time, much less go anywhere without the support of my husband’s arm. The avenue that I thought God was opening for me wasn’t really an avenue at all — my health made it impossible for me to take part in the event.

As I left church early that first Sunday back — mostly to avoid sympathetic friends and suffocating stares, I drove home and went straight up to my room, fell on my bed and cried.

I picked up the book I had been reading on my bedside table, Love, Skip, Jump by Shelene Bryan, and I happened to turn to a chapter in which Bryan describes the rejection of a pitch for a new show she had worked so hard to present to several prominent television networks. She relates: “I couldn’t understand it. I couldn’t help but ask God, ‘Lord what was that all about? Why did You have me walk into all those networks and pitch this idea that you placed on my heart if it was going to be a Big Fat No?’ ”

I didn’t like the passage I was reading. I wanted Bryan to provide me the answer I wanted to hear — that I was going to be well and all of the hopes I had were going to come to pass. But as if to further pound the truth that God was moving me into the background for a season, I opened my Facebook to these words by Nikki Koziarz: “Sometimes we look to follow someone else’s path toward our calling. But maybe today God is saying, ‘Don’t follow them, follow me.’ His way is unique and unstoppable” (Psalms 32:8).

To be honest, I was angry. What kind of a God would let me lose a baby, miss out on important ministry opportunities and stand on the outside while others lived out what I wanted to do?

However, as much as I could feel stuff breaking inside me as I experienced the pain of watching others get to joyfully participate in that which I wanted to be a part of, I felt some truths resonate in my heart:

1.  I don’t have the right to do anything but the will of the Father: Jesus often said that He only came to do the will of the One who sent Him. This meant that He was selective in the choices and decisions He made. He didn’t jump into every opportunity that came His way, and He didn’t make decisions to please Himself or achieve His own selfish goals. He even asked on occasion for there to be a different way when He knew the path would be difficult, as when He prayed for the “cup to pass from Him” in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:42).

2.  What I give up, He may give back to me: There have been times that I have passed up on a chance when I felt a “no” in my spirit only to find that God gives me the very thing I wanted at a later time — in a way beyond what I could have imagined or planned. Even though Bryan had to give up her dream of her reality show idea, she realized after some prayer that God was asking her to still implement her village makeover idea without the cameras. He gave her a “yes” in a way that was different than she anticipated — and she would have missed it if she continued to plow ahead with her reality show vision.

3.  All promotion comes from the Lord. So many times, I am trapped into thinking that the doors are closed in my face because I am not liked by certain individuals, but God has continually shown me that promotion comes from Him (Psalm 75:6). If He truly wants me in a place of ministry, He will place me there in His timing, and He will show me the path He has for me to get there.

4.  When I’m stuck, I should do what’s in front of me. By looking only ahead at my goal, I may miss the obvious opportunity or step I am to take right in front of me. As Bryan concludes in her chapter: “Sometimes I can get so excited to do something that I’ll bust down a wall in the name of Jesus. Then God kindly points out the door that He already placed for me to walk through. Oops.”

If you’re anything like me, I can get so overwhelmed looking at how far away I am from my desired destination that I start to panic and forget what I can be doing in the moment. I can miss the assignment that Jesus has put in my lap for today in my anxious desire to get to tomorrow. As Sarah Young says in her Jesus Calling devotion:

When things seem to be going all wrong, stop and affirm your trust in Me. Calmly bring these matters to Me, and leave them in My capable hands. Then, simply do the next thing. Stay in touch with Me through thankful, trusting prayers, resting in My sovereign control. Rejoice in Me — exult in the God of your salvation! As you trust in Me, I make your feel like the feet of a deer, I enable you to walk and make progress upon your places of trouble, suffering, or responsibility. Be blessed and keep trusting!”

Young encourages me that when the promise hasn’t come true, when I am not in the place I want to be, I need to do the task that is in front of me right now. It may have nothing to do with my calling or may not even be what I feel is the future God has for me, but it is what God is calling me to in this moment.

And the other truth I know is this: Deep inside of me a little voice whispers that some of His promises, particularly about music, haven’t come true yet because I’m not finished. He wants me working on something I would rather not work on — a different project that I’ve left undone. I’ve skipped some steps, pushed off some things for another day. And I need to complete God’s assignment in order to obtain His blessings.

Consider George Matheson’s prayer from Streams in the Desert:

Dear Holy Spirit, my desire is to be led by You. Nevertheless, my opportunities for usefulness seem to be disappointed, for today the door appears open in to a life of service for You but tomorrow it closes before me just as I am about to enter. Teach me to see another door even in the midst of the inaction of this time. Help me to find, even in the area of service where You have closed a door, a new entrance into Your service. Inspire me with the knowledge that a person may sometimes be called to serve by doing nothing, by staying still, or by waiting. And when I remember the power of Your ‘gentle whisper’ (1 Kings 19:12), I will not complain that sometimes the Spirit allows me not to go.”

Related Bible Verses:

Psalm 32:8: “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.”

Luke 22:42: ” ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.’ ”

Psalm 75:6: “No one from the east or the west or from the desert can exalt themselves. It is God who judges: He brings one down, he exalts another.”

1 Kings 19:12: “After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.”

Recommended Resources:

Love, Skip, Jump: The Adventure of Yes by Shelene Bryan is about knowing how to discern God’s will for your life and taking the plunge into the exciting future He has for you. Bryan talks about displaying the love of God to others, skipping conveniences to minister to others, and jumping into your calling.

Streams in the Desert is a devotional by L.B. Cowman that specifically speaks to and encourages Christians in tough spiritual desert places. Cowman includes her own writings as well as a compilation of excerpts from well-known preachers and writers.

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 three children.

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