4 Truths to Consider When God Closes a Door

when god closes a door

Several years ago, 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 offered to set up a blood transfusion, but when I discussed it with my husband, we decided we 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 for a season. 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: The Adventure of Yes 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.’ ”

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.”

*Updated and adapted from a post published January 23, 2015.

Carol Whitaker

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

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Finding Strength to Continue on in Life’s Darkest Valleys

railroad

A manager once told me I was great “out-of-the-gate” at the beginning of my shift but less enthusiastic as my shift wore on.

I had to admit the truthfulness of his words. As a coffee barista, I had to start early morning shifts that required me to roll out of bed around 4:30 a.m. Once I got through the first few hours of my morning shift, including the early morning rush of coffee-drinkers, I couldn’t wait to go home and take a nap. My eyelids and limbs felt heavy. The minutes ticked by so slowly. My manager observed me wind down energy-wise as my shift wore on.

Spiritually, I tend to operate in the same way. I am really good “out-of-the-gate.” I start an assignment God gives me with energy and enthusiasm. I have a lot of good ideas. I tell everyone around me what I am doing. As time goes on, though, I tend to get worn out, discouraged by trials and the opposition of others. I get frustrated and want to quit when the journey takes much longer than I expected and the hardships pile up. Maybe you can relate?

The Bible offers us guidance for those places where hardships have worn us down, and we can’t find the strength and endurance to continue on in the assignment God has given us. We can look to the example of Jesus to help us know what it looks like to keep going when our road is hard and long.

In Matthew 27:46, 50, Jesus had been hanging on the cross for several hours. During that time, he endured physical pain, thirst, and the sneers of onlookers below Him. Prior to that, he endured an unfair trial, a beating, and the humiliation of being nailed to the cross. In this moment, He was exhausted and in physical and mental agony. He said very little while on the cross, but when He spoke, His words revealed much:

About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ (which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’). … And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.

In looking at Jesus’ words and actions in His last moments on the cross, what can we observe about enduring difficult circumstances?

1. He held onto God, though it appeared God was letting go of Him.

We see in Jesus’ words, “My God, my God” (emphasis mine), the words of a man who obviously still trusted in God enough to hold onto Him even when He felt abandoned to a terrible fate. Jesus wasn’t merely left behind or forgotten at the cross. God deliberately led Him there. Jesus knew what was coming. He knew what He would have to do and why He had to do it.

Yet, even though He understood the reasons for why He had to go the cross, the human side of Him struggled with the agony of the moment. Even in the struggle, though, He did not let go of God. I love what one commentary I read suggested about His words. The word “lema” can be translated to mean “to what — to whom — to what kind or sort — to what purpose or profit.” Therefore, we might understand “Why have you abandoned me?” to mean something more along the lines of “To what have you abandoned me to?”

Those of us walking through fierce flames most likely might have asked this very question of God. We might wonder how or why God would allow what He has allowed. We might question or feel a sense of betrayal that God is leaving us to “fend for ourselves” against great odds and those that would harm us. It feels impossible in those moments to hold on tenaciously when we question why God would permit us to experience the terrible circumstances we are in. And yet, Jesus shows us what it means to hold on to God even when our flesh demands answers of God and rebels against the places He brings us to when we walk in obedience to Him.

2. He didn’t save Himself, though He could have.

The second takeaway we have here is that Jesus exhibited incredible self-control in the middle of this agonizing experience on the cross. Can you imagine creating the entire world and all the people in it and not saying a word when they put you on trial for crimes you didn’t even commit? How about when they crucified you on a cross? When He was hanging on the cross, people walked by and shouted at him to save himself and prove he was God. He could have come down from the cross, but He didn’t. As Chuck Smith says, “It was only by not saving Himself that He was able to save you.” Similarly, in our own trial, we oftentimes have the choice whether or not we will save ourselves from the agony we are in.

We can just stop serving God and give in to what others want us to do. We can compromise. We can just act like the world and agree with the world and find acceptance. Or, we can take the example of Jesus and remain in the fire knowing that His will has taken us there. By remaining, we will positively impact the lives of those around us and bring others to salvation. Jesus is the only One who could take the sins of the world. He did for us what we could not do for ourselves.

Though Jesus is the only One who could take our sin, as Christ-followers, we have a cross we pick up in following Him. We experience a crucifixion of self daily in our lives when we follow Him. Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” In other words, when we follow Christ, we allow Him to dictate our choices and no longer live to serve ourselves. Jesus shows us here that hanging on tenaciously means choosing not to get out of suffering or hardship that comes in doing God’s will.

3. Though He wrestled in His agony, He continued to do God’s work.

Right before Jesus died, the passage tells us that He gave out a loud cry and “gave up his spirit.” This last action of Jesus on the cross was significant because it shows us once again how Jesus never lost trust in His Father. He clung tenaciously on not only in His words but His last action — He “gave up” or surrendered His spirit to God. He never stopped doing the Father’s work because of the hardship He faced. He continued on until He breathed His last breath. Too often, we can lose our resolve in the process of following God, but God wants us to complete what He has given us to do.

I remember writing a few years ago a series on trials, and the main point in one of my posts was simply that we should continue on no matter what happens to us. I remember thinking when writing it that I would always push through in the work God had given me. I would never give up. And yet, I could never have imagined the types of trials that would come my way or how weak I would feel in the midst of those tribulations. I recognize myself in Peter who claimed he would never deny the Lord and did it the same night. And the question comes to me all the time when I am tired and worn out , waiting for me to answer: Will you still continue to follow me? Will you continue the work I asked you to complete still?

We most likely all believe we would stick through to the end, but we never could have anticipated how deep the betrayal would cut us, how tiring the chronic health problems, how humiliating the lack of success, how impossible the circumstances. And yet, even in those, we can hold fast to Jesus. Even in His final moments on earth, He provided an example for us, when He surrendered His spirit to God.

Remaining Strong in Our Trials

One last tidbit we can find in the passage is that Jesus called out “loudly” when he said “My God, My God” and gave a “loud cry” before He gave up His spirit. He wanted others to hear what He was saying. He could have muttered these words under His breath or kept His thoughts to Himself. I believe He said what He did loudly because He wanted us to note His inner thoughts and take courage in our own difficult valleys. Even in His worst moments, Jesus thought of us and left behind an example so that we would know what to do when our own journeys took unexpected twists and turns.

Friend, I don’t know where you are as you are reading this, but have you let the darkness of your circumstances overwhelm you? Are you loosening your once tight grip on Jesus? Not only do we have the example of Jesus to strengthen us, we have something else that is even better. We have Jesus’ very presence with us. When we are weak, we can call out to Jesus. We can ask Him for help in our struggle. We don’t have to turn away from Him.

We can accept that though the trial is fierce and we don’t understand, God is good and our trial will only last for a little while before God restores us once again (1 Peter 5:10).

Carol Whitaker

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

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Why Isn’t God Blessing Me?

dandelion-463928_1280

My husband had a professor in college who responded to most, if not all, student questions with the same answer. If a student asked about grading requirements for an assignment, the professor would say, “Check the website.”  If a student asked about dates for tests, the professor would say, “Check the website.”

The professor’s frequent use of the phrase became somewhat of a joke in our home. If I inquired about something around the house or asked my husband a question, he would often look at me and say (in his best imitation of the professor’s voice), “Check the website.”

Although humorous, the professor’s intent in directing students to his course website every time someone asked a question was most likely that he wanted students to do what they needed to before they could expect an action from him.

Spiritually, we can apply this same “check the website” principle when we feel like we aren’t receiving God’s blessings. Although God isn’t as gruff as my husband’s instructor and wants us to come to Him and ask when we don’t know the answer in a situation, there are times that we can examine our actions against God’s Word and discover that we aren’t reaping what we want in a particular area because of what we are sowing.

In his devotional My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers explains how we should all “turn up” or check the “spiritual index.” According to Merriam-Webster.com, an “index” is a device (such as the pointer, called a “gnomon,” on a sundial) that gives a particular value or an indicator that leads us to a conclusion:

Never say it is not God’s will to give you what you ask, don’t sit down and faint, but find out the reason, turn up the index. Are you rightly related to your wife, to your husband, to your children, to your fellow-students … Have I been asking God to give me money for something I want when there is something I have not paid for? Have I been asking God for liberty while I am withholding it from someone who belongs to me? … If we turn up the index, we will see very clearly what is wrong — that friendship, that debt, that temper of mind.”

The Blessing of Reaping and Sowing  

Essentially, Chambers points out that many of us are asking for a blessing when there is a reason we can’t have it. Although Chambers focuses more on the idea of our prayers being hindered by certain attitudes in his devotion, we can also apply his idea of the “spiritual index” to the principle of reaping and sowing in the Bible.

Just like the sun causes a shadow to fall across a sun dial when its rays hit the gnomon in order to tell the time, God causes our own examinations or “gnomons” to point to a particular problem in our lives when we subject ourselves to the light of His truth.

Obviously, there are times when we don’t receive blessing because it isn’t in God’s timing or He has delayed his response to work out our character or His answer is no.

However, I know I have been guilty of blaming God when I don’t get a certain outcome in a circumstance even when I haven’t exactly invested what I should to get the harvest at the proper time. As Galatians 6:7,8 tells us: “God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. From the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap, but the one who sows to the spirit will from the spirit reap eternal life.”

Although this passage is talking primarily about those who spend their money on worldly pleasures while neglecting to support the church, we can apply this to other areas of our lives. As commentator Albert Barnes notes, “Every kind of grain will produce grain like itself.” If we are acting in ways that are corrupt in our relationships or our finances, those choices will eventually come back to affect us.

I don’t know about you, but for much of my life I worked mostly on my external behavior, making my outward actions look as good as possible for those around me, while hiding some secrets. But I hadn’t realized that this is essentially “mocking God” (v. 7). I can’t just pretend to be a good person. Merely assuming outward forms of Christian behavior does not deceive God. We may get away with our sin-hiding for a time, but the Bible is very clear that God notices our true motives even if we fool everyone around us.

In essence, Galations 6 reminds us that our actions do have an impact on our lives. While the lines cannot always be clearly drawn between our actions and the circumstances that come into our lives (sometimes bad things will happen even when we do what is right or vice versa), there is a correlation between our actions and spiritual blessings. Therefore, if we want a spiritual blessing in our lives or we know God has promised us one, and we’re not receiving it, we can check the “index” — and evaluate our deeds and what fruit they are producing in our lives.

God Blessed Me Financially When I Obeyed 

A perfect example of the principle of sowing and reaping at work in my life is when we were attempting to sell our townhouse and move into a bigger home. Our house was on the market for a year and a half, and we hadn’t had a single offer. I kept telling myself it wasn’t selling because of the location, the cramped floor plan, the plain master bathroom, or the lack of a basement. However, those were not the answers that gave me any peace; there was something else, and I knew it. What came to mind when I prayed about it was an unpaid sum of money I had promised to the church.

I had pledged a sum over a period of four years to help pay for a church remodeling project, and after making a few monthly payments, I had gotten lazy and stopped paying on the debt. A few years in, I still owed money to fulfill my commitment. When I received a check for some training I had completed for work and it was almost the exact amount I needed, I handed over the money to the remodeling fund and felt an instant sense of peace. One month later our “unsellable” house was under contract, and we were in the joyful process of looking for a new place to live.

Skeptics might look at this and say there was no connection between our house sale and the church payment — labeling what happened as coincidence. However, I have seen the principle of the index at work enough times in my own life to know that when I fulfill a pledge, I prepare myself to receive a blessing. Chambers affirms this idea when he says, “It is no use praying unless we are living as children of God. Then, Jesus says — ‘Everyone that asketh, receiveth.’ ”

Checking the index in this case was not too painful; I had to give up some money I would rather have used on something else. However, there have been other times I have had to step out in faith when I felt tired and didn’t feel like doing what God asked. Or, I felt God’s nudge to let go of anger and make an apology in a relationship when I just wanted to stay mad or blame the other person. Many times, I have not wanted to obey, but when I live as God prescribes and take His Word seriously, I benefit from the blessings He promises.

To be clear, God isn’t a genie waiting to hand out gifts when we earn His good favor. We don’t merely do the things we should do to somehow earn something from God. In addition, index-checking is not a ritual we do to earn salvation. Our right standing with God comes when we put our faith and trust in Him (Romans 3:20-25).

However, God does want us walk in faith and continually grow in righteousness after we are saved with the decisions we make. By reading His Word and spending time with Him in prayer, we can know those areas where God wants us to take or action or reminds us of an action He has already instructed us to take (Psalm 139:23, 24).

In my own experience, God has offered me more grace than I really deserve. A lot of times when I think I know of a problem in my spiritual life but am not sure, I’ll ask Him for confirmation, and He answers me. If we seek God intently, He will help us in the way to go. He will help us to know the areas we need to work on that are preventing us from receiving the blessing promised us.

I encourage you. Have you checked your index? What might Jesus be pointing out to you? If we already know of a directive God has given us, but we have gotten off track or grown weary in doing what He has asked, we can get back on track again. Many times, we want to obey God, but we let our own fears or doubts get the best of us.

However, we can push through whatever obstacles we have knowing that the work we do for God will not go unnoticed. As Ephesians 6:8 says, we will receive from the Lord the same good we do for others.

*Updated and adapted from post published May 29, 2015.

Carol Whitaker

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

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Persevering to Receive God’s Promises

woman-1148942_1280“Call her back.”

I felt God’s nudge when I hung up the phone with the call center representative. After making an appointment, I had felt led to ask her if she needed prayer for anything. She gladly consented and shared her needs. I prayed with her on the phone and then hung up. I then heard God’s nudge to call her back.

I put my head in my lap and groaned in exhaustion. This woman hadn’t been the first one I had talked to that day. I had been on and off the phone for two and half hours, and she had been the fifth woman I had talked to. I had no idea I would be on the phone so long when I had called in the morning to make an appointment.

Yet, with each person I talked to I felt God’s nudge to witness, encourage, or pray for the person on the other line. Each time I got off the phone, I felt God’s whisper to keep calling. Therefore, I hadn’t planned to make appointments for my entire family, but I went ahead and scheduled appointments for the rest of my family that I had planned to do on a different day and listened to God’s voice with each new person that came on the line. I had had some breaks in between, but I hadn’t eaten lunch as of yet and needed to get my kids off the bus. When I felt His voice once more with the fifth person after a good portion of my day had been taken up already, I felt irritated. I was hungry, cranky, and tired. As an introvert, I found it anxiety-inducing talking to strangers on the phone just to make regular appointments — let alone have spiritual conversations with said strangers.

“Lord, why would you ask me to do this? Am I even hearing from you?” I voiced in disbelief. The verse “Not my will but yours be done” popped in my head, but I dismissed the words. Surely, God’s will for me on that day wasn’t to talk to the majority of the call center. I felt a resistance rising up in my heart. This had been a day in a series of days this week where God had asked more of me than I felt I had to give. While I often had God assignments in the course of my days that stretched me, the assignments that week had been much more relentless and time-consuming to the point that I questioned if I was even hearing from God.

Shortly after my pity-party, I read in the study I am going through how Lysa Terkeurst’s daughter felt led to fast and pray for a family all day long. Her mom — yes, Lysa, the Bible teacher — tried to talk her into only fasting a portion of the day, but she insisted. The all-day part got my attention when I read it. Yes, I knew God really wanted me to call the fifth woman back. So, after some grumbling, I picked up the phone once more the next day and called. I had to leave a message and missed her call. I called back once more and was told she would call me. I explained what I was doing to the woman on the line helping me and must have sounded insane, but perhaps she was the person that needed to hear the story.

Whatever the case, I finally felt a release when I just went ahead and did what God asked. However, I am still praying about some other assignments from that week because God brought me to my breaking point, and I felt that I left some unfinished steps. I wanted to do what He asked, but I didn’t realize that I had drawn up boundaries for Him. I had places that I didn’t want Him to go and lines that I didn’t want Him to cross. I didn’t even know I had those limits, but He showed me exactly where those were.

A Woman Who Perseveres Past Her Breaking Point

All of us have breaking points. Certain aggravating circumstances present themselves and we hit a wall and feel that we can go no further.

“I can’t!” we cry to the Lord. Yet, to get to our desired destinations requires that we push beyond our feelings of exhaustion, doubt, or discomfort in the moment.

In Ruth 1, Ruth and her sister-in-law, Orpah, faced an important crossroads. After their father-in-law and husbands died, they set out with their mother-in-law from Moab for Judah. However, after they travelled with Naomi some of the distance, Naomi urged them to go back.

The journey had been long and hard up to that point, and it had no promise of getting easier. If they continued with her, they would be traveling to an unknown place and would have to rely on the kindness of others. Notice the reaction of the daughters-in-law in Ruth 1:14-16:

Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to her. ‘Look,’ said Naomi, ‘your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.’ But Ruth replied, ‘Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay.’

What can we learn from Orpah and Ruth’s different reactions when brought to their breaking points?

1. Getting to our promised land requires that we continually move forward, not back.

The point where Orpah parted from Naomi and Ruth was possibly at the Jordan River. To go forward meant to push into the land promised and given to God’s people, but to turn back at that point meant moving backwards into a land that stood as an obstacle between the Israelites and the Promised Land when the Israelites initially set out to possess the land. Orpah traveled some of the distance with Naomi and Ruth, but then she got to a point where she would not go any further. Her words indicated that she was a caring daughter-in-law, concerned about her mother-in-law and attached to her, but her faith did not sustain her past a certain point.

Therefore, though she cried tears when faced with the prospect of going back, she made no move to stay committed to the course she was on. Therefore, even though she had traveled some of the distance and may have even intended to travel the entire distance, she turned back and returned to her gods. Ruth on the other hand, as we discussed last week, “clung” tenaciously to Naomi and declared, “Don’t urge me to leave you to turn back from you. Your people will be my people and your God will be my God” (v. 16).

All of us have places that will be breaking points for us if we’re not careful. We may traverse a certain distance with God and even do it quite cheerfully, but then turn back when we face unexpected trials or simply lose steam in our walks with Christ. When we’re tempted to turn away from God, we can confess our struggle to Him, ask Him to renew our resolve, and ask Him to help us make it past the point that threatens to break us.

2. Pushing forward means pushing past the opposition.

Ruth not only persevered in her tough circumstances by travelling from Moab to Judah by foot and dealing with all the emotions she must have felt as a widow, she also pushed ahead when opposing voices told her she didn’t have to take such a difficult path. When God calls us to a particular course, we will have naysayers that urge us not take the course. These may be people who are not in close relationship with God or these may be godly people who may not know or understand what God is telling us.

Naomi urged Ruth to return to her people so that she can find “rest” once again in the home of new husband (v. 9). Although Naomi was a godly woman, she tried to persuade her daughters-in-law to return to their family and gods so that her daughters-in-law would avoid the suffering and hardship that would most likely be inevitable if they continued on with her.

In their day and time, a woman’s role centered around being a wife and mother; therefore, her daughters-in-law only hope of finding security and provision they needed would be in the home of a husband. Naomi was concerned that if her daughters-in-law travelled with her that they would lose all chance of finding husbands as she had no more sons and was too old to bear more. Ruth understood that the only rest she needed was that which she found in Naomi’s God. So, she maintained her insistence that she go with Naomi and Naomi relented. However, Ruth’s move was bold as she, a widow, had no promise of provision or protection in Judah.

Ruth not only had to firmly hold her own when Naomi attempted to persuade her to go back, she also had to maintain her position when Orpah decided to turn back. Orpah and Ruth were both Moabites. They could have helped and supported each other once in Judah, as they both would have been foreigners. They had developed a close relationship as sisters-in-law, and no doubt Ruth was disheartened and discouraged when Orpah decided she could go no further.

What can we learn from Ruth’s actions here? Godly friends are good, and we should seek out godly counsel. But our decision to follow God will be tested. At times, God will allow us to walk through circumstances where we feel alone and others don’t rush in to give us the support we need or may even draw back from us when we forge ahead with God’s plans. Even in those circumstances, as Ruth does here, we should not be discouraged from going on but keep walking down the path God has for us.

3. Our breaking points may not be far from God’s blessings.

Even though it appeared that Ruth would only find more tragedy in leaving behind promising connections in Moab and going to Judah, she, in fact, by choosing to follow God, walked straight into unimaginable blessing. However, she could not have known what awaited her down the road leading away from Moab. What if she had followed Orpah and turned back at the point when circumstances looked and felt the worse? What if she hadn’t trusted God in her bleak circumstance — and turned back to her gods?

Sometimes our biggest blessings await us on the other side of our pain. While it might appear that nothing but suffering and hardship await us when we walk in God’s way, we see when we fast-forward in the story (Ruth does indeed find a husband and bears a son in the lineage of Jesus!) that God can work in our most difficult situations and turn them not only for our good but His glory. A.A. Thomson says this in The Biblical Illustrator:

How unfit we are to judge of an unfinished providence, and how necessary it is, if we would understand aright the reasons of God’s ways, that we should wait and see the web with its many colors woven out! Three short months, during which those dark providences were suddenly to blossom into prosperity and joy, would give to that sorrowful woman another interpretation of her long exile in Moab. When the night seems the darkest we are often nearest the dawn. Begin to tune thy harp, O weeping saint and weary pilgrim! ‘The night is far spent, the day is at hand.’ Learn to wait. When the great drama of our earth’s history is ended … God will again pronounce all to be ‘very good.’

Conclusion:

All of us will reach places in our spiritual walks that threaten to break us. “I can’t take another minute of this, God,” we may shout. We may want to turn away, escape to worldly distractions and comfort. We can learn from Ruth, though, that a woman who perseveres is a woman who finds blessings on the other side of her pain.

While me may not always know or understand why God allows what He does or why we’re in the situations we’re in, we can trust that all works for good for those who love God and walk in His ways.

Update: A few months after writing this post, I got a better understanding of the reason God had me call the woman at the call center back. Some time after this day of phone calls, I called to make another appointment and recognized the woman’s name on the phone as the woman God instructed me to call back. I told her I recognized her name and reminded her of the conversation we had previously had. She ended up being a different woman with the same name, but our conversation opened up a door with this woman where she told me that she was Muslim. We talked for a few moments about Christianity, and I shared a little with her about my faith. She was very open to talking with me, and I believe that I planted a seed with her that day. God had her in mind all along, although His plans did not make any sense to me months prior.

Related Resources:

Ever been in a bad situation and it just gets worse? Check out the other posts from the this series “Hope When You’re at the End of Your Rope: Lessons From Ruth on Trust, Surrender, and Healing.” In the study, we look at the story of Ruth where will draw lessons the next few weeks on the hope we have when life gets hard, and we feel abandoned and in need of rescue.  This post is adapted from the second post in this series. Check out the other posts: Part 1: Why God’s Way Is Always Best, Part 3: The Blessings of Following God,  Part 4: Trusting God When It Doesn’t Make Sense, Part 5: There Are No Shortcuts to God’s Promises, and Part 6: Walking Into All God Has for You.

If you are not yet a follower of the blog and want to receive our latest posts, follow us on Twitter or Facebook. Or leave a comment with your thoughts. We’d love to hear from you!

 *Updated and adapted from post published November 21, 2019.

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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God, Why Have You Led Me Here?

 

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I hung up the phone, my heart racing. Well that definitely didn’t go the way I had expected, I thought to myself. I had made the phone call at God’s bidding and said what He wanted, but the other person’s reaction hadn’t been the positive one I anticipated.

Afterwards, I sat there fuming at God. Really, God? I knew better than to resist His instruction to me, but I wanted to question His will at the moment. I wanted to run in the opposite direction and refuse to do another thing for Him.

When Doing God’s Will Leads to Suffering

Here’s what I was all tied up in knots about: If He was going to ask me to do an action for Him, I felt that it should end in good. The situation should end with a happy ending, with a ribbon tied in a bow on top. But yet again, I had stepped out to do an uncomfortable action because He had told me to, and it had ended in circumstances that were not what I wanted or planned.

Quite honestly, I felt that there had been too many of those situations lately. To human logic, it makes sense to do the hard thing that results in an award, the raise at work, the leading of someone to Christ, the healing, the miracle. But what about the hard action that leads to persecution, the argument, or the confusing events that don’t add up. What then?

In those scenarios, we can feel like God is being cruel to us because of what He has asked us to do. We may be infuriated by the fact that He has led us to a place where we are encountering hardship that we wouldn’t be encountering if we hadn’t listened to Him. We wouldn’t be the first to feel this way.

In the book of Job, Job becomes fed up with the hardship that has come in his life. He essentially tells God as much, accusing God of cruelty and persecution (Job 30:21, ESV). However, we know from reading the rest of the book of Job that God was not being malicious to Job — nor is He that to us. God allowed the affliction in Job’s life not to be cruel or play a mean game with Job’s life, but because He had a purpose. And Satan, not God, was the responsible party for the trouble that came into Job’s life. God did permit Satan’s actions, but He did so to prove Satan wrong and provide encouragement to many other sufferers who would come after Job.

In fact, God responds to Job’s accusation of cruelty and asks him this important question, “Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right?” (Job 40:8, ESV). The Message Translation words it like this: “Are you calling me a sinner so you can be a saint?” In other words, God asks Job if he is able to stand against Him on his own righteousness.

In our own lives, when we feel that God is being cruel to us because He has allowed or led us into undesirable circumstances, we see that God is more than capable of running the universe — and often our accusations of Him are made because we don’t understand things from His perspective. As Jon Bloom points in “When God Feels Cruel” on desiringgod.org, we have to trust in God’s goodness despite what our feelings tell us.

Certainly, after listening to God’s argument, Job repents of his original position and acknowledges that God is sovereign and worthy of praise no matter the events in his life. Similarly, in my own situation, while I didn’t get the same monologue God gave Job, God stopped me in my tracks by offering a divine response to my human argument.

What God Says About the Suffering That Comes From Doing His Will

The next morning during my quiet time, as I was still fuming over the injustice of the reality that good doesn’t always come for doing God’s will, I came across this gem of Scripture in 1 Peter 4:19: “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.”

Say what? I didn’t have to wait for a thunderclap from heaven to signal God’s answer. His response waited quietly right in front of me silencing every complaint I wanted to raise in His direction. I knew He wanted me to stop resisting Him and accept the situation He had ordained in my life. Like Job, I had to acknowledge God’s supreme power and knowledge even when things weren’t making sense according to my own wisdom.

When we’re in a place where we don’t like where God has brought us, we can break down this verse and look at a few ideas that may help us in our circumstance:

1. We will suffer for doing His will.

If we look at other translations of this verse, the wording is arranged to say not, “Those who suffer for doing the will of their Creator” but to say something more along the lines of, “If God’s will is for you to suffer.” For instance, the New Life Version says, “If God wants you to suffer,” and the New Century Version says, “Then those who suffer as God wants.”

No matter which translation you look at, the passage highlights the idea that God’s will and suffering are not mutually exclusive. Sometimes God’s will leads straight into suffering, and it’s difficult to accept in those moments because we don’t always know all the whys.

However, if we look at other sections of 1 Peter, we see that suffering in doing God’s will is something we should rejoice over — not something that should derail us from our calling.

2. Despite what happens, we need to commit ourselves to Him.

I love this next section. The verse tells us what we should do in the situation where obedience doesn’t appear to be paying off: “Commit ourselves to our faithful Creator.” The temptation is to get angry, to tell God we will control things, that we will “take it from here.” But this is where trust comes in. Do we believe He loves us? Do we believe His way is perfect and He knows all things? Do we believe He is worthy of our trust?

The passage assures us that He is trustworthy. In fact, quite interestingly, Peter uses the word “faithful” to describe the One who holds us and all of our circumstances together. He is faithful not just when events are favorable in our life — but even in the midst of suffering.

3. Even when we suffer, we need to continue to do good.

Lastly, the verse urges us to continue to do good even when it doesn’t make sense, the way is hard, and we want to give up. Quite honestly, what we all want to do when our situation doesn’t go the way we thought it would is run in the opposite direction. But this verse urges us to “continue to do good.” And that sometimes is the hardest thing. To continue when you don’t have the results you want, you don’t know why, and it doesn’t make sense.

Friend, we have a God who knows what He is doing. When the way is unclear, and we can’t see what He is doing, the passage urges us to keep on doing what we know is right. My former senior pastor used to say, “When you can’t see His hand, trust His heart.” In other words, when you have no earthly idea why circumstances are going the way they are or why He has allowed what He has in your life, you can still trust that God is good and His way is flawless.

When I survey my life, I know Him to be a faithful God. I can look back and see how He was constant through times where I was not. He has always been there for me and you, and He will continue to be faithful, or as one of my favorite worship songs says — “do it again.”

Let’s choose to trust Him even when His will leads to hardship rather than good.

* Updated and adapted from post originally published January 19, 2019.

Carol Whitaker

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

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How to Approach the Reading of God’s Word

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Recently, while helping my 6th grade daughter study for a social studies exam, I noticed she didn’t appear very confident about the answers on a particular section. When I asked her the reason, she admitted to me that she had just guessed the answers on that section because she couldn’t find the answers in her notes.

I almost laughed out loud when she told me (not because it was funny but because she hoped so sincerely that the answers would be right, even if they weren’t). I explained to her that she couldn’t get a good grade on her exam if she wasn’t even sure if her study materials were correct. She agreed with me and went through her information once again to look up the answers. It took extra time and wasn’t very convenient for her, but after she found answers for her questions, we could continue studying for her test.

The Bible Is the Best Guide for Life There Is

For obvious reasons, like my daughter, none of us want to “study” from a study guide that contains questionable information. In order to do well on a test, we want the study guide with correct information.

However, after our conversation, I thought about the reality that we use a “faulty study guide” if we attempt to go through life without reading the Bible. Obviously, our reason for reading the Word isn’t to get a good grade on a test. However, we aren’t going to benefit ourselves by using faulty information to base our decisions upon.

To best benefit from the wisdom within its pages, Paul outlines how we should approach the Word in 1 Thessalonians 2:13: “For this reason we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.”

What we can learn from Paul about how to approach the Word:

1. We should demonstrate an openness to the Word.

Paul notes that the Thessalonians received the Word of God. In other words, they demonstrated an openness to hearing the Word. Merriam-Webster defines “receive” as meaning “to come into possession of; to act as a receptacle or container for; to permit to enter; or to accept as authoritative, true or accurate.”

All these definitions are great, but I love, in particular the definition “permit to enter.” The Thessalonians permitted the Word to enter. Obviously, Paul wasn’t writing his letter in English, but even in the word use translated from the original we get such a rich meaning of what Paul meant here.

Paul’s use of “receive,” or paralambanó in Greek, is deliberate because his words reveal not only the reaction of the Thessalonians to the Word of God – but what our reaction should be to the Bible. We, too, should receive the Word and approach it with the same attitude of readiness and openness.

2. We should accept the Bible as the very words of God.

Receiving the Bible means more than just listening to it. If we want it to transform us, Paul tells us more about the approach we should have to the Word of God. As Paul clarifies, the Thessalonians accepted it “not as the word of mere men, but what it really is, the word of God.”

He brings up the point that the Word of God isn’t like any other book. The wisdom it contains is above all human knowledge or reason. God divinely inspired individuals to write down what they did to guide Christians in our spiritual walk. In 2 Timothy 3:16, it says: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”

In his day, just like in our day, there were people who listened to the Word, but believed it was merely a good teaching and not any different than other religious teachings out there. They simply added it to other pagan teachings they believed without giving it the elevation it deserved. Others listened to it and believed what it said but then went about their business and forgot to apply it to their lives. Others ignored it or rejected the words and decided that they were going to do life in their own way.

Because Paul had so many different reactions to his preaching of the Word, we can understand why he was so thankful that the Thessalonian church understand what the Bible really contained. They truly got it! And he tells them the amazing benefit as a result: their lives were changed. As he says, the Word was at work in those that believed. The same is true for us. Our approach to the Word will determine how it affects our lives.

A Few Words of Caution About Reading the Word

A few words of caution at this point! Being receptive to the Word doesn’t mean we should accept everything we hear a pastor or Christian podcaster say. Sometimes people misinterpret the Bible, twist Scriptural truth, and hurt and mislead many people in the process. We have to use discernment when listening to teachers and weigh what they say against biblical truth in our own time of study.

We also have to look into the context of verses and seek to understand the intent of what is written. In our zeal to understand and open ourselves up to it, we can sometimes rigidly apply principles that we don’t fully understand. We can have great intentions but misunderstand verses about female submission or other topics and hurt ourselves and others by insisting on an interpretation of these verses that God never intended.

In addition, there will be times we don’t understand what we read or we may even be offended by some of the truths of the Bible. Being open to the Word doesn’t mean we hide our questions or pretend that we don’t feel confused or even offended by certain truths. It’s OK to have questions about what we read and be honest with God about our struggles to accept certain portions of the Bible.

When we have a question, we can examine verses using study materials (such as a study Bible, online Bible commentary, Bible dictionary, or different translation) and communicate with other knowledgeable believers. Most importantly, we can pray and ask God to help us understand a concept or overcome our unbelief in an area, knowing that we need God’s Spirit to understand what we read (1 Corinthians 2:14). However, our questions should move us toward God, not away from him.

I love the story I read of a man who was struggling to believe Jesus was the Son of God. He wanted to believe it. He just couldn’t wrap his mind around it. So he went into his closet and prayed God would help him believe. When he emerged once again from his room, he announced excitedly to others that he believed Jesus was the Son of God. God had answered his prayer and helped him believe!

God wants to help us understand His Word as well, if we ask Him. While there are some questions that we will only know the answer to on the other side of eternity, God loves to answer us when we call on Him and wants us to seek to know His truths.

We Can Read the Word to Experience Life Change

My daughter skipped home a few days after our study session and delivered the news that she had earned an “A” on the test. All the extra work that she had done to fill her study guide out correctly yielded the fruit of a high grade on her exam.

When we accept the Word of God for what it really is and apply it to our lives, we will see the fruit of our efforts. When we begin to orient our lives around the most accurate “study guide for life” there is, or lives will begin to change.

In John 8:32, Jesus says, “You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free.” The word “know” in this verse is “ginosko” in the Greek and means to know through first-hand experience. God’s intention for us as Christians isn’t for us to read and only gain a bunch of head knowledge. His intention in giving us the Bible is to teach us how to live so that we can know in a real way what it means to experience the life-changing power of Christ and walk that out in our lives.

If we get a gift but never unwrap it, how can we enjoy its contents? In a similar way, if we never read God’s Word or do not take to heart what we read and let it change us, it’s like leaving a gift in its wrapping. It is of no use to us. If we haven’t been reading the Word lately or haven’t really opened ourselves up to it, we can get on track and begin to receive His Word into our lives.

Related Bible Verses:

Hebrews 4:12: “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

Psalms 1:1-3: “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinner take or sit in the company of mockers, but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither – whatever they do prospers.”

James 1:23-24: “Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in the mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.”

More on Reading God’s Word:

Ever feel distracted when trying to get into a daily routine of reading God’s Word? Ever hear a list of excuses about why you don’t have time for it? Satan knows how powerful the Word of God is. When we know Scripture, we not only learn more about God and His will for us, we also can use it to fight the lies of Satan. And he doesn’t want that! Therefore, Satan uses a variety of strategies to keep us out of the Word. Read about the strategies he uses and find encouragement to make Bible reading a daily habit with the following resource: Why Do We Close Ourselves Off to the Word of God?

In addition, check out this blog post I wrote about my own struggle to open myself up to the voice of God: My Problem in Hearing From God.

*Updated March 9, 2021.

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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All We Need to Have Joy This Christmas

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Some time ago, I picked up a prescription at the pharmacy. As I was waiting in line, I overheard the cashier say to the person in front of me, “There’s not much you can do.”

She was referring to the disaster of Hurricane Harvey as it ravaged the Houston area, and the fact that there is not much an individual can do to prevent or prepare for this kind of tragedy in one’s life. When it was my turn to step up in line, I said, “There may not be much we can to in terms of preventing these tragedies, but there is something we can do: Put our faith in God.”

She didn’t disagree with me. In fact, she nodded her head and gave me a professional smile that indicated she wasn’t entirely sure what to do with me. At a later time, because I am attempting to be less fearful and bolder in my faith, when I called to ask a question of the pharmacist, I talked with her once more and clarified that Jesus has made it possible for us to have a relationship with God. Putting our faith in Him gives us the strength to navigate tough situations.

How We Can Find Hope This Holiday Season

This Christmas, as we usher in the holiday, we may survey circumstances and feel like the cashier “there’s just not much we can do” to feel a sense of hope or joy or remedy some of the situations in our lives and world.

We live in times where fear is rampant and bad news comes at us every day: the continuation of the Covid-19 pandemic, threats from foreign countries, uncertainty in our political climate. In addition, the holidays may trigger for us painful losses, reminders of fractures in our families, discontent because our funds are low, or reminders of more peaceful times when we weren’t dealing with the stresses we are now.

However, the Word of God has much to say about how we are to approach life when we are afraid or unsure of our circumstances. In particular, Luke 2:10-14 (NKJV) addresses a group of shepherds in the field and assures them of the joy they can feel because of Jesus’ birth:

‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on the earth peace, goodwill toward men!’

While the message was meant for the shepherds and people of that day, it is also intended for us in our present day. We can draw a few key ideas from the angels’ proclamation that will help buoy our spirits, just as they did the shepherds’ spirits, if we are bogged down by negative thoughts and wish for a better time.

1. The message is for all people.

We can first observe that the news was for “all people” (v. 10). For the listeners of the time, this meant the nation of Israel. However, we know from reading the rest of Scripture that the Gospel was intended for all the world. The angels make it clear that the news is not just available to an elite group of people but for all people to accept and receive. The Bible tells us that “whoever believes will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

In some versions of the text, it says that the good news is for all people “on whom His favor rests.” This small line means that the Gospel is available to those with hearts open and ready to listen. While salvation is extended to all of humanity, we don’t get saved by living a good life or simply believing there is a God. We are only saved by accepting God’s plan for salvation and putting our faith in Jesus Christ (John 14:6Acts 4:12Matthew 7:13,14; Romans 10:9,10).

In addition, this extraordinary message was delivered to a group of ordinary shepherds. While shepherds to us may represent nobility as part of the nativity scene, shepherds in Jesus’ day were humble members of society. The fact that God chose these shepherds to be the recipients of this heavenly message, rather than an emperor or other important government official, should encourage us. God is not merely interested in those who have importance by the world’s standards. We know from this story and repeated other places in Scripture that God notices and uses the marginalized, forgotten, rejected, and unwanted.

You may think that you couldn’t possibly be chosen to be used by God or singled out for a particular calling, but He delights in using the humblest of vessels to shame the strong (1 Corinthians 1:27). Just as God showed up in an ordinary place to declare good news to these shepherds, He will show up to those who put their faith and trust in Him.

2. The message is one of peace.

There have been a few times in my life when I received really great news: when we were gifted a week at a vacation condo for my college graduation, when my parents offered to pay off our vehicle debt so that I could quit my job, when I was hired at my dream school teaching English, when I found out I was pregnant with each of my children.

However, the good news spoken of in this passage is beyond the good news we all look forward to in our lives: It is the best news mankind could possibly hear. Up until this point, mankind had been living in the fallout after Adam and Eve’s sin with hope of a future Messiah that hadn’t yet come. Life included rituals under Old Testament law that were hard to live out — and access to God only through priests.

Jesus was the prophesied Messiah — God’s plan to redeem fallen humanity. When the angels sing, “Glory to God in the highest. And on earth peace, goodwill toward men” (v. 14), the peace the angels sing about is a reconciliation in our relationship with God. Jesus came to earth to repair the relationship that was broken between man and God by man’s sin. In 2 Corinthians 5:18 it says, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” Similarly, Colossians 1:19-22 reads:

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him [Jesus], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.

Though our world may look out of control, and it may seem there is nowhere to put our hope — we have Jesus who came and provided a way for us to be connected once again to God. The Bible tells us that Jesus is holding all things together, and nothing is outside His control (Colossians 1:17).

3. The message indicates God’s intentions toward us.

The verse the angels sing speaks not only of the reconciliation or peace Jesus would bring between God and man but also of God’s “goodwill.” The word “goodwill” is an old-timey word that we don’t use all that much anymore, but goodwill means having a favorable attitude toward someone.

God’s sending of His Son, as detailed in this passage, indicates God’s good intentions towards His creation. Though in many religions God is depicted as distant, uninterested, or uninvolved, God — the only true God — is very passionate about and interested in His creation. When God created mankind, He made us as the very climax of His creation (Genesis 1:26-2:3).While He spoke the other elements of the universe into existence, He bent over His creation of man like a tender mother — and personally formed Adam out of the dust, and then later, Eve out of Adam’s rib (Genesis 2:72:22).

With scary events on the news, we may wonder how God could possibly have good intentions toward us or be a good God with all the bad we see. We should know that we aren’t the only ones to feel this way. Our first parents, Adam and Eve, had doubts about God’s goodness even though they lived in a perfect environment.

They gave into the temptation to doubt when the serpent gave Eve the idea that the only reason God didn’t want them eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was because he was holding out of them. If Adam and Eve succumbed to doubt even though God had given them every reason to believe in His goodness, how much more are we susceptible to these same thoughts?

The Bible tells us over and over of God’s love for us (Romans 8:37-39Eph. 2:4,51 John 4:9-11). In fact, God didn’t create suffering or sin. The very reason He allows it is because you and I wouldn’t be here if He had ended the world long ago. It’s because of His patience and kindness that He has not demolished His creation broken by sin. At one point, God will send Jesus back to earth to judge humanity and bring an end to this earth (Revelation 20:11-15Mark 13:31).

However, in the meantime, we have hope in the midst of our circumstances. We have Jesus who provided a way for us to be in right relationship with God despite sin. As this passage tells us, it is because of God’s goodness and love for us that He sent His Son to earth to save humanity.

Some of you listening may struggle with the idea that God loves you. Maybe no one has ever shown you love before or perhaps events in your life have led you to believe God doesn’t love you and you are unlovable. The opposite is true. Belief in God’s love is the key to experiencing His love. As you believe, you will begin to see and experience more and more God’s incredible goodwill toward you.

Conclusion:

With so much uncertainty and turmoil in our world, it’s easy to get swept up in fear or other negative emotions. We may long for a time when life wasn’t so complicated or look around us and have difficulty feeling joy in the midst of all we see. Just as the news given to the shepherds so long ago was meant to give them great joy and lift their spirits, so the news of Jesus is that which we can accept with joy years later and celebrate when all around us looks bleak.

In response to the news, the shepherds went to find Him. Similarly, if you are reading this and haven’t yet put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ or have received Him but are far away at this point, God promises to be found by those who seek Him (Jeremiah 29:13). Let’s take a moment to thank God for His wonderful gift of Jesus. And if you haven’t received the gift of salvation, I encourage you to do so now so that you too can live with the kind of peace and joy possible only when you are in relationship with Jesus Christ.

Prayer of Salvation: Dear Lord, thank you for Jesus. I believe in You and the fact that You sent Your Son to die on a cross for my sins. I admit I am a sinner in need of salvation. Please forgive me for my sins and walking apart from you. I ask you to be the Lord of my life, forgive my sins, and walk with me for the rest of my days. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Related Resources:

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

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

*Updated and adapted from article originally published December 1, 2017.

Carol Whitaker

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

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Why We Can Be Thankful Even When God Doesn’t Answer Our Prayers

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The Bible tells us to be thankful in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18). However, if you are anything like me, it’s hard to be thankful when you have been praying for a certain situation and feel that God hasn’t answered. He appears to be ignoring your requests and though you keep crying out to Him, He doesn’t answer in the way you want. In fact, He doesn’t appear to be answering you at all. What then?

In Mark 6:45-52, the disciples must have felt like Jesus was not answering their prayers. He sends them on ahead of him in a boat and they get caught up in a horrible storm. Even though He knows that they are being tossed about by the wind and the waves, He does not go to them right away. When He finally does walk out to them, they are frightened and think He is a ghost. It is only after He speaks to them that they recognize Him and the wind dies down.

A few observations we can make:

1. Jesus sends them into the storm.

Most of us, without really admitting it, most likely believe that the assignments Jesus gives us will probably conclude with a pleasant ending of some kind. However, what can feel really confusing is when Jesus sends us into a place that yields a storm.

We can often mistakenly believe that God doesn’t really love us because He surely wouldn’t send us into a storm, right? The reality we see in the passage is that Jesus knows what will happen to His disciples when He puts them in the boat.

2. Sometimes Jesus won’t feel all that near, even when we are walking in His will.

Interestingly, in the passage, Jesus isn’t with the disciples in the boat when they encounter the storm. He goes to a mountaintop to pray. In another situation in the Bible, Jesus is with the disciples in the boat when they get caught in a storm. He is asleep, but immediately wakes up (at the disciples’ urging) and calms the storm. He acts immediately to their need (Matthew 8:23-25).

But here, the storm drags on without the disciples receiving the relief they so desperately want. They row for hours, “straining at the oars” with the “wind against them” (Mark 6:52). And yet, Jesus does not immediately come to them, though He sees them struggling in the middle of the lake. He is not unaware of what they are going through. He isn’t too busy to come to them. He waits until the right moment, knowing that their faith will increase if He does not go to them right away. As commentator Joseph Benson says, “Thus Christ insures his disciples first to lesser difficulties, and then to greater, and so trains them by degrees to live and walk by faith, and not by sight.”

As we grow in our faith walk, God gives us situations where He feels far off to test and grow our faith. We can be thankful even when it feels like God is far off because He always has His eye on us and has not forsaken us — even when it feels like it. Therefore, even in those situations where we are crying out to Him and don’t understand why He doesn’t immediately intervene, He is aware of everything that is going on with us and will step in when the time is right.

3. If we’re not careful, we can grow hardened in a circumstance.

When Jesus does walks on the water out to them, they don’t recognize Him and they are frightened by Him. What happened?

Mark 6:52 tells us that they had not “understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.” Even though they had just seen Jesus perform a miracle in feeding 5,000 people with just a few loaves of bread and fish, they evidently do not believe that Jesus has the power to help them out of this particular circumstance. They can’t see what He is doing nor understand it. Thus, even when He comes to them on the water, they do not recognize Him and are afraid when they see Him. In fact, they believe He is a spirit coming to hurt them.

In a similar way, we can allow ourselves to become hardened in our own circumstance and have a similar reaction to Jesus’ aid. The word “hardened” here not only can refer to someone hardening his heart to protect himself from pain. The word also can mean that a person simply can’t perceive a situation.

As Lysa Terkeurst says, when God’s ways are “sometimes the opposite of what we want and expect,” we can miss “God’s answers when we get attached to the outcomes of our own thinking.” In other words, we can hold so rigidly to our own ideas about how a situation should go that when Jesus doesn’t meet those expectations, this can also make us miss what Jesus may be wanting to do. When our situation goes on for a long time and God allows circumstances to continue on that are causing us great turmoil, we can mistakenly believe that He does not want our good and misunderstand His intentions.

Most likely, the disciples generated their own expectations about how Jesus would rescue them and couldn’t comprehend it was Him when He showed up in a different way than they expected. Maybe they didn’t expect that He would walk on top of the water in the dark. Maybe they thought they would see Him once they reached the other side, or they thought He would calm the storm for them and not make them go through it. Whatever the case, they did not expect Him to come in the way He did and they didn’t recognize it was Him. They allowed their expectations to fix their minds in one direction and then couldn’t comprehend it when He didn’t meet their expectations.

Rather than allow our confusing circumstance to harden us so that we can’t see or understand what God is doing, we can keep watching for His answer and not allow ourselves to become hardened or embittered.

We Can Thank God in Our Hard Places

As humans, we don’t like circumstances that are confusing or unpredictable. We try to fix situations that we don’t like and, without meaning to, we create expectations of God and others to make it work out the way we envision.

As Terkeurst emphasizes, we can become disillusioned and discouraged when God doesn’t do what we want or answers our prayers differently than we expected. Proverbs 16:9 says, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.” God gave us minds so that we could think and plan — but His plans don’t necessarily follow ours.

When I learned we would be moving to the area we live in now, I resisted it at first. I didn’t believe it was God speaking to us. I loved our house and the area we lived in previously. The school system was fantastic, and I dreamed of raising our kids there. When my husband first mentioned that he was interested in a job that would require a move, I told him he was crazy and it wasn’t happening. Then, as I began praying about it, God confirmed throughout the next few weeks that we were to move.

I had been praying for a change in a particular area, but when God delivered on it, I didn’t recognize His answer to my prayer. I thought that he would change some people in my circumstance. I did not think He would take us out of it. In addition, I didn’t think He would move us to the place He did. His plan for us was so beyond my own ideas of what I thought should happen.

Once we moved, the shock wore off, and I learned to accept the unfamiliar aspects of where we were. Now, over four years later, my kids are thriving in their schools, the new house has been a better fit for us in this stage of life because it has more bedrooms (and we added one more kid to our family after we moved). However, if I had simply gone with my feelings and made a decision based on those, we would have never moved and missed out on what God wanted to do in our family with this change of location.

Conclusion:

Making plans is good. Asking God to intervene in a situation is good. However, when we develop expectations of God in a situation, we may not see what He wants to do. We have to keep our minds and hearts open and hold our plans loosely, allowing Him to do as He pleases. (As a side note, we don’t have to fear that we won’t know which way to go or that we won’t hear Him. As long as we stay connected to Him, we will know the way to take.)

Even when the way He leads is dark and unfamiliar, we can thank Him. If we are following after His lead, even if it leads to hardship and dark places, we are never out of His sight or reach. He has us just where He wants us. We can trust He will do what’s best in our situation and lead us where we need to go — even if it is a place we hadn’t necessarily expected or foreseen.

Related Resources:

A Reason to Give Thanks: As we enter into this holiday season, it may be hard to find reasons to be thankful. Storms tear through communities. Civil unrest continues on in many cities. Our nation is divided along political, religious, and racial lines. Covid-19 rages on. How we can we think of giving thanks? The Bible tells us to give thanks in all circumstances — not because we are thankful for the situations, but because we can be thankful in the midst of the circumstances.

Thankfulness is necessary to help us navigate life’s chaos and still maintain the peace of God. Join me for the next few posts where I put the spotlight on gratitude. If you haven’t read been following along on the blog, check out the first post in this series, Cultivating Peace When Life Is Crazy.

Ever worried that you won’t hear the voice of God or know which way to go? Check out the following Christmas-themed posts on seeking God for His direction: What the Wise Men Teach Us About Following God and When You Need to Know Your Next Step of Faith.

Carol Whitaker

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

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Cultivating Peace When Life Is Crazy

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Do you have a situation in your life driving you crazy?

I’ve got one that keeps popping up in my life. Even I say in advance that I’m going to approach the situation without losing it, I find, more often than not, that I do the exact opposite.

Recently, I had a string of days that stretched me thin. I had a lot of prep to do for a get-together at my house. The pressures of my kids’ schedule had been bearing down on me and, to top it all off, conflict popped up with another person. I had had enough.

So, it shouldn’t have been surprising that in the midst of all of the drama, still feeling stressed and agitated, I vented about my frustrating situation (with hysterical tears) to a complete stranger. I felt embarrassed by my lack of self-control and oversharing of the situation. Why had I allowed myself to unload so passionately and thoughtlessly?

Ever been there?

Colossians 3:15 says: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.”

Two observations we can make:

How We Can Experience the Peace of God

1. Jesus is the Peace-giver.

The passage tells us to allow the “peace of Christ to rule in [our] hearts.” Jesus is identified as the One who gives us peace. And His peace is unlike what the world offers. Jesus says elsewhere in John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Christ’s peace is more than a fuzzy “kumbayah” feeling, although it can be that. Christ’s peace is that which can boss our unruly emotions around and bring them into submission. The word “rule” in the verse is a term used in Olympic games where a person would preside over the games and maintain order. The verse tells us that we to allow God’s peace to rule or govern us — crazy emotions and all.

As The Life Application Study Bible says, “When we have a clash of emotions we ‘decide’ between conflicting elements by using a rule of peace.” In others words, we decide to allow the peace of God to dictate our responses rather than simply allowing our emotions to dictate us.

2. Because Jesus is the Peace-giver, we can come to Him for peace.

Knowing that Jesus is the Peace-giver, how can we, as believers, “decide” for His peace to rule over us? What about those times when it feels like our feelings decide for us? When I prayed to have understanding of this verse, God reminded me not only that Jesus is the Peace-giver, He reminded me that we need to go to the Peace-giver to receive peace.

In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus says: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (emphasis mine). Interestingly, the Amplified translation of Colossians 3:15 reads like this: “Let the peace of Christ [the inner calm of one who walks daily with Him] be the controlling factor in your hearts [deciding and settling questions that arise]” (emphasis mine).

We can know Christ and have asked Him in our life and still live without His peace. It is walking daily with Him that activates that peace to rule over our hearts and minds.

In my situation where I overshared with a person, I started my day without spending that time with the Lord and spewed toxic emotions on the first person to ask me how I was doing. Of course, it felt good to share my frustrations. But, later that day, I still felt burdened. I finally went to the Lord in prayer and sat for a few minutes with Him. I felt too anguished to say much, but in telling Him how I felt, a tranquility came over me and the hysteria inside calmed.

We can have peace even in the midst of challenging circumstances when we stay connected to Jesus through daily prayer and the reading of His Word. And this peace isn’t just a personal peace for our own benefit, this is a peace that will affect our relationships with others as well. When we are better able to control our responses, we will find it easier to maintain peace with others around us — even when we have differing opinions on an issue.

To Increase Our Peace — Add Thanksgiving

At the end of the passage we are instructed not only to cultivate the peace of God by spending time with the Peace-Giver, we are instructed to give thanks. So many times, even in prayer, when we are distressed, we focus on merely telling God what we are unhappy about and what we need. While telling God how we feel is going to improve our overall outlook and mood, we can also maintain our peace by expressing gratitude to God even in the midst of our most difficult situations — both in prayer and throughout the day.

Will we sometimes fail and lose it even when we carve out this time for the Lord? We will! And in those instances we need to give ourselves grace. Some days we might face unexpected circumstances where quiet time isn’t possible or we do spend time with God and our flesh still takes over. We are not going to be perfect in managing our emotions. When we fail, we can ask for His forgiveness and apologize if we’re offended or hurt someone else in our anger. The verse, I believe, isn’t to make us feel guilty about all the times we’ve missed the mark.

Rather, by emphasizing that we need the peace of God and thanksgiving to govern our emotions, Paul gives us the necessary tools to navigate the inevitable conflicts and irritating circumstances that will get on our last nerve. By spending time with God, we will not have to waste time trying to fix circumstances or people to work the way we want so we can have peace. We can maintain our calm and internal peace even in the midst of aggravating circumstances.

Doesn’t that sound better than losing control?

Related Resources:

A Reason to Give Thanks: As we enter into the thanksgiving season, it may be hard to find reasons to be thankful. Storms are tearing through communities. Civil unrest continues on in many cities. Our nation is divided along political, religious, and racial lines. Covid-19 rages on. How we can we think of giving thanks? The Bible tells us to give thanks in all circumstances — not because we are thankful for the situations, but because we can be thankful in the midst of the circumstances. Thankfulness is necessary to help us navigate life’s chaos and still maintain the peace of God. Join me for the next few posts where I put the spotlight on gratitude.

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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Holding Onto Hope When Experiencing Injustice

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“Injustice” is a term we see frequently in the news right now. There are people who are protesting against injustices in our society and government. Some are protesting in the right way by gathering in peaceful assemblies to have their message heard. Others are protesting in the wrong way by rioting — even taking over whole blocks of a city.

While some are using the situation to further their own violent agenda or simply loot stores, there are those who are genuinely crying out against those who have mistreated them because of the color of their skin. Many of them can tell stories of times where they or people they know were denied privileges and/or treated unfairly because of their skin color.

What Is Injustice?

Injustice can be defined as a situation where there is no fairness or justice, where people are experiencing inequity or mistreatment at the hands of someone else. The very distressing element of injustice is that the mistreatment often happens to people who have no power in a situation. They don’t have the freedom in every case to even peacefully protest, like we can in the United States. For instance, in certain countries, citizens that speak out or attempt to enact change are silenced, imprisoned, or killed. Citizens are forced to live in unjust circumstances without the power to change their laws.

Similarly, in a relationship, a person can experience injustice. A parent or a spouse can mistreat a person, and the spouse may not have a say in certain aspects of the relationship. In a job, a boss may not lead in a right manner and may be cruel or unfair to his or her employees. Employees may be fearful of losing their job or backlash if they speak up, so they suffer in silence.

While we might be tempted when experiencing injustice to numb our pain with a substance or distract ourselves with social media, a hobby, or other distraction, we do have a place we can turn. While we may feel that God is indifferent to our suffering, the Bible describes God as One who cares deeply about us and rescues those who cry out to Him (Psalm 9:9; Deuteronomy 32:3, 4; Psalm 34:7).

Psalm 120 says this:

I call on the Lord in my distress,

and he answers me.

Save me, Lord,

from lying lips

and from deceitful tongues.

What will he do to you,

and what more besides,

you deceitful tongue? He will punish you with a warrior’s sharp arrows,

with burning coals of the broom bush.

Woe to me that I dwell in Meshek,

that I live among the tents of Kedar! Too long have I lived

among those who hate peace. I am for peace;

but when I speak, they are for war.

The author of the psalm is unknown but he calls out for deliverance from “lying lips” and “deceitful tongues.” He doesn’t tell us who is being dishonest with him, but conflict with this individual or individuals has been going on for an unbearably long time. Later, in verses 5-7, he says that he has been dwelling in Meshek and Kedar, saying, “Too long have I lived among those who hate peace. / I am for peace; / but when I speak, they are for war.

What he means here by Meshek and Kedar is that he has long lived with people that are hostile. Meshek and Kedar were nations near Israel that were considered enemies of the Jews. The author isn’t actually living in these nations, but he feels like he is because of how he is being treated. His mistreatment could have come by foreigners or by Jews who were not living as they should. As Warren Wiersbe points out, “Any Jew who feared God and respected the Ten Commandments would not bear false witness against another Jew or seek to slander his or her name. It would be difficult to dwell with these foreign peoples, but it would be even more difficult to dwell with Jewish people who acted like foreigners.”

In other words, because the Jews knew covenant laws they would have known not to slander and mistreat one another. Therefore, if indeed the psalmist was attacked by fellow Jews, the attack would feel been all the more painful because these fellow Jews knew better and it wasn’t what he was necessarily expecting. Similarly, if we are being accused or misunderstood by fellow believers, this can be particularly painful and unsettling because we don’t expect to be treated this way by fellow members of the body of Christ.

The psalmist has attempted to live peacefully with his attackers, but they create conflicts and difficulties continually no matter what he does. In desperation, he calls on God to save him. His cries to God are those that we can relate to if we are in situation where we have been targeted unfairly by those around us.

What hope can the psalm give us when facing injustice?

1. God is our refuge.

The psalmist’s refuge is the Lord. We can make so many things our refuge: the approval of others, material items, relationships. And yet, our only true refuge is the Lord. While we can certainly rally for change if injustice is being done, we need to draw our strength and support from God and allow Him to direct us in the best course of action in our situation. Sometimes the best action is to speak up in a respectful way. Other times, God asks us to allow Him to fight for us and remain quiet. No matter the course, we can only know it if we turn to God in our distress.

2. God hears and answers.

When we are in an unjust situation, we are often helpless to remove ourselves from it. There are people in power over us, and we don’t control what is happening to us. In addition, we might have the situation where no one will even listen or acknowledge what we are going through. Yet, we have the assurance in the psalm that God hears and God knows. When no one else will hear our case or defend us, we have a just God who sees and knows all and takes up the case of the helpless and oppressed.

3. Recompense will come to those who slander us.

Within all of us is a need for there to be justice done, for right to be wronged. We want those who hurt us to pay for the hurt they have caused us, and we might feel like nothing will happen to those who wrong us. That can easily make us want to take matters into our own hands. But we don’t need to do that. When the arrows of slander come our way and we have no way to defend ourselves, we are promised that God will take up our cause.

What is the recompense of those who slander others? The psalmist asks this question within the psalm, saying, “What will he do to you, and what more besides, you deceitful tongue?” (v. 2). He then answers it saying that slanderers will receive “sharp arrows” and “burning coals of the broom bush” (v. 4). Note, the broom bush, or juniper bush, was a bush that burned for a long time with extremely hot coals. In fact, one commentary I read mentioned stories of travelers burning this brush in their fires and returning a year later to find the embers still burning! (This was obviously an exaggeration to make a point, but the story shows how junipers were known to burn a long time.) Juniper coals would be hotter and cause more pain than other types of wood.

What the passage is saying is that those who hurt us will not just “get away with it,” so to speak. They will receive due compensation for their wrongdoing — though it may not happen immediately. Their harsh words will come back upon them, and they will feel the burning torment — of the same type, and even worse — that they have hurled on innocent victims.

Conclusion:

Our reaction to injustice that has long happened to us and gone unchecked is that God does not care and will not act, but we are assured of the opposite in this psalm. While there are often situations that we are called on to act and stand up for ourselves, there are some situations where we cannot do anything to stop our oppressor or appeal to anyone else to help.

As Charles Spurgeon points out in his discussion of this verse, often others’ own sense of justice is so skewed (hence, why they are treating us the way they are), that it is pointless for us to even attempt to defend ourselves. In those situations, we have a God we can appeal to. We don’t have to take matters in our own hands or succumb to out-of-control emotions that make the situation worse. We can appeal to a God who will comfort, encourage, strengthen, and defend us. However, we must abide in Him to receive His protection and aid.

That knowledge can help us move forward when wrong is being done against us and have hope that we won’t have to suffer the injustice forever.

Related Bible Verses:

Isaiah 25:4: “You have been a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the needy in their distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat.”

2 Samuel 22:7: “In my distress I called to the LORD, I called out to my God. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came to his ears.”

Psalm 34:17: “The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles.”

Related Resources:

Ever worry that you won’t ever be able to feel joy again and get out of your current slump? Check out previous episodes in this series that explore how to hold onto hope, joy, and peace in the midst of trials: Part 1: “Joy in the Midst of Trials,” Part 2: “Navigating Suffering When We Want to Understand,”  Part 3: “How God Gives Us What We Need to Make It Through Our Difficult Circumstance,” and Part 4: “Viewing Persecution as a Blessing.”

Blog News:

As I mentioned on the podcast, I am still publishing! Due to Covid-19, my schedule has been disrupted, so I am not publishing as much as I normally do, but I am still posting at God’s leading. If anything changes, I will make an announcement on the blog.

You may have noticed that I don’t have multiple contributors on the blog right now as I have in years past. I am taking a break from having other contributors for the time being, but I may have other voices on the blog in the future. I am praying about some decisions regarding the blog, so just be in prayer for me. Thanks for your grace extended to me and your support. – Carol

 *Updated April 1, 2021.

Carol Whitaker

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

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