Suffering That Comes for Doing God’s Will

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Have you ever wanted to fight God on an issue even though you knew that He would blow you out of the water with an argument or action that would show you how wrong you were? Have you ever wanted to wrestle against God even though you knew He would win?

I know the fallacy of using my own human logic to try to guide my life or figure out God. I’ve been walking with him long enough to know that His ways are not my own. He has shown that to me over and over.

But recently, even though I knew that it was pointless, I wanted so badly to accuse Him and turn away. I’d been in this place many a time, and I know the danger of going my own way, but I wanted to flee anyway.

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 expected.

Quite honestly, I felt that there had been too many of those situations lately. It makes sense to do the hard thing that will end in the 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. As Jon Bloom points in “When God Feels Cruel” on desiringgod.org, 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 Bloom notes, 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 to you 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 grapple with 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 pan out 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.

Related Bible Verses:

Proverbs 16:9: “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.”

Galatians 6:9: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

*Adapted from a post originally published October 9, 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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How Double-Mindedness Causes Inconsistency in Our Christian Walk

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This past weekend, my phone died. I tried plugging its charger into different sockets, but it wouldn’t turn back on. I know this isn’t a major crisis, but I have come to rely too much on that little device! As I had to take my daughter to a party for her dance academy that day, my husband offered to go to the Verizon store and see about getting a new phone. When I returned from my daughter’s party, my husband had transferred all of my contacts, notes, and apps onto my new phone. He had also gotten my old phone to turn on once again. Though I didn’t have to re-enter contacts or notes that I had already saved, I did notice on my new phone that I had to re-install certain apps again.

Because I have been busy these past few days, I haven’t had time to go through and do this, so I’ve been using two phones. I have been using my new phone to call and text and my old phone to get into certain apps that are not yet installed on my new phone. This two phone situation is driving me a little crazy for sure, and I am resolving as soon as possible to consolidate everything on my new phone so I won’t have to be switching back and forth any longer.

Balaam: A Man With a Divided Heart

This idea of not being divided can be applied beyond my phone situation. In fact, in our Christian life, the Bible talks about not being divided in our devotion to God, and for good reason! A divided heart is one that is distracted and unable to focus as well on what it should. Matthew 22:37 tells us, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and with all your mind” (emphasis mine). This word all means our whole self — literally all the parts of us. Similarly, Matthew 6:24 says, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” God wants us to love Him more than anything else because loving anything else more than God will get us into trouble in our spiritual walk and lead us down the wrong path.

To illustrate this point, we need only look at the story of Balaam in Numbers 22. You may know of his story because it is unquestionably a little odd — as his donkey turns and speaks to him in the course of his story. However, before we ever get to that point of his tale, we see a man who looks good on the outside, but has a heart issue. He has a covetous heart: He desires wealth and prestige and honor, and yet, he is not completely bent on his own sinful desires. He also desires to do what God tells him. He is a prophet of sorts, but the Bible is clear that he is not one of God’s prophets. He does hear from God, but he is a soothsayer or diviner.

When we first meet Balaam, Balak, the Moabite king, is concerned about Israel advancing near his land and wants Balaam to pronounce a curse on the Israelites. He sends messengers to Balaam with his request and money for Balaam’s services. Balaam invites the messengers to stay the night. Over the course of the night, Balaam asks God what he should do and receives this reply from the Lord: “Do not go with them. You must not put a curse on those people, because they are blessed” (Numbers 22:12). In the morning, Balaam conveys the words of the Lord to the messengers, saying: “Go back to your own country, for the Lord has refused to let me go with you” (Numbers 22:13).

By his actions, Balaam looks like is being obedient, but we notice in his reply to the messengers that he doesn’t entirely close the door on the king’s offer. Rather than say “I can’t do as you ask because God will not permit me to do so,” he says instead, “The Lord has refused to let me go with you” (emphasis mine). He sounds a little reluctant in his message. Rather than firmly close the door on the offer of the king, he leaves a little room for a better offer. I love what the S.S. Chronicle from The Biblical Illustrator notes here: “There are many people who say, ‘No,’ but so faintly that there seems a ‘Yes’ in it, so that it only invites further persuasion. Many a man, tempted by appetite within, and by companions without says ‘No’ feebly and faintly. His ‘No’ has a ‘Yes’ in it.” Might we say that Balaam’s “No” leaves room for a “Yes”? I think so.

When the messengers return and tell the king Balaam’s reply, Balak isn’t thwarted. Being a pretty shrewd guy, Balak assesses correctly what may change Balaam’s mind and sends back new more honorable messengers and promise of a greater reward.

When the second group of messengers shows up with the same request, Balaam doesn’t turn them away. Even though Balaam already knows God’s stance on the issue, he invites the second group of messengers in and prays a second time asking to find out more from the Lord. Again, on the outside his actions look pious enough. He is praying, after all, and hasn’t disobeyed God directly, but by inviting the men in a second time, he cracks the door open to sin just a little further. He has no need to ask a second time as God has already given him an answer, and yet, Balaam prays because he is hoping to receive a different response from God. He wants the honor of association with the princes, the reward that will be offered, and the favor of the king.

Notice what happens. Numbers 22:20-22 says this: “That night God came to Balaam and said, ‘Since these men have come to summon you, go with them, but do only what I tell you. Balaam got up in the morning, saddled his donkey and went with the Moabite officials. But God was very angry when he went, and the angel of the Lord stood in the road to oppose him.”

Double-mindedness Causes Contradiction and Inconsistency in Our Actions

Did God change His mind? Why did God first say he could not curse the nation, but then permit him to go with the men who were leading him back to the king intent on such an errand? Did God contradict Himself here? Scholars provide different arguments on this issue. Some say that God granted Balaam permission to go with the men as long as he did not speak a curse. Some say that God gave Balaam over to his sin because he was determined to go in that way. Others says that what Balaam thought was the voice of God granting him permission was really the voice of his own desire telling him what he wanted to hear.

In studying this passage, I find value in all of these interpretations, but one that resonates with me and helps to explain God’s actions is that Balaam may not have even heard clearly from God and heard the voice of his own desires telling him to go. Such a reading helps us understand why God would “permit” Balaam to go, but then get angry with him for going and send an angel to block his path. Certainly, Balaam is met with one difficulty after another on his journey because of God’s anger and the opposing angel: His donkey sees the angel before Balaam does and turns aside to a field, crushes Balaam’s foot against a wall, lays down under Balaam, and talks back to Balaam (Numbers 22:23-31). When Balaam does see the opposing angel, he repents but again seems to hear that he can go, so he just keeps on going. None of the strange events on his trip deter him from moving forward.

When we observe Balaam’s actions and what happens to him, the passage appears confusing and contradictory. However, the contradiction exists in Balaam, not in God. If we think about it, Balaam’s actions perfectly depict what happens when we wish to obey God but have another desire that we also wish to see come to fruition that is greater than our desire to obey. James 1:8 tells us that a double-minded person is unstable in all they do. When we look at what it means to be double-minded, the word used in the Greek is “dipsuchos” and means one who has two souls: one directed towards God and the other directed towards the world.

True, later in Numbers 22:38, when Balaam finally reaches the king, Balaam does say that he can only speak the words of God and holds to that in the presence of Balak, speaking blessings over the nation of Israel rather than curses. But unfortunately, just a few passages later, Balaam, so intent on only speaking the word of the Lord in these earlier passages and refusing to curse the nation, advises the king to seduce Israel to worship other gods and commit sexual immorality (Numbers 31:16; Revelation 2:14).

Avoiding the Way of Balaam

It is puzzling that Balaam would not curse Israel at Balak’s request but then go back to him and advise him on another way to destroy the nation God had said he must not be curse. Why would he not just stay away from Israel altogether? Bob Deffinbaugh offers the insight that Balaam hatched the perfect plan to please the king so he could get the wealth and honor he was after — without directly disobeying God. He knew that the Israelites were bound by a covenant with God, and sexual and spiritual adultery would be an indirect way to bring God’s curse upon Israel. So, essentially his counsel to Balak was, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” And 24,000 Israelites were killed because of Balaam’s counsel!

At some point in his return home from blessing Israel, Balaam allows his covetous heart to win the fight. Whereas in the first part of story we see a man struggling with his competing desires, he eventually allows his own desire to overwhelm the voice of God and suffers a complete collapse of morality. Elsewhere in Scripture, Balaam is described as the epitome of evil, and we are warned not to go the way of Balaam (Deuteronomy 23:4,5; Joshua 13:22; 2 Peter 2:15).

So, how can we ensure we don’t follow in his footstetps? Note what T.T. Munger says on what Balaam’s actions teach us, as recorded in The Biblical Illustrator:

It is the old story of humanity — dallying with temptation in the field of the imagination, bribing conscience with fair promises, yet all the while moving up to the forbidden thing … I shall never become a drunkard, but I will drink in moderation. I shall never permit myself to be called a selfish man, but I will take good care of myself in this rough world. I shall never become dishonest, but I will keep a keen eye for good chances. Thus it is that men are passing to ruin over a path paved with double purposes.

In other words, Munger makes the point that many of us attempt to play with temptation and get near to that that which is forbidden without actually being overcome by it, but that is a game that we will inevitably lose. If God has told us no, we need to abide by what He has said and stay far away from whatever He has prohibited. As I have heard it said before, we can’t expect to play with sin and treat it like a pet, when it is a wild animal that will devour us. Balaam had many chances to shut the door on this temptation, but instead, entertained it until it eventually consumed him. His story admonishes us not to follow his path and let our hearts lead us away from what God tells us to do.

Devoting Ourselves to God Alone

Friends, this story was deeply convicting for me because I struggle with inconsistency in my spiritual walk. In one instance, I am a bold witness and in another, I shrink back in fear. I want to do the will of God, but I have other desires that compete with His will — and sometimes they win. However, though we might feel despair when we read Balaam’s story, the truth is that we all are double-minded at times. We all struggle with sin and our own fickle hearts. This story is meant to instruct us and make us aware of the reasons for our own inconsistency in doing the will of God, but is not meant to condemn us. Proverbs 24:16 tells us that a righteous man falls seven times but gets back up.

As believers, we are made perfect through Jesus’ blood on the cross, and when we come face-to-face with our own failures, we can repent and ask for God’s help. We don’t have to beat ourselves up for chasing after the wrong things. We trust God’s promises and understand that it is through Jesus that we have forgiveness of our sin and the power to walk away from the temptations that ensnare us and lead us from the path God has for us.

If we are struggling with inconsistency or hearing the voice of God, we can pray a few things:

  1. We confess to God and ask for His help. While we may feel guilt and shame that we have wandered again or chased after something harder than we’ve been chasing after God, we lay bare our hearts before Him (knowing He knows everything about us before we say a word) and we tell Him that we want to be devoted only to Him. We accept His mercy and leave our guilt and shame for our failings at the altar.
  2. If we cannot see it on our own, we ask Him to help us see if there if an overriding desire/idol in our lives driving our decision-making. What desire of ours is seeking to lead us down the wrong path? What do we want so much that we are sacrificing our effectiveness as a Christian and obedience to God to have it?
  3. Once we have identified what desire is attempting to derail us, we can evaluate our actions that were perhaps made because of this desire. Are there ways that we have compromised? Are there actions we need to go back to made in following our desire rather than God that we need to go back to and make right?

How about you? How has Balaam’s story impacted you? Are there ways you would like to be more consistent in your Christian walk? Share with us in the comments.

Related Resources:

This article is one in a series “What Happens When We Believe God’s Words Are True.” Check out the other posts and accompanying episodes in the series:  Part 1: “When You Need a Miracle,” Part 2: “Choosing not to Fall Into Doubt and Unbelief,” Part 3: “How to Respond to the Miracles of God,” and Part 4:  “The Reason We Celebrate.”

Click on the podcast link above to hear my own personal story related to double-mindedness. Want to hear more articles in podcast form? Visit our podcast archive to listen to past episodes.

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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The Reason We Celebrate

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In praying about what to write about for this holiday season, God gave me the word “celebration.” As I looked over the story of Luke 2, I asked God to help me see what he wanted me to see, and I noticed, in particular, the reaction of the shepherds to the angels’ celebration and proclamation of Jesus’ birth in Luke 2:20: “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” (emphasis mine)

The shepherds’ reaction highlights a major reason we celebrate in our faith: when God does something on our behalf and does what He says He will do.

As if to emphasize that I was onto the right idea, the next day I was listening to the radio and heard an interview with Matt Maher in regard to his recent Christmas album. They played his song “Always Carry You” from the album, which he wrote with Amy Grant, and one line stood out to me: “I will not be afraid. All your words are true.”

Just to put it in context, the song is sung from the perspective of Mary when she receives news that she will become pregnant with the Messiah. For those of you not drawing the connection, the song underlines in a similar way the same idea expressed in Luke 2: God’s words are true, and when we see before our eyes what He said will come to pass, the feelings of joy and excitement are unsurpassed.

Celebration by the Shepherds in the Christmas Story

In Luke 2, the shepherds were just engaging in their nightly duties, nothing out of the ordinary, and all of a sudden, they were interrupted. An angel appeared, saying: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (vv. 10-12). Then a host of angels appeared, praising God.

When the angels left, the shepherds said to each other, “ ‘Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’ So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them” (vv. 16-18). It is at this point in the story, in verse 20, we are told: “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”

What can we observe from the shepherds?

1. Celebration centers on what God has done for us.

The shepherds were told of the Messsiah’s birth in an amazing way — by the angels, and then they went and saw the child that they had been told to go and find — and they were aware of the prophecies surrounding His birth. This would have been an event of a lifetime! The shepherds could hardly contain their excitement that they had been given front-row seats to such a miracle.

All of the events that they witnessed could only be attributed to God. Before the shepherds were praising God, the angels in the story were praising God for His mighty work in sending the Messiah to repair the broken relationship between man and God (for those willing to accept Jesus as their Savior). Multiple other places we see that miracles are performed by God for various reasons — but one reason is that they display His greatness and power. And viewing His power sparks a response within us … which leads me to my next point.

2. Our celebration is a witness to others.

I’ve never thought about it in these terms before, but as I was perusing a Bible dictionary, I noticed that praise of God is listed as a witness to others (Psalm 9:11, 2 Corinthians 9:13). When we praise God, we tell others to get on board with His goodness and inspire others to either come to the faith or encourage other believers already in the faith.

In this passage, the angels first celebrated the miracle in the birth of the Messiah. Then, just a few short verses later, we can’t miss that the shepherds were “glorifying and praising” God in a similarly exuberant way. Why? “For all the things they heard and seen.” They had witnessed the angel announcing the message of the Messiah’s birth and then a host of angels singing praise to God. And the Messiah in human form. Witnessing all of these events caused joy and praise to bubble up within them.

If you’re not getting it yet, we see that the angels’ witness to the shepherds inspired a chain reaction — a circular motion. The shepherds were inspired by the witness of the angels and went to see for themselves what the commotion was all about. When the shepherds followed to find more of God’s goodness, this, in turn, lead to telling others, and more people knowing about and being able to celebrate the goodness of God.

3. We celebrate Him when we experience Him.

However, while the shepherds praised God for what He alone could do, they were not merely inactive bystanders up until the point where they broke out in praise. They were given a directive to go and see the child and they “hurried” to go and find Him (v. 16).

What if they had decided to sit back and wait a few days? What if they had doubted the angels’ message? As a result of choosing to act on what they had seen and heard from the angels, they went and found another miracle in the Savior. Therefore, while God was responsible for the miracles the shepherds saw in the angels and the person of the Messiah, the shepherds had a role to play in going to see about what God had said they would find. And then they praised Him because they went and experienced Him. Similarly, we, too, will have experiences that elicit praise when we make it our mission to know and seek Him in response to His pursuit of us.

There were individuals in the story that responded with awe to the shepherds’ story, but their amazement ended there. They did not go and investigate what the shepherds had told them. How often we will pour our heart out for others and feel that we don’t make any impact. Or do we? The story of the shepherds is one that moves out of view as we progress through Luke, and yet, their story is one that has encouraged millions, particularly at this time of year.

Though there were some in the shepherd’s immediate realm that didn’t act on what they heard — the shepherds’ message is one that has had a ripple effect and has gone so far as to touch you and me. Surely, the shepherds could not know in the moment what impact their small role in the Christmas story would have on future generations. What might our reactions and telling of God’s actions do to others around us when we step out in faithfulness, as the shepherds do here, and act as witnesses of God’s glory?

Conclusion:

When we walk with God, we will continually have moments of celebration and praise because as we grow in Him we will learn more about His praiseworthy nature and see more of His works on display. We will continually have moments where He will show up for us in big ways — and this leads us to be able to have stories of praise to share with others.

Though you might not feel big or important or as pulled together as other Christians, your praise of Him matters. Like the ordinary shepherds keeping watch out on fields one night, you have a sphere of influence that God would like to use for His glory. Though we celebrate God in response to what He does for us — we also celebrate to show others what we have in our great God so that they, too, will want to seek Him.

Related Resources:

This is the fourth post in a series called “What Happens When We Believe God’s Words Are True.” Check out the other posts and accompanying episodes in the series:  Part 1: “When You Need a Miracle,” Part 2: “Choosing not to Fall Into Doubt and Unbelief,” or Part 3: “How to Respond to the Miracles of God.”

Feel like you need more Christmas? Read this Christmas-themed post to help you continue to praise God for sending His Son: “What Jesus Came to Do (and the Best News This Christmas).”

Are you new to this whole Christianity thing? Would you like a personal relationship with Jesus but don’t know where to begin? Visit our Know God page to learn how to receive salvation and make Jesus the Lord of your life.

*Updated December 27, 2018.

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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How to Respond to the Miracles of God

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When you hear the word “miracle,” you may think of a televangelist or church that preaches a prosperity or “name it, claim it” message that may not be rooted in Scripture (or may elevate certain passages to the exclusion of others), but miracles aren’t merely the fictional spin of certain preachers or mega-churches. Miracles performed by God are supernatural occurrences found in Scripture and those that can be a reality for us today as well.

In last week’s post, I focused on a passage in Luke 1:12-13, 18-22 where Zechariah the priest receives word that a miracle is about to occur in his life, but he responds with unbelief. When an angel shows up and tells him that he will have the child he has prayed for, he asks how he can be sure of such a miracle. Years of unanswered prayers regarding a child had worn him down and made it difficult to believe that such a scenario could ever happen.

Though God graciously grants Zechariah the miracle of a child despite his unbelief, Zechariah has to suffer a trial for a time because he does not believe God’s words when they come. His response to the news of the miracle God wants to grant him can teach us how we should respond when we are on the threshold of receiving a miracle or maybe just praying for one. Here’s what we can learn:

1. We shouldn’t seek signs and miracles, but when we seek Him, miracles come.

Zechariah is described as a righteous man who served God. He had prayed for a child, but had not been granted one. Rather than wallow in sorrow or grow bitter towards God, he continued to serve God doing what he knew to do in the moment.

Sometimes our greatest disappointments may cause us to want to run from God or get angry at God when He doesn’t work according to our timetable. However, Zechariah shows us that a life of faith means asking God for what we want and leaving it in His hands. Zechariah had prayed for a child, but ultimately, he left the outcome to God.

In the meantime, he served in what capacity he was called to serve in and the miracle came in the midst of his faithful service — not because he was seeking a miracle.

2. When we receive word in advance that a miracle is about to occur, we are to accept what God says and rest in His ability — not try to figure out how it will be possible.

I love how faithful the Bible is to record the human actions and thoughts of the people within its pages. Zechariah, as righteous and devout as he is, doubts the angel’s message that he will receive a son and says, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years” (v. 18). His question reveals his unbelief. Rather than accept what God is going to do on his behalf, Zechariah asks for a further sign that what the angel says will occur. Yet, he misses the sign that stands right in front of him!

And the angel says as much, replying, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to you to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not be able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at the appointed time” (vv. 19, 20). In other words, Gabriel points out that he is a servant of God and regularly stands in God’s presence and that the message is not his own, but rather, from God. What further evidence can Zechariah possibly want?

Yet, Zechariah looks at the situation not through eyes of faith, but rather through the vantage point of his own human understanding. His concern: How can he and his wife bear a son when they are so advanced in years? He forgets the God whom He serves — the God who had many times before performed the impossible on behalf of his people. Unlike Hezekiah who requests a sign for confirmation out of belief, “What will be the sign that the Lord will heal me and that I will go up to temple on the third day from now?” (2 Kings 20:8), Zechariah requests a sign because he does not believe such a thing could happen, “How can I be sure?” (v. 18).

Though it’s not wrong to ask for confirmation and God provides signs to strengthen our faith, encourage us, and warn us from going down the wrong path, we test God when we ask for a sign out of unbelief when He has already provided all we need to believe.

3. [Understand that] miracles have a divinely appointed time.

What we notice in the story of Zechariah is that the miracle of the child in response to Zechariah’s prayers comes at an appointed time (v. 20). Zechariah and Elizabeth suffered humiliation and disgrace because children were highly valued in Jewish families and viewed as a blessing from the Lord. And yet, we have every indication that Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous — and the reason for their unanswered prayers wasn’t because of sin, but because God had a plan to give them a very special child, but was not operating on their timetable.

This encourages us not to assume those around us who us who have not been blessed in an area or are suffering are the place they are in because of sin. Indeed, our choices can affect our circumstances and disobedience can cause us not to receive God’s blessings, but sometimes our hardship is not our own fault. Before we make the mistake of Job’s friends who accused their friend of sin without full knowledge of what was happening in Job’s life, we should comfort and be a support to those in affliction. In addition, what a comfort for us if we have been praying a long time for a miracle in an area and may be tempted to give up because it hasn’t happened. Here, we see that answers to prayer don’t always happen right away, but we should keep praying.

In addition, when we pray, we have a limited view and generally can only think about what we desire and what we think will be the best plan for our lives. However, God has a much larger view. Here we see that John the Baptist would pave the way for the Messiah. His birth came at the exact right time to fulfill God’s plan even though to his parents it appeared that they were too old and the opportunity had already passed them by.

Conclusion:

My pastor shared recently that he has been praying for the same piece of land for many years, and he just recently closed on a deal. In the meantime, the land was tied up and owned by other companies. But my faithful pastor believed that the land — adjacent to the church property — was that which the Lord would give him, so he just kept praying about it and didn’t give up.

I can’t say that I understand all of the ways God works and explain the way that He chooses to perform miracles. What I do know is that we have a God who loves us and gives us the desires of our heart according to His will and purposes. If we have been walking with Him and have a deep desire that is yet unfulfilled or a promise that has not yet happened, we can take heart and know that we, with our limited perspectives, cannot always comprehend why God works the way He does or chooses not to give us what we want when we want it.

Yet, today, just as in Bible times, God can show up and intervene and change around whatever situation we have praying over — whether it be 10 years or 30 years or 50! While miracles aren’t dependent on our belief, God certainly does ask for our faith in Him — and, at times, our unbelief can hinder or delay what He wants to do in our lives.

Let us fully trust Him, no matter how long it takes for Him to fulfill His promises to us. As I once read in Streams in the Desert, “Difficulty is the very atmosphere of miracle — it is miracle in its first stage. If it is to be a great miracle, the condition is not difficulty but impossibility.”

Related Resources:

This is the third post in a series called “What Happens When We Believe God’s Words Are True.” Check out Part 1 from last week: “When You Need a Miracle” or Part 2: “Choosing not to Fall Into Doubt and Unbelief.” Check out our next post in the series which will focus on the shepherds in the Christmas story and detail the back story that served as the inspiration for the series.

Have you been called by God to a specific assignment or ministry and you doubt you have the ability to do what God has asked you? Read this post about Anna the prophetess and what her faithful service shows us about how to navigate the doubts and fears we will have as we follow God.

Don’t have time to read the posts in the series or want to hear extras related to each of these posts? Click on our podcast link above this post or our podcast archive for past episodes.

 

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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Choosing not to Fall Into Doubt and Unbelief

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Several years ago, a television show that gained a lot of popularity was “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.” In the show, a family who had fallen on hard times was whisked off for a vacation and their house, in the meantime, was rebuilt from top to bottom. I believe that the show was so popular because people love to see a reversal of fortunes — a turnaround where they can see a person move from a desperate situation to prosperity.

Perhaps it gives the viewers watching hope and inspiration to apply to their hard situations of life — they can believe someday things are going to change and get better.

Zechariah: A Man Who Fell Into Unbelief

Insert the story of Zechariah. He is told that a reversal of fortunes will occur in his life and grant his long-held desire for a child, yet, he doesn’t believe the message when it comes.

Selected by lot, Zechariah goes to the temple of the Lord to perform his priestly duties of burning incense and sees an angel standing at the right side of the altar of incense. Notice the events that transpire in Luke 1:12,13, 18-21:

When Zechariah saw him [the angel], he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord … Zechariah asked the angel, ‘How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.’ The angel said to him, ‘I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not be able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.’ Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple.

A few things that we can observe:

1. Even righteous men can fall into unbelief.

Zechariah is described as a righteous man, and yet, he falls into unbelief. When the angel gives him the incredibly exciting news that he will receive the child that he has prayed for, he asks, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years” (v. 18). I can imagine that Zechariah had resigned himself to a situation that he didn’t believe would ever change. He had prayed for many years for a child, and now, as an old man, he could not comprehend how his situation could turn around. From a natural point-of-view, the situation was impossible. He and his wife were well past child-bearing age, and yet, the angel was clear that they would have a son and his name would be John.

Surely such an announcement would elicit excitement it its recipient, but perhaps years of disappointment and dashed hopes had worn Zechariah down so that he was unwilling to emotionally invest himself in an event that sounded just a little too good to be true. Therefore, his response to the angel is not, “Yes, let it happen just like you said,” but rather, “How can I be sure of this?” (v. 18). Can we blame him? When circumstances have been dark for so long, can we dare to believe that they can change? As this story reveals, yes, we can!

2. God wants us to believe Him.

It sounds so simple to believe God’s words are true, but it’s not so easy when His words predict events that look utterly impossible. Of course, in this passage, God speaks words that would fulfill a dream for Zechariah, but God sometimes speaks words that we don’t want to hear. He may give us instructions that are hard or lead in a way that we don’t want to go, and it’s easy in those times to act like we didn’t hear Him or we don’t know what He is saying to us.

In any event, whether we like what God tells us or not, God wants us to trust Him. In Mary’s story, when she goes to see Elizabeth after hearing that she will be impregnated by the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth announces upon seeing Mary, “Blessed is she who believes that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” (Luke 1:45, emphasis mine).

Did you catch that? Mary is “blessed” because she believes. The word “believes” here in the Greek means “to believe, have faith in, trust in, or entrust one’s self to.” It means to be fully persuaded of something and it is not merely a passive thought. Rather, the word here is a verb and represents a belief that affects everything a person does. Here, Elizabeth praises Mary for accepting what God has said will come to pass and fully entrusting her life to her Savior.

In looking at Mary’s response and the praise given to her, the message to us is that we need to model ourselves after Mary and accept what the Lord tells us, no matter how hard it is for us to wrap our minds around His words. Although God is the One who performs miracles, we usher in the blessings of God by accepting what He tells us, and we can at times delay or thwart these blessings with our unbelief (John 6:29; Matthew 13:58).

3. God wants to restore our belief if we fall into unbelief.

Though Zechariah does not believe and is silenced for a time for his unbelief, God does not leave him in that state forever. God allows him to suffer a trial for his unbelief: his speech and hearing are taken from him for the duration of his wife’s pregnancy, but then his trial ends and his speech and hearing are restored.

But note this: Zechariah’s speech and hearing return when he exhibits belief. Note what happens in Luke 1:59-64:

On the eighth day they [neighbors and relatives] came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, but his mother spoke up and said, ‘No! He is to be called John.’ They said to her, ‘There is not one among your relatives who has that name.’

Then they made signs to the father, to find out what he would like to name the child. He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, ‘His name is John.’ Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God.

Did you notice the connection? When Zechariah writes down the name of his son, he shows his belief in God’s words delivered by the angel and “immediately his mouth [is] opened and his tongue set free” (v. 64). Neighbors and friends think it odd the name they had selected because there is no one with that name among their relatives, but Zechariah chooses not to abide by the expectations of those around him, but obey the Lord.

We can take hope from Zechariah’s response and not despair if we can point to circumstances that have come because of our unbelief. Maybe we can currently point to a trial that is in our life because we simply didn’t believe what God told us and went our own way, but we can find hope here that God is merciful and will not leave us in our trial.

If God gave Zechariah, under the old covenant, mercy, how much more do we have the mercy and help of God under the new covenant? Jesus is our sympathizer and suffers with us in our trials. Ultimately, whatever trials we face because of our unbelief are meant to bring us back to belief and teach us what we did not choose to embrace the first time around.

Conclusion:

Sometimes the pain of years of disappointment or failure in an area can make us believe that we will never receive what we have been praying for or our situation will never improve, but the story of Zechariah shows us that with God anything is possible. Zechariah and Elizabeth were too old to have a child. They had no reason to believe in the natural realm that they would have one. It was impossible! But it wasn’t impossible for God.

Friend, are we looking at our impossible circumstance with eyes of faith or eyes of doubt? When tempted to fall into unbelief, we can remember that nothing is too hard for our God and no word that proceeds from His mouth will ever fail (Luke 1:37).

Related Resources:

This is the second post in a brand new series called “What Happens When We Believe God’s Words Are True.” Check out Part 1 from last week: “When You Need a Miracle,” where we talk about signs and miracles in the Bible and King Hezekiah, a person in need of a miracle. Stay tuned the next few weeks as we look at several individuals in the Bible, including the Christmas story, who received a message from God or a miraculous intervention. We will examine how they responded and what we can learn from their stories.

Want to read more about conquering unbelief? You might enjoy “What It Means to Walk by Faith, Not Sight.”

 

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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When You Need a Miracle

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When I was pregnant with my daughter, I was convinced I was having a boy. I had not received any word from God or sign by which to base this belief upon; I merely had a hunch — but was so sure of what I thought to be true that I picked out a boy name and planned in my head a sports-themed nursery long before I got to the gender-reveal ultrasound appointment. My husband wasn’t so sure, but I was confident enough of my position that I didn’t even think I needed the ultrasound.

Imagine my surprise when the ultrasound technician announced we were having a girl. “Are you sure?” I asked the technician enough times to be slightly aggravating. She patiently moved the ultrasound wand and showed me shots of the baby from different angles to further convince me, and I finally had to relent as I surveyed the evidence on the computer screen in front of me. My “hunches” had been wrong: I was having a girl.

God Gives Us Signs to Confirm His Will

In our faith life, we will receive signs that reveal God’s will and purpose as we follow Jesus. These signs are those that will not only provide direction, but encourage us when we’re worn out, confirm a word God has given us, or warn us from going down the wrong path. But these are more than a “hunch” or “feeling,” like I had when I was pregnant. God will communicate to us in ways that are more concrete. We might be praying about what direction to take job-wise and then open up an email offering us a new job opportunity. Then, we may read in a devotional the very next day how God takes us in new directions — and we will know in our spirit that God is leading us away from our current job to take another one.

Or, we may be exhausted and God will refresh us with an encouraging word that appears through a dream or a friend’s words or the words of a song. We may see the same words in multiple ways throughout the day — and God gives us just what we need to get through. Though these signs will help us on our journey by showing us where to go and what to do or simply providing encouragement at low points in our faith walk, these supernatural happenings that indicate God’s purposes can seem a little intangible as a hunch like I had when I was pregnant. We may wonder, Did God truly send that message for me today? Am I going in the right way? Is God really asking me to step out in this way?

Yet, walking with Jesus requires that we walk by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). Though the means by which God reveals Himself to us and directs us may seem a little intangible at times, and we might remember past times where we blew it or missed a cue and this may make us not want to take a step of faith, faith requires that we heed what God tells us and step out as He leads.

Hezekiah: A Man Willing to Step out in Faith

Hezekiah was a man in the Old Testament not afraid to step out in faith. As king of Judah, he tore down idols, consulted God on how to lead the nation, and attempted to walk in upright ways before God. And yet, in 2 Kings 20:1-11 we see that Hezekiah is in a dire situation. He is ill and has been told by the prophet Isaiah that he is at the end of his life and he must get the affairs of his house in order (v. 1). We’re not told exactly what Hezekiah suffers from, but it is most likely some kind of ulcerous growth or “boil” (v. 7).

Hezekiah is distressed by the news that he will soon die. He has no heir to the throne and is concerned about his kingdom, as they are either being attacked by Assyria or are going to be attacked in the very near future. Immediately, upon hearing the news, he turns to the wall and prays. Upon hearing his prayer, God decides to heal Hezekiah and grant him 15 more years of life. He sends Isaiah back to tell the king. Hezekiah asks for a sign that God’s word will come to pass. It’s not really clear in the passage when he asks for this sign, but it’s most likely that he asks for it right after Isaiah announces his extension of life.

God’s response to Hezekiah’s request for a sign is truly miraculous. He tells Hezekiah that the sign he will receive is that the sun dial on Ahaz’s stairwell will go back 10 degrees. We don’t know from the passage how God performs this feat — whether by actually moving the position of the sun or simply moving the shadow on the sun dial. But it’s impossible in the natural all the same! In addition to the miraculous sign that God grants him, Isaiah also applies a treatment of figs to Hezekiah’s sore. Hezekiah is healed, and he lives for the extended time God promises.

A few things we can observe:

1. Hezekiah acknowledges God as the only One who can help.

Before his healing, Hezekiah is in a really bad place. Jerusalem is threatened by neighboring Assyria (and may even have been under attack when Hezekiah fell ill). Though he is in the prime of life (probably around 39 or 40 years of age), Hezekiah has unfinished plans for his kingdom and is surprised by Isaiah’s announcement because the view in this Jewish culture was that if one died young that one had displeased God — and Hezekiah had adhered to God’s laws as best he could. He does not want to leave his kingdom in such an unsettled place. In addition, Hezekiah is concerned because he will leave no heir.

Clearly, Hezekiah has no hope in his situation, so he does the one thing he can do: He turns to the Lord. So often in our place of want we don’t want to turn to God because we’re sad or angry, but Hezekiah shows us the only One who can rescue us in our distress.

2. Hezekiah participates in the process in order to have his miracle.

Though it’s clear that the miracle of Hezekiah’s healing will come from the Lord, God still requires an action of faith: Isaiah is to lay a poultice of figs on the area. Notice that the treatment is applied after Isaiah announces that the Lord plans to heal him.

Hadn’t God already said He would heal Hezekiah? Why was such a treatment necessary? While God can do whatever He wants in whatever way He wants, at times, we are asked to participate in the process of our healing. If God has given us a directive in a situation, our miracle comes when we step out and obey what He asks. Like the lame man at the pool of Bethesda is asked to stir himself at Christ’s command (John 5:8), the blind man is instructed to wash his eyes in the pool of Siloam (John 9:7), and Naaman is asked to go wash himself seven times in the Jordan River (2 Kings 5:10), we, too, may find that God gives us a prescription for our healing or miracle.

As commentator Matthew Henry explains: “We do not trust God, but tempt him, if when we pray to him for help, we do not second our prayers with our endeavors … help thyself and God will help thee.” In other words, if God has given us a specific action to complete in a situation and we pray for rescue but do not do what He has asked of us, however simple it may seem, we should not expect a miracle. God’s miracles, although they can stand alone apart from our actions, can at times be connected to an act of faith on our part.

3. Hezekiah asks for a sign because of his faith — not because he lacks it.

People ask for signs for different reasons in the Bible, but God honors those who ask for signs because they believe and desire confirmation of God’s word — not those who ask for a sign in order to believe. Hezekiah asks how he can know that the Lord will heal him and join the assembly once again before he is healed, but he asks the question for a confirmation of the prophet’s words. His question does not come out of an unbelieving heart.

What if Hezekiah had told Isaiah that it was impossible for him to be healed and his kingdom to be saved? Or, what if Hezekiah had refused the figs from Isaiah and told him that such a procedure was pointless and wouldn’t make a difference? What if he had scoffed at the sign of the sun dial moving backwards and refused to accept that such a sign be possible? He does none of those things. Rather, he assumes the words of God are true and carefully submits himself to God in the process of his healing.

In his song of thanksgiving he writes after he is healed, as recorded in Isaiah 38:15, Hezekiah says these words: “What shall I say? He has spoken unto me; he himself has done it.” In other words, Hezekiah notes that God alone is responsible for his healing: what God says He will do. Hezekiah merely believes (and, yes, this is an active belief that also affects his actions), but He trusts 100% in the truth of what God says, and praises God afterward for what God has done on his behalf.

4. We need to share with others what God has done for us.

What we see throughout Scripture is concern by God not only for individuals but concern for the greater community. For instance, God chose Israel to be His chosen people so that they might be a light to the rest of the world. Here, in this passage, we see that God is concerned not just with Hezekiah’s life, but with defending Jerusalem against the Assyrian threat. Hezekiah’s recovery will positively impact not only him, but his kingdom. Similarly, although the struggles we go through are deeply personal, they can benefit others when we choose to share God’s intervention on our behalf. Therefore, we need to publicly praise God for what he does in our life.

Though it’s not included in the 2 Kings account, as I mentioned earlier, Hezekiah pens a song of thanksgiving after his ordeal. The song records the trial he went through and what God does on his behalf. Apparently, it was fairly common during this time to compose a song of thanksgiving in response to a great work of God. However, Hezekiah authors it to be hung where others can see it and also shares it in song with others. Clearly, we see Hezekiah’s resolve here to spread the story of God’s goodness in his life by telling others about the miracles God has performed on his behalf.

Conclusion:

Walking in faith can sometimes feel uncomfortable. We want to be sure we heard from God and sure of the way He is leading. However, God will provide a clear path for us to walk in when we walk with Him — and, however odd the way seems, we are to step out in faith as He leads.

If we are in a circumstance where God has given us a clear directive, we should follow. At times, when we pray about a problem or ask for rescue, He will give us an action to take — and our miracle may be connected to our act of faith. Miracles can happen in a myriad of different ways and not every intervention of God’s is the same. In addition, God performs miracles according to His will and purposes, not merely because we ask for them. However, we see in the story of Hezekiah a clear pattern that we see elsewhere in Scripture of a man acting in faith and, as a result, receiving a miracle.

Related Resources:

This is the first post in a brand new series called “What Happens When We Believe God’s Words Are True.” Stay tuned the next few weeks as we look at several individuals in the Bible, including the Christmas story, who received a message from God or a miraculous intervention. We will examine how they responded and what we can learn from their stories.

Want to read more about how God moves our obstacles when we act in faith? Check out the following article on walking in faith: “How Forward-Motion Faith Overcomes Obstacles.”

 

 

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.

More Posts

How God Encourages Us When We Need It Most

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Woman Who Walked a Difficult Road

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mary Examined the Other Moments in the Past

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His Comfort Keeps Me Going

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

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

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

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

UPDATE: This post was adapted from a post published December 13, 2015. Shortly after writing this post, we received a brand new offer on our house and moved to a new county. In addition, my daughter was delivered, healthy and 9 days overdue, just a few months after we moved into our new home! God is good!

Related Bible Verses:

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

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

Related Resources:

Need more encouragement in your journey? Read this post about Hagar, a woman from the Old Testament who was in a desperate situation and encountered God at her lowest point.

We’d love for you to become a friend of the blog. If you are not yet part of our online community, get our latest posts by subscribing to Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

 

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.

More Posts

More Than an Example, Jesus Gives Us the Power to Obey: Part 3


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Have you ever seen a flawless model on a magazine cover or television commercial that made you self-conscious about your own looks or abilities because the chasm between the two of you felt impossibly huge? Models are everywhere, featured in more than magazines and advertisements. They are given to us to inspire consumption of magazines or products, but also to make us want to pattern ourselves after them or attain a certain level of achievement or status.

But instead of always doing what they are designed to do, sometimes if too-perfect, models can discourage us from even trying to be like them because they represent an unattainable ideal.*

The Model of Faith: Jesus

In Hebrews 12, we are given a model for our Christian faith. And yet, this model, although perfect, is different than other models you can recall that did more to discourage than inspire you. I’ll tell you why in a moment, but first, let’s remind ourselves of verses 1,2 which I have been focusing on throughout this series:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

First, before the author ever discusses the perfect example of Jesus, he mentions a “great cloud of witnesses” (v. 1), referring back to the heroes of the faith mentioned in chapter 11. We should know that the author is systematically making an argument throughout Hebrews that Christianity is superior to Judaism. Speaking to Jewish Christians that were being persecuted and were tempted to return back to their Jewish faith, the writer continues this argument, bringing it towards a culmination in chapter 12.

Therefore, if we view this passage through that lens, we can conclude that although the many witnesses are given to encourage us to follow in their footsteps, we should note that they are more than just the usual I-am-perfect-so-be-like-me examples. First of all, they weren’t perfect! They screwed up in multiple ways just like you and me, but they shared one thing in common: their willingness to step out in faith and do what God said.

While we might envision spectators watching us in our walks of faith when we read the phrase “cloud of witnesses,” as the NIV Application Commentary points out, this image is meant to do more than tell us we have spectators in our journey. Rather, these witnesses “bear witness to the Christian community of God’s faithfulness and of the effectiveness of faith.”

Then, after mentioning the “great cloud of witnesses” to convince us that walking in faith is worth it, the author gives us Jesus as the one perfect example of the faith that eclipses the rest of the pack. However, again, as I mentioned above with the “cloud of witnesses,” the author’s use of Jesus as the ultimate example of faith is more than just a model for us to follow.

Jesus is the “pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (v. 2). As I explained in Part 2 of this series, certainly this can mean what is sounds like — that our faith begins with Him and He works in us. That in and of itself is exciting, but that’s not all. There’s more. If we examine the words “pioneer” and “perfecter” in the Greek, we see that the meaning is not just of One who begins and ends our faith — but One who is the leader or pioneer of faith, as in the faith. The word “our” was added later before the word “faith.”

If we read it this way, we understand that Jesus is more than a model for us to emulate. He is the champion and forerunner of the faith. He is the only One who was able to run the race perfectly. And that changes everything. How? Let me explain:

How Jesus Perfects the Faith

If we skip down to verses 18-24 of chapter 12 of Hebrews, the writer says this:

For you have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm … . But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem … You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant.

While the author started off Hebrews 12 by mentioning the “cloud of witnesses” and our one perfect example in Jesus, he goes deeper into this argument by asserting the better that the new covenant brings because of the race of faith Jesus perfectly completed. The verse states that the old covenant “can be touched” (v. 18). The Israelites were not allowed to touch Mt. Sinai, but the law was received in a physical location and was palpable. And this law was delivered to them in an awe-inspiring way, but in their weak humanity, they couldn’t even look at the face of Moses when he returned from the mountain with the law because his face glowed from being in the presence of God. Though the law was necessary, it was hard to abide by it.

However, the law was only temporary and Jesus brought with His death the new covenant — or new and better arrangement between God and believers. As believers, we are no longer under the old covenant. We no longer have to tremble at the words of God because we have come to “Mt. Zion” and have in Jesus a “mediator of the new covenant” (v. 24). While we can also point to Mt. Zion as a place, we don’t have to go to a physical locale any longer to receive Jesus into our lives. The new covenant is no longer external like the old covenant, but rather, internal.

Mt. Zion is representative of the spiritual nature of the new covenant and the union we have with God when we ask Jesus into our lives to be our Savior. While we have commands to follow given to us in Scripture, we have the Spirit of God living in us that helps us and transforms us to be more like Jesus as we walk with Him (2 Corinthians 3:18; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Titus 3:5).

The Freedom We Have In the New Covenant

Another place we see this same idea of the internal nature of the new covenant and the freedom we have in the new covenant is 2 Corinthians 3:4-6 where Paul says:

Such confidence we have through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of the new covenant — not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

Here, Paul states that his ability and competency comes from God. He can’t boast of anything in and of himself to do the work of God. This is important to note because we get the idea that weakness on our part isn’t anything to hide or try to cover up. God knows we’re weak and He works in our weakness! When we come to places in our spiritual walk that are too hard or look impossible to us, we may think that we have to overcome those places on our own. We get down on ourselves because we’re weak.

Maybe we’ve tried before in the area and failed, or maybe we have been running from God because we don’t think we can do what He is asking us to do. But here, it tells us that rather than be discouraged by our weakness or disqualify ourselves based on our weakness, our weakness is an opportunity for us to acknowledge that our strength is not in ourselves and turn to the Source of our power.

Paul also compares the old and new covenants here, as we see in chapter 12 of Hebrews, saying that the old covenant, or letter of the law, kills. Why does it bring death? Because those who couldn’t keep the law in the Old Testament were given judgment and even death.

Similarly, those who are saved now but attempt to live up to the law without the help of God’s Spirit will only experience shame and guilt and frustration. As the IVP New Testament Commentary says: “A covenant that is letter in nature kills because it makes external demands without giving the inward power for obedience, while a covenant that is Spirit in character gives life because it works internally to produce a change of nature.” To put it simply, the Gospel provides the way by which we can live as we should. On the other hand, the law simply makes us feel guilty and condemned because we are continually reminded of a standard we can’t live up to without the power to live it out.

Those who accept Jesus’ work on the cross by becoming believers and living by His Spirit live in freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17). As the IVP illuminates: “Because of Christ, the Spirit, rather than sin, becomes the controlling principle in the life of the believer. The power that was lacking under the old covenant is now there for us to be the kind of moral people God intended.”

Friends, why is this such incredibly good news? The jaw-dropping conclusion and the twist I have been alluding to when we examine both Hebrews 12 and 2 Corinthians is that Jesus is more than a model — He also empowers us to become what He designed us to be. We don’t have to be perfect or despair when the gulf is wide between us and Jesus. He helps us do what we can’t on our own — and we have freedom to breathe in the new covenant because we have the help within us to live the life we were called to live as believers.

As Paul emphasizes, our weakness is an opportunity for the Spirit of God to do in us what we simply can’t do for ourselves. I love what Alexander McLaren observes in his commentary of Hebrews:

He [Jesus] is more than example. He gives us power to copy His fair pattern. The influence of heroic saintly lives may be depressing as well as encouraging. Despondency often creeps over us when we thinking of them. It is not models that we want, for we all know what we ought to be, and an example of supreme excellence in morals or religions may be as hurtful as the unapproachable superiority of Shake-spears or Raphael may be to a young aspirant. Perfect patterns do not save the world. They do not get themselves copied. What we want is not the knowledge of what we ought to be, but the will and power to be it. And that we get from Christ and Him alone.

It’s not that living in the Spirit of God erases the hard things that we have to do in our walks with God. There will still be hard things, but what freedom when we realize that we aren’t left alone to do what we can’t on our own. We aren’t given an impossible example — but rather, an example and the power to do what He asks.

Walking With Jesus Eases Our Guilt and Condemnation

I had a conversation with a Catholic gentleman the other day. He told me that he hadn’t been to mass lately because he got sick every time he went to church. Confused by his words, I asked for more details. As English was his second language, he had difficulty explaining to me what he meant. However, I finally got the gist of what he was saying — by “sick” he meant that he felt so much guilt and condemnation as he sat through a service that he would break into a profuse sweat and fall ill during the service and afterwards. Though he believed that salvation was in Christ alone and had received Christ as his Savior, he had been also looking into other religions such as Islam and Buddhism to try to help him with some of his everyday problems and the emotions he was experiencing.

In response, I emphasized to him that Christ was enough. No religion could give him what he could find in Christ. The answers to his problems could be found in a daily relationship with Christ — by investing in a quiet time each day and reading the Word and prayer. I also shared with him Romans 8:1 and told him that the moment he confessed his sins, as a believer, he was forgiven. Whatever he was feeling so guilty about could not have any hold on him because Jesus forgave him when he confessed. Sure, there might be, at times, a follow-up with a person if he hurt someone and needed to apologize, but he was under no condemnation for sin when he confessed because he was covered by Jesus’ blood.

Though words came easy to ease this man’s burden, after our conversation, I thought about how ironic it was that I was comforting this man when I have had similar thoughts or reactions of guilt and condemnation at different intervals in my Christian walk! I have read the words of Scripture that were hard or I have listened to a tough sermon that addressed an area of sin in my life and have felt at times, even knowing the message of the Gospel and repeatedly experiencing the grace of Jesus Christ, that maybe God couldn’t forgive me or maybe a problem or area of my life I wanted to change was impossible for God. In addition, though I haven’t looked into other religions, I could attest to drifting to other comforts or distractions when I felt far from God.

Yet, as I shared with this man, we must continually remind ourselves what we have as believers in Jesus. As the writer of Hebrews says, we have not come to Mt. Sinai but Mt. Zion. We have no need to be burdened down as believers because we are under a new covenant where we can freely approach the throne of God and ask for His help in our weakness. Matthew 11:28-30 (MSG) says this:

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me — watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.

Jesus beckons those of us who are burdened by religion or guilt or life’s demands to come to Him. When we’re weary of trying to be what we can’t, He tells us to take His yoke upon us and learn from Him. We’re not instructed to go alone, but rather, He walks with us in our journey and we find rest when we go His way in His power — not by trying to somehow meet the requirements of the law.

We’ve been talking this series about some hard topics — about being diligent in our faith, and not falling away. Yes, there is certainly work to be done in our Christian walk, but this is work done with a capable Savior yoked in with us who willingly leads us, but also shares the burden with us, so nothing we do in His will is ever that which we can’t do in His strength.

Let’s pray: Lord, sometimes the words of Scripture strike terror in our hearts or maybe even our own misconceptions about You have led us to believe that where we are is too far gone for your hand to save. Or maybe our discouragement is great because we have been believing lies that we can never make it. We can never measure up. We can never surmount the obstacles in front of us. But, through the power of your Holy Spirit, we can. As I read one time, You will never ask us to do that which we can’t do in Your power. You will never, as this verse says, put anything “ill-fitting” on us. Let us turn to You when we lack strength and pray and persevere in our walk with You when it would be easier to give up and fall away.

*Editor’s note: The example theme running throughout the piece was developed in part after reading comments regarding the idea that Jesus is more than a model from commentators John Owen, A.W. Pink, and Alexander McLaren.

Also, when speaking of Old Testament saints and saying they did not have any aid to meet the requirements of the law, this is not to say that they did not have any help by God or mercy. Admittedly, heroes of the faith in the Old Testament did have the aid of God and did look to the coming of Christ for encouragement. God repeatedly offered mercy to a rebellious Israel, but the point being made is that what we have in the new covenant is far better in that we have an access to God that they did not have and the Spirit of God dwelling within us to help us live the Christian life.

Related Resources:

Did you enjoy this article? Check out the first two articles in the series over Hebrews 12: When You Wonder if Your Obedience Will Be Worth the Cost: Part 1 and When You Fear You Will Never Measure up in Your Faith: Part 2.

Are you not yet a believer and want to find out more about being a Christ-follower? Check out our Know God page to learn about salvation and how to invite Jesus to be the Lord of your life so that you, too, can come to Mt. Zion and enjoy the benefits available to Christ-followers.

Podcast Notes and Corrections:

A.W. Pink did write about the example of Jesus and is meant to be included in the list of commentators given in the podcast (among them John Owen and Alexander McLaren) that helped to develop the idea of Jesus as more than example.

*Updated November 18, 2018.

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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When You Feel Like You Will Never Measure Up in Your Faith: Part 2

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“I can’t do it,” my 7-year-old son exclaimed, throwing down his pencil in frustration.

The source of his angst? A second grade subtraction and addition worksheet. My son had started out writing down the answers with ease, but when he came to a hard sum with large numbers, he proclaimed that he would never be able to do it.

After asking him a few questions, I assessed that my son, a great memorizer, had either memorized the answers for the previous problems or was able to work out the answers in his head for sums with simple numbers. However, when he got to problems that he hadn’t seen before or problems with larger numbers than he was used to, he wasn’t able to figure out the answers in his head — and he wanted to give up.

With as much patience as I could muster, I demonstrated to him how to count on his fingers. I know that they don’t probably encourage this strategy in schools anymore, but it always helped me when I was in elementary school. When I first showed him the new strategy, he crossed his arms, repeating, “I can’t do it!” I repeated the instructions again several times.

Just when I wondered if my coaching efforts would help, he began to try the new strategy. At first, he got mixed up on how to “count up” on subtraction problems, but I kept repeating how to do it. He kept trying, and he was still getting wrong answers because he was counting starting on the wrong number or getting mixed up with the numbers on his fingers.

However, my little boy had more persistence than I thought and kept trying over the course of the next few days. A week later, I noticed him counting correctly and finding the right answers without my help!

When We Feel Like We Can’t Do What God Wants in Our Christian Walk

Sometimes in our Christian walk we might be like my son and get to a place where we say, “I can’t!” When we try to do the task God sets before us, we fall short. We may find ourselves in a frustrating pattern of failing and feeling like we can never measure up. We don’t desire to be disobedient, but He may “up the ante,” so to speak, where He teaches us new things and desires us to walk at a higher level with Him. And that place that He brings us may not be comfortable or easy for us. We may wonder how we will ever overcome the obstacles in front of us or change certain patterns we’ve held onto for far too long.

In a recent post “A Fix for the Disconnect Between Your Head and Your Heart,” Hayley Morgan calls the distance between what we intellectually know we should do and what we do an “integrity gap.” She notes that we’ve all experienced how hard it is to put our head knowledge into life practice and continues to explain how tackling the hard tasks Jesus sets before us can be as awkward and uncomfortable as riding a backwards bike. We keep falling off because we’re not used to riding a bike this way. We may want to give up on learning whatever Jesus wants to teach us or making a needed change in our lives because it’s not coming naturally or easily for us.

Perhaps this very dilemma of finding it hard to live out what we know in our head to be true is what the writer of Hebrews had in mind when he penned these words: “See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many” (12:15). As I explained in my previous post, I had always understood this verse to mean that anger that festers can affect others in a negative way. However, when I did a deeper study of the words, I realized that the meaning goes beyond that. Certainly, the verse can refer to those with bad attitudes that pollute the body of Christ and need heart adjustments after suffering disappointment or pain that has made them bitter. But “bitter root” in the context of this passage is most likely primarily referring to those who get slothful in their spiritual walk and fall away.

The passage is an allusion to Deuteronomy 29:18, 19 where Moses warns the nation of Israel not to turn from God and infect the nation with sinful actions and idolatrous worship. Similarly, in Hebrews, the writer is cautioning Christians not to allow themselves to turn away from God and become a “bitter root” in the community of believers that causes trouble to self and others.

In addition, when we look to see that we and others around us do not “fall short of the grace of God,” this is referring not to our salvation, but to coming up short or deficient by not doing the tasks God would have us do in our faith walk.

My guess is that many Christians who drift do so not because they stop believing in God, but because they get to a place where the path before them looks too hard. Like my son encountering the math problems with big numbers he had never seen before, we get to new levels with Jesus and want to progress but get stuck in a behavior or a pattern that, try as we might, we can’t overcome.

It’s in those places where rather than turn to God in our weakness and ask Him for the help to get through, we shut down instead. “I want to, Lord! But I can’t!” we cry. We are aware of the “integrity gap” between His standard given to us in His Word and where we are and fear that we will never “measure up” in terms of making needed changes in our spiritual walk. Or can we?

How Jesus Helps Us Change

Recently, as I sat crying over the painfulness of circumstances and my inability to change myself in an area of fear I’ve been struggling in for far too long, I remembered a verse from the beginning of Hebrews 12:1, 2 that cites Jesus as the “perfecter of our faith.” I decided to take another look at the passage, and one word kept ringing through my mind: “perfecter.”

What does that mean for us? The word “perfecter” means “finisher, completer” in the Greek. We might look at that and say, “Yes, Jesus does finish my faith.” But it’s more than that. Jesus is the finisher not just of our faith, but the finisher of the faith. He made it possible for us to run the race of faith because of what He did for us on the cross. We are no longer under the imperfect system of the law, but we have been given the Gospel. What Jesus did for us on the cross makes us righteous and acceptable in the sight of God — and makes it possible for us to have the help of Jesus on our journey.

He is our elder brother, our interceder. He completed the race of faith and reached a standard we could never reach on our own. This doesn’t mean that we don’t ever have to participate in our faith journey or do hard things in our Christian walk. To the contrary. We do have to do hard things, and Jesus will take us up steep, rocky inclines that are far above where we could ever walk on our own (or think we want to go at times). But we don’t do these things alone. (And, as I emphasized earlier, we certainly don’t do these things to try to earn salvation or His love. We obey in response to what He has done for us and trust Him to lead us.) When things feel as hard and impossible as riding a backwards bike, we have Jesus to help us.

You might be reading this, saying, “I’ve been with Jesus a long time, and I still can’t get a handle on this. I literally can’t.” And to you I would say the same thing I’ve been telling myself: “Through Him, all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). When we can’t, rather than try harder, we turn to Him and we keep pressing in. We keep praying and asking for His help. We keep taking small, shaky, scared steps in reliance on His Spirit — however sloppy and imperfect. We repent when we mess up, but we keep going. We keep trying. We don’t stop running the race. And we don’t let our imperfection keep us from turning to Him.

While I was able to give my son a strategy to use to help him overcome his difficulty solving math problems, life doesn’t always work like that. We can’t always fix whatever stands in our way or our own problems with a simple 1-2-3 plan or book or helpful mantra. We need God — and our strategy should always be to fall before Him and proclaim our utter need for Him and inability to do whatever it is on our own.

That, friends, turns our “I can’t” statements into “I can.” Do all things through Him who gives me strength, that is (Philippians 4:13).

Want to learn more about how Jesus helps us in our weakness and how our inadequacies aren’t a cause for giving up, but rather, a cause for pressing in more than ever for His power to fill us? Check out Part 3 of this series on not falling back in the race of faith and attaining the promises God has for us. We will also explore both the old and new covenants and how the new covenant frees us from striving in our own strength to live up to the demands of the law.

Related Resources:

This is a 3-part series on Hebrews 12, where we have been exploring not falling away in our faith and pushing through hardship to attain the blessings of God. Check out Part 1 of the series that talks about why the hard things we do for Jesus are always worth it.

If you would like to learn more about how God doesn’t base his love for us on what we do, check out this article on God’s love for us in the midst of our failures.

We’d love for you to become a friend of the blog. If you are not yet part of our online community, get our latest posts by subscribing to Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

*Updated November 11, 2018.

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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When You Wonder if Your Obedience Will Be Worth the Cost: Part 1

when you wonder if your obedience will be worth the cost part 1

Have you ever thought you understood a verse, only to find out that there was much more to it than you originally thought?

For the longest time, I understood Hebrews 12:15 to mean that we shouldn’t allow our anger to fester, as it can cause us to become bitter. And bitterness will affect not only ourselves, but others. If you’re not familiar with the verse, it reads: “See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”

While one application of the verse is that bitterness, festering anger or unforgiveness, affects not only us but others, the writer’s primary intention is much deeper. If we look into the phrase “bitter root” used in the verse, we see that it alludes to Deuteronomy 29:18, 19:

Make sure there is no man or woman, clan or tribe among you today whose heart turns away from God to go and worship the gods of those nations; make sure there is no root among you that produces bitter poison. When such a person hears the words of this oath and they invoke a blessing on themselves, thinking, ‘I will be safe, even though I persist in going my own way,’ they will bring disaster on the watered land as well as the dry.

Basically, a “bitter root” refers here to an idolater, or someone who puts his trust in something other than God. Moses had brought the covenant before the people once again to warn them not to fall into idolatry. He cautioned that such a person would not be safe going his own way, but his rebellion would have implications not only for the “watered land but for the dry” (v. 19). In other words, a “bitter root” would infect not only himself but cause others to fall away as well.

The writer of Hebrews alludes to the “bitter root” used in Deuteronomy 29:18, 19 to warn the Jewish Christians that would have been his audience not to fall away like that of the Israelites who fell away from God’s covenant in the Old Testament. And the exhortation is for us, too.

Not Falling Away in Our Faith

In order to fully understand what Hebrews 12:15 is saying, we need to understand not only what “bitter root” in this context is talking about, but also, what is required of us in our faith walk so we don’t “fall short of the grace of God.”

First, let’s examine what it means to run an effective faith race.

In reading a verse such as this, we might be seized with panic and begin a frenzy of religious activity in an effort not to be the “bitter root” described in this verse, but that is not what the writer is urging.

The author of Hebrews is not telling us that we need to add more on our plates or engage in as much random religious work as possible. What the writer is telling us is that we must be diligent in doing the tasks that God gives us, less we fail the grace of God. If we notice the wording at the beginning of Hebrews 12:1, 2, it tells us:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Notice, verse 1 tells us that “we run the race marked out for us.” This implies that our Creator has a specific design for our race — and He alone orchestrated our purpose and the tasks that we daily complete when walking in His Spirit. We’ll get back to explaining that verse in a moment, but I want to return back to our discussion of God’s grace and our faith race.

To do that, we need to look at what it means to “fall short of God’s grace.”

A song which has grabbed my attention lately is “The Motions,” by Matthew West. The lyrics say: “I don’t wanna spend my whole life asking, ‘What if I had given everything, instead of going through the motions?’ ” West describes in this song the temptation that comes to all of us as Christians — we can easily slip into “going through the motions” in our Christian lives. We can attend church, even serve in church, and attempt to live moral lives, and yet, still fall short of God’s grace.

If we look at this meaning of “failing the grace of God,” it means to come up short, fall behind. According to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, it means “to be left behind in the race and so fail to reach the goal, to fall short of the end” or “to fail to become a partaker” or “to fall back.” We can do work that is good and yet isn’t what God would have us do and fall behind in listening to the Spirit of God and doing what He would have us do. It doesn’t mean that we lose our salvation (because salvation is not something we can earn), but it does mean that we can fall short of attaining the promises God has for us, the blessings the grace of God offers.

The writer tells us later in the next verse (Hebrews 12:16) that Esau fell short of his blessings because He sold his birthright. He had been promised, as the firstborn, a double inheritance and inheritance of his father’s role in the family, among other privileges. And yet, when he came in from the field hungry and Jacob offered him a bowl of stew in exchange for the fulfillment of blessings that were rightfully his, he traded his rightful blessings for what was convenient and fulfilling in the moment.

Friends, this is such a difficult concept to embrace, but we, too, can trade away the blessings of God in our lives when we ignore His will for us and instead do what is more comfortable and easy. Though going our own path with our choices won’t cause us to lose our salvation, when we don’t listen to the Spirit of God we will become an empty vine that bears no fruit (Hosea 10:1) and become like the wicked servant in Jesus’ parable of the talents who buried his talents rather than invest them (Matthew 25:14-30).

While the idea of “falling short of the grace of God” is a hard idea to reflect on, the most terrible thing for any of us would be to get to our deathbed and look back and reflect on the fact that we never made the choices necessary to live the life we were called to live. The good news is that we can turn around right now what wrongs we have done by repenting.

We can choose to listen to the Spirit of God and do what He asks. And when His will leads us to uncomfortable places that we would rather not go, we can remind ourselves that God’s blessings don’t come cheap. While we don’t have to work to earn our salvation, we do have to fight for that which has been promised to us in the way of God’s blessings. And yet, God doesn’t leave us to fight on our own. We fight by relying on Jesus’ power and strength and leaning into Him in our journey.

Running the Race of Faith

What is interesting is that in Hebrews 12:2 it says that “for the joy set before him” Jesus endured the cross. I had always read that to mean that for the joy of what lay after the cross, Jesus was willing to go through what He did. Although that is certainly one way we can read it, another interpretation I found in studying the passage is that rather than choose His position as the Son of God and all the benefits it afforded Him, He chose the cross. The word “for” in the Greek can mean “in stead of” or “in place of.” Therefore, “in stead of” heaven and the privileges and benefits He had there, He came here to suffer a humiliating death so that we might be saved.

In either translation, we get this idea that Jesus chose what He did because of the better thing it would bring Him in the end. He valued the will of the Father more than His personal goals and comforts and gave up His privileges and rights for the cross. Similarly, when we survey what lies ahead for us, as Jesus may be leading us in a way that looks scary or is nudging us to step out in a way that requires us to change or stretches us in uncomfortable ways, we are encouraged here that we can embrace the humiliation that may come for doing God’s will because of what we get in exchange.

In addition, we should note Jesus’ view of shame, as described in Hebrews 12:2. He looked at the cross that would be shameful — the mockery, the cruel death, the pain — and, He did so, “scorning the shame,” or as some translations read, “despising the shame.” How does one scorn or despise the shame? He viewed the humiliation that would come from the cross as the less significant thing, as the pain it would bring meant less to Him than doing the Father’s will.

We will often be in the place of literally weighing out what God wants us to do and the cost, and we can do what God wants because of the better it will mean in the end. While Esau took the easy way over the hard and lost his birthright, Jesus did the opposite and accomplished the Father’s will and is sitting at the right hand of the Father (Acts 2:33; Hebrews 10:12).

When we are afraid, and we are facing circumstances that could get very dim if we boldly declare our faith and act in obedience to God, the writer of Hebrews here assures us that the sacrifice will be worth it. And Jesus stands as the ultimate example of One who went before and accomplished the Father’s will.

We don’t have to be the bitter root that falls away — but rather, the flourishing vine and faithful steward rooted in God that finishes our race.

Stay tuned for Part 2 next week where we talk about how Jesus isn’t just a perfect example. He’s a perfect example who helps us in our journey. Though walking with Jesus will lead us to hard and uncomfortable places, we won’t walk the journey alone — and He will give us the power necessary to do His will.

Related Resources:

Ever struggled to know in what way God would like to use you in serving others? Check out “Christian Service: What Does God Want Me to Do?”

Not really sure how to hear from God or how to walk in His will? Check out the following resources: “3 Lessons the Wise Men Can Teach Us About Knowing God’s Will for Our Lives” and “What the Wise Men Teach Us About Following God.”

Podcast Notes and Corrections:

The following explanation of Hebrews 1, 2 used in the podcast is loosely adapted from John Gill’s Expositions: “If we look at the word “for” in the passage, it can sometimes mean “in stead of” or “in place of” — and we can say in stead of God staying in heaven, he came into the world, in stead of his privileges and glory as God He became a servant and suffered shame.

 

 

 

 

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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