Help for the Hard Days

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I love running.

Having said that, I am fully aware not everyone is as smitten with this activity as I am. In fact, I have multiple friends on Facebook who — after I post about a great morning run — love to post variations of the following anti-running meme:

running meme

Whether you adore running as much as I do or hate it like the plague, please allow me to utilize its metaphorical elements to explore something with you that God showed me during my most recent 10K event.

This particular race was in the backwoods of a local park. It was a dense area, and the running trail was, most of the time, only about 12 inches in width. There were moments when the path was straight and free of debris, but there were also lengthy intervals during this run where the path was rocky and/or riddled with tree roots that had popped up into the trail.

At times like that, I maneuvered around the dangers as best I could, but there were a few moments where I stumbled despite my best efforts. There were other points in the course where the trail was so steep, I couldn’t run up it. I had to walk — at what seemed like a snail’s pace — to make it up those hills before I could finally get to an area where running was possible again.

Now, stop a minute and reflect on that because I didn’t just describe the course for my recent race; I described life.

There are moments when life is simple, and your path is clear. It’s easy to run and not grow weary. But then obstacles, challenges, pop up and life gets confusing. The days seem like a never-ending uphill battle, and you can hardly function. Thankfully, though, time passes and circumstances change. Finally, living becomes possible again.

Like running a race, living life can be hard. But give praise to God, races, like the seasons in our lives, have finish lines to look forward to.

 

Lately, I have been experiencing countless moments where, by the end of the day, the stress of life so debilitates me that doing simple tasks is like trying to run up a steep hill — with the force of gravity beating me backwards every second.

I find myself beyond exhausted at the close of each day. I’m left in a weakened state. I feel spent, weary, and crippled. As if I’ve run a marathon!

It is in times like these, when life feels impossible and it appears the best thing to do is just take myself out of the race for the day … or the week … or the month. But then, I hear Him; God gently whispers to my heart that there is hope. I hear the One in control of all things say, “Keep running! Don’t give up! There is a finish line!”

And just when I feel as if I can’t put another foot in front of the other, I hear Him remind me, “[You] can do all things through Christ who gives [you] strength” (Philippians 4:13).

His Word renews me. It’s like catching a glimpse of a water station directly ahead after running four miles in the heat.

Stop and drink in His Word:

I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Phillippians 4:11-13)

When I’m ready to forfeit my day because the struggle is just too much, this verse helps me push through. It reminds me that whatever course I find myself on, as a child of the Most High King, I can endure it. I can fight through it. I can find the strength I need in Him.

Today, if you are struggling, find your renewed strength in Jesus. Just as in the midst of a race it’s OK to stop at a water station and drink to rehydrate before continuing on, so also life calls for times of refreshing. And as children of God, we can find this in simply knowing that Jesus is our strength, and He is always there when we call on Him.

Jamie Wills

Jamie Wills

Jamie is a high school English teacher, wife and mom. She is a marathon runner and writes regularly in her spare time on miscarriage, running, spirituality and everyday life on her blog -- posting things that God shows her that she doesn't want to forget, or "forget-me-nots." Jamie holds a master's degree in education and sponsors speech and debate at the high school level. Jamie is the mother of three children -- two beautiful daughters, Beth and Hannah; as well as Angel, a baby she lost in August of 2010. She currently resides in Georgia with her family.

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A Love Note: How God Shows His Love for Me

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“Are you the coach’s wife?” I turned to see a woman standing next to me.

“Yes, I am,” I replied with a smile. As the wife of a high school basketball coach, I was often approached at games.

Parents frequently came up to me to compliment my husband or “ooh” and “ahh” over our small children. But this time was different. The woman proceeded to tell me how sorry she felt for me. She said that my husband’s players had no respect for him and that she feared that he had completely lost the team.

Though I think she meant to be sympathetic, I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach.

I felt so vulnerable, so exposed. There I stood with my three-old-year and five-month-old watching my husband (10 pounds thinner than he should have been from the stress of a tough season) coach his heart out — only to be verbally berated by a woman whose name I didn’t even know.

After the game (one his team lost by 30 points), disgruntled parents swarmed the floor waiting for the team to come out of the locker room. A cold wave of fear washed all over me as I watched the angry crowd, not sure if a confrontation would happen. It didn’t, but I had never felt that hostile of an atmosphere after a game before.

Shaken, I went home and couldn’t sleep that night. The next evening was a big one for me: the second night of our choir’s church musical. I had earned a small duet and was thrilled because I had been hoping for several years to get an opportunity to become more involved in music again. The moment had finally presented itself.

Friday night’s performance had been flawless. No nerves. No problems. And then the next night, the incident at the game. It took away all of my want-to. Sunday night, I didn’t feel like singing and fell flat in my delivery. Though I managed to get through it, I was disappointed in myself and discouraged that all of my joy in the part had drained away.

As my husband’s season wound to an end, he stepped down from the head coaching position and stayed on as an assistant coach in a different sport. Within the next year, he moved on to a varsity coaching position in lacrosse at another school.

As excited as I was for him to secure the job, I found myself tied up in knots at the start of the new season. Would he be successful in his role? Would he win games? Would the parents like him? Would his administration look upon him with favor? As much as I wanted to let go of my anxiety, the woman’s words kept replaying in my head; I kept seeing my husband wading through livid bystanders — and me, observing from a few rows up the bleachers, helpless.

Just a few weeks into the season, I went to my mom group and shared my fears. We had recently finished a segment of Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts and had been talking about trust in God. As much as I wanted to summon up some, I felt only worry. The ladies at my table prayed for me and encouraged me with kind words, but I couldn’t shake the tension seeping into every muscle in my body.

I left mom group with a long to-do list. We had been invited to attend a Fellowship of Christian Athletes banquet that evening where college football coach Mark Richt was going to be the keynote speaker.

I had a full afternoon in front of me to get myself and the house prepared: a 40 minute drive home; lunch to make for my son; a daughter to pick up from preshool; a bedroom to prepare for their grandpa (who was coming to watch the kids and stay the night); and a pizza to pick up for the kids’ dinner.

As I squealed out of the driveway at 6:05 (barely enough time to make it to a 6:30 banquet), negative thoughts filled my head: Why am I going to this banquet? We have too much going on right now to do this tonight. I should have told Keith to go alone. There are going to be a whole lot of athletic-y and coach-y people there. I am going to be so out of place. There couldn’t possibly be anything that I get out of this night.

But something quiet inside kept pushing me to go.

Meeting my husband in the parking lot of the conference center, I burst into laughter when I caught sight of him. He had had a similarly hectic day chaperoning a field trip and running a lacrosse practice, only to battle traffic and arrive in mud-spattered athletic pants with barely a minute to spare. Whipping off his coaching clothes in his car and zipping up his khakis, he sprinted with me in hand to catch the last golf cart bringing guests into the banquet.

But we made it.

After dinner and opening remarks, Mark Richt was introduced and ushered to the platform. As he gave his introductory statements, I imagined he would most likely talk about his salvation story, the work of FCA at the high school level, or some stories about how some of his players were getting saved and the work he was doing to insure that. Although he did mention some of those details within the body of his talk, I almost fell out of my chair when he introduced the topic of his speech: Trust in the Hot Seat.

He then proceeded to tell in-depth stories about games that he had expected to easily win and then didn’t; times when his mother called him crying (almost every season) because she had read articles predicting his termination; websites that placed his name near the top of their “Top 10 Coaches Most Likely to Be Fired” lists. Although he gave a lot of stories about individual football games and situations with players, his message was simply this: He gets through the stress of his job by putting His trust in the Lord.

The very topic we had been discussing in small group that morning.

I sat there letting his words sink in. And it shouldn’t amaze me, but it always does — that even when I’m going to a coaches’ function that is really aimed more at my husband, a highly influential college coach gets up to speak and his words are those that have already been all around me for the last few weeks.

And though God can use anybody, and often does, He used someone I never expected to speak to me. Somehow, he inserted the very words I needed to hear into the brain of a stranger. Mark Richt isn’t just another coach from nowhere. He is in movies and commercials, makes millions of dollars every year. He could have easily turned down a little FCA engagement. He could have declined the drive up north to instead lounge in his leather recliner in his custom house. No one would have blamed him.

But there he was, on the stage in front of me, weaving in the fabric of his football stories a message intended for me. In Spiritual Whitespace: Awakening Your Soul to Rest, Bonnie Gray relates:

Jesus has a way of slipping his love notes to reach that little girl in me. Just this morning, as I listened to piano music streaming from Pandora, the words he shared with his disciples those last hours floated their way to me.

Don’t be troubled. You trust God, now trust in me. There are many rooms in my Father’s home, and I am going to prepare a place for you … so that you will always be with me where I am. (John 14:1-3 NLT 1996)

I realized that the entire event was God’s way of reaching out to me, reassuring me, ministering to me. I have started to discover how subtle God is, how quiet at times. I can easily miss Him. If my heart hadn’t been open and listening for Him, I may never have recognized his words of encouragement for me, his provision for my anxious heart.

Consider what Charles H. Spurgeon says in a Streams in the Desert devotion (based on Habakkuk 2:1):

Without watchful expectation on our part, what is the sense in waiting on God for help? There will be no help without it. If we ever fail to receive strength and protection from Him, it is because we have not been looking for it. Heavenly help is often offered but goes right past us. We miss it because we are not standing in the tower, carefully watching the horizon for evidence of its approach, and then are unready to throw open the gates of our heart open so it may enter. The person who has no expectations and therefore fails to be on the alert will receive little help. Watch for God in the events of your life.

Jesus pens His letters to me into the fiber of my everyday doings. His voice wafts over to me through a speaker’s words, through the devotion I’m reading, through the song on the radio. He is everywhere. All around me. I need only open up His letter and read the contents, drink my fill.

In my darkest hour, scariest circumstance, He whispers His words, sends them my way —

In a love note to me.

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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When You Need to Feel Like God Loves You

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I don’t generally do New Year’s resolutions. However, at this time of year, I see the value in reflecting on the past year and meditating on ways to do things differently in the new year or improve things that aren’t working (even if it doesn’t involve a list).

Just like some of you who may be reading this, I have got some areas of my life that haven’t been working so well for me lately. And thus, when I listened to a Christmas Eve sermon which centered on Revelation 12:11, I decided that I wanted my word of the year to be “overcome.” I know that there are some patterns of behavior that are holding me back. Even as a blogger who writes about healing and spiritual growth, I am ever in process myself. And — just from undergoing some healing these past few years, I know that I don’t have the strength to overcome these areas on my own. And so, I have been praying about these areas and asking Jesus to help me.

One such area I have been in need of an intervention in is in the area of God’s love. I know. I have written numerous blog posts on the subject. However, it’s been an area I’ve struggled with at different intervals of my life because of past events that like to surface, difficult circumstances that make it challenging to trace God’s hand, and lies of the enemy that try to tempt me once again as they have in the past. I’ll just be honest with you: I don’t feel God’s love in a tangible way all of the time even though I can point to ways He has rescued me in my life, comforted me, come through for me.

Recently, I prayed, God, help me to feel your love. Why don’t I always feel it? I then went about my day and forgot I had even asked. On a whim, not even remembering that I had asked this question, I went by the bookshelf and picked up Breaking Free by Beth Moore. These were the words I read on the page I opened:

I continue to see this statement in my mail: ‘I have such trouble really believing and accepting how much God loves me.’ So I began to ask God, ‘Lord, why do we have so much trouble believing and accepting Your love for us?’ I offered God multiple-choice answers to my own question: ‘Is it our backgrounds? Our childhood hurts? The unsound teachings we’ve received? The unloving people who surround us?’ I would have gone on and on except that He seemed to interrupt me — and He had the gall not to choose one of my multiple-choice answers.

As clearly as a bell, God spoke to my heart through His Spirit and said, ‘The answer to your question is the sin of unbelief.’ The thought never crossed my mind. Since then, it’s never left my mind.

Well, let me tell you. I almost fell over in shock. I received this book from a friend about five years ago. I read it then, but I had no recollection of the words that lay before me. In addition, I wasn’t searching out this section of the book or expecting there to be an answer for me within its pages. If anything, the fact that He answered me so readily testified to me of God’s care and love right then.

You see, I had been waiting to feel God’s love, and I do feel it at times. But Moore stresses rightly that His love is something we have to believe, not always just wait to feel.

The Bible tells us this: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Most of us would have to think twice about dying for someone we love, let alone someone who didn’t even appreciate the gift. Think about it. Jesus died knowing that some of us would be flippant about His act while others of us would reject His offer.

In addition, if that weren’t enough, Jesus didn’t come with pomp and circumstance, putting on airs. He downgraded from the splendor of heaven to dwell with us here. He demanded none of the prestige that was due Him — to offer a way out of the mess that we created.

And if you need one more example of His great love, we need only think back to the creation story where God made us as the climax of His creation. We weren’t an afterthought or on the same level as the animals and plants. He set us above them — to rule over them. We were made in the likeness of God; as one commentator put it – we were made to be God’s “shadow.” He saw fit to give us His own attributes and make us in His own image.

Many of us feel it’s impossible that God would love us because of how others have treated us or because we have have even rejected ourselves, but the painful truth is that when we don’t accept that God loves us, we are participating in unbelief. As Moore argues later in the chapter, “Unbelief regarding the love of God is the ultimate slap in His face. The world came into being from the foundation of God’s love. God nailed down His love for us on the cross. Can you imagine the grief of our unbelief after all He’s done?”

On a much smaller scale, it might be like us presenting our child with a lavish gift and a position to work for us and them saying to us, I will take the gift and the position, but I still don’t feel like it’s mine. We would want to hit them over the head and say, Wake up, dummy! Aren’t you enjoying the benefits of this gift even as we speak and yet you deny it’s yours?

A stronghold is something we lift up and attach ourselves to — whether that be a thought pattern or an action. But ultimately, that thought or action opposes God’s Word. Unbelief of God’s love can become a stronghold. To demolish the stronghold of unbelief of God’s love, we need to tear down the lies that He doesn’t love us or that we are unlovable and replace that with belief in God’s truth declared in His Word.

In a project I have been working on lately, this idea has continually popped up in the Bible stories I have been studying: the path of belief versus unbelief that God offers. Often, God surprises me with His answers. They don’t always seem that logical. Rather than 2 + 2 = 4, the answer is instead 23 or squirrel or the color blue. I wouldn’t think that belief is the key to experiencing God’s love.

Eve, when tempted by Satan in the Garden of Eden to eat the fruit, did so because she entered into disbelief. She stepped away from believing God had her best in mind (when He warned her not to eat the fruit) and believed that God was holding out on her by placing a restriction on that fruit, even though God had done everything to prove otherwise by placing her in a lovely garden with all of her needs met. It didn’t matter what she felt at the moment. The truth, whether she believed it or not, was that God did love her and had forbidden her from eating the fruit because He was protecting her. The truth remained even when she stepped out of belief and aligned herself with Satan and got out of alignment with God.

The Bible tells us that we are dearly loved by God (Eph. 5:1,2; Col. 3:12). Dearly loved means that we can be rooted in a deep, unwavering belief of God’s love that permeates our every action. Ultimately, all of us need a conviction of God’s love to operate in His power and will — because otherwise we will fall into unbelief on the days we don’t feel like His love is there.

How about you? Do you struggle to feel God’s love? Share with us in the comments!

Carol Whitaker

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

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Does Your Life Have a Specific Purpose?

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What is your favorite Christmas song?

I know. That can be a hard question. There are simply too many tunes that touch us in unique and powerful ways during this season when we celebrate the birth of our Savior. It’s hard to choose just one song and name it your most beloved.

However, if forced to do just that, I would have to select “Mary, Did You Know?”

There are lines in that song that simply blow my mind! Like, “Mary, did you know that when you kissed your little baby, you kissed the face of God?”

Amazing!

Looking closely at the melody, one sees the entire premise behind the song is that Jesus was born to achieve a specific purpose. The ultimate architect sent His Son with plans to accomplish a detailed design.

“Mary, did you know that your baby boy will one day walk on water?

Mary, did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?

Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?

This child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you.”

What an awesome plot by an awesome God to communicate His power, His love, and His plan — a perfect sacrifice to save us from our sins! Only the sovereign God of all creation could muster up such a magnificent plan.

Now, would it surprise you to know that your life was also knit together with a specific purpose in mind?

Psalm 139:13-16 (NLT) reveals that God made each of us according to a detailed design: “You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous — how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.”

Each moment of your life was laid out before it even came to pass. The Planner has a plan for you!

Recall Esther, a Jewish girl who was adopted by her Uncle Mordechai. Ultimately, she becomes Queen of Persia when King Xerxes begins searching for a new wife after Queen Vashti falls into disfavor. Esther surely wondered at the series of events that landed her into this new circumstance. But then the Jews were threatened by a plot devised to slaughter them all, and Mordechai posed this question to the new Queen: “Who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14).

At that moment, Esther clearly saw her specific purpose unfold before her.

Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.’ (Esther 4:15-16)

After three days, Esther boldly walked into the king’s chambers, not knowing whether or not he would receive her since she had not been formally invited. According to the law, she could have been put to death for being so daring. But the king extended his scepter as Esther approached him and so welcomed her into his presence. The events she executed thereafter saved her people from annihilation. Everything in her life had been orchestrated so that Esther could realize this specific purpose — to be the queen who sacrifices for her people.

Now turn your thoughts to a King who sacrificed for His people. Recall His miraculous birth.

“Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation? Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day rule the nations? Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb? This sleeping child you’re holding is the great I Am.”

Jesus was born with a specific purpose. Mike Riches’ book Living Free describes God’s design for Jesus’ life in this way:

Throughout the New Testament we see it is only through Jesus Christ that we can be restored to our Heavenly Father.  It is only through Him that we can experience real freedom in life in the power and love of God — a freedom God purchased for us as the great cost of the blood of His own Son: ‘He is so rich in kindness and grace that He purchased our freedom with the blood of His Son and forgave our sins’ (Ephesians 1:7). This is the very reason Jesus came to this world as a human being.

And you, too, have been designed with a specific purpose in mind. It might not seem as elaborate as Jesus’ design or as profound as Esther’s calling; nevertheless, He has a plan for your life. Scripture confirms this again and again: “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago” (Eph. 2:10, NLT).

So this Christmas, remember the reason we celebrate. Remember, you are His child, and your Heavenly Father has good in store for you. Each day you can awake with the knowledge that God has “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future” (Jer. 29:11).

What about you? Do you struggle to know what your purpose is or to embrace the truth that God created you with intentionality and works to do on His behalf? Share with us in the comments!

Related Resources:

This post is part of a series of posts written in reaction to Mike Riches’ book Living Free. Mike Riches is a pastor of a church in Gig Harbor, Washington, and is head of the Sycamore Commission, a ministry committed to modeling Christian life and ministry after that of Jesus Christ. Living Free is one of several resources he has authored and is designed to help people know God’s original design when He created us, how Satan has attempted to thwart that design, and how to live “free” and healed — recovering areas of our lives (in terms of our emotions, health, relationships, etc.) that the enemy has stolen from us. As part of a training for our Beulah Girl team, we have been going through the book and are sharing the lessons we are learning with you here.

Are you new to the whole idea of salvation? Do you want to accept Jesus as your Savior or find out more about the steps to do that? Visit our Know God page or send us a note through our Contact page to learn more!

 

Jamie Wills

Jamie Wills

Jamie is a high school English teacher, wife and mom. She is a marathon runner and writes regularly in her spare time on miscarriage, running, spirituality and everyday life on her blog -- posting things that God shows her that she doesn't want to forget, or "forget-me-nots." Jamie holds a master's degree in education and sponsors speech and debate at the high school level. Jamie is the mother of three children -- two beautiful daughters, Beth and Hannah; as well as Angel, a baby she lost in August of 2010. She currently resides in Georgia with her family.

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What Jesus Came to Do (the Best News This Christmas)

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I have a Glorious Ruins Hillsong CD that is now worn out because I’ve listened to it so many times. But one of the songs I like in it is “God Who Saves.” Confession: I have an obsession with all Hillsong music, anyway. I love their worship songs because they are easy to sing, and I also like their tasteful guitar and drum-heavy arrangements. But the lyric goes, “You’re the God who saves / You’re the hope of all / Reaching out your hand / As your people call.”

I usually listen to such words (very common in many worship songs, by the way) and think of salvation: the work Jesus has done on the cross to save us from our sins. And that is an important (the most important) aspect to Jesus’ work here on earth.

However, as Mike Riches points out in Living Free, the saving work of Jesus is more than just a conversion of our souls at salvation. In Luke 19:10, the word translated as “save” is “sozo” in the Greek. This word “sozo” means not only to rescue one’s soul but can mean other things as well: to rescue someone from danger or affliction, to save someone from disease, and to set someone free from demonization. “Sozo” means to help someone thrive — and forms of this word are used in the New Testament to mean “cured,” “save,” “recover,” “made well,” among others.

The Saving Work of Jesus: “Sozo” Work

In other words, God’s work in sending Jesus does more than reconcile us back to God in terms of salvation. Jesus restores areas that the enemy has destroyed in areas of our health, relationships, emotions, etc. Certainly, we see how Jesus did this by healing the sick, setting free those possessed by demons, and ministering to the broken-hearted. As Riches points out, in terms of physical healing, not everyone was healed by Jesus in His day and not everyone receives healing now. However, this “sozo” work begins at salvation and will ultimately be completed in heaven.

This saving work of Jesus is proclaimed throughout the Bible, but is illustrated beautifully in the Christmas story. In Luke 2:10-14 (NKJV), the announcement of Jesus’ birth is given by an angel to the shepherds. A chorus of angels join in at the end of the proclamation with a celebratory song, singing: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men” (v. 14). We could easily skim past this chorus of the angels, but if we split apart the verse and look at the two halves separately, we see this emphasis on what Jesus’ birth did to save us:

“Glory to God in the highest.” In the first part of the verse, the angels express their worship of God in song. Note, they say “Glory to God in the highest.” As scholars note, this “highest” is above the angels, even. He is the God above all others, over all of the universe and creation. And the reason for their worship is given in the next part of the verse.

“Peace, goodwill to men.” The angels are singing praises to the Almighty God because of the great gift He has bestowed on the earth. He has sent His only Son in the form of a baby to bring peace on earth (Isa. 9:6). However, this peace isn’t just a “kumbayah” everyone hold hands kind of peace. This peace that the Savior brings is a reconciliation or peace in the relationship of humanity and God.

When Adam and Eve sinned, the communion God shared with man was broken. Man was sinful and could not approach God in the same manner. Men and women in the Old Testament were under Old Testament laws and had to rely on priests to both mediate between man and God and perform sacrifices to be cleansed of their sins. However, through Jesus we can be saved, and our relationship with God is restored. Jesus makes it possible for us to be in right standing with our Creator.

Even the name Jesus literally means “to save.” Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua. This name was originally Hoshea but changed into Jehoshua or Joshua (Num. 13:8, 1 Chr. 7:27). After the Exile, it assumed the form Jeshua and then Jesus. It was given to Jesus because it denoted His mission, which was to save (Easton’s Bible Dictionary). In Matthew 1:21, the angel tells Mary that she will bring forth a Son, saying, “You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (emphasis mine).

Jesus’ Mission to Save Is Good News

This is exciting news for us any time of year: Jesus’ mission is to save. And continually save. Our spirits are sealed by the Holy Spirit at salvation, and we don’t have to continually ask God for rescue from eternal damnation (after we have already received salvation). But we do need to continually ask for help to live on this sin-ridden planet — and that is what Jesus does. However, as some theologians observe, the angels saying that God brought peace to men should actually be read “to men of goodwill” or men that had hearts open to the message of the Gospel.

Certainly, the New Living Translation reads like this, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” The Message Translation says this: “Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.”

The gift is there. It’s ours. But while His desire is that all be saved, only a select few will take Him up on His offer. Let’s make sure we have done so and are fully appreciating His “sozo” work in our lives. Because that is truly the best news we can appreciate this Christmas — having One who continually saves.

Related Bible Verses:

Isaiah 53:5: “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”

John 3:17: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

Mark 16:16: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”

Ephesians 2:14: “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.”

Related Resources:

This post is part of a series of posts written in reaction to Mike Riches’ book Living Free. Mike Riches is a pastor of a church in Gig Harbor, Washington, and is head of the Sycamore Commission, a ministry committed to modeling Christian life and ministry after that of Jesus Christ. Living Free is one of several resources he has authored and is designed to help people know God’s original design when He created us, how Satan has attempted to thwart that design, and how to live “free” and healed — recovering areas of our lives (in terms of our emotions, health, relationships, etc.) that the enemy has stolen from us. As part of a training for our Beulah Girl team, we have been going through the book and are sharing the lessons we are learning with you here.

Are you new to the whole idea of salvation? Do you want to accept Jesus as your Savior or find out more about the steps to do that? Visit our Know God page or send us a note through our Contact page to learn more!

Carol Whitaker

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

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How to Keep Going When You Want to Give up

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There have been times that I have been discouraged in writing and ministry. Times when I doubted if I had an impact on anyone or spoke to anyone with my words.

A year or so ago, I went through an interval where I felt spiritually depleted. Pregnant with our third child, I wasn’t feeling so hot physically. Our house was for sale and wasn’t selling. Our financial circumstances had taken a turn for the worse when my husband accepted a new job (and a pay cut for the first year). We were in transition looking for a new church and attending one where we knew hardly anyone. I was overwhelmed and distracted by my situation and didn’t think I could keep up with blogging.

In this state of mind, I went to church one Sunday. There was a point in the service where the pastor paused and asked us to close our eyes and pray individually about whatever we wanted to talk to the Lord about. As I shut my eyes, I didn’t utter a word out loud but let a torrent of anguished words escape inside. I told God what I really thought — how tired and hopeless I felt.

Immediately, a vivid picture of a window with four panes of glass popped in my mind. The sky behind the panes was brilliant blue with wispy clouds and bright light streaming through. For whatever reason, I got the impression in that moment that the picture was this blog — that it was a window into God. That people could see who God was and learn His secrets by reading the writing here. This was not because of any extraordinary ability on my part or on the part of other writers here (although we certainly have some talented ladies on our team), but because we simply share the lessons God is teaching us.

I was so moved by God’s answer to me, I felt the heavy burden of despair lift. I walked out of church in awe. God knew just the thing I needed in the moment to continue on in writing.

Perhaps in this moment, as you are reading this, you find yourself in a challenging circumstance that feels heavy. Maybe the medical diagnosis just came in that has you feeling dejected. Maybe the marital problems keep escalating and don’t improve no matter how much you pray. Maybe the wayward child that doesn’t respond to discipline keeps having troubles at school. Life can throw us challenges that we don’t always feel equipped to handle. Thankfully, we have a God who is always a step ahead of us and can rescue us or comfort us in our worst life events.

Hagar: A Woman Who Needed God’s Help and Encouragement

A woman who knew much about being in the hard places of life was Hagar, Sarah’s maidservant. She was given by Sarah to Abraham to conceive a child when Sarah remained barren. However, when she did get pregnant by Abraham, problems cropped up between Sarah and Hagar.

Hagar began taking pride in her pregnancy and putting on airs; Sarah, in return, began mistreating Hagar. In desperation, Hagar fled to the desert. And God met her there. We pick up the story in Genesis 16:7-14 where an angel of the Lord shows up to Hagar and the following events transpire:

And he [the angel] said, ‘Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?’ ‘I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,’ she answered. Then the angel of the Lord told her, ‘Go back to your mistress and submit to her.’ The angel added, ‘I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.’ The angel of the Lord also said to her: ‘You are now pregnant and you will give birth to a son. You shall name him Ishmael, for the Lord has heard of you misery … She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me,’ for she said, ‘I have now seen the One who sees me.’ That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi [‘well of the Living One who sees me’]; it is still there, between Kadesh and Bered.

It’s important to note how God reacts to this situation in which Hagar felt desperate, beyond help:

God tells Her He knows about her situation. Notice, the angel tells Hagar to name her child “Ishmael” — which means “God hears” — and then goes on to say that God has “heard of [her] misery” (v. 11). What I love about this is that God takes the approach of a father and lets Hager know that He is aware of her painful situation.

Sometimes when we are in adverse circumstances or treated badly, it helps so much to have someone notice and say, “I know what you are going through.” It helps especially to hear God say that! We may feel like God doesn’t care about us, but we need to know that God is versed in everything we are experiencing and can step in at any point He chooses.

He gives her hope to cling to in the midst of challenging circumstances. God tells Hagar to go back and submit to her mistress. Clearly, even though both Hagar and Sarah are at fault for how they treated each other, God tells Hagar to be the one to go and patch things up (most likely with an apology). And, unfortunately, that is often the case. We want so badly at times for God to fix it and make it work the way we want, but while God is capable of doing that, He chooses to solve it the way He determines — in a way consistent with His precepts and character.

However, while Hagar may have been disappointed that she had to return back to Sarah, God gives her hope she can cling to. He tells her that she is having a son, and this son will have many descendants. I believe that God does this because He knew that she would need something encouraging to cling to not only in the moment, but in the days ahead — when she had to go back to the difficult situation she left.

And he does the same with us. There are times when we will reach the end (in our minds) when our situation is such that we will say, “I’ve had it God. I can’t take it anymore. I want to quit.” And God — like He did with Hagar — will speak to us through a sermon, through a friend — maybe directly to us, letting us know that He sees us and that we shouldn’t give up. Because He knows us so intimately, He will give us just what we need to continue going — to keep on when everything in us wants to give up.

Trusting God in Our Difficult Circumstance

I don’t know why God allows the circumstances He does or why certain events happen the way they do, but I know this: there is only One who can give us the resilience and resolve to get through life’s injustices and trials and have the courage to continue on.

In a past sermon, Rick Warren stresses this: When we want to give up, we need to tell it to God. We need to get all those bad emotions out. We need to tell Him we’re angry. That we’re hurt. That we want to die even. He’s OK with our tough emotions. He listens, and He offers comfort and hope in the midst of our difficulty.

And Warren recommends something else. There are some questions we just need to put in what he calls the “Why God? File.” There are some questions we will never know the answers to. Why is this happening to me? Why did I have to be the one to go through this?

Because there are some questions that will eat us alive if we keep asking them. I don’t think it’s wrong to ask God “Why?” — but if we are asking and asking, and He hasn’t answered, maybe it’s time to file that why away. Maybe we won’t know this side of eternity.

Hagar decides to file her why questions away. She accepts her situation, however unfair, and puts her trust in God, saying, “You are the God who sees me, I have now seen the One who sees me.” She trusts His judgment and goes back to her mistress. Trusts even though her situation didn’t go the way she hoped. Trusts because not only is He the God who sees and hears — He is the God who knows.

What situation are you struggling with today? Have you brought it to God? There is no situation that is too far out of God’s reach. The same God who showed up to Hagar in the desert is available to you today. Share with us in the comments!

Carol Whitaker

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

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Doing Work That Has Eternal Value

doing-work-that-has-eternal-value

In Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem “Ozymandias,” the lines describe a traveler who finds the ruin of a statue of a ruler. Stamped on the pedestal are these words: “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: / Look on my works, ye Mighty and despair!” The words are ironic because the statue, depicting a ruler influential enough to have a statue made, is broken to pieces and sunken in the desert sand. Nothing but a wasteland of barren earth stretches beyond his hand.

The obvious meaning of the poem is that our accomplishments, however great, won’t last forever.

The message of the poem is one that resonates with all of us because there is within the human heart that desire to create or do something significant and important. I remember as a young person reading well-written pieces of literature and looking at famous sculptures and paintings, thinking, “I wish I could something significant like this. Something important.”

However, my definition of valuable work was somewhat skewed. I deemed something of worth if it was esteemed by a great number of people. If it made it into the public arena for some reason.

Perhaps your definition is similar. Or perhaps you carry around a different definition. Perhaps “important” to you means a title from a certain institution. Maybe it means a certain degree. Maybe it means a level of achievement.

What Does the Bible Say About Work?

The Bible defines work of value in an entirely different way than you and I might. In 1 Corinthians 3:9-13, it says this:

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

The passage makes a clear distinction right away about the kind of work God wants us to labor in. As verse 9 states, we are “co-workers” with God. To be truly meaningful, our work cannot be an effort of individual willpower. We must rely on God’s help and directive and labor with Him in the process of all we do.

When we fulfill the tasks God ordains us to do and walk in His will, we build on the right foundation using “gold, silver, costly stones” (v. 12). Christ modeled this kind of work when He continually stressed that He only did what the Father told Him to do — and declared that work “finished” when He died on the cross (John 19:30).

In contrast, if we try to build in our own power, our work will not stand the test of time. As Bill Gillham notes in Lifetime Guarantee, our own fleshly pursuits are merely “the wood, hay or straw” that will not last, even if built on the right foundation (v. 12). We can do work that looks good and might even look spiritual, but working without the right motives and not allowing God to work through us will be revealed with fire (v. 13).

Doing Work That Has Eternal Value

A few years ago, when I left teaching and surveyed my years as a teacher, I felt that I had done a good job. I considered myself an excellent teacher. But then I began to get God’s perspective on my time as a teacher and realized I had squandered much of my time and energy on being liked and worshipped by my students. And the hard things I walked through after teaching revealed my career for what it was: mostly a shrine that I had attempted to build to myself.

Yes, there were those moments when I felt God directing me to speak to a student, and I did. And I know that God had me in that particular school. But even as I felt that I was supposed to teach for that particular season, I didn’t take the opportunity to be a godly example to my students or consider how each day could be an opportunity to act out of God’s will. Largely, when God put the magnifying scope on my years in a high school setting, most of what I considered I was crumbled, and the truth emerged that I was more addicted to man’s approval than God’s.

On the other hand, I can think of specific instances in the last few years that have appeared like a disaster from a human standpoint — like I have failed even though I did as God directed. But as time has gone on, those “failures” have begun to look different in hindsight.

For instance, a few years ago, I felt I was to initiate a conversation with some fellow believers about an unhealthy situation they were involved in. It was very awkward for me to bring up the problem, but I felt strongly to do it.

They listened quietly, and as I walked away from that conversation, I knew that I most likely would not be welcome in their presence again. I also did not know if they would accept my advice.

They did not. They continued on down the path they were on. They didn’t say anything further to me but cut off contact with some people we both knew. In some ways, I wondered, God, why did you have me say anything?

However, as time has gone on, I learned more about the situation they were in and how they had gotten in even deeper in an area that God had me address. Though I didn’t see and haven’t seen any signs of a change in either one of them towards separating themselves from their harmful environment, I do know that my words (not mine, but God’s) are true whether they embrace them or not. That even if they choose never to listen or turn away, these words may come back to them at a later time.

Because God’s Word stands whether we listen or heed His words or not. And God has specific works for us to do whether we know it or not.

Ephesians 2:10 states that God has prepared works for us in advance to do. Isn’t that thought amazing? That maybe all we are thinking about today is the sweater we want to buy at Marshalls, the ingredients we need to pick up at the store for dinner — or making it through the day without going crazy with our small children underfoot. But God has eternal plans that He wants to use us for.

Sharing an area of healing we have had with a friend.

Giving a sum of money away to a family in need.

Scheduling a meeting with our pastor to talk about starting a ministry in our church.

Nurturing our children with God’s love and teaching them His precepts.

Whatever small or big thing God may be nudging us to do today, those things are important and significant not because anyone will necessarily see us doing those things, give us an award for doing them, or help push us from obscurity into the public for doing them. Those things are important and significant because God wants us to do them, and they hold eternal value because He promises that those things we do that He directs us in will bear fruit — the kind that we can’t bear in our own strength. The fruit which stands the test of time.

So the next time you are thinking about how you can make your work more meaningful, ask God for His perspective. Ask Him what He would have you do for Him. You just might be surprised by the answer!

Let’s pray: Lord, you know that we want to do things that are meaningful for You. But sometimes we get off track and do things that will bring glory to us or push ourselves into the spotlight and get praise from man. Help us to focus on You and do what will please You and bring glory to You. Forgive us for the ways we have fallen short. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Related Bible Verses:

1 John 2:17: “The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.”

John 6:27: “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”

John 15:5: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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Spiritual Growth and Maturity: Why Is It Taking so Long?

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My son has been potty-trained for two years.

However, though he is potty-trained, it has taken some time to learn to use the bathroom on his own.

When he does business that requires a long sit-down on the commode, I have to remind him how much tissue to use, how to rub soap to get the germs off when he washes his hands, and how to untangle his clothes and get them back on his body.

I been issuing these same instructions for two years. Though he is getting more adept at remembering what to do, he still needs me to monitor him. He sometimes forgets a step or struggles to get his own clothes on or hops off the toilet in the middle of business and wants to play.

Though we are making progress — the boy is no longer in diapers — the progress is slow. I sometimes wonder if this child will ever be able to be in the bathroom alone without my assistance.

It sometimes feels like my journey to spiritual maturity is taking just as long. Getting into a rhythm with God where certain bad habits are overcome for good, where I obey the second He calls, where sin doesn’t have a hold on me — is taking longer than I want it to.

However, as I was thinking about rhythms this morning, I reflected on the fact that “getting into a rhythm” takes time. You have to learn it. Feel it in your bones before you can join in or snap to the beat. I remember my former choir instructors actually snapping out the beat with their fingers to themselves before they would raise their arms, look at the choir or orchestra, and begin directing.

They had to feel it before they could direct us in song.

When we are discouraged with where we are at spiritually, there are several things Rick Warren points out in The Purpose-Driven Life about spiritual maturity we should keep in mind.

1. God is not in a hurry.

While we want a magical transformation where all of our fleshly ways are remedied at salvation, that isn’t what happens in the Christian walk. We may have a dramatic salvation story and turn from whatever lifestyle we are engaged in, yes, but it takes time to learn to walk in God’s ways. An entire lifetime, in fact!

Warren likens the process of spiritual growth to the strategy the Allies used during World War II to liberate islands in the South Pacific. Note what he says about the Allies’ strategy:

First, they would ‘soften up’ an island, weakening the resistance by shelling the enemy strongholds with bombs from offshore ships. Next, a small group of Marines would invade the island and establish a ‘beachhead’ — a tiny fragment of the island that they could control. Once the beachhead was secured, they would begin the long process of liberating the rest of the island, one bit of territory at a time. Eventually, the entire island would be brought under control, but not without some costly battles.

As Warren stresses, God gets a beachhead in your life, but then he begins His strategy to take over the whole island. Why? For the purpose of  liberation! Rather than get discouraged when we compare ourselves to others and see that they are further along than us, our job is to submit to the work God is doing at the moment and trust that as long as we are surrendering to Him, He has us right where He wants us.

2. Certain habits that took time to learn may take time to unlearn.

As Warren notes, we may be struggling with a habit that took years to develop. A quick fix or solution is not realistic. It may take us some time to overcome this. Rather than give up on ourselves or look for an easy out from the pressure we may feel while God is operating on us in this area, we should be patient with ourselves and know that the working out of this trait may take some time. If our struggle is with fear or pride or self-sufficiency, we may have moments of victory but then other moments where we fall back into old patterns because they are comfortable and it’s what we have known for much of our life.

Rather than beat ourselves for our failures, we need to turn to Jesus, confess where we have fallen short, ask Him to help us in our weakness, and allow Him to guide us towards lasting victory (John 1:9).

3. We need to find friends to come alongside us.

As Warren stresses, we don’t do ourselves a favor when we try to keep the sin or habit we are struggling with a secret. Pride says that we should hide our struggles, but there is freedom in admitting our struggle with another person and asking for help and accountability.

The Bible says that those who confess and renounce their sins will find mercy (Prov. 28:13). Perhaps there is a group you can get plugged into or a wise Christian friend that you can regularly meet with. Relating your struggle in an area with another person can help keep you accountable and make ground against this thing — rather than stuffing it down and keeping it silent, so that it just turns into a shameful thing you try to hide. Your friend or prayer partner can also help you make a plan to avoid situations where you will be tempted to act in ways you know you shouldn’t.

Conclusion:

Just as it takes time for fruit to grow and ripen on the vine, it takes time for us to mature spiritually and develop the fruit of Christ-like character, as well as develop the ability to effectively minister to others.

Knowing that this maturation is a process can encourage us when we feel like our struggle with the same old habits or sins will never end; we can know that God is always working. The one who can stand in the way of this is us!

So, as Warren says, let Him do as He pleases and trust that He who began a good work in you will complete it (Phil. 1:6).

Related Bible Verses:

Matthew 11:28-30 (MSG): “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.”

Carol Whitaker

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

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What the Parable of the Prodigal Son Teaches Us About Spending Time With God

What the Parable of the Prodigal Son Teaches Us About Spending (2)

My oldest daughter, Beth, went to two church camps this summer. That’s two full weeks my baby of nine years was away from her mama. (And yes, I know, at nine, she’s no longer a baby, but to me, she will always be my baby girl.)

When she was gone, I missed her something terrible! Especially after she went off to the second camp, I immediately yearned to have her back. I guess the reason it was so hard the next week she was gone is because it was a camp I wasn’t as familiar with. She went to the second camp with a neighbor’s family and not with our church, so I knew she would be surrounded, mostly, by people she didn’t know. People I didn’t know.

She left on an adventure without me — emphasis on “without ME” — and I just wanted her back. When my independent (OK, I’ll say it) BIG girl left her mama a second time, she didn’t even glance back at me after I dropped her off with the neighbor and walked back toward our house. I know because I watched.

Throughout the week she was gone, this eagerness to have her back in my arms and under my care grew. When the day finally came she was to return home, my longing for my girl had grown into this insatiable hunger. I remember obsessing about how much I wanted to hug her and to love on her.

It’s often in times like these, where my emotions have been revved up so high it’s as if I’m about to ignite into flames, I suddenly hear God speak to me.

I heard Him say, “That’s how I often feel about you, my child.”

I have to tell you, I was a little shocked by this. Not because I don’t know how much God loves me, I most certainly do. He loved me so much He gave His one and only Son to die for me, for us (John 3:16). These words from my Savior gave me pause because it wasn’t as if I ever left Him for extended periods of time to go off on my own adventures, like my oldest had done.

Or maybe I had?

Is it not true that even though we aren’t ever physically from God’s view, spiritually we can be thousands of miles away from His loving gaze? As if we have turned our backs on Him to run off on our own in search of self-fulfillment?

Too busy for a quiet time? Too concerned with other priorities to go to church? Too preoccupied to pray with a friend or to witness to the lost?

Having my oldest away from me at camp for such a long time had just given me a glimpse into how our loving Father feels about us when we are spiritually far away from Him. He, too, becomes eager for our return, desirous of the time when He can yet again lavish His love and His peace upon us.

When Jesus told the story of the prodigal son, He created an illustration of God’s longing for His distant children and His great love for them. And upon a close inspection of this timeless tale, we can uncover just how we, when we don’t make time for God, have in common with this wayward child.

How We Are Like the Prodigal Son When We Neglect Time With God

The story opens in Luke 15, saying: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living” (v. 11).

In this parable, the father parallels God, and the son parallels a person in spiritual rebellion against Him. The first thing a reader should notice is that this son chooses to go off on an adventure far away from his father. This is a choice.

How often do we choose to do the same thing? How often do we start our days immediately going off on adventures of our own choosing without so much as a backward glance to our Father?

Then, notice what else it says in the opening verse to this story. It says that the son “squandered” his wealth. Now, remember where he got this wealth? The father. So technically, it wasn’t his wealth he wasted. It was the father’s.

Again, how often do we do this? How often do we wastefully cast aside what God desires to freely gives us in favor of squalor?

Notice where the son ends up as the story continues in verse 14: “After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.”

Now let’s pause a moment and examine our own lives. How many times have we ended up in this same position? Having lived day in and day out the way we see fit, only to be so spiritually hungry we try to fill that void with whatever will seemingly do the trick? Relationships? Work? Social media?

If you are anything like me, you don’t really like the honest answers you just gave to those questions. But, praise be to God, the story of this father and son doesn’t end with the child longing to obtain a feast from the pig trough. There is hope revealed in verse 17: “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ So he got up and went to his father.”

Do you need to do this today? Do you need to go to God and ask for forgiveness? Whether it be as a Christian to repent of a transgression or as a lost sinner in need of salvation, we can go to God the Father and ask for what we need.

And He is eagerly waiting for us to run into His open arms!

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you, I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found’ So they began to celebrate.” (vv. 20-24)

The Heart of the Father Towards Us When We Stray

Whatever is going on in your life today, don’t neglect your heavenly Father. As is so beautifully illustrated in the story of the prodigal son, God wants you to want Him. He loves us, and He wants to show us His amazing love. If only we would let Him!

When Beth came home from her second church camp, I was overjoyed to hear her knock on the door to our home. I flung it open, embraced her, and twirled her around while squealing, “I’ve missed you!” We then spent most of that evening together, enjoying each other’s company.

Each day, the Savior waits, eager to embrace you and enjoy your company. Don’t opt instead to tackle the day on your own. He wants to clothe you in His best and celebrate life with you. Call on Him, today.

 

Jamie Wills

Jamie Wills

Jamie is a high school English teacher, wife and mom. She is a marathon runner and writes regularly in her spare time on miscarriage, running, spirituality and everyday life on her blog -- posting things that God shows her that she doesn't want to forget, or "forget-me-nots." Jamie holds a master's degree in education and sponsors speech and debate at the high school level. Jamie is the mother of three children -- two beautiful daughters, Beth and Hannah; as well as Angel, a baby she lost in August of 2010. She currently resides in Georgia with her family.

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To the Overburdened Woman: A Lesson in God’s Expectations

To the Overburdened Woman Wondering What God Expects of You

I am a church member, a wife, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, and a teacher. I’m sure you fit many of those roles as well, and the expectations we put on ourselves and expect from others to fulfill any of those positions is mind-boggling. I’m sure you don’t want to read paragraphs of what I do related to each of those, but you can read an article about being spread thin that I wrote for Beulah Girl earlier if you want the juicy details.

For now, let’s just focus on the last few weeks of my life as a teacher. Early this year, I added another credential to my resume. Mind you, it doesn’t pay anything, I already have a million badges on my signature line of my email, and I am not changing jobs any time soon. I signed up for this certification because I wanted to. As my husband says, I crave chaos.

The certification requires monthly webinars that are supplemented by an overwhelming group chat and social media involvement. The culminating activity of this certification is the ability to earn a trip. I earned that trip to Denver (yay!), but I volunteered (how shocking!) to develop a breakout session in addition to preparing for the trip itself and bringing materials to present a required science-fair-type board. That’s a lot, so my summer has consisted of one week of preparation for that trip and one week of being on the trip itself. The trip was a wonderful experience, but I am exhausted!

Don’t we do that to ourselves as women? We are asked to bring a dish to a party, so we have to bring the best dish. We need an outfit to attend a women’s event, and we have to nail every accessory just to impress other women. It’s VBS time, and even though we don’t have time to think, we volunteer for the biggest, best-decorated room. It’s time for the chaos to stop! God doesn’t expect all the things we put on ourselves. Despite all our ever-running, in Micah 6:8, God tells the prophet that He only has three expectations for him. Maybe we women would do well to take note of these three commandments and center our lives on them instead.

God’s Three Expectations Women Can Learn From Micah

Do justly. As compassionate women, it is easy for us to cry. Or at least it is for me. I can cry over a commercial, a movie, a dream, or a memory. But I don’t often act on that compassionate cry. The key word in this segment of God’s admonition to Micah is the word do. My favorite book in the Bible, James, says that we must be “doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving [ourselves].”

It’s only justice when we do it, not just think about it or cry over it. What is God calling your woman’s heart to do? Fight against human trafficking? Fight for the unborn? Fight for your marriage and honor the vows that you know are the right way? Whatever it is, God’s call for justice is an opportunity to align ourselves with the beat of His heart. Let’s do it, whatever it is.

Love mercy. I am currently reading almost a 20-year-old book by Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing about Grace?, where the author gives outrageous examples of God’s grace and juxtaposes them with calls for humanity to show that same grace in the face of horrible evil. I’ve made the point that God doesn’t expect very much of us, but what He does expect can be really hard.

Grace has often been defined as God giving us something we didn’t deserve. Mercy works in tandem with such extravagant love — it is when the consequences we do deserve are withheld from us. I can only skim the surface of how many times I’ve broken God’s heart or spit in His face by my actions and yet how many times He has withheld his wrath. Yes, I’ve had to deal with the fallout of my sin, but not to the degree I could have.

Our response to God’s many acts of mercy are at the crux of what God expects of women. We are to be the embodiment of mercy. When our children disrespect us, we could yell and reject them, especially if the disrespect becomes a pattern. Mercy says to love them anyway. When friends fail on their end of a bargain, we might feel the need to find new friends. Mercy says to live the golden rule and love the way we wish they could. Will we ever need to dole out punishment? Certainly we will, but greater mercy should be our life’s aim, since it is what will draw people to the cross.

Walk humbly with your God. Oh my, so many times in my life I’ve shown false humility on the outside — refusing to pose for pictures, singing quietly or not at all when asked, or playing down my academic achievements. All the while, on the inside, I was fighting thoughts of my own pride, pride in my appearance, my talents, or my intelligence. God knows the difference. I wrote a whole post for Beulah Girl about humility that I encourage you to read, but let me sum it up with this. God wants all the glory, and He won’t share it with us.

If we are doing tasks “for God” but secretly doing them so that we can get approval from our husbands, our churches, or the PTA board, they don’t count. If God expects only the three items He outlines through Micah, He expects us to do them well. Let us fall prostrate at the feet of our King and ask Him to take those aspects of our personality or behavior that rise up as competitive idols and help us restore them to their rightful places, at the foot of His cross and recognized as gifts from Him.

Listen, ladies, if you are struggling with the busyness of life and overwhelmed by your own expectations, it’s time to pick up God’s goals for you instead. And you know what? I’ve heard He has a pretty easy burden, one that’s worth the trade for our impossible one. If we will just fall in love with Jesus, we will naturally embrace justice, adore mercy, and humble ourselves. Because we always become like the ones with whom we spend our time.

Would you like prayer about God’s expectations of you? Do you feel overwhelmed? Feel free to leave a comment below, and this team will hold you up to the Lord.

Suzy Lolley

Suzy Lolley

Suzy Lolley taught both middle school and high English for many years, and is currently an Instructional Technology Specialist for the public school system, a wife, and a workaholic. She loves nothing more than a clean, organized house, but her house is rarely that way. She enjoys being healthy but just can’t resist those mashed potatoes (with gravy) sometimes. When she cooks, she uses every dish in the house, and she adores a good tea party. She loves Jesus and is spending the next year documenting her journey to a less independent, more Jesus-dependent life on her blog.

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