Does God Love Me When I Fail?

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I am the mom of an active 1-year-old girl. In the past few months, she has mastered the art of crawling and is now working on taking her first steps. Her journey to mobility has included lots of spills and falls. This bright, determined girl believes she is more capable than she truly is. She sets out to crawl up the stairs, maneuver under our wrought iron breakfast table (can you say “Ouch”?), or wedge herself behind the computer desk in the middle of a mess of electrical cords. However, her skill level doesn’t always match her courage level.

Mama has to hover close by to pull her off of the stairs, extract her from beneath the table, and grab her from behind the computer desk. But falls, bumps, and bruises are part of her learning process. There will be a day when she will run up and down the steps with ease, sit down at the breakfast table, and take steps without the aid of my hand. If she were to decide not to try anymore after falling down, she would never start walking. Her failures along the way don’t define her. They are part of her learning.

In our spiritual walk, as we follow Jesus and model ourselves after Him, we will fail at times. The temptation in those moments is to get exasperated and give up on ourselves, but we need to turn to Jesus in those situations and allow Him to help us up. More often than not, we stew in our inadequacy, try to get ourselves out of our mess, and get down on ourselves for our lack. We need to turn to Him for a rescue so that we can keep going.

Peter was a disciple who knew a lot about failure. He was always saying the wrong thing or “putting the cart before the horse,” so to speak. He had plenty of boisterous courage and desire to follow Jesus, but he didn’t always say what he should or act with wisdom in every circumstance. And yet, Jesus never rejected Peter for his failure. Jesus still wanted Peter as a disciple when Peter said the wrong words, misunderstood Jesus, or acted impulsively in ways that hurt the kingdom.

In Matthew 14:30-33, we have such a place where Peter wanted to do something for Jesus, yet his execution wasn’t as great as his will in the moment. Jesus had come to the disciples, walking on the water in the midst of a storm, and Peter asked to walk out to Him. Let’s take a look at the passage:

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. ‘You of little faith,’ he said, ‘why did you doubt?’

And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’

Three observations we can make:

1. Jesus reaches for Peter in his failure.

What we need to observe in the passage is that Jesus extends his hand out to Peter when he fails and pulls him up. For those of us who have been in the church awhile, we know how we should act and what the Bible says. Therefore, when we don’t live up to the Bible’s standards or fail in some way, we feel ashamed and convicted. We may think our perfect performance is what makes us acceptable to God. However, the Bible is clear that God loves us when we succeed and when we fail. His love for us isn’t based on what we do; it’s based on what He did for us. God loved us before we became believers. He loves sinners and believers!

Obviously, here, Jesus isn’t pleased by Peter’s lack of faith. Similarly, God isn’t pleased with us when we don’t trust what He says or act in obedience. However, the works we do when walking in His will come out a response to His love for us (John 14:15), not for fear that He will take His love away (1 John 4:18). Jesus’ sacrifice is what makes us acceptable to God. If we have put our faith in Jesus Christ, we have the benefit of this justification before God. Our works don’t earn us this justification, but rather, our works are performed out of gratitude for what He has done for us. And, there are definite blessings and benefits that come from choosing to surrender to Him.

2. God loves us enough to correct us.

Secondly, when Jesus chides Peter, it’s not because He doesn’t love Him. Rather, it’s because He loves Him too much not to correct him. I have a particular strong-willed child that throws spectacular tantrums when he doesn’t get his way. I love this child too much to give in to him when he screams and cries and throws toys. I know if I do he’ll grow up to be a person no one wants to be around.

Similarly, the Bible tells us that God disciplines those He loves (Hebrews 12:6). His correction is for our benefit and good, though painful in the moment (Hebrews 12:11). Jesus’ correction of Peter is such that it helps him know what he is doing wrong so he can stop sinking. We should note that right after Jesus’ rebuke, Jesus gets into the boat with Peter. Obviously, Jesus had no intention of leaving Peter in his failure, and He has no intention of leaving us there either. He’ll tell us what we need to do to get on track, and help calm whatever fears are causing us to lose faith.

3. Peter’s failure doesn’t diminish God’s sovereignty.

We need to also observe the response of the disciples when Jesus came into the boat. They worship him, saying, “Truly, you are the Son of God” (v. 32). Perhaps other discussion came about between the disciples and Jesus that isn’t recorded here, but we should note that Jesus is still sovereign in the situation despite Peter’s actions. Often, when we fail, we may feel that our failure is such that we can no longer be useful in the kingdom. But God can use even our mistakes for His good and glory. We shouldn’t take advantage of God’s grace by doing whatever we want, but we need to know that God can turn our poor choices around so they ultimately become part of His purposes (Romans 8:28). Jesus’ power is evident when Peter walks towards him on the waves, but is also evident when He rescues Peter from sinking in full view of the other disciples.

What Can We Do When We Fail?

Recently, I heard a sermon on Matthew 5:13-16, which talks about believers being “salt and the light.” The pastor emphasized that as believers we often let our sin pollute our witness. He held up two salt shakers to further illustrate his point. One salt shaker had dirt mixed in with the salt. The other was filled up with pure salt. He said that when we get polluted by sin, we simply need to repent and let God make our shaker pure again. In essence, we can get up again. Oftentimes, we feel ashamed and want to hide our failures. We think Jesus can’t use us anymore or think we will never be as spiritual as other Christians we know.

The truth is that Jesus wants us even when we fail. He knew we would not be perfect as His followers. He won’t gloss over our sin or pretend like it doesn’t exist. He’ll address our failure, and there may be earthly consequences for our actions, but He’ll walk us through those. We can come to Him in our weakness, and He fills in our gaps. We are righteous not because we try hard or do everything perfect. We are righteous because of His work on the cross.

A favorite verse of mine says this: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Are we walking like that today or walking under a heavy burden of condemnation? Let’s go to Jesus today, confess any sin we might have, and take His much lighter burden in exchange for our heavier one.

Carol Whitaker

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

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Waiting on the Promises of God

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Years ago, when I was a middle school student, I attended a yearly church camp. One such summer, in preparation for the camp, I packed at the last minute, throwing in a few outfits without much forethought. When I arrived at the camp, I was dismayed to find that by the second day my meager wardrobe was not enough to get me past the weekend. The water balloon fights on a grass field and other activities had dirtied up my shirt and shorts. I had to wear the same mud-splattered ensemble for days on end because there were no facilities to wash my clothes.

I left with a lesson learned: always over-pack on trips. It’s better to have too many outfits than not enough. My husband can attest that this has been my mantra ever since. I never leave, if I can help it, without being extremely well-prepared.

The Parable of the 10 Virgins: Being Prepared for the Promises of God

Certainly, it’s good to be prepared in other areas of our life, including our spiritual walk. Matthew 25:1-13 tells us the story of some virgins that weren’t prepared in contrast to those that were. In the story, ten virgins set out to meet the bridegroom. Five of the virgins brought oil with them to renew their lamps; the foolish ones did not bring any oil with them. The bridegroom took a long time to come and all of the virgins fell asleep. Finally, at midnight, the call came that the bridegroom had arrived. The wise virgins stood up with fully lit lamps to welcome the groom, whereas the foolish virgins noticed that their lamps were going out. The foolish virgins attempted to buy some oil from the wise virgins, but were told to go and buy some oil. They left to do so, but when they returned, the door had been shut. They were not present to welcome the bridegroom.

Although we can read this in the context of being prepared for our Savior’s return, we can also read it in a context that speaks to the promises that God has given us and being ready for those. How can we best prepare ourselves?

I got a revelation of this passage some time ago. I had no understanding of its complexities until I read a piece by Julie Meyer on Charisma (“Prophetic Dream: How to ‘Buy’ Sustaining Oil for Your Lamp”). As Meyer explains, the oil that the wise virgins filled their jars with was obedience. As the passage explains, all of the virgins had oil in their lamps. However, the wise virgins brought oil with them whereas the foolish virgins “did not take any oil with them” (v. 3).

When do as God says, as Meyer explains, we essentially “buy oil” and open our arms to His blessings. We prepare ourselves for what He plans to do in our lives. We don’t know when or how the Master will come, but we ready ourselves for his arrival by choosing daily to trust His ways over our own and obey Him in the things He asks of us. The Bible is clear that we can’t obtain salvation or righteousness with our works. However, the obedience that comes from faith keeps a place open for our Savior so that He can readily work and fulfill the promises He has given us in our lives. So what if we get sidetracked or sin or fumble as we are apt to do? We confess and get back on track.

The unwise virgins in the story were without oil because they had accepted Him with joy at one point but had stopped working for the Master. Their jars ran dry because they had not made it a priority to store up oil for themselves to use when the oil in their lamps had run dry.

When we are waiting on the promises of God, the temptation is to get lazy, to stop believing that He is even going to show up. But we must be faithful to do that which we know to do and expect that God will do the rest. We must remember that before the sea parted for the Israelites, the Lord worked by sending winds the whole night before (Exodus 14:21). The tasks we do in the moment may not make much sense to us or may be misunderstood by others, but if directed by God, there will be a purpose to them even if we can’t see what it is right away.

The Oil of Obedience: Keeping Our Lamps Lit to Welcome God’s Promises

This past year I have been working on a project that has taken me away from blogging (and really life, in general, it feels). I know it is God-directed. Every time I slack off on my work or pray about direction, God brings the project to the forefront of my mind. However, the project has not been much fun for me to complete. The work has been painstakingly tedious, and even more so because I am a stay-at-home mom and have all the responsibilities associated with caring for three little ones.

Can I just tell you that keeping a household running smoothly with multiple kids is no small task? I don’t even clean anymore, hardly. I just pick up all day long. I pick up the remnants from my purse that my 1-year-old spilled on the floor. I pick up the clothes my son left out. I pick up cereal from beneath my daughter’s high chair. I pick up and pick up and pick up. When I am not doing that, I cook for my hungry army and change diapers. I am thankful for my children. I am so blessed to have them, but I have found time for writing and study severely limited since I had a third child. I stay up late or get up early to squeeze in the time I need to work on the project, and the work hasn’t been convenient or easy. In fact, I have just been downright irritated at times that I have been working on that which feels impossible to accomplish given my current circumstances. In addition, I am not entirely sure of the outcome. God has given me promises that have not yet been fulfilled, and I wonder when I can get to those and away from this!

I heard a story about Kari Jobe’s husband, Cody, some time ago and was so inspired by it. As you may know, the two have only been married a short time. Before Cody dated Kari or even knew that she was going to be his future wife, he felt God telling him to put some money aside for a ring. So, over a period of four years, Cody set money aside not knowing when marriage was going to happen for him. Four years later, he suddenly needed the money. He had been friends with Kari a long time, but the friendship accelerated rapidly (they only dated for a few months). When he needed the money to buy her an amazing ring (after all, we’re talking Kari Jobe here), he had it on hand!

I am sure there were times over that waiting period where he questioned what all of that preparation was for. Similarly, you may be faithfully serving and investing in an area God has asked you to serve in and yet be wondering when God is going to fulfill promises He gave you long ago. Me too.

The parable encourages us to keep up. To be prepared. To make sure we are ready to receive the groom because He is going to show up when we least expect it. We should note in the story that all of the virgins fell asleep: the prepared and the unprepared. Not one of them knew the exact time that the groom would come, but only one set was ready. I don’t know about you, but I want to be ready with a full jar of oil when the Master comes.

While I’m Waiting, by John Waller

I’m waiting, I’m waiting on You, Lord

And I’m hopeful, I’m waiting on You Lord

Though it is painful, but patiently I will wait

 

I will move ahead bold and confident

Taking every step in obedience

While I’m waiting, I will serve You

While I’m waiting, I will worship

Wile I’m waiting, I will not faint

I’ll be running the race even while I wait

 

I’m waiting, I’m waiting on You, Lord

And I am peaceful, I’m waiting on You, Lord

Though it’s not easy, no, but

faithfully I will wait

Yes, I will wait

 

And I will move ahead, bold and confident

I’ll be taking every step in obedience, yeah

 

While I’m waiting, I will serve You

While I’m waiting, I will worship

While I’m waiting, I will not faint

 

And I will serve You while I’m waiting

I will worship while I’m waiting

I will serve You while I’m waiting

I will worship while I’m waiting

I will serve You while I’m waiting

 

I will worship while I’m waiting on You, Lord

I will serve you while I’m waiting

 

I will worship while I’m waiting

 I will serve You while I’m waiting

I will worship while I’m waiting

Carol Whitaker

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

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Being Prepared for God’s Promises

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I walked out of the brightly lit emergency entrance of the hospital into the dark night, holding my then 4-year-old son’s hand. Only a few cars were parked in the lot. Two nurses off-duty walked briskly past, their voices echoing in the still night air. I fumbled in my purse for my keys, and after a few moments, I grasped onto them and unlocked our mini-van.

Strapping my son into his car seat, I climbed wearily in the front seat, started the engine, and steered the vehicle toward home.

As my son munched on a cereal bar in the back seat, I stared at the dark December sky twinkling with lights and had a talk with God: How much more, God? Where are you? I am so tired. When are you going to show up?

The ER visit had been just one more catastrophe in a string of catastrophes that had hit us one right after another in the previous two months: Unexpected medical bills. Illness. Broken down appliance. Loss of contract on the sale of our house. Dead car battery.

We were in a season of transition where we knew we were supposed to move at God’s leading, but all of the pieces hadn’t come together for us to do that yet. This particular week, my son had been fighting a virus. After calling his pediatrician that evening due to my son’s high temperature and hacking cough, I had taken her recommendation to take him to the ER to be screened for pneumonia.

By the time we had gotten there, his fever had already been calmed by medicine and all his X-rays came back normal. However, the visit was one that had further rattled me. I couldn’t help but think as I drove that we had to be on the brink of some kind of miracle. All of this was happening because we were close to something good. But the temptation in the moment was to give in to my discouragement.

The next morning, groggy-eyed from lack of sleep, while my son slept peacefully upstairs in his bed, I sat on the couch and heard the ping of my phone’s voicemail. I almost opted not to even listen to it in that moment. However, when I did, I heard this message from my realtor: “We got an offer on your house!”

I listened to her words in disbelief. As the message ended, I put my head in my hands and burst out crying. Just when despair threatened to overtake every thought in my head, when I was too tired to get up from the couch or clean my house for one more prospective buyer, when I was battling negative thoughts like, “Just give up! Your house is never going to sell!” — God showed up.

Quite honestly, the word God had given me in that season was one that stretched me the most because it was “wait.” Waiting for a long time for anything, especially when trials and problems persist, can make a person doubt. My desire to give into doubt made it difficult for me to wait any longer. I wanted to take my house off the market, possibly hand over my responsibilities as a mom and wife to someone more capable. Waiting stretched me beyond what I felt I could do in the moment.

Some people who had a hard time waiting in the Bible were the 10 virgins in Jesus’ parable in Matthew 25. They were virgins waiting for the bridegroom — excited, young, hopeful. But half of them were foolish and did not bring any oil with them to light their lamps. When the bridegroom took longer to show up than they expected, they all fell asleep. When they awoke to the news that the bridegroom had arrived, only half of the virgins were ready. The foolish ones had used up all of their oil and had to run off to buy more. However, when they came back to join the wedding party, it was too late. The door had been shut.

They key difference between the virgins that had oil and the ones who did not bring any with them is that the wise virgins did what they could to stay prepared in the waiting. Though I generally think of waiting as doing nothing — the kind of waiting God has us to do is expectant waiting. We watch for him and do what we can in the moment to stay ready.

In doing some study of the customs of the time period, I found that marriage was a big deal to the Jewish people. The celebrations were elaborate events that involved the entire community. The bride and groom would enter into an agreement long before the actual wedding. On the night of the celebration, the groom would make his way to the bride’s father’s house. Virgins would wait outside for the groom’s arrival and help light the way. They would need to bring a supply of oil for a long night of waiting. Their neglect in keeping their lamps lit would have been a grievous insult to the groom and the wedding party. When the groom arrived, the foolish virgins were shut out not only because their torches were out but because they did not do what they could to make the groom welcome.

While clearly the story is one that warns us to be ready for the second coming of Christ, the story can have implications on a smaller scale as well: when we are waiting on the fulfillment of a promise or in a season where we aren’t sure what God wants us to do next. It’s tempting in those times of waiting, when life is hard and challenges are thrown our way, to not have sufficient oil. To not do the small faithful things God asks of us. To not read His Word or keep showing up to church services and serving in whatever capacity He has called us to. To not be obedient in the small actions of the daily grind because we haven’t seen God show up the way we though He would.

The takeaway is this: We need to do as the wise virgins did and be prepared for the promise to come in God’s timing. I love what author Micha Boyett advocates. She says that we need to make a place for the promises, even as they haven’t happened yet, and welcome them from afar.

In the case of my house, I wanted to give up and take it off the market. I didn’t want to wait anymore. But keeping my lamp oiled in preparation meant doing what I could do on my end to welcome the promise. So I kept cleaning my house and opening my house to would-be buyers every week. I kept pulling the weeds popping up in our front yard and trimming the bushes. I kept spending time with God and attempting to hear His direction in our situation. I called the repair man when appliances broke down, drove my kids to the doctors, and trusted God for the money to pay the bills that kept coming even though our cash flow was at an all-time low.

What it felt like was a whole lot of dead waiting where nothing was happening. I wondered many times if I should be doing more. Something deep inside of me wanted to bolt — to just force the sale to happen or try to do something desperate like make over our kitchen (even though we didn’t have the money) or give up entirely and rip the house off the market.

But just when I had decided that circumstances were too much, and I was crushed beneath the weight of them, I heard the ping on my phone alerting me to the reality that, yes, our house was indeed going to sell. If anything, I had been strengthened in my faith through this situation. Through my doubt, my mistakes, my wondering — the bridegroom eventually came.

It encourages me that as I wait on impossible promises, those that still haven’t happened. What can I do now to welcome those promises? Am I being faithful in the things I know to do now?

How about you? Are you waiting for a promise to come to fruition? Is there something you can do right now in the wait to welcome the promise?

Carol Whitaker

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

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4 Things to Help Get Us Through Our Storm

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Singer song-writer Laura Story once said that when we suffer we assume that God doesn’t love us.

I have found that to be a belief, however false, I’ve held in my own life. Recently, I was going through a troubling circumstance, and I felt irritated with God because I had been praying about it for some time and had heard no answer to my prayers. Feeling especially discouraged one Sunday, I got the kids ready for church, packed the diaper bag, and headed to church — not really expecting anything other than a routine service.

However, I could not have been more surprised when the pastor began speaking a message that might as well have been personally addressed to me. It pertained uncannily to the situation I was going through to the point where I almost fell out of my chair when he began to speak.

I should not have been surprised. God does respond to my prayers on a regular basis — many times through the course of a sermon or church service — but I was surprised. I had begun to doubt that God was going to answer, that He even cared at all. Never mind that I have a whole history of times where He has miraculously answered or intervened for me. This time felt especially difficult.

In Mark 6:41-52, we see a passage where the disciples experienced a similar test of faith in their walk with Jesus. Jesus had just performed the miracle of the five thousand loaves. They knew Him to be capable of miraculous things, and yet, they seemed to forget all that when Jesus sent them out into a storm. Let’s take a look at the passage:

Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, when he dismissed the crowd. After leaving them, he went up on the mountainside to pray. Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified. Immediately he spoke to them and said, ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’ Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.

While Jesus had good things in mind for them when He sent them out on a boat, the disciples could not see the circumstances with His same broad gaze. They saw the fact that it was dark, they were on a boat toiling against winds blowing against them, and that Jesus was not with them. Certainly, these were circumstances that would warrant doubt and unbelief to enter in.

But when we look at the circumstances through a wider lens, we can observe several things about Jesus’ care for them in the midst of the storm:

1. Jesus sent them into the boat for their protection.

While the disciples could only see the storm they had entered into, Jesus sent them where He did to get them away from a larger danger. After the miracle Jesus performed in feeding the five thousand, the crowds wanted to make Jesus king. But their plans were of a secular design and not a kingdom one. Jesus knew the motives of the crowd and sent His disciples, who may have been swayed by the crowds, into the boat and Himself went to a mountaintop to pray.

What we can take away from this is that there may be a situation we are in that we want so badly to turn out a certain way, but God may not allow it for our own protection. He knows the weakness of our hearts and has a perspective that is much different than ours. As the Danny Gokey song says, “Love sees further than we ever could.” God says no to what we may view as the more comfortable or desirable path because He knows what is best for us in the long run.

2. Jesus came at an appointed time to end their struggle.

I don’t know why God waits so long in certain instances to answer, but I do know that He is always aware of what we are going through. There is never a situation where God is running around in a panic trying to think of a solution. Similarly, there is a never a situation that God doesn’t know about. In this passage, even when Jesus was away from His disciples on the mountain, He “saw the disciples straining at the oars” (v. 48). Even though He saw, He chose to wait to come to the disciples until the fourth watch of the night, which was the last.

Clearly, there are situations where we get into storms because of our own bad choices, but there are storms that come even when we follow the will of God. We may be so frustrated because we are straining at the oars. Everything in us may be screaming, Where are you, God? Why aren’t you here? And yet, He may choose not to answer us in the way that we think He will or may not show up in the way we want Him to, but that doesn’t mean that our struggle will last forever. As we see in this story, there was an appointed time that Jesus came to the disciples. Like in the instance of Lazarus, Jesus didn’t come when His friends wanted Him to (even though He loved them); He came at the moment that would give God the most glory — even though from a human vantage point things looked the most hopeless.

We can take comfort in the fact that God sees us from where He is, and though we may be tired and may feel like our situation is just getting worse, God has a point where He will put an end to the struggle.

3. Jesus showed up differently than they expected.

When Jesus did show up in their situation, they didn’t recognize Him. They thought He was a ghost and were afraid until He calmed them with His voice and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid” (v. 50). Granted, it would be pretty alarming to look up in the middle of a storm and see a figure approaching, but the disciples had been walking with Jesus long enough to know that He was prone to do unexpected things. Except, here, they were slow to comprehend that it was Him.

Perhaps the disciples were so worn out that they had stopped hoping that He would even come. Maybe like me in the church service, they were so burned out with their circumstances that they had stopped looking for Jesus. Commentators note that at the start of the journey the disciples were on the watch for Him. Some say that the disciples rowed close to the shore expecting Him. Others say that the very reason they were out as late as they were and encountered a storm is because they were slow in rowing out initially as they fully anticipated that Jesus would come to them. But when He didn’t arrive right away and the storm blew up against them, they were so exhausted and fixated on the storm that they couldn’t make out their Savior right in front of them.

And perhaps we are no different. We are so tired of our situation that we’ve stopped expecting Jesus to come. We may have boxed in our own thinking in about the way He will arrive that we don’t even recognize Him standing in our midst. But Habbakuk 2:1-3 tells us to stand at our “watch” and “station [ourselves] on the ramparts.” Jesus will not leave us alone, but perhaps we need to adjust our faith level and believe that He will come, although it may be in a different way than we expect.

4. When Jesus came, they immediately got to where they were going.

In the John account, the disciples “immediately” got to where they were going as soon as they welcomed Jesus into the boat. Some scholars assert the idea that this was another supernatural happening of the night. That not only did Jesus feed five thousand, walk on water, enable Peter to walk on water, and calm the storm — all in one day and night — He enabled the boat to reach the shore with miraculous speediness.

Whatever the case, whether the disciples were able to reach the other side swiftly simply because Jesus calmed the storm, and thus the rowing was easier, or because Jesus performed another miracle that night, the disciples could not doubt by what power that boat had made it to the other side .

And I believe that is the way with God. We shouldn’t give up hope or believe that God has abandoned us because there may still be a “fourth watch of the night.” That though our pain has lasted a long time and our difficulty has been beyond what we can bear, it isn’t over. With a snap of His fingers, with one conversation, one phone call, one opportunity, God can turn a hopeless situation into a hope-filled one.

And we will know that no one other than God could have turned something so dire around. Just like with the disciples, when Jesus shows up in our storm, we will be given just one more proof that Jesus truly is the Son of God.

Friend, I don’t know where you are as you reading this, but I know that your struggle may be real and hard and relentless. But I know that Jesus knows, He sees, and He cares. I love these words from L.B. Cowman’s 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. The clinging hand of His child makes a desperate situation a delight to Him.”

If your answer hasn’t come, keep on rowing. You’ll see Him soon enough walking across the waves.

*This is another version of a post published August 5, 2016.

Carol Whitaker

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

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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?” A woman standing next to me asked.

“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 three 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 three 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 three children.

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How to Keep Going When You Want to Give up

girl-in-sunset

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 three children.

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