How God Helps Us Overcome Obstacles

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My kids love the animated movie Trolls, and they recently discovered the cartoon version on Netflix. In one episode, Branch, a major character, helps out another character learn how to win the affections of a lady. However, when said character puts his advice into practice around Poppy, Branch’s love interest, Branch begins to fight for her attention in a way he hadn’t before and reveals to her that he had saved his hug for her on Hug Day.

As he discloses this information, the character acting interested in Poppy reveals that he was feigning an interest to give Branch the proper motivation to tell her his feelings. The episode highlights what is true for us all: In some situations, we know in our head what we want to do or should do, but we need a little push or extra motivation to make it to the finish line. And sometimes, our hardships serve to propel us there.

How God Can Turn Our Obstacles Into Roads

In Isaiah 49:11, it says this: “I will turn all my mountains into roads, and my highways will be raised up.” In this passage, the Israelites are being led home from Babylon into Israel. After being exiled for 70 years from their own land, they are freed, and we are given an image of God leading the captives home, like a shepherd guiding sheep. The words are not only representative of the captives, but also of Christians on their spiritual walks with Jesus.

We can make two observations. First, we can’t help but notice that that the mountains say “my” before them. At times, the difficult situations that are so disappointing and discouraging that we wish to escape are those God placed in our path because He knows what is needed to form us into the person we were meant to be. Obviously, other times, we create obstacles that stand between us and where God wants to take us — but with the use of the words “my mountains,” we see that even those areas of unbelief, fear, self-sufficiency, pride that we’ve erected are still under God’s control. Whatever the case, the passage tells us that God is able to make what stands before us into a way.

Secondly, as I’ve already hinted at, we should also observe that the people were not only led up to the mountains, but through the mountains. If you notice the wording, it does not say that God removed the mountains or led them around them. Certainly, He could have. God can remove our obstacles and sometimes does. However, other times He chooses not to take away the impossibilities, but instead, makes a way through them. As F. B. Meyer*, a British pastor and author in the late 1800s and early 1900s, notes:

We all have mountains in our lives. These are the people and things that threaten to bar our progress in the Divine life. Patience can only be acquired through such trials as now seem unbearable. Submit thyself. Claim to be a par.taker [sic] in the patience of Jesus. Meet thy trials in Him. Thus shall the mountains that stand between thee and thy promised land become thy way to it. Note the comprehensiveness of this promise. ‘I will make all My mountains a way.’ The promise is in the future tense. When we come to the foot of the mountains we shall find the way.

Here Meyer explains that when we meet our trials in Jesus, the very mountains that “bar our progress” are those God uses to make a way for us. A story that came to mind as I was writing this was that of retired U.S. figure skater Scott Hamilton. He knows what it’s like firsthand to encounter obstacles and have those hard places turned into paths to blessing.

Hamilton had a brain tumor as a child, but doctors didn’t know what was wrong with him and misdiagnosed him, even as this tumor inhibited his growth. He got into skating as an outlet and discovered he was really good at it. Part of the reason he’s such an outstanding skater is that he’s only 5’ 4”. He has a remarkable outlook on his suffering. Now a Christian, Hamilton says this:

Who would I be without a brain tumor? I am 5’ 4”. If I were 5’ 8” … I would have grown those years … 5’10” … where would I be? Who would I be? I could choose to look at it as debilitating. I could choose to focus on the suffering. I choose to look at that brain tumor as the greatest gift that I’ve gotten because it made everything else possible.

In other words, Hamilton happily acknowledges that his brain tumor “made everything else possible.” Though Hamilton didn’t come to know the Lord until later in his life, might we say that the difficulties placed in his life have helped him become what he was meant to be? It was also through his health challenges (which have included more than I have mentioned here), that he developed a hunger for something more — to know what his purpose was — and this led him to accept Christ.

How We Scale Our Mountains

No one likes pain. We despise it. We run from it. It’s not fun. But sometimes our suffering and the different obstacles we encounter are set in our path by God because He knows what is needed to further our development. Even if our mountains exist because of choices we have made, God can use all things for our good in the story He is writing in our life (Romans 8:28).

It can be terrifying to look at the idea that God places difficulty in front of us. What kind of loving God does that? Did God give Hamilton his health problems or the doctors that couldn’t find out what was wrong with him when he was a child? I don’t know that. Certainly, difficulties can exist because of the fallen world we live in and Satan can be the force behind the affliction that we face. But what I do know is that God allowed what has happened to Hamilton — but has turned and made every affliction in his life a platform to display His power.

We can’t get away from the truth in this passage that God cared for the captives’ every need and led them tenderly like a shepherd, though their path lead to mountains and barren places. Similarly, as Christ-followers, if we’re following God, we can be assured that God is still looking out for us even in our toughest trials. If we back up to verse 10, it says this: “They will neither hunger nor thirst, nor will the desert heat or the sun beat down on them.”

If we read it in the King James, it says this: “They shall not hunger nor thirst; neither shall the heat nor sun smite them” (emphasis mine). To “smite” means to “destroy.”

As Matthew Henry explains, those that are under divine protection because they have gone God’s way, will be “enabled to bear the burden and heat of the day.” In other words, as Henry so aptly explains, we will be given the strength to bear what God has given us and protected from that which He knows would completely destroy us. Elsewhere in Matthew 11:30, we are told that the yoke Jesus gives us is “easy” and the burden “light.”

So, if we’re in a place where it all feels like too much, we can rest in the truth that if He has placed the difficulty in our way, the difficulty will not be that which we cannot surmount with His help, nor the burden be so great that it will be more than He can help us carry.

When the Israelites were up against the Red Sea, they were there because God led them straight up to the sea — the water in front, mountains and rocks on the sides of them, and Pharoah’s army behind. He led them to a place that looked like a trap from all appearances, but in that experience they learned to trust Him.

And here, in this passage, He made a way for His people through the mountains. God’s people would not have learned to trust Him without the route to the Red Sea. Similarly, we might not learn what we need to without the difficulty God has allowed in our lives.

What It Means to Scale Our Mountains

So, then, on a practical note, how do we scale our mountains by “meeting our trials in Jesus”? First, we cast our cares on Jesus. We spend time daily with Him and place our burdens on His capable shoulders and ask for His direction. Next, we trust His direction and we follow.

I love this picture that I got recently while reading She’s Still There, by Crystal Evans Hurst. In one of the chapters she describes her grandmother having her leg amputated and learning to walk on a prosthetic leg. Each day, at the doctors’ orders, she spent time out of her wheelchair walking on her new leg. The pain in her leg was so great that it would have much easier for Crystal’s grandmother to stay in her wheelchair, but she knew she needed to work on getting stronger if she ever hoped to be mobile again.

We, too, have areas where God is working on us and making us stronger. Each directive from God is a round out of the wheelchair, walking with the walker. Maybe He is working on us in the area of fear or pride or self-reliance, and He gives us hard things to do that chip away at the things He wants to work out of us to make us more like Him. He does the work in us as we obey Him, but we slowly conquer our mountains of fear, self-sufficiency, inadequacy, etc., when we take steps at His command.

We might say, “God, please take this thing away. Can’t you just remove this fear or this insecurity or this sin issue? Can’t you make me different?” And sometimes He doesn’t remove it, but rather, He takes us through it, making us different each step of the way. He’ll choose the one thing that we could never conquer on our own and works in us to display His glory.

If God has placed your mountain there or it’s one of your own making, He can make the impassable into a highway. Our only hope is to rely on Him. We can’t do it. But Jesus knows the way, and He’s going to get us through it. We just have to follow step by step.

Author’s note: The difficulties referred to in this article do not include physical or emotional abuse. If you are being abused by someone, please seek out the help of a Christian counselor or pastor.

*C.H. Spurgeon quote taken from The Biblical Illustrator Commentary.

Related Resources:

This article is the third in our series “Finding Hope in the Midst of Disappointing Circumstances.” Check out Part 1: “Work That Truly Matters”  and Part 2: “How God Comforts and Nourishes Our Souls.” Stay tuned next week for our last episode in the series.

The series covers Isaiah 49. To better get a feel for the passage and understand the context of each verse we have been looking at, check out the link for the entire passage.

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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How God Comforts and Nourishes Our Souls

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Chicken Soup for the Soul has sold more than 100 million books in the United States and Canada and has been translated into more than 40 languages. After the first book was published 23 years ago, it was so successful that more were written. And now, there are over 250 titles in what has become a Chicken Soup for the Soul series.

The book was developed by motivational speakers Jack Canfield and Mark Victor, who used inspirational stories in their talks. When people repeatedly asked if the stories were written down somewhere, Canfield and Victor decided to compile their best 101 stories in a book — and they called it Chicken Soup for the Soul. Their hope was that they could help others by sharing stories and provide comfort and encouragement, much like a bowl of hot soup on a rainy day.

While the stories of others can be inspirational and motivational, and we connect to others through story and can be soothed by reading or hearing what others have gone through, our souls need to be fed by the Word of God and time spent with God. Just as our bodies need food and water, our souls need spiritual nourishment that can only be found in walking with God.

The Bible speaks of receiving our “daily bread” each day (Matthew 6:11). When tempted by Satan in the desert to turn stones into bread, Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). In other words, Jesus pointed to the reality that man needs spiritual nourishment and that our souls are designed to feed on the sustenance God provides.

We Find Nourishment When We Go the Way God Leads

Isaiah 49:9 says this: “[I will say] to the captives, ‘Come out,’ and to those in darkness, ‘Be free!’ They will feed beside the roads and find pasture on every barren hill” (emphasis mine). To give us the context of this verse, earlier in Isaiah 49, the Messiah is the speaker and is addressing the nations. He tells of His purpose in restoring Israel to himself and being a light to the Gentiles. Here in this section of the passage, the verses speak further of the Messiah’s purpose in bringing captives out of their slavery to sin and into freedom in walking with Him. Certainly these verses can speak of unbelievers becoming saved, but also can be representative of our Christian journey when we have put our faith and trust in Jesus and follow where He leads.

However, this verse also speaks of the Israelites in captivity to Babylon and talks about how they will be led by a Savior back to their home in Israel. (Side note: Obviously, at this point in history, Jesus had not physically come to earth yet as the Messiah, but was still very much present in the story of the Old Testament.) If we look at the history of Israel, the Israelites were taken from their homes and put into captivity in Babylon when they fell into idolatry and disobedience and broke the terms of their covenant with God. God allowed them to suffer the ruin of Jerusalem and their temple and be taken from their homes, but then, in his loving kindness, after a time period of 70 years, He allowed them to return back to their homes.

We can further observe 2 things:

The passage tells us that “they will feed beside the roads.” Here, the passage gives us a picture of the captives being led home. Like sheep following a loving shepherd, they were given nourishment and taken care of when they went the way that God led. In a similar way, we will receive nourishment when we walk in the path God has for us. In some translations it reads, “They shall feed in the ways” (emphasis mine).

We can’t miss that the food showed up alongside the roads. It wasn’t given beforehand. They were actually underway on the journey when they encountered the needed sustenance. As Alexander MacLaren points out, they were fed as they went. While we may hesitate to follow Jesus when His way looks hard and we don’t like what He tells us to do, we can be assured that we will be refreshed and strengthened when we make time to listen to His voice and follow Him. Though another way may be easier and more comfortable initially, if it’s not God’s way, it will lead to spiritual stagnancy and starvation.

Also, along those lines, as MacLaren also explains, the ways will feed us. Those things we do in obedience to Him will be those that give us strength:

If you wish to weaken the influence of any principle upon you, do not work it out, and it will wither and die. If a man would grasp the fulness of spiritual sustenance which lies in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, let him go to work on the basis of the Gospel, and he ‘shall feed in the ways,’ and common duties will minister strength to him instead of taking strength from him. We can make the smallest daily incidents subserve our growth and our spiritual strength, because, if we thus do them, they will bring to us attestations of the reality of the faith by which we act on them.

Secondly, we should note that not only will we feed beside the roads, we will “find pasture on every barren hill.” We can easily miss the contrast here if we don’t examine the words closely, but a juxtaposition exists between the pasture and the barrenness of the hills in which they walk. To understand this, we need to know that the landscape described is such where the pastures in which the flocks feed are down in the valleys, or low parts. There is no grass or landscape to speak of on top of the hills or mountains.

We can be encouraged that not only will we be fed in the ways God leads, even when God leads us to a place that appears to be a bare place or wilderness, He will provide for us in those places and keep us sustained. Though we all want our walks with Jesus to lead us to places that are trouble-free, that isn’t the reality of what will happen as Christians. In many ways, our lives may get more difficult when we become Christians because we will encounter more stress and trouble when we attempt to live out the counter-cultural mandates of the Bible. In addition, we live in a fallen world where we have sadness, sickness, and many trials.

Yet, even in those places of trouble and hardship, though God won’t necessarily take those trials away, God will be with us providing strength and encouragement. We may be lead to barren places where we are in great pain, but in those places of pain, we will have the help of God. Though it may be a struggle every day for us to get out of bed, when we turn to God, we have a place where we can take our anxiety, depression, guilt, sadness, anger, frustration — whatever ails us. Scripture tells us that God is close to the broken-hearted and crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18; Psalm 147:3). It is better to walk with Him in those hard places than look for the comfortable path where we may have all we think we want, but be destitute in our souls.

Drawing the Sustenance God Offers

Friend, through our everyday trials, God is with us. He nourishes our souls in a way that only He can. And yet, we have to reach out and grab hold of the nourishment He offers. As MacLaren points out, “It is only an active Christian life that is a nourished and growing Christian life.” We have to intentionally draw close to God each day and read from His Word, and also obey His precepts. When we walk after Him and complete the tasks that He asks of us, He offers refreshment and strength and instruction to us in the process. We grow spiritually dry and stagnant when we neglect to carve out time for Him and His Word and ignore His voice or don’t attempt to hear His direction for us at all.

And what if we are far away at the moment? We can turn to Him and ask Him to help us get back on the right path. We can’t miss that the Israelites led were former captives — captives because of their sin and rebellion. And yet, God freed them from captivity. Just as the Jews are depicted in this passage as sheep led by a shepherd, we, as Christians, are also depicted as sheep elsewhere in the Bible (Psalm 100:3, Luke 15:4-7, John 10:11). When we allow God to lead us, He takes to places where there is an abundance of “food” for our souls. This truth can give us hope no matter what place we walk through — whether fertile valleys or barren heights.

Related Bible Verses:

Psalm 42:1: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.”

Philippians 4:19: “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.”

Related Resources:

This article is the second in our series “Finding Hope in the Midst of Disappointing Circumstances.” Check out Part 1: “Work That Truly Matters” on finding meaning and purpose when you are disappointed in the work God has given you because you aren’t seeing the results you want or you feel hidden in your place of service. Stay tuned for the next two weeks as we will continue through the series.

Podcast Notes and Corrections:

Proverbs 11:25 says: “A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” Many scholars and Bible teachers recognize the proverbs as providing principles, rather than sure-fire promises. However, because this idea can be found as a guarantee in other places of Scripture, we can refer to it as a promise.

For more study on Isaiah 49, Biblegateway.com and Biblehub.com provide some great free commentaries. I referenced Alexander MacLaren’s, in particular.

In reference to Canfield and Victor, founders of Chicken Soup for the Soul, they used the inspirational stories of others in their talks — not their stories.

*Updated February 9, 2019

 

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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Work That Truly Matters

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The English poet John Keats had the following written on his tombstone: “My name was writ in water.” Some mystery surrounds these words, but his epitaph most likely indicates a concern that plagues us all: We want our work to matter, and we want to be remembered and leave a lasting mark.

Though the world views meaningful work as making a name for ourselves, receiving recognition for an accomplishment, and/or amassing wealth and worldly goods — the Bible defines a life well-lived as one lived in obedience to God and one lived for the glory of God. Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work” (John 4:34). Similarly, when asked what work God required, Jesus answered, “Believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:29). The word “believe” in the Greek is “pisteuó,” and it means not only to be persuaded, but to give oneself up to God. Jesus was saying that the work of God is to be entirely dependent on God and go where He leads.

Although, at times, such a life following Jesus’ lead may include accomplishments that draw the attention of others or accumulate wealth for us, sometimes the path will be one that is out of the public eye and will involve acts of service which may not be applauded or noticed by anyone other than God. In fact, living a life for God may even lead to a life that appears, from a worldly perspective, to be a failure.

If we find ourselves in such a position where success as the world defines it is not ours, even as we are familiar with Scriptures that speak of losing one’s life to gain it for Christ, we may feel disappointment or discouragement. I love how The Bible Dictionary of Themes defines disappointment: “The sadness experienced when people or circumstances do not fulfill expectations.” Disappointment happens where there is a discrepancy between our reality and what we envisioned in our head. Why are we not seeing visible results, God? Why do I appear to be hidden in this place of service? Why have you allowed so much pain in my life?

Truth to Dispel Our Disappointment

Isaiah 49:4 tells us this: “But I said, ‘I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing at all. Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand, and my reward is with my God.’” The Message Translation says: “But I said, ‘I’ve worked for nothing. I’ve nothing to show for a life of hard work. Nevertheless, I’ll let God have the last word, I’ll let him pronounce the verdict.”

Although these words were written by Isaiah, the speaker is most likely Jesus here. He refers to Himself as Israel in other parts of Isaiah 49, and that can be a little confusing as He also speaks about Israel in sections of the passage. But we can gather from the other details He gives in the passage that the Messiah is indeed the speaker. For instance, if we jump down to the very next verse, the speaker says that His purpose is to “bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself” (v. 5). Furthermore, Jesus notes in verse 6 that He will not only restore the tribes of Jacob to himself but will be “a light for the Gentiles” (v. 6). We might understand His reference of Himself as Israel because He embodies the ideal attributes of the nation. In addition, we might also understand His choice of name when we look at other sections of Scripture and note that it is not uncommon for individuals to have more than one name.

Interestingly, Jesus speaks of one aspect of the pain of His ministry on earth in the passage: “I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing at all” (emphasis mine). He suffered in many ways, but one way that we don’t often think about in terms of His suffering is that Jesus spoke “in vain” to His own people. Certainly, His overall ministry was a success. He accomplished just what He came to do, and His death — perhaps what looked to be the biggest failure of all — was right in the Father’s will and accomplished what the Father wanted.

However, though He healed many and ushered in many to the kingdom, His own people, as a whole, rejected Him. In fact, only 120 disciples met after his ministry on earth ended (Acts 1:15). As Christ followers, we will have similar experiences when we minister. We, too, will suffer in that we won’t always get the results we hoped for. There will, many times, exist a discrepancy between our expectation and what actually happens, and this can lead to disappointment.

However, what can we take away from this passage? We have the encouragement provided in the second half of verse 4: “Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand, and my reward is with my God.” In other words, the speaker reassures Himself with the idea that He is approved by God and His work will be evaluated by God — and God’s evaluation is the only one that matters. Because here’s where our unmet expectations will turn to disappointment and despair: If our desire to follow God hinges on the results we’ve envisioned in our mind and our happiness is determined by whether we meet our goals. We may not.

In fact, chances are God will re-write our goals and His ideas won’t be anything like ours. But success (i.e. meaningful work) is centered not on what the world thinks of us, but rather, whether or not we attempted to obey Him and labor in accordance to what He asked us to do. Of course we will slip up and slide away and fail Him. But He will keep pulling us back to our course and though our labor may feel like it’s in vain, it isn’t if we keep looking to Him and following where He leads. We read in 1 Corinthians 15:58: “Therefore my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is never in vain.”

However, engaging in work that God directs may not always feel successful. Verse 5 tells us that Jesus was “honored in the eyes of the Lord,” but yet, as it says later in verse 7, “abhorred and despised by the nation.” He spent all his strength laboring for a people who refused to accept Him as the Messiah, but this wasn’t His only mission: He was to reach all the nations. And the moment that the Jews might point to as His biggest failure — His death — made it possible for us to receive salvation. And, we know from reading the rest of Scripture that a remnant of Israel will be saved. God is not done with the Jewish people yet.

Might this encourage us when we consider that the work we have done in service to God has a bigger purpose than we know, and that God is using our story for His glory, even though we can’t necessarily see His plan for our struggles at the moment?

Conclusion:

This past week, we had a ladies event at our church and the speaker was a woman who recently adopted a child from China. The boy she adopted had only half a heart, and she knew when she adopted him that he had severe challenges associated with his health. It wasn’t clear how long he would live or what his needs would be, but as an 18-month-old, he lay in his crib all day long and couldn’t even move his hands.

Yet, she felt God nudging her to adopt him. Not even knowing if he would make it on the plane ride back to the states or through the heart surgeries that would have to be performed when he arrived, she took a leap of faith. She and her husband determined that they would love this little boy whether he lived a day, a week, a month, or many years. He did make it through the plane ride and heart surgery (and other successive surgeries), and he is now a thriving 4-year-old little boy. He is completely non-verbal and has special needs, but still manages to communicate in his own way and is well-loved by her family.

However, as she relayed her story to us, she told us that her family has had to make some major changes. They can’t stay out late or go certain places because her son gets over-stimulated very easily and simply can’t handle certain types of outings. She could easily sink into disappointment about what she can’t do in her life at this point because of the constant care she has to give to her son, but she emphasized that her work right now is to be the mommy of this little boy.

For all of us, our work is individually tailored to us. Our work that God gives us might not look like adopting a boy for China, but it may mean being a light to the co-workers at our office. It may look like teaching children in the public school system. It may look like being a missionary overseas. A verse that she shared during her talk that has been personally meaningful to me is 1 Corinthians 3:9-13:

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.

As I wrote in a previous article, 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). 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).

Even if we don’t like the place God has us, if we are doing work in the Father’s will, we can be encouraged that God is the evaluator of our work. Even if we don’t see any accolades or praise from others in this life, God knows just what we have done and promises to reward us.

Let’s pray: God, You may have some of us in difficult places that stretch us and make us uncomfortable. We might look at other people around us that appear to have more results or success and feel that our work isn’t important. However, if You have called us to the place we are in, we can find hope in your Word that our reward is with You. What appears to be failure may not be failure in Your eyes. Help us to use Your evaluation of us as a measuring stick for success, rather than the world’s measuring stick. When we’re disappointed by our circumstances, help us turn to You and continue to be faithful in the place You have called us to serve. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Related Resources:

This is the first post in a brand new series over Isaiah 49: “Hope in Disappointing Circumstances.” Check out the next few episodes to hear more on the hope we can have in the midst of challenging situations.

Are you new to Christianity and have not yet received Jesus as your Lord and Savior? Stop by our Know God page to learn more and consider inviting Jesus into your life.

Podcast Notes and Corrections:

John Keats example as one who had anxiety about leaving a legacy given in The Biblical Illustrator, commentary over Isaiah 49.

 

 

 

 

Carol Whitaker

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

More Posts

How Trust in God Can Alleviate Anxiety

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“I can do it myself!” my daughter announced as she raced ahead of me down the sidewalk. My heart did a little sideways flip-flop as I watched her neon shoes hit the pavement, causing her Lalaloopsy backpack to bounce against her narrow frame.

It was the second day of kindergarten. At my oldest daughter’s pleading, I had allowed her to ride the bus home from school. As the bus rumbled to a stop and the kids filed out, I did not catch sight of her. Worried that she had been placed on the wrong bus, I peered in to ask the driver and found my daughter giggling with two new friends on the front seat.

Looking surprised to see me, she jumped out of her seat and bounced down the stairs onto the sidewalk. Her feet had barely hit the pavement before she whirled around and insisted, “I can do it myself!”

Obviously, she had no idea where to exit because this was her first time riding the bus home, but rather than admit her need for my help, she declared that she would have been just fine had I not leaned in and collected her.

Watching that determined little girl skip away down the sidewalk, I felt a rustle in my spirit. Isn’t this what I do to God on a regular basis? How often does He fetch me off the “bus” only to see me claim that it was all my own doing?

Perhaps that heart flutter I felt was because I am often the little girl in this interchange. I am the one telling God, “I can do it myself.”

Independence as a Coping Mechanism

A can-do spirit has always been stitched into my DNA. My parents would most likely corroborate, but in looking back, I also developed self-reliance as a weapon I used to fight back against circumstances I couldn’t control.

I had some situations in my childhood where I tried to voice my needs, and I was answered with irritation, anger or silence. I soon discovered that it was easier not to assert myself in some situations. Easier not to create a problem.

I became self-sufficient so that I wouldn’t impose on anyone. I built a fortress of one to protect myself. I didn’t realize that whether or not people always have good reactions to me, I need to share my needs. God doesn’t want me to cover up who I am in an unhealthy way to please others. I am not a problem if I speak up or express how I feel.

Giving up Self-Sufficiency for God-Dependency

Self-sufficiency wasn’t the only way that I tried to manage others and make them like me; I also made the decision to be really useful. Not only would I never inconvenience the people in my life by expressing what I wanted, but I would also display how productive I could be — how successful. I would prove to everyone I was worth it.

Particularly in college and the first few years of teaching, I became extremely performance-driven. Although I didn’t recognize it as such, I was relying on my own fleshly attitudes to make it through my life. I believed in God, but I didn’t really know that He could help me with all the finite details of my emotions. I didn’t think He cared about that. My “It’s all up to me. I have to make this happen” attitude in college took a toll on my body.

I developed a nervous stomach and paralyzing fear and anxiety. While other people agonized over the extra pounds they were gaining, I fit easily in size zero jeans. All of my worrying whittled me down to very thin. One particular Sunday, I went forward at church for prayer when stress had brought me to the point of near collapse — and the preacher happened to say something about the cause of anxiety during the prayer time: fear.

A light bulb went off in my head, and I began to see how my terror that I wouldn’t measure up or succeed was paralyzing me and causing me to over-work myself in an effort to succeed. When I realized that the antidote to fear is trust, and I could hand over my worry to God and rest, my schoolwork became a lot more manageable. Because at the bottom of all of my self-reliance was a huge fear that I would fail. I would fail in relationships. I would fail at being successful.

And when I failed, I had an even bigger fear — I would be rejected.

Acting Out of the Flesh

What I didn’t realize a few years ago is that by trying to change myself to please people, I was attempting to manufacture acceptance from the people around me with my actions. The desire to do things without God is something every person attempts to do whether he or she recognizes it or not. Even Christians can operate in the flesh.

According to a By Divine Design conference I attended, living in the flesh is when we attempt to meet our own needs for love, acceptance, worth, and security apart from God. This desire to be independent came into the world when Adam and Eve sinned (Genesis 3:1-21). Our flesh wants control, but we cannot experience abundant life when we live out of our flesh rather than His Spirit (John 6:63).

I’d grown up in church and had only heard flesh defined as our sinful nature that leads us to lie, cheat, steal, lust, etc. However, I didn’t realize that flesh is a little more encompassing. Certainly, we may be tempted in those areas that I just listed, but acting out of our flesh also includes all the ways — even those skills considered socially acceptable — we try to do life in our own strength and the coping skills we use to get what we want out of our environment (By Design). I tried to do this with my independence and performance; however, there are other coping strategies that exist as well: criticism of others, workaholism, stoicism, escapism, perfectionism, and the list goes on.

The more I tried to cope by using my own flesh patterns, the more tied up in knots I became. It’s not wrong to have needs or express them, as I learned, or let the people in our lives help us feel loved and cherished; however, it’s a problem when we lean the entire weight of our identity on others’ reactions and our own achievements. God never intended us to generate our own devices to get through our circumstances. Consider what God says about how we are to approach life in Proverbs 3:5,6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all of your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”

The New Living Translation actually says that this means not to depend on our own understanding. Therefore, the Bible teaches a dependence on God — not on our own flesh. In practical terms, this means seeking out the advice and will of God in our choices, relationships, and actions. In fact, The NIV Application Commentary suggests that not leaning on our own understanding goes beyond just asking for help in daily decisions; depending on God means “not being wise in [our] own eyes” (Prov. 3:7).

We shouldn’t necessarily feel guilty if we go somewhere for lunch before consulting Him; however, this does mean that our attitude is one of acknowledging God’s wisdom as surpassing our own. Trying to bull-doze through life on our own strength is being wise in our own eyes. Being dependent doesn’t mean we don’t have a personality or a brain. Being dependent means giving up our self-made strategies and learning God’s better ones. Being dependent means trusting so that we don’t have to fall for the lie that it’s all up to us.

Because the other part of Proverbs 3:5-8 is this: When we choose to depend on God’s ways over our own, He “makes [our] paths straight.” The Hebrew word for “straight” indicates “travel made safe by clearing and leveling the road” (The NIV Application Comm.). That means when we choose to lean on God instead of ourselves, He literally clears the way. It doesn’t mean we won’t be met with obstacles, because we will, but we will be traveling a way leveled in advance for us by the Almighty God.

We can rest because He’s got our back. And I don’t know about you, but that way sounds a whole lot better than trying to “do it myself”!

Related Resources:

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

Already a subscriber to our podcast but want to revisit past episodes? Stop by our podcast archive for a complete listing of all past episodes.

Looking for more resources on anxiety? Check out the article links below beneath the author box (under “Related”).

*Adapted from a post published November 3, 2017.

Carol Whitaker

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

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How Double-Mindedness Causes Inconsistency in Our Christian Walk

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

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

Balaam: A Man With a Divided Heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Double-mindedness Causes Contradiction and Inconsistency in Our Actions

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

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

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

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

Avoiding the Way of Balaam

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

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

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

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

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

Devoting Ourselves to God Alone

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

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

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

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

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

Related Resources:

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

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

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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The Reason We Celebrate

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

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

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

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

Celebration by the Shepherds in the Christmas Story

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

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

What can we observe from the shepherds?

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

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

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

2. Our celebration is a witness to others.

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

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

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

3. We celebrate Him when we experience Him.

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

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

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

Related Resources:

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

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

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

*Updated December 27, 2018.

 

Carol Whitaker

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

More Posts

How to Respond to the Miracles of God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

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

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

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

Related Resources:

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

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

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

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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Choosing not to Fall Into Doubt and Unbelief

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

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

Zechariah: A Man Who Fell Into Unbelief

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

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

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

A few things that we can observe:

1. Even righteous men can fall into unbelief.

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

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

2. God wants us to believe Him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

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

Related Resources:

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

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

 

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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When You Need a Miracle

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

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

God Gives Us Signs to Confirm His Will

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

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

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

Hezekiah: A Man Willing to Step out in Faith

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

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

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

A few things we can observe:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

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

Related Resources:

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

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

 

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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


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

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

The Model of Faith: Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Jesus Perfects the Faith

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

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

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

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

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

The Freedom We Have In the New Covenant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walking With Jesus Eases Our Guilt and Condemnation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Resources:

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

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

Podcast Notes and Corrections:

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

*Updated November 18, 2018.

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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