Learning to Depend on God

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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.

Unfortunately, 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 those people around me 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 the ways we try to do life in our own strength and the coping skills we use to get what we want out of our environment —  even those skills considered socially acceptable (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 “do not depend on your 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 me.”

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 Commentary). 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”!

*Revised from a post originally published February 5, 2015.

Editor’s Note:

Please note that in the articles “Set Apart for God’s Special Purpose” and “Having the Faith to Get Through Your Storm,” changes were made to account for sources that were not included in original draft and/or bring clarification to key concepts. While we make every effort to correctly identify sources in original, at times corrections do have to be made after publication. We apologize for not including those in original draft. Please check out our new publication policy on our About page.

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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 We Suffer for Doing Good

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Tune into the Beulah Girl Podcast. Co-hosts Carol Whitaker and Suzy Lolley explore finding identity in Christ. Episodes cover topics such as spiritual growth, relationships, emotional health, physical healing, ministry, and more. Subscribe to get each episode on Soundcloud or simply listen to the individual episode here.

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

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

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

When Doing God’s Will Leads to Suffering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The next morning during my quiet time, as I was still fuming over the injustice of the reality that good doesn’t always come to you for doing God’s will, I came across this gem of Scripture in 1 Peter 4:19:

So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

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

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

1. We will suffer for doing His will.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Bible Verses:

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

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

*Updated October 30, 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 Sugar Became an Idol in My Life

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I see these cute Christian shirts that make me think, “Ah. That expresses my faith well.” I am a quiet person. Perhaps one of these will give voice to my faith. One in particular states, “I love Jesus, coffee, and naps.” I love all three, and, while I rarely actually get a nap, I often feel desperate for one.

Another shirt states, “It is well with my soul.” Overall, that is true for me. But do I really represent that all the time? Absolutely not. And then I wonder if I am too worried about appearing hypocritical. Would I be making a stand for God or turning those who have no faith even further from God? Having friends who do not know Christ makes me shrink from purchasing such a garment for fear of presenting a conflicting message.

And then, I think, it is just a shirt.

I have been pondering which shirt to buy for some time, even though it is unlikely I will ever buy any of them.

How God Revealed an Idol

In the process of contemplating the messages of these T-shirts, God opened my eyes to a more profound perspective. It really began with sugar, specifically, the sugar in my coffee. The coffee, of course, was listed on one of the shirts as one of my “needs.”

For a little background, I am in the heart of writing my dissertation which will earn me a PhD in psychology when I complete it. It’s tough. I have a family, a church family, and a full-time job. My mother lives with me. My mother-in-law is still learning to live alone after the death of my father-in-law. There are many reasons I feel continuing my education is a selfish endeavor.

I began brainstorming ways that I could function more effectively, disappoint as few people as possible, and still complete this dissertation. Let me also say that at this time I had been researching some strategies for pre-menopausal women, feeling like my hormones have been doing somersaults since my last child. I found that even in my late thirties, the hormones can create problems.

One strong suggestion from this research, because I am not into fake medications but prefer to utilize what God gives us naturally when possible, was to quit sugar.

After a nasty sugar detoxification period, going without sugar was supposed to leave me energized, focused, and steady. Those are qualities I would like to hear used to describe me from people like my husband, sons, family, and co-workers.

Sugar. My friend-for-life. How could I give up sugar while going through such a difficult task as a dissertation? I have quit sugar before — in all but my coffee — but I need that sugar in my coffee. It is such a comfort. I look forward to each cup (probably more like three or four). I can get through most situations knowing that a cup of coffee with sugar is at the end.

However, I realized that if I am asking my family to sacrifice for me, then I must also make sacrifices. I knew I would suffer, however superficial it seems. Since I was giving up sugar, why not give up gluten, too? I have gone gluten free in the past, and it left me feeling much better. Healthier. Stronger.

Thus, in order to feel better and find the energy I needed, I went off sugar and gluten. By day three of no sugar, my husband was begging me to go back on it. I had a headache. I was irritable. I had no comfort.

But I am stubborn. I thought — if this substance has this much control over who I am, then I want nothing to do with it.

Several weeks into this new life-without-sugar, I learned a wonderful lesson, as are all lessons from the Lord. This one I know was from Him: At times when I should have been taking comfort in the Lord, I turned to sugar instead.

That was a blow to the person I believed myself to be. Sugar was something so trivial that I let become a god to me. Judges 10:14 (ESV) states, “Go and cry out to the gods whom you have chosen; let them save you in your time of distress.” Bingo. That was me.

Gaining Self-Control: Making Jesus My Comfort

Since giving up the sweet stuff, I no longer get tired in the afternoon. I can work for crazy amounts of time, still give my kids attention for their homework and antics, and perform well at work. I lost weight that no amount of exercise has ever gotten rid of. It was a struggle that ended with me on top, infused with God’s power rather than the power of “things.”

How many times have I heard at church that anything we rely on has the power to become a god to us? I chide myself that I didn’t see this sooner, yet, since I am human, I know something is bound to sneak up on me again. I can still enjoy sugar since my detox, usually every weekend, with no side effects. The sugar no longer controls me. I control it.

I did fall off the wagon once. I slowly let sugar creep into my day-to-day routine. However, when I began waking up in the morning feeling as though I hadn’t slept, I quickly realized the culprit. I got back up and quit sugar once again.

Moderation works. Anything of the Lord is good. The only thing I do not need moderation for is my time with Him. For it is never enough.

1 Corinthians 10:14 (ESV) states, “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.” I am thankful for the discernment God gave me that allowed me to garner self-discipline over this part of my life.

I no longer want the “I love Jesus, coffee, and naps” shirt that was “so me.” My perspective of what is important has shifted. I want every part of me, even my clothing, to reflect that. Plus, I drink less coffee now — only one cup usually. I no longer yearn for naps. As my father-in-law used to say, “You can sleep when you die” (and that is how he lived his life). And I will never again compare Jesus’ name to trivial, momentary pleasures on this earth.

Living my life with less sugar and with more Jesus is so much better.

Through a path that began with a shirt, diverted to sugar, and ended in idols, I found out more about both Jesus and my relationship with Him. In defense of the shirt, Jesus’ name is in larger font on it than either coffee or naps. Makes sense. He is larger.

It is important for us all to attempt to recognize what idols, even legal ones like sugar, we have in our lives. The lesson for me was to not just examine where I spend most of my time and energy, but from where I receive my comfort.

Despite all that I’ve learned, I do still like the Jesus shirts, though. The one I eyeball now states, “Blessed by Jesus — Spoiled by my husband.” I haven’t found anything wrong in that thus far. After the dissertation, I may treat myself to it.

Rebecca Lindsey

Rebecca Lindsey

After “retiring” from teaching in 2013, Rebecca is currently back at it as a high school Teacher on Assignment where she is able to help students identified as at-risk for not graduating on time. The in-between years, she worked as a therapist in private and public practice. Her interests are in helping others, hiking, kayaking, gardening, dancing, and reading. She loves exercise, nutrition, and natural healing. After completing her doctorate in organizational psychology, she plans to lead others to improve leadership, career, and personal life-skills and maybe even author a few works. In every role, she feels there is an opportunity to model the grace and redemption given to us by Jesus. Rebecca lives in Dallas, Georgia, with her husband and three boys (the middle child is a Weimeraner).

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Where Is God When We Suffer?

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Tune into the Beulah Girl Podcast. Co-hosts Carol Whitaker and Suzy Lolley explore finding identity in Christ. Episodes cover topics such as spiritual growth, relationships, emotional health, physical healing, ministry, and more. Subscribe to get each episode on Soundcloud or simply listen to the individual episode here.

It is easy when times are good to say we trust in the Lord, and He is a good God. But how about when times are bad? Can we still say those words then?

When chaos takes place in our lives, when circumstances aren’t going as we would want, proclaiming God’s goodness and faithfulness is much more difficult. Some of us have been through or are going through such tremendously hard situations.

Oftentimes, there are layers to our trials. We have multiple problems occurring on multiple fronts; it can be overwhelming. We may feel crushed down by the weight of them. Paul said on his journey in Asia: “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself” (2 Corinthians 1:8). So deep was the agony, so great the torment and trials, Paul didn’t know if he would find his way through them. And yet, he persisted and put his full trust in Christ.

While Paul is a man in the New Testament who met with tribulation, Job is a man in the Old Testament who met with affliction. He lost his estate, wealth, and children in one day (Job 1:1-22).

Unbeknownst to him, prior to his devastating loss, a discussion happened in the heavens between God and Satan. God gave Satan permission to afflict Job’s possessions and family. Then, to add insult to injury, God granted Satan permission to afflict Job’s health. Job’s body broke out in painful boils. Job’s suffering was so great, he cursed the day he was born. His wife suggested he curse God as well, but Job replied, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:10). Job was unwilling to abandon his faith even in the midst of heavy trials.

To make matters worse, Job’s “friends” came to sit with and comfort him; however, they made Job feel even more terrible by heaping blame on him for the tragedy that had fallen on him. Although each friend had a slightly different view, they all arrived at the same conclusion: Job’s suffering was due to sin. In order for him to get out of his situation, he needed to confess his sin.

Talk about a miserable time for Job! His wife abandoned him emotionally when he needed her most, his friends told Job he was to blame for the trouble that had happened (even though that wasn’t the case), and Job stood accused by everyone close to him in his life.

No one understood or supported him. He was not even sure of what God thought of him initially. We can learn a few ideas from Job’s journey of suffering.

On a side note, these points are those I’ve loosely based on the information from a Suffering and Sovereignty study from the First5.org app from Proverbs 31 Ministries. I’ve been reading the study these past few weeks, and even as I’ve chosen to talk about the concepts in a slightly different way, they are those I developed while going through the study.

1. Suffering falls on the righteous and the wicked.

While clear connections can sometimes be drawn between our actions and the events happening in our life, sometimes they can’t. Certainly, the Bible talks about God bestowing blessings on the righteous and evil on the wicked. Psalm 51:12 says, “Surely, Lord, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield.” Proverbs 33:3 says, “The Lord’s curse is on the house of the wicked, but he blesses the home of the righteous.”

However, the book of Job reveals a more complicated view of suffering. Sometimes the wicked flourish with no recompense and the righteous suffer through no fault of their own (First5.org).

In both scenarios, God is still sovereign and in control. We as Christians must accept both good and bad — knowing He allowed both in our lives. That doesn’t mean we let people abuse us or mistreat us, let ourselves be passive doormats, or resign ourselves to situations that are not God’s best for us.

However, we understand that suffering is part of the Christian experience. We also understand that eventually, a man’s evil will catch up with him. He will be judged for his wrong and suffer the consequences of his disobedience against God.

2. Friends are good, but only One will never abandon us.

Friends are good, but we can’t always rely on them to say the right things or know what to do when trouble comes into our life. As we see in Job’s story, Job’s friends meant well, but they had no knowledge of what was really going on. By Job’s response, we see that their words did not comfort him and did not ring true for him. Similarly, we will have people completely misunderstand us and offer us advice we shouldn’t take (First5.org).

The only way we can know what to do and find true comfort is to turn to the only One who will not abandon us. We may feel like God is far off and silent, but He is close to the broken-hearted (Psalm 34:18). God is the only One who will have an accurate perspective of each situation we face. We can easily be lead astray by friends with good intentions who give us human wisdom and logic — maybe even a few Bible verses thrown in that might be right in another scenarios. We need to seek and listen to God’s voice above all others.

It can be scary to be the one voice in a situation that is dissenting when everyone else is assenting. We may think something is wrong with us if we are the only one offering a different point-of-view. However, sometimes our Christian faith walk requires us to think and act differently than those around us. Sometimes differently than even our Christian friends and family members.

The voices around us may tell us we’re wrong, that we’re not in God’s will, that we have brought the suffering on ourselves. But what is God telling us? At times, God will pinpoint an area of our life that He’s working on. His methods for bringing this to our attention may be extremely painful. However, other times the suffering we go through is not necessarily brought on by our own choices, but rather allowed for reasons only God knows.

3. God doesn’t expect us to be stoic in our suffering.

As repeatedly emphasized in the First5 study, Job didn’t curse God, but he was not emotionless or stoic in his suffering. He attempted to process through what was happening by pouring out to his feelings to God and his friends.

Similarly, it’s OK in our pain to express how we feel, to be honest with God. Job basically wanted to die, and He told people that. He didn’t try to play the religious role and pretend like these events weren’t devastating to him. He poured out his pain to others and told his friends what he thought of their comments.

In our own pain, we need to tell God how we truly feel. We don’t need to gloss over our feelings or pretend they are not there. We can be truthful with God. He can handle our grief and raw emotions. Certainly, Job went a little too far towards the end of the book of Job by accusing God (rather than just raising honest questions). However, we can learn from Job to take our questions to God and wrestle through our grief — rather than pretend it doesn’t exist.

Conclusion: God’s Purposes Are Supreme Through Our Suffering

Jesus told his followers before leaving the earth that they would have trouble, but to “take heart” because he had “overcome the world” (John 16:33). As Jesus’ followers, we will share in His suffering.

While our suffering can happen as a result of our sin, at times we will suffer without knowing the reasons or causing the suffering in or own lives. In those periods, as hard as it may be, we need to cling to God, ask Him our hard questions, but say as Job did, that we will accept both the good and bad seasons God allows.

At the very end of Job, after God spoke to Job, Job responded by saying in Job 42:2-6:

I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.

Ultimately, as the NIV Study Notes state, Job decided that God and His purposes were supreme, and he simply surrendered to God’s plan for him, which included suffering. After this, God made his friends go to back to Job. Job prayed for them, and his fortunes were restored.

Also in the NIV Study Notes, it says: “God does not allow us to suffer for no reason, and even though the reason may be hidden in the mystery of his divine purpose — never for us to know in this life — we must trust in him as the God who only does what is right.”

In other words, when our circumstances are such that they feel out of control, we have a God we can rely on and trust because His purposes for us are always good (Romans 8:28), even if they don’t feel good. Like Job, we can wrestle with God in our pain and request that God take the difficulty away. Ultimately, though, if He doesn’t — and we know our suffering is not a result of our own folly — we can trust that God has a reason to allow it and will bring good in our life through it.

In addition, we see Job say something very interesting in response to God. He said that he had “heard” of God, but due to this experience he had “seen God” (Job 42:5). Similarly, in our pain, however great, we will have the opportunity to learn more of God as we share in His suffering.

Interestingly enough, when I wrote the lines above to conclude this article, I penned them before I had read the end of the First5 Job study I mentioned earlier. However, quite fittingly, when I watched their last teaching video, I saw that Wendy Blight read Job 42:2-6 and came up with a similar conclusion. I thought it was cool that we shared some of the same thoughts about the end of Job.

In conclusion, then, what we can say about God’s whereabouts when we suffer is that God has not abandoned us. As believers, we can be assured of this truth found in Scripture: God is with us, a constant friend (Matthew 28:20; John 15:12-15).

Related Bible Verses:

2 Corinthians 5:14: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is seen.”

Podcast Notes:

In podcast episode, please note that there are two corrections: the reference to 1 Corinthians 1:8 in intro is actually 2 Corinthians 1:8. The Psalm 51:1 reference in the first point is actually Psalm 51:12.

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 Obedience in the Christian Life Is Hard

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As a high school English teacher, I remember my former department head telling me that after leaving teaching to become a stay-at-home mom for a few years, she cried every time she looked outside and saw the school busses come around each fall.

She missed her job as a teacher that much.

I had no idea what she meant at the time. I was a young motivated teacher with no children, and I didn’t consider that I would ever leave the field of education.

And now, into this current phase of life, I have been out of the education field for six years and have since birthed two more babies. It is very unlikely that I will ever go back. I left not only to be more present with my little ones but also to follow God’s leading.

And I can tell you, friend, sometimes the way He leads hurts.

Now, I am the one who gets a little weepy every time a new school year begins. I eye my children’s classrooms — the brightly colored bulletin boards, work bins, and neatly organized curriculum binders, and I get a little nostalgic.

Teaching is in my blood. My mom was a teacher. Several of my aunts. I lined up my stuffed animals as a child and pretended to teach them.

The truth is that leaving your old life to answer God’s call isn’t without cost. I remember my life as a teacher. How neat it all was. All the pieces wrapped up in a little bow. A paycheck. Summers off. All our debt paid. Vacations twice a year. A retirement pension.

I shudder now as I remember once callously telling a struggling single mom that I never let my bank account get under a certain amount. Wince. Double wince.

I think about that prideful statement now whenever I can’t buy shoes for my kids. On our current one-income status, my outfits the last few years have been mostly supplemented by my mom. It’s a good thing she is a gift giver and likes to send gifts! My maternity wardrobe while pregnant with my last child consisted of 9-year-old maternity dresses (when I got really big, only about five of these actually fit) that I rotated throughout my pregnancy.

In Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott, Josephine, a strong-willed sister and main character, sells her long beautiful tresses of hair to fund a ticket for her mother to go to Washington to see her wounded soldier father. Her sister asks her that night why she is crying, assuming the tears are for her father. Josephine laughs and explains the real reason, saying, “My hair!”

And they both crack up over her vanity. I can relate. Sometimes my own tears are equally as vain.

However, I need only look to Scripture to see what God says about the sacrifices we make to follow Christ. Perhaps these will help you as well if you long for a simpler time in your life without the trials you are currently facing:

 “Go, sell everything you have … . Then come, follow me” (Mark 10:21). These are the words of Jesus to a young rich man who inquired of Jesus what he needed to do to earn eternal life. The young man had observed outward regulations of religion, but Jesus looked at him with love and said, “One thing you lack. Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Mark 10:21). The man went away with a sad heart because he was unwilling to give up his wealth.

Jesus wasn’t really interested in the man giving up his money. He was interested in the man giving up what was closest to his heart. Essentially, we all have “wealth” — things that Jesus will ask us to surrender to follow Him. These could be relationships, jobs, material things, ideologies; Jesus wants us to give up the things we are holding onto to make room for Him.

 “Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it” (Luke 17:33).  Again, we have a few more lines on the same theme. Just like the rich man in the verse above, we will continually have choices as to whether or not we obey God’s voice in our life and follow His call or go our own way. Though there may be pain in the letting go, when we release what we think we want, we find real life and meaning.

 “Narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:14). Jesus said these words because He knew that not everyone would want their lives to be restricted by a narrow definition of right and wrong, salvation and purpose. Our world is constantly broadening the definitions of morality, marriage and family, identity, and salvation.

Why? A broad, encompassing definition of these areas makes life so much easier. It feels easier in the moment not to discipline oneself to read the Bible and follow its precepts. It feels easier not to commit to a marriage relationship over a long period of time. It feels easier to not be obedient to God’s call when there are far more alluring paths that call for our allegiance. However, the Bible is clear that those who walk the narrow path He offers will reap the benefits and avoid destruction.

I listened to a sermon this past Christmas Eve that stuck with me. It was an odd message for a Christmas Eve service, as the pastor acknowledged, because it didn’t cover the usual topics of Mary, Joseph, and the wise men. It covered Revelation 12:11, and as the pastor read the verse, one line jumped out at me: “They did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.” As my friend Suzy Lolley explained in in a past blog post (on an unrelated topic), the verse was a rhema word for me. Scripture came alive for me in that moment.

I had been asking God for a breakthrough in a few areas and here was a major key for me: I needed to stop loving my life more than I loved the things of God. When I hold onto my life loosely and care not what I lose in my devotion to Christ, I don’t see the things I let go of in the same way.

Around the same time I heard the Christmas Eve sermon, I read The Magnolia Story: Chip and Joanna Gaines; what struck me was Chip and Joanna’s obedience. They struggled and wrestled over God’s directives, but then they got over themselves and just did what God asked. Though they have a hit TV show, most of the homes they’ve done for others have been larger and grander than the homes they were living in at the time and the home they are living in now. They say this: They had learned to thrive even when things weren’t good.

I can’t say that my life has been without blessing. It has. But following God means letting go when He says and not holding on (even in my thoughts) to that which He has told me to release. It also means willingly following and obeying even if it makes me uncomfortable, I am afraid what people think, or I don’t like the way God is pointing.

Psalm 37:3-4 reminds us of this truth: “Trust in the Lord and do good. Then you will live safely in the land and prosper. Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 31:19 says it like this: “How abundant are the good things that you have stored up for those who fear you, that you bestow in the sight of all, on those who take refuge in you.”

We don’t suffer or go through hardship just for hardship. Sure, we get refined in the process, and our trials are those He allows because they bring Him glory. But we also do so confident in the knowledge that when we walk with Him and surrender to His leading, He has good in store for us.

Those tasks we do in obedience to Him — however hard — are the same ones that birth in us joy (Psalm 126:5).

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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Overcoming Fear in Doing the Will of God

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As believers, we’re called to serve God and offer ourselves as “living sacrifices for His glory” (Romans 12:1). However, there are real obstacles that threaten us in the midst of being faithful in living out His will for us. One of the major obstacles Christians face is fear.

As I explained in a previous post, Matthew 14:28-32 gives us a good illustration of what it looks like to falter in our walk of faith. In the passage we see that Peter goes on a faith walk towards Jesus but then begins to sink when he looks at the obstacles around him — the wind and the waves — and becomes afraid. Jesus pulls him up and chastises him for his lack of faith, but Jesus does not leave him in his failure. He tells him why he was sinking, and the two are able to climb back in the boat together and get to their destination.

However, Peter had to get past his very real unbelief and fear he felt in the moment, and Jesus addresses it. Similarly, many of us are desiring to be obedient to God, but we are dealing with crushing fear or another obstacle. How do we get past our fear when we are attempting to follow the will of God?

Not too long ago, I asked God this very question as I had been dealing with my own fear. Sometimes God answers me right away, and other times He waits for a season to respond. This time His answer came just a day or so after I had posed the query. I was looking for a calendar in a desk drawer, and a sheet of notes I had taken on Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life caught my eye. I’ve read this book from cover to cover on a few different occasions, but I have no recollection of taking these notes and can’t remember why I wrote down these ideas.

However, when I glanced over the scribbled words, God gave me an answer. Yet, as He often does, God didn’t respond in the way I thought He would. He gave me an entirely different response that I want to share with you.

Lessons from Rick Warren that we can apply to overcome our fear:

1. We have to understand what it means to rely on God and operate in His power.

While we may think of relying on God as a passive endeavor — one where we do absolutely nothing and He does everything — that is not the case. As Warren stresses, reliance on God doesn’t mean we don’t do anything. Trust in God means that we are co-workers with God. A few of the ideas I jotted down from Warren’s book:

  • Christ-likeness is not produced by imitation, but by inhabitation. We allow Christ to live through us.
  • We choose to do the right thing and trust God’s Spirit to give us His power, love, faith, and wisdom to do that.
  • The Holy Spirit releases His power the moment you take a step of faith.
  • Obedience unlocks God’s power.
  • God wants you to act first — move ahead in your weakness, doing the right thing in spite of your fears. That’s how you cooperate with the Holy Spirit.
  • Effort has nothing to do with your salvation, but it has much to do with your spiritual growth. At least eight times in the New Testament we are told to “make every effort” in our growth toward becoming like Jesus.

We need to pause for just a minute and let these wise words sink in. When we follow in God’s way, we won’t necessarily feel an absence of fear. However, God’s power meets us when we act in obedience. Psalm 63:8 says, “I cling to you; your right hand upholds me.” The King James 2000 Bible version says, “My soul follows hard after you: your right hand upholds me.” Some of us are waiting to not feel fear before we act or waiting for our feelings to line up with what God would have us to do. However, it is in taking the steps ordained for us by God that we are met by the Holy Spirit’s power.

Similarly, another place in Scripture where this concept of walking in trust and God’s power is illustrated is John 6:28, 29. In this passage, a crowd asks Jesus what they should do to do the work of God. Jesus responds by saying, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent” (v. 29). The word “believe” that is used can be translated in the Greek as “pisteuó,” which means to “believe, entrust.” According to Helps Word-Studies, this means “not only to be persuaded of something, but means to be persuaded by the Lord: it is belief that leads to/proceeds from God’s inbirthing of faith.”

The word “pisteuó” is a verb. So, not only does it mean what we believe in our thoughts — it refers to a giving up of oneself to God. This kind of entrusting leads to action in our lives as we follow His lead. According to the Encyclopedia of the Bible, faith is “that which responds to and is sustained by God’s faithfulness.”

A few years ago, I went through a hard season where God had me go back to my previous place of employment. He was walking me through healing from an addiction to others’ approval, and one of the hard tasks He had me do in walking out of my people-pleasing behavior was do the thing I fear the most: face people and reveal the ways that I had fallen short.

I had been a former high school teacher, and I had spent years cultivating the worship of my students. As a young teacher, I was flirtatious and had a male fan club in every class. Though my actions were not those that constituted an inappropriate relationship or illegal activity, I knew that I had not been a Christian role model for my students. God nudged me to make some hard contacts with my former classes and administration and apologize for not being a Godly role model and state that I was making a turn in my Christian walk.

This was difficult for me in many ways. You might think that I had great courage that enabled me to do this, but that isn’t the case. I knew I had no choice. I was terribly afraid, and it was not an easy task. I knew that that was the way God was pointing and for me to continue to walk with Him, I was going to have to obey Him. I did those actions in fear — but God enabled me in the process as I did what He asked, and He gave me grace as I was speaking to people.

2. Spiritual transformation is a process.

Saying spiritual growth doesn’t happen instantly is not a cop-out. Certainly, it says nowhere in the Bible that we should sin because it really does not matter. In fact, the Bible tells us the opposite. It tells us that if we know the right thing to do and don’t do it, for us it is sin (James 4:17). However, we need to know that spiritual maturity is a process that does take time. God gives us opportunities to learn and grow and become more like Him.

Warren emphasizes that God uses His Word, people, and circumstances to shape us. Therefore, our transformation away from fearfulness to courage — the kind Christ had — is not automatic. It will be gradual. In fact, God puts us in particular situations so that we can practice Christlikeness (Warren).

If we are having an issue with fear, He is going to put us in circumstances where we can practice breaking through this barrier to do His will. We may literally be shaking as we type up the email to send, tell our testimony to someone, or step away from a safe comfort zone (perhaps a stable job or living situation) to answer God’s call on our life. However, as we encounter more and more situations like this, we will become less fearful and more like Christ.

Salvation is worked out in each of our lives with the help of the Holy Spirit. In other words, God is always working in us to know and do His will (Philippians 2:12, 13). Warren explains a few things about this:

  • There are two parts to spiritual growth: work out and work in.
  • “Work out” is your responsibility. You don’t work for your salvation because you can’t add anything to Jesus’ work. You work out to develop the body, not get the body. We should make every effort to grow spiritually.
  • “Work in” is God’s role — as we make efforts to grow spiritually, God makes us more like His Son.

Again, we have here the idea, just as we discussed in the previous point, that overcoming our fear is a collaborative effort with God. It doesn’t happen right away. Whatever obstacles are hindering us from answering His call are those that we can overcome with His help when we believe that His power is enough. But He gives us lots of opportunities to work on making gains against whatever is holding us back.

Conclusion:

Fear will often prevent us from doing what we know to do in the moment of following God. However, we are not left alone in our fear. God promises us in His Word that when we step out in obedience into what feels like thin air, we will feel a solid rock under our feet. He will uphold those who put their trust in Him and follow Him when it feels hard, it feels scary, and we don’t know what to do.

The more we adopt this philosophy of believing that God will meet us in our weakness and stepping out even when our own strength is small, the more victory we will have in breaking past the obstacles that prevent us from being obedient and following Him. This isn’t a willpower thing — this is “I can do all things through Christ” kind of thing (Philippians 4:13).

Let’s pray: Dear God, help us in those times when we want to follow you but are afraid. Help us believe in your promises in the Bible and trust in Your power that You have made available to us as Christ followers. Forgive us for the times we have fallen short of Your perfect will. Help us be more bold in the future as we follow You. Amen.

How about you? Do you struggle with fear? Share with us in the comments!

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to 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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Having the Faith to Get Through Your Storm

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Hey friends! Tune in for our first podcast episode: Faith in Storms. Suzy Lolley and I talk about how to have real faith when you are faced with trials and fear that threaten to knock you off course.

Some people in the Bible inspire me, but also intimidate me a little. I think, Why can’t I have the boldness of Paul when he instructed the sailors to abandon the ship in the storm, witnessed to the Roman guard, or killed the serpent? Certainly, in looking at other people like Daniel who prayed faithfully three times a day and did not forsake God even while serving a pagan ruler or Esther who risked her life for her own people, I feel small in comparison.

However, Peter is a person I can relate to. He often said the wrong thing or messed up in a big way, and yet, Jesus loved him. In looking at the story of Peter walking on water, we can find encouragement for those times when our faith feels small and our obstacles big. When we want to follow hard after Jesus, but we feel overwhelmed and pulled under by the trials we face.

In Matthew 14:28-32 (NLT), Peter sees the Lord walking on the water and asks to come out to Him. Jesus consents, and Peter leaves the boat to walk on the water towards Jesus:

Then Peter called to him, ‘Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you walking on the water.’ ‘Yes, come,’ Jesus said. So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. ‘Save Me, Lord!’ he shouted. Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. ‘You have so little faith,’ Jesus said. ‘Why did you doubt me?’

Peters starts out with such courage, “presumption” even, according to Matthew Henry. You have to love Peter. He is the first one to step out of the boat after Jesus, and he is completely un-phased at first by the elements of the storm. He simply wants to be near Jesus.

And we are often the same way. When we ask Jesus what we can do for Him, He calls us to a specific service for Him. We embrace the task with excitement and joy. It may be frightening to leave behind the safe boat we were once in, but we can’t wait to get over the side of the boat and onto the waves. We may feel courage in our quest, “presumption” even. However, we quickly learn that walking on top of the waves is no easy feat. While Jesus makes water-walking look easy — gliding on top of life’s situations with calm and complete control — Peter realizes quickly that the work of following Jesus is no cake walk. Before he knows it, he begins to get fearful and starts to sink.

All of Peter’s bluster and fortitude evaporate rather quickly. And it runs out because he takes his eyes off of his Savior and fixes them on the waves, the wind, and the precariousness of his circumstances. However, when he calls out for Jesus’ rescue, Jesus immediately comes to his aid and pulls him up.

Jesus isn’t rattled or put out by Peter’s unbelief. He chides him and says, “You have so little faith. Why did you doubt me?” (v. 31). However, He does so to seize the moment to teach Peter, not demean him. Also, we see that Jesus doesn’t cast Peter out of His presence. Jesus doesn’t tell Peter his failures prevent him from being in relationship with him.

What we can learn from this exchange:

We need the supernatural power of God to do His work.

Many of us know, in theory, that we need to depend on God to complete His work, but it is only in stepping out that we realize that to do what He has called us to do is a supernatural “water-walking” endeavor. We can’t achieve it in our own strength. We need Jesus to enable us to rise above our treacherous circumstances to walk as Jesus did above the fray.

Not too long ago, I read a Proverbs 31 Ministries devotional written by Tracie Miles where she gives a story about an obstacle course she went to with her daughter. When she climbed up to begin the course, she looked down and chickened out. Her daughter swung across the ropes with ease — and yet, Tracie couldn’t get over her fear. That is the way with our walks with God. He keeps taking us deeper and deeper until we are positioned in a place where we have to be completely dependent on Him.

We look at the ropes and the ground below (or in the case of Peter, the wind and the waves), and we panic. We’re in way beyond our comfort level — and that’s how He wants it to be. He wants us in a place where we have to rely on Him, but it is not comfortable for us. We want to climb down where the heights aren’t quite so dizzying. However, it’s when we walk in trust that He enables us to have the power to do His work.

As Psalm 63:8 says, those who cling to God are held up by God (Henry). When we seek the more convenient path that isn’t the way He would have for us or doubt that God has the power to help us overcome the obstacles we face, we start to sink. It is only through His power that we are able to walk on top of life’s situations and make it through the difficulties that will come our way.

Jesus helps us in our failures.

In moments of unbelief or fear, we tend to beat ourselves up, to assume that maybe Jesus doesn’t want us anymore. But Jesus reaches out to Peter in His failure in response to Peter’s cry. Sure, Jesus chides Peter, but Jesus does not stop loving Peter or stop wanting Peter as a follower because of Peter’s mistakes. Similarly, even when we try to do it all right, we won’t be perfect like Jesus. We’ll sometimes say the unkind word, walk past a person who needs help, or deny Christ in our life with our actions. Those moments are opportunities for us to return to Jesus, confess, and allow Him to rescue us.

If you use a GPS, you know that when you get off course the GPS will calculate a new route to get you back to where you need to be going. That is the way with God. We stray. We’re a little unfaithful here, we mess up there, and He gets us back on track. We may have delays in our journey. We may not get there as fast as we want to, but He doesn’t leave us and reject us when we’re attempting to follow Him and come up short.

Recently, I have been walking through a situation where I need God to come through for me, but I feel He hasn’t. There have been times in the past where He has performed miracles and rescued me. I know He is able. I don’t doubt His existence or capability, but I have been experiencing severe doubts in this situation because there are so many impossibilities. There has been strain on relationships and finances and my health. I’m having trouble believing God is going to help me in the way I need. I went to church one Sunday in a not-so-great state of mind, as I was struggling with negative thoughts.

My daughter had had a virus all week where she broke out in spots. We had had numerous commitments and events for the kids’ school on top of that which left me exhausted. When we walked in the doors, my son told me his stomach was hurting. So, I took my other two to class and decided my son needed to sit with me. However, I didn’t want to bring him into the service because I feared he might throw up. Therefore, I sat out in the foyer with him and watched the broadcast of the service on a screen.

Sitting there with my son in my arms — far away from the “real action” — God’s presence began to rest on me when I closed my eyes. I started shaking because I was so bone-weary and dry, and I needed His strength and His help. Not surprisingly, the pastor began to preach on doubt — and how we can believe even when we don’t know how God could possibly come through for us. That is faith.

I left the service so renewed. My son’s stomach still hurt and none of my circumstances had changed, but I knew that it was going to be OK. We stopped by my health teacher husband’s classroom after the service. As we were sitting in the classroom talking while the kids were running around, my husband turned on some worship music. He “just happened” to play a song by Third Day called “Mountain of God.” It’s an older song, but the lyrics say, “Thought that I was all alone / Broken and afraid / But You were there with me / Yes, you were there with me.”

Tears came to my eyes because here God was reassuring me a second time, as he was in the sermon, “Have faith. Don’t doubt. I am with you. You’re on the right path.”

Conclusion:

We will fail at times in our walk with Christ. We won’t do it perfectly, and we will be tempted to fall away when our faith feels small. However, we would do well to be like Peter and call out to Jesus when we are sinking — knowing that Jesus will save us from our troubles.

As Henry emphasizes, our remedy in times of trial is to re-establish our hope in God. The Bible tells us that faith is believing despite what the circumstances look like. In fact, as Henry includes in his commentary, Romans 4:18-25 (MSG) gives us a picture of what it’s like to hope in the midst of difficulty:

Abraham was first named ‘father’ and then became a father because he dared to trust God to do what only God could do: raise the dead to life, with a word make something out of nothing. When everything was hopeless, Abraham believed anyway, deciding to live not on the basis of what he saw he couldn’t do but on what God said he would do. And so he was made father of a multitude of peoples. God himself said to him, ‘You’re going to have a big family, Abraham!’

Abraham didn’t focus on his own impotence and say, ‘It’s hopeless. This hundred-year-old body could never father a child.’ Nor did he survey Sarah’s decades of infertility and give up. He didn’t tiptoe around God’s promise asking cautiously skeptical questions. He plunged into the promise and came up strong, ready for God, sure that God would make good on what he had said. That’s why it is said, ‘Abraham was declared fit before God by trusting God to set him right.’ But it’s not just Abraham; it’s also us! The same thing gets said about us when we embrace and believe the One who brought Jesus to life when the conditions were equally hopeless. The sacrificed Jesus made us fit for God, set us right with God.

Peter, although imperfect, can still be commended because he stepped out of the boat. He endeavored to go on a walk of faith towards Jesus. While it is true that he slipped up and started to go under, Jesus wasn’t taken aback by this. He wasn’t surprised by it. He still bid Peter come.

Many of us don’t want to get out of the boat because we know we can’t make the walk perfectly. We are afraid to fail. We are afraid of the storm. But Jesus knows our weaknesses. He still wants to use us. He wants us to advance towards Him.

*Updated November 4, 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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Does God Love Me When I Fail?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three observations we can make:

1. Jesus reaches for Peter in his failure.

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

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

2. God loves us enough to correct us.

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

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

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

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

What Can We Do When We Fail?

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

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

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

Carol Whitaker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

While I’m Waiting, by John Waller

I’m waiting, I’m waiting on You, Lord

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

Though it is painful, but patiently I will wait

 

I will move ahead bold and confident

Taking every step in obedience

While I’m waiting, I will serve You

While I’m waiting, I will worship

Wile I’m waiting, I will not faint

I’ll be running the race even while I wait

 

I’m waiting, I’m waiting on You, Lord

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

Though it’s not easy, no, but

faithfully I will wait

Yes, I will wait

 

And I will move ahead, bold and confident

I’ll be taking every step in obedience, yeah

 

While I’m waiting, I will serve You

While I’m waiting, I will worship

While I’m waiting, I will not faint

 

And I will serve You while I’m waiting

I will worship while I’m waiting

I will serve You while I’m waiting

I will worship while I’m waiting

I will serve You while I’m waiting

 

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

I will serve you while I’m waiting

 

I will worship while I’m waiting

 I will serve You while I’m waiting

I will worship while I’m waiting

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to 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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Being Prepared for God’s Promises

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carol Whitaker

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