Help for the Hard Days

9

I love running.

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

running meme

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Stop and drink in His Word:

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

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

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

Jamie Wills

Jamie Wills

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

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A Love Note: How God Shows His Love for Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But something quiet inside kept pushing me to go.

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

But we made it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In a love note to me.

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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How to Keep Going When You Want to Give up

girl-in-sunset

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trusting God in Our Difficult Circumstance

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carol Whitaker

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

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3 Things That Steal From Our Encounter With God

3 Things That Steal From our Encounter With God

I like to tell people that I met my husband at a concert where he was the singer and lead guitarist in a band. It sounds dangerous and rock and roll. And it’s true except for the fact that it was a Christian rock band, and he was playing at his local church.

Somehow, those details tend to lessen the dangerous rock and roll edge. Truthfully, I knew of him before the two of us ever met. He was a friend of some friends, and he was a magical mix of tall, dark, handsome, and serious about God. As a new Christian myself, I couldn’t imagine a more perfect guy. He would walk around school with his Bible, and he played in a rock band. I know, right?

My plan was to introduce myself to him and win him over with my wit and charm. It seemed like a solid plan to me, and when I was finally able to introduce myself to him at one of his shows, I set my plan into motion. But I was thoroughly perplexed when he brusquely walked out of a group conversation that we were a part of.

He didn’t just seem upset. He seemed specifically upset with me. So I sought him out some time later and asked, “Did I do something wrong?” I clearly hadn’t done anything, but by feigning concern, I would display my obvious thoughtfulness — a trait he would appreciate because he was a nice guy.

So you can imagine my confusion when he replied, “Yes.”

That definitely wasn’t a part of the plan.

He went on to inform me that I was gossiping. Like mean gossiping. And my spiteful conversation wasn’t something he was interested in being around. If I had been a cartoon character, my jaw would’ve fallen through the floor. Everything that I had known about him clashed into immediate conflict with what I had experienced of him. What I had heard from other people and what I had seen from a distance all suggested great things.

But what I experienced of him was very different. Suddenly, he wasn’t perfect. He was a self-righteous jerk with too much gel in his hair. In hindsight, we were sixteen. I was a gossip. He was self-righteous. It’s the stuff love stories are made of.

Our Relationship With God: We Need Both Knowledge and Experience

Recently, my pastor communicated a great word about examining our walks with the Lord. He said relationships are formed out of knowledge and experience. How we relate to and understand people simultaneously comes from what we know of them and what we’ve experienced of them. And it’s the same way with God. What we know about God is important. What we experience of Him is important.

But, to our detriment, we often side with one of these categories — knowing or experiencing — when interacting with Him, and one without the other is incomplete. A head full of doctrine amounts to very little when I haven’t experienced Him. And spiritual experiences are nothing without a sound foundation to build on.

The message, while encouraging, was very convicting. I think I operate in both of those realms, but often, the balance isn’t fair. In fact, I tend to lean towards knowledge more than experience. Every time I do that, I limit my walk with God. I limit the depths that I go to with Him.

In the past, I’ve been very much guilty of keeping God at arm’s length — probably out of fear of what He would do with my life once He got a hold of it — by dissecting the Word so that I could know how to “do” right living but never spending real time with God in order to learn what His voice sounds like when He’s speaking to me. And while I’m no longer of afraid of what a surrendered life looks like, I still feel myself fall into the trap of old habits when I’m not being careful.

Exodus 33 and our Tent of Meeting: Increasing Our Encounter With God

In Exodus 33, the children of Israel have very limited access to God. Moses alone can enter the Tent of Meeting. In that regard, they are excluded. Their experiences are limited, and because of that, their knowledge of God is limited as well. And that limited access to God continued right up until the time of Jesus when the High Priests were the only ones worthy enough to enter the Holy of Holies. The Christian experience post-Jesus is utterly unique. Because of the price that He paid for us, God doesn’t have to descend in a cloud for us to talk to Him. Hebrews 10:20 says, “By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place.”

We have no need for a Tent of Meeting because we are our Tent of Meeting. It’s one more thing that separates authentic Christianity from other major belief systems. We don’t need Imams or Brahmans or priests to communicate with God on our behalf in the hopes that their esteemed value can rise above our own lesser worth. In fact, through Jesus, we can not only approach God, but we can approach Him boldly (Hebrews 4:16).

What does that mean for us? We can communicate directly with God at any time we choose because of Jesus’ work on the cross and experience Him more fully than we are right now. Yet often, we often limit Him to a small space because we are chasing after other things or are holding onto sin in our lives. My pastor highlighted three things that steal from us the opportunity to encounter the Lord. If you’re anything like me, you’re well aware of the fact that there are things that stand in the way of your ability to deepen your walk with the Lord. I hope that these points speak to you, in whatever season you’re in, like they’ve spoken to me.

3 Things That Steal From Our Encounter With God

1. Unhealthy appetites.

We’re all human. We have legitimate needs, but we don’t sin because of those legitimate needs. We sin because we choose to meet those legitimate needs with illegitimate things that are substitutes for God. It isn’t a sin to be lonely or to be hurt. But if we take those needs and emotions to a sinful place for them to be met, we tend to our hunger with things that don’t satisfy (Psalm 107:9).

2. Unforgiveness.

The place of greatest influence in our lives belongs to God. And when we refuse to forgive, it elevates that person/situation and damages our walk with the Lord. Bitterness causes us to dwell on something/someone instead of dwelling on God. Even when our unforgiveness feels justified, the truth is that it plants a wall between us and God. He is gracious to forgive us, and if we are conformed to His likeness, we have to forgive others (Matthew 6:14-15).

3. Unrepentant hearts.

Repentance is a crucial part of our walk with the Lord, and it’s a process that we can’t afford to ignore or bypass. When we fail to turn away from our sins, we reduce the sacrifice of Jesus. And when we obsess over our sins, we diminish the work of His cross. As Hebrews 10:22 says, “Our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.”

Conclusion:

When we choose to address these areas in our lives, we are clearing the path for Him to work in us. And when we surrender them to God, we expand our place of encounter. In Isaiah 54:2, the writer entreats us with this: “Enlarge the place of your tent; stretch your tent curtains wide. Do not hold back.” For Moses, the Tent of Meeting was where he encountered the Lord. For us, our tent of meeting is an inward place, but it is no less real. And it’s up to us to seek it out and dwell in it. It’s up to us to meet God there.

As we give ourselves opportunities to really meet with the Lord, as we set aside intentional time and allow ourselves to be shaped by Him, we enlarge our place of encounter. And encountering the Lord, reconciling what we know of Him with what we experience of Him, is absolutely vital to our walk with Him. It’s there that we get to know Him better. And it’s there that we experience Him more.

So expand your tent. Stretch the curtains wide. And don’t hold back.

 

Adriana Howard

Adriana Howard

Adriana Howard describes herself as "sort of a mess in pursuit of a great story." Adriana spent a year teaching high school English, and currently, she is teaching theater after school at a local elementary school. She also serves with her husband as a youth pastor at her church. One day, Adriana hopes to be a published author. For the time being, she wants to travel the world, adopt children, learn how to really love people, maintain a garden, go back to India, and work alongside her husband in ministry. Other passions of Adriana's include love war films, cooking, bulky typewriters, crowded airports, winter’s first snow, Elizabeth I, and books of all shapes and sizes. Last but certainly not least, Adriana has a passionate love for Jesus. You can connect with Adriana on her blog where she dabbles in fiction, nonfiction and poetry.

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Why You Shouldn’t Give up Even When It Feels Like God Isn’t Answering Your Prayers

Why You Shouldn't Give up Even when it Feels Like God isn't Answering Your Prayers (2)

In 1996, the movie Twister came out, and it introduced me to the idea of a storm chaser.

This concept of someone who deliberately went towards a storm — chasing after it, even — seemed a little peculiar to me. I, like many of you, prefer to run in the other direction when a storm hits — to hide.

And not just physical storms, but emotional storms at that. However, there are actually people who enjoy the thrill that comes from chasing a storm — being near it, documenting it.

In Scripture, we see many storms, and just like you and me, most of the people we see within its pages try their best to get out of the storms of adversity. Esther didn’t exactly want to go and make a request of a king. Moses tried to back out when God called him to confront Pharoah. Jonah ran away when God asked him to witness to Ninevah (but ended up in a storm anyway).

However, we see that God often calls us to places that are hard and difficult. Places that will shake our faith and cause us to be uncomfortable. But He doesn’t call us to do it because He doesn’t love us or because He is like some of the crazy thrill seekers that call themselves “storm chasers.” No, He does it because He knows what we need to grow as Christ followers.

We need only look at Mark 6:45-51 to observe a place where Jesus sent His disciples onto a boat ahead of Him onto the Sea of Galilee, knowing that there was going to be a storm. He had just performed the miracle of the five thousand loaves. Things were going pretty good for the disciples, but then things got dark pretty quick. A storm blew up when they were on the boat alone without Jesus, and they were tormented by winds that were against them — making headway very difficult.

A few things we can take away from this passage about our storms:

1. His directive may be for our protection.

We must note that Jesus was actually getting His disciples away from crowds that were scheming to make Jesus king. Jesus knew that the intent of the peoples’ hearts was far away from the purposes of God, so He instructed His disciples to get into a boat (Wiersbe [John] Bible Commentary). He dismissed the crowd and went away alone to pray. This, however, wasn’t without some resistance on the disciples’ part. The wording suggests that the disciples had to be somewhat persuaded to get in the boat without Him.

While His disciples may have only been able to see the storm they were in and wondered at the wisdom of their master in sending them where He did, Jesus saw the danger in staying where they were at and sent His disciples away not to send them to their demise — but to protect them. As Lysa Terkeurst has aptly observed, “Sometimes rejection is for our protection.”

Perhaps we only see the storm ahead of us that we are currently in and we look longingly back at whatever situation we just walked out of, not realizing that perhaps God moved us on for our safety. Perhaps the relationships we wanted so badly to work out, the opportunity we wanted to see open for us — God led us away from that not because He didn’t want good for us, but because He was keeping loving watch over us and had a better place in mind for us to go.

2. God sees you in your situation.

Even though Jesus left the disciples to row alone across the Sea of Galilee, the disciples were never out of his “sight,” so to speak. As the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary notes, Jesus “saw” from His mountaintop. We often think that because we can’t immediately see Jesus in our situation that He has abandoned us. However, we can clearly observe in this passage that God always sees and God always knows.

Just at the right moment, when the disciples had been rowing for eight or nine hours against contrary winds, Jesus appeared to them. Just like Jesus waited to come to Lazarus until he was already dead, Jesus waited until His disciples most likely felt that their situation was utterly devoid of hope.

We may feel like Jesus has waited too long and our situation is already hopeless, already impossible to resurrect. But Jesus was aware of the situation even when He was high on the mountaintop, but let His disciples be tried to a certain point before He came to them at the appointed time — in the fourth watch of the night.

3. God is fully in control of the situation.

When Jesus finally came to them, He walked on top of the waves towards the boat. The disciples had been toiling at their rowing for hours and had made very little headway, yet it was with the greatest of ease that Christ walked to them on the water — elevated above the chaos, in complete command of the situation.

They disciples didn’t recognize Him at first. They thought He was an apparition and then He spoke and said, “Take courage! It is I. Do not be afraid” (v. 50 ). Even though they had walked with Him for some time and knew Him as a friend, they were slow to comprehend that it was their Savior walking towards them. And when they realized it was Him, they welcomed Him into the boat and were utterly amazed at their “awful nearness to One whose ‘way is in the sea,’ and whose ‘path is in the great waters,’ and whose ‘footsteps are not known ‘ “(Pulpit Commentary).

We can think that He doesn’t know what we are going through. We may be praying and hear nothing, or read Scripture, and have nothing stick to us. We keep straining at the oars wondering if God even knows what we are going through, and then He speaks and lets us know with absolute certainty that He knows exactly where we are.

Because God may be silent for a time does not mean He isn’t working in the background or fighting battles for us that we can’t even see. If we don’t hear anything or He doesn’t come immediately in the way we think we should, we need to listen on the ramparts for Him (Habbakuk 2:1) — and trust that not a single sparrow falls without His knowledge (Matthew 10:29).

4. His intent all along was to get them over to the other side.

In the John 6:21 account, the disciples “immediately” got to where they were going as soon as they welcomed Jesus into the boat. Some commentaries I read assert the idea that perhaps this was another supernatural happening of the night. That not only did Jesus feed five thousand, walk on water, enable Peter to walk on water, and calm the storm — all in one day and night — He enabled the boat to reach the shore with miraculous speediness.

Whatever the case — whether they were able to reach the other side swiftly simply because the storm died down or because Jesus enabled another miracle that night, we see Jesus’ intent for them all along in sending them out to sea: to get to the other side. We can be assured by this then that whatever adversity God sends us into is always that which has an end goal — our final destination is never to be left in the storm.

Why We Shouldn’t Give up in the Storm

Why, then, the storm? I don’t know all the reasons we have to suffer the trials we do, but I do know this. He sends us into storms for our growth, to increase our faith (Pulpit Commentary).

As every good parent knows, a child will not mature as long as you do everything for him. The sole reason my five-year-old son is not very adept at putting his own clothes on is that I have always done it for him. All those mornings when I had to get him off to preschool, it was much easier for me to clothe his sleepy body instead of making him dress himself. But he struggles to put his clothes on now because he hasn’t had much practice.

Faith takes practice, too.

The storms of life are not easy. They test and try us and make us wonder if God even knows what we are going through. But we can rest assured that God will not leave us to our rowing forever — that He sees us from His mountaintop — and has an appointed time for which He will come and cause the waves and the winds to cease. Then, just like the disciples, we will fall on our faces and exclaim, “Surely, you are the Son of God” (Matthew 14:32).

Surely you are Jesus because no one else could save me from this. Surely you are Lord because I was beyond help. Surely you are Lord because no one else could have orchestrated such an escape.

Take heart, friend. He sees you in your storm.

Want to join in a chat about life’s storms? I will be discussing the points in this post (as well as throwing in a few extra details). You can subscribe for free to our live video chat this Monday, August 15 @ 9 p.m. EST, watch the replay, or leave a comment below.

UPDATE on BLAB CHAT: Blab has been closed down! We are so sorry, but this chat will not be taking place. We will be looking for a new means to host our Monday chats.

Carol Whitaker

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

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What It Means to Walk by Faith, Not Sight

WHat It Means to Walk By Faith, not Sight

Thomas is one of those characters in the Bible I never really connected with. His story I knew was one placed in the Bible to show me why I shouldn’t doubt, but I never saw myself as Thomas-like.

Therefore, I didn’t know how much like Thomas I was until recently when I recalled his words to Jesus after a particular doubting incident of my own.

A Situation Where I Doubted

At the beginning of last summer, after my husband received a job offer in a neighboring county, Keith and I felt that we were to put our house up for sale and move. Not too long after our house went on the market, we got an interested buyer. Except the situation with this buyer was very unusual.

He showed up without a realtor or an appointment to see our house. He simply walked up to our front door and rang the doorbell. I was sitting on my bed when I heard the door. I had been praying a few moments earlier about our house sale, but I didn’t expect a person to show up during the prayer session.

I was scheduled to leave with my children in a short time to go to a party — and my hair and makeup were not done (so it could not have been a more inconvenient time). However, when the doorbell rang, I thought to myself, “I bet it’s someone who wants to see the house.” I remembered hearing a story by a pastor of a time when her house was for sale, and she had the unusual experience of a person driving by, stopping, and then deciding to buy the house.

Without getting a message from heaven like a scroll rolled down from the clouds, I had a knowing inside that this was what was happening. Therefore, with a plain face and hair askew, I raced down the stairs and opened the door to talk to him. He stood there with his high school age daughter and explained that he had recently divorced and was looking for a house.

He didn’t ask to come in, but I invited him to do so because my husband had just pulled up. He walked through the house, and I gave him my realtor’s information. He contacted her shortly after, walked through the house one more time with my realtor, and told her he was interested in putting in an offer.

Our realtor was skeptical of this buyer because he didn’t have an agent and had showed up in such an unusual manner. However, she agreed to write a contract for him. After she had written the contract, she became even more skeptical as he did not sign right away but instead took several days to look into financing. In the meantime, we had another buyer express an interest in putting in an offer.

The night we knew we had another interested buyer, our first buyer announced that he had his financing worked out and wanted to go forward with signing the contract.

However, my agent advised holding off on letting the first buyer sign the contract until we learned what the second offer was going to be. When she gave that advice to me, I felt conflicted. I had felt all along that God had brought us the first buyer (after all, he did show up while I was praying!), but I experienced doubt. Maybe we had just gotten this person interested in the property so that the other buyers would feel more urgency in submitting a contract, I rationalized. And, without giving the matter the proper attention it deserved and seeking an answer in prayer, I followed my realtor’s advice and waited for the second offer.

When the second offer came in — at full price — I again felt uneasy, but I signed the paperwork and agreed to an inspection time for the second buyer. From a worldly standpoint, our decision to go with another offer wasn’t unusual in the real estate world. But I didn’t feel good about it the whole time. I was hesitant. I felt that we were doing the first buyer wrong by not even letting him know that we were getting another offer in. And, boy, did we get burned.

The people who put in the better offer retracted it after the inspection, and our first buyer was no longer interested unless we lowered the price of the house (which we were unable to do to his specifications).

Suddenly, we found ourselves with no buyers, and the Promised Land that was waiting for us on the other side of the move got snatched away. We had to let go of the house we had put under contract. This meant losing some of our earnest money and saying goodbye to the exciting prospect of walking into the blessing God had for us there. I was disappointed because we had picked out a new construction home and were going to get to pick out the colors, floorplan, and features of the new home.

But all of that fell apart.

From a financial standpoint, the timing of the house sale would have been perfect because we had a set amount of money in savings rapidly dwindling — and we had just enough to put down on the house we wanted to buy.

And God let us walk through the consequences of my doubt. Afterwards, we did not sell our house right away. In fact, we plodded through several more months of showing our house, waiting for another offer. Because of my lack of faith, I listened to the advice of others over God’s advice. Inside, I had not trusted that God was looking out for us and had brought us a legitimate buyer. I wanted to see what the results would be before I took a chance on this person.

Like Thomas, I wanted to touch the scars rather than just hear that they were there.

A Second Chance: Stepping Back Into Belief

Because God is loving and gracious, He did not leave us in the wilderness of waiting forever. I confessed my unbelief and apologized for my doubt and felt His assurance that our house was indeed going to sell.

A few months after we lost both offers, we got another one in. Although we did not end up in the house we wanted initially, we were able to find another house in the same neighborhood with an identical floorplan. It certainly wasn’t easy to wait for another offer, and we suffered emotionally and financially, but God still allowed me to walk into His promises despite my unbelief.

Similarly, Jesus did not leave Thomas to his doubting. Instead, He went to him, showed him His scars, and said, “Do not disbelieve, but believe” (John 20:27, ESV). Ashamed of his lack of faith in the moment, Thomas fell to the floor and exclaimed, “My Lord, and my God” (John 20:28, Benson Commentary).

Even though Thomas faltered with a weak faith — Jesus did not turn away or punish Thomas but instead offered Thomas another opportunity of faith. And perhaps that kindness on the part of Jesus was even more heart-wrenching to Thomas than a sharp rebuke would have been.

Only after showing him the scars did Jesus gently reprove him with the words, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” With His words, Jesus showed Thomas that his “demand for the evidence of the senses was a step backward, a resting on the less, not on the more, certain. His Master would have him retrace that step, and become one who rests upon the intuition of the Spirit” (Ellicott Commentary).

In other words, Jesus made it clear that it is better to walk by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).

Walking by faith isn’t easy. It requires rejecting advice that appears like common sense and going with a still small voice that counters the louder voices around you. It requires stepping out and making a decision before seeing any tangible results.

It may require choosing an unconventional buyer rather than a buyer who looks better on paper.

But to do so is to be “blessed,” says Jesus. To embrace “the evidence of things not seen” before they are seen (Hebrews 11:1). However, even if you are hesitant and a doubter like me or Thomas, God offers you the opportunity to step away from your doubt back into belief.

I pray for you that if God tells you something, go with it! Even if it appears illogical, or it is awkward and hard, just do it! He wants to bless and prosper you, but He also wants you to believe He can make it happen. And if you have missed an opportunity to step out in faith, ask God to forgive you. In His grace, ask Him how you can step out once again.

 

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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The Blessings We Gain From Brokenness (The Blessings Of Brokenness Book Study)

THE BLESSINGS OF BROKENNESS (6)

Not too long ago, my family moved into a new community and transitioned from the church and home we had grown very comfortable in.

I remember well the events that led up to this move. The school year was drawing to a close. My husband generally has a slew of coaching opportunities that are available to him around the spring of every year, and he asked me casually one day if he should stay at the current school he was at or apply at a few of these head coaching positions he had seen pop up.

Because I have been married to my husband for fifteen years, and I am accustomed to his restless and adventurous spirit, I shrugged his comment off and told him with a bit of an eye roll: “You’re staying at the school you’re at.” End of discussion.

However, he decided he wanted to put in for a few positions, so again he brought up the idea of possibly coaching at a different school. I shrugged again and told him to apply to the jobs if he wanted. I figured that these were opportunities that would go nowhere. I had seen it happen many times, and I rationalized that he would end up back at his same school for the next school year.

But that is not what happened. Through a series of events, my husband was contacted for interviews by two of the schools he applied at. At one of the schools, he interviewed for the same position as a coaching friend of his. His friend got the position, and then did something surprising: he offered Keith the assistant position.

My initial reaction when Keith brought this opportunity to my attention was that he shouldn’t take it. The move would not be a promotion, and the school was far away. There would be no sense in my husband taking that job unless we moved nearer to the school. And the school was in a place we had no interest living in.

We talked about this and both came to the conclusion that it wouldn’t be advantageous for him to take this job, but then the Holy Spirit began to work on our hearts. Friday of the week that my husband had mentioned this possibility to me, I opened up my devotion that morning. I don’t even remember what the devotion said or how God made this clear to me, but I suddenly felt this idea wash over me that we were to move.

My husband also told me that he felt like he should take the job. With only the weekend to make a decision and notify the school, we both prayed about it, and that Sunday we had the prayer team at our church pray for us. We did not get a scroll from heaven with detailed instructions or an angel descending down telling us God’s directive, but by the end of the weekend, we both felt that we were to go.

Embarking on a New Move

Initially, there was excitement as we made plans. We had to fix up our house and put it up for sale. We would need to locate a house in the new county. My husband had to notify his current school and his lacrosse program. We scurried to follow this new direction we felt God was leading us.

But, I have to be honest, in the midst of the plans there was some confusion and sadness on my part. I felt a little bit of bitterness towards God. He was leading us somewhere where I had never expected he would. Sure, in my current situation, God had either closed ministry opportunities or told me not to take them, but I accepted it believing that he would open them again. We were comfortable. I didn’t expect that He would ever move us on.

Even though God told me when I prayed about it that the reason we were to go was for “something better,” I didn’t know if I could believe him. I couldn’t see on the outside how anything better could await us in this place I didn’t want to go.

I loved our stately brick house in the neighborhood we had scoped out over a year long process. It represented everything that I had wanted at the time: status, acceptance, and safe environment for the raising of my children. And we would have to leave it all behind.

And — a few months into our house listing, when I got pregnant (again, a surprise that I did not expect), I was rattled by how out of control I was with everything. I know some of you reading this may be thinking, Get over yourself! Give up control! But I can tell you, I struggled.

Yet, however difficult it might be for us to initially let go of something God asks of us — a ministry position, a relationship, a material possession, control — while the process of giving it up may be one we struggle with, the end result is peace and joy.

As Charles Stanley notes in chapter 9 of The Blessings of Brokenness, “When we give up something to which we are clinging and counting as more valuable than our obedience to God, he often gives us something in return that is even far more valuable or beneficial to us. At times, but not always, it is the very thing we gave up. At other times, it is something different but better” (128).

The Blessings of Obedience

Let me tell you what has happened since we made this move that I had mixed emotions about.

We’ve only been here for a few months, and some of the very things I was the most worried about have been the place of unexpected blessing. Yes, I have had some very lonely moments transitioning into a new community, but here’s some of the “better” God has already orchestrated:

  • We have a brand new house. Our old house was getting up there in years, and every week we were having things in the house break down that we didn’t have the money to fix. With our one-income status, we simply couldn’t afford to keep up the house in the way we would want to. We are now in a house that has new fixtures and is a new structure, so we aren’t constantly have to deal with things breaking down.
  • We found a church we loved right away. It had taken us three years to find our old church home, and I anticipated that our new church hunt would be similar. Therefore, I could not have been more surprised to find that the first church my husband recommended was one that would be the one that we felt we were meant to attend.
  • I was surprised to find that I liked our surroundings. As much as I loved our old neighborhood, it was getting very crowded in the area we were in, and I longed for a little more serenity. Lately, for whatever reason, I had been missing the coastal landscape I had grown up in. I had longed for the sight for the ocean again. Though we don’t live near the ocean, we live near a large system of lakes and have one in our neighborhood. There is even a lake that you can see from the edge of our property in the land behind us.
  • My children have been doing fine in their new school environments. They have been very resilient during this move, and I haven’t heard too many complaints about what we left behind.

I have only mentioned material things, but the best blessing of all so far is that in moving I was released from a stressful situation where I felt like I was at a dead-end. I wasn’t making gains spiritually there any longer and felt pulled down by relationships that were no longer helping to further me on the path God had for me.

A New Start for Our Family

I don’t want to sugarcoat things. There has been sacrifice and hardship along the way. And sometimes I have found myself in the last few months longing for the familiar, but I have found myself slowly letting go of what I thought I wanted so much.

The other day, my husband casually mentioned the name of the area we are living in: New Hope.

Even though there are various signs around with the name, I had missed it because the only name I had noticed up to that point was the name in the nearby town and our new address.

New Hope. Let me tell you, friends, after the journey I have been on the last few years, I could not be more excited to end up in a place with that name. I believe that it’s no coincidence. It’s like a further reassurance from God about the things He plans to do while we’re here.

And we’ve been given more than the a name like New Hope to make us think that.

Questions to Consider: Has God asked you to give up something in the past, and it turned out to be a decision that led to blessing in your life? Is there something He is asking you to give up now?

This concludes our book study on The Blessings of Brokenness: Why God Allows Us to Go Through Hard Times. We will have a live video chat over the last two chapters this Monday, July 11th @ 9 PM EST.  Click the video chat link to subscribe for free or watch the replay. Thanks so much for joining us! I hope this study has ministered to you. We’d love to hear how the book has blessed you. You can leave a comment here or share your story with us through the blog contact page.

Carol Whitaker

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

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Avoiding a Place of Spiritual Stagnancy by Allowing God to Work on Us (Blessings of Brokenness Book Study)

THE BLESSINGS OF BROKENNESS (4)

In HGTV’s “Fixer Upper,” married couple Chip and Joanna Gaines take run-down houses and fix them up into beautiful, livable spaces.

In each episode, the Gaines show a client three different properties (generally houses in need of repair) and then remodel the house to the client’s specifications within a specific budget.

The condition of the houses varies depending on the episode; however, I was surprised to see one particular segment where the clients selected a “shotgun house” from the 1920s. After the Gaines discovered that the property was already sold to an investor who was tearing the houses down (but willing to give the dilapidated house away to anyone willing to move it), the buyers still decided to opt for this house and have it moved to another piece of property.

I say “surprised” because the house was in such terrible condition I couldn’t imagine how it would survive a transfer to another location. I made the comment to my husband that the house just needed to be bulldozed down.

However, to the Gaines’ credit, they very carefully moved this old, forgotten house, set it on a new foundation, and went to work bringing new life to the ancient structure. Chip had to evaluate what could stay as far as structure and what had to be added. I was amazed at the care and effort that went into restoring this house that, in my opinion, should have been condemned.

It got me thinking about the fact that God comes in and does the same kind of restoration work in us.

Chapter 7 of Charles Stanley’s The Blessings of Brokenness reveals just how much effort God is willing to go with each of us in the breaking and rebuilding process. While we may look just as unusable and worn out as the shotgun house in the “Fixer Upper’ episode, God looks at us and sees what we can be made into — not what is already there.

A few things we can keep in mind about the restoration process:

1. There is a plan to the breaking process.

Just as Chip had to survey the shotgun house in its current state and determine what needed to be ripped out and rebuilt, God does the same with us.

However, as Stanley notes in The Blessings of Brokenness, God’s breaking process is controlled (86). What looks to us like total chaos is in the total control of our Maker. He looks at us and knows what elements are rotten and broken — what needs to be stripped away — and what can remain.

Though it may not look initially to us like any progress is being made, as our Master Carpenter rips out old pieces of us, He has an end result in mind. It looks ugly before the renewal and new construction can begin — but the final result will be worth it.

2. Part of the plan is that God “targets the areas” that keep us from relying on Him.

As part of the breaking process, God identifies areas that are not contributing to your growth. As Stanley observes, you may already know the area of your life that God is “drawing a circle around” because it forms a barrier between you and God, and He will destroy and remove that area (90). Just like a house cannot be enhanced by old rotten boards or materials, there are places we have that God needs to rip out so that He can put in fresh, new materials.

We know when something hinders a free flow of the Spirit of God in us. We know when something stops us from witnessing or from having victory in our daily lives. We know when something consumes our attention, disrupts our peace, or magnetizes our thinking. God certainly knows when this happens, and he knows far sooner and more completely than we know it! (The Blessings of Brokenness, 90)

When we know God is targeting an area, what should we do? We should submit to the process and give up our “right” to have a final say as to the outcome. As Stanley suggests, we should ask God, “What would you have me do?” (103). Unfortunately, the rebuilding process for many of us is one that we want but also resist because it is so painful.

As much as we want to be used by God and be built into His perfect masterpiece, we are human. We don’t want the pain. We don’t like the methods God uses, and we want control.

But, as Stanley warns, if we resist, it will not go well for us. The pressure may intensify, and if we resist long enough, we will face a place of stagnancy in our Christian walk. God leaves us in the state we’re in. And there’s nothing worse than an unfinished masterpiece. I know because I lived in a house for years that was unfinished. My dad started the project of building my childhood home but left it undone for many years.

Living with particle board floors, knob-less doors, scaffolding outside the house, and constant construction chaos wore on me. I always longed for a completed house that we could be proud of. There was a sense of closure inside when I saw the house finished my senior year of high school.

Just like the satisfaction I felt when I saw my own house finished, the clients in the “shotgun house” episode of “Fixer Upper” also expressed that same satisfaction when they saw their house finished. The aging wood had been ripped out and replaced. New drywall, plumbing, and electrical had been installed.

The floors had been sanded down, stained and restored to their former glory. New cabinets, paint and fixtures sparkled in every room. It was astounding to see the transformation. Who would have thought such a reformation possible?

The question is, when we feel like God is circling an area of our life for transformation — fear, pride, self-sufficiency, whatever it may be — will we yield to the breaking or resist?

We can be assured that “God makes no mistakes in the breaking process … “ (104). Ultimately, His purpose is not to “destroy us, but to bring us to a position of maximum wholeness, maturity and usefulness in His kingdom” (102).

Questions to Consider: Is there an area of your life God may be drawing a circle around? What is He telling you in regards to this area?

Book Study: This post is part of a five week book study over Charles Stanley’s The Blessings of Brokenness: Why God Allows Us to Go Through Hard Times. We will have a live video chat over chapters 7 & 8 this Tuesday, July 5, @ 9 PM. Please note the date change from our usual Monday night time to Tuesday to account for the July 4 holiday. Click the video chat link to subscribe or watch the replay. To join us for next our last week, read chapters 9, 10 & Epilogue by next Friday, July 8.

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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How Obedience Leads to Spiritual Maturity in You and Others (Blessings of Brokenness Book Study)

THE BLESSINGS OF BROKENNESS (3)

In The Emperor’s New Groove, a Disney animated movie, the selfish Emperor Kuzco is turned into a llama by a former palace advisor. Through a course of twists and turns, he is helped by a kind llama herder, Pacha.

Ironically, Pacha is the same llama herder that the emperor is cruel to at the beginning of the movie. He summons Pacha to his palace to announce that Pacha’s entire village will be wiped out (including Pacha’s home) to make way for his summer residence.

Pacha stands up the emperor and tries to reason with him, but to no avail. Kuzco is determined that Pacha’s village is the most ideal spot for his second residence and cares little about who he steps on in order to make his desires a reality.

However, after Kuzco is turned into a llama, he goes through a series of unfortunate events (including being chased by ferocious jaguars, getting caught in violent storms, and being pursued by the revenge and power-hungry ex-palace employee). Through these string of trials, he loses his arrogance and self-absorption.

He begins to befriend Pacha and become more aware of the needs of the people around him. By the end of the movie, when he is changed from a llama back into his human form, his outer body is not the only thing that has changed. Not only does he alter his plans to bulldoze Pacha’s village, he also becomes a kinder ruler.

The suffering he goes through on his harrowing adventures affects him personally by making him a nicer person but also affects the people in his realm.

Even though the movie is a silly illustration and doesn’t operate from a Christian base, we can take away the obvious implication as Christians in our faith walk and ministry: ultimately, the work God does in us isn’t just for us. It’s for other people, too.

Abraham and the Israelites: People God Used to Bless Others

In chapter 6 of The Blessings of Brokenness, Charles Stanley uses the example of the Israelites to illustrate this point. The Hebrew people had to go through the desert to get to the Promised Land. They went through the ultimate breaking process: leaving behind the land and customs they knew, going through many trials and hardships in the wilderness, and learning who God was and trusting Him for their resources. But their time in the wilderness, although not fun, helped to bring them to spiritual maturity.

However, as Stanley says, God’s purpose for the Israelites in leaving Egypt wasn’t just for their spiritual maturity and deliverance but to fulfill a promise that God had made to their ancestor Abraham long before — that it was “through his family, all the nations of the world would come to know God. They were to be a ‘light to the nations’ ” (81). Stanley notes further:

[God] set before his [Israelite] people a phenomenal objective. He says, ‘If you do what I tell you to do — if you are totally obedient to me — I will bless you … and make you a blessing.’ God’s purpose for breaking you and bringing you to a place of wholeness and spiritual maturity is so that he might use you as his tool in bringing still others to wholeness and spiritual maturity. He teaches us so that we might teach others. He imparts his insights to us so that we might share them with others. He comforts and encourages us to that we might provide comfort and encouragement to others. He gives us spiritual gifts so that we might use them to help others. He gives us financial prosperity so that we might benefit others and provide the means for the Gospel to reach them. (81, 82)

Whoa! We see in the example of the Israelites that their submission to God’s plan (even with a lot of mistakes and fumbling along the way) not only led them to a better understanding of God and a place of blessing, it was intended to teach others about God as well. And not just a few people. All the nations.

We see then that there is a wonderful correlation not only between the blessing we individually receive when we submit to the process of brokenness, but there is a blessing that people around us receive when we submit to it and share with them what God is doing in our life. God’s plans for us will ultimately affect other people in a positive way as well.

A Flip Side to Obedience: Choosing not to Surrender to Brokenness or God’s Blessings

I can’t help but think as I read Stanley’s words that there is a flip side to this — which is, that if we are resistant or disobedient, not only will that affect our own spiritual walk, it will have an effect on others as well. As Stanley has stated in other places in his book, we have a choice as to how we respond to brokenness. We can grow bitter, resentful, angry or rebellious, or we can surrender to God and trust that He knows what He’s doing.

Obviously, God doesn’t need us to complete His plans, but He chooses to include us. Why wouldn’t we want to be used in His design? Invariably, His version of how we can best be used is going to be way different than ours. But it’s going to be better.

Through the process of the last few years, as I have embarked on my journey to healing, I have felt at certain points that there were people I needed to go to and share my story with. I had no idea why God wanted me to have conversations with these individuals, and I fought it.

I felt that I should wait to speak until I had all of the pieces put together and figured out. I was still so much in process that I felt strange talking to people about what I was going through. I didn’t know or understand what God was doing, and I felt selfish sitting down with various people and telling my story. Why would they want to listen? What could they possibly get out of it?

However, those conversations helped to clarify things for me as I talked more about my experiences, but I believe in looking back that God also used those conversations to impact others. I didn’t get much feedback from individuals after I talked with them, and even though it was confusing to me at the time, I know that God was up to something — that perhaps those people needed to hear a portion of my story for the same reasons I needed to live it.

Remaining Surrendered in Your Christian Walk and Ministry

Unfortunately, the breaking and surrendering isn’t a one-time process; it’s a life-long process. I can survey the mountaintop experiences I’ve had over the past few years and want to camp there and say, “God, look how I surrendered to you!” But there are new things He is doing in my life and fresh ways He wants me to surrender, and I have to make those daily choices of embracing what He wants over what I want.

And it isn’t easy. But as Stanley notes at the end of chapter 6, only when we do so can we live in the exciting purpose God has for us. There’s no better or more fulfilling way to live.

Questions to Consider: What are some ways that your obedience in the past has blessed others? How might God be calling you to use your brokenness to minister to others? What area can you step out in today?

Book Study: This post is part of a five week book study over Charles Stanley’s The Blessings of Brokenness: Why God Allows Us to Go Through Hard Times. We will have a live video chat over chapters 5 & 6 this Monday, June 27, @ 9 p.m. EST. Click the video chat link to subscribe or watch the replay. To join us for next week, read chapters 7 & 8 by next Friday, July 1.

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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Letting Your Dream Die In Order to See It Live (Blessings of Brokenness Book Study)

THE BLESSINGS OF BROKENNESS (2)

“Before any of us can fully live as God created us to live, we must first die to our desire to control our own lives or live life according to our plan and will” (The Blessings of Brokenness, 28).

Sometime this past summer, before the air grew crisp and the scents and sights of autumn were in the air, I took my kids outside to let them play in the backyard.

As I sat observing them while they ran around and played, I watched my daughter beat a small tree with a stick. Pretty soon my son joined in with a stick he had found, following his sister’s lead.

“What are you doing?” I asked after a few minutes.

“I want it to be fall,” my daughter said as she continued to beat determinedly at the slender trunk, trying to shake the green leaves off.

“Oh sweetie, you can’t make the leaves come off before they are ready,” I said. As I spoke, I thought of the spiritual lesson that could be taken from my children’s insistence on creating a season that hadn’t yet come. Don’t many of us do the same thing?

A Desire to Be Used in Music Ministry Out of Season

Some time ago, I sat in a church service with an uneasy heart. There was a music opportunity that I wanted to be a part of, but I felt unsettled in my spirit. That very afternoon, I was scheduled to meet with a new worship pastor, and yet I felt a tugging deep inside. A pause.

During the course of the sermon, it began to dawn on me that perhaps I wasn’t to walk into this opportunity. Perhaps I was to say no. The pastor didn’t mention music in his message or say anything about my specific situation.

Instead, he gave a story about his brother having a choice from the school about taking a 7th grade math course over and not wanting to do it, but his parents insisted on it because his math skills were weak. And I knew right then that there was “a 7th grade math” that God wanted me to take. To do so was going to take discipline and was going to be a lot less fun than singing on a stage and writing songs.

There was a training that I was to go to instead and project I was to finish. I was going to try to do all of that and music at the same time, but I began to get the sense that I wasn’t to go that route. I agonized over that decision all afternoon. I even went to the meeting hoping that maybe I heard wrong during the sermon.

But like a bell tolling in my spirit, the ring getting louder and louder throughout the day, I knew that God was telling me “no” in regards to music. And it was the hardest no I have ever had to accept. I didn’t like the idea that God could control my talents. Yes, I wanted to surrender and do all of the things that you hear about in worship songs. But when it came down to it, I only wanted to surrender if it was easy and God didn’t ask for hard things from me.

I wanted to be in a different season than the one I was in.

It wasn’t until later that I remembered a phrase I had heard once in a sermon: sometimes you have to kill something first to make it live.

A Test of Faith: When God Asks You to “Kill” a Talent or a Dream

In Genesis 22, as Charles Stanley notes in The Blessings of Brokenness, Abraham is instructed to sacrifice his only son. Obviously, I am not instructing you to murder anyone and neither is God — and that’s not a discussion we’ll be getting into in this post — but Abraham was asked to step out in faith.

Abraham obeyed and prepared to do what God asked. As he was preparing the altar, his son asked him, “Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” (v. 7). Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son” (v. 8). Right at the moment when he was going to plunge a knife into Isaac, an angel intervened and offered Abraham a ram. Verses 14-17 tell us:

And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called the name of that place, ‘The Lord will provide’; as it is said to this day, ‘on the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.’ And the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven and said, ‘By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore.’

Abraham believed the whole time that he was being asked to sacrifice his son that God would provide a lamb. And sure enough, when he presented all he had to God in the ultimate test of faith, God came through for him.

Clearly, God has our good in mind even if what He instructs us to do initially looks like a death of some kind. A death of a dream. A death of our reputation. A death of an opportunity. We can trust that where He leads us, even if it means giving up something precious, will end in good. He will provide when we give up all we have.

In fact, His plans for us will be better than those we come up with ourselves. As Stanley observes:

If we are willing to give up striving [after our own goals] and seeking after them no matter the cost, and instead, turn to God, he will satisfy all of our longings for the future with perfect fulfillment. If we are willing to give up defining our own future, he’ll give us something better than we could ever arrange, manipulate, or create. (34)

… You can never lose in surrendering your all to God. You can never lose in giving yourself away. (41)

But we have to trust even when that means giving up something very promising or attractive that we don’t want to let go of.

Being Obedient to God and Accepting the Season He Has Us in

As of now, I am still not in music. I believe that is yet to come, but let me share with you what did happen as a result of giving up that promising opportunity two years ago:

  • I went to a training that answered the spiritual questions I was battling with at the time. Many of the principles I learned in that training are those I write about here on this blog and share with you on a regular basis.
  • I worked on a project I had started that involved going back to my former school community. During the process of going through that project, God revealed to me the wounds I was struggling with (mainly, an addiction to approval). Identifying those wounds helped me find inner healing and helped me be able to find forgiveness and restoration where there had been guilt and shame in my past.
  • God worked on my pride and my competitive spirit by placing me in a different position in the church. He worked out some of my unfavorable traits week after week by putting me in a position of service to others rather than a position of prominence.
  • God gave me the directive to start a blog to share my journey and story of healing with other women. The time and energy I had to invest to learn the world of blogging was more than I would have been able to invest in if I had been in music.
  • As a result of the school project that I really didn’t want to do, God opened a door I did not expect by orchestrating a job change for my husband and a move for our family to a new community. Although I didn’t know it at the time, we were not meant to stay at the church we were at but instead were intended to move to an entirely different area.

Friend, as Nicki Korzaiz emphasizes in 5 Habits of a Woman Who Doesn’t Quit, we need to “accept the season” that God has put us in. Perhaps we are in a season of refinement or hardship, and we don’t like it. But He knows what we are going through, and if we believe that He truly has our best interests in mind and will make more out of us than we can in our own strength, we can submit to the hardship knowing that there is a blessing on the other side.

As Abraham reasoned when he bound his son to the altar in obedience, God can provide a lamb where there is none or bring the dead back to life (Genesis 22:7,8; Hebrews 11:17-19). Therefore, there is no sacrifice too great — not even that which we perceive as the death of a dream or our most precious talent or possession — because God can give to us or resurrect whatever it is He asks us to lay down.

Questions to Consider: Is there something God is asking you to put aside or sacrifice at the moment? Are you questioning His wisdom because it doesn’t make any sense? Leave a comment below.

Book Study: This post is part of a five week book study over Charles Stanley’s The Blessings of Brokenness: Why God Allows Us to Go Through Hard Times. We will have a live video chat over chapters 3 & 4 this Monday, June 20, @ 9 p.m. EST. Click the video chat link to subscribe or watch the replay. To join us for next week, read chapters 5 & 6 by next Friday, June 24.

Carol Whitaker

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

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