Does God Love Me When I Fail?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three observations we can make:

1. Jesus reaches for Peter in his failure.

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

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

2. God loves us enough to correct us.

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

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

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

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

What Can We Do When We Fail?

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

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

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

Carol Whitaker

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

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Waiting on the Promises of God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

While I’m Waiting, by John Waller

I’m waiting, I’m waiting on You, Lord

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

Though it is painful, but patiently I will wait

 

I will move ahead bold and confident

Taking every step in obedience

While I’m waiting, I will serve You

While I’m waiting, I will worship

Wile I’m waiting, I will not faint

I’ll be running the race even while I wait

 

I’m waiting, I’m waiting on You, Lord

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

Though it’s not easy, no, but

faithfully I will wait

Yes, I will wait

 

And I will move ahead, bold and confident

I’ll be taking every step in obedience, yeah

 

While I’m waiting, I will serve You

While I’m waiting, I will worship

While I’m waiting, I will not faint

 

And I will serve You while I’m waiting

I will worship while I’m waiting

I will serve You while I’m waiting

I will worship while I’m waiting

I will serve You while I’m waiting

 

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

I will serve you while I’m waiting

 

I will worship while I’m waiting

 I will serve You while I’m waiting

I will worship while I’m waiting

Carol Whitaker

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

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Being Prepared for God’s Promises

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carol Whitaker

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

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4 Things to Help Get Us Through Our Storm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Jesus showed up differently than they expected.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friend, I don’t know where you are as you reading this, but I know that your struggle may be real and hard and relentless. But I know that Jesus knows, He sees, and He cares. I love these words from L.B. Cowman’s Streams in the Desert: “Difficulty is the very atmosphere of miracle — it is miracle in its first stage. If it is to be a great miracle, the condition is not difficulty but impossibility. The clinging hand of His child makes a desperate situation a delight to Him.”

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

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

Carol Whitaker

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

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Help for the Hard Days

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I love running.

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

running meme

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Stop and drink in His Word:

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

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

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

Jamie Wills

Jamie Wills

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

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A Love Note: How God Shows His Love for Me

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“Are you the coach’s wife?” A woman standing next to me asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But something quiet inside kept pushing me to go.

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

But we made it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In a love note to me.

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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How to Keep Going When You Want to Give up

girl-in-sunset

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trusting God in Our Difficult Circumstance

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carol Whitaker

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

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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 three 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 three children.

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