The Faith to Overcome Life’s Storms

umbrella-2603995_1280Some people in the Bible inspire me but also intimidate me a little. I think about Paul throwing a serpent in the fire, Daniel praying with the windows open in a pagan kingdom, and Esther seeking a meeting with a king to save her people  — and I feel small in comparison.

However, Peter is a person I can relate to. He often said the wrong thing or messed up in a big way, and yet, Jesus loved him. In looking at the story of Peter walking on water, we can find encouragement for those times when our faith feels small and our obstacles big. When we want to follow hard after Jesus, but we feel overwhelmed and pulled under by the trials we face. In Matthew 14:28-32 (NLT), Peter sees the Lord walking on the water and asks to come out to Him. Jesus consents, and Peter leaves the boat to walk on the water towards Jesus:

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

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

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

Peter’s bluster and fortitude evaporate rather quickly. And it runs out because he takes his eyes off of his Savior and fixes them on the waves, the wind, and the precariousness of his circumstances. However, when he calls out for Jesus’ rescue, Jesus immediately comes to his aid and pulls him up. Jesus isn’t rattled or put out by Peter’s unbelief. He chides him and says, “You have so little faith. Why did you doubt me?” (v. 31). However, He does so to seize the moment to teach Peter, not demean him. Also, we see that Jesus doesn’t cast Peter out of His presence. Jesus doesn’t tell Peter his failures prevent him from being in relationship with him.

What we can learn from this exchange:

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

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

Not too long ago, I read a Proverbs 31 Ministries devotional written by Tracie Miles where she gives a story about an obstacle course she went to with her daughter. When she climbed up to begin the course, she looked down and chickened out. Her daughter swung across the ropes with ease — and yet, Tracie couldn’t get over her fear. That is the way with our walks with God. He keeps taking us deeper and deeper until we are positioned in a place where we have to be completely dependent on Him. We look at the ropes and the ground below (or in the case of Peter, the wind and the waves), and we panic. We’re in way beyond our comfort level — and that’s how He wants it to be. He wants us in a place where we have to rely on Him, but it is not comfortable for us. We want to climb down where the heights aren’t quite so dizzying. However, it’s when we walk in trust that He enables us to have the power to do His work.

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

2. Jesus helps us in our failures.

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

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

Faith Means Believing Despite Our Circumstances

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

My daughter had had a virus all week where she broke out in spots. We had had numerous commitments and events for the kids’ school on top of that which left me exhausted. When we walked in the doors, my son told me his stomach was hurting. So, I took my other two to class and decided my son needed to sit with me in the service. Therefore, I sat out in the foyer with him and watched the broadcast of the service on a screen.

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

I left the service renewed. My son’s stomach still hurt and none of my circumstances had changed, but I knew that it was going to be OK. We stopped by my health teacher husband’s classroom after the service. As we were sitting in the classroom talking while the kids were running around, my husband turned on some worship music. He “just happened” to play Third Day’s “Mountain of God.” It’s an older song, but the lyrics say, “Thought that I was all alone / Broken and afraid / But You were there with me / Yes, you were there with me.” Tears came to my eyes because here God was reassuring me a second time, as he was in the sermon, “Have faith. Don’t doubt. I am with you. You’re on the right path.”

Conclusion:

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Adapted from post published August 16, 2017.

Carol Whitaker

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

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There Are No Shortcuts to God’s Promises

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My kids own a Charlie Brown Christmas board game that has a winding path from the start to the finish line. Although there are many different actions that a player may have to do (depending on what square he lands on in his journey), a player can land on North Pole slides that shoot him up several spaces ahead. These slides give the player a distinct advantage by allowing him to bypass several squares in one turn and get further ahead than he can just by rolling the dice on a turn.

Shortcuts are a positive in more than just my kids’ board games. I am always looking for shortcuts to make life as a stay-at-home mom of three kids more manageable and less overwhelming. I get excited when I can make a meal in less time, drive a shorter route to a destination when I am running late, or locate a simpler set of instructions to explain a concept to my kids to help them understand their homework. In these ways, shortcuts are desirable and give me valuable time and energy that I can spend on another task.

When Shortcuts Aren’t a Positive

However, shortcuts aren’t always good. When we cut corners to arrive at an intended goal but do so in a way that is wrong — that’s when shortcuts aren’t helpful to us and can actually hinder our growth. Particularly, spiritually, when we’ve been on a journey to a promise God has given us a long time and despair that we’ll ever reach the place God has for us, we can be tempted to take shortcuts, rather than the longer route God is pointing out to us.

At the end of Ruth 4, we see that Naomi has arrived at her intended destination. She left Moab a bitter woman grieving over the death of her sons and her shattered life. However, she transforms into a woman who has a place of rest and security in the family of Ruth and Boaz. She has the financial provision she needs (no more stressful days eking out a living), and her arms are full with a precious grandson.

So, how does Naomi move into what God intends for her? What can we learn from Naomi about moving from a place of bitterness to a place of fullness without compromising and taking shortcuts?

1. We walk in God’s way despite our feelings.

In Ruth 1:20-21, on the heels of the tragic death of her sons, Naomi reveals that she believes that the Lord’s hand has turned against her: “ ‘Don’t call me Naomi,’ she told them. ‘Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The LORD has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune on me.”

Clearly, with these words we see a woman who does not like her situation, but she does not turn away from God. While she may have found every excuse not to return back to God, Naomi decides that she has no other place to go and accepts God’s hand in her affliction. Similarly, we will have times when we don’t like what is happening in our lives or will struggle to trust what God tells us. And yet, even in those times, we trust Him instead of taking the easier way out.

Ezekiel is another such example of a man who trusted God despite his outward circumstances. Ezekiel’s life was disrupted and thrown into upheaval when he was called to be a prophet to the rebellious nation of Israel. Up to that point, he served as a priest, and his life was humming along quite nicely. Then, God asked Ezekiel to do some pretty strange actions and serve as a living representation of the difficult message God wanted to give to Israel. God told Ezekiel that the people would not listen, but that he was to go anyway. In response to God’s instructions, Ezekiel says in Ezekiel 3:14, 15: “The Spirit then lifted me up and took me away, and I went in bitterness and in the anger of my spirit, with the strong hand of the LORD on me. I came to the exiles who lived at Tel Aviv near the Kebar River. And there, where they were living, I sat among for seven days — deeply distressed.”

Clearly, Ezekiel is distraught over the message he has been asked to give. Although he wants to obey God, he knows that the message will not be well received. We can almost imagine him saying to God: Really, God? Why are you sending me to say this? Don’t you care about how I am going to be treated when I do what you ask of me? Are you trying to ruin my life?

Ezekiel and Naomi’s situations differ in that Ezekiel did not enter into affliction because of his choices. He was a faithful servant of God and God shook up his world with some very difficult assignments. He suffered persecution because he walked in God’s plan whereas it is highly probable that Naomi’s family swerved from God’s plan by going to Moab (we aren’t given all the details), and yet, Naomi is used mightily by God when she returns to Him. However, both individuals show us that what it looks like to keep following God even when He allows situations we would not have chosen for ourselves or calls us to tasks we don’t want to do.

In his analysis of Ruth, Bob Deffinbaugh says this: “Doing what is right in God’s eyes requires faith for we often cannot see how doing the right thing will produce what God has promised.” John Piper says it another way, “If we could learn to wait and trust in God, all our complaints against God would prove untrue.” Certainly, neither Naomi nor Ezekiel knew how their situations would turn out, but chose to do what was right believing that God would work out all the details for their good in the end. Similarly, we can’t always see how our right actions will benefit us, but we should keep doing them knowing that they are leading us to God’s promises.

2. Instead of allowing our bitterness to make us turn inward, we keep showing up for God’s purposes.

When we feel angry or resentful, it’s natural to want to hibernate or take a break from serving others. But we find healing when we continue moving forward and keep an “others mindset.” Naomi is in pain at the beginning of her journey and has gone through a great tragedy, but she continues to look out for others and orchestrates a marriage for her daughter-in-law, saying: “My daughter, I must find a home for you, where you will be well provided for” (Ruth 3:1).

Interestingly, when she reaches out and helps others, she helps herself. It tells us in chapter 4 that she is nourished and sustained by Obed, Ruth and Boaz’s son. The work she invests in ensuring the welfare of Ruth is that which, in turn, helps to restore her own soul. The woman who describes herself as “empty” in the first chapter brims with hope and happiness in the last chapter. Is it merely because her circumstances change? No, I don’t believe so. Certainly, her grandson brings her joy. However, she learns how to fill herself with the Lord. And though she lives to see her family fortunes restored and hold a grandson — her true joy comes when she chooses to accept God’s sovereignty and faithfully follow God despite her questions and her pain.

3. When tempted to veer from God’s path, we should remind ourselves that shortcuts don’t lead us to God’s promises.

When we are angry and resentful and believe we’ve that we’ve been dealt a bad hand, we can use our poor circumstances to justify poor choices and cut corners to get out of our circumstances and arrive at our intended goal.

Some commentators assert that Naomi tries to take a shortcut to her intended goal of provision for herself and Ruth by forcing a marriage between Boaz and Ruth. They believe that she instructs Ruth to seduce Boaz and argue that Ruth did more than lay at his feet on the threshing floor. But I don’t view Naomi’s advice in this way at all. From all we see of Boaz and Ruth’s conduct, both were concerned about acting honorably in all situations.

Ruth is careful to lay at his feet and wait for him to wake up. When he does wake up and enquires about who is at his feet, he makes no move to take advantage of her. Rather, he protects her by allowing her to remain at his feet until morning and then sends her out early to preserve her reputation. When the morning comes, she immediately goes home, as he instructs her to do, while he goes and follows the guidelines of the law in order to redeem the land and become Ruth’s guardian-redeemer and husband.

While Naomi’s plan for Ruth at the threshing floor is unusual, she works within the boundaries of God’s law at the time and does what she can to change their situation without deviating from God’s guidelines. In addition, she gives the advice that she does knowing that both Boaz and Ruth are virtuous and will do what’s right in the situation. Rather than resist against God’s instructions to us or forge our own path apart from His purposes, we end up where we’re intended to go when we submit to the instructions God gives us and don’t attempt to make our own plans apart from His.

Conclusion:

Naomi makes good choices when she returns to Judah, but do you know what I find the most encouraging about Naomi? Her story begins a different way. We might say that in turning back to Judah she recovered from a shortcut her family made. Even though her family made some mistakes in going to Moab, she still received God’s provision and blessing because she returned back. And the same is true of us. Maybe we’re in the wrong place at the moment and we need to make a U-turn. It’s not too late.

Maybe we’ve strayed to Moab, but like Naomi, we can come back and God still has great plans for us that are waiting to be fulfilled. God even graciously worked through the mistakes of Naomi’s family and worked all the details in Naomi’s life — good and bad — into His purposes. Had her family never gone to Moab, her son would not have married Ruth, Ruth would not have come with her to Bethlehem, Ruth would not have married Boaz, and Obed would not have been born. God would have found another way to achieve His purposes, but don’t you love that God used all the parts of Naomi’s life for her good? Satan wants us to believe that our mistakes and missteps have derailed us from the plans God has for us, and we can see here that we can turn around and go back to God. Even the bad choices we’ve made while in Moab are not too great to deter us from the plans He has for us.

However, when we’re on the right path, we can’t leap ahead to God’s promises without the journey God wants to take us through. Naomi returned to Bethlehem, but she didn’t fast track to God’s blessings in a day. She took a long journey with her daughters-in-law — one left along the way. Once in Bethlehem, she and Ruth scraped out a living as impoverished widows. Because she chose to travel God’s way in no way exempted her from hardship or trials.

In my kids’ Charlie Brown game, North Pole slides not only fast track players ahead, these same shortcuts work the other way as well. If you land on the other side of the shortcut, you slide backwards. In fact, when we first played the game, it took so long to end the game because as players we were constantly moving back and forth along these chutes that shot us forward and plunged us back. We eventually changed the rules so that players only go forward because it took too long the other way to get to the finish line!

What a very real picture of what it looks like to try to move ahead when God isn’t directing us in that way or has told us that we aren’t to take a certain step. Though God can certainly use our missteps in His plan, the “shortcuts” don’t really get us anywhere and prolong our journey. Instead, when we follow after God and go where He leads, what feels like the longer way will get us to where we need to go much faster than if we try to route around the difficult assignments He gives us and go an easier way.

Related Resources:

Ever been in a bad situation and it just gets worse? With this article and podcast episode, we conclude the series “Hope When You’re at the end of Your Rope: Lessons From Ruth on Trust, Surrender, and Healing.” In the study, we’ve examined the story of Ruth where we have drawn lessons on the hope we have when life gets hard, and we feel abandoned and in need of rescue.

Check out the previous posts in the series: Part 1: “Why God’s Way is Always Best,” Part 2: “Pushing Past Our Breaking Points to Do the Will of God,” Part 3: “The Blessings of Following God,” Part 4: “Trusting God When It Doesn’t Make Sense,” and Part 5: “Walking Into All God Has for You.”

Carol Whitaker

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

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Walking Into all God Has for You

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When we bought our first home, we found a house we loved and put in an offer. Naïve to real estate protocol, we started with a low offer. Apparently, too low. To our surprise, the seller did not accept our offer or even counter with a different offer. He ignored our offer altogether!

In the few days following our rejected offer, we scrambled to work with our real estate agent to present a higher offer. Though some negotiation had to happen between our realtor and the seller’s, we eventually reached a deal. Even after this exciting turn of events, we had plenty of hard work in front of us: we had to submit the necessary documents to obtain a loan for the house, complete all the paperwork and arrangements to close on the sale of our town house, and arrange to move into the house.

Though there were many steps involved to make the move happen, we gladly met each requirement and watched each roadblock melt away. We were motivated to do what we needed to do to move into our dream home at the time.

Boaz Meets Challenges to Make Ruth His Wife

In Ruth 4, Boaz works to make his desire to marry Ruth a reality. In the previous chapters, we watch as their interaction grows and Ruth makes a bold move to ask him to act as her guardian-redeemer. Even after he consents and the future for the two looks bright, Boaz must go to the closer male relative that can redeem the property and Mahlon’s widow and make his desire to be the guardian-redeemer known.

Meanwhile Boaz went up to the town gate and sat down there just as the guardian-redeemer he had mentioned came along. Boaz said, ‘Come over here, my friend, and sit down.’ So he went over and sat down.

Boaz took ten of the elders of the town and said, ‘Sit here,’ and they did so. Then he said to the guardian-redeemer, ‘Naomi, who has come back from Moab is selling the piece of land that belonged to our relative Elimelek. I thought I would bring the matter to your attention and suggest that you buy it in the presence of these seated here and in the presence of the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, do so. But if you will not, tell me, so I will know. For no one has the right to do it except you, and I am next in line.’

‘I will redeem it,’ he said.

Then Boaz said, ‘On the day you buy the land from Naomi, you also acquire Ruth the Moabite, the dead man’s widow, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property.’

At this the guardian-redeemer said, ‘Then I cannot redeem it because I might endanger my own estate. You redeem it yourself. I cannot do it.’ (Ruth 4:1-6)

This section of Ruth gives us a few lessons about tackling the mundane tasks in front of us to get to the good God has for us. A few takeaways:

1. Getting to what God has promised us involves obstacles.

Ruth and Boaz both desire to marry one another. Boaz consents on the threshing floor to be Ruth’s guardian-redeemer, but though he is willing, he cannot redeem the property and acquire Ruth as his wife unless the closer relative refuses to redeem the land.

Though Boaz does not know if the relative will redeem the land or not, he tackles the obstacles that lie before him admirably. He gets up the very next day, goes to the town gate, gathers 10 witnesses, and meets with the relative. He doesn’t wait until the following week or month, complain to friends about all the steps he will have to take to marry Ruth, or cower at the prospect of initiating a conversation with the other relative about Naomi’s land. In addition, we get the sense that he has thought about how to approach the matter and anticipated the relative’s moves. Though God ultimately orchestrates events in Boaz’s favor (as He has been doing all along), Boaz plays a willing part in the events that transpire.

2. God’s blessings come with a cost.

The other relative agrees to redeem the land when he first hears it is available and sees that the land will be an asset to him. However, when he learns that the redeeming of the land includes marriage to Ruth, he withdraws his offer. He determines that he cannot afford it, saying, “Then I cannot redeem it because I might endanger my own estate” (v. 6).

Clearly, the relative is only interested in the land when it benefits him — not when it “endangers” his interests. Perhaps, after he contemplates the cost of purchasing the land and supporting more family members, as well as having his inheritance divided up to more family members, he decides that the cost is too much. With his refusal, Boaz is free to redeem the land and acquire Ruth as his wife.

This passage is particularly poignant and instructive. Like the relative, we may be eager to receive the inheritance that God has for us, but not so eager when we learn of the cost associated with the inheritance. Not only do we face obstacles to arrive at our desired destinations, we will have other sacrifices along the way. Walking with Jesus can cause uncomfortable friction in relationships, may cause us others to despise or persecute us, and may cause us to give up dreams and aspirations in order to do what God asks of us.

The end result is so worth it, but when face-to-face with these costs, we may lose our initial enthusiasm and give up on what we believe God has for us. However, we see later in the passage that the cost Boaz gives is small in comparison to what he gains. While Boaz enjoys a prominent part in this tale and his deeds are declared, the relative so intent on preserving his own inheritance is not even given a name in this account of history. The message is clear: Whatever we give up to serve God will be richly compensated beyond our wildest expectations — but we must first surrender to God’s plans.

3. God’s blessings not only benefit us but also glorify God.

After Boaz overcomes the obstacles that stand in his way of marrying Ruth (and she, too, has overcome obstacles up to that point in leaving her family, accepting the challenges of widowhood, and moving to a new place), God blesses Ruth and Boaz with a son, Obed.

The women in town say this to Naomi after the birth of Obed: “Praise be to the LORD, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth” (Ruth 4:14, 15). Later, in verse 16, the women identify Obed as Naomi’s son. Why do they say what they do? With their words, they identify God’s hand at work in the details of the story and recognize Obed as a nourisher and sustainer of Naomi. His birth has restored her joy and caused her to be hopeful and optimistic about the future.

But she is not the only one nourished. Obed later becomes the father of Jesse, the father of David. God uses this little boy to grow up and father a famous king of Israel in the line of Christ! Quite fittingly, his name means “serving” or “servant.” Obed will serve God’s purposes. John Piper in his article on desiringgod.org says of the glory that Obed’s birth brings to God:

If this story of Ruth just ended in a little Judean village with an old grandmother hugging a new grandson, glory would be too big a word. But the author doesn’t leave it there. He lifts his eyes to the forests and the mountain snows of redemptive history … God was not only plotting for the temporal blessing of a few Jews in Bethlehem. He was preparing for the greatest king that Israel would have, David. And the name of David carries with it the hope of the Messiah, the new age, peace, righteousness, freedom from pain and crying and grief and guilt. This simple little story opens out like a stream into a great river of hope.

While we often get impatient and want God to work out the promise He has given us on our timetable, we see that God has a broader view of how an event will impact those around us. At the exact right time, God will work out His purposes in our lives. While we might want a promise fulfilled from God for our own benefit, God fulfills a promise not only to bless us but bring glory to His name and bless others.

The True Hero of the Story

In telling the story I did about my house sale, what I didn’t mention is that the roadblocks that came with the offer to the house came after a year-and-a-half long struggle to sell our townhome. As I reflect on this experience and past struggles where we overcame obstacles (sometimes in a very long, drawn out process), my thoughts are as follows: How did I have the energy? How in the world did I ever get through that?

It can feel a little daunting to read about the heroic actions of Boaz here (and Ruth in earlier chapters) who seemed to had such a pep in their step. However, it’s important to note that while they provide an example for us, they were human. They arrived at their destination because God got them there. As Piper notes, “The life of the godly is not a straight line to glory, but they do get there — God sees to it.” We get to where we need to be when we surrender to God’s plan, but it is God who gets us there. Boaz was noble, but he had insecurities about his age when it came to Ruth. In fact, it is possible that he counted himself out as a husband for Ruth because he was older. He almost seems relieved when she approaches him on the threshing floor and praises her for not going after younger men.

In addition, Ruth was a Moabite. It is possible that the other relative didn’t want to marry her for reasons beyond what I mentioned — one being that she was a foreigner and many believed in the village that Naomi’s sons died because they married foreigners while in Moab. Not only that, Ruth had been married for ten years before her husband died and they had no children. She was barren in her first marriage and could have been barren in her second. Clearly, when we consider Boaz’s age, Ruth’s previous barrenness — would either of them consider that God could use them to bear a son in the line of Jesus?

It tells us plainly that God enabled Ruth to conceive (Ruth 4:13). Just as God directed Ruth to work in Boaz’s field and orchestrated the details of their union, he enabled them to have a child. Chapter 4 ends with a genealogy and zooms out from the story of Naomi, Boaz, and Ruth to show us the people that went before and after their son. And that is the point. All of what they did served a greater purpose beyond themselves. While the thought that God can use us for His big purposes can make us feel pressure to be perfect, make it happen, we see that without God in the narrative, our best efforts are in vain.

Therefore, the hope the book of Ruth offers is this: God will make happen what we cannot for purposes beyond our imagination. If we’re tired and feeling unfit and unworthy to do what He has asked, He will provide the strength for us to get through. Though our weaknesses may be the very obstacle we worry will stand in the way for His promises to us, we see that no obstacle is too big for God and He delights in using the weak to display His glory.

We are inadequate. We aren’t enough. But God will use us if we are willing — and the obstacles in our journey are not too great as long as we put the journey in His hands.

Related Resources:

Ever been in a bad situation and it just gets worse? The last few weeks, we have been going through a series “Hope When You’re at the end of Your Rope: Lessons From Ruth on Trust, Surrender, and Healing.” In the study, we’ve examined the story of Ruth where we have drawn lessons on the hope we have when life gets hard, and we feel abandoned and in need of rescue.

Check out the previous posts in the series: Part 1: “Why God’s Way is Always Best,” Part 2: “Pushing Past Our Breaking Points to Do the Will of God,” Part 3: “The Blessings of Following God,” and Part 4: “Trusting God When It Doesn’t Make Sense.”

Carol Whitaker

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

More Posts

When You Need to Know Your Next Step of Faith

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After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.” — Matthew 2:9-10

Last week, I posted an article on the wise men and announced via Facebook that I would not be publishing any more this week on my blog as I was exhausted from all of the demands of trying to make Christmas happen.

And then when a family member got sick, and I found out on the morning of Christmas Eve that I would need to step in and host Christmas day at my house, I figured that writing was out of the question — for several more days.

I would be lying in a coma somewhere in my house with my children running around unsupervised, and I would need at least a week to get functional enough to write.

I certainly would not be penning any holiday-themed posts again until next year. Or so I thought. As I expressed to God in my quiet time, I was just. so. tired.

Falling into bed after midnight for the third night in a row feeling too worn out to string a coherent sentence together let alone a blog post, I woke up a few hours later refreshed with a list of thoughts in my head. A list of thoughts in my head about the wise men.

Turns out, I wasn’t quite done writing about them.

I felt God gave me a few more observations about the magi’s story that are pertinent for any time of the year that I would like to share before we move past the holiday season.

1. He speaks our language.

As Matthew Henry notes, God spoke to the wise men in a language that they could understand. They were most likely astrologers and sorcerers, well-versed in studying the heavens and reading signs. God lead them to his Son by announcing His birth with a star. He revealed Himself to them in a way that they could understand.

God does that with us, too. He promises to be found by those who seek Him, and He speaks your language. He knows what exact questions and doubts you have, gifts, struggles, conflicts. He fashioned your very brain. He knows what will draw you to Him.

My pastor once gave an example of when he plays hide-and-seek with his children. He knows how to hide in difficult places, but because his kids are small and give up easily if he doesn’t give them hints as to his hiding places, he lets them find him.

With God, it is the same way. He doesn’t remain hidden if we look for Him. I am a words person. I never really thought about it before, but that is how God primarily communicates to me. Through words.

I sometimes get around people and have a specific word flash into my mind. I get ideas for posts throughout the day or at night, and it will just be a download of thoughts. Oftentimes, a stream of words will come to me after watching a movie or reading a book. And I know it’s from Him.

Others have different ways of experiencing God. Some get pictures in their mind, dream vivid dreams, or feel Him best when they are running or out in nature.

There are a thousand ways God pours out Himself so we can find Him. It is because of His great love for us that He does it in a way that will communicate to us personally.

2. He chooses unlikely candidates.

As I mentioned in a previous post about a widow and the prophet Elijah, God chooses unlikely candidates. The wise men were astrologers from a far away Arabian land. There were several more pious men closer to the birth place of Jesus that God could have chosen, but God instead selected these particular magi.

In fact, the rather embarrassing reality is that these magicians were searching for Jesus when the Jews weren’t even looking for Him. The Jews knew of the prophecies and the predictions, and yet it was these magi that God used to follow His star to His Son.

God chose not only the wise men, but some unlikely subjects in the shepherds (Luke 2:15) and Simeon and Anna (Luke 2:25-38) to come and celebrate his son’s birth. The fact that He selected persons from all ranks and walks of life makes one message abundantly clear: The Gospel is for everyone. The Gospel isn’t just for church people. It wasn’t just for Jews, His chosen people. It was for common shepherds, sorcerers — everyone.

Although Christ is exclusive in the sense that He offers a narrow path of salvation — Himself — He extends this offer to all.

Again, we see through his placing of the star for the wise men to find, a Creator who greatly loves His creation. Not only does He let us find Him when we are looking, He initiates the search by coming to pursue each one of us.

3. The star isn’t just for the Christmas story.

I used to think that the star was just a unique feature of the Christmas story — something God deposited in His narrative to make the backdrop of his Son’s birth more beautiful. However, the star didn’t just guide those men on their journey. As Henry notes, the “day-star arises in the hearts” of all who seek Him.

I used to worry and sometimes do still worry that I will miss God’s will for me, but the truth is that if I am abiding in Him and walking with Him, I will know the way to go. Just like the star guided the wise men to Jesus’ home, by making Jesus at home in my heart and seeking out His guidance on a daily basis, He illuminates the way for me.

He shows me the path I should take by surrounding me with resources that answer my questions; by speaking directly to me during my quiet time through Scripture; by speaking through pastors and other mature Christian friends through sermons and conversations; by filling my mind with dreams that warn me of future events. These are all ways God leads me like a kind shepherd. As Isaiah 30:21 says: “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’ ”

Since launching a blog, I have experienced a whole lot of pressure. I have readers looking to me for new content every week and these questions fill my mind at times: What am I going to write about? How will I know what to say?

Without fail, when I spend time with Him, my mind floods with inspiration related to the Bible passage or devotional I just read or the lesson He is currently teaching me. My biggest problem is not having something to say but being diligent about writing down the thoughts when they come.

When I get lazy and don’t record them, I have to ask God for them again because I can’t remember what He told me.

Interestingly enough, the wise men’s star stopped once the wise men reached Herod, and they didn’t get discouraged but instead took it upon themselves to inquire about the child. And once they did, the star rose again for them.

As Henry notes, if we are doing what we have in our power to do, God graciously shows us the next step and makes his star reappear when we need it.

The wise men observed the star with great joy when it showed up again, and so it is with us on our journey with God when we are seeking answers, and He reveals what we have been seeking so we can take the next leg of the journey.

Just like He was faithful about guiding the wise men to Christ, He is faithful about guiding me.

A few days ago, I was flat-lined from holiday preparations. It wasn’t until God wakened me from my sleep to re-energize me and whisper His thoughts that a blog post began to take shape.

Just like the wise men were happy when the star that had disappeared showed back up in the sky, I got pretty excited when God gave me fresh illumination and direction for a piece I was too weary to write.

When I look for Him, He will show me the way.

As Jeremiah 29:13 says, “Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all of your heart.”

Related Bible Verses:

James 1:5: “If you want to know what God wants you to do, ask Him, and He will gladly tell you.”

Proverbs 8:17: “I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me.”

Deuteronomy 4:29: “But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul.”

*Adapted from post originally published December 28, 2014.

Related Resources:

Ever been in a bad situation and it just gets worse? Join us for our brand new series “Hope When You’re at the end of Your Rope: Lessons From Ruth on Trust, Surrender, and Healing.” In the study, we will look at the story of Ruth where will draw lessons the next few weeks on the hope we have when life gets hard, and we feel abandoned and in need of rescue.

Check out the following posts in the series: Part 1: “Why God’s Way is Always Best,” Part 2: “Pushing Past Our Breaking Points to Do the Will of God,” Part 3: “The Blessings of Following God,” and Part 4: “Trusting God When It Doesn’t Make Sense.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carol Whitaker

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

More Posts

The Blessings of Following God

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My daughter came home in an excited fluster the other day, relaying to me that her teacher introduced a new VIP section in her classroom where students doing their work and displaying good behavior will be selected to sit in the VIP section for a week. This special promotion comes with rewards such as honor in front of the other students, snacks during class, and homework passes.

Just like my daughter, we all like perks and benefits. When faced with challenges and trials in our lives, we may forget that we receive benefits when walking with Christ. Though following Him is costly, He rewards those who trust in Him. Matthew 10:39 tells us: “If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it” (NLT).

In other words, even though we come to points in our journey with Christ where we have to make the choice to leave behind what is comfortable and familiar to us and continually move forward into new territory, we find fulfillment and joy in doing so — even though it may feel that we are continually letting go and dying to what we want. I love what Jim Elliot says on this point: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

The Blessings of Trusting in God

In Ruth 2, we see the idea of being rewarded for the sacrifices we make in walking with Christ. Ruth reaches Bethlehem with Naomi and goes to work gleaning grain in Boaz’s field. Up to this point, the journey has been long and hard — and the difficulty hasn’t let up. As a widow, Ruth has limited status and options for work as a woman and a widow. She must go to glean behind workers in a hot field. As she is doing this, Boaz, the kind land owner, inquires about her. When He learns that she has followed Naomi to Bethlehem to care for her and follow God, He praises her: “May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge” (Ruth 2:12).

Boaz rightly identifies the recompense that comes from walking with God. What can we learn from his words about the rewards of taking refuge under the wings of God?

1. Inner peace.

One of the rewards of following Christ, wherever He may lead, is inner peace. Peace can be defined as tranquility, an absence of disturbing or oppressive thoughts or emotions. Even when His assignments are hard and we don’t understand where He is leading us, we have peace when we follow where He leads. Even though Ruth had to make a difficult choice in following Naomi into poverty and obscurity as a widow, she had peace in her heart knowing that she was following God. Though she might have encountered more in terms of physical sustenance and worldly comfort initially in going back to Moab, she would have suffered from a troubled conscience.

Similarly, when we follow Christ, we experience peace. We may be walking through great difficulty, and yet, have great calm in our spirits. Matthew 11:28, 29 says, “Come to Me, all you who are weary, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” The word “weary” refers to those weighted down or burdened in the passage, and the word “rest” means rest from labor and refreshment.

The passage invites those who are weary to come to Jesus and receive rest from Him. Yet, there is a second part of this passage that speaks of putting on the yoke of Jesus and learning from Him to receive rest. We receive peace and a reprieve from turbulent emotions not only by coming to God with our problems and burdens in prayer and reading His Word, but also by surrendering to His will. As Alexander MacLaren asserts, “The very act of coming to Christ brings repose, but that is not all … the path of rest is treading in Christ’s footsteps. ‘Learn of Me,’ it is the secret of tranquility.”

2. His counsel.

Earlier, before Boaz makes the comment he does about Ruth coming under God’s care, he gives the following instructions in Ruth 2:8, 9:

My daughter, listen to me. Don’t go and glean in another field and don’t go away from here. Stay here with the women who work for me. Watch the field where the men are harvesting, and follow along after the women. I have told the men not to lay a hand on you.

Similarly, God instructs those who follow Him and gives us counsel as to the best way to go. Psalm 32:8 says, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.” Not only do we have inner rest when we turn to Him and surrender to Him, we are also guided in the right way. We don’t have to figure out every situation or worry about what dangers lurk in the future. In listening to Him, we avoid pitfalls and situations that would cause us harm.

We will still face trouble and persecution, but whatever trouble we face is that which God has allowed to work out the best in us. As John Trapp says, “For it may befall a saint to share in a common calamity; as the good corn and weeds are cut down together, but for a different end and purpose.” Believers will encounter hardships, just like unbelievers, and following God’s way will even lead into certain hardships and trials; however, these hardships and trials will be those that God will work for good in our lives.

Ruth is given boundaries by Boaz, but she doesn’t resist against them. She understands that Boaz says what He does to protect her and help her. As believers, when we understand that God tells us what He does because He has His “loving eye” on us and desires to ensure our protection, we can submit to what He tells us — knowing that He is not restricting us unnecessarily or holding out on us. Rather, He acts as any loving father would in looking out for His children.

3. His care.

In addition to offering us peace that the world cannot provide and His counsel, He cares tenderly for His own. He knows that the journey is hard, and He not only walks with us, but He ministers to us and gives us what we need in the process.

After conversing with Ruth, at mealtime, Boaz further extends his kindness by inviting Ruth to join him, saying: ” ‘Come over here. Have some bread and dip it in the wine vinegar.’ When she sat down, he offered her some roasted grain. She ate all she wanted and had some left over.” (Ruth 2:14). Boaz doesn’t merely offer her a few crumbs, he gives her “all she wants” and more — and offers her a place at his table with his other servants.

Boaz’s actions are representative of Christ’s toward believers. Jesus spreads a table for us as we walk with Him and provides for our physical and spiritual needs. He not only gives us peace (as I mentioned in my first point), He comforts us in our brokenness, gives us strength when we are too weary to go on, sends needed supplies our way when our finances run out, and gives us the ability to carry out the tasks He assigns us (just to name a few). As Philippians 4:19 says: “My God will supply all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 4:19 isn’t a prosperity message where God is a genie and gives us whatever we want. However, when we work to serve Him and refresh others, He, in turn, refreshes us. In addition, when we ask for what we need in accordance to His will, He will respond and give to us out of His abundance (Proverbs 11:25; Matthew 7:7).

Making Christ Our Refuge

When we make Christ our refuge,  we usher in blessings and benefits into our lives that we would otherwise not know. Psalm 91:1 says this: “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.”

Making Christ our refuge means turning to Him and putting Him above all else in our lives, but it does not imply perfection on our parts. We will sometimes drift and fail, and He will have to come after us. Nor does it mean that we have to attain some level of goodness to abide in His shadow. It simply means that we walk closely with Him and make Him the place of stability we rely on — so much so — that we have no other place we turn to when we are in need.

However, although this secret place in Christ is available for all believers, we can miss out on these blessings if we do not seek to know Christ or make Him a refuge. Pastor David Guzik says:

There are many followers of Jesus Christ who seem to know very little of the secret place of the Most High or what it is to abide under His shadow. Many seem to regard this as only a thing for mystics or the super-spiritual … It is true that the life of the spirit seems to come more easily for some than for others, but there is an aspect of the secret place of the Most High that is for everyone who puts his trust in Him.

Ruth was a foreigner, at the mercy of a stranger’s charity. She was undeserving of the favors bestowed on her, just as we are undeserving of God’s favors. However, she was given an invitation to glean from the fields and eat with the other servants because she chose to follow God. Note what Charles Spurgeon says on this point: “The poor, trembling stranger who has not strength enough to reap, who has no right to be in the field except the right of charity — the poor, trembling sinner, conscious of his own demerit, and feeling but little hope and joy, is invited to the feast of love.”

Just as Ruth was offered blessings in response to her surrendering her life to God, we, too, will find blessings when we trust God and follow where He leads.

Related Resources:

Ever been in a bad situation and it just gets worse? Join us for our brand new series “Hope When You’re at the end of Your Rope: Lessons From Ruth on Trust, Surrender, and Healing.” In the study, we will look at the story of Ruth where will draw lessons the next few weeks on the hope we have when life gets hard, and we feel abandoned and in need of rescue.

Check out the following posts in the series: Part 1: “Why God’s Way is Always Best” and Part 2: “Pushing Past Our Breaking Points to Do the Will of God.”

Carol Whitaker

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

More Posts

The Work That Pleases God

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“Use it or lose it” is a principle we can observe in our everyday life.

An athlete continually practices to maintain a certain level of performance and grow better in his sport. A musician devotes time to practicing his instrument and learning the music in order to walk on stage and play a concert. Speaking another language requires a person to not only learn a language but speak it with others in order to retain the vocabulary he has acquired and grow more fluent at speaking the language.

Spiritually, we have to develop and use the gifts God has given us (2 Timothy 1:6; 1 Timothy 4:14; 1 Peter 4:10-11), or our gifts will fall into disuse and decay. In addition, we are told in the New Testament to “make every effort” to grow spiritually and “confirm our calling and election” (2 Peter 1:5-11). So what exactly does it look like to do work that God commends?

While Jesus rebukes the church of Sardis in Revelation 3:1-5 for their apathy and lack of meaningful service, in contrast, Jesus commends the church of Philadelphia in Revelation 3:7-12 for their work. In this passage, we can find a clear picture of what it means to be a faithful steward of the gifts God has given us and engage in meaningful Christian service:

‘To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. I know your deeds. See I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars — I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. Since you have kept the command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth. I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one can take your crown. The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name.’

What can we learn from this church about faithful service?

1. Faithfulness means standing firm.

Jesus’ commendation comes to the church of Philadelphia not because they were perfect and never sinned. His commendation comes to them because they had held firm to truth and used what little they had to advance the Gospel and honor His name.

Philadelphia had limited resources and small numbers. They didn’t have the resources or reputation for works that Sardis had, and yet, they had not compromised to receive approval from the community or given up in the midst of persecution. Jesus tells the church in the passage, “I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name” (emphasis mine).

Later, in verse 10, He notes that they have kept His command to “endure patiently.” As I stated in my previous post, endurance or “holding firm” in the faith or “enduring patiently” is not merely holding our ground and sticking out the storm. Endurance is also active obedience in our difficult circumstances.

When James talks about perseverance or “patience” finishing its work in James 1:4, he refers to both endurance in the midst of trial and active obedience to God’s will. As Alexander MacLaren explains, the idea of “enduring patiently” includes the following:

The New Testament patience has in it the idea of perseverance as well as of endurance, and means, not only that we bow to the pain or the sorrow, but that nothing in sorrow, nothing in trial, nothing in temptation, nothing in antagonism, has the smallest power to divert us from doing what we know to be right. The man who will reach through the smoke of hell to lay hold of plain duty is the patient man of the New Testament.

In the King James Version of this passage and some other translations, verse 10 reads not, “Because you have endured patiently,” but, “Because thou has kept the word of my patience.” The “word of my patience” referred to here is the model given to us by Jesus of someone who does the will of God in the midst of affliction, temptation, and persecution. Just as Jesus obeyed the Father in the midst of great trouble and sorrow, the church of Philadelphia had also remained steadfast in their work — though it would have been easier to backslide and quit because of their small means and limited strength.

2. Faithfulness means walking through the doors God opens on our behalf.

Not only does Jesus encourage them with His commendation of their endurance and adherence to the Gospel, He encourages them earlier in the passage by telling them that He has placed an “open door” before them. By “open door,” we understand that He means opportunities for service.

In the passage, Jesus is identified as the One who “holds the keys of David” and “what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.” The idea given is that God continually places before us opportunities in our service to Him, as we walk in His will, and it is up to us to walk through those doors into continual advancement and blessing in His kingdom. By “advancement and blessing” I don’t mean bigger cars and a larger following necessarily, but rather, spiritual blessings such as further understanding, spiritual growth, and opportunities for service.

While we are the ones that walk into the opportunities God places before us, it is clear that God is the One who orchestrates these opportunities. As we are faithful in a little, more will be given to us and opened for us (Luke 16:10; Matthew 25:23). A successful Christian life is one where we walk in His will by staying tuned into His Spirit through daily time in prayer and the reading of His Word (John 15:5). Our growth happens not by just attempting to fulfill a list of Christian “do’s and don’ts” — but by listening to His Spirit and doing what He says.

We all have our eye on a particular door of opportunity or advancement — and that will be opened to us (if God has promised it to us) when we are faithful in walking through the smaller doors set before us. Oftentimes, we focus on the large door and despise or neglect the small doors. In order to keep what we have and walk into greater things, we have to use what we have and walk through the doors (however small) Jesus puts before us (1 Corinthians 4:2).

3. Faithfulness means guarding what we have.

Although the words of Jesus to Philadelphia are a commendation, He admonishes them not to fall into apathy, saying, “Hold on to what you have, so that no one can take your crown.” Therefore, while the church of Philadelphia had been faithful, they still can fall into the situation of Sardis if not vigilant. Therefore, they are warned to “hold on” and not lose their crown.

Although many have interpreted “crown” to mean we can lose our salvation if we are not diligent in our work, as it says elsewhere in Scripture that salvation can’t be earned, I believe that this verse is actually referring to the rewards and blessings we miss out on when we don’t walk through the door of opportunity God places before us. The crown in the passage refers to the crown of victory awarded to a winner of ancient athletic games (like the Greek Olympics). The idea here is not that someone else can steal our crown, but rather, that when we are not faithful in using what God has given us, someone else will receive the opportunity that could have been ours.

We may watch as someone else excels and advances in area that we had hoped would be opened to us. Certainly, there are times that we watch others promoted because it’s a timing issue for us or is not the area God intends for us. However, we can lose our “crowns” when we do not accept the assignments God puts before us.

In the Parable of the Talents, the “wicked servant” was the one who buried the talent the Master gave him and did not use it. The other servants were commended for investing their talents and given more because they used and increased what the Master had given them (Matthew 25:29).

Holding Fast To What God Has Committed to Us

While the message to Philadelphia is a commendation, we can still find the words of Jesus about faithful service challenging. We may be painfully aware in the reading of these words of where we may be lacking. We may further feel this way in reading both the messages to Sardis and Philadelphia, comparing Jesus’ messages to them on sloth and diligence.

Maybe affliction has caused us to get complacent. Maybe fear or doubt or unbelief has crept in — and we’re in a place where we’re so tired that we fear we can’t take another step. Yet, we must remember why Jesus speaks these words to the churches in the first place: Jesus loves these churches and He loves us. He tells them what He does so that they can make the needed changes (as in the case of Sardis) and continue in the right path (as in the case of Philadelphia).

If we skip over to the end of chapter 3, it says, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me” (v. 19, 20). He tells us the hard truths we need to hear because He loves us and wants to help us turn if we have strayed down the wrong path.

In addition, such a message to Philadelphia may make us fear that we will miss out on what God has for us and send us into a frenzy of activity or striving. Again, the work that Jesus commends is that we 1) Hold firm to His truth and actively seek to hear from Him and learn from Him through prayer and His Word 2) Act in obedience to His Spirit.

It can be very freeing to know that some work is just not our assignment. There have been times when I’ve tried to witness to someone or force a spiritual conversation without allowing the conversation to naturally open up or God to nudge me to have the conversation, and it went nowhere. The person was usually already a Christian!

Lastly, we must remember that “holding fast” isn’t an endeavor where we’re all alone trying to do it all in our own strength. God holds us! It says in Psalm 63:8: “I cling to Him; His right hand upholds me.” We do what we do in His strength and power. When we seek out His will, listen to His Spirit, and step out in obedience to His Spirit, God enables us to do His work. I love what James Vaughan in The Biblical Illustrator says on this point: “The only way to hold fast is to be held fast.”

Friend, knowing what door we want to walk through that we haven’t walked through can lead us to feeling like we have perform. We might feel an enormous amount of pressure to make things happen, but God makes doors open and close. We just have do what He asks of us. As Lysa Terkeurst says: “Big things are built one brick at a time. Victories are achieved once choice at a time. A life well lived is chosen one day at a time.”

Doing the work of God isn’t about perfection on our part — but mere willingness to listen to the Spirit of God and walk through the doors He opens on our behalf.

Related Resources:

 Are you tired of fighting a battle that doesn’t seem to quit and feel tempted to let up on your vigilance when it comes to keeping the faith? Join us for a brand new series “Holding Fast to Our Faith in Troubled Times.” The series draws lessons from Jesus’ messages to churches in Revelation 3 and will encourage you in those places where you feel despair and a lack of hope; help to revitalize the vitality in your relationship with God; and reveal steps, if needed, to help get you on the right track again.

Check out Part 1: “Stopping the Drift Into Spiritual Apathy” and Part 2: “Heeding God’s Warnings in Our Spiritual Life” to get a better understanding of what spiritual apathy is and how to guard against the drift in your life.

To listen to a discussion of this topic, check out the podcast where co-hosts Suzy Lolley and Carol Whitaker sit down at the Daily Grind Coffee Shop to chat about spiritual apathy. They walk through the points of the post but also add in a few bonus extras that you don’t get in the written version.

*Updated September 21. 2019.

Carol Whitaker

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

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Conquering Fear to Do the Will of God

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

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

However, Peter has to get past his unbelief and fear he feels in the moment, and Jesus addresses it. Similarly, we may desire to obey God, but we are dealing with crushing fear or another obstacle. How do we get past our fear when we are attempting to follow the will of God?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As a younger woman, I had compensated for my low self-worth by my achievements and appearance. I was flirtatious and cultivated friendships with males as a way to feel good about myself. Even as a high school teacher, I cultivated the worship of my students and had a male fan club in every class. Though my actions in the school were not those that constituted an inappropriate relationship or illegal activity, I knew that I had not been a Christian role model for my students. God nudged me to make some hard contacts with some people from my past, as well as my former classes and administration, and apologize for not being a Godly role model and state that I was making a turn in my Christian walk.

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

2. Spiritual transformation is a process.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

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

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

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

*Updated June 8, 2019. Original post published September 1, 2017.

Related Resources:

Have you ever felt irritated by the idea of being joyful in the midst of trials? How can certain Scripture passages advocate that we actually be happy in our most difficult circumstances? Check out our series on “Rejoicing in Trials,” including Part 1: “A Reason to Rejoice in Our Trials,” Part 2: “Serving God in the Midst of Our Trials,” and Part 3: “The Best Thing to Do When We Face Trials.”

This week concludes Season 2 of the podcast. We will take a break from recording for summer and will announce on the blog when the new season will begin. However, you can continue to look up past episodes and get caught up on those by stopping by the podcast archive.

For more on trials, check out the following resources: “When God Uses Our Trials to Teach Us: Part 1″ and “When God Uses Our Trials to Teach Us: Part 2.”

Carol Whitaker

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

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The Best Thing to Do When We Face Trials

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“Don’t turn away.”

The pastor spoke these words while I stood at the altar. Though there were a few other people standing there with me, I knew these words were for me.

I had been a Christian for as long as I could remember and had never questioned the existence of God or wanted to follow another religion, but my circumstances had been so harsh and so confusing that I wanted to walk away. I knew that there was no other place for me to go, but I wanted to escape the pain of the situation I was in. And God hadn’t provided an escape for me. I felt abandoned and angry.

Yet, I knew that God was speaking to me through the pastor’s words. I knew that God was urging me to stay. I didn’t understand what God was doing in my situation, and wouldn’t understand until some time further down the road, but I had the assurance and hope on that day when God spoke through my pastor that I needed to persevere in my season and submit to what God had for me.

When I stuck to the place God had me in that difficult time, even though I wanted to run, God revealed to me why He allowed the hardships He did. In addition, He delivered me from the situation after I learned all that I needed to learn. Though I would not want to walk through that season again, I gained valuable lessons that still influence how I walk with God today.

If We Lack Wisdom, We Can Ask God

James 1:5 (AMP) says: “If any of you lacks wisdom [to guide him through a decision or circumstance], he is to ask of [our benevolent] God, who gives to everyone generously and without rebuke or blame, and it will be given to him.” Scholars don’t agree if this verse is separate from James 1:2-4, which precedes it and discusses being joyful in the midst of trials. However, I believe that James 1:5 can both stand alone as a verse urging us to ask God for wisdom in a variety of situations or ask God, more specifically, for guidance in the midst of our trials.

James 1:2-4 says this: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” As I shared in the first two articles of this series, this verse urges us to be joyful in the midst of our trials not because our trials are good, but because of what our trials are producing in us. They produce in us perseverance and this perseverance is working in us to bring us to spiritual maturity.

With that in mind, if we look at James 1:5 as connected with the previous section on trials, we can see that the verse urges us to seek God in our trials and ask for wisdom about how to approach our circumstance. When we find ourselves in a situation that God allowed or even orchestrated, it makes sense to call on Him as He is the only One who can tell us what we need to know about the place we’re in. And yet, instead of pressing God about why we are in the circumstance we are in, we often simply try to get out of the trial without discovering why we’re going through it or what God wants us to learn from it. However, if we want perseverance to “finish its work,” it is in asking Him that we will be given the wisdom to get through — and even learn from — our trial.

In addition, as the passage tells us, we can ask confidently for wisdom, knowing that God will give us what we ask. We don’t have to fear that our failings or past mistakes will prevent us from hearing from God. As believers, we are justified because of Jesus’s work on the cross — and James tells us that God gives “generously” and “without rebuke or blame” to those who ask. If we look at the passage, as it emphasizes in The Biblical Illustrator commentary, it is “the lacking man” that is encouraged to ask! Not only does God promise wisdom for those who lack — this wisdom is for “any one” who seeks Him.

What we can conclude, then, is that God knows that we are lacking and won’t withhold from those who seek Him or be disappointed or angry with us if we don’t know what to do in our circumstance. He invites people who are desperate and in great need to call on Him! However, to receive an answer from Him, we have to want to know and be willing to ask Him for the answer (Matthew 7:7; Jeremiah 29:13).

God Gives Wisdom Because of His Grace

A pastor of mine used to say, “You don’t have to clean yourselves up to come to God.” So often, we think that we need to figure out a solution or get our situation in better order or even somehow make up for a mistake we have made or a failing we have in our spiritual life before coming to God. However, we can come to God in whatever state we are in, and He is the One who will help us to sort out the tangled pieces of our situation and make sense of the confusing events we find ourselves in.

In addition, if we have made a mistake or keep failing in an area when we are attempting to follow God, we don’t have to hide or stand back from God out of fear that He won’t answer us when we pray to Him. The verse assures us that we can approach God and ask God — and He will answer and not chide us for asking.

In the circumstance I described with the pastor where I was encouraged not to turn away, I was attempting to follow God in that situation. Part of my confusion with my circumstances is that I had obeyed Him and followed God’s direction, but it was leading to hardship and difficulty. “Why is this happening, God?” I wanted to know.

As it turns out, though I was following God, I had skipped some important steps He had directed me towards, and I was reaping in that season from the bad choices I had sown in another season. And yet, God graciously led me to understand what He was doing in me during that time and also what I needed to be doing to get out of that hard situation. I started making some phone calls and getting right some areas where I had failed.

All of these actions that God directed led me to understand some important truths about myself. I don’t really know why God had me go through such a painful route to learn these truths, but the season ended up being a gift. In fact, I even had a dream during that time where my sister was a postmaster and delivered a package to a cantankerous lady who refused to receive the gift delivered because it wasn’t delivered to her in the way she wanted it to be delivered.

God told me that I was the lady in the dream. I wanted His gifts, but I didn’t like the package it arrived in. Yet, that was the way God chose to teach me — and I would not have received the lessons I learned from that time if I had resisted God’s methods.

Perhaps you, at this time, find yourself in a baffling and difficult situation. You might feel that God is punishing you or perhaps you’ve been too angry to approach God about what is going on. However, while God will discipline us out of His love for us to bring us to wholeness and usefulness in His kingdom, He does not punish us for our wrongdoing. Our punishment has been taken away by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Certainly, if we know of a sin area in our life that we haven’t confessed, we can do that, knowing God is faithful to forgive us (John 1:9).

However, a lot of times, we aren’t even aware of our sin and need God to help to see our situation clearly, or may be in a situation that is not even caused by our own choices. In any case, God is waiting to answer when we call. I love the story of Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, told in Mark 10:46-52. When he heard Jesus was passing by, he called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mark 10:47). Others rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but Jesus, upon hearing him, stopped and called the man to Him and restored his sight.

Jesus healed the man — and I marvel at that miracle in the story, but I also marvel that Jesus stopped for this man and paused on His way simply because the man called for Him. It is the same with us. As James 1:6 concludes, we will receive the answer we seek as long as we believe and do not doubt that God will indeed answer — because He promises to give wisdom to those who ask. Not because we somehow deserve it, but because He is gracious and longs to show us mercy.

Related Resources:

Have you ever felt irritated by the idea of being joyful in the midst of trials? How can certain Scripture passages advocate that we actually be happy in our most difficult circumstances? This is the second episode in a brand new series on trials and the reason we can rejoice in the midst of hard circumstances. Check out Part 1: “A Reason to Rejoice in Our Trials” and Part 2: “Serving God in the Midst of Our Trials.”

Next week, we’ll conclude Season 2 of the podcast and we’ll take a break from new episodes over the summer. However, you can continue to look up past episodes and get caught up on those by stopping by the podcast archive.

For more on trials, check out the following resources: “When God Uses Our Trials to Teach Us: Part 1″ and “When God Uses Our Trials to Teach Us: Part 2.”

 

Carol Whitaker

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

More Posts

Serving God in the Midst of Our Trials

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Have you ever said, “Not today, Lord. I am too stressed, tired, or worried to do anything for you today?”

There have been days or seasons when I felt too pressured or sorrowful to want to serve God. Certainly, there are seasons where we need to grieve, and I am not advocating we ignore our feelings or not take needed rest at times. But what I am saying is that serving God includes serving Him on days when we feel weighed down by circumstances or fatigued or troubled.

Our Perseverance in Trials Grows Us Spiritually

James 1:2-4 says this: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

In Part 1 of this series, we looked at the idea of viewing our trials as joyful not because the trials in and of themselves cause us joy; we view them as joyful because of the perseverance they produce in us. However, this perseverance is not the end goal of our trials. In fact, as verse 4 tells us, this perseverance is that which must be allowed to “finish its work.” As this wording suggests, there is a step beyond perseverance that is being worked out as we endure through our trials: we grow spiritually and become “mature and complete, lacking nothing.”

This idea of “mature and complete” here means whole in every part, that is that there is nothing lacking to complete our character. As theologian Albert Barnes explains in regards to the passage, we may have elements of good character, but in order for us to be complete, we have to allow what God is developing in us to be fully carried out. Therefore, spiritual wholeness is becoming what God intends for us to be and living in that reality and all that goes along with that — being conformed to the image of Christ.

So, how do we allow perseverance to “finish its work” and accomplish in us what is needed for us to be spiritually mature? By staying the course and not allowing our trials to take us off course. However, this passage doesn’t just refer to staying the course by a mere endurance of trials — hunkering down and waiting until the trials pass. The perseverance or patience mentioned refers also to action in the midst of trial. We continue in active obedience to God in the midst of our suffering and do not allow the character being developed within us to be, as Barnes explains, “hindered” by rebellion or opposition to the will of God.

Paul says in Acts 20:24 (NKJV), “But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” He certainly had every reason to get tired, discouraged, or depressed when encountering persecution, imprisonment, and shipwrecks. Instead, he entrusted Himself to God so fully that he counted his adverse circumstances as those that would further help to advance the Gospel (Philippians 1:12). Similarly, in Matthew 24:13, Jesus warns His disciples about the trials that believers will experience in the end times, but urges them to persevere to the end. Likewise, Luke 21:19 says: “Stand firm, and you will win life.”

We may say, “Lord, how can you expect me to serve you right now? I have these problems going on with family members and this issues with my boss at the moment and these projects to finish and this ongoing health scare.” And yet, even in our most pressing times, God wants to use us — and sharing with others in our pain can help us to get through our own pain. So, how is it that we can help others when our own hearts are breaking?

1. We comfort others with the comfort we ourselves have received.

The only reason we are able to minister to others is because we are received from Him — and it is that same comfort that we give to others (2 Corinthians 1:4). My 3-year-old cares for her dolls and stuffed animals with such love. I never told her how to rock them or wrap them in blankets or feed them with a spoon. How did she know to do all these things? She simply gives them what she has been receiving from us as parents. She knows what to do because it has already been modeled and given to her. In the same way, we have something to give others because of what we have received from God.

2. We are renewed when we help others.

God isn’t a cruel taskmaster desiring to sap our strength and make us work ourselves down to the bone. We need rest. We need moments to process emotions. We need moments to grieve. Yet, when we work to do His will and listen to His Spirit, we ourselves are renewed (Proverbs 11:25). Therefore, when we feel discouraged and worn out and don’t feel like telling our story or sharing Christ with someone else, we can know that when we step out to do what He asks, He gives us strength to meet the task and renews us in the process. He fills us with more strength the moment we step out to do His will.

There is a difference between striving — generating our own work to do in our own strength — and the work we do when we abide and rest in Him. The work that will give us continued rest in our souls is that which we do in obedience to Him (Matthew 11:28-30).

3. We trust that God will take care of our kingdom when we take care of His.

For many of us, we want to serve, but we are overwhelmed by the demands of our children, work, spouses, friends, family, etc. We worry about normal “life stuff”: fixing what breaks around the house, making appointments, picking up the kids from school, helping the kids with homework, figuring out what to make for dinner, and responding to emails. And yet, the Bible says when we make Him and the work He gives us a priority, He will help us take care of our kingdom (Matthew 6:33). We will have the time, strength, and resources to finish the tasks we need to in relation to our families, jobs, and homes.

So often, we only look at the negative things that trials bring: pain, inconvenience, and stress. And yet, trials can usher good things in as well. A person who has suffered much is the kind of person that can sympathize with another suffering person. If someone who has never had something bad happen to him or ever experienced pain attempts to give me advice or point to a course while I am in a trial, I am probably not even going to take anything this person says seriously or be all that comforted. However, I am going to listen to someone who has gone through much suffering and can sympathize with me in the midst of my own suffering.

If we don’t resist the suffering God allows or try to run — and thus become hardened by our trials – our trials will make us kinder, more compassionate, and better equipped to minister. Jesus ministered to others even though He was a “man or sorrows” (Isaiah 53:3). He was misunderstood by His family and community, laughed at by religious officials, and betrayed by His closest friends (John 7:5; Matthew 8:34; Mark 6:3; Luke 4:29; John 1:11), but He did not allow His pain to prevent Him from doing His Father’s will.

Our Sorrows Make Us Better Fit to Serve

An older woman in our church suffered the loss of her son and daughter — both in tragic ways. Her son died alone in his apartment of health complications — and no one even knew or found him until several days later. It is possible that he could have lived had he gotten immediate medical treatment. Her daughter was murdered by an enraged boyfriend when she told him that she was leaving. On top of that, this woman suffers from chronic health problems that make each day difficult to endure.

She could easily say, “Lord, what can I do for you? I am a broken-hearted mom with so much pain in my body. What can I do for you?” Yet this woman works as a volunteer in hospitality at our church. Once the pain in her body became so bad that she could no longer stand and greet visitors at the door, she took a different job and now calls newcomers after they visit to follow up with them and thank them for coming. She also actively searches for people to share her story with when she is out in the community and has given talks to domestic violence victims. Clearly, she hasn’t allowed her pain to prevent her from doing the work of God. Rather, she serves Him in the midst of her pain.

Trials can break us or help to mold us into the likeness of Jesus. We can simply bear up under our problems, or we can, like Jesus, continue on our course — steady and fixed — allowing our sorrows to make us better fit to serve in His kingdom.

Editor’s Note: The hardships referred to that we need to endure do not refer to emotional or physical abuse. Please seek out the help of a pastor or Christian counselor if you are in an abusive relationship.

Related Resources:

Have you ever felt irritated by the idea of being joyful in the midst of trials? How can certain Scripture passages advocate that we actually be happy in our most difficult circumstances? This is the second episode in a brand new series on trials and the reason we can rejoice in the midst of hard circumstances. Check out Part 1: “A Reason to Rejoice in Our Trials.”

Podcast Notes and Corrections:

1. This was not included in the article, but the following quote from Albert Barnes’ commentary on James 1:2-4 was given in the podcast:

Let it [perseverance] be fairly developed; let it produce its appropriate effects without being hindered. Let it not be obstructed in its fair influence on the soul by murmerings, complaining, or rebellion. Patience under trials is fitted to produce important effects on the soul, and we are not to hinder them in any manner by a perverse spirit, or by opposition to the will of God. Every one who is afflicted should desire that the fair effects of affliction should be produced on his mind, or that the fair effects of affliction should be produced in his soul precisely the results which his trials are adapted to accomplish.

There may be elements of good character; there may be sound principles, but those principles may not be fully carried out so as to show what they are. Afflictions, perhaps more than anything else, will do this, and we should therefore allow them to do all that they are adapted to do in developing what is good in us. The idea here is that it is desirable not only to have the elements or principles of piety in our soul, but to have them fairly carried out, so as to show what is their real tendency and value.

2. The “we comfort others with the comfort we ourselves have received” verse is 2 Corinthians 1:4, rather than the reference given in the podcast.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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Growing in Our God-Given Calling

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Years ago, the phrase “No pain, no gain” gained popularity in the fitness industry. The meaning was that if you wanted to make progress, you were going to have to go through some personal hardship and physical pain. In doing some quick research into this phrase, I discovered that the phrase became popular after Jane Fonda used the slogan in her exercise videos. She did not come up with the phrase herself, but simply used the words and others picked up on it.

Spiritually, the principle can also be applied. If we want to advance in our calling, we will experience some pain and discomfort in the process. While as humans we tend to be creatures of habit and like our comfort zones of familiarity and predictability, God will push us outside of those zones and challenge us to do new, bold tasks that won’t necessarily be tasks we would have chosen for ourselves. And yet, letting Him continually work on us is what we need to grow spiritually and become who God calls us to be.

In the process, however, we will struggle with the temptation to abandon what He has asked us to accomplish and go back to what we knew before He called us.

However, if we are going to stay committed to our calling, we have to allow the pain and the discomfort that following Him brings, knowing that no growth will happen without it. I love the illustration of this idea Lysa Terkeurst uses in a devotional aptly titled “When Comfort is My Enemy.”

Drawing from a passage in Jeremiah 48, she notes that winemakers in Old Testament times would pour wine from vessel to vessel so that the wine would not absorb the flavor of the vessel and to also rid the wine of impurities that would settle on the bottom. As she explains, just as this wine couldn’t be left on its dregs in order to have the purest taste, God continually challenging us and leading us to new places helps to purify us so that we don’t rely on ourselves and become so complacent that God can’t use us.

When God turns up the heat in our lives, what should we do rather than bail on our calling and/or flee to a place of security and complacency?

1. We have to trust the plan.

Proverbs 3:5, 6 tells us: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit [acknowledge Him], and he will make your paths straight.” If we look closely at a few of the words in this verse, “trust” means to “have confidence in.” Trusting in God is having confidence in Him to the point that our security in decision-making that lines up with His will comes from our confidence in Him.

In contrast in this verse, we see that we are not to “lean” on our own understanding. In the Hebrew, the word “lean” means to “support oneself.” Rather than rely on our own instincts and feelings, we have to choose to rely on God and decide that God knows best even when His will leads to pain and hardship that is confusing and doesn’t make sense.

To illustrate this concept, we can look at how pilots fly a plane. When learning to fly, flight instructors teach their students to fly using the cockpit instruments. At times, in certain situations such as a storm, a pilot will experience “spatial disorientation,” where they will not be able to tell where they are in space in relation to the sky and the ground. At those times, they have to rely on their instruments to instruct them, rather than their own perceptions.

Similarly, in times of turbulence in walking out our own calling, we may be tempted to abandon our trust in God and instead rely on our own perceptions when what God is telling us doesn’t appear to be working or making sense. However, as Proverbs 3:5, 6 reminds us, acknowledgment of Him will keep us in the right way that we are to go, no matter how it feels in the moment.

2. We have to continually submit to God’s work in us.

When I was a teacher, I often heard other educators using the phrase “lifelong learner.” A lifelong learner is someone who always pushes him or herself to learn new things, evaluate practices, implement new ideas  — remaining teachable throughout his or her teaching career.

Good teachers are lifetime learners. They go to workshops or higher education classes to increase their own knowledge, evaluate their practices and mistakes, consider ways to constantly improve, and talk to other teachers to gain new ideas and feedback on their practices. In other words, they don’t get stagnant and retain the same lessons and practices for the duration of their career. They constantly change and grow, keeping what works and discarding what doesn’t.

Similarly, in order to keep ourselves moldable in the process of walking in our calling, we need to continually yield in our journey. We may start out on fire and resolve to do everything God asks, but then as the years go by and the trials add up, we may get tired and less responsive to doing the will of God. We may get through a few hard tasks and then want to coast, but that isn’t the reality of what happens as we answer our call. We have to continually submit to God’s plan and allow Him to work on us.

Staying Committed to Our Calling Means Choosing Discomfort

A family member recently had back surgery, and I was surprised when we went to go see him this past weekend that he was up and moving around so soon after surgery.

However, as he explained, the doctors had instructed him to walk around daily and not just lay in bed because movement would help by strengthening blood flow, muscle tone, and other systems of the body. In addition, walking would also help him heal faster. However, because of incisions in both his back and stomach, the walking was not done without some discomfort.

Yet, he pushed himself to get out of bed and walk around because he knew of the benefits his actions would bring. The same is true of us in our Christian walk. God is going to challenge us and push us and let us be uncomfortable as He works on us, and although our instinct may be to shut down or resist the work, we need to open ourselves up to Him knowing that the work is good for us and is forming us into what God intends for us to be.

This week, as I have been working through a study of Nehemiah, I ran into a similar concept. Nehemiah, in the process of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem with his fellow Jews faced much opposition. He was advised to run to the temple and hide from men attempting to kill him (Nehemiah 6:10). But here’s the thing: to do so would have been wrong according to God’s law. Only priests were permitted in certain parts of the temple (Numbers 18:22).

Obviously, we don’t have the same regulations as they did in the Old Testament regarding the temple and priests, but we, too, have the temptation, when difficulty comes, to choose a place of refuge that wouldn’t be right for us, but does look like it will provide us security: a relationship that veers outside God’s boundaries in His Word but fills a void in us. Bitter attitudes that consume us that are easier than forgiveness and letting go. An unhealthy attachment to social media or some other thing to numb our pain and get our mind off of our current situation. A career that has a steady paycheck, but is one God has called us away from.

All of these refuges “promise” the safety and comfort we long for, but won’t satisfy or save us in the end. I love Nehemiah’s response to the suggestion that he run: “Should a man like me run away? Or should someone like me go into the temple to save his life? I will not go!” (Nehemiah 6:11). Nehemiah refuses to give up on the will of God to save his own life. He chooses to go through the hardship inherent in God’s will. Just a few short verses after Nehemiah’s resolve to stay committed to the task God had given him, we learn that the wall was finished and the work done with the help of God (Nehemiah 6:15).

We, too, rather than running can stay and build what God has called us to build, letting Him work on us in the process. But to do so means we will have to embrace the continual work God wants to do in us and allow suffering into our lives, knowing that we will not make gains without the pain.

Related Resources:

1. This is Part 4 in our series “Staying True to Your Calling.” Check out Part 1: “Being Bold in Our God-Given Calling,” Part 2: “3 Lessons From Paul About Walking in Our God-given Calling,” and Part 3: “3 Fears That Prevent Us From Persevering in Our God-Given Calling.”

2. Ever feel like you wish you could understand God’s ways just a little better? Check out the following: “When We Suffer for Doing Good” and “Making a Change to Receive God’s Promises.”

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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