When You Wonder if Your Obedience Will Be Worth the Cost: Part 1

when you wonder if your obedience will be worth the cost part 1

Have you ever thought you understood a verse, only to find out that there was much more to it than you originally thought?

For the longest time, I understood Hebrews 12:15 to mean that we shouldn’t allow our anger to fester, as it can cause us to become bitter. And bitterness will affect not only ourselves, but others. If you’re not familiar with the verse, it reads: “See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”

While one application of the verse is that bitterness, festering anger or unforgiveness, affects not only us but others, the writer’s primary intention is much deeper. If we look into the phrase “bitter root” used in the verse, we see that it alludes to Deuteronomy 29:18, 19:

Make sure there is no man or woman, clan or tribe among you today whose heart turns away from God to go and worship the gods of those nations; make sure there is no root among you that produces bitter poison. When such a person hears the words of this oath and they invoke a blessing on themselves, thinking, ‘I will be safe, even though I persist in going my own way,’ they will bring disaster on the watered land as well as the dry.

Basically, a “bitter root” refers here to an idolater, or someone who puts his trust in something other than God. Moses had brought the covenant before the people once again to warn them not to fall into idolatry. He cautioned that such a person would not be safe going his own way, but his rebellion would have implications not only for the “watered land but for the dry” (v. 19). In other words, a “bitter root” would infect not only himself but cause others to fall away as well.

The writer of Hebrews alludes to the “bitter root” used in Deuteronomy 29:18, 19 to warn the Jewish Christians that would have been his audience not to fall away like that of the Israelites who fell away from God’s covenant in the Old Testament. And the exhortation is for us, too.

Not Falling Away in Our Faith

In order to fully understand what Hebrews 12:15 is saying, we need to understand not only what “bitter root” in this context is talking about, but also, what is required of us in our faith walk so we don’t “fall short of the grace of God.”

First, let’s examine what it means to run an effective faith race.

In reading a verse such as this, we might be seized with panic and begin a frenzy of religious activity in an effort not to be the “bitter root” described in this verse, but that is not what the writer is urging.

The author of Hebrews is not telling us that we need to add more on our plates or engage in as much random religious work as possible. What the writer is telling us is that we must be diligent in doing the tasks that God gives us, less we fail the grace of God. If we notice the wording at the beginning of Hebrews 12:1, 2, it tells us:

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

Notice, verse 1 tells us that “we run the race marked out for us.” This implies that our Creator has a specific design for our race — and He alone orchestrated our purpose and the tasks that we daily complete when walking in His Spirit. We’ll get back to explaining that verse in a moment, but I want to return back to our discussion of God’s grace and our faith race.

To do that, we need to look at what it means to “fall short of God’s grace.”

A song which has grabbed my attention lately is “The Motions,” by Matthew West. The lyrics say: “I don’t wanna spend my whole life asking, ‘What if I had given everything, instead of going through the motions?’ ” West describes in this song the temptation that comes to all of us as Christians — we can easily slip into “going through the motions” in our Christian lives. We can attend church, even serve in church, and attempt to live moral lives, and yet, still fall short of God’s grace.

If we look at this meaning of “failing the grace of God,” it means to come up short, fall behind. According to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, it means “to be left behind in the race and so fail to reach the goal, to fall short of the end” or “to fail to become a partaker” or “to fall back.” We can do work that is good and yet isn’t what God would have us do and fall behind in listening to the Spirit of God and doing what He would have us do. It doesn’t mean that we lose our salvation (because salvation is not something we can earn), but it does mean that we can fall short of attaining the promises God has for us, the blessings the grace of God offers.

The writer tells us later in the next verse (Hebrews 12:16) that Esau fell short of his blessings because He sold his birthright. He had been promised, as the firstborn, a double inheritance and inheritance of his father’s role in the family, among other privileges. And yet, when he came in from the field hungry and Jacob offered him a bowl of stew in exchange for the fulfillment of blessings that were rightfully his, he traded his rightful blessings for what was convenient and fulfilling in the moment.

Friends, this is such a difficult concept to embrace, but we, too, can trade away the blessings of God in our lives when we ignore His will for us and instead do what is more comfortable and easy. Though going our own path with our choices won’t cause us to lose our salvation, when we don’t listen to the Spirit of God we will become an empty vine that bears no fruit (Hosea 10:1) and become like the wicked servant in Jesus’ parable of the talents who buried his talents rather than invest them (Matthew 25:14-30).

While the idea of “falling short of the grace of God” is a hard idea to reflect on, the most terrible thing for any of us would be to get to our deathbed and look back and reflect on the fact that we never made the choices necessary to live the life we were called to live. The good news is that we can turn around right now what wrongs we have done by repenting.

We can choose to listen to the Spirit of God and do what He asks. And when His will leads us to uncomfortable places that we would rather not go, we can remind ourselves that God’s blessings don’t come cheap. While we don’t have to work to earn our salvation, we do have to fight for that which has been promised to us in the way of God’s blessings. And yet, God doesn’t leave us to fight on our own. We fight by relying on Jesus’ power and strength and leaning into Him in our journey.

Running the Race of Faith

What is interesting is that in Hebrews 12:2 it says that “for the joy set before him” Jesus endured the cross. I had always read that to mean that for the joy of what lay after the cross, Jesus was willing to go through what He did. Although that is certainly one way we can read it, another interpretation I found in studying the passage is that rather than choose His position as the Son of God and all the benefits it afforded Him, He chose the cross. The word “for” in the Greek can mean “in stead of” or “in place of.” Therefore, “in stead of” heaven and the privileges and benefits He had there, He came here to suffer a humiliating death so that we might be saved.

In either translation, we get this idea that Jesus chose what He did because of the better thing it would bring Him in the end. He valued the will of the Father more than His personal goals and comforts and gave up His privileges and rights for the cross. Similarly, when we survey what lies ahead for us, as Jesus may be leading us in a way that looks scary or is nudging us to step out in a way that requires us to change or stretches us in uncomfortable ways, we are encouraged here that we can embrace the humiliation that may come for doing God’s will because of what we get in exchange.

In addition, we should note Jesus’ view of shame, as described in Hebrews 12:2. He looked at the cross that would be shameful — the mockery, the cruel death, the pain — and, He did so, “scorning the shame,” or as some translations read, “despising the shame.” How does one scorn or despise the shame? He viewed the humiliation that would come from the cross as the less significant thing, as the pain it would bring meant less to Him than doing the Father’s will.

We will often be in the place of literally weighing out what God wants us to do and the cost, and we can do what God wants because of the better it will mean in the end. While Esau took the easy way over the hard and lost his birthright, Jesus did the opposite and accomplished the Father’s will and is sitting at the right hand of the Father (Acts 2:33; Hebrews 10:12).

When we are afraid, and we are facing circumstances that could get very dim if we boldly declare our faith and act in obedience to God, the writer of Hebrews here assures us that the sacrifice will be worth it. And Jesus stands as the ultimate example of One who went before and accomplished the Father’s will.

We don’t have to be the bitter root that falls away — but rather, the flourishing vine and faithful steward rooted in God that finishes our race.

Stay tuned for Part 2 next week where we talk about how Jesus isn’t just a perfect example. He’s a perfect example who helps us in our journey. Though walking with Jesus will lead us to hard and uncomfortable places, we won’t walk the journey alone — and He will give us the power necessary to do His will.

Related Resources:

Ever struggled to know in what way God would like to use you in serving others? Check out “Christian Service: What Does God Want Me to Do?”

Not really sure how to hear from God or how to walk in His will? Check out the following resources: “3 Lessons the Wise Men Can Teach Us About Knowing God’s Will for Our Lives” and “What the Wise Men Teach Us About Following God.”

Podcast Notes and Corrections:

The following explanation of Hebrews 1, 2 used in the podcast is loosely adapted from John Gill’s Expositions: “If we look at the word “for” in the passage, it can sometimes mean “in stead of” or “in place of” — and we can say in stead of God staying in heaven, he came into the world, in stead of his privileges and glory as God He became a servant and suffered shame.

 

 

 

 

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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Running the Race of Faith With Perseverance

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My husband loves to run. For the duration of our marriage, several days a week, he has consistently risen before daylight to run a few miles. His discipline has paid off. He still fits in the same size pants he wore when I met him 20 years ago!

No one likes to discipline one’s self to do the hard work (except perhaps my husband when it comes to exercise!), but there is no payoff without it. Certainly, we are called to rest in God’s grace, but a “doing” component exists in the Christian walk. While we don’t earn our salvation or standing with God by our works, we are called to discipline ourselves to follow the call of God, which involves willingly persevering through difficulties and trials and “running” the race of faith (Hebrews 12:1; Philippians 2:16).

One such place where perseverance in our faith walk is emphasized and the idea of an athlete (possibly running a race or participating in another athletic event) is used is 2 Timothy 2:3-6. Sitting in a Roman prison awaiting execution, Paul writes to Timothy in this letter and exhorts him to persevere through the challenges and suffering he is enduring and will continue to endure as a minister of the faith, saying:

Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer. Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules. The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive the share of the crops.

Just as Paul encourages Timothy to compete like an athlete in his letter, we as Christians can be encouraged to “run” strong in the Lord and remain faithful in our service. An athlete isn’t the only picture Paul uses to describe the dedicated Christian. He also uses two other pictures to make his point. We should observe the pictures he uses and how he encourages us to mimic the actions of these individuals in our Christian walk:

 1. No soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs.

Paul urges Timothy to stay focused on his calling and not allow himself to be distracted by anything that might take his energies away from his ultimate task, which is to follow the Lord Jesus Christ and obey His voice.

Soldiers are required to be obedient to their commanding officers and forsake activities that distract them from their duty. Similarly, as Christians, following Jesus means being willing to leave behind certain tasks and interests in order to pursue the course God has for us.

However, so often, as Christians, we get pulled off course by plans that may take us away from what we know we should do. I can recall a season where I had a huge list of to-do items I wanted to get to for my house, and I remember God telling me that my focus was in the wrong place. It’s not wrong to do home fixer-upper projects or take care of your home — we should do that — but my plans were taking me away from the project that God wanted me to complete in that season.

Rather than go to the store daily for new house items and fill my days with repairs and decorating plans, I surrendered and instead invested my time in the project He had for me. The Bible tells us, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33, AKJV). You know what happened when I surrendered to God? I didn’t get my repairs done right away, but sometime later, when I finished the tasks God had for me in that season, all of these “to-do” items got done when my husband had a job change and we had to put our house up for sale.

As Christians, we will have to attend to certain affairs in the world. We will have jobs and families. We will have to do normal things like grocery shop, pay bills, and mow our lawns. This verse isn’t urging us to forsake everyday tasks, but rather, reminding us not to get “entangled” in those affairs where they take precedence above what God would have us do.

As James Burton Coffman quotes E.M. Zerr as saying, “Any kind of occupation, whether right or wrong in itself that prevents a disciple from doing his duty would constitute the entangling affairs mentioned in this verse.” Similarly, Matthew Henry says, “The great care of a soldier should be to please his general, so the great care of a Christian should be to please Christ, to approve himself to him.”

2. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.

Here, Paul switches from his soldier metaphor to one of an athlete, and we are told that we will not receive a crown unless we compete according to the rules.

An athlete must compete despite fatigue, thirst, and physical discomfort. He must not allow those obstacles to prevent him from finishing the event or race. Similarly, in our spiritual walk, we will face persecution, temptation, opposition, and other trials — that will wear us down and make us want to quit running the race. However, to obtain a crown we must stand firm to the end (Hebrews 3:14; Revelation 2:10).

The Bible mentions several types of crowns that we will receive at the judgment seat of Christ — among them the imperishable crown for people who exercise self-discipline (1 Corinthians 9:24-25) and the crown of life for those who endure trials, testing, and persecution (James 1:12).

However, to win such a crown, we must exhibit discipline and endurance. We won’t achieve the plans God has for us and successfully answer our call with a “lassez-faire” attitude. As I found in my study of this passage, Paul may have been addressing “I’ll do it my way, how I want” approaches to religion in his day and emphasizing faith meant a dependence on Christ and adherence to His commands.

Perhaps in Paul’s time, just as in ours, there were those that were hoping to obtain God’s rewards and promises without putting in any effort in their Christian walk or others creating their own faith apart from Christ.

However, just as an athlete must adhere to guidelines for competitions, we as Christians have the Holy Spirit and the Bible to guide us as we go through our days. Our run is not aimless, but rather one where we follow the model of Christ and have a clear goal in mind (1 Corinthians 9:26-27).

3. It is the hard-working farmer who should have the first share of the crops.

The last picture Paul uses to illustrate how we must approach the Christian life is of the hard-working farmer. Again, this kind of illustration uses someone, like the soldier and athlete, who must be disciplined and steady as he labors on his farm: cultivating the soil, planting the seeds, and fighting off insects and other threats to ensure a good crop.

As Christians, we must work intently just like a farmer if we expect to see a crop. This means we must discipline ourselves to soak in the Word of God, learn God’s will, and faithfully sow in the lives of others as we walk in His Spirit.

However, the work is hard, and we won’t always see immediate results. Elsewhere in Scripture we are told that “at the proper time,” when we are faithful, we will “reap a harvest” (Galatians 6:9). Yet, whether we see visible results or not when we follow Christ and endeavor to do His work, we will still benefit and reap a reward in our lives when we invest in the lives of others and do the will of God.

As far as the farmer getting the “first share of the crops,” I found varied ideas among scholars about what this could mean. One meaning could be that in order to serve others we must stay connected to God’s power in order to offer Him to others.

Another meaning could be that only those who labor will have fruits to partake in. Along these lines, I love what Albert Barnes observes: “The point was not that the husbandmen [farmer] would be the first one who would partake in the fruits; but that he must labor first before he obtained the reward. Thus understood, this would be an encouragement to Timothy to persevere in his toils, looking onward to the reward.”

Conclusion:

All of these pictures Paul uses show us that the Christian walk is one where we must be intentional about doing what we are able to do on our end to run the race of faith and run it well. We don’t have to strive to earn salvation or earn our standing with God, but each day we have choices as to how we will spend our time and our efforts.

The passage reminds us to put God’s interests at the forefront and live a disciplined life in service to Him in order to bear much fruit and win a crown that will never fade.

“It is the enduring, patient, self-sacrificing toil that is rewarded in the affairs of common life — the man that endures hardness and whether as a soldier, or athlete, or tiller of the ground, wins the reward, and as in the world — so in religion.” Ellicott’s Commentary

Related Resources:

Want to hear the post in podcast form? Check out the accompanying podcast episode above the article where co-hosts Suzy Lolley and Carol Whitaker talk over the points of this post.

For additional podcast episodes from Season 1 & 2, check out our podcast archive.

Podcast Notes and Corrections:

James Burton Coffman quotes E.M. Zerr when he says in his commentary, “Any kind of occupation, whether right or wrong in itself that prevents a disciple from doing his duty would constitute the entangling affairs mentioned in this verse.”

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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When God Uses Our Trials to Teach Us: Part 2

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Trials come in many shapes and sizes: a health problem that drags on, a relationship conflict that pops up when we least expect it, house repairs that exceed our savings, a business venture that fails despite our best efforts.

Trials are a part of living in our fallen world. However, we can also go through trials for a myriad of other reasons: we can be afflicted by Satan, we can suffer natural consequences for our sin, or we can be persecuted for our good actions as Christians. However, at times, God orchestrates particular situations to teach us a particular lesson that will benefit us.

Psalm 119:71, 75-76 says: “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees … I know, Lord that your laws are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me. May your unfailing love be my comfort, according to your promise to your servant.”

As I discussed in my last post, we find it difficult to wrap our minds around the idea of a God who afflicts us, but when we understand that God uses affliction to draw us to Himself and turn us from going astray, we can better embrace those difficult situations that make us want to run or turn on God.

Some ideas to remember when looking at the idea that God afflicts us:

1. God afflicts us because of His faithfulness.

In Psalm 119, the writer notes that “in faithfulness” God has afflicted him (v. 75). That concept is so hard to comprehend. Say what? However, we have been talking in this series about the idea that God instructs us through our circumstances not to destroy us but to make us more like His Son. We read in 1 Peter 4:19: “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.”

While 1 Peter 4:19 is referring to those who suffer for doing what is right in the will of God (and a little different suffering than we have been discussing), we see the idea that whether we suffer for doing what is good or suffer because God in His loving discipline is teaching us, we can trust God with our lives — knowing He always knows what is best for us.

A God who allows affliction sounds terrifying, and when circumstances get challenging in our lives, our natural tendency is to get angry at God and bolt. However, Psalm 119 reminds us that God does what He does because of His great love for us.

He allows pain to encourage us to return from the path of destruction we’re on, and He’s willing to use whatever means necessary to save us from our own folly. In addition, God always acts consistently with His character. Whatever decisions He makes are always out of His perfect mercy, love, justice, and holiness. Therefore, though His actions toward us might not always feel loving, we can be confident, as the psalmist is here, that God is not out to get us, but always has our best interests in mind.

2. God comforts us when we turn to Him in our affliction.

The amazing thing is that even in the midst of affliction that has come to correct us or turn from our bad choices, we see that God is a refuge for us and a comfort to our wayward souls. Verse 76 says, “May your unfailing love be my comfort, according to your promise to your servant.” The Living Bible paraphrases it like this: “Now let your loving-kindness comfort me, just as you promised. Surround me with your tender mercies that I may live. For your law is my delight.”

Even if we have turned from God and run from Him, if we are willing to learn what we need to learn in our afflictions and turn back to Him, He will guide us back into the way we should go. But too often we let our afflictions anger us and keep us from God.

Here, in Psalm 119, we see that the psalmist not only has confidence in God’s faithfulness, he models for us what we should do in our trials: turn to God. However, that is often the last thing we feel like doing because we’re too angry. Proverbs 19:3 says that a person’s own foolishness causes him to go astray — but get this — he rages against the Lord! In other words, at times we can find ourselves in a mess because of our own choices, but yet we get angry at the Lord. Instead of going down that path, we can learn what we need to learn and let God rescue us from the places we’re stuck — instead of blaming others or God, or remaining stuck in our anger.

Because as I’ve learned in my research on affliction: God may orchestrate the afflictions in our lives, but He can rescue us from our troubles. Psalm 34:17 tells us: “The righteous cry out and the Lord hears them. He delivers them from all their troubles.” Similarly James 1:2-4 (VOICE) urges us:

Don’t run from tests and hardships, brothers and sisters. As difficult as thy are, you will ultimately find joy in them; if you embrace them, your faith will blossom under pressure and teach you true patience as you endure. And true patience brought on by endurance will equip you to complete the long journey and cross the finish line — mature, complete, and wanting nothing.

Fighting against God or blaming Him will only delay our ordeals and won’t give us the escape we’re looking for. So, knowing that God can rescue us, what else can we do when we are in the midst of circumstances that threaten to derail us? I picked these up from the Holman Bible Dictionary:

  1. Pray.
  2. Comfort Others.
  3. Remain faithful through patient endurance of suffering.
  4. Cultivate an attitude of joy.
  5. Follow the example of Jesus Christ.

Conclusion:

No one wants a trial, but we often get stuck in the place of how hard the trial is, and that can make us angry and make us want to turn on God. Most of us in the midst of a hard season resist and try to fight our way out instead of leaning into the pain and asking, “God, what is it you want me to learn here?”

One pastor I know used to say that God will tell us what we need to know, but we won’t always like what He tells us. When we understand that God’s faithfulness and love are the motivation behind His discipline of us, we understand that He is not just out to make us miserable, but to make us holy like Him and fit us for His purposes.

As the Holman Bible Dictionary emphasizes, trials are temporary. As I shared about in Part 1 of the series, in one particular tough season God allowed for my own discipline, I got out of it. God moved me on. After fighting him for a few months, I relented and did what He asked me to do. In response, He mercifully lifted me out of the situation. I am right now in another learning season, and I can look back and see how He delivered me then and can deliver me now if I choose to submit to the process.

How we react, though, is a choice. Our Red Sea will remain until we learn what God wants us to learn. In other words, those immoveable obstacles and adversities that we are desperate to have removed will stay as long as necessary to help us learn what we need to learn. But, as commentator Matthew Henry observes, the God who brought us in can bring us out! He is the only One who can rescue us from our circumstances, so let’s turn to Him in the process, trusting that He always does what is best for us.

This is the conclusion of a 2-part series on how God uses trials for our instruction. Check out Part 1 in the previous post and podcast where I discuss how trials teach us.

Related Resources:

Are you at a Red Sea moment in your life where it feels like an immoveable wall is before you and you can’t find your way out? Check out how our faith can help us move forward against immoveable obstacles in these two articles: “How Forward Motion Faith Overcomes Obstacles” and “Why Won’t God Bless Me?”

While God can bring us to Red Seas for different reasons, and you may know what action He has given you to begin the process of moving through your obstacle, sometimes we don’t know what we’re supposed to do. If you’re in that place of not knowing what to do, you may be encouraged by the following: “Waiting on God When You’re Facing a Red Sea Problem in Your Life.”

Co-host Suzy Lolley is back with us this month on the podcast! So good to have her with us! Check out the podcast episode above the article if you’d like to hear us talk over the points of the post.

Podcast Notes and Corrections:

The writer of Psalm 119 is unknown, although some scholars attribute it to David.

Carol Whitaker

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

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When You Don’t Like the Way God Leads

prairie-1246633_1920Not too long ago, my family moved into a new community and transitioned from the church and home we had grown very comfortable in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Embarking on a New Move

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

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

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

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

Not only that, a few months into our house listing, when I got pregnant (again, a surprise that I did not expect), I was rattled by how out of control I was with everything. While I was excited about a new life growing inside of me, the unknowns of another pregnancy (after a painful loss and associated health challenges the year before) on top of the unknowns related to the move stretched my Type-A, I-have-to-control-everything personality in uncomfortable ways. I know some of you reading this may be thinking, “Get over yourself! Give up control! But I can tell you, I struggled.

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

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

The Blessings of Obedience

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

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

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

I have only mentioned material things, and I know that often God’s blessings are in the spiritual realm. Those spiritual blessings are just beginning to be evident to me, but the best blessing of all so far is that in moving I was released from a stressful situation where I felt like I was at a dead-end. I wasn’t thriving there any longer and had begged God more than once for a deliverance from my circumstances.

A New Start for Our Family

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Adapted from a post written for a book study on Charles Stanley’s The Blessings of Brokenness. To view the original post, click here.

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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Embracing Small Moments of Ministry

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As an English teacher, one of the core concepts I learned to teach was theme. It’s the author’s underlying message. It’s what he wants us to take away from a piece of literature. And one of those most common themes is that things are not always as they appear. They’re not as insignificant or even as accidental as they might first seem to be.

One such non-coincidental encounter started as many weekend days of my life do, at the thrift store. I am always drawn to a beautiful book cover (English teacher, remember?), and on this particular day, it was the cover of an anthology on Southernness from the editors of Garden and Gun Magazine. As I opened the book to a “random” page, I landed on an article that purported that Knoxville’s Chintzy Rose tea room and junk shop served tea that surpassed any other in the South. That’s saying something.

Well, how “concidental” then that I just happened to be planning a trip to my hometown in Virginia, and that Knoxville is the halfway point. How “strange,” too, that anyone I had asked to take the trip with me was unavailable. I was a little depressed about going by myself, but when I saw that article about the tea room, I determined to make an adventure out of my trip after all. When the day arrived, I put on an extended episode of my favorite podcast and set my sights on the halfway mark, where my personal roadside attraction was waiting.

When you’re alone, which for many of us happens in small doses and for others too often, you have time to reflect. As I prayed, worshipped, and listened to God on the way, I specifically prayed that I would not miss any plans God had for me that day. Four hours went by, and a little after lunchtime, I arrived at the Chintzy Rose, which was actually out of my way. I missed the little place the first time and even had to turn around to go back to it. When I walked in, antiques were everywhere, and I mean that literally. The shop was more than a little disheveled, but I felt so much at home already.

You see, my artist grandma, who taught me that a teacup should always have a thin lip and what it was to read Victoria magazine, always kept our house a little disheveled with her projects as well. I made my way to the back, beyond the shop, to the smallest tea room you’ve ever seen. There was one empty table, out of three, so I seated myself there. However, Knoxville is in the South, so I when I mentioned that I had driven all the way from Atlanta for the best sweet tea in the region, three ladies from an adjoining table insisted that I sit with them, the embodiment of Southern hospitality.

We sat and laughed together like we had been friends for years. These Christian ladies talked about their kids and grandkids, their work, and their ministries. We bantered back and forth with the owner and with the lady at the third table, and we even met Mrs. Tennessee America. We passed what was surely more time than they had allotted for their lunches, and by the time I said my goodbyes, I had an invitation to go on a thrift-store run with them.

One of the ladies in particular, Caroline, seemed more drawn to me than the others. I don’t recall what it was about her story at this point that connected us, but I do know that I ended my time there with her phone number and an invitation to come stay at her house the next time I was passing through. She came from a broken marriage and seemed to want genuine connection with other women, and I was happy to fulfill my same desire for connection too.

I left that little restaurant with more than just the vintage embroidery hoops I’d purchased and the refill of great sweet tea (it was, after all) in my hand. I left with an overwhelming peace and joy in my heart. I left knowing that, despite the fact that no major miracle had transpired, I had just had a divine appointment. I call that appointment, the one any outsider would have missed, even if they had been looking for it, small ministry. I went out of my way and by doing so encountered someone who needed me in a situation where I needed respite as well.

If you look at every area of my life, there appears to be chaos. From my physical house to my body to ministry transitions, it appears like I’m waiting for my big moment, the time when God will deliver me and finally bring me into the purpose He has for me. But does that mean He wants me to waste all those sweet-tea-and-small-ministry days? Not at all. So let’s examine three ways we can integrate small ministry so that it becomes perhaps the most impactful ministry of all.

3 Ways We Can Integrate Ministry Into Our Everyday

1. The more we take time to look for small opportunities, the more we naturally notice them.

If you’ll recall in my story, before I went to the teahouse, I was already praying and worshiping and asking God to do something with me. I’ve been much more conscious in recent years that the days in between my big moments must be used for some purpose. I’ve put myself in the mindset to look for opportunities to give people a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name. You will find what you look for. As my husband always says about spotting a million silver Hyundais on the road now that I have one, it’s true. In Jeremiah 29:13, Jesus says that very thing. We will find Him if we seek Him with all our hearts. He wants to be found by us. So if you’re waiting for your big moment, don’t miss all those other little moments in between.

2. We change ourselves when we help others.

I went to that teahouse lonely and stressed and concerned with my life’s current state. But I came out full of peace and hope. And even having had an encounter with a new friend. When I sat down at the table, I made it my purpose to return kindness for what had been shown to me when the ladies invited me to sit with them. But I ended up being the one to gain. Isn’t God like that? When we give to others, He says it comes back to us pressed down, shaken together, and running over. If you take time for small ministry, you will be the one ministered to.

3. Your ship may not have come in today, but I bet a kayak did.

In the last few years, my husband and I have joined what’s playfully called the “kayak clique.” There are six of us and hopefully more soon who have kayaks and like to get together to go out on the water. But kayaks aren’t easy. You are physically paddling and when a storm comes, you’re not in one of those boats with a big engine that can escape quickly.

You’re doing all the work and having all the pain. And it can make you feel like it would be so much better to have that big boat that everybody else is in. So many times, we are looking for a big ship to come in. That big opportunity or change, but we have to make sure not to neglect the days that come before. Next time you’re waiting for your big yacht-sized encounter with God or with others, don’t neglect that little kayak of opportunity that might be tied nearby.

You see, God is not interested in us just getting to our big destination. We might be goals-focused. We might want the next job or a bigger house or a better situation. But God is more interested in transforming us on the journey, burning up the dross, and transforming us to pure gold along the way. The kind of people who will actually be strong enough to bear up under the big opportunities when they come. That’s what small ministry is all about — taking time not to miss the opportunities in the everyday, the ones that will build us and transform us … and maybe not be so insignificant after all.

Suzy Lolley

Suzy Lolley

Suzy Lolley taught both middle school and high English for many years, and is currently an Instructional Technology Specialist for the public school system, a wife, and a workaholic. She loves nothing more than a clean, organized house, but her house is rarely that way. She enjoys being healthy but just can’t resist those mashed potatoes (with gravy) sometimes. When she cooks, she uses every dish in the house, and she adores a good tea party. She loves Jesus and is spending the next year documenting her journey to a less independent, more Jesus-dependent life on her blog.

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Endurance in the Christian Walk to Finish Your Race

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I had a manager once tell me I was really “good out of the gate,” but my energy lessened as my shift wore on. I have found that to be a true description of how I generally approach many tasks in life: My motivation is generally quite high at the outset but begins to wane as time passes and problems and trials sap my strength.

The Christian walk, I have found, is not a sprint but a marathon. Years ago, I answered God’s call with such enthusiasm. Before he gave me a ministry, I begged him for one. I couldn’t wait to get started, and yet, when He gave me the ministry I so wanted, I begged Him shortly after on numerous occasions to let me quit (or at least walk away for a season). I have discovered over the last few years that I don’t have the endurance to complete the marathon. It is only in God’s power that I have kept on for these past few years and continue to keep on in my current season.

To Endure in Our Calling Requires a Continual Commitment

In John 21:15-23, we see a disciple who also has to be instructed when he is about to bomb out on his calling. After making boasts about what he will do for Jesus (Matthew 26:33), this prideful disciple gets a lesson in humility: He fails Jesus by denying him three times. Rather than cast out this disciple, though, Jesus takes the opportunity to teach Peter what it means to be a minister of the Gospel and run the race with endurance.

He asks Peter three separate times if Peter loves Him and then points him to a directive: feed his sheep. Each time Jesus asks, Peter responds by saying, “Lord, you know that I love you.” The last time Jesus asks, Peter shows a shift, prefacing the words with, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you” (v. 17). As I discussed in my last post, Peter’s response shows he is no longer bragging about his abilities. He simply states that he loves him. And, as the IVP New Testament Commentary observes, his last response shows a position of humility and acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty.

Peter’s new learned dependence on Jesus is that which is necessary for us to model if we are to complete our call (and how we can handle the failures that we are sure to have along the way), but there is another lesson embedded in their conversation. According to the IVP, each time Jesus asks represents those times in our lives that we will have the temptation to go an easier way. Service to God isn’t a call we answer one time in our lives. It is a call we answer over and over again.

As exemplified in the passage, we will have to continually renew our commitment to Jesus as we follow Him (IVP). This means that as we grow in spiritual maturity and Jesus reveals to us at different intervals what our walk is going to entail (letting go of a certain habit, overcoming a fear in an area, etc.), we must be willing to answer, “Yes, Lord, I love you [more than these].” I love you more than my comfort, my security, my desire for wealth, or acceptance. I am willing to give this up or work on this area for you. Again and again, Jesus will test us with the question He raised to Peter, “Do you love me [more than these other things]?” We have to be willing to allow Jesus to “raise the bar” in our lives as He teaches us what it means to be His follower.

To Endure We Must Also Stay Fixed on Jesus

Not only must we must be willing to repeatedly deny ourselves and renew our commitment to Him as we continue in our calling, we must not allow distractions to take our focus away from Jesus. Though Peter is making progress in his spiritual maturity and walk with Christ, he still has a human moment where he turns from his claims of devotion and takes his eyes off Jesus. When he learns that his call will entail going where he does not want to go and even being led to die as Jesus did by crucifixion (vv. 18, 19), he pauses for a moment and asks about the fate of John, who is following close behind.

Jesus tells him, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me” (v. 22). In other words, he tells Peter to only worry about himself. It is all too natural that Peter should be concerned about whether or not others will go through the same difficulties and suffering. But Jesus doesn’t give him the answer he wants, but tells him to stay focused on his own commission.

Too often, we compare our suffering in ministry to that of others. We’re OK with denying ourselves if others walk a similar road, but what if they don’t? What if Jesus has us in a place we don’t want to be, we suffer more than others, or Jesus leads in in a way that seems to be more treacherous than the path of other Christians? We must be willing to follow even if our road looks harder than that of others or is undesirable. As Romans 5:3 and James 1:2-4 tell us, our difficulties don’t have to knock us off the path — but rather, are the very tests that will develop fortitude in us if we let them.

Romans 5:3 (VOICE): “And that’s not all, we also celebrate in seasons of suffering because we know that when we suffer we develop endurance.”

James 1:2-4 (VOICE): “Don’t run from tests and hardships, brothers and sisters. As difficult as they are, you will ultimately [find joy in them]; if you [embrace them], your faith will [blossom under pressure] and [teach you true patience as you endure]. And true patience brought on by endurance will equip you to complete the long journey and cross the finish line — mature, complete and wanting nothing.”

Conclusion:

Jesus’ conversation with Peter offers us some valuable insight into how we can develop and maintain the rigor and endurance it takes to complete the mission God gives us. Like Peter, we have to allow Jesus to turn us from our own desires, love of self, and pride and choose to follow Him again and again even when we’re tired, weary of trials, and disappointed because we don’t have the results or the perks others have. We will have obstacles that threaten to entangle us, but with continued commitment to Christ and a dependence on Him — we will finish the race.

Why must I weep when others sing?

“To test the deeps of suffering.”

Why must I work while others rest?

“To spend my strength at God’s request.”

Why must I lose while others gain?

“To understand defeat’s sharp pain.”

Why must this lot of life be mine

When that which fairer seems is thine?

“Because God knows what plans for me

Shall blossom in eternity.”

– from Streams in the Desert

Related Bible Verses:

Hebrews 12:1: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”

Hebrews 3:14: “For we have become partners with Christ, if in fact we hold our initial confidence firm until the end.”

Podcast Corrections:

Peter denied Jesus the night of Jesus’ arrest, not before.

 

 

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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Why Your Failure Isn’t Final

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In my life, trust of God has been the most difficult lesson for me to learn, and I’ve had many big failures in this area — times when I succumbed to fear and doubt in a crucial moment when I needed to have faith instead. In fact, I can count some major times in the last few years where God arranged something on my behalf or wanted me to simply rest in Him, but instead, I trusted my own understanding or that of others in a situation.

But here’s what I’m learning now: God gives us a second chance (or maybe a 20th chance, if that is what is needed) to learn what we failed to learn before. Recently, I’ve found myself in a circumstance that feels all too familiar: It’s been the overriding refrain of my life the last few years. God has been leading me through challenging circumstances, and yet, He has been telling me to trust what He will do on my behalf.

The “practical” voice of reason in my head screams that this can’t be right, it can’t be the way. I’ve prayed about a step I can take to “fix” this situation or proactively step forward, but God has told me to wait. And this waiting is that which I have been instructed to before and failed at. So this time feels extra hard because my go-to response in times like this has always been to try to work my way out, make something happen, avoid the pain by taking the escape (even if it’s not God’s will). And I know I can’t do that this time.

Curbing that “do-it-myself, I want it my way” fleshly attitude is one that is taking painful discipline and work with the Holy Spirit. Maybe as you are reading this, you can think of a lesson God is teaching you — about trust — or maybe in a different area. Whatever the lesson is, no matter how not-fun, we should be encouraged that scores of individuals in the Bible had to be given multiple opportunities to learn a lesson.

Peter: A Disciple Who Was Given a Second Chance

Peter is perhaps the best all-time example of a disciple who needed more than one chance to learn a lesson. In John 21, Peter has failed big-time. Just as Jesus predicted, Peter denies he knows Jesus on the night of Jesus’ arrest and betrays his Lord. And yet, Jesus doesn’t reject Peter in his failure.

After Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, Mary Magdalene and other women find an angel in the empty tomb, and he gives them a message from Jesus, saying, “But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you’ ” (Mark 16: 6, 7). Did you get that? Jesus asks for the guy who had failed him miserably just a few days earlier by especially singling him out by saying “the disciples and Peter.” Peter responds to the Lord’s call, and Jesus initiates a conversation with him, as recorded in John 21:15-18:

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ he said, ‘you know that I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Feed my lambs.’ Again Jesus said, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He answered, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Take care of my sheep.’ The third time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ He said, ‘Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Feed my sheep.’ Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.

It seems a little surprising that Jesus would seek out Peter and spend time with him after Peter had so obviously failed him. But there are two important lessons we can learn from Jesus’ actions:

1. Our failure is an opportunity for us to grow.

So many of us view failure as a final end that we can never recover from. However, we see from this passage that God never wastes an opportunity. He uses everything in our life — even our failures — for our ultimate good (Romans 8:28).

As described in these lines, Jesus uses Peter’s failure to teach him and help him grow. However, Peter’s growth doesn’t come without some personal angst. The second chance Jesus offers Peter has eery parallels to the time he failed. Peter denied Jesus three times. Jesus asks him if he loves him three times. As the IVP New Testament Commentary illuminates, Jesus’ questions are probing, and most likely, make Peter uncomfortable. Each time Jesus poses the same question, he is reminded of his failure, and that is painful.

Similarly, for us, as much as the second chance God offers may be one we’re relieved to see in front of us, it may also be painful as we enter circumstances that resemble those we left. We have to face what we did wrong and change. Yet, here, we can see Peter is already changing. When Jesus inquires of him as to his love, Peter doesn’t brag as he has in times past (IVP). Before the crucifixion, Peter had insisted he would never fall away, even if others did (Matthew 26:33). Here, he simply answers, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you” (vv. 15, 16).

In addition, the third time Jesus asks, Peter answers with a variation saying, “Lord you know all things; you know that I love you” (v. 17, emphasis mine). By his acknowledgement of Jesus as all-knowing, Peter further shows a new humility that points to God’s sovereignty and knowledge, rather than his own (IVP). Jesus further explains how Peter will have to continue to deny himself by being a disciple, saying, “When you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go” (v. 18). Jesus loves and forgives Peter, but spells out clearly to Peter that being a disciple with entail continued humility and dependence on God.

2. God wants us in our failure.

God’s love is a concept that many of us struggle with. I remember years ago struggling to feel God’s love, and He told me I couldn’t feel it fully because of my unbelief. As I’ve begun to believe in God’s love, I’ve begun to recognize the ways God is intimately involved in my life — how recklessly He loves each of us, and how He’s willing to pursue us when we get it wrong and stray (Matthew 18:12).

Though God loves us so much that He comes after us when we fail, we have to accept His love and pursuit of us. Jesus includes Peter’s name with his instructions because he wants it to be clear to Peter that he is included. But Peter still had to make the choice to return and accept the forgiveness and acceptance of His Savior. He had to allow himself to go through the uncomfortable heart surgery Jesus performed on him when it would have been much easier just to cut off ties and go his own way. But despite how uncomfortable it must have been for Peter to face Jesus when he had just denied him and submit to Jesus’ discipline, Peter returns and became stronger and better equipped for his role as a disciple because of his willingness to learn from Jesus.

As I discussed in a previous post, not everyone who is offered that love chooses to return when they fail. But how amazing that God offers us unconditional love knowing that some will reject Him. When we “love” as the world loves, we love with a conditional love. This type of love loves until the person fails and then casts out so that there is no hope of restoration. But God teaches a different way, a way that says, “I want you no matter how bad you mess it up, no matter how you get it wrong.”

Truly, this knowledge shouldn’t give us a nonchalant attitude where we take advantage of the grace offered and knowingly make bad choices with the excuse of, “It’s OK, God will forgive me.” God does forgive us when we repent, but the Bible warns us to be sincere in our repentance (Romans 6:1, 2; 14, 15). And we should know that while God’s grace is lavish, earthly consequences can come as a result of our choices and should help deter us from not doing what is right.

But how wonderful that God never leaves us in our failure. When we’re not strong enough to make the right choices, we can turn to Him, and He sustains us and gives us what we need to do what’s right.

Psalm 54:4: “Surely God is my help; the Lord is the one who sustains me.”

Isaiah 46:4: “Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he. I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.”

Related Resources:

Want some more posts on Easter? Check out last week’s post on Jesus’ feelings as He went to the cross. We can learn from Him how to handle seasons where we feel lonely in our calling or wonder if God has left us.

Don’t have time to read many posts but want to listen instead? Check out this post in podcast form or past episodes by stopping by our brand new podcast archive.

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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When You Feel Lonely in Your Calling

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“I feel so alone,” I told my husband in a hormone-induced crying spell.

We had transitioned to a new house and a new community, and the transition had been fairly smooth, but as I moved into my last weeks of pregnancy, I felt alone.

Alone when I drove my kids to school, and I didn’t know a soul in the building.

Alone when we went to our new church, and I didn’t recognize a single face.

Alone when I went to my new doctor, and I didn’t know any of the medical staff.

Alone when I contemplated the difficult situations that had seemed to pile up the last year as I did what God asked of me.

Alone.

Jesus knew loneliness in his journey to the cross. However, as relayed in Matthew 26-28, although much attention is often given to those that opposed Him and betrayed Him and the suffering He went through (and rightly so), He was also defended and aided by His heavenly Father.

That though Jesus was mocked by those who didn’t believe His words, there were ways that the truth of His words reached the eyes and ears of those in His community. In re-reading His story recently, I was reminded that perhaps if we find ourselves feeling alone in whatever assignment Jesus has given us, we may be tempted to quit or believe God has forgotten us.

But we can see from the Easter story how God’s plan may lead us to what feels like a solitary path — but in the midst of that path, God is there — at work.

A few takeaways we can get from the Easter story:

1. We should stay fixed on God even when we feel forsaken.

When we observe Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, He asked His disciples to be vigilant and pray with Him. But each time that He asked them and went away to pray, they fell asleep. No one stayed awake with Jesus through the intense moments He experienced before His arrest.

But Jesus remained fixed on God and His Father’s will even when others around Him didn’t understand or were not there for Him when He needed them. The third time when He went away, He came back to find them asleep once again, but He simply said, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” (Matthew 26:45, 46).

Similarly, when Jesus hung on the cross, before He breathed His last breath, He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Although many disagree on what happened on the cross and after Jesus died, Jesus felt a separation from the presence of His heavenly Father as He took on the sin of the world.

I find it amazingly comforting that Jesus, the most perfect human being, felt deserted. That whether Jesus was abandoned by His Father or just felt abandoned, the truth was that He experienced this right when He was in the center of God’s plan!

And, if indeed Jesus did endure this separation, one benefit that we have that Jesus did not is that although we may feel that God is not with us, as Derek Gentle points out in an article, “[Jesus] was forsaken that God might never leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5, Romans 8:31-39).” Jesus became the ultimate sacrifice so that we would never have to be completely alone.

Therefore, if we find ourselves feeling isolated in following Jesus’ plan for us, we may be tempted to give up or assume God has deserted us. We may feel that others have fallen asleep on us — are not near when we have needed them most — but that does not mean that we should fall away from what God wants us to do or assume that God has done the same.

2. God provides for us and is present in our process.

We can see in Jesus’ story how even though God allowed Jesus’ suffering and allowed Jesus to be betrayed and abandoned by those closest to Him, He also provided for Him. Yes, undoubtedly there may have been a momentary separation as Jesus became a propitiation for our sin, but we see that God cared for Jesus’ needs and was very present in the process.

Earlier, before Jesus was arrested, a woman came and washed Jesus’ feet with a jar of expensive alabaster perfume. The disciples objected to this lavish display, saying that the money could be used for the poor. However, Jesus responded by asking, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial” (Matthew 26:7-10).

Later in the passage, a man whom apparently none of the disciples even knew provided a place for Jesus and His disciples to eat the last supper. The Luke account says that an angel came down in the Garden of Gethsemane to strengthen Jesus when his disciples could not be counted on (22:43). After Jesus’ death, a rich man named Joseph, who had become a follower of Jesus, asked Pilate for Jesus’ body, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and placed the body in his own tomb that he had just cut out of rock.

Clearly, even as Jesus felt deserted by His closest friends and even God Himself at one point, God provided those who were available to minister and care for Jesus in the midst of carrying out His will.

Likewise, if we look around during the times we feel the most alone or afraid, we will most likely be able to trace God’s hand and see how He gives us supernatural aid or the help of kind people in our journey — people we not know or necessarily solicit help from. But people who step up and offer us the support we need even as we’re facing our darkest hours.

3. If we face opposition doing what God has told us to, He will defend us.

There are times when we should give an answer to those that question us, but there are other times when we don’t need to say anything. God will do it for us.

When Jesus was brought before Pilate, Scriptures tell us that He was silent when accused, and they were amazed that He did not respond to any of the charges they brought against Him. He was mocked by the soldiers, the crowd, and the religious priests. Later, when He hung on the cross, they told Him that He should save Himself and prove He was the Son of God.

But Jesus did not speak in response to their insults at the trial or on the cross. However, what we can observe is that God’s defense was all around for the observant one taking note. When Pilate questioned Jesus, he received a message from his wife imploring Pilate to let Jesus go as she had had a dream about him that day. Pilate himself knew the religious leaders had a personal agenda. After the message from his wife, he washed his hands in front of the crowd to let them know that he had reservations about their accusations and didn’t want Jesus’ blood on his hands.

Not only was evidence of Jesus’ innocence given through the words and actions of people, the natural world gave further witness. The afternoon that Jesus died, darkness came over the land from noon to three; “the curtain from the temple was torn from top to bottom”; and an earthquake shook the earth so that tombs opened, and “the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life” (Matthew 27:45, 51, 52).

As if that were not enough evidence for the unbelieving that Jesus’ had spoken the truth, after Jesus was placed in a tomb, an angel rolled the stone of his tomb away, and Jesus rose from the dead! He then appeared to some women that had come to his tomb, later to His disciples. Clearly, as a worship song by Elevation Music says: “The evidence is [or in this case, was] all around.”

If people don’t believe us or listen when we do or say what God asks, we needn’t worry or waste our effort trying to convince them. God, in His own way and timing, will make His message abundantly clear to all who are listening. The truth will prevail without unneeded energy wasted on our part.

4. God’s power cannot be contained or minimized.

Despite the overwhelming evidence that Jesus was the Son of God as He claimed, the chief priests and elders in the Jewish community were so threatened by Jesus that they didn’t want to know the truth. They just wanted Him out of the picture. However, they had to do quite a bit of manipulating on their end to have Jesus crucified. They convinced the crowd to ask for Barabbas rather than Jesus when Pilate asked which prisoner they wanted released.

Later, the chief priests and Pharisees went to Pilate and asked that Jesus’ tomb be made secure until the third day so that the disciples couldn’t come and steal the body and claim that he was raised from the dead. Pilate agreed to have the tomb sealed and even gave them guards to protect the tomb.

Clearly, the religious leaders were doing all they could to make sure that the people did not believe that Jesus was the Son of God — but what they didn’t realize is that they were trying to minimize God’s plan and power. As is apparent in the passage, no man is able to contain His power.

As I touched on in my previous point, just as Jesus had said, three days after He died, He rose again. After a violent earthquake, an angel of the Lord came down and rolled back the stone on the tomb and sat on it. Mary Magdalene and another Mary found the tomb empty and the stone rolled away. The guards that Pilate had sent were afraid at what they saw and went and told the chief priests what they had seen (yes, the very priests who had mocked Jesus’ claim that He was the Son of God).

The chief priests made the decision to give the guards money to lie about what happened, and a false story was circulated in the Jewish community. But for those paying attention, it was obvious that Jesus was the Son of God and God’s plan was being accomplished despite the resistance of the religious leaders.

We can know that we may be persecuted and opposed as we do what God asks of us, but God is not derailed by human schemes. His plan will be accomplished whether people believe us or not.

If You Feel Alone

Perhaps this Easter, you feel some of the same emotions our Lord did when He was crucified. Perhaps you feel marginalized, misunderstood, or mocked. Perhaps as you have attempted to give the message God wanted you to or walk in the path He has laid out for you, you have faced loneliness, rejection, and scorn.

Remember this: His resurrection power cannot be contained. Whatever assignment you are on, however difficult, is one that cannot be thwarted. God’s purposes will be accomplished no matter how bleak the circumstances or how daunting the opposition.

Though we may not hear an immediate response when we cry out “My God, why have you forsaken me?” — we can rest assured that although God may not take away our suffering, there will be victory in the storm.

Hopefully, in reading this, you will be encouraged to keep plugging away at the task God has given you! Leave a comment in the box below if you would like to share what you are going through or you would like us to pray for you.

*Updated version of a post originally posted May 26, 2016.

Related Resources:

Want to read more posts on Easter? Check out last week’s post on a scene that happened before Jesus’ death where Mary anointed the feet of Jesus and prepared His body for burial, and Judas rebuked her. We can learn much from Judas and Mary about the cost of following Jesus and how giving up what we want for Jesus enables us to have something even better.

Don’t have time to read the post or others but want to listen instead? Check out the post from last week in podcast form or past episodes by stopping by our brand new podcast archive.

 

 

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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