What It Means to Live a Transformed Life

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“Addiction to approval.”

A jolt went through me as I stared at the phrase on the page of the Joyce Meyer devotional in front of me. I had never heard of that term and even questioned that God was truly speaking to me. I prayed for confirmation and understanding, and shortly after, I opened the devotional and saw the same words stamped on the page.

Stepping Away From Addiction

After I left my job in teaching, I began to get nudges to contact some people from my past. Memories came up of past wrongs that I had never dealt with, and I felt that I was to go and do something about these wrongs.

I felt led to send a letter to a manager I had at my first job as a teenager for taking some candy from beneath the counter. God nudged me to contact my teaching job and let them know that I had been haphazard in my collection of money for vocabulary books — and there was a field trip sum still left in my desk that I was afraid to turn in (because I had let the time pass when it needed to be turned in). In addition, I felt that I was to tell them that I hadn’t been a Christian example as a teacher.

I had laughed at inappropriate moments in the classroom and cultivated the worship of my students — including my male students. I prided myself on drawing professional boundaries and never had inappropriate contact with students. However, I had a flirtatious demeanor around the males in my classroom and workplace. In the process of taking these hard steps, God gave me the phrase “Addiction to approval” by first giving me the thought one day that I was addicted to approval and then showing me this phrase once again in a devotional.

After praying and doing a little more research, I found out Meyer wrote a book on the very topic, and I went and read her book. In reading her book, I discovered I compensated for deep feelings of unworthiness by pleasing others and gaining others’ approval. I learned that many of the wrong choices I had made as a teenager and a young twenty-something teacher had a common denominator: I wanted to please people and based my sense of worth on others’ positive reactions to me.

In the case of the candy I had taken from a manager, I did that when an older co-worker suggested it. I had no intention before that of taking anything from the manager, but I did it to look cool, and also, because I had a hard time saying no. At my teaching job, I was afraid to admit to my department head how unorganized I was when it came to collecting vocabulary fees and field trip funds. In an effort to look like I had it all together, I didn’t admit to her when I let my book-keeping slide and had some slips for money I couldn’t account for and a sum of money for a field trip from years back that had been in my desk for several years. In the case of my classes, I was flattered by others’ attention and felt good about myself when others paid attention to me and seemed to approve of me. Though it is not wrong to want others to like us, the desire for approval had certainly taken over my life in that I was doing what others wanted, rather than what God wanted.

God taught me the problem I was dealing with not merely by giving me a phrase and leading me to read Meyer’s book. Each nudge of His that I followed led me to eventually discover what He wanted me to learn. I had to give up habits I didn’t even know I had. In exchange, I began to change and be transformed into a different person that didn’t need to rely on unhealthy behaviors to get me through my life.

Living a Transformed Life

Our inner man, as the Apostle Paul says, is ever being renewed as we walk with Him. As 2 Corinthians 4:16 says: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” What that means is that as believers we are on a journey with Jesus to be changed day by day. Each of his promptings to us are an invitation to partner with Him as He uses us to change the lives of others, but also be changed ourselves.

At the end of Revelation 3, the church of Laodicea receives an invitation from Jesus for renewal and restoration. While the passage comes across like a harsh rebuke — and it is that — the message is also an invitation to the church to leave behind their complacency and self-sufficiency. At one time they had been zealous for the Lord, but that enthusiasm had cooled and been replaced by self-satisfaction and empty fulfilment found in wealth and worldly comforts. To this Jesus says in verses 15-20:

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm — neither hot nor cold — I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so that you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. 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.

The church of Laodicea is identified as “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” Jesus counsels them to “buy” from Him what they need: gold refined in the fire, white clothes, and eye salve. What He offered couldn’t be found anywhere else. They had everything they needed physically, and yet, the world could not give them what their spirits desperately needed. What can we learn from the church?

1. What we need to live a transformed life can only be found in Jesus.

We do not do the work of salvation. We don’t do the work of sanctification — in transforming ourselves from the inside out into a new creation — Jesus works in us. However, we do participate in the process of our renewal. We do as Jesus says and He changes us.

With Jesus’ use of the term “buy,” the idea given is that even though we don’t use money, a transaction does take place when we walk with Jesus. In the process of becoming more like Him and growing spiritually, we continually exchange and give up something in return for change in our lives.

In his commentary of the passage, S. Martin in The Biblical Illustrator says this: “The word ‘buy’ here does not mean to give an equivalent, but to ‘part’ with this self-sufficiency, and to part with it for something valuable.” What might this exchange look like? It varies in every situation, but Jesus will identify to us in particular seasons what we need to give up or let go of in order to see needed change in our lives. This isn’t about trying to somehow earn God’s favor or be good enough for Him, but simply yielding to Him in our lives.

In Lysa Terkeurst’s study What Happens When Women Say Yes to God, Terkeurst describes how she went to a conference and was inspired afterwards to pray a prayer declaring to God that she wanted to be radically obedient.

Almost immediately after Terkeurst prayed, God told her to sell her house and give up TV. She clarifies that not all Christians need to do this, but for her, this is the road God pointed her down. Television had become a way to comfort and relax her after a long day, and God pointed out that she was filling herself up with the world’s views at night when she was “vulnerable and empty.” God wanted to fill her with Himself. In addition, she and her husband had spent a lot of time fixing up their home to get it just the way they wanted it. God pointed out to Terkeurst that she and her husband were looking to her house, a temporal structure, to fulfill them.

For Terkeurst, at this juncture in her spiritual life, she knew that God wanted her to let go of these attachments. This wasn’t easy, but Terkeurst wanted to be obedient, so she gave up TV and put the steps in motion to sell her house. After she stopped watching her shows, she found that she had clearer thinking and didn’t miss them. In addition, after reluctantly putting up her home for sale, her house did not sell! God let her keep her house. He just wanted to test her devotion to Him.

Philippians 2:13 tells us to “continue to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose.” This verse tells us how we cooperate with the Holy Spirit to grow spiritually. I love the way Rick Warren explains this verse in The Purpose Driven Life:

This verse shows the two parts of spiritual growth: ‘work out’ and ‘work in.’ The ‘work out’ is your responsibility and the ‘work in’ is God’s role. Spiritual growth is a collaborative effort between you and the Holy Spirit. God’s Spirit works with us, not just in us. This verse written to believers, is not about how to be saved, but how to grow. It does not say ‘work for’ your salvation, because you can’t add anything to what Jesus already did. During a physical ‘workout,’ you exercise to develop your body, not to get a body.

In other words, Warren explains that “working out our salvation” is not working for our salvation after we come to Christ because, as He says, we can’t add anything to what Christ has done. Rather, “working out our salvation” is growing in Christ after we are saved.

Jesus changes us and molds us into His image. We don’t do that part, but when we do what He tells us and give up certain thoughts, behaviors, habits, and idols we are clinging to, He, in exchange, transforms us in the process and makes us into His own image.

2. Some of us are attempting to live a transformed life without Jesus.

My pastor said something the other day that struck me: Some of us are trying to live the Christian life without Jesus. Doesn’t that sound absurd? We get the idea in the passage that even after we have accepted Jesus as our Savior, we can shut Him out of our hearts. Verse 20 says, “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.” I don’t mean by shutting Him out that we lose our salvation, but we live without a dependence on Him. Our flesh continually fights for control against the Spirit of God.

My 3-year-old frequently struggles against me and insists, “I do it.” She wants to do things for herself that she isn’t capable of doing, but she won’t let me help her at times — even though she can’t do every task for herself. And we do the same with God. We leave Him outside of the door and ignore His promptings at times. But the passage tells us that Jesus longs to come in and eat with us — and He calls to us at the door of our hearts. It is only in continually allowing Him to come in that we can be changed.

Conclusion:

Not one of the actions I described in my own journey of freedom from an addiction was easy. Would I have ever chosen willingly to do what He asked? Of course not. But in exchange for giving up my pride and wrong habits — I gained freedom from bondage. I exchanged shame for clean robes. I learned how to conduct myself as a godly woman secure in her identify (and I am still learning). I would not have been able to see the reasons for my behavior and pattern of people pleasing if Jesus hadn’t pointed it out to me. The truth is — we all drift and mess up. We need Jesus to help us sort out the tangled messes we make and extract us from the rubble.

As Revelation 3 suggests, Jesus is in the business of rescue and renewal. We get so much more than we could have hoped for when we walk with Him. But sometimes, we don’t recognize His invitations. We brush off the nudges because we doubt we heard right. We wonder how what He is telling us has anything to do with the problem weighing us down spiritually. And yet, when we listen and follow His nudges, we are transformed. Yet the path there often looks different than we wanted or imagined.

Laodicea didn’t even know they had a problem or what do to do about it, but Jesus did. He says at the end of His message to the church: “Whoever has ears, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” In other words, the entire church would hear this message, but to “hear” meant there would only be some who would truly heed His message.

Continually, in our spiritual life, we will face a choice — to yield to what God wants to do in us and trust He knows best or go our own way. When we choose God’s way, we find healing, restoration, godliness in exchange for our sin and the ability to truly see from a spiritual perspective. We can allow Him to work on us today and every day — knowing that a transformed life is one that happens when we willingly yield and participate in the process of what God wants to do in our lives.

Stay tuned for next week’s episode as we wrap up this series and dive deeper into the concept of Jesus as a reliable and trustworthy physician — capable of diagnosing any problem we’re going through and giving us the solution for whatever problem we face.

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,” Part 2: “Heeding God’s Warnings in Our Spiritual Life,”   Part 3: “The Work That Pleases God,” and Part 4: “Maintaining a Firm Faith in Difficult Circumstances” to get a better understanding of what spiritual apathy is and how to guard against the drift in your life.

Still confused about sanctification and how we are made into Christ’s image in the Christian walk? Check out this article from Crosswalk.com: “Justification and Sanctification: What Do They Mean & What Does the Bible Teach about Them?”

*Updated October 16, 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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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.

More Posts

Heeding God’s Warnings in Our Spiritual Life

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“Ma,am, they won’t let you in with a purse that size,” the security officer said to me.

My husband and I had just parked our vehicle and left the parking lot to walk to a stadium for a NFL pre-season football game when an officer stopped me to warn me about the size of my handbag.

Surprised, I responded, “I’m sorry. I didn’t know!” Quickly, I turned around with my husband and retraced my steps to the car to rid myself of my sizeable accessory. Taking out my phone, lip gloss, and essentials from my wallet, I left my bag behind in the car. I then walked past the security officer once again and then down a street, up several flights of stairs, and through a park to reach the stadium.

At the stadium gate, I put my meager items in the security checkpoint and got through with no problems. I looked around me and noticed other women had small purses or transparent bags. They had obviously gone through this routine a time or two before. I hadn’t been to a stadium in several years and didn’t know the proper protocol. Thankfully, the officer’s warning outside the parking lot helped me avoid an extra 20 minutes of walking.

God Warns Us When We Veer Off Course

Warnings exist to tell us that there is danger ahead or to help us turn from the wrong course. Not only do we have warnings in daily life that help us avoid inconveniences or even warn of danger, God gives us warnings to help us stay on the right path. As I expressed in the first segment of this series, we don’t always love Jesus’ warnings, but He warns us because He loves us and wants the best for us.

In Revelation 3:1-3, we see a church that had fallen into spiritual complacency. While they still maintained programs and had a good reputation in the community for their works, Jesus assesses that the church is far from Him and involved in outward forms of religion only. Note what He says:

‘To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you. Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy.’

What we can learn from God’s warning to Sardis:

1. God gives us a prescription when we stray.

Out of His love for Sardis, Jesus tells Sardis not just what is wrong, but how to remedy their problem. He tells them, “Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent.” Essentially, Jesus prescribes repentance as their prescription, and tells them what that should look like.

Repentance in the New Testament sense means to “change one’s mind.” Essentially, repentance is more than just confessing wrong to God and asking Him to forgive us. Repentance means also to change our course of action. If we look earlier at the instructions given for the church before the word “repent,” we see a few ways that the church of Sardis can change their course of action. They are urged to “strengthen what remains and is about to die.”

While it doesn’t tell us specifically what “strengthening” means here, it most likely included two things: resurrecting their devotion to God by returning once again to prayer and time spent in God’s Word. Perhaps they were neglecting this time or reading the Word and praying more as a “check in the box,” rather than a vital time of connecting with God. In addition, most likely repentance included “stirring up” their spiritual gifts by developing and using their gifts in accordance to the will of God (2 Timothy 1:6; 2 Peter 1:5-7).

Spiritual death occurs when we allow anything to stand in the way of the flow of God’s Spirit. We can receive the gift of salvation and even engage in Christian service and serve Him — and yet, still allow obstacles to creep in that impede our ability to do meaningful work for Him. That had happened to the church of Sardis. By reconnecting with the Source, they could once again receive needed nourishment to fuel their spirits, know what His will was, and do His work. And, for some, they may have been connected to Him, but were blocking his Spirit by simply attempting to abide in Him without exercising their faith by obeying what He said as well.

In addition, Jesus urges them and believers in a similar state to “Remember” and “hold fast” to the instructions they have received. In other words, Jesus tells them and apathetic believers not only to revive their relationship with Him and engage in meaningful spiritual work again by remaining connected to and walking in His Spirit, but also, to continue to cling to what He had told them and the truths of the Gospel in future days.

 2. We can avoid unneeded consequences if we heed the warning.

In addition, also out of His love for them, Jesus warns Sardis to turn away from their apathy not only to revive their spiritual life and connection to Him, but also to help them avoid unnecessary consequences. Therefore, not only does Jesus warn Sardis to wake up; he includes an additional warning about what will happen if they do not heed his words: “But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I come to you.”

This can be terrifying passage to look at. What does Jesus mean here exactly? Why does He refer to Himself as a “thief”? While this passage certainly can refer to Jesus and His second coming, returning at a time that may catch some by surprise, I believe the application isn’t merely in relation to end times. As theologian Albert Barnes advocates, Jesus is clear by His words that the church will run into consequences if they do not heed His warnings. The mention of Jesus coming like a “thief” suggests that they will not know at what time they will experience trouble and trials because they did not heed the warning, but rather, they will be taken by surprise.

What is the application for us? While we may not experience any adverse situations at the moment for our wayward actions, there will be a time when we will experience repercussions if we do not heed Jesus’ words. Many times we hear of a scandal related to a minister who hid an affair or mismanagement of money for some time; then details of their hidden sin came out, and the person lost his or her ministry, marriage, and the respect of others. Certainly, that person can still repent even after wrong choices such as these, and Jesus may be gracious enough to restore what was lost. However, the point here is that Jesus’ warnings help us to avoid such heartbreak altogether.

Many of us struggle with the idea of Jesus bringing consequences into our lives or allowing them. Isn’t Jesus full of grace and mercy? He certainly is, but one idea I found in my study of this passage is that grace does not encourage us to keep sinning and continue down our own path when Jesus has pointed out another one for us to follow (Romans 6:1, 2; Romans 6:14, 15).

Conclusion:

Recently, a pastor at our church shared a story of a man he met in his travels that had been restored back to the faith. He had been working as a website developer for a pornographic site and had been paying for prostitutes without telling his wife. One day, when waiting for a prostitute, he heard very clearly, “You’re breaking my heart.” It was the Lord, telling him very clearly to step away from his poor choices. He went home, confessed to his wife, found a different job, and stopped seeing prostitutes.

Friend, when Jesus warns us, it is always for our good. Has Jesus been speaking to us lately? Can we receive His words or have we been resisting His words, telling ourselves we are in no real danger? As Revelation tells us later in the passage, those who listen will be “dressed in white.” In other words, when we stay in communion with God and do as He says, we begin to exhibit the very likeness of Christ. We “walk” with Him. We are ever growing and advancing in God’s kingdom — rather than slipping into spiritual uselessness and decay.

This is the second article in a series on holding fast to our faith. To get a more complete picture of what this passage tells us about breaking out of spiritual apathy (or avoiding it), check out the first article by clicking on the link below. Next week, we will continue to explore this topic by looking at using our spiritual gifts and walking in God’s will.

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.

Last week, we started the series by diving into a discussion of what spiritual apathy is and how it happens. Check out Part 1: “Stopping the Drift Into Spiritual Apathy” to get a better understanding of spiritual apathy and how to guard against the drift in your spiritual 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.

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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A Reason To Rejoice in Our Trials

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“They are not going to be able to deliver it until next week,” my husband said to me as he hung up the phone.

Hearing my husband’s words, I sighed in frustration. The store had called him and left a message letting him know that our dishwasher delivery had been pushed back to the following week. The past few weeks, our dishwasher had been stopping in the middle of the cycle, only working sporadically. As a result, I had been hand-washing and drying our dishes, and I looked forward to the installation of a new dishwasher to help ease the burden of handwashing and drying piles of dishes.

At the same time that our dishwasher started dying, our washing machine went out. The week of Easter, a hose broke off the bottom, filling the basin and laundry room with water. This water then leaked into the dining room. We had to clean up the water mess and go without washing clothes for a week until a new washer arrived. Though the water had dried up and the problem resolved, we were still going to have to patch up and paint the dining room ceiling.

That wasn’t the extent of our repair woes. The previous week our AC unit had frozen up and our van had to go in the shop for costly repairs. These inconveniences came on the heels of all three of our kids getting sick at the same time — our youngest with strep throat.

While I knew that these problems were relatively small and part of normal life, I felt like I was just hanging on by a thread. I don’t know how much more of this I can take! I told God. Each day, something new went wrong. We weren’t dealing with one small problem; we were dealing with a host of them in the middle of a season that was already stretching me for different reasons. I couldn’t run my household efficiently without working appliances, and I wondered at what point the money to cover these repairs would run out.

James 1:2-4 says: “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.”

This verse may almost come across as offensive to a person going through hardships because it recommends that we “Consider it pure joy” when we face trials, but I believe that if we examine the verse closely, we will see that this verse isn’t really offensive at all. The difficulty with this verse, I believe, lies within the misconceptions we can have with it. James gives us practical wisdom that can actually encourage us in our toughest times. So what is this passage telling us, exactly?

How We Should View Our Trials

1. Our trials provide a reason to rejoice.

In admonishing us to “Consider it pure joy” when we face difficult times, James does not tell us that the hard circumstances we go through are joyful; rather, he tells us that we are to look upon or view the circumstances as a reason to rejoice because the trials sent our way have purpose: they produce in us something of value.

This is a relief to me because I have felt like I should be happier in going through tough circumstances and will myself to feel a certain way about the hardships I go through. The passage isn’t telling us to ignore our pain or suppress our emotions that come about as a result of our hardships.

I love what commentator E.M. Zerr says on this point: “Count it all joy cannot mean to pretend that [believers] get enjoyment out of that which is disagreeable, for that would be an act of insincerity. The idea is that they should regard it as something that would result in a benefit.” In other words, Zerr emphasizes that the verse is not telling us to fake feelings that aren’t there or refuse to acknowledge our difficulties. Instead, we can consider these trials in a positive light because of what they are producing in us.

In addition, we should note that these trials that the passage speaks of are those that do not come into our lives because of poor choices on our part. These are trials that we fall unexpectedly into — that literally surround us — as we are walking in our faith. These could include trials like I described with appliances breaking down or unexpected bills. They could include a health scare or the stress of an ongoing illness. They could include the problems that come because of a strained relationship or persecution from others. Whatever the case, they are those God has allowed in our life — or even orchestrated — but they are those that will be for our good if we let them.

2. Our trials produce perseverance.

What good could possibly come out of our trials? The passage tells us that these very trials that we would rather not have to endure provide a “testing of our faith and produce in us perseverance” (v. 3), or the ability to continue on following and obeying God in the midst of the difficulties of life.

As the wording of the passage suggests, while this “testing” refers to what we normally think of when we think of testing — a test to see what is already there — this testing of our faith (i.e. the trials we go through) also creates or “produces” in us what we don’t have yet, but God desires to put within us.

In fact, part of the reason I’ve never fully understood this verse is because I assumed that “the testing of our faith” referred to in the passage only meant that God tests us and stands back to see if we can pass the test. If we desire to develop a certain virtue that God wants us to have or overcome a sin pattern or habit that God has pointed out to us, this idea of God putting us to the test can frustrate us because we may just view each opportunity He puts our way not as a chance to grow, but as a failure if we don’t meet the opportunity as we should.

However, if we view the opportunity as one God sends our way to help us grow, suddenly the trial takes on a different appearance to us. And we see the God of love behind every detail of our lives. He isn’t orchestrating or allowing hard situations to watch us fail, but rather, to help us grow what is needed, as the verse explains in its conclusion, so that we can be whole or spiritually mature (v. 4).

How Our Trials Develop Perseverance in Us

So, how exactly do our trials develop perseverance in us? Attempting to understand this difficult concept, I asked God to help me “get” this verse. That same day, just an hour or two later, while chatting with my daughter on the playground, I had a God-given epiphany. My 10-year-old daughter “just happened” to tell me about a physical fitness test at her school where she outran another boy in her class. She asked me if I thought she could run faster than this particular boy because of her healthy diet. I had explained to my kids the day before that I attempted to feed them healthy foods because healthy foods would help keep their bodies strong.

My daughter had remembered that conversation and attributed her fast running in P.E. to her diet. I explained to her that while her diet mattered and was part of the equation, she also was a fast runner because she was active and involved in dance and lacrosse. Her constant physical exertion week in and week out helped her build the endurance necessary to compete in physical exercises with ease.

As I explained to her what it meant to build up bodily strength through physical exercise, I realized that I had my answer to the question I had asked God earlier in the day. Trials build our spiritual muscles much like exercise builds up our physical bodies. Just as we are able to get through challenging fitness drills or exercises more efficiently when we have been consistently exercising and building up our endurance, we can also tackle God’s assignments with better efficiency and ease when he grows us to be able to handle the assignments that come our way.

Therefore, James telling us to rejoice isn’t some crazy stuff-down-your-emotions directive where we plaster on a fake smile and pretend it’s all OK. No, James’ instruction tells us that we can rejoice through the hard times knowing that those hard situations we walk through produce in us that which can only be produced through trial — and not in the calm, peaceful times.

Why Our Trials Will Be Worth It

My brother and sister-in-law fell into some unfortunate circumstances this past winter. They woke up to a flood in their house: a pipe busted in the kitchen and filled up their downstairs with several inches of water. To make a long story short, after a company cleaned up the water and assessed the damage, they determined their entire kitchen and downstairs floor had to be replaced.

For several months, while renovations were taking place, they lived in a kitchen with a makeshift sink and stand-alone stove and refrigerator — and it was not fun. However, they were able to install a brand new beautiful kitchen with custom cabinets, new granite, and hard wood flooring.

Now, in looking at their kitchen, I am sure they remember the hardship of the water leak, but now, they have the satisfaction of a sparkling top-of-the-line kitchen that is so much better than what existed before. Might they say that the months of trial were worth it? I think so. But would they have said the same thing in the middle of their ordeal? Probably not.

Philippians 1:6 says this: “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in your will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” When we’re in the middle, it feels like we’ll be here forever and that all the hard work we are doing won’t be worth it. But it certainly will!

Someday, we’ll be able to stand back and say of our trials, “Wow, that is why I went through that.” Some trials may never make sense to us, but other times, we can look back at a later time and see the result of our hardship and the hard season God allowed in our lives. Whether we can see what God is doing or have to blindly trust Him in our trial, in order to get the benefit out of our hardships, we simply have to submit to the process and allow the perseverance to “finish its work” (v. 4).

For more on perseverance finishing its work, tune into the next podcast episode where I talk more about how perseverance is not our end goal — but works to make us spiritually mature.

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 first episode in a brand new series on trials and the reason we can rejoice in the midst of hard circumstances. Check back in the following weeks for more on getting through our trials.

Ever feel unappreciated, worthless, or overwhelmed as a mom? Check out our “Motherhood: The Joys, Challenges, and Trials” series. Part 1: “Why Your Work as a Stay-at-Home Mom Matters,” Part 2: “Your High and Holy Calling as a Mom,” Part 3: “What It Means to Train Our Children,” and Part 4: “The Knowledge That Will Make You a Better Mom.”

*Updated and article uploaded May 22, 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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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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3 Fears That Prevent Us From Persevering in Our God-Given Calling

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Each morning, I read from my First 5 app from Proverbs 31 Ministries. Daily, I am given a suggested passage of reading from the Bible and an analysis that goes with it. Currently, the study is on the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.

As I read my passage of Scripture the other day before diving into the analysis provided in the app, I noticed a description in the Bible I was reading that caught my eye. I have a few Bibles scattered around the house and use whichever one I can find for that day. The one I had in my hands was a NIV Youth Devotional Bible that my husband had received in high school. Both Ezra and Nehemiah are books that talk about the rebuilding process of Jerusalem after the Jews return from exile. Nehemiah, as cupbearer of the Persian king, asks permission of the king to go to Jerusalem and help his fellow Jews finish the rebuilding process — but this one line stood out to me: “Because of stiff opposition, the people must work with weapons in one hand, tools in the other.”

To put these words in context, Nehemiah and his fellow Jews, in the rebuilding process, not only had to focus on the work of rebuilding at hand, but also had to fight against attacks and defend themselves in the process. Talk about exhausting! And yet, this is the reality of what we will experience when we answer God’s call for our lives — we will have work in front of us to complete, but it won’t be without opposition from others and attacks from the enemy to get us to give up on whatever God has asked us to accomplish. And often these attacks will be in the form of fear and doubt to get us to abandon the work God gives us (or never even begin in the first place).

And yet, just as the Jews rebuilt the temple and the walls in the midst of opposition, we, too, when we stay connected to God, will complete what He has asked us to complete (Philippians 1:6). Yet, in the process, we need to fight against doubts that will get us discouraged and continually remind ourselves of truth in order to keep ourselves committed to the calling He has given us.

To help in that endeavor, I want to look at some common fears that may derail us and a model of faithfulness in service that we can emulate. In Luke 2:36-38, we encounter Anna, a prophetess, who served as a witness of Christ as the Messiah. One day in the temple, she saw Jesus as a child with his parents, spoke to them, and then went and shared with the community about what she had seen. This is her account:

There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them [Jesus and his parents] at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

These few lines tell us so much about a woman who lived an effective life of Christian service. Although Anna didn’t struggle with fears from what we are told, her example is one that can remind us of the truth of what God can accomplish through us if we don’t let fear get the best of us.

A few fears that we will combat when walking in our calling (and how to combat those with truths from Anna’s story):

1. Fear #1: God can’t use me.

One major fear that we will have to combat when first answering God’s call and continuing on in our service to God is that God can’t really use us. I remember going through a Bible study years ago and hearing the idea that God delights in using broken things and can restore anything and make it useful. The author of the study used an illustration to make her point and it was of a gardener who was planting a garden and asked a hardware store if he could have their discarded plants. They had a pile of plants that had been thought to be unusable — and this gardener took what others had deemed unusable and coaxed these plants back to life. Others commented on the beauty of his gardens and would not have known, if he had not told them, that his beautiful blooms had been rescued from the trash dump.

Some of us feel as unusable as a plant on the trash heap. Maybe others have made us feel like we can’t be used or maybe we have a dark spot in our past that we keep coming back to, but the truth is that God uses broken, imperfect people. And, quite interestingly, it’s the broken places we want to hide that can often be the places God can use to minister to others. Personally, when I answered God’s call to leave teaching, I thought it was to answer His call to use me in music ministry. I had no idea that He was going to call me to start a ministry that I have now. I wanted to stand on a stage and look good and never tell anyone about my past or the mistakes I had made. But it was those very places that God used to be the platform for what I talk about in my ministry, but He had to break me down to the place where I was even willing to talk about those places to begin with.

What we see with Anna in the story is that service to God is more about making ourselves available than it is about our impressive skills or qualifications. Although Anna didn’t have a questionable past or insecurities about her ability to be used, she had little status in her society. A woman in her time was not considered as reliable as a man to be a witness in a courtroom, and yet, God entrusted her with the task of serving as a witness to the Messiah to her community. Anna could have easily said, “God, I am a nobody. I don’t have anything to offer. I am a widow and don’t think you can use me.” Instead, she offered what she had to Jesus and gave her life in service to Him, doing what she could with what she had.

Clearly, we can see that God is not limited by what we think He is. Although He certainly works through our gifts, He is not limited by our individual or society-based perceptions of what we can or can’t offer. As the One who made us, He knows just what we were made for — and we can serve Him best when we totally rely on Him for His version of us.

2. Fear #2: I don’t know how to make this happen.

Not only do some of us worry that we’re not amazing enough for God to use, we also may have doubts about how we will accomplish what God has asked of us. When God calls us, He doesn’t give us a complete blueprint of what He plans to do in and through us. He unveils His plan step-by-step. When He calls us, we may still be seeped in whatever habits He wants to deliver us from and we may not know how we are going to get from being our old self to becoming the new self that He is calling us to be. However, not only can we be assured that calling is more about God’s ability than our own, God fills in the details and transforms us as we follow Him.

What we can see through Anna’s example is that just as she gave her life to God and didn’t argue with God about the ways He wanted to use her, she understood that God would come up with the plan. She did what she knew to do with quiet, faithful work — and it was in that seemingly insignificant place that she looked up and saw Jesus in bodily form with His parents one day in the temple! And she must have known in that moment what God wanted to accomplish through her.

We don’t have to generate the plan or the results. We just have to be faithful where God has placed us — in the thing that might feel so small and unimportant to us. If He has placed us there, and we do not have the green light to move on or see no other open door, we can be content that He has a purpose for us even if it feels to us like we are in the background or no one notices us. We may look back at a later date and see how that place that felt pointless was the place God used us to bless others, to grow the traits in us that we needed, and to connect us with the individuals He desired us to learn from.

3. Fear #3: What if I don’t have any results?

Another fear we may have when we step out and answer God’s calling is that we won’t have any results or that it will be up to us to generate a specific outcome. But what we need to notice in the passage is that it tells us that that Anna went around to those who were “awaiting the redemption of Israel” (v. 38). Did you catch that the people were already “awaiting” the message she brought? The WORD® Translation puts it like this: “She spoke about Jesus to all who were waiting for Jerusalem to be set free.” Just as Anna was waiting for the arrival of the Messiah before He showed up, there were others needing the same freedom and healing He would bring.

God was working in their hearts before Anna showed up, and they were prepared for what she was going to say to them because God had prepared them. Therefore, while Anna spent a lot of time going around and talking to people, she didn’t spend her energy trying to force others to listen or react in a particular way.

In our zeal to answer God’s call, we might feel responsible for how people respond or expect a certain outcome, but we’re simply responsible for the part God gives us to do and God does the rest. He sends us because He already knows what is going on with the people that we will encounter. Just as God orchestrates our calling and gives us our plan of action, He will also direct us to the specific people He wants us to reach out to — and He does a work in them as they hear our message. If we lose sight of this, we may strive or wear ourselves out in the attempt to achieve a particular result or persuade a person in a certain direction, but just as God calls us and designs our mission and message, it is God who will work in others as we walk in the way He has pointed to us.

I can’t tell you how many times I have walked into a service at church and been shocked as the pastor begins to speak on the very topic I needed to hear, sometimes even using within his talk the exact questions or struggles that had been running through my mind that week. How did that pastor know what to say or how to address the problems I was having with a spiritual solution from God’s Word? Only God could orchestrate that. The pastor, in being obedient and seeking from God the right message to speak and approach to take, was able to minister to me — a person he may never know personally or talk to face-to-face. And God will work through us in similar ways when we let Him have access to us.

God Does His Part When We Do Ours

In answering God’s call, we can be plagued with many insecurities and doubts about our ability to be used. We might worry about which way to go, what we will say, the people we will speak to, and how we will accomplish what He has asked of us. However, we can lay these worries down. He will direct us in all these areas. He knew these things before He even called us to the particular area of service we’re in (or going to serve in)!

While we may believe that we need certain qualifications, contacts, skill sets (and I am not diminishing the importance of any of those things), the thing we need the most in any ministry venture is God. And the thing He requires of us won’t be all the impressive talent(s) we can offer but our surrender to let Him use us as He will.

While it may feel when we follow God that we’re going nowhere or aren’t getting to our desired destination as quickly as we would like, if we trust Him and keep following Him, we will be able to look back one day and see that there was a plan and there was a way God was leading us all along. As pastor and author Charles Stanley notes in The Blessings of Brokenness:

God says the same thing to us anytime he calls us to supernatural ministry. He says, ‘I am the one who will do it. I will accomplish the task. You do what I tell you to do, and I will cause it to come to pass.’

Therefore, to best know the way, we need to put ourselves in a position of surrender. Like Anna, when we give ourselves over to a life of diligent devotion to Him, doing what we know to do now, we can trust that God will reveal His purpose for us when we put ourselves in a place of total trust and reliance on Him.

As Stanley notes, it is when we do “our part” that God does “the part that only God can do!”

“Here I Am” by Downhere:

Sometimes Your calling, comes in dreams

Sometimes it comes in the Spirit’s breeze, yeah

You reach for the deepest hope in me

And call out for the things of eternity

 

But I’m a man, of dust and stains

You move in me, so I can say

 

Here I am, Lord send me

All of my life, I make an offering

Here I am, Lord send me

Somehow my story is a part of your plan

Here I am

 

Setbacks and failures, and upset plans

Test my faith and leave me with empty hands

Are You not the closest, when it’s hardest to stand?

I know that You will finish what You began

 

These broken parts, You redeem

Become the song, that I can sing

 

Here I am, Lord send me

All of my life, I make an offering

Here I am, Lord send me

Somehow my story is a part of your plan

Here I am

 

Overwhelmed by the thought of my weakness

And the fear that I’ll fail You, in the end

Oh, in this mess, I’m just one of the pieces

I can’t put this together, but You can

 

Here I am, Lord send me

all my life as an offering

Here I am, Lord send me

Somehow my story, is part of Your plan

So here I am

 

Here I am, all my life an offering to You, To You

Somehow my story is a part of your plan

Here I am

Related Resources:

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

Want to read more about my journey into my calling? Check out the path of healing from low self-worth I embarked on with God in “3 Keys to Emotional Healing” and how failure along the way helped me to learn to trust God in “Why God Lets Us Fail.” In addition, check out the original version of this article that explains my process of answering God’s call to start this ministry: “The One Thing I Have Needed the Most in Ministry.”

Podcast Notes and Corrections:

1. When it refers to Nehemiah returning home, it should be noted that he was born in captivity, but as a Jew, he identified with Israel as his homeland.

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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How God Helps Us Overcome Obstacles

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My kids love the animated movie Trolls, and they recently discovered the cartoon version on Netflix. In one episode, Branch, a major character, helps out another character learn how to win the affections of a lady. However, when said character puts his advice into practice around Poppy, Branch’s love interest, Branch begins to fight for her attention in a way he hadn’t before and reveals to her that he had saved his hug for her on Hug Day.

As he discloses this information, the character acting interested in Poppy reveals that he was feigning an interest to give Branch the proper motivation to tell her his feelings. The episode highlights what is true for us all: In some situations, we know in our head what we want to do or should do, but we need a little push or extra motivation to make it to the finish line. And sometimes, our hardships serve to propel us there.

How God Can Turn Our Obstacles Into Roads

In Isaiah 49:11, it says this: “I will turn all my mountains into roads, and my highways will be raised up.” In this passage, the Israelites are being led home from Babylon into Israel. After being exiled for 70 years from their own land, they are freed, and we are given an image of God leading the captives home, like a shepherd guiding sheep. The words are not only representative of the captives, but also of Christians on their spiritual walks with Jesus.

We can make two observations. First, we can’t help but notice that that the mountains say “my” before them. At times, the difficult situations that are so disappointing and discouraging that we wish to escape are those God placed in our path because He knows what is needed to form us into the person we were meant to be. Obviously, other times, we create obstacles that stand between us and where God wants to take us — but with the use of the words “my mountains,” we see that even those areas of unbelief, fear, self-sufficiency, pride that we’ve erected are still under God’s control. Whatever the case, the passage tells us that God is able to make what stands before us into a way.

Secondly, as I’ve already hinted at, we should also observe that the people were not only led up to the mountains, but through the mountains. If you notice the wording, it does not say that God removed the mountains or led them around them. Certainly, He could have. God can remove our obstacles and sometimes does. However, other times He chooses not to take away the impossibilities, but instead, makes a way through them. As F. B. Meyer*, a British pastor and author in the late 1800s and early 1900s, notes:

We all have mountains in our lives. These are the people and things that threaten to bar our progress in the Divine life. Patience can only be acquired through such trials as now seem unbearable. Submit thyself. Claim to be a par.taker [sic] in the patience of Jesus. Meet thy trials in Him. Thus shall the mountains that stand between thee and thy promised land become thy way to it. Note the comprehensiveness of this promise. ‘I will make all My mountains a way.’ The promise is in the future tense. When we come to the foot of the mountains we shall find the way.

Here Meyer explains that when we meet our trials in Jesus, the very mountains that “bar our progress” are those God uses to make a way for us. A story that came to mind as I was writing this was that of retired U.S. figure skater Scott Hamilton. He knows what it’s like firsthand to encounter obstacles and have those hard places turned into paths to blessing.

Hamilton had a brain tumor as a child, but doctors didn’t know what was wrong with him and misdiagnosed him, even as this tumor inhibited his growth. He got into skating as an outlet and discovered he was really good at it. Part of the reason he’s such an outstanding skater is that he’s only 5’ 4”. He has a remarkable outlook on his suffering. Now a Christian, Hamilton says this:

Who would I be without a brain tumor? I am 5’ 4”. If I were 5’ 8” … I would have grown those years … 5’10” … where would I be? Who would I be? I could choose to look at it as debilitating. I could choose to focus on the suffering. I choose to look at that brain tumor as the greatest gift that I’ve gotten because it made everything else possible.

In other words, Hamilton happily acknowledges that his brain tumor “made everything else possible.” Though Hamilton didn’t come to know the Lord until later in his life, might we say that the difficulties placed in his life have helped him become what he was meant to be? It was also through his health challenges (which have included more than I have mentioned here), that he developed a hunger for something more — to know what his purpose was — and this led him to accept Christ.

How We Scale Our Mountains

No one likes pain. We despise it. We run from it. It’s not fun. But sometimes our suffering and the different obstacles we encounter are set in our path by God because He knows what is needed to further our development. Even if our mountains exist because of choices we have made, God can use all things for our good in the story He is writing in our life (Romans 8:28).

It can be terrifying to look at the idea that God places difficulty in front of us. What kind of loving God does that? Did God give Hamilton his health problems or the doctors that couldn’t find out what was wrong with him when he was a child? I don’t know that. Certainly, difficulties can exist because of the fallen world we live in and Satan can be the force behind the affliction that we face. But what I do know is that God allowed what has happened to Hamilton — but has turned and made every affliction in his life a platform to display His power.

We can’t get away from the truth in this passage that God cared for the captives’ every need and led them tenderly like a shepherd, though their path lead to mountains and barren places. Similarly, as Christ-followers, if we’re following God, we can be assured that God is still looking out for us even in our toughest trials. If we back up to verse 10, it says this: “They will neither hunger nor thirst, nor will the desert heat or the sun beat down on them.”

If we read it in the King James, it says this: “They shall not hunger nor thirst; neither shall the heat nor sun smite them” (emphasis mine). To “smite” means to “destroy.”

As Matthew Henry explains, those that are under divine protection because they have gone God’s way, will be “enabled to bear the burden and heat of the day.” In other words, as Henry so aptly explains, we will be given the strength to bear what God has given us and protected from that which He knows would completely destroy us. Elsewhere in Matthew 11:30, we are told that the yoke Jesus gives us is “easy” and the burden “light.”

So, if we’re in a place where it all feels like too much, we can rest in the truth that if He has placed the difficulty in our way, the difficulty will not be that which we cannot surmount with His help, nor the burden be so great that it will be more than He can help us carry.

When the Israelites were up against the Red Sea, they were there because God led them straight up to the sea — the water in front, mountains and rocks on the sides of them, and Pharoah’s army behind. He led them to a place that looked like a trap from all appearances, but in that experience they learned to trust Him.

And here, in this passage, He made a way for His people through the mountains. God’s people would not have learned to trust Him without the route to the Red Sea. Similarly, we might not learn what we need to without the difficulty God has allowed in our lives.

What It Means to Scale Our Mountains

So, then, on a practical note, how do we scale our mountains by “meeting our trials in Jesus”? First, we cast our cares on Jesus. We spend time daily with Him and place our burdens on His capable shoulders and ask for His direction. Next, we trust His direction and we follow.

I love this picture that I got recently while reading She’s Still There, by Crystal Evans Hurst. In one of the chapters she describes her grandmother having her leg amputated and learning to walk on a prosthetic leg. Each day, at the doctors’ orders, she spent time out of her wheelchair walking on her new leg. The pain in her leg was so great that it would have much easier for Crystal’s grandmother to stay in her wheelchair, but she knew she needed to work on getting stronger if she ever hoped to be mobile again.

We, too, have areas where God is working on us and making us stronger. Each directive from God is a round out of the wheelchair, walking with the walker. Maybe He is working on us in the area of fear or pride or self-reliance, and He gives us hard things to do that chip away at the things He wants to work out of us to make us more like Him. He does the work in us as we obey Him, but we slowly conquer our mountains of fear, self-sufficiency, inadequacy, etc., when we take steps at His command.

We might say, “God, please take this thing away. Can’t you just remove this fear or this insecurity or this sin issue? Can’t you make me different?” And sometimes He doesn’t remove it, but rather, He takes us through it, making us different each step of the way. He’ll choose the one thing that we could never conquer on our own and works in us to display His glory.

If God has placed your mountain there or it’s one of your own making, He can make the impassable into a highway. Our only hope is to rely on Him. We can’t do it. But Jesus knows the way, and He’s going to get us through it. We just have to follow step by step.

Author’s note: The difficulties referred to in this article do not include physical or emotional abuse. If you are being abused by someone, please seek out the help of a Christian counselor or pastor.

*C.H. Spurgeon quote taken from The Biblical Illustrator Commentary.

Related Resources:

This article is the third in our series “Finding Hope in the Midst of Disappointing Circumstances.” Check out Part 1: “Work That Truly Matters”  and Part 2: “How God Comforts and Nourishes Our Souls.” Stay tuned next week for our last episode in the series.

The series covers Isaiah 49. To better get a feel for the passage and understand the context of each verse we have been looking at, check out the link for the entire passage.

 

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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