When You Don’t Like the Way God Leads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Embarking on a New Move

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Blessings of Obedience

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

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

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

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

A New Start for Our Family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carol Whitaker

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

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Embracing Small Moments of Ministry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 Ways We Can Integrate Ministry Into Our Everyday

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

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

2. We change ourselves when we help others.

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

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

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

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

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

Suzy Lolley

Suzy Lolley

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

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As a Mom, Why You Don’t Have to Have all the Answers

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As a blogger, I love to dive deep into the why’s of human nature: Why do I act in a certain way in a scenario? Why do I feel this particular emotion in a situation? I read many articles from psychology and health sites to help inform me when I write articles. And yet, there are times when my research has not been able to provide me the answers I needed at crucial moments in my life, particularly in motherhood. At times, I have no idea why I act the way I do or what to do in a particular situation with my kids.

Some time ago, I was plagued by a nagging question that I couldn’t answer: Why do I get so angry with my oldest daughter? She is such an easy-going, smart kid. She is always eager to please and a great helper around the house. When I correct her, she immediately attempts to remedy what I point out. And she is super responsible with her own homework and schoolwork. And yet, I often fuss at her over miniscule things like leaving her wet towels on the floor or not putting the vacuum cleaner away. I feel irritation when she comes downstairs in a mismatched outfit or says a comment that might raise an eyebrow. Then I overreact, feel bad, and do it all over again.

God Answers My Question

After her younger brother was born, my daughter went through a phase where she asked me repeatedly if I loved her as much as her brother. I couldn’t understand why she would even ask me this question until I watched a video of myself around her and her then infant brother. In the video, I sat on the floor holding my son. My daughter, a 3-year-old at the time, hopped around me trying to get my attention. But each time I looked at her, I had a scowl on my face. The way I looked at my son and the way I looked at her was different and evident to me even in the video.

I know I love her, so why the difference in how I treat them? I prayed about the situation and discussed it with friends at my mom group. Some time went by and I didn’t get an answer to my question. And then, as I was reading an article on worth, God’s answer came to me and hit me like a tidal wave: You are deeply afraid your daughter will be unwanted.

Say what? My fear for her was causing me to get angry? I sat in that moment, reeling from the truth of that statement. I read once that anger is a secondary emotion. Often, anger can mask another emotion such as fear. As clinical psychologist Leon F. Seltzer, PhD, explains, we may get angry when another person cuts us off in traffic, but that anger is actually masking an underlying fear we have that we will be hurt in a car accident.

As only God could, He revealed with unnerving accuracy what my irritability was concealing all along. I feared my daughter wouldn’t grow up knowing how much she was worth or feel like she was wanted. Expecting perfect behavior from her and becoming angry when her “performance” faltered was me attempting to mold her into someone who wouldn’t be rejected. But as I have done many times before, I was attempting to “help” and control a situation that I needed to put in God’s hands. I needed to trust God that He had designed her to be the way He wanted her to be and that there would be friends for her in His provision.

God Confides His Secrets to Us When We Walk With Him

Certainly, my daughter needs my guidance and correction, but the kind I was giving her was beyond what was needed. God giving me that nugget of information helped me understand my own emotions and make a change in becoming more patient with her. A verse that has become a life verse for me is Proverbs 3:5: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways submit to him and He will make your paths straight.”

The verse cautions us to lean on God rather than our own wisdom. However, this default to our flesh — this drift to fix and handle every situation according to our own wisdom, when it comes to our kids or otherwise, is a constant temptation. I can’t control all the circumstances of my daughter’s life so she won’t face rejection or receive challenges to her worth, although I have certainly tried. I can be a support to her, teach her the lessons I have learned, and guide her using biblical principles and God’s wisdom — but I can’t ensure by being a vigilant mom that she will avoid every heartbreak or only have only good things happen to her.

But I needed God’s wisdom to know how to improve our interactions. How awesome that God used an ordinary experience of reading an article to reveal the deep places of my heart to me. Psalm 25:14 tells us, “The Lord confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them.” The King James words it like this: “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him; and he will shew them his covenant.”

While many of us view God as distant and stern, the psalm tells us of a God who wants to be our friend. As the NIV puts it, He “confides” in those who walk with Him. Or, as the KJV says, His “secrets” are with those who fear Him. Both words are translated from a word in Hebrew that means “couch.” If you can believe it, God converses with us much like a friend with another friend on a couch! Each revelation of His is like a specially wrapped gift He presents to us. And He counsels us so that we might know how to better know Him and ourselves — and adjust our behavior so that we can allow our paths to be aligned with His.

We Don’t Have to Know Everything as Moms

A few years ago when we moved, I discovered a surprise behind our new house. One day when I was out in the yard, I caught a glimpse of blue between the trees. As I peered to look closer, I noticed a lake — or in actuality, a small pond. Though such a discovery might not be a big deal to someone else, I grew up on the Puget Sound, an inlet of the Pacific Ocean. One of the hardest things for me as a young wife in moving to Georgia was leaving behind the soothing blue of water that I saw daily in my hometown. This little pond was like a hidden treasure!

I couldn’t help but think when I came upon it how the treasures God reveals to us in our walk with Him are like that sparkle of blue I saw behind my house. His secrets are those we don’t always expect to find but are those that delight us as they give us knowledge that make our way clear — and help us to make sense of the problems and dilemmas we have no answer for in motherhood and otherwise.

Often as moms we sometimes forget that we’re not alone. Though we may feel overwhelmed at times, God is not far off and is waiting to tell His secrets to those who will choose to trust Him in the journey. We don’t have to know all the answers as mothers; we just need to stay connected to Him as we move through our days. Though He won’t always answer a question we have or immediately respond, He will guide us in the way we should go when we make it our aim to fully know Him and rely on Him.

Related Resources:

As a parent, do you find it difficult to trust when it comes to your kids? Former blog member Jamie Wills shares a hilarious story about her daughter’s antics one day before church — and how what started as a really bad day turned into a really good one.

Sometimes, we struggle to help our kids with their own self-image because ours is so poor. The following resources offer help for boosting feelings of inadequacy and low self-worth: “Healing Your Low Self-Worth and Wounds of Rejection,” “Self-Worth: How to Start Accepting Yourself,” “Self-Worth: How to Feel Better About Yourself.”

*Updated May 15, 2018.

 

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 We Get Trapped in a Cycle of Rejection

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Rejection is perhaps the deepest pain we can feel as humans. Years ago, before there were limitations on the kind of studies you do, they tested babies and the importance of human contact. In the study, one group of babies was fed and their basic needs attended to, but also held and nurtured. Another group of babies was fed and their basic needs attended to, but not held or nurtured with human touch. As the study continued, the group of babies that had the benefit of human touch thrived, whereas the babies that were deprived of human contact died.

Clearly, you can see why these types of studies are not allowed any longer! But the results of the study show us how our Creator intended for us to be loved and be in community with other people. When we feel rejected or unwanted by others, such rejection can have a serious impact on our physical and emotional health — and these impacts reach beyond the infant years.

In fact, if you take a look at the details of many of the high school shooters who have turned against their own classmates, you see a common theme: rejection. These individuals sought retaliation against others who had laughed at them or belittled them. So great was the sting of others’ rejection, they sought revenge with gunfire. The bizarre and violent retaliatory tactics utilized by those who have been rejected or feel unwanted aren’t limited to the high school shooting category. If you choose to investigate other crimes, you will see that in many cases, horrific acts of murder or harm against another person started with a rejection of some kind.

Clearly, then, its important that we take a look at rejection and how to react when we are rejected — because otherwise, we can fall into a cycle of unhealthy behavior that can have negative impacts on our physical or emotional well-being.

Individuals in the Bible Who Suffered Rejection

There is no better place we can turn to than the Bible for vivid examples of individuals who experienced rejection. Leah was someone who wasn’t wanted by her husband. In fact, her husband, Jacob, was tricked into marrying her by Leah’s own father. Jacob actually desired her sister and had been promised her sister, Rachel. So, after the wedding night when Jacob discovered that he hadn’t been given Rachel, but rather Leah, he demanded the sister that he had worked for. He did get Rachel as his second wife, but he never loved both of his wives equally.

Leah spent much of her marriage trying to earn the affections of her disinterested husband. In fact, she didn’t have much leverage in the relationship, so she clung to the one thing that would get her some measure of attention: she bore children. She birthed son after son in an attempt to win her husband’s heart, saying things like, “Surely my husband will love me now” (Genesis 29:32), and, “At last my husband will become attached to me” (Genesis 29:34). But her husband just loved her sister, Rachel, despite Leah’s attempts to gain his attention. At last, we see a reprieve in Leah’s striving when she says after the birth of her fourth son, “This time I will praise the Lord” (Genesis 29:35). Here, she looks to God as her Source, rather than her husband. However, her rivalry with her sister didn’t end, and she did continue to have more children in an effort to “out-do” her sister.

Similarly, we see in the story of Zacchaeus a man who was rejected by his community. His rejection was due to the fact that he was a tax collector and cheated those he collected from, getting rich from the extra profits. However, although it doesn’t tell us this expressly in the story, maybe Zacchaeus’ rejection started long before he became a tax collector. Maybe Zacchaeus always felt like the odd man out because he was so short. Maybe he relished his power over others in his role as tax collector and liked being able to tax those who had rejected him in the past. Or maybe, as advocated in a study I read on rejection, each time Zacchaeus cheated someone, he was rejected — and with each rejection, he took money from the individuals who rejected him. Again, this is just speculation, but it is possible.

What both of these individuals show us is that rejection is painful, but people who are rejected aren’t without sin of their own. In the case of Leah, she got caught in a cycle of approval-seeking and people-pleasing, as each time she had a child she presented the child to her husband with hope that he would love her. She finally broke that cycle when she began looking to God for approval. Similarly, although we’re not expressly told this, Zacchaeus’ rejection by the community may have been that which contributed or even started his pattern of cheating others.

Getting Caught in a Cycle of Rejection

As I mentioned in my last post, in Mike Riches’ book Living Free, he talks about the idea that often in our rejection, we give the enemy access in our lives because in our anger over the rejection, we turn to ungodly reactions or fleshly coping mechanisms to deal with our pain. As the Bible tells us, we are not to anger in our sin and give a foothold [topos] to Satan (Ephesians 4:26, 27). As Riches explains, when we allow our anger to fester over a rejection and don’t resolve it, we may allow that anger to cause us to react in wrong ways to our rejection. In doing so, we give territory to the enemy.

In our wrong responses to others, which might include lashing out in anger, gossiping, talking maliciously about the person, etc., we may open our lives to the enemy and then continue to give him space to operate by developing patterns of thinking and behavior that become strongholds in our lives. These strongholds serve as obstacles in our Christian walk and must be demolished in order for us to walk in freedom (2 Corinthians 10:4). Not only that, but our ungodly responses can help us get caught in a cycle of rejection. I am basing this term on what Riches calls an offense cycle, but basically what the cycle looks like is this:

  1. We experience a rejection or hurt.
  2. In our anger, we react in ungodly ways in our thoughts and actions.
  3. By acting in wrong ways in our anger, we give topos to the enemy — a place of access for him to influence our thoughts and behavior.
  4. Our ungodly behavior — whether it be bitterness, anger, resentment, negative thoughts about ourselves, etc. — causes more rejection.
  5. When we are rejected again, we react again in ungodly ways in our thoughts and actions, and the cycle continues.

For those of us caught in such a cycle, we may wonder why we are constantly rejected and wonder what we can do to stop being rejected. However, as Riches says, most of us won’t be able to see the role we are playing in the rejection, and we’ll simply blame others for the rejections and take on a victim mentality. However, with the help of the Holy Spirit, if we are willing to come to Him and allow Him to pierce through our defense mechanisms and open ourselves up to His help and healing, we can break out of the cycle of rejection that we are caught in. That doesn’t mean we won’t ever be rejected again, but it does mean that we aren’t inviting those rejections with our own behavior, and we’ll be able to handle rejection in a healthy way when it comes around again.

I’ll be discussing the particulars of how to break out of a rejection cycle in my next post, but to touch on it briefly, we can begin to break out of the cycle when we forgive those who have hurt us in our past and ask forgiveness of those we’ve hurt. In addition, when new hurts and offenses come up, we refuse to retaliate or turn to fleshly coping mechanisms, but instead turn to God for healing and choose to forgive those who hurt us — and even bless and do good to our enemies. Luke 6:27 says: “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”

I’m not saying that there is never a time that we don’t confront someone or call someone out on their behavior. We need the counsel of the Holy Spirit for that, but we do so in a manner worthy of our calling (Ephesians 4:1), and we do so in love (Ephesians 4:15). Blessing others and seeking not to retaliate against our enemies will help us avoid falling into a cycle of rejection. And, if we have already been caught in a cycle of rejection, we can find an out by choosing to take part in the steps of forgiveness I outlined above.

Living Lives Free of Offense

God wants us to live lives that are free (John 10:10). He does not want us to succumb to heavy chains of unforgiveness. The Bible tells us that “Satan prowls like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). We can resist his schemes by refusing to get trapped in a cycle of rejection and instead taking the biblical response to offense. Although harder initially, this refusal to retaliate against our enemies and insistence on blessing and forgiving them keeps our mind and bodies at peace, and out of torment and distress.

Related Resources:

Not only can we get caught in an unhealthy rejection cycle when rejected, we might also attempt to strive for others’ approval in an unhealthy way. Check out the following resources on giving over our relationships and stresses about our performance at work to God: “Learning to Depend on God” and “Spiritual Rest: Letting go of Trying so Hard in Our Work and Relationships.”

Want to hear more from co-host Suzy Lolley from the Beulah Girl Podcast? Check out her blog and Facebook page to read her work and connect with her.

 

 

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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Endurance in the Christian Walk to Finish Your Race

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

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

To Endure in Our Calling Requires a Continual Commitment

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

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

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

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

To Endure We Must Also Stay Fixed on Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

Why must I weep when others sing?

“To test the deeps of suffering.”

Why must I work while others rest?

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

Why must I lose while others gain?

“To understand defeat’s sharp pain.”

Why must this lot of life be mine

When that which fairer seems is thine?

“Because God knows what plans for me

Shall blossom in eternity.”

– from Streams in the Desert

Related Bible Verses:

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

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

Podcast Corrections:

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

 

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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Why Your Failure Isn’t Final

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

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

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

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

Peter: A Disciple Who Was Given a Second Chance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. God wants us in our failure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Resources:

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

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

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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When You Feel Lonely in Your Calling

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alone.

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

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

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

A few takeaways we can get from the Easter story:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If You Feel Alone

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

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

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

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

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

Related Resources:

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

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

 

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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Is Jesus Worth the Cost?

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“I like the design on your shirt.”

I snapped out of my daydream at the teenage bagger’s words. “Oh, thank you!” I replied. Standing at the checkout line at the grocery store waiting for my groceries to be bagged, I hadn’t expected a comment to come in my direction. In fact, I hadn’t even given much thought as to the outfit I had on that day, but had thrown on an Old Navy tank top with a printed floral pattern and a zip-up sweatshirt. In an effort to engage him in conversation, I noticed the pattern on his necklace he was wearing and complimented him.

“Yeah, I like designs,” he admitted, as he bagged the last of my groceries. He then asked me if I had ever been to a particular medieval festival. I told him I had but I wasn’t really a fan of that festival. I debated whether or not I should tell him I was a bit wary of the festival because of the prevalence of art and trinkets that were relics of Wicca and other pagan religions. However, I decided against continuing the conversation as I was sure my comments would lead to controversial and uncomfortable spiritual territory. Instead, I thanked him and walked out. But all the while that I traversed the distance to my car, I thought about how I had left the conversation hanging and walked out on a perfectly good opportunity to witness.

After loading my groceries in the car, I pushed my car back into the store with a resolve to finish our conversation. I found him near the carts, putting a few away. He seemed a little surprised when I approached him and said, “Hey, I wanted to explain to you why I don’t like the festival you mentioned. I wasn’t trying to be rude.” I then explained that I was a Christian — and much of the focus of the artwork at the festival went against what I believed. Though I didn’t think it was wrong for people to go there, I wasn’t able to embrace much of the art being sold because the trinkets spoke of worship to other gods other than my own.

To my surprise, he opened up after that and told me that he had grown up in a Christian home (was still living at home as a college student), but that he had developed questions about Christianity and was looking into other religions. I asked him what some of his questions were and he explained them. They were easy ones to address — so I told him what the Bible said about those and encouraged him to investigate further. He said he would, and I walked back to my car.

Since then, I have seen him on occasion at the store. He has bagged my groceries a few more times, and we haven’t talked about religion since then, but he has been on friendly terms with me. Though he hasn’t abandoned his search for other religions, I am glad that we talked as I had no idea that he was searching when it came to what he believed.

Choosing Jesus or Choosing Comfort and Our Own Self-Interests

Our encounter reminded me that we will have moments throughout our day when we are presented with a choice: to choose Jesus or choose our comfort or what will appear to benefit us the most. Though my conversation with the bagger wasn’t as costly as other conversations I have had (where I have been sweating out more profusely what I will have to say), it did cost me in that I wasn’t sure how my comments would be received, and I had to linger around a little longer than I originally intended when I just wanted to go home.

Perhaps no other story highlights this idea of sacrificial giving as poignantly as John 12:3-8. This account is also given in Mark and Matthew but tells the story of Mary anointing the feet of Jesus with a costly nard. However, in John’s account, the story takes on an angle that veers slightly from the other Gospel accounts.

Where the Mark and Matthew accounts highlight the beauty of Mary’s generous act, the account in John contrasts her action with that of another person — Judas. Let’s take a look at the passage:

Then Mary took a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But one of the disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, ‘Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.’ He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. ‘Leave her alone,’ Jesus replied. ‘It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.’

While Mary gave all she had out of sheer devotion to her Lord and gratitude for what He had done for her (in his most recent act of raising Lazarus, her brother, from the dead), Judas was concerned only with how such a large sum would be “wasted” in her service an ministry to Jesus.

However, as John explains, Judas’ “concern” was merely a pretense, saying: “He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief” (v. 6 ). Judas was the treasurer of the group and frequently helped himself to the money. As scholars say, Judas was most likely eyeing Mary’s costly gift and wishing he could get his hands on it.

Jesus quickly set him straight, however, and said to all in hearing that Mary’s gift would prepare his body for burial. In the Matthew account, he called Mary’s act “beautiful” (26:10). The word in the Greek is one that refers to that which is honorable — an outward expression of an inner good. Both Judas and Mary’s actions revealed to us what was in their hearts. Mary was willing to give away her most precious possession, as well as humiliate herself and endure ridicule for the sake of His name, whereas Judas was clearly only interested in that which would require no sacrifice and would serve his own interests.

Sadly, just a few passages later, we see Judas’ greed reach new levels. After the last supper with Jesus, he went to the chief priests to negotiate the terms to hand over Jesus. As some commentaries note, Judas leave of Jesus wasn’t a split-second decision he made during the last supper. Most likely, Judas had been planning to desert Jesus for some time — as hinted at earlier in his rebuke of Mary. As commentator Warren Wiersbe notes, perhaps Judas made plans to leave Jesus because he was disappointed Jesus wasn’t going to conquer Rome. Or perhaps he didn’t expect the road with Jesus to look like it had. Whatever the reasons, they were ones he had been cherishing for some time.

Repentance Helps Us Turn When We Don’t Choose Jesus

Unfortunately, don’t all of us have a little Judas in us? At different junctures, when our walk with Jesus leads us to moments like I had in the grocery store where we will have to engage in an uncomfortable conversation, give up some of our time, or look different, we might say, Should I really give away this much for Jesus? Is He really worth the cost? We may be tempted to forego talking with others or standing up for what we know to be right because such actions in the moment may require an extreme sacrifice of time and effort. But that’s the upside down aspect about Christianity. We give up what we want to gain everything and lose everything we think we want when we try to keep it (Matthew 16:25).

What we see with Mary and Judas is that Mary’s gift, while initially very expensive both in terms of financial and social cost, was absolutely worth the cost — and a gift that she actually received a return from. Her act brought honor to her Lord and has been a story told for generations to highlight her goodness. Judas’ story, on the other hand, has also been one told for generations for the worst kind of reasons — to show us what we shouldn’t do.

Judas, filled with guilt over betraying a close friend and an innocent man, returned and pleaded with the chief priests to take back the money and release Jesus. But they had what they wanted, so they had no use for the money. When they didn’t accept it back, Judas threw the coins on the temple floor and then went and hung himself.

Judas’ life didn’t have to end this way — in ruin and misery. So, what could he have done differently? He could have responded to Jesus’ call to restoration. When Jesus instructed him firmly, saying, “Leave her alone … You will always have the poor among me, but you will not always have me” (vv. 7, 8), Judas could have agreed with the Lord’s words and repented — allowing Jesus to do needed heart surgery. But instead he simply kept going where his own heart desired.

When we realize that we’ve made poor decisions or haven’t lived the way we should as Christians, we can heed Jesus’ call and return. We don’t have to keep going down a path that leads to ruin. Jesus knew all along what Judas was doing — in pilfering from the money bag, in criticizing the service of others — and yet, he kept Judas close, even sitting right next to Judas at the last supper, to give Judas every opportunity to make a change and go the right way. And yet, Judas persisted in his own way — and each action led him further and further away until he left Jesus completely.

The world’s temptations call for us to get off track, to go the easy road that has no resistance, persecutions, or pain, but we can follow a higher call. The road is hard and twisted with thorns, but it leads to life. We won’t be perfect in our Christian walk. We’ll make mistakes and act more like Judas than Mary sometimes. But when Jesus confronts us with our own wrongdoing, we can accept His correction and choose to change .

If we don’t, our wrongdoing will simply lead to more wrongdoing until we find ourselves in a place, like Judas, where we never meant to be. The Bible tells us that it is the Lord’s “kindness” that leads to repentance (Romans 2:4), so let’s not harden our hearts today but accept whatever discipline God sends our way (Hebrews 12:6).

“The lesson of faith once learned, is an everlasting application and an eternal fortune made; and without faith even riches will leave us poor.” — Days of Heaven upon Earth, Streams in the Desert

Related Bible Verses:

1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

Related Resources:

The chronology of events described in Jesus’ last days leading up to his death differs slightly in John from the other Gospels. For instance, John places the date of the Passover meal of the Jews after the last supper, whereas the other Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) identify the last supper as the Passover meal. Read more about this here.

Would you like to hear the song mentioned in the podcast? Check out Crowder’s “Come as You Are” for more encouragement.

Like the podcast episode that accompanies this article? Check out past episodes in our brand new podcast archive.

 

 

 

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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Believing God Knows and Loves You

known and loved by God

God’s calling you out.

I jumped when I saw the words in front of me from the Lysa Terkeurst devotional. They echoed the words I had heard from my pastor that Sunday. He announced he was doing a study on the book of Exodus. And he had used a few variations of the same phrase, God’s calling you out, at least a dozen times during the course of his sermon.

It was one of those sermons that had pulled at every fiber of my being. I knew God was speaking to me through it, but there was a little question deep inside that was small and tentative: He is?

I knew the dangers of falling into doubt and unbelief, but the events of the last few years had been so challenging, I was beginning to fear what God had said to me would ever come to pass. And yet, the words all around me, even before this sermon, were those that indicated in every way that I was about to walk out of my current season and into the promise He had given me.

And thus, that Sunday, I soaked in every word, marveled at it, took notes, thanked God for speaking to me, and went home.

Yet here again, right in front of me, in my morning devotional was the same phrase: God’s calling you out. He surprised me. Again. And the way God orchestrated for me to encounter the exact right words I needed at the exact right moment boggled my mind.

How did He know what precise thoughts I would have this week? How did He know what words to say? How did the pastor decide to put together this particular series and choose this book of the Bible to study for this particular week? Similarly, how did Lysa Terkeurst, not at all in connection with me or my pastor, choose to put together that devotion and her team publish it the week they did?

If you consider the logistics, it’s pretty much impossible how God supernaturally gets our attention — and yet He speaks to and guides all of His followers who rely on and pray to Him. He communicates what words we need at just the right time. Millions of people — intimately connected and involved with us on a level that will at times take our breath away.

What Psalm 139 Tells Us About God’s Love

In Psalm 139, David is struck with the same awe over the knowledge of how much God truly knows him and chooses to interact with him. In verse 1-6, he says:

You have searched me, LORD, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all of my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. (emphasis mine)

Did you catch that? In just 6 lines, David uses the word “know” three times. Not only that, he uses other words that mean similar things like “perceive,” “discern,” and “familiar with.” The word “know” in Hebrew in these instances is “yada” — and means an “intimate knowledge” of someone. As the passage indicates, God knows everything about us: what we do during the day, our thoughts, every word we speak (even before we speak it), and our motives. The psalmist says this knowledge is “too wonderful” and “lofty” for him to grasp (v. 6).

Later in the psalm, if we skip down to verses 13 and 14, we see that David continues on along the same theme, saying, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” While I had previously read these lines in isolation from the vantage point of these words expressing God’s amazing power as evident in His creation of us — and it certainly tells us that — there is another message embedded in these words.

While David is celebrating God’s power as Creator, He is also celebrating, as I mentioned before, how much God knows us. “Fearfully” in the verse means to “cause astonishment and awe” or “make afraid”; and “wonderfully” means to be “separated or distinct.” David highlights the idea here as he did in verse 6 that he is literally shocked by the level on which he is truly known by God. And this is a knowledge that will catch all of us by surprise as we walk with Him and discover how much God is aware of every detail that affects us.

A God Who Not Only Knows Us, But Loves Us

The other piece that we need to take away from Psalm 139 is that not only are we known by God — we are loved by Him. The reality that God has taken the pains He has to know you in such an in-depth way points to His love for you. If you think about the people in your life that care about you the most, those are the people that know the most about you — and are around you the most. Conversely, the people who don’t care about you don’t know that much about you or what you do on a daily basis.

When faced with the truth of how much we are both known and loved by God — as David is here in the psalm — we have no choice, as commentator Warren Wiersbe observes, but to exuberantly respond in praise and thanksgiving to God.

In addition, as Wiersbe continues, not only should our natural response be one of gratefulness, we should also be encouraged to submit to God in all things because He knows everything about us and what is best for us. David ends the psalm by saying, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (vv. 23, 24). In these lines, he gives God full reign to keep searching and leading him. Because a God who knows and loves this much is a God that can be trusted with his life.

So many of us struggle to feel that God knows or loves us, but Psalm 139 gives us a look at the truth of how much God does both. Though many a time we encounter a situation where God’s love shows up for us in a tangible way — like I had the other morning in reading the same phrase in my devotional as I had heard in the sermon — we don’t always take a moment to thank God or acknowledge His lordship in our life. Let’s do that today!

Let’s pray: Lord, thank you that you both know and love me. Help me, like David, to not rush past those moments where you show up and reveal how intimately aware of and involved you are in my life, but choose to pause and express my gratitude. In addition, help me, like David, continue to open myself up to you and trust you even when the way is hard and doesn’t make sense. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Related Resources:

Check out the podcast episode (located above this post) that ties in with this post. In it, co-host Suzy Lolley and contributor Rachel Howard join me for a conversation about this passage where we further explore how God involves himself in our daily lives. Suzy shares about how God is with her currently on her journey with infertility and Rachel talks about how God is with her in her struggles as a full-time working mom.

Want to read more from Suzy and Rachel? Check out Suzy’s “How to Worship in the Waiting,” where she explores the tension of worshipping God while waiting on His promises; and Rachel’s “What Does God Expect of Me?,” where she talks about laying down her expectations of herself to embrace God’s.

Not yet a believer and want to learn more about salvation and how to enter into a relationship with Jesus Christ? Stop by our Know God page and learn more about what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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When the Heart Leads Us Astray

kissing-2353862_1280

One of the most popular phrases we tell others when trying to guide or encourage them is, “Follow your heart.” It seems harmless and altruistic enough — and I am quite sure it is often delivered with the best of intentions. But what does that mean exactly — and what are the implications to our sexuality?

Recently I read a chapter in When People Are Big and God is Small by Edward T. Welch that really convicted me about this topic. It is something I had been pondering for a little while as I wrestled with how to identify when we are following God’s guidance using spiritual discernment versus following our own wishes and believing that is what He would have us do. When I read this chapter, it felt like the author was speaking to my heart and I think I underlined almost every sentence. I would like to share some of this with you as I believe it is very pertinent to our culture today and has direct implications on our sexuality.

What the Bible Tells Us About Our Heart

Let’s start with the advice of “follow your heart.” Within that piece of advice is the assumption that the heart is ultimately pure and can lead us to the “right path.” Unfortunately, this is not the truth. In fact, Scripture tells us, “The heart is deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9, ESV). I have always struggled with this verse because as a Christian and a counselor, I want to look for the best in people and find their strengths. I want to believe that under even the most tough exterior is a softness and a pure heart. While I do believe that each person is touched by the fingerprint of God and has His unique giftings and qualities within them, I cannot forget that in Welch’s words, “If we fail to recognize the reality and depth of our sin problem, God will become less important, and people will become more important.”

In other words, if we begin to rely on ourselves to be our guides through life, then Jesus is not truly our Lord. He becomes smaller than ourselves. We turn from His Scripture and voice, putting more faith in our emotions and wishes. Welch then states, “If you exalt the individual and make emotions the path to truth, then whatever you feel most strongly will be considered both good and necessary for growth.” We are encouraged to go after what we want and the thought of discipline or patience is often ignored, or worse, viewed as oppressive.

You may be starting to see how I believe this concept of following one’s own heart can relate to our sexuality. As we have become a more self-centered culture, integrity, discipline, and service have lost standing in our minds as priorities. Discipline is often viewed as repressing our desires — some may even say “God-given desires.” Let’s take premarital sex for example. In His Word, God asks us to reserve the sexual relationship for within the confines of the marital covenant. Song of Solomon 8:4 (CSB) says, “Don’t stir up or awaken love until the appropriate time.” Our Heavenly Father urges us to practice delaying gratification because it will build character that will support our marriage and will ultimately lead to increased satisfaction. It is not to oppress us or test our loyalty.

Though our heart may wish to be intimate physically with the one we love, God has asked us to be patient and trust His wishes. Submitting to God’s will over our own is a practice that we will have to walk out daily in marriage as we struggle through financial issues, infertility, buying a house, job loss, illness, miscarriage, child-rearing, and so many other challenges. If we enter marriage following our hearts first rather than God’s will, we are often placing ourselves in a position that can result in serving self first, others second, and God last. His intention is the exact reverse. This example of waiting until marriage is just one way this concept can affect our sexuality, but can apply to masturbation, pressuring our spouse to try a sexual act that they do not feel peace about, pornography, and so much more. The heart can easily give way to lust if we follow it.

God’s Will Over Our Feelings and Desires

When feelings and desires become our highest authority, we can often find a way to justify any action and can start to become controlled by these desires, which are frequently labeled as “needs.” Welch states, “Whatever you think you need, you come to fear. If you ‘need’ love (to feel okay about yourself), you will soon be controlled by the one who dispenses love. You are also saying that without that person’s love, you will be spiritually handicapped, unable to give love to others.” If these words are challenging you, please know that I am right there with you! As a counselor, I am quite familiar with discussion of desires and needs. I think it is very healthy to discuss and communicate with your friends and spouse (and God!) what you wish for and desire. Psalm 37:4 says, “Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” After reading Welch’s chapter, however, I am encouraged to look at this verse in a new light.

Previously, I always focused on the second part of the verse. Now I notice just how important that first piece is: “Take delight in the Lord . . .  and He will give you the desires of your heart.” If we take delight in something, let’s say new babies, we spend time adoring them and just being in their presence. We long to get to know their personalities and just genuinely derive joy from their existence. If we were to spend time with God like this, I cannot imagine how much He would change our hearts! The desires of our heart would be molded into His own as we were made increasingly into His likeness. I truly believe that as we seek Him, He even removes or weakens our desire to sin because our desire to glorify Him is so much stronger than our flesh.

In Welch’s words, “There will be some situations where we should say that Jesus does not intend to meet our needs, but that he intends to change our needs.” He will mold these desires and needs into His will for our lives. He will provide a community around us who pushes us towards a pursuit of purity and freedom in Him. He wishes to partner with us. Our emotions truly are a gift when surrendered to Him, but we cannot be ruled by them. If so, our hearts can lead us astray. And they will. All of us will sin and fall short at times as we put our desires above God’s call on our lives. But He is faithful to forgive if we will repent and come back to Him. Then, my friend, take delight in Him, for in His Presence is freedom and joy and healing!

Related Resources:

Amy is with us for the month of February to talk about intimacy and give us a biblical perspective on relationships and God’s will for us when it comes to love and sex. Check out her first article, “3 Scriptural Truths That Reveal God’s Plan for Sex,” in this 3-part series and corresponding podcast episode by clicking on the link here or one provided below her author bio.

Next week she will wrap up the series with a candid look at issues that often arise in sex in the married relationship.

 

Amy Owen

Amy Owen

Amy Owen is a Jesus-follower, wife, doggy-mom, and counselor. She studied Child and Family Development at University of Georgia (Go Dawgs!) for her undergraduate and obtained a Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy at Richmont Graduate University. While at Richmont, Amy had the privilege to study Christian Sex Therapy, which is one of her passions. Currently, Amy lives in South Georgia and works with youth and their families. Her previous counseling work includes private practice with teens and adults, as well as inpatient and residential settings with adults struggling with acute mental illness and addiction. In her free time, Amy is an avid fiction-reader and walker; in addition, she loves to make new friends.

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