What Is Preventing You From Living a Set-Apart Life?

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Recently, my daughter was moved from her third grade class to a new class. The school had more third graders than they anticipated, so not even a few weeks into the school year, they are getting a new teacher and placing students in a new class.

This is very good news in many ways because my daughter will have a smaller learning environment, more one-on-one attention from her teacher, and less noise and chaos (as she was experiencing in her much bigger class). However, my daughter is sad about the move because she has to leave behind the comfort of her old classroom and her friends. Her best friend and the other girls she has befriended are not coming with her on the move.

The reason she was selected for the move was because of her high test scores — so while we can celebrate that her scores are so high, she is not excited because she feels like this move is a punishment.

Spiritually, sometimes we may feel like this as well. It’s exciting to be chosen by God for our specific calling — to be set apart to do His purposes, but the reality of the life we live as Christians is that we have to give up some things in order to be live a consecrated life. When we leave behind friends that we wanted to keep or lifestyle choices that we don’t really want to give up, those decisions can be painful.

However, if we choose not to let go of what God asks of us, these things we hold onto can become obstacles to following God’s will and letting ourselves be set apart for His purposes.

Consecration: A Life Set Apart

Before we continue on in our conversation, it’s important to understand what consecration is. According to Easton’s Bible Dictionary, consecration is “the devoting or setting apart of anything to the worship of God.” The Bible tells us that we are “living sacrifices” (Romans 12:1) and the “temple of God” (1 Corinthians 3:16, 17). Offering ourselves to God and living lives in His holy service is pleasing worship to him. In 1 Peter 2:9-12, we see our position as members of one body:

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praise of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, abut now you have received mercy. Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

This passage informs us that as believers we are a “chosen people, a royal priesthood” (v. 9). However, this means we are “foreigners and exiles” in this world, and we have to live differently than unbelievers and “abstain from sinful desires” (v. 11). While we can’t do anything to add to Jesus’ work on the cross in terms of our salvation, living a life that pleases and honors Him is a continual choice we make.

What it Means To Live a Consecrated Life

In The Spirit-Filled Life on Biblehub.com, John MacNeil stresses that consecration involves surrender, a transfer of ownership, and enthroning Christ. All of these points are interrelated, but what he means by “surrender” is that after conversion we give God our bodies, too, not just our souls. He quotes Dr. Chalmers as saying, “In conversion, God gives to me, but in consecration I give to God.”

By “transfer of ownership” he advocates that we live our lives ever aware of the fact that we have been purchased. MacNeil cites 1 Corinthians 19, 20 as support for this idea, which says, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price; therefore, glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” Consecration means that we continually remember that we belong to God and that our lives no longer are ours to do with as we please.

Additionally, when MacNeil says that we need to “enthrone Christ” in our life, he rightly advocates the idea that a consecrated life involves more than just conversion. At conversion, we invite Christ in the throne room, but to sanctify ourselves (in the sense of the New Testament usage) means to set apart ourselves so we put Christ on the throne and glorify Him in all we do.

However, as I previously mentioned, obstacles exist that can stand in the way of living out a life that is set apart for God. We must identify and remove these hindrances so we can live the Christian life we were called to live.

Obstacles That Stand in the Way of a Consecrated Life

1. Unbelief.

When many people hear the word “unbelief,” they think of unbelief in God’s existence. While it can mean that, unbelief is not believing in the truths we encounter in God’s Word or the promises of God. We can be a Christian and still struggle with unbelief.

In our spiritual walk, God continually grows and refines us as we walk with Him. However, at times we will come across truths in His Word that don’t sit right with us for whatever reason. We resist them because they go against our common sense or what we were taught when were young. Or they may urge us to do something that we don’t think we want to do or think we can do. In those moments, we have a choice to take the path of belief or the path of unbelief.

The famous evangelist Billy Graham had an experience in his Christian walk where he felt unsure about some of the truths he encountered in God’s Word. In fact, another prominent Christian pastor urged him not to take everything in the Bible as truth. However, Billy Graham prayed about it and came to this conclusion: By faith, he would accept everything in the Bible as truth even when he didn’t understand.

We must do the same. If we choose to walk our own way, we choose not to walk in God’s benefits and blessings that come from our obedience. We will get stagnant in our walk. It is impossible to please God without faith, and we must determine to stake our lives on the truth of the Bible whether it always sits right with us or not.

God invites our questions. His Word says that any who need wisdom should ask (James 1:5). It’s OK to wrestle and work out things — but not to walk away from God’s truth and choose our own.

2. Ignorance.

While unbelief is coming across a truth and not accepting it, ignorance is simply not knowing the truths of God.

I am a former English teacher. I love to delve into the Bible and analyze the meanings of passages and look up commentary. The Word of God is an endless source of wisdom for me. However, even if I study every second of every day for the rest of my life, I will never know every truth there is to know. There are some things that I will still not understand. However, even though I will never know everything, I need to make it a priority to learn every day about God. I need to carve out time with Him and open myself up to His truth. The Bible says that people die for lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6).

God honors our feeble steps of faith. When we are young in the faith, if we make attempts to learn about God and read His Word, the Holy Spirit helps to fill in the gaps. There have been times when the Holy Spirit counseled me from within on what to do in a particular situation before I had ever read the right passages. However, we need to make sure that we are learning continually from His Word and opening ourselves to hear from Him. When we don’t know the truths of God, we won’t be able to withstand the enemy’s attack or be prepared for the circumstances that come our way.

God doesn’t expect us to know or understand everything, but the Bible is clear that the wise learn and adhere to the commands of God. Proverbs 6:20-22 tells us this:

My son, keep your fathers’ command and do not forsake you mothers’ teaching. Bind them always on your heart; fasten them around you neck. When you walk, they will guide you; when you sleep, they will watch over you; when you awake, they will speak to you.

Ignorance can prevent us from knowing how to live our lives in in a God-honoring manner. In addition, if we aren’t opening ourselves up to learn from God and hear from Him daily, this can be a major obstacle in our spiritual life.

3. Fear.

I don’t know about you, but fear is a struggle for me. As a recovering people-pleaser, I don’t want to disappoint the people around me. I generally don’t choose actions that will make me stand out or look different because I fear the negative reactions or rejection of others. However, the Bible tells us that instead of fearing man and his reaction to us, we need to concern ourselves only with God’s view of us and instead fear God. Matthew 10:28 says, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

Similarly, Paul in Galatians 1:10 says, “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Proverbs 29:25 says this: “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.”

Rather than look at obedience as drudgery, we can view it in a different light entirely. The Bible tells us that giving ourselves to the work of God is a privilege. In Through My Eyes, by Tim Tebow, he talks about how he looks for opportunities to witness to others. In fact, he likes to be different and stand out. He defines being the same as everyone else as “average” and “mediocre.” He says this: “As I got older and heard kids talking about wanting to ‘fit in,’ or wanting to be ‘normal,’ I never quite understood why they felt that way. What’s the point of being ‘normal’? That sounds average to me, and I never felt like I was created to be average.”

I love his explanation and definition of being different. It inspires me to embrace obedience and the “peculiarity” we have as believers — viewing it as a special undertaking, not something we are forced to do out of obligation. To truly be vessels that God can use, we must not allow our fear to prevent us from stepping out and doing the will of God.

Consecration: Giving Back to God

Living a consecrated life means choosing to give back to God because of what He has done for us. Consecration means acknowledging that we belong to God, and we must allow Him to choose to do with us as He wants. However, as Rick Warren says in The Purpose-Driven Life, sometimes the “living sacrifice” likes to crawl off the altar. In other words, sometimes we don’t want to do what God would have us do.

However, in those moments we must remember that God knows what is best for our good and the good of others. He is making out of us a masterpiece to put His glory on display — and we must let Him do as He likes and trust Him even when it doesn’t make sense or He points us in a way that we don’t want to go.

Once, I had a choir director that gave me a part for a musical that I didn’t even try out for. I was getting back into music and tried out for a solo. He talked with me and selected instead a shorter duet over the background of a children’s choir. While the part wasn’t one I would have picked for myself, I realized that it was the perfect part for me. I am not sure I could have made in one piece through the longer solo as I was dealing with a lot of nerves getting back on the stage again — and the audience we had was a couple thousand. His judgment was better than mine, and he knew what was best in that situation.

Similarly, God doesn’t always pick for us the “part” we would pick for ourselves. Sometimes with our limited perspective, it’s hard to see what He’s doing or feel like His plan for us makes sense. If we surrender, however, as Charles Stanley notes in The Blessings of Brokenness, we will live a life that is much better and more fulfilling than we could have ever envisioned or orchestrated for ourselves.

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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Set Apart for God’s Special Purpose

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In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for special purposes and some for common use. Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work” (2 Timothy 2:20-21).

Vessels are meant to be used. Vessels are empty. As vessels of God, we don’t have to worry whether we have anything to put in the cup; we only need concern ourselves with what kind of cup we will be; God will do the infilling. We have a choice in this faith of ours. We can be rich or poor. We can enter heaven “like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames,” or we can receive a warm welcome into “eternal dwellings” (1 Corinthians 3:15 NLT; Luke 16:9). We can bring great riches into our eternal account, or — as harsh as it sounds — everything we did on earth can be burned in God’s fire (1 Corinthians 3:13-15).

We make those choices now — will we be spiritually rich, fancy vessels of gold and silver, experiencing great supernatural experiences and mind-blowing visitations, or will we be like that coffee mug bought at the dollar store that no one ever wants to drink out of? God wants us to choose the precious. As we set ourselves apart for His purposes, He will Himself make us into that vessel He can use for special purposes — not a vessel that is left on the shelf and rarely used.

Let’s be clear what is meant by consecration, which is often used interchangeably with sanctification. In The Spirit-Filled Life on biblehub.com, John MacNeil helps to explain these words. He notes that as believers under the new covenant, consecration does not mean to “cleanse” in terms of justification. If we have put our faith in Jesus Christ, that has been done for us by Jesus’ work on the cross. MacNeil observes in John 17:19 (NASB) that Jesus said, “For their sakes I sanctify myself”; He obviously had no need to cleanse himself. Rather, He set Himself apart for God’s purpose. Essentially, as MacNeil emphasizes by quoting another: “In conversion God gives to me, but in consecration I give to God.”

Consecration, then, means we separate ourselves to God by giving ourselves back to Him in surrender, but in that surrender, we have choices. Will it be a total surrender, or will we maintain veto power? Will it be complete, or will we reserve the right to indulge in “small” sins? Will we have doors in our hearts that say, “Do not enter” to God? Or will we allow Him to turn the light on in every area?

The Word says, “Deep calls to deep” (Psalm 42:7). The deeper we allow God to go, the deeper His rivers flow through us to the depths in others. If we seek anointing, we have to let it go deep in ourselves first. In America we can be tempted to insulate our lives from suffering as so many entertainments are available to us here that can easily placate our souls, but God invites us to suffer in our flesh by allowing our sin to be crucified with Him, so He can flow through us into deep places to others. Like Jesus who “poured out His soul unto death,” if we pour out our souls in such a way, we will indeed know His anointing is flowing through us (Isaiah 53:12, AKJV).

As we choose what type of vessel we are going to be — silver and gold, or wood or clay — we must choose to leave some things behind.

Like Jeremiah, we have to “extract the precious from the worthless” (Jeremiah 15:19, NASB). Achan, a character in the Old Testament, chose to sneakily keep some spoils of war hidden in his tent. The result was all Israel suffered from his sin at the battle of Ai, where God allowed a defeat to the enemy’s forces. It’s not clear exactly what Achan stole from Jericho when it fell, but the Hebrew renders it “devoted things.” These devoted things were that which the Lord had said were to be destroyed — devoted to destruction. Nonetheless, Achan piled up a heap of the forbidden things in his tent. It wound up costing him his life.

Have we held on to that which God has devoted to “destruction”? If we hold on to sin, we are harboring a heap of trouble in our “tent.” Sexual sin, especially, as well as pride and the fear of man are “gateway sins” that open the door to other sins. We must allow the Holy Spirit to set us apart from who we used to be and the things we used to desire before the Lord can give us that ministry He so longs to.

As we allow God to take away our old self-image, our consecration results in purification. Otherwise, instead of being a precious vessel God can use, we are not only not that, we are — along with our hidden sins — like a rusty, old tin can. Instead of honor, we will, like Achan, experience devastation in areas God had never intended. This does not mean we won’t go to heaven, but it may mean huge areas of our lives will be subject to, well, destruction (1 Corinthians 3:15). Paul says, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap” (Galatians 6:7, NASB). Consecration and purification go hand-in-hand.

Part of separating oneself for God’s special purposes involves allowing God to bring boundaries into certain relationships, especially ones with unbelievers. Paul writes, “Therefore, come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you” (2 Corinthians 6:17).

I remember as a new hire at a workplace when a dear friend was throwing a party — one I very much planned to attend. Suddenly, the Holy Spirit crashed into my world and said, “Don’t go.” I was shocked! Didn’t the Lord realize I had already RSVP’d — that a last-minute cancellation wouldn’t be a good “witness”? Besides, everyone who was anyone was going to attend — namely, those I perceived that could solidify my standing at work.

Though I really wanted to go, I slowly began to concede to God’s plan. Just to show you what a coward I was, I did not have the guts to tell my friend I wasn’t coming, so, I was forced to write a note and deliver it. Soon, I sensed the presence of God on my life in a new way, but first I had to “die” to expectations to be a certain way. Remember the Bible says, “They are surprised that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of wild living, and they slander you” (1 Peter 4:4, HCSB). God began to deliver me from the fear of man. I was on the path to being the special, consecrated vessel I was created to become, and I eventually enjoyed becoming the leader of a blessed Bible study there.

We can fit into the culture or fit into the kingdom. Paul writes, “For no one can lay a foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, his workmanship will be evident, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will prove the quality of each man’s work” (1 Corinthians 3:11-14). This is not something to fear but to anticipate. If we’re going to do this thing, we might as well do it right, surrender, step out in faith way beyond our ability to save ourselves, let Him set us apart, and see what God might do.

We live in times that demand our greatest efforts to draw near to God’s throne as people are paralyzed with fear and anxiety; they are wrestling with eternal questions now as never before. Ironically, the nightly news that can make us despair — with ISIS attacks, the sharp political divide in America, growing racial tension, threats of international war and natural disasters — has forced the discussion of religion back into people’s minds. The harvest is ripe as never before. We must be ready for the Master’s use in such a time as this.

As Joshua said to the Israelites before crossing the Jordan, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow, the Lord will do amazing things among you” (Joshua 3:5). It’s time to allow God to do the sometimes painful, but always wonderful — work He wants to do in us. Choose wisely today to be the precious, beautiful silver and gold vessel God wants you to be, and you will not only shine brightly now, you will reap a great reward.

 

Stacey Crayton

Stacey Crayton

Stacey Crayton lives in Canton, Georgia, with her husband and feline despot, Gideon. Stacey's name means "resurrection," and it also is a story of her life -- many "deaths" in different areas that seem to keep returning as empowering events. She is a former contributing editor to "Living Water Journal" and enjoys hiking, biking, painting in oils, acrylics -- and recently, watercolors -- and loves nothing more than to wake up watching tree shadows flicker on the top of her tent. A teacher, Stacey holds a master's in Teaching English as a Second Language and is learning to praise God even in a current season of being in "God's waiting room." Her dream is to hold prophetic and deliverance conferences to see God's people get set free around the globe. Until then, she keeps practicing on herself, her family, and whoever will listen to her ministry in the "highways and byways." Stacey is a bold believer who specializes in witnessing for the kingdom of God.

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Overcoming Fear in Doing the Will of God

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

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

However, Peter had to get past his very real unbelief and fear he felt in the moment, and Jesus addresses it. Similarly, many of us are desiring to be obedient to God, but we are dealing with crushing fear or another obstacle. How do we get past our fear when we are attempting to follow the will of God?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I had been a former high school teacher, and I had spent years cultivating the worship of my students. As a young teacher, I was flirtatious and had a male fan club in every class. Though my actions were not those that constituted an inappropriate relationship or illegal activity, I knew that I had not been a Christian role model for my students. God nudged me to make some hard contacts with my former classes and administration and apologize for not being a Godly role model and state that I was making a turn in my Christian walk.

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

2. Spiritual transformation is a process.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

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

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

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

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to 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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Having the Faith to Get Through Your Storm

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Beulah Girl Podcast:

Hey friends! Tune in for our first podcast episode: Faith in Storms. Suzy Lolley and I talk about how to have real faith when you are faced with trials and fear that threaten to knock you off course.

Some people in the Bible inspire me, but also intimidate me a little. I think, Why can’t I have the boldness of Paul when he instructed the sailors to abandon the ship in the storm, witnessed to the Roman guard, or killed the serpent? Certainly, in looking at other people like Daniel who prayed faithfully three times a day and did not forsake God even while serving a pagan ruler or Esther who risked her life for her own people, I feel small in comparison.

However, Peter is a person I can relate to. He often said the wrong thing or messed up in a big way, and yet, Jesus loved him. In looking at the story of Peter walking on water, we can find encouragement for those times when our faith feels small and our obstacles big. When we want to follow hard after Jesus, but we feel overwhelmed and pulled under by the trials we face.

In Matthew 14:28-32 (NLT), Peter sees the Lord walking on the water and asks to come out to Him. Jesus consents, and Peter leaves the boat to walk on the water towards Jesus:

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

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

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

All of Peter’s bluster and fortitude evaporate rather quickly. And it runs out because he takes his eyes off of his Savior and fixes them on the waves, the wind, and the precariousness of his circumstances. However, when he calls out for Jesus’ rescue, Jesus immediately comes to his aid and pulls him up.

Jesus isn’t rattled or put out by Peter’s unbelief. He chides him and says, “You have so little faith. Why did you doubt me?” (v. 31). However, He does so to seize the moment to teach Peter, not demean him. Also, we see that Jesus doesn’t cast Peter out of His presence. Jesus doesn’t tell Peter his failures prevent him from being in relationship with him.

What we can learn from this exchange:

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

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

Not too long ago, I read a Proverbs 31 Ministries devotional written by Tracie Miles where she gives a story about an obstacle course she went to with her daughter. When she climbed up to begin the course, she looked down and chickened out. Her daughter swung across the ropes with ease — and yet, Tracie couldn’t get over her fear. That is the way with our walks with God. He keeps taking us deeper and deeper until we are positioned in a place where we have to be completely dependent on Him.

We look at the ropes and the ground below (or in the case of Peter, the wind and the waves), and we panic. We’re in way beyond our comfort level — and that’s how He wants it to be. He wants us in a place where we have to rely on Him, but it is not comfortable for us. We want to climb down where the heights aren’t quite so dizzying. However, it’s when we walk in trust that He enables us to have the power to do His work.

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

Jesus helps us in our failures.

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

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

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

My daughter had had a virus all week where she broke out in spots. We had had numerous commitments and events for the kids’ school on top of that which left me exhausted. When we walked in the doors, my son told me his stomach was hurting. So, I took my other two to class and decided my son needed to sit with me. However, I didn’t want to bring him into the service because I feared he might throw up. Therefore, I sat out in the foyer with him and watched the broadcast of the service on a screen.

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

I left the service so renewed. My son’s stomach still hurt and none of my circumstances had changed, but I knew that it was going to be OK. We stopped by my health teacher husband’s classroom after the service. As we were sitting in the classroom talking while the kids were running around, my husband turned on some worship music. He “just happened” to play a song by Third Day called “Mountain of God.” It’s an older song, but the lyrics say, “Thought that I was all alone / Broken and afraid / But You were there with me / Yes, you were there with me.”

Tears came to my eyes because here God was reassuring me a second time, as he was in the sermon, “Have faith. Don’t doubt. I am with you. You’re on the right path.”

Conclusion:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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Waiting on the Promises of God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

While I’m Waiting, by John Waller

I’m waiting, I’m waiting on You, Lord

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

Though it is painful, but patiently I will wait

 

I will move ahead bold and confident

Taking every step in obedience

While I’m waiting, I will serve You

While I’m waiting, I will worship

Wile I’m waiting, I will not faint

I’ll be running the race even while I wait

 

I’m waiting, I’m waiting on You, Lord

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

Though it’s not easy, no, but

faithfully I will wait

Yes, I will wait

 

And I will move ahead, bold and confident

I’ll be taking every step in obedience, yeah

 

While I’m waiting, I will serve You

While I’m waiting, I will worship

While I’m waiting, I will not faint

 

And I will serve You while I’m waiting

I will worship while I’m waiting

I will serve You while I’m waiting

I will worship while I’m waiting

I will serve You while I’m waiting

 

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

I will serve you while I’m waiting

 

I will worship while I’m waiting

 I will serve You while I’m waiting

I will worship while I’m waiting

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to 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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4 Things to Help Get Us Through Our Storm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Jesus showed up differently than they expected.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to 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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Does Your Life Have a Specific Purpose?

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What is your favorite Christmas song?

I know. That can be a hard question. There are simply too many tunes that touch us in unique and powerful ways during this season when we celebrate the birth of our Savior. It’s hard to choose just one song and name it your most beloved.

However, if forced to do just that, I would have to select “Mary, Did You Know?”

There are lines in that song that simply blow my mind! Like, “Mary, did you know that when you kissed your little baby, you kissed the face of God?”

Amazing!

Looking closely at the melody, one sees the entire premise behind the song is that Jesus was born to achieve a specific purpose. The ultimate architect sent His Son with plans to accomplish a detailed design.

“Mary, did you know that your baby boy will one day walk on water?

Mary, did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?

Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?

This child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you.”

What an awesome plot by an awesome God to communicate His power, His love, and His plan — a perfect sacrifice to save us from our sins! Only the sovereign God of all creation could muster up such a magnificent plan.

Now, would it surprise you to know that your life was also knit together with a specific purpose in mind?

Psalm 139:13-16 (NLT) reveals that God made each of us according to a detailed design: “You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous — how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.”

Each moment of your life was laid out before it even came to pass. The Planner has a plan for you!

Recall Esther, a Jewish girl who was adopted by her Uncle Mordechai. Ultimately, she becomes Queen of Persia when King Xerxes begins searching for a new wife after Queen Vashti falls into disfavor. Esther surely wondered at the series of events that landed her into this new circumstance. But then the Jews were threatened by a plot devised to slaughter them all, and Mordechai posed this question to the new Queen: “Who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14).

At that moment, Esther clearly saw her specific purpose unfold before her.

Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.’ (Esther 4:15-16)

After three days, Esther boldly walked into the king’s chambers, not knowing whether or not he would receive her since she had not been formally invited. According to the law, she could have been put to death for being so daring. But the king extended his scepter as Esther approached him and so welcomed her into his presence. The events she executed thereafter saved her people from annihilation. Everything in her life had been orchestrated so that Esther could realize this specific purpose — to be the queen who sacrifices for her people.

Now turn your thoughts to a King who sacrificed for His people. Recall His miraculous birth.

“Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation? Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day rule the nations? Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb? This sleeping child you’re holding is the great I Am.”

Jesus was born with a specific purpose. Mike Riches’ book Living Free describes God’s design for Jesus’ life in this way:

Throughout the New Testament we see it is only through Jesus Christ that we can be restored to our Heavenly Father.  It is only through Him that we can experience real freedom in life in the power and love of God — a freedom God purchased for us as the great cost of the blood of His own Son: ‘He is so rich in kindness and grace that He purchased our freedom with the blood of His Son and forgave our sins’ (Ephesians 1:7). This is the very reason Jesus came to this world as a human being.

And you, too, have been designed with a specific purpose in mind. It might not seem as elaborate as Jesus’ design or as profound as Esther’s calling; nevertheless, He has a plan for your life. Scripture confirms this again and again: “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago” (Eph. 2:10, NLT).

So this Christmas, remember the reason we celebrate. Remember, you are His child, and your Heavenly Father has good in store for you. Each day you can awake with the knowledge that God has “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future” (Jer. 29:11).

What about you? Do you struggle to know what your purpose is or to embrace the truth that God created you with intentionality and works to do on His behalf? Share with us in the comments!

Related Resources:

This post is part of a series of posts written in reaction to Mike Riches’ book Living Free. Mike Riches is a pastor of a church in Gig Harbor, Washington, and is head of the Sycamore Commission, a ministry committed to modeling Christian life and ministry after that of Jesus Christ. Living Free is one of several resources he has authored and is designed to help people know God’s original design when He created us, how Satan has attempted to thwart that design, and how to live “free” and healed — recovering areas of our lives (in terms of our emotions, health, relationships, etc.) that the enemy has stolen from us. As part of a training for our Beulah Girl team, we have been going through the book and are sharing the lessons we are learning with you here.

Are you new to the whole idea of salvation? Do you want to accept Jesus as your Savior or find out more about the steps to do that? Visit our Know God page or send us a note through our Contact page to learn more!

 

Jamie Wills

Jamie Wills

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

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What Jesus Came to Do (the Best News This Christmas)

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I have a Glorious Ruins Hillsong CD that is now worn out because I’ve listened to it so many times. But one of the songs I like in it is “God Who Saves.” Confession: I have an obsession with all Hillsong music, anyway. I love their worship songs because they are easy to sing, and I also like their tasteful guitar and drum-heavy arrangements. But the lyric goes, “You’re the God who saves / You’re the hope of all / Reaching out your hand / As your people call.”

I usually listen to such words (very common in many worship songs, by the way) and think of salvation: the work Jesus has done on the cross to save us from our sins. And that is an important (the most important) aspect to Jesus’ work here on earth.

However, as Mike Riches points out in Living Free, the saving work of Jesus is more than just a conversion of our souls at salvation. In Luke 19:10, the word translated as “save” is “sozo” in the Greek. This word “sozo” means not only to rescue one’s soul but can mean other things as well: to rescue someone from danger or affliction, to save someone from disease, and to set someone free from demonization. “Sozo” means to help someone thrive — and forms of this word are used in the New Testament to mean “cured,” “save,” “recover,” “made well,” among others.

The Saving Work of Jesus: “Sozo” Work

In other words, God’s work in sending Jesus does more than reconcile us back to God in terms of salvation. Jesus restores areas that the enemy has destroyed in areas of our health, relationships, emotions, etc. Certainly, we see how Jesus did this by healing the sick, setting free those possessed by demons, and ministering to the broken-hearted. As Riches points out, in terms of physical healing, not everyone was healed by Jesus in His day and not everyone receives healing now. However, this “sozo” work begins at salvation and will ultimately be completed in heaven.

This saving work of Jesus is proclaimed throughout the Bible, but is illustrated beautifully in the Christmas story. In Luke 2:10-14 (NKJV), the announcement of Jesus’ birth is given by an angel to the shepherds. A chorus of angels join in at the end of the proclamation with a celebratory song, singing: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men” (v. 14). We could easily skim past this chorus of the angels, but if we split apart the verse and look at the two halves separately, we see this emphasis on what Jesus’ birth did to save us:

“Glory to God in the highest.” In the first part of the verse, the angels express their worship of God in song. Note, they say “Glory to God in the highest.” As scholars note, this “highest” is above the angels, even. He is the God above all others, over all of the universe and creation. And the reason for their worship is given in the next part of the verse.

“Peace, goodwill to men.” The angels are singing praises to the Almighty God because of the great gift He has bestowed on the earth. He has sent His only Son in the form of a baby to bring peace on earth (Isa. 9:6). However, this peace isn’t just a “kumbayah” everyone hold hands kind of peace. This peace that the Savior brings is a reconciliation or peace in the relationship of humanity and God.

When Adam and Eve sinned, the communion God shared with man was broken. Man was sinful and could not approach God in the same manner. Men and women in the Old Testament were under Old Testament laws and had to rely on priests to both mediate between man and God and perform sacrifices to be cleansed of their sins. However, through Jesus we can be saved, and our relationship with God is restored. Jesus makes it possible for us to be in right standing with our Creator.

Even the name Jesus literally means “to save.” Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua. This name was originally Hoshea but changed into Jehoshua or Joshua (Num. 13:8, 1 Chr. 7:27). After the Exile, it assumed the form Jeshua and then Jesus. It was given to Jesus because it denoted His mission, which was to save (Easton’s Bible Dictionary). In Matthew 1:21, the angel tells Mary that she will bring forth a Son, saying, “You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (emphasis mine).

Jesus’ Mission to Save Is Good News

This is exciting news for us any time of year: Jesus’ mission is to save. And continually save. Our spirits are sealed by the Holy Spirit at salvation, and we don’t have to continually ask God for rescue from eternal damnation (after we have already received salvation). But we do need to continually ask for help to live on this sin-ridden planet — and that is what Jesus does. However, as some theologians observe, the angels saying that God brought peace to men should actually be read “to men of goodwill” or men that had hearts open to the message of the Gospel.

Certainly, the New Living Translation reads like this, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” The Message Translation says this: “Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.”

The gift is there. It’s ours. But while His desire is that all be saved, only a select few will take Him up on His offer. Let’s make sure we have done so and are fully appreciating His “sozo” work in our lives. Because that is truly the best news we can appreciate this Christmas — having One who continually saves.

Related Bible Verses:

Isaiah 53:5: “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”

John 3:17: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

Mark 16:16: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”

Ephesians 2:14: “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.”

Related Resources:

This post is part of a series of posts written in reaction to Mike Riches’ book Living Free. Mike Riches is a pastor of a church in Gig Harbor, Washington, and is head of the Sycamore Commission, a ministry committed to modeling Christian life and ministry after that of Jesus Christ. Living Free is one of several resources he has authored and is designed to help people know God’s original design when He created us, how Satan has attempted to thwart that design, and how to live “free” and healed — recovering areas of our lives (in terms of our emotions, health, relationships, etc.) that the enemy has stolen from us. As part of a training for our Beulah Girl team, we have been going through the book and are sharing the lessons we are learning with you here.

Are you new to the whole idea of salvation? Do you want to accept Jesus as your Savior or find out more about the steps to do that? Visit our Know God page or send us a note through our Contact page to learn more!

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 to Keep Going When You Want to Give up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trusting God in Our Difficult Circumstance

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to 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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Spiritual Growth and Maturity: Why Is It Taking so Long?

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My son has been potty-trained for two years.

However, though he is potty-trained, it has taken some time to learn to use the bathroom on his own.

When he does business that requires a long sit-down on the commode, I have to remind him how much tissue to use, how to rub soap to get the germs off when he washes his hands, and how to untangle his clothes and get them back on his body.

I been issuing these same instructions for two years. Though he is getting more adept at remembering what to do, he still needs me to monitor him. He sometimes forgets a step or struggles to get his own clothes on or hops off the toilet in the middle of business and wants to play.

Though we are making progress — the boy is no longer in diapers — the progress is slow. I sometimes wonder if this child will ever be able to be in the bathroom alone without my assistance.

It sometimes feels like my journey to spiritual maturity is taking just as long. Getting into a rhythm with God where certain bad habits are overcome for good, where I obey the second He calls, where sin doesn’t have a hold on me — is taking longer than I want it to.

However, as I was thinking about rhythms this morning, I reflected on the fact that “getting into a rhythm” takes time. You have to learn it. Feel it in your bones before you can join in or snap to the beat. I remember my former choir instructors actually snapping out the beat with their fingers to themselves before they would raise their arms, look at the choir or orchestra, and begin directing.

They had to feel it before they could direct us in song.

When we are discouraged with where we are at spiritually, there are several things Rick Warren points out in The Purpose-Driven Life about spiritual maturity we should keep in mind.

1. God is not in a hurry.

While we want a magical transformation where all of our fleshly ways are remedied at salvation, that isn’t what happens in the Christian walk. We may have a dramatic salvation story and turn from whatever lifestyle we are engaged in, yes, but it takes time to learn to walk in God’s ways. An entire lifetime, in fact!

Warren likens the process of spiritual growth to the strategy the Allies used during World War II to liberate islands in the South Pacific. Note what he says about the Allies’ strategy:

First, they would ‘soften up’ an island, weakening the resistance by shelling the enemy strongholds with bombs from offshore ships. Next, a small group of Marines would invade the island and establish a ‘beachhead’ — a tiny fragment of the island that they could control. Once the beachhead was secured, they would begin the long process of liberating the rest of the island, one bit of territory at a time. Eventually, the entire island would be brought under control, but not without some costly battles.

As Warren stresses, God gets a beachhead in your life, but then he begins His strategy to take over the whole island. Why? For the purpose of  liberation! Rather than get discouraged when we compare ourselves to others and see that they are further along than us, our job is to submit to the work God is doing at the moment and trust that as long as we are surrendering to Him, He has us right where He wants us.

2. Certain habits that took time to learn may take time to unlearn.

As Warren notes, we may be struggling with a habit that took years to develop. A quick fix or solution is not realistic. It may take us some time to overcome this. Rather than give up on ourselves or look for an easy out from the pressure we may feel while God is operating on us in this area, we should be patient with ourselves and know that the working out of this trait may take some time. If our struggle is with fear or pride or self-sufficiency, we may have moments of victory but then other moments where we fall back into old patterns because they are comfortable and it’s what we have known for much of our life.

Rather than beat ourselves for our failures, we need to turn to Jesus, confess where we have fallen short, ask Him to help us in our weakness, and allow Him to guide us towards lasting victory (John 1:9).

3. We need to find friends to come alongside us.

As Warren stresses, we don’t do ourselves a favor when we try to keep the sin or habit we are struggling with a secret. Pride says that we should hide our struggles, but there is freedom in admitting our struggle with another person and asking for help and accountability.

The Bible says that those who confess and renounce their sins will find mercy (Prov. 28:13). Perhaps there is a group you can get plugged into or a wise Christian friend that you can regularly meet with. Relating your struggle in an area with another person can help keep you accountable and make ground against this thing — rather than stuffing it down and keeping it silent, so that it just turns into a shameful thing you try to hide. Your friend or prayer partner can also help you make a plan to avoid situations where you will be tempted to act in ways you know you shouldn’t.

Conclusion:

Just as it takes time for fruit to grow and ripen on the vine, it takes time for us to mature spiritually and develop the fruit of Christ-like character, as well as develop the ability to effectively minister to others.

Knowing that this maturation is a process can encourage us when we feel like our struggle with the same old habits or sins will never end; we can know that God is always working. The one who can stand in the way of this is us!

So, as Warren says, let Him do as He pleases and trust that He who began a good work in you will complete it (Phil. 1:6).

Related Bible Verses:

Matthew 11:28-30 (MSG): “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me — watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

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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