Growing in Our God-Given Calling

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. We have to trust the plan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Staying Committed to Our Calling Means Choosing Discomfort

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Resources:

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

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

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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How God Helps Us Overcome Obstacles

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

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

How God Can Turn Our Obstacles Into Roads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How We Scale Our Mountains

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What It Means to Scale Our Mountains

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Resources:

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

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

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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How God Comforts and Nourishes Our Souls

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Chicken Soup for the Soul has sold more than 100 million books in the United States and Canada and has been translated into more than 40 languages. After the first book was published 23 years ago, it was so successful that more were written. And now, there are over 250 titles in what has become a Chicken Soup for the Soul series.

The book was developed by motivational speakers Jack Canfield and Mark Victor, who used inspirational stories in their talks. When people repeatedly asked if the stories were written down somewhere, Canfield and Victor decided to compile their best 101 stories in a book — and they called it Chicken Soup for the Soul. Their hope was that they could help others by sharing stories and provide comfort and encouragement, much like a bowl of hot soup on a rainy day.

While the stories of others can be inspirational and motivational, and we connect to others through story and can be soothed by reading or hearing what others have gone through, our souls need to be fed by the Word of God and time spent with God. Just as our bodies need food and water, our souls need spiritual nourishment that can only be found in walking with God.

The Bible speaks of receiving our “daily bread” each day (Matthew 6:11). When tempted by Satan in the desert to turn stones into bread, Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). In other words, Jesus pointed to the reality that man needs spiritual nourishment and that our souls are designed to feed on the sustenance God provides.

We Find Nourishment When We Go the Way God Leads

Isaiah 49:9 says this: “[I will say] to the captives, ‘Come out,’ and to those in darkness, ‘Be free!’ They will feed beside the roads and find pasture on every barren hill” (emphasis mine). To give us the context of this verse, earlier in Isaiah 49, the Messiah is the speaker and is addressing the nations. He tells of His purpose in restoring Israel to himself and being a light to the Gentiles. Here in this section of the passage, the verses speak further of the Messiah’s purpose in bringing captives out of their slavery to sin and into freedom in walking with Him. Certainly these verses can speak of unbelievers becoming saved, but also can be representative of our Christian journey when we have put our faith and trust in Jesus and follow where He leads.

However, this verse also speaks of the Israelites in captivity to Babylon and talks about how they will be led by a Savior back to their home in Israel. (Side note: Obviously, at this point in history, Jesus had not physically come to earth yet as the Messiah, but was still very much present in the story of the Old Testament.) If we look at the history of Israel, the Israelites were taken from their homes and put into captivity in Babylon when they fell into idolatry and disobedience and broke the terms of their covenant with God. God allowed them to suffer the ruin of Jerusalem and their temple and be taken from their homes, but then, in his loving kindness, after a time period of 70 years, He allowed them to return back to their homes.

We can further observe 2 things:

The passage tells us that “they will feed beside the roads.” Here, the passage gives us a picture of the captives being led home. Like sheep following a loving shepherd, they were given nourishment and taken care of when they went the way that God led. In a similar way, we will receive nourishment when we walk in the path God has for us. In some translations it reads, “They shall feed in the ways” (emphasis mine).

We can’t miss that the food showed up alongside the roads. It wasn’t given beforehand. They were actually underway on the journey when they encountered the needed sustenance. As Alexander MacLaren points out, they were fed as they went. While we may hesitate to follow Jesus when His way looks hard and we don’t like what He tells us to do, we can be assured that we will be refreshed and strengthened when we make time to listen to His voice and follow Him. Though another way may be easier and more comfortable initially, if it’s not God’s way, it will lead to spiritual stagnancy and starvation.

Also, along those lines, as MacLaren also explains, the ways will feed us. Those things we do in obedience to Him will be those that give us strength:

If you wish to weaken the influence of any principle upon you, do not work it out, and it will wither and die. If a man would grasp the fulness of spiritual sustenance which lies in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, let him go to work on the basis of the Gospel, and he ‘shall feed in the ways,’ and common duties will minister strength to him instead of taking strength from him. We can make the smallest daily incidents subserve our growth and our spiritual strength, because, if we thus do them, they will bring to us attestations of the reality of the faith by which we act on them.

Secondly, we should note that not only will we feed beside the roads, we will “find pasture on every barren hill.” We can easily miss the contrast here if we don’t examine the words closely, but a juxtaposition exists between the pasture and the barrenness of the hills in which they walk. To understand this, we need to know that the landscape described is such where the pastures in which the flocks feed are down in the valleys, or low parts. There is no grass or landscape to speak of on top of the hills or mountains.

We can be encouraged that not only will we be fed in the ways God leads, even when God leads us to a place that appears to be a bare place or wilderness, He will provide for us in those places and keep us sustained. Though we all want our walks with Jesus to lead us to places that are trouble-free, that isn’t the reality of what will happen as Christians. In many ways, our lives may get more difficult when we become Christians because we will encounter more stress and trouble when we attempt to live out the counter-cultural mandates of the Bible. In addition, we live in a fallen world where we have sadness, sickness, and many trials.

Yet, even in those places of trouble and hardship, though God won’t necessarily take those trials away, God will be with us providing strength and encouragement. We may be lead to barren places where we are in great pain, but in those places of pain, we will have the help of God. Though it may be a struggle every day for us to get out of bed, when we turn to God, we have a place where we can take our anxiety, depression, guilt, sadness, anger, frustration — whatever ails us. Scripture tells us that God is close to the broken-hearted and crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18; Psalm 147:3). It is better to walk with Him in those hard places than look for the comfortable path where we may have all we think we want, but be destitute in our souls.

Drawing the Sustenance God Offers

Friend, through our everyday trials, God is with us. He nourishes our souls in a way that only He can. And yet, we have to reach out and grab hold of the nourishment He offers. As MacLaren points out, “It is only an active Christian life that is a nourished and growing Christian life.” We have to intentionally draw close to God each day and read from His Word, and also obey His precepts. When we walk after Him and complete the tasks that He asks of us, He offers refreshment and strength and instruction to us in the process. We grow spiritually dry and stagnant when we neglect to carve out time for Him and His Word and ignore His voice or don’t attempt to hear His direction for us at all.

And what if we are far away at the moment? We can turn to Him and ask Him to help us get back on the right path. We can’t miss that the Israelites led were former captives — captives because of their sin and rebellion. And yet, God freed them from captivity. Just as the Jews are depicted in this passage as sheep led by a shepherd, we, as Christians, are also depicted as sheep elsewhere in the Bible (Psalm 100:3, Luke 15:4-7, John 10:11). When we allow God to lead us, He takes to places where there is an abundance of “food” for our souls. This truth can give us hope no matter what place we walk through — whether fertile valleys or barren heights.

Related Bible Verses:

Psalm 42:1: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.”

Philippians 4:19: “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.”

Related Resources:

This article is the second in our series “Finding Hope in the Midst of Disappointing Circumstances.” Check out Part 1: “Work That Truly Matters” on finding meaning and purpose when you are disappointed in the work God has given you because you aren’t seeing the results you want or you feel hidden in your place of service. Stay tuned for the next two weeks as we will continue through the series.

Podcast Notes and Corrections:

Proverbs 11:25 says: “A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” Many scholars and Bible teachers recognize the proverbs as providing principles, rather than sure-fire promises. However, because this idea can be found as a guarantee in other places of Scripture, we can refer to it as a promise.

For more study on Isaiah 49, Biblegateway.com and Biblehub.com provide some great free commentaries. I referenced Alexander MacLaren’s, in particular.

In reference to Canfield and Victor, founders of Chicken Soup for the Soul, they used the inspirational stories of others in their talks — not their stories.

*Updated February 9, 2019

 

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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Suffering That Comes for Doing God’s Will

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Tune into the Beulah Girl Podcast. Co-hosts Carol Whitaker and Suzy Lolley explore finding identity in Christ. Episodes cover topics such as spiritual growth, relationships, emotional health, physical healing, ministry, and more. Subscribe to get each episode on Soundcloud or simply listen to the individual episode here.

Have you ever wanted to fight God on an issue even though you knew that He would blow you out of the water with an argument or action that would show you how wrong you were? Have you ever wanted to wrestle against God even though you knew He would win?

I know the fallacy of using my own human logic to try to guide my life or figure out God. I’ve been walking with him long enough to know that His ways are not my own. He has shown that to me over and over.

But recently, even though I knew that it was pointless, I wanted so badly to accuse Him and turn away. I’d been in this place many a time, and I know the danger of going my own way, but I wanted to flee anyway.

When Doing God’s Will Leads to Suffering

Here’s what I was all tied up in knots about: If He was going to ask me to do an action for Him, I felt that it should end in good. The situation should end with a happy ending, with a ribbon tied in a bow on top. But yet again, I had stepped out to do an uncomfortable action because He had told me to, and it had ended in circumstances that were not what I wanted or expected.

Quite honestly, I felt that there had been too many of those situations lately. It makes sense to do the hard thing that will end in the award, the raise at work, the leading of someone to Christ, the healing, the miracle. But what about the hard action that leads to persecution, the argument, or the confusing events that don’t add up. What then?

In those scenarios, we can feel like God is being cruel to us because of what He has asked us to do. We may be infuriated by the fact that He has led us to a place where we are encountering hardship that we wouldn’t be encountering if we hadn’t listened to Him. We wouldn’t be the first to feel this way.

In the book of Job, Job becomes fed up with the hardship that has come in his life. He essentially tells God as much, accusing God of cruelty and persecution (Job 30:21, ESV). However, we know from reading the rest of the book of Job that God was not being malicious to Job — nor is He that to us. God allowed the affliction in Job’s life not to be “cruel” or play a mean game with Job’s life, but because He had a purpose. And Satan — not God — was the responsible party for the trouble that came into Job’s life. As Jon Bloom points in “When God Feels Cruel” on desiringgod.org, God did permit Satan’s actions — but He did so to prove Satan wrong and provide encouragement to many other sufferers who would come after Job.

In fact, God responds to Job’s accusation of cruelty and asks him this important question, “Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right?” (Job 40:8, ESV). The Message Translation words it like this: “Are you calling me a sinner so you can be a saint?” In other words, God asks Job if he is able to stand against Him on his own righteousness.

In our own lives, when we feel that God is being cruel to us because He has allowed or led us into undesirable circumstances, we see that God is more than capable of running the universe — and often our accusations of Him are made because we don’t understand things from His perspective. As Bloom notes, we have to trust in God’s goodness despite what our feelings tell us.

Certainly, after listening to God’s argument, Job repents of his original position and acknowledges that God is sovereign and worthy of praise no matter the events in his life. Similarly, in my own situation, while I didn’t get the same monologue God gave Job, God stopped me in my tracks by offering a divine response to my human argument.

What God Says About the Suffering That Comes From Doing His Will

The next morning during my quiet time, as I was still fuming over the injustice of the reality that good doesn’t always come to you for doing God’s will, I came across this gem of Scripture in 1 Peter 4:19: “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.”

Say what? I didn’t have to wait for a thunderclap from heaven to signal God’s answer. His response waited quietly right in front of me silencing every complaint I wanted to raise in His direction. I knew He wanted me to stop resisting Him and accept the situation He had ordained in my life. Like Job, I had to acknowledge God’s supreme power and knowledge even when things weren’t making sense according to my own wisdom.

When we’re in a place where we don’t like where God has brought us, we can break down this verse and look at a few ideas that may help us in our circumstance:

1. We will suffer for doing His will.

If we look at other translations of this verse, the wording is arranged to say not “Those who suffer for doing the will of their Creator,” but to say something more along the lines of “If God’s will is for you to suffer.” For instance, the New Life Version says “If God wants you to suffer,” and the New Century Version says “Then those who suffer as God wants.”

No matter which translation you look at, the passage highlights the idea that God’s will and suffering are not mutually exclusive. Sometimes God’s will leads straight into suffering, and it’s difficult to grapple with in those moments because we don’t always know all the whys.

However, if we look at other sections of 1 Peter, we see that suffering in doing God’s will is something we should rejoice over — not something that should derail us from our calling.

2. Despite what happens, we need to commit ourselves to Him.

I love this next section. The verse tells us what we should do in the situation where obedience doesn’t appear to be paying off: “Commit ourselves to our faithful Creator.” The temptation is to get angry, to tell God we will control things, that we will “take it from here.” But this is where trust comes in. Do we believe He loves us? Do we believe His way is perfect and He knows all things? Do we believe He is worthy of our trust?

The passage assures us that He is trustworthy. In fact, quite interestingly, Peter uses the word “faithful” to describe the One who holds us and all of our circumstances together. He is faithful not just when events are favorable in our life — but even in the midst of suffering.

3. Even when we suffer, we need to continue to do good.

Lastly, the verse urges us to continue to do good even when it doesn’t make sense, the way is hard, and we want to give up. Quite honestly, what we all want to do when our situation doesn’t pan out the way we thought it would is run in the opposite direction. But this verse urges us to “continue to do good.” And that sometimes is the hardest thing. To continue when you don’t have the results you want, you don’t know why, and it doesn’t make sense.

Friend, we have a God who knows what He is doing. When the way is unclear, and we can’t see what He is doing, the passage urges us to keep on doing what we know is right. My former senior pastor used to say, “When you can’t see His hand, trust His heart.” In other words, when you have no earthly idea why circumstances are going the way they are or why He has allowed what He has in your life, you can still trust that God is good and His way is flawless.

When I survey my life, I know Him to be a faithful God. I can look back and see how He was constant through times where I was not. He has always been there for me and you, and He will continue to be faithful, or as one of my favorite worship songs says — “do it again.”

Let’s choose to trust Him even when His will leads to hardship rather than good.

Related Bible Verses:

Proverbs 16:9: “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.”

Galatians 6:9: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

*Adapted from a post originally published October 9, 2017.

 

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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How Double-Mindedness Causes Inconsistency in Our Christian Walk

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This past weekend, my phone died. I tried plugging its charger into different sockets, but it wouldn’t turn back on. I know this isn’t a major crisis, but I have come to rely too much on that little device! As I had to take my daughter to a party for her dance academy that day, my husband offered to go to the Verizon store and see about getting a new phone. When I returned from my daughter’s party, my husband had transferred all of my contacts, notes, and apps onto my new phone. He had also gotten my old phone to turn on once again. Though I didn’t have to re-enter contacts or notes that I had already saved, I did notice on my new phone that I had to re-install certain apps again.

Because I have been busy these past few days, I haven’t had time to go through and do this, so I’ve been using two phones. I have been using my new phone to call and text and my old phone to get into certain apps that are not yet installed on my new phone. This two phone situation is driving me a little crazy for sure, and I am resolving as soon as possible to consolidate everything on my new phone so I won’t have to be switching back and forth any longer.

Balaam: A Man With a Divided Heart

This idea of not being divided can be applied beyond my phone situation. In fact, in our Christian life, the Bible talks about not being divided in our devotion to God, and for good reason! A divided heart is one that is distracted and unable to focus as well on what it should. Matthew 22:37 tells us, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and with all your mind” (emphasis mine). This word all means our whole self — literally all the parts of us. Similarly, Matthew 6:24 says, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” God wants us to love Him more than anything else because loving anything else more than God will get us into trouble in our spiritual walk and lead us down the wrong path.

To illustrate this point, we need only look at the story of Balaam in Numbers 22. You may know of his story because it is unquestionably a little odd — as his donkey turns and speaks to him in the course of his story. However, before we ever get to that point of his tale, we see a man who looks good on the outside, but has a heart issue. He has a covetous heart: He desires wealth and prestige and honor, and yet, he is not completely bent on his own sinful desires. He also desires to do what God tells him. He is a prophet of sorts, but the Bible is clear that he is not one of God’s prophets. He does hear from God, but he is a soothsayer or diviner.

When we first meet Balaam, Balak, the Moabite king, is concerned about Israel advancing near his land and wants Balaam to pronounce a curse on the Israelites. He sends messengers to Balaam with his request and money for Balaam’s services. Balaam invites the messengers to stay the night. Over the course of the night, Balaam asks God what he should do and receives this reply from the Lord: “Do not go with them. You must not put a curse on those people, because they are blessed” (Numbers 22:12). In the morning, Balaam conveys the words of the Lord to the messengers, saying: “Go back to your own country, for the Lord has refused to let me go with you” (Numbers 22:13).

By his actions, Balaam looks like is being obedient, but we notice in his reply to the messengers that he doesn’t entirely close the door on the king’s offer. Rather than say “I can’t do as you ask because God will not permit me to do so,” he says instead, “The Lord has refused to let me go with you” (emphasis mine). He sounds a little reluctant in his message. Rather than firmly close the door on the offer of the king, he leaves a little room for a better offer. I love what the S.S. Chronicle from The Biblical Illustrator notes here: “There are many people who say, ‘No,’ but so faintly that there seems a ‘Yes’ in it, so that it only invites further persuasion. Many a man, tempted by appetite within, and by companions without says ‘No’ feebly and faintly. His ‘No’ has a ‘Yes’ in it.” Might we say that Balaam’s “No” leaves room for a “Yes”? I think so.

When the messengers return and tell the king Balaam’s reply, Balak isn’t thwarted. Being a pretty shrewd guy, Balak assesses correctly what may change Balaam’s mind and sends back new more honorable messengers and promise of a greater reward.

When the second group of messengers shows up with the same request, Balaam doesn’t turn them away. Even though Balaam already knows God’s stance on the issue, he invites the second group of messengers in and prays a second time asking to find out more from the Lord. Again, on the outside his actions look pious enough. He is praying, after all, and hasn’t disobeyed God directly, but by inviting the men in a second time, he cracks the door open to sin just a little further. He has no need to ask a second time as God has already given him an answer, and yet, Balaam prays because he is hoping to receive a different response from God. He wants the honor of association with the princes, the reward that will be offered, and the favor of the king.

Notice what happens. Numbers 22:20-22 says this: “That night God came to Balaam and said, ‘Since these men have come to summon you, go with them, but do only what I tell you. Balaam got up in the morning, saddled his donkey and went with the Moabite officials. But God was very angry when he went, and the angel of the Lord stood in the road to oppose him.”

Double-mindedness Causes Contradiction and Inconsistency in Our Actions

Did God change His mind? Why did God first say he could not curse the nation, but then permit him to go with the men who were leading him back to the king intent on such an errand? Did God contradict Himself here? Scholars provide different arguments on this issue. Some say that God granted Balaam permission to go with the men as long as he did not speak a curse. Some say that God gave Balaam over to his sin because he was determined to go in that way. Others says that what Balaam thought was the voice of God granting him permission was really the voice of his own desire telling him what he wanted to hear.

In studying this passage, I find value in all of these interpretations, but one that resonates with me and helps to explain God’s actions is that Balaam may not have even heard clearly from God and heard the voice of his own desires telling him to go. Such a reading helps us understand why God would “permit” Balaam to go, but then get angry with him for going and send an angel to block his path. Certainly, Balaam is met with one difficulty after another on his journey because of God’s anger and the opposing angel: His donkey sees the angel before Balaam does and turns aside to a field, crushes Balaam’s foot against a wall, lays down under Balaam, and talks back to Balaam (Numbers 22:23-31). When Balaam does see the opposing angel, he repents but again seems to hear that he can go, so he just keeps on going. None of the strange events on his trip deter him from moving forward.

When we observe Balaam’s actions and what happens to him, the passage appears confusing and contradictory. However, the contradiction exists in Balaam, not in God. If we think about it, Balaam’s actions perfectly depict what happens when we wish to obey God but have another desire that we also wish to see come to fruition that is greater than our desire to obey. James 1:8 tells us that a double-minded person is unstable in all they do. When we look at what it means to be double-minded, the word used in the Greek is “dipsuchos” and means one who has two souls: one directed towards God and the other directed towards the world.

True, later in Numbers 22:38, when Balaam finally reaches the king, Balaam does say that he can only speak the words of God and holds to that in the presence of Balak, speaking blessings over the nation of Israel rather than curses. But unfortunately, just a few passages later, Balaam, so intent on only speaking the word of the Lord in these earlier passages and refusing to curse the nation, advises the king to seduce Israel to worship other gods and commit sexual immorality (Numbers 31:16; Revelation 2:14).

Avoiding the Way of Balaam

It is puzzling that Balaam would not curse Israel at Balak’s request but then go back to him and advise him on another way to destroy the nation God had said he must not be curse. Why would he not just stay away from Israel altogether? Bob Deffinbaugh offers the insight that Balaam hatched the perfect plan to please the king so he could get the wealth and honor he was after — without directly disobeying God. He knew that the Israelites were bound by a covenant with God, and sexual and spiritual adultery would be an indirect way to bring God’s curse upon Israel. So, essentially his counsel to Balak was, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” And 24,000 Israelites were killed because of Balaam’s counsel!

At some point in his return home from blessing Israel, Balaam allows his covetous heart to win the fight. Whereas in the first part of story we see a man struggling with his competing desires, he eventually allows his own desire to overwhelm the voice of God and suffers a complete collapse of morality. Elsewhere in Scripture, Balaam is described as the epitome of evil, and we are warned not to go the way of Balaam (Deuteronomy 23:4,5; Joshua 13:22; 2 Peter 2:15).

So, how can we ensure we don’t follow in his footstetps? Note what T.T. Munger says on what Balaam’s actions teach us, as recorded in The Biblical Illustrator:

It is the old story of humanity — dallying with temptation in the field of the imagination, bribing conscience with fair promises, yet all the while moving up to the forbidden thing … I shall never become a drunkard, but I will drink in moderation. I shall never permit myself to be called a selfish man, but I will take good care of myself in this rough world. I shall never become dishonest, but I will keep a keen eye for good chances. Thus it is that men are passing to ruin over a path paved with double purposes.

In other words, Munger makes the point that many of us attempt to play with temptation and get near to that that which is forbidden without actually being overcome by it, but that is a game that we will inevitably lose. If God has told us no, we need to abide by what He has said and stay far away from whatever He has prohibited. As I have heard it said before, we can’t expect to play with sin and treat it like a pet, when it is a wild animal that will devour us. Balaam had many chances to shut the door on this temptation, but instead, entertained it until it eventually consumed him. His story admonishes us not to follow his path and let our hearts lead us away from what God tells us to do.

Devoting Ourselves to God Alone

Friends, this story was deeply convicting for me because I struggle with inconsistency in my spiritual walk. In one instance, I am a bold witness and in another, I shrink back in fear. I want to do the will of God, but I have other desires that compete with His will — and sometimes they win. However, though we might feel despair when we read Balaam’s story, the truth is that we all are double-minded at times. We all struggle with sin and our own fickle hearts. This story is meant to instruct us and make us aware of the reasons for our own inconsistency in doing the will of God, but is not meant to condemn us. Proverbs 24:16 tells us that a righteous man falls seven times but gets back up.

As believers, we are made perfect through Jesus’ blood on the cross, and when we come face-to-face with our own failures, we can repent and ask for God’s help. We don’t have to beat ourselves up for chasing after the wrong things. We trust God’s promises and understand that it is through Jesus that we have forgiveness of our sin and the power to walk away from the temptations that ensnare us and lead us from the path God has for us.

If we are struggling with inconsistency or hearing the voice of God, we can pray a few things:

  1. We confess to God and ask for His help. While we may feel guilt and shame that we have wandered again or chased after something harder than we’ve been chasing after God, we lay bare our hearts before Him (knowing He knows everything about us before we say a word) and we tell Him that we want to be devoted only to Him. We accept His mercy and leave our guilt and shame for our failings at the altar.
  2. If we cannot see it on our own, we ask Him to help us see if there if an overriding desire/idol in our lives driving our decision-making. What desire of ours is seeking to lead us down the wrong path? What do we want so much that we are sacrificing our effectiveness as a Christian and obedience to God to have it?
  3. Once we have identified what desire is attempting to derail us, we can evaluate our actions that were perhaps made because of this desire. Are there ways that we have compromised? Are there actions we need to go back to made in following our desire rather than God that we need to go back to and make right?

How about you? How has Balaam’s story impacted you? Are there ways you would like to be more consistent in your Christian walk? Share with us in the comments.

Related Resources:

This article is one in a series “What Happens When We Believe God’s Words Are True.” Check out the other posts and accompanying episodes in the series:  Part 1: “When You Need a Miracle,” Part 2: “Choosing not to Fall Into Doubt and Unbelief,” Part 3: “How to Respond to the Miracles of God,” and Part 4:  “The Reason We Celebrate.”

Click on the podcast link above to hear my own personal story related to double-mindedness. Want to hear more articles in podcast form? Visit our podcast archive to listen to past episodes.

 

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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More Than an Example, Jesus Gives Us the Power to Obey: Part 3


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Have you ever seen a flawless model on a magazine cover or television commercial that made you self-conscious about your own looks or abilities because the chasm between the two of you felt impossibly huge? Models are everywhere, featured in more than magazines and advertisements. They are given to us to inspire consumption of magazines or products, but also to make us want to pattern ourselves after them or attain a certain level of achievement or status.

But instead of always doing what they are designed to do, sometimes if too-perfect, models can discourage us from even trying to be like them because they represent an unattainable ideal.*

The Model of Faith: Jesus

In Hebrews 12, we are given a model for our Christian faith. And yet, this model, although perfect, is different than other models you can recall that did more to discourage than inspire you. I’ll tell you why in a moment, but first, let’s remind ourselves of verses 1,2 which I have been focusing on throughout this series:

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

First, before the author ever discusses the perfect example of Jesus, he mentions a “great cloud of witnesses” (v. 1), referring back to the heroes of the faith mentioned in chapter 11. We should know that the author is systematically making an argument throughout Hebrews that Christianity is superior to Judaism. Speaking to Jewish Christians that were being persecuted and were tempted to return back to their Jewish faith, the writer continues this argument, bringing it towards a culmination in chapter 12.

Therefore, if we view this passage through that lens, we can conclude that although the many witnesses are given to encourage us to follow in their footsteps, we should note that they are more than just the usual I-am-perfect-so-be-like-me examples. First of all, they weren’t perfect! They screwed up in multiple ways just like you and me, but they shared one thing in common: their willingness to step out in faith and do what God said.

While we might envision spectators watching us in our walks of faith when we read the phrase “cloud of witnesses,” as the NIV Application Commentary points out, this image is meant to do more than tell us we have spectators in our journey. Rather, these witnesses “bear witness to the Christian community of God’s faithfulness and of the effectiveness of faith.”

Then, after mentioning the “great cloud of witnesses” to convince us that walking in faith is worth it, the author gives us Jesus as the one perfect example of the faith that eclipses the rest of the pack. However, again, as I mentioned above with the “cloud of witnesses,” the author’s use of Jesus as the ultimate example of faith is more than just a model for us to follow.

Jesus is the “pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (v. 2). As I explained in Part 2 of this series, certainly this can mean what is sounds like — that our faith begins with Him and He works in us. That in and of itself is exciting, but that’s not all. There’s more. If we examine the words “pioneer” and “perfecter” in the Greek, we see that the meaning is not just of One who begins and ends our faith — but One who is the leader or pioneer of faith, as in the faith. The word “our” was added later before the word “faith.”

If we read it this way, we understand that Jesus is more than a model for us to emulate. He is the champion and forerunner of the faith. He is the only One who was able to run the race perfectly. And that changes everything. How? Let me explain:

How Jesus Perfects the Faith

If we skip down to verses 18-24 of chapter 12 of Hebrews, the writer says this:

For you have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm … . But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem … You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant.

While the author started off Hebrews 12 by mentioning the “cloud of witnesses” and our one perfect example in Jesus, he goes deeper into this argument by asserting the better that the new covenant brings because of the race of faith Jesus perfectly completed. The verse states that the old covenant “can be touched” (v. 18). The Israelites were not allowed to touch Mt. Sinai, but the law was received in a physical location and was palpable. And this law was delivered to them in an awe-inspiring way, but in their weak humanity, they couldn’t even look at the face of Moses when he returned from the mountain with the law because his face glowed from being in the presence of God. Though the law was necessary, it was hard to abide by it.

However, the law was only temporary and Jesus brought with His death the new covenant — or new and better arrangement between God and believers. As believers, we are no longer under the old covenant. We no longer have to tremble at the words of God because we have come to “Mt. Zion” and have in Jesus a “mediator of the new covenant” (v. 24). While we can also point to Mt. Zion as a place, we don’t have to go to a physical locale any longer to receive Jesus into our lives. The new covenant is no longer external like the old covenant, but rather, internal.

Mt. Zion is representative of the spiritual nature of the new covenant and the union we have with God when we ask Jesus into our lives to be our Savior. While we have commands to follow given to us in Scripture, we have the Spirit of God living in us that helps us and transforms us to be more like Jesus as we walk with Him (2 Corinthians 3:18; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Titus 3:5).

The Freedom We Have In the New Covenant

Another place we see this same idea of the internal nature of the new covenant and the freedom we have in the new covenant is 2 Corinthians 3:4-6 where Paul says:

Such confidence we have through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of the new covenant — not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

Here, Paul states that his ability and competency comes from God. He can’t boast of anything in and of himself to do the work of God. This is important to note because we get the idea that weakness on our part isn’t anything to hide or try to cover up. God knows we’re weak and He works in our weakness! When we come to places in our spiritual walk that are too hard or look impossible to us, we may think that we have to overcome those places on our own. We get down on ourselves because we’re weak.

Maybe we’ve tried before in the area and failed, or maybe we have been running from God because we don’t think we can do what He is asking us to do. But here, it tells us that rather than be discouraged by our weakness or disqualify ourselves based on our weakness, our weakness is an opportunity for us to acknowledge that our strength is not in ourselves and turn to the Source of our power.

Paul also compares the old and new covenants here, as we see in chapter 12 of Hebrews, saying that the old covenant, or letter of the law, kills. Why does it bring death? Because those who couldn’t keep the law in the Old Testament were given judgment and even death.

Similarly, those who are saved now but attempt to live up to the law without the help of God’s Spirit will only experience shame and guilt and frustration. As the IVP New Testament Commentary says: “A covenant that is letter in nature kills because it makes external demands without giving the inward power for obedience, while a covenant that is Spirit in character gives life because it works internally to produce a change of nature.” To put it simply, the Gospel provides the way by which we can live as we should. On the other hand, the law simply makes us feel guilty and condemned because we are continually reminded of a standard we can’t live up to without the power to live it out.

Those who accept Jesus’ work on the cross by becoming believers and living by His Spirit live in freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17). As the IVP illuminates: “Because of Christ, the Spirit, rather than sin, becomes the controlling principle in the life of the believer. The power that was lacking under the old covenant is now there for us to be the kind of moral people God intended.”

Friends, why is this such incredibly good news? The jaw-dropping conclusion and the twist I have been alluding to when we examine both Hebrews 12 and 2 Corinthians is that Jesus is more than a model — He also empowers us to become what He designed us to be. We don’t have to be perfect or despair when the gulf is wide between us and Jesus. He helps us do what we can’t on our own — and we have freedom to breathe in the new covenant because we have the help within us to live the life we were called to live as believers.

As Paul emphasizes, our weakness is an opportunity for the Spirit of God to do in us what we simply can’t do for ourselves. I love what Alexander McLaren observes in his commentary of Hebrews:

He [Jesus] is more than example. He gives us power to copy His fair pattern. The influence of heroic saintly lives may be depressing as well as encouraging. Despondency often creeps over us when we thinking of them. It is not models that we want, for we all know what we ought to be, and an example of supreme excellence in morals or religions may be as hurtful as the unapproachable superiority of Shake-spears or Raphael may be to a young aspirant. Perfect patterns do not save the world. They do not get themselves copied. What we want is not the knowledge of what we ought to be, but the will and power to be it. And that we get from Christ and Him alone.

It’s not that living in the Spirit of God erases the hard things that we have to do in our walks with God. There will still be hard things, but what freedom when we realize that we aren’t left alone to do what we can’t on our own. We aren’t given an impossible example — but rather, an example and the power to do what He asks.

Walking With Jesus Eases Our Guilt and Condemnation

I had a conversation with a Catholic gentleman the other day. He told me that he hadn’t been to mass lately because he got sick every time he went to church. Confused by his words, I asked for more details. As English was his second language, he had difficulty explaining to me what he meant. However, I finally got the gist of what he was saying — by “sick” he meant that he felt so much guilt and condemnation as he sat through a service that he would break into a profuse sweat and fall ill during the service and afterwards. Though he believed that salvation was in Christ alone and had received Christ as his Savior, he had been also looking into other religions such as Islam and Buddhism to try to help him with some of his everyday problems and the emotions he was experiencing.

In response, I emphasized to him that Christ was enough. No religion could give him what he could find in Christ. The answers to his problems could be found in a daily relationship with Christ — by investing in a quiet time each day and reading the Word and prayer. I also shared with him Romans 8:1 and told him that the moment he confessed his sins, as a believer, he was forgiven. Whatever he was feeling so guilty about could not have any hold on him because Jesus forgave him when he confessed. Sure, there might be, at times, a follow-up with a person if he hurt someone and needed to apologize, but he was under no condemnation for sin when he confessed because he was covered by Jesus’ blood.

Though words came easy to ease this man’s burden, after our conversation, I thought about how ironic it was that I was comforting this man when I have had similar thoughts or reactions of guilt and condemnation at different intervals in my Christian walk! I have read the words of Scripture that were hard or I have listened to a tough sermon that addressed an area of sin in my life and have felt at times, even knowing the message of the Gospel and repeatedly experiencing the grace of Jesus Christ, that maybe God couldn’t forgive me or maybe a problem or area of my life I wanted to change was impossible for God. In addition, though I haven’t looked into other religions, I could attest to drifting to other comforts or distractions when I felt far from God.

Yet, as I shared with this man, we must continually remind ourselves what we have as believers in Jesus. As the writer of Hebrews says, we have not come to Mt. Sinai but Mt. Zion. We have no need to be burdened down as believers because we are under a new covenant where we can freely approach the throne of God and ask for His help in our weakness. Matthew 11:28-30 (MSG) says this:

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.

Jesus beckons those of us who are burdened by religion or guilt or life’s demands to come to Him. When we’re weary of trying to be what we can’t, He tells us to take His yoke upon us and learn from Him. We’re not instructed to go alone, but rather, He walks with us in our journey and we find rest when we go His way in His power — not by trying to somehow meet the requirements of the law.

We’ve been talking this series about some hard topics — about being diligent in our faith, and not falling away. Yes, there is certainly work to be done in our Christian walk, but this is work done with a capable Savior yoked in with us who willingly leads us, but also shares the burden with us, so nothing we do in His will is ever that which we can’t do in His strength.

Let’s pray: Lord, sometimes the words of Scripture strike terror in our hearts or maybe even our own misconceptions about You have led us to believe that where we are is too far gone for your hand to save. Or maybe our discouragement is great because we have been believing lies that we can never make it. We can never measure up. We can never surmount the obstacles in front of us. But, through the power of your Holy Spirit, we can. As I read one time, You will never ask us to do that which we can’t do in Your power. You will never, as this verse says, put anything “ill-fitting” on us. Let us turn to You when we lack strength and pray and persevere in our walk with You when it would be easier to give up and fall away.

*Editor’s note: The example theme running throughout the piece was developed in part after reading comments regarding the idea that Jesus is more than a model from commentators John Owen, A.W. Pink, and Alexander McLaren.

Also, when speaking of Old Testament saints and saying they did not have any aid to meet the requirements of the law, this is not to say that they did not have any help by God or mercy. Admittedly, heroes of the faith in the Old Testament did have the aid of God and did look to the coming of Christ for encouragement. God repeatedly offered mercy to a rebellious Israel, but the point being made is that what we have in the new covenant is far better in that we have an access to God that they did not have and the Spirit of God dwelling within us to help us live the Christian life.

Related Resources:

Did you enjoy this article? Check out the first two articles in the series over Hebrews 12: When You Wonder if Your Obedience Will Be Worth the Cost: Part 1 and When You Fear You Will Never Measure up in Your Faith: Part 2.

Are you not yet a believer and want to find out more about being a Christ-follower? Check out our Know God page to learn about salvation and how to invite Jesus to be the Lord of your life so that you, too, can come to Mt. Zion and enjoy the benefits available to Christ-followers.

Podcast Notes and Corrections:

A.W. Pink did write about the example of Jesus and is meant to be included in the list of commentators given in the podcast (among them John Owen and Alexander McLaren) that helped to develop the idea of Jesus as more than example.

*Updated November 18, 2018.

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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When You Feel Like You Will Never Measure Up in Your Faith: Part 2

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“I can’t do it,” my 7-year-old son exclaimed, throwing down his pencil in frustration.

The source of his angst? A second grade subtraction and addition worksheet. My son had started out writing down the answers with ease, but when he came to a hard sum with large numbers, he proclaimed that he would never be able to do it.

After asking him a few questions, I assessed that my son, a great memorizer, had either memorized the answers for the previous problems or was able to work out the answers in his head for sums with simple numbers. However, when he got to problems that he hadn’t seen before or problems with larger numbers than he was used to, he wasn’t able to figure out the answers in his head — and he wanted to give up.

With as much patience as I could muster, I demonstrated to him how to count on his fingers. I know that they don’t probably encourage this strategy in schools anymore, but it always helped me when I was in elementary school. When I first showed him the new strategy, he crossed his arms, repeating, “I can’t do it!” I repeated the instructions again several times.

Just when I wondered if my coaching efforts would help, he began to try the new strategy. At first, he got mixed up on how to “count up” on subtraction problems, but I kept repeating how to do it. He kept trying, and he was still getting wrong answers because he was counting starting on the wrong number or getting mixed up with the numbers on his fingers.

However, my little boy had more persistence than I thought and kept trying over the course of the next few days. A week later, I noticed him counting correctly and finding the right answers without my help!

When We Feel Like We Can’t Do What God Wants in Our Christian Walk

Sometimes in our Christian walk we might be like my son and get to a place where we say, “I can’t!” When we try to do the task God sets before us, we fall short. We may find ourselves in a frustrating pattern of failing and feeling like we can never measure up. We don’t desire to be disobedient, but He may “up the ante,” so to speak, where He teaches us new things and desires us to walk at a higher level with Him. And that place that He brings us may not be comfortable or easy for us. We may wonder how we will ever overcome the obstacles in front of us or change certain patterns we’ve held onto for far too long.

In a recent post “A Fix for the Disconnect Between Your Head and Your Heart,” Hayley Morgan calls the distance between what we intellectually know we should do and what we do an “integrity gap.” She notes that we’ve all experienced how hard it is to put our head knowledge into life practice and continues to explain how tackling the hard tasks Jesus sets before us can be as awkward and uncomfortable as riding a backwards bike. We keep falling off because we’re not used to riding a bike this way. We may want to give up on learning whatever Jesus wants to teach us or making a needed change in our lives because it’s not coming naturally or easily for us.

Perhaps this very dilemma of finding it hard to live out what we know in our head to be true is what the writer of Hebrews had in mind when he penned these words: “See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many” (12:15). As I explained in my previous post, I had always understood this verse to mean that anger that festers can affect others in a negative way. However, when I did a deeper study of the words, I realized that the meaning goes beyond that. Certainly, the verse can refer to those with bad attitudes that pollute the body of Christ and need heart adjustments after suffering disappointment or pain that has made them bitter. But “bitter root” in the context of this passage is most likely primarily referring to those who get slothful in their spiritual walk and fall away.

The passage is an allusion to Deuteronomy 29:18, 19 where Moses warns the nation of Israel not to turn from God and infect the nation with sinful actions and idolatrous worship. Similarly, in Hebrews, the writer is cautioning Christians not to allow themselves to turn away from God and become a “bitter root” in the community of believers that causes trouble to self and others.

In addition, when we look to see that we and others around us do not “fall short of the grace of God,” this is referring not to our salvation, but to coming up short or deficient by not doing the tasks God would have us do in our faith walk.

My guess is that many Christians who drift do so not because they stop believing in God, but because they get to a place where the path before them looks too hard. Like my son encountering the math problems with big numbers he had never seen before, we get to new levels with Jesus and want to progress but get stuck in a behavior or a pattern that, try as we might, we can’t overcome.

It’s in those places where rather than turn to God in our weakness and ask Him for the help to get through, we shut down instead. “I want to, Lord! But I can’t!” we cry. We are aware of the “integrity gap” between His standard given to us in His Word and where we are and fear that we will never “measure up” in terms of making needed changes in our spiritual walk. Or can we?

How Jesus Helps Us Change

Recently, as I sat crying over the painfulness of circumstances and my inability to change myself in an area of fear I’ve been struggling in for far too long, I remembered a verse from the beginning of Hebrews 12:1, 2 that cites Jesus as the “perfecter of our faith.” I decided to take another look at the passage, and one word kept ringing through my mind: “perfecter.”

What does that mean for us? The word “perfecter” means “finisher, completer” in the Greek. We might look at that and say, “Yes, Jesus does finish my faith.” But it’s more than that. Jesus is the finisher not just of our faith, but the finisher of the faith. He made it possible for us to run the race of faith because of what He did for us on the cross. We are no longer under the imperfect system of the law, but we have been given the Gospel. What Jesus did for us on the cross makes us righteous and acceptable in the sight of God — and makes it possible for us to have the help of Jesus on our journey.

He is our elder brother, our interceder. He completed the race of faith and reached a standard we could never reach on our own. This doesn’t mean that we don’t ever have to participate in our faith journey or do hard things in our Christian walk. To the contrary. We do have to do hard things, and Jesus will take us up steep, rocky inclines that are far above where we could ever walk on our own (or think we want to go at times). But we don’t do these things alone. (And, as I emphasized earlier, we certainly don’t do these things to try to earn salvation or His love. We obey in response to what He has done for us and trust Him to lead us.) When things feel as hard and impossible as riding a backwards bike, we have Jesus to help us.

You might be reading this, saying, “I’ve been with Jesus a long time, and I still can’t get a handle on this. I literally can’t.” And to you I would say the same thing I’ve been telling myself: “Through Him, all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). When we can’t, rather than try harder, we turn to Him and we keep pressing in. We keep praying and asking for His help. We keep taking small, shaky, scared steps in reliance on His Spirit — however sloppy and imperfect. We repent when we mess up, but we keep going. We keep trying. We don’t stop running the race. And we don’t let our imperfection keep us from turning to Him.

While I was able to give my son a strategy to use to help him overcome his difficulty solving math problems, life doesn’t always work like that. We can’t always fix whatever stands in our way or our own problems with a simple 1-2-3 plan or book or helpful mantra. We need God — and our strategy should always be to fall before Him and proclaim our utter need for Him and inability to do whatever it is on our own.

That, friends, turns our “I can’t” statements into “I can.” Do all things through Him who gives me strength, that is (Philippians 4:13).

Want to learn more about how Jesus helps us in our weakness and how our inadequacies aren’t a cause for giving up, but rather, a cause for pressing in more than ever for His power to fill us? Check out Part 3 of this series on not falling back in the race of faith and attaining the promises God has for us. We will also explore both the old and new covenants and how the new covenant frees us from striving in our own strength to live up to the demands of the law.

Related Resources:

This is a 3-part series on Hebrews 12, where we have been exploring not falling away in our faith and pushing through hardship to attain the blessings of God. Check out Part 1 of the series that talks about why the hard things we do for Jesus are always worth it.

If you would like to learn more about how God doesn’t base his love for us on what we do, check out this article on God’s love for us in the midst of our failures.

We’d love for you to become a friend of the blog. If you are not yet part of our online community, get our latest posts by subscribing to Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

*Updated November 11, 2018.

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not Falling Away in Our Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Running the Race of Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Resources:

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

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

Podcast Notes and Corrections:

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

 

 

 

 

Carol Whitaker

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

More Posts

4 Things That Can Derail Us in Our Christian Walk

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As a blogger, I receive positive feedback for many of my posts, and I always love to hear how an article on the site has helped someone else through a struggle. However, on the flip side, from time to time I receive negative responses by those who disagree with my theology or Christianity in general.

While I know that disagreement from others comes with the territory when you publish your work online, I never find it easy to read a negative comment or email. I can easily get discouraged by the opposition and think, “Why am I doing this? What insane person would put herself out there like this?” But I remember that Jesus called me to write, and difficulty and opposition is part of the Christian experience.

Whether we put ourselves out there by publishing work in an online forum or simply living out the Christian walk within our community, resistance will come when we express our Christian views and live a Christ-centered lifestyle. Such resistance coupled with other difficulties we face as Christians can discourage us and keep us from wanting to continue running the race of faith.

Rather than allow difficulties to slow us down in our faith walk, though, we can be aware of these obstacles and turn to God for strength in the midst of them, knowing that they are a normal reality of the Christian experience.

A few obstacles we need to be aware of so that they don’t derail us from our calling:

 1. Lack of visible results.

As Christians, when we walk in dependence on God, we will bear fruit (John 15:4). However, we won’t always see what comes of our obedience when doing the will of God. God may inspire us to talk to a distant friend we don’t ever see again or a stranger in a grocery store. I remember once hearing a missionary tell our Sunday school class about his frustration on the mission field. He spent a great deal of time and energy evangelizing, but rarely had the person responded in the moment and accepted Christ.

In praying about his frustrations, he felt God tell him that he was planting seeds that would someday bear fruit in the person’s life. Similarly, you and I may simply plant a seed in a person’s life by our godly words or actions. That seed may be nurtured or added to by others who come along at a later time. We have to trust that that person’s life is in God’s hands. We are only responsible for the part God gives us to do, and it may mean not seeing what comes out of our obedience. While we may be tempted to give up because of the lack of visible results, the Bible tells us not to grow tired in doing the work of God, for in due time we will see a harvest (Galatians 6:9).

2. The stress of everyday life.

Serving God is demanding in and of itself, but the truth is that we don’t live out our service to God (in whatever capacity) in an insulated bubble. (I wish!) When I wrote the original draft of this article, I had three children age 8 and under. We had spent the majority of the winter doctoring one or more sick kids through fevers and stomach viruses.

In addition, during that same period, my 10-month-old was teething and had spent a good portion of each night in my bed when her teeth caused her pain. Such nights equaled no sleep for mama — or only short intervals here and there throughout the night! During this stressful season, I was trying to write not only posts as I felt led, but a study as well, and I felt overwhelmed by the demands of raising small children and trying to work on the projects God had given me. More than once I wanted to bail on the study and tell God that it just wasn’t working out in my life to write at the moment, but He just kept encouraging me to keep going.

Navigating the demands of life, family, and ministry at once can feel brutally hard at times. Sick kids need our attention. Bills need to be paid. The house still needs to be cleaned. And those demands don’t go away when we follow Jesus. If anything, our journey gets tougher in many ways when we choose to follow Him. However, Jesus reminds us that He has overcome the world (John 16:33). We shouldn’t be surprised or discouraged by the many troubles and distractions we encounter as we live out His will in our lives.

However, rather than be like the shallow or thorny soil in Jesus’ parable of the sower (Matthew 13:1-23), where the seed planted grew but then withered or was completely choked out by the cares of life, we need to be like the good soil and allow His Word to grow deep in our lives, despite situations that make it difficult for us to tend to the seed He has planted.

3. Internal fears and doubts.

Not only will we face trials and everyday inconveniences in doing the will of God, but we also are on a transforming journey ourselves where God is working out of us undesirable traits and forming in us the image of His Son. Sometimes our own personal battles with sin, as well as the fears and doubts that come as we step out to obey God, can contribute to us being ready to throw in the towel.

In 2 Corinthians 7:5, Paul says: “For when we came into Macedonia, we had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn — conflicts on the outside, fears within.” When he wrote this, Paul was on a missionary journey and described the amount of pressure his group experienced. Paul had arguments with false teachers, opposition from people in the community, and “fears within.” By this last choice of words, scholars say that Paul was most likely referring to anxieties about the church of Corinth, and a recent letter of church discipline he had sent them.

Whatever Paul was worried about, the point is that Paul — bold apostle that he was — still experienced stresses and fears. Similarly, though our stresses might not be the same as Paul’s, we will face fears. We might experience fear because of our inadequacies, safety, or message when we speak to others about God. Are we saying the right thing? Is our message going to be received by others? What will happen to us if we step out in this way? We are fragile and human, mere jars of clay (2 Corinthians 4:7). In the midst of intense outside pressures, we will also face our own “fears within” and wonder if we’re up to what God has called us to do.

If we look further down in chapter 7, though, we see that Paul was comforted by God in the midst of his afflictions and the coming of Titus, who informed him that the church had accepted Paul’s letter in the right spirit and had decided to repent. Though we will face intense fears and internal doubts at times, God is still able to sustain us and comfort us in whatever place we find ourselves in.

4. Persecution by others.

Lastly, as I’ve alluded to earlier, no matter how much we perfect our delivery of the Gospel message or seek to live an upright life, we will have those who actively work against us. We will be persecuted, at times, even by those close to us in our friendships and family relationships.

An interesting tidbit about Jesus is that His own brothers did not believe in Him (John 7:5). We can imagine the tension in the house when Jesus made comments about who He was only to receive eye rolls or contemptuous remarks. Therefore, not only did He face scorn from people outside of His home, He had unbelieving family members that didn’t provide support for Jesus at key times that He needed it.

However, the story doesn’t end here. Jesus’ brothers eventually became believers. After His resurrection, they went on to help further His ministry and lead in the early church. In addition, Jesus’ brothers James and Jude penned books of the Bible. The very brothers that didn’t understand His identity at an earlier point testified to Him as Lord later in life.

What an encouragement to all of us when opposed by those close to us. I love what Jon Bloom on desiringgod.org says about the opposition of Jesus’ brothers to Jesus: “Not even a perfect witness guarantees that loved ones will see and embrace the gospel.” And yet, as Bloom says (in particular about James, but could also apply to all the brothers): Jesus endured the unbelief, loved his brothers, and paid the debt of their sin!

We may be tempted to take personally the persecution we experience when doing the will of God, but we must remember that the world hated Jesus first (John 15:18). While our enemies and those within our families or friend circles can certainly make our days challenging, they can’t derail the plans God has for us. Though Jesus suffered from His brothers’ unbelief, they didn’t halt the plans God had for Him in ministry.

If anything, God can use even our enemies to help us reach our destiny — and may use us to reach them (as Jesus reached His own brothers) even if they don’t act like they receive our message in the moment.

Conclusion:

Friend, the Christian life is no cake walk. We are a peculiar people living in a place that isn’t our home (Hebrews 13:14). People will laugh at us. We will struggle to do God’s work in the midst of other demands that pull on us. Often, the work God gives us to do will not make sense to us and might feel confusing or pointless. We will at times struggle with anxiety and fear about what God would have us do.

But if we are aligned in God’s will, our work will yield fruit. The very trials we want God to remove can develop good things in us if we turn to Him rather than away from Him when life gets hard, and understand that we will only find the strength to persevere in Him.

Related Resources:

Are you tired and burned out in your Christian walk? Check out the following for more encouragement: “Encouragement When the Road Feels Broken,” and “How to Keep Going When You Want to Give Up.”

Don’t have time to read over previous posts? Check out our posts in podcast form by visiting our podcast archive or get our newest posts by subscribing on Soundcloud.

We’d love for you to become a friend of the blog. If you are not yet part of our online community, get our latest posts by subscribing to Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

*Updated October 29, 2018.

Carol Whitaker

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

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When God Uses Our Trials to Teach Us: Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

1. God afflicts us because of His faithfulness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

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

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

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

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

Related Resources:

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

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

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

Podcast Notes and Corrections:

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

Carol Whitaker

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

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