Does Your Life Have a Specific Purpose?

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What is your favorite Christmas song?

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

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

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

Amazing!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Resources:

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

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

 

Jamie Wills

Jamie Wills

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

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

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

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

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

The Saving Work of Jesus: “Sozo” Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus’ Mission to Save Is Good News

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

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

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

Related Bible Verses:

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

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

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

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

Related Resources:

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

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

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to write music lyrics (that no one has ever seen) 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 two children.

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How to Keep Going When You Want to Give up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trusting God in Our Difficult Circumstance

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to write music lyrics (that no one has ever seen) 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 two children.

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Spiritual Growth and Maturity: Why Is It Taking so Long?

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My son has been potty-trained for two years.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. God is not in a hurry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

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

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

Related Bible Verses:

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

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to write music lyrics (that no one has ever seen) 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 two children.

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3 Things That Steal From Our Encounter With God

3 Things That Steal From our Encounter With God

I like to tell people that I met my husband at a concert where he was the singer and lead guitarist in a band. It sounds dangerous and rock and roll. And it’s true except for the fact that it was a Christian rock band, and he was playing at his local church.

Somehow, those details tend to lessen the dangerous rock and roll edge. Truthfully, I knew of him before the two of us ever met. He was a friend of some friends, and he was a magical mix of tall, dark, handsome, and serious about God. As a new Christian myself, I couldn’t imagine a more perfect guy. He would walk around school with his Bible, and he played in a rock band. I know, right?

My plan was to introduce myself to him and win him over with my wit and charm. It seemed like a solid plan to me, and when I was finally able to introduce myself to him at one of his shows, I set my plan into motion. But I was thoroughly perplexed when he brusquely walked out of a group conversation that we were a part of.

He didn’t just seem upset. He seemed specifically upset with me. So I sought him out some time later and asked, “Did I do something wrong?” I clearly hadn’t done anything, but by feigning concern, I would display my obvious thoughtfulness — a trait he would appreciate because he was a nice guy.

So you can imagine my confusion when he replied, “Yes.”

That definitely wasn’t a part of the plan.

He went on to inform me that I was gossiping. Like mean gossiping. And my spiteful conversation wasn’t something he was interested in being around. If I had been a cartoon character, my jaw would’ve fallen through the floor. Everything that I had known about him clashed into immediate conflict with what I had experienced of him. What I had heard from other people and what I had seen from a distance all suggested great things.

But what I experienced of him was very different. Suddenly, he wasn’t perfect. He was a self-righteous jerk with too much gel in his hair. In hindsight, we were sixteen. I was a gossip. He was self-righteous. It’s the stuff love stories are made of.

Our Relationship With God: We Need Both Knowledge and Experience

Recently, my pastor communicated a great word about examining our walks with the Lord. He said relationships are formed out of knowledge and experience. How we relate to and understand people simultaneously comes from what we know of them and what we’ve experienced of them. And it’s the same way with God. What we know about God is important. What we experience of Him is important.

But, to our detriment, we often side with one of these categories — knowing or experiencing — when interacting with Him, and one without the other is incomplete. A head full of doctrine amounts to very little when I haven’t experienced Him. And spiritual experiences are nothing without a sound foundation to build on.

The message, while encouraging, was very convicting. I think I operate in both of those realms, but often, the balance isn’t fair. In fact, I tend to lean towards knowledge more than experience. Every time I do that, I limit my walk with God. I limit the depths that I go to with Him.

In the past, I’ve been very much guilty of keeping God at arm’s length — probably out of fear of what He would do with my life once He got a hold of it — by dissecting the Word so that I could know how to “do” right living but never spending real time with God in order to learn what His voice sounds like when He’s speaking to me. And while I’m no longer of afraid of what a surrendered life looks like, I still feel myself fall into the trap of old habits when I’m not being careful.

Exodus 33 and our Tent of Meeting: Increasing Our Encounter With God

In Exodus 33, the children of Israel have very limited access to God. Moses alone can enter the Tent of Meeting. In that regard, they are excluded. Their experiences are limited, and because of that, their knowledge of God is limited as well. And that limited access to God continued right up until the time of Jesus when the High Priests were the only ones worthy enough to enter the Holy of Holies. The Christian experience post-Jesus is utterly unique. Because of the price that He paid for us, God doesn’t have to descend in a cloud for us to talk to Him. Hebrews 10:20 says, “By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place.”

We have no need for a Tent of Meeting because we are our Tent of Meeting. It’s one more thing that separates authentic Christianity from other major belief systems. We don’t need Imams or Brahmans or priests to communicate with God on our behalf in the hopes that their esteemed value can rise above our own lesser worth. In fact, through Jesus, we can not only approach God, but we can approach Him boldly (Hebrews 4:16).

What does that mean for us? We can communicate directly with God at any time we choose because of Jesus’ work on the cross and experience Him more fully than we are right now. Yet often, we often limit Him to a small space because we are chasing after other things or are holding onto sin in our lives. My pastor highlighted three things that steal from us the opportunity to encounter the Lord. If you’re anything like me, you’re well aware of the fact that there are things that stand in the way of your ability to deepen your walk with the Lord. I hope that these points speak to you, in whatever season you’re in, like they’ve spoken to me.

3 Things That Steal From Our Encounter With God

1. Unhealthy appetites.

We’re all human. We have legitimate needs, but we don’t sin because of those legitimate needs. We sin because we choose to meet those legitimate needs with illegitimate things that are substitutes for God. It isn’t a sin to be lonely or to be hurt. But if we take those needs and emotions to a sinful place for them to be met, we tend to our hunger with things that don’t satisfy (Psalm 107:9).

2. Unforgiveness.

The place of greatest influence in our lives belongs to God. And when we refuse to forgive, it elevates that person/situation and damages our walk with the Lord. Bitterness causes us to dwell on something/someone instead of dwelling on God. Even when our unforgiveness feels justified, the truth is that it plants a wall between us and God. He is gracious to forgive us, and if we are conformed to His likeness, we have to forgive others (Matthew 6:14-15).

3. Unrepentant hearts.

Repentance is a crucial part of our walk with the Lord, and it’s a process that we can’t afford to ignore or bypass. When we fail to turn away from our sins, we reduce the sacrifice of Jesus. And when we obsess over our sins, we diminish the work of His cross. As Hebrews 10:22 says, “Our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.”

Conclusion:

When we choose to address these areas in our lives, we are clearing the path for Him to work in us. And when we surrender them to God, we expand our place of encounter. In Isaiah 54:2, the writer entreats us with this: “Enlarge the place of your tent; stretch your tent curtains wide. Do not hold back.” For Moses, the Tent of Meeting was where he encountered the Lord. For us, our tent of meeting is an inward place, but it is no less real. And it’s up to us to seek it out and dwell in it. It’s up to us to meet God there.

As we give ourselves opportunities to really meet with the Lord, as we set aside intentional time and allow ourselves to be shaped by Him, we enlarge our place of encounter. And encountering the Lord, reconciling what we know of Him with what we experience of Him, is absolutely vital to our walk with Him. It’s there that we get to know Him better. And it’s there that we experience Him more.

So expand your tent. Stretch the curtains wide. And don’t hold back.

 

Adriana Howard

Adriana Howard

Adriana Howard describes herself as "sort of a mess in pursuit of a great story." Adriana spent a year teaching high school English, and currently, she is teaching theater after school at a local elementary school. She also serves with her husband as a youth pastor at her church. One day, Adriana hopes to be a published author. For the time being, she wants to travel the world, adopt children, learn how to really love people, maintain a garden, go back to India, and work alongside her husband in ministry. Other passions of Adriana's include love war films, cooking, bulky typewriters, crowded airports, winter’s first snow, Elizabeth I, and books of all shapes and sizes. Last but certainly not least, Adriana has a passionate love for Jesus. You can connect with Adriana on her blog where she dabbles in fiction, nonfiction and poetry.

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Why You Shouldn’t Give up Even When It Feels Like God Isn’t Answering Your Prayers

Why You Shouldn't Give up Even when it Feels Like God isn't Answering Your Prayers (2)

In 1996, the movie Twister came out, and it introduced me to the idea of a storm chaser.

This concept of someone who deliberately went towards a storm — chasing after it, even — seemed a little peculiar to me. I, like many of you, prefer to run in the other direction when a storm hits — to hide.

And not just physical storms, but emotional storms at that. However, there are actually people who enjoy the thrill that comes from chasing a storm — being near it, documenting it.

In Scripture, we see many storms, and just like you and me, most of the people we see within its pages try their best to get out of the storms of adversity. Esther didn’t exactly want to go and make a request of a king. Moses tried to back out when God called him to confront Pharoah. Jonah ran away when God asked him to witness to Ninevah (but ended up in a storm anyway).

However, we see that God often calls us to places that are hard and difficult. Places that will shake our faith and cause us to be uncomfortable. But He doesn’t call us to do it because He doesn’t love us or because He is like some of the crazy thrill seekers that call themselves “storm chasers.” No, He does it because He knows what we need to grow as Christ followers.

We need only look at Mark 6:45-51 to observe a place where Jesus sent His disciples onto a boat ahead of Him onto the Sea of Galilee, knowing that there was going to be a storm. He had just performed the miracle of the five thousand loaves. Things were going pretty good for the disciples, but then things got dark pretty quick. A storm blew up when they were on the boat alone without Jesus, and they were tormented by winds that were against them — making headway very difficult.

A few things we can take away from this passage about our storms:

1. His directive may be for our protection.

We must note that Jesus was actually getting His disciples away from crowds that were scheming to make Jesus king. Jesus knew that the intent of the peoples’ hearts was far away from the purposes of God, so He instructed His disciples to get into a boat (Wiersbe [John] Bible Commentary). He dismissed the crowd and went away alone to pray. This, however, wasn’t without some resistance on the disciples’ part. The wording suggests that the disciples had to be somewhat persuaded to get in the boat without Him.

While His disciples may have only been able to see the storm they were in and wondered at the wisdom of their master in sending them where He did, Jesus saw the danger in staying where they were at and sent His disciples away not to send them to their demise — but to protect them. As Lysa Terkeurst has aptly observed, “Sometimes rejection is for our protection.”

Perhaps we only see the storm ahead of us that we are currently in and we look longingly back at whatever situation we just walked out of, not realizing that perhaps God moved us on for our safety. Perhaps the relationships we wanted so badly to work out, the opportunity we wanted to see open for us — God led us away from that not because He didn’t want good for us, but because He was keeping loving watch over us and had a better place in mind for us to go.

2. God sees you in your situation.

Even though Jesus left the disciples to row alone across the Sea of Galilee, the disciples were never out of his “sight,” so to speak. As the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary notes, Jesus “saw” from His mountaintop. We often think that because we can’t immediately see Jesus in our situation that He has abandoned us. However, we can clearly observe in this passage that God always sees and God always knows.

Just at the right moment, when the disciples had been rowing for eight or nine hours against contrary winds, Jesus appeared to them. Just like Jesus waited to come to Lazarus until he was already dead, Jesus waited until His disciples most likely felt that their situation was utterly devoid of hope.

We may feel like Jesus has waited too long and our situation is already hopeless, already impossible to resurrect. But Jesus was aware of the situation even when He was high on the mountaintop, but let His disciples be tried to a certain point before He came to them at the appointed time — in the fourth watch of the night.

3. God is fully in control of the situation.

When Jesus finally came to them, He walked on top of the waves towards the boat. The disciples had been toiling at their rowing for hours and had made very little headway, yet it was with the greatest of ease that Christ walked to them on the water — elevated above the chaos, in complete command of the situation.

They disciples didn’t recognize Him at first. They thought He was an apparition and then He spoke and said, “Take courage! It is I. Do not be afraid” (v. 50 ). Even though they had walked with Him for some time and knew Him as a friend, they were slow to comprehend that it was their Savior walking towards them. And when they realized it was Him, they welcomed Him into the boat and were utterly amazed at their “awful nearness to One whose ‘way is in the sea,’ and whose ‘path is in the great waters,’ and whose ‘footsteps are not known ‘ “(Pulpit Commentary).

We can think that He doesn’t know what we are going through. We may be praying and hear nothing, or read Scripture, and have nothing stick to us. We keep straining at the oars wondering if God even knows what we are going through, and then He speaks and lets us know with absolute certainty that He knows exactly where we are.

Because God may be silent for a time does not mean He isn’t working in the background or fighting battles for us that we can’t even see. If we don’t hear anything or He doesn’t come immediately in the way we think we should, we need to listen on the ramparts for Him (Habbakuk 2:1) — and trust that not a single sparrow falls without His knowledge (Matthew 10:29).

4. His intent all along was to get them over to the other side.

In the John 6:21 account, the disciples “immediately” got to where they were going as soon as they welcomed Jesus into the boat. Some commentaries I read assert the idea that perhaps this was another supernatural happening of the night. That not only did Jesus feed five thousand, walk on water, enable Peter to walk on water, and calm the storm — all in one day and night — He enabled the boat to reach the shore with miraculous speediness.

Whatever the case — whether they were able to reach the other side swiftly simply because the storm died down or because Jesus enabled another miracle that night, we see Jesus’ intent for them all along in sending them out to sea: to get to the other side. We can be assured by this then that whatever adversity God sends us into is always that which has an end goal — our final destination is never to be left in the storm.

Why We Shouldn’t Give up in the Storm

Why, then, the storm? I don’t know all the reasons we have to suffer the trials we do, but I do know this. He sends us into storms for our growth, to increase our faith (Pulpit Commentary).

As every good parent knows, a child will not mature as long as you do everything for him. The sole reason my five-year-old son is not very adept at putting his own clothes on is that I have always done it for him. All those mornings when I had to get him off to preschool, it was much easier for me to clothe his sleepy body instead of making him dress himself. But he struggles to put his clothes on now because he hasn’t had much practice.

Faith takes practice, too.

The storms of life are not easy. They test and try us and make us wonder if God even knows what we are going through. But we can rest assured that God will not leave us to our rowing forever — that He sees us from His mountaintop — and has an appointed time for which He will come and cause the waves and the winds to cease. Then, just like the disciples, we will fall on our faces and exclaim, “Surely, you are the Son of God” (Matthew 14:32).

Surely you are Jesus because no one else could save me from this. Surely you are Lord because I was beyond help. Surely you are Lord because no one else could have orchestrated such an escape.

Take heart, friend. He sees you in your storm.

Want to join in a chat about life’s storms? I will be discussing the points in this post (as well as throwing in a few extra details). You can subscribe for free to our live video chat this Monday, August 15 @ 9 p.m. EST, watch the replay, or leave a comment below.

UPDATE on BLAB CHAT: Blab has been closed down! We are so sorry, but this chat will not be taking place. We will be looking for a new means to host our Monday chats.

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 write music lyrics (that no one has ever seen) 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 two children.

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The Secret to Being Content in any Circumstance

The Secret to Being Content in any Cirumstance

“Mom, our playground is so small. It’s like a baby playground,” my daughter announced as I eased the minivan into the carpool line that snaked in front of her school.

We had recently moved into a new community, and after only a month in her new first grade class, my daughter had been giving me an earful about the inadequacies of her new surroundings: The “baby” playground that did not compare to the one at her old school. The cafeteria that smelled like “stinky green beans.” The public library near our house that didn’t have the chapter books she liked.

She continued, “The only thing I like playing on are the swings, and you only get one turn.”

“And you probably can’t swing that long because everybody else wants a turn, right?” I ventured.

“Yes!” She sighed.

Although I forced a positive tilt in my voice, my shoulders sagged as she conveyed her displeasure over her playground situation. As she walked into school and I drove away, I reflected on the fact that lately I felt frustrated every time I talked with her. Our conversations over the past few weeks had left me feeling like a complete failure as a mom.

Later in my quiet time, I confessed my feelings of mom-inadequacy to God. Why did I feel like I couldn’t connect with my daughter lately? Why was I so irritated and exhausted by her litany of complaints?

As I poured out my feelings to God, I didn’t really expect to get an answer. But almost immediately after I expressed my frustrations, a little question bubbled up in my mind: Is it your responsibility to fix everything?

I pondered over that for a moment and realized that God was helping me pinpoint what was going on: every time my daughter expressed a disappointment, I felt like I had to fix it.

When she complained about anything, my mind immediately went to ways I could smooth over the situation, make it work the way she wanted. Without realizing it, I was equating how I was doing as a mom with her satisfaction level in her environment.

Perhaps this situation presented a lesson not only for me as a mom and a Christian but a lesson that I could impart to my daughter about life.

Yes, I wanted her to be happy, and I wanted to consider her needs, but perhaps I was doing a great disservice by allowing her to grow up thinking that the world could and should be changed according to her demands. Because it couldn’t and wouldn’t.

And perhaps our conversations could be a little less stressful for me if I took the pressure off myself to fix things I couldn’t fix. (Yes, I admit as she was talking I was thinking about how I hoped perhaps the PTA was looking into designating funds for a new playground.)

The Apostle Paul: A Lesson in Contentment

We need only look to the apostle Paul to learn a lesson in contentment. Paul certainly knew what it was like to be in adverse circumstances. In the book of Philippians, Paul is imprisoned in Rome. He had limited mobility, no permanent residence, scarcity in his food supply at times — yet he has this to say:

 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:12, 13)

The Philippians had sent him a gift but had lamented over the fact that they had not been able to support him recently in the way they had done in the past. With his words, Paul assures them that he is content with little or much. He mentions that he has “learned the secret of being content” (v. 12). His words suggest that he had been learning this lesson over the course of many situations — both lean and prosperous. His secret?

He finds contentment “through” Christ (v. 13). He is able to endure any situation not because of his own strength but because of the strength of Christ who lives within him. As the Pulpit Commentary suggests: “It is only in Christ, in spiritual union with him, that the Christian is … self-sufficient. His presence gives strength to do and suffer all things.”

The self-sufficiency Paul mentions is not a sufficiency of looking to one’s own self, but a “Christ-sufficiency” — an ability to “accept whatever came his way, knowing that his life was not conditioned by either [want or plenty]” (The IVP New Testament Commentary Series).

Not only that, earlier in Philippians 1:12, Paul shares the method by which he measures his situations. He finds cause for rejoicing, even in trials, as long as his greatest mission — to advance the Gospel of Jesus Christ — is being accomplished.

Learning to Be Content in all Circumstances

This afternoon I plan to turn what I was seeing as a communication gap between me and my daughter as a communication opportunity: I am going to sit down and read Philippians 4:12 to her and explain that we can be content no matter our situation looks like.

That, yes, I too had noticed some new things I didn’t like since we moved (and had found myself missing our old house and old community in moments), but dwelling on those thoughts had led me to discontentment.

Rather than just considering if our situation brought us comfort or suited our every whim, we could use both Paul’s source of strength and means of measurement by which to approach our circumstance.

God’s words in my quiet time and my later reflection on Paul’s words to the Philippians reinforced to me that the next time my daughter began grumbling, and I felt the urge to do mental gymnastics thinking of solutions, I could relax and just listen.

I could consider whether or not the situation really needed to be changed or if God had us right where He wanted us — living out His will — in a place that didn’t necessarily need “fixing” at all.

Want to listen in to learn more about Philippians 4:12 and chat about the topic of contentment? To join in for a discussion on confrontation, subscribe to our free video chat this Monday, August 1 @ 9 PM EST, or leave a comment below.

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 write music lyrics (that no one has ever seen) 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 two children.

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The Blessings We Gain From Brokenness (The Blessings Of Brokenness Book Study)

THE BLESSINGS OF BROKENNESS (6)

Not too long ago, my family moved into a new community and transitioned from the church and home we had grown very comfortable in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Embarking on a New Move

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

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

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

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

And — a few months into our house listing, when I got pregnant (again, a surprise that I did not expect), I was rattled by how out of control I was with everything. I know some of you reading this may be thinking, Get over yourself! Give up control! But I can tell you, I struggled.

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

As Charles Stanley notes in chapter 9 of The Blessings of Brokenness, “When we give up something to which we are clinging and counting as more valuable than our obedience to God, he often gives us something in return that is even far more valuable or beneficial to us. At times, but not always, it is the very thing we gave up. At other times, it is something different but better” (128).

The Blessings of Obedience

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

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

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

I have only mentioned material things, but the best blessing of all so far is that in moving I was released from a stressful situation where I felt like I was at a dead-end. I wasn’t making gains spiritually there any longer and felt pulled down by relationships that were no longer helping to further me on the path God had for me.

A New Start for Our Family

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

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

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

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

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

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

This concludes our book study on The Blessings of Brokenness: Why God Allows Us to Go Through Hard Times. We will have a live video chat over the last two chapters this Monday, July 11th @ 9 PM EST.  Click the video chat link to subscribe for free or watch the replay. Thanks so much for joining us! I hope this study has ministered to you. We’d love to hear how the book has blessed you. You can leave a comment here or share your story with us through the blog contact page.

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 write music lyrics (that no one has ever seen) 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 two children.

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Avoiding a Place of Spiritual Stagnancy by Allowing God to Work on Us (Blessings of Brokenness Book Study)

THE BLESSINGS OF BROKENNESS (4)

In HGTV’s “Fixer Upper,” married couple Chip and Joanna Gaines take run-down houses and fix them up into beautiful, livable spaces.

In each episode, the Gaines show a client three different properties (generally houses in need of repair) and then remodel the house to the client’s specifications within a specific budget.

The condition of the houses varies depending on the episode; however, I was surprised to see one particular segment where the clients selected a “shotgun house” from the 1920s. After the Gaines discovered that the property was already sold to an investor who was tearing the houses down (but willing to give the dilapidated house away to anyone willing to move it), the buyers still decided to opt for this house and have it moved to another piece of property.

I say “surprised” because the house was in such terrible condition I couldn’t imagine how it would survive a transfer to another location. I made the comment to my husband that the house just needed to be bulldozed down.

However, to the Gaines’ credit, they very carefully moved this old, forgotten house, set it on a new foundation, and went to work bringing new life to the ancient structure. Chip had to evaluate what could stay as far as structure and what had to be added. I was amazed at the care and effort that went into restoring this house that, in my opinion, should have been condemned.

It got me thinking about the fact that God comes in and does the same kind of restoration work in us.

Chapter 7 of Charles Stanley’s The Blessings of Brokenness reveals just how much effort God is willing to go with each of us in the breaking and rebuilding process. While we may look just as unusable and worn out as the shotgun house in the “Fixer Upper’ episode, God looks at us and sees what we can be made into — not what is already there.

A few things we can keep in mind about the restoration process:

1. There is a plan to the breaking process.

Just as Chip had to survey the shotgun house in its current state and determine what needed to be ripped out and rebuilt, God does the same with us.

However, as Stanley notes in The Blessings of Brokenness, God’s breaking process is controlled (86). What looks to us like total chaos is in the total control of our Maker. He looks at us and knows what elements are rotten and broken — what needs to be stripped away — and what can remain.

Though it may not look initially to us like any progress is being made, as our Master Carpenter rips out old pieces of us, He has an end result in mind. It looks ugly before the renewal and new construction can begin — but the final result will be worth it.

2. Part of the plan is that God “targets the areas” that keep us from relying on Him.

As part of the breaking process, God identifies areas that are not contributing to your growth. As Stanley observes, you may already know the area of your life that God is “drawing a circle around” because it forms a barrier between you and God, and He will destroy and remove that area (90). Just like a house cannot be enhanced by old rotten boards or materials, there are places we have that God needs to rip out so that He can put in fresh, new materials.

We know when something hinders a free flow of the Spirit of God in us. We know when something stops us from witnessing or from having victory in our daily lives. We know when something consumes our attention, disrupts our peace, or magnetizes our thinking. God certainly knows when this happens, and he knows far sooner and more completely than we know it! (The Blessings of Brokenness, 90)

When we know God is targeting an area, what should we do? We should submit to the process and give up our “right” to have a final say as to the outcome. As Stanley suggests, we should ask God, “What would you have me do?” (103). Unfortunately, the rebuilding process for many of us is one that we want but also resist because it is so painful.

As much as we want to be used by God and be built into His perfect masterpiece, we are human. We don’t want the pain. We don’t like the methods God uses, and we want control.

But, as Stanley warns, if we resist, it will not go well for us. The pressure may intensify, and if we resist long enough, we will face a place of stagnancy in our Christian walk. God leaves us in the state we’re in. And there’s nothing worse than an unfinished masterpiece. I know because I lived in a house for years that was unfinished. My dad started the project of building my childhood home but left it undone for many years.

Living with particle board floors, knob-less doors, scaffolding outside the house, and constant construction chaos wore on me. I always longed for a completed house that we could be proud of. There was a sense of closure inside when I saw the house finished my senior year of high school.

Just like the satisfaction I felt when I saw my own house finished, the clients in the “shotgun house” episode of “Fixer Upper” also expressed that same satisfaction when they saw their house finished. The aging wood had been ripped out and replaced. New drywall, plumbing, and electrical had been installed.

The floors had been sanded down, stained and restored to their former glory. New cabinets, paint and fixtures sparkled in every room. It was astounding to see the transformation. Who would have thought such a reformation possible?

The question is, when we feel like God is circling an area of our life for transformation — fear, pride, self-sufficiency, whatever it may be — will we yield to the breaking or resist?

We can be assured that “God makes no mistakes in the breaking process … “ (104). Ultimately, His purpose is not to “destroy us, but to bring us to a position of maximum wholeness, maturity and usefulness in His kingdom” (102).

Questions to Consider: Is there an area of your life God may be drawing a circle around? What is He telling you in regards to this area?

Book Study: This post is part of a five week book study over Charles Stanley’s The Blessings of Brokenness: Why God Allows Us to Go Through Hard Times. We will have a live video chat over chapters 7 & 8 this Tuesday, July 5, @ 9 PM. Please note the date change from our usual Monday night time to Tuesday to account for the July 4 holiday. Click the video chat link to subscribe or watch the replay. To join us for next our last week, read chapters 9, 10 & Epilogue by next Friday, July 8.

 

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 write music lyrics (that no one has ever seen) 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 two children.

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How Obedience Leads to Spiritual Maturity in You and Others (Blessings of Brokenness Book Study)

THE BLESSINGS OF BROKENNESS (3)

In The Emperor’s New Groove, a Disney animated movie, the selfish Emperor Kuzco is turned into a llama by a former palace advisor. Through a course of twists and turns, he is helped by a kind llama herder, Pacha.

Ironically, Pacha is the same llama herder that the emperor is cruel to at the beginning of the movie. He summons Pacha to his palace to announce that Pacha’s entire village will be wiped out (including Pacha’s home) to make way for his summer residence.

Pacha stands up the emperor and tries to reason with him, but to no avail. Kuzco is determined that Pacha’s village is the most ideal spot for his second residence and cares little about who he steps on in order to make his desires a reality.

However, after Kuzco is turned into a llama, he goes through a series of unfortunate events (including being chased by ferocious jaguars, getting caught in violent storms, and being pursued by the revenge and power-hungry ex-palace employee). Through these string of trials, he loses his arrogance and self-absorption.

He begins to befriend Pacha and become more aware of the needs of the people around him. By the end of the movie, when he is changed from a llama back into his human form, his outer body is not the only thing that has changed. Not only does he alter his plans to bulldoze Pacha’s village, he also becomes a kinder ruler.

The suffering he goes through on his harrowing adventures affects him personally by making him a nicer person but also affects the people in his realm.

Even though the movie is a silly illustration and doesn’t operate from a Christian base, we can take away the obvious implication as Christians in our faith walk and ministry: ultimately, the work God does in us isn’t just for us. It’s for other people, too.

Abraham and the Israelites: People God Used to Bless Others

In chapter 6 of The Blessings of Brokenness, Charles Stanley uses the example of the Israelites to illustrate this point. The Hebrew people had to go through the desert to get to the Promised Land. They went through the ultimate breaking process: leaving behind the land and customs they knew, going through many trials and hardships in the wilderness, and learning who God was and trusting Him for their resources. But their time in the wilderness, although not fun, helped to bring them to spiritual maturity.

However, as Stanley says, God’s purpose for the Israelites in leaving Egypt wasn’t just for their spiritual maturity and deliverance but to fulfill a promise that God had made to their ancestor Abraham long before — that it was “through his family, all the nations of the world would come to know God. They were to be a ‘light to the nations’ ” (81). Stanley notes further:

[God] set before his [Israelite] people a phenomenal objective. He says, ‘If you do what I tell you to do — if you are totally obedient to me — I will bless you … and make you a blessing.’ God’s purpose for breaking you and bringing you to a place of wholeness and spiritual maturity is so that he might use you as his tool in bringing still others to wholeness and spiritual maturity. He teaches us so that we might teach others. He imparts his insights to us so that we might share them with others. He comforts and encourages us to that we might provide comfort and encouragement to others. He gives us spiritual gifts so that we might use them to help others. He gives us financial prosperity so that we might benefit others and provide the means for the Gospel to reach them. (81, 82)

Whoa! We see in the example of the Israelites that their submission to God’s plan (even with a lot of mistakes and fumbling along the way) not only led them to a better understanding of God and a place of blessing, it was intended to teach others about God as well. And not just a few people. All the nations.

We see then that there is a wonderful correlation not only between the blessing we individually receive when we submit to the process of brokenness, but there is a blessing that people around us receive when we submit to it and share with them what God is doing in our life. God’s plans for us will ultimately affect other people in a positive way as well.

A Flip Side to Obedience: Choosing not to Surrender to Brokenness or God’s Blessings

I can’t help but think as I read Stanley’s words that there is a flip side to this — which is, that if we are resistant or disobedient, not only will that affect our own spiritual walk, it will have an effect on others as well. As Stanley has stated in other places in his book, we have a choice as to how we respond to brokenness. We can grow bitter, resentful, angry or rebellious, or we can surrender to God and trust that He knows what He’s doing.

Obviously, God doesn’t need us to complete His plans, but He chooses to include us. Why wouldn’t we want to be used in His design? Invariably, His version of how we can best be used is going to be way different than ours. But it’s going to be better.

Through the process of the last few years, as I have embarked on my journey to healing, I have felt at certain points that there were people I needed to go to and share my story with. I had no idea why God wanted me to have conversations with these individuals, and I fought it.

I felt that I should wait to speak until I had all of the pieces put together and figured out. I was still so much in process that I felt strange talking to people about what I was going through. I didn’t know or understand what God was doing, and I felt selfish sitting down with various people and telling my story. Why would they want to listen? What could they possibly get out of it?

However, those conversations helped to clarify things for me as I talked more about my experiences, but I believe in looking back that God also used those conversations to impact others. I didn’t get much feedback from individuals after I talked with them, and even though it was confusing to me at the time, I know that God was up to something — that perhaps those people needed to hear a portion of my story for the same reasons I needed to live it.

Remaining Surrendered in Your Christian Walk and Ministry

Unfortunately, the breaking and surrendering isn’t a one-time process; it’s a life-long process. I can survey the mountaintop experiences I’ve had over the past few years and want to camp there and say, “God, look how I surrendered to you!” But there are new things He is doing in my life and fresh ways He wants me to surrender, and I have to make those daily choices of embracing what He wants over what I want.

And it isn’t easy. But as Stanley notes at the end of chapter 6, only when we do so can we live in the exciting purpose God has for us. There’s no better or more fulfilling way to live.

Questions to Consider: What are some ways that your obedience in the past has blessed others? How might God be calling you to use your brokenness to minister to others? What area can you step out in today?

Book Study: This post is part of a five week book study over Charles Stanley’s The Blessings of Brokenness: Why God Allows Us to Go Through Hard Times. We will have a live video chat over chapters 5 & 6 this Monday, June 27, @ 9 p.m. EST. Click the video chat link to subscribe or watch the replay. To join us for next week, read chapters 7 & 8 by next Friday, July 1.

 

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 write music lyrics (that no one has ever seen) 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 two children.

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