Navigating Suffering When We Want to Understand

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When I was little, my mom used to tell me that God knew me better than I knew myself. I protested, “No, He doesn’t. No one knows me better than I know myself!”

My mom gently tried to persuade me otherwise, but I couldn’t understand how this could be true.

Now, as an adult, I understand through reading God’s Word and evidences in my life just how well God knows me. Not only does He know me, He knows what is best for me. However, I still struggle to let go of control when the decisions He wants me to make are not those that I would choose for myself. Even though I know from experience that I am not adept in making wise choices, I still struggle to let God have full control. I want to pick and choose the assignments He gives me. I don’t like or understand some of the directives He gives me.

Lessons from Job When We Don’t Understand

Recently through a series of circumstances, God revealed this tidbit to me: I think my way is better sometimes. If I can’t understand what He is asking me to do (it doesn’t make sense logically to me), I struggle to obey. But faith requires that I step out even when I don’t understand why, trusting that God has a purpose in what He asks of me.

Job 42:2-6 says this:

I know that you can do all things, no purpose of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore, I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.

Job says these words to God after Job accuses God of being unjust. God answers back with a series of questions revealing His sovereignty over the universe and freedom to do as He pleases. Job accuses God earlier when his home, wealth, and family are destroyed in a day. Shortly after losing what he does, he breaks out in painful boils. His wife emotionally abandons him. His friends try to comfort him but make him feel worse when they accuse him of sin he didn’t commit.

What Job doesn’t know when he is hit with misfortune is that God gave permission to Satan to afflict Job to test Job’s faithfulness. Job doesn’t turn against God, but he naturally tries to understand the mishaps that befall him. In chapter 38, God answers Job, but does not provide a reason for his suffering. After hearing God’s response, Job realizes the holy nature of God in a new way. He changes his position and utters the words recorded in the passage above.

What can we learn from Job in this passage about times of suffering when we want to understand?

1. We will not understand all that God allows or asks us to do.

Job says this to God, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know” (v. 3). Essentially, Job acknowledges that there are some things that he will not understand. For many of us, we may wear ourselves out wanting to find out why, demanding God tell us why. However, at times, He will choose not to reveal the answers to our questions.

We should ask questions in our suffering, and it’s not wrong to do so. Yet, if God doesn’t answer us or explain the way we want, will we accept what He has allowed and do what He says without understanding? For many of us, we are OK with stepping out in faith as long as the action makes sense to us, but if God doesn’t explain the whys to us, we may balk and hit a stopping point. God, I am not doing this until you tell me why. God, I am not going to act in this way towards this person unless you explain x, y, and z.

Job learned in his situation that while God chose not to answer his questions, God did let him know He was aware of what was going on. I have found that to be the case. We may not get the exact explanations we hoped for in our situation, but if we keep pressing in, God will give us what we need to keep going. And — we have His presence even when we don’t have His answers.

2. Affliction teaches us self-awareness.

Job says, “My ears had heard of you, but my eyes have seen you” (v. 5). While Job is still left in the dark in many ways, even at the end of Job, he discovers a deeper awareness and revelation of God in His situation. Not only that, he gains a greater self-awareness.

While at the beginning of Job, he considers himself extremely righteous — perhaps more righteous than other people — he repents and sees what is in his soul: presumption and sin like that in the heart of any other person.

Similarly, as happens with Job, the hardships we go through will bring to the surface what lies within us. I mentioned that God revealed to me that I think my ways is better on occasion. This revelation came after a series of hard God assignments that appeared like sheer lunacy to me. One such assignment, I responded with a half-hearted, halfway obedience because I thought His direction to me was a very bad idea. Then, he revealed my reliance on my own wisdom in the aftermath.

However, when He revealed what He did, I repented and asked for help in this area. Did I even know before this that this ugly reality was true about me? No, I didn’t. Maybe it was obvious to other people, but not to me. When we walk closely with God in our affliction, not only will we see Him more clearly and learn more about Him, we will see ourselves more clearly.

3. Affliction reveals what is in us, so that we can repent.

Suffering comes for different reasons. Suffering doesn’t always come in our lives because of God’s discipline and a need to repent of sin. However, at times, God does want to point out something we need to change. In those instances, we can learn humbly from Him during our affliction and repent.

For many, the word “repent” means walking around with our head down in guilt and shame, feeling bad about ourselves. While such feelings can lead us to confess our sin and allow God to forgive and restore us, repentance is about changing our mind and thinking differently about what God has pointed out to us.

Job says in the passage, “I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” (v. 6). He says what he does about despising himself because he wants God to know he abhors the evil in himself and recognizes his wrong in accusing God and trying to stand on his own merit before God. He makes a change by confessing his sin to God and deciding to go a new way. By stating that he repents “in dust and ashes,” he is outwardly displaying what he feels inside. In this time, people who were grieving would sit in ashes and cover themselves with ashes to show outwardly their inward emotion. In saying what he did, Job wanted to express his turn away from his previous attitude.

Job’s actions here teach us that God doesn’t send affliction to make us feel bad about ourselves and stay there. Through affliction, we can learn what God wants to teach us, and we can emerge a better person. Joseph Benson says on this point, “The more we see of the glory and majesty of God, the more we shall see of the vileness and odiousness of sin, and the more we shall abase and abhor ourselves for it; and repent in dust and ashes.”

Conclusion:

Is there a situation in your life that has you tied up in knots, and you have told God you won’t proceed until He explains to you what is going on? Or is there an action He is nudging you towards without disclosing the reasons why?

Job teaches us that God doesn’t have to explain everything to us because He is God. Sometimes, He chooses to answer our questions, but understanding shouldn’t be a prerequisite for obedience. In addition, even when we can’t immediately see how the bad God has allowed will lead to good, we shouldn’t give up.

Like Job, we can trust Him even when it looks bad and feels bad — not because He has explained everything to us — but because He is trustworthy and cannot ever make a mistake. God Himself is the very standard of truth and justice. He cannot slip up or lie, ever!

When things are going sideways and we’re caught in a circumstance we wouldn’t choose for ourselves, we can accept what God has ordained and surrender to Him — believing that, like Job, when we cling to God in the midst of our affliction, we will come out of it stronger and more blessed than before.

Related Resources:

Ever worry that you won’t ever be able to feel joy again and get out of your current slump? Join us for the next few weeks as we look at how to experience joy in seasons of suffering. In Part 1: “Joy in the Midst of Trials,” we look at how the biblical mandate to rejoice in suffering is not insane or bad advice, but is actually helpful in uplifting our mood and changing our perspective — even if our situation doesn’t immediately get better.

Want to look at another resource on Job 42 and suffering? Check out the following article on the same passage: “Where Is God When We Suffer?”

*Revised and updated February 23, 2020.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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Joy in the Midst of Trials

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“Oh no!” I groaned when I heard the clanking sound. I rushed upstairs and looked in the laundry room to find the error light blinking on the dryer and the lint screen lying close by on the ground. I had forgotten to put in the lint screen, and my dryer was making strange sounds.

Appliances breaking down aren’t a huge deal — not like a cancer diagnosis, a death in the family, or a relationship fallout — but nonetheless, even small everyday trials can irritate us and even more so when they come in clusters. Often, the appliance dies, the kid gets sick, the relationship conflict escalates, the unexpected bill arrives — all at the same time — so we are literally drowning in a sea of trials.

Certainly, we can attribute these trials many times to the work of Satan or the fallen world we live in. However, there is another reason we can experience trials. This reason is much harder to wrap our minds around, but at times, God orchestrates trials in our lives to accomplish His purposes.

Note what 1 Peter 1:6-7 says on this point: “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even through refined by fire — may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

We might be shocked at the idea that God sends trials at times (Really? How could He?), but when we look into what the passage says regarding the reasons behind what God allows, we can begin to understand why God allows what He does and even, as the verse advocates, rejoice in our trials — whether big or small.

What can we learn from this passage?

1. A posture of joy in our trials helps us experience joy.

The verse tells us to rejoice. Other verses such as 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 and Philippians 4:4 echo the same idea. Most likely, Peter knew that his audience at the time suffering from persecution would focus on their hardships and be drawn into a negative mindset as a result. Rejoicing in our trials doesn’t mean we forget what pain we have; rather, it tells us that joy is possible in the midst of our suffering. Maybe for many of us, we are praying for the situation to go away and looking to the removal of the suffering to bring us joy.

But Peter advocates that we can still experience joy in the middle of our hard situations by choosing to rejoice in the darkest of nights — not pretending our pain doesn’t exist or waiting for it to pass. Instead, we choose not merely to focus on what’s wrong in our lives — but to focus on what is right and good. What is right and good even in the hardest of situations? Peter tells us what we have to rejoice in earlier in 1 Peter: believers can look ahead to an inheritance that will never fade or be taken away.

Peter doesn’t advocate that we don’t feel or acknowledge our pain. He merely advocates rejoicing knowing that such a change of perspective would help to bring joy to suffering Christians in desperate circumstances. Alexander MacLaren calls this cultivating joy and refers to it as a “roundabout way” that we can encourage ourselves, saying:

A man travelling in a railway train can choose which side of the carriage he will look at, the one where the sunshine is falling full on the front of each grass-blade and tree, or the side where it is the shadowed side of each that is turned to him. If he will look out of the one window, he will see everything verdant and bright, and if he will look out at the other, there will be a certain sobriety and dullness over the landscape. You can settle which window you are going to look out at.

Choosing what we focus on in our lives will have a direct affect on our feelings. We don’t have to fake joy or put pressure on ourselves to feel a certain way. Rather, when we focus on the good God has done for us and rejoice in that, the feelings of joy follow.

2. Trials prove the genuineness of our faith.

When we say that something is proven, we mean that it demonstrates a particular quality through evidence. A political candidate with a proven track record of honesty can point to examples in his public service. A company making a claim about a product “proven to remove stains” can point to examples where it has lifted stains as it claims.

Similarly, God tests the genuineness or our faith through trials. A faith not tested is a faith that is not genuine. It hasn’t been given the opportunity to show what it claims. Theologian Albert Barnes says on this point:

Religion claims to be of more value to man of anything else. It asserts its power to do that for the intellect and the heart which nothing else can do — to give support which nothing else can in the bed of death. It is very desirable, therefore, that in these various situations it should show its power; that is, that its friends should be in these various conditions, in order that they may illustrate the true value of religion.

In other words, what Barnes says is that only in adverse situations can the strength of our faith rise to the occasion. My brother-in-law joined the Navy Reserves after serving in the Navy for 6 years. However, he decided that the Reserves were not for him. He had superiors who had never been out to sea teaching about being out at sea! My brother-in-law found it difficult to respect superiors who didn’t have real experience in the subject they were claiming to be experts in.

Similarly, we are not meant to have a faith that merely observes from the shore. The trials we are experiencing are helping us experience a vibrant, real faith on the open sea. While we may not love the trials that come in our lives, we can be encouraged to embrace what comes our way knowing that a faith not tested is no faith at all.

3. Trials purify our faith.

Not only do trials prove our faith, they purify our faith and bring to the surface impurities that exist. In the passage, Peter compares the process of our faith being tried with the process of refining gold. He stresses that gold, although valuable, will perish whereas our faith will not. Before gold can be fashioned into jewelry or any other object, it must first be purified. It goes into the fire and the fire causes the impurities to rise to the surface, and the refiner removes the impurities.

Impurities mar the image, so the refiner must plunge the gold into the fire multiple times, scrape off the impurities, and repeat. Over and over again. He continues this process until the metal is shiny and he can see his reflection.

We are not aware of what impurities exist in our lives until God plunges us into the fire, and the heat exposes what He wants to remove. The end goal is to mold us into the character of Christ, but the process if painful. We scream in protest forgetting that God has a beautiful end goal in mind for us, and while we only feel the pain of the flames, He is perfecting us through the process. The result of us going through our trials will be that we resemble more and more the qualities of Christ.

I am borrowing this from a blog post I read on this verse, but athletes building muscle actually do so through a breaking down process of the muscle. The muscle subjected to weights suffers macro-tears and then builds itself up to become stronger. The muscle enlarges in order to handle the stress of the weight. In order to continually build muscle, a weight lifter has to continually increase the stress placed on the muscle by increased weight, repetitions, and different exercises. Similarly, through our many trials, we are being torn down and rebuilt stronger and better than before though we may feel broken, uncomfortable, and weak while going through our difficulties.

In my own life, God has been working on me and making me a bold witness by giving me very demanding multi-step assignments. Recently, I will step out in response to God’s nudge to pray for someone or witness to someone while running errands. Once I walk away, I will feel oftentimes a nudge to go back to the same person. Sometimes multiple times. Each time I go back I worry that the person will view me as irritating or weird or slightly unbalanced. I feel humiliated and silly.

Each time I hear God’s voice to go back, I have to fight my desire to escape to a place where I don’t stand out. I feel like God has been taking a sledgehammer to my gut and pounding away. I want to be braver. I want to be radical in my witness, but the process to become this person that I am not naturally at the moment is so painful and uncomfortable. It leaves me breathless and spiritually and emotionally exhausted in a way that I cannot even explain. I just want these tests to go away, but God keeps sending them. I know it’s for my good, but it does not feel good. Can you relate?

Conclusion:

On the way home last night, I heard on a Christian program that the feeling of joy and the practice of joy are two different things. I was struck by the definition because I often read verses such as 1 Peter 1:6, 7 on trials and think, “What’s wrong with me? I need to feel joy in this situation.” But that is not what Peter is saying. We may feel great sorrow and shouldn’t fake our feelings and pretend happiness. But when we practice joy, feelings of joy come even in the midst of and at the same time as feelings of sorrow.

What can we practice in regards to joy? According to Peter, we can focus on what lies ahead for us because of Jesus’ work on the cross and what our trials are accomplishing for us. They are making us better. They are making us stronger. And, most of all, we can reconcile how a loving Father can be behind those not-so great times when He allows circumstances we wouldn’t choose for ourselves.

God is good and wants good things for us, but the good things may come through things that don’t feel good. But that is a reality that helps us make sense of our pain and find hope and encouragement despite what we face.

I don’t know what you’re going through, but I do know this: God loves you. He’s got you. And He has a plan to get you through.

 As long as I look at my sorrows mainly in regard to their power to sadden me, I have not got to the right point of view for them. They are meant to sadden me, they are meant to pain, they are meant to bring the tears, they are meant to weight down the heart and press down the spirits, but what for? To test what I am made of, and by testing to bring out and strengthen what is good, and to cast out and destroy what is evil. We shall never understand … the mystery of pain until we come to understand its main purpose is to help in making character. And when you think of your sorrows … as bettering you and building up your character it is more possible to  blend the sorrow that they produce with the joy to which they may lead … So they are not only to be felt, not only to be wept over, not only to make us sad, but they are to be accepted, and used as means by which we may be perfect. And once you get occupied in trying to get all the good that is in it out of grief, you will be astonished to find how the bitterness that was in it was diminished. — Alexander MacLaren

Related Resources:

Ever worry that you won’t ever be able to feel joy again and get out of your current slump? Join us for the next few weeks as we look at how to experience joy in seasons of suffering.

*Updated February 11, 2020.

Carol Whitaker

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

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The Blessings of Following God

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My daughter came home in an excited fluster the other day, relaying to me that her teacher introduced a new VIP section in her classroom where students doing their work and displaying good behavior will be selected to sit in the VIP section for a week. This special promotion comes with rewards such as honor in front of the other students, snacks during class, and homework passes.

Just like my daughter, we all like perks and benefits. When faced with challenges and trials in our lives, we may forget that we receive benefits when walking with Christ. Though following Him is costly, He rewards those who trust in Him. Matthew 10:39 tells us: “If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it” (NLT).

In other words, even though we come to points in our journey with Christ where we have to make the choice to leave behind what is comfortable and familiar to us and continually move forward into new territory, we find fulfillment and joy in doing so — even though it may feel that we are continually letting go and dying to what we want. I love what Jim Elliot says on this point: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

The Blessings of Trusting in God

In Ruth 2, we see the idea of being rewarded for the sacrifices we make in walking with Christ. Ruth reaches Bethlehem with Naomi and goes to work gleaning grain in Boaz’s field. Up to this point, the journey has been long and hard — and the difficulty hasn’t let up. As a widow, Ruth has limited status and options for work as a woman and a widow. She must go to glean behind workers in a hot field. As she is doing this, Boaz, the kind land owner, inquires about her. When He learns that she has followed Naomi to Bethlehem to care for her and follow God, He praises her: “May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge” (Ruth 2:12).

Boaz rightly identifies the recompense that comes from walking with God. What can we learn from his words about the rewards of taking refuge under the wings of God?

1. Inner peace.

One of the rewards of following Christ, wherever He may lead, is inner peace. Peace can be defined as tranquility, an absence of disturbing or oppressive thoughts or emotions. Even when His assignments are hard and we don’t understand where He is leading us, we have peace when we follow where He leads. Even though Ruth had to make a difficult choice in following Naomi into poverty and obscurity as a widow, she had peace in her heart knowing that she was following God. Though she might have encountered more in terms of physical sustenance and worldly comfort initially in going back to Moab, she would have suffered from a troubled conscience.

Similarly, when we follow Christ, we experience peace. We may be walking through great difficulty, and yet, have great calm in our spirits. Matthew 11:28, 29 says, “Come to Me, all you who are weary, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” The word “weary” refers to those weighted down or burdened in the passage, and the word “rest” means rest from labor and refreshment.

The passage invites those who are weary to come to Jesus and receive rest from Him. Yet, there is a second part of this passage that speaks of putting on the yoke of Jesus and learning from Him to receive rest. We receive peace and a reprieve from turbulent emotions not only by coming to God with our problems and burdens in prayer and reading His Word, but also by surrendering to His will. As Alexander MacLaren asserts, “The very act of coming to Christ brings repose, but that is not all … the path of rest is treading in Christ’s footsteps. ‘Learn of Me,’ it is the secret of tranquility.”

2. His counsel.

Earlier, before Boaz makes the comment he does about Ruth coming under God’s care, he gives the following instructions in Ruth 2:8, 9:

My daughter, listen to me. Don’t go and glean in another field and don’t go away from here. Stay here with the women who work for me. Watch the field where the men are harvesting, and follow along after the women. I have told the men not to lay a hand on you.

Similarly, God instructs those who follow Him and gives us counsel as to the best way to go. Psalm 32:8 says, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.” Not only do we have inner rest when we turn to Him and surrender to Him, we are also guided in the right way. We don’t have to figure out every situation or worry about what dangers lurk in the future. In listening to Him, we avoid pitfalls and situations that would cause us harm.

We will still face trouble and persecution, but whatever trouble we face is that which God has allowed to work out the best in us. As John Trapp says, “For it may befall a saint to share in a common calamity; as the good corn and weeds are cut down together, but for a different end and purpose.” Believers will encounter hardships, just like unbelievers, and following God’s way will even lead into certain hardships and trials; however, these hardships and trials will be those that God will work for good in our lives.

Ruth is given boundaries by Boaz, but she doesn’t resist against them. She understands that Boaz says what He does to protect her and help her. As believers, when we understand that God tells us what He does because He has His “loving eye” on us and desires to ensure our protection, we can submit to what He tells us — knowing that He is not restricting us unnecessarily or holding out on us. Rather, He acts as any loving father would in looking out for His children.

3. His care.

In addition to offering us peace that the world cannot provide and His counsel, He cares tenderly for His own. He knows that the journey is hard, and He not only walks with us, but He ministers to us and gives us what we need in the process.

After conversing with Ruth, at mealtime, Boaz further extends his kindness by inviting Ruth to join him, saying: ” ‘Come over here. Have some bread and dip it in the wine vinegar.’ When she sat down, he offered her some roasted grain. She ate all she wanted and had some left over.” (Ruth 2:14). Boaz doesn’t merely offer her a few crumbs, he gives her “all she wants” and more — and offers her a place at his table with his other servants.

Boaz’s actions are representative of Christ’s toward believers. Jesus spreads a table for us as we walk with Him and provides for our physical and spiritual needs. He not only gives us peace (as I mentioned in my first point), He comforts us in our brokenness, gives us strength when we are too weary to go on, sends needed supplies our way when our finances run out, and gives us the ability to carry out the tasks He assigns us (just to name a few). As Philippians 4:19 says: “My God will supply all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 4:19 isn’t a prosperity message where God is a genie and gives us whatever we want. However, when we work to serve Him and refresh others, He, in turn, refreshes us. In addition, when we ask for what we need in accordance to His will, He will respond and give to us out of His abundance (Proverbs 11:25; Matthew 7:7).

Making Christ Our Refuge

When we make Christ our refuge,  we usher in blessings and benefits into our lives that we would otherwise not know. Psalm 91:1 says this: “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.”

Making Christ our refuge means turning to Him and putting Him above all else in our lives, but it does not imply perfection on our parts. We will sometimes drift and fail, and He will have to come after us. Nor does it mean that we have to attain some level of goodness to abide in His shadow. It simply means that we walk closely with Him and make Him the place of stability we rely on — so much so — that we have no other place we turn to when we are in need.

However, although this secret place in Christ is available for all believers, we can miss out on these blessings if we do not seek to know Christ or make Him a refuge. Pastor David Guzik says:

There are many followers of Jesus Christ who seem to know very little of the secret place of the Most High or what it is to abide under His shadow. Many seem to regard this as only a thing for mystics or the super-spiritual … It is true that the life of the spirit seems to come more easily for some than for others, but there is an aspect of the secret place of the Most High that is for everyone who puts his trust in Him.

Ruth was a foreigner, at the mercy of a stranger’s charity. She was undeserving of the favors bestowed on her, just as we are undeserving of God’s favors. However, she was given an invitation to glean from the fields and eat with the other servants because she chose to follow God. Note what Charles Spurgeon says on this point: “The poor, trembling stranger who has not strength enough to reap, who has no right to be in the field except the right of charity — the poor, trembling sinner, conscious of his own demerit, and feeling but little hope and joy, is invited to the feast of love.”

Just as Ruth was offered blessings in response to her surrendering her life to God, we, too, will find blessings when we trust God and follow where He leads.

Related Resources:

Ever been in a bad situation and it just gets worse? Join us for our brand new series “Hope When You’re at the end of Your Rope: Lessons From Ruth on Trust, Surrender, and Healing.” In the study, we will look at the story of Ruth where will draw lessons the next few weeks on the hope we have when life gets hard, and we feel abandoned and in need of rescue.

Check out the following posts in the series: Part 1: “Why God’s Way is Always Best” and Part 2: “Pushing Past Our Breaking Points to Do the Will of God.”

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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What It Means to Live a Transformed Life

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“Addiction to approval.”

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

Stepping Away From Addiction

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

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

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

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

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

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

Living a Transformed Life

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

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

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm — neither hot nor cold — I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so that you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My pastor said something the other day that struck me: Some of us are trying to live the Christian life without Jesus. Doesn’t that sound absurd? We get the idea in the passage that even after we have accepted Jesus as our Savior, we can shut Him out of our hearts. Verse 20 says, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” I don’t mean by shutting Him out that we lose our salvation, but we live without a dependence on Him. Our flesh continually fights for control against the Spirit of God.

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

Conclusion:

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

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

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

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

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

Related Resources:

Are you tired of fighting a battle that doesn’t seem to quit and feel tempted to let up on your vigilance when it comes to keeping the faith? Join us for a brand new series “Holding Fast to Our Faith in Troubled Times.” The series draws lessons from Jesus’ messages to churches in Revelation 3 and will encourage you in those places where you feel despair and a lack of hope; help to revitalize the vitality in your relationship with God; and reveal steps, if needed, to help get you on the right track again.

Check out Part 1: “Stopping the Drift Into Spiritual Apathy,” Part 2: “Heeding God’s Warnings in Our Spiritual Life,”   Part 3: “The Work That Pleases God,” and Part 4: “Maintaining a Firm Faith in Difficult Circumstances” to get a better understanding of what spiritual apathy is and how to guard against the drift in your life.

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

*Updated October 16, 2019.

Carol Whitaker

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

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The Work That Pleases God

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“Use it or lose it” is a principle we can observe in our everyday life.

An athlete continually practices to maintain a certain level of performance and grow better in his sport. A musician devotes time to practicing his instrument and learning the music in order to walk on stage and play a concert. Speaking another language requires a person to not only learn a language but speak it with others in order to retain the vocabulary he has acquired and grow more fluent at speaking the language.

Spiritually, we have to develop and use the gifts God has given us (2 Timothy 1:6; 1 Timothy 4:14; 1 Peter 4:10-11), or our gifts will fall into disuse and decay. In addition, we are told in the New Testament to “make every effort” to grow spiritually and “confirm our calling and election” (2 Peter 1:5-11). So what exactly does it look like to do work that God commends?

While Jesus rebukes the church of Sardis in Revelation 3:1-5 for their apathy and lack of meaningful service, in contrast, Jesus commends the church of Philadelphia in Revelation 3:7-12 for their work. In this passage, we can find a clear picture of what it means to be a faithful steward of the gifts God has given us and engage in meaningful Christian service:

‘To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. I know your deeds. See I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars — I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. Since you have kept the command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth. I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one can take your crown. The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name.’

What can we learn from this church about faithful service?

1. Faithfulness means standing firm.

Jesus’ commendation comes to the church of Philadelphia not because they were perfect and never sinned. His commendation comes to them because they had held firm to truth and used what little they had to advance the Gospel and honor His name.

Philadelphia had limited resources and small numbers. They didn’t have the resources or reputation for works that Sardis had, and yet, they had not compromised to receive approval from the community or given up in the midst of persecution. Jesus tells the church in the passage, “I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name” (emphasis mine).

Later, in verse 10, He notes that they have kept His command to “endure patiently.” As I stated in my previous post, endurance or “holding firm” in the faith or “enduring patiently” is not merely holding our ground and sticking out the storm. Endurance is also active obedience in our difficult circumstances.

When James talks about perseverance or “patience” finishing its work in James 1:4, he refers to both endurance in the midst of trial and active obedience to God’s will. As Alexander MacLaren explains, the idea of “enduring patiently” includes the following:

The New Testament patience has in it the idea of perseverance as well as of endurance, and means, not only that we bow to the pain or the sorrow, but that nothing in sorrow, nothing in trial, nothing in temptation, nothing in antagonism, has the smallest power to divert us from doing what we know to be right. The man who will reach through the smoke of hell to lay hold of plain duty is the patient man of the New Testament.

In the King James Version of this passage and some other translations, verse 10 reads not, “Because you have endured patiently,” but, “Because thou has kept the word of my patience.” The “word of my patience” referred to here is the model given to us by Jesus of someone who does the will of God in the midst of affliction, temptation, and persecution. Just as Jesus obeyed the Father in the midst of great trouble and sorrow, the church of Philadelphia had also remained steadfast in their work — though it would have been easier to backslide and quit because of their small means and limited strength.

2. Faithfulness means walking through the doors God opens on our behalf.

Not only does Jesus encourage them with His commendation of their endurance and adherence to the Gospel, He encourages them earlier in the passage by telling them that He has placed an “open door” before them. By “open door,” we understand that He means opportunities for service.

In the passage, Jesus is identified as the One who “holds the keys of David” and “what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.” The idea given is that God continually places before us opportunities in our service to Him, as we walk in His will, and it is up to us to walk through those doors into continual advancement and blessing in His kingdom. By “advancement and blessing” I don’t mean bigger cars and a larger following necessarily, but rather, spiritual blessings such as further understanding, spiritual growth, and opportunities for service.

While we are the ones that walk into the opportunities God places before us, it is clear that God is the One who orchestrates these opportunities. As we are faithful in a little, more will be given to us and opened for us (Luke 16:10; Matthew 25:23). A successful Christian life is one where we walk in His will by staying tuned into His Spirit through daily time in prayer and the reading of His Word (John 15:5). Our growth happens not by just attempting to fulfill a list of Christian “do’s and don’ts” — but by listening to His Spirit and doing what He says.

We all have our eye on a particular door of opportunity or advancement — and that will be opened to us (if God has promised it to us) when we are faithful in walking through the smaller doors set before us. Oftentimes, we focus on the large door and despise or neglect the small doors. In order to keep what we have and walk into greater things, we have to use what we have and walk through the doors (however small) Jesus puts before us (1 Corinthians 4:2).

3. Faithfulness means guarding what we have.

Although the words of Jesus to Philadelphia are a commendation, He admonishes them not to fall into apathy, saying, “Hold on to what you have, so that no one can take your crown.” Therefore, while the church of Philadelphia had been faithful, they still can fall into the situation of Sardis if not vigilant. Therefore, they are warned to “hold on” and not lose their crown.

Although many have interpreted “crown” to mean we can lose our salvation if we are not diligent in our work, as it says elsewhere in Scripture that salvation can’t be earned, I believe that this verse is actually referring to the rewards and blessings we miss out on when we don’t walk through the door of opportunity God places before us. The crown in the passage refers to the crown of victory awarded to a winner of ancient athletic games (like the Greek Olympics). The idea here is not that someone else can steal our crown, but rather, that when we are not faithful in using what God has given us, someone else will receive the opportunity that could have been ours.

We may watch as someone else excels and advances in area that we had hoped would be opened to us. Certainly, there are times that we watch others promoted because it’s a timing issue for us or is not the area God intends for us. However, we can lose our “crowns” when we do not accept the assignments God puts before us.

In the Parable of the Talents, the “wicked servant” was the one who buried the talent the Master gave him and did not use it. The other servants were commended for investing their talents and given more because they used and increased what the Master had given them (Matthew 25:29).

Holding Fast To What God Has Committed to Us

While the message to Philadelphia is a commendation, we can still find the words of Jesus about faithful service challenging. We may be painfully aware in the reading of these words of where we may be lacking. We may further feel this way in reading both the messages to Sardis and Philadelphia, comparing Jesus’ messages to them on sloth and diligence.

Maybe affliction has caused us to get complacent. Maybe fear or doubt or unbelief has crept in — and we’re in a place where we’re so tired that we fear we can’t take another step. Yet, we must remember why Jesus speaks these words to the churches in the first place: Jesus loves these churches and He loves us. He tells them what He does so that they can make the needed changes (as in the case of Sardis) and continue in the right path (as in the case of Philadelphia).

If we skip over to the end of chapter 3, it says, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me” (v. 19, 20). He tells us the hard truths we need to hear because He loves us and wants to help us turn if we have strayed down the wrong path.

In addition, such a message to Philadelphia may make us fear that we will miss out on what God has for us and send us into a frenzy of activity or striving. Again, the work that Jesus commends is that we 1) Hold firm to His truth and actively seek to hear from Him and learn from Him through prayer and His Word 2) Act in obedience to His Spirit.

It can be very freeing to know that some work is just not our assignment. There have been times when I’ve tried to witness to someone or force a spiritual conversation without allowing the conversation to naturally open up or God to nudge me to have the conversation, and it went nowhere. The person was usually already a Christian!

Lastly, we must remember that “holding fast” isn’t an endeavor where we’re all alone trying to do it all in our own strength. God holds us! It says in Psalm 63:8: “I cling to Him; His right hand upholds me.” We do what we do in His strength and power. When we seek out His will, listen to His Spirit, and step out in obedience to His Spirit, God enables us to do His work. I love what James Vaughan in The Biblical Illustrator says on this point: “The only way to hold fast is to be held fast.”

Friend, knowing what door we want to walk through that we haven’t walked through can lead us to feeling like we have perform. We might feel an enormous amount of pressure to make things happen, but God makes doors open and close. We just have do what He asks of us. As Lysa Terkeurst says: “Big things are built one brick at a time. Victories are achieved once choice at a time. A life well lived is chosen one day at a time.”

Doing the work of God isn’t about perfection on our part — but mere willingness to listen to the Spirit of God and walk through the doors He opens on our behalf.

Related Resources:

 Are you tired of fighting a battle that doesn’t seem to quit and feel tempted to let up on your vigilance when it comes to keeping the faith? Join us for a brand new series “Holding Fast to Our Faith in Troubled Times.” The series draws lessons from Jesus’ messages to churches in Revelation 3 and will encourage you in those places where you feel despair and a lack of hope; help to revitalize the vitality in your relationship with God; and reveal steps, if needed, to help get you on the right track again.

Check out Part 1: “Stopping the Drift Into Spiritual Apathy” and Part 2: “Heeding God’s Warnings in Our Spiritual Life” to get a better understanding of what spiritual apathy is and how to guard against the drift in your life.

To listen to a discussion of this topic, check out the podcast where co-hosts Suzy Lolley and Carol Whitaker sit down at the Daily Grind Coffee Shop to chat about spiritual apathy. They walk through the points of the post but also add in a few bonus extras that you don’t get in the written version.

*Updated September 21. 2019.

Carol Whitaker

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

More Posts

Conquering Fear to Do the Will of God

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

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

However, Peter has to get past his unbelief and fear he feels in the moment, and Jesus addresses it. Similarly, we may desire to obey God, but we are dealing with crushing fear or another obstacle. How do we get past our fear when we are attempting to follow the will of God?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As a younger woman, I had compensated for my low self-worth by my achievements and appearance. I was flirtatious and cultivated friendships with males as a way to feel good about myself. Even as a high school teacher, I cultivated the worship of my students and had a male fan club in every class. Though my actions in the school were not those that constituted an inappropriate relationship or illegal activity, I knew that I had not been a Christian role model for my students. God nudged me to make some hard contacts with some people from my past, as well as my former classes and administration, and apologize for not being a Godly role model and state that I was making a turn in my Christian walk.

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

2. Spiritual transformation is a process.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

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

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

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

*Updated June 8, 2019. Original post published September 1, 2017.

Related Resources:

Have you ever felt irritated by the idea of being joyful in the midst of trials? How can certain Scripture passages advocate that we actually be happy in our most difficult circumstances? Check out our series on “Rejoicing in Trials,” including Part 1: “A Reason to Rejoice in Our Trials,” Part 2: “Serving God in the Midst of Our Trials,” and Part 3: “The Best Thing to Do When We Face Trials.”

This week concludes Season 2 of the podcast. We will take a break from recording for summer and will announce on the blog when the new season will begin. However, you can continue to look up past episodes and get caught up on those by stopping by the podcast archive.

For more on trials, check out the following resources: “When God Uses Our Trials to Teach Us: Part 1″ and “When God Uses Our Trials to Teach Us: Part 2.”

Carol Whitaker

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

More Posts

The Best Thing to Do When We Face Trials

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“Don’t turn away.”

The pastor spoke these words while I stood at the altar. Though there were a few other people standing there with me, I knew these words were for me.

I had been a Christian for as long as I could remember and had never questioned the existence of God or wanted to follow another religion, but my circumstances had been so harsh and so confusing that I wanted to walk away. I knew that there was no other place for me to go, but I wanted to escape the pain of the situation I was in. And God hadn’t provided an escape for me. I felt abandoned and angry.

Yet, I knew that God was speaking to me through the pastor’s words. I knew that God was urging me to stay. I didn’t understand what God was doing in my situation, and wouldn’t understand until some time further down the road, but I had the assurance and hope on that day when God spoke through my pastor that I needed to persevere in my season and submit to what God had for me.

When I stuck to the place God had me in that difficult time, even though I wanted to run, God revealed to me why He allowed the hardships He did. In addition, He delivered me from the situation after I learned all that I needed to learn. Though I would not want to walk through that season again, I gained valuable lessons that still influence how I walk with God today.

If We Lack Wisdom, We Can Ask God

James 1:5 (AMP) says: “If any of you lacks wisdom [to guide him through a decision or circumstance], he is to ask of [our benevolent] God, who gives to everyone generously and without rebuke or blame, and it will be given to him.” Scholars don’t agree if this verse is separate from James 1:2-4, which precedes it and discusses being joyful in the midst of trials. However, I believe that James 1:5 can both stand alone as a verse urging us to ask God for wisdom in a variety of situations or ask God, more specifically, for guidance in the midst of our trials.

James 1:2-4 says this: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” As I shared in the first two articles of this series, this verse urges us to be joyful in the midst of our trials not because our trials are good, but because of what our trials are producing in us. They produce in us perseverance and this perseverance is working in us to bring us to spiritual maturity.

With that in mind, if we look at James 1:5 as connected with the previous section on trials, we can see that the verse urges us to seek God in our trials and ask for wisdom about how to approach our circumstance. When we find ourselves in a situation that God allowed or even orchestrated, it makes sense to call on Him as He is the only One who can tell us what we need to know about the place we’re in. And yet, instead of pressing God about why we are in the circumstance we are in, we often simply try to get out of the trial without discovering why we’re going through it or what God wants us to learn from it. However, if we want perseverance to “finish its work,” it is in asking Him that we will be given the wisdom to get through — and even learn from — our trial.

In addition, as the passage tells us, we can ask confidently for wisdom, knowing that God will give us what we ask. We don’t have to fear that our failings or past mistakes will prevent us from hearing from God. As believers, we are justified because of Jesus’s work on the cross — and James tells us that God gives “generously” and “without rebuke or blame” to those who ask. If we look at the passage, as it emphasizes in The Biblical Illustrator commentary, it is “the lacking man” that is encouraged to ask! Not only does God promise wisdom for those who lack — this wisdom is for “any one” who seeks Him.

What we can conclude, then, is that God knows that we are lacking and won’t withhold from those who seek Him or be disappointed or angry with us if we don’t know what to do in our circumstance. He invites people who are desperate and in great need to call on Him! However, to receive an answer from Him, we have to want to know and be willing to ask Him for the answer (Matthew 7:7; Jeremiah 29:13).

God Gives Wisdom Because of His Grace

A pastor of mine used to say, “You don’t have to clean yourselves up to come to God.” So often, we think that we need to figure out a solution or get our situation in better order or even somehow make up for a mistake we have made or a failing we have in our spiritual life before coming to God. However, we can come to God in whatever state we are in, and He is the One who will help us to sort out the tangled pieces of our situation and make sense of the confusing events we find ourselves in.

In addition, if we have made a mistake or keep failing in an area when we are attempting to follow God, we don’t have to hide or stand back from God out of fear that He won’t answer us when we pray to Him. The verse assures us that we can approach God and ask God — and He will answer and not chide us for asking.

In the circumstance I described with the pastor where I was encouraged not to turn away, I was attempting to follow God in that situation. Part of my confusion with my circumstances is that I had obeyed Him and followed God’s direction, but it was leading to hardship and difficulty. “Why is this happening, God?” I wanted to know.

As it turns out, though I was following God, I had skipped some important steps He had directed me towards, and I was reaping in that season from the bad choices I had sown in another season. And yet, God graciously led me to understand what He was doing in me during that time and also what I needed to be doing to get out of that hard situation. I started making some phone calls and getting right some areas where I had failed.

All of these actions that God directed led me to understand some important truths about myself. I don’t really know why God had me go through such a painful route to learn these truths, but the season ended up being a gift. In fact, I even had a dream during that time where my sister was a postmaster and delivered a package to a cantankerous lady who refused to receive the gift delivered because it wasn’t delivered to her in the way she wanted it to be delivered.

God told me that I was the lady in the dream. I wanted His gifts, but I didn’t like the package it arrived in. Yet, that was the way God chose to teach me — and I would not have received the lessons I learned from that time if I had resisted God’s methods.

Perhaps you, at this time, find yourself in a baffling and difficult situation. You might feel that God is punishing you or perhaps you’ve been too angry to approach God about what is going on. However, while God will discipline us out of His love for us to bring us to wholeness and usefulness in His kingdom, He does not punish us for our wrongdoing. Our punishment has been taken away by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Certainly, if we know of a sin area in our life that we haven’t confessed, we can do that, knowing God is faithful to forgive us (John 1:9).

However, a lot of times, we aren’t even aware of our sin and need God to help to see our situation clearly, or may be in a situation that is not even caused by our own choices. In any case, God is waiting to answer when we call. I love the story of Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, told in Mark 10:46-52. When he heard Jesus was passing by, he called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mark 10:47). Others rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but Jesus, upon hearing him, stopped and called the man to Him and restored his sight.

Jesus healed the man — and I marvel at that miracle in the story, but I also marvel that Jesus stopped for this man and paused on His way simply because the man called for Him. It is the same with us. As James 1:6 concludes, we will receive the answer we seek as long as we believe and do not doubt that God will indeed answer — because He promises to give wisdom to those who ask. Not because we somehow deserve it, but because He is gracious and longs to show us mercy.

Related Resources:

Have you ever felt irritated by the idea of being joyful in the midst of trials? How can certain Scripture passages advocate that we actually be happy in our most difficult circumstances? This is the second episode in a brand new series on trials and the reason we can rejoice in the midst of hard circumstances. Check out Part 1: “A Reason to Rejoice in Our Trials” and Part 2: “Serving God in the Midst of Our Trials.”

Next week, we’ll conclude Season 2 of the podcast and we’ll take a break from new episodes over the summer. However, you can continue to look up past episodes and get caught up on those by stopping by the podcast archive.

For more on trials, check out the following resources: “When God Uses Our Trials to Teach Us: Part 1″ and “When God Uses Our Trials to Teach Us: Part 2.”

 

Carol Whitaker

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

More Posts

Serving God in the Midst of Our Trials

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Have you ever said, “Not today, Lord. I am too stressed, tired, or worried to do anything for you today?”

There have been days or seasons when I felt too pressured or sorrowful to want to serve God. Certainly, there are seasons where we need to grieve, and I am not advocating we ignore our feelings or not take needed rest at times. But what I am saying is that serving God includes serving Him on days when we feel weighed down by circumstances or fatigued or troubled.

Our Perseverance in Trials Grows Us Spiritually

James 1:2-4 says this: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

In Part 1 of this series, we looked at the idea of viewing our trials as joyful not because the trials in and of themselves cause us joy; we view them as joyful because of the perseverance they produce in us. However, this perseverance is not the end goal of our trials. In fact, as verse 4 tells us, this perseverance is that which must be allowed to “finish its work.” As this wording suggests, there is a step beyond perseverance that is being worked out as we endure through our trials: we grow spiritually and become “mature and complete, lacking nothing.”

This idea of “mature and complete” here means whole in every part, that is that there is nothing lacking to complete our character. As theologian Albert Barnes explains in regards to the passage, we may have elements of good character, but in order for us to be complete, we have to allow what God is developing in us to be fully carried out. Therefore, spiritual wholeness is becoming what God intends for us to be and living in that reality and all that goes along with that — being conformed to the image of Christ.

So, how do we allow perseverance to “finish its work” and accomplish in us what is needed for us to be spiritually mature? By staying the course and not allowing our trials to take us off course. However, this passage doesn’t just refer to staying the course by a mere endurance of trials — hunkering down and waiting until the trials pass. The perseverance or patience mentioned refers also to action in the midst of trial. We continue in active obedience to God in the midst of our suffering and do not allow the character being developed within us to be, as Barnes explains, “hindered” by rebellion or opposition to the will of God.

Paul says in Acts 20:24 (NKJV), “But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” He certainly had every reason to get tired, discouraged, or depressed when encountering persecution, imprisonment, and shipwrecks. Instead, he entrusted Himself to God so fully that he counted his adverse circumstances as those that would further help to advance the Gospel (Philippians 1:12). Similarly, in Matthew 24:13, Jesus warns His disciples about the trials that believers will experience in the end times, but urges them to persevere to the end. Likewise, Luke 21:19 says: “Stand firm, and you will win life.”

We may say, “Lord, how can you expect me to serve you right now? I have these problems going on with family members and this issues with my boss at the moment and these projects to finish and this ongoing health scare.” And yet, even in our most pressing times, God wants to use us — and sharing with others in our pain can help us to get through our own pain. So, how is it that we can help others when our own hearts are breaking?

1. We comfort others with the comfort we ourselves have received.

The only reason we are able to minister to others is because we are received from Him — and it is that same comfort that we give to others (2 Corinthians 1:4). My 3-year-old cares for her dolls and stuffed animals with such love. I never told her how to rock them or wrap them in blankets or feed them with a spoon. How did she know to do all these things? She simply gives them what she has been receiving from us as parents. She knows what to do because it has already been modeled and given to her. In the same way, we have something to give others because of what we have received from God.

2. We are renewed when we help others.

God isn’t a cruel taskmaster desiring to sap our strength and make us work ourselves down to the bone. We need rest. We need moments to process emotions. We need moments to grieve. Yet, when we work to do His will and listen to His Spirit, we ourselves are renewed (Proverbs 11:25). Therefore, when we feel discouraged and worn out and don’t feel like telling our story or sharing Christ with someone else, we can know that when we step out to do what He asks, He gives us strength to meet the task and renews us in the process. He fills us with more strength the moment we step out to do His will.

There is a difference between striving — generating our own work to do in our own strength — and the work we do when we abide and rest in Him. The work that will give us continued rest in our souls is that which we do in obedience to Him (Matthew 11:28-30).

3. We trust that God will take care of our kingdom when we take care of His.

For many of us, we want to serve, but we are overwhelmed by the demands of our children, work, spouses, friends, family, etc. We worry about normal “life stuff”: fixing what breaks around the house, making appointments, picking up the kids from school, helping the kids with homework, figuring out what to make for dinner, and responding to emails. And yet, the Bible says when we make Him and the work He gives us a priority, He will help us take care of our kingdom (Matthew 6:33). We will have the time, strength, and resources to finish the tasks we need to in relation to our families, jobs, and homes.

So often, we only look at the negative things that trials bring: pain, inconvenience, and stress. And yet, trials can usher good things in as well. A person who has suffered much is the kind of person that can sympathize with another suffering person. If someone who has never had something bad happen to him or ever experienced pain attempts to give me advice or point to a course while I am in a trial, I am probably not even going to take anything this person says seriously or be all that comforted. However, I am going to listen to someone who has gone through much suffering and can sympathize with me in the midst of my own suffering.

If we don’t resist the suffering God allows or try to run — and thus become hardened by our trials – our trials will make us kinder, more compassionate, and better equipped to minister. Jesus ministered to others even though He was a “man or sorrows” (Isaiah 53:3). He was misunderstood by His family and community, laughed at by religious officials, and betrayed by His closest friends (John 7:5; Matthew 8:34; Mark 6:3; Luke 4:29; John 1:11), but He did not allow His pain to prevent Him from doing His Father’s will.

Our Sorrows Make Us Better Fit to Serve

An older woman in our church suffered the loss of her son and daughter — both in tragic ways. Her son died alone in his apartment of health complications — and no one even knew or found him until several days later. It is possible that he could have lived had he gotten immediate medical treatment. Her daughter was murdered by an enraged boyfriend when she told him that she was leaving. On top of that, this woman suffers from chronic health problems that make each day difficult to endure.

She could easily say, “Lord, what can I do for you? I am a broken-hearted mom with so much pain in my body. What can I do for you?” Yet this woman works as a volunteer in hospitality at our church. Once the pain in her body became so bad that she could no longer stand and greet visitors at the door, she took a different job and now calls newcomers after they visit to follow up with them and thank them for coming. She also actively searches for people to share her story with when she is out in the community and has given talks to domestic violence victims. Clearly, she hasn’t allowed her pain to prevent her from doing the work of God. Rather, she serves Him in the midst of her pain.

Trials can break us or help to mold us into the likeness of Jesus. We can simply bear up under our problems, or we can, like Jesus, continue on our course — steady and fixed — allowing our sorrows to make us better fit to serve in His kingdom.

Editor’s Note: The hardships referred to that we need to endure do not refer to emotional or physical abuse. Please seek out the help of a pastor or Christian counselor if you are in an abusive relationship.

Related Resources:

Have you ever felt irritated by the idea of being joyful in the midst of trials? How can certain Scripture passages advocate that we actually be happy in our most difficult circumstances? This is the second episode in a brand new series on trials and the reason we can rejoice in the midst of hard circumstances. Check out Part 1: “A Reason to Rejoice in Our Trials.”

Podcast Notes and Corrections:

1. This was not included in the article, but the following quote from Albert Barnes’ commentary on James 1:2-4 was given in the podcast:

Let it [perseverance] be fairly developed; let it produce its appropriate effects without being hindered. Let it not be obstructed in its fair influence on the soul by murmerings, complaining, or rebellion. Patience under trials is fitted to produce important effects on the soul, and we are not to hinder them in any manner by a perverse spirit, or by opposition to the will of God. Every one who is afflicted should desire that the fair effects of affliction should be produced on his mind, or that the fair effects of affliction should be produced in his soul precisely the results which his trials are adapted to accomplish.

There may be elements of good character; there may be sound principles, but those principles may not be fully carried out so as to show what they are. Afflictions, perhaps more than anything else, will do this, and we should therefore allow them to do all that they are adapted to do in developing what is good in us. The idea here is that it is desirable not only to have the elements or principles of piety in our soul, but to have them fairly carried out, so as to show what is their real tendency and value.

2. The “we comfort others with the comfort we ourselves have received” verse is 2 Corinthians 1:4, rather than the reference given in the podcast.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carol Whitaker

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

More Posts

A Reason To Rejoice in Our Trials

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

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

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

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

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

James 1:2-4 says: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

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

How We Should View Our Trials

1. Our trials provide a reason to rejoice.

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

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

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

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

2. Our trials produce perseverance.

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

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

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

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

How Our Trials Develop Perseverance in Us

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

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

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

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

Why Our Trials Will Be Worth It

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Resources:

Have you ever felt irritated by the idea of being joyful in the midst of trials? How can certain Scripture passages advocate that we actually be happy in our most difficult circumstances? This is the first episode in a brand new series on trials and the reason we can rejoice in the midst of hard circumstances. Check back in the following weeks for more on getting through our trials.

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

*Updated and article uploaded May 22, 2019.

Carol Whitaker

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

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Growing in Our God-Given Calling

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. We have to trust the plan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Staying Committed to Our Calling Means Choosing Discomfort

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Resources:

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

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

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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