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


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

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

The Model of Faith: Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Jesus Perfects the Faith

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

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

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

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

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

The Freedom We Have In the New Covenant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walking With Jesus Eases Our Guilt and Condemnation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Resources:

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

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

Podcast Notes and Corrections:

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

*Updated November 18, 2018.

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Jesus Helps Us Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Resources:

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

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

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

*Updated November 11, 2018.

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not Falling Away in Our Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Running the Race of Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Resources:

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

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

Podcast Notes and Corrections:

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

 

 

 

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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4 Things That Can Derail Us in Our Christian Walk

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

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

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

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

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

 1. Lack of visible results.

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

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

2. The stress of everyday life.

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

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

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

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

3. Internal fears and doubts.

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

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

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

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

4. Persecution by others.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

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

Related Resources:

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

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

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

*Updated October 29, 2018.

Carol Whitaker

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

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When God Uses Our Trials to Teach Us: Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

1. God afflicts us because of His faithfulness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

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

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

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

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

Related Resources:

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

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

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

Podcast Notes and Corrections:

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

Carol Whitaker

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

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When God Uses Our Trials to Teach Us: Part 1

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I pray over the topics I write about for each month, and I felt I needed to look further into “trials” for October, or the troubles and afflictions we face in life. I wasn’t sure what direction I should go with the subject, so I decided to start by looking up the definition of “trials” in a Bible dictionary and go from there. However, the funny thing is that when I looked up “trials” in the Bible dictionary, I found a short statement about judicial trials (as in a judge and a person who is convicted of a crime!), rather than the kind of trials I was thinking of.

So I changed up my search tactic and instead looked under “affliction.” And, the heading yielded me a better result. A definite direction began to unfold as I read through the heading and also came across a passage in my notes (which I’ve shared below).

As I’ve written before about pain and the troubles we encounter in this life, I wasn’t entirely naïve on what the Bible says about the topic. We can have afflictions in this life because we live in a fallen world or as consequences for our sin. In addition, the Bible talks about evil spirits and Satan afflicting us. However, there is another reason that we can suffer trials in our life, and that is because God allows them or even orchestrates them for our instruction.

This, of course, is not a popular idea. We have a hard time wrapping our heads around the idea that God allows certain situations and suffering for our instruction. However, if you press in for a moment with me, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the beauty of this idea and the goodness of a God who loves us so much that He teaches us and draws us back to Himself when we stray.

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

A few ideas we can take away:

1. Affliction teaches us God’s lessons.

The psalmist notes that it was beneficial and good that he was afflicted. While we generally associate affliction with the negative, the writer of this psalm does the opposite and says that affliction can be good — not that the trying events themselves are good, but the outcome of the events. Hebrews 12:11 says it a different way, saying, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” God orchestrates at times just the right heat in our lives to bring about a desired result: that we might learn His decrees.

Affliction is the teacher that teaches us through our experiences what God wants us to learn. Along these same lines, in the Treasury of David Commentary it says this: “Very little is to be learned without affliction. If we would be scholars we must be sufferers. As the Latins say, ‘Experientia docet’, experience teaches. There is no royal road to learning the royal statues; God’s commands are best read by eyes wet with tears.”

It is one thing to read about an idea in a book, but another thing entirely to learn it through experience. In fact, the New Testament consistently uses the word “know,” in verses such as John 8:32, that translates in the Greek as “ginosko,” or knowledge through personal experience. To truly understand God’s commands, we can’t just read about them. God allows us to understand these precepts through our experiences as believers, and the lessons He teaches are often though personal pain and difficult circumstances. I have heard it say that God’s lessons come in hard packages.

I had my own experience with this when I was leaving my job to go a new direction, and I tried to bypass a few tasks that God wanted me to do. I ignored those nudges and focused instead on what I wanted to do — which was get into music. Yes, God had promised me that He was going to use me in music, but the way He was leading didn’t look like the right way to go. I didn’t see ignoring his small nudges as that big of a deal. But He did!

In response to my refusal to do what He said, He orchestrated some very tough situations in my life that were so difficult and humiliating that I literally spent every Sunday weeping at the altar, asking Him in desperation to take the pain away. He did take me out of that situation when I chose to go the way He wanted me to go and learned that I had to trust Him, rather than in my own strength and plans. I also learned during that time that God wanted me to remove an addiction from my life that I didn’t even know I had! (Check out the podcast episode at the top of this post to hear the story.)

2. Affliction encourages us to obey in future situations.

Not only does affliction teach us God’s ways, affliction encourages us to obey. As in the story I shared, the tough situation I went through not only taught me an important lesson in the moment about trust, but is one that encouraged me to make it a point to obey Him right away, rather than wait for affliction to teach me.

I view Scripture now as the lifeline it is and try to learn as much as I can and use Scriptural knowledge to guide my life so that I can avoid learning through God’s discipline of me. Earlier in Psalms 119:67, the same writer says, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word.” In other words, his past afflictions served to motivate him to stay on the straight and narrow because he remembered his past painful experiences that had come about because of his choices and did not want to repeat those.

Certainly, we can’t avoid every challenging circumstance with our obedience. And we will fail at times even when we try to get it right. We sometimes will unknowingly bring consequences in our lives with our actions or we will simply face problems because of the world we live in. Or, God might allow trials not because of anything we have done but for our strengthening and the building of our faith. In addition, we may actually face troubles because others see our faith and persecute us for it. However, if we have been taught a certain lesson in an area (say, trust), we can learn the lesson and not fall into the same trap of self-reliance in the future.

When I was preparing to be a teacher, I had to observe at a middle school. In my observation of a classroom one week, I observed a mother who followed her son around for a few days at school. She sat behind him in class, walked behind him in the hall, and sat near him at lunch. When I asked about this mother, the teacher told me the boy’s mama was coming to school for a few days to help inspire her wayward son to clean his act up.

This mama loved her son so much she was willing to let him got through some humiliation in order to help him make the choices he needed to make to turn away from his bad attitude and laziness. You better believe that this boy learned his lesson. And whenever he felt tempted to slide back into his former habits, he remembered the sting of his mama following him around and decided against it.

That’s what God does with us: He lets us fall into some challenging circumstances when we choose to go our own way, but He doesn’t leave us there. He uses those experiences, if we let Him, to give us a desire and zeal to know His Word and His precepts — so that we don’t fall into those same ones again because of our ignorance.

Conclusion:

The trials we go through not only teach us and encourage us to learn God’s Word, they also make us more like Christ if we let them do their work. Our natural reaction is often to get so angry at what we’re going through that we don’t press into what God would have us learn, but afflictions rub against our hard edges and soften us into a more beautiful version of ourselves.

I read about this in a devotional once, but there is a beach in California called Pebble Beach that has the most beautiful polished stones. People flock there to collect the rocks. The reason the rocks are so polished there is because they are exposed to harsh waves. Nearby, in a quiet cove, people do not go to gather the rocks because the cove has protected the rocks there so that they are rough and less beautiful — as they have never had the chance to be worn down by the pounding surf.

If we have been walking with Christ awhile, we can look back and see those places in our lives that were hard in the moment but yielded fruit — either because we learned an important spiritual lesson through our trial, we came out of the trial with more compassion and love for others, or we experienced a closeness to Jesus that we never had before because we turned to Him in the midst of it.

Stay tuned to next week’s post and podcast episode as we dive into Part 2 to conclude this article. We will talk about how we can trust the faithfulness of God in our trials and what we can do when we’re in a challenging circumstance.

 Afflictions are among the most precious means of grace. They are entirely under the direction of God. They may be endlessly varied, and adapted to the case of every individual … Among those things for which good men have most occasion for thankfulness are afflictions; and when we lie down on the bed of death, and look over life and the divine dealings with us through life, as the glories of heaven are about to open upon us, we shall feel that among the chiefest mercies of God are those dealings of his holy hand, trying at the time, which kept us from going astray, or which recalled us when we had wandered from him — and ‘that in our life, now closing, there has not been one trial too much.’ ”– Albert Barnes, theologian and minister

” ‘I had never known,’ said Martin Luther’s wife, ‘what such and such things meant, in such and such psalms, such complaints and workings of spirit; I had never understood the practice of Christian duties, had not God brought me under some affliction.’ It is very true that God’s rod is as the schoolmaster’s pointer to the child, pointing out the letter, that he may the better take notice of it; thus he points out to us many good lessons which we should never otherwise have learned.” — From John Spencer’s “Things New and Old,” qtd. in The Treasury of David

Related Resources:

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

Want to hear your other articles in podcast form? Check out our podcast archive for all of our episodes.

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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Making a Change to Receive God’s Promises

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Confession time: Lately, I’ve fallen into a pattern of getting to church late. Each Sunday involves a similar sequence: I leave too many tasks to do in not enough time. With only minutes to go before we need to get out the door, I realize one of my kids still needs to be dressed, the diaper bag for my 2-year-old isn’t packed, and I still need to put makeup on. Getting five people out the door takes intentional planning: bathing my kids and laying out their clothes the night before, getting up early to ensure the kids are fed on time, and cutting out unnecessary activities.

These are not difficult habits to cultivate, and I was consistent about getting us to church on time when I only had two little ones, but with the birth of my third one, I haven’t been as disciplined about laying the necessary groundwork to get us out the door in a timely manner. In order for us to arrive at church on time, I am going to have to make a change in my habits.

A Message Asking for a Change

In Zechariah 9, we see the Jews in a situation where they, too, are going to have to make a few changes to get a desired result in their lives, but are reluctant to do so. Previously held captive by the Babylonians and exiled from their land, the Jews are now free to go back to their homeland. While some Jews have returned to Israel, some linger behind in Babylon. Zechariah’s message encourages both groups to return to Jerusalem and begin the work of rebuilding Jerusalem and the temple:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double. (vv. 9-12, ESV, emphasis mine)

As we can see from the passage, the Jews are promised incredible protection and blessings if they return. Why, then, haven’t they done so? Quite simply, rebuilding will require hard work. Israel is still under Persian rule and foreigners have moved into the land in the absence of the Jews. In addition, the Jews face threats from surrounding enemies. The very journey back to Jerusalem will be difficult. Even as the Jews long for their land and a share in the blessings God promises to pour on Israel, they are established in the homes and businesses they had built in Babylon during their exile.

And, undeniably, according to Robert Tuck in the Biblical Illustrator, they may have had a false sense of security where they were, saying, “Some day, we will rebuild, but not now.” In other words, they aren’t refusing the call to help rebuild, but putting off the steps needed to help out their neighbors, pushing the day of return off into a distant day that they could look to longingly, but not make a reality.

Why We Can Have Hope in Our Circumstance

Though Zechariah 9 records words spoken to a group of people long ago, I can see myself in the Jews’ reactions. As the Bible says, all Scripture is useful for our instruction (2 Timothy 3:16), and his words are still so applicable for us today.

While we may not be able to relate to being held captive in a foreign country, we can all relate to feeling captive by our circumstances either because of life choices we have made or because of the choices that others have made for us. We may know how we might improve or even get out of our situation; however, like the Jews here, we have grown comfortable in our situation — however imprisoning — and so we put our hope in another day, saying, “Some day I will make a change. Some day I will get a handle on this. Some day I will overcome this.”

And yet, Zechariah challenges this kind of complacency with the words: “Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope” (v. 12). The wording of this phrase is so odd and one I had to really meditate on and pray about in order to uncover the meaning. How exactly is one a prisoner of hope? Doesn’t hope always mean something positive? Why is “hope” paired in this way with the word “prisoner,” which has negative connotations?

A possible interpretation is that the prisoners have hope in front of them. Certainly, many translations read this way. If we look at the preceding verse, it says, “I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit.” The pit of verse 11 is contrasted with the stronghold mentioned in verse 12. However, it’s a little baffling because in the very next verse, we see that these very prisoners that have been freed are still identified as prisoners, but differently, as “prisoners of hope.” How can a person be freed and still be identified as a prisoner?

To answer this question, it helps to understand that during this time period prisoners were often left in large pits dug in the ground. They were either left to die, without food and water, or they were simply left for a period of time as a particular punishment. Just as the Jews in the passage have been freed from the “waterless pit” of Babylon and have the promise of a restored Jerusalem, they still have the interesting paradox of being “free and having hope,” but still captive to their oppressive circumstances and wrong dependencies.

And how similar is this to the experience we have as Christians. We have been freed from the “pit” of sin by the blood of Christ when we receive Christ into our lives as our Lord and Savior, and yet, we have these areas in our lives where we need God’s sanctifying work.

As we walk with Christ, He reveals habits and patterns of sin that we need to let go of, and He invites us to partner with Him to get rid of that which isn’t holy in our lives and become more Christ-like. We might start out the race with enthusiasm, but then want to quit when we encounter obstacles. However, we have to continue running the race He has set out for us to usher in God’s blessings, which includes leaving behind the sin that so easily entangles (Hebrews 12:1).

In addition, we live in a world that is hostile to Christian ideas. To live the Christian walk means to live counter-culturally — which, quite often, will leave us feeling debilitated, exhausted, and defeated. We might have the best of intentions about living a God-honoring life but then get overwhelmed by the sheer difficulty of it and let ourselves slip.

Even though we know where we are is not God’s best for us and we haven’t yet attained the promises God has for us, we settle for what’s easier instead of pushing through the difficulty to get to the better God would have for us.

Christ As Our Ultimate Hope

Where, then, can we find hope we need to make the necessary changes God reveals to us? We should note that in this passage, though the Jews are asked to help rebuild Jerusalem and the temple, their hope isn’t in a restored Israel. Their hope is in the coming of Christ. While Zechariah urges the Jews of his time to “Return,” his invitation calls them to the stronghold of Christ.

Similarly, we have the same invitation. Wherever we find ourselves, we are not left alone to battle our circumstances or conquer the sin in our life alone. We are offered a place of safety in the midst of our struggles. Even if we have slowly gotten distracted and veered off the path God has for us or perhaps left the path with our own willful disobedience, we have the call of Jesus and a stronghold to which we can flee.

Proverbs 18:10 tells us the name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it are safe. Similarly, David writes in the Psalms that God lifted his feet from the miry clay and put his feet on a rock (Psalm 40:2). Just as the Jews are graciously offered a chance to return and rebuild the city that was destroyed because of their rebellion against God, we have the same offer.

However, it won’t be without work or a fight, but the efforts we make to partner with God in His plan for our life, however challenging, will not be in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58). He who began a good work in us will complete it (Philippians 1:6).

Can you think of choices that have led you off track? Do you feel far away from God and His purposes for life? It’s not too late to get on track! Let’s pray: Dear God, we aren’t where we want to be. We have fallen short of your perfect plan for our life and we have found ourselves in challenging circumstances because of our own choices. But you are a God who won’t leave us alone and will restore and redeem those who turn back to you and call on your name. Lord, forgive us for the ways we have fallen short. Give us a clear vision of the steps we can take to get on track and help give us the resolve to rededicate our efforts for you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Related Resources:

Want to learn more about stepping out in radical faith to usher in the promises and blessings of God? Check out this article on how our faith-filled steps move us forward, or this one on God’s blessings.

Would you like to check out other articles, but don’t have time to read them? Check out our podcast archive and listen to co-hosts Suzy Lolley and Carol Whitaker talk through the points of some of our articles in podcast form.

*Updated September 23, 2018

 

 

 

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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Embracing Small Moments of Ministry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 Ways We Can Integrate Ministry Into Our Everyday

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

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

2. We change ourselves when we help others.

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

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

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

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

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

Suzy Lolley

Suzy Lolley

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

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Endurance in the Christian Walk to Finish Your Race

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

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

To Endure in Our Calling Requires a Continual Commitment

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

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

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

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

To Endure We Must Also Stay Fixed on Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

Why must I weep when others sing?

“To test the deeps of suffering.”

Why must I work while others rest?

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

Why must I lose while others gain?

“To understand defeat’s sharp pain.”

Why must this lot of life be mine

When that which fairer seems is thine?

“Because God knows what plans for me

Shall blossom in eternity.”

– from Streams in the Desert

Related Bible Verses:

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

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

Podcast Corrections:

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

 

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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Why Your Failure Isn’t Final

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

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

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

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

Peter: A Disciple Who Was Given a Second Chance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. God wants us in our failure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Resources:

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

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

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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