Navigating Suffering When We Want to Understand

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

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

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

Lessons from Job When We Don’t Understand

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

Job 42:2-6 says this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Affliction teaches us self-awareness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

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

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

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

Related Resources:

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

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

*Revised and updated February 23, 2020.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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Joy in the Midst of Trials

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

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

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

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

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

What can we learn from this passage?

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Trials prove the genuineness of our faith.

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

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

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

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

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

3. Trials purify our faith.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

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

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

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

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

Related Resources:

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

*Updated February 11, 2020.

Carol Whitaker

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

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Maintaining a Firm Faith in Difficult Circumstances

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“This world is shaking, but we will not be shaken / My heart is breaking / but it’s not broken yet,” a popular worship song says.

All of us can attest to living in a world that is shaking us and may even be breaking our heart. Even if we’ve been fortunate not to have tragic circumstances in our lives at the moment, we only need turn on the news or talk to friends to hear about appalling situations causing havoc in people’s lives. In fact, this week as I’m writing this, a few headlines are as follows … Category 5 hurricane hitting the Bahamas … man pulled over at traffic stop goes on rampage killing 7 and injuring 22 … man imprisoned for putting his baby in the freezer.

Many of us have circumstances we’re walking through that are shaking us … breaking us … and yet, how do we live in a world that is broken and walk through circumstances that devastate us without shaking us and breaking our hearts beyond repair?

Revelation 3:8-12 says this:

‘I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars — I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. Since you have kept the command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth. I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one can take your crown. The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name.’

The church of Philadelphia knew about being “shaken.” They lived in an area prone to earthquakes and volcanic activity — while the soil was rich and fertile for planting, it made day-to-day life unsettling and scary. Residents never knew when another earthquake would hit, and yet, this church that was situated in a place notorious for its unstable ground and tremors that would send city dwellers running for safety was also known for its steadfastness and faithfulness.

In looking closely at the church of Philadelphia and Jesus’ message to them, we see in such a vivid way what it looks like to do God’s will even when life is a little shakier than we planned.

What can we learn from this passage to help us in our own time of trial?

1. We must build our lives on the firmest foundation of all.

The most obvious truth that we can observe is that the church makes their place of stability the truths of Christ rather than any worldly possession. Jesus tells them that they have “kept [His] word and have not denied [His] name.” They have prioritized serving Him and holding fast to His truths and being held by these when times have been tough.

While they live in the world and must deal with the challenges that everyone else in the city faces, they have a hope that anchors them in the midst of their daily trials that helps them to rise above earthly circumstances and ground themselves in truths that are stable and unchanging. Jesus tells us in John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Trouble can be expected, but we can take heart when we draw strength from a firm foundation that can never be moved.

2. When we walk with Jesus, we will be victorious in our difficult situations.

Within the passage is another idea that their stability and steadfastness will be that which even their enemies take note of. Verse 9 says, “I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars — I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you.”

In other words, the turmoil in their lives wasn’t merely due to their physical landscape. They had enemies that were shaking things up for them. For Philadelphia, these were most likely Jews persecuting them that claimed to know the truth but were blind to the truths of the Gospel. In our own lives, this could be people claiming to be believers that are not actually following God’s commandments.

Jesus says that this church will be vindicated in that even their enemies will “fall at their feet and acknowledge that [Jesus has] loved them.” This could mean several things, but we can take away from this that if God is calling us to walk through a tough season or we are in the midst of one, when we persevere, our enemies will not be victorious over us and may eventually acknowledge that we belong to God (whereas before they may have mocked and opposed us). In addition, they may even come to Christ when they see how we navigate our tough situations with calm and steadfastness, as we rely on Christ.

The natural instinct in all of us in the midst of difficult situations is to instantly get out of those situations, but sometimes, God will urge us to stay in the difficulty and we have no idea why. We don’t feel release from our current job, church, or ministry — even though we have been mistreated. We may say, “God, why do I have to stay?” He may be working out in others repentance and salvation. We are encouraged here to persevere and see what God can do in the midst of our tough situation.

3. When we walk with Jesus, we receive protection and special aid in the midst of our trials (as well as other promises).

Not only will Philadelphia see their enemies bow at their feet, they also are promised to be kept from “the hour of trial” that is coming to “test the inhabitants of the earth.” We don’t know what trial Jesus is referring to, but some circumstance is coming in their lives would be that which would cause them trouble. While it is not entirely clear what is meant by being “kept out of trial,” this could mean that God would keep them out of the trial or could simply mean that God would give them special help and grace in the midst of their trial.

Secondly, they are promised that they will be “pillars in the house of God” and “God will write His name on them.” As the city of Philadelphia was prone to earthquakes, it is possible that the image of pillar is given as a contrast. To these people that constantly feared the shaking of the ground and had great uncertainty in their lives, they had the promise of contributing to God’s kingdom in a way that could not be shaken or taken away.

Similarly, we have the same promise that what we are building in God’s kingdom is that of stability and permanence. While our earthly projects may crumble, we are working on that which has eternal value when it comes to God’s kingdom — the results of which will always stand. We aren’t mere observers or receivers of God’s works. We are co-workers: we work with God as we yield to His plan for our lives, and He works through us to accomplish His will. In doing so, we become part of what God is building (1 Corinthians 3:9; Philippians 2:13).

We “like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). On us, God writes His name. He gives us a place and position within His kingdom that is ours alone — and is one we can’t manufacture ourselves.

In addition, we are further reassured with the idea that “never again will [we] leave it.” While we may be in great pain in our current circumstances, we can look forward to a time when we enter eternity and never again face hardship, loss, instability, pain, or persecution. Heaven awaits believers and provides us a hope to cling to on our worst days when we anxiously long for a resolution of the conflicts and pain that grip us here. Theologian Albert Barnes says on this, “Happy moment I when, emerging from a world of danger and of doubt, the soul shall settle down into the calmness and peace of that state where there is the assurance of God himself that the world of bliss is to be its eternal abode!”

Conclusion:

Friend, whatever situation we’re walking through that may be breaking our heart or shaking us to the core is not too big for God. We have an unshakeable God who is immoveable, steadfast, and unchanging. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. While He doesn’t always change situations to give us the outcome we want, He walks through them with us and gives us His strength, comfort, wisdom, and encouragement to make it through.

This should give us great confidence to continue walking through our hardship knowing that Jesus is with us helping us every step of the way.

Related Resources:

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

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

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

Podcast Notes and Corrections:

Correction: Update: The man in shooting spree cited at beginning of podcast killed 7 and injured 22.

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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A Reason To Rejoice in Our Trials

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How We Should View Our Trials

1. Our trials provide a reason to rejoice.

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

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

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

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

2. Our trials produce perseverance.

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

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

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

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

How Our Trials Develop Perseverance in Us

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

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

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

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

Why Our Trials Will Be Worth It

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Resources:

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

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

*Updated and article uploaded May 22, 2019.

Carol Whitaker

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

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How God Helps Us Overcome Obstacles

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

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

How God Can Turn Our Obstacles Into Roads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How We Scale Our Mountains

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What It Means to Scale Our Mountains

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Resources:

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

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

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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Suffering That Comes for Doing God’s Will

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

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

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

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

When Doing God’s Will Leads to Suffering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. We will suffer for doing His will.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Bible Verses:

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

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

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

 

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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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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Helping Others in the Midst of Your Pain

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An ultrasound when you’re not pregnant has to be just about the saddest thing ever.

That was my thought as I walked into my doctor’s office a week after a devastating miscarriage. I was scheduled for a follow-up ultrasound to check on me after a surgery at the hospital the week before.

I could visualize it now: my empty uterus blown up on the screen, its rounded walls encircling life no longer. No comforting blinking blip of a baby’s heartbeat — just a yawning expanse of gray fuzz where a fetus had been just a few weeks earlier.

To make matters worse, I was not feeling great. I had a racing heartbeat and low iron levels. Walking from the car up to the office was an effort for me. I felt sorry for myself, and I was prepared for others to feel sorry for me too. I figured God had arranged a motherly ultrasound tech to do the ultrasound, perhaps a kind nurse to minister to me in my time of brokenness.

But God had other plans.

Telling Our Story Helps Others Find Healing

The ultrasound tech who found me in the waiting room was not the maternal tech I was hoping for. She was younger than me, thin. There was a vulnerability about her. Although she gave me instructions in a most professional way about what clothes to remove and where to position myself on the table, I felt a sensitivity immediately in my spirit, a prick.

We chatted pleasantly for a few minutes. As pleasant as a conversation about a lost baby can be. Yes, I did just lose my baby at 11 1/2 weeks. Yes, I was supposed to have my 12 week ultrasound today, but instead they changed it to my post-miscarriage ultrasound. No, this was not my first pregnancy. The conversation then took a rather innocent turn. I had mistakenly thought that my ultrasound was going to be after my doctor exam (and urine sample) and had filled up on water. So, I commented on how excruciating it can be to have an ultrasound with a full bladder. She began to relate a story to me of an ultrasound she had had recently where she was in intense discomfort.

I assumed she had children and asked how many she had. She quickly explained that she had no children but had actually had an ultrasound to look at a cyst on her uterus that she had been having problems with for the past few years. The moment that she said “cyst” a word dropped into my brain, and I tried to shake it off, but it came again. Unforgiveness. She continued to talk and the word came again. Unforgiveness. It drowned out all other sounds and kept interrupting my thoughts like an incoming message chime in an email.

As much as I would like to say that I am a wonderful Christian and that I wanted to speak to this woman and tell her about my own past struggles with unforgiveness and the physical problems it caused me, I really didn’t. However, I also know that God gives me very specific words for people at extremely inconvenient times, and when I ignore His assignments I always regret it. Feeling a thin film of sweat develop on my brow, I made my way off the table and into the bathroom to get the rest of my clothes on. God, do you want me to tell her that her condition may be caused by unforgiveness in a relationship? I only heard silence and the efficient hum of the ultrasound tech’s movements on the other side of the door.

I already knew the answer.

In the least awkward way possible, I opened the door, smiled at the woman and said to her, “I am not a medical professional, and this may not even be for you, but when you were talking about cysts a moment ago, I got a word in my mind for you.” I then proceeded to tell her I was a Christian and how my decision to hold onto hatred for a friend after she had hurt me had caused a problem with bleeding.

The issue continued for over a month until I felt convicted and apologized to my friend. The very day I forgave her and sent her an apology email the problem went away. I told the ultrasound tech that sometimes we just get physical problems (we live in a fallen world and experience illness as a result), but at times we get physical problems as a result of emotional or spiritual problems. I offered her my story and told her I did not want her to suffer, so she could weigh out if what I said applied to her.

The awkward thing for me in that moment was I could very well have been wrong. I could have imagined the words in my head and imagined that it had anything to do with her. I could have greatly offended her and made a stressful situation worse. Yet, Jesus was bold with people. He gave them actions to complete and didn’t mince words. He was compassionate, but he didn’t just stand around and lament the condition people were in. He healed them.

I wasn’t Jesus and I didn’t even feel much like Him in that moment, but if He was indeed giving me these words for this woman, He was offering her a step to healing. And a step to Himself.

I was just a flawed woman in a doctor’s office after the loss of a pregnancy. A woman feeling dizzy and lightheaded and sad for my baby. But when I began talking, I felt such strength and power, as only Christ can provide, and I didn’t feel sad at all. My problems were so far removed from me at that moment. And I really felt that there was something sadder than an ultrasound when you aren’t pregnant: a person without the hope of Jesus Christ.

Even in my condition, I had a hope to lean the weight of my sadness on.

She didn’t say much in response, but I could tell by the look in her eyes that my words had moved her. And because nothing else came to mind and she looked like she needed a moment to process everything, I gave her a hug and stepped away. I didn’t know what was going on her life or what was going on with her body, but God did. And all I could do was offer Him.

Helping Others Helps Us Heal

The lesson I learned in the ultrasound room is this: God wants to use me even when I feel that I am at my lowest and weakest point. He always has others on His mind. While I mainly have myself on my mind — reaching out and ministering to others in my own broken state can heal not only the other person but can help to heal my own heart. As Shelene Bryan notes in Love, Skip, Jump, “It is in sacrificially loving others that God can use us and fulfill us in a way that nothing else can. By surrendering our plans and desires to Him we can be part of something He wants to do.”

Is there something right now that the Lord might be asking of you? Something that makes you a little scared, a little uncomfortable? You may have to push aside your own desires or even reach out in the midst of your own suffering, but if you do, you may be able to forget your own sadness and feel the goodness of God in the midst of your pain.

Related Resources:

As stated in the article, physical illness is not always a result of an emotional issue or sin in our lives. Physical illness is part of the fallen world we live in. However, sometimes our physical illness can come as a result of emotional pain or sin struggles in our lives. If you’re interested in learning more about illness that comes as a result of an issue in our lives such as unforgiveness, check out this series on healing: Part One: Is There a Healing Formula in the Bible?, Part Two: How Confession Brings Healing, Part Three: How Repentance Brings Healing.

Have you missed hearing co-hosts Suzy Lolley and Carol Whitaker talk through the points of our posts on our podcast? We’ve taken a break from the podcast this summer, but we’re coming back in September, so mark your calendars! Our first podcast for Season 2 will cover what our view as Christians should be on homosexuality.  Check out our podcast archive from Season 1 if you would like to circle back and listen to any episodes you missed.

*Updated and adapted from a post originally published November 8, 2014.

 

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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