Being Prepared for God’s Promises

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I walked out of the brightly lit emergency entrance of the hospital into the dark night, holding my then 4-year-old son’s hand. Only a few cars were parked in the lot. Two nurses off-duty walked briskly past, their voices echoing in the still night air. I fumbled in my purse for my keys, and after a few moments, I grasped onto them and unlocked our mini-van.

Strapping my son into his car seat, I climbed wearily in the front seat, started the engine, and steered the vehicle toward home.

As my son munched on a cereal bar in the back seat, I stared at the dark December sky twinkling with lights and had a talk with God: How much more, God? Where are you? I am so tired. When are you going to show up?

The ER visit had been just one more catastrophe in a string of catastrophes that had hit us one right after another in the previous two months: Unexpected medical bills. Illness. Broken down appliance. Loss of contract on the sale of our house. Dead car battery.

We were in a season of transition where we knew we were supposed to move at God’s leading, but all of the pieces hadn’t come together for us to do that yet. This particular week, my son had been fighting a virus. After calling his pediatrician that evening due to my son’s high temperature and hacking cough, I had taken her recommendation to take him to the ER to be screened for pneumonia.

By the time we had gotten there, his fever had already been calmed by medicine and all his X-rays came back normal. However, the visit was one that had further rattled me. I couldn’t help but think as I drove that we had to be on the brink of some kind of miracle. All of this was happening because we were close to something good. But the temptation in the moment was to give in to my discouragement.

The next morning, groggy-eyed from lack of sleep, while my son slept peacefully upstairs in his bed, I sat on the couch and heard the ping of my phone’s voicemail. I almost opted not to even listen to it in that moment. However, when I did, I heard this message from my realtor: “We got an offer on your house!”

I listened to her words in disbelief. As the message ended, I put my head in my hands and burst out crying. Just when despair threatened to overtake every thought in my head, when I was too tired to get up from the couch or clean my house for one more prospective buyer, when I was battling negative thoughts like, “Just give up! Your house is never going to sell!” — God showed up.

Quite honestly, the word God had given me in that season was one that stretched me the most because it was “wait.” Waiting for a long time for anything, especially when trials and problems persist, can make a person doubt. My desire to give into doubt made it difficult for me to wait any longer. I wanted to take my house off the market, possibly hand over my responsibilities as a mom and wife to someone more capable. Waiting stretched me beyond what I felt I could do in the moment.

Some people who had a hard time waiting in the Bible were the 10 virgins in Jesus’ parable in Matthew 25. They were virgins waiting for the bridegroom — excited, young, hopeful. But half of them were foolish and did not bring any oil with them to light their lamps. When the bridegroom took longer to show up than they expected, they all fell asleep. When they awoke to the news that the bridegroom had arrived, only half of the virgins were ready. The foolish ones had used up all of their oil and had to run off to buy more. However, when they came back to join the wedding party, it was too late. The door had been shut.

They key difference between the virgins that had oil and the ones who did not bring any with them is that the wise virgins did what they could to stay prepared in the waiting. Though I generally think of waiting as doing nothing — the kind of waiting God has us to do is expectant waiting. We watch for him and do what we can in the moment to stay ready.

In doing some study of the customs of the time period, I found that marriage was a big deal to the Jewish people. The celebrations were elaborate events that involved the entire community. The bride and groom would enter into an agreement long before the actual wedding. On the night of the celebration, the groom would make his way to the bride’s father’s house. Virgins would wait outside for the groom’s arrival and help light the way. They would need to bring a supply of oil for a long night of waiting. Their neglect in keeping their lamps lit would have been a grievous insult to the groom and the wedding party. When the groom arrived, the foolish virgins were shut out not only because their torches were out but because they did not do what they could to make the groom welcome.

While clearly the story is one that warns us to be ready for the second coming of Christ, the story can have implications on a smaller scale as well: when we are waiting on the fulfillment of a promise or in a season where we aren’t sure what God wants us to do next. It’s tempting in those times of waiting, when life is hard and challenges are thrown our way, to not have sufficient oil. To not do the small faithful things God asks of us. To not read His Word or keep showing up to church services and serving in whatever capacity He has called us to. To not be obedient in the small actions of the daily grind because we haven’t seen God show up the way we though He would.

The takeaway is this: We need to do as the wise virgins did and be prepared for the promise to come in God’s timing. I love what author Micha Boyett advocates. She says that we need to make a place for the promises, even as they haven’t happened yet, and welcome them from afar.

In the case of my house, I wanted to give up and take it off the market. I didn’t want to wait anymore. But keeping my lamp oiled in preparation meant doing what I could do on my end to welcome the promise. So I kept cleaning my house and opening my house to would-be buyers every week. I kept pulling the weeds popping up in our front yard and trimming the bushes. I kept spending time with God and attempting to hear His direction in our situation. I called the repair man when appliances broke down, drove my kids to the doctors, and trusted God for the money to pay the bills that kept coming even though our cash flow was at an all-time low.

What it felt like was a whole lot of dead waiting where nothing was happening. I wondered many times if I should be doing more. Something deep inside of me wanted to bolt — to just force the sale to happen or try to do something desperate like make over our kitchen (even though we didn’t have the money) or give up entirely and rip the house off the market.

But just when I had decided that circumstances were too much, and I was crushed beneath the weight of them, I heard the ping on my phone alerting me to the reality that, yes, our house was indeed going to sell. If anything, I had been strengthened in my faith through this situation. Through my doubt, my mistakes, my wondering — the bridegroom eventually came.

It encourages me that as I wait on impossible promises, those that still haven’t happened. What can I do now to welcome those promises? Am I being faithful in the things I know to do now?

How about you? Are you waiting for a promise to come to fruition? Is there something you can do right now in the wait to welcome the promise?

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

THE BLESSINGS OF BROKENNESS (3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abraham and the Israelites: People God Used to Bless Others

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remaining Surrendered in Your Christian Walk and Ministry

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

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

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

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

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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The Wise Men Dilemma: When the Journey Is Hard

THe Wise Men Dilemma_ When The journey is Hard

Some of the characters I always liked in the Christmas story were the wise men.

They looked so noble and serene, calmly bearing their gifts, laying them gently before Jesus.

But for the longest time, I viewed them as just miniatures in a manger scene. It wasn’t until I read T.S. Eliot’s “The Journey of the Magi”  in college that I began to see the wise men as more than smiling, crowned figurines kneeling before Jesus.

Although their biblical account doesn’t give many details, through some careful study of not only Eliot’s poem but Matthew 2:1 and some illumination from the Holy Spirit, I have come to see the wise men as not just nativity characters but men with a choice — a choice to go “another route” (Matthew 2:12).

Several things about their story stand out to me now.

1. It takes a journey to get to Jesus.

Jesus promises that those who seek Him will find Him (Matthew 7:7,8) — but getting to know Jesus takes a journey of faith, bumps and valleys, questions, doubts — and getting further and further away from the life you used to have.

The assumption is that when you get saved and believe in Jesus that all the work is done. You hear that all the time. Jesus has done it all. And that is true in regards to your salvation, but in regards to sanctification, the working out of your salvation (Philippians 2:12), the process is ongoing.

It takes effort to discover Jesus and really find Him on a daily basis. You have to put in the energy to look for Him, discern His will for you and walk that out in obedience.

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The wise men certainly had to put in some work: they travelled, endured the fatigue of being on the road for endless days, inquired of Jesus’ location and followed a lone star up in the sky — all at great personal cost to themselves.

2. Once you encounter Jesus, you can’t go back the way you came.

Once the wise men found Jesus, they couldn’t travel the same worn paths they knew. They had to take a higher, steeper trail home. And the people around them didn’t treat them the same when they found out the identity of the king they were seeking. Herod wanted them killed. As overjoyed as they were to find Jesus, their encounter with Him actually made their way more treacherous.

I was reminded of this when I heard a sermon on the wise men given last Christmas season by our senior pastor. At the time, I was struggling in my own walk of faith.

God had been leading me on a journey of understanding that my issues with self-worth had me looking to the people around me for approval. So much so, that I had relied on the approval of others to an unhealthy extent, particularly my classes when I was teaching. Some previous rejection made me afraid that I wasn’t really worth it. I constantly relied on the people around me to make me feel good about myself.

Particularly, as a young instructor, I had a male fan club in many of my classes. While I never entered into a relationship with a student or anything of that nature, I know that God distinctly told me that I had set the wrong example. I had encouraged that approval.

He didn’t want me to get my self-worth from the wrong kinds of attention any longer. He wanted me to get it from Him. And He wanted me to go back and tell my teaching community and the families of my students the ways I was changing. He wanted me to apologize for not being the professional role model I thought I was and share my story of learning to find my identity in Him.

3. The journey is solitary.

The wise men followed the star where no one was looking. According to Matthew Henry’s commentary, they arrived in Jerusalem expecting the whole world to be worshipping at Jesus’ feet and instead had to go door-to-door to inquire around quite a bit to even find Him.

As Henry notes, “There arises a day-star in the hearts of those who enquire after Christ” — but it may be a very solitary quest. The star may lead to a place where no one else is going.

When I got the nudge to begin calling families, I had no blue print for what I was doing. No one else I knew had ever undergone a project like that. I had no idea why I was doing it or what the purpose was other than I felt very strongly that God wanted me to go. I didn’t really get many answers until I just started making phone calls and writing emails. I felt that because it was such an individual road that there must be something wrong.

Maybe I didn’t hear God right.

But like the wise men, I kept getting in my heart a leading, a star to follow.

I didn’t know how people would react or if they would misinterpret what I said. I knew that I would be looked at differently, my reputation jeopardized. It involved a death on my part. A surrender of my will. I was nothing short of shocked that Jesus would make me go back and do this.

And that wasn’t the only hard part in my story. I had to go back to some people from my way back past. I had gotten tangled up in some unhealthy relationships as a teenager with not only guys, but girls. Again, looking for that sense of acceptance, I had gone down a path that I never thought I would. He wanted me to go back to those people too and tell them how Jesus was transforming me, admit that I had been wrong.

I resisted at first and many times in the process thinking that the Jesus I knew would never lead me to do something so uncomfortable. I wanted to go into ministry but not if it involved such difficult actions. Not if it involved revealing the truth behind the glossy front I had created and my attempts at looking strong: Not if it meant revealing that I was actually weak and very flawed.

A young rich man in the Bible experienced this same kind of stunned surprise when He encountered Jesus. Approaching Jesus in earnestness one day, he inquired what he could do to earn eternal life. The young man observed the commandments, met all the requirements as far as outward acts of piety. However, Jesus looked at him and detected one thing preventing him from following Him in an abandoned way: his wealth. Jesus told him to sell everything and follow him.

And the young man walked away saddened because he didn’t expect Jesus to ask for that.

The wise men must have had similar qualms when they journeyed all the way to Jesus only to discover that they would have to change their route, and the hard part of their journey wasn’t over when they found Him. In “Journey of the Magi,” Eliot voices the questions the wise men might have had encountering Jesus:

… were we lead all that way for

Birth or Death? There was a Birth

certainly

We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen

birth and death,

But had thought they were different; this

Birth was

Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death,

our death.

Although Eliot’s poem takes some artistic license, we can imagine that for the wise men Jesus’ birth presented a paradox they didn’t expect — calling for a “death” of old practices and routines. The wise men were most likely astrologers, magicians. Surely, Jesus shook up their belief systems a little and made it impossible for them to cling onto their familiar ways of doing things.

The stanza later laments that returning home was hard as they could “no longer be at ease, in their old dispensation.”

The wise men dilemma is this: When you truly encounter Jesus, you have to change. And He may be different than you ever thought.

For the rich young man, he went away downcast because he was willing to observe outward forms of religion but unwilling to give what He held closest to His heart.

Jesus was kind to the man. It even says in the passage that Jesus “loved the man” (Mark 10:21), but what is interesting is that Jesus did not manipulate or coerce the man into leaving his possessions and following him. When the man left, Jesus turned and made a comment to his disciples about the difficulty of getting into heaven. He knew that there would be some that would turn away.

The wise men, on the other hand, heeded the warning in a dream. Instead of going back the familiar paths in which they had come, they travelled home “another route.” They understood the necessity of altering their plans upon meeting Christ.

As J.R. Miller observes in Streams in the Desert (a beloved devotional that has inspired me the past few years):

Every difficult task that comes across your path — every one that you would rather not do, that will take the most effort, cause the most pain, and be the greatest struggle — brings a blessing with it. And refusing to do it regardless of the personal cost is to miss the blessing.

Every difficult stretch of road on which you see the Master’s footprints and along which He calls you to follow Him leads unquestionably to blessings. And they are blessings you will never receive unless you travel the steep and thorny path.

Jesus will never make you follow Him. He will open the possibility, beckon you His way, but it will always be your choice whether you tread after His solitary star and give up whatever it is He is asking of you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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