Does Your Life Have a Specific Purpose?

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What is your favorite Christmas song?

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

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

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

Amazing!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Resources:

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

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

 

Jamie Wills

Jamie Wills

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

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When You Are Unsure of Your Purpose

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God made both you and me for a specific, unique purpose. He has a plan for every one of us, right? It’s something I have heard many times at church, youth retreats, and small group meetings. Jeremiah 29:11 comes to mind, ” ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord. ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a hope and a future.’ ”

Well, let me be honest for a second. Sometimes, I am very unsure as to whether or not I am living in His purpose and plan.

I am currently in my fourth year of teaching middle school. Like many teachers, I decided to go into education because I really want to make a lasting impact on students’ lives. I have dreamt of being Teacher of the Year, being my students’ favorite teacher, and leaving a legacy for students and other teachers alike to follow. That way, I would certainly know that I am where God wants me to be … or so it seems.

Here’s the problem. I look at teachers around me who have gotten these kind of awards and recognitions, and I wonder if my personality and abilities are even comparable. I can be shy. I am usually not the most charismatic personality or the life of the party. I am not the one leading meetings, organizing the next after-school club — and probably not thought of as the “coolest teacher.”

Because of these “flaws,” I begin to compare myself to other teachers and come up with reasons why it sometimes feels like everyone prefers them over me. Why can’t I be more funny, like that one teacher? Why is it so hard for me to be organized, like that other teacher is? Thoughts of inferiority swirl around in my head, and I start to wonder if who I am is enough for this job. I wonder if I am in the career I was MADE to be in. I start asking God these questions:

Are you sure you want me here, teaching? Is this really what I am suited for?

What about all those days when I feel like I am making no impact … anywhere?

Perhaps I should look more into something else that I am interested in? Psychology? Photography? Or maybe I should be a stay-at-home mom because my family really needs me there? Maybe I would shine more in one of those things? Yeah, any of that sounds better to me right now.

How have You gifted me? How can I use my gifts here in this environment?

This is not a cry for an award or recognition or any change other than the one that I know God wants to do in me. I believe that God wants you and me both to better understand who He made us to be — uniquely ourselves, in Christ.

Here are three simple things that God is teaching me to do when I am unsure of my purpose and begin to compare myself to others.

1. Acknowledge your gifts.

Make a list of the things that you are good at. Focus on them and how you can incorporate them into most days, if not every day. As my husband has told me MANY times, “God placed certain gifts inside of you for a reason.” Stop discounting your gifts, and start using them.

Romans 12:4-6 tells us, “Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well.”

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I may not be the most outgoing person, but I do care about people and enjoy encouraging others. I enjoy having real, honest conversations. So instead of wishing I were the life of the party, I will tune in to opportunities from God to encourage those around me. I will seek to speak into their lives the way that I know how, the way that I was made to. I will focus on my gifts.

What are your passions? They are usually things that you enjoy doing and that come naturally. Pray that God would bring those to the surface.

2. Be thankful for the gifts of others.

Instead of comparing yourself to others, appreciate them. God places certain people in your life for a reason. They may be able to do things that you can’t and help in areas where you fall short. Be humble. Be thankful for that. Maybe you can even learn from them! Don’t try to exalt yourself over anyone or prove that you are better. We are all on the same level in God’s eyes. He has made us each with a unique purpose, and no one is greater than another. Celebrate the gifts you see in others. Thank God for them and believe that He uses those things to benefit His kingdom.

When I see others around me doing something well, I want to tell them. I want people to know that I am thankful for and appreciate them. I am blessed with the opportunity to co-teach with someone who has been teaching for almost 20 years! He has a great sense of humor and knows how to relate to our middle school students. His passion for the kids and for music shines every day, and I am grateful to work alongside him. I hope to one day be half the teacher that he is, and God knows I wouldn’t be able to do this job without him!

3. Remember whom you belong to.

There will be days when your gifts and works go unnoticed. There will be times when you feel like all of your efforts fall short. And they do, when you are trying to do it in yourself. Without Christ, we are nothing and can do nothing that is of true worth. Jesus says in John 15:4, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” It is only when we are in Him that we can produce much fruit and live a life that will impact eternity. Let us remain in Him.

Ongoing prayer is probably the only thing that gets me through those hard days. Prayer helps me to keep my eyes on Jesus and remember who I am in Him. It helps me to “remain in the vine” and to focus on my biggest purpose — to glorify Him in everything I do.

Dear Jesus, I pray that you would help me to actively use the gifts you have given me and to not compare myself to others. Help me to understand where I fit in Your body. May I remember that, apart from you, I can do nothing. Amen.

Rachel Howard

Rachel Howard

With a degree in music education, Rachel Howard is a middle grades chorus instructor who has a passion for teaching students about her love for music. In addition to inspiring adolescents in the public school system, Rachel is currently taking piano lessons and also enjoys photography, scrapbooking and Francine Rivers novels. A small-group leader at her church, Rachel also leads worship on occasion. In addition to these roles, Rachel is a wife and mom to two kids, Isaac and Evelyn. Rachel currently resides in Georgia with her husband and kids.

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When You Want to Give up on Your God-Given Dream

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Do you ever have those moments where your heart forgets that you’re a stable adult abounding with maturity, wisdom, and credit card bills? And instead, you find yourself believing in magic and fairy tales again like you did when you were four? I had one of those moments last night. My sister and I went to the Fox Theater in Atlanta, Georgia, to see Rogers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella. It was a part of a wonderful birthday gift from her, and when we were finally at the box office, our faces aglow under the light of the marquee, we knew that our night would be a magical one.

I think every little girl can relate to Cinderella. I certainly did growing up. And if last night is any indication, I still do. So much of what I saw struck a chord in me. Sorrows don’t last forever. Kindness is always the high ground. There is worth in us even when we don’t see it. Faith and hope are powerful weapons. But there was one line in the show that stayed with me.

After Cinderella’s magical night at the ball, her dreams to see the prince again are thwarted by her stepmother. As she cries in the dirt, her dress ripped to tatters and her hopes dashed to pieces, her fairy godmother arrives once more on the scene. And she says this to the broken Cinderella: “When you have a dream, expect that you will have to fight for it. Otherwise, how will you know that dream is yours?”

Important things are worth fighting for. And dreams from God are important things. Every step in His plan is essential. Every life is significant. Every promise He makes is crucial. And every dream He gives is vital. Take a moment and examine your life and recall the dreams that the Lord has put in you. I don’t mean glass slipper dreams of fancy living with a handsome prince and easy living because God doesn’t promise those things.

I’m talking about the God-inspired kingdom-driven dreams — the ones where the Savior of the world looked at you and invited you to join Him in His plan to rescue mankind. The ones that you leapt at and immediately started planning and walking in. The ones that you maybe were so jarred by or embarrassed of that you didn’t dare tell anyone.

Are you still walking towards them, still believing for them? Are you still fighting for them? Or have they been deemed “impossible” and discarded?

Oftentimes, when God gives us dreams and hopes, we squash them down as compact as we can get them, shove them in a lockbox, and swallow the key for good measure. Usually, it’s because we look at ourselves in the mirror and see the words “unworthy” and “incapable” written on our foreheads in sharpie. Or we entertain lies from the enemy that convince us those dreams aren’t from God at all but are products of our own selfishness or imagination.

But here’s the truth of the matter. If God has birthed something in you, something for you to do or say or start or carry out or whatever the case may be, then He must know something that you don’t. He must see something that you can’t. Isaiah 14:24 says, “As I have planned, so shall it be. As I have purposed, so shall it stand” (ESV).

Whatever it is that’s stopping you from fulfilling the calling of God on your life — thinking that you’re too small or sometimes thinking that the calling is too small — I urge you to remember that He makes no mistakes. God creates in all of us the capacity to hope for big things and the capacity to believe in Him for those things. And the dreams that you’re wrestling with, if they’re from the Lord, then they are for you to pursue and bring to the light. God did His part by giving them to you. It’s your job to chase them down before the clock strikes midnight.

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Cinderella had no problem letting her fairy godmother doll her up for the ball. She had no problem being charmed by and dancing with the handsome prince. But when it came time for her to fight for what she wanted, she wilted like a shriveled up rose and said, “If he sees who I really am, he won’t want me anymore.” I think that claim resounds in all of us. It’s the one that says that you and I aren’t enough. But she was enough as are we though it isn’t by our efforts. It isn’t by any measure of worth or capability that we might possess.

God looked at Jeremiah and told him he had appointed him to be a prophet to the nations when he was still forming inside of his mother, before he had strength or ability to boast of (Jeremiah 1:5). We’re enough simply by virtue of being God’s children. Isaiah 58:11 says, “The Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; you shall be like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail” (ESV). He makes us enough. He gives us dreams. Then He makes us strong enough to carry them.

If you’re looking for the typical fairy tale to motivate you, here it is. Once upon a time, you were lost and dirty and trapped. Then the King arrived astride a white horse with His sword in hand, and He looked at your cinder-covered face and found you worthy. And in order to win you, He exchanged His freedom for your bondage and laid down His life for you. He dressed you in the whitest robes He could find, placed shoes on your feet, and a ring on your hand. He calls you beloved, and He’s waiting for you on the other side of happily ever after.

But the fairytale doesn’t stop there. This same King exchanged your stone heart for a heart made of flesh, and He planted dreams in that flesh heart. They are dreams that accomplish His good pleasure and fulfill His Great Commission. Psalm 37:4 says that God grants us the desires of our hearts when we delight ourselves in Him, and the amazing thing is that when we walk with God, the desires of His heart become the desires of our hearts.

His Word tells us over and over again that if we trust Him, lean on Him, and acknowledge Him, He will establish our steps. And those steps will guide us to leading small groups, writing music, missionizing our workplaces, publishing a book, fostering children, starting businesses, earning degrees, launching ministries, winning our lost friends and family, whatever dreams God has planted in us.

If dreams were easy to come by, everyone would run after them. When dreams don’t unfold easily, human nature leads us to give up. But we aren’t slaves to our natures. If the Son has set you free, then you are free indeed. So walk in that freedom. Examine your dreams again, the ones you know came from God. Reawaken yourself to the idea of them. Invite the possibilities, whatever they are. And when your dreams buck against you as dreams as apt to do, plant your feet, straighten up the backbone that God gave you, and fight.

Whether that means silencing the voices of doubt and unbelief coming against you, re-submitting the article you wrote again even though it’s been rejected three times, or waiting expectantly for the next step God gives you instead of wallowing in disappointment. Whatever this looks like for you, grit your teeth, trust in the Lord, ball up your fists, and stand your ground. He’s worth it.

And the dreams He’s given you — however large, however small — are worth it, too.

Adriana Howard

Adriana Howard

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

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When You Feel Insecure as a Leader

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For the longest time, I asked God to give me a ministry. It was driving me crazy when I left teaching that I ended up in a desert season where I didn’t have any sort of project or outlet for my creativity. Once up to my eyeballs in paperwork, lesson planning, meetings, and grading, I found myself staring at a blank schedule when I became a stay-at-home mom. The only things on it were the monotonous tasks associated with mothering my then infant son and toddler daughter.

Don’t get me wrong — motherhood is a noble job, and I know that some stay-at-home moms feel called to do just that, but I was itching to get back into the workforce almost the moment I left it. I wanted God to plant me into a ministry and give me another career. I didn’t want to wake up to another day of naptimes and bottle feedings. Another day of living in the same T-shirt and spit-up stained sweats.

When it dawned on me that God wanted me to start my own ministry blog (a prospect that scared the heck out of me), I found it to be way harder that I thought it would be. Most days I tell Him that someone else could do a better job. There are people who are better writers, better speakers, better administrators. People who know about SEO and WordPress plugins and social media. People who know more about blogging and write posts with no anxiety whatsoever. People who don’t have to potty-train reluctant little boys while trying to simultaneously revise paragraphs and look up commentary for verses.

But I keep coming back to the same idea that God chose me for this. And because He chose me, I have a choice — to embrace this calling or hide.

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When I get conflict-ridden emails to answer, look at ways to grow the ministry and then look at my lack of funds and know-how, stare at blank paper asking God what I need to say in a meeting, I sometimes want to run away.

The bottom line is I don’t feel like a good-enough, equipped-enough leader. I’m barely surviving most days. But a story that has inspired me lately is the one of David because he was the least likely on the planet to lead Israel, but he is the one God chose.

There are a few things we can learn about combatting our own insecurities in leadership from David’s story:

1. Good leaders get their confidence from God’s acceptance of them.

David was the least significant of all the brothers in his family. He was out tending sheep when Samuel stopped by to anoint the next king. No one in his family saw that he had the potential to be the next great king, but God did.

Surprisingly, David didn’t seem put off by the fact that no one in his family believed he was fit for leadership. He seemed to just take the anointing in stride and then go back to tending sheep. He accepted the Lord’s promotion of him even when no one else other than Samuel believed him equipped for the job.

Similarly, when Mary learned from the angel that she would become pregnant with child, she accepted the Lord’s assignment in bearing Jesus (granted, she didn’t have much choice as to what happened inside of her body), but she did have a choice as to her attitude towards the situation. She said “yes” to God with these words: “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true” (Luke 1:38 — NLT).

I’d love to say that I have been as accepting as David and Mary of the Lord’s assignment for me, but I haven’t. I’ve wanted the assignment to be different. I’ve asked Him not to make me write about the parts of my story I don’t want to share. And I’ve wanted others to see immediately the calling He has had for me. But what I can learn from David and Mary is that God calls things before they are (Romans 4:17 — NKJV). I need to accept what He has said of me because He has said it.

2. Good leaders don’t let others derail them from their God-appointed task.

A few years ago, when I was begging God to let me do something for Him, I had forgotten all the conflict and opposition that comes with leadership. Leaders have to make decisions that are not always well-received or popular. As you may have guessed from my last point, I like people to understand me. Because of this, I feel inside a need to defend myself, to justify my actions when people don’t agree with me, but another leadership quality I can learn from David is that he didn’t allow the misunderstanding of others to derail him.

We see in David’s story after he was anointed king that he was instructed by his father to bring supplies to the battlefield. (Yes, David still lived at home for a time even after he was anointed king.) The Israelites were fighting the Philistines, and David did as his father instructed and brought cheese and bread to the battle lines.

His older brother, perhaps a bit peeved about David’s recent anointing, said, “Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the wilderness? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down here only to watch the battle” (1 Samuel 17:28). Talk about major injustice! Major misunderstanding! David had been told to go by his father. He had no ill motives, yet his brother assumed he did.

David, seeing right through his brother’s jealousy, responded: “Now what have I done? Can’t I even speak?” (v. 29). By his words, we see his rejection of Eliab’s critique. Because, as the Reformation Study Bible points out, Eliab’s words contradicted what God had already said about David. Note, earlier, God defined David as a person after His own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). And, when Samuel anointed David, God made it clear that He looks not at what man looks at but the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). And He clearly found David’s pleasing.

David wisely chose not to allow his brother’s cut-down to change his mind about who God had called him to be. In fact, right after this conversation, David went and asked Saul if he could go out and fight Goliath.

As it turns out, David had a Goliath in his own family to conquer before he ever made it to the battlefield.

People will say things that go against what God has told us — and many of us believe those words over God’s. As commentator Matthew Henry notes:

Those that undertake great and public services must not think it strange if they be discountenanced and opposed by those from whom they had reason to expect support and assistance; but must humbly go on with their work, in the face not only of their enemies’ threats, but of their friends’ slights and suspicions.

I have not been like David in my own transition into leadership. The second that criticism comes, self-doubt and insecurity set in. The solid rock I feel myself standing on feels shaky, crumbling. Maybe I am not the person for this job. What if I fail? Did God really tell me to start this? Maybe others are right. I need to quit. I can’t do this anymore.

When moments like these come, my mind races. And I feel panic and anxiety. God, don’t make me do this any longer! But God, through the story of David, has been reassuring me to not give up. To keep going and see myself as a leader because He has said it is so. The only person that needs to accept that other than Him is me.

I have to believe it for myself.

David models for us how to not allow others’ voices to drown out God’s calling on our lives. It’s good to listen to feedback and gain advice, but not if the advice counters what God has said is so. It’s easy to lose confidence as a leader based on what others believe or say about us unless we continually keep in view the foundation of our confidence: Him.

I haven’t lost my fear or insecurity in this process, but I’m making the decision to ask God for strength to face my Goliaths and depend on Him when I don’t feel like I can possibly do what He has asked of me.

What about you? Has God called you into a position that feels a little too big for you, and you feel like maybe your heard Him wrong? Tell us in the comment box below about a struggle or leadership problem you are facing.

 

 

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 Blessing of Failure in Ministry

 

rain Christian singer and songwriter Laura Story poses the following questions in her song “Blessings”:

What if your blessings come through raindrops? What if you healing comes through tears? What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know you’re near?”

For the last few years, I have learned what it means to receive blessings wrapped in a package of pain. Shortly after I quit teaching and launched into the journey of ministry, I entered a period of my life where my abilities and talents came up short, our money dried up, and the ministry I felt called to did not open up for me. This chaos unfolded in several ways.

A month after I left the education field, I gave birth to our son; he was colicky and had reflux. For quite some time, I slept two hours a night and woke up to face an intensive day of caring for a newborn and two-year-old. The savings fund that was supposed to last for the first year depleted within three months after I quit teaching. We had some expensive repairs on two sets of air conditioning coils that came up to the cost of a few thousand dollars. That and the cost of the new baby’s hospital bills ate away at the amount we had set aside.

Before I knew it, I was in line at the school district office to pick up my cashed out retirement fund just so we could afford to live. To add to the mix, we left our home church campus (where we had been established for ten years) to help launch a new church campus. I mourned the loss of relationships, the choir community I had grown to love, and all the amenities and benefits of a bigger campus. The ministry that I had felt called to in music — didn’t exactly happen like I had pre-written in my own script.

Rather than step into a key position in music in the new campus — I was disappointed to find that I was not really part of the actual band, but more a secondary singer they rotated in occasionally. All of the new changes, the loss of identity with my change in job and our change in church campus brought me to a dark place. I started having a relapse of emotional issues that I hadn’t felt since college. Anxiety and depression. I thought my way out was just to try harder. But with each attempt I made to get things going, make things happen — I experienced more failure.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, my experience is one that is not uncommon — particularly for those called to serve in a specific capacity in ministry. Streams in the Desert, a devotional with a collection of excerpts from various authors, gives many stories of individuals stumbling through the desert after a season of relative prosperity, experiencing confusion and darkness right after God gives them a directive to go. In one particular excerpt from Soul Food, the author explains:

At certain times and places, God will build a mysterious wall around us. He will take away all the supports we customarily lean on, and will remove our ordinary ways of doing things. God will close us off to something divine, completely new and unexpected, and that cannot be understood by examining our previous circumstances. We will be in a place we do not know what is happening, where God is cutting the cloth of our lives by a new pattern, and thus where He causes us to look to Him.”

In yet another excerpt from Streams in the Desert, Frances Ridley Havergal explains a situation that closely paralleled mine when she was called to a ministry and then found no opening for several years. She recalls the situation, saying:

Once when I thought the door was being thrown open for me to enter the literary field with a great opportunity, it was just as quickly shut … The year was 1860, and I did not come out of my shell of isolation with my book Ministry of Song until 1869. By then I saw the distinct wisdom of having been kept waiting for nine years in the shade … He often withholds our enjoyment and awareness of our progress, because He knows best what will actually ripen and further His work in us.”

A Dream About Gifts

About two years into the process of transitioning into ministry, I had a dream about gifts. In the dream, my sister was a post mistress and was driving through her route, delivering Christmas packages. She was in a hurry to get through her round and was not carefully placing the packages in the mailboxes, but throwing them haphazardly in yards as she went. She stopped in front of the house of one particular woman. After repeating her pattern of tossing a package, the woman came up to the vehicle and insisted that the post office take back the package, return it to the sender, re-send it in the proper manner and place it carefully in her mailbox. She did not want the gift unless it was sent to her in the way that she thought it should be sent.

I woke up from the dream, and I felt God’s whisper: Carol, what difference does it make how the package is delivered if it ends up being a gift? 

Obviously, I was the cantankerous woman in the dream. I didn’t want a gift delivered in a package of suffering. I didn’t think a package of suffering was any kind of gift at all.

A New Life and a Death of the Old

What I didn’t know at the beginning of my journey is that it takes great pain to birth a new life. I thought because I had been walking with God for a long time that I didn’t need to go through such a process, but I didn’t realize how much I relied on my own flesh patterns to make it through life. I thought that because He had called me to a ministry that His favor was on me.

I did not see floundering miserably as a sign that He might be working in me and creating the new self that would be the most effective in His kingdom. In the Old Testament, it took Jacob wrestling with God to wrench the old life from him and “fall” into the new life God had for him. He had to feel the heavy pressure of God “pressing the old life out of Him” before He could be named Israel and not Jacob (Streams in the Desert).

So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, ‘Let me go, for it is daybreak.’ But Jacob replied, ‘I will not let you go until you bless me.’ The man asked, ‘What is your name?’ ‘Jacob,’ he answered. Then the man said, ‘Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.’ ” (Genesis 22:24-26)

As author and pastor Steve McVey emphasizes in Grace Walk: “In the breaking process, God has no intention of helping you get stronger. He wants you to become so weak that He can express Himself as the strength you need in every situation.”

McVey cites Watchman Nee’s observation that the basic dilemma of the Christian servant is for the “inward man to break through the outward man.” According to Nee, the outward man is a hindrance to our Christian service and our outward man has to be “broken by the Lord so that the inward man can pass through the brokenness and come forth.”

The gift we can receive during our struggle with God is a loss of dependence on self. As McVey notes, “God cannot use a Christian to fullest potential until that person has come to the end of confidence in personal abilities.” Like Havergal and McVey attest to, I did not see the purpose of the suffering at the time nor want it for myself, but I can see as I am moving past it the distinct gift that God handed me in not allowing things to happen my way.

[For some notes from my journey on some ways to survive when you’re walking through a place of brokenness, I discuss some strategies for when you’re in the thick of not really understanding the place God has for you in ministry that may be encouraging to you.]

Related Resources: Streams in the Desert is a devotional by L.B. Cowman that specifically speaks to and encourages Christians in tough spiritual desert places. Cowman includes her own writings as well as a compilation of excerpts from well-known preachers and writers. Grace Walk by Steve McVey discusses your identity in Christ and how to best to allow God to use you. McVey shares his story of hitting rock bottom as a pastor of a church and how God used that situation to show McVey how to walk in grace in his Christian walk rather than legalism.

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 Says No

This past summer, after a miscarriage and surgery, I went home and immediately felt something wasn’t right in my body. I called up the nurse, and she rationalized that I was most likely experiencing side effects from the drugs administered in the emergency room.

But I still felt really funny.

My heart raced uncontrollably even when I was lying down. I felt so out of breath, foggy — I couldn’t think clearly, and my heartbeat pulsated in a painful way right at the top of my skull.

A few days later, I tried to make an effort to go out for my birthday — just pizza and shopping at a local outlet mall. “Something is wrong with me,” I told my husband as I struggled to walk the distance of the parking lot. I just didn’t feel good. My body felt so sluggish — my mind in a fuzzy cloud.

A doctor’s visit the next week revealed the problem: my hemoglobin levels had dropped very low, and my heart was working overtime to circulate oxygen. I couldn’t get out of bed without feeling like I would collapse. My doctor’s office wanted to set up a blood transfusion, but when I discussed it with my husband, he didn’t like all the risks.

We made the difficult decision for me to let my body heal itself in a slow process over the next few months. I rested at home for several weeks, and when I did finally get enough strength to go back to church, I was devastated. My first Sunday back corresponded with the release date of our church worship team’s first single.

My dream had always been to sing and write music. But I had walked away from the worship team a year before that to enroll in a Hope ministry training when God had asked me to give up music. Not only that, another opportunity had already shattered and fallen at my feet.

I had been asked to volunteer to serve on a leadership team for a brand new women’s ministry for young moms. Comprised of many of my close friends, the team was a perfect fit for me. Or so I thought. I had been praying for a long time that God would open a door for me into ministry.

However, the women’s event was scheduled just a few weeks after my surgery. I kept praying and hoping God would let me get well enough to help. But that didn’t happen. I was too sick — I couldn’t stay on my feet for long periods of time, much less go anywhere without the support of my husband’s arm. The avenue that I thought God was opening for me wasn’t really an avenue at all — my health made it impossible for me to take part in the event.

As I left church early that first Sunday back — mostly to avoid sympathetic friends and suffocating stares, I drove home and went straight up to my room, fell on my bed and cried.

I picked up the book I had been reading on my bedside table, Love, Skip, Jump by Shelene Bryan, and I happened to turn to a chapter in which Bryan describes the rejection of a pitch for a new show she had worked so hard to present to several prominent television networks. She relates: “I couldn’t understand it. I couldn’t help but ask God, ‘Lord what was that all about? Why did You have me walk into all those networks and pitch this idea that you placed on my heart if it was going to be a Big Fat No?’ ”

I didn’t like the passage I was reading. I wanted Bryan to provide me the answer I wanted to hear — that I was going to be well and all of the hopes I had were going to come to pass. But as if to further pound the truth that God was moving me into the background for a season, I opened my Facebook to these words by Nikki Koziarz: “Sometimes we look to follow someone else’s path toward our calling. But maybe today God is saying, ‘Don’t follow them, follow me.’ His way is unique and unstoppable” (Psalms 32:8).

To be honest, I was angry. What kind of a God would let me lose a baby, miss out on important ministry opportunities and stand on the outside while others lived out what I wanted to do?

However, as much as I could feel stuff breaking inside me as I experienced the pain of watching others get to joyfully participate in that which I wanted to be a part of, I felt some truths resonate in my heart:

1.  I don’t have the right to do anything but the will of the Father: Jesus often said that He only came to do the will of the One who sent Him. This meant that He was selective in the choices and decisions He made. He didn’t jump into every opportunity that came His way, and He didn’t make decisions to please Himself or achieve His own selfish goals. He even asked on occasion for there to be a different way when He knew the path would be difficult, as when He prayed for the “cup to pass from Him” in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:42).

2.  What I give up, He may give back to me: There have been times that I have passed up on a chance when I felt a “no” in my spirit only to find that God gives me the very thing I wanted at a later time — in a way beyond what I could have imagined or planned. Even though Bryan had to give up her dream of her reality show idea, she realized after some prayer that God was asking her to still implement her village makeover idea without the cameras. He gave her a “yes” in a way that was different than she anticipated — and she would have missed it if she continued to plow ahead with her reality show vision.

3.  All promotion comes from the Lord. So many times, I am trapped into thinking that the doors are closed in my face because I am not liked by certain individuals, but God has continually shown me that promotion comes from Him (Psalm 75:6). If He truly wants me in a place of ministry, He will place me there in His timing, and He will show me the path He has for me to get there.

4.  When I’m stuck, I should do what’s in front of me. By looking only ahead at my goal, I may miss the obvious opportunity or step I am to take right in front of me. As Bryan concludes in her chapter: “Sometimes I can get so excited to do something that I’ll bust down a wall in the name of Jesus. Then God kindly points out the door that He already placed for me to walk through. Oops.”

If you’re anything like me, I can get so overwhelmed looking at how far away I am from my desired destination that I start to panic and forget what I can be doing in the moment. I can miss the assignment that Jesus has put in my lap for today in my anxious desire to get to tomorrow. As Sarah Young says in her Jesus Calling devotion:

When things seem to be going all wrong, stop and affirm your trust in Me. Calmly bring these matters to Me, and leave them in My capable hands. Then, simply do the next thing. Stay in touch with Me through thankful, trusting prayers, resting in My sovereign control. Rejoice in Me — exult in the God of your salvation! As you trust in Me, I make your feel like the feet of a deer, I enable you to walk and make progress upon your places of trouble, suffering, or responsibility. Be blessed and keep trusting!”

Young encourages me that when the promise hasn’t come true, when I am not in the place I want to be, I need to do the task that is in front of me right now. It may have nothing to do with my calling or may not even be what I feel is the future God has for me, but it is what God is calling me to in this moment.

And the other truth I know is this: Deep inside of me a little voice whispers that some of His promises, particularly about music, haven’t come true yet because I’m not finished. He wants me working on something I would rather not work on — a different project that I’ve left undone. I’ve skipped some steps, pushed off some things for another day. And I need to complete God’s assignment in order to obtain His blessings.

Consider George Matheson’s prayer from Streams in the Desert:

Dear Holy Spirit, my desire is to be led by You. Nevertheless, my opportunities for usefulness seem to be disappointed, for today the door appears open in to a life of service for You but tomorrow it closes before me just as I am about to enter. Teach me to see another door even in the midst of the inaction of this time. Help me to find, even in the area of service where You have closed a door, a new entrance into Your service. Inspire me with the knowledge that a person may sometimes be called to serve by doing nothing, by staying still, or by waiting. And when I remember the power of Your ‘gentle whisper’ (1 Kings 19:12), I will not complain that sometimes the Spirit allows me not to go.”

Related Bible Verses:

Psalm 32:8: “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.”

Luke 22:42: ” ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.’ ”

Psalm 75:6: “No one from the east or the west or from the desert can exalt themselves. It is God who judges: He brings one down, he exalts another.”

1 Kings 19:12: “After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.”

Recommended Resources:

Love, Skip, Jump: The Adventure of Yes by Shelene Bryan is about knowing how to discern God’s will for your life and taking the plunge into the exciting future He has for you. Bryan talks about displaying the love of God to others, skipping conveniences to minister to others, and jumping into your calling.

Streams in the Desert is a devotional by L.B. Cowman that specifically speaks to and encourages Christians in tough spiritual desert places. Cowman includes her own writings as well as a compilation of excerpts from well-known preachers and writers.

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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