Using the Word of God to Combat Anxiety: Learning From John Piper

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We welcomed a darling baby girl into our family this past May. All the cliché things about babies you could possibly say are true about this little girl: she has completely captured our hearts, and we can’t imagine life without her.

However, though we are enamored with this little chubby-cheeked cherub, I am going to be real with you: three kids is uber-tough to handle on some days. Afternoons and evenings are particularly stressful when my oldest two get home from school, and I am chasing after a mobile, squealing infant; helping my oldest two with homework; getting dinner on the table; and ensuring all three of my kids get into bed with bodies bathed and teeth brushed. Because my husband is a head coach of two sports, most of my evenings are spent doing this alone.

Usually, the day ends with me standing in the shower escaping for a few moments of alone time to ease the tension that never has really left my upper shoulders since we had a third one. My stress exists because of the number of things I have to do during the day in taking care of three young kids — but in the midst of this kid chaos, I have been attempting to work on a project that I fear will not get done. And that low-grade fear is permeating my days and causing me anxiety.

I read an article recently by John Piper of Desiringgod.org that stated that anxiety is a state of unbelief. I’ve written about how anxiety is caused by fear, but I believe Piper was able to zoom out the lens even further and accurately assess not only the role of fear but the role of unbelief in anxiety.

What is unbelief? Unbelief is essentially not believing in or trusting God and what He says. Fear is unbelief. Behind the fear I am experiencing lies unbelief in the promises God has in His Word concerning the work He has given me. Most of us would say we believe in God and want to follow His ways, but we have trouble trusting His sovereignty and ability to help us in the midst of trying situations where the demands on us are great and our strength feels small.

What Does the Word of God Say About Combatting Anxiety?

To combat the turbulence of this season, I have felt led to turn to Isaiah 26:3. The passage says this: “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on you. Because he trusts in you.” Certainly, we find a measure of comfort in the reading of the words. But if we dig into this passage a little, we discover further help for fretful thoughts and unbelief.

The verse points out that the mind that is “stayed” on Christ will be in perfect peace. It’s important to look at what a mind “stayed” on Christ looks like. I thought before I did any research on the wording in this passage that a mind “stayed” on Christ was fixed on Him. Certainly, that seems logical doesn’t it? If we’re always thinking about God and “stayed” on Him then we won’t succumb to our anxious thoughts, right?

Well, that is not exactly what I found. Certainly, God wants us to think about Him, pray to Him, and meditate on Him. All of those things are good and will help us when we feel anxious. However, when it says here that the mind is stayed on God, the word “stayed” in the Hebrew means “supported by God.” The Hebrew word is “sāmūḵ” and means “upheld” or “established.”

To have a mind that is stayed on God isn’t just to think about God. To have a mind stayed on God is to be supported, established in God’s truth to the point that my mind is literally held up by God. In other words, just as a house sits firmly on a foundation, so my mind needs to be rooted in the things of God. And the verse makes an important connection between the mind at peace and the person that trusts. As the Keil and Delitszch Commentary on the Old Testament says, “Such a mind is thus kept by Jehovah, because its trust is placed in Jehovah.”

What we can conclude is that when we cling to God and what His Word says and ground ourselves in Him, this secures stability and peace in our minds.

Piper advocates this same idea in his article (although he uses different Scripture references). Instead of fixing to that which produces anxious thoughts, we can hang onto God’s truth. For instance, in my current scenario, I can switch out thoughts like, “I can’t take this. The kids are driving me crazy. I’ll never get my work done!” In their place, I can say, “I can do all this through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13). God will help me get this impossible workload done (Philippians 1:6). God has equipped me with all I need to do His work (Hebrews 13:21).” We stabilize our runaway thoughts with truth much like an ancient sagging floor is stabilized by a hefty crossbeam.

An Offensive Strategy to Fight Against Anxiety

So, what if we have spoken all of the right verses and we still have anxiety? We keep speaking them, and we keep seeking the Lord. As Piper explains beautifully in his article, we overcome our struggles not just by speaking truth but by the help of the Spirit who lives inside us. Additionally, he points out that just because we have anxiety doesn’t mean that we should quit the race or think we don’t have the faith of other Christians. It means that Satan has targeted us and thrown “mud on our windshield.” We need to fight back with our “windshield wipers.” We need to fight back with the Word of God and the help of His Spirit. Note what Piper says:

When anxiety strikes and blurs our vision of God’s glory and the greatness of the future that he plans for us, this does not mean that we are faithless, or that we will not make it to heaven. It means our faith is being attacked. At first blow our belief in God’s promises may sputter and swerve. But whether we stay on track and make it to the finish line depends on whether we set in motion a process of resistance. Will we turn on the windshield wipers and will we use our windshield washer? … You deal with anxieties by battling unbelief. And you battle unbelief by meditating on God’s Word and asking for the help of his Spirit. The windshield wipers are the promises of God that clear away the mud of unbelief. And the windshield washer fluid is the help of the Holy Spirit.

Christians are not exempt from anxiety. We will feel anxious, fearful, panicked in reaction to certain scenarios. However, when we feel anxiety, we have prescription in the Word of God to begin speaking that Word over us and our situation. But simply speaking verses over ourselves won’t necessarily make our anxiety go away.

There are times when we won’t be sure what specific verse speaks to our situation because we are not in touch with the lies getting us off track. Whenever we feel fear that won’t subside, then, we need to pray and ask God for His help and wisdom (James 1:5).

Truly, we don’t need to fixate on feeling bad about ourselves when we feel anxiety. We need to attach ourselves to truth that we can speak to the lies and doubts coming against us. And the more we are in the truth, the more we will be able to discern the lies that show up on our doorstep.

Conclusion:

I wish that I never had to feel anxiety again. I have been freed from certain bouts of anxiety at particular intervals for long periods of time, but it often finds its way back. There have been moments when I’ve wondered: Is this anxiety ever going to stop coming around?

Well, probably not as long as I am living on this planet. However, God has given us an offensive strategy, so when fear comes, we can stabilize unhealthy thoughts with God’s truth. My anxiety has evaporated in this season as I have replaced my worries with His assurances found in Scripture. And — I have let go of my timetable for the project and instead embraced the idea that God’s timing for its completion may be different than I originally envisioned.

What about you? Do you struggle with anxiety? Has there been a time when God gave you a particular verse to cling to that helped you? Share with us in the comments!

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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Waiting on the Promises of God

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Years ago, when I was a middle school student, I attended a yearly church camp. One such summer, in preparation for the camp, I packed at the last minute, throwing in a few outfits without much forethought. When I arrived at the camp, I was dismayed to find that by the second day my meager wardrobe was not enough to get me past the weekend. The water balloon fights on a grass field and other activities had dirtied up my shirt and shorts. I had to wear the same mud-splattered ensemble for days on end because there were no facilities to wash my clothes.

I left with a lesson learned: always over-pack on trips. It’s better to have too many outfits than not enough. My husband can attest that this has been my mantra ever since. I never leave, if I can help it, without being extremely well-prepared.

The Parable of the 10 Virgins: Being Prepared for the Promises of God

Certainly, it’s good to be prepared in other areas of our life, including our spiritual walk. Matthew 25:1-13 tells us the story of some virgins that weren’t prepared in contrast to those that were. In the story, ten virgins set out to meet the bridegroom. Five of the virgins brought oil with them to renew their lamps; the foolish ones did not bring any oil with them. The bridegroom took a long time to come and all of the virgins fell asleep. Finally, at midnight, the call came that the bridegroom had arrived. The wise virgins stood up with fully lit lamps to welcome the groom, whereas the foolish virgins noticed that their lamps were going out. The foolish virgins attempted to buy some oil from the wise virgins, but were told to go and buy some oil. They left to do so, but when they returned, the door had been shut. They were not present to welcome the bridegroom.

Although we can read this in the context of being prepared for our Savior’s return, we can also read it in a context that speaks to the promises that God has given us and being ready for those. How can we best prepare ourselves?

I got a revelation of this passage some time ago. I had no understanding of its complexities until I read a piece by Julie Meyer on Charisma (“Prophetic Dream: How to ‘Buy’ Sustaining Oil for Your Lamp”). As Meyer explains, the oil that the wise virgins filled their jars with was obedience. As the passage explains, all of the virgins had oil in their lamps. However, the wise virgins brought oil with them whereas the foolish virgins “did not take any oil with them” (v. 3).

When do as God says, as Meyer explains, we essentially “buy oil” and open our arms to His blessings. We prepare ourselves for what He plans to do in our lives. We don’t know when or how the Master will come, but we ready ourselves for his arrival by choosing daily to trust His ways over our own and obey Him in the things He asks of us. The Bible is clear that we can’t obtain salvation or righteousness with our works. However, the obedience that comes from faith keeps a place open for our Savior so that He can readily work and fulfill the promises He has given us in our lives. So what if we get sidetracked or sin or fumble as we are apt to do? We confess and get back on track.

The unwise virgins in the story were without oil because they had accepted Him with joy at one point but had stopped working for the Master. Their jars ran dry because they had not made it a priority to store up oil for themselves to use when the oil in their lamps had run dry.

When we are waiting on the promises of God, the temptation is to get lazy, to stop believing that He is even going to show up. But we must be faithful to do that which we know to do and expect that God will do the rest. We must remember that before the sea parted for the Israelites, the Lord worked by sending winds the whole night before (Exodus 14:21). The tasks we do in the moment may not make much sense to us or may be misunderstood by others, but if directed by God, there will be a purpose to them even if we can’t see what it is right away.

The Oil of Obedience: Keeping Our Lamps Lit to Welcome God’s Promises

This past year I have been working on a project that has taken me away from blogging (and really life, in general, it feels). I know it is God-directed. Every time I slack off on my work or pray about direction, God brings the project to the forefront of my mind. However, the project has not been much fun for me to complete. The work has been painstakingly tedious, and even more so because I am a stay-at-home mom and have all the responsibilities associated with caring for three little ones.

Can I just tell you that keeping a household running smoothly with multiple kids is no small task? I don’t even clean anymore, hardly. I just pick up all day long. I pick up the remnants from my purse that my 1-year-old spilled on the floor. I pick up the clothes my son left out. I pick up cereal from beneath my daughter’s high chair. I pick up and pick up and pick up. When I am not doing that, I cook for my hungry army and change diapers. I am thankful for my children. I am so blessed to have them, but I have found time for writing and study severely limited since I had a third child. I stay up late or get up early to squeeze in the time I need to work on the project, and the work hasn’t been convenient or easy. In fact, I have just been downright irritated at times that I have been working on that which feels impossible to accomplish given my current circumstances. In addition, I am not entirely sure of the outcome. God has given me promises that have not yet been fulfilled, and I wonder when I can get to those and away from this!

I heard a story about Kari Jobe’s husband, Cody, some time ago and was so inspired by it. As you may know, the two have only been married a short time. Before Cody dated Kari or even knew that she was going to be his future wife, he felt God telling him to put some money aside for a ring. So, over a period of four years, Cody set money aside not knowing when marriage was going to happen for him. Four years later, he suddenly needed the money. He had been friends with Kari a long time, but the friendship accelerated rapidly (they only dated for a few months). When he needed the money to buy her an amazing ring (after all, we’re talking Kari Jobe here), he had it on hand!

I am sure there were times over that waiting period where he questioned what all of that preparation was for. Similarly, you may be faithfully serving and investing in an area God has asked you to serve in and yet be wondering when God is going to fulfill promises He gave you long ago. Me too.

The parable encourages us to keep up. To be prepared. To make sure we are ready to receive the groom because He is going to show up when we least expect it. We should note in the story that all of the virgins fell asleep: the prepared and the unprepared. Not one of them knew the exact time that the groom would come, but only one set was ready. I don’t know about you, but I want to be ready with a full jar of oil when the Master comes.

While I’m Waiting, by John Waller

I’m waiting, I’m waiting on You, Lord

And I’m hopeful, I’m waiting on You Lord

Though it is painful, but patiently I will wait

 

I will move ahead bold and confident

Taking every step in obedience

While I’m waiting, I will serve You

While I’m waiting, I will worship

Wile I’m waiting, I will not faint

I’ll be running the race even while I wait

 

I’m waiting, I’m waiting on You, Lord

And I am peaceful, I’m waiting on You, Lord

Though it’s not easy, no, but

faithfully I will wait

Yes, I will wait

 

And I will move ahead, bold and confident

I’ll be taking every step in obedience, yeah

 

While I’m waiting, I will serve You

While I’m waiting, I will worship

While I’m waiting, I will not faint

 

And I will serve You while I’m waiting

I will worship while I’m waiting

I will serve You while I’m waiting

I will worship while I’m waiting

I will serve You while I’m waiting

 

I will worship while I’m waiting on You, Lord

I will serve you while I’m waiting

 

I will worship while I’m waiting

 I will serve You while I’m waiting

I will worship while I’m waiting

Carol Whitaker

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

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4 Things to Help Get Us Through Our Storm

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Singer song-writer Laura Story once said that when we suffer we assume that God doesn’t love us.

I have found that to be a belief, however false, I’ve held in my own life. Recently, I was going through a troubling circumstance, and I felt irritated with God because I had been praying about it for some time and had heard no answer to my prayers. Feeling especially discouraged one Sunday, I got the kids ready for church, packed the diaper bag, and headed to church — not really expecting anything other than a routine service.

However, I could not have been more surprised when the pastor began speaking a message that might as well have been personally addressed to me. It pertained uncannily to the situation I was going through to the point where I almost fell out of my chair when he began to speak.

I should not have been surprised. God does respond to my prayers on a regular basis — many times through the course of a sermon or church service — but I was surprised. I had begun to doubt that God was going to answer, that He even cared at all. Never mind that I have a whole history of times where He has miraculously answered or intervened for me. This time felt especially difficult.

In Mark 6:41-52, we see a passage where the disciples experienced a similar test of faith in their walk with Jesus. Jesus had just performed the miracle of the five thousand loaves. They knew Him to be capable of miraculous things, and yet, they seemed to forget all that when Jesus sent them out into a storm. Let’s take a look at the passage:

Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, when he dismissed the crowd. After leaving them, he went up on the mountainside to pray. Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified. Immediately he spoke to them and said, ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’ Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.

While Jesus had good things in mind for them when He sent them out on a boat, the disciples could not see the circumstances with His same broad gaze. They saw the fact that it was dark, they were on a boat toiling against winds blowing against them, and that Jesus was not with them. Certainly, these were circumstances that would warrant doubt and unbelief to enter in.

But when we look at the circumstances through a wider lens, we can observe several things about Jesus’ care for them in the midst of the storm:

1. Jesus sent them into the boat for their protection.

While the disciples could only see the storm they had entered into, Jesus sent them where He did to get them away from a larger danger. After the miracle Jesus performed in feeding the five thousand, the crowds wanted to make Jesus king. But their plans were of a secular design and not a kingdom one. Jesus knew the motives of the crowd and sent His disciples, who may have been swayed by the crowds, into the boat and Himself went to a mountaintop to pray.

What we can take away from this is that there may be a situation we are in that we want so badly to turn out a certain way, but God may not allow it for our own protection. He knows the weakness of our hearts and has a perspective that is much different than ours. As the Danny Gokey song says, “Love sees further than we ever could.” God says no to what we may view as the more comfortable or desirable path because He knows what is best for us in the long run.

2. Jesus came at an appointed time to end their struggle.

I don’t know why God waits so long in certain instances to answer, but I do know that He is always aware of what we are going through. There is never a situation where God is running around in a panic trying to think of a solution. Similarly, there is a never a situation that God doesn’t know about. In this passage, even when Jesus was away from His disciples on the mountain, He “saw the disciples straining at the oars” (v. 48). Even though He saw, He chose to wait to come to the disciples until the fourth watch of the night, which was the last.

Clearly, there are situations where we get into storms because of our own bad choices, but there are storms that come even when we follow the will of God. We may be so frustrated because we are straining at the oars. Everything in us may be screaming, Where are you, God? Why aren’t you here? And yet, He may choose not to answer us in the way that we think He will or may not show up in the way we want Him to, but that doesn’t mean that our struggle will last forever. As we see in this story, there was an appointed time that Jesus came to the disciples. Like in the instance of Lazarus, Jesus didn’t come when His friends wanted Him to (even though He loved them); He came at the moment that would give God the most glory — even though from a human vantage point things looked the most hopeless.

We can take comfort in the fact that God sees us from where He is, and though we may be tired and may feel like our situation is just getting worse, God has a point where He will put an end to the struggle.

3. Jesus showed up differently than they expected.

When Jesus did show up in their situation, they didn’t recognize Him. They thought He was a ghost and were afraid until He calmed them with His voice and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid” (v. 50). Granted, it would be pretty alarming to look up in the middle of a storm and see a figure approaching, but the disciples had been walking with Jesus long enough to know that He was prone to do unexpected things. Except, here, they were slow to comprehend that it was Him.

Perhaps the disciples were so worn out that they had stopped hoping that He would even come. Maybe like me in the church service, they were so burned out with their circumstances that they had stopped looking for Jesus. Commentators note that at the start of the journey the disciples were on the watch for Him. Some say that the disciples rowed close to the shore expecting Him. Others say that the very reason they were out as late as they were and encountered a storm is because they were slow in rowing out initially as they fully anticipated that Jesus would come to them. But when He didn’t arrive right away and the storm blew up against them, they were so exhausted and fixated on the storm that they couldn’t make out their Savior right in front of them.

And perhaps we are no different. We are so tired of our situation that we’ve stopped expecting Jesus to come. We may have boxed in our own thinking in about the way He will arrive that we don’t even recognize Him standing in our midst. But Habbakuk 2:1-3 tells us to stand at our “watch” and “station [ourselves] on the ramparts.” Jesus will not leave us alone, but perhaps we need to adjust our faith level and believe that He will come, although it may be in a different way than we expect.

4. When Jesus came, they immediately got to where they were going.

In the John account, the disciples “immediately” got to where they were going as soon as they welcomed Jesus into the boat. Some scholars assert the idea that this was another supernatural happening of the night. That not only did Jesus feed five thousand, walk on water, enable Peter to walk on water, and calm the storm — all in one day and night — He enabled the boat to reach the shore with miraculous speediness.

Whatever the case, whether the disciples were able to reach the other side swiftly simply because Jesus calmed the storm, and thus the rowing was easier, or because Jesus performed another miracle that night, the disciples could not doubt by what power that boat had made it to the other side .

And I believe that is the way with God. We shouldn’t give up hope or believe that God has abandoned us because there may still be a “fourth watch of the night.” That though our pain has lasted a long time and our difficulty has been beyond what we can bear, it isn’t over. With a snap of His fingers, with one conversation, one phone call, one opportunity, God can turn a hopeless situation into a hope-filled one.

And we will know that no one other than God could have turned something so dire around. Just like with the disciples, when Jesus shows up in our storm, we will be given just one more proof that Jesus truly is the Son of God.

Friend, I don’t know where you are as you reading this, but I know that your struggle may be real and hard and relentless. But I know that Jesus knows, He sees, and He cares. I love these words from L.B. Cowman’s Streams in the Desert: “Difficulty is the very atmosphere of miracle — it is miracle in its first stage. If it is to be a great miracle, the condition is not difficulty but impossibility. The clinging hand of His child makes a desperate situation a delight to Him.”

If your answer hasn’t come, keep on rowing. You’ll see Him soon enough walking across the waves.

*This is another version of a post published August 5, 2016.

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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Help for the Hard Days

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I love running.

Having said that, I am fully aware not everyone is as smitten with this activity as I am. In fact, I have multiple friends on Facebook who — after I post about a great morning run — love to post variations of the following anti-running meme:

running meme

Whether you adore running as much as I do or hate it like the plague, please allow me to utilize its metaphorical elements to explore something with you that God showed me during my most recent 10K event.

This particular race was in the backwoods of a local park. It was a dense area, and the running trail was, most of the time, only about 12 inches in width. There were moments when the path was straight and free of debris, but there were also lengthy intervals during this run where the path was rocky and/or riddled with tree roots that had popped up into the trail.

At times like that, I maneuvered around the dangers as best I could, but there were a few moments where I stumbled despite my best efforts. There were other points in the course where the trail was so steep, I couldn’t run up it. I had to walk — at what seemed like a snail’s pace — to make it up those hills before I could finally get to an area where running was possible again.

Now, stop a minute and reflect on that because I didn’t just describe the course for my recent race; I described life.

There are moments when life is simple, and your path is clear. It’s easy to run and not grow weary. But then obstacles, challenges, pop up and life gets confusing. The days seem like a never-ending uphill battle, and you can hardly function. Thankfully, though, time passes and circumstances change. Finally, living becomes possible again.

Like running a race, living life can be hard. But give praise to God, races, like the seasons in our lives, have finish lines to look forward to.

 

Lately, I have been experiencing countless moments where, by the end of the day, the stress of life so debilitates me that doing simple tasks is like trying to run up a steep hill — with the force of gravity beating me backwards every second.

I find myself beyond exhausted at the close of each day. I’m left in a weakened state. I feel spent, weary, and crippled. As if I’ve run a marathon!

It is in times like these, when life feels impossible and it appears the best thing to do is just take myself out of the race for the day … or the week … or the month. But then, I hear Him; God gently whispers to my heart that there is hope. I hear the One in control of all things say, “Keep running! Don’t give up! There is a finish line!”

And just when I feel as if I can’t put another foot in front of the other, I hear Him remind me, “[You] can do all things through Christ who gives [you] strength” (Philippians 4:13).

His Word renews me. It’s like catching a glimpse of a water station directly ahead after running four miles in the heat.

Stop and drink in His Word:

I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Phillippians 4:11-13)

When I’m ready to forfeit my day because the struggle is just too much, this verse helps me push through. It reminds me that whatever course I find myself on, as a child of the Most High King, I can endure it. I can fight through it. I can find the strength I need in Him.

Today, if you are struggling, find your renewed strength in Jesus. Just as in the midst of a race it’s OK to stop at a water station and drink to rehydrate before continuing on, so also life calls for times of refreshing. And as children of God, we can find this in simply knowing that Jesus is our strength, and He is always there when we call on Him.

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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What It Means to Walk by Faith, Not Sight

WHat It Means to Walk By Faith, not Sight

Thomas is one of those characters in the Bible I never really connected with. His story I knew was one placed in the Bible to show me why I shouldn’t doubt, but I never saw myself as Thomas-like.

Therefore, I didn’t know how much like Thomas I was until recently when I recalled his words to Jesus after a particular doubting incident of my own.

A Situation Where I Doubted

At the beginning of last summer, after my husband received a job offer in a neighboring county, Keith and I felt that we were to put our house up for sale and move. Not too long after our house went on the market, we got an interested buyer. Except the situation with this buyer was very unusual.

He showed up without a realtor or an appointment to see our house. He simply walked up to our front door and rang the doorbell. I was sitting on my bed when I heard the door. I had been praying a few moments earlier about our house sale, but I didn’t expect a person to show up during the prayer session.

I was scheduled to leave with my children in a short time to go to a party — and my hair and makeup were not done (so it could not have been a more inconvenient time). However, when the doorbell rang, I thought to myself, “I bet it’s someone who wants to see the house.” I remembered hearing a story by a pastor of a time when her house was for sale, and she had the unusual experience of a person driving by, stopping, and then deciding to buy the house.

Without getting a message from heaven like a scroll rolled down from the clouds, I had a knowing inside that this was what was happening. Therefore, with a plain face and hair askew, I raced down the stairs and opened the door to talk to him. He stood there with his high school age daughter and explained that he had recently divorced and was looking for a house.

He didn’t ask to come in, but I invited him to do so because my husband had just pulled up. He walked through the house, and I gave him my realtor’s information. He contacted her shortly after, walked through the house one more time with my realtor, and told her he was interested in putting in an offer.

Our realtor was skeptical of this buyer because he didn’t have an agent and had showed up in such an unusual manner. However, she agreed to write a contract for him. After she had written the contract, she became even more skeptical as he did not sign right away but instead took several days to look into financing. In the meantime, we had another buyer express an interest in putting in an offer.

The night we knew we had another interested buyer, our first buyer announced that he had his financing worked out and wanted to go forward with signing the contract.

However, my agent advised holding off on letting the first buyer sign the contract until we learned what the second offer was going to be. When she gave that advice to me, I felt conflicted. I had felt all along that God had brought us the first buyer (after all, he did show up while I was praying!), but I experienced doubt. Maybe we had just gotten this person interested in the property so that the other buyers would feel more urgency in submitting a contract, I rationalized. And, without giving the matter the proper attention it deserved and seeking an answer in prayer, I followed my realtor’s advice and waited for the second offer.

When the second offer came in — at full price — I again felt uneasy, but I signed the paperwork and agreed to an inspection time for the second buyer. From a worldly standpoint, our decision to go with another offer wasn’t unusual in the real estate world. But I didn’t feel good about it the whole time. I was hesitant. I felt that we were doing the first buyer wrong by not even letting him know that we were getting another offer in. And, boy, did we get burned.

The people who put in the better offer retracted it after the inspection, and our first buyer was no longer interested unless we lowered the price of the house (which we were unable to do to his specifications).

Suddenly, we found ourselves with no buyers, and the Promised Land that was waiting for us on the other side of the move got snatched away. We had to let go of the house we had put under contract. This meant losing some of our earnest money and saying goodbye to the exciting prospect of walking into the blessing God had for us there. I was disappointed because we had picked out a new construction home and were going to get to pick out the colors, floorplan, and features of the new home.

But all of that fell apart.

From a financial standpoint, the timing of the house sale would have been perfect because we had a set amount of money in savings rapidly dwindling — and we had just enough to put down on the house we wanted to buy.

And God let us walk through the consequences of my doubt. Afterwards, we did not sell our house right away. In fact, we plodded through several more months of showing our house, waiting for another offer. Because of my lack of faith, I listened to the advice of others over God’s advice. Inside, I had not trusted that God was looking out for us and had brought us a legitimate buyer. I wanted to see what the results would be before I took a chance on this person.

Like Thomas, I wanted to touch the scars rather than just hear that they were there.

A Second Chance: Stepping Back Into Belief

Because God is loving and gracious, He did not leave us in the wilderness of waiting forever. I confessed my unbelief and apologized for my doubt and felt His assurance that our house was indeed going to sell.

A few months after we lost both offers, we got another one in. Although we did not end up in the house we wanted initially, we were able to find another house in the same neighborhood with an identical floorplan. It certainly wasn’t easy to wait for another offer, and we suffered emotionally and financially, but God still allowed me to walk into His promises despite my unbelief.

Similarly, Jesus did not leave Thomas to his doubting. Instead, He went to him, showed him His scars, and said, “Do not disbelieve, but believe” (John 20:27, ESV). Ashamed of his lack of faith in the moment, Thomas fell to the floor and exclaimed, “My Lord, and my God” (John 20:28, Benson Commentary).

Even though Thomas faltered with a weak faith — Jesus did not turn away or punish Thomas but instead offered Thomas another opportunity of faith. And perhaps that kindness on the part of Jesus was even more heart-wrenching to Thomas than a sharp rebuke would have been.

Only after showing him the scars did Jesus gently reprove him with the words, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” With His words, Jesus showed Thomas that his “demand for the evidence of the senses was a step backward, a resting on the less, not on the more, certain. His Master would have him retrace that step, and become one who rests upon the intuition of the Spirit” (Ellicott Commentary).

In other words, Jesus made it clear that it is better to walk by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).

Walking by faith isn’t easy. It requires rejecting advice that appears like common sense and going with a still small voice that counters the louder voices around you. It requires stepping out and making a decision before seeing any tangible results.

It may require choosing an unconventional buyer rather than a buyer who looks better on paper.

But to do so is to be “blessed,” says Jesus. To embrace “the evidence of things not seen” before they are seen (Hebrews 11:1). However, even if you are hesitant and a doubter like me or Thomas, God offers you the opportunity to step away from your doubt back into belief.

I pray for you that if God tells you something, go with it! Even if it appears illogical, or it is awkward and hard, just do it! He wants to bless and prosper you, but He also wants you to believe He can make it happen. And if you have missed an opportunity to step out in faith, ask God to forgive you. In His grace, ask Him how you can step out once again.

 

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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The Blessings We Gain From Brokenness (The Blessings Of Brokenness Book Study)

THE BLESSINGS OF BROKENNESS (6)

Not too long ago, my family moved into a new community and transitioned from the church and home we had grown very comfortable in.

I remember well the events that led up to this move. The school year was drawing to a close. My husband generally has a slew of coaching opportunities that are available to him around the spring of every year, and he asked me casually one day if he should stay at the current school he was at or apply at a few of these head coaching positions he had seen pop up.

Because I have been married to my husband for fifteen years, and I am accustomed to his restless and adventurous spirit, I shrugged his comment off and told him with a bit of an eye roll: “You’re staying at the school you’re at.” End of discussion.

However, he decided he wanted to put in for a few positions, so again he brought up the idea of possibly coaching at a different school. I shrugged again and told him to apply to the jobs if he wanted. I figured that these were opportunities that would go nowhere. I had seen it happen many times, and I rationalized that he would end up back at his same school for the next school year.

But that is not what happened. Through a series of events, my husband was contacted for interviews by two of the schools he applied at. At one of the schools, he interviewed for the same position as a coaching friend of his. His friend got the position, and then did something surprising: he offered Keith the assistant position.

My initial reaction when Keith brought this opportunity to my attention was that he shouldn’t take it. The move would not be a promotion, and the school was far away. There would be no sense in my husband taking that job unless we moved nearer to the school. And the school was in a place we had no interest living in.

We talked about this and both came to the conclusion that it wouldn’t be advantageous for him to take this job, but then the Holy Spirit began to work on our hearts. Friday of the week that my husband had mentioned this possibility to me, I opened up my devotion that morning. I don’t even remember what the devotion said or how God made this clear to me, but I suddenly felt this idea wash over me that we were to move.

My husband also told me that he felt like he should take the job. With only the weekend to make a decision and notify the school, we both prayed about it, and that Sunday we had the prayer team at our church pray for us. We did not get a scroll from heaven with detailed instructions or an angel descending down telling us God’s directive, but by the end of the weekend, we both felt that we were to go.

Embarking on a New Move

Initially, there was excitement as we made plans. We had to fix up our house and put it up for sale. We would need to locate a house in the new county. My husband had to notify his current school and his lacrosse program. We scurried to follow this new direction we felt God was leading us.

But, I have to be honest, in the midst of the plans there was some confusion and sadness on my part. I felt a little bit of bitterness towards God. He was leading us somewhere where I had never expected he would. Sure, in my current situation, God had either closed ministry opportunities or told me not to take them, but I accepted it believing that he would open them again. We were comfortable. I didn’t expect that He would ever move us on.

Even though God told me when I prayed about it that the reason we were to go was for “something better,” I didn’t know if I could believe him. I couldn’t see on the outside how anything better could await us in this place I didn’t want to go.

I loved our stately brick house in the neighborhood we had scoped out over a year long process. It represented everything that I had wanted at the time: status, acceptance, and safe environment for the raising of my children. And we would have to leave it all behind.

And — a few months into our house listing, when I got pregnant (again, a surprise that I did not expect), I was rattled by how out of control I was with everything. I know some of you reading this may be thinking, Get over yourself! Give up control! But I can tell you, I struggled.

Yet, however difficult it might be for us to initially let go of something God asks of us — a ministry position, a relationship, a material possession, control — while the process of giving it up may be one we struggle with, the end result is peace and joy.

As Charles Stanley notes in chapter 9 of The Blessings of Brokenness, “When we give up something to which we are clinging and counting as more valuable than our obedience to God, he often gives us something in return that is even far more valuable or beneficial to us. At times, but not always, it is the very thing we gave up. At other times, it is something different but better” (128).

The Blessings of Obedience

Let me tell you what has happened since we made this move that I had mixed emotions about.

We’ve only been here for a few months, and some of the very things I was the most worried about have been the place of unexpected blessing. Yes, I have had some very lonely moments transitioning into a new community, but here’s some of the “better” God has already orchestrated:

  • We have a brand new house. Our old house was getting up there in years, and every week we were having things in the house break down that we didn’t have the money to fix. With our one-income status, we simply couldn’t afford to keep up the house in the way we would want to. We are now in a house that has new fixtures and is a new structure, so we aren’t constantly have to deal with things breaking down.
  • We found a church we loved right away. It had taken us three years to find our old church home, and I anticipated that our new church hunt would be similar. Therefore, I could not have been more surprised to find that the first church my husband recommended was one that would be the one that we felt we were meant to attend.
  • I was surprised to find that I liked our surroundings. As much as I loved our old neighborhood, it was getting very crowded in the area we were in, and I longed for a little more serenity. Lately, for whatever reason, I had been missing the coastal landscape I had grown up in. I had longed for the sight for the ocean again. Though we don’t live near the ocean, we live near a large system of lakes and have one in our neighborhood. There is even a lake that you can see from the edge of our property in the land behind us.
  • My children have been doing fine in their new school environments. They have been very resilient during this move, and I haven’t heard too many complaints about what we left behind.

I have only mentioned material things, but the best blessing of all so far is that in moving I was released from a stressful situation where I felt like I was at a dead-end. I wasn’t making gains spiritually there any longer and felt pulled down by relationships that were no longer helping to further me on the path God had for me.

A New Start for Our Family

I don’t want to sugarcoat things. There has been sacrifice and hardship along the way. And sometimes I have found myself in the last few months longing for the familiar, but I have found myself slowly letting go of what I thought I wanted so much.

The other day, my husband casually mentioned the name of the area we are living in: New Hope.

Even though there are various signs around with the name, I had missed it because the only name I had noticed up to that point was the name in the nearby town and our new address.

New Hope. Let me tell you, friends, after the journey I have been on the last few years, I could not be more excited to end up in a place with that name. I believe that it’s no coincidence. It’s like a further reassurance from God about the things He plans to do while we’re here.

And we’ve been given more than the a name like New Hope to make us think that.

Questions to Consider: Has God asked you to give up something in the past, and it turned out to be a decision that led to blessing in your life? Is there something He is asking you to give up now?

This concludes our book study on The Blessings of Brokenness: Why God Allows Us to Go Through Hard Times. We will have a live video chat over the last two chapters this Monday, July 11th @ 9 PM EST.  Click the video chat link to subscribe for free or watch the replay. Thanks so much for joining us! I hope this study has ministered to you. We’d love to hear how the book has blessed you. You can leave a comment here or share your story with us through the blog contact page.

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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Upcoming Book Study: The Blessings of Brokenness

THE BLESSINGS OF BROKENNESS (5)Ever wonder why God has allowed hard times to come into your life? Even though you may not have enjoyed the trials or may be walking through them now, have you considered that God has a great blessing for you in the midst or aftermath of your brokenness?

Friends, I would like to tell you about a book study opportunity that will run for five weeks June 10 through July 8 over Charles Stanley’s The Blessings of Brokenness: Why God Allows Us to Go Through Hard Times. I stumbled across this book in the library a few months ago, and I loved how simply it delved into the very hard questions that all of us ask at one point or another: God, why is this happening? Why did you allow this?

As I have shared in other places of my blog, I have had to confront the truth in my own life that God allows brokenness at times in my life for a specific reason. In a simple, eye-opening way, Stanley unpacks the possible reasons for hardship and brokenness in our lives in his book — and then shows us how we can confront that brokenness and find blessing in it, rather than just suffering.

There are several ways you can participate with us in the book study. I have written five posts that correspond with the chapters in the book, and we will also have some live chats on the weekly reading with other writers on the blog. You can receive the posts and links to the chats by following us on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+ (if you are not already following us).

I would highly encourage you to get the book and read it along with the study. However, it is also possible to join us in the study without purchasing the book, and you can get something from the study just by reading the weekly posts. (Click here if you would like to preview or buy the book.)

To get a sample of the format of the study, I’ve included a preview of my first post for chapters 1 & 2. I encourage you to read it and look at the book study schedule below! Blessings!

Sample Book Study Post: Response to Chapters 1 & 2

A few years ago, I sat in a small prayer service at my church. While the people around me had upraised hands and cheerful expressions on their faces, I stewed on my pew.

I was angry at God. During the worship and prayer, two continual questions played like a tape recorder in my head, over and over: Why is this happening? Why are you letting me go through this, God? I had never been so confused or doubtful in my Christian walk. Whereas a few months before I had joyfully left my job to follow down a new path at His leading, I had no idea that it would lead to what felt like such chaos and suffering.

Our money had dried up. God hadn’t directed me to a way to replace the income we had lost when I had quit. All of the part-time work I looked into didn’t pay what I needed or would demand too much of my time.

My marriage was hanging by a thread. My husband and I were constantly fighting over finances and this “new direction” I felt I was to go.

My newborn son was difficult and colicky. He cried all the time and added to the tension of our already tension-filled household.

The area I had felt God ask me to step into wasn’t opening up like I wanted. I kept coming up against walls in relationships and opportunities. I made adjustments, worked on my skills, practiced in any spare second I could — but none of that made any difference.

I felt stuck. I knew this was where God wanted me. But why did He want me here? Although I would never admit it out loud to anyone, there was a voice inside that said, “This isn’t working. You should give up.” I wanted to run away. I didn’t want to follow God anymore if He continued to lead me  down this path.

As I wrestled inside with these questions that I am sure everyone around me would find so shocking, there was also part of me that wasn’t completely void of hope. Part of me that knew that I didn’t have any other options. And because I didn’t know what else to do, I walked up at the end of the service to the altar call. There were hardly any people standing at the front of the church. I felt really foolish and silly standing there.

My bad mood hadn’t completely left. I really didn’t think anything would happen in that moment. But as I stood there, I heard the pastor say, “Don’t turn away. Don’t turn away.”

He was on the stage. He wasn’t talking directly to me, but I knew that God had put those words in his head for me. And, who knows?, maybe there was someone else sitting in the congregation — even in the midst of all those people with saintly expressions — who needed to hear that too.

Don’t. Turn. Away.

And that was it. That was enough. I felt the searing heat of God’s presence in my soul. I still didn’t understand what He wanted from me. I didn’t understand why He was letting me walk through such hardship, but I did understand this in that moment: He knew what I was going through, and He wanted me to stay with Him in the process. He wanted me to stick it out.

I didn’t get any other answers in the service that day. God didn’t reveal to me the reasons I was going through what I was — but I got the reassurance that God had me on a journey. And that there was a purpose for me in what felt like utter agony and disorder.

The reality is this. As Charles Stanley notes in The Blessings of Brokenness, “Brokenness is not something to be shunned and avoided at all cost. Rather it is something to be faced with faith” (12).

To be continued … read the rest of my post starting June 10.

Here’s How You Can Join in:

1. Read two chapters a week, starting June 10 and ending July 8. (Again, reading the book is optional but will help to bring clarity to the weekly posts.)

2. Read the weekly posts starting June 10 and write comments underneath in response to what I wrote and add your own reflections and insights. You can write comments in response to just my post (if you haven’t read the chapters), or you can write comments based on what you are reading in the book.

3. Each Monday starting June 13 (with the exception of the week of July 4), writers here on the site will lead a Blab chat on the two chapters for that week. You can look for the link for the chat on Facebook, Twitter or Google + and submit questions or comments in response to the chats — or listen in on them later during the replay if you are unable to make it to the chat.

A Breakdown of the Schedule:

June 10: Chapters 1 & 2

*Blab Chat: June 13 @ 9 p.m. EST

June 17: Chapters 3 & 4

*Blab Chat: June 20 @ 9 p.m. EST

June 24: Chapters 5 & 6

*Blab Chat: June 27 @ 9 p.m. EST

July 1: Chapters 7 & 8

*Blab Chat: July 5 @ 9 p.m. EST (Note, this chat takes place on a Tuesday night to account for the July 4 holiday.)

July 8: Chapters 9, 10 & Epilogue

*Blab Chat: July 11 @ 9 p.m. EST

We hope you will join in!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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Dealing With the Challenges That Come With Change

Beulah Girl April May 2016 (9)

Not long ago, I started a new job. Well, in truth, it’s not new, really. I just transferred to a new location. Same job, different building. Same job, different colleagues. Same job, different challenges. So, the same but different.

Anyone else out there dealing with different right now?

Change can bring tremendous blessing, but it can also bring tremendous anxiety. I can testify to this, and I suspect others can give the same declaration with similar confidence. Change is a part of life, but it does, more often than not, come with a roller coaster of emotions.

Different can be scary. And when different begins to present challenges, you start to second guess your decision to embrace change in the first place. Even though it may have clearly been the right decision to embrace this difference, these doubts can be painful.

Beulah Girl April May 2016 (10)

And so much comfort in life comes from the predictability of routine, the familiar people that surround us, and our everyday environment, so when one of those things (or all of them) changes, we can suddenly feel disabled. It’s as if we’re toddlers struggling to learn how to walk again. Tripping over our own feet. Stumbling over unfamiliar territory. Wondering if there is something, anything, nearby we can hold on to that would help guide our way.

Moving away from home? Changing jobs? Making a life-changing decision like staying home with the kids? Or homeschooling? Searching for a new church home?

What is your change — your different — that is seemingly pressing in on you?

During this challenging time in my life right now, this time of transition, my biggest struggle is with finding a new rhythm. I’m trying to relax and enjoy my new surroundings, but everything feels so awkward, so foreign. It’s distressing and wearisome.

Recently, I read a devotion in Becoming More Than a Good Bible Study Girl, by Lysa Terkeurst, that took a closer look at Exodus 27:20, and it gave me hope. In this chapter of Exodus, God is instructing the Israelites on how to build the altar of burnt offering. The passage reads: “Command the Israelites to bring you clear oil of pressed olives for the light so that the lamps may be kept burning.”

Terkeurst makes the following observation: “Isn’t it interesting that the olive branch is often seen as a symbol of peace? And yet in order to get what’s most valuable from the fruit of this tree, there is a lot of pounding, crushing and pressing that is required. Those words don’t usually go hand in hand with peace.”

There is a great truth in her words: A greater good is often found on the other side of pressing times in our lives. As Terkeurst points out later in her devotion, Jesus is an excellent example of this truth: “In order for Him to truly be ‘the light of the world,’ the prophecy of his beating, death and resurrection had to be fulfilled. His greatest hardship became our greatest hope.”

When we feel that God has asked us to make a change, and we are obedient to that prompting, it can be hard, trying. We may feel as if we are being pounded and crushed. However, after time passes, we are sure to reap a harvest of joy from our submission — whether it’s in this life or the next.

 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. (Romans 8:18)

Meditating on this truth found throughout the Bible helps me when situations threaten to overcome me.

The knowledge that these present trials can be used for future good helps me get out of bed every morning. Just taking time to remember that everything turns out all right in the end brings me great comfort.

He is in control. He is on His throne. He works all things for the good of those that love Him.

During your quiet time today, thank God for what He is doing in your life. Take time to let His peace, that surpasses all understanding, wash over you.

I have come to a place where I can thank God for my new job — and all its new challenges. After being reminded by God’s Word that the hottest fires bring forth desirable things in my life, I can approach Him now with thanksgiving in my heart. Because now I realize that difficult is only temporary, and God has so much He can do through it.

Will you join me in praising Him for your new change? Trust me. It helps.

 

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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Keeping Your Pursuits Godly When Running the Race of Faith

Beulah Girl April May 2016 (11)

Ennui” is the impatience and general disappointment that comes with not doing whatever it is you really want to do, and I’m certain it has been a constant companion of mine since childhood. I came out of the womb with a lot of ambition, and that desire to be doing something great never really went away. I settled it around the second grade that I wanted to be a writer. I loved words, and I wanted to write books that people loved.

Unfortunately, my other aspirations were ridiculous. I wanted to be a spy à la Harriet and slink around my apartment complex in a yellow rain jacket jotting notes like “They’re onto me.” Not too long after that, I felt so strongly about my chances at becoming a singing sensation that I traveled door to door and asked people for money in exchange for songs. Furthermore, I was bummed when I realized that all of the calculated focus spent on my Jedi training was useless because Jedi weren’t even real.

No matter where I was in my life, I was always pushing myself forward, enchanted by this idea that one day, far into the future, I would meander into what I was meant to do. And because there was no way that God could mean for me to live an ordinary life, whatever it was would be grand.

I grew older and my ambitions veered into more socially acceptable directions. I spent some time wanting to study medicine in order to become a “blood up to my elbows” kind of trauma surgeon. After that, I was determined to become a theater actress, but that fizzled out when I went to college. I still maintained hopes about writing although it seemed so ludicrous that I relegated that dream to a fanciful hobby, and I decided to study teaching instead.

But even after graduation, I kept my sights on something higher — the next big job, the next big adventure, etc.

Looking Into the Future: What Is the Prize You Are Chasing After?

That same kind of attitude can settle in us concerning matters of God. We place the future on some sort of pedestal, and we hail it as a prize to be won. Now, I agree with the fact that God leads us. I completely agree with the fact that He ordains things for us to do in life and in ministry.

I know it was in God’s plans for me to marry Jamie Howard. I know it was in His plans for me to graduate with a degree in education. I know it was in His plans for me and my husband to buy our first home this year, and since then, we’ve worked hard to mark it as a place of surrender and worship. But just because those things were His plans for me doesn’t mean that they were mine to obsess over or chase after before the appointed time.

Over the past few years, my husband and I have toiled over what God had for us in the future — children, missionary work, ministry endeavors, adoption, joint business ventures, etc. We looked into our future, and we dreamed and planned about what we thought God would send our way.

But what God has revealed to us is that our focus on the future was taking away from our pursuit of Him in the present. We didn’t come to this realization through the course of a single sermon or a well-timed conversation with a friend. It was a slow dawning as we settled into a new home, a new church, and a new season of rest and renewal.

As a result of being in this new phase of our lives, our minds began to clear, and it was in that clear head space that we could hear the Lord saying, “I’m it. I’m the prize at the end of the race, and if the way you’re running that race is taking the focus off of me, run differently.”

And the more we leaned into Him and allowed Him to undo the knots in our thinking, the more clearly we could hear Him.

Philippians 3:7-11 (NKJV) says:

But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

That is the end goal, friends. Not marrying a godly person or raising godly children. Not pursuing godly ministry or starting godly businesses. The end goal is to know Him.

When we look into the future, our aim should be that we would always be in a place of surrender, and that our lives would always be a testament of His great love. And in pursuing that, God will lead us towards the desires of our hearts because our desires will be conformed to His desires.

Beulah Girl April May 2016 (14)Running the Race With the Right Pursuit

The race that my husband and I were running became about the places we would see and the things that we would do along the way instead of being about the prize. And that prize was Jesus, the only one by whom we would ever be able to achieve any of those things anyway. In fact, on some days, the race that we were running didn’t even lead to Him at all. It just led to us being happy and fulfilled.

So here are some thoughts and questions that I encourage you to meditate on. They’re the same kinds of questions I’ve had to ask myself over the past few months.

  1. Think about your life and future. Think about the things that you are pursuing. Marriage? A family? A certain position in ministry? A particular job? Financial security? Saved family and friends?
  2. Ask yourself these questions: Have I placed any of those things before my pursuit of Jesus? Do I strive to know Him better every day? Do I surrender my will to His or do I hope His will will bend to mine? Has God already spoken and yet I’m still waiting for something better? Would I be content if His plans for my life look vastly different than I think they should?
  3. If your answers in any way reflect that the only desires of your heart are to see your own wants fulfilled, then I urge you to repent and then make it right. Turn away from that way of thinking, and chase after God in order to know Him better.

I’m a work in progress, and while some days are better than others, I can honestly say that God is working out of me the desire to do as I please in favor of what He purposes for me. Thankfully, God doesn’t always allow me to get exactly what I want when I want it because if I could, I wouldn’t be the person that He needs me to be in order to see it done right.

Paul said in Philippians 3 that things we “lose” are nothing compared to what we gain when we surrender to Him. And if His plans for your life look different than what you have planned for it, I encourage you reconsider your plans. A high cost was paid for your life, so, by all accounts, your life isn’t your own anymore.

And if God’s intention for mankind was to leave our lives empty and devoid of passion and meaning, then I don’t think He would’ve pumped us so full of drive and ambition. But He wants to funnel that drive and ambition into His work, and in order for us to do that work well, to effectively partner with Him, we have to keep our eyes fixed on Him and nothing else. Hebrews 12 says that Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith. He writes our stories.

And He alone can finish them. So let Him pen the story of your life, and trust Him to write it well.

 

 

 

 

 

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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Waiting on God When You Are Facing a Red Sea Problem in Your Life

Beulah girl dec jan (7)

When you have grown up in church and heard certain Bible stories told multiple times, it’s easy to assume you know everything about familiar tales and view them in one particular context.

However, what I have found to be true the last few years is that the Word is truly active. Stories that I thought I knew in and out can have fresh meanings I never considered or understood until I walked through particular circumstances where that story suddenly became one I was living.

One such passage as of late that has become more alive to me has been Exodus 14, when the Israelites left Egypt to escape from Pharaoh and were led up against the Red Sea. The story is one that I have seen illustrated in hundreds of books and heard about in many different sermons. However, I used to see it only from the angle of the miracle-working power of God to deliver His people. And while that is certainly an important thrust of the story, I began to see it from a different perspective recently. I began to see it as a story that could show me what I should do when I encounter situations that look impossible.

A few of the treasures I can glean from this passage:

1. Our circumstances are never bigger than God.

Exodus tells us that the Israelites were led to the Red Sea and there they saw the vast water stretched in front of them, Pharaoh behind them — and they saw no escape.

God had done all sorts of miraculous signs in Egypt to deliver them from Pharaoh’s hand. He sent a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night to guide them away from Egypt. He even told Moses, their leader, that Pharaoh would pursue them and God would take care of it. Clearly, He was not going to abandon them at this point in the story. And yet, here, they grumbled and complained because they looked at their circumstances and took their eyes off of God.

I can relate. There are those situations where I can survey what God has done in the past and remember His faithfulness — and yet, I survey the current situation and say, “But God, where are you now? I need you to show up for me now!” And even though I know God has rescued me before and can do it again — I worry that He won’t.

Beulah girl dec jan (8)

And perhaps most shocking of all, most offensive to human reason is that God may have brought us to the place we are right now. He may have put that obstacle in front of us. As commentator Matthew Henry notes, the Israelites were instructed by God to turn from their route and head towards the Red Sea. A position, mind you, that not only put the sea in front of them and the Egyptians behind him them, but further “penned” them in with Pi-hahiroth, a range of sharp rocks, on one side; and Migdol and Baalzephon, believed to be forts and garrisons, on the other side (Matthew Henry Commentary).

God had a reason for leading them this way. He led them away from Philistine country where He knew that they wouldn’t be ready to handle a battle. But He led them to a place that looked, from a human vantage point, like a dead-end.

However, as Henry notes, they still had somewhere to go and it was “upwards.” He continues, “We may be in the way of duty, following God and hastening towards heaven, and yet be in great straits, troubled on every side … If God himself brings his people into straits, he will himself discover a way to bring them out again.” And although faith translated into action is good and can move obstacles, sometimes God brings us to a place that appears hopeless and asks us to do nothing but wait for Him. We look around in vain for an escape, and we get desperate when we can’t find one.

But God is bigger than any circumstance. He is never thrown off guard or taken by surprise. He knows exactly where we are. If we look at Him rather than the scary obstacle(s) in front of us, we will be able to still ourselves enough to see how He plans to deliver us or hear what our next step is.

2. God can use even our enemies to further His plans.

The other element here that is entirely offensive to human reason is the fact that not only did God put the Israelites up against a Red Sea, He hardened the heart of Pharaoh so that Pharaoh would pursue them. On the surface, this doesn’t sound like the action of a compassionate and loving God.

However, if we look deeper, we see that God did it so that His glory might be displayed. And He used the opportunity to take out Pharaoh and his entire army. While the Israelites viewed their situation as dire, God knew the outcome and wasn’t worried. But the people, again, saw only the circumstances and fretted with great distrust! How many times have I done the same? God has told me something that is to pass but the moment that I find myself in peril, I stop believing! But by doing so I essentially tell God that He isn’t strong enough to save me.

Pharaoh certainly didn’t think God was powerful enough to stop him. While Moses depended on God for the plan, Pharaoh depended on himself and the might of his power and his armies. Even though God had clearly shown Himself to be an unconquerable foe when He brought the plagues on Egypt and even took Pharaoh’s firstborn, Pharaoh did not believe, even after all of that, that God could outmatch him. Hearing of the Israelites’ unfortunate position against the Red Sea, Pharaoh seized on what he thought would be the perfect opportunity to take back the Israelites.

However, he quickly learned the folly of going up against the Almighty. He led himself and his men straight to a humiliating death when God closed up the sea and swallowed up Pharaoh and his armies! And just to add insult to injury, so to speak, Pharaoh’s men even admitted the might of God right before their death. After following the Israelites onto the path into the Red Sea, God took off their chariot wheels, and they said, “Let us flee from the face of Israel, for the Lord fights for them against the Egyptians” (v. 25). Pharaoh must have been a bit irked to hear his men speaking against the wisdom of following the Israelites when Pharaoh was the one who had insisted on the pursuit.

Clearly, what I can see here between the steadfast devotion of Moses and the self-pride of Pharaoh is that trying to do things outside of the will of God is never a good idea.

I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me? (Jeremiah 32:27)

God can and will use your enemies to forward His own plans. So while our human tendency is to view certain people as blocking our path, making it impossible for us to reach our Promised Land, we can look at this story and realize that our enemies may be key characters in the ultimate story of our deliverance. God hardening their hearts against us may be an act of great tenderness that has to do with His glory.

And while God’s way may just not make any sense to us initially, we can look at Pharaoh and know that however bad things get, we should never attempt to create and lean on our own plans rather than God’s.

3. God may allow your circumstances to strengthen your trust in Him.

One last little nugget that we can find tucked away in the story is that not only did God display His greatness by delivering His people and extinguishing their enemies in one flourishing swoop, He used the circumstance to teach His people to trust Him. After the Israelites looked at all that had happened, verse 31 tells us that “the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.”

I remember going through a particularly challenging circumstance a few years ago where nothing on the outside lined up with the vision God had given me for my life. I was so confused. As I was relating to one of my sisters about this particular season of my life (which is still ongoing in many ways), my sister said this: “Maybe God put you in that situation so you could trust him.”

I really didn’t like that answer but as I’ve thought about it, I’ve had to conclude that she was right. In that time where nothing made sense, and I felt like I was at a dead-end (and I was mad that God had brought me there), I did gain some great gifts from that circumstance. One such gift was that I learned how to better trust God.

So, while this story has everything to do with the unsurpassed power of God that I heard about so often in my Sunday school classes as a child — this story has many other layers as well. It has everything to do with the impossible scenario I find myself in right now. The one I am doubting God can deliver me from. The one that has me losing sleep at night. As Henry notes, in such situations, “Your strength is to sit still (Isa. 30:7), for the Egyptians shall … threaten to hurt in vain.”

You and I can be encouraged that God is at work. We may not see Him or hear Him right away, but He has a plan for bringing us where we are and a plan for bringing us out. We need only wait!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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