When We Suffer for Doing Good

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

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

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

When Doing God’s Will Leads to Suffering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The next morning during my quiet time, as I was still fuming over the injustice of the reality that good doesn’t always come to you for doing God’s will, I came across this gem of Scripture in 1 Peter 4:19:

So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

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

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

1. We will suffer for doing His will.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Bible Verses:

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

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

*Updated October 30, 2017

 

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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Avoiding a Place of Spiritual Stagnancy by Allowing God to Work on Us (Blessings of Brokenness Book Study)

THE BLESSINGS OF BROKENNESS (4)

In HGTV’s “Fixer Upper,” married couple Chip and Joanna Gaines take run-down houses and fix them up into beautiful, livable spaces.

In each episode, the Gaines show a client three different properties (generally houses in need of repair) and then remodel the house to the client’s specifications within a specific budget.

The condition of the houses varies depending on the episode; however, I was surprised to see one particular segment where the clients selected a “shotgun house” from the 1920s. After the Gaines discovered that the property was already sold to an investor who was tearing the houses down (but willing to give the dilapidated house away to anyone willing to move it), the buyers still decided to opt for this house and have it moved to another piece of property.

I say “surprised” because the house was in such terrible condition I couldn’t imagine how it would survive a transfer to another location. I made the comment to my husband that the house just needed to be bulldozed down.

However, to the Gaines’ credit, they very carefully moved this old, forgotten house, set it on a new foundation, and went to work bringing new life to the ancient structure. Chip had to evaluate what could stay as far as structure and what had to be added. I was amazed at the care and effort that went into restoring this house that, in my opinion, should have been condemned.

It got me thinking about the fact that God comes in and does the same kind of restoration work in us.

Chapter 7 of Charles Stanley’s The Blessings of Brokenness reveals just how much effort God is willing to go with each of us in the breaking and rebuilding process. While we may look just as unusable and worn out as the shotgun house in the “Fixer Upper’ episode, God looks at us and sees what we can be made into — not what is already there.

A few things we can keep in mind about the restoration process:

1. There is a plan to the breaking process.

Just as Chip had to survey the shotgun house in its current state and determine what needed to be ripped out and rebuilt, God does the same with us.

However, as Stanley notes in The Blessings of Brokenness, God’s breaking process is controlled (86). What looks to us like total chaos is in the total control of our Maker. He looks at us and knows what elements are rotten and broken — what needs to be stripped away — and what can remain.

Though it may not look initially to us like any progress is being made, as our Master Carpenter rips out old pieces of us, He has an end result in mind. It looks ugly before the renewal and new construction can begin — but the final result will be worth it.

2. Part of the plan is that God “targets the areas” that keep us from relying on Him.

As part of the breaking process, God identifies areas that are not contributing to your growth. As Stanley observes, you may already know the area of your life that God is “drawing a circle around” because it forms a barrier between you and God, and He will destroy and remove that area (90). Just like a house cannot be enhanced by old rotten boards or materials, there are places we have that God needs to rip out so that He can put in fresh, new materials.

We know when something hinders a free flow of the Spirit of God in us. We know when something stops us from witnessing or from having victory in our daily lives. We know when something consumes our attention, disrupts our peace, or magnetizes our thinking. God certainly knows when this happens, and he knows far sooner and more completely than we know it! (The Blessings of Brokenness, 90)

When we know God is targeting an area, what should we do? We should submit to the process and give up our “right” to have a final say as to the outcome. As Stanley suggests, we should ask God, “What would you have me do?” (103). Unfortunately, the rebuilding process for many of us is one that we want but also resist because it is so painful.

As much as we want to be used by God and be built into His perfect masterpiece, we are human. We don’t want the pain. We don’t like the methods God uses, and we want control.

But, as Stanley warns, if we resist, it will not go well for us. The pressure may intensify, and if we resist long enough, we will face a place of stagnancy in our Christian walk. God leaves us in the state we’re in. And there’s nothing worse than an unfinished masterpiece. I know because I lived in a house for years that was unfinished. My dad started the project of building my childhood home but left it undone for many years.

Living with particle board floors, knob-less doors, scaffolding outside the house, and constant construction chaos wore on me. I always longed for a completed house that we could be proud of. There was a sense of closure inside when I saw the house finished my senior year of high school.

Just like the satisfaction I felt when I saw my own house finished, the clients in the “shotgun house” episode of “Fixer Upper” also expressed that same satisfaction when they saw their house finished. The aging wood had been ripped out and replaced. New drywall, plumbing, and electrical had been installed.

The floors had been sanded down, stained and restored to their former glory. New cabinets, paint and fixtures sparkled in every room. It was astounding to see the transformation. Who would have thought such a reformation possible?

The question is, when we feel like God is circling an area of our life for transformation — fear, pride, self-sufficiency, whatever it may be — will we yield to the breaking or resist?

We can be assured that “God makes no mistakes in the breaking process … “ (104). Ultimately, His purpose is not to “destroy us, but to bring us to a position of maximum wholeness, maturity and usefulness in His kingdom” (102).

Questions to Consider: Is there an area of your life God may be drawing a circle around? What is He telling you in regards to this area?

Book Study: This post is part of a five week book study over Charles Stanley’s The Blessings of Brokenness: Why God Allows Us to Go Through Hard Times. We will have a live video chat over chapters 7 & 8 this Tuesday, July 5, @ 9 PM. Please note the date change from our usual Monday night time to Tuesday to account for the July 4 holiday. Click the video chat link to subscribe or watch the replay. To join us for next our last week, read chapters 9, 10 & Epilogue by next Friday, July 8.

 

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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Letting Your Dream Die In Order to See It Live (Blessings of Brokenness Book Study)

THE BLESSINGS OF BROKENNESS (2)

“Before any of us can fully live as God created us to live, we must first die to our desire to control our own lives or live life according to our plan and will” (The Blessings of Brokenness, 28).

Sometime this past summer, before the air grew crisp and the scents and sights of autumn were in the air, I took my kids outside to let them play in the backyard.

As I sat observing them while they ran around and played, I watched my daughter beat a small tree with a stick. Pretty soon my son joined in with a stick he had found, following his sister’s lead.

“What are you doing?” I asked after a few minutes.

“I want it to be fall,” my daughter said as she continued to beat determinedly at the slender trunk, trying to shake the green leaves off.

“Oh sweetie, you can’t make the leaves come off before they are ready,” I said. As I spoke, I thought of the spiritual lesson that could be taken from my children’s insistence on creating a season that hadn’t yet come. Don’t many of us do the same thing?

A Desire to Be Used in Music Ministry Out of Season

Some time ago, I sat in a church service with an uneasy heart. There was a music opportunity that I wanted to be a part of, but I felt unsettled in my spirit. That very afternoon, I was scheduled to meet with a new worship pastor, and yet I felt a tugging deep inside. A pause.

During the course of the sermon, it began to dawn on me that perhaps I wasn’t to walk into this opportunity. Perhaps I was to say no. The pastor didn’t mention music in his message or say anything about my specific situation.

Instead, he gave a story about his brother having a choice from the school about taking a 7th grade math course over and not wanting to do it, but his parents insisted on it because his math skills were weak. And I knew right then that there was “a 7th grade math” that God wanted me to take. To do so was going to take discipline and was going to be a lot less fun than singing on a stage and writing songs.

There was a training that I was to go to instead and project I was to finish. I was going to try to do all of that and music at the same time, but I began to get the sense that I wasn’t to go that route. I agonized over that decision all afternoon. I even went to the meeting hoping that maybe I heard wrong during the sermon.

But like a bell tolling in my spirit, the ring getting louder and louder throughout the day, I knew that God was telling me “no” in regards to music. And it was the hardest no I have ever had to accept. I didn’t like the idea that God could control my talents. Yes, I wanted to surrender and do all of the things that you hear about in worship songs. But when it came down to it, I only wanted to surrender if it was easy and God didn’t ask for hard things from me.

I wanted to be in a different season than the one I was in.

It wasn’t until later that I remembered a phrase I had heard once in a sermon: sometimes you have to kill something first to make it live.

A Test of Faith: When God Asks You to “Kill” a Talent or a Dream

In Genesis 22, as Charles Stanley notes in The Blessings of Brokenness, Abraham is instructed to sacrifice his only son. Obviously, I am not instructing you to murder anyone and neither is God — and that’s not a discussion we’ll be getting into in this post — but Abraham was asked to step out in faith.

Abraham obeyed and prepared to do what God asked. As he was preparing the altar, his son asked him, “Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” (v. 7). Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son” (v. 8). Right at the moment when he was going to plunge a knife into Isaac, an angel intervened and offered Abraham a ram. Verses 14-17 tell us:

And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called the name of that place, ‘The Lord will provide’; as it is said to this day, ‘on the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.’ And the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven and said, ‘By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore.’

Abraham believed the whole time that he was being asked to sacrifice his son that God would provide a lamb. And sure enough, when he presented all he had to God in the ultimate test of faith, God came through for him.

Clearly, God has our good in mind even if what He instructs us to do initially looks like a death of some kind. A death of a dream. A death of our reputation. A death of an opportunity. We can trust that where He leads us, even if it means giving up something precious, will end in good. He will provide when we give up all we have.

In fact, His plans for us will be better than those we come up with ourselves. As Stanley observes:

If we are willing to give up striving [after our own goals] and seeking after them no matter the cost, and instead, turn to God, he will satisfy all of our longings for the future with perfect fulfillment. If we are willing to give up defining our own future, he’ll give us something better than we could ever arrange, manipulate, or create. (34)

… You can never lose in surrendering your all to God. You can never lose in giving yourself away. (41)

But we have to trust even when that means giving up something very promising or attractive that we don’t want to let go of.

Being Obedient to God and Accepting the Season He Has Us in

As of now, I am still not in music. I believe that is yet to come, but let me share with you what did happen as a result of giving up that promising opportunity two years ago:

  • I went to a training that answered the spiritual questions I was battling with at the time. Many of the principles I learned in that training are those I write about here on this blog and share with you on a regular basis.
  • I worked on a project I had started that involved going back to my former school community. During the process of going through that project, God revealed to me the wounds I was struggling with (mainly, an addiction to approval). Identifying those wounds helped me find inner healing and helped me be able to find forgiveness and restoration where there had been guilt and shame in my past.
  • God worked on my pride and my competitive spirit by placing me in a different position in the church. He worked out some of my unfavorable traits week after week by putting me in a position of service to others rather than a position of prominence.
  • God gave me the directive to start a blog to share my journey and story of healing with other women. The time and energy I had to invest to learn the world of blogging was more than I would have been able to invest in if I had been in music.
  • As a result of the school project that I really didn’t want to do, God opened a door I did not expect by orchestrating a job change for my husband and a move for our family to a new community. Although I didn’t know it at the time, we were not meant to stay at the church we were at but instead were intended to move to an entirely different area.

Friend, as Nicki Korzaiz emphasizes in 5 Habits of a Woman Who Doesn’t Quit, we need to “accept the season” that God has put us in. Perhaps we are in a season of refinement or hardship, and we don’t like it. But He knows what we are going through, and if we believe that He truly has our best interests in mind and will make more out of us than we can in our own strength, we can submit to the hardship knowing that there is a blessing on the other side.

As Abraham reasoned when he bound his son to the altar in obedience, God can provide a lamb where there is none or bring the dead back to life (Genesis 22:7,8; Hebrews 11:17-19). Therefore, there is no sacrifice too great — not even that which we perceive as the death of a dream or our most precious talent or possession — because God can give to us or resurrect whatever it is He asks us to lay down.

Questions to Consider: Is there something God is asking you to put aside or sacrifice at the moment? Are you questioning His wisdom because it doesn’t make any sense? Leave a comment below.

Book Study: This post is part of a five week book study over Charles Stanley’s The Blessings of Brokenness: Why God Allows Us to Go Through Hard Times. We will have a live video chat over chapters 3 & 4 this Monday, June 20, @ 9 p.m. EST. Click the video chat link to subscribe or watch the replay. To join us for next week, read chapters 5 & 6 by next Friday, June 24.

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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Confronting Brokenness Rather Than Running From It (Blessings of Brokenness Book Study)

 THE BLESSINGS OF BROKENNESS (1)

“One of the things I have discovered through being broken … is that after brokenness we can experience God’s greatest blessings … But this blessing comes only if we experience brokenness fully and confront why it is that God has allowed us to be broken. If we allow God to do his complete work in us, blessing will follow brokenness” (The Blessings of Brokenness, 10).

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 in 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).

The Israelites had similar grumblings when God led them to the Red Sea. There had been rejoicing and celebration when they left Egypt. They most likely had dreamed of the new land they were going to, laughed when they considered the slavery they were leaving behind. But all of that was a distant memory when they came up against the mighty sea and heard Pharoah’s army behind them.

They were trapped. They had no way out. And they began murmuring and complaining to Moses, “Why did you bring us out here to die in the wilderness?” (Exodus 14:11, NLT). Many of them thought about where they had just come from. Yes, they were slaves in Egypt, but at least they weren’t about to die there. And they wanted to go back. Suddenly this journey they had been so excited about didn’t seem so appealing any longer. Where was God?

And just when they thought they would surely come to an end and be killed by the Egyptians, Moses raised his staff and the waters parted. The people were in awe. Their finite minds had tried to think of all the ways God would deliver them, but all of the options that they were running through most likely were ones that got them out of their situation. They most likely did not include God creating a path through the very body of water that blocked their path.

Perhaps you find yourself in a situation that doesn’t make any sense. All you want is out. You may have made a job change or life change at God’s direction. The change may have been made with excitement and anticipation and then the bottom fell out. Perhaps you encountered relationship difficulties. Perhaps you left behind a supportive staff or department and your new work environment is full of prickly individuals. Perhaps you were once in a situation where you felt applauded and esteemed in your work, but no one is that impressed with your talents at the moment. Perhaps you have health concerns and don’t know what the doctor is going to say next.

And perhaps the questions in your head are the ones I had in the service or the one that the Israelites had when they faced the Red Sea. If so, this study is a great one for you to embark on because I believe God is saying the same thing to you that He said to me a few years ago: Don’t turn away.

That even though everything in you may want to run for the hills — there is a great blessing waiting for you if you persevere and choose not to turn away.

Even though it may not make any sense to us, God’s desire right now may not be for us to get out of our situation but to walk through it.

Questions to Consider: What situation does God possibly want you to confront rather than run away from? What might the blessing be if you stick out whatever hard thing God is asking you to walk through? We’d love to hear from you in the comments. 

Book Study: This post is part of a five week book study over Charles Stanley’s The Blessings of Brokenness: Why God Allows Us to Go Through Hard Times. We will have a live chat over chapters 1 & 2 Monday at 9 p.m. EST. To join us for next week, read chapters 3 & 4 by next Friday.

 

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 One Thing I Have Needed the Most in Ministry

Beulah Girl Feb 2016 (1)Without even meaning to, I often let messages from our culture dictate my thought processes. And then I encounter a truth or story in God’s Word and discover I have been backward in my thinking about a certain idea or issue.

In particular, I have carried some very worldly ideas about ministry these past few years. God has continually shown me how His version of Christian service and calling is very different than mine. I have thought at certain points that ministry is about my efforts for God and that I have been responsible for creating some sort of stage for myself with which to declare His glory (and also look good myself!) — more of the latter if I am honest.

Recently, however, I encountered a story in the Bible of a woman who gives me a model to emulate concerning ministry. In Luke 2:36-38, we encounter Anna, a prophetess, who served as one of the first witnesses of Christ as the Messiah. One day in the temple, she saw Jesus as a child with his parents, spoke to them, and then went and shared with the community about what she had seen. This is her account:

There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them [Jesus and his parents] at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

These few lines tell us so much about a woman who lived an effective life of Christian service. Though she didn’t seek out attention or applause, she still encountered Jesus and was used by Him in a big way.

A few lessons you and I can learn from Anna about ministry:

1. Jesus wants to use us.

One major worldly notion I held about ministry a few years ago was that it was about what I had to bring to the table. If the truth be told, although I left teaching four years ago to answer a call to go into music and women’s ministry, I was secretly afraid that I wasn’t qualified enough to serve God. My main concern had to do with poor choices I had made in my past.

Even though I knew God forgave people of their sins, I thought that maybe I had stepped too far over the line. After all, I rationalized, it was fine if you sinned in your life before Christianity and then got cleansed of those things upon salvation — but what if you were a big sinner even as a Christian? At the age of 18, I had been in a band and had begun writing music, but I left that to pursue a career in education. The longer that I served as a teacher, the more I began to think that I needed to forget about my dream to be used in music. I figured that I had messed things up too badly in my life for God to allow me to be used in worship again.

Therefore, when I felt Him telling me to go down a music path and create a ministry, my natural response was that I thought I needed to hide those ugly blots from my past and not bring them up. Surely, if people knew some of my deeds, they would never listen to anything I had to say. Therefore, it surprised me greatly when God began to prod into those very areas and encouraged me to begin sharing with others about my past and how He was healing me. It never occurred to me that He would be able to use such ugly things and use them as a platform on which to base my ministry.

And not only that, I worried that I wasn’t qualified enough in terms of abilities. Like Moses doubted he could be used because of a speech impediment (Exodus 4:10) and Jeremiah doubted he could be used because of his youth (Jeremiah 1:6), I worried that I wasn’t talented or capable enough to be a vocalist or spokesperson for God.

However, as we see with Anna in the story, service to God is more about making ourselves available than it is about our impressive skills or qualifications. Although Anna didn’t have a questionable past or insecurities about her ability to be used, she had little status or clout in her society. A woman in her time was not considered as reliable as a man to be a witness in a courtroom — and yet, God entrusted her with the task of serving as a witness to the Messiah to her community.

Clearly, we can see that God is not limited by what we think He is. Although He certainly works through our gifts, He is not limited by our individual or society-based perceptions of what we can or can’t offer. As the One who made us, He knows just what we were made for — and the person who can serve Him best is the person who totally relies on Him for His version of who He made him or her to be.

2. God gives us the message and the plan.

Another notion I had about ministry that strikes me as being a little funny now is not only did I think I had to be more amazing than I was to really be used, I also held the idea that I had to come up with what I would say and the vision. You see, I didn’t realize that ministry is more about God working through me than it is about what I do for Him.

When I first left teaching, I put a lot of pressure on myself to make something happen. I didn’t even know what God specifically wanted to me to do (in and through me) — and I tried to generate a plan before I really knew what His plans were. Yes, I had a vague sense that He wanted to use me in music and later got the memo that He wanted me to start a self-worth ministry, but I tried to get ahead of Him and create the logical steps to make this happen. However, I kept running into roadblocks, and I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t getting anywhere.

When I prayed about what to do, God kept giving me odd answers. I felt nudges to contact people from my past. I felt I was to quit the worship team and serve in the nursery. All of the things He was telling me to do seemed to be leading me further and further away from the destiny I felt He had for me. However, it was in these small acts of obedience — these small areas of service that I began to get answers about what I was to do and where it began to dawn on me what God was even calling me to. And it was in these seemingly insignificant places where God revealed Himself to me in ways that astounded me and helped me to know what His purpose for me and the message He wanted me to share was.

Similarly, what we can see through Anna’s example is that just as she gave her life to God and didn’t argue with God about the ways He wanted to use her; she understood that God would come up with the plan. She did what she knew to do with quiet, faithful work — and it was in that seemingly insignificant place that she looked up and saw Jesus in bodily form with His parents one day in the temple! And she must have known in that moment what God wanted to accomplish through her.

We don’t have to generate the plan or the results. We just have to be faithful where God has placed us — in the thing that might feel so small and unimportant to us. If He has placed us there, and we do not have the green light to move on or see no other open door, we can be content that He has a purpose for us even if it feels to us like we are in the background or no one notices us. And we may look back at a later date and see how that place that felt pointless was the place God used us to bless others, to grow the traits in us that we needed, or to connect us with the individuals He desired us to learn from.

3. God has a specific audience in mind for our message.

Just as God has a specific objective He wants to accomplish through you and me in ministry, He also has a specific audience in mind that needs to hear our message. Yes, vast evangelization efforts in a more general sense are needed — the world is starving for what Christians can offer. However, there are specific people (possibly in our immediate realm) who can connect with our specific testimony — and God knows who those people are.

Beulah Girl Feb 2016

In our passage, after Anna encountered Jesus in the temple, she went around and told people that she had seen Jesus in the temple. It says that she shared with people “awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem” (v. 38). The WORD® Translation puts it like this: “She spoke about Jesus to all who were waiting for Jerusalem to be set free.” Although not much explanation is given here, just as Anna was most likely awaiting Jesus’ arrival long before He showed up in the temple, there were others also hungry and searching for Him — needing the hope and freedom He would bring.

Not only did God orchestrate a miraculous moment for Anna in the temple when she saw Jesus in person with His parents, He had people within her community that needed to hear about the experience that impacted her so greatly — and had apparently worked in the hearts of her audience before she even knew what her message would be! Anna’s encounter with Christ intersected at the perfect moment when others needed to know how they, too, could intersect with Him.

Similarly, God has had a particular group in mind for me to speak to. Just as I didn’t know really what God wanted from me originally when He nudged me to leave my career and didn’t know what my message would be, I haven’t known whom I was supposed to deliver this message to. I thought originally that I would work with high school age girls — perhaps start a ministry at this level because I had been a high school teacher and had experience with this age group.

But over and over, when I asked Him whom He wanted me to speak to or serve, I kept recalling the morning I had woken up and gotten the revelation I was to start a self-worth ministry — and God had used the word “women” in His message to me. And this thought terrified me!

As an instructor, I felt very comfortable speaking in front of adolescents, but not adults. Whenever I had to speak at a faculty meeting or give a presentation for an adult learning class, I got very nervous. But I’ve aimed my entire blog ministry towards women because God told me to.

Therefore, just as God has an objective for us concerning our message and mission when we answer His call — whether that be into an actual pastoral or care ministry or ministry in a different setting — He also will most likely burden us with a desire to reach out to a particular group of people. And as we walk in obedience in what He asks us to do, we will naturally get a revelation about who those people are or encounter them in our daily doings.

Does this mean that we won’t ever be prompted to speak to someone outside of our “target” group? No, I don’t believe so at all. Quite frankly, I believe Jesus will orchestrate events in such a way that we naturally encounter all kinds of people in our ordinary happenings that need to hear our story or need us to show Jesus’ love to them.

However, I believe that we will be amazed at how when we allow Him to have access to all of us, He will show us how our personal story can impact others not in a broad, impersonal sense but with individuals in a more focused sense — with individuals who have had certain experiences that parallel ours and who can benefit from hearing how God has healed us or is working in our lives.

God’s Idea of Ministry

As I survey the list, I realize that God has had to change my ideas of ministry completely and continues to do so. I have been worried at every turn about which way to go, what I will say, whom I will speak to, and how I will accomplish what He has asked of me. And my anxiety has been in vain. He has directed me in all of these areas. He knew these things before I even knew I was to leave teaching!

While I have believed that I needed certain qualifications, certain contacts, certain skill sets (and I am not diminishing the importance of any of those things), the thing I have needed most in my ministry venture is God. And the thing He has required of me hasn’t been all the impressive talent(s) I can offer but my surrender to let Him use me as He will.

While it has felt these past few years that I have been going nowhere, and that there has been no plan, I can see that God had (and does have) a way He was leading me all along. As pastor and author Charles Stanley notes in The Blessings of Brokenness:

God says the same thing to us anytime he calls us to supernatural ministry. He says, ‘I am the one who will do it. I will accomplish the task. You do what I tell you to do, and I will cause it to come to pass.’

Therefore, to best know the way, we need to put ourselves in a position of surrender. Like Anna, when we give ourselves over to a life of diligent devotion to Him, doing what we know to do now, we can trust that God will reveal His purpose for us when we put ourselves in a place of total trust and reliance on Him.

As Stanley notes, it is when we do “our part” that God does “the part that only God can do!”

In closing, consider these lyrics from “Here I Am” by Downhere:

And these broken parts you redeem

Become the song, that I can sing …

Somehow my story is a part of your plan

Here I am.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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How to Follow God’s Will

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I remember sitting in Adams Park in Kennesaw, Georgia, with my husband back when we were teenagers and telling him that I knew I would have a hard life. I knew that I would never have the white-picket-fence life or be the soccer mom, because God had another plan for me. Let me stop here and say that I am not criticizing those who do have a comfortable life — I just have always known I wouldn’t.

But that’s about where the life-plan clarity ended. None of the specifics of my life — having children, making ministry decisions, and seeking job direction — have seemed to follow such a defined path. They’ve been hard for sure, and yet I haven’t had that moment where the sky opens up and God gives me clarity on a specific issue.

In all of my recent seeking for the Lord’s will, I’ve come across two schools of thought about finding it. One of them, proposed in the book What Am I Supposed to Do with My Life? by Johnnie Moore, says that we should, when faced with two equally good decisions and no clear word from God, choose what we feel and trust that God will bless it. The other school of thought, which I find myself leaning toward, says that we should hear a clear direction from God before we act. I may not be quite as specific as Gideon was when he laid out the fleece before God in Judges 6, but I am still looking for big and small signs of God’s will in the world around me and wondering if each one is God’s divine voice of direction.

Lately in our lives, Dusty and I have been trying to make a major decision. I wish I could say more, but then I wouldn’t be the woman of mystique and mystery that I am. It’s not that we haven’t tried to figure out the Lord’s will. Of course we have. We have, in fact, spent thousands of dollars and have taken some special adventures to try to figure out what God’s will is.

We’ve prayed and we’ve fasted, we’ve listened to podcasts and sermons, and we’ve gotten advice from wise and well-meaning friends. However, we both know what it is to hear clearly from the Lord for ourselves. I don’t mean that we are waiting for His audible voice, but we want to feel a down-deep assurance of what we’re supposed to do. In this situation, we don’t feel clear about one way or the other, but we feel like we need to make a decision soon. We don’t want to bang on a closed door, but we don’t feel like it’s totally closed either.

Anytime I don’t know what to do, I feel that there’s only one place to go, and that’s God’s Word. If anyone knew what it was like to have to wait for a really long time, it was Abraham and Sarah, and so their story really inspires me not to give up hope that I will hear from the Lord. Let me share with you three lessons I learn from their waiting story.

Three Lessons on Following God’s Will

1. Sometimes we have to follow without knowing our destination.

We first read Abram’s story in Genesis 12. The very first recorded word from God to him is to leave his country and everything he knows and go to a country that God will show him — as in, show him after Abraham starts walking toward it. That is so scary! I can’t imagine getting up and going without knowing the destination, but maybe that’s exactly what God is asking me to do with my spiritual journey. He is asking all of us to trust Him when we can’t see what He’s gotten us into.

2. God is merciful even when we get sidetracked from His perfect will.

When we read about biblical people, we have the tendency to think of them as characters, and not only that, but we think of them as heroes who always made the right decisions and saw the supernatural. Abram seems like such a hero because he was willing to make a journey into the unknown, guided by only a word from God, and an incomplete word at that.

However, he missed God’s will at times. In a later section of Genesis 12, Abram pretends that Sarah is his sister and almost causes her to be violated by Pharoah, thus bringing disaster upon the people who are offering him refuge during a famine. In chapter 16, he listens to his wife’s poor advice to try to conceive his promised heir through a servant instead of his own wife.

Like the plagues that came because of Abram’s earlier deception, heartbreak came when Abram had to send his son Ishmael away. However, like is always the case with our great God, Abram’s promise of inheritance did come, despite his missteps. I don’t want to miss a step in God’s plan for me, but I am happy to know that we serve a God of mercy who will see our destiny through to completion when we trust Him to get us back on track.

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3. We will be blessed when we obey God’s will.

One of my favorite songs to sing in worship a few years ago was Hillsong’s “None but Jesus,” specifically because of the line that says, “When you call, I won’t delay.” It’s one thing to say okay to God’s call, but it’s another to go with it when He asks. Immediately. Without overthinking it. Abram followed God’s call way back in Genesis 12. However, it’s Genesis 17 when God appears to reconfirm his covenant of Abram having children, through renaming him Abraham and asking him to be circumcised.

By this point, Abraham is 99 years old, and to his wife Sarah, having a child is literally a laughing matter. But a year later, as God had promised, Abraham and Sarah give birth to Isaac. God may have seemed to delay the response they were waiting for, but they never delayed their obedience to His will, and for that, they were rewarded with the child of promise in God’s time.

I think I’ve come to this conclusion: some decisions are OK to just go with if God doesn’t speak, but others are such that we need to make sure we hear clearly.

When Abram went, it was because God told him to. He didn’t just have an unction or a feeling; he knew that God had spoken. By using Abram’s story as the template for my upcoming life decisions, I will do this — seek God actively, listen to what He says, obey without delay, and try not to get sidetracked. And because I believe what He says in Galations 6:9, I know that His promises for me and my husband will come to pass in every way.

Even if we have to wait 99 years.

Are you trying to make a difficult decision? Do you feel like you can’t hear God’s voice? Have you been waiting forever? Are you paralyzed with inaction? Please leave a comment below so that we can pray together. God wants us to know His will, and there is wisdom in a multitude of counselors.

Suzy Lolley

Suzy Lolley

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

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What Does God Expect of Me?

What Does God Expect of Me

Earlier this week, a big Amazon package was sitting on my kitchen table when I got home. I knew exactly what it was. It was a brand new food processor I had just ordered a few days before. My plan was to start making all my own baby food, since my son was almost eight months old, and I was behind in giving him “other foods” (aka anything other than formula).

I decided that making homemade baby food would be a good idea in order to save money, and that I would be an accomplished, above-average mom. As I went to a kitchen drawer for scissors to open the package, I felt like I was supposed to be excited about it, but I wasn’t. I knew I wouldn’t be able to successfully do this. I knew I didn’t have all the time, energy, and drive in me in order to make this homemade baby food thing happen. I was defeated before I had even begun. I felt like a failure.

As I sat down for my quiet time this morning, my heart was heavy. My many perceived failures were piling up on me. I had a picture in my mind of the kind of woman, wife, and mom I was supposed to be.

I was supposed to have a perfectly clean house, a schedule of all of our meals for the next month, and all of our doctors’ appointments lined up for the year. I was supposed to be teacher-of-the-year at my school, go to the gym three times a week, and be up-to-date on all the latest fashions. I was supposed to volunteer in the community, serve in many facets at my church, and even be a leader of a handful of ministries. I was supposed to be an incredibly responsible, respectable, and put-together adult. I was supposed to have an organized purse and be able to create made-from-scratch baby foods.

The list was long and my strength was weak. Why couldn’t I be and do all of those things? Why didn’t God put the ability to accomplish these tasks more readily inside of me? I mean, a woman able to do it all is what would please Him and mean success, right?

With all of my weaknesses glaring, I cried out to God and realized something. I have been pressuring myself to be someone that I may NEVER be. And that is OK. Even better than that, it’s very possible that I have been wasting time and energy trying to be someone that I was NEVER SUPPOSED to be.

You see, as I got caught up in such a long list of to do’s, it was almost as if I was focused on being more like Martha instead of more like Mary. Let’s take a look at the passage to remind ourselves of these two sisters.

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.’ ” (Luke 10:38-42 –ESV)

Martha was focused on many things. She was distracted by them and trying to do, do, do for Jesus. Maybe, in a way, she was trying to be good enough for him. This is the trap that I have found myself in. I long to be a daughter that God is pleased with, and while that is a great thing, I had created all these things in my mind that He must expect from me. Things I thought I must do in order to be worthy of his presence. Like Martha, I was focusing on my to-do list rather than simply enjoying the company of the One in my heart.

Like Martha

There are a couple problems with this works-based mentality. The first is that my works will never make me good enough for him. Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV) says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

The second problem with me trying to do more for Jesus is that it takes me away from the real truth and beauty of Christianity — to be in a close and personal relationship with God because of what Christ did for me, not what I do for Him. To simply be in awe of who He is and to rest in and enjoy His presence, hear His teaching, and get to know Him more. And the funny thing is, time spent with Him is where I get the strength to do the things that He has called me to.

The world teaches us to accomplish as much as we possibly can and to earn our worth and acceptance. To be more like Martha. To work hard, and then we might be “good enough.” But that’s not what Jesus tells us to do. Jesus says for us to pause from our busyness and learn from Him. To believe that “in repentance and rest is our salvation” (Isaiah 30:15).

Yes, God has planned things for me to do, and I certainly want to do them. I want to glorify Him with my life, and I don’t want to miss what He has for me. But my hope is that I don’t get caught up in works. That I would not “be anxious and troubled about many things.” That I would be more like Mary and sit at the feet of Jesus.

Because resting in His presence will then allow me to clearly see the difference between the works He has called me to and the ones He hasn’t.

What about you? Have you become so caught up in trying to please others or meet your own impossible expectations that you haven’t been able to listen to Jesus lately? What is one way you can make time for Him today?

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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Revenge: Why You Can Trust God Rather Than Get Mad

 

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Facebook is my frenemy.

My friend when I have zinger lines to post up, witty comments or pictures of my kids in their matching Christmas outfits. My enemy when I have thoughts I really shouldn’t share at such lightning speed through cyberspace.

The other week I got myself in a situation. I read an article circulating Facebook about anxiety and fired away a response and posted it. Except after I did I realized that my words were really angry. Anxiety sufferers probably thought I was aiming my gunfire at them.

I wasn’t.

What I thought generated my feverish rant was the view in the article that anxiety is just part of some people — when my own view is that Jesus can help people with anxiety. But there was actually a different reason that article made me angry.

The article reminded me of a situation launching into ministry where I experienced anxiety. Not just a little stomach upset or increased heart rate. A situation where I felt such bad anxiety that my temperature rose to that of a menopausal woman. Where I felt sweat breaking out all over my body and my breaths getting short and choppy. Where I felt me retreating inside of myself like the zoom-in focus of a lens — me, getting smaller and smaller until I was just a little dot hiding inside me. Shaking.

A situation where I couldn’t succeed. Where every place I turned there was a brick wall blocking my path. A situation where I couldn’t make the people around me happy even though I worked my most charismatic personality traits and desperately tried. (Key word: desperately.)

A situation that made me want to make good on a vow I made as a young woman to never let anyone hurt me again.

So, even though I typed up a series of rapid-fire words aimed at people with anxiety needing to get it together, I was really typing a series of words against the people who helped to trigger the anxiety.

I immediately felt God’s conviction afterwards. I didn’t even realize what I was doing until God showed me. God isn’t underhanded. He doesn’t want us to secretly swipe at people. He wants us to directly confront situations or people that hurt us and then let Him heal us.

Consider Hannah, a woman in the Old Testament who had every reason to lash out words of hatred and bitterness. Hannah was barren. She was one of two wives of Elkanah, and even though she was his favorite, she couldn’t bear sons for him like Peninnah, his other wife. Peninnah taunted her year in and year out, but nowhere does it say that Hannah retaliated. In fact, Hannah did just the opposite. She went to the Lord with her grief.

In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly. (1 Samuel 1:10)

Some important things we can learn from Hannah:

1. She didn’t cover over her pain.

She wept loudly and often. In front of her husband. At the temple (to the point that the priest asked her if she was drunk). She didn’t hide the fact that her situation hurt her.

2. She didn’t use her pain as an excuse for wrong action.

She was devastated by her situation to the point that she didn’t even want to eat, but she did not use that to fuel revenge or bitter action against her rival.

The Bible says that God was the One who closed Hannah’s womb (1 Samuel 1:5). Peninnah aggravated a difficult situation, but it was the Lord who put Hannah in the situation she was in! That is a hard verse for me to read personally because I want to believe that God would never allow me to feel pain, but He clearly allowed Hannah to suffer for a time. In a particular instance in the last few years as I struggled to make sense of my circumstances, I cried out to God one day, “I don’t even know what I am fighting against.”

And I felt like the Lord told me, “Carol, you are fighting against Me.”

I was stunned. Why would God fight against me when He was the One who told me to pursue the direction I did? I don’t know all the reasons, but I do know that He has had a plan for me that has been totally different than I thought it would be. I have wanted my destiny to open up in my way and my timing, but God has not operated on my agenda. He has been more concerned about my refining and preparation than just allowing me to get what I want. He has closed the doors I have so badly wanted Him to open.

What we must observe in the story of Hannah is that although God sealed off Hannah’s womb, He enabled her later to become pregnant. Further in the passage it says, “Elkanah made love to his wife, and the Lord remembered her” (1 Samuel 1: 19). The very situation that is closed to me now may be open to me later in the future. And then there can be no doubt Whom I can give the glory to. As the Reformation Study Bible indicates: The Lord is sovereign over our situations and can intervene in circumstances and turn them in our favor.

I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things. (Isaiah 45:7)

As this passage suggests, God brings blessing and calamity into our lives. He is not capable of sin (the word “evil” most commentaries cite as meaning punishment for sin or affliction), but He allows adversity to come in our lives. Not only that, He puts us in situations specifically where we will experience hardship at times. One of Satan’s best tricks is to get us to turn on others in those moments and spend energy nursing hurts that get us totally sidetracked from the calling God has for us.

What we can learn from Hannah is that when we are in those tough situations where we feel and know that we are wrestling God Himself we need to recognize His sovereignty — acknowledge that while He may be the One who has brought a trial into our life, He is the One who can also remove it. He’s not only the God who seals off opportunities that come our way, He’s the God who opens doors.

I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. (Revelation 3:8)

As Pastor Dick Woodward says in a devotional about God’s supremacy, God will often put us in difficult circumstances because “He wants us to learn that He is our only hope and our only help as we live for Him in this world.”

Woodward’s assertion has been true in my own trying experiences the last four years: God is after my dependence on Him. My complete emptying of self to embrace His version of me. Is this difficult for me to swallow? Yes. Do I like it? No.

Hannah bore her long-awaited son in due time, and after he was born she sang this song of praise: “For the Lord is a God who knows, and by him deeds are weighed” (1 Samuel 2:3). I believe that the Lord blessed Hannah the way He did because she went to Him with her deepest pain and acknowledged Him as the only One who could transform her impossible tragedy into a story of beauty.

You and I don’t have to resort to revenge or sniper attacks from behind a computer screen. As Hannah’s story reminds us, God knows, and even if we suffer a little while in the process of reaching all He has for us, we can trust that He will take care to see that His promises are fulfilled in us.

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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Not Being Brave

Danee DeKonty

True confession time: I’m not brave. At least I don’t feel like it a lot of the time. That may shock some people who know bits and pieces of my story because I am someone who will pack up my life in a couple suitcases, sell my car, and move halfway around the world without much thought. But staying put is something you have to force yourself to do. Because when you stay put, people learn how to read you over time. When you stay put, you risk hurting people who you actually care about, or worse — disappointing them. When you stay put, you either live behind a protective wall with a safe, boring life or choose vulnerability and risk the pain but live a grand adventure.

I’m also the person who quit my job with benefits when I felt God was telling me it was time to go. It wasn’t scary. It was actually easy. I knew He’d bring another job — or more correctly, I knew I could get another job. I’m hard working and have loads of common sense. What I lack in skills, I can usually make up for in creativity and determination. But when God asked me not to look for a job, but to trust Him to show me one when it was time, that was hard. Common sense says I can work way more than the part-time I’m doing.

Faith for me says writing and finishing my dream is the right work for me, right here and right now.

Yes, to many people who know me but don’t know the secret places of my heart, I am brave. But to those who see me, I mean really see me, they know I am just wired differently. The things that scare other people don’t even cause me to sweat, but the things that terrify me are no-brainers for most of the people in my life.

Do it Afraid.

I heard that years ago when I was watching Joyce Meyer, and it stuck with me.

I may fail…

I may not be good enough…

I may not be enough…

I may miss God… again…

What is it that terrifies you? Is it quitting your job? Is it asking someone out? Is it going back to school? Is it downsizing your car to get something less fabulous so you won’t have payments? Is it stepping out to what God has told you? Is it stepping back to wait for God to show you the next step? Is it joining a small group? Is it leading a small group? Is it staying in your small group?

What scares you? What do you want to give up on?

To be honest, most, if not all of my fears boil down to not wanting to miss God. Did I really hear from Him?

When I was younger in my faith, God honored where I was at and filled my life with miraculous confirmations: the stranger in a store speaking comfort to me, the sermon that said what I needed to hear, friends sharing encouragement when they didn’t even know I was struggling. There were also the times of prayer where it felt like acquaintances had read my journal because their words spoke so deeply to my soul.

Then over time those became less of a necessity because I fell in love with the Bible. I didn’t need writing on the wall because I knew what the wise choice was. I still had wise counsel speaking into my life, but I had learned how to discern the voice of God. Something, by the way, no one can really teach you. From my experience, it comes over time from reading His Word, praying, listening, and just chatting with Him through the day.

Then He asks you to do something that scares you, and you’re so close to the finish line, but still it feels impossible. That’s when I start to ask for the confirmation. I now want the writing on the wall.

Did I really hear from You? Is this REALLY where You’re leading me? And in His grace, God confirms through someone giving you encouragement about your talent and using you in the way you know you were made for, and you again know deep in your knower that you have heard from God.

And that lasts for a bit before fear creeps in again.

And it’s in times like this that I look to what Paul said about maturity and realize that stepping out in faith is part of the process, and that means there are no guarantees. My job is to sit with Him, to be reminded of His love and His leading, and then go in His strength.

When fear gets to be too much, I have found that I’ve often forgotten to lean on Him and am trying to do it in my own strength. When fear throws its best at me, instead of white-knuckling my way through it, I sit with The One Who Loves Me Most and am reminded that He kicks fear in the butt every time.

When I know He is the One leading me, I can do it afraid because even if it doesn’t turn out the way I’m hoping it will, when God leads me in something, it is the best of all options.

Related Bible Verses:

Daniel 5:5 (NLT): “Suddenly, they saw the fingers of a human hand writing on the plaster wall of the king’s palace, near the lampstand. The king himself saw the hand as it wrote, and his face turned pale with fright.”

1 Cor. 13:11 (NLT): “When I was a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.”

Romans 8:28 (NLT): “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose.”

Interested in reading more of Danee’s thoughts about her faith? Get more of her spiritual musings by stopping by her blog. Post adapted from original version published January 16.

 

 

 

Danee DeKonty

Danee DeKonty

Danee DeKonty currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia. Over the years she has been able to travel and live in Eastern Europe, attend Bible school in Barbados and travel to several other countries. She is currently a nanny and is in the process of writing her first book "Scorpions, Scones and Solo Cups." Danee gets her fashion sense from Rosie the Riveter and Lucille Ball. She likes spending time outdoors -- taking random drives in her favorite possession, a beat-up, old jeep. Danee grew up in the church and is passionate about helping other people discover their worth and value in God.

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