There Are No Shortcuts to God’s Promises

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My kids own a Charlie Brown Christmas board game that has a winding path from the start to the finish line. Although there are many different actions that a player may have to do (depending on what square he lands on in his journey), a player can land on North Pole slides that shoot him up several spaces ahead. These slides give the player a distinct advantage by allowing him to bypass several squares in one turn and get further ahead than he can just by rolling the dice on a turn.

Shortcuts are a positive in more than just my kids’ board games. I am always looking for shortcuts to make life as a stay-at-home mom of three kids more manageable and less overwhelming. I get excited when I can make a meal in less time, drive a shorter route to a destination when I am running late, or locate a simpler set of instructions to explain a concept to my kids to help them understand their homework. In these ways, shortcuts are desirable and give me valuable time and energy that I can spend on another task.

When Shortcuts Aren’t a Positive

However, shortcuts aren’t always good. When we cut corners to arrive at an intended goal but do so in a way that is wrong — that’s when shortcuts aren’t helpful to us and can actually hinder our growth. Particularly, spiritually, when we’ve been on a journey to a promise God has given us a long time and despair that we’ll ever reach the place God has for us, we can be tempted to take shortcuts, rather than the longer route God is pointing out to us.

At the end of Ruth 4, we see that Naomi has arrived at her intended destination. She left Moab a bitter woman grieving over the death of her sons and her shattered life. However, she transforms into a woman who has a place of rest and security in the family of Ruth and Boaz. She has the financial provision she needs (no more stressful days eking out a living), and her arms are full with a precious grandson.

So, how does Naomi move into what God intends for her? What can we learn from Naomi about moving from a place of bitterness to a place of fullness without compromising and taking shortcuts?

1. We walk in God’s way despite our feelings.

In Ruth 1:20-21, on the heels of the tragic death of her sons, Naomi reveals that she believes that the Lord’s hand has turned against her: “ ‘Don’t call me Naomi,’ she told them. ‘Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The LORD has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune on me.”

Clearly, with these words we see a woman who does not like her situation, but she does not turn away from God. While she may have found every excuse not to return back to God, Naomi decides that she has no other place to go and accepts God’s hand in her affliction. Similarly, we will have times when we don’t like what is happening in our lives or will struggle to trust what God tells us. And yet, even in those times, we trust Him instead of taking the easier way out.

Ezekiel is another such example of a man who trusted God despite his outward circumstances. Ezekiel’s life was disrupted and thrown into upheaval when he was called to be a prophet to the rebellious nation of Israel. Up to that point, he served as a priest, and his life was humming along quite nicely. Then, God asked Ezekiel to do some pretty strange actions and serve as a living representation of the difficult message God wanted to give to Israel. God told Ezekiel that the people would not listen, but that he was to go anyway. In response to God’s instructions, Ezekiel says in Ezekiel 3:14, 15: “The Spirit then lifted me up and took me away, and I went in bitterness and in the anger of my spirit, with the strong hand of the LORD on me. I came to the exiles who lived at Tel Aviv near the Kebar River. And there, where they were living, I sat among for seven days — deeply distressed.”

Clearly, Ezekiel is distraught over the message he has been asked to give. Although he wants to obey God, he knows that the message will not be well received. We can almost imagine him saying to God: Really, God? Why are you sending me to say this? Don’t you care about how I am going to be treated when I do what you ask of me? Are you trying to ruin my life?

Ezekiel and Naomi’s situations differ in that Ezekiel did not enter into affliction because of his choices. He was a faithful servant of God and God shook up his world with some very difficult assignments. He suffered persecution because he walked in God’s plan whereas it is highly probable that Naomi’s family swerved from God’s plan by going to Moab (we aren’t given all the details), and yet, Naomi is used mightily by God when she returns to Him. However, both individuals show us that what it looks like to keep following God even when He allows situations we would not have chosen for ourselves or calls us to tasks we don’t want to do.

In his analysis of Ruth, Bob Deffinbaugh says this: “Doing what is right in God’s eyes requires faith for we often cannot see how doing the right thing will produce what God has promised.” John Piper says it another way, “If we could learn to wait and trust in God, all our complaints against God would prove untrue.” Certainly, neither Naomi nor Ezekiel knew how their situations would turn out, but chose to do what was right believing that God would work out all the details for their good in the end. Similarly, we can’t always see how our right actions will benefit us, but we should keep doing them knowing that they are leading us to God’s promises.

2. Instead of allowing our bitterness to make us turn inward, we keep showing up for God’s purposes.

When we feel angry or resentful, it’s natural to want to hibernate or take a break from serving others. But we find healing when we continue moving forward and keep an “others mindset.” Naomi is in pain at the beginning of her journey and has gone through a great tragedy, but she continues to look out for others and orchestrates a marriage for her daughter-in-law, saying: “My daughter, I must find a home for you, where you will be well provided for” (Ruth 3:1).

Interestingly, when she reaches out and helps others, she helps herself. It tells us in chapter 4 that she is nourished and sustained by Obed, Ruth and Boaz’s son. The work she invests in ensuring the welfare of Ruth is that which, in turn, helps to restore her own soul. The woman who describes herself as “empty” in the first chapter brims with hope and happiness in the last chapter. Is it merely because her circumstances change? No, I don’t believe so. Certainly, her grandson brings her joy. However, she learns how to fill herself with the Lord. And though she lives to see her family fortunes restored and hold a grandson — her true joy comes when she chooses to accept God’s sovereignty and faithfully follow God despite her questions and her pain.

3. When tempted to veer from God’s path, we should remind ourselves that shortcuts don’t lead us to God’s promises.

When we are angry and resentful and believe we’ve that we’ve been dealt a bad hand, we can use our poor circumstances to justify poor choices and cut corners to get out of our circumstances and arrive at our intended goal.

Some commentators assert that Naomi tries to take a shortcut to her intended goal of provision for herself and Ruth by forcing a marriage between Boaz and Ruth. They believe that she instructs Ruth to seduce Boaz and argue that Ruth did more than lay at his feet on the threshing floor. But I don’t view Naomi’s advice in this way at all. From all we see of Boaz and Ruth’s conduct, both were concerned about acting honorably in all situations.

Ruth is careful to lay at his feet and wait for him to wake up. When he does wake up and enquires about who is at his feet, he makes no move to take advantage of her. Rather, he protects her by allowing her to remain at his feet until morning and then sends her out early to preserve her reputation. When the morning comes, she immediately goes home, as he instructs her to do, while he goes and follows the guidelines of the law in order to redeem the land and become Ruth’s guardian-redeemer and husband.

While Naomi’s plan for Ruth at the threshing floor is unusual, she works within the boundaries of God’s law at the time and does what she can to change their situation without deviating from God’s guidelines. In addition, she gives the advice that she does knowing that both Boaz and Ruth are virtuous and will do what’s right in the situation. Rather than resist against God’s instructions to us or forge our own path apart from His purposes, we end up where we’re intended to go when we submit to the instructions God gives us and don’t attempt to make our own plans apart from His.

Conclusion:

Naomi makes good choices when she returns to Judah, but do you know what I find the most encouraging about Naomi? Her story begins a different way. We might say that in turning back to Judah she recovered from a shortcut her family made. Even though her family made some mistakes in going to Moab, she still received God’s provision and blessing because she returned back. And the same is true of us. Maybe we’re in the wrong place at the moment and we need to make a U-turn. It’s not too late.

Maybe we’ve strayed to Moab, but like Naomi, we can come back and God still has great plans for us that are waiting to be fulfilled. God even graciously worked through the mistakes of Naomi’s family and worked all the details in Naomi’s life — good and bad — into His purposes. Had her family never gone to Moab, her son would not have married Ruth, Ruth would not have come with her to Bethlehem, Ruth would not have married Boaz, and Obed would not have been born. God would have found another way to achieve His purposes, but don’t you love that God used all the parts of Naomi’s life for her good? Satan wants us to believe that our mistakes and missteps have derailed us from the plans God has for us, and we can see here that we can turn around and go back to God. Even the bad choices we’ve made while in Moab are not too great to deter us from the plans He has for us.

However, when we’re on the right path, we can’t leap ahead to God’s promises without the journey God wants to take us through. Naomi returned to Bethlehem, but she didn’t fast track to God’s blessings in a day. She took a long journey with her daughters-in-law — one left along the way. Once in Bethlehem, she and Ruth scraped out a living as impoverished widows. Because she chose to travel God’s way in no way exempted her from hardship or trials.

In my kids’ Charlie Brown game, North Pole slides not only fast track players ahead, these same shortcuts work the other way as well. If you land on the other side of the shortcut, you slide backwards. In fact, when we first played the game, it took so long to end the game because as players we were constantly moving back and forth along these chutes that shot us forward and plunged us back. We eventually changed the rules so that players only go forward because it took too long the other way to get to the finish line!

What a very real picture of what it looks like to try to move ahead when God isn’t directing us in that way or has told us that we aren’t to take a certain step. Though God can certainly use our missteps in His plan, the “shortcuts” don’t really get us anywhere and prolong our journey. Instead, when we follow after God and go where He leads, what feels like the longer way will get us to where we need to go much faster than if we try to route around the difficult assignments He gives us and go an easier way.

Related Resources:

Ever been in a bad situation and it just gets worse? With this article and podcast episode, we conclude the series “Hope When You’re at the end of Your Rope: Lessons From Ruth on Trust, Surrender, and Healing.” In the study, we’ve examined the story of Ruth where we have drawn lessons on the hope we have when life gets hard, and we feel abandoned and in need of rescue.

Check out the previous posts in the series: Part 1: “Why God’s Way is Always Best,” Part 2: “Pushing Past Our Breaking Points to Do the Will of God,” Part 3: “The Blessings of Following God,” Part 4: “Trusting God When It Doesn’t Make Sense,” and Part 5: “Walking Into All God Has for You.”

Carol Whitaker

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

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When You Need to Know Your Next Step of Faith

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After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.” — Matthew 2:9-10

Last week, I posted an article on the wise men and announced via Facebook that I would not be publishing any more this week on my blog as I was exhausted from all of the demands of trying to make Christmas happen.

And then when a family member got sick, and I found out on the morning of Christmas Eve that I would need to step in and host Christmas day at my house, I figured that writing was out of the question — for several more days.

I would be lying in a coma somewhere in my house with my children running around unsupervised, and I would need at least a week to get functional enough to write.

I certainly would not be penning any holiday-themed posts again until next year. Or so I thought. As I expressed to God in my quiet time, I was just. so. tired.

Falling into bed after midnight for the third night in a row feeling too worn out to string a coherent sentence together let alone a blog post, I woke up a few hours later refreshed with a list of thoughts in my head. A list of thoughts in my head about the wise men.

Turns out, I wasn’t quite done writing about them.

I felt God gave me a few more observations about the magi’s story that are pertinent for any time of the year that I would like to share before we move past the holiday season.

1. He speaks our language.

As Matthew Henry notes, God spoke to the wise men in a language that they could understand. They were most likely astrologers and sorcerers, well-versed in studying the heavens and reading signs. God lead them to his Son by announcing His birth with a star. He revealed Himself to them in a way that they could understand.

God does that with us, too. He promises to be found by those who seek Him, and He speaks your language. He knows what exact questions and doubts you have, gifts, struggles, conflicts. He fashioned your very brain. He knows what will draw you to Him.

My pastor once gave an example of when he plays hide-and-seek with his children. He knows how to hide in difficult places, but because his kids are small and give up easily if he doesn’t give them hints as to his hiding places, he lets them find him.

With God, it is the same way. He doesn’t remain hidden if we look for Him. I am a words person. I never really thought about it before, but that is how God primarily communicates to me. Through words.

I sometimes get around people and have a specific word flash into my mind. I get ideas for posts throughout the day or at night, and it will just be a download of thoughts. Oftentimes, a stream of words will come to me after watching a movie or reading a book. And I know it’s from Him.

Others have different ways of experiencing God. Some get pictures in their mind, dream vivid dreams, or feel Him best when they are running or out in nature.

There are a thousand ways God pours out Himself so we can find Him. It is because of His great love for us that He does it in a way that will communicate to us personally.

2. He chooses unlikely candidates.

As I mentioned in a previous post about a widow and the prophet Elijah, God chooses unlikely candidates. The wise men were astrologers from a far away Arabian land. There were several more pious men closer to the birth place of Jesus that God could have chosen, but God instead selected these particular magi.

In fact, the rather embarrassing reality is that these magicians were searching for Jesus when the Jews weren’t even looking for Him. The Jews knew of the prophecies and the predictions, and yet it was these magi that God used to follow His star to His Son.

God chose not only the wise men, but some unlikely subjects in the shepherds (Luke 2:15) and Simeon and Anna (Luke 2:25-38) to come and celebrate his son’s birth. The fact that He selected persons from all ranks and walks of life makes one message abundantly clear: The Gospel is for everyone. The Gospel isn’t just for church people. It wasn’t just for Jews, His chosen people. It was for common shepherds, sorcerers — everyone.

Although Christ is exclusive in the sense that He offers a narrow path of salvation — Himself — He extends this offer to all.

Again, we see through his placing of the star for the wise men to find, a Creator who greatly loves His creation. Not only does He let us find Him when we are looking, He initiates the search by coming to pursue each one of us.

3. The star isn’t just for the Christmas story.

I used to think that the star was just a unique feature of the Christmas story — something God deposited in His narrative to make the backdrop of his Son’s birth more beautiful. However, the star didn’t just guide those men on their journey. As Henry notes, the “day-star arises in the hearts” of all who seek Him.

I used to worry and sometimes do still worry that I will miss God’s will for me, but the truth is that if I am abiding in Him and walking with Him, I will know the way to go. Just like the star guided the wise men to Jesus’ home, by making Jesus at home in my heart and seeking out His guidance on a daily basis, He illuminates the way for me.

He shows me the path I should take by surrounding me with resources that answer my questions; by speaking directly to me during my quiet time through Scripture; by speaking through pastors and other mature Christian friends through sermons and conversations; by filling my mind with dreams that warn me of future events. These are all ways God leads me like a kind shepherd. As Isaiah 30:21 says: “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’ ”

Since launching a blog, I have experienced a whole lot of pressure. I have readers looking to me for new content every week and these questions fill my mind at times: What am I going to write about? How will I know what to say?

Without fail, when I spend time with Him, my mind floods with inspiration related to the Bible passage or devotional I just read or the lesson He is currently teaching me. My biggest problem is not having something to say but being diligent about writing down the thoughts when they come.

When I get lazy and don’t record them, I have to ask God for them again because I can’t remember what He told me.

Interestingly enough, the wise men’s star stopped once the wise men reached Herod, and they didn’t get discouraged but instead took it upon themselves to inquire about the child. And once they did, the star rose again for them.

As Henry notes, if we are doing what we have in our power to do, God graciously shows us the next step and makes his star reappear when we need it.

The wise men observed the star with great joy when it showed up again, and so it is with us on our journey with God when we are seeking answers, and He reveals what we have been seeking so we can take the next leg of the journey.

Just like He was faithful about guiding the wise men to Christ, He is faithful about guiding me.

A few days ago, I was flat-lined from holiday preparations. It wasn’t until God wakened me from my sleep to re-energize me and whisper His thoughts that a blog post began to take shape.

Just like the wise men were happy when the star that had disappeared showed back up in the sky, I got pretty excited when God gave me fresh illumination and direction for a piece I was too weary to write.

When I look for Him, He will show me the way.

As Jeremiah 29:13 says, “Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all of your heart.”

Related Bible Verses:

James 1:5: “If you want to know what God wants you to do, ask Him, and He will gladly tell you.”

Proverbs 8:17: “I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me.”

Deuteronomy 4:29: “But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul.”

*Adapted from post originally published December 28, 2014.

Related Resources:

Ever been in a bad situation and it just gets worse? Join us for our brand new series “Hope When You’re at the end of Your Rope: Lessons From Ruth on Trust, Surrender, and Healing.” In the study, we will look at the story of Ruth where will draw lessons the next few weeks on the hope we have when life gets hard, and we feel abandoned and in need of rescue.

Check out the following posts in the series: Part 1: “Why God’s Way is Always Best,” Part 2: “Pushing Past Our Breaking Points to Do the Will of God,” Part 3: “The Blessings of Following God,” and Part 4: “Trusting God When It Doesn’t Make Sense.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

More Posts

Why God’s Way Is Always Best

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“Two paths diverged in the wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

I’ve always liked this line from Robert Frost’s poem, and I like these words even better as I’ve grown older and experienced the truth that these words represent.

We will often have two paths before us and the best path isn’t always the one that looks to be the best. As humans we’re used to choosing what will be to our advantage, but we’re not always adept at determining how a decision will turn out. God can trace down and see where a path will lead whereas we can only see the inviting entry point. Sometimes the path that God leads us down won’t look at the outset like the most advantageous path for us, but it is if God is leading us.

Ruth: A Woman Who Chooses a Harder Path

In Ruth 1, we see a woman who chooses a path that does not look initially to be the best for her. When hard circumstances hit her family and her husband and brother-in-law dies (after her father-in-law died several years before), her mother-in-law decides to go back to Judah and urges Ruth and her sister-in-law, Orpah, to return back to their families. While both Ruth and Orpah travel with Naomi initially and say they will go with her, only Ruth stays with Naomi. Let’s take a look at the story in Ruth 1:1-18:

In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. The man’s name was Elimilek, his wife’s name Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.

Now Elimilek, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband. With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah.

Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, ‘Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the LORD show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me. May the LORD grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.’

Then she kissed them goodbye and they wept aloud and said to her, ‘We will go back with you to your people.’

But Naomi said, ‘Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands? Return home, my daughters: I am too old to have another husband … No my daughters. It is more bitter for me than you, because the LORD’s hand has turned against me!’

At this they wept aloud again. Then Orpah kissed her mother in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to her.

‘Look,’ said Naomi, ‘your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.’

But Ruth replied, ‘Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and you God will be my God. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.’ When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.

What can we learn from this passage about choosing the path to follow God even in tough circumstances?

1. God remains sovereign in situations that seem out-of-control.

One detail in the story that we might overlook is that it was “questionable,” as one commentator put it, that Elimilek’s family was in Moab to begin with. God had brought the Israelites to the Promised Land, and though they suffered a famine in Bethlehem, God sustained His people in the midst of the famine.

Elimilek sought to escape from the famine, and although he encountered plenty in the land of Moab, he eventually lost his life. Therefore, though he hoped to find better circumstances in Moab, he was worse off than he would have been in Bethlehem. His move to Moab was a backwards move for his family, rather than forwards. Furthermore, after he died, his sons married foreign wives even though God’s covenant with Israelites specified that they not take foreign wives.

Some scholars suggest that the tragedy that came on Elimilek and his sons may have occurred because they violated God’s law. I like how David Guzik discusses this passage: “It is hard to say that this was the direct hand of God’s judgment against them. It is sometimes difficult to discern why tragic things happen. What is certain is that the change of scenery doesn’t make things better. We sometimes think we can move away from our problems, but find we just bring them with us. No matter where you go, you bring yourself with you — so the same problems can continue in a different place.”

No matter the reason for the deaths of Elimilek and his sons, we can determine that Ruth was in the situation she was in because of the decisions of others and circumstances beyond her control. Often, when we find ourselves at the bottom of confusing, painful circumstances that we didn’t cause or choose — we can wonder what God is doing and why He has allowed what He has. Yet, if we fast forward just a few passages, God was sovereign and already had provision planned for Ruth when she arrived in Judah.

Ruth wasn’t the only recipient of God’s grace and provision. Naomi, too, received God’s provision. We don’t know what role Naomi had to play in her husband and sons’ decisions, but she declares that God’s hand has turned against her (v. 21). She may have said these words merely in recognition of God’s sovereignty or because she felt that God dealt with her family for their wrong choices.

Whatever the case, Naomi, like Ruth, turns to God and He works on her behalf. God works through hard situations — whether caused by the actions of others or our own actions. And we should know that there is hope for us just as there was hope for Ruth and Naomi. We, too, can turn to Him in our struggle, and He can work all things (even our mistakes and missteps) together for our good (Romans 8:28).

2. Even in hard situations that we didn’t choose, we can trust God and follow Him even when it doesn’t make sense.

Because of the circumstances that happen to Ruth’s family, she, Naomi, and Orpah are left at a difficult crossroads. At first, Ruth’s sister-in-law, Orpah, says that she plans to travel with them and go to Bethlehem. But then, she abandons that plan and returns to her family and gods. As a Moabite, she had grown up serving other gods, but in marrying Elimilek’s son, she had been exposed to the one true God. Perhaps she had exhibited allegiance at one point, but then when she considered the hardships ahead, she decided to abandon God for what appeared a more advantageous path. If she returned home, she would surely find a husband again — even if it meant no longer following God.

Ruth, on the other hand, “clung” to Naomi with a rare tenacity and makes this declaration in verses 16 and 17: “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God will by my God.” She chooses the harder path: to go with Naomi meant to leave her homeland, family, and gods and walk towards a life that by all appearances did not look so promising. As a widow, she would be poor and could not expect more beyond hard work and a low status.

Certainly, as we see in the next few chapters, Ruth had to work hard gleaning wheat in a field all day in the hot sun, relying on others’ kindness to get needed sustenance. She could have followed Orpah out the door, but she instead went the harder way of following God when she couldn’t see how such a move would benefit her.

3. We have to commit to the course, having a “whatever it takes” attitude.

Ruth committed to following God and then kept faithfully on that course. Naomi tries to talk her out of going with her, but then stops when she sees that Ruth is “determined” to go with her (v. 18).

We will have those in our lives who attempt to talk us out of certain parts of our calling, but if we are walking in the will of God, we can gently put those arguments to rest and persevere on against the odds to live out our calling. Paul says in Philippians 3:13: “Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.” For Paul, answering God’s call meant leaving behind his prestigious titles and standing in the community and embracing prison, shipwrecks, hunger, opposition, and execution.

Similarly, Ruth here will not abandon God and go back to her former life, but instead presses on. When they arrive in Bethlehem, she demonstrates her tenacity further by doing what she could to support herself and her mother-in-law. Were there moments when she felt her hope slip away when she viewed married women in the community happily established and enjoying the protection and care of a husband? Did she remember longingly at times all that was familiar in Moab? Did she at times wonder if the new God she was following actually was going to come through for her? I am quite sure she did. We don’t know her thought processes, but we can imagine that the hard path she had chosen, although the right one, must have been burdensome.

Walking in God’s Will Brings Blessings

God’s ways aren’t our ways. Often what looks to be the right way in our own eyes will only lead to bondage and suffering. I love what Lysa Terkeurst says, “The safest place to be is in the center of God’s will.” Proverbs 3:5, 6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.” We will encounter obstacles when walking in His will, but they will be those that God will help us overcome and see us through.

In my own life, years ago, I felt God asking me to step away from music for a season and instead pursue a ministry training program and start the blog. I fought against what God told me because a better opportunity appeared to open in front of me. It was right there for the taking. But God gave me a firm no, and it broke my heart. At first, I rejected what I thought I was hearing. How can this be, God? I have a calling to be used in music. So, I persisted in going the direction I wanted to go, but I didn’t get far. His “no” to me was relentless, and I eventually felt such a lack of peace I stepped away from the opportunity a few days later. As it turns out, sometime later we ended up moving. That particular collaboration with certain individuals would not have worked out.

If God is a good God and knows what is best for us, He will only lead us in the best way. But it won’t always feel like it. When tempted to go our own way, which might initially look more advantageous, we can look at the story of Ruth and see how she was blessed when she went the harder way — at the center of God’s will.

Related Resources:

Ever been in a bad situation and it just gets worse? Join us for our brand new series “Hope When You’re at the end of Your Rope: Lessons From Ruth on Trust, Surrender, and Healing.” In the study, we will look at the story of Ruth where will draw lessons the next few weeks on the hope we have when life gets hard, and we feel abandoned and in need of rescue. With this new series, we will begin a new podcast post schedule where we post podcasts at the beginning of the week instead of the weekend.

If you are not yet a follower of the blog and want to receive our latest posts, follow us on Twitter or Facebook. Or leave a comment with your thoughts. We’d love to hear from you!

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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The Work That Pleases God

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“Use it or lose it” is a principle we can observe in our everyday life.

An athlete continually practices to maintain a certain level of performance and grow better in his sport. A musician devotes time to practicing his instrument and learning the music in order to walk on stage and play a concert. Speaking another language requires a person to not only learn a language but speak it with others in order to retain the vocabulary he has acquired and grow more fluent at speaking the language.

Spiritually, we have to develop and use the gifts God has given us (2 Timothy 1:6; 1 Timothy 4:14; 1 Peter 4:10-11), or our gifts will fall into disuse and decay. In addition, we are told in the New Testament to “make every effort” to grow spiritually and “confirm our calling and election” (2 Peter 1:5-11). So what exactly does it look like to do work that God commends?

While Jesus rebukes the church of Sardis in Revelation 3:1-5 for their apathy and lack of meaningful service, in contrast, Jesus commends the church of Philadelphia in Revelation 3:7-12 for their work. In this passage, we can find a clear picture of what it means to be a faithful steward of the gifts God has given us and engage in meaningful Christian service:

‘To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. 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. I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars — I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. Since you have kept the command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth. I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one can take your crown. The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name.’

What can we learn from this church about faithful service?

1. Faithfulness means standing firm.

Jesus’ commendation comes to the church of Philadelphia not because they were perfect and never sinned. His commendation comes to them because they had held firm to truth and used what little they had to advance the Gospel and honor His name.

Philadelphia had limited resources and small numbers. They didn’t have the resources or reputation for works that Sardis had, and yet, they had not compromised to receive approval from the community or given up in the midst of persecution. Jesus tells the church in the passage, “I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name” (emphasis mine).

Later, in verse 10, He notes that they have kept His command to “endure patiently.” As I stated in my previous post, endurance or “holding firm” in the faith or “enduring patiently” is not merely holding our ground and sticking out the storm. Endurance is also active obedience in our difficult circumstances.

When James talks about perseverance or “patience” finishing its work in James 1:4, he refers to both endurance in the midst of trial and active obedience to God’s will. As Alexander MacLaren explains, the idea of “enduring patiently” includes the following:

The New Testament patience has in it the idea of perseverance as well as of endurance, and means, not only that we bow to the pain or the sorrow, but that nothing in sorrow, nothing in trial, nothing in temptation, nothing in antagonism, has the smallest power to divert us from doing what we know to be right. The man who will reach through the smoke of hell to lay hold of plain duty is the patient man of the New Testament.

In the King James Version of this passage and some other translations, verse 10 reads not, “Because you have endured patiently,” but, “Because thou has kept the word of my patience.” The “word of my patience” referred to here is the model given to us by Jesus of someone who does the will of God in the midst of affliction, temptation, and persecution. Just as Jesus obeyed the Father in the midst of great trouble and sorrow, the church of Philadelphia had also remained steadfast in their work — though it would have been easier to backslide and quit because of their small means and limited strength.

2. Faithfulness means walking through the doors God opens on our behalf.

Not only does Jesus encourage them with His commendation of their endurance and adherence to the Gospel, He encourages them earlier in the passage by telling them that He has placed an “open door” before them. By “open door,” we understand that He means opportunities for service.

In the passage, Jesus is identified as the One who “holds the keys of David” and “what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.” The idea given is that God continually places before us opportunities in our service to Him, as we walk in His will, and it is up to us to walk through those doors into continual advancement and blessing in His kingdom. By “advancement and blessing” I don’t mean bigger cars and a larger following necessarily, but rather, spiritual blessings such as further understanding, spiritual growth, and opportunities for service.

While we are the ones that walk into the opportunities God places before us, it is clear that God is the One who orchestrates these opportunities. As we are faithful in a little, more will be given to us and opened for us (Luke 16:10; Matthew 25:23). A successful Christian life is one where we walk in His will by staying tuned into His Spirit through daily time in prayer and the reading of His Word (John 15:5). Our growth happens not by just attempting to fulfill a list of Christian “do’s and don’ts” — but by listening to His Spirit and doing what He says.

We all have our eye on a particular door of opportunity or advancement — and that will be opened to us (if God has promised it to us) when we are faithful in walking through the smaller doors set before us. Oftentimes, we focus on the large door and despise or neglect the small doors. In order to keep what we have and walk into greater things, we have to use what we have and walk through the doors (however small) Jesus puts before us (1 Corinthians 4:2).

3. Faithfulness means guarding what we have.

Although the words of Jesus to Philadelphia are a commendation, He admonishes them not to fall into apathy, saying, “Hold on to what you have, so that no one can take your crown.” Therefore, while the church of Philadelphia had been faithful, they still can fall into the situation of Sardis if not vigilant. Therefore, they are warned to “hold on” and not lose their crown.

Although many have interpreted “crown” to mean we can lose our salvation if we are not diligent in our work, as it says elsewhere in Scripture that salvation can’t be earned, I believe that this verse is actually referring to the rewards and blessings we miss out on when we don’t walk through the door of opportunity God places before us. The crown in the passage refers to the crown of victory awarded to a winner of ancient athletic games (like the Greek Olympics). The idea here is not that someone else can steal our crown, but rather, that when we are not faithful in using what God has given us, someone else will receive the opportunity that could have been ours.

We may watch as someone else excels and advances in area that we had hoped would be opened to us. Certainly, there are times that we watch others promoted because it’s a timing issue for us or is not the area God intends for us. However, we can lose our “crowns” when we do not accept the assignments God puts before us.

In the Parable of the Talents, the “wicked servant” was the one who buried the talent the Master gave him and did not use it. The other servants were commended for investing their talents and given more because they used and increased what the Master had given them (Matthew 25:29).

Holding Fast To What God Has Committed to Us

While the message to Philadelphia is a commendation, we can still find the words of Jesus about faithful service challenging. We may be painfully aware in the reading of these words of where we may be lacking. We may further feel this way in reading both the messages to Sardis and Philadelphia, comparing Jesus’ messages to them on sloth and diligence.

Maybe affliction has caused us to get complacent. Maybe fear or doubt or unbelief has crept in — and we’re in a place where we’re so tired that we fear we can’t take another step. Yet, we must remember why Jesus speaks these words to the churches in the first place: Jesus loves these churches and He loves us. He tells them what He does so that they can make the needed changes (as in the case of Sardis) and continue in the right path (as in the case of Philadelphia).

If we skip over to the end of chapter 3, it says, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me” (v. 19, 20). He tells us the hard truths we need to hear because He loves us and wants to help us turn if we have strayed down the wrong path.

In addition, such a message to Philadelphia may make us fear that we will miss out on what God has for us and send us into a frenzy of activity or striving. Again, the work that Jesus commends is that we 1) Hold firm to His truth and actively seek to hear from Him and learn from Him through prayer and His Word 2) Act in obedience to His Spirit.

It can be very freeing to know that some work is just not our assignment. There have been times when I’ve tried to witness to someone or force a spiritual conversation without allowing the conversation to naturally open up or God to nudge me to have the conversation, and it went nowhere. The person was usually already a Christian!

Lastly, we must remember that “holding fast” isn’t an endeavor where we’re all alone trying to do it all in our own strength. God holds us! It says in Psalm 63:8: “I cling to Him; His right hand upholds me.” We do what we do in His strength and power. When we seek out His will, listen to His Spirit, and step out in obedience to His Spirit, God enables us to do His work. I love what James Vaughan in The Biblical Illustrator says on this point: “The only way to hold fast is to be held fast.”

Friend, knowing what door we want to walk through that we haven’t walked through can lead us to feeling like we have perform. We might feel an enormous amount of pressure to make things happen, but God makes doors open and close. We just have do what He asks of us. As Lysa Terkeurst says: “Big things are built one brick at a time. Victories are achieved once choice at a time. A life well lived is chosen one day at a time.”

Doing the work of God isn’t about perfection on our part — but mere willingness to listen to the Spirit of God and walk through the doors He opens on our behalf.

Related Resources:

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

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

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

*Updated September 21. 2019.

Carol Whitaker

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

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Conquering Fear to Do the Will of God

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As believers, we’re called to serve God and offer ourselves as “living sacrifices” for His glory (Romans 12:1). However, real obstacles threaten us in being faithful in living out His will for us. One of the major obstacles Christians face is fear.

As I explained in a previous post, Matthew 14:28-32 gives us a good illustration of what it looks like to falter in our walk of faith. In the passage we see that Peter goes on a faith walk towards Jesus but then begins to sink when he looks at the obstacles around him — the wind and the waves — and becomes afraid. Jesus pulls him up and chastises him for his lack of faith, but Jesus does not leave him in his failure. He tells him why he is sinking, and the two are able to climb back in the boat together and get to their destination.

However, Peter has to get past his unbelief and fear he feels in the moment, and Jesus addresses it. Similarly, we may desire to obey God, but we are dealing with crushing fear or another obstacle. How do we get past our fear when we are attempting to follow the will of God?

Not too long ago, I asked God this very question as I had been dealing with my own fear. Sometimes God answers me right away, and other times He waits for a season to respond. This time His answer came just a day or so after I had posed the query. I was looking for a calendar in a desk drawer, and a sheet of notes I had taken on Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life caught my eye. I’ve read this book from cover to cover on a few different occasions, but I have no recollection of taking these notes and can’t remember why I wrote down these ideas.

However, when I glanced over the scribbled words, God gave me an answer. Yet, as He often does, God didn’t respond in the way I thought He would. He gave me an entirely different response that I want to share with you.

Lessons from Rick Warren that we can apply to overcome our fear:

1. We have to understand what it means to rely on God and operate in His power.

While we may think of relying on God as a passive endeavor — one where we do absolutely nothing and He does everything — that is not the case. As Warren stresses, reliance on God doesn’t mean we don’t do anything. Trust in God means that we are co-workers with God. A few of the ideas I jotted down from Warren’s book:

  • Christ-likeness is not produced by imitation, but by inhabitation. We allow Christ to live through us.
  • We choose to do the right thing and trust God’s Spirit to give us His power, love, faith, and wisdom to do that.
  • The Holy Spirit releases His power the moment we take a step of faith.
  • Obedience unlocks God’s power.
  • God wants us to act first. We don’t wait to feel powerful or confident. We move ahead in our weakeness, doing the right thing in spite of our fears. That’s how we cooperate with the Holy Spirit.
  • Effort has nothing to do with our salvation, but it has much to do with our spiritual growth. At least eight times in the New Testament we are told to “make every effort” in our growth toward becoming like Jesus.

We need to pause for just a minute and let these wise words sink in. When we follow in God’s way, we won’t necessarily feel an absence of fear. However, God’s power meets us when we act in obedience. Psalm 63:8 says, “I cling to you; your right hand upholds me.” The King James 2000 Bible version says, “My soul follows hard after you: your right hand upholds me.” Some of us are waiting to not feel fear before we act or waiting for our feelings to line up with what God would have us to do. However, it is in taking the steps ordained for us by God that we are met by the Holy Spirit’s power.

Similarly, another place in Scripture where this concept of walking in trust and God’s power is illustrated is John 6:28, 29. In this passage, a crowd asks Jesus what they should do to do the work of God. Jesus responds by saying, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent” (v. 29). The word “believe” that is used can be translated in the Greek as “pisteuó,” which means to “believe, entrust.” According to Helps Word-Studies, this means “not only to be persuaded of something, but means to be persuaded by the Lord: it is belief that leads to/proceeds from God’s inbirthing of faith.”

The word “pisteuó” is a verb. So, not only does it mean what we believe in our thoughts — it refers to a giving up of oneself to God. This kind of entrusting leads to action in our lives as we follow His lead. According to the Encyclopedia of the Bible, faith is “that which responds to and is sustained by God’s faithfulness.”

A few years ago, I went through a hard season where God had me go back to make apologies. He was walking me through healing from an addiction to others’ approval, and one of the hard tasks He had me do in walking out of my people-pleasing behavior was do the thing I fear the most: face people and reveal the ways that I had fallen short.

As a younger woman, I had compensated for my low self-worth by my achievements and appearance. I was flirtatious and cultivated friendships with males as a way to feel good about myself. Even as a high school teacher, I cultivated the worship of my students and had a male fan club in every class. Though my actions in the school were not those that constituted an inappropriate relationship or illegal activity, I knew that I had not been a Christian role model for my students. God nudged me to make some hard contacts with some people from my past, as well as my former classes and administration, and apologize for not being a Godly role model and state that I was making a turn in my Christian walk.

This was difficult for me in many ways. You might think that I had great courage that enabled me to do this, but that isn’t the case. I knew I had no choice. I was terribly afraid, and it was not an easy task. I knew that that was the way God was pointing and for me to continue to walk with Him, I was going to have to obey Him. I did those actions in fear — but God enabled me in the process as I did what He asked, and He gave me grace as I was speaking to people.

2. Spiritual transformation is a process.

Saying spiritual growth doesn’t happen instantly is not a cop-out. Certainly, it says nowhere in the Bible that we should sin because it really does not matter. In fact, the Bible tells us the opposite. It tells us that if we know the right thing to do and don’t do it, for us it is sin (James 4:17). However, we need to know that spiritual maturity is a process that does take time. God gives us opportunities to learn and grow and become more like Him.

Warren emphasizes that God uses His Word, people, and circumstances to shape us. Therefore, our transformation away from fearfulness to courage — the kind Christ had — is not automatic. It will be gradual. In fact, God puts us in particular situations so that we can practice Christlikeness.

If we are having an issue with fear, He is going to put us in circumstances where we can practice breaking through this barrier to do His will. We may literally be shaking as we type up the email to send, tell our testimony to someone, or step away from a safe comfort zone (perhaps a stable job or living situation) to answer God’s call on our life. However, as we encounter more and more situations like this, we will become less fearful and more like Christ.

Living out our salvation is worked out with the help of the Holy Spirit. In other words, God is always working in us to know and do His will (Philippians 2:12, 13). Warren explains a few things about this:

  • There are two parts to spiritual growth: work out and work in.
  • “Work out” is our responsibility. We don’t work for our salvation because we can’t add anything to Jesus’ work. We work out to develop the body, not get the body. We should make every effort to grow spiritually.
  • “Work in” is God’s role — as we make efforts to grow spiritually, God makes us more like His Son.

Again, we have here the idea, just as we discussed in the previous point, that overcoming our fear is a collaborative effort with God. It doesn’t happen right away. Whatever obstacles are hindering us from answering His call are those that we can overcome with His help when we believe that His power is enough. But He gives us lots of opportunities to work on making gains against whatever is holding us back.

Conclusion:

Fear will often prevent us from doing what we know to do in the moment of following God. However, we are not left alone in our fear. God promises us in His Word that when we step out in obedience into what feels like thin air, we will feel a solid rock under our feet. He will uphold those who put their trust in Him and follow Him when it feels hard, it feels scary, and we don’t know what to do.

The more we adopt this philosophy of believing that God will meet us in our weakness and stepping out even when our own strength is small, the more victory we will have in breaking past the obstacles that prevent us from being obedient and following Him. This isn’t a willpower thing — this is “I can do all things through Christ” kind of thing (Philippians 4:13).

Let’s pray: Dear God, help us in those times when we want to follow you but are afraid. Help us believe in your promises in the Bible and trust in Your power that You have made available to us as Christ followers. Forgive us for the times we have fallen short of Your perfect will. Help us be more bold in the future as we follow You. Amen.

What about you? Do you struggle with fear? Share with us in the comments!

*Updated June 8, 2019. Original post published September 1, 2017.

Related Resources:

Have you ever felt irritated by the idea of being joyful in the midst of trials? How can certain Scripture passages advocate that we actually be happy in our most difficult circumstances? Check out our series on “Rejoicing in Trials,” including Part 1: “A Reason to Rejoice in Our Trials,” Part 2: “Serving God in the Midst of Our Trials,” and Part 3: “The Best Thing to Do When We Face Trials.”

This week concludes Season 2 of the podcast. We will take a break from recording for summer and will announce on the blog when the new season will begin. However, you can continue to look up past episodes and get caught up on those by stopping by the podcast archive.

For more on trials, check out the following resources: “When God Uses Our Trials to Teach Us: Part 1″ and “When God Uses Our Trials to Teach Us: Part 2.”

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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Growing in Our God-Given Calling

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Years ago, the phrase “No pain, no gain” gained popularity in the fitness industry. The meaning was that if you wanted to make progress, you were going to have to go through some personal hardship and physical pain. In doing some quick research into this phrase, I discovered that the phrase became popular after Jane Fonda used the slogan in her exercise videos. She did not come up with the phrase herself, but simply used the words and others picked up on it.

Spiritually, the principle can also be applied. If we want to advance in our calling, we will experience some pain and discomfort in the process. While as humans we tend to be creatures of habit and like our comfort zones of familiarity and predictability, God will push us outside of those zones and challenge us to do new, bold tasks that won’t necessarily be tasks we would have chosen for ourselves. And yet, letting Him continually work on us is what we need to grow spiritually and become who God calls us to be.

In the process, however, we will struggle with the temptation to abandon what He has asked us to accomplish and go back to what we knew before He called us.

However, if we are going to stay committed to our calling, we have to allow the pain and the discomfort that following Him brings, knowing that no growth will happen without it. I love the illustration of this idea Lysa Terkeurst uses in a devotional aptly titled “When Comfort is My Enemy.”

Drawing from a passage in Jeremiah 48, she notes that winemakers in Old Testament times would pour wine from vessel to vessel so that the wine would not absorb the flavor of the vessel and to also rid the wine of impurities that would settle on the bottom. As she explains, just as this wine couldn’t be left on its dregs in order to have the purest taste, God continually challenging us and leading us to new places helps to purify us so that we don’t rely on ourselves and become so complacent that God can’t use us.

When God turns up the heat in our lives, what should we do rather than bail on our calling and/or flee to a place of security and complacency?

1. We have to trust the plan.

Proverbs 3:5, 6 tells us: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit [acknowledge Him], and he will make your paths straight.” If we look closely at a few of the words in this verse, “trust” means to “have confidence in.” Trusting in God is having confidence in Him to the point that our security in decision-making that lines up with His will comes from our confidence in Him.

In contrast in this verse, we see that we are not to “lean” on our own understanding. In the Hebrew, the word “lean” means to “support oneself.” Rather than rely on our own instincts and feelings, we have to choose to rely on God and decide that God knows best even when His will leads to pain and hardship that is confusing and doesn’t make sense.

To illustrate this concept, we can look at how pilots fly a plane. When learning to fly, flight instructors teach their students to fly using the cockpit instruments. At times, in certain situations such as a storm, a pilot will experience “spatial disorientation,” where they will not be able to tell where they are in space in relation to the sky and the ground. At those times, they have to rely on their instruments to instruct them, rather than their own perceptions.

Similarly, in times of turbulence in walking out our own calling, we may be tempted to abandon our trust in God and instead rely on our own perceptions when what God is telling us doesn’t appear to be working or making sense. However, as Proverbs 3:5, 6 reminds us, acknowledgment of Him will keep us in the right way that we are to go, no matter how it feels in the moment.

2. We have to continually submit to God’s work in us.

When I was a teacher, I often heard other educators using the phrase “lifelong learner.” A lifelong learner is someone who always pushes him or herself to learn new things, evaluate practices, implement new ideas  — remaining teachable throughout his or her teaching career.

Good teachers are lifetime learners. They go to workshops or higher education classes to increase their own knowledge, evaluate their practices and mistakes, consider ways to constantly improve, and talk to other teachers to gain new ideas and feedback on their practices. In other words, they don’t get stagnant and retain the same lessons and practices for the duration of their career. They constantly change and grow, keeping what works and discarding what doesn’t.

Similarly, in order to keep ourselves moldable in the process of walking in our calling, we need to continually yield in our journey. We may start out on fire and resolve to do everything God asks, but then as the years go by and the trials add up, we may get tired and less responsive to doing the will of God. We may get through a few hard tasks and then want to coast, but that isn’t the reality of what happens as we answer our call. We have to continually submit to God’s plan and allow Him to work on us.

Staying Committed to Our Calling Means Choosing Discomfort

A family member recently had back surgery, and I was surprised when we went to go see him this past weekend that he was up and moving around so soon after surgery.

However, as he explained, the doctors had instructed him to walk around daily and not just lay in bed because movement would help by strengthening blood flow, muscle tone, and other systems of the body. In addition, walking would also help him heal faster. However, because of incisions in both his back and stomach, the walking was not done without some discomfort.

Yet, he pushed himself to get out of bed and walk around because he knew of the benefits his actions would bring. The same is true of us in our Christian walk. God is going to challenge us and push us and let us be uncomfortable as He works on us, and although our instinct may be to shut down or resist the work, we need to open ourselves up to Him knowing that the work is good for us and is forming us into what God intends for us to be.

This week, as I have been working through a study of Nehemiah, I ran into a similar concept. Nehemiah, in the process of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem with his fellow Jews faced much opposition. He was advised to run to the temple and hide from men attempting to kill him (Nehemiah 6:10). But here’s the thing: to do so would have been wrong according to God’s law. Only priests were permitted in certain parts of the temple (Numbers 18:22).

Obviously, we don’t have the same regulations as they did in the Old Testament regarding the temple and priests, but we, too, have the temptation, when difficulty comes, to choose a place of refuge that wouldn’t be right for us, but does look like it will provide us security: a relationship that veers outside God’s boundaries in His Word but fills a void in us. Bitter attitudes that consume us that are easier than forgiveness and letting go. An unhealthy attachment to social media or some other thing to numb our pain and get our mind off of our current situation. A career that has a steady paycheck, but is one God has called us away from.

All of these refuges “promise” the safety and comfort we long for, but won’t satisfy or save us in the end. I love Nehemiah’s response to the suggestion that he run: “Should a man like me run away? Or should someone like me go into the temple to save his life? I will not go!” (Nehemiah 6:11). Nehemiah refuses to give up on the will of God to save his own life. He chooses to go through the hardship inherent in God’s will. Just a few short verses after Nehemiah’s resolve to stay committed to the task God had given him, we learn that the wall was finished and the work done with the help of God (Nehemiah 6:15).

We, too, rather than running can stay and build what God has called us to build, letting Him work on us in the process. But to do so means we will have to embrace the continual work God wants to do in us and allow suffering into our lives, knowing that we will not make gains without the pain.

Related Resources:

1. This is Part 4 in our series “Staying True to Your Calling.” Check out Part 1: “Being Bold in Our God-Given Calling,” Part 2: “3 Lessons From Paul About Walking in Our God-given Calling,” and Part 3: “3 Fears That Prevent Us From Persevering in Our God-Given Calling.”

2. Ever feel like you wish you could understand God’s ways just a little better? Check out the following: “When We Suffer for Doing Good” and “Making a Change to Receive God’s Promises.”

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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Suffering That Comes for Doing God’s Will

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

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

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

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

When Doing God’s Will Leads to Suffering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. We will suffer for doing His will.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Bible Verses:

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

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

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

 

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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How God Encourages Us When We Need It Most

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Our house has been for sale since the beginning of the summer.

After just a few weeks on the market, we received two offers. However, through a series of events, both offers fell through, and we’ve had a long stretch since then of realtors texting me at all hours of the day to see our property and the continued challenge of keeping it clean with two small children underfoot.

My husband’s new job (the one that necessitated our move) has been proving to be a stressful transition for my husband and our family. He has been commuting long hours and putting extra time into the basketball program where he is serving as a coach. As a result, I have had many long evenings and weekends alone with my small children.

To add to the mix, shortly after we lost the offers, I found out that I am pregnant.

While this is exciting news, at 36, everything in my body hurts — my knees, my legs, my stomach, everything! I’ve been fighting all-day nausea, so each day feels like an uphill battle. And to add to that, God keeps pruning away at areas in my life that has me feeling so worn out. All the cutting away God has been doing has left me feeling like I should just give up on the direction God has pointed out for me. At certain intervals these past few weeks, I have wanted to back out on selling our house, on starting a ministry, on continuing to step out into the difficult territory God keeps calling me to.

However, just in the past two weeks, I’ve received texts from several old friends I haven’t spoken to in some time asking how I am doing, letting me know they were thinking of me. Another friend from years ago messaged me to ask me if she could pray for me. She said God had put me on her heart. Just her simple few lines brought me to tears because I felt so cherished and loved when I received her words.

I knew God had orchestrated these special contacts on my behalf. I knew that He was looking out for me and sending me much-needed comfort. I was reminded by my friends’ words of all the other times God had rejuvenated and motivated me to keep following Him down the path He had for me even when so many trials made me want to look for an easier way.

A Woman Who Walked a Difficult Road

Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a woman who must have longed at times for a simpler course. We often think of the Christmas card pictures of Mary — a serene woman garbed in blue cradling an equally serene Jesus. But what that picture does not portray is the pain she had to go through in being the mother of the Messiah. Let’s take a quick peek at Mary’s early road as the mother of Jesus:

— She was impregnated by the Holy Spirit as a virgin and had a whole lot of explaining to do to her family and fiancé.

— She was pregnant out of wedlock in a time when it was not socially acceptable for women to be pregnant without being married.

— She endured a long expedition on a mule while pregnant.

— Once the trip to Bethlehem was complete, the inns were too crowded to house her, so she had to give birth to Jesus in a stable.

And this was just at the beginning of her role as Jesus’ mama! I don’t know about you, but at this juncture I might have been ready to throw in the towel and tell God that I wasn’t cut out for this job, you know?

However, at this point in her journey, after the birth of Jesus in the stable, shepherds saw angels in the sky proclaiming Jesus’ birth and came to see this new infant king. And then the shepherds left to tell everyone in the town what they had seen.

These shepherds were strangers to Mary. They just showed up after Jesus was born and spoke of her baby with awe and wonder because of the message they had been given through the angels. After the proclamation of the shepherds’ news, the Scriptures tell us that Mary “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). To “ponder” means to “think about or consider something carefully” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary).

Most likely, the shepherds’ confirmation and joyous proclamation of her God-son was just the news Mary needed after a hard, long journey — a journey that was only beginning. Surely the shepherds’ visit validated Mary in a way that helped to lift her up after enduring tough circumstances.

Mary Examined the Other Moments in the Past

And perhaps Mary, in her pondering of the shepherds’ visit. was not only encouraged but was able to examine these newest developments in her story and her son’s story and gain further insight into the person she had birthed.

She could compare this newest spiritual occurrence with instances in the past: when the angel had visited her to tell her of the child she would bear; when she met with Elizabeth, and Elizabeth’s baby leaped for joy in her womb; and when Joseph was told by an angel in a dream that Mary had been impregnated by the Holy Spirit.

With each of these events, Mary could further be assured that God was with her and was indeed going to accomplish what He said.

Because so often God tells us a vision of what we will accomplish for Him but provides us with no other details, and those are not filled in until we are actually underway on the journey. Personally, in my own journey to answer God’s call, I, too, have had a string of events that have gone beyond just the most recent messages from friends that have helped to not only comfort me but clarify a call that felt very fuzzy initially.

A few years ago when I was just starting to get a sense that God wanted me to start a ministry, I was visiting my parents in my home state of Washington and happened to attend a small church where no one knew me or my story. The first time that I visited, I received prayer from a woman who told me that God was going to use me in a big way in ministry. I gave her no details about myself, but she repeated and even expanded on what God had already told me.

The second time I visited, exactly one year later, the pastor himself approached me and gave me a prophetic word. He told me that God was going to use me to write curriculum for others and how God had given me administrative gifts that He was going to utilize in me to lead others. Just a few months after visiting his church, I knew what that “curriculum” was going to be. I felt God specifically tell me to write down the lessons He had taught me in a blog.

Even with these past occurrences where God has confirmed to me the direction I should go — I have felt distracted and pulled down by just how hard everything has felt the past few months. That big vision God gave me concerning how He wants to use me feels suffocated by the other things going on in my life.

His Comfort Keeps Me Going

But by receiving the comfort He is providing now and meditating on key times He has shown up for me in the last few years, as Mary did when she saw the shepherds, I have been able to find fresh inspiration and strength to continue on in my course.

Because the promise we have is this: Whatever God has called us to as far as kingdom work is not work we do alone. He will refresh us in the process (Proverbs 11:25). Yes, there will be hardship and inconvenience and trials, but God is there to renew us at pivotal points.

And when I survey His faithfulness, I can rest knowing that the next stretch of the journey, whatever it is, however hard it is — is that which He has already charted.

I can know that those moments in the future, just when I am about to plunge into despair, when I am too weary to go on, is right where God will provide again — another pearl of encouragement to ponder.

UPDATE: This post was adapted from a post published December 13, 2015. Shortly after writing this post, we received a brand new offer on our house and moved to a new county. In addition, my daughter was delivered, healthy and 9 days overdue, just a few months after we moved into our new home! God is good!

Related Bible Verses:

Isaiah 40:31: “But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

Psalm 73:26: “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

Related Resources:

Need more encouragement in your journey? Read this post about Hagar, a woman from the Old Testament who was in a desperate situation and encountered God at her lowest point.

We’d love for you to become a friend of the blog. If you are not yet part of our online community, get our latest posts by subscribing to Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

 

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 You Wonder if Your Obedience Will Be Worth the Cost: Part 1

when you wonder if your obedience will be worth the cost part 1

Have you ever thought you understood a verse, only to find out that there was much more to it than you originally thought?

For the longest time, I understood Hebrews 12:15 to mean that we shouldn’t allow our anger to fester, as it can cause us to become bitter. And bitterness will affect not only ourselves, but others. If you’re not familiar with the verse, it reads: “See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”

While one application of the verse is that bitterness, festering anger or unforgiveness, affects not only us but others, the writer’s primary intention is much deeper. If we look into the phrase “bitter root” used in the verse, we see that it alludes to Deuteronomy 29:18, 19:

Make sure there is no man or woman, clan or tribe among you today whose heart turns away from God to go and worship the gods of those nations; make sure there is no root among you that produces bitter poison. When such a person hears the words of this oath and they invoke a blessing on themselves, thinking, ‘I will be safe, even though I persist in going my own way,’ they will bring disaster on the watered land as well as the dry.

Basically, a “bitter root” refers here to an idolater, or someone who puts his trust in something other than God. Moses had brought the covenant before the people once again to warn them not to fall into idolatry. He cautioned that such a person would not be safe going his own way, but his rebellion would have implications not only for the “watered land but for the dry” (v. 19). In other words, a “bitter root” would infect not only himself but cause others to fall away as well.

The writer of Hebrews alludes to the “bitter root” used in Deuteronomy 29:18, 19 to warn the Jewish Christians that would have been his audience not to fall away like that of the Israelites who fell away from God’s covenant in the Old Testament. And the exhortation is for us, too.

Not Falling Away in Our Faith

In order to fully understand what Hebrews 12:15 is saying, we need to understand not only what “bitter root” in this context is talking about, but also, what is required of us in our faith walk so we don’t “fall short of the grace of God.”

First, let’s examine what it means to run an effective faith race.

In reading a verse such as this, we might be seized with panic and begin a frenzy of religious activity in an effort not to be the “bitter root” described in this verse, but that is not what the writer is urging.

The author of Hebrews is not telling us that we need to add more on our plates or engage in as much random religious work as possible. What the writer is telling us is that we must be diligent in doing the tasks that God gives us, less we fail the grace of God. If we notice the wording at the beginning of Hebrews 12:1, 2, it tells us:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Notice, verse 1 tells us that “we run the race marked out for us.” This implies that our Creator has a specific design for our race — and He alone orchestrated our purpose and the tasks that we daily complete when walking in His Spirit. We’ll get back to explaining that verse in a moment, but I want to return back to our discussion of God’s grace and our faith race.

To do that, we need to look at what it means to “fall short of God’s grace.”

A song which has grabbed my attention lately is “The Motions,” by Matthew West. The lyrics say: “I don’t wanna spend my whole life asking, ‘What if I had given everything, instead of going through the motions?’ ” West describes in this song the temptation that comes to all of us as Christians — we can easily slip into “going through the motions” in our Christian lives. We can attend church, even serve in church, and attempt to live moral lives, and yet, still fall short of God’s grace.

If we look at this meaning of “failing the grace of God,” it means to come up short, fall behind. According to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, it means “to be left behind in the race and so fail to reach the goal, to fall short of the end” or “to fail to become a partaker” or “to fall back.” We can do work that is good and yet isn’t what God would have us do and fall behind in listening to the Spirit of God and doing what He would have us do. It doesn’t mean that we lose our salvation (because salvation is not something we can earn), but it does mean that we can fall short of attaining the promises God has for us, the blessings the grace of God offers.

The writer tells us later in the next verse (Hebrews 12:16) that Esau fell short of his blessings because He sold his birthright. He had been promised, as the firstborn, a double inheritance and inheritance of his father’s role in the family, among other privileges. And yet, when he came in from the field hungry and Jacob offered him a bowl of stew in exchange for the fulfillment of blessings that were rightfully his, he traded his rightful blessings for what was convenient and fulfilling in the moment.

Friends, this is such a difficult concept to embrace, but we, too, can trade away the blessings of God in our lives when we ignore His will for us and instead do what is more comfortable and easy. Though going our own path with our choices won’t cause us to lose our salvation, when we don’t listen to the Spirit of God we will become an empty vine that bears no fruit (Hosea 10:1) and become like the wicked servant in Jesus’ parable of the talents who buried his talents rather than invest them (Matthew 25:14-30).

While the idea of “falling short of the grace of God” is a hard idea to reflect on, the most terrible thing for any of us would be to get to our deathbed and look back and reflect on the fact that we never made the choices necessary to live the life we were called to live. The good news is that we can turn around right now what wrongs we have done by repenting.

We can choose to listen to the Spirit of God and do what He asks. And when His will leads us to uncomfortable places that we would rather not go, we can remind ourselves that God’s blessings don’t come cheap. While we don’t have to work to earn our salvation, we do have to fight for that which has been promised to us in the way of God’s blessings. And yet, God doesn’t leave us to fight on our own. We fight by relying on Jesus’ power and strength and leaning into Him in our journey.

Running the Race of Faith

What is interesting is that in Hebrews 12:2 it says that “for the joy set before him” Jesus endured the cross. I had always read that to mean that for the joy of what lay after the cross, Jesus was willing to go through what He did. Although that is certainly one way we can read it, another interpretation I found in studying the passage is that rather than choose His position as the Son of God and all the benefits it afforded Him, He chose the cross. The word “for” in the Greek can mean “in stead of” or “in place of.” Therefore, “in stead of” heaven and the privileges and benefits He had there, He came here to suffer a humiliating death so that we might be saved.

In either translation, we get this idea that Jesus chose what He did because of the better thing it would bring Him in the end. He valued the will of the Father more than His personal goals and comforts and gave up His privileges and rights for the cross. Similarly, when we survey what lies ahead for us, as Jesus may be leading us in a way that looks scary or is nudging us to step out in a way that requires us to change or stretches us in uncomfortable ways, we are encouraged here that we can embrace the humiliation that may come for doing God’s will because of what we get in exchange.

In addition, we should note Jesus’ view of shame, as described in Hebrews 12:2. He looked at the cross that would be shameful — the mockery, the cruel death, the pain — and, He did so, “scorning the shame,” or as some translations read, “despising the shame.” How does one scorn or despise the shame? He viewed the humiliation that would come from the cross as the less significant thing, as the pain it would bring meant less to Him than doing the Father’s will.

We will often be in the place of literally weighing out what God wants us to do and the cost, and we can do what God wants because of the better it will mean in the end. While Esau took the easy way over the hard and lost his birthright, Jesus did the opposite and accomplished the Father’s will and is sitting at the right hand of the Father (Acts 2:33; Hebrews 10:12).

When we are afraid, and we are facing circumstances that could get very dim if we boldly declare our faith and act in obedience to God, the writer of Hebrews here assures us that the sacrifice will be worth it. And Jesus stands as the ultimate example of One who went before and accomplished the Father’s will.

We don’t have to be the bitter root that falls away — but rather, the flourishing vine and faithful steward rooted in God that finishes our race.

Stay tuned for Part 2 next week where we talk about how Jesus isn’t just a perfect example. He’s a perfect example who helps us in our journey. Though walking with Jesus will lead us to hard and uncomfortable places, we won’t walk the journey alone — and He will give us the power necessary to do His will.

Related Resources:

Ever struggled to know in what way God would like to use you in serving others? Check out “Christian Service: What Does God Want Me to Do?”

Not really sure how to hear from God or how to walk in His will? Check out the following resources: “3 Lessons the Wise Men Can Teach Us About Knowing God’s Will for Our Lives” and “What the Wise Men Teach Us About Following God.”

Podcast Notes and Corrections:

The following explanation of Hebrews 1, 2 used in the podcast is loosely adapted from John Gill’s Expositions: “If we look at the word “for” in the passage, it can sometimes mean “in stead of” or “in place of” — and we can say in stead of God staying in heaven, he came into the world, in stead of his privileges and glory as God He became a servant and suffered shame.

 

 

 

 

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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Embracing Small Moments of Ministry

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As an English teacher, one of the core concepts I learned to teach was theme. It’s the author’s underlying message. It’s what he wants us to take away from a piece of literature. And one of those most common themes is that things are not always as they appear. They’re not as insignificant or even as accidental as they might first seem to be.

One such non-coincidental encounter started as many weekend days of my life do, at the thrift store. I am always drawn to a beautiful book cover (English teacher, remember?), and on this particular day, it was the cover of an anthology on Southernness from the editors of Garden and Gun Magazine. As I opened the book to a “random” page, I landed on an article that purported that Knoxville’s Chintzy Rose tea room and junk shop served tea that surpassed any other in the South. That’s saying something.

Well, how “concidental” then that I just happened to be planning a trip to my hometown in Virginia, and that Knoxville is the halfway point. How “strange,” too, that anyone I had asked to take the trip with me was unavailable. I was a little depressed about going by myself, but when I saw that article about the tea room, I determined to make an adventure out of my trip after all. When the day arrived, I put on an extended episode of my favorite podcast and set my sights on the halfway mark, where my personal roadside attraction was waiting.

When you’re alone, which for many of us happens in small doses and for others too often, you have time to reflect. As I prayed, worshipped, and listened to God on the way, I specifically prayed that I would not miss any plans God had for me that day. Four hours went by, and a little after lunchtime, I arrived at the Chintzy Rose, which was actually out of my way. I missed the little place the first time and even had to turn around to go back to it. When I walked in, antiques were everywhere, and I mean that literally. The shop was more than a little disheveled, but I felt so much at home already.

You see, my artist grandma, who taught me that a teacup should always have a thin lip and what it was to read Victoria magazine, always kept our house a little disheveled with her projects as well. I made my way to the back, beyond the shop, to the smallest tea room you’ve ever seen. There was one empty table, out of three, so I seated myself there. However, Knoxville is in the South, so I when I mentioned that I had driven all the way from Atlanta for the best sweet tea in the region, three ladies from an adjoining table insisted that I sit with them, the embodiment of Southern hospitality.

We sat and laughed together like we had been friends for years. These Christian ladies talked about their kids and grandkids, their work, and their ministries. We bantered back and forth with the owner and with the lady at the third table, and we even met Mrs. Tennessee America. We passed what was surely more time than they had allotted for their lunches, and by the time I said my goodbyes, I had an invitation to go on a thrift-store run with them.

One of the ladies in particular, Caroline, seemed more drawn to me than the others. I don’t recall what it was about her story at this point that connected us, but I do know that I ended my time there with her phone number and an invitation to come stay at her house the next time I was passing through. She came from a broken marriage and seemed to want genuine connection with other women, and I was happy to fulfill my same desire for connection too.

I left that little restaurant with more than just the vintage embroidery hoops I’d purchased and the refill of great sweet tea (it was, after all) in my hand. I left with an overwhelming peace and joy in my heart. I left knowing that, despite the fact that no major miracle had transpired, I had just had a divine appointment. I call that appointment, the one any outsider would have missed, even if they had been looking for it, small ministry. I went out of my way and by doing so encountered someone who needed me in a situation where I needed respite as well.

If you look at every area of my life, there appears to be chaos. From my physical house to my body to ministry transitions, it appears like I’m waiting for my big moment, the time when God will deliver me and finally bring me into the purpose He has for me. But does that mean He wants me to waste all those sweet-tea-and-small-ministry days? Not at all. So let’s examine three ways we can integrate small ministry so that it becomes perhaps the most impactful ministry of all.

3 Ways We Can Integrate Ministry Into Our Everyday

1. The more we take time to look for small opportunities, the more we naturally notice them.

If you’ll recall in my story, before I went to the teahouse, I was already praying and worshiping and asking God to do something with me. I’ve been much more conscious in recent years that the days in between my big moments must be used for some purpose. I’ve put myself in the mindset to look for opportunities to give people a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name. You will find what you look for. As my husband always says about spotting a million silver Hyundais on the road now that I have one, it’s true. In Jeremiah 29:13, Jesus says that very thing. We will find Him if we seek Him with all our hearts. He wants to be found by us. So if you’re waiting for your big moment, don’t miss all those other little moments in between.

2. We change ourselves when we help others.

I went to that teahouse lonely and stressed and concerned with my life’s current state. But I came out full of peace and hope. And even having had an encounter with a new friend. When I sat down at the table, I made it my purpose to return kindness for what had been shown to me when the ladies invited me to sit with them. But I ended up being the one to gain. Isn’t God like that? When we give to others, He says it comes back to us pressed down, shaken together, and running over. If you take time for small ministry, you will be the one ministered to.

3. Your ship may not have come in today, but I bet a kayak did.

In the last few years, my husband and I have joined what’s playfully called the “kayak clique.” There are six of us and hopefully more soon who have kayaks and like to get together to go out on the water. But kayaks aren’t easy. You are physically paddling and when a storm comes, you’re not in one of those boats with a big engine that can escape quickly.

You’re doing all the work and having all the pain. And it can make you feel like it would be so much better to have that big boat that everybody else is in. So many times, we are looking for a big ship to come in. That big opportunity or change, but we have to make sure not to neglect the days that come before. Next time you’re waiting for your big yacht-sized encounter with God or with others, don’t neglect that little kayak of opportunity that might be tied nearby.

You see, God is not interested in us just getting to our big destination. We might be goals-focused. We might want the next job or a bigger house or a better situation. But God is more interested in transforming us on the journey, burning up the dross, and transforming us to pure gold along the way. The kind of people who will actually be strong enough to bear up under the big opportunities when they come. That’s what small ministry is all about — taking time not to miss the opportunities in the everyday, the ones that will build us and transform us … and maybe not be so insignificant after all.

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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