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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3 Fears That Prevent Us From Persevering in Our God-Given Calling

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Each morning, I read from my First 5 app from Proverbs 31 Ministries. Daily, I am given a suggested passage of reading from the Bible and an analysis that goes with it. Currently, the study is on the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.

As I read my passage of Scripture the other day before diving into the analysis provided in the app, I noticed a description in the Bible I was reading that caught my eye. I have a few Bibles scattered around the house and use whichever one I can find for that day. The one I had in my hands was a NIV Youth Devotional Bible that my husband had received in high school. Both Ezra and Nehemiah are books that talk about the rebuilding process of Jerusalem after the Jews return from exile. Nehemiah, as cupbearer of the Persian king, asks permission of the king to go to Jerusalem and help his fellow Jews finish the rebuilding process — but this one line stood out to me: “Because of stiff opposition, the people must work with weapons in one hand, tools in the other.”

To put these words in context, Nehemiah and his fellow Jews, in the rebuilding process, not only had to focus on the work of rebuilding at hand, but also had to fight against attacks and defend themselves in the process. Talk about exhausting! And yet, this is the reality of what we will experience when we answer God’s call for our lives — we will have work in front of us to complete, but it won’t be without opposition from others and attacks from the enemy to get us to give up on whatever God has asked us to accomplish. And often these attacks will be in the form of fear and doubt to get us to abandon the work God gives us (or never even begin in the first place).

And yet, just as the Jews rebuilt the temple and the walls in the midst of opposition, we, too, when we stay connected to God, will complete what He has asked us to complete (Philippians 1:6). Yet, in the process, we need to fight against doubts that will get us discouraged and continually remind ourselves of truth in order to keep ourselves committed to the calling He has given us.

To help in that endeavor, I want to look at some common fears that may derail us and a model of faithfulness in service that we can emulate. In Luke 2:36-38, we encounter Anna, a prophetess, who served as a witness of Christ as the Messiah. One day in the temple, she saw Jesus as a child with his parents, spoke to them, and then went and shared with the community about what she had seen. This is her account:

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

These few lines tell us so much about a woman who lived an effective life of Christian service. Although Anna didn’t struggle with fears from what we are told, her example is one that can remind us of the truth of what God can accomplish through us if we don’t let fear get the best of us.

A few fears that we will combat when walking in our calling (and how to combat those with truths from Anna’s story):

1. Fear #1: God can’t use me.

One major fear that we will have to combat when first answering God’s call and continuing on in our service to God is that God can’t really use us. I remember going through a Bible study years ago and hearing the idea that God delights in using broken things and can restore anything and make it useful. The author of the study used an illustration to make her point and it was of a gardener who was planting a garden and asked a hardware store if he could have their discarded plants. They had a pile of plants that had been thought to be unusable — and this gardener took what others had deemed unusable and coaxed these plants back to life. Others commented on the beauty of his gardens and would not have known, if he had not told them, that his beautiful blooms had been rescued from the trash dump.

Some of us feel as unusable as a plant on the trash heap. Maybe others have made us feel like we can’t be used or maybe we have a dark spot in our past that we keep coming back to, but the truth is that God uses broken, imperfect people. And, quite interestingly, it’s the broken places we want to hide that can often be the places God can use to minister to others. Personally, when I answered God’s call to leave teaching, I thought it was to answer His call to use me in music ministry. I had no idea that He was going to call me to start a ministry that I have now. I wanted to stand on a stage and look good and never tell anyone about my past or the mistakes I had made. But it was those very places that God used to be the platform for what I talk about in my ministry, but He had to break me down to the place where I was even willing to talk about those places to begin with.

What we see with Anna in the story is that service to God is more about making ourselves available than it is about our impressive skills or qualifications. Although Anna didn’t have a questionable past or insecurities about her ability to be used, she had little status in her society. A woman in her time was not considered as reliable as a man to be a witness in a courtroom, and yet, God entrusted her with the task of serving as a witness to the Messiah to her community. Anna could have easily said, “God, I am a nobody. I don’t have anything to offer. I am a widow and don’t think you can use me.” Instead, she offered what she had to Jesus and gave her life in service to Him, doing what she could with what she had.

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

2. Fear #2: I don’t know how to make this happen.

Not only do some of us worry that we’re not amazing enough for God to use, we also may have doubts about how we will accomplish what God has asked of us. When God calls us, He doesn’t give us a complete blueprint of what He plans to do in and through us. He unveils His plan step-by-step. When He calls us, we may still be seeped in whatever habits He wants to deliver us from and we may not know how we are going to get from being our old self to becoming the new self that He is calling us to be. However, not only can we be assured that calling is more about God’s ability than our own, God fills in the details and transforms us as we follow Him.

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

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

3. Fear #3: What if I don’t have any results?

Another fear we may have when we step out and answer God’s calling is that we won’t have any results or that it will be up to us to generate a specific outcome. But what we need to notice in the passage is that it tells us that that Anna went around to those who were “awaiting the redemption of Israel” (v. 38). Did you catch that the people were already “awaiting” the message she brought? The WORD® Translation puts it like this: “She spoke about Jesus to all who were waiting for Jerusalem to be set free.” Just as Anna was waiting for the arrival of the Messiah before He showed up, there were others needing the same freedom and healing He would bring.

God was working in their hearts before Anna showed up, and they were prepared for what she was going to say to them because God had prepared them. Therefore, while Anna spent a lot of time going around and talking to people, she didn’t spend her energy trying to force others to listen or react in a particular way.

In our zeal to answer God’s call, we might feel responsible for how people respond or expect a certain outcome, but we’re simply responsible for the part God gives us to do and God does the rest. He sends us because He already knows what is going on with the people that we will encounter. Just as God orchestrates our calling and gives us our plan of action, He will also direct us to the specific people He wants us to reach out to — and He does a work in them as they hear our message. If we lose sight of this, we may strive or wear ourselves out in the attempt to achieve a particular result or persuade a person in a certain direction, but just as God calls us and designs our mission and message, it is God who will work in others as we walk in the way He has pointed to us.

I can’t tell you how many times I have walked into a service at church and been shocked as the pastor begins to speak on the very topic I needed to hear, sometimes even using within his talk the exact questions or struggles that had been running through my mind that week. How did that pastor know what to say or how to address the problems I was having with a spiritual solution from God’s Word? Only God could orchestrate that. The pastor, in being obedient and seeking from God the right message to speak and approach to take, was able to minister to me — a person he may never know personally or talk to face-to-face. And God will work through us in similar ways when we let Him have access to us.

God Does His Part When We Do Ours

In answering God’s call, we can be plagued with many insecurities and doubts about our ability to be used. We might worry about which way to go, what we will say, the people we will speak to, and how we will accomplish what He has asked of us. However, we can lay these worries down. He will direct us in all these areas. He knew these things before He even called us to the particular area of service we’re in (or going to serve in)!

While we may believe that we need certain qualifications, contacts, skill sets (and I am not diminishing the importance of any of those things), the thing we need the most in any ministry venture is God. And the thing He requires of us won’t be all the impressive talent(s) we can offer but our surrender to let Him use us as He will.

While it may feel when we follow God that we’re going nowhere or aren’t getting to our desired destination as quickly as we would like, if we trust Him and keep following Him, we will be able to look back one day and see that there was a plan and there was a way God was leading us all along. As pastor and author Charles Stanley notes in The Blessings of Brokenness:

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

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

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

“Here I Am” by Downhere:

Sometimes Your calling, comes in dreams

Sometimes it comes in the Spirit’s breeze, yeah

You reach for the deepest hope in me

And call out for the things of eternity

 

But I’m a man, of dust and stains

You move in me, so I can say

 

Here I am, Lord send me

All of my life, I make an offering

Here I am, Lord send me

Somehow my story is a part of your plan

Here I am

 

Setbacks and failures, and upset plans

Test my faith and leave me with empty hands

Are You not the closest, when it’s hardest to stand?

I know that You will finish what You began

 

These broken parts, You redeem

Become the song, that I can sing

 

Here I am, Lord send me

All of my life, I make an offering

Here I am, Lord send me

Somehow my story is a part of your plan

Here I am

 

Overwhelmed by the thought of my weakness

And the fear that I’ll fail You, in the end

Oh, in this mess, I’m just one of the pieces

I can’t put this together, but You can

 

Here I am, Lord send me

all my life as an offering

Here I am, Lord send me

Somehow my story, is part of Your plan

So here I am

 

Here I am, all my life an offering to You, To You

Somehow my story is a part of your plan

Here I am

Related Resources:

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

Want to read more about my journey into my calling? Check out the path of healing from low self-worth I embarked on with God in “3 Keys to Emotional Healing” and how failure along the way helped me to learn to trust God in “Why God Lets Us Fail.” In addition, check out the original version of this article that explains my process of answering God’s call to start this ministry: “The One Thing I Have Needed the Most in Ministry.”

Podcast Notes and Corrections:

1. When it refers to Nehemiah returning home, it should be noted that he was born in captivity, but as a Jew, he identified with Israel as his homeland.

 

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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Work That Truly Matters

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The English poet John Keats had the following written on his tombstone: “My name was writ in water.” Some mystery surrounds these words, but his epitaph most likely indicates a concern that plagues us all: We want our work to matter, and we want to be remembered and leave a lasting mark.

Though the world views meaningful work as making a name for ourselves, receiving recognition for an accomplishment, and/or amassing wealth and worldly goods — the Bible defines a life well-lived as one lived in obedience to God and one lived for the glory of God. Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work” (John 4:34). Similarly, when asked what work God required, Jesus answered, “Believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:29). The word “believe” in the Greek is “pisteuó,” and it means not only to be persuaded, but to give oneself up to God. Jesus was saying that the work of God is to be entirely dependent on God and go where He leads.

Although, at times, such a life following Jesus’ lead may include accomplishments that draw the attention of others or accumulate wealth for us, sometimes the path will be one that is out of the public eye and will involve acts of service which may not be applauded or noticed by anyone other than God. In fact, living a life for God may even lead to a life that appears, from a worldly perspective, to be a failure.

If we find ourselves in such a position where success as the world defines it is not ours, even as we are familiar with Scriptures that speak of losing one’s life to gain it for Christ, we may feel disappointment or discouragement. I love how The Bible Dictionary of Themes defines disappointment: “The sadness experienced when people or circumstances do not fulfill expectations.” Disappointment happens where there is a discrepancy between our reality and what we envisioned in our head. Why are we not seeing visible results, God? Why do I appear to be hidden in this place of service? Why have you allowed so much pain in my life?

Truth to Dispel Our Disappointment

Isaiah 49:4 tells us this: “But I said, ‘I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing at all. Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand, and my reward is with my God.’” The Message Translation says: “But I said, ‘I’ve worked for nothing. I’ve nothing to show for a life of hard work. Nevertheless, I’ll let God have the last word, I’ll let him pronounce the verdict.”

Although these words were written by Isaiah, the speaker is most likely Jesus here. He refers to Himself as Israel in other parts of Isaiah 49, and that can be a little confusing as He also speaks about Israel in sections of the passage. But we can gather from the other details He gives in the passage that the Messiah is indeed the speaker. For instance, if we jump down to the very next verse, the speaker says that His purpose is to “bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself” (v. 5). Furthermore, Jesus notes in verse 6 that He will not only restore the tribes of Jacob to himself but will be “a light for the Gentiles” (v. 6). We might understand His reference of Himself as Israel because He embodies the ideal attributes of the nation. In addition, we might also understand His choice of name when we look at other sections of Scripture and note that it is not uncommon for individuals to have more than one name.

Interestingly, Jesus speaks of one aspect of the pain of His ministry on earth in the passage: “I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing at all” (emphasis mine). He suffered in many ways, but one way that we don’t often think about in terms of His suffering is that Jesus spoke “in vain” to His own people. Certainly, His overall ministry was a success. He accomplished just what He came to do, and His death — perhaps what looked to be the biggest failure of all — was right in the Father’s will and accomplished what the Father wanted.

However, though He healed many and ushered in many to the kingdom, His own people, as a whole, rejected Him. In fact, only 120 disciples met after his ministry on earth ended (Acts 1:15). As Christ followers, we will have similar experiences when we minister. We, too, will suffer in that we won’t always get the results we hoped for. There will, many times, exist a discrepancy between our expectation and what actually happens, and this can lead to disappointment.

However, what can we take away from this passage? We have the encouragement provided in the second half of verse 4: “Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand, and my reward is with my God.” In other words, the speaker reassures Himself with the idea that He is approved by God and His work will be evaluated by God — and God’s evaluation is the only one that matters. Because here’s where our unmet expectations will turn to disappointment and despair: If our desire to follow God hinges on the results we’ve envisioned in our mind and our happiness is determined by whether we meet our goals. We may not.

In fact, chances are God will re-write our goals and His ideas won’t be anything like ours. But success (i.e. meaningful work) is centered not on what the world thinks of us, but rather, whether or not we attempted to obey Him and labor in accordance to what He asked us to do. Of course we will slip up and slide away and fail Him. But He will keep pulling us back to our course and though our labor may feel like it’s in vain, it isn’t if we keep looking to Him and following where He leads. We read in 1 Corinthians 15:58: “Therefore my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is never in vain.”

However, engaging in work that God directs may not always feel successful. Verse 5 tells us that Jesus was “honored in the eyes of the Lord,” but yet, as it says later in verse 7, “abhorred and despised by the nation.” He spent all his strength laboring for a people who refused to accept Him as the Messiah, but this wasn’t His only mission: He was to reach all the nations. And the moment that the Jews might point to as His biggest failure — His death — made it possible for us to receive salvation. And, we know from reading the rest of Scripture that a remnant of Israel will be saved. God is not done with the Jewish people yet.

Might this encourage us when we consider that the work we have done in service to God has a bigger purpose than we know, and that God is using our story for His glory, even though we can’t necessarily see His plan for our struggles at the moment?

Conclusion:

This past week, we had a ladies event at our church and the speaker was a woman who recently adopted a child from China. The boy she adopted had only half a heart, and she knew when she adopted him that he had severe challenges associated with his health. It wasn’t clear how long he would live or what his needs would be, but as an 18-month-old, he lay in his crib all day long and couldn’t even move his hands.

Yet, she felt God nudging her to adopt him. Not even knowing if he would make it on the plane ride back to the states or through the heart surgeries that would have to be performed when he arrived, she took a leap of faith. She and her husband determined that they would love this little boy whether he lived a day, a week, a month, or many years. He did make it through the plane ride and heart surgery (and other successive surgeries), and he is now a thriving 4-year-old little boy. He is completely non-verbal and has special needs, but still manages to communicate in his own way and is well-loved by her family.

However, as she relayed her story to us, she told us that her family has had to make some major changes. They can’t stay out late or go certain places because her son gets over-stimulated very easily and simply can’t handle certain types of outings. She could easily sink into disappointment about what she can’t do in her life at this point because of the constant care she has to give to her son, but she emphasized that her work right now is to be the mommy of this little boy.

For all of us, our work is individually tailored to us. Our work that God gives us might not look like adopting a boy for China, but it may mean being a light to the co-workers at our office. It may look like teaching children in the public school system. It may look like being a missionary overseas. A verse that she shared during her talk that has been personally meaningful to me is 1 Corinthians 3:9-13:

For we are co-workers in God’s service … . But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work.

As I wrote in a previous article, when we fulfill the tasks God ordains us to do and walk in His will, we build on the right foundation using “gold, silver, costly stones” (v. 12). In contrast, if we try to build in our own power, our work will not stand the test of time. As Bill Gillham notes in Lifetime Guarantee, our own fleshly pursuits are merely “the wood, hay or straw” that will not last, even if built on the right foundation (v. 12).

Even if we don’t like the place God has us, if we are doing work in the Father’s will, we can be encouraged that God is the evaluator of our work. Even if we don’t see any accolades or praise from others in this life, God knows just what we have done and promises to reward us.

Let’s pray: God, You may have some of us in difficult places that stretch us and make us uncomfortable. We might look at other people around us that appear to have more results or success and feel that our work isn’t important. However, if You have called us to the place we are in, we can find hope in your Word that our reward is with You. What appears to be failure may not be failure in Your eyes. Help us to use Your evaluation of us as a measuring stick for success, rather than the world’s measuring stick. When we’re disappointed by our circumstances, help us turn to You and continue to be faithful in the place You have called us to serve. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Related Resources:

This is the first post in a brand new series over Isaiah 49: “Hope in Disappointing Circumstances.” Check out the next few episodes to hear more on the hope we can have in the midst of challenging situations.

Are you new to Christianity and have not yet received Jesus as your Lord and Savior? Stop by our Know God page to learn more and consider inviting Jesus into your life.

Podcast Notes and Corrections:

John Keats example as one who had anxiety about leaving a legacy given in The Biblical Illustrator, commentary over Isaiah 49.

 

 

 

 

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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The Reason We Celebrate

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In praying about what to write about for this holiday season, God gave me the word “celebration.” As I looked over the story of Luke 2, I asked God to help me see what he wanted me to see, and I noticed, in particular, the reaction of the shepherds to the angels’ celebration and proclamation of Jesus’ birth in Luke 2:20: “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” (emphasis mine)

The shepherds’ reaction highlights a major reason we celebrate in our faith: when God does something on our behalf and does what He says He will do.

As if to emphasize that I was onto the right idea, the next day I was listening to the radio and heard an interview with Matt Maher in regard to his recent Christmas album. They played his song “Always Carry You” from the album, which he wrote with Amy Grant, and one line stood out to me: “I will not be afraid. All your words are true.”

Just to put it in context, the song is sung from the perspective of Mary when she receives news that she will become pregnant with the Messiah. For those of you not drawing the connection, the song underlines in a similar way the same idea expressed in Luke 2: God’s words are true, and when we see before our eyes what He said will come to pass, the feelings of joy and excitement are unsurpassed.

Celebration by the Shepherds in the Christmas Story

In Luke 2, the shepherds were just engaging in their nightly duties, nothing out of the ordinary, and all of a sudden, they were interrupted. An angel appeared, saying: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (vv. 10-12). Then a host of angels appeared, praising God.

When the angels left, the shepherds said to each other, “ ‘Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’ So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them” (vv. 16-18). It is at this point in the story, in verse 20, we are told: “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”

What can we observe from the shepherds?

1. Celebration centers on what God has done for us.

The shepherds were told of the Messsiah’s birth in an amazing way — by the angels, and then they went and saw the child that they had been told to go and find — and they were aware of the prophecies surrounding His birth. This would have been an event of a lifetime! The shepherds could hardly contain their excitement that they had been given front-row seats to such a miracle.

All of the events that they witnessed could only be attributed to God. Before the shepherds were praising God, the angels in the story were praising God for His mighty work in sending the Messiah to repair the broken relationship between man and God (for those willing to accept Jesus as their Savior). Multiple other places we see that miracles are performed by God for various reasons — but one reason is that they display His greatness and power. And viewing His power sparks a response within us … which leads me to my next point.

2. Our celebration is a witness to others.

I’ve never thought about it in these terms before, but as I was perusing a Bible dictionary, I noticed that praise of God is listed as a witness to others (Psalm 9:11, 2 Corinthians 9:13). When we praise God, we tell others to get on board with His goodness and inspire others to either come to the faith or encourage other believers already in the faith.

In this passage, the angels first celebrated the miracle in the birth of the Messiah. Then, just a few short verses later, we can’t miss that the shepherds were “glorifying and praising” God in a similarly exuberant way. Why? “For all the things they heard and seen.” They had witnessed the angel announcing the message of the Messiah’s birth and then a host of angels singing praise to God. And the Messiah in human form. Witnessing all of these events caused joy and praise to bubble up within them.

If you’re not getting it yet, we see that the angels’ witness to the shepherds inspired a chain reaction — a circular motion. The shepherds were inspired by the witness of the angels and went to see for themselves what the commotion was all about. When the shepherds followed to find more of God’s goodness, this, in turn, lead to telling others, and more people knowing about and being able to celebrate the goodness of God.

3. We celebrate Him when we experience Him.

However, while the shepherds praised God for what He alone could do, they were not merely inactive bystanders up until the point where they broke out in praise. They were given a directive to go and see the child and they “hurried” to go and find Him (v. 16).

What if they had decided to sit back and wait a few days? What if they had doubted the angels’ message? As a result of choosing to act on what they had seen and heard from the angels, they went and found another miracle in the Savior. Therefore, while God was responsible for the miracles the shepherds saw in the angels and the person of the Messiah, the shepherds had a role to play in going to see about what God had said they would find. And then they praised Him because they went and experienced Him. Similarly, we, too, will have experiences that elicit praise when we make it our mission to know and seek Him in response to His pursuit of us.

There were individuals in the story that responded with awe to the shepherds’ story, but their amazement ended there. They did not go and investigate what the shepherds had told them. How often we will pour our heart out for others and feel that we don’t make any impact. Or do we? The story of the shepherds is one that moves out of view as we progress through Luke, and yet, their story is one that has encouraged millions, particularly at this time of year.

Though there were some in the shepherd’s immediate realm that didn’t act on what they heard — the shepherds’ message is one that has had a ripple effect and has gone so far as to touch you and me. Surely, the shepherds could not know in the moment what impact their small role in the Christmas story would have on future generations. What might our reactions and telling of God’s actions do to others around us when we step out in faithfulness, as the shepherds do here, and act as witnesses of God’s glory?

Conclusion:

When we walk with God, we will continually have moments of celebration and praise because as we grow in Him we will learn more about His praiseworthy nature and see more of His works on display. We will continually have moments where He will show up for us in big ways — and this leads us to be able to have stories of praise to share with others.

Though you might not feel big or important or as pulled together as other Christians, your praise of Him matters. Like the ordinary shepherds keeping watch out on fields one night, you have a sphere of influence that God would like to use for His glory. Though we celebrate God in response to what He does for us — we also celebrate to show others what we have in our great God so that they, too, will want to seek Him.

Related Resources:

This is the fourth post in a series called “What Happens When We Believe God’s Words Are True.” Check out the other posts and accompanying episodes in the series:  Part 1: “When You Need a Miracle,” Part 2: “Choosing not to Fall Into Doubt and Unbelief,” or Part 3: “How to Respond to the Miracles of God.”

Feel like you need more Christmas? Read this Christmas-themed post to help you continue to praise God for sending His Son: “What Jesus Came to Do (and the Best News This Christmas).”

Are you new to this whole Christianity thing? Would you like a personal relationship with Jesus but don’t know where to begin? Visit our Know God page to learn how to receive salvation and make Jesus the Lord of your life.

*Updated December 27, 2018.

 

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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More Than an Example, Jesus Gives Us the Power to Obey: Part 3


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Have you ever seen a flawless model on a magazine cover or television commercial that made you self-conscious about your own looks or abilities because the chasm between the two of you felt impossibly huge? Models are everywhere, featured in more than magazines and advertisements. They are given to us to inspire consumption of magazines or products, but also to make us want to pattern ourselves after them or attain a certain level of achievement or status.

But instead of always doing what they are designed to do, sometimes if too-perfect, models can discourage us from even trying to be like them because they represent an unattainable ideal.*

The Model of Faith: Jesus

In Hebrews 12, we are given a model for our Christian faith. And yet, this model, although perfect, is different than other models you can recall that did more to discourage than inspire you. I’ll tell you why in a moment, but first, let’s remind ourselves of verses 1,2 which I have been focusing on throughout this series:

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.

First, before the author ever discusses the perfect example of Jesus, he mentions a “great cloud of witnesses” (v. 1), referring back to the heroes of the faith mentioned in chapter 11. We should know that the author is systematically making an argument throughout Hebrews that Christianity is superior to Judaism. Speaking to Jewish Christians that were being persecuted and were tempted to return back to their Jewish faith, the writer continues this argument, bringing it towards a culmination in chapter 12.

Therefore, if we view this passage through that lens, we can conclude that although the many witnesses are given to encourage us to follow in their footsteps, we should note that they are more than just the usual I-am-perfect-so-be-like-me examples. First of all, they weren’t perfect! They screwed up in multiple ways just like you and me, but they shared one thing in common: their willingness to step out in faith and do what God said.

While we might envision spectators watching us in our walks of faith when we read the phrase “cloud of witnesses,” as the NIV Application Commentary points out, this image is meant to do more than tell us we have spectators in our journey. Rather, these witnesses “bear witness to the Christian community of God’s faithfulness and of the effectiveness of faith.”

Then, after mentioning the “great cloud of witnesses” to convince us that walking in faith is worth it, the author gives us Jesus as the one perfect example of the faith that eclipses the rest of the pack. However, again, as I mentioned above with the “cloud of witnesses,” the author’s use of Jesus as the ultimate example of faith is more than just a model for us to follow.

Jesus is the “pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (v. 2). As I explained in Part 2 of this series, certainly this can mean what is sounds like — that our faith begins with Him and He works in us. That in and of itself is exciting, but that’s not all. There’s more. If we examine the words “pioneer” and “perfecter” in the Greek, we see that the meaning is not just of One who begins and ends our faith — but One who is the leader or pioneer of faith, as in the faith. The word “our” was added later before the word “faith.”

If we read it this way, we understand that Jesus is more than a model for us to emulate. He is the champion and forerunner of the faith. He is the only One who was able to run the race perfectly. And that changes everything. How? Let me explain:

How Jesus Perfects the Faith

If we skip down to verses 18-24 of chapter 12 of Hebrews, the writer says this:

For you have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm … . But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem … You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant.

While the author started off Hebrews 12 by mentioning the “cloud of witnesses” and our one perfect example in Jesus, he goes deeper into this argument by asserting the better that the new covenant brings because of the race of faith Jesus perfectly completed. The verse states that the old covenant “can be touched” (v. 18). The Israelites were not allowed to touch Mt. Sinai, but the law was received in a physical location and was palpable. And this law was delivered to them in an awe-inspiring way, but in their weak humanity, they couldn’t even look at the face of Moses when he returned from the mountain with the law because his face glowed from being in the presence of God. Though the law was necessary, it was hard to abide by it.

However, the law was only temporary and Jesus brought with His death the new covenant — or new and better arrangement between God and believers. As believers, we are no longer under the old covenant. We no longer have to tremble at the words of God because we have come to “Mt. Zion” and have in Jesus a “mediator of the new covenant” (v. 24). While we can also point to Mt. Zion as a place, we don’t have to go to a physical locale any longer to receive Jesus into our lives. The new covenant is no longer external like the old covenant, but rather, internal.

Mt. Zion is representative of the spiritual nature of the new covenant and the union we have with God when we ask Jesus into our lives to be our Savior. While we have commands to follow given to us in Scripture, we have the Spirit of God living in us that helps us and transforms us to be more like Jesus as we walk with Him (2 Corinthians 3:18; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Titus 3:5).

The Freedom We Have In the New Covenant

Another place we see this same idea of the internal nature of the new covenant and the freedom we have in the new covenant is 2 Corinthians 3:4-6 where Paul says:

Such confidence we have through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of the new covenant — not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

Here, Paul states that his ability and competency comes from God. He can’t boast of anything in and of himself to do the work of God. This is important to note because we get the idea that weakness on our part isn’t anything to hide or try to cover up. God knows we’re weak and He works in our weakness! When we come to places in our spiritual walk that are too hard or look impossible to us, we may think that we have to overcome those places on our own. We get down on ourselves because we’re weak.

Maybe we’ve tried before in the area and failed, or maybe we have been running from God because we don’t think we can do what He is asking us to do. But here, it tells us that rather than be discouraged by our weakness or disqualify ourselves based on our weakness, our weakness is an opportunity for us to acknowledge that our strength is not in ourselves and turn to the Source of our power.

Paul also compares the old and new covenants here, as we see in chapter 12 of Hebrews, saying that the old covenant, or letter of the law, kills. Why does it bring death? Because those who couldn’t keep the law in the Old Testament were given judgment and even death.

Similarly, those who are saved now but attempt to live up to the law without the help of God’s Spirit will only experience shame and guilt and frustration. As the IVP New Testament Commentary says: “A covenant that is letter in nature kills because it makes external demands without giving the inward power for obedience, while a covenant that is Spirit in character gives life because it works internally to produce a change of nature.” To put it simply, the Gospel provides the way by which we can live as we should. On the other hand, the law simply makes us feel guilty and condemned because we are continually reminded of a standard we can’t live up to without the power to live it out.

Those who accept Jesus’ work on the cross by becoming believers and living by His Spirit live in freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17). As the IVP illuminates: “Because of Christ, the Spirit, rather than sin, becomes the controlling principle in the life of the believer. The power that was lacking under the old covenant is now there for us to be the kind of moral people God intended.”

Friends, why is this such incredibly good news? The jaw-dropping conclusion and the twist I have been alluding to when we examine both Hebrews 12 and 2 Corinthians is that Jesus is more than a model — He also empowers us to become what He designed us to be. We don’t have to be perfect or despair when the gulf is wide between us and Jesus. He helps us do what we can’t on our own — and we have freedom to breathe in the new covenant because we have the help within us to live the life we were called to live as believers.

As Paul emphasizes, our weakness is an opportunity for the Spirit of God to do in us what we simply can’t do for ourselves. I love what Alexander McLaren observes in his commentary of Hebrews:

He [Jesus] is more than example. He gives us power to copy His fair pattern. The influence of heroic saintly lives may be depressing as well as encouraging. Despondency often creeps over us when we thinking of them. It is not models that we want, for we all know what we ought to be, and an example of supreme excellence in morals or religions may be as hurtful as the unapproachable superiority of Shake-spears or Raphael may be to a young aspirant. Perfect patterns do not save the world. They do not get themselves copied. What we want is not the knowledge of what we ought to be, but the will and power to be it. And that we get from Christ and Him alone.

It’s not that living in the Spirit of God erases the hard things that we have to do in our walks with God. There will still be hard things, but what freedom when we realize that we aren’t left alone to do what we can’t on our own. We aren’t given an impossible example — but rather, an example and the power to do what He asks.

Walking With Jesus Eases Our Guilt and Condemnation

I had a conversation with a Catholic gentleman the other day. He told me that he hadn’t been to mass lately because he got sick every time he went to church. Confused by his words, I asked for more details. As English was his second language, he had difficulty explaining to me what he meant. However, I finally got the gist of what he was saying — by “sick” he meant that he felt so much guilt and condemnation as he sat through a service that he would break into a profuse sweat and fall ill during the service and afterwards. Though he believed that salvation was in Christ alone and had received Christ as his Savior, he had been also looking into other religions such as Islam and Buddhism to try to help him with some of his everyday problems and the emotions he was experiencing.

In response, I emphasized to him that Christ was enough. No religion could give him what he could find in Christ. The answers to his problems could be found in a daily relationship with Christ — by investing in a quiet time each day and reading the Word and prayer. I also shared with him Romans 8:1 and told him that the moment he confessed his sins, as a believer, he was forgiven. Whatever he was feeling so guilty about could not have any hold on him because Jesus forgave him when he confessed. Sure, there might be, at times, a follow-up with a person if he hurt someone and needed to apologize, but he was under no condemnation for sin when he confessed because he was covered by Jesus’ blood.

Though words came easy to ease this man’s burden, after our conversation, I thought about how ironic it was that I was comforting this man when I have had similar thoughts or reactions of guilt and condemnation at different intervals in my Christian walk! I have read the words of Scripture that were hard or I have listened to a tough sermon that addressed an area of sin in my life and have felt at times, even knowing the message of the Gospel and repeatedly experiencing the grace of Jesus Christ, that maybe God couldn’t forgive me or maybe a problem or area of my life I wanted to change was impossible for God. In addition, though I haven’t looked into other religions, I could attest to drifting to other comforts or distractions when I felt far from God.

Yet, as I shared with this man, we must continually remind ourselves what we have as believers in Jesus. As the writer of Hebrews says, we have not come to Mt. Sinai but Mt. Zion. We have no need to be burdened down as believers because we are under a new covenant where we can freely approach the throne of God and ask for His help in our weakness. Matthew 11:28-30 (MSG) says this:

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me — watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.

Jesus beckons those of us who are burdened by religion or guilt or life’s demands to come to Him. When we’re weary of trying to be what we can’t, He tells us to take His yoke upon us and learn from Him. We’re not instructed to go alone, but rather, He walks with us in our journey and we find rest when we go His way in His power — not by trying to somehow meet the requirements of the law.

We’ve been talking this series about some hard topics — about being diligent in our faith, and not falling away. Yes, there is certainly work to be done in our Christian walk, but this is work done with a capable Savior yoked in with us who willingly leads us, but also shares the burden with us, so nothing we do in His will is ever that which we can’t do in His strength.

Let’s pray: Lord, sometimes the words of Scripture strike terror in our hearts or maybe even our own misconceptions about You have led us to believe that where we are is too far gone for your hand to save. Or maybe our discouragement is great because we have been believing lies that we can never make it. We can never measure up. We can never surmount the obstacles in front of us. But, through the power of your Holy Spirit, we can. As I read one time, You will never ask us to do that which we can’t do in Your power. You will never, as this verse says, put anything “ill-fitting” on us. Let us turn to You when we lack strength and pray and persevere in our walk with You when it would be easier to give up and fall away.

*Editor’s note: The example theme running throughout the piece was developed in part after reading comments regarding the idea that Jesus is more than a model from commentators John Owen, A.W. Pink, and Alexander McLaren.

Also, when speaking of Old Testament saints and saying they did not have any aid to meet the requirements of the law, this is not to say that they did not have any help by God or mercy. Admittedly, heroes of the faith in the Old Testament did have the aid of God and did look to the coming of Christ for encouragement. God repeatedly offered mercy to a rebellious Israel, but the point being made is that what we have in the new covenant is far better in that we have an access to God that they did not have and the Spirit of God dwelling within us to help us live the Christian life.

Related Resources:

Did you enjoy this article? Check out the first two articles in the series over Hebrews 12: When You Wonder if Your Obedience Will Be Worth the Cost: Part 1 and When You Fear You Will Never Measure up in Your Faith: Part 2.

Are you not yet a believer and want to find out more about being a Christ-follower? Check out our Know God page to learn about salvation and how to invite Jesus to be the Lord of your life so that you, too, can come to Mt. Zion and enjoy the benefits available to Christ-followers.

Podcast Notes and Corrections:

A.W. Pink did write about the example of Jesus and is meant to be included in the list of commentators given in the podcast (among them John Owen and Alexander McLaren) that helped to develop the idea of Jesus as more than example.

*Updated November 18, 2018.

 

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 Feel Like You Will Never Measure Up in Your Faith: Part 2

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“I can’t do it,” my 7-year-old son exclaimed, throwing down his pencil in frustration.

The source of his angst? A second grade subtraction and addition worksheet. My son had started out writing down the answers with ease, but when he came to a hard sum with large numbers, he proclaimed that he would never be able to do it.

After asking him a few questions, I assessed that my son, a great memorizer, had either memorized the answers for the previous problems or was able to work out the answers in his head for sums with simple numbers. However, when he got to problems that he hadn’t seen before or problems with larger numbers than he was used to, he wasn’t able to figure out the answers in his head — and he wanted to give up.

With as much patience as I could muster, I demonstrated to him how to count on his fingers. I know that they don’t probably encourage this strategy in schools anymore, but it always helped me when I was in elementary school. When I first showed him the new strategy, he crossed his arms, repeating, “I can’t do it!” I repeated the instructions again several times.

Just when I wondered if my coaching efforts would help, he began to try the new strategy. At first, he got mixed up on how to “count up” on subtraction problems, but I kept repeating how to do it. He kept trying, and he was still getting wrong answers because he was counting starting on the wrong number or getting mixed up with the numbers on his fingers.

However, my little boy had more persistence than I thought and kept trying over the course of the next few days. A week later, I noticed him counting correctly and finding the right answers without my help!

When We Feel Like We Can’t Do What God Wants in Our Christian Walk

Sometimes in our Christian walk we might be like my son and get to a place where we say, “I can’t!” When we try to do the task God sets before us, we fall short. We may find ourselves in a frustrating pattern of failing and feeling like we can never measure up. We don’t desire to be disobedient, but He may “up the ante,” so to speak, where He teaches us new things and desires us to walk at a higher level with Him. And that place that He brings us may not be comfortable or easy for us. We may wonder how we will ever overcome the obstacles in front of us or change certain patterns we’ve held onto for far too long.

In a recent post “A Fix for the Disconnect Between Your Head and Your Heart,” Hayley Morgan calls the distance between what we intellectually know we should do and what we do an “integrity gap.” She notes that we’ve all experienced how hard it is to put our head knowledge into life practice and continues to explain how tackling the hard tasks Jesus sets before us can be as awkward and uncomfortable as riding a backwards bike. We keep falling off because we’re not used to riding a bike this way. We may want to give up on learning whatever Jesus wants to teach us or making a needed change in our lives because it’s not coming naturally or easily for us.

Perhaps this very dilemma of finding it hard to live out what we know in our head to be true is what the writer of Hebrews had in mind when he penned these words: “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” (12:15). As I explained in my previous post, I had always understood this verse to mean that anger that festers can affect others in a negative way. However, when I did a deeper study of the words, I realized that the meaning goes beyond that. Certainly, the verse can refer to those with bad attitudes that pollute the body of Christ and need heart adjustments after suffering disappointment or pain that has made them bitter. But “bitter root” in the context of this passage is most likely primarily referring to those who get slothful in their spiritual walk and fall away.

The passage is an allusion to Deuteronomy 29:18, 19 where Moses warns the nation of Israel not to turn from God and infect the nation with sinful actions and idolatrous worship. Similarly, in Hebrews, the writer is cautioning Christians not to allow themselves to turn away from God and become a “bitter root” in the community of believers that causes trouble to self and others.

In addition, when we look to see that we and others around us do not “fall short of the grace of God,” this is referring not to our salvation, but to coming up short or deficient by not doing the tasks God would have us do in our faith walk.

My guess is that many Christians who drift do so not because they stop believing in God, but because they get to a place where the path before them looks too hard. Like my son encountering the math problems with big numbers he had never seen before, we get to new levels with Jesus and want to progress but get stuck in a behavior or a pattern that, try as we might, we can’t overcome.

It’s in those places where rather than turn to God in our weakness and ask Him for the help to get through, we shut down instead. “I want to, Lord! But I can’t!” we cry. We are aware of the “integrity gap” between His standard given to us in His Word and where we are and fear that we will never “measure up” in terms of making needed changes in our spiritual walk. Or can we?

How Jesus Helps Us Change

Recently, as I sat crying over the painfulness of circumstances and my inability to change myself in an area of fear I’ve been struggling in for far too long, I remembered a verse from the beginning of Hebrews 12:1, 2 that cites Jesus as the “perfecter of our faith.” I decided to take another look at the passage, and one word kept ringing through my mind: “perfecter.”

What does that mean for us? The word “perfecter” means “finisher, completer” in the Greek. We might look at that and say, “Yes, Jesus does finish my faith.” But it’s more than that. Jesus is the finisher not just of our faith, but the finisher of the faith. He made it possible for us to run the race of faith because of what He did for us on the cross. We are no longer under the imperfect system of the law, but we have been given the Gospel. What Jesus did for us on the cross makes us righteous and acceptable in the sight of God — and makes it possible for us to have the help of Jesus on our journey.

He is our elder brother, our interceder. He completed the race of faith and reached a standard we could never reach on our own. This doesn’t mean that we don’t ever have to participate in our faith journey or do hard things in our Christian walk. To the contrary. We do have to do hard things, and Jesus will take us up steep, rocky inclines that are far above where we could ever walk on our own (or think we want to go at times). But we don’t do these things alone. (And, as I emphasized earlier, we certainly don’t do these things to try to earn salvation or His love. We obey in response to what He has done for us and trust Him to lead us.) When things feel as hard and impossible as riding a backwards bike, we have Jesus to help us.

You might be reading this, saying, “I’ve been with Jesus a long time, and I still can’t get a handle on this. I literally can’t.” And to you I would say the same thing I’ve been telling myself: “Through Him, all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). When we can’t, rather than try harder, we turn to Him and we keep pressing in. We keep praying and asking for His help. We keep taking small, shaky, scared steps in reliance on His Spirit — however sloppy and imperfect. We repent when we mess up, but we keep going. We keep trying. We don’t stop running the race. And we don’t let our imperfection keep us from turning to Him.

While I was able to give my son a strategy to use to help him overcome his difficulty solving math problems, life doesn’t always work like that. We can’t always fix whatever stands in our way or our own problems with a simple 1-2-3 plan or book or helpful mantra. We need God — and our strategy should always be to fall before Him and proclaim our utter need for Him and inability to do whatever it is on our own.

That, friends, turns our “I can’t” statements into “I can.” Do all things through Him who gives me strength, that is (Philippians 4:13).

Want to learn more about how Jesus helps us in our weakness and how our inadequacies aren’t a cause for giving up, but rather, a cause for pressing in more than ever for His power to fill us? Check out Part 3 of this series on not falling back in the race of faith and attaining the promises God has for us. We will also explore both the old and new covenants and how the new covenant frees us from striving in our own strength to live up to the demands of the law.

Related Resources:

This is a 3-part series on Hebrews 12, where we have been exploring not falling away in our faith and pushing through hardship to attain the blessings of God. Check out Part 1 of the series that talks about why the hard things we do for Jesus are always worth it.

If you would like to learn more about how God doesn’t base his love for us on what we do, check out this article on God’s love for us in the midst of our failures.

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+.

*Updated November 11, 2018.

 

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.

More Posts

4 Things That Can Derail Us in Our Christian Walk

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As a blogger, I receive positive feedback for many of my posts, and I always love to hear how an article on the site has helped someone else through a struggle. However, on the flip side, from time to time I receive negative responses by those who disagree with my theology or Christianity in general.

While I know that disagreement from others comes with the territory when you publish your work online, I never find it easy to read a negative comment or email. I can easily get discouraged by the opposition and think, “Why am I doing this? What insane person would put herself out there like this?” But I remember that Jesus called me to write, and difficulty and opposition is part of the Christian experience.

Whether we put ourselves out there by publishing work in an online forum or simply living out the Christian walk within our community, resistance will come when we express our Christian views and live a Christ-centered lifestyle. Such resistance coupled with other difficulties we face as Christians can discourage us and keep us from wanting to continue running the race of faith.

Rather than allow difficulties to slow us down in our faith walk, though, we can be aware of these obstacles and turn to God for strength in the midst of them, knowing that they are a normal reality of the Christian experience.

A few obstacles we need to be aware of so that they don’t derail us from our calling:

 1. Lack of visible results.

As Christians, when we walk in dependence on God, we will bear fruit (John 15:4). However, we won’t always see what comes of our obedience when doing the will of God. God may inspire us to talk to a distant friend we don’t ever see again or a stranger in a grocery store. I remember once hearing a missionary tell our Sunday school class about his frustration on the mission field. He spent a great deal of time and energy evangelizing, but rarely had the person responded in the moment and accepted Christ.

In praying about his frustrations, he felt God tell him that he was planting seeds that would someday bear fruit in the person’s life. Similarly, you and I may simply plant a seed in a person’s life by our godly words or actions. That seed may be nurtured or added to by others who come along at a later time. We have to trust that that person’s life is in God’s hands. We are only responsible for the part God gives us to do, and it may mean not seeing what comes out of our obedience. While we may be tempted to give up because of the lack of visible results, the Bible tells us not to grow tired in doing the work of God, for in due time we will see a harvest (Galatians 6:9).

2. The stress of everyday life.

Serving God is demanding in and of itself, but the truth is that we don’t live out our service to God (in whatever capacity) in an insulated bubble. (I wish!) When I wrote the original draft of this article, I had three children age 8 and under. We had spent the majority of the winter doctoring one or more sick kids through fevers and stomach viruses.

In addition, during that same period, my 10-month-old was teething and had spent a good portion of each night in my bed when her teeth caused her pain. Such nights equaled no sleep for mama — or only short intervals here and there throughout the night! During this stressful season, I was trying to write not only posts as I felt led, but a study as well, and I felt overwhelmed by the demands of raising small children and trying to work on the projects God had given me. More than once I wanted to bail on the study and tell God that it just wasn’t working out in my life to write at the moment, but He just kept encouraging me to keep going.

Navigating the demands of life, family, and ministry at once can feel brutally hard at times. Sick kids need our attention. Bills need to be paid. The house still needs to be cleaned. And those demands don’t go away when we follow Jesus. If anything, our journey gets tougher in many ways when we choose to follow Him. However, Jesus reminds us that He has overcome the world (John 16:33). We shouldn’t be surprised or discouraged by the many troubles and distractions we encounter as we live out His will in our lives.

However, rather than be like the shallow or thorny soil in Jesus’ parable of the sower (Matthew 13:1-23), where the seed planted grew but then withered or was completely choked out by the cares of life, we need to be like the good soil and allow His Word to grow deep in our lives, despite situations that make it difficult for us to tend to the seed He has planted.

3. Internal fears and doubts.

Not only will we face trials and everyday inconveniences in doing the will of God, but we also are on a transforming journey ourselves where God is working out of us undesirable traits and forming in us the image of His Son. Sometimes our own personal battles with sin, as well as the fears and doubts that come as we step out to obey God, can contribute to us being ready to throw in the towel.

In 2 Corinthians 7:5, Paul says: “For when we came into Macedonia, we had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn — conflicts on the outside, fears within.” When he wrote this, Paul was on a missionary journey and described the amount of pressure his group experienced. Paul had arguments with false teachers, opposition from people in the community, and “fears within.” By this last choice of words, scholars say that Paul was most likely referring to anxieties about the church of Corinth, and a recent letter of church discipline he had sent them.

Whatever Paul was worried about, the point is that Paul — bold apostle that he was — still experienced stresses and fears. Similarly, though our stresses might not be the same as Paul’s, we will face fears. We might experience fear because of our inadequacies, safety, or message when we speak to others about God. Are we saying the right thing? Is our message going to be received by others? What will happen to us if we step out in this way? We are fragile and human, mere jars of clay (2 Corinthians 4:7). In the midst of intense outside pressures, we will also face our own “fears within” and wonder if we’re up to what God has called us to do.

If we look further down in chapter 7, though, we see that Paul was comforted by God in the midst of his afflictions and the coming of Titus, who informed him that the church had accepted Paul’s letter in the right spirit and had decided to repent. Though we will face intense fears and internal doubts at times, God is still able to sustain us and comfort us in whatever place we find ourselves in.

4. Persecution by others.

Lastly, as I’ve alluded to earlier, no matter how much we perfect our delivery of the Gospel message or seek to live an upright life, we will have those who actively work against us. We will be persecuted, at times, even by those close to us in our friendships and family relationships.

An interesting tidbit about Jesus is that His own brothers did not believe in Him (John 7:5). We can imagine the tension in the house when Jesus made comments about who He was only to receive eye rolls or contemptuous remarks. Therefore, not only did He face scorn from people outside of His home, He had unbelieving family members that didn’t provide support for Jesus at key times that He needed it.

However, the story doesn’t end here. Jesus’ brothers eventually became believers. After His resurrection, they went on to help further His ministry and lead in the early church. In addition, Jesus’ brothers James and Jude penned books of the Bible. The very brothers that didn’t understand His identity at an earlier point testified to Him as Lord later in life.

What an encouragement to all of us when opposed by those close to us. I love what Jon Bloom on desiringgod.org says about the opposition of Jesus’ brothers to Jesus: “Not even a perfect witness guarantees that loved ones will see and embrace the gospel.” And yet, as Bloom says (in particular about James, but could also apply to all the brothers): Jesus endured the unbelief, loved his brothers, and paid the debt of their sin!

We may be tempted to take personally the persecution we experience when doing the will of God, but we must remember that the world hated Jesus first (John 15:18). While our enemies and those within our families or friend circles can certainly make our days challenging, they can’t derail the plans God has for us. Though Jesus suffered from His brothers’ unbelief, they didn’t halt the plans God had for Him in ministry.

If anything, God can use even our enemies to help us reach our destiny — and may use us to reach them (as Jesus reached His own brothers) even if they don’t act like they receive our message in the moment.

Conclusion:

Friend, the Christian life is no cake walk. We are a peculiar people living in a place that isn’t our home (Hebrews 13:14). People will laugh at us. We will struggle to do God’s work in the midst of other demands that pull on us. Often, the work God gives us to do will not make sense to us and might feel confusing or pointless. We will at times struggle with anxiety and fear about what God would have us do.

But if we are aligned in God’s will, our work will yield fruit. The very trials we want God to remove can develop good things in us if we turn to Him rather than away from Him when life gets hard, and understand that we will only find the strength to persevere in Him.

Related Resources:

Are you tired and burned out in your Christian walk? Check out the following for more encouragement: “Encouragement When the Road Feels Broken,” and “How to Keep Going When You Want to Give Up.”

Don’t have time to read over previous posts? Check out our posts in podcast form by visiting our podcast archive or get our newest posts by subscribing on Soundcloud.

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*Updated October 29, 2018.

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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Running the Race of Faith With Perseverance

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My husband loves to run. For the duration of our marriage, several days a week, he has consistently risen before daylight to run a few miles. His discipline has paid off. He still fits in the same size pants he wore when I met him 20 years ago!

No one likes to discipline one’s self to do the hard work (except perhaps my husband when it comes to exercise!), but there is no payoff without it. Certainly, we are called to rest in God’s grace, but a “doing” component exists in the Christian walk. While we don’t earn our salvation or standing with God by our works, we are called to discipline ourselves to follow the call of God, which involves willingly persevering through difficulties and trials and “running” the race of faith (Hebrews 12:1; Philippians 2:16).

One such place where perseverance in our faith walk is emphasized and the idea of an athlete (possibly running a race or participating in another athletic event) is used is 2 Timothy 2:3-6. Sitting in a Roman prison awaiting execution, Paul writes to Timothy in this letter and exhorts him to persevere through the challenges and suffering he is enduring and will continue to endure as a minister of the faith, saying:

Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer. Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules. The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive the share of the crops.

Just as Paul encourages Timothy to compete like an athlete in his letter, we as Christians can be encouraged to “run” strong in the Lord and remain faithful in our service. An athlete isn’t the only picture Paul uses to describe the dedicated Christian. He also uses two other pictures to make his point. We should observe the pictures he uses and how he encourages us to mimic the actions of these individuals in our Christian walk:

 1. No soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs.

Paul urges Timothy to stay focused on his calling and not allow himself to be distracted by anything that might take his energies away from his ultimate task, which is to follow the Lord Jesus Christ and obey His voice.

Soldiers are required to be obedient to their commanding officers and forsake activities that distract them from their duty. Similarly, as Christians, following Jesus means being willing to leave behind certain tasks and interests in order to pursue the course God has for us.

However, so often, as Christians, we get pulled off course by plans that may take us away from what we know we should do. I can recall a season where I had a huge list of to-do items I wanted to get to for my house, and I remember God telling me that my focus was in the wrong place. It’s not wrong to do home fixer-upper projects or take care of your home — we should do that — but my plans were taking me away from the project that God wanted me to complete in that season.

Rather than go to the store daily for new house items and fill my days with repairs and decorating plans, I surrendered and instead invested my time in the project He had for me. The Bible tells us, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33, AKJV). You know what happened when I surrendered to God? I didn’t get my repairs done right away, but sometime later, when I finished the tasks God had for me in that season, all of these “to-do” items got done when my husband had a job change and we had to put our house up for sale.

As Christians, we will have to attend to certain affairs in the world. We will have jobs and families. We will have to do normal things like grocery shop, pay bills, and mow our lawns. This verse isn’t urging us to forsake everyday tasks, but rather, reminding us not to get “entangled” in those affairs where they take precedence above what God would have us do.

As James Burton Coffman quotes E.M. Zerr as saying, “Any kind of occupation, whether right or wrong in itself that prevents a disciple from doing his duty would constitute the entangling affairs mentioned in this verse.” Similarly, Matthew Henry says, “The great care of a soldier should be to please his general, so the great care of a Christian should be to please Christ, to approve himself to him.”

2. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.

Here, Paul switches from his soldier metaphor to one of an athlete, and we are told that we will not receive a crown unless we compete according to the rules.

An athlete must compete despite fatigue, thirst, and physical discomfort. He must not allow those obstacles to prevent him from finishing the event or race. Similarly, in our spiritual walk, we will face persecution, temptation, opposition, and other trials — that will wear us down and make us want to quit running the race. However, to obtain a crown we must stand firm to the end (Hebrews 3:14; Revelation 2:10).

The Bible mentions several types of crowns that we will receive at the judgment seat of Christ — among them the imperishable crown for people who exercise self-discipline (1 Corinthians 9:24-25) and the crown of life for those who endure trials, testing, and persecution (James 1:12).

However, to win such a crown, we must exhibit discipline and endurance. We won’t achieve the plans God has for us and successfully answer our call with a “lassez-faire” attitude. As I found in my study of this passage, Paul may have been addressing “I’ll do it my way, how I want” approaches to religion in his day and emphasizing faith meant a dependence on Christ and adherence to His commands.

Perhaps in Paul’s time, just as in ours, there were those that were hoping to obtain God’s rewards and promises without putting in any effort in their Christian walk or others creating their own faith apart from Christ.

However, just as an athlete must adhere to guidelines for competitions, we as Christians have the Holy Spirit and the Bible to guide us as we go through our days. Our run is not aimless, but rather one where we follow the model of Christ and have a clear goal in mind (1 Corinthians 9:26-27).

3. It is the hard-working farmer who should have the first share of the crops.

The last picture Paul uses to illustrate how we must approach the Christian life is of the hard-working farmer. Again, this kind of illustration uses someone, like the soldier and athlete, who must be disciplined and steady as he labors on his farm: cultivating the soil, planting the seeds, and fighting off insects and other threats to ensure a good crop.

As Christians, we must work intently just like a farmer if we expect to see a crop. This means we must discipline ourselves to soak in the Word of God, learn God’s will, and faithfully sow in the lives of others as we walk in His Spirit.

However, the work is hard, and we won’t always see immediate results. Elsewhere in Scripture we are told that “at the proper time,” when we are faithful, we will “reap a harvest” (Galatians 6:9). Yet, whether we see visible results or not when we follow Christ and endeavor to do His work, we will still benefit and reap a reward in our lives when we invest in the lives of others and do the will of God.

As far as the farmer getting the “first share of the crops,” I found varied ideas among scholars about what this could mean. One meaning could be that in order to serve others we must stay connected to God’s power in order to offer Him to others.

Another meaning could be that only those who labor will have fruits to partake in. Along these lines, I love what Albert Barnes observes: “The point was not that the husbandmen [farmer] would be the first one who would partake in the fruits; but that he must labor first before he obtained the reward. Thus understood, this would be an encouragement to Timothy to persevere in his toils, looking onward to the reward.”

Conclusion:

All of these pictures Paul uses show us that the Christian walk is one where we must be intentional about doing what we are able to do on our end to run the race of faith and run it well. We don’t have to strive to earn salvation or earn our standing with God, but each day we have choices as to how we will spend our time and our efforts.

The passage reminds us to put God’s interests at the forefront and live a disciplined life in service to Him in order to bear much fruit and win a crown that will never fade.

“It is the enduring, patient, self-sacrificing toil that is rewarded in the affairs of common life — the man that endures hardness and whether as a soldier, or athlete, or tiller of the ground, wins the reward, and as in the world — so in religion.” Ellicott’s Commentary

Related Resources:

Want to hear the post in podcast form? Check out the accompanying podcast episode above the article where co-hosts Suzy Lolley and Carol Whitaker talk over the points of this post.

For additional podcast episodes from Season 1 & 2, check out our podcast archive.

Podcast Notes and Corrections:

James Burton Coffman quotes E.M. Zerr when he says in his commentary, “Any kind of occupation, whether right or wrong in itself that prevents a disciple from doing his duty would constitute the entangling affairs mentioned in this verse.”

 

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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