When You Don’t Like the Way God Leads

prairie-1246633_1920Not too long ago, my family moved into a new community and transitioned from the church and home we had grown very comfortable in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Embarking on a New Move

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

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

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

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

Not only that, a few months into our house listing, when I got pregnant (again, a surprise that I did not expect), I was rattled by how out of control I was with everything. While I was excited about a new life growing inside of me, the unknowns of another pregnancy (after a painful loss and associated health challenges the year before) on top of the unknowns related to the move stretched my Type-A, I-have-to-control-everything personality in uncomfortable ways. I know some of you reading this may be thinking, “Get over yourself! Give up control! But I can tell you, I struggled.

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

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

The Blessings of Obedience

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

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

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

I have only mentioned material things, and I know that often God’s blessings are in the spiritual realm. Those spiritual blessings are just beginning to be evident to me, but the best blessing of all so far is that in moving I was released from a stressful situation where I felt like I was at a dead-end. I wasn’t thriving there any longer and had begged God more than once for a deliverance from my circumstances.

A New Start for Our Family

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Adapted from a post written for a book study on Charles Stanley’s The Blessings of Brokenness. To view the original post, click here.

Carol Whitaker

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

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Embracing Small Moments of Ministry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 Ways We Can Integrate Ministry Into Our Everyday

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

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

2. We change ourselves when we help others.

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

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

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

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

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

Suzy Lolley

Suzy Lolley

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

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When You Feel Lonely in Your Calling

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“I feel so alone,” I told my husband in a hormone-induced crying spell.

We had transitioned to a new house and a new community, and the transition had been fairly smooth, but as I moved into my last weeks of pregnancy, I felt alone.

Alone when I drove my kids to school, and I didn’t know a soul in the building.

Alone when we went to our new church, and I didn’t recognize a single face.

Alone when I went to my new doctor, and I didn’t know any of the medical staff.

Alone when I contemplated the difficult situations that had seemed to pile up the last year as I did what God asked of me.

Alone.

Jesus knew loneliness in his journey to the cross. However, as relayed in Matthew 26-28, although much attention is often given to those that opposed Him and betrayed Him and the suffering He went through (and rightly so), He was also defended and aided by His heavenly Father.

That though Jesus was mocked by those who didn’t believe His words, there were ways that the truth of His words reached the eyes and ears of those in His community. In re-reading His story recently, I was reminded that perhaps if we find ourselves feeling alone in whatever assignment Jesus has given us, we may be tempted to quit or believe God has forgotten us.

But we can see from the Easter story how God’s plan may lead us to what feels like a solitary path — but in the midst of that path, God is there — at work.

A few takeaways we can get from the Easter story:

1. We should stay fixed on God even when we feel forsaken.

When we observe Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, He asked His disciples to be vigilant and pray with Him. But each time that He asked them and went away to pray, they fell asleep. No one stayed awake with Jesus through the intense moments He experienced before His arrest.

But Jesus remained fixed on God and His Father’s will even when others around Him didn’t understand or were not there for Him when He needed them. The third time when He went away, He came back to find them asleep once again, but He simply said, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” (Matthew 26:45, 46).

Similarly, when Jesus hung on the cross, before He breathed His last breath, He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Although many disagree on what happened on the cross and after Jesus died, Jesus felt a separation from the presence of His heavenly Father as He took on the sin of the world.

I find it amazingly comforting that Jesus, the most perfect human being, felt deserted. That whether Jesus was abandoned by His Father or just felt abandoned, the truth was that He experienced this right when He was in the center of God’s plan!

And, if indeed Jesus did endure this separation, one benefit that we have that Jesus did not is that although we may feel that God is not with us, as Derek Gentle points out in an article, “[Jesus] was forsaken that God might never leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5, Romans 8:31-39).” Jesus became the ultimate sacrifice so that we would never have to be completely alone.

Therefore, if we find ourselves feeling isolated in following Jesus’ plan for us, we may be tempted to give up or assume God has deserted us. We may feel that others have fallen asleep on us — are not near when we have needed them most — but that does not mean that we should fall away from what God wants us to do or assume that God has done the same.

2. God provides for us and is present in our process.

We can see in Jesus’ story how even though God allowed Jesus’ suffering and allowed Jesus to be betrayed and abandoned by those closest to Him, He also provided for Him. Yes, undoubtedly there may have been a momentary separation as Jesus became a propitiation for our sin, but we see that God cared for Jesus’ needs and was very present in the process.

Earlier, before Jesus was arrested, a woman came and washed Jesus’ feet with a jar of expensive alabaster perfume. The disciples objected to this lavish display, saying that the money could be used for the poor. However, Jesus responded by asking, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial” (Matthew 26:7-10).

Later in the passage, a man whom apparently none of the disciples even knew provided a place for Jesus and His disciples to eat the last supper. The Luke account says that an angel came down in the Garden of Gethsemane to strengthen Jesus when his disciples could not be counted on (22:43). After Jesus’ death, a rich man named Joseph, who had become a follower of Jesus, asked Pilate for Jesus’ body, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and placed the body in his own tomb that he had just cut out of rock.

Clearly, even as Jesus felt deserted by His closest friends and even God Himself at one point, God provided those who were available to minister and care for Jesus in the midst of carrying out His will.

Likewise, if we look around during the times we feel the most alone or afraid, we will most likely be able to trace God’s hand and see how He gives us supernatural aid or the help of kind people in our journey — people we not know or necessarily solicit help from. But people who step up and offer us the support we need even as we’re facing our darkest hours.

3. If we face opposition doing what God has told us to, He will defend us.

There are times when we should give an answer to those that question us, but there are other times when we don’t need to say anything. God will do it for us.

When Jesus was brought before Pilate, Scriptures tell us that He was silent when accused, and they were amazed that He did not respond to any of the charges they brought against Him. He was mocked by the soldiers, the crowd, and the religious priests. Later, when He hung on the cross, they told Him that He should save Himself and prove He was the Son of God.

But Jesus did not speak in response to their insults at the trial or on the cross. However, what we can observe is that God’s defense was all around for the observant one taking note. When Pilate questioned Jesus, he received a message from his wife imploring Pilate to let Jesus go as she had had a dream about him that day. Pilate himself knew the religious leaders had a personal agenda. After the message from his wife, he washed his hands in front of the crowd to let them know that he had reservations about their accusations and didn’t want Jesus’ blood on his hands.

Not only was evidence of Jesus’ innocence given through the words and actions of people, the natural world gave further witness. The afternoon that Jesus died, darkness came over the land from noon to three; “the curtain from the temple was torn from top to bottom”; and an earthquake shook the earth so that tombs opened, and “the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life” (Matthew 27:45, 51, 52).

As if that were not enough evidence for the unbelieving that Jesus’ had spoken the truth, after Jesus was placed in a tomb, an angel rolled the stone of his tomb away, and Jesus rose from the dead! He then appeared to some women that had come to his tomb, later to His disciples. Clearly, as a worship song by Elevation Music says: “The evidence is [or in this case, was] all around.”

If people don’t believe us or listen when we do or say what God asks, we needn’t worry or waste our effort trying to convince them. God, in His own way and timing, will make His message abundantly clear to all who are listening. The truth will prevail without unneeded energy wasted on our part.

4. God’s power cannot be contained or minimized.

Despite the overwhelming evidence that Jesus was the Son of God as He claimed, the chief priests and elders in the Jewish community were so threatened by Jesus that they didn’t want to know the truth. They just wanted Him out of the picture. However, they had to do quite a bit of manipulating on their end to have Jesus crucified. They convinced the crowd to ask for Barabbas rather than Jesus when Pilate asked which prisoner they wanted released.

Later, the chief priests and Pharisees went to Pilate and asked that Jesus’ tomb be made secure until the third day so that the disciples couldn’t come and steal the body and claim that he was raised from the dead. Pilate agreed to have the tomb sealed and even gave them guards to protect the tomb.

Clearly, the religious leaders were doing all they could to make sure that the people did not believe that Jesus was the Son of God — but what they didn’t realize is that they were trying to minimize God’s plan and power. As is apparent in the passage, no man is able to contain His power.

As I touched on in my previous point, just as Jesus had said, three days after He died, He rose again. After a violent earthquake, an angel of the Lord came down and rolled back the stone on the tomb and sat on it. Mary Magdalene and another Mary found the tomb empty and the stone rolled away. The guards that Pilate had sent were afraid at what they saw and went and told the chief priests what they had seen (yes, the very priests who had mocked Jesus’ claim that He was the Son of God).

The chief priests made the decision to give the guards money to lie about what happened, and a false story was circulated in the Jewish community. But for those paying attention, it was obvious that Jesus was the Son of God and God’s plan was being accomplished despite the resistance of the religious leaders.

We can know that we may be persecuted and opposed as we do what God asks of us, but God is not derailed by human schemes. His plan will be accomplished whether people believe us or not.

If You Feel Alone

Perhaps this Easter, you feel some of the same emotions our Lord did when He was crucified. Perhaps you feel marginalized, misunderstood, or mocked. Perhaps as you have attempted to give the message God wanted you to or walk in the path He has laid out for you, you have faced loneliness, rejection, and scorn.

Remember this: His resurrection power cannot be contained. Whatever assignment you are on, however difficult, is one that cannot be thwarted. God’s purposes will be accomplished no matter how bleak the circumstances or how daunting the opposition.

Though we may not hear an immediate response when we cry out “My God, why have you forsaken me?” — we can rest assured that although God may not take away our suffering, there will be victory in the storm.

Hopefully, in reading this, you will be encouraged to keep plugging away at the task God has given you! Leave a comment in the box below if you would like to share what you are going through or you would like us to pray for you.

*Updated version of a post originally posted May 26, 2016.

Related Resources:

Want to read more posts on Easter? Check out last week’s post on a scene that happened before Jesus’ death where Mary anointed the feet of Jesus and prepared His body for burial, and Judas rebuked her. We can learn much from Judas and Mary about the cost of following Jesus and how giving up what we want for Jesus enables us to have something even better.

Don’t have time to read the post or others but want to listen instead? Check out the post from last week in podcast form or past episodes by stopping by our brand new podcast archive.

 

 

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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Is Jesus Worth the Cost?

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“I like the design on your shirt.”

I snapped out of my daydream at the teenage bagger’s words. “Oh, thank you!” I replied. Standing at the checkout line at the grocery store waiting for my groceries to be bagged, I hadn’t expected a comment to come in my direction. In fact, I hadn’t even given much thought as to the outfit I had on that day, but had thrown on an Old Navy tank top with a printed floral pattern and a zip-up sweatshirt. In an effort to engage him in conversation, I noticed the pattern on his necklace he was wearing and complimented him.

“Yeah, I like designs,” he admitted, as he bagged the last of my groceries. He then asked me if I had ever been to a particular medieval festival. I told him I had but I wasn’t really a fan of that festival. I debated whether or not I should tell him I was a bit wary of the festival because of the prevalence of art and trinkets that were relics of Wicca and other pagan religions. However, I decided against continuing the conversation as I was sure my comments would lead to controversial and uncomfortable spiritual territory. Instead, I thanked him and walked out. But all the while that I traversed the distance to my car, I thought about how I had left the conversation hanging and walked out on a perfectly good opportunity to witness.

After loading my groceries in the car, I pushed my car back into the store with a resolve to finish our conversation. I found him near the carts, putting a few away. He seemed a little surprised when I approached him and said, “Hey, I wanted to explain to you why I don’t like the festival you mentioned. I wasn’t trying to be rude.” I then explained that I was a Christian — and much of the focus of the artwork at the festival went against what I believed. Though I didn’t think it was wrong for people to go there, I wasn’t able to embrace much of the art being sold because the trinkets spoke of worship to other gods other than my own.

To my surprise, he opened up after that and told me that he had grown up in a Christian home (was still living at home as a college student), but that he had developed questions about Christianity and was looking into other religions. I asked him what some of his questions were and he explained them. They were easy ones to address — so I told him what the Bible said about those and encouraged him to investigate further. He said he would, and I walked back to my car.

Since then, I have seen him on occasion at the store. He has bagged my groceries a few more times, and we haven’t talked about religion since then, but he has been on friendly terms with me. Though he hasn’t abandoned his search for other religions, I am glad that we talked as I had no idea that he was searching when it came to what he believed.

Choosing Jesus or Choosing Comfort and Our Own Self-Interests

Our encounter reminded me that we will have moments throughout our day when we are presented with a choice: to choose Jesus or choose our comfort or what will appear to benefit us the most. Though my conversation with the bagger wasn’t as costly as other conversations I have had (where I have been sweating out more profusely what I will have to say), it did cost me in that I wasn’t sure how my comments would be received, and I had to linger around a little longer than I originally intended when I just wanted to go home.

Perhaps no other story highlights this idea of sacrificial giving as poignantly as John 12:3-8. This account is also given in Mark and Matthew but tells the story of Mary anointing the feet of Jesus with a costly nard. However, in John’s account, the story takes on an angle that veers slightly from the other Gospel accounts.

Where the Mark and Matthew accounts highlight the beauty of Mary’s generous act, the account in John contrasts her action with that of another person — Judas. Let’s take a look at the passage:

Then Mary took a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But one of the disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, ‘Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.’ He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. ‘Leave her alone,’ Jesus replied. ‘It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.’

While Mary gave all she had out of sheer devotion to her Lord and gratitude for what He had done for her (in his most recent act of raising Lazarus, her brother, from the dead), Judas was concerned only with how such a large sum would be “wasted” in her service an ministry to Jesus.

However, as John explains, Judas’ “concern” was merely a pretense, saying: “He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief” (v. 6 ). Judas was the treasurer of the group and frequently helped himself to the money. As scholars say, Judas was most likely eyeing Mary’s costly gift and wishing he could get his hands on it.

Jesus quickly set him straight, however, and said to all in hearing that Mary’s gift would prepare his body for burial. In the Matthew account, he called Mary’s act “beautiful” (26:10). The word in the Greek is one that refers to that which is honorable — an outward expression of an inner good. Both Judas and Mary’s actions revealed to us what was in their hearts. Mary was willing to give away her most precious possession, as well as humiliate herself and endure ridicule for the sake of His name, whereas Judas was clearly only interested in that which would require no sacrifice and would serve his own interests.

Sadly, just a few passages later, we see Judas’ greed reach new levels. After the last supper with Jesus, he went to the chief priests to negotiate the terms to hand over Jesus. As some commentaries note, Judas leave of Jesus wasn’t a split-second decision he made during the last supper. Most likely, Judas had been planning to desert Jesus for some time — as hinted at earlier in his rebuke of Mary. As commentator Warren Wiersbe notes, perhaps Judas made plans to leave Jesus because he was disappointed Jesus wasn’t going to conquer Rome. Or perhaps he didn’t expect the road with Jesus to look like it had. Whatever the reasons, they were ones he had been cherishing for some time.

Repentance Helps Us Turn When We Don’t Choose Jesus

Unfortunately, don’t all of us have a little Judas in us? At different junctures, when our walk with Jesus leads us to moments like I had in the grocery store where we will have to engage in an uncomfortable conversation, give up some of our time, or look different, we might say, Should I really give away this much for Jesus? Is He really worth the cost? We may be tempted to forego talking with others or standing up for what we know to be right because such actions in the moment may require an extreme sacrifice of time and effort. But that’s the upside down aspect about Christianity. We give up what we want to gain everything and lose everything we think we want when we try to keep it (Matthew 16:25).

What we see with Mary and Judas is that Mary’s gift, while initially very expensive both in terms of financial and social cost, was absolutely worth the cost — and a gift that she actually received a return from. Her act brought honor to her Lord and has been a story told for generations to highlight her goodness. Judas’ story, on the other hand, has also been one told for generations for the worst kind of reasons — to show us what we shouldn’t do.

Judas, filled with guilt over betraying a close friend and an innocent man, returned and pleaded with the chief priests to take back the money and release Jesus. But they had what they wanted, so they had no use for the money. When they didn’t accept it back, Judas threw the coins on the temple floor and then went and hung himself.

Judas’ life didn’t have to end this way — in ruin and misery. So, what could he have done differently? He could have responded to Jesus’ call to restoration. When Jesus instructed him firmly, saying, “Leave her alone … You will always have the poor among me, but you will not always have me” (vv. 7, 8), Judas could have agreed with the Lord’s words and repented — allowing Jesus to do needed heart surgery. But instead he simply kept going where his own heart desired.

When we realize that we’ve made poor decisions or haven’t lived the way we should as Christians, we can heed Jesus’ call and return. We don’t have to keep going down a path that leads to ruin. Jesus knew all along what Judas was doing — in pilfering from the money bag, in criticizing the service of others — and yet, he kept Judas close, even sitting right next to Judas at the last supper, to give Judas every opportunity to make a change and go the right way. And yet, Judas persisted in his own way — and each action led him further and further away until he left Jesus completely.

The world’s temptations call for us to get off track, to go the easy road that has no resistance, persecutions, or pain, but we can follow a higher call. The road is hard and twisted with thorns, but it leads to life. We won’t be perfect in our Christian walk. We’ll make mistakes and act more like Judas than Mary sometimes. But when Jesus confronts us with our own wrongdoing, we can accept His correction and choose to change .

If we don’t, our wrongdoing will simply lead to more wrongdoing until we find ourselves in a place, like Judas, where we never meant to be. The Bible tells us that it is the Lord’s “kindness” that leads to repentance (Romans 2:4), so let’s not harden our hearts today but accept whatever discipline God sends our way (Hebrews 12:6).

“The lesson of faith once learned, is an everlasting application and an eternal fortune made; and without faith even riches will leave us poor.” — Days of Heaven upon Earth, Streams in the Desert

Related Bible Verses:

1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

Related Resources:

The chronology of events described in Jesus’ last days leading up to his death differs slightly in John from the other Gospels. For instance, John places the date of the Passover meal of the Jews after the last supper, whereas the other Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) identify the last supper as the Passover meal. Read more about this here.

Would you like to hear the song mentioned in the podcast? Check out Crowder’s “Come as You Are” for more encouragement.

Like the podcast episode that accompanies this article? Check out past episodes in our brand new podcast archive.

 

 

 

 

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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Believing God Knows and Loves You

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God’s calling you out.

I jumped when I saw the words in front of me from the Lysa Terkeurst devotional. They echoed the words I had heard from my pastor that Sunday. He announced he was doing a study on the book of Exodus. And he had used a few variations of the same phrase, God’s calling you out, at least a dozen times during the course of his sermon.

It was one of those sermons that had pulled at every fiber of my being. I knew God was speaking to me through it, but there was a little question deep inside that was small and tentative: He is?

I knew the dangers of falling into doubt and unbelief, but the events of the last few years had been so challenging, I was beginning to fear what God had said to me would ever come to pass. And yet, the words all around me, even before this sermon, were those that indicated in every way that I was about to walk out of my current season and into the promise He had given me.

And thus, that Sunday, I soaked in every word, marveled at it, took notes, thanked God for speaking to me, and went home.

Yet here again, right in front of me, in my morning devotional was the same phrase: God’s calling you out. He surprised me. Again. And the way God orchestrated for me to encounter the exact right words I needed at the exact right moment boggled my mind.

How did He know what precise thoughts I would have this week? How did He know what words to say? How did the pastor decide to put together this particular series and choose this book of the Bible to study for this particular week? Similarly, how did Lysa Terkeurst, not at all in connection with me or my pastor, choose to put together that devotion and her team publish it the week they did?

If you consider the logistics, it’s pretty much impossible how God supernaturally gets our attention — and yet He speaks to and guides all of His followers who rely on and pray to Him. He communicates what words we need at just the right time. Millions of people — intimately connected and involved with us on a level that will at times take our breath away.

What Psalm 139 Tells Us About God’s Love

In Psalm 139, David is struck with the same awe over the knowledge of how much God truly knows him and chooses to interact with him. In verse 1-6, he says:

You have searched me, LORD, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all of my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. (emphasis mine)

Did you catch that? In just 6 lines, David uses the word “know” three times. Not only that, he uses other words that mean similar things like “perceive,” “discern,” and “familiar with.” The word “know” in Hebrew in these instances is “yada” — and means an “intimate knowledge” of someone. As the passage indicates, God knows everything about us: what we do during the day, our thoughts, every word we speak (even before we speak it), and our motives. The psalmist says this knowledge is “too wonderful” and “lofty” for him to grasp (v. 6).

Later in the psalm, if we skip down to verses 13 and 14, we see that David continues on along the same theme, saying, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” While I had previously read these lines in isolation from the vantage point of these words expressing God’s amazing power as evident in His creation of us — and it certainly tells us that — there is another message embedded in these words.

While David is celebrating God’s power as Creator, He is also celebrating, as I mentioned before, how much God knows us. “Fearfully” in the verse means to “cause astonishment and awe” or “make afraid”; and “wonderfully” means to be “separated or distinct.” David highlights the idea here as he did in verse 6 that he is literally shocked by the level on which he is truly known by God. And this is a knowledge that will catch all of us by surprise as we walk with Him and discover how much God is aware of every detail that affects us.

A God Who Not Only Knows Us, But Loves Us

The other piece that we need to take away from Psalm 139 is that not only are we known by God — we are loved by Him. The reality that God has taken the pains He has to know you in such an in-depth way points to His love for you. If you think about the people in your life that care about you the most, those are the people that know the most about you — and are around you the most. Conversely, the people who don’t care about you don’t know that much about you or what you do on a daily basis.

When faced with the truth of how much we are both known and loved by God — as David is here in the psalm — we have no choice, as commentator Warren Wiersbe observes, but to exuberantly respond in praise and thanksgiving to God.

In addition, as Wiersbe continues, not only should our natural response be one of gratefulness, we should also be encouraged to submit to God in all things because He knows everything about us and what is best for us. David ends the psalm by saying, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (vv. 23, 24). In these lines, he gives God full reign to keep searching and leading him. Because a God who knows and loves this much is a God that can be trusted with his life.

So many of us struggle to feel that God knows or loves us, but Psalm 139 gives us a look at the truth of how much God does both. Though many a time we encounter a situation where God’s love shows up for us in a tangible way — like I had the other morning in reading the same phrase in my devotional as I had heard in the sermon — we don’t always take a moment to thank God or acknowledge His lordship in our life. Let’s do that today!

Let’s pray: Lord, thank you that you both know and love me. Help me, like David, to not rush past those moments where you show up and reveal how intimately aware of and involved you are in my life, but choose to pause and express my gratitude. In addition, help me, like David, continue to open myself up to you and trust you even when the way is hard and doesn’t make sense. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Related Resources:

Check out the podcast episode (located above this post) that ties in with this post. In it, co-host Suzy Lolley and contributor Rachel Howard join me for a conversation about this passage where we further explore how God involves himself in our daily lives. Suzy shares about how God is with her currently on her journey with infertility and Rachel talks about how God is with her in her struggles as a full-time working mom.

Want to read more from Suzy and Rachel? Check out Suzy’s “How to Worship in the Waiting,” where she explores the tension of worshipping God while waiting on His promises; and Rachel’s “What Does God Expect of Me?,” where she talks about laying down her expectations of herself to embrace God’s.

Not yet a believer and want to learn more about salvation and how to enter into a relationship with Jesus Christ? Stop by our Know God page and learn more about what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

 

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 the Heart Leads Us Astray

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One of the most popular phrases we tell others when trying to guide or encourage them is, “Follow your heart.” It seems harmless and altruistic enough — and I am quite sure it is often delivered with the best of intentions. But what does that mean exactly — and what are the implications to our sexuality?

Recently I read a chapter in When People Are Big and God is Small by Edward T. Welch that really convicted me about this topic. It is something I had been pondering for a little while as I wrestled with how to identify when we are following God’s guidance using spiritual discernment versus following our own wishes and believing that is what He would have us do. When I read this chapter, it felt like the author was speaking to my heart and I think I underlined almost every sentence. I would like to share some of this with you as I believe it is very pertinent to our culture today and has direct implications on our sexuality.

What the Bible Tells Us About Our Heart

Let’s start with the advice of “follow your heart.” Within that piece of advice is the assumption that the heart is ultimately pure and can lead us to the “right path.” Unfortunately, this is not the truth. In fact, Scripture tells us, “The heart is deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9, ESV). I have always struggled with this verse because as a Christian and a counselor, I want to look for the best in people and find their strengths. I want to believe that under even the most tough exterior is a softness and a pure heart. While I do believe that each person is touched by the fingerprint of God and has His unique giftings and qualities within them, I cannot forget that in Welch’s words, “If we fail to recognize the reality and depth of our sin problem, God will become less important, and people will become more important.”

In other words, if we begin to rely on ourselves to be our guides through life, then Jesus is not truly our Lord. He becomes smaller than ourselves. We turn from His Scripture and voice, putting more faith in our emotions and wishes. Welch then states, “If you exalt the individual and make emotions the path to truth, then whatever you feel most strongly will be considered both good and necessary for growth.” We are encouraged to go after what we want and the thought of discipline or patience is often ignored, or worse, viewed as oppressive.

You may be starting to see how I believe this concept of following one’s own heart can relate to our sexuality. As we have become a more self-centered culture, integrity, discipline, and service have lost standing in our minds as priorities. Discipline is often viewed as repressing our desires — some may even say “God-given desires.” Let’s take premarital sex for example. In His Word, God asks us to reserve the sexual relationship for within the confines of the marital covenant. Song of Solomon 8:4 (CSB) says, “Don’t stir up or awaken love until the appropriate time.” Our Heavenly Father urges us to practice delaying gratification because it will build character that will support our marriage and will ultimately lead to increased satisfaction. It is not to oppress us or test our loyalty.

Though our heart may wish to be intimate physically with the one we love, God has asked us to be patient and trust His wishes. Submitting to God’s will over our own is a practice that we will have to walk out daily in marriage as we struggle through financial issues, infertility, buying a house, job loss, illness, miscarriage, child-rearing, and so many other challenges. If we enter marriage following our hearts first rather than God’s will, we are often placing ourselves in a position that can result in serving self first, others second, and God last. His intention is the exact reverse. This example of waiting until marriage is just one way this concept can affect our sexuality, but can apply to masturbation, pressuring our spouse to try a sexual act that they do not feel peace about, pornography, and so much more. The heart can easily give way to lust if we follow it.

God’s Will Over Our Feelings and Desires

When feelings and desires become our highest authority, we can often find a way to justify any action and can start to become controlled by these desires, which are frequently labeled as “needs.” Welch states, “Whatever you think you need, you come to fear. If you ‘need’ love (to feel okay about yourself), you will soon be controlled by the one who dispenses love. You are also saying that without that person’s love, you will be spiritually handicapped, unable to give love to others.” If these words are challenging you, please know that I am right there with you! As a counselor, I am quite familiar with discussion of desires and needs. I think it is very healthy to discuss and communicate with your friends and spouse (and God!) what you wish for and desire. Psalm 37:4 says, “Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” After reading Welch’s chapter, however, I am encouraged to look at this verse in a new light.

Previously, I always focused on the second part of the verse. Now I notice just how important that first piece is: “Take delight in the Lord . . .  and He will give you the desires of your heart.” If we take delight in something, let’s say new babies, we spend time adoring them and just being in their presence. We long to get to know their personalities and just genuinely derive joy from their existence. If we were to spend time with God like this, I cannot imagine how much He would change our hearts! The desires of our heart would be molded into His own as we were made increasingly into His likeness. I truly believe that as we seek Him, He even removes or weakens our desire to sin because our desire to glorify Him is so much stronger than our flesh.

In Welch’s words, “There will be some situations where we should say that Jesus does not intend to meet our needs, but that he intends to change our needs.” He will mold these desires and needs into His will for our lives. He will provide a community around us who pushes us towards a pursuit of purity and freedom in Him. He wishes to partner with us. Our emotions truly are a gift when surrendered to Him, but we cannot be ruled by them. If so, our hearts can lead us astray. And they will. All of us will sin and fall short at times as we put our desires above God’s call on our lives. But He is faithful to forgive if we will repent and come back to Him. Then, my friend, take delight in Him, for in His Presence is freedom and joy and healing!

Related Resources:

Amy is with us for the month of February to talk about intimacy and give us a biblical perspective on relationships and God’s will for us when it comes to love and sex. Check out her first article, “3 Scriptural Truths That Reveal God’s Plan for Sex,” in this 3-part series and corresponding podcast episode by clicking on the link here or one provided below her author bio.

Next week she will wrap up the series with a candid look at issues that often arise in sex in the married relationship.

 

Amy Owen

Amy Owen

Amy Owen is a Jesus-follower, wife, doggy-mom, and counselor. She studied Child and Family Development at University of Georgia (Go Dawgs!) for her undergraduate and obtained a Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy at Richmont Graduate University. While at Richmont, Amy had the privilege to study Christian Sex Therapy, which is one of her passions. Currently, Amy lives in South Georgia and works with youth and their families. Her previous counseling work includes private practice with teens and adults, as well as inpatient and residential settings with adults struggling with acute mental illness and addiction. In her free time, Amy is an avid fiction-reader and walker; in addition, she loves to make new friends.

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When We Fear God’s Promises for Us Won’t Come True

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Years ago, when I served with my husband as volunteers on a church launch team, I heard about another church in the area that had made a call to the church office to make an inquiry about our new launch. Unlike the other churches in the area calling to congratulate us, this particular church asked questions with a competitive agenda. Clearly, they felt threatened by another church joining the community and drawing possible new members.

A sad but true reality is that competition and envy abound even in ministry settings. I can personally give many stories from my years serving in music ministry where ugly feelings of jealousy invaded my own heart. Times I watched other people get the solo I wanted or watched other people get promoted to places I wanted to go. I wondered in those moments if God had forgotten me. How could I celebrate with others when I felt jealous that God hadn’t elevated me in the same way?

In particular, recently I have been feeling some anxiety over the fact that I am waiting on a promise that hasn’t yet been fulfilled in my life. As I was reflecting on this, I opened up Facebook to a ministry site with a few words on believing God concerning His promises.

I don’t even follow this person’s ministry, but read this message on a sponsored post. Obviously, I know we must exercise caution in just opening up whatever it is — a blog post or Facebook feed — and attributing that to the Lord. However, I am quite sure this was from the Lord for me. I burst into tears and felt my heart buoyed up for the first time that day. You see, the antidote for competitiveness and jealousy is trust. Trust that God is going to do what He said. When we feel anxious about where God has us in relation to where He has others, we can repeat this over and over to ourselves: The plans God has for me will come to pass.

Abraham and Sarah: A Lesson in Trusting in Impossible Circumstances

A couple that tells us much about waiting on the promises of God is Abraham and Sarah. They had to wait so long for their miracle child. Sarah had already gone through menopause. Abraham was an old man. However, God had promised a child to them and not even Abraham’s age or the fact that Sarah’s body had already undergone changes that made it impossible for her to carry a child prevented God from giving them what He had promised.

One of my favorite passages of Scripture is when the Lord and two angels visit them and give them the heads-up that the promise is about to happen. Abraham runs to greet them and bring them a meal made from His finest flour and meat.

As they sit and eat, one of the men tells him that in a year’s time his wife will bear a child. Abraham listens quietly, but Sarah overhears from the tent, laughing to herself, saying, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure [of a child]?” (Genesis 18:12). The Lord, hearing this, says: “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son” (Genesis 18:13, 14).

While Abraham calmly accepts God’s words and claim that the child will come within the year, Sarah thinks about the fact that she is old and laughs in disbelief at the men’s words. The difference between Abraham and Sarah’s response is that Sarah looks at their impossible circumstances and Abraham just focuses on God.

But despite her unbelief, in one year’s time, she gives birth to a son and the promise comes true just as God had said. Can you imagine the incredible temptation that presented itself over those long stretch of years to give up, turn back, lose faith, or take offense at those in their lives that had been blessed with children when they had not?

How to Trust When We Fear the Promise Won’t Come True

Perhaps as you are reading this, you can think of a promise that hasn’t come true for you. Around 20 years ago, I received a prophetic word at a youth group meeting that God was going to use me in music. A man who had spoken to our youth group and had a strong prophetic gifting prayed for young people after his message. He walked up to me and asked me if I liked music. When he posed that query, the presence of God came on me so strong that I felt a burning sensation in my throat, and I could not speak in response. I simply nodded.

The man told me I had a craving for the stage, and that I had been given that desire by God. I accepted the word with joy, but life happened. I didn’t forget the word, but I felt led to go to college and get a degree in teaching. I went through a period where I began to doubt I would ever be used in music. Then, six years into my teaching career, God called me away to pursue that music dream He had given me so long before. Except, after I left, He led me on an unusual route to start a women’s ministry and tested me with painful hardships and trials – the most painful of all being is that He asked me to give up music for a season during that period.

The journey has been difficult and long. I have been out of music for more than three years. I have looked into a few opportunities, but each time God has said no. Though I have often found myself fretting about how God is going to open up an avenue, I have the assurance of what God told me before I left teaching and long before that at the youth group meeting. In addition, I can look to Abraham here in his impossible situation and note that “against all hope” Abraham believed and God “credited to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:18).

It’s in the wait when it’s far too easy to look at someone else and want what they have and let wrong attitudes fester that eventually become wrong actions. Remember how I mentioned earlier that trust is the antidote for envy — and we should speak God’s promises over ourselves? These statements actually have a biblical basis. James 4:1-3, 7 says:

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures … Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

In this passage, James gives a practical look at what it means to fight against the desires that war inside us and trust God instead: we submit to God’s plan and resist the devil’s schemes. The word “submit” in the passage in the Greek is “hupotassó” and means to be “under God’s arrangement” (HELPS Word-studies). Essentially, there can be no submission without trust. When we submit to God’s plan, we don’t have to make up our own plan and resort to fleshly strategies (like turning on others) to try to get even or make happen what God has said.

In addition, the word “resist” in this passage in the Greek is “anthistémi.” This word was actually a military term used in classical Greek that meant to “strongly resist an opponent” or hold one’s ground (HELPS Word-studies). When the enemy whispers lies in our ear or stirs up fears about the promises God has given us, speaking aloud to others and ourselves the truth that God will do as He said is taking a firm position against the fear and lies of the enemy!

Circumstances and hardship may try to dictate to us what our calling is, but God has the final say in the matter. What He said is eternal. It will happen. He decided it long ago. Our work is simply to trust when envy threatens to steal our hope and joy. We demonstrate our trust in God’s promises when we submit to His plan and resist the enemy, even when the way looks dark. These actions put us back on the right pathway and out of the grip of fear and jealousy.

What promise in your life is as “good as dead” at the moment? Share with us in the comments and let us pray for you!

Related Resources:

Want to listen to co-hosts Carol Whitaker and Suzy Lolley talk through and explain the points in more of our latest posts? Subscribe on Soundcloud and receive all of our latest episodes!

Interested in salvation but want to read more? Check out our Know God page or contact us through the Contact page.

*Updated January 17, 2017

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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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Giving When You Have Nothing to Give

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Some time ago, I went to a large children’s consignment sale.

Because the consignment only accepted cash or check, I had to withdraw a set amount of money before I entered. Of course, I did not remember this until after I pulled in the parking lot, turned off the car, lifted my son out of his car seat, strapped him in his stroller, and headed towards the building.

When I realized my dilemma, it was a great deal of trouble to retrace my steps, lift my son back out of his stroller, strap his unwilling little body back into his car seat, fold up the stroller, and drive in the direction of an ATM (when the consignment sale was located in an out-of-the-way location).

Therefore, when I retrieved the $60 cash from the ATM and headed back to the sale, I was determined to spend every cent of it. I had a list in my head: My daughter was growing out of the size 5 clothes I had just bought her, and I knew they weren’t going to last the winter.

Once inside, I zoned in on the girls’ section, size 6 racks — a woman on a quest. I gave my son his first snack (to buy myself a few minutes of browsing time), and I started to pull item after item off of the racks. Everything she needed: pajamas, pants, long-sleeved shirts, jeans, skirts.

A few women came near me, perusing, but I wanted them to go away. I needed to get to the best clothes first. I needed to clothe my rapidly growing daughter. And as I was hurriedly hoarding most of the size 6 rack on my pile, I felt a tugging on my heart.

The worship music playing in the background blared a little louder, like someone had turned up the volume — each word pushing into my spirit. I could hear all the verses about letting others go first, about giving and serving — about trusting. And then I felt it — God’s whisper to me: Carol, I want you to give some of that money away.

What? I didn’t want to. In fact, I was most annoyed at being bothered in the middle of my IMPORTANT SHOPPING MISSION. My arguments:

Me: My daughter needs clothes.

God: I will provide.

Me: I am doing a good thing by shopping at a reduced price establishment — this ain’t Macy’s.

God: She really doesn’t need these items yet.

Me: I’m being a good mom by stocking up and preparing for the months to come. Hello, Proverbs 31 woman, anyone?

God: Do you trust me?

I sighed and surrendered, painfully eliminating a third of the clothes on my stroller, and then I began looking for a target. Everyone near me had moved away.

“Whom do you want me to give the money to, Lord?” I asked.

I felt that it didn’t really matter. The point was to open up my selfish heart.

I got into line behind a woman with her grandchild. As I looked closer, I noticed the stroller was shabby. The woman was dressed in workout clothes — her grandchild in a T-shirt. They only had a handful of items.

I struck up a conversation with her — and when the line neared the cash register, I told her that God had impressed it on my heart to give someone money for her purchases that day. She didn’t want to accept the money, but I insisted, and then there was an awkward silence as we waited for an open cash register.

I don’t know if she really needed financial assistance. Nothing profound happened other than she got a big smile on her face. But it felt good to be obedient and to not ignore God’s nudge. So many times before I have refused.

I was reminded of some words from my Joyce Meyer New Day, New Day devotional:

One time I gave a woman a nice pair of earrings. My flesh wanted to keep them for myself, but my spirit said to be obedient to the Lord and give them away. Later that woman stood up in a meeting and told how she had been given the earrings she was wearing as a ‘free gift.’ The Lord spoke to me and said, ‘Yes, it was a free gift to her, but it cost you, just as salvation is a free gift to you but it cost Jesus His life.’ Love is the greatest gift of all. When you show forth the love of God, do it freely, sacrificially — and aggressively!

The very next night, my husband came home with a $25 gift card from one of his drivers. He had picked up an extra job at a driving school when I quit teaching to help cover some of our expenses. One of his students’ parents had given him an unexpected tip.

Not even one day had passed and I got the return for the small bit I had given away. With $5 added to it. Instantly, I felt ashamed of how I had doubted God could supply for me in my want.

My idea of giving is to give out of abundance — when I have something extra to spare. But God’s idea of giving is to give out of my need when it will cost me something.

And when I do — He delights in showing me what an easy thing it is for Him to replace, even surpass the little that I give away.

Related Bible Verses:

1 Kings 17:13-16: “Elijah said to her, ‘Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make me a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the Lord sends rain on the land.’ She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. For the jar of flour was not used up and jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah.”

Luke 21:4: “All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

Luke 6:38: “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

*Adapted from a post originally published December 16, 2014.

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Carol Whitaker

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

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How Disobedience Led to My Depression

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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.

When you know something, you can’t unknow it. That earthly law is true for our spiritual lives as well. I was raised by my dad and a strict Pentecostal Holiness grandmother. I was taught how to dress, which included, in the South, always wearing a slip. I was not permitted to spend an inordinate time of with boys. I was in church every time the doors were open and for special events.

I would not trade any of that, because my brothers and I all serve the Lord today. However, because I grew up knowing what it meant not just to profess Jesus but also to serve him, the beginning of my sinful choices in the area of sexual behavior caused a tension between what I knew to do and what I was doing. I guess you might compare me to the apostle Paul in that way: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15).

Depression as a Result of Choices

For me, when I began to sin sexually, a tremendous condemnation-induced depression set in and would not leave. In fact, it persisted over a five-year period. When you know what you’re supposed to be doing and you don’t do it, you can’t help but be tense and frustrated and angry. And that tension and anger and frustration turned inward is what my unprofessional psychological mind would call depression.

This depression was there when I got up, when I walked into the grocery store, and when I laid my head on my pillow at night. My brother had the room next door, as I was still living at home, and he was probably most aware of what was going on. However, neither he nor anyone else could give me the solution.

Let me pause right here. Depression is a real disease. Some people might have bouts of it that last for a little while and are induced by circumstances, but probably in my case of such frequent and even constant episodes, I would’ve been diagnosed as clinically depressed had I let anyone diagnose me. Instead, I put the record of self-hatred and worthlessness on the turntable and let the needle spin. And that’s an apt metaphor.

Truly the pathways our brain travels down over and over physically become deeper and easier to travel. The more I dwelled on something either good or bad, the more prone I was to feel that way about myself. In fact, when you’re depressed, you sometimes forget whom the thoughts even come from. You feel like God is condemning you. Or at least you feel like you’re condemning yourself. My depression was a result of choices. I’m not here at this moment to talk about what physical or genetic tendencies can lead to clinical depression. I’m certainly not qualified for that. What I want to talk about are my choices, their direct impact on my feelings of hopelessness, and how I found hope again.

What I’m about to discuss may sound juvenile, but I was a juvenile of the time my depression started after all. After high school, my world was opened up in some ways it probably should not have been. I still lived at home and I still worked a local job, but in college, you can go to school if you feel like it and not go if you don’t. Whereas one of my nicknames in middle and high school was “Goody Squared,” even a good girl’s worldviews as a Christian are constantly challenged as close by as in a small-town college.

Remember those days with me: You’re beginning to spread your wings and feel what it is to finally be an adult and be able to make your own choices. At my house, I no longer had a curfew. All of that “looseness” combined to create some bad situations for me to put myself in with my then-boyfriend-now- husband. Although I don’t believe that I need to air our dirty laundry here in the public arena, I think you will get the picture.

Every time we moved physically closer, my heart was in a cataclysm. My spirit knew to do the right thing, but my body and my soul were sinning against God. Like I said, for me that was my depression trigger. The activities in which we were engaged brought continuous attention, but then the pull of doing right caused guilt. The results? Closeness and thrill for the moment, followed by regret, shame, and self-hatred afterward.

And that cycle lasted for five years. You would think that if sexual sin was the cause of my depression, that when I got married and everything was “permitted,” my depression would’ve left. However, that is not the case. And that note gets me to the point of how I found help and how you can too.

Advice from My Journey

There are no tricks or magic beans in this road to wholeness, and you definitely need to get professional help if you have depression that just won’t go away. I was plain stupid for not doing more to get help with mine, especially since it lasted so long. But if you’re like me, and you know the cause of your depression and you know the source of help, here’s some advice that might assist you in your journey.

1. Get help from friends. Don’t stop talking. I have the same two friends I relied for so much help during this time. They drove me around the car, took me out to eat, and let me spend the night with them as I ranted over and over about how much I hated myself and how no one liked me and how I wasn’t good enough. I honestly can’t even remember everything I said because I have always been happy. This new depressed person was honestly really foreign to me. But regardless of what I said, I’m sure it wasn’t pleasant to listen to.

I could’ve stopped talking, but by the grace of God, I didn’t. Not even when I felt suicidal. I’ll talk about that in a later post, but I want to say at this point that you can’t get help if no one knows you need it. The word “mask” is so overused in our society, but whatever it is you are wearing to cover up your depression, make sure to keep talking to somebody, and if that person won’t listen, find somebody else.

It really doesn’t matter if they know what to say even. You just need someone who is willing to listen to you and not let you talk yourself into a decision that will have lasting impact.

2. Resist old thinking patterns. When you’re free, there will still always be a temptation to go back into the old ways. You might think it’s weird that I say temptation, but on the other side of this journey of depression, I realize that for me, it can be an occasional temptation not only to have depressive thoughts and wallow in them, but also to try to use them to manipulate others into feeling sorry for me. There you go. I said it out loud. For me, a few years ago, I had an episode that lasted about thirty minutes in a bookstore parking lot.

For those few minutes, I was captive again to thoughts that I had not had for years. This time, though, was different. I knew what it was like to be free, so I began to talk out loud in my car to my thoughts and to Satan, the originator of anything that’s not godly, and I said I would not believe those thoughts again. I was free and I was going to remain free.

Sometimes you have to say out loud like a lunatic or read from a card if you don’t feel like saying it, that you are free. Our words are weapons against the enemy, and we do not need to be afraid to use them.

You may be depressed, or you may know someone who is. If you fit one of those categories, please don’t make this post about blaming yourself for your depression. Jesus absolutely adores you, no matter what choices you do or do not make. Hear my heart, though, when I say that personal choices that violate the Word of God can cause painful mental and physical side effects.

What to Do If You’re Depressed

If you are feeling trapped, get help from His Word, from friends, from a counselor, and from processing out loud. But remember that there’s a woman here who has come out on the other side. There is hope for you. As a matter of fact, there’s some Scripture that sustained me through so many of my days. May I end by sharing it with you? Psalm 27:13, 14 says this:

I remain confident of this:

I will see the goodness of the Lord

in the land of the living.

Wait for the Lord;

be strong and take heart

and wait for the Lord.

You will see His goodness, friend. I’m living proof. If you want us to pray for you and hold out hope for you, please leave us a comment below. We’re all in this together.

Related Resources:

Want to listen to co-hosts Carol Whitaker and Suzy Lolley talk through and explain the points in our latest posts? Check out the brand new Beulah Girl podcast on Soundcloud. Subscribe on Soundcloud and receive all of our latest episodes!

If you’d like to read more about depression, check out A Christian Perspective: Overcoming Depression and the related article links on depression below.

 

Suzy Lolley

Suzy Lolley

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

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Set Apart for God’s Special Purpose

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In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for special purposes and some for common use. Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work” (2 Timothy 2:20-21).

Vessels are meant to be used. Vessels are empty (“What Is a Vessel?”). As vessels of God, we don’t have to worry whether we have anything to put in the cup; we only need concern ourselves with what kind of cup we will be; God will do the infilling. We have a choice in this faith of ours (“What Is a Vessel?”). We can be rich or poor. We can enter heaven “like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames,” or we can receive a warm welcome into “eternal dwellings” (1 Corinthians 3:15 NLT; Luke 16:9). We can bring great riches into our eternal account, or — as harsh as it sounds — everything we did on earth can be burned in God’s fire (1 Corinthians 3:13-15).

As emphasized by Reverend Norman Holmes in “Vessels of Honor,” we make those choices now — will we be spiritually rich, fancy vessels of gold and silver, experiencing great supernatural experiences and mind-blowing visitations, or will we be like a coffee mug of the dollar store variety? God wants us to choose the precious. As we set ourselves apart for His purposes, He will Himself make us into that vessel He can use for special purposes — not a vessel that is left on the shelf and rarely used.

Consecration: Living Set-Apart Lives for Him

The word consecrate, according to Merriam Webster’s Dictionary, means to “set apart.” In a slightly different sense of the word, sanctification means to set apart as different but also carries the denotation of a cleansing occurring. If God calls you to set you apart, you are going to get a bath! For this reason, the two terms have come to be almost interchangeable over the years — not to be confused with justification, the just-as-if-I-had-never-sinned word. Justified is what Jesus did for us on the cross, consecration is what do out of gratitude for the fact, and sanctification is the ongoing outworking of the cross’s cleansing.

As a sidebar, as John MacNeil points out in The Spirit-Filled Life on Biblehub.com, it’s interesting to note Jesus said that He “sanctified Himself” (John 17:19). Obviously, He didn’t have to cleanse Himself. That sense of the word sanctified or consecrated — according to Ellicott’s Commentary — is thought of as He set Himself apart for “the work which was immediately before [Jesus] — the offering [up of] Himself.” It’s a good idea to be thinking of the work before us — God wants to use us!

So, consecration means we separate ourselves to God by giving ourselves back to Him in surrender. However, as MacNeil observes, in that surrender, we have choices. Will it be a total surrender, or will we maintain veto power? Will it be complete or will we reserve the right to indulge in “small” sins like venting our anger on social media? Will we have doors in our hearts that say “Do not enter” to God? Or will we allow Him to turn the light on in every area?

The Word says, “Deep calls to deep” (Psalm 42:7). The deeper we allow God to go — “Lord, instead of venting here, I will just tell you right now I don’t like this person, but I’ll make it between You and me. You see all,” the deeper His river can flow through us to the depths of others (MacNeil).

If we seek anointing, we have to let it go deep in ourselves first. In America we can be tempted to insulate our lives from suffering as so many entertainments are available to us here that can easily placate our souls, but God invites us to suffer in our flesh by allowing it to be crucified with Him, so He can flow through us into deep places to others. Like Jesus who “poured out His soul unto death,” if we pour out our souls in such a way, we will indeed know His anointing is flowing through us (Isaiah 53:12, AKJV).

Choosing to Be a Vessel God Can Use

As we choose what type of vessel we are going to be — silver and gold, or wood or clay — we must choose to leave some things behind. Like Jeremiah, we have to “extract the precious from the worthless” (Jeremiah 15:19, NASB).

Achan, a character in the Old Testament, chose to sneakily keep some spoils of war hidden in his tent. The result was all Israel suffered from his sin at the battle of Ai, where God allowed a defeat to the enemy’s forces. It’s not clear exactly what Achan stole from Jericho when it fell, but the Hebrew renders it “devoted things.” These devoted things were that which the Lord had said were to be destroyed — devoted to destruction. Nonetheless, Achan piled up a heap of the forbidden things in his tent. It wound up costing him his life.

Have we held on to that which God has devoted to “destruction”? If we hold on to sin, we are harboring a heap of trouble in our “tent.” Sexual sin, especially, as well as pride and the fear of man are “gateway sins” that open the door to other sins. We must allow the Holy Spirit to set us apart from who we used to be and the things we used to desire before the Lord can give us that ministry He so longs to.

As we allow God to take away our old self-image, our consecration results in purification. Otherwise, instead of being a precious vessel God can use, we are not only not that, we are — along with our hidden sins — like a rusty, old tin can. Instead of honor, we will, like Achan, experience devastation in areas God had never intended. This does not mean we won’t go to heaven, but it may mean huge areas of our lives will be subject to, well, destruction (1 Corinthians 3:15). Paul says, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap” (Galatians 6:7, NASB). Consecration and purification go hand-in-hand.

Part of separating oneself for God’s special purposes involves allowing God to bring boundaries into certain relationships, especially ones with unbelievers. Paul writes, “Therefore, come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you” (2 Corinthians 6:17).

I remember as a new hire at a workplace when a dear friend was throwing a party — one I very much planned to attend. Suddenly, the Holy Spirit crashed into my world and said, “Don’t go.” I was shocked! Didn’t the Lord realize I had already RSVP’d — that a last-minute cancellation wouldn’t be a good “witness”? Besides, everyone who was anyone was going to attend — namely, those I perceived that could solidify my standing at work.

Though I really wanted to go, I slowly began to concede to God’s plan. Just to show you what a coward I was, I did not have the guts to tell my friend I wasn’t coming, so, I was forced to write a note and deliver it. Soon, I sensed the presence of God on my life in a new way, but first I had to “die” to expectations to be a certain way. Remember the Bible says, “They are surprised that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of wild living, and they slander you” (1 Peter 4:4, HCSB). God began to deliver me from the fear of man. I was on the path to being the special, consecrated vessel I was created to become, and I eventually enjoyed becoming the leader of a blessed Bible study there.

Useful for God’s Kingdom Work

We can fit into American culture or fit into the culture of the kingdom of God. Paul writes, “For no one can lay a foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, his workmanship will be evident, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will prove the quality of each man’s work” (1 Corinthians 3:11-14). This is not something to fear but to anticipate. If we’re going to do this thing, we might as well do it right, surrender, step out in faith way beyond our ability to save ourselves, let Him set us apart, and see what God might do.

We live in times that demand our greatest efforts to draw near to God’s throne as people are paralyzed with fear and anxiety; they are wrestling with eternal questions now as never before. Ironically, the nightly news that can make us despair — with ISIS attacks, the sharp political divide in America, growing racial tension, threats of international war and natural disasters — has forced the discussion of religion back into people’s minds. The harvest is ripe as never before. We must be ready for the Master’s use in such a time as this.

As Joshua said to the Israelites before crossing the Jordan, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow, the Lord will do amazing things among you” (Joshua 3:5). It’s time to allow God to do the sometimes painful, but always wonderful — work He wants to do in us. Choose wisely today to be the precious, beautiful silver and gold vessel God wants you to be, and you will not only shine brightly now, you will reap a great reward.

 *Updated from the original version September 30, 2017

Stacey Crayton

Stacey Crayton

Stacey Crayton lives in Canton, Georgia, with her husband and feline despot, Gideon. Stacey's name means "resurrection," and it also is a story of her life -- many "deaths" in different areas that seem to keep returning as empowering events. She is a former contributing editor to "Living Water Journal" and enjoys hiking, biking, painting in oils, acrylics -- and recently, watercolors -- and loves nothing more than to wake up watching tree shadows flicker on the top of her tent. A teacher, Stacey holds a master's in Teaching English as a Second Language and is learning to praise God even in a current season of being in "God's waiting room." Her dream is to hold prophetic and deliverance conferences to see God's people get set free around the globe. Until then, she keeps practicing on herself, her family, and whoever will listen to her ministry in the "highways and byways." Stacey is a bold believer who specializes in witnessing for the kingdom of God.

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