What It Means to Live a Transformed Life

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“Addiction to approval.”

A jolt went through me as I stared at the phrase on the page of the Joyce Meyer devotional in front of me. I had never heard of that term and even questioned that God was truly speaking to me. I prayed for confirmation and understanding, and shortly after, I opened the devotional and saw the same words stamped on the page.

Stepping Away From Addiction

After I left my job in teaching, I began to get nudges to contact some people from my past. Memories came up of past wrongs that I had never dealt with, and I felt that I was to go and do something about these wrongs.

I felt led to send a letter to a manager I had at my first job as a teenager for taking some candy from beneath the counter. God nudged me to contact my teaching job and let them know that I had been haphazard in my collection of money for vocabulary books — and there was a field trip sum still left in my desk that I was afraid to turn in (because I had let the time pass when it needed to be turned in). In addition, I felt that I was to tell them that I hadn’t been a Christian example as a teacher.

I had laughed at inappropriate moments in the classroom and cultivated the worship of my students — including my male students. I prided myself on drawing professional boundaries and never had inappropriate contact with students. However, I had a flirtatious demeanor around the males in my classroom and workplace. In the process of taking these hard steps, God gave me the phrase “Addiction to approval” by first giving me the thought one day that I was addicted to approval and then showing me this phrase once again in a devotional.

After praying and doing a little more research, I found out Meyer wrote a book on the very topic, and I went and read her book. In reading her book, I discovered I compensated for deep feelings of unworthiness by pleasing others and gaining others’ approval. I learned that many of the wrong choices I had made as a teenager and a young twenty-something teacher had a common denominator: I wanted to please people and based my sense of worth on others’ positive reactions to me.

In the case of the candy I had taken from a manager, I did that when an older co-worker suggested it. I had no intention before that of taking anything from the manager, but I did it to look cool, and also, because I had a hard time saying no. At my teaching job, I was afraid to admit to my department head how unorganized I was when it came to collecting vocabulary fees and field trip funds. In an effort to look like I had it all together, I didn’t admit to her when I let my book-keeping slide and had some slips for money I couldn’t account for and a sum of money for a field trip from years back that had been in my desk for several years. In the case of my classes, I was flattered by others’ attention and felt good about myself when others paid attention to me and seemed to approve of me. Though it is not wrong to want others to like us, the desire for approval had certainly taken over my life in that I was doing what others wanted, rather than what God wanted.

God taught me the problem I was dealing with not merely by giving me a phrase and leading me to read Meyer’s book. Each nudge of His that I followed led me to eventually discover what He wanted me to learn. I had to give up habits I didn’t even know I had. In exchange, I began to change and be transformed into a different person that didn’t need to rely on unhealthy behaviors to get me through my life.

Living a Transformed Life

Our inner man, as the Apostle Paul says, is ever being renewed as we walk with Him. As 2 Corinthians 4:16 says: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” What that means is that as believers we are on a journey with Jesus to be changed day by day. Each of his promptings to us are an invitation to partner with Him as He uses us to change the lives of others, but also be changed ourselves.

At the end of Revelation 3, the church of Laodicea receives an invitation from Jesus for renewal and restoration. While the passage comes across like a harsh rebuke — and it is that — the message is also an invitation to the church to leave behind their complacency and self-sufficiency. At one time they had been zealous for the Lord, but that enthusiasm had cooled and been replaced by self-satisfaction and empty fulfilment found in wealth and worldly comforts. To this Jesus says in verses 15-20:

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm — neither hot nor cold — I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so that you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

The church of Laodicea is identified as “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” Jesus counsels them to “buy” from Him what they need: gold refined in the fire, white clothes, and eye salve. What He offered couldn’t be found anywhere else. They had everything they needed physically, and yet, the world could not give them what their spirits desperately needed. What can we learn from the church?

1. What we need to live a transformed life can only be found in Jesus.

We do not do the work of salvation. We don’t do the work of sanctification — in transforming ourselves from the inside out into a new creation — Jesus works in us. However, we do participate in the process of our renewal. We do as Jesus says and He changes us.

With Jesus’ use of the term “buy,” the idea given is that even though we don’t use money, a transaction does take place when we walk with Jesus. In the process of becoming more like Him and growing spiritually, we continually exchange and give up something in return for change in our lives.

In his commentary of the passage, S. Martin in The Biblical Illustrator says this: “The word ‘buy’ here does not mean to give an equivalent, but to ‘part’ with this self-sufficiency, and to part with it for something valuable.” What might this exchange look like? It varies in every situation, but Jesus will identify to us in particular seasons what we need to give up or let go of in order to see needed change in our lives. This isn’t about trying to somehow earn God’s favor or be good enough for Him, but simply yielding to Him in our lives.

In Lysa Terkeurst’s study What Happens When Women Say Yes to God, Terkeurst describes how she went to a conference and was inspired afterwards to pray a prayer declaring to God that she wanted to be radically obedient.

Almost immediately after Terkeurst prayed, God told her to sell her house and give up TV. She clarifies that not all Christians need to do this, but for her, this is the road God pointed her down. Television had become a way to comfort and relax her after a long day, and God pointed out that she was filling herself up with the world’s views at night when she was “vulnerable and empty.” God wanted to fill her with Himself. In addition, she and her husband had spent a lot of time fixing up their home to get it just the way they wanted it. God pointed out to Terkeurst that she and her husband were looking to her house, a temporal structure, to fulfill them.

For Terkeurst, at this juncture in her spiritual life, she knew that God wanted her to let go of these attachments. This wasn’t easy, but Terkeurst wanted to be obedient, so she gave up TV and put the steps in motion to sell her house. After she stopped watching her shows, she found that she had clearer thinking and didn’t miss them. In addition, after reluctantly putting up her home for sale, her house did not sell! God let her keep her house. He just wanted to test her devotion to Him.

Philippians 2:13 tells us to “continue to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose.” This verse tells us how we cooperate with the Holy Spirit to grow spiritually. I love the way Rick Warren explains this verse in The Purpose Driven Life:

This verse shows the two parts of spiritual growth: ‘work out’ and ‘work in.’ The ‘work out’ is your responsibility and the ‘work in’ is God’s role. Spiritual growth is a collaborative effort between you and the Holy Spirit. God’s Spirit works with us, not just in us. This verse written to believers, is not about how to be saved, but how to grow. It does not say ‘work for’ your salvation, because you can’t add anything to what Jesus already did. During a physical ‘workout,’ you exercise to develop your body, not to get a body.

In other words, Warren explains that “working out our salvation” is not working for our salvation after we come to Christ because, as He says, we can’t add anything to what Christ has done. Rather, “working out our salvation” is growing in Christ after we are saved.

Jesus changes us and molds us into His image. We don’t do that part, but when we do what He tells us and give up certain thoughts, behaviors, habits, and idols we are clinging to, He, in exchange, transforms us in the process and makes us into His own image.

2. Some of us are attempting to live a transformed life without Jesus.

My pastor said something the other day that struck me: Some of us are trying to live the Christian life without Jesus. Doesn’t that sound absurd? We get the idea in the passage that even after we have accepted Jesus as our Savior, we can shut Him out of our hearts. Verse 20 says, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” I don’t mean by shutting Him out that we lose our salvation, but we live without a dependence on Him. Our flesh continually fights for control against the Spirit of God.

My 3-year-old frequently struggles against me and insists, “I do it.” She wants to do things for herself that she isn’t capable of doing, but she won’t let me help her at times — even though she can’t do every task for herself. And we do the same with God. We leave Him outside of the door and ignore His promptings at times. But the passage tells us that Jesus longs to come in and eat with us — and He calls to us at the door of our hearts. It is only in continually allowing Him to come in that we can be changed.

Conclusion:

Not one of the actions I described in my own journey of freedom from an addiction was easy. Would I have ever chosen willingly to do what He asked? Of course not. But in exchange for giving up my pride and wrong habits — I gained freedom from bondage. I exchanged shame for clean robes. I learned how to conduct myself as a godly woman secure in her identify (and I am still learning). I would not have been able to see the reasons for my behavior and pattern of people pleasing if Jesus hadn’t pointed it out to me. The truth is — we all drift and mess up. We need Jesus to help us sort out the tangled messes we make and extract us from the rubble.

As Revelation 3 suggests, Jesus is in the business of rescue and renewal. We get so much more than we could have hoped for when we walk with Him. But sometimes, we don’t recognize His invitations. We brush off the nudges because we doubt we heard right. We wonder how what He is telling us has anything to do with the problem weighing us down spiritually. And yet, when we listen and follow His nudges, we are transformed. Yet the path there often looks different than we wanted or imagined.

Laodicea didn’t even know they had a problem or what do to do about it, but Jesus did. He says at the end of His message to the church: “Whoever has ears, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” In other words, the entire church would hear this message, but to “hear” meant there would only be some who would truly heed His message.

Continually, in our spiritual life, we will face a choice — to yield to what God wants to do in us and trust He knows best or go our own way. When we choose God’s way, we find healing, restoration, godliness in exchange for our sin and the ability to truly see from a spiritual perspective. We can allow Him to work on us today and every day — knowing that a transformed life is one that happens when we willingly yield and participate in the process of what God wants to do in our lives.

Stay tuned for next week’s episode as we wrap up this series and dive deeper into the concept of Jesus as a reliable and trustworthy physician — capable of diagnosing any problem we’re going through and giving us the solution for whatever problem we face.

Related Resources:

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

Check out Part 1: “Stopping the Drift Into Spiritual Apathy,” Part 2: “Heeding God’s Warnings in Our Spiritual Life,”   Part 3: “The Work That Pleases God,” and Part 4: “Maintaining a Firm Faith in Difficult Circumstances” to get a better understanding of what spiritual apathy is and how to guard against the drift in your life.

Still confused about sanctification and how we are made into Christ’s image in the Christian walk? Check out this article from Crosswalk.com: “Justification and Sanctification: What Do They Mean & What Does the Bible Teach about Them?”

*Updated October 16, 2019.

Carol Whitaker

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

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Conquering Fear to Do the Will of God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Spiritual transformation is a process.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

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

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

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

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

Related Resources:

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

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

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

Carol Whitaker

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

More Posts

Serving God in the Midst of Our Trials

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Have you ever said, “Not today, Lord. I am too stressed, tired, or worried to do anything for you today?”

There have been days or seasons when I felt too pressured or sorrowful to want to serve God. Certainly, there are seasons where we need to grieve, and I am not advocating we ignore our feelings or not take needed rest at times. But what I am saying is that serving God includes serving Him on days when we feel weighed down by circumstances or fatigued or troubled.

Our Perseverance in Trials Grows Us Spiritually

James 1:2-4 says this: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

In Part 1 of this series, we looked at the idea of viewing our trials as joyful not because the trials in and of themselves cause us joy; we view them as joyful because of the perseverance they produce in us. However, this perseverance is not the end goal of our trials. In fact, as verse 4 tells us, this perseverance is that which must be allowed to “finish its work.” As this wording suggests, there is a step beyond perseverance that is being worked out as we endure through our trials: we grow spiritually and become “mature and complete, lacking nothing.”

This idea of “mature and complete” here means whole in every part, that is that there is nothing lacking to complete our character. As theologian Albert Barnes explains in regards to the passage, we may have elements of good character, but in order for us to be complete, we have to allow what God is developing in us to be fully carried out. Therefore, spiritual wholeness is becoming what God intends for us to be and living in that reality and all that goes along with that — being conformed to the image of Christ.

So, how do we allow perseverance to “finish its work” and accomplish in us what is needed for us to be spiritually mature? By staying the course and not allowing our trials to take us off course. However, this passage doesn’t just refer to staying the course by a mere endurance of trials — hunkering down and waiting until the trials pass. The perseverance or patience mentioned refers also to action in the midst of trial. We continue in active obedience to God in the midst of our suffering and do not allow the character being developed within us to be, as Barnes explains, “hindered” by rebellion or opposition to the will of God.

Paul says in Acts 20:24 (NKJV), “But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” He certainly had every reason to get tired, discouraged, or depressed when encountering persecution, imprisonment, and shipwrecks. Instead, he entrusted Himself to God so fully that he counted his adverse circumstances as those that would further help to advance the Gospel (Philippians 1:12). Similarly, in Matthew 24:13, Jesus warns His disciples about the trials that believers will experience in the end times, but urges them to persevere to the end. Likewise, Luke 21:19 says: “Stand firm, and you will win life.”

We may say, “Lord, how can you expect me to serve you right now? I have these problems going on with family members and this issues with my boss at the moment and these projects to finish and this ongoing health scare.” And yet, even in our most pressing times, God wants to use us — and sharing with others in our pain can help us to get through our own pain. So, how is it that we can help others when our own hearts are breaking?

1. We comfort others with the comfort we ourselves have received.

The only reason we are able to minister to others is because we are received from Him — and it is that same comfort that we give to others (2 Corinthians 1:4). My 3-year-old cares for her dolls and stuffed animals with such love. I never told her how to rock them or wrap them in blankets or feed them with a spoon. How did she know to do all these things? She simply gives them what she has been receiving from us as parents. She knows what to do because it has already been modeled and given to her. In the same way, we have something to give others because of what we have received from God.

2. We are renewed when we help others.

God isn’t a cruel taskmaster desiring to sap our strength and make us work ourselves down to the bone. We need rest. We need moments to process emotions. We need moments to grieve. Yet, when we work to do His will and listen to His Spirit, we ourselves are renewed (Proverbs 11:25). Therefore, when we feel discouraged and worn out and don’t feel like telling our story or sharing Christ with someone else, we can know that when we step out to do what He asks, He gives us strength to meet the task and renews us in the process. He fills us with more strength the moment we step out to do His will.

There is a difference between striving — generating our own work to do in our own strength — and the work we do when we abide and rest in Him. The work that will give us continued rest in our souls is that which we do in obedience to Him (Matthew 11:28-30).

3. We trust that God will take care of our kingdom when we take care of His.

For many of us, we want to serve, but we are overwhelmed by the demands of our children, work, spouses, friends, family, etc. We worry about normal “life stuff”: fixing what breaks around the house, making appointments, picking up the kids from school, helping the kids with homework, figuring out what to make for dinner, and responding to emails. And yet, the Bible says when we make Him and the work He gives us a priority, He will help us take care of our kingdom (Matthew 6:33). We will have the time, strength, and resources to finish the tasks we need to in relation to our families, jobs, and homes.

So often, we only look at the negative things that trials bring: pain, inconvenience, and stress. And yet, trials can usher good things in as well. A person who has suffered much is the kind of person that can sympathize with another suffering person. If someone who has never had something bad happen to him or ever experienced pain attempts to give me advice or point to a course while I am in a trial, I am probably not even going to take anything this person says seriously or be all that comforted. However, I am going to listen to someone who has gone through much suffering and can sympathize with me in the midst of my own suffering.

If we don’t resist the suffering God allows or try to run — and thus become hardened by our trials – our trials will make us kinder, more compassionate, and better equipped to minister. Jesus ministered to others even though He was a “man or sorrows” (Isaiah 53:3). He was misunderstood by His family and community, laughed at by religious officials, and betrayed by His closest friends (John 7:5; Matthew 8:34; Mark 6:3; Luke 4:29; John 1:11), but He did not allow His pain to prevent Him from doing His Father’s will.

Our Sorrows Make Us Better Fit to Serve

An older woman in our church suffered the loss of her son and daughter — both in tragic ways. Her son died alone in his apartment of health complications — and no one even knew or found him until several days later. It is possible that he could have lived had he gotten immediate medical treatment. Her daughter was murdered by an enraged boyfriend when she told him that she was leaving. On top of that, this woman suffers from chronic health problems that make each day difficult to endure.

She could easily say, “Lord, what can I do for you? I am a broken-hearted mom with so much pain in my body. What can I do for you?” Yet this woman works as a volunteer in hospitality at our church. Once the pain in her body became so bad that she could no longer stand and greet visitors at the door, she took a different job and now calls newcomers after they visit to follow up with them and thank them for coming. She also actively searches for people to share her story with when she is out in the community and has given talks to domestic violence victims. Clearly, she hasn’t allowed her pain to prevent her from doing the work of God. Rather, she serves Him in the midst of her pain.

Trials can break us or help to mold us into the likeness of Jesus. We can simply bear up under our problems, or we can, like Jesus, continue on our course — steady and fixed — allowing our sorrows to make us better fit to serve in His kingdom.

Editor’s Note: The hardships referred to that we need to endure do not refer to emotional or physical abuse. Please seek out the help of a pastor or Christian counselor if you are in an abusive relationship.

Related Resources:

Have you ever felt irritated by the idea of being joyful in the midst of trials? How can certain Scripture passages advocate that we actually be happy in our most difficult circumstances? This is the second episode in a brand new series on trials and the reason we can rejoice in the midst of hard circumstances. Check out Part 1: “A Reason to Rejoice in Our Trials.”

Podcast Notes and Corrections:

1. This was not included in the article, but the following quote from Albert Barnes’ commentary on James 1:2-4 was given in the podcast:

Let it [perseverance] be fairly developed; let it produce its appropriate effects without being hindered. Let it not be obstructed in its fair influence on the soul by murmerings, complaining, or rebellion. Patience under trials is fitted to produce important effects on the soul, and we are not to hinder them in any manner by a perverse spirit, or by opposition to the will of God. Every one who is afflicted should desire that the fair effects of affliction should be produced on his mind, or that the fair effects of affliction should be produced in his soul precisely the results which his trials are adapted to accomplish.

There may be elements of good character; there may be sound principles, but those principles may not be fully carried out so as to show what they are. Afflictions, perhaps more than anything else, will do this, and we should therefore allow them to do all that they are adapted to do in developing what is good in us. The idea here is that it is desirable not only to have the elements or principles of piety in our soul, but to have them fairly carried out, so as to show what is their real tendency and value.

2. The “we comfort others with the comfort we ourselves have received” verse is 2 Corinthians 1:4, rather than the reference given in the podcast.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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Growing in Our God-Given Calling

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. We have to trust the plan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Staying Committed to Our Calling Means Choosing Discomfort

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Resources:

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

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

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps this very dilemma of finding it hard to live out what we know in our head to be true is what the writer of Hebrews had in mind when he penned these words: “See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many” (12:15). As I explained in my previous post, I had always understood this verse to mean that anger that festers can affect others in a negative way. However, when I did a deeper study of the words, I realized that the meaning goes beyond that. Certainly, the verse can refer to those with bad attitudes that pollute the body of Christ and need heart adjustments after suffering disappointment or pain that has made them bitter. But “bitter root” in the context of this passage is most likely primarily referring to those who get slothful in their spiritual walk and fall away.

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

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

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

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

How Jesus Helps Us Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Resources:

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

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

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

*Updated November 11, 2018.

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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Making a Change to Receive God’s Promises

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Confession time: Lately, I’ve fallen into a pattern of getting to church late. Each Sunday involves a similar sequence: I leave too many tasks to do in not enough time. With only minutes to go before we need to get out the door, I realize one of my kids still needs to be dressed, the diaper bag for my 2-year-old isn’t packed, and I still need to put makeup on. Getting five people out the door takes intentional planning: bathing my kids and laying out their clothes the night before, getting up early to ensure the kids are fed on time, and cutting out unnecessary activities.

These are not difficult habits to cultivate, and I was consistent about getting us to church on time when I only had two little ones, but with the birth of my third one, I haven’t been as disciplined about laying the necessary groundwork to get us out the door in a timely manner. In order for us to arrive at church on time, I am going to have to make a change in my habits.

A Message Asking for a Change

In Zechariah 9, we see the Jews in a situation where they, too, are going to have to make a few changes to get a desired result in their lives, but are reluctant to do so. Previously held captive by the Babylonians and exiled from their land, the Jews are now free to go back to their homeland. While some Jews have returned to Israel, some linger behind in Babylon. Zechariah’s message encourages both groups to return to Jerusalem and begin the work of rebuilding Jerusalem and the temple:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double. (vv. 9-12, ESV, emphasis mine)

As we can see from the passage, the Jews are promised incredible protection and blessings if they return. Why, then, haven’t they done so? Quite simply, rebuilding will require hard work. Israel is still under Persian rule and foreigners have moved into the land in the absence of the Jews. In addition, the Jews face threats from surrounding enemies. The very journey back to Jerusalem will be difficult. Even as the Jews long for their land and a share in the blessings God promises to pour on Israel, they are established in the homes and businesses they had built in Babylon during their exile.

And, undeniably, according to Robert Tuck in the Biblical Illustrator, they may have had a false sense of security where they were, saying, “Some day, we will rebuild, but not now.” In other words, they aren’t refusing the call to help rebuild, but putting off the steps needed to help out their neighbors, pushing the day of return off into a distant day that they could look to longingly, but not make a reality.

Why We Can Have Hope in Our Circumstance

Though Zechariah 9 records words spoken to a group of people long ago, I can see myself in the Jews’ reactions. As the Bible says, all Scripture is useful for our instruction (2 Timothy 3:16), and his words are still so applicable for us today.

While we may not be able to relate to being held captive in a foreign country, we can all relate to feeling captive by our circumstances either because of life choices we have made or because of the choices that others have made for us. We may know how we might improve or even get out of our situation; however, like the Jews here, we have grown comfortable in our situation — however imprisoning — and so we put our hope in another day, saying, “Some day I will make a change. Some day I will get a handle on this. Some day I will overcome this.”

And yet, Zechariah challenges this kind of complacency with the words: “Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope” (v. 12). The wording of this phrase is so odd and one I had to really meditate on and pray about in order to uncover the meaning. How exactly is one a prisoner of hope? Doesn’t hope always mean something positive? Why is “hope” paired in this way with the word “prisoner,” which has negative connotations?

A possible interpretation is that the prisoners have hope in front of them. Certainly, many translations read this way. If we look at the preceding verse, it says, “I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit.” The pit of verse 11 is contrasted with the stronghold mentioned in verse 12. However, it’s a little baffling because in the very next verse, we see that these very prisoners that have been freed are still identified as prisoners, but differently, as “prisoners of hope.” How can a person be freed and still be identified as a prisoner?

To answer this question, it helps to understand that during this time period prisoners were often left in large pits dug in the ground. They were either left to die, without food and water, or they were simply left for a period of time as a particular punishment. Just as the Jews in the passage have been freed from the “waterless pit” of Babylon and have the promise of a restored Jerusalem, they still have the interesting paradox of being “free and having hope,” but still captive to their oppressive circumstances and wrong dependencies.

And how similar is this to the experience we have as Christians. We have been freed from the “pit” of sin by the blood of Christ when we receive Christ into our lives as our Lord and Savior, and yet, we have these areas in our lives where we need God’s sanctifying work.

As we walk with Christ, He reveals habits and patterns of sin that we need to let go of, and He invites us to partner with Him to get rid of that which isn’t holy in our lives and become more Christ-like. We might start out the race with enthusiasm, but then want to quit when we encounter obstacles. However, we have to continue running the race He has set out for us to usher in God’s blessings, which includes leaving behind the sin that so easily entangles (Hebrews 12:1).

In addition, we live in a world that is hostile to Christian ideas. To live the Christian walk means to live counter-culturally — which, quite often, will leave us feeling debilitated, exhausted, and defeated. We might have the best of intentions about living a God-honoring life but then get overwhelmed by the sheer difficulty of it and let ourselves slip.

Even though we know where we are is not God’s best for us and we haven’t yet attained the promises God has for us, we settle for what’s easier instead of pushing through the difficulty to get to the better God would have for us.

Christ As Our Ultimate Hope

Where, then, can we find hope we need to make the necessary changes God reveals to us? We should note that in this passage, though the Jews are asked to help rebuild Jerusalem and the temple, their hope isn’t in a restored Israel. Their hope is in the coming of Christ. While Zechariah urges the Jews of his time to “Return,” his invitation calls them to the stronghold of Christ.

Similarly, we have the same invitation. Wherever we find ourselves, we are not left alone to battle our circumstances or conquer the sin in our life alone. We are offered a place of safety in the midst of our struggles. Even if we have slowly gotten distracted and veered off the path God has for us or perhaps left the path with our own willful disobedience, we have the call of Jesus and a stronghold to which we can flee.

Proverbs 18:10 tells us the name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it are safe. Similarly, David writes in the Psalms that God lifted his feet from the miry clay and put his feet on a rock (Psalm 40:2). Just as the Jews are graciously offered a chance to return and rebuild the city that was destroyed because of their rebellion against God, we have the same offer.

However, it won’t be without work or a fight, but the efforts we make to partner with God in His plan for our life, however challenging, will not be in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58). He who began a good work in us will complete it (Philippians 1:6).

Can you think of choices that have led you off track? Do you feel far away from God and His purposes for life? It’s not too late to get on track! Let’s pray: Dear God, we aren’t where we want to be. We have fallen short of your perfect plan for our life and we have found ourselves in challenging circumstances because of our own choices. But you are a God who won’t leave us alone and will restore and redeem those who turn back to you and call on your name. Lord, forgive us for the ways we have fallen short. Give us a clear vision of the steps we can take to get on track and help give us the resolve to rededicate our efforts for you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Related Resources:

Want to learn more about stepping out in radical faith to usher in the promises and blessings of God? Check out this article on how our faith-filled steps move us forward, or this one on God’s blessings.

Would you like to check out other articles, but don’t have time to read them? Check out our podcast archive and listen to co-hosts Suzy Lolley and Carol Whitaker talk through the points of some of our articles in podcast form.

*Updated September 23, 2018

 

 

 

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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Endurance in the Christian Walk to Finish Your Race

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I had a manager once tell me I was really “good out of the gate,” but my energy lessened as my shift wore on. I have found that to be a true description of how I generally approach many tasks in life: My motivation is generally quite high at the outset but begins to wane as time passes and problems and trials sap my strength.

The Christian walk, I have found, is not a sprint but a marathon. Years ago, I answered God’s call with such enthusiasm. Before he gave me a ministry, I begged him for one. I couldn’t wait to get started, and yet, when He gave me the ministry I so wanted, I begged Him shortly after on numerous occasions to let me quit (or at least walk away for a season). I have discovered over the last few years that I don’t have the endurance to complete the marathon. It is only in God’s power that I have kept on for these past few years and continue to keep on in my current season.

To Endure in Our Calling Requires a Continual Commitment

In John 21:15-23, we see a disciple who also has to be instructed when he is about to bomb out on his calling. After making boasts about what he will do for Jesus (Matthew 26:33), this prideful disciple gets a lesson in humility: He fails Jesus by denying him three times. Rather than cast out this disciple, though, Jesus takes the opportunity to teach Peter what it means to be a minister of the Gospel and run the race with endurance.

He asks Peter three separate times if Peter loves Him and then points him to a directive: feed his sheep. Each time Jesus asks, Peter responds by saying, “Lord, you know that I love you.” The last time Jesus asks, Peter shows a shift, prefacing the words with, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you” (v. 17). As I discussed in my last post, Peter’s response shows he is no longer bragging about his abilities. He simply states that he loves him. And, as the IVP New Testament Commentary observes, his last response shows a position of humility and acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty.

Peter’s new learned dependence on Jesus is that which is necessary for us to model if we are to complete our call (and how we can handle the failures that we are sure to have along the way), but there is another lesson embedded in their conversation. According to the IVP, each time Jesus asks represents those times in our lives that we will have the temptation to go an easier way. Service to God isn’t a call we answer one time in our lives. It is a call we answer over and over again.

As exemplified in the passage, we will have to continually renew our commitment to Jesus as we follow Him (IVP). This means that as we grow in spiritual maturity and Jesus reveals to us at different intervals what our walk is going to entail (letting go of a certain habit, overcoming a fear in an area, etc.), we must be willing to answer, “Yes, Lord, I love you [more than these].” I love you more than my comfort, my security, my desire for wealth, or acceptance. I am willing to give this up or work on this area for you. Again and again, Jesus will test us with the question He raised to Peter, “Do you love me [more than these other things]?” We have to be willing to allow Jesus to “raise the bar” in our lives as He teaches us what it means to be His follower.

To Endure We Must Also Stay Fixed on Jesus

Not only must we must be willing to repeatedly deny ourselves and renew our commitment to Him as we continue in our calling, we must not allow distractions to take our focus away from Jesus. Though Peter is making progress in his spiritual maturity and walk with Christ, he still has a human moment where he turns from his claims of devotion and takes his eyes off Jesus. When he learns that his call will entail going where he does not want to go and even being led to die as Jesus did by crucifixion (vv. 18, 19), he pauses for a moment and asks about the fate of John, who is following close behind.

Jesus tells him, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me” (v. 22). In other words, he tells Peter to only worry about himself. It is all too natural that Peter should be concerned about whether or not others will go through the same difficulties and suffering. But Jesus doesn’t give him the answer he wants, but tells him to stay focused on his own commission.

Too often, we compare our suffering in ministry to that of others. We’re OK with denying ourselves if others walk a similar road, but what if they don’t? What if Jesus has us in a place we don’t want to be, we suffer more than others, or Jesus leads in in a way that seems to be more treacherous than the path of other Christians? We must be willing to follow even if our road looks harder than that of others or is undesirable. As Romans 5:3 and James 1:2-4 tell us, our difficulties don’t have to knock us off the path — but rather, are the very tests that will develop fortitude in us if we let them.

Romans 5:3 (VOICE): “And that’s not all, we also celebrate in seasons of suffering because we know that when we suffer we develop endurance.”

James 1:2-4 (VOICE): “Don’t run from tests and hardships, brothers and sisters. As difficult as they are, you will ultimately [find joy in them]; if you [embrace them], your faith will [blossom under pressure] and [teach you true patience as you endure]. And true patience brought on by endurance will equip you to complete the long journey and cross the finish line — mature, complete and wanting nothing.”

Conclusion:

Jesus’ conversation with Peter offers us some valuable insight into how we can develop and maintain the rigor and endurance it takes to complete the mission God gives us. Like Peter, we have to allow Jesus to turn us from our own desires, love of self, and pride and choose to follow Him again and again even when we’re tired, weary of trials, and disappointed because we don’t have the results or the perks others have. We will have obstacles that threaten to entangle us, but with continued commitment to Christ and a dependence on Him — we will finish the race.

Why must I weep when others sing?

“To test the deeps of suffering.”

Why must I work while others rest?

“To spend my strength at God’s request.”

Why must I lose while others gain?

“To understand defeat’s sharp pain.”

Why must this lot of life be mine

When that which fairer seems is thine?

“Because God knows what plans for me

Shall blossom in eternity.”

– from Streams in the Desert

Related Bible Verses:

Hebrews 12:1: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”

Hebrews 3:14: “For we have become partners with Christ, if in fact we hold our initial confidence firm until the end.”

Podcast Corrections:

Peter denied Jesus the night of Jesus’ arrest, not before.

 

 

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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Overcoming Fear in Doing the Will of God

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

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

However, Peter had to get past his very real unbelief and fear he felt in the moment, and Jesus addresses it. Similarly, many of us are desiring to be obedient to God, but we are dealing with crushing fear or another obstacle. How do we get past our fear when we are attempting to follow the will of God?

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

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

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

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

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

[Philippians 2:13: “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him,”

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

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

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

[“Then they asked him, ‘What must we do to do the works God requires?’ Jesus answered, ‘The work of God: to believe in the one he has sent.'” (John 6:28-29]

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

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

I had been a former high school teacher, and I had spent years cultivating the worship of my students. As a young teacher, I was flirtatious and had a male fan club in every class. Though my actions were not those that constituted an inappropriate relationship or illegal activity, I knew that I had not been a Christian role model for my students. God nudged me to make some hard contacts with my former classes and administration and apologize for not being a Godly role model and state that I was making a turn in my Christian walk.

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

2. Spiritual transformation is a process.

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

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

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

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

“Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” Phil. 2:12, 13

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

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

Conclusion:

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

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

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

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

Carol Whitaker

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

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4 Things to Help Get Us Through Our Storm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Jesus showed up differently than they expected.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carol Whitaker

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

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