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

THE BLESSINGS OF BROKENNESS (4)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. There is a plan to the breaking process.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Carol Whitaker

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

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How Obedience Leads to Spiritual Maturity in You and Others (Blessings of Brokenness Book Study)

THE BLESSINGS OF BROKENNESS (3)

In The Emperor’s New Groove, a Disney animated movie, the selfish Emperor Kuzco is turned into a llama by a former palace advisor. Through a course of twists and turns, he is helped by a kind llama herder, Pacha.

Ironically, Pacha is the same llama herder that the emperor is cruel to at the beginning of the movie. He summons Pacha to his palace to announce that Pacha’s entire village will be wiped out (including Pacha’s home) to make way for his summer residence.

Pacha stands up the emperor and tries to reason with him, but to no avail. Kuzco is determined that Pacha’s village is the most ideal spot for his second residence and cares little about who he steps on in order to make his desires a reality.

However, after Kuzco is turned into a llama, he goes through a series of unfortunate events (including being chased by ferocious jaguars, getting caught in violent storms, and being pursued by the revenge and power-hungry ex-palace employee). Through these string of trials, he loses his arrogance and self-absorption.

He begins to befriend Pacha and become more aware of the needs of the people around him. By the end of the movie, when he is changed from a llama back into his human form, his outer body is not the only thing that has changed. Not only does he alter his plans to bulldoze Pacha’s village, he also becomes a kinder ruler.

The suffering he goes through on his harrowing adventures affects him personally by making him a nicer person but also affects the people in his realm.

Even though the movie is a silly illustration and doesn’t operate from a Christian base, we can take away the obvious implication as Christians in our faith walk and ministry: ultimately, the work God does in us isn’t just for us. It’s for other people, too.

Abraham and the Israelites: People God Used to Bless Others

In chapter 6 of The Blessings of Brokenness, Charles Stanley uses the example of the Israelites to illustrate this point. The Hebrew people had to go through the desert to get to the Promised Land. They went through the ultimate breaking process: leaving behind the land and customs they knew, going through many trials and hardships in the wilderness, and learning who God was and trusting Him for their resources. But their time in the wilderness, although not fun, helped to bring them to spiritual maturity.

However, as Stanley says, God’s purpose for the Israelites in leaving Egypt wasn’t just for their spiritual maturity and deliverance but to fulfill a promise that God had made to their ancestor Abraham long before — that it was “through his family, all the nations of the world would come to know God. They were to be a ‘light to the nations’ ” (81). Stanley notes further:

[God] set before his [Israelite] people a phenomenal objective. He says, ‘If you do what I tell you to do — if you are totally obedient to me — I will bless you … and make you a blessing.’ God’s purpose for breaking you and bringing you to a place of wholeness and spiritual maturity is so that he might use you as his tool in bringing still others to wholeness and spiritual maturity. He teaches us so that we might teach others. He imparts his insights to us so that we might share them with others. He comforts and encourages us to that we might provide comfort and encouragement to others. He gives us spiritual gifts so that we might use them to help others. He gives us financial prosperity so that we might benefit others and provide the means for the Gospel to reach them. (81, 82)

Whoa! We see in the example of the Israelites that their submission to God’s plan (even with a lot of mistakes and fumbling along the way) not only led them to a better understanding of God and a place of blessing, it was intended to teach others about God as well. And not just a few people. All the nations.

We see then that there is a wonderful correlation not only between the blessing we individually receive when we submit to the process of brokenness, but there is a blessing that people around us receive when we submit to it and share with them what God is doing in our life. God’s plans for us will ultimately affect other people in a positive way as well.

A Flip Side to Obedience: Choosing not to Surrender to Brokenness or God’s Blessings

I can’t help but think as I read Stanley’s words that there is a flip side to this — which is, that if we are resistant or disobedient, not only will that affect our own spiritual walk, it will have an effect on others as well. As Stanley has stated in other places in his book, we have a choice as to how we respond to brokenness. We can grow bitter, resentful, angry or rebellious, or we can surrender to God and trust that He knows what He’s doing.

Obviously, God doesn’t need us to complete His plans, but He chooses to include us. Why wouldn’t we want to be used in His design? Invariably, His version of how we can best be used is going to be way different than ours. But it’s going to be better.

Through the process of the last few years, as I have embarked on my journey to healing, I have felt at certain points that there were people I needed to go to and share my story with. I had no idea why God wanted me to have conversations with these individuals, and I fought it.

I felt that I should wait to speak until I had all of the pieces put together and figured out. I was still so much in process that I felt strange talking to people about what I was going through. I didn’t know or understand what God was doing, and I felt selfish sitting down with various people and telling my story. Why would they want to listen? What could they possibly get out of it?

However, those conversations helped to clarify things for me as I talked more about my experiences, but I believe in looking back that God also used those conversations to impact others. I didn’t get much feedback from individuals after I talked with them, and even though it was confusing to me at the time, I know that God was up to something — that perhaps those people needed to hear a portion of my story for the same reasons I needed to live it.

Remaining Surrendered in Your Christian Walk and Ministry

Unfortunately, the breaking and surrendering isn’t a one-time process; it’s a life-long process. I can survey the mountaintop experiences I’ve had over the past few years and want to camp there and say, “God, look how I surrendered to you!” But there are new things He is doing in my life and fresh ways He wants me to surrender, and I have to make those daily choices of embracing what He wants over what I want.

And it isn’t easy. But as Stanley notes at the end of chapter 6, only when we do so can we live in the exciting purpose God has for us. There’s no better or more fulfilling way to live.

Questions to Consider: What are some ways that your obedience in the past has blessed others? How might God be calling you to use your brokenness to minister to others? What area can you step out in today?

Book Study: This post is part of a five week book study over Charles Stanley’s The Blessings of Brokenness: Why God Allows Us to Go Through Hard Times. We will have a live video chat over chapters 5 & 6 this Monday, June 27, @ 9 p.m. EST. Click the video chat link to subscribe or watch the replay. To join us for next week, read chapters 7 & 8 by next Friday, July 1.

 

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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Keeping Your Pursuits Godly When Running the Race of Faith

Beulah Girl April May 2016 (11)

Ennui” is the impatience and general disappointment that comes with not doing whatever it is you really want to do, and I’m certain it has been a constant companion of mine since childhood. I came out of the womb with a lot of ambition, and that desire to be doing something great never really went away. I settled it around the second grade that I wanted to be a writer. I loved words, and I wanted to write books that people loved.

Unfortunately, my other aspirations were ridiculous. I wanted to be a spy à la Harriet and slink around my apartment complex in a yellow rain jacket jotting notes like “They’re onto me.” Not too long after that, I felt so strongly about my chances at becoming a singing sensation that I traveled door to door and asked people for money in exchange for songs. Furthermore, I was bummed when I realized that all of the calculated focus spent on my Jedi training was useless because Jedi weren’t even real.

No matter where I was in my life, I was always pushing myself forward, enchanted by this idea that one day, far into the future, I would meander into what I was meant to do. And because there was no way that God could mean for me to live an ordinary life, whatever it was would be grand.

I grew older and my ambitions veered into more socially acceptable directions. I spent some time wanting to study medicine in order to become a “blood up to my elbows” kind of trauma surgeon. After that, I was determined to become a theater actress, but that fizzled out when I went to college. I still maintained hopes about writing although it seemed so ludicrous that I relegated that dream to a fanciful hobby, and I decided to study teaching instead.

But even after graduation, I kept my sights on something higher — the next big job, the next big adventure, etc.

Looking Into the Future: What Is the Prize You Are Chasing After?

That same kind of attitude can settle in us concerning matters of God. We place the future on some sort of pedestal, and we hail it as a prize to be won. Now, I agree with the fact that God leads us. I completely agree with the fact that He ordains things for us to do in life and in ministry.

I know it was in God’s plans for me to marry Jamie Howard. I know it was in His plans for me to graduate with a degree in education. I know it was in His plans for me and my husband to buy our first home this year, and since then, we’ve worked hard to mark it as a place of surrender and worship. But just because those things were His plans for me doesn’t mean that they were mine to obsess over or chase after before the appointed time.

Over the past few years, my husband and I have toiled over what God had for us in the future — children, missionary work, ministry endeavors, adoption, joint business ventures, etc. We looked into our future, and we dreamed and planned about what we thought God would send our way.

But what God has revealed to us is that our focus on the future was taking away from our pursuit of Him in the present. We didn’t come to this realization through the course of a single sermon or a well-timed conversation with a friend. It was a slow dawning as we settled into a new home, a new church, and a new season of rest and renewal.

As a result of being in this new phase of our lives, our minds began to clear, and it was in that clear head space that we could hear the Lord saying, “I’m it. I’m the prize at the end of the race, and if the way you’re running that race is taking the focus off of me, run differently.”

And the more we leaned into Him and allowed Him to undo the knots in our thinking, the more clearly we could hear Him.

Philippians 3:7-11 (NKJV) says:

But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

That is the end goal, friends. Not marrying a godly person or raising godly children. Not pursuing godly ministry or starting godly businesses. The end goal is to know Him.

When we look into the future, our aim should be that we would always be in a place of surrender, and that our lives would always be a testament of His great love. And in pursuing that, God will lead us towards the desires of our hearts because our desires will be conformed to His desires.

Beulah Girl April May 2016 (14)Running the Race With the Right Pursuit

The race that my husband and I were running became about the places we would see and the things that we would do along the way instead of being about the prize. And that prize was Jesus, the only one by whom we would ever be able to achieve any of those things anyway. In fact, on some days, the race that we were running didn’t even lead to Him at all. It just led to us being happy and fulfilled.

So here are some thoughts and questions that I encourage you to meditate on. They’re the same kinds of questions I’ve had to ask myself over the past few months.

  1. Think about your life and future. Think about the things that you are pursuing. Marriage? A family? A certain position in ministry? A particular job? Financial security? Saved family and friends?
  2. Ask yourself these questions: Have I placed any of those things before my pursuit of Jesus? Do I strive to know Him better every day? Do I surrender my will to His or do I hope His will will bend to mine? Has God already spoken and yet I’m still waiting for something better? Would I be content if His plans for my life look vastly different than I think they should?
  3. If your answers in any way reflect that the only desires of your heart are to see your own wants fulfilled, then I urge you to repent and then make it right. Turn away from that way of thinking, and chase after God in order to know Him better.

I’m a work in progress, and while some days are better than others, I can honestly say that God is working out of me the desire to do as I please in favor of what He purposes for me. Thankfully, God doesn’t always allow me to get exactly what I want when I want it because if I could, I wouldn’t be the person that He needs me to be in order to see it done right.

Paul said in Philippians 3 that things we “lose” are nothing compared to what we gain when we surrender to Him. And if His plans for your life look different than what you have planned for it, I encourage you reconsider your plans. A high cost was paid for your life, so, by all accounts, your life isn’t your own anymore.

And if God’s intention for mankind was to leave our lives empty and devoid of passion and meaning, then I don’t think He would’ve pumped us so full of drive and ambition. But He wants to funnel that drive and ambition into His work, and in order for us to do that work well, to effectively partner with Him, we have to keep our eyes fixed on Him and nothing else. Hebrews 12 says that Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith. He writes our stories.

And He alone can finish them. So let Him pen the story of your life, and trust Him to write it well.

 

 

 

 

 

Adriana Howard

Adriana Howard

Adriana Howard describes herself as "sort of a mess in pursuit of a great story." Adriana spent a year teaching high school English, and currently, she is teaching theater after school at a local elementary school. She also serves with her husband as a youth pastor at her church. One day, Adriana hopes to be a published author. For the time being, she wants to travel the world, adopt children, learn how to really love people, maintain a garden, go back to India, and work alongside her husband in ministry. Other passions of Adriana's include love war films, cooking, bulky typewriters, crowded airports, winter’s first snow, Elizabeth I, and books of all shapes and sizes. Last but certainly not least, Adriana has a passionate love for Jesus. You can connect with Adriana on her blog where she dabbles in fiction, nonfiction and poetry.

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