Hardships and Trials, Uncategorized

Trusting God When Rejected

All of us have been rejected at one time or another. The question is what do we do with that rejection–will it destroy us; will it weaken our faith or strengthen it? Let me share my story. With my out-going and strong personality, I was a big change for this country church who’d hired me as their first paid youth pastor.

As with marriage, most jobs and especially church positions have a “getting-to-know-you-stage” where everyone offers a lot of grace. My grace-period lingered well into the spring and early summer like the fragrance of the orange blossoms surrounding our close-knit community.

Soon I settled into a routine, and I began inviting kids from the neighborhood to join us at youth group. I also sought ways to meet the needs of a few families living within eyesight of the church. I thought this was “what all good youth pastors do,” but that wasn’t what they thought. Little did I know, my honeymoon was nearly over. Innocently, I had pulled the pins on a few grenades that would later explode, rupturing a hole in my tiny piece of paradise.

That first summer was difficult. The youth were very close to their previous volunteer youth director. She was a wonderful person but had a different style from mine. I reasoned, she was a lot more lenient than I could be because she knew them, and they knew her. That’s hard when others expect you to follow in someone else’s steps instead of creating your own. Then there was the boundary testing all children and youth apply to a new authority figure. I just need to give them time to develop a relationship with me, I determined, trying not to get too discouraged about the constant tug-of-war.

Quickly, I realized what I thought were simple tests were actually war games of military precision aimed at my elimination. I began receiving calls from parents questioning my rules and what they saw as favoritism. They wondered why I was correcting ‘their child’ when ‘those children,’ referring to the street kids I brought in, who needed so much more discipline.

Around this time, the unhappy teens formed an alternative group, exclusive and closely guarded, meeting the same time as the church youth program. How can this happen at a church? I wondered as my isolation grew.

Mayberry, it turned out, was a great place for those who belonged, but I was an outsider with outsider ideas. For months the battles continued as I struggled to do what God sent me there to do—serve the youth and children of this community. Then, just when I thought the situation couldn’t get worse, Sunday mornings ushered in a new slight. This growing group of warrior teens refused to walk on the same sidewalk as I did or sit on the same side of the sanctuary.

Within sixteen months, my dream job had turned into a nightmare. Every day I went into my office at the church, sat at my desk, and cried. The rejection was intense, the abandonment real. Where was God? Why was He allowing this to happen to me?

Perhaps you’ve asked those same questions. As I sought answers in my Bible, it became clear that almost everyone in Scripture experienced rejection and asked God why. Jesus promised that “If you are of the world, the world will love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world will hate you” (John 15:19 ESV).

Years after this church mess, I was still struggling with pain from what I’d endured and I shared my story with an elder in my church. When I asked the rhetorical question of why God would allow this to happen to me, my wise counselor asked, “Why not you?”

I was stunned. He went on to point out that Jesus—God in the flesh—was “troubled in His spirit” as he foretold of Judas (John 13:21). Think about it. He had just washed the guy’s feet a few verses earlier, symbolizing the laying down of His life for him. Then Peter, who professed his love and commitment to Jesus more ardently than any other, rejected even an association with Him in a matter of hours. Sudden, total, heartbreaking rejection. So what made me think I would be spared? I had to admit, that was a fair question.

Then my wise counselor took me to 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 in which Paul says, “We are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” Why? Because our Lord knows what rejection feels like. Jesus willingly put Himself in a place where His Father in Heaven “turned His face away” as He took our sin and hung on the cross. Why? Because he wanted to redeem us from eternal rejection.

Rejection is still difficult to handle, but now I know that while I’m suffering, I have Jesus who understands walking through it with me. He feels my pain, and he cradles my broken spirit. And I trust I will not be crushed, I may be struck down, but I will not be destroyed, and the same power that rose Christ from the dead is alive in me. I will be lifted up, and I am forever redeemed from eternal rejection because of God’s deep love and acceptance of me.

If you are feeling rejected, write out 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 and add your name into the verse like this: I _____ am hard pressed on every side, but ______ is not crushed; ______ is perplexed, but ______ is not in despair; ______ is persecuted, but _______ is not abandoned; _______ is struck down, but ______ is not destroyed.”

I challenge you the next time you ask the ‘Why’ question, dare to ask ‘Why not’ in return and allow God to heal your heart as He shows you how He will use your suffering for His glory.

Prayer

Obstacles That Hinder Prayer

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Have you ever been hurt so badly you thought your heart was ripping from your chest? I have. One day after such a wounding I thought I was doing the right thing by praying for those who’d hurt me. After all, isn’t that the best form of loving your enemy? As I was praying for those who hurt me, and feeling quite good about myself, I heard God say, “Notify sender, mail returned.” You might be saying God doesn’t return prayers. Well, He might not, but He got my attention. Praying is indeed powerful, but it can be thwarted. Click To Tweet

Six Obstacles

Open the Bible and we quickly learn obstacles abound even for the most fervent and honest prayer warrior. To help you and I boldly stand before the throne, confident our prayers are getting through, let’s examine six key obstacles that may hinder those prayers, prevent our communion with God, or block our path to growth in this vital area of the Christian life.

Misplaced Goals

There’s much wisdom in the popular phrase: Joy is found in the journey, not the destination. When we pray our goal may be to affect a certain change in someone, but God’s goal may be to affect a regime-change on the throne of your life and mine. God alone wants to sit in this place of honor in our hearts. Click To TweetAs we surrender to Him, this will be a goal achieved, not at the end of the road as we might envision, but in increments along the way. Be open Image of woman staring toward trees with text pulled from post.to the possibility that while you’re praying your goal may not be God’s goal. Ask Him to reveal if this is one of those regime-change moments.

Unforgiveness

Just as there are layers to the effects of our sins, there are layers to the forgiveness process. In my own life, there are those whom I’ve forgiven a long, long time ago. Then something happens and the flood of emotions comes pouring back as if the wounds were freshly inflicted. Tenderly the Lord shows me more areas in my spirit in need of healing. Should I refuse, and leave these wounds to fester, my unforgiveness will block God’s power in my life, preventing healing. Over time, if you or I continue in this state, our hardness of heart deflects the voice of God. We won’t hear Him clearly. The solution? Ask God if there’s someone you need to forgive again or on a deeper level–He’ll show you and help you take that next step.

Unforgiveness blocks God's power in my life, prevents healing, hardens my heart, and deflects the voice of God. Click To Tweet

Misinterpretation of Scripture

Misinterpretation of Scripture can prevent us from properly hearing God because we’ve prejudiced the communication. It’s as if God’s speaking a different language. If we want to hear God in His native tongue, we must begin by looking at the context of Scriptures and understand how our personal context influences, or even changes, our reading. Any good Bible teacher will acknowledge the only way to properly hear God is to learn the language He’s using, not the language we want to impose on Him. How? Read before and after the verse; read the whole chapter and ask God to help you hear what He is saying. And invest in a good study Bible that outlines historical context you otherwise would miss.

The only way to properly hear God is to learn the language He's using. Click To Tweet

Loss of Community

Christianity is not a solitary practice. If we want to have the fullness of God’s presence in our lives, we must go where God is and begin by looking within the body of Christ. Simply said, we need each other to hear all of what God is saying. If we only rely on our own ear, we may be missing key portions of the message God is sending. Often God speaks through others to confirm what we are hearing in our heart or challenge us towards truth. This is why having godly friends is so important to the Christian life.

Too Many Choices, Too Many Voices:)

Every day we are confronted with a million decisions. Along with all those choices come many voices. How is one to hear God in the midst of all this noise? First, we must divorce ourselves from the need to control the outcome of things by idolizing choice. This is not to say we don’t make choices or care about the consequences of our decisions. The issue is idolatry, putting something ahead of God. When we idolize our human ability to “control things,” the clutter of choices and voices drown out God’s voice. We need to desire God’s opinion rather than ours or the public’s. Getting away, turning off the t.v. or radio, or going for a walk and just listening for God to speak is the best prescription for a noisy world.

Unfamiliarity with God’s Ways

As a whole, we’ve become so unfamiliar with God’s ways that when God makes a move, we hardly recognize Him. As with any relationship, growing close to God and knowing His character requires time. When we squeeze God into one or two hours each week—when we speed-date God—we’re short-changing our most important relationship. This lack of intimacy hinders our growth in prayer and eventually leads to us turning deaf ears to God’s voice simply because we don’t recognize Him. Developing a prayer life takes time. Don’t wait until you’re desperate for an answer to get to know God. If you spend time every day in prayer, when you’re desperate, you’ll remember to enjoy the journey, stay tenderhearted, speak and listen in God’s native tongue, take brotherly (and sisterly) counsel, care less about control and more about His role, and take the time to court the Lover of your soul.

When we approach the gift of prayer in this way, we’ll overcome the obstacles that hold us back. And when we offer prayers, we’ll hear these words in our soul, “Message sent–message received.”

Which one of these six obstacles is the one you struggle with the most? Share your thoughts and struggles in the comments below, and make sure to join our closed Facebook community to go deeper! I also encourage you to re-read that section discussing an area you most need to grow in and determine to make a step this week toward overcoming this hinderance.

Want to learn how to better discern Scripture? Then grab a free copy of our Bible study! We’ve incorporated Bible study application tools, such as reading in context, understanding historical context, using commentaries and more, into our weekly lessons. You can grab a free copy HERE. 

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Intentional growth

Maturity is More Than an Age

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Although I strive for maturity, often I find myself acting more like a spoiled child or touchy teenager than a mature adult.  As children, my sister and I often played ‘grown-up,’ each taking a turn at being the adult–the prized role in our drama.

I was certain I was growing up as I was getting older. However, many of us know those who grew older yet never grew up.  It’s easy for us to identify people who never matured because we often bear the burden for their immaturity: The co-worker who never takes responsibility for mistakes. The neighbors who know-it-all yet display no evidence of this. Or the family members who make every gathering all about them.

On the other hand, we empathize with college students who struggle in their desire to be independent and mature, yet secretly long to become a carefree child again.

In my own life I’ve had to deal with the consequences of immature behavior.  When I blame others or make excuses for my bad choices they see right through me, a sinking feeling develops in my stomach, and I know I’ve lost credibility. If I ask a child to tell someone I’m not at home so I can avoid a caller, I’ve taught a lesson that will take more than words to undo, and my immaturity haunts me. Even though I’m a Christian, it is still hard for me to be Christ-like.  I want to grow up into His image, but my actions reveal I haven’t arrived yet.

My heart breaks, as I’m sure yours does, at the thought that the way I live my life could be a stumbling block to someone’s salvation. So how do we break the cycle we’re in and take steps towards maturity? My journey of discovery began in Hebrews. The writer defines maturity as eating the solid food of Scripture, not just the baby milk or easy stuff (6:1-2). It’s nice to say that God is love, but do we choose to show that trait when someone isn’t so lovely? Similarly, it’s wonderful to know we’re secure in our salvation and have the opportunity to share that great gift with others, but what about sharing the gospel with someone who “doesn’t deserve it”?

These are hard questions, not the questions of a child.

The Hebrew letter challenged the Jews who were looking for an easier way—one with fewer restraints—to mature by continuing to ‘taste’ of the Holy Spirit.  The writer was making two points about growing up in Christ. cheriquote2-may13

First, Real maturity comes by taking responsibility for our own spiritual growth. Click To Tweet That means taking a hard look at our failures, accepting responsibility where we can, and asking God to help us move forward from there. It means being honest in even the little things such as instructing our children how to handle a phone call when we are there but unavailable. These are the little choices we must make everyday. But consistently making good choices is only part of the equation.

The second point in Hebrews is that maturity in Christ means cooperating with the Holy Spirit so we can soak in His rain and produce a good crop (6:7-8).  Hebrew farmers understood this principle. A field that produced good crops was one that had been tilled properly and was able to drink in the rain. On the other hand, a field that had become full of thorns and thistles had not been properly taken care of and, thus, required burning or purification of all the bad seed.

In using this analogy to describe the mature Christian life, Hebrews is painting a clear picture of contrast. A life constantly tilled by going beneath the surface to reveal changes needed in the depths of our hearts, is bringing the hidden into the light and will produce a surface that God can water. Going to church and reading our Bible is a good beginning, but it won't get us beneath the surface until we ask God to reveal what needs changing. Click To Tweet

A life that looks good on the surface but isn't undergoing the hard work of maturity mature under that surface, is going to produce thorns and thistles. Click To Tweet Such a land is not receptive terrain for God’s thirst-quenching Spirit. If we find our lives filled with thorns and thistles: prickly behavior, harsh words, and thorny thoughts, we must first begin anew by setting fire to our fields, recognizing our refusal to grow up or put away these childish things as the sin that it is.

I’m still learning what it means to be a mature person in Christ. But now, when I lose my temper or say things I shouldn’t, when I’m brought through a trial and find myself wanting, I invite the Holy Spirit to come purify my soul. He remakes me anew, turning the ashes of my sin into nourishment for my soul so I might have a prized role in His earthly drama … a vessel worthy of His Name. He promises the same for you.

Let’s talk about this! How often do you sit with God, asking Him to search your heart and reveal areas in need of purging? What areas are you withholding from Him? In what ways are you keeping Him at an emotional distance or perhaps ignoring His voice and prompting? Or, perhaps you’re in the “tilling phase.” Can you share how God is working in you to make you more like His Son?

Cover image for studyShare your thoughts with us in the comments below, because we can all learn from and encourage one another! We also encourage you to subscribe to our daily devotions on Crosswalk and iBelieve to receive encouraging, faith-inspiring devotions sent directly to your inbox each day. You can read them HERE and subscribe by clicking the yellow subscribe button. We also encourage you to grab a free copy of our Becoming His Princess Bible study, which will help you grow in your faith, center your identity in Christ, and anchor your feet in grace. Grab your free ecopy, PDF file, HERE. Grab your free Kindle copy HERE. Or, if you prefer, you can purchase a print copy HERE. If you’d prefer to order this book through Amazon, you can do so HERE.

 

Uncategorized

Difficulties and the Abundant Life

 

In every moment, we have a choice as to what we’ll focus on and, therefore, how we’ll feel. We live in a world that is all about me. What’s in it for me? In fact, when someone gives of himself or herself unconditionally or doesn’t appear to understand the gravity of their situation, how many of us question their motives or their sanity? What are they up to? What’s their agenda?

However, God never intended us to live this way.When someone gives of themselves unconditionally, how many of us question their motives or their sanity? However, God never intended us to live this way. Click To Tweet

In John 10:10b Jesus says, “I have come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” Abundant life refers to life in its abounding fullness of joy and strength for mind, body, and soul” (NIV). As I studied this, I realized that it didn’t say we’d have an abundant life with no problems, or an abundant life with no worries or difficulties.

I have a friend who is a great example of what it means to live life abundantly. Anytime someone asks her how she is doing, her response is, “I’m blessed, blessed beyond measure.”

With that response, you would think she lived a charmed life. You wouldn’t know her daughter was just diagnosed with MS, a crippling disease that will eventually take her life. You wouldn’t know her husband, who is 62, just lost his job—three years before full retirement. You wouldn’t know all of these things because she believes that the gifts she has been given, even the gift of another day with her daughter, makes her blessed. Her focus is on the blessings and she has real joy.

I love to share the story about a group of alumni, highly established in their careers, who got together to visit their old university professor. As they sat in his living room, their conversation turned into complaints about stress in work and life. The professor went to the kitchen and returned with a large pot of coffee and an assortment of cups—porcelain, plastic, glass, crystal—some plain looking, some expensive, some exquisite. As he passed the tray around, he invited them to help themselves to the coffee.

When all the students had a cup of coffee in hand, the professor said, “If you noticed, all the nice looking and expensive cups were taken first, leaving behind the plain and cheap ones. It’s normal for you to want only the best for yourselves. That is the source of your problems and stress. Be assured that the best cup itself adds no quality to the coffee. What all of you really wanted was the coffee, not the cup, but you consciously went for the best cups.” All of the former students looked around the room at the cups each person held. The wise professor held up a plain, ordinary cup and continued, “Now consider this: life is the coffee. Jobs, money, and your situations are the cups. They are just tools to hold and contain life, and the kind of cup you have does not define, nor necessarily change the life you live. By concentrating only on the cup, you fail to enjoy the coffee God has provided. “

God has offered us a life overflowing with joy and steadiness of mind, body, and soul–if only we focus on the coffee and not the cup. The abundant life is attainable for all of us, regardless of our circumstances.The abundant life is attainable for all of us, regardless of our circumstances. Click To Tweet

What about your “cup” are you focused on? Your circumstances, job, finances, struggles, personal weaknesses?

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What are your blessings? The coffee in your cup? Make a list of the blessings God has given you—mind, body, and soul.

Then begin focusing on those blessings (the coffee and not the cup) by practicing the phrase my friend says when asked how she is doing, “I am blessed, blessed beyond measure.”