When Set Backs Hit

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For some, dreams come easy. Most of us want to feel significant, to know we’re called to something miraculous and eternal.

But others have long since lost that childlike expectancy and have traded thoughts of what could be to settle for what is. Maybe an opportunity came that felt so right, so us, our hearts leapt with joy. And we immediately began envisioning where God might take us and that thing. But then opposition hit, and though we persevered for a while, eventually our passion and strength waned until both felt nonexistent.

So we quit.

We stopped trying. Stopped hoping, stopped longing for more or better.

Maybe after years of rejections and setbacks, we came to believe God could never use that gift in that way. Or maybe not at all. Perhaps after years of marital silence and what felt like unanswered prayers, we relinquished our hopes of happily ever after and slowly, quietly, our hearts hardened. We ceased praying for that family member, quit believing that wayward child would return. Quit trusting God would one day give us victory over that sin.

And so, over time, we joined the disillusioned and discouraged, convinced Christ’s promise of abundant life was nothing more than hyperbole.

But at each moment, God gives us a precious gift: the chance to begin again. To send one more letter, offer one more prayer, make one more phone call, or type one more line. Because He’s fully engaged in our journeys, not just our beginnings and ends. As the saying goes, the God who calls us to it, whatever it may be, is the same God who will bring us through it.

All He asks is that we lean on Him and keep stepping. We tend to see difficulties as text pulled from post with background image of mountains and a valley between them.dead ends and detours, but in Scripture, again and again, we see those things that appear to be obstacles are simply opportunities for God’s power and grace to shine.

Imagine being part of the rebuilding crew King Cyrus sent back to Jerusalem. If you’ve been following this blog series, you’ll remember, after a long period of captivity, God stirred the hearts of His people’s captors to send them home—with abundance. He was calling them to rebuild their Temple, the place where He said He’d dwell. I imagine, in this, they would also be rebuilding their faith after having spent decades in a foreign, pagan land where all their desperate pleas for aid appeared to go unanswered for so long.

But then, just when all seemed hopeless, God came through and sent them off with absolutely everything they’d need to fulfill the task He’d assigned. Can you imagine the celebration they felt, upon leaving Babylon? The images and memories that filled their heads as they traveled closer and closer to their homeland?

You can sense their excitement in Psalm 126, written to celebrate their return:

“When the Lord brought back His exiles to Jerusalem, it was like a dream! We were filled with laughter, and we sang for joy. And the other nations said, ‘What amazing things the Lord has done for them.’ Yes, the Lords has done amazing things for us! What joy!” (vs. 1-2, NLT).

Scripture tells us the people joined together “with a unified purpose” (Ez. 3:1) and, though frightened of the locals, began building with courage (Ez. 3:3, NLT). Everyone, including the priests and Levites, who’d returned from exile, worked together. Then, once they laid the foundation, they praised God with trumpets, cymbals, and songs of thanks.

Oh, what a glorious beginning! What joy to be called and commissioned by the King. But then came the opposition. The locals first tried to deceive them, then frightened and discouraged them until, eventually, the building stopped.

They shifted their focus off of the things of God and onto themselves, off of the glorious and miraculous and onto the mundane. They settled for “what was”—a life of ordinary houses occupied by ordinary lives—instead of what could be.

At least for a time—until God once again revived their hearts. Just as He does with us, when we begin to feel tired and discouraged. If that’s where you’re at now, hear this truth: God’s with you. He has a plan for you, and He is, at this moment, walking beside you. He will turn every struggle and setback you encounter to good. Trust Him in this, lean on Him, and keep stepping.

Let’s talk about this! Share your thoughts and stories in the comments below, and join Wholly Loved’s discussion in our Facebook group!

Our online community is a safe place where women can share their struggles, insights, and celebrations. This is a “closed” group where only members can see posts shared and where confidentiality is practiced. We share prayer requests, hurts and insecurities, and ways God is meeting us in our struggles each day. And you’re invited to heal and grow and learn with us!

And make sure to check out our daily devotions on Crosswalk. You can find them HERE.

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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Update on Keep Your Eyes on the Call Post

Hey, y’all,

Sorry for the double post this morning, but I updated the previous (find it HERE) to include a Bible reading plan and didn’t want those of you who receive my posts in your inbox to miss it (as I don’t believe you receive posts a second time when they’re revised).

As I almost always write out of whatever God is showing me during my prayer or Bible reading times, and I will likely be camped out in the time when Ezra and others are rebuilding God’s Temple …

For those wanting to follow along with my Bible reading (as I have a feeling many of my preceding posts will stem from that), here’s a daily reading list. (I’m reading out of a chronological Bible so am simultaneously in Ezra, Haggai, Daniel, and Psalms.) I’ll share some questions you can use each day to help you process what God might be telling you below. They’re pulled from Day One Option One of Wholly Loved’s Becoming His Princess Bible study.

Day one: 2 Chronicles 36:22-23, Ezra 1:1-11

Day two: Ezra 2

Day three: Psalm 126, 147

Day four: Ezra 3

Day five: Ezra 4

Day six: Spend a day reviewing, journaling on, and praying over what God showed you during your day one-five Bible reading time.

Questions you can work through as you read your daily Bible passages:

Who are the main characters in this passage?

What does this passage reveal about the human condition, such as:

  • Mankind’s rebellion against/obedience toward God?
  • Mankind’s attempts to fill their needs apart from Him or relying on Him for their needs?
  • Mankind’s attempts to reach Him on their own terms?

What does this passage reveal regarding God’s nature?

What does/might this passage reveal about God’s plans?

How might this passage reveal mankind’s need for the gospel?

In what ways are you/have you been similar to one or more of the characters in this passage?

What might God want you to know through this section of Scripture?

What might He be asking you to do?

End your reading in prayer, asking God to help you apply the biblical truths discovered and live out whatever you sense Him impressing on your heart.

What’s Holding You Back?

Five to seven years ago, God nudged me to start a web-based children’s ministry. This was a major learning curve, but God was faithful, and day-by-day, the ministry grew. I traveled around the United States, from Southern California, to Maryland, speaking to various Sunday school classes, youth groups, Bible study groups, Christian school classes, and homeschool groups. (I also performed monologues, embarrassing, but effective.) My sister joined me, making the endeavor all the sweeter.

A large portion of our ministry was online. Because we believed in the power of story, we turned everything into a story, from biblical history and apologetics to devotionals.

But then things got hard. Web-hackers came in droves. One got in on my birthday and messed with a page, moving the text around. My computer started acting like it had influenza, crashing, locking up, digesting large documents. We never lost our audience, but experienced so many problems coming from so many different directions, I began to spend ALL my time doing defensive-web work and 0 time proclaiming the gospel. My sister got busy, and before long, I continued alone, climbing a steep, gravel slope, and getting nowhere.

Sermon after sermon, verse after verse, reminded me we weren’t to go it alone. That God provides partners to help us complete the ministry He has for us. This frustrated and hurt me, because I felt He had abandoned me and my ministry. After all, I didn’t choose to go it alone. I lost my partner. I didn’t realize He was laying the groundwork for a future ministry, one I wasn’t even aware of at that time.

At first I persevered, but the more I prayed about it, the more I felt God pulling me from the ministry. It didn’t make sense. Had I heard Him wrong when He first called me to it? But no, the call had been clear and I’d received ample confirmation. Had I messed up? Failed?

The latter question worried me for some time because I couldn’t wrap my head around why God would call me to launch a ministry, then pull me from it. So I kept trudging through, fighting with my computer and the hackers, ignoring the still, small voice that called me to move on.

Our site had a store. When hackers got into my online store and blocked me out, my stomach sank. I can’t quite describe the feeling. Luckily all the information on our site was encrypted and secure, but I was done–out of my league and ill-equipped to deal with the onslaught. All I wanted to do was tell people about Jesus, yet, all I was doing was fixing computer problems. Pointless, frustrating, discouraging.

So I shut it down. It broke my heart, left me more confused than ever. I began to question my ability to hear God. And again, I felt like I’d failed.

And then I stumbled upon Christ to the World Ministry, an international ministry that uses…stories…(radio dramas) to proclaim the gospel of Christ. When Dr. Art Criscoe, my editor, invited me to join the CTTW team, suddenly it all made sense. The earlier ministry wasn’t a mistake. I hadn’t heard wrong. It was merely a stepping stone, training, so I would be equipped for the one God had planned. And now, I can do what I love–write–without having to worry about computer stuff or hackers or tax forms. Plus, God’s expanded my reach, from the US to world-wide.

And had I clung to the latter, I would have missed out.

Closing our ministry was painful. Confusing. Discouraging. I had no idea what lay ahead, and I wanted to cling to the familiar, even though it wasn’t working. But to move ahead, I had to let go.

The same was true of the Israelites mentioned in the book of Ezra. After 70 years of captivity, the exiles from Judah were allowed to return. Almost 50,000 made the long journey home, but many stayed in Persia. They’d grown comfortable with their new lifestyle. Many had accumulated wealth, and the journey back to Jerusalem was long and rough. For them, embarking on the unknown wasn’t worth giving up what they had. They wouldn’t let go and therefore, remained in the land of their captivity.

As 2012 starts, I challenge you to spend some time in prayer asking God what He has for planned for you this year. Is there something you need to let go of in order to follow after His better? Is there a sin or time-sapping habit getting in the way?

Or maybe you’re still in captivity, clinging to a life that’s not really a life, afraid to take that step of faith. But like the Jewish captives, God longs to bring you freedom. The journey may not always be easy, but it will be glorious, healing, freeing, fulfilling. And you won’t have to go it alone. God will walk with, will carry you if He needs to, every step of the way.

He’s calling to you. Release the death-grip you’re holding onto your life. Let it go, so you may live.

Prayerfully listen to the words of the following song, with an open heart.

Let’s talk about this!

Join me at Living by Grace as we encourage one another to live in full surrender, letting go of those things that get in God’s way as we press toward the goal He has mapped out for us.

What about you? Has God asked you to let go of something? What made that hard? And what was the result?

Begin again, and again, and again…

About three months ago, I shared a story about a woman who visited our church. Her son was in his senior year and she desperately wanted a do-over. (You can read the original post here.) Three, maybe four weeks ago, she came again, and sat in the pew behind us. After service, I asked her how she was doing, and more importantly, how were things with her son. She beamed, a smile spreading across her face and launched into a story of sit-down dinners, one-on-one time with her son, and clearly defined boundaries. She’d received her do-over.

Clearly she couldn’t go back and undo the previous seventeen years, but by determining to start fresh, now, she salvaged what was left of her son’s last year at home and paved the way for years to come.

Last night and this morning, I’ve been reading through Ezra. He and the Israelites returned to Jerusalem after seventy years of exile. This wasn’t an easy trip, and many stayed in Babylon. The journey to Jerusalem was costly, long, and dangerous, lasting for months. The people they encountered along the way were hostile, then when they got to Jerusalem, the city was in ruins and many of the people had intermarried with pagans. And yet, despite the arduous journey, the difficult task and the discouraging circumstances, God called them to persevere, and begin anew. They were to rebuild the temple.

“And God stirred the hearts of the priests and Levites and the leaders of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin to go to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple of the Lord. And all the neighbors assisted by giving them articles of silver and gold, supplies for the journey, and livestock. They gave them many valuable gifts in addition to all the voluntary offerings.” Ezra 1:5-6 (NLT)

So the rest was easy, right? God called, God provided, and everything else just fell into place?

Hardly. They experienced opposition and became discouraged. In modern terms, we’d say they hit one closed door after another.

Ha! Couldn’t resist that one.

Does opposition mean a closed door? Will change always come easily?

Like the story of the mother I shared with you, the Israelites were given a chance to start anew, but it wouldn’t be easy. Not only did they face outer opposition, but I’m certain their hearts rebelled at every turn. Fear, anger, bitterness, discouragement churning into a faith-sapping mess. Opposition became so great, the building ceased for an entire year. Can you imagine what this must have felt like? They’d been freed from exile, likely resulting in a mountain top experience, only to be beat down on a long, treacherous journey. Then, when they were about at their end, exhausted and discouraged, they found their land filled with pagans. But wait, God showed up, and that tiny glimmer of hope kindled upon their release fanned into flame…only to be extinguished again. How many more trials could they face? At what point could they wash their hands in defeat?

Change never comes easy, and for me, it’s a constant battle, one that requires diligence, prayer, and a steady dose of accountability. But regardless the opposition, regardless how difficult the journey, God calls us to keep on keeping on. And the beauty of the gospel is that each day, we have been given the opportunity to begin again. You didn’t like how you treated your husband the day before? So start fresh today. Have years of arguing and eye-rolling caused a drift between you and your teen? So begin anew. It is never too late to make an about face.

If you’re like me, you’re rather tired of the whole New Year’s resolution business. Why set resolutions when I know I’m going to break them? Because if I don’t set them, if I don’t approach life with intentionality, purposefully moving forward in continual surrender to my Savior, I’ll slip in the other direction. It’s an entropy thing. Whatever isn’t growing has already begun to die.

Starting in January, I’m going to strengthen the positive habits and behaviors that draw my heart to God and others, trusting Him to reduce those negative behaviors and habits that pull me from Him and lead to isolation.

But first, I’m going to begin with a day or two of prayerful evaluation, asking God to show me those attitudes and behaviors–those negative thought processes–He wants to remove.

The first one–the idea that change will be easy. I’m going to throw that one out, followed by its partner, that I am incapable of change.

All things are possible with God, and as I draw near to Him and meditate on His holy Word, He will mold me into the woman He wants me to be, day by day, mistake by mistake. It won’t be a perfect journey. I’ll likely fall enough times to become permanently bruised, but I know I’ll never fall further than His hand. And each time He catches me, I’ll learn something new about His love and grace. And each time I persevere, I’ll learn something new about myself.

Would you like to join me?

Perhaps you’ve never experienced the ultimate about face that comes from surrendering to Christ as your Lord and Savior. God is our Creator. He created us and He created our world. As Creator, He has the right to set the rules, and the consequences. We have broken His rules, each one of us. The Bible calls that sin, and none of us are without sin. The Bible also tells us that the wages–the consequences–of sin are death. Our sin separates us from God and from others. But the beauty of the gospel is that God has made a way for us to have fellowship–unhindered intimacy–with Him. Jesus, God’s sinless Son, came to earth to cleanse us from all unrighteousness and reconcile us to the Father. Jesus came down to earth in the form of a man, took our sins upon Himself, and died the death you and I deserved. In Jesus, God’s justice was satisfied, and His mercy revealed. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, if you confess your sins and turn from them, and trust in Jesus as your Lord and Savior, promising to honor and obey Him to the best of your ability, you will be given new life. You will be granted the ultimate do over!

If you have never experienced this new life and would like to learn more about it, or perhaps would like to pray with someone, feel free to email me and we can arrange a time to talk. (Don’t worry, I’ve got free long distance. grin.) My email address is jenniferaslattery@gmail.com

Loved this video, and their explanation of the gospel. Please don’t misunderstand my post. I am not advocating self-made righteousness. I am encouraging surrendered obedience. They explain it soooooo much better! (And love, love, love the song! You’ve been remade and today is a new day!)