Reconsidering the Woman at the Well

A “prostitute.” A “harlot.” A “promiscuous woman.” These are all words traditionally used to describe the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4. Like Mary Magdalene, she is often judged for her past as a sinner and as a person with little-to-no value due to her circumstances. But is this characterization accurate?

John’s Account

At the beginning of John 4, Jesus and His disciples arrived in the Samaritan village of Sychar on their way to Galilee. Normally, Jews traveled for three days around Sychar to ensure they would have no contact with Samaritans, a group they considered unclean; but the Bible says that Jesus and His disciples had to go through the village (but no explanation is given as to why) (Lizorkin-Eyzenberg).

Once they arrived at Sychar, the disciples went into the village to buy food. Jesus, who was very tired, sat beside Jacob’s well (a field near the village) to rest. Shortly after, a Samaritan woman approached to draw water. Although the woman was never named, we know from the story that her interactions with Jesus and the revelation she was in the presence of the long-awaited Messiah impacted an entire village. However, we also learn she was married five times and living with a sixth man to whom she was not married, a discovery that has frequently painted her in a harsh light.

Reconsidering the Samaritan Woman’s Character

Interestingly, the Samaritan woman’s assumed naughty behavior is not commented on directly by Jesus as sinful, unlike the adulterous woman to whom He told to “go and sin no more.” In addition, John, as part of his account, never stated the cause of the woman’s situation either. It seems possible this omission may be on purpose as it is likely not the focus of the story; however, it has traditionally been used as the emphasis. Why do I say her alleged sin is not the primary piece of the story? Let’s take a look at some common scenarios this unnamed woman might have faced that have nothing to do with sinful behavior that could have led to her tragic marital situation.

The Widow

It was not uncommon in the First Century for a young teenage girl to marry a much older man. The life expectancy was short and becoming a widow more than once was a reality for many women of antiquity for that part of the world. Could it be possible the woman at the well experienced the death of at least one of her five husbands? It seems very likely (Crown, Silver).

Marriage Laws

Some Biblical researchers have suggested the Samaritan woman may have been involved in a Levirate marriage; however, this scenario, although possible, was not allowed by Samaritan and Levitical laws (see Leviticus 18:16 and Deutoronomy 25:5-10) and has been strictly followed (most of the time) for what is known from ancient Samaritan historical writings. The Levirate marriage was the practice of a widow marrying the dead husband’s brother to provide financial security and continue the brother’s family line.

History suggests Samaritans may have practiced Levirate marriages at some point since Jewish women, for whom this practice was common, married into Samaritan families upon occasion to reduce the genetic consequences of continuous intermarriage of extended family members. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume the rules and laws may have changed slightly over time, but due to poor records on marriage laws and customs from that timeframe, it is difficult to know for sure (Atteberry, Crown, and New World Encyclopedia).

It was also acceptable for Samaritan men to have more than one wife, especially if the first wife was barren. Although the law legally allowed this form of marriage, Jesus’ definition was between one man and one woman only. Some theologians have suggested that perhaps Jesus was not pointing to her sin with the last man she was with but simply pointing to an arrangement that was not recognized by Him (Crown).

Occasionally, it was necessary for a woman who had no dowry to be taken in by a distant male relative (which was common). This is also a possibility as she would have been living with a man to whom she was not married (Crown).

Divorce

Serial divorce initiated by the woman at the well has also been brought up as a possible reason she had so many husbands, but that situation seems the most unlikely. Since women have to have a male relative help with divorce initiations, it would have been unheard of to have any respectable man help her divorce several different men. It would have been considered extremely taboo in that part of the world during the First Century (Crown).

Is it possible she initiated at least one divorce of the five marriages? Yes, it is possible. It would not be unthinkable that multiple men may have divorced her. It was much easier for a man to divorce his wife than for a woman to divorce her husband (Crown).

The Prostitute

Could the woman at the well have been a prostitute? If she initiated divorce, she may have lost any dowry or other assets to her ex-husband. In that ancient culture, no husband would have meant little or no financial security, personal value, or future hopes. She would have been at high risk for living on the streets, starving, and destitute. It also seems reasonable to assume that if she were a prostitute, no one in her village would have listened to her testimony of her encounter with Jesus because her standing within her own community would have been so low (Atteberry).

Final Thoughts

Honestly, the more I consider any of the scenarios listed above, the more I feel compassion for this woman. Her past seems to indicate she was most likely a victim of her circumstances instead of a sinful, wicked woman. The one fact that stands out the most about the Samaritan woman’s story to me is that Jesus saw her worth. He spoke about her situation which carried a lot of personal significance about her financial situation, standing within her own community, and the likely deep lack she felt. In addition, Jesus, a Jewish teacher, talked to an “unclean” Samaritan who was a woman. Then, He asked to share her water vessel which would have caused him to be considered ritually unclean. Any of those things on their own would have been considered odd by the culture of the day (Atteberry).

It seems the account tells so much more than about a woman at the well. It was a divine appointment which led the first evangelist, a woman, as recorded by John to reach a people separated from God. Jesus offered worth and restoration to a broken woman; she took the same hope and restoration to her community.

Beloved, if you carry shame and unworthiness, consider the story of the woman at the well. Like Joseph, who’s tragic circumstances led to the salvation of his people (by the way, his bones were buried very closely to Jacob’s well), this unnamed woman’s story follows a similar path (Bible Study Tools).

No shame is too great. No brokenness too unworthy for God to look beyond your past and speak restoration over you.

Sincerely,

Heather
Resources

Atteberry, Shawna, The Voice, http://www.crivoice.org/WT-samaritan.html

Bible Study Tools, “At Jacob’s Well and at Sychar”, http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/the-fourfold-gospel/by-sections/at-jacobs-well-and-at-sychar.html

Crown, Alan, Jewish Women’s Archive “Samaritan Sect”, http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/samaritan-sect

Lizorkin-Eyzenberg, Eli and Loden, Lisa, “Reconsidering the Samaritan Woman”, http://jewishstudies.eteacherbiblical.com/john-4-reconsidering-the-samaritan-woman/

New World Encyclopedia, “Levirate Marriage”, http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Levirate_Marriage

Silver, Sandra, Early Church History, “Longevity in the Ancient World”, http://earlychurchhistory.org/daily-life/longevity-in-the-ancient-world/

The Tale of Two Prodigals and Radical Love

Introduction

In 2012, a detailed study into the parallel meanings of the parable of the Prodigal Son ignited a deep passion within me for biblical research. I realized in that moment I had a hunger for finding depth within the Scriptures beyond simply reading the words.  That self discovery was one of the

 primary reasons I started the In-Place Missionary blog to help you, dear reader, look for hidden truths and bits of gold on your own. It’s vital to read the Bible and understand what you profess to believe. It’s a critical piece to understanding your identity in Christ and God’s love for you. The more nuggets of gold you find hidden within the pages, the more God’s nature and love is revealed. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

The Prodigal Son Revelation

I’ve been in a church most of my life, and I’ve probably heard the story of the Prodigal Son over a hundred times (seriously); however, I only knew the parable at its surface: a young, immature son leaves home and spends his inheritance on material things and has to return home to a father who is thankfully happy to have his son back. It took a small group discussion, a close friend with a powerful gift of teaching, and my own follow-up research to realize there is more to the story. Yes, these themes are important; but, as with many other stories and accounts throughout the Bible, there is more to discover than what you initially see.

Theme One — The Lost Son

The first theme of the Prodigal Son parable is the narrative about the youngest son. He grew up with the comforts of his father’s estate and had a responsible, older brother who worked the fields of his father’s property. The young son was eager to see the world at any cost; and, as a result, acted selfishly and foolishly.

In the beginning of the story, the youngest son asked his father for his inheritance, something that was generally not common in that culture until after the father’s death. However, the father agreed to his son’s request; and as quickly as the estate was split between the two heirs, the youngest son left home for his grand adventure in a far away land.

Once he left home, we learn the young man made a series of regrettable mistakes. He quickly squandered his inheritance and indulged in wild living. He lived a lavish life of blissful immaturity and youthful invincibility. However, before long, he ran out of money.

At this point in the story, he probably should have returned home. His pockets and his belly were empty, but his pride and determination likely fueled his decision to stay in the far away land in spite of his dire situation.

Eventually, the wayward son got a job feeding pigs for a farmer. The wage was pitifully small, and he frequently couldn’t afford food for himself. As he felt his hungry stomach ache for a long awaited meal for yet another night, he finally decided to make the long journey home and beg for his father to take him in as a servant to make up for his misdeeds. The young son was surprised when his father hugged him and called him “son”, ignoring the prodigal’s comments on his unworthiness.

I don’t know about you, but I can identify with the younger son. He was immature and strong-willed. He believed he knew what was best for his own life; but, obviously, he didn’t. After he lost all his inheritance, he forgot his identity as a son. He felt undeserving of his father’s love. This loss of identity is evident by his plan to ask his father to allow him to become a servant. Have you been in that place? I have.

Theme Two — The Second Prodigal

The second theme is all about the second prodigal — the older son. He was the dependable, outwardly wiser son who always tried to do things for his father to earn his rightful place.

Once the estate was divided, he decided to remain with his father. His choice to stay home may have appeared virtuous, but his character was revealed in his reaction over his father’s response to his little brother’s homecoming. When he saw a celebration happening for his irresponsible, younger brother, he became angry and said to his father, “All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!” (Luke 15:29‭-‬30)

At this point in the parable, the older brother thought his father would love him more than his brother because his actions were righteous. However, his motivation to take those actions were not pure. The ugly truth about this self-righteous attitude is it caused him to lack compassion for his little brother, compare himself to someone he felt was “less deserving”, and miss what was already available to him. The oldest son already had everything that was of his father’s estate, but he didn’t recognize it because he thought he couldn’t obtain it without first gaining approval (Wow, that hits me right in the heart!).

I can also identify with this second prodigal son. I too am guilty of the religious mindset to earn God’s favor at times. It is important to keep the Lord’s commands and follow His will, but the key question should always be what motivates us to obey the Lord? He cares more about the condition of our hearts than our words and deeds.

Consider the pharisees and how they were portrayed in the New Testament. They thought they were better than everyone who called themselves a Jew because they knew and kept the laws better than most other people could, but they missed the whole reason for following the law (Matthew 22:34-40). Also, take a look at these hard words spoken by Jesus: “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.'” (Matthew 7:21‭-‬22) Simply stated, God wants us to choose to make the right choices as a byproduct of love.

Theme Three — the Unwavering Love of the Father

The third and most important theme of the story is the father’s response to his wayward son. He was patient and longsuffering. He remained loving despite how his son’s choices grieved him, and he continued hoping his son would return to him.

During ancient times, it would have been likely taboo for a son to ask his father for his inheritance. It would have been the equivalent to saying, “I can’t wait for you to die so I can have my portion of the estate and do what I want!” How many times have we had this attitude towards God the Father, and He chooses to love us anyway? The thought makes me weep.

Even after such a hurtful request, the father divided his estate and gave it to his sons. He never berated or belittled the younger son because, out of abundant love, he allowed him to exercise free will. He was old enough to leave home afterall.

This section of the parable reveals an important detail about the nature of God. He’s a gentleman who, out of the truest expression of love, allows us to make our own choices even if they lead us away from Him. He doesn’t coerce or demean to force us to change our minds. Alternately, He grieves for us knowing we’ll have to experience the consequences of poor decisions. Instead of responding with anger, He is filled with compassion. Like the father in this story, He waits every day and night, looking intently for us to come back home. He wants nothing more than for us to return to His embrace.

When the son finally returned home, the Bible says the father saw him “from a long way off.” This detail indicates the father watched for his son, waiting eagerly for him to come home. Although the son expected to grovel at his father’s feet and beg to become a servant, his father restored him to sonship and a place of honor in the family. He dressed the son in the finest robe and placed a ring on his finger (signifying to whose house he belonged and the level of authority given to him). The father even threw a party and feast for his young son!

At this point, you may be asking like I did, “Why would the father not be mad? His son blew all his inheritance. His dad would have been right to be upset. The son didn’t deserve a party. He’s lucky he didn’t have to scrub the floors of his father’s estate for the rest of his life.” This is the part of the story that still amazes me, honestly. The father made a profound statement that provides a clue as to why he’s rejoicing and why Father God does the same with real life prodigals like you and me (my paraphrased summary): “Son, when you left home, it was like you were dead. But now you are home and brought to life again!”

When we make choices that cut us off from God, our source, we wither and die. In contrast, when we return to the Father, we come back to life again. We cannot survive without being connected to the source of our identity and lifeblood (John 15:5). It is only when we realize our desperate need for the Presence of God and a deep relationship with Him that we experience abundant life. Without Him, we are starved like the son trying to make his own way, feeding pigs to survive. Thank goodness for God’s unfailing love!

Final Thoughts

The most transformational meaning from this simple parable is understanding who the Father is and how He sees us. Do we expect God to wait and watch for us to do wrong so He can punish us? Do we expect our sins will cause us to lose our sonship? Do we believe God loses interest in us because we fail Him? He is none of those things, of course, because He is the very definition of love. He is not like earthly fathers who may be well-meaning but flawed. He does not have the same mindset or emotional responses we do. We would be wrong to try to assign human qualities to Him out of our personal perception and experiences with our own fathers.

Son or Daughter of the King, if you’ve made poor choices, feel unworthy or unredeemable, know this: Abba Father is always waiting for you to return home. He longs for your fellowship and companionship although He doesn’t need it. He chooses you anyway! His desire is to draw you back to Himself, bring you back to life, and watch you thrive. He knows that when we are most alive, we are most effective to show others around us the love of Christ and bring restoration to this broken world.

“We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!” – Luke 15:32

With love,

Heather

His Eye is on the Sparrow

What is the price of five sparrows — two copper coins? Yet God does not forget a single one of them. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows. – Luke 12:6-7 

I couldn’t believe it. God just used a faithful friend to give me turn-by-turn directions for something seemingly insignificant. How could it be that the God of the universe would care about something as small as a piece of code I was writing for a work form? Even now, my mind has a hard time catching up with my heart which knows God cares about all of the details of our lives, big and small. I hope my true story (from two weeks ago!) will encourage you.

As hour four quickly closed, I felt no closer to figuring out how to write a particular piece of application code that my supervisor wanted than when I first started. I admit to feeling a little hopeless at that point. I may be in the computer field, but I am not a programmer. I stared at the code with frustration for a long minute.

“Ask me,” the Lord stirred within in my heart in that familiar still, small voice.

“Okay,” I responded obediently, unsure what to ask exactly. “Lord, will you point me to the right resource?”

A few minutes after hearing nothing more, I texted a friend who knew the code language that I needed (I laugh now as I write this post because I think I felt like I needed to help the Lord answer my prayer). My friend tried to help and pointed me to a couple of sites, but my particular code issue was not something he was familiar with writing. The sites were useful suggestions, but after another hour fiddling with the code, I realized I was getting nowhere fast. As a last resort, I used my lunch to post a plea to Facebook for help.

“Now, what do I do, Lord?” I sighed.

A minute later, my smart phone buzzed with a message from another friend named Faith who responded to my request for help on Facebook (my friend’s name is not actually “Faith.” However, per her request, I changed her name as part of the permission she gave me to use her part of the conversation that you will read below).

“Did you ask the Holy Spirit about the code?” Faith asked.

“I asked Him for a solution,” I wrote back quickly.

“I agree He’ll lead you to a solution. I’m asking for a word of knowledge about it. I have no idea in the natural [physical world]. I’ll let you know what I hear in a few minutes.”

About ten minutes later, I received a follow-up message from Faith, “There’s something in the second part of the code. Does that make sense at all?”

I went back to my original code and started at the second sub statement, which happened to be the part I was struggling with all morning. Knowing that she had not seen the code and wasn’t a programmer, I started laughing at my excitement at what the Lord was doing through her, “Yes, your response makes perfect sense! I still need to get clarification on what to do with the second part though.”

“Okay, I didn’t know if codes have parts. LOL! I’ll ask what to do with it,” she confirmed before shortly continuing a minute later, “Delete something is what I heard. Like there’s too much maybe?” she mentioned.

I instantly recognized what she meant. “Yes, I think I did add too much to my code,” I agreed.

Although Faith could not hear me, I was laughing again as I looked at the code and removed what I suspected was incorrect from the overall module. When I was done making changes, I eagerly tested the code, but encountered an error.  However, I remained determined and I felt in my spirit that we were on the right path.

“I have no idea what I’m talking about,” Faith texted.

“That is funny to me, because I do know what you’re saying,” I confirmed. “I deleted the problematic code, but something is still missing.”

“Okay, I’m asking,” she responded and quickly followed up with “I am hearing something about a closing statement. Do they have those in programming?”

“Yes, closing statements are in programming” I confirmed.

I scrolled to the last closing statement, but nothing looked wrong. Everything appeared to be in order, and the syntax appeared correct. While I was still searching for my mistake, I received another message from Faith.

“Maybe not in the closing closing statement but one further up in the code?” she urged without knowing I was still struggling.

Her words suddenly made sense. Of course, the issue was with the end sub statement at the tail-end of the second sub command. It was the same code I had wrestled with all day. Immediately, I found the syntax error and corrected it. My fingers couldn’t press the run button fast enough when I realized that error was likely the last barrier to making the code work. Believe it or not, it worked! Perfectly! Only God could do that. I am still in awe.  

I’ve thought over the last several days why God would do such a seemly small thing. That piece of code would never have cured cancer or solved the problems of the world. It was a mundane script for a simple operational purpose at work. Why would God bother to help me with something so menial?

I believe God is involved in the details of our lives for many reasons. He’s a good Daddy. He loves us. It’s also a testimony of His great love in the little adventures of our everyday lives for others to see. If the whole event teaches someone about His love in even the smallest way, I feel it was worth doing and certainly worth sharing.

Peace and love to you, and may you experience His reality in your life — even in the smallest of things. If He cares for each tiny sparrow, He will certainly love you that much more!

Sincerely,
Heather

The Dreamer, the Deceiver and the Unbeliever

“For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.” – 1 Corinthians 4:20

Does God still give gifts of apostleship, prophecy, miracles, healing, discerning spirits, words of wisdom, words of knowledge, tongues and interpreting tongues to Christians today? Theologians and otherstackofbibles_sm Christian experts frequently debate this subject. As a result, I decided to write a post about this question, not from an argumentative standpoint, but as a way to understand my own personal journey and remain grounded in the Scriptures. Over the years as I studied the Bible, examined the Greek, and witnessed God’s hand in my life and the lives of others, my thoughts about the existence and use of miraculous gifts has shifted.

Early in my Christian journey, I regularly dreamed of real events involving friends and family which had not yet occurred. These dreams were so startling they prompted me to engage and encourage the person I had dreamt about. As I interacted with friends about what was happening to me, I quickly learned these gifts were not considered “normal” within my Christian social circles. As a result, for many years I ignored these gifts which I often called “curses” because I did not understand them. I usually kept them to myself. At the time, I was very young, and I didn’t understand what those gifts are, why they happen, and from whom they are given (1 Corinthians 12:11).

As the years passed, I saw spiritual abuse by people within other denominations who claimed to have gifts like mine, using it as a gimmick to get money from gullible people. It became easy to distance myself from those false prophets. I already wanted nothing to do with my gifts and primarily went to churches that believed in cessationism, meaning the miraculous gifts ceased with the 12 Apostles. I convinced myself, despite my own experiences, that all people claiming to operate in the miraculous were frauds and fakes or they were fooling themselves.

More years passed. I knew doctrine. I knew Jesus saved me, but my spiritual life was stunted and without power for various reasons. Life was often distracting and difficult at times. God was real, but I didn’t see Him actively moving in my life; and at the time, I so desperately needed Him to show up.

Then the year 2012 happened. That was the year God encountered me and everything changed. He used a tiny prayer room, Spirit-filled Christians from different denominations, and the wife of the minister to physically heal me from an anxiety disorder that I had suffered from my whole life. I was healed in an instant, and my life transformed forever because God heard the prayers of Brothers and Sisters that night.

As I walked through the days and weeks that followed, the transformation in my life became more evident. I wanted others to know what Jesus did for me. Most of all, I wanted other people to be free. If he did it for me, I knew he’d do it again for someone else. However, as soon as I shared my testimony, I met familiar resistance. Many people around me didn’t know what to think of my story. Some try to argue that God didn’t use that night to heal me, but it was tough to disagree that I was not the same person. What really happened to me?

Soon after being healed, I moved to a non-denominational, charismatic church and witnessed believers and non-believers become healed from cancer, injuries, mental oppression, and illnesses. I also met other

Drawn for me by a lady at my church (a stranger at the time) who didn't know my story, but she said felt like God was saying He was making a beautiful flower from the ashes.

Drawn for me by a lady at my church (a stranger at the time) who didn’t know my story, but she said felt like God was saying He was making a beautiful flower from the ashes.

Christians who prophetically dreamed like me. Suddenly I was normal and ordinary which was comforting.

Experiences are great, but they can be deceiving. I appreciate them because they provide valuable perspective, but what do the Scriptures say about the miraculous gifts? The best answer I can give you is “read your Bible.” His Word is my litmus test. To settle the issue in my own heart once and for all, I researched many verses and dissected them in their original Greek. Some of the verses I reviewed were:

  • Acts 2:17-18 a reference to the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy in Joel 2:28-29 stating God would pour out His Spirit upon all flesh in the last days [Greek lexicon]
  • Acts 4:10-16 the Apostles were identified as being sent by Jesus and performing miracles in His name and under His authority
  • 1 Corinthians 13:8-10 the gifts of prophecy and tongues are temporary [Greek lexicon]
  • 1 Corinthians 14:21-22 – the gift of tongues signifies that salvation is available to gentiles (also see Isaiah 28:11-12)
  • Romans 8:24 a possible connection to the “day of perfection” in 1 Corinthians 13:8-10 [Greek lexicon]
  • Ephesians 2:20 a reference about the gentiles being included into the family of God upon the foundation of previous apostles and prophets. This verse is often used to state that apostles and prophets are no longer needed because Jesus, as the cornerstone, completed the Temple of the Lord.
  • Ephesians 4:11-13 Gifts and offices of the Spirit including apostles with a little “a” [Greek lexicon]
  • James 1:25 This passage talks about the perfect law has already come to compare it to 1 Corinthians 13:8-10 and Romans 8:24 [Greek lexicon]
  • Hebrews 2:3-4 Apostles (with a capital “A”) were identified as those who had been with Christ and performed signs and miracles in His name [Greek lexicon]

I hope the verses above help you come to your own conclusions, because after all the research I’ve done, I have decided the answer to whether or not God still regularly gives these gifts is not definitive. Phrases like “prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless…but when the time of perfection comes, these things will become useless” (1 Corinthians 13:8-10, emphasis added) and “[Miraculous gifts] will continue until we all come into such unity in our faith…” (Ephesians 4:11-13, emphasis added) are not easily discernible. What is the “time of perfection” and “unity in our faith”? Do these passages refer to Jesus when He walked among us, or maybe they refer to when we die and we’re united with Christ? There aren’t clear answers to these questions, and the Greek fails to define these verses in enough detail. And what do the experts say? That answer also varies depending on whom you ask. What now?

At this point, I pray. I ask God for wisdom. I ask Him for discernment. I examine my experiences with a critical eye. I ask myself if those experiences have been tested or can be tested (1 John 4:1-3). Do the experiences proclaim the Gospel and point to Jesus, or do they simply exalt a person? If they do not point to Jesus, they are not from the Lord.

No matter what stance you take on this issue, it’s not the primary focus of our lives. That designation is reserved for Jesus alone. I hope this post encourages you on your faith journey.

In His love,

Heather

Giants in the Promised Land

She stared at the monumental task before her. Its completion seemed impossible. She understood how David must have felt with only a sling and a stone to take down a giant. Her mind raced. Her heart jumped. How would she get through this moment? Wasn’t she in the center of God’s Will? Didn’t she go where the Lord had called? Why was each step such an enormous effort? Did the Lord intend for her to fail?

I can think of countless times I’ve experienced that exact distressing scenario, wondering if maybe I heard God incorrectly or somehow removed myself from His Will and protection over my life. It’s not a fun place to be. Sometimes, we further confuse ourselves when we agree Arrivingwith well-meaning but uninformed clichés, suggesting God will always remove every obstacle and open every door when we’re on the right path.

It can feel distressing when you reach a new chapter, a momentary “promised land” in life and quickly discover it’s not going to be easy due to “giants” (obstacles, challenges, struggles, problems or seemingly impossible situations) in the land before you, threatening to spoil your victory and ruin you at every turn.

One evening a few months ago during my prayer time with God, I was particularly upset and confused about a giant in my life. I complained to my Abba Father for thirty minutes, asking Him why my mission field was enormously difficult and expressing how discontent it made me feel. I can almost imagine as I whined that God was calmly listening with an “are-you-done-throwing-your-pity-party-yet-so-I-can-talk” type of look on His face.

“Please speak to me through your Scripture, Lord,” I asked piously after concluding my rant (I understand if you’re snickering at me, dear reader). Little did I know how much God would use that request to teach me about how He felt my journey was going.

Soon after I voiced my request, the reference Acts 20:19-21 came to mind. As I wrote it down, another reference, Zechariah 4:10, popped in my head. I quickly wrote it below the first reference.

I was curious to know what the verses said as they were not immediately familiar references to me. I opened my Amplified Bible and leafed through until I found the first passage from Acts:

“Serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and trials which came on me because of the plots of the Jews [against me]; [you know] how I did not shrink back in fear from telling you anything that was for your benefit, or from teaching you in public meetings, and from house to house, solemnly [and wholeheartedly] testifying to both Jews and Greeks, urging them to turn in repentance to God and [to have] faith in our Lord Jesus Christ [for salvation].”

The verse and section in context was Paul explaining that his ministry was difficult from the first day he entered his mission field in Asia and often accompanied by tears and trials. However, he concluded the end result was worth the struggle because it furthered the Gospel and glorified God.

I was floored. Did I just read that right? Did I not just complain to God about the giants in my mission field being too tall and the road too hard and too long from the first day I began this journey?

“Okay,” I mused aloud. “You’ve got my attention.”

I flipped eagerly to the other verse, now acutely aware the Lord was speaking clearly about that which I was groaning:

“Who [with reason] despises the day of small things (beginnings)? For these seven [eyes] shall rejoice when they see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel. They are the eyes of the Lord which roam throughout the earth.”

The second piece of Scripture was a bit more difficult to figure out because of the metaphors, but with some simple research, I eventually understood. The passage was about the construction of the Temple and God’s pleasure as He oversaw the building process. Maybe I’m just seeing what I want to see, but the message was clear in my mind: The Father saw the construction within me, His Temple, growing pains and all, and was pleased.

I sat in my chair for several minutes, staring at the verses I just read.  I was speechless. The words were not easy to read.  God was delighted with how my journey was going. But was I? Not so much.

I wanted God to simplify my mission and agree with me to take away the obstacles, but He didn’t. Instead, I found myself having to face my giant head on. But I never fought the battle alone.

God often shows up in the most incredible ways in those dark moments when we find ourselves in Goliath’s shadow. Defeating such a giant requires faith and trust, even when the current circumstances look a lot like failure. It often means we keep fighting until we’ve reached the end. Only then do we realize God is always for us (Romans 8:28) and He’s always with us (Deuteronomy 31:6). He uses our weaknesses as His strength. Our victories over the giants in our lives grow us and prepare us to fight bigger battles. It witnesses to those who don’t know our loving God about His reality. Our testimonies of overcoming adversity teach others and build their faith to believe that they can do the same with God by their side.

Wandering in the Wilderness

“Everyone wants the promise, but no one wants to be pruned.” – Kris Vallotton

The journey of life is full of new beginnings, unexpected turns and course resetting. Often times, when we feel like we’ve arrived, a new change shakes us or grows us. Many times, this process is painful, but necessary for maturity.sand_sm

I have experienced many of my own twists and turns throughout my life journey; but through it all, God has been with me, guiding my steps and whispering reassurance to my heart along the way. You can read about my testimony and God’s goodness through my life struggles on my About Me page.

Earlier this year, I found myself at an unexpected crossroad in my career and life in general. I call it “unexpected” because I had known for years that God’s will for my life was to remain within my place of employment where I had been for the last 15 years in different positions. He confirmed His will for me to remain where I was many times by providing opportunities for me to minister to others through love and encouragement. He gave me moments to share His love and His nature with the lost, hurting and broken. He gave me lifelong friendships for encouragement, correction and growth. He even used my workplace to bless me with a husband who is the love of my life.

Amid the blessings were also job struggles and pains associated with maturing and disappointments along the way. In many ways, I believed my place of employment was my long-term “Promised Land” because it was where God had sent me. But then it happened — change.

Sometimes, the change in course is obvious, but sometimes it isn’t. In many previous crossroad situations, the choice was often not obvious; but in this particular case, there was no mistaking it.

Months earlier, I began to feel a deep stirring of the Spirit, nudging me and telling me it was a season of change. It was time to move. To be honest, I wasn’t excited. I know I should say I was giddy with anticipation about the prospect of moving on to a new adventure, but I wasn’t. I was finally feeling settled and comfortable in the position which I had been placed. It certainly had its challenges and issues. In fact, there was a storm going on in that area of my life; however, I assumed it was one of those issues that would eventually get better. Plus, I knew I would give up many blessings to change careers — daily interactions with amazing friends, a position that gave me direct access to the organization’s decision makers and knowing how my role fit into the organization. But my heart became restless and many nights were sleepless.

I realized the first day I felt tug of the Spirit on my soul that God was also giving me a choice. Although He told me it was time to change course, I also felt Him telling me I could remain where I was and He would bless me and others for His Kingdom’s purposes. However, I knew if I moved, it was the best choice that He had for my life. Even so it was not an easy decision.

I asked God, “Where will you move me? Where do you want me to go?” When I didn’t receive an answer, I prayed and waited.

Although I really hate change and my stomach was quite unsettled, I answered one morning, “I am willing to go wherever you called me.” In that moment of submission, I felt like God was saying to me through unspoken words to my heart, “Understand there will be a sacrifice; but if you lean on me and relinquish control, I will give you new coordinates for your life and career. I know you’ve dreamed for many years about a specific type of job. If you go where I’m asking you to go, your dream will be realized. But it won’t be without a cost. Spiritual growth and trust in me will be necessary to see it through to the end.”

When I asked God what the path ahead would look like, desperately wanting a roadmap to make the process less intimidating, I felt like He was telling me it would look nothing like what I could anticipate, and I wouldn’t know all the answers until the end. But He knew. I just had to trust Him. As I considered the terms, I took a deep breath and watched as my season of change was set in motion.

The trust aspect became my greatest trial I faced. There were plenty of twists and turns and lots of confusion like a complex maze, just as God had warned. The process of moving took much longer than I thought it would. Patience is still an area in which God is constantly teaching and correcting me. Several days, weeks and months passed before the process was complete. Also, there were multiple interviews at different places. When something appeared to be working out, it suddenly fell through, and I really didn’t know what or where to go until the last minute. Even after I arrived in my new workplace, I was in constant transition and helping in a couple different areas for several weeks. Although I struggled and change was hard, God was faithful and kept His promises, and I suddenly found myself with options to go into the field I love.

“Almost there! Just keep going!” I would tell myself. Some days, I said it to myself through tears. Did I mention change is hard? Sometimes, I wondered if I’d be in the Wilderness forever. For a restless heart, sometimes the waiting period can feel that way. It can be easy to lose your way and lose hope if you take your eyes off of Christ and focus on all the uncertainties. But God kept every word of the promises He gave me.

People often think of the Wilderness as punishment. They think of the Israelites wandering in the desolation for 40 years. Instead, it is usually a time of testing and trials intended to grow and strengthen us. It is a time of preparation for our next life chapter which requires more than previous situations had demanded. Wilderness moments, although sometimes extremely lonely and discouraging, is never without God’s grace (Mark 1:13). For me, the greatest experiences and often the closest I have felt to God occurred during my Wilderness moments. It makes the life struggles worth the perseverance when we see God move miraculous ways.

If you find yourself in your own Wilderness experience, take heart! You are not forgotten. God is preparing you for your next adventure. He’s giving you an opportunity to see Him move and to mature spiritually. You will see He is faithful, and you will eventually reach the end and discover your Promised Land.

May God’s peace, love and joy accompany you along your life’s journey.

Prayer: The Weapon Against My Hopeless Heart

I lift up my eyes to the mountains — where does my help come from?  My help comes from the Lord the Maker of heaven and earth. – Psalms 121:1-2

I’m a news addict.  I love to read everything I can get my hands (or eyes) on.  It’s a great blessing to know at any given moment what’s going on in the world, but it’s also a curse.  It’s hard not to be effected by stories of death, wars, natural disasters, crime, etc.; and it can seem paralyzing at times.  worried

As Christians, how should we respond to negative news or suffering around the world?  Pray for Christ to come quickly?  Shake our heads in condemnation?  Worry about the future?  Throw up our hands and just give up?

It would be easy to agree with the lie that we’re helpless.  After all, it’s a big world with plenty of big problems.  It often seems impossible for one, small voice to be effective.  However, it’s important for us to remember we have the most powerful weapon in the world against such chaos — prayer.

Negative things we see and hear often effect us deeply because we are made in the image of God.  As Christians, what grieves our Father should also grieve us.  We are His mirrors on the earth, reflecting His heart for humanity and His divine nature.  We are creative, emotional, inventive and Spirit-filled beings just like our Abba.  As we grow in our Christ-like world view, our compassion and love for others grows. As such, when we see terrible things happen, whether it’s in the news or a tragedy involving a loved one, it can be painful.  However, instead of feeling helpless and giving up on the situation, what if we used the burdens we feel for others as opportunities to pray?  Could our intercession and pleading on the behalf of others change the course of an event or a person’s life?  I can speak from personal testimony — Yes, prayer makes a difference!

Prayer is frequently used as our last line of defense when it should be our first.  It’s a direct communication line with the God who makes all things possible. When prayers are answered, it builds personal faith in God. It strengthens and reaffirms trust. When we share testimonies of God’s faithfulness through answered prayers, it can change someone’s helpless feelings to hope again. It can build the faith of others or renew a commitment to pray about a promise not yet fulfilled.

Here’s a true story about how someone else’s prayers and testimony changed a person’s life (and mine):

Mrs. Golightly, my middle school and high school English teacher, appeared visibly shaken one morning as we begin class. Her usual cheery smile was noticibly missing. Tears welled up in her eyes. As she explained the day’s lesson, she began to cry and had to stop.

“Class,” Mrs. Golightly began, “I found out this morning that a former student who is only a few years older than you all has been diagnosed with Lymphoma. The cancer is all over his body, and the doctors don’t expect him to live more than a couple of months. We are going to pray for that young man every morning before class until he is healed.”

I had Mrs. Golightly as a teacher for two straight years. Every day for two years, we prayed for the boy with lymphoma. Although there were bad reports some days about the progress of the cancer or lack of effectiveness of chemotherapy, we prayed anyway. When two months and then several more passed and the boy miraculously still lived, we prayed. We thanked God for the young man, his life, and his testimony. We prayed with hope that he would live despite the odds against him.

Then the news came: the boy was healed completely of cancer. The doctors ran several tests and claimed it must have been a miracle because the evidence of cancer was gone.

How did the news of they boy healed of cancer affect me? As a new Christian, I saw my Father in action. I saw that partnering and petitioning with Him matters. That day built my faith and laid a foundation to pray earnestly and expectantly, knowing my Father would here my requests and answer.

Scripture points us to the importance of intercession as a valuable tool of deliverance, healing, and divine intervention:

I pray this post will encourage you in whatever you are facing. Remember, you are not alone because God hears your prayers. Never give up. Never lose hope.