Listen to this episode of my podcast, Christa Sullivan – Song & Strength Ministries, We Aim to Please https://anchor.fm/christa-stigall-sullivan/episodes/We-Aim-to-Please-e3njmo
I think most people will agree with me when I say that experiencing a moment, or multiple moments, of conviction, can be one of life’s best teachers. You know what I’m talkin’ about right? That second you want to crawl in a hole because you’re feeling smothered in guilt, remorse, shame…need I go on?
I am sure it doesn’t take long for us all to recall those, not so fun, life lessons. Whether we impulsively stuck our foot/feet in our mouths, blew a situation out of proportion, or continue to fail at that one thing you’ve been trying to work on; if you’re a follower of Christ, His Spirit will quickly begin to weigh on us. I can just picture His Holy Spirit standing in front of me with His arms crossed while tapping His foot out of frustration until I have that Ah Hah moment of, “Yeah, I probably shouldn’t have done/said that.”
I had just such an experience this week. Several of them, I’m sure, but one that is really tugging at me. I have been struggling for about a month with kidney stones. I was passing seven at one time, had surgery to have a stent placed, and finally began feeling better last week as I was starting to recover. By the end of the week, I could tell I was passing more. I went to the doctor, and they did see multiple stones. Good times (deep sigh). Ladies and gentlemen let the pity party begin!
Can’t you just hear the thoughts I was having…”Why is this happening to me again? What did I do to deserve this? Wah wah wah…” Poor pitiful me. I could feel the frown on my face. All while sitting in my air-conditioned home, on my comfortable sofa, reclined with my heating pad, my fourteen-year-old daughter making my plate of food, and watching all the Netflix my little heart desires. Sounds hideous, doesn’t it?
I have been blessed with the opportunity to go on two mission trips to very poverty-stricken areas in Uganda over the last couple of years. Each time coming home feeling terrible about how so very spoiled we are as Americans, and we don’t even know it. We don’t realize how ridiculous we sound to people around the world when we complain about standing in line too long, and wi-fi being too slow, and “I don’t really feel like eating there…”
I would get so aggravated when people would moan about their “first world problems”, yet here I was, doing just that. I realized it while I was sitting through our weekly Women’s Bible Study group discussing missionaries over the centuries that have literally sacrificed and lost everything to be obedient to God. One, William Carey, traveled to India in the 1800s with his wife and children. While there, one of his sons and his wife died. He continued to serve the Lord through it all, and His ministry impacted innumerable lives.
The way I would have seen that situation if it was me, I’m afraid, would be a much different view than what he saw. Through the pain, sacrifice, grief, and struggle, he saw the path that God had laid before him from the beginning. He could see the lives that would be touched, and the Glory God would receive if he persevered. His view was filled with the desire to show Christ to a lost world, the faith that knew God was in control, and the expectation of Him to do something absolutely amazing with his situation. Not only that but what a testimony for people to witness a man walking out His faith in such a way. We claim to have hope, but so few of us show it when the rubber meets the road.
As we read Carey’s story, I could feel myself sinking in my chair. How much had I complained that day and the days before? My view was filled with self-pity and impatience. I was focused on my circumstance instead of fixing my eyes on the One that was in control of it. I lost sight of all the blessings that fill my life that I know I don’t deserve.
With that being said, I type this with a smile on my face (while sitting on a heating pad 😊) because I am so very thankful for God’s sanctification process through conviction. NOT CONDEMNATION. That’s a whole other topic that I won’t get into tonight. I am thankful for the tests we must go through, whether I succeed or fail. I am thankful for conditions that He allows me to endure in order to continue to mold me into the person He created me to be.
Consider changing your view to one that sees struggling in the Christian life as a temporary privilege.
We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. Romans 5:3-5
DON’T MISS IT!
“Ladies and Gentlemen, we are surrounded by insurmountable opportunities.” (unknown author)
Isn’t it just like us, humans, to overcomplicate things? I have recently had a realization that is going to change the landscape of my everyday life. God has already revealed His plan for my life. And yours!! And yet I, like many believers, have spent so much time making “doing His Will” way more complicated than it actually is.
Over the last several years, I have been blessed with the opportunity to be a part of some incredible works. I have participated in two mission trips to Uganda where I witnessed God’s glory in a way that forever changed my heart and how I see the world. I have watched our church family here in Kentucky transform into a church determined to spread the gospel as far as it can reach. After seeing so many miraculous and wondrous acts of God, I allowed myself to be convinced that that was the only way He could use me. In the “Big Stuff.” You know, the important stuff like mission trips, and church planting, fostering children….so I sat and prayed, “God, show me your will!” “Lord, I just want to do Your will, please reveal what you want me to do next.” “God, I’m still here…waiting for you to tell me the next big thing….” (crickets, lots of ‘em).
He was listening, He always is. He was just waiting for me too. So, to give me a little nudge it the right direction, he sent my friend Akim from Uganda to shake some sense into me. He came all the way to Kentucky in the middle of winter to visit the non-profit organization he works with here and in Uganda. I grew very close to him on my trips there and was thrilled to have him come and speak at our church about mission work. As we were standing around catching up, he asked how I was and what I had been up to the last several months. I responded with something like, “Oh, just going to work and church and chasing my teenager around. I have been praying for what God wants me to do next. I am seriously considering quitting my job to go into full-time ministry.” My tone must have been dripping with a bit of frustration. I could tell by the look he gave me when he asked, “Quit your job so you can what? Be in full-time ministry? Are you not in full-time ministry everywhere you go as a believer in Jesus Christ? Does He not have you right where He wants you in order to make the biggest impact at this very moment? Are you surrounded by more people that need to hear the gospel at your work or at your church?” Oh, how I wish you could read that in his soothing Ugandan accent just as I can hear it in my mind. I wonder if I looked like how I felt at that moment. You know that feeling where you want to crawl in a hole and cover yourself up? Even as I type this, I am shaking my head. Praise the Lord for His patience with us and the gentle nudges He gives to remind us of His Word and promises.
The Great Commission wasn’t meant for special occasions, huge church events, and mission trips. We are called to be everyday missionaries on the lookout for the opportunities God places in front of us, big and small. Everyday missionaries are those who practice life on mission where God has placed them. As followers of Jesus Christ, our lives have a mission. God has a purpose and plan for us. In fact, He wants to do more “in” us and “through” us than we can even imagine. But it is not about us—it’s about Him. EVERYTHING we do—our jobs, our parenting, our words, our actions, our life’s mission—should be done with the intention of bringing glory to His name. Never missing the chance to shine a light in this dark and fallen world.
1 Corinthians 10:31— “… Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for God’s glory.” (ESV)
We are everyday missionaries, and God has created each of us in a special way to take part in His plan. From high school students to retirees, from stay-at-home moms to CEO’s, we each have a part in the greatest story ever told. This is a story about an extraordinary love. Too many people think that only “extraordinary” believers can be used for Christ. God has called each of us to live a life on mission wherever we are – no matter our age, occupation, biblical knowledge, or busy schedule.
He’s asking us to see what He sees. Opportunities within our realities.
DON’T MISS IT!!
Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. 1 Peter 3:15
I often get asked how I went from being an outright Atheist to a woman madly in love with Jesus Christ. I guess that does raise an eyebrow if you haven’t lived it out with me.
If you haven’t read my testimony, please feel free to read my very first entry “Introductions are In Order.” That keeps this from being extremely lengthy. To summarize: for most of my life, all but the last 10 years, I was an atheist. A very angry, volatile, broken atheist who loved nothing more than arguing the fact that there could not be, and was no God.
As I look back over those years trying to piece together the events that unfolded to ultimately lead me here, the incidents that come to mind first (and most vividly) are the handful of genuine Christians that God strategically placed in my life. I say genuine because their church attendance and program schedule had nothing to do with the impact they had. It was their everyday lives. Their relationships and interactions; the way they spoke, treated others, and most of all, the way they reacted to adverse situations in their lives. They were unapologetic about their faith but very humble in approaching a person as abrasive as myself with a topic they knew I wasn’t fond of. But they did it anyway. And all though I brushed off what they were saying at the time, they planted seeds. When they would share their faith with me, it was as if they were digging back the packed in soil of my mind and placing a precious seed of hope. As I would watch them go about their days, really living out their faith, those seeds were being watered and nurtured. When I would hug them or try to comfort them during a hard time, I would always be amazed at their hope. I’m not talking about optimism here. I’m talking about real, unshakable hope built from faith. That type of witness and testimony of the God they worshiped was like pouring miracle grow on those seeds.
Everything we experience in life begins as a seed. Our relationships, marriages, businesses, churches, the choices we make, and most importantly, our spiritual growth. But NONE of those things can happen until the seed has been planted. What God can do with a seed planted in faith is something we, as humans, can’t fathom. That’s why it’s called faith. But we have a part to play. The planting of those seeds has been left up to us my friends. A good portion of the time, we won’t even know we’ve sown a seed (or seeds). We can trust that if we are living as followers of Christ are called to live, and acting on the guidance of the Holy Spirit to step out and step up for the glory of His Kingdom, seeds are being planted…and God does the rest.
Out of our gratitude for His grace, we should be compelled to live this out; to walk our talk and let what we hear in the pew on Sunday morning meet the pavement on Monday. We should gladly take uncharted paths, letting go, surrendering, trusting, and knowing that we don’t have to do the heavy lifting. Living out our faith is much like working in a garden. No matter how hard I work in my garden, my efforts alone don’t force plants to grow. I do my part by carefully planting, watering, fertilizing, and pruning — and then I wait and trust that God will do His part to cause the growth. Take a leap of faith, live it out, and then sit back and watch God do His thing.
‘It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow. ‘ 1 Corinthians 3:7
Have you ever really thought about the part you play? If you are a believer, if you proclaim to be a follower of Christ, you have officially been drafted. His Word makes that clear. God has uniquely equipped you, through your life experiences and circumstances, with your very own batch of specially formulated seeds. Only you can fulfill the duty of sowing those seeds because of God’s specific plan for you at this very moment in time.
‘For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.’ Ephesians 2:10
‘Now may the God of peace— who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, and ratified an eternal covenant with his blood— may he equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to him. All glory to him forever and ever! Amen.’ Hebrews 13:20-21
If it had not been for those bold, Christian men and women that God purposefully placed in my life at just the right time, doing their part and being obedient, those seeds might have never been planted. Praise God for those who are unafraid, unashamed, and are more concerned with God’s opinion about them than the world’s.
I’ll end with this question for you, and myself, to mull over…. Is there evidence of fruit in your life that is the result of seeds being planted?
‘Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better.’ Colossians 1:10
“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. ‘ John 15:1-5
‘You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name.” John 15:16
I am so thankful to begin this new year as a part of this ministry. Before I jump right in though, I think some introductions are in order. I am a true believer in the fact that, for you to understand and get a deeper look into the heart of a message, you need a pretty good picture of where that person has been and what God has rescued them from. A visibly transformed life can have a major impact on the world around you.
Ten years ago, if you would have asked someone to describe me, I’m afraid they would’ve used adjectives like angry, lost, empty, aggressive, broken, self-destructive… I’ll stop there, I’m sure you get the picture.
After moving around for a good part of my childhood as a military brat, we finally settled in Western Kentucky where most of our family was. Within our home, there was no prayer, no Bible reading, no foundation of faith. I don’t blame my parents. They were both very young and did the best they could while dealing with their own childhood trauma.
To spend as much time as I could with my grandmother, I began going to church with her every Sunday. The bond that I had with that very special lady is something I could never describe in written words. We were inseparable. I remember sitting beside her each Sunday, in amazement, as she gracefully played the piano during worship. She loved me like I had never felt love before and made me feel deserving of that love. Around the time I would be starting middle school, something terrible happened. My grandmother was life-flighted to Barnes Hospital in St. Louis because her heart was failing. I can remember my aunt picking my sister and me up from school and taking us to the movies to keep us distracted. Fortunately, she was blessed with the opportunity for a transplant, and it seemed like everything was going to be ok. She lived for eleven years after the transplant. The last two years of her life were the two years of my life that the devil used to catapult me into a lifetime worth of anger and emptiness. The medication she had to take to keep her body from rejecting the new heart destroyed her kidneys. She began dialysis several times a week but was withering away. I watched her light and life slowly fade as she suffered every second until the end. The questions, fueled by anger, started flowing. Why her? She went to church! She played music in church! She loved the God that was supposed to love her back! She was too young! Could there really be this all-loving God? No, there couldn’t, He wouldn’t do this.
That anger combined with a life that was in a constant state of chaos due to a lack of involvement, lack of faith, substance addiction, abuse, and family members who were out of control…I was left to let the anger, sadness, and loneliness open the door for the devil to make himself at home. I began trying to fill that brokenness and emptiness with every terrible thing this world has to offer; partying, attention from anyone willing to give it, and more and more anger.
When I was 21, I became pregnant. Of course, we had to get married because that’s what a good southern woman does to save face. But this wasn’t all bad. I started to feel a little peace and happiness. I thought I loved the man I was marrying, we were going to have a child, I was doing great in college and could still finish so everything was fine. The day I had to say goodbye forever to that baby, I felt myself break. I can remember it vividly. Any anger that had been buried came erupting to the surface. That was it! There definitely is no God, and if there was, He could care less about any of us! That is what I told myself for years. I was an anthropology major in school, so there was no shortage of professors who were quick to reinforce that thought with scientific facts and figures. And boy was I ready to argue with anyone who dared to try and convince me that there was a loving God and that “He had a plan”, and that “there was a reason for everything”. I was educated, had an aggressive personality and was motivated by so much anger that the devil had a field day with me. I did what I could to try and convince everyone around me to give up on all those silly stories and rules created by men to control society. The only person I know I successfully pulled away was my own mother.
My marriage was anything but happy. How could it be? We were so young, and I was so volatile. We each turned to different ways to numb the pain. Two years after the loss of our first child, we were both preparing to graduate college and had big plans for our future. But God had a different plan. I became pregnant with Chloe. It was a shock because due to health issues, I wasn’t expected to be able to have any more children. When that child was born, I felt myself begin to heal. Just as I felt myself break when I said goodbye to my first child, I felt myself, LOVE. Really love. I knew then that she was sent to me for a reason and that there had to be “something” or “someone” out there because this kind of love could not be explained with science. But I had no understanding or faith to fall back on. I was the poster child for someone who was “lost”.
I struggled for years after Chloe was born. Her father and I couldn’t seem to get through past hurts, and our marriage was so unstable that we divorced when she was one. I was a single mother moving from place to place and job to job. I know now that I was moving every year because I was running. Running from my sadness and emptiness. But no distance ever made a difference. I was still angry and lost. Along the way, everywhere I went; I met and got to know bold Christian men and women that tried their best to lead me to Jesus. Each planting seeds. I would always disregard them though. Until one person, someone I had grown to love, all but forced me to go to church. I started attending on Sundays. I enjoyed the singing and meeting new people but would zone out and not pay attention to much else. But one day was different, I woke up feeling different. I went into the church, sat in my pew by myself as usual and listened, really listened. I didn’t feel alone. I had been so ashamed of myself for so long, thinking that even if there was a God, “How could He love me now? Look at what I’ve done, what I’ve said!” That day, I heard and felt that He does love me because Jesus loves me! He suffered and died for me! ME! Not just the righteous people that have never fallen. Me! I could feel Him right there with me as I fell apart. Almost like He had His arm around me as I finally let go of all that anger, shame and guilt and gave it to Him.
On August 8, 2009, at the age of 28, I was baptized. And I’ve never been the same. The devil didn’t and still doesn’t make it easy, but now “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me
I saved the happiest part of my testimony for the end.
The sorrow I felt for convincing my mother there was no God was unbearable. I prayed for years for God to allow me to bring my mother to know Jesus. On Mother’s Day of 2017, my mom gave her life to Jesus and was baptized. Now we worship Him together!
You see, that is what we are created to do. To be transformed through God’s Grace and to live it out each day to be a living testimony to those around us. I pray for the Holy Spirit to guide me down a path that helps those as lost as I once was.
“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17
“ ‘The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ ” “For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.” Luke 15: 21,24