All You Need Is Love

ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE

In a world and political landscape that increasingly seems to highlight division and is more interested in being known for what it’s against rather than for, it’s especially important this Christmas to remember love. Whilst others are set on fighting against each other we have to remain set on fighting with each other. With so many opinions that wish to divide, we have to find a cause that unites.

Jesus told His disciples that people would know that they are His disciples by the way in which they loved one another (John 13:35) He didn’t say we should always agree although scripture instructs us to work for peace and unity (Ephesians 4:3-6) He didn’t create us to look the same or have the same interests but He did command that we should always love, love God and love others (Luke 10:27) There’s definitely room for healthy debate as we work towards finding solutions and answers. There’s also room for differing opinions and preferences as we aim to live peacefully alongside each other but there is definitely ‘no room at the Inn’ for our misplaced hate, we have but one true enemy and whilst we fight against each other we miss the bigger picture.

Love undoubtedly is hard, it requires us to forgive when it’s undeserved, it requires us to show grace when we want to point fingers and place blame. It’s so easy to bulldoze our way through life and people as we each champion our individual causes, but it’s so much harder to do it in love. Fortunately, it’s not something we have to try and conjure up in our own strength by striving to be right or better. Rather, God is love. He gives love and He is love and His love freely flows through us as we allow it.

Christmas, the celebration of Jesus’ birth for the Christian, isn’t the start of the account of His incredible love for us, but it’s a special reminder of the kind of lengths He and those chosen by Him went to on our behalf. It’s the love of a courageous young virgin. Due to her devotion to and trust in God, she risked her life to bear His holy child despite not seeing all that was to come. It’s the love of a carpenter who put aside his pride and the shame of marrying a woman already pregnant to allow her to bring God’s presence into the world. It’s the love of wise Magi who travelled far from a distant place, leaving the comfort and elegance of their homes in order to bow their knee to an infant dwelling in humble circumstances. It’s the love of a group of Shepherd’s willing to leave their night watch, their livelihood, to worship at the feet of a tiny babe born in a lowly stable. It’s the love of a Father who willingly gave His own son so that we might see the error of our ways and receive forgiveness and grace. It’s the love of a Son who gave up His position, His rights, everything, in order to walk alongside us so that we could have His friendship and guidance forever. It’s the love of the Holy Spirit, the Presence of God to dwell in a broken temple of flesh in order to deliver to us our saviour.

The time and circumstances in which Jesus was born were tumultuous, the Roman rule was oppressive, the greed of kings murderous, the plight of God’s people seemingly forgotten …. but God. But Love. Love risked it all for you, for me, to know Him, that we may find peace and unity in Him. Love persevered as it nailed Jesus to the cross for the sake of our mistakes, anger, jealousy and self-interest.  Hate and prejudice didn’t nail Jesus to the cross, it was love. His love for us.

I pray that as we enter into the festivities and fun of Christmas, the games, the presents, the protruding bellies, we would stop and remember love. Amidst the many issues and uncertainties of life, there is always something, more importantly, Someone to be grateful for. As we meditate on His love for us and others over Christmas may it see us into the new year also. Maybe just maybe, then, we can change our worlds, impact those around us and show the world that despite our differences love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:8)

Merry Christmas All!

“An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. “

Luke 2: 9-11

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Misplaced Joy

MISPLACED JOY

Have you ever had one of those days, weeks, months or even years when you feel like you’ve misplaced joy? No matter how hard you try to find it, to conjure up a smile and ‘fake it ‘till you make it’, happy moments pop up now and again but joy never appears to transpire. Circumstances don’t always dictate this joy dilemma, people can face the worst of seasons and still manage to retain an inner peace and positive outlook. Others whose life bears the appearance of outward success find that contentment remains elusive. Even I, as a Christian who believes with every fibre of my being in the goodness and power of God, have had seasons of scrambling around in the dark wondering where I’ve mislaid it. Such times can leave us dumbfounded, confused and weak as our downward spiralling feelings begin to inform our decisions rather than our beliefs.

Scripture makes it clear that we have an enemy whose sole purpose it is to kill, steal and destroy (John 10 v 10). Nehemiah 8 v 10 informs us that, “the joy of the Lord is your strength” so it makes strategic sense that he would target our joy as part of his battle plan. So how do we counter his attack and take care not to leave ourselves vulnerable? How can we hold onto joy when dark clouds hover over the horizon. “In order to have joy, you have to sow joy” is a statement I heard recently during a preach. Easy right? Of course, we reap what we sow, it’s a foundational law of nature, I can’t plant an apple seed and expect to grow an oak tree. Yet despite this simple anecdote I couldn’t help but wonder why if it’s really that obvious, do so many of us regularly find ourselves lacking in real joy? Why is joy something we experience sporadically rather than consistently? More importantly, how do we actually sow joy? How is it that Paul states in his letter to the Philippians that he’s found the secret to being content in all circumstances? (Philippians 4 v 12) Paul could easily be forgiven for misplacing his joy given the many life-threatening experiences, beatings and imprisonments he encountered during his life. Yet despite all of these he closes his revelation in verse 13 with, “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.” So God is the source of Paul’s joy and strength, but what does enabling this fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5 v 22 – 23) to manifest in our lives actually look like practically on a day to day basis?

Interestingly I have been reading Dare To Lead, Brené Brown’s latest book which is a compilation of her findings from over 20 years of leadership research. Whilst detailing the differences between what she describes as armoured leadership and daring leadership, joy is listed as a key attribute of the latter. Here’s what she discovered,

“What is the one thing that people who can fully lean into joy have in common? Gratitude. They practice gratitude. It’s not an ‘attitude of gratitude’ – it’s an actual practice. They keep a journal, or make a note of what they’re grateful for on their phones, or share it with family members.” 

Dare To Lead, Brené Brown

According to Brené’s research, joy is manifested by gratefulness. As this truth leapt off the page and induced a ‘light-bulb’ moment, I was eager to look up all the verses I could pertaining to joy. As I circled back to Paul’s words in Philippians 4 and read the verses preceding his statement of contentment, I came face to face with one of the most well-known scriptures that I’ve no doubt read and indeed journaled many times over the years,

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

Philippians 4 v 4 – 8 (NIV, emphasis added by me)

Right there in the midst of Paul’s ancient encouragement to the Philippian church, he instructs them to always present all requests in every situation to God with thanksgiving. In other words to practise gratitude in our daily encounter and conversation with God.

Here are three quick practical tools we can take from Philippians 4 to help restore and maintain our joy:

  • Rejoice in the Lord – Or delight in the Lord. Whatever life throws at us we can always find something to be truly grateful for in Christ.
  • Give Thanks In Every Situation – Why? Because when we pray, speak, think, write and act from a place of thanksgiving our requests, thoughts, petitions, prayers and actions become focused on His goodness rather than our lack.
  • Think on Good Things – “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he” Proverbs 23 v 7 (NKJV) As we train our thoughts to think on good things, they become our beliefs which in turn dictate our actions. 

Joy doesn’t negate difficult circumstances and it doesn’t require us to pretend that everything is ok when it’s not. Rather it forces our eyes heavenwards and makes way for the peace of God to guard our hearts and minds in Christ.

Each morning Rich and I have started to text each other at least 3 things that we are thankful for. Taking the time to stop and think about what we are grateful for each morning determines our position and perspective for the rest of the day. What will you do to practise joy today?

“Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.

Worship the Lord with gladness;

come before him with joyful songs.

Know that the Lord is God.

It is he who made us, and we are his

we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving

and his courts with praise;

give thanks to him and praise his name.

For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;

his faithfulness continues through all generations.”

Psalm 100 (NIV)

When You Feel Like Your Hands Are Tied

WHEN YOU FEEL LIKE YOUR HANDS ARE TIED.png

Sometimes in life, we can find ourselves feeling enslaved by circumstances that seem impossible to control or influence. Whether it’s at work with a boss, peer or colleague that we don’t see eye to eye with or an unexpected health diagnosis that comes out of the blue. Life can present many situations which leave us feeling uncertain about our future. Difficult relationships, financial struggles and dreams lost can all leave us feeling like the future is hopeless with no escape route in sight. 

It’s not just negative circumstances that can present obstacles to us moving forward. Stepping out in faith, whilst exciting, can also be daunting and overwhelming. Although we may wholeheartedly believe in the decisions we make, inevitably we don’t have the full picture of how everything is going to work out. A life lived by faith sounds inspiring and adventurous, but it often requires walking into a future we believe for, but don’t yet possess. What can start as a positive move in the right direction may quickly feel like venturing into a dusky wilderness rather than following a clear and steady road and weariness sets in. 

Since a personal loss in my own life, I have developed somewhat of a holy dissatisfaction; a longing to see God move more. Loss, unfortunately, is an inevitable part of life this side of eternity. Disappointment, failure, pain and weakness are experiences we all face. However, despite the fragility of this life, and even because of it, God still can step into our daily lives in miraculous ways if we can just keep persevering in our faith and fix our eyes heavenwards.

As I grow as a Christian, I am increasingly challenged to exhibit my faith in the good, the bad and the ugly seasons of life. Either God is Who He says He is and can do what He says He can do, or He isn’t and He can’t. In “God is Good, He’s Better Than You Think” Bill Johnson puts it this way…

“If He is as good as many claim, how we respond to this truth will require a massive change in how we do life. Instead of creating doctrines that explain away our weakness and anaemic faith, we’ll actually have to find out why ‘the greater works than these’ have not been happening in and around us (see John 14:12).”

When I read the accounts of some of the great influencers and leaders in the Bible, I see that their success was in spite of difficult and challenging circumstances. Daniel, Esther, and Nehemiah for example, all influenced some of the most tyrannous world leaders of their time and yet they were all slaves. Slaves! In the natural, they had little influence and significance according to the hierarchy of the day. They lacked a title, resource and freedom of choice. It’s easy to forget these important details. The conditions of their lives saw them outwardly enslaved and in many ways lacking. Yet, in spite of their slavery, they experienced breakthrough and change, not only personally but also for their nation. Their courage in the face of adversity was not based on the outward condition of their lives but rather their inner conviction about Who their God was and His promises to them. Knowing and believing in God Almighty caused them to pray and believe in their time of need. God miraculously saved their lives and opened doors of opportunity as He responded to their faith. They weren’t passive in their actions but they did seek God first.

Another great account of God responding to faith-filled prayers in a time of need is found in Acts 12. Here we read that Peter has been thrown into prison by Herod. The opening sentences describe how James and his brother John have recently been put to death at the hands of this same Herod which heightens to us the severity of Peter’s present situation. The passage continues to explain how he was bound with not only one, but two sets of chains and guarded on both sides. There was no escape route in sight and his future looked bleak. Yet, despite his seemingly slim chance of survival beyond this imprisonment, verse 5 states that the “church was earnestly praying to God for him.” When it appeared that this could be his end, that there was no way out of his circumstance, the church prayed anyway. They believed anyway. Miraculously Peter was rescued from the prison by an angel of the Lord and “the chains fell off Peter’s wrists.” (Acts 12 v 7). 

God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. If He could come through for Daniel, Esther, Nehemiah and Peter in answer to prayer, He can for us too. Not only did he rescue them and provide for them personally but His greater purpose was fulfilled through them.

Just recently I was reminded again of how God feels about me as I looked on at my daughter Sienna. As her mother I so want her to do well, to be healthy, to succeed, to nurture and grow all that God has placed within her. I am biased towards her because she is mine and I’m invested in her doing well. I will do everything in my power to ensure she grows up knowing my love and belief in her. Rich and I will do our best to practically provide for her in whatever way possible to help her to flourish. In the same way, we are His. He loves us, He provides for us, He is invested in our wellbeing, in our success and our future. He wants you and I to find freedom from the entrapments of life and to flourish into all He designed us to be. 

Whatever circumstances we may be facing right now, even if our hands feel tied like Peter’s, we can remember that our heavenly Father is on our side ready to lose the chains that are holding us captive. Sienna has to take her own steps and build her own life but all she has to do is ask and Rich and I will be there to help. As we remember God’s love for us we are emboldened to pray earnestly and in faith see His breakthrough.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

Matthew 7 v 8 – 11

 

 

Mums In Leadership Interview

I had the pleasure of interviewing my good friend Joanna Adeyina as part of the ongoing conversation around Why Mums Make Great Leaders

Watch time: 25 mins 

Grab a cup of tea (I’m British!) and a biscuit and have a watch. Find out what Joanna thinks about being a mum and a leader, how it’s made her better, the challenges it brings and her favourite parenting tips – because we all love a good life hack!

Joanna is a wife, mum, actress, presenter, author and children’s entertainer. She leads in three main spheres of life, in the home with her husband, in her career and at church. You can check out her website here: www.itsjoanna.co.uk

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic and you can catch up on previous posts and the introduction to the series here: Why Mums Make Great Leaders

 

One Year On

ONE YEAR ON

This week marks one year since starting Faith Diaries Blog. I set out with no other ambition than to encourage others with my journey to motherhood, the disappointment and hope discovered along the way. It’s crazy to think that birthing the first post, which in retrospect was way too long and took me forever to write, seeded what you now see as this blog. A somewhat devotional style collection of thoughts written in short posts to bring inspiration, challenge and hope with the odd dose of humour. At least I laugh at my own jokes.

I’m an encourager, it’s part of who I am, it’s in my DNA, it’s one of the gifts I’ve been entrusted with and must steward well. I didn’t always know it but it’s something I’ve discovered as who I am in God has become clearer. I love to encourage, most of the time (let’s be honest). Motherhood is a gift that provides a daily opportunity to encourage and nurture a gorgeous tiny human (and mostly myself to keep going!), but there’s more. More within me to give, whether I like it or not. I’ve also grown into a better thinker since marrying Rich who has a brilliant brain. Apart from the trappings of overthinking, I like this in me. I would consider myself an ideas person who is fairly resourceful (apologies for this sounding like a CV – there is a point) and I require some form of creative outlet. Early motherhood presented me with reduced opportunity to be physically present at many things and so part of the reason for continuing to write this blog is so that I don’t spontaneously combust from ideas, thoughts and encouragements swirling around in my head!

I used to apologise for the things that I felt God had placed within me, not verbally, but often by shrinking back with false humility, I’d subconsciously step back, step to the side and push others forward. I don’t believe in self-appointed leadership which is a funny thing to navigate in the online world. Neither do I advocate overzealous self-promotion, but I have discovered the importance of us all bringing our voice and experience to the table in the name of making a positive difference, even if just to one person. In fact, always for the one person.

So to mark turning one, because it’s important to celebrate and evaluate, I thought I’d share some things I’ve learnt over the past year. I’m still a baby blogger and amateur writer so these are reflective points regarding my learning, life and blogging from the past 365 days. This is my journey, but I hope it inspires yours too. Notes to self:

  1. I must write shorter sentences. I’m still learning.
  2. Frustration is often related to passion, I need to run with it, allow it and explore it but ultimately transform it so that it makes me better and not bitter
  3. Love never fails – in all areas of life. This I’m still learning about, growing in and pondering. God is love.
  4. Ministry is life – Romans 12. Everything I do, everything I say, counts. It matters to someone, somewhere whether now or in the future, even if it’s just me and my family. Mundane, small, large and exciting activities all have significance.
  5. Discipline is key – Discipline makes the difference. There’s talent and there’s gift but without discipline and refinement, they lack purpose. Discipline in small things and everyday tasks breeds discipline in all aspects of life. Discipline brings freedom.
  6. It’s always about the one – connection to and love for people must be the start and end point to all meaningful endeavours and interactions.
  7. Curiosity and learning make us all better and are good for the soul. Expand, stretch, grow. Let’s not be ignorant or arrogant, but remain teachable.
  8. A bad day, a bad post, a bad circumstance aren’t the end. Failure and disappointment don’t have to be the final destination. Get up, keep going, move forward, try again.
  9. Stay true to who you are – Learn, follow, glean wisdom, seek counsel, but don’t get distracted by comparison and what you’re not. Do you.
  10. Practice makes you better – the aim isn’t perfect, perfection requires an end, better means continual growth. Practice makes me a better writer, friend, wife, mum, leader, learner, and so the list goes on.

As I sign off this post here are some fun facts and stats from my blogging year:

  • Top 3 Most Read Posts:

Busy Is Not a Badge of Honour

My Journey To Motherhood (also first ever post)

Serious Fomo

  • Favourite posts to write:

The Rose

365 Days Later

  • Posts I felt were most important to write:

Busy Is Not a Badge of Honour

Radio Silence

Why Mums Make Great Leaders

Love Beyond Reason

Love Thy Neighbour

  • My Mother-in-law once replied to the email version of a post with a typo correction and accidentally posted it as a comment 😉
  • I make my husband read/listen to all posts before I publish, thanks Rich! It’s his pleasure of course 😉
  • I use Google to find synonyms, thanks Google!
  • I knew nothing about blogging when I started
  • I owe a lot to CBeebies programme ‘Hey Duggee’, loved by Sienna, it allows me an uninterrupted tea and thought sorting time

So that’s it, I hope it’s been as interesting for you as it has for me! Here’s to another year!