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)

Messy Faith

messy faith

Messy play, a phrase that fills me with a little dread. Not because I’m so OCD that I can’t handle Sienna getting a little grubby, in fact I know it will be super fun! It’s just I know that the joy of cleaning up the aftermath of her experimentation will be bestowed upon yours truly! I absolutely see the value in it and I understand that it’s an important part of her development. I want her to be free to explore and express herself, but if I’m honest, it would be far easier (and tidier) to pass on this responsibility to someone else, maybe when she starts nursery or visits the grandparents! That said, the benefits to Sienna far outweigh my desire for a tidy house (remind me of this when I’m in the midst of chaos!) These include the fostering of imagination, creativity and curiosity. If you could see the state of my living room on a daily basis, you’d see that unfortunately mess, development and curiosity often go together!

Recently I’ve been re-reading some passages of scripture which I find difficult to wrap my wee finite brain around. Whilst I’m aware that His thoughts are not my thoughts and His ways are not my ways (Isaiah 55 v 8-9), I don’t feel I can use this scripture as an excuse not to delve deeper into His word and ask some tough questions. Don’t get me wrong, at times this would definitely be a preferable escape route. There are certain things in life it would be easier to brush over because they don’t make sense or they’re uncomfortable to navigate. Maintaining faith through confusing topics, scripture and circumstances can be messy. Even if faith is at the core of how we process things, it’s not always straightforward. My faith is pretty well established in that I’ve been a Christian for many years and have seen God’s undeniable hand at work in my life and that of others. However, I still have enquiries for God regarding personal experiences, His word and theology that I don’t yet have answers to. It would be much more convenient for me if somebody else could tackle them so that I can maintain a nice neat and tidy faith. But if I choose to ignore the deep and difficult conversations I miss out on the opportunity to discover God in new ways. If I remain afraid of the clean-up operation on the other side of my exploration, I may miss out on potential peace and new levels of intimacy with my Heavenly Father. Besides, what really is my faith if it doesn’t involve some risk and curiosity and a little bit of mess? 

The good news is, I’ve realised that God can deal with messy, in fact, I’d go as far as to say that maybe He prefers our mess to our ‘pretence’ that everything is ok. I had a conversation this week with a dear friend whose opinion I love, trust and respect. We were discussing some aspects of scripture that can be difficult to understand and we each have a slightly different viewpoint on at present. What I loved about the conversation is that we were both open to listening to the other’s point of view as our united goal is to better understand God through His word. One thing we both strongly agreed upon is that it’s in the times where we grapple with scripture and life the most that we feel the closest to Jesus. Ultimately we hold onto the promise that the truth will set us free (John 8 v 32) and that Jesus is the Way the Truth and the Life (John 14 v 6). So whilst we don’t hold the keys to full knowledge and understanding we know and trust someone who does. 

A few years ago I came across something called “The knowability of God” by Wayne Grudem (Systematic Theology) which makes me sound way more intelligent and informed than I actually am. His theory has enabled me to tackle difficult topics of scripture and life from a fresh perspective. In brief summary, Grudem states that we can only know God because He first chose to reveal Himself to us. This means that the very fact that we have an opportunity to know Him is due to our infinite and unfathomable God wanting us to. This encourages me that we don’t need to fear our curiosity about God and His word because He actually wants us to know Him more. That takes the pressure off any guilt or shame we may feel in not having all the answers or feeling uncomfortable with certain texts because God wants to reveal Himself more clearly to us. Grudem also states that whilst we can never fully know God, we can still truly know Him. If He was completely comprehensible, He would cease to be God. Being God indicates that He is greater than man. This, however, doesn’t make Him distant. I could never fully know Rich, my husband because there are parts of his inner man known only by him and God and yet I do truly know and love him. If we don’t give ourselves space and permission to get a bit messy with scripture and God, we miss the opportunity to know Him better.

Jesus is our reminder that God made the first move in wanting us to find Him. He is our clearest example of God’s character, principles and love. This means that we can weigh up everything we don’t understand against our knowledge of Him. Scripture tells us that Jesus is the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1 v 24) This reassures me that as long as I continue to walk with Him, there is wisdom to be found. Rich puts it like this, Jesus is the lens which brings into focus a God that would otherwise be too huge to recognise. Despite not being able to fully comprehend God’s magnitude He is both knowable and recognisable through Christ. Jesus is the “image of the invisible God..” (1 Colossians v 15).

So, if you have tough questions, be encouraged that God is able to deal with our messy faith and is, in fact, the best person to take it to. He wants to be known. 

“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.”

Matthew 7 v 7 – 8

Have A Little Faith

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Do I allow space in my life for faith? If you follow my blog regularly you may know that I’ve felt challenged over the past year to pray more. Not only to pray more but to be intentional and focused as I pray. I’ve been inspired afresh to persevere in the pursuit of breakthrough through faith as I use the free gift of communication and power that is prayer to connect with God. I’ve also felt convicted that I have too many get-out clauses available in my comfortable first-world life that soften the blow of seemingly unanswered prayer. There are many opportunities daily to rely on my own strength or the strength of my privileged society. These things have become crutches to rely on rather than a springboard that propels me into daring to believe for more. They aren’t necessarily bad things but they can cause a distraction averting my eyes away from a big God who is able to reach into my circumstances and do a miraculous work. I reach for the paracetamol before I pray for a headache. I go to the opticians before I pray for my sight. I ask for provision and then borrow from someone else. If I don’t get an immediate answer I search for the next best thing, but second, best is never best.

Do I know Him and His heart as much as I could? Have I become too accustomed to my comfortable bubble? Do I feel more at ease with religious tendencies which allow me to do lots of stuff and so appear to be walking in step with God’s heartbeat? If I just open my eyes and look beyond my four walls there is need everywhere, situations desperate for the miraculous and lives to be reached with the love of God. What situations, illness, discomfort and dysfunction have I learned to live with because they are ‘easier’ to manage?

Great innovation has allowed us to develop and create many inspiring things. We’re made in God’s image. It’s in our nature to create.  I believe it pleases Him when we excel in art, learning, social change and more by using the gifts He’s given us. I also think He works through many a great endeavour and even planted the seed of their conception. However, rather than use these great inventions and strategies and pillars of society as inspiration to aspire to more, perhaps I’ve let them become convenient excuses for self – sufficiency. I don’t know. There have been times in my life where I have been indignant in faith and seen incredible answers to prayer and others when I’ve struggled or felt disappointed. Faith is a key component to a life lived in Christ and it’s a shame that I can count the number of encounters of personal radical faith on my hands. 

Faith pleases God, in fact, scripture goes as far as to say, “Without faith, it’s impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11 v 6) I used to feel a pang of anxiety as I read this verse and wondered if my faith was enough, would it ever be enough? Scripture tells us however that God does not delight in our sacrifices or offerings (Psalm 51 v 16) Perspective changes everything. Now I believe it pleases God for us to have faith because He wants His power to be released into our lives and the world in which we live. Sienna becomes easily exasperated when things don’t seem to be panning out exactly as she envisioned, especially when attempting to build stable towers with all sorts of unstable objects. Rich and I have been trying to teach her that all she needs to do is simply ask for help and it is our pleasure to step in and build alongside her. I believe that faith pleases God because it is our way of stopping to ask for help and put our trust in Him.

According to Romans 10 v 17, “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God” The knowing of His word and therefore Him are inextricably linked with faith. How much I know of Him and experience Him relates to the amount of faith I will possess and express. God isn’t wanting something from us given from an empty place of duty but rather He asks us to know Him and then to trust what we know of Him and so act accordingly.

God is “slow to anger and rich in love” (Psalm 145 v 8) He patiently and graciously waits for us to catch up. The beautiful thing I’m still learning about faith is that it’s not so much about the quantity we have but rather where we place it. We couldn’t even begin to fully comprehend what He can do, Ephesians 3 v 20 tells us that He is able, “to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” This takes some pressure off my imagination to try and conjure up a mystical faith. Rather, by placing faith in Him and not myself, duty, self-sufficiency or the advancing world around me, He is able to take what little I have and do the impossible with it. Whatever I dare to imagine or dream He can still do more. He simply wants us to come to Him, and come often, with prayers, hopes, dreams and seemingly impossible situations.

Friendship, counselling, practical help and advice, love and belonging should all be attributes that God’s people should be known for, but the miraculous I’m convinced should be in there too. A real God, motivated by love and full of grace, changing our lives and that of others in ways that no man could conjure up, no positive thinking or team effort could compare with and no logic explain. Only God. There’s little more powerful than the personal testimony of what God has done in people’s lives through faith.

I’m challenged anew to speak faith, think faith, persevere in faith and accept nothing less than what faith has to offer. I’ve failed often, but I’m determined to leave a legacy for Sienna beyond what Rich and I can make happen. We will do our best to provide for her with all the grace that God gives us to do so. However, it would be one of the saddest things for me to give her every opportunity possible to excel in her gifts, talents and skills, draw out all of the potential that we are able to see, and yet fail to show her the adventure that lies in a life lived by faith.

What’s your journey of faith?

 

Stop, Look, Listen

stop look listen

We live in an age of information. Never before have we had such access to knowledge and never before have we had as much freedom to think and express our opinions as we do now in the Western world. This is a wonderful thing, it provides opportunity, education, learning and discussion. It allows us to learn from our past and dream for the future. We have tools and studies, media and guides, facts and figures. There are podcasts, blogs and vlogs, groups and churches, programmes and courses. As soon as we start to type something into a search engine, multiple possible outcomes to the end of our sentences are quickly and freely offered.

Yet, sometimes there is an aching within, a deep longing or questioning, a hunger that can only be fulfilled by stopping and waiting in His Presence. A place where all other voices fade away, a place of peace and stillness, a place to find the truth, a place where we are unable to give but only receive. A place where only His answer and opinion will do, His kindness can heal and His love will restore. It’s a sacred place, a holy space. It can’t be found in the busyness, in the hustle and bustle, in the toing and froing. It’s not in the devotion or the service or the worship or the conversation, although all of those places lead us to Him. It can be difficult to find when life is full, but it’s harder still to live without it.

It’s an undefinable space in one sense, as it’s more a state than a physical destination, for some it’s found in nature, for others a special chair or a long drive, wherever it is and whatever it looks like for each of us it must be sought. It’s a place uninhabited by everyone but Him and you. A place to be real to the core of your being, to weep, to laugh, to declare, to be silent. We can’t sustain our faith by grabbing at snippets of truth like they are snacks that keep us going throughout the day. Sometimes we must be still and feast.

Jesus had the greatest mission on earth, the highest responsibility and the highest call and yet He was still with the Father. It was this stillness and this connection that gave even Him strength, direction and peace.  

There aren’t words of encouragement that I could give that even scratch the surface of what can happen in this place. It can be found only by you if you want it if you seek it and if you desire it. It restores, it levels, it refines and it injects life. The best prayers are uttered here and the greatest honesty is found here.

Were you ever taught as a child to stop, look and listen before crossing the road? Imagine if we applied that to life in general. Roads need to be crossed and paths walked, we are required to move, but imagine if we engaged our spiritual senses before we stepped out, what disaster could we avoid? What worry might subside? What clarity might be bestowed? What healing could be found? I believe there are secrets and mysteries only revealed in the stillness, only available to those that will stop long enough to hear. 

How do we find this rest, this stillness, this peace, His Presence? I’ll be honest, I’m still learning, but here are some things I know must happen before I can even get close to experiencing this wonder.

Stop – Let’s put down our phones, turn off the TV, step out of the room, leave the laundry, stop browsing the internet, at least for a moment, although He deserves and we need more than that. So often we want to relax, to wind down, to escape, I get it – me too! Hello Netflix. There’s nothing wrong with those things but they don’t compare to the miracles found in His Presence. It requires us to stop and there’s just no excuse that’s a good enough reason not to stop and be in the Presence of God. I’m preaching to myself. You’re too busy not to do it.

“I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word, I put my hope.”

Psalm 130:5

Look – We need to focus our eyes. Really look, really seek and really see. Look and earnestly desire after God, with open or closed eyes for it is the heart and soul that need to observe His goodness.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

Matthew 7 v 7 

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you…”

Jeremiah 29 v 13 – 14

Listen – Pour out your heart, empty your mind, speak, cry, shout, pray, write and then linger. Be still and linger some more, switch off everything external and listen for Him.  There are things only He can clarify and life only He can give. Be reassured, “It’s the nature of God to speak” (A.W. Tozer). 

“The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind, there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.  After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?””

1 Kings 19 v 11 – 13

Finally …

“Be still, and know that I am God;”

Psalm 46 v 10

 

Why Are We Waiting?

why are we waiting?.png

Deciding when to have children was probably a bigger decision for me than it was for Rich, although it affected us both hugely. I was acutely aware of how much my life would have to change in order for us to become parents. It was something we always planned on doing but the timing was up for negotiation. There are many reasons as to why we waited for as long as we did to start trying, but they really all boil down to the fact that we thought we had life to live before we took the plunge. Reasons that felt justified and I’m sure some were. I had trained as a dancer and didn’t feel I could pursue that to the best of my ability physically with a child. We wanted to become more financially stable so that we could support our child. Good reasons and sensible decisions to many.

On having Sienna, I admit that some of the concerns I had about having children most definitely came to pass, lots of sacrifices, limited availability for other pursuits, tiredness, but all of them pale into insignificance in comparison with the pleasure of being her mother. It’s not an easy journey, I’d be lying if I said I’d loved every second of it, there have been really tough moments, but it is by far one of the most worthwhile things I’ve ever done. Despite the fact that I don’t think it’s my only life calling, it’s already given me more fulfilment than other things I’d chased. 

We were so concerned about losing out on life, or at least I was, that at times we failed to recognise all that we’d gain. There’s definitely a cost to being a parent and for me personally in many ways, it’s cost everything. I’ve had to work hard to regain physical strength after a less than ideal birth, I’ve had my faith and patience stretched to the max, I’ve let go of many things and it has pretty much turned my world upside down. There is good news though! I do love Sienna inexplicably, and challenging as it may be, I can’t imagine a better life without her.

Being able to experience the joy of parenting requires dealing with a lot of unpleasant stuff. Just meeting your child requires labour, aptly named as it’s no walk in the park. Before you become a parent you can only imagine what it’s like. I believe God took us on a journey of excitement and expectation to prepare our hearts for the gorgeous munchkin that we now call ours, yet still, we couldn’t have imagined the joy we would feel, we only hoped for it. We had to make the choice to surrender what we had known and go through the process of discovery to find it.

In an encounter with His disciples, Jesus outlines a tough decision that they and all followers of Christ must face if we are to fully embrace salvation. It’s not a pretty scripture, it’s one of those grin-and-bear-it reads until you turn to another more pleasant and palatable text about all of the inheritance and good things we attain as children of God. Yet on the other side of the decision, although it requires loss, is inexpressible joy and eternal abundant life.

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life, will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”

Matthew 16 v 26

It sounds like a pretty big deal, and well, it is, following Christ requires letting go of a lot, your whole life in fact, but I want to encourage you, the gain is far more than we could ask or imagine (reference to Ephesians 3 v 30). Since having Sienna, yes I’ve laid down and let go of some things but it’s afforded me so much more than just the overwhelming love of a mother. It’s allowed me to pause and reassess certain aspects of life as well as gain a greater perspective. It’s forced my hand in discipline because I want to be the best mum to her and provide the best as much as I’m able. It’s heightened my senses to His purpose and given me a greater appreciation of others and a deeper level of empathy. Time and how I spend it has become ever more precious and I’ve found the ability to dream again in more ways than one. I’ve been surprised at new passions and ideas that God has given me. I’ve pressed into God further and upped my prayer game. On the other side of the decision to lay down my life for another; all my hopes and unfulfilled dreams, doubts and struggles, the need for control, I’ve found so much more than I lost.

If only we could have a taste of the abundance before we make the leap of faith right? Maybe then we wouldn’t deliberate or procrastinate for so long before taking the plunge. But faith requires us to hope and have confidence in things not yet seen. One thing I would always encourage those under my leadership with is that you can’t trust someone you don’t know, so I the first step to letting go, is getting to know! Get to know God, Psalm 34 v 8 says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good, blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him” This verse is an invitation to experience the Lord’s goodness, but it requires us to first take a bite, to trust, to seek, to act. Jesus moved heaven and earth to display His love for us, He’s laid it all out for all to see, but the issue with merely seeing and not tasting/doing is that we can look away. Tasting is an experience, it leaves a flavour. Give God a go and see what flavour you’re left with.

So I want to ask you what are you waiting for? What’s holding you back from laying down everything, that issue, the pride, the hurt, your past? Like the scripture in Matthew says, what do we gain by holding onto things? Let us not sacrifice our wholeness on the altars of being right, unforgiveness or temporary pleasure. Hope and promise await in a future where we let go and let God. I had to lay down the life I had come to know, and even though it wasn’t perfect there was comfort in its predictability. One can only hope that the investment into Sienna pays off, but investing all that you have and everything you are, past, present, future, dreams and hurts into Christ has the best and most secure payoff, not only in eternity but also in the present. So let’s let go and let God.

“Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart”

Psalm 37 v 4

 

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Mirror, Signal, Meltdown

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Recently we purchased a new car, I know what you’re thinking – what an exciting life we lead! It’s not ‘new new’ but new for us and still in great condition and get this – amazingly, (this feels like a novelty) –  everything works! We were blessed with our previous one and it’s been a huge help since having Sienna to have the extra space it offered for the mountain of things that come along with travelling with a child. However, it was a miracle that it passed its last MOT as there was a lot of onerous things wrong with it. For example, the driver’s seat fixed in only one position, so both Rich and I had to manoeuvre a one-size-doesn’t-quite-fit-all driving posture. If the driver door wasn’t at least ajar when unlocked, the car automatically re-locked itself causing the alarm to trigger – tricky when trying to get yourself, bags, pram and kid out of the car. It wasn’t far off a crystal maze challenge! There were also various important buttons missing, no air-con (imagine that in this heat wave UK peeps) and other minor but annoying issues that all made vehicle operation pretty tedious at times.

The new, but not ‘new new’ car has all sorts of fancy bells and whistles and fandangled ways to turn on the car and operate a variety of gizmos and gadgets. All wonderful and super efficient – as long as you know what you’re doing. You can probably tell by my description of car parts that I’m not completely au fait with motors. I’m not ashamed to admit that I took a test drive with the hubby to ensure I knew what I was doing. The first attempt was only mildly successful, as it resulted in me stalling in the middle of the road whilst passers-by asked if we needed a push! Cue the hubby wanting the ground to swallow us up whilst I break into a mild sweat and hit all sorts of buttons in an attempt to restart the car. Have you ever done the same thing multiple times and expected a different outcome and find yourself shocked every time that you achieve the same result? That was me! (That can be a different blog for another day!) We had to quickly jump out and switch positions amidst the ever-growing queue of traffic as I tried to politely smile and wave with a confused look expressing, “sorry, not sure what’s wrong, it’s a mystery, we’ll be gone before you know it,” – Eek! You’ll be glad to know, the streets of South East London are now safe to drive again and I am of course a pro at driving our lovely new but not ‘new new’ family car.

Despite the fact that I had been desperate for a new car, in that moment of discomfort and ever-so-slight mild beetroot face embarrassment, I longed for my old broken and dysfunctional car, because at least I knew what I was doing and that brought me some comfort. Even though the seat didn’t quite fit my stature and preference, I had adjusted accordingly to its awkwardness and it became my ‘norm’. Even though everything took twice as long to accomplish, at least I was prepared for its malfunctioning parts. I’d become accustomed to its irritating nuances.

Isn’t that a bit like life sometimes? We long for ways to make our journey smoother and more efficient but when opportunities arise, if we don’t ‘click’ with them straight away, our lack of experience and insecurities can make us want to run back to our old broken and dilapidated ways. Even though our old ways are broken and dysfunctional, like my old car, at least we knew how to function in them, how to get by and make things work. We became accustomed to operating slightly off-kilter.

When pushed out of our comfort zone, it takes a while to adjust. It can offer a better experience of life in the long run if we embrace the stretch. But can we take the risk and embarrassment of our vulnerabilities being exposed as we stall in the middle of the road in full view of nosey onlookers whilst trying to find our feet?  

One thing I’ve realised about the stretching seasons of life is that they are rarely planned or welcomed. We don’t wake up one day and think, “today is a good day to feel uncomfortable, vulnerable and overwhelmed”. Rather, they seem extremely ill-timed and we can feel completely unprepared and ill-equipped to deal with the changes required. So, here are some quick things I’ve learnt about the seasons of stretch from my new but not ‘new new’ car test drive experience:

  • I’m Perfectly Equipped – I’ve actually been driving for a decade and ask Rich on a good day and he’ll agree that I’m a great driver! I know the laws of the road (mostly – ha! Who knows all of them seriously?) and I can do all of the necessary procedures to get safely from ‘a to b’. In this instance and often with stretching and new ventures, I just needed a bit of practice to adjust to the new settings. We actually know more than we think and have more in us than we realise. Take salvation, the initial decision and the daily walking it out, it offers many new revelations which present choices for us all on how to apply them. Sometimes we soar and sometimes we struggle, but we need not worry because the Bible reminds us that, “God has placed eternity in the hearts of men” (Ecclesiastes 3 v 11) In other words, we are hard-wired towards our destiny right from our conception. It’s His plan and His will that we find Him and learn to navigate this life with Him. He wants us to stretch and grow and even prosper. So take heart that you have everything you need to face what’s ahead, you just need to practice and grow into it.

 

  • Try Again Straight Away – For a moment I felt deflated and a tad anxious to try again, but as soon as we had managed to pull over, we swapped seats and after a little recap of all the important buttons, off I went again. I was probably a little tentative and over-cautious, but nevertheless, it was easier. It’s so important not to let a failure or failures stop us from going again because our success could be on the other side of one more try.

 

  • Don’t Stretch Alone – Fortunately for me, I had Rich at that moment to help bring some guidance, clarity, encouragement and let’s be honest, a kick up the bum. We weren’t made to do life alone, we were made to live, love, laugh, cry, try and fail alongside others. Life is better when shared, warts and all. Who can we lean on to take the wheel when we need them to and who will encourage us back into the driver’s seat when it’s time? Or who can we do that for?

 

Well, there you have it, I hope my mini, ‘new but not new new’ car drama has brought you some encouragement. Whatever you’re facing, be it big or small, don’t be tempted to jump back into old and broken ways that weren’t really working for you anyway. Have faith that it’s within you, take a breath, try again and don’t do it alone. Once you get the hang of it, the ride will be much smoother in the long run.

Right, I’m off to swat up on some road theory – jokes!

 

Remain In Love

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This post is just some thoughts I had on John 15 today, rather than my usual style of blog post. The next ‘official’ blog is coming shortly, so disclaimer if it’s not what you expected and there’s an undeniable multiple and heavy use of the word love!

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me, you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit-fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.”

John 15 NIV

Yes, I’m still on the love vibe, riding that love wave like a Jesus hippy. Not always intentionally if I’m honest, nevertheless, I guess God is drawing me into something.

So many times I have read the above scripture and missed some of its beautiful truth. There’s so much to glean from this one passage. I must remain in Him, the possibilities of my eternal fruit-bearing potential depend on it in fact. I draw my strength from being connected to Him, there’s no doubt about that. I recognise that pruning is for my benefit however uncomfortable, it fortifies me, deepens my roots and ultimately produces greater fruit. Without Him I am nothing, that’s clear. Yet all the while I’ve missed the blatant and glaringly obvious command given right in the midst of it. I’ve understood that I must keep his commands and perhaps without realising have thought this required some sort of dutiful compliance on my part. Obedience isn’t a bad thing when you know the intent. 

However, as I have read it afresh this week, what has leapt off the page at me, is that remaining in Him and keeping His commands look like loving others. Jesus Himself reminds us in Matthew 22 v 37 – 40 that all of the law and the prophets depend on the greatest commands of love – to love God and to love others. And yet at every turn it’s so easy to miss in our religious ways. It’s no small and easy thing to love others, especially when they aren’t easy to love, but really it is what most reflects Him and what truly bears precious fruit. What empowers me with the ability to do that again and again? Through ease and discomfort and all of the sometimes seemingly painstaking list of loves attributes noted in 1 Corinthians 13? Remaining in His love. His love is my source, His love bears fruit through me and gives strength and purpose to my love. The fruit of His love is more love, love that changes things, that messes things up in the right kind of ways. When we lead with love, look with love, start with love, forgive with love, atmospheres are changed and strongholds are broken. God doesn’t want our sacrifices of time and hard work, loyalty and striving, He wants our love. He doesn’t want us to do better, to do more, to be more, He wants us. Love is key. Love is the way, He is the Way, the Truth and the Life; God IS love!

Love does, love acts, love serves, love calls out injustice, love goes the extra mile, love is patient and kind and keeps no record of wrongs. The receiving of love breaks down walls, it makes one trust, it draws people out and it embeds security. It makes us stand taller, believe harder, dream bigger and most of all, love never fails (1 Corinthians 13 v 12).

My perception of this verse has changed and deepened, my revelation of the constant need to receive and make use of His love has quickened. His all-consuming, abundant, heaven-come-to-earth kind of love.

So much I could write, so many scriptures I could use but all I choose is this – Lord let me remain in you, in your love. To truly know it, to feel it, to be wrapped in it and to exude it to others. Help me to love others how you love me, the good, the bad and the ugly, teach me to remain. Help me to know what’s important. Love.

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”

1 John 4 v 7 – 12

 

Merry-Go-Round

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On a recent trip to Brighton, I enjoyed a brush with the past and some childhood whimsy as I joyfully rode on a merry-go-round. I was a little sceptical as to whether I would enjoy it as much as I did as a child, but I needn’t have worried, because it was blooming marvellous! However, it did seem to last a little too long and towards the end, it was becoming a little awkward being one of only two adults on a ride full of mostly children. Plus, there’s only so many times you can circulate the same views before becoming mildly nauseated (I loved it really!)

There’s nothing wrong with a little fun on a fairground ride and life should most definitely be enjoyed. However, like the merry-go-round that repeated the same motions over and over, and continued around the same axis a little too long for my liking, life too can become tiring, boring and nauseating when we continue to circle around the same issues. Week after week or even year upon year we can face the same battles if we’re not careful. Sometimes they’re disguised as something different but if we dig a little deeper, we’d see the root of our issues is still very much the same. Whether it’s a struggle with relationships or finances, insecurities, health concerns or our past, life has a way of allowing us to think that we’re making progress. We appear to be moving forward until something happens that forces us to realise we’ve actually been journeying around in a large circle only to have ended up right back where we started.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think we’re supposed to speed through life and conquer one thing after the other like we are totalling up points in a computer game, and I also believe that certain things take time to process and change. We need time to grow and mature. Nevertheless, I wonder how much more I could accomplish or how much further on I could be in some areas of my life had I jumped off the merry-go-round of some of my struggles sooner and dealt with them earlier. Can anyone relate? Like the moments you think to yourself, “why am I here again?” Or “why am I dealing with this again?”

I can’t help but think of the plight of the Israelites in Exodus, as they travelled unknowingly and unnecessarily for much longer than needed in the desert. A people miraculously rescued from slavery, destined to be known as “God’s people”. They were guided and protected by His Presence, despite themselves, and set up to show the world the Glory of an amazing, saving, all-powerful God. Which they did, through no effort or deservedness of their own but purely because of God’s mercy and grace. One of the saddest things about their wilderness experience is that the oldest generation saved from Egyptian slavery died in the desert. Thank God that their offspring still went on to inherit the land the Lord had promised, but I can’t help but feel a little sorrow for those who perished in their desert season, they were saved for freedom and yet missed out on their promise. Their discouragement and grumbling claimed their inheritance. They failed to remember and see the goodness of God and mature from their past issues.

It makes me ponder my own life and salvation and some of the things that maybe I encircle around. Things that have held me hostage for too long when I should be living in a promise. Doesn’t the world need to see the people who claim to be God’s, carrying His Presence, seeing His victory and overcoming their battles and living in the promise? Not for selfish or exclusive reasons that lord it over others, instead because people everywhere have needs and face various issues daily. They could do with knowing about a loving and saving God who, despite the issues of life is able to penetrate our circumstances with His grace, favour, healing and restorative power. There’s not only our promise at stake but others too.  

Of course, when we become Christians, life doesn’t just magically and instantly improve. We learn many things gradually as our revelation of Him deepens. But, what holds us back from our breakthrough? What stops us from taking hold of the promises of God? Yes, we have been ‘saved’ and our eternity is sure and that’s the most amazing gift we have, but to quote Brian Houston, “There is more” for us now. More to pursue, more to do, more to be. Eternity starts now.

What if we weren’t always playing a defensive game which sees us reacting to the issues of life, feeling like we’re always on the back foot and just managing to get through? What if we played in the offence for a change. Rather than feeling like we’re always fending off the attacks of the enemy when they arise, why not start from a position of victory (1 Corinthians 15 v 57), put on our armour (Ephesians 4) and take some ground for a change. Move forward. Advance. First, in our own lives so that we can cease riding upon the same old problems. Then, for the lives of others so that we are free to actually show and tell the good news of Who God is in our everyday lives. Whilst we remain on the defensive and focus on putting out the same old fires, we are distracted from deploying all that we have access to as children of God (Romans 8 v 16) and co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8 v 17) to take down the kingdom of the enemy. We don’t want the world to look on and wonder what’s so special about being a Christian, but rather think I want to know their God. Will life stop throwing us lemons? No. We are after all part of a greater eternal battle, but we can learn to slice those lemons and make delicious lemonade for ourselves and others along the way. A soldier with some successful battles under his/her belt has the confidence to pursue the enemy and wisdom to take him down.

So what must we do? Well this is just a short blog post and not a Bible study, plus I’m running out of words but here are three quick things I’m learning to practice:

Pray – It’s absolutely one of our greatest weapons and key to unlocking our breakthroughs. It connects us with God, opens heaven, keeps focus, changes us and declares truth. I start with the Lord’s prayer because, well, Jesus told us how to pray, so it has to be the best way.

Don’t Delay – This is a very tenuous title (don’t judge me!), but I wanted them all to rhyme! So, here are some cheeky subpoints that are actually the point! Don’t delay:

  • In the Word – It’s alive and active and our firm foundation. It guides, declares, corrects and brings life. 
  • In taking action – whether that be getting help, stopping or starting something, just do it!

Slay – Change my perspective and therefore my position. I’m on the side of victory and I’m going after that which belongs to God. We have no reason to fear when we realise the battle is the Lords.  

FYI – I haven’t got this nailed! But we can’t keep doing the same things and expect different results. God is good – let’s hold Him to it. Time to get off the merry-go-round.