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

 

 

Radio Silence

RADIO SILENCE

Radio Silence –  “A period during which one hears nothing from a normally communicative person or group” (definition found via Google)

There’s an attack on our senses in modern western society with so many media vying for our attention 24/7. A world of organised chaos ready to sell us the latest products or opinion as they lure us in with well-executed campaigns. We don’t even have to leave our beds to be up to date with the latest trends and information, we just check our smartphones. It can be difficult to find quiet amidst the noise. This noise on the outside can often perpetuate a noise on the inside as we find it increasingly difficult to switch off our over-thinking, over-planning brains. We become quickly frustrated if we wait longer than a minute for anything, a coffee, wifi, phone signal, a text message. We import and export food and goods so that we can enjoy them all year round as it would be unthinkable to only have access to them once a year. Online shopping and next day delivery add to the message of instant gratification.

It’s easy to let our present culture dictate our view of God and our relationship with Him. We can rapidly become frustrated at an apparent lack of haste in His dealings with us. Have you ever been waiting for an answer to prayer or hoping for an open door only to feel like God seems to be transmitting nothing but radio silence? To counter our impatience we keep going, we build anyway, strive anyway. We create events and empires, products and programmes, always looking for the increase as we perpetually tick off our weekly and yearly to-do lists as we navigate our increasingly full calendars. We figure we haven’t heard anything contrary to what we’re doing so we’ll just keep going at an accelerating rate, according to whichever voice, trend or structure we are currently following. We struggle to carve out meaningful time to sit, listen, pray and worship outside of our Sunday experience as we assume that stillness and silence mean wasted time. We want drive-through healing, provision and relationship, “I’m just stopping by, but you know I love you right?” If we have to pray and wait for anything longer than a week, we give up the fight and get back to doing. Desperate to keep up with the fast-moving world around us we become frustrated at having to delay what we believe will satisfy us. If we could just do this, see that, be there or achieve that by yesterday we’d be happier, more fulfilled, full of a sense of purpose. We’re constantly looking for new ideas and innovation, never letting anything take root long enough to have a significant impact and see if it actually works. We think a year is a long time and if we haven’t seen our preferred results by then, everything must change.

I’m not an enemy of progress and I enjoy many of the benefits of the forward-thinking culture we live in. I’m also a big believer in getting on with things. We don’t want to swing too far in the opposite direction that we never do anything because we believe waiting for God to speak is passive. No, Psalm 37 v 23 remind us, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD:” This infers movement on our part. I’m also an advocate for necessary change which enables us to grow individually and corporately. Change for the right reasons is good. Change that benefits our lives, our communities and the world around us is needed. I just wonder if we pause long enough to check that we’re still tuned into the right wavelength so that our steps can be ordered correctly. So that the change we seek is built on well-thought-out, prepared plans that have been carefully considered and founded on the right principles. Change for change’s sake is exhausting.

What if the radio silence we felt was distancing us from God wasn’t actually silence at all? Rather somewhere along the journey, an interference with the signal occurred and He’s waiting for us to take the time to tune back into the correct channel. What if we are moving too fast to notice the white noise ringing all around us? What if God is transmitting but our spiritual antennae aren’t correctly positioned to receive what He’s putting out?

If we ‘do’ more than we pray, there’s an issue. In our jobs, we regularly connect with our boss to ensure that our work is on track. We have weekly meetings with colleagues to give updates and check workflow. We regularly converse with spouses, friends and family to make sure our schedules for the week allow space for meaningful encounters. How much more then do we need to connect with God to ensure that we’re correctly aligned with His vision and will? To check that the right things are important to us, that His desires are our desires. That we are loving Him and others correctly. That we’re not moving on until we’ve healed, not changing direction until He says so.

We need to make sure we’re defining culture and not chasing it, always struggling to catch up. We can utilise the good without succumbing to the bad. Sometimes it requires the courage to be misunderstood to make the right kind of changes. To pioneer, we have to do something never done before, not add on to what’s keeping us on the treadmill of misguided success. We need, and the world needs us to stop, tune in and check the transmission. Often. In fact, this more than anything else needs to be the top priority of our weekly agendas.

Despite the fact that we’ve never been more enlightened, had more tools and opportunities to succeed with plentiful available resources, figures show that anxiety and mental health issues are on the rise with not much difference between those inside and outside the Church. This is sad. Our perpetual want for more stops us from failing to see, feel, talk with, linger a while with an amazing Saviour who can lead us on our daily salvation journey.

I don’t know who needs to hear this today but if it resonates with you, please stop, talk to someone, tune in and drown out all external noise so that you can focus in on the one voice that matters.

Have A Little Faith

HAVE A LITTLE FAITH copy

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?

 

Faith Is For Life Not Just For Christmas

FAITH IS FOR LIFE

The purpose of starting this blog was, to be honest about my own faith journey and to hopefully encourage; bring courage to another. What better way to do that than with personal testimony. Here are three reminders that have helped to keep faith alive for me.

Start With Faith

We intentionally gave Sienna the second name of Faith because we wanted it to be a defining characteristic of who she is and how she approaches life. Faith is the substance of things not yet seen but hoped for (Hebrews 11 v 1) and she is the tangible gorgeous fleshy substance of renewed faith in God after a tricky start in the pursuit of having children.

You can understand why Jesus commends childlike faith because a child growing up in a healthy environment of love should have an abundance of faith. Faith in their parents and carers to attend to their needs, faith that the chair/tree/settee they’re about to climb will sustain them, faith that the person on the other side of the ledge they’re about to jump off will catch them and faith that they’ll just bounce off the floor just in case they don’t! Granted – sometimes it’s misplaced. Nevertheless, it’s not a chore for children to believe. Children forgive and forget quickly and hope easily given the chance to. They start with faith.

Sienna was born with a small hole in her heart which can be fairly common and unsurprising given our family history. As I drove to the hospital this week for her yearly check to see if it had closed up I prayed for her once again. My prayer went something along the lines of, “Help me God with my unbelief, I know you can heal but I don’t know if you will. Despite my little faith do this for her God because I want to tell her of your faithfulness, the reason behind her name. I want her to have a personal testimony right from the start”

After a slight stress inducing 10 or so minutes of trying to get her to sit still so that a complete stranger could prod her chest with an ultrasound, food won and we managed to keep her stationary just long enough to have the heart scan. Many times I’ve been to that hospital over the past few years with both good and bad outcomes. It was such a relief to hear that all of the snack bribery was worth it as the doctor informed us that the hole had closed up. I couldn’t help but feel a little emotional as I rang Rich to tell him the news. Obviously, because her heart has healed but also because I can’t wait to tell her the story of God’s faithfulness when she’s old enough to understand. She can begin her personal journey with God full of faith in the knowledge that He hears and answers our prayers. Inevitably she will face challenges but if her foundation is faith, how she attacks them and gets through them will be infinitely better.

She can start with faith because we started with faith when we named her and even before that when we hoped for her before her conception.

Step Out In Faith

Currently Rich is the sole earner of our household as I look after Sienna full-time. I recently received a bill asking for tax owed due to calculations made based on our charitable giving donated over the past year. Mr tax man made the fair assumption that because the gift aid for these donations was in my name I am required to pay tax on it. Admittedly this was a mistake on my part and I had simply forgotten/not been aware that we needed to change the gift aid into Rich’s name as the current sole earner of the household. On ringing to discuss our predicament I was told that as it was already in the system absolutely nothing could be done to reallocate the contributions to Rich’s account and even though I haven’t earned any money I was still expected to pay a bill that shouldn’t exist. Not satisfied and requiring some grace for my error I appealed this decision via a letter. I explained the situation and prayed that God would cause us to have favour. This week I received a letter to say that the bill had been cancelled! Something I was told was not even a possibility. (I should point out I have nothing against the tax people, they were just doing their job)

Faith requires us to act in accordance with our beliefs and step out in the direction of our prayers.

Stay In Faith

I have so many testimonies like the above story, what I call kisses from heaven, as I’ve placed my trust over and over again in God. I’ve seen more provision than not and I’m still here and still going as a testament to it. Had we given up on faith Sienna wouldn’t be here today. Staying in faith isn’t always easy and convenient, especially when life throws some punches but it’s so worth it. Faith for tomorrow sustains your today. Faith is the key to unlocking the future. Our beliefs and prayers have the ability to create, to speak forth life, to give purpose and renew hope as we align our hearts with His word and boldly declare His promises. If we don’t make room for faith, life happens to us rather than flows through us.

Remaining in Him and consistently renewing and investing our hope in Him bears eternal consequences beyond ourselves. As we stay in faith we allow others to start in faith as they see His hand at work in our lives.

So I pray we start with faith, step out in faith and stay in faith.

 

Rest In The Desert

rest in the desert

Last week I found it particularly difficult to write my blog post. Sometimes it’s hard to write weekly. There are some things God does that are so deep and tender, it’s difficult to put words to them. God gently works on my heart and spirit, but often my brain takes a while to catch up and so trying to articulate this process can be difficult. The building reserves of God’s grace need to remain in my tank for while and first do a work in me before I attempt to encourage another.

Sometimes we can be so eager to rush, to process things quickly so that we can move on to the next thing, but for what purpose? To what avail? What good is it to go from one event to the next, one Sunday to the next, one book, one service, one thought, one moment without actually allowing it to change us? It’s all too easy to try and live up to Western ideals as we build into our lives with the illusion that just because we are constantly on the go we are automatically moving forwards. What would it cost us to stop for a second? Worse maybe, what would it cost us to not? Are we actually brave enough to stop in the Presence of God long enough to allow Him to truly change us? To face what has been flying under the radar for far too long. The emphasis is always on doing more, getting better and achieving success, but does continuous movement offer a sustainable and substantial foundation on which to build?

We need to give ourselves the permission to stop, to rest, to heal and to learn as we remember that the current culture we live in is transitory; here today and gone tomorrow. It is not the master of our lives and we can choose what to embrace and what to disregard. Life is precious and short which can often be misinterpreted to mean that we need to zoom through our checklists and accomplish everything by yesterday. I would rather accomplish one significant thing that has eternal consequences than many that don’t.

Building a legacy that remains beyond our lifespan requires time, preparation, careful and thoughtful precision. Many of the most beautiful old buildings that have withstood the ages of climate and social change have firm foundations that took time to construct. Years of labour went into their building and it required careful craftsmanship to put them together. Beautiful and worthwhile pursuits take time. We have promises of restoration and hope offered in a life connected to Jesus (Isaiah 61 and Luke 4) that are too important to miss out on. The good news is we don’t have to wait until heaven to start to engage with them. He Himself taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven” Matthew 6 v 10. What I’ve noticed about my own life is that unless I allow God to attend to my needs, I am less able to give to others. I’m not inferring the need to wait for perfection to serve or help or engage if that were the case we’d never do anything! Rather, there is more God has waiting to entrust us with, but He offers us restoration first. If my heart is full with the issues of life, there’s not much room for anything or anyone else.

What time in our day and week is actually carved out for spending time with God and not ‘doing’ for God? Yes, sometimes they can be one and the same thing, He is omnipresent, but I would hate to be journeying alongside God and missing the point of His comfort. I don’t want to travel through life but not ‘arrive’ anywhere because I’m too stubborn to learn and allow God to do a deep work within me. The Israelites, despite seeing the great red sea part before their very eyes after being miraculously rescued from captivity and experiencing God’s daily provision and faithfulness, still grumbled and questioned God’s care and power. Despite God providing them with resources every day of quail and manna, they still doubted His provision. God’s Presence was visibly before them and yet they failed to allow Him to truly be their God and continue to be their Saviour every day. To appease and please God and atone for their mistakes they offered sacrifices over and over and over again. As I read their plight and see God’s continual faithfulness to them I see mirrors of my own life. What sacrifices do I offer with well-meaning intentions thinking that it will please God? What desert have I wandered in for too long because I have failed to see the purpose of my rescue? In their haste to enter into their promised land, they were delayed in actually arriving there. Ironically, learning fast means stopping often. Had they rested in His goodness would they have arrived sooner? We don’t have the answer to that but we can learn from their story.

Stopping in His Presence means dealing with some stuff. It’s uncomfortable and inconvenient and it means being vulnerable and showing weakness. Something that no one really likes to do. Yet we must learn that God is the author and finisher of our faith, our redeemer our comforter, King, and friend. He’s waiting to help us through to His promise so that we help others too. After all, we can only lead people through where we’ve been or as far as we are willing to go. Jesus has once and for all atoned for all our sins, past, present and future (Hebrews 9 v 25 – 28) and so we no longer have to attempt to appease or please God. We simply have to accept His kindness and come to Him to receive His grace. As odd as it sounds maybe we should learn to rest in our desert and allow Him to be God and maybe we will find our deliverance sooner. He is the lifter of our heads. As we allow Him to do the miraculous in our lives, not only will it benefit us but it will be a testimony of His goodness for others to see. His power will always produce results quicker than my best striving.

Psalm 34 v 6 – 7 (TPT)

“Gaze upon him, join your life with his, and joy will come.

Your faces will glisten with glory.

You’ll never wear that shame-face again.

When I had nothing, desperate and defeated,

I cried out to the Lord and he heard me,

bringing his miracle-deliverance when I needed it most.

The angel of the Lord stooped down to listen as I prayed,

encircling me, empowering me, and showing me how to escape.

He will do this for everyone who fears God.”

 

Psalm 40 v 1 – 3 (NIV)

“I waited patiently for the Lord;

he turned to me and heard my cry.

He lifted me out of the slimy pit,

out of the mud and mire;

he set my feet on a rock

and gave me a firm place to stand.

He put a new song in my mouth,

a hymn of praise to our God.

Many will see and fear the Lord

and put their trust in him.”

 

 

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Stop, Look, Listen

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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

 

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.

One Of ‘Those’ Days

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Do you ever have one of ‘those’ days? Or even one of ‘those’ weeks where everything all seems just a little too much? Often, it’s not major life-changing events that cause the frustration and anxiety that go along with such times. Instead, it’s a culmination of lots of small annoying occurrences that gradually pile up and cause niggling unwelcome emotions. These then snowball into an avalanche of feeling somewhat out of control.

Sometimes, things just don’t go according to plan and we feel like we’ve got out of bed on the wrong side. We wish we could hit replay, start the day all over again and give it another shot. We then get stuck in a deep well of self-pity and struggle to see an easy way out. Have you noticed how negative emotions and feeling sorry for oneself are strange social companions that love to hang around together? Not content with just each others company, they also invite memories of failure and sad stories along to the gathering. Then before we know it, we’re moping around, dragging our feet and ready to snap at anyone who dares smile at us. Like the last guest to leave a party who misses the ‘*yawn, oh is that the time?’ hint, these emotions linger beyond their welcome.

Well, I’ve had one of those weeks recently. Nothing terrible happened. In fact, many good things occurred, but I realised that it was the perceived lack of progress on my self-imposed to-do list that was the cause of my irritation and stress. Basically, I was increasingly frustrated that things didn’t seem to be going the way I had anticipated or envisioned. So, after engaging in some internal ‘woe is me’ dialogue, and whilst my fifteen-month-old daughter clung to my arm and nestled her snot covered face into my nice clean clothes for the umpteenth time, I finally prayed, ‘God help me at this moment!’ Suddenly, before my eyes, a huge bright vision appeared before me, a host of majestic angels with fiery red eyes, strong glimmering wings and sparkling silver Doc Martens descended through the ceiling. They were carrying a pile of completed laundry, some delicious galaxy caramel and a beautifully written blog post – jokes! Not really! Hey, I’m not saying it couldn’t happen, God is the God of the impossible after all! But, what actually happened was that I decided to stop moping around, realised that I couldn’t just snap out it, pushed aside my sense of entitlement and employed some practices that positioned me to engage with His peace.

In keeping with the current trend of list writing in some of my blog posts, here are some things I do/have done when things don’t seem to go my way in my every day, and it all becomes a little overwhelming:

  • Take Time Out – Whether that’s a literal removal of oneself from a situation, or just a deep breath and a moment in a different room, I take at least a second to close my eyes and be still. I say a prayer, inhale and try and zoom out of the downward spiral of pity to re-align my focus.
  • Accept It! – Most of the time, continued frustration occurs due to the fact that I keep dwelling on the to-do list rather than just accept that the goal posts have changed and so, therefore, I must adjust accordingly.
  • Choose Joy – It’s been said many times that we can’t choose our circumstances but we can choose how we respond. I can’t always control what’s happening but I can choose what I think about.
  • Encourage Myself – Proverbs 18 v 21 says, “The tongue has the power of life and death”. I speak life into my present and future using the truth of God’s word which exists beyond the boundaries of my physical reality. A truth that is living and active (Hebrews 4 v 12) and refreshes my soul like the dawn of spring.
  • Talk To Someone Who Loves Me – Fortunately for me, this time around, my husband was around to notice my grumpy mood and help lift me out of it. Talking to someone who loves me enough to allow me a ‘moment’ but also pushes me out of it, is a perfect tonic for a stinky attitude.
  • Change My Perspective – Perspective changes everything! Looking at something from a different angle can completely change how you view it. My wise, (don’t tell him) and lovely husband, loves a bit of Mathematics, and once shared a perfectly simple example of this – a cone from directly underneath can look like just a flat circle, it’s only when you change your perspective that you see it’s actually a three-dimensional shape.
  • Do Something That Inspires Me  – This isn’t always easy to do in the moment, but at the first available opportunity, I find something that ‘fills up my bucket’ (as my friend Rach would say). Something that draws me forwards and brightens my eyes. It could be as simple as reading a book, listening to some music, having a conversation, watching a video or strolling in nature.
  • Live In The Moment – It is what it is, and what it is, is what it is. When things don’t go according to my plan, I just have to decide to be flexible and present rather than dwell on the past or lament a future that’s not yet happened. Why is it, that when we’re in a bad mood, we start to make believe fake conversations and events that all seem to go from bad to worse?! What a waste of good imagination and energy. Living in the moment helps me to think clearly, see it for what it is, accept it, problem solve and maybe even enjoy something in it!
  • Practice Patience And Perseverance – We all want more patience, but the tricky thing about that, is that it’s developed in situations that require it! The same is true of perseverance. Both require practice and both again require a choice to participate in them. Patience is a fruit of the Spirit, so I pray and allow Him to take centre stage. Perseverance requires a courage and strength that His grace always bestows.

So there you have it. It’s by no means an exhaustive list, I mean, chocolate sometimes helps too! I’ll leave you with a beautiful scripture that has a far better list than mine and kind of sums it all up plus some. More importantly, it provides a perfect pathway to peace.

“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 – 9