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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Good Value This Christmas

good value this christmas

For as long as I can remember my Dad has been a professional Santa at Christmas. Yesterday my mum forwarded a review posted by an elated mother about his epic Santa skills. This year Dad had the opportunity to learn some Makaton; a language programme using signs and symbols that helps people to communicate. It is designed to support spoken language and can also be useful for those children and adults who struggle to communicate via speech. One little boy visited Santa (my Dad) this year looking only for a picture with the magical present deliverer. His mother explained that he wouldn’t be able to talk with my Dad, who usually has a little conversation with each child. Fortunately, because of his Makaton training, Dad was able to communicate well with the young boy. In the review the mother gushed that this encounter had not only made her year but also made her cry! Go Dad! Such a simple act placed value on a little boy and his mother. In a small way, in that moment my Dad was able to enter into their world and reaffirm their importance.

So many times in the gospels we see how Jesus places value upon others, on those in society that due to the culture of the day would have been seen as less-than in many ways. One particular account that I love is when Jesus heals a man with leprosy, recorded in Matthew 8 v 1-3….

“When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him.  A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”

Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy. Then Jesus said to him, “See that you don’t tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”

Other than the incredible fact that Jesus healed him, what I love is the recorded detail that Jesus reached out his hand and touched him. It is likely that this man hadn’t encountered any human touch for a long time due to his leprosy, and the belief that he was therefore unclean. Before Jesus declared that He was willing to heal the man, He first showed him that he was valuable, loved and worthy of being touched even in his current sick state. In reaching out and touching the man he showed His heart of love towards him in a society that would have deemed him as worthless.

Sienna, my now 10 month old daughter is entering a beautiful stage of development, where she has begun to smile at everyone. Her big brown eyes gaze expectantly at people as she waits for them to notice her, and then she welcomes that recognition with a huge grin! The pure joy that shoots across her face when someone gives her a wave or even a hint of attention is infectious. Her smile is genuine and pure and you can’t help but beam from the inside out in return. This unbiased, non-judgemental and unconditional love that she offers, often gets a coo and a smile in response, and in that moment offers a metaphorical outstretched hand to the lucky recipient. From the full tank of love, smiles and acceptance that she has received from myself and Rich, as well as her close family and friends, she is able to offer the same to others. She hasn’t yet learned to conceal her true feelings and so what you see is what you get.

This Christmas season I’m reminded again how easy and important it is to value one another. Jesus stepped out of His glory and took on human flesh, to once again place value on all humanity. A value so great it cost Him his life. From an overflow of love, He paid the ultimate price so that we may know how valuable we are to Him. My prayer this Christmas is that He would help me to continue to know His love and my true value in Him, and so therefore be empowered to show it to others. If we could keep life that simple I wonder what a difference that would have on us, and what a difference we could make to our world. In knowing our own value, we also learn the value of others.  

1 John 4 v 19

“We love because He first loved us.”

Dust Yourself Off and Try Again

dust yourself off 2

Today I caught Sienna attempting to lift herself up on the step to the hallway for the first time. She’s 9 months old this week and nearly crawling. Her current favourite movements are the downward dog and the army crawl. It’s so interesting to watch how fast she has developed. I find myself amazed at how she manages to squirrel herself under or over something, in order to reach the item she is determined to have. It’s like she has an innate determination to try. No one has told her she can, and likewise no one has told her she can’t.

Sienna has an instinct to roll over, to crawl and to walk. Of course as parents, once Rich and I sense that she is attempting a new phase of development, we start to encourage it. Some things, like talking, she will first observe and then attempt, and hopefully learn to effectively communicate (bearing in mind I’m from Stoke and Rich is from Wellingborough!)

All of this got me pondering, “I wonder when we learnt to stop trying; to give up?”. I’m sure this question has been comprehensively explored by psychologists and sociologists, and is affected by many factors, but it occurred to me that we are seemingly born with an instinct to try. So if this is true, why do we stop trying in some areas? This must be a learnt behaviour.

I guess when we learn to reason, we can reason ourselves out of trying and vice versa. This isn’t always a bad thing. If you have been endlessly pursuing the apple of your eye to no avail, maybe there should come a point when you ease off the stalker vibes and take the hint, or maybe you should continue to believe (pester), driven by a romantic vision of driving off into the sunset together. This is where wisdom kicks in. Obviously, there are some things we should let go of, but in the pursuit of good dreams, and healthy, life-affirming, exciting goals, we have to know that it’s inbuilt within us to try and try again. 

Sienna’s development doesn’t happen overnight, and just because she has the instinct to do something, it doesn’t mean she achieves it straight away. On the contrary, it takes quite a few attempts, and therefore quite a few failures, sometimes mini tantrums, and often a few knocks. However, her little determined spirit pushes her to try again until she reaches her goal.

Reflecting on some lyrics from a song by the late Aliyah, (*sings in head), “If at first you don’t succeed, dust yourself off and try again..” perhaps my 9 month old daughter could teach us a little about how God designed us and intended us to live. I realise life doesn’t always afford everyone the encouragement of those around them, the perfect circumstances or maybe the great results we had all hoped for, but if we were designed to try, with an inbuilt determination to succeed, maybe we can hit the reset button, dust ourselves off and try again. Just like a computer that has been hit by a virus, maybe we could reboot the system, rediscover our factory settings, and override all of the negative experiences that have dampened our hope and convinced us that we shouldn’t try anymore.

I’m not saying it’s easy, but I take courage when watching Sienna try, and try again. Every now and then she gets upset, I comfort her, dust her off, reset her balance, and off she goes.

For me, seeking God is my reset button. When life becomes overwhelming, or I feel like I’ve failed one too many times, I set time aside to restore my settings, realign my core convictions, let courage take hold of my heart and determine to try again. The good news for me is that I’m always met with grace; undeserved favour. Not only am I met with grace but I’m also empowered by it.

Perhaps the greatest reset of all time, was when Jesus died on the cross to erase the debt of my failures, past, present and future, and rose again to show me the way to victory and my future. I take heart in the everlasting opportunity to reset and try again.

Hebrews 4 v 16

“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need”

Psalm 138 v 3

“When I called, you answered me; you greatly emboldened me.”

If my creator, the creator of the Universe, the one who designed me, the one who created my factory settings and wrote the manual, has given me a fresh start, then He can do it for you too.

Dust yourself off and try again.