I am no green fingers gardener (my wife Pip will attest to that), but I have noticed one thing about our fruit trees: they produce their fruit by standing still in one place and sending their roots down, silent yet bearing their fruit each season. You cannot hurry them. Thomas Merton made a similar observation, pointing out that as the world goes about its busyness and noise, all the plants and trees continue to “bring forth fruit in silence.”
We live in an age where we seem to be obsessed with speed, with doing everything fast - faster internet, fast food, faster travel and so on. In 1909, the Futurist Manifesto stated, ‘we affirm that the world’s magnificence has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed’. Yet despite this speed, our world is in a hurry and we complain about never having enough time. The reality is, we have all the time we need, but the faster we go, as one writer put it, ‘the hurrier I get’. Or in the words of Psychotherapist Carl Jung, ‘Hurry is not of the devil, it is the devil!’
I recently saw two seminars offered for church Pastors – ‘Further, Faster – How to Take Your Church Further Faster!’ I wondered to myself where ‘further’ was and why we had to get there fast? The second was entitled ‘Leadership Faster’. I have done leadership ‘fast’ and the results are generally not great. The faster I went the shallower I became, skimming the surface of relationships and decision-making, both wrought with potentially risky outcomes.
It’s interesting that Moses asked those he was leading to ‘stand still’ so he could hear what God was saying to them (Numbers 9:8). Yes, there are times in life we need to make quick decisions, but I have learnt that those moments aren’t really many.
This theme of stillness, of rest and quiet is interwoven throughout Scripture. As our Shepherd, God tells us that He will ‘lead us bedside still waters’ (Psalm 23). The word for ‘still’ in this verse means resting place, quietness. We are also promised that in ‘quietness and confidence we will find strength’ (Isaiah 30:15). Maybe, just maybe, there is something in this being still, being silent and still being fruitful?
I have always been intrigued by and loved verse ten of Psalm forty-six where God defines for us the posture of heart and pace of life we need to live in in order to know Him:
Be still and know that I am God.
The Hebrew word for ‘still’ conveys the sense of to relax, refrain, to be quiet, and to slacken. The word is also from the same group of words for ‘heals’ as in Exodus 15:26 where we are told that God can heal. Speed produces stress, even illness; being still produces rest and the opportunity for healing.
I am on a personal journey of healing from several ‘punches’ to the brain (aka strokes), and the professionals who are assisting me in this process keep telling me that sleep, stillness and even silence, help the brain to heal, renew and restore itself. This has meant making intentional choices to do less as I learn to live life more unplugged. And I've realised that being still and silent before God can be as fruitful as being busy for Him.
God knew that stillness is how we should live healthy in the first place.
That’s why He invites us to meet Him, to get to know Him - to not only hear Him but to follow where He leads and as we do, to be healed by Him through stillness and even in silence. The Father’s in the early church period thought that silence was an integral part of prayer. In the seventh century, Isaac the Syrian described ‘stillness’ as being:
“…a deliberate denial of the gift of words for the sake of achieving inner silence, in the midst of which a person can hear the presence of God. It is standing unceasingly, silent, and prayerful before God.”
We need to find ways to be still; to practice silence so that we can hear the presence of God, allowing Him to restore our soul. We need to realise that sometimes in doing less, we achieve more - that going further faster does not necessarily equal going deeper and being fruitful.
I cannot tell you how or what to do in order for you to find God in the stillness - not without knowing the context of your story and journey - but I can urge you to slow down, be still and know God. To let Him lead you. And I know that as you do, you will be like the trees on my property – your roots will go down deep and rather than being busy, you will be fruitful.
How can you practice silence today?
Lucas hides himself behind the couch cushions and peeks out - first one side, then the next. Each time laughing in delight as I ask, "Where's Lucas?" and then exclaim, "There he is!" when he pops his head out from his 'hiding place'...
The weekend had left me somewhat fragile and raw. It was one of those times in life where the new and the old collide; where you find yourself celebrating new beginnings while at the same time mourning the end of a chapter in your story. Joy and grief mingle in the paradox of life that both the beautiful and the painful can be happening simultaneously in us and around us.
There would have been a time in my life where I might have tried to suppress the conflicting or what one might think of as 'negative' emotions that such seasons can evoke. A time where I wouldn't have been fully present; where I would have forced myself to just get on with things and tried to hide the depth of what I was feeling.
But nothing about us - no thought, no action, no word, no feeling - is ever really hidden from God. Like Lucas' games of peek-a-boo, God knows exactly where we are at.
In Psalm 139 David writes:
...You have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; You perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; You are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord.
There is no need to conceal our lives from God; nothing gained from trying to put on a face and pretend that we are something that we are not because God already knows everything there is to know about us. But more than that He already knows, He wants us to be open with Him because He wants to be with us. He wants to celebrate our achievements and cry with us in our pain; He wants to be our friend when we are lonely and to hold us when we're hurting. He wants to cheer us on and build us up; to speak truth where we have believed lies and to listen to our story. He wants us to know that we are understood. That He'll stick with us.
David knew that just as he could not hide from God, he also could not run from Him.
I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence! If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there. If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me.
His presence never leaves us. There is no where we can go - no height or depth - that He will not go with us. His love hems us in. And no matter how hard we try to run from our circumstances and from Him, He runs towards us.
We might hide but He always seeks. And like Lucas' joy in being 'found' by me, God wants us to know the delight of being found by Him. Of being known by Him.
Whether traversing heights or depths, I am no longer afraid to let God find me. Because when I let Him be with me, I get the gift of Him. He brings His light and beauty to each and every season and chapter of my life, illuminating the treasure to be found there. God's thoughts towards me - how He feels about me and His perspective on what I'm facing - have become like precious jewels to me.
Rather than hiding from Him, God invites us to hide in Him. To allow Him to be the safe place where we pour out our hurting and our rejoicing hearts; where we share our fears and our faith-filled expectations; where we bring both our weaknesses and our strengths.
Where have you been hiding? Allow Him to find you there.
Live today with purpose,
It felt like somewhat of a standoff as my mother and I stood facing each other at my back door in a heated exchange. I had gone on the offensive, defending my actions as she confronted me about an attitude that she rightly perceived had become toxic in my life - and truthfully, even I was taken back by the words that were spewing out of me. I hadn't realised until that moment the depth of what had been hiding in my heart.
There was a position that I desperately wanted which I believed I was being unfairly held back from. I felt overlooked and like my contributions to the team were being taken for granted. My desires and intentions were good, but at that particular time, rather than fuelling an expectation for the future, they had ignited within me a deep sense of dissatisfaction and frustration.
I thought it should be my turn
I was afraid of missing out
I felt constrained and powerless to do anything about it
My inner dialogue in that season was telling me that it was NEVER going to happen for me if it didn't happen NOW. So I fell into striving; trying to prove my own worth as I grasped for what I felt I should have and be.
Often, more than we tell lies, we believe them. And these lies that I was accepting were doing me much harm.
In Psalm 37:7-8, David offers us this wisdom:
Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him... Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret - it leads only to evil.
David warns us not to open the door to anger while we wait because it will lead only to evil. In addition to the word for evil meaning just that - to do bad or evil - it also means to hurt or injure; to break. When we wait with frustration, with anger and anxiety in our hearts, we can hurt not only ourselves, but also those around us.
That season of my life was marked by MUCH fretting and I can testify to the truth of David's words - it leads only to evil.
I did evil to myself - I robbed myself of peace; of being able to enjoy the season I was in and I placed a huge burden on myself to achieve and perform in ways that God was not asking me to.
I did evil to others - injuring them with my words as I lashed out in frustration and at times fed their own sense of dissatisfaction.
Fretting turned what God had intended to be a blessing in my life and made it a burden.
After my mum left that day, I went before God and I laid it all down. I surrendered my dream and the timetable that went with it. I asked His forgiveness for my wrong attitude and when I had settled the issue in my heart, I picked up the phone to apologise for how I had spoken to my mother and to thank her for her loving correction. There was an instant shift in my spirit as I laid down my striving and rested in who God was; as I chose to trust in His timing.
Eighteen months later, I was given the position that I had so desperately longed for. And as I stepped into it, as I began to feel the weight of responsibility that came with it, I realised something - I would not have been ready for the position when I thought I was. What was now a blessing to me and to those around me, could have broken me in another season. God had been right to hold me back from promotion (funny that!).
In Psalm 37, David encourages us with this promise:
Make God the utmost delight and pleasure of your life, and He will provide for you what you desire most.
That chapter of my life taught me a lesson that I will never forget; truth that I have carried with me through other seasons of waiting and delay. God's timing is always the right timing and we don't need to force that timing, We can rest in His wisdom, enjoying Him and savouring the journey that He has us on.
God doesn't place dreams and desires in our hearts to frustrate us, but to bless us. His invitation as we wait for the proper timing for those desires to be realised, is to be still in His presence - to wait with Him; valuing the dream-giver more than the dream itself. When we accept this invitation, not only does He give us the desires of our heart, those desires become a source of delight to us.
What is He asking you to trust Him with in this season?
Live today with purpose,
P.S. Want to discover how to wait well? To be at rest in times of delay and uncertainty? Sign up to get the Power of Quiet devotional to your inbox or order the journal copy here.
I ran headlong into a wall when I was a toddler, and the wall won! If ever the saying “Hitting a brick wall” applied to my life – it was then…actually, it still is now on occasion.
If you ever get a glimpse of my forehead (it’s purposefully hidden under my fringe), you will see a small sloping line on the right hand side - that’s my ‘wall wound’, the anti-trophy from my strong-willed childhood.
“Slow down, don’t run!” said my mother, moments before it happened, “Be careful! You’ll hit that brick wall!”
I did not listen, I was not careful and I certainly did not slow down. I just wanted to run, not stop. The impact with the unyielding wall giving me a lifelong scar, a temporary bump to my head and a dent to my pride.
Did I learn anything from it though? There are times when I think not.
You see, I barely, if ever, think about that scar anymore – yet in a photograph this week with my fringe windswept to one side; there it was and I recalled it again as if for the very first time.
A friend had coincidentally (it wasn’t of course) had a picture of me last year. She saw me running full steam ahead into a wall wondering why it didn’t just fall down and let me pass. She then saw me backing up and trying the same wall yet again, still not figuring out why the wall didn’t fall over.
This wasn’t a credit to my perseverance, or a pat on the back, this was – ‘why do I keep trying the same thing over and over when it yields the same results?’ We all know that saying I’m sure: The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.
There are times when I do not take no for an answer. Instead I try again, and again, finding it hard to give up. Rather than concede defeat I just dig in and go harder. Bill Hybels says:
“If the request is wrong, God says, no. If the timing is wrong, God says, slow. If you are wrong, God says grow. But if the request is right, the timing is right and you are right, God says “Go!”
Sometimes God says no to our petitions, prayers and personal longings. We don’t always understand why, we don’t like it, we grieve, we rail and sometimes take matters into our own hands. Doesn’t work does it? Remember? Scar, bump to head, dented pride – undented, unharmed, unyielding wall and barrier still standing.
As I look at that scar now, God starts to speak gently to my heart addressing the way I run head long at walls and obstacles I’m not mean’t to be running into at all.
My loving Daddy God says to me “Karen – that scar on your forehead….remember why you have it? You ran heedlessly into a wall, you did not slow down and you did not listen” he continues “That scar is to be a reminder to you of what I am showing you – when I say no, it is not to hurt you or harm you, but because I have better plans for you, I have paths set out before you”
For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope”.
Paths not walls! Which imply direction, progress, and a way forwards, not the insurmountable obstacles I keep running into.
I was recently given a prophetic word on the subject of paths.
“God has heard your petition, the matter that you keep bringing before him, he wants you to know that you are on the path that he has set out for you, in the direction he is leading you into”
Boom! Cannot get much clearer than that. The message is - stop running at walls, instead follow the path, in fact its plural – paths - that God has laid out for me. Run in that direction.
“I RUN in the path of your commands”
Am I willing to trust the process and trust God, when ‘no’ and ‘wait’ are what I hear – even when I do not understand? Are you?
Will I lay down my stubbornness and let go of what I desire and dare to believe Him? Will you?
We need faith to believe that God’s no is for our best, that he has paths set out before us – why? Because he loves us, perfectly loves us and He knows what is far, far better for us than we could ever possibly imagine.
One of the blessings of having been a pastor was the honour of being invited into the life journey of so many people - from birth to death and every season in-between. Like a special feature on a DVD you are privileged to have a behind the scenes look into the depths of their world as they invite you in, confide in you, trust you and choose to make you a safe place.
I had another one of these opportunities recently as I conducted the funeral of a lady dear to us who passed from earth to heaven at the age of ninety-four. As I prepared, I reflected on the dozens of funerals I have taken and this lady's life in particular, and I realised once again that from birth to death, we are all seeking to make sense of life and relationships; to find meaning as the hand of God shapes our lives.
In the early years of our marriage, my wife used to create a lot of tapestries. Sitting across from her, what I saw from my viewpoint was a tangled mess of various coloured threads hanging from the back of what she was creating in that moment. As it progressed she would sometimes turn it around and reveal a picture, a work of art in progress. The tangled mess of threads that conveyed no clarity suddenly become a picture or in many cases, words – a message - that now made sense.
Life can often feel like a tangled array of various coloured threads that from our perspective makes no sense. We puzzle over the view from our side. It can be hard to see the hand of God ‘working all things together for good’ when we are a work in progress. But in Ephesians 2, we see that from His perspective we are a work of grace, having received life from Him because of His grace – undeserved, unearnt and unmerited.
God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.
He is the one working and weaving His grace into us and through the threads of our life as He creates masterpiece after masterpiece. We are never to be working for grace, but rather we live and function from a position of grace – of knowing we are forgiven and beloved. We have received this grace through faith and faith is not only belief in God and His grace, faith expresses itself through trust. I believe in Him, therefore I trust Him. I trust Him to make in and through me – His masterpiece.
In verse ten of this passage we are referred to as God’s ‘workmanship’ (NIV) or ‘masterpiece’ (NLT). This rich Greek word poiema is where we derive our English word poem from. In New Testament times and in Greek culture, this word was used to refer not just to a poem, but to any piece of art – whether a painting, a story, a poem, a statue or architecture. God is the ultimate Creator and artist who can take a life like mine and yours, fashion it, shape it, form it, weave together every thread and create a ‘masterpiece’ that he puts on display as what I call a ‘trophy of grace’ in His Father cabinet to display to the whole world what He can do in you and through you. He can make our life a work of art.
As we consider this wonderful word, we ask ourselves if my life is becoming His masterpiece, as a poem – what is the rhythm and rhyme in my journey that others can be inspired by? As a story – what will people read, what do I want the closing chapters to culminate in? As a painting – what colours and image splashes across the canvas of my life that could inspire others to see the Father’s handiwork?
Two important lessons I have learnt over the years as God works in me are – firstly, when I don’t understand what His hand is doing, when things are painful and perplexing as He is shaping my life, I must resist the temptation to interpret Him through the filter of these experiences and learn to filter these experiences through the truth of who He is as revealed in His Word, and ultimately in the person of Jesus Christ. If I seek to interpret Him and His works through my pain it results in a distorted image of Him.
Secondly, I need to learn to be able to pause in the everyday routine of life to catch a glimpse of His handiwork, to see and celebrate the progress as I become His masterpiece.
‘Just as the hand, held before the eye, can hide the tallest mountain, so the routine of everyday life can keep us from seeing the vast radiance and the secret wonders that fill the world’
The great artist Michelangelo was one day chipping away at a block of marble and a passer-by asked him what he was doing. He replied, ‘I am setting an angel free’. He saw in a cold block of marble, with the eye of an artist, something no one else could see. The Father is such an artist. He sees in us as he chips away creating His masterpiece, what no one else can possibly see - and so He sets us free.
One of my favourite pass-times as a kid was writing. I used to make my own books and write poetry on our old type-writer. Thankfully both my writing and technology have come a long way!
It is my prayer that these posts from the blogging team encourage you to embrace the season that you are in and to live it with purpose for God's glory.
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