Growing up, we were fortunate to spend time each summer at a friend's bach just a stone's throw away from the water. I loved these holidays - not only were they filled with lots of fun at the beach, but they were the chance to get lost in a good book, to play the same round of Monopoly for days on end and to do jigsaw puzzles. But not just any jigsaw puzzles, giant jigsaw puzzles - the kind that when you're finally finished, you want to somehow preserve and never have to break up because you're so proud that you finally figured out where all the pieces went!
We would spend hours working on these puzzles, constantly looking back at the cover picture trying to figure out where all the different pieces went. I remember the frustration of trying to make pieces fit where they were never intended to go. I would turn them, and then turn them again, trying over and over to make them fit where I was convinced that they belonged.
Life can feel like one of those jigsaw puzzles. We have all these different pieces that we're trying to position and sometimes we get stuck, attempting to force a piece to fit where it doesn't go. Trying to position even just one piece in the wrong place can skew the picture that we see, affecting all the surrounding pieces.
In the gospels, Jesus said something that challenges me. The religious leaders were questioning Him as to why His disciples didn't fast, and after responding that wedding guests do not fast while celebrating with the groom, but that when the groom (Jesus) is taken away, then they will fast, He goes on to say:
No one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the new wine would burst the wineskins, spilling the wine and ruining the skins. New wine must be stored in new wineskins.
In this context, Jesus is telling us that even though there will be a time for His disciples to fast again, it won't look the same as it did under the Old Covenant because the Cross has changed everything (I'd love to digress and explain about what this new fasting looks like, but that's a different post for another day!). Jesus is not saying that the old skin, the old approach was wrong, but He is making it clear that what was good at one point in time will no longer be adequate in this new season.
The wineskins that Jesus was talking about were most likely made from goat-skin. The wine would be poured into these skins, and as it fermented the skins would stretch. If you were to try and reuse the skins for another batch of new wine, they would no longer have the capacity or suppleness to stretch and they would burst, ruining both the wine that they had held and the skin itself.
There are times when embracing something new requires us to be willing to set aside something old - because if we persist in trying to make two pieces of the 'puzzle' that belong to two different parts of the picture fit together, we can end up ruining them both. We rob ourselves of the new thing that God wants to deposit into our lives because the old mindset, the old way of doing things cannot contain it. Consequently we can begin to think of the 'old' as a bad thing, rather than being able to celebrate the good part that it has played in the overall picture of our lives.
The last few years have held a number of significant changes for me personally, and in some of those changes I have willingly and enthusiastically embraced the new things that God has for me. But can I be honest, there have been lots of ways in which I have tried to maintain a status quo. Change can be both exhilarating and terrifying all at once and we can find comfort in the familiar even when it's not really working any more. That's why Jesus went on to say in Luke 5:39:
But no one who drinks the old wine seems to want the new wine. ‘The old is just fine,’ they say.”
But I don't want just fine anymore. I want to experience the blessings that God has for me in each and every season; I want to learn to embrace, to perceive the new things that He has for me and to trust Him when He says, "That piece doesn't fit here."
What is the 'new wine' that you sense God is wanting to pour into your life?
Take a step back from all the individual pieces and look at the big picture. Trust that God has a time and a place for all the pieces that you carry in your heart.
Live today with purpose,
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When it comes to gardening, I am most definitely my father's daughter! We both struggle to keep anything alive for an extended period of time - even cacti (which apparently need almost no care), have managed to die when entrusted to Dad. Mum, on the other-hand has green-fingers - plants thrive in her care. They recently moved house and you'd think from the gardens that mum has started, that they'd been living there for years!
By some miracle I did have one short, yet successful, episode of vegetable gardening a number of years back which taught me this - gardens that flourish don't just require weeding, they require some good stuff be deposited in as well. They need sunlight, water and the right nutrients - but just how much of the good stuff is required will depend on the particular variety of plants. Just like us, plants are unique and a one size fits all approach will not yield a great harvest.
There's a well known and often quoted Scripture tucked away in Proverbs:
Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.
If you are anything like me, then the word guard might have made you think of all the things that you need to keep out of your heart, that you need to protect it from; of the things that need to be weeded out. And this is part of guarding our hearts - but it is only one part.
I like the way that the King James puts this verse - Keep thy heart with all diligence... Because while the word that the NIV translates as guard, does have the connotation of guarding and protecting, it was also used in relation to keeping or tending a vineyard. And just like keeping a vineyard or garden requires not only weeding, but also ensuring that the plants have the 'good stuff' - so it is with our hearts. In other words, it's not just about what we take out, but also what we put in.
Just like each plant needs tailored care to thrive, so do we. What tends my heart may not tend yours. My heart needs to take walks on the beach; to crank up my worship music; to take time to journal and light candles; to read my book in front of the fire and spend time with close friends - especially over good food!
Such moments are not luxuries - no, I have discovered that they are necessities. We cannot afford to neglect the health of our hearts, we must keep them with all diligence because they are where life flows from. Stasi Eldredge sums it up beautifully when she says that God asks us to do this above all else because...
...God knows that our heart is core to who we are. It is the source of all our creativity, our courage, and our convictions. It is the fountain-head of our faith, our hope, and of course, our love. This “well-spring of life” within us is the very essence of our existence, the center of our being.
I know for me personally, that when I continually feel that I am not enough; when everything just feels so hard, that this can be a signal that I have not only abandoned rest, I have stopped guarding, stopped tending to the specific needs of my heart. Learning what blesses my heart sustains me and brings strength and joy to my journey. It's a huge part of learning to live with margin and of allowing His life to flow in me and through me.
So let's be deliberate this week about tending to our hearts; to paying attention to the welfare of our innermost being, for from there flows the wellspring of life (The Passion Translation).
What does your heart need today?
Live today with purpose,
I can't tell you how many times I've driven my car well into the empty zone - running only on fumes and prayers! I've never actually run out of petrol on the road, but one time after making it home the car wouldn't restart and poor hubby had to head out and get me some petrol!
Last week I blogged about when we don't feel enough, and the opportunity that this is for us to experience God's strength being made perfect in our weakness. But sometimes, all these feelings of not being enough, of being tired and overwhelmed are like the fuel light on our dashboard. They are warning signs flashing at us to make some changes; to slow down and refuel.
It encourages me that throughout Scripture that we can see that God values rest. From the very beginning, God Himself took a break from working and creating - and He called that day of rest blessed and holy. He set this day up as a pattern for the Israelites to weave into the rhythms of their everyday lives. A day to step aside from work - from striving and doing - a day to pause, a day to worship, a day to be with the ones that you love. Margin for God to fill and provide for - because rather than this ceasing creating lack, it brought the increase that only God can bring. In Jewish custom, even the fields and vineyards were blessed with this Sabbath rest - on the seventh year of use the fields could not be planted and the vineyards were not to be pruned. They were just left to be.
Jesus paid attention to when His disciples were tired, and even though the needs were pressing, He would take them and withdraw from the crowds to allow them the opportunity to rest. God is not a relentless task-master - He doesn't value us for what we can produce, He values us for who we are. It is so easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we are only honouring Him when we are busy, when we are achieving - but God looks at the Sabbath margins that we carve out in our lives and He blesses them. He sees them as holy moments of trust that He is enough.
In Matthew 11, Jesus extends us this invitation:
Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace...
How good does that sound - a life marked by the unforced rhythms of grace. We need to weave rest, we need to weave margin into our days, our weeks, our months and years. It will look different in each of our lives but as we determine to keep in step with Him, He will bless these holy moments of rest.
Live today with purpose.
A few weeks ago I was due to preach at our Church home. My week was a disaster - I pretty much didn't sleep. Now Lucas has never been a great sleeper at the best of times, but that week he really turned it up a notch. Four consecutive nights he woke hourly. I was exhausted. I felt like my brain couldn't string two words together let alone preach an entire message (if I ever managed to write it!).
That Sunday morning, just hours before I was due to preach, I wrote these words in my journal:
Lord, if I am honest I feel totally inadequate for this morning. I am so tired and I feel bad that this message hasn't had the amount of time and thought that I would usually have given it. I am not even sure if it is finished...
Inadequate, not enough - and that's the truth. We all are. We all fall short. We all lack resources. We all get tired. We all need more of something. But God doesn't. He is always enough and in His grace He makes us enough. He equips us for the tasks that are in front of us.
Scripture is full of men and women who faced tasks that they did not have the resources for, but because they trusted and relied on God they were able to do incredible things. They acknowledged their reality, their shortcomings but they didn't make it their focus - instead they kept their eyes firmly fixed on the One who was able to strengthen them; on the One who was able to make a way.
The psalmist wrote:
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
Zechariah put it this way when he encouraged Zerubbabel who had returned from exile to rebuild the temple:
"It is not by force nor by strength, but by my Spirit," says the LORD of Heaven's Armies.
And when Paul battled what he called a thorn in his flesh, God said to him:
"My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness." So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.
Glad to boast about my weaknesses - in a world of filtered instagram posts and facebook highlight reels Paul's statement is so counter-cultural. But it is the gospel truth. We are broken but He makes us whole. We are tired but He renews our strength. We don't have enough but He supplies all that we need. We are empty but He fills us with His Holy Spirit.
We are not enough but He is.
I preached that morning. It might not have been my best or my most eloquent but I did it surrendered to Him; I did it reliant on Him. I did it confident that His grace was sufficient. I did it by His Spirit. Because my journal entry did not end with my weakness, it only began there. It finished in gratitude that He would make me able.
We do not need to despise our weakness, we can embrace it knowing that therein lies the perfect opportunity for God to reveal His power both in us and through us. We do not have to shy away from the tasks in front of us because we know that He will equip us with everything that we need to do His will.
He is always enough - and He makes us enough too.
Live today with purpose,
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 both myself and guest contributors encourage you to embrace the season that you are in and to live it with purpose for God's glory.
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