I am feeling hemmed in with no means of escape, not even a handy fire exit. I stand before God with all my insecurities exposed knowing the only way ahead is to go ‘through’ the pain, ‘through’ the hurts and ‘through’ it all. I am on a journey of obedience and self-discipline as I surrender my heart and my will to God. But let me tell you a secret – my spirit is rejoicing, even though my flesh is complaining.
A couple of years ago my son celebrated his birthday at the “Escape Rooms” in Auckland. As a group they were locked into a ‘themed’ room patiently following a series of clues and puzzles which provided keys to enable their exit. I find this concept very relatable right now.
“I am in (the Biblical) Joseph’s Prison” I wailed to the Lord, aware of the restriction and confinement I’m in. “It’s not a comfortable place, it’s confronting and it hurts – a lot.”
“No, you’re not; you are in a Refinery” I heard the Holy Spirit reply.
A Refinery? What did this mean and how did it apply to my present situation?
Wikipedia enlightened me “A refinery is a production facility composed of a group of chemical engineering unit processes and unit operations refining certain materials or converting raw material into products of value”
I had to smile (albeit with some derision) at that last sentence. Basically, I’m a lump of shapeless clay on the potter’s wheel being crafted into a product of value by the Master Potter - God. I realise my job is to stay put and allow Him to mould me into what He plans to make. I can’t pipe up and say “Actually I’ll be a Port Merion vase please” or “A nice soup bowl”. The Lord knows what He’s fashioning and He’s doing the refining.
Aware that God is making something beautiful of my life sings to my heart and my spirit. I am not in a dark depressing Prison with only a visiting sparrow hopping onto my window ledge for company. No, I’m in a place where I’m being converted into something of value, purified, refined and sanctified by the God who loves me and wants the very best for my life.
I hope to bring encouragement to you also. Maybe you are feeling like you are in a tight restrictive place which doesn’t make sense as you navigate pain and disappointment. Or perhaps you have some unanswered questions. I believe that the work God began in us He will fully complete! Friends, please stay put on the Potter’s Wheel. You are his Masterpiece.
“See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.”
Once moulded the finished piece of pottery is placed in the hot Kiln oven. This process in the furnace serves to increase its strength and set its shape. You and I cannot grow without this refinement, or be free without God going deep into the painful recesses of our hearts.
At times I have wanted to give up, leave the ‘Refinery’, jump off the Wheel and get out of the hot Kiln oven. But where would I go? What would I do? And what would it achieve? The truth I’ve found is that God is the only one who can fill the void in my heart and soul. My happiness can only be found in Him. Throughout this season He has been showing me who He is, His constancy, faithfulness, love, grace and mercy. My part is to have faith in the process, faith in the Master Potter’s work.
The Refinery is indeed a place of testing and affliction, but I’m seeing it as a pivotal point where major life changes happen. Affliction sucks; it’s pressurising and brings up the ‘stuff’ within us that the good times conceal; but without it, how can there be any transformation?
As I was writing this piece, I paused to look up the Greek meaning of the word affliction, a laugh escaped from my lips at God’s humour. If you re-read the first sentence of this post you will see just what I mean.
The meaning? Oh yes - “Used of a narrow place that hems someone in, no way of escape.”
God is at work in my – our – lives.
“There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears.”
We had a team day at work recently where actors came in with pretend problems, and we had to practice “active listening” for four minutes. The idea was that we would be asking questions to understand their perspective and situation. I was proud that in about 40 seconds I had figured out the cause of the issue and solved the problem.
When it was time for me to get feedback on the exercise, I was surprised that they told me I had only listened enough to decide what I would say in response. Their impression was that I had asked questions to find out and fix the problem but had not been seeking to understand the person.
I agreed with the feedback but secretly thought I’d done the more efficient and loving thing by getting to the solution faster than anyone else.
Fast forward a few weeks, my husband and I shifted in with a friend to save money while we build our new home. It’s pretty embarrassing to admit, but I was really struggling with the transition to a smaller space, an older kitchen and feeling like one of my biggest passions (cooking and entertaining) had been taken away as I didn’t have the environment to relax and enjoy it.
I was sitting in my room, wrestling with the grief of letting go of having space with my husband, of the time and expense of the house, along with a bunch of other (let’s be honest) first world problems. I hadn’t talked to God about any of it, as I was too embarrassed to ask Him to change my situation - I already knew the problem bigger than the situation was my lack of gratitude. Gratitude for everything I had and would have in the future. I knew that if I showed him my heart, admitted that I was feeling trapped and stuck, that he would tell me to get over myself and be grateful.
So I began to say out loud all the things I was thankful for, and as I did, I saw in my spirit the scene from John 11:32-36 where Jesus approaches Mary on His way to raise her brother Lazarus from the dead. He knows that in about 3 minutes time Lazarus will be alive and all the mourning will be over. But the King of all creation, the solution holding, miracle making God, stops and weeps with her. Because he saw pain in the eyes of His friend. Because He understands.
Then the vision changed and I saw him walking toward me, arms outstretched. No words were spoken but in His eyes, I saw pure compassion. Permission to feel. Released from guilt, and totally understood.
The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom.
Many of us are trained to analyze problems and create solutions. We forget that our life with Jesus is relationship. Religion tells you that you are a project to be completed or a problem to solve.
Religion has a goal of defending ourselves or setting other’s straight. Religion wants messy things cleaned up. But relationship, above all, wants to discover your thoughts and feelings - no matter how messy. God wants to understand you.
Jesus will never move quickly to the solution at the cost of relationship. He doesn’t struggle with four minutes of active listening! His desire to understand the depths of your soul was so strong, that He took on human flesh to experience first-hand what it’s like to walk this earth. Then he took up residence inside your heart to experience first-hand what It’s like to walk in your shoes. There is nothing you could experience that He has not felt. You cannot fathom how deeply He understands.
Do you not know? Have you not heard?
Can I encourage you today, whatever you’re walking through, instead of looking at your heart like a problem to solve or a project to be completed, to let Love’s loudest voice be one of understanding. Give Him a chance to actively listen, He never grows tired or weary.
Side note- but definitely worth mentioning- I am writing this from an apartment one block from the beach that my husband and I have been generously gifted for a week. His understanding no one can fathom!
I love watching my kids try new things. My daughter Evelyn, who is my only girl and the baby of our family, has a little code sign for me to let me know she is doing ok in new situations. Most recently, watching her try out soccer - where might I add, she is the only girl on the team - she will be in the middle of her lesson, and then look back at me to make sure I’m watching and give me a big two thumbs up! She waits until I respond back with a thumbs up also. Even as I write this, it brings tears to my eyes, because I know she has so much trust that I am there loving her and supporting her, that she knows she is going to be ok. I have to admit, I’m sure there have been times I have had my head down checking my phone or something, and I’ve missed it, but as I was thinking about that very thing today, I was reminded that we have a God who is so near, who is on the sidelines cheering us on and giving us a big thumbs up back, as we walk out our days.
And I pray that he would unveil within you the unlimited riches of his glory and favor until supernatural strength floods your innermost being with his divine might and explosive power. Then, by constantly using your faith, the life of Christ will be released deep inside you, and the resting place of his love will become the very source and root of your life.
I love this whole passage, but the phrase that caught my attention, was this…
“and the resting place of his love will become the very source and root of your life.”
I started to ask myself, “Where is my resting place?”, and “How does having the love of a heavenly father as my resting place, change the way I do life?”
On a daily basis, I have to remind my kids, my boys especially, to eat their breakfast. They would quite happily get ready for school without thinking about eating. I’m not sure how this happens, as I need breakfast in the morning or I’m grumpy, but I keep reminding them that they have a big day ahead of them, and they need to start it off with something good to fuel their bodies and give them the energy to accomplish what’s in front of them.
How often do I find myself navigating life on drive mode? Things to get done, places to be, people who need my attention… yet this verse reminds me that I too need the right source to fuel my days. I love that the posture Paul describes as our source, isn’t one of striving or meeting an expectation. Quite the opposite, the posture is one of rest, and not resting in our own achievements, but in ‘the resting place of his love’.
As I am writing, I get a sense that God wants to bring many of His girls back to the resting place of His love as their source. Rest has been a hard thing for me to learn, if I’m honest, and one I am still on the journey of learning. I find it hard to truly rest, and not have ten million thoughts going through my head.
But what if we truly walked out each day from that posture of rest? I know the days I do, feel so much more productive and my eyes are just open to see things from a different perspective. There are for sure going to be days that we don’t get it right, and where we start to strive again, but I’m so thankful for a heavenly Father who draws me back and reminds me who I am in Him.
Read the first few verses of Psalm 23 with me:
“The Lord is my best friend and my shepherd. I always have more than enough. He offers a resting place for me in his luxurious love. His tracks take me to an oasis of peace, the quiet break of bliss. That’s where He restores and revives my life. He opens before me pathways to God’s pleasure and leads me along in his footsteps of righteousness so that I can bring honour to His name.”
Did you hear that? His footsteps of righteousness. That’s a trail we can’t carve out on our own, that’s a trail He invites us to follow Him down.
I don’t know about you, but I need a daily reminder to rest in Jesus and what He has already done for me, that no performance of mine is going to change or alter, that He doesn’t need another driver, He’s got the wheel and we can trust the direction He’s going.
Jesus I thank you right now for who you are, that you invite me into a journey of resting in you. I invite you into my mess, into the difficulties that I just can’t see past, into my every day life. Thank you that you are with me, and that I don’t walk alone. Thank you that I am SO loved by you, that nothing I can do changes your love for me. Amen.
I grew up in Church and I loved it. In fact, I loved it so much that I even played 'Church' with the neighbourhood kids and my toys - Mum had to put some rules in place though when I started taking up an offering!
As a pastor's kid, and later becoming a pastor myself, Church has always been an integral part of my life. I've never woken up on a Sunday and thought, "Should we go to Church today?" because we've usually been the first there and the last to go.
That is until recently.
Two years ago, I resigned from my pastoral role. A year later, we felt God calling us out of the Church family that had been home for some 18 years. Both these changes required a lot of letting go and a lot of grieving. They caused me to do a lot of reflection and wrestling over this beautifully messy thing we call 'Church.' And all this wrestling saw me pull back.
At first I pulled back to process. To rest. To heal. This was wisdom for my season.
But then I pulled back because I felt alone. I felt adrift and I didn't know where I fitted anymore
Dave would head off to services with the kids without me. I just need some time alone with Jesus I'd tell him.
And honestly, I welcomed the extra time a Sunday with no rushing around gave me!
Yet the more I pulled back, the more empty I felt. Because we are not just called to relationship with God, we're also called to relationship with His people. No matter how hard it is. No matter how messy and complicated it gets, we are called to belong to a family and you can't belong from a distance.
So I've been taking small yet deliberate steps back towards committed community. I'm rediscovering what it means to belong and all the blessings that go with that.
The writer of Hebrew tells us this:
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
We hold tight to Him, but we must also hold tight to one another. The Passion Translation renders this passage beautifully saying:
This is not the time to pull away and neglect meeting together, as some have formed the habit of doing, because we need each other! In fact, we should come together even more frequently, eager to encourage and urge each other onward as we anticipate that day dawning.
These verses, are not a denial of the mess that will inevitably come wherever people in all their human frailties gather together, but they are a promise that in the midst of that mess we will find beauty. We will find encouragement and hope. That we will be spurred on to keep doing the good things that God is calling us to do both individually and collectively.
Over the past two years, I have been reminded just how deeply we need one another. Just how much I need the encouragement of others and also how much I am renewed and transformed as I reach out to those around me. How coming together to worship recalibrates my heart and keeps me focused on the truth that it's not all about me, it's about Jesus. It's about establishing His Kingdom here on earth.
Yes, I can listen to podcasts and watch services online. I can open my Bible and create an atmosphere of worship in my home with the music I put on, and I am so grateful these mediums are there for when gathering with others is genuinely not possible. But they were never intended to replace community.
Community is where I am discipled and refined, It continually gives me opportunities to become more Christ-like as I learn to love and serve like He does. Community is also how we show the world what it means to belong and just how powerful the love of God is.
I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one - I in them and you in me - so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
If you, like me, have taken a step back from meeting with other believers, if a season has turned into a lifestyle, can I encourage you today to reconsider. To be brave and try again. You will not find perfection but in your obedience to God's command to meet together and to love one another, you will encounter blessing.
Please note that in writing this I am aware that Church is not a building but the body of Christ, and as such, has many varied expressions. Acts 2:42-47 gives us some of the practices that should characterise a healthy expression of Church and it is commitment to a group of believers that meets to fulfill these purposes that I strongly encourage you to pursue.
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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