Curled over clutching my stomach in pain, I was all too aware of what I had been trying to avoid for well over a year - I was gluten intolerant. Gluten-based food was making me sick; yet I kept on eating it, living in denial hoping, maybe – this time - I’d be okay.
Here’s what I painfully discovered: ignoring a problem does not make it go away. Doing the exact same thing over and over changes nothing, in fact it usually makes matters worse. The stomach problems only increased after each glutinous intake causing me to cancel appointments and miss out on events.
During my most recent episode racked with pain and saying “Never again”, I really did decide – never again. The Holy Spirit had got through to this tough nut at last, telling me “If you do not face your problems, they will not go away, you need to make some life changes”
Of course, it wasn’t lost on me that this didn’t only apply to food, but also to the bad habits and sinful behaviour patterns I was struggling with. Talk about God having to take strong measures to get my attention!
I hadn’t wanted to admit I had issues with gluten, neither did I want to accept or cease the sin in my life. I was afraid to make life changes in case God did not come through for me. It seemed easier to just carry on as I was in my miserable condition.
My journey the last 5 years has been no glutinous cakewalk. I’ve physically and emotionally hurt, I’ve been disappointed, I’ve suffered losses and felt acute grief. I know I am in a pruning and character building season but I’ve been bucking against it all the way. Yet throughout Jesus has revealed to me by grace that He is the Good Shepherd watching over my life.
God has been taking things away that do me harm and the pain has been part of the process, revealing what is within me when the pressure is on. I can see He’s been setting me free step by step and am humbled like Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10:
But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
I cannot boast in myself at all. I’ve discovered what I thought was good in me, is not whatsoever; and that what is bad in me doesn’t stop God loving me either. All I know is that I’m more real than I’ve ever been, holding on with child-like faith.
2 years ago, I became dairy intolerant and I had another period of denial and pain before I accepted life changes needed to be made. The crux of the matter has been coming to terms with giving up what is not good for me – even though I still crave it. The desire to eat dairy and gluten don’t leave me, and neither do the habits of a life time want to go either. Oh, but the consequences – are they worth it? Think slowly about that one.
Now sometime into a gluten elimination diet I am already much better. I have recognised that to see change, I have to make some life changes.
I’ve learned that Jesus really is my Shepherd and He is looking after me - his sheep. (Sheep aren’t the smartest creatures around, getting themselves tangled up and off track). He knows me in my weakness yet He loves and pursues me unconditionally even in my biggest messes – especially even!
My Good Shepherd doesn’t just wrench this Sheep out of the barbed wire or bushes – no, He untangles me bit by bit. This is what He is doing in our own lives, that’s why it’s a process.
Sometimes it takes time to give things up. We may not be ready, or we may be unwilling, perhaps even facing other issues that cloud the main one. The journey may appear to be somewhat of a dog leg trek, but I can testify that God never gives up on us! And along the way reveals His true unconditional love which changes our lives.
What are you struggling with? What symptoms are you trying to ignore? Is the tolerance of sin still winning over the pain of obedience? The truth is that making good choices isn’t easy. Our flesh wants what is bad, our spirit cries out for God.
But if we want to see a different result, if we desire to be free, we need to accept that life changes are necessary. We can trust God, we can trust Jesus the Good Shepherd. God really does and will come through for us.
We sat together on the couch, her head buried into my shoulder as she wept for the things, the people that she was missing. And my heart ached for my daughter as she tried to figure out how to navigate her current season.
Change is hard. Being brave and willing to give new things a go and walk down yet unknown paths can be overwhelming.
As winter has given way to spring in our part of the world, something deep within us rejoices and celebrates the signs of new life. We have ached for something to come and replace the barreness. But new beginnings aren't always looked for or even necessarily wanted; they aren't solely the territory of the dead and barren places. Sometimes, God asks us to allow Him to prune the fruitful things - the things that are in full bloom - in our lives so that we can be even more fruitful (John 15:2).
Over the last two years, God has been bringing restoration and life to areas in my heart and story that I have longed for Him to, but He's simultaneously been asking me to let Him bring about new beginnings - to be pruned - in places where I wasn't looking for change.
He has asked me to resign my position and my ministry credentials
He has called us out of the Church we helped plant to start over after some 18 years of community
He has led us to homeschool when I never even wanted to be a stay at home mum (He sure has a sense of humour!)
And each of these changes has asked a question of me - do I really trust Him in the place of exchange? In the place where I don't yet know what my hands will hold and all I can see is what I'm letting go of?
Pruning seasons can be a unique type of change because we don't always know exactly what it is that God is making room for in our lives. We often only see the gaping whole left that was once fruitful and flourishing. Pruning inevitably ushers us into an in-between time - a time of uncertainty and waiting - just like in the natural, it takes time for the new growth to become visible.
In my own life, the place of exchange has tested whether I really believe that He is who He says He is. Whether I trust His heart towards me and the plans that He has for me. The place of exchange has revealed whether the Scriptures I quote are merely platitudes and bumper stickers or the foundation of truth that I've built my life upon because the place of exchange requires us to live with a deep assurance of His goodness and His love for us.
Jesus makes the Father's heart in pruning us abundantly clear - it is not to diminish us in any way but to increase us. To make us more fruitful. Pruning is not about judgment but preparation. And while it can be easy to entertain the voice of condemnation when we feel like we're being cut back, Jesus offers us this assurance:
You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will 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.
Jesus is telling us, You are mine, I have washed you. Don't let the enemy tell you that you don't belong, that you're not valuable because you're being stripped back. Don't isolate yourself from Me; don't try and make things happen in your own strength, Trust that my heart is to cause you to flourish and be fruitful. Come, tarry a moment with Me. Apart from Me you can do nothing, but with Me, you can trust that greater fruitfulness is coming.
The word for 'remain' or 'abide' meant to remain, abide; to sojourn or tarry; to continue to be present; to be held, kept continually. It paints a picture for us of lingering in and savouring the presence of God with us. For me personally, I've found this 'abiding' to be both the challenge and the invitation of the place of exchange. My grief, my disappointment, my frustrations and impatience, the uncertainty can either build a wall between me and God or they can become a bridge to greater dependency, greater trust in His wisdom and goodness and in His time, greater fruitfulness.
If I want them to be a bridge, I must settle the question of trust. Will I trust His heart to lead me and yes, even to prune me?
I've decided yes. What about you?
I can testify that God really does do much more than we could ever think or ask! I know, because He has restored my identity and is making me whole.
Growing up I was incredibly shy; I felt trapped in my own emotions unable to elucidate who I really was – it was like drowning internally. In my heart though, I was a risk-taker and a dreamer of audacious dreams. My biggest battle (aside from my identity) - was fear. Fear of having to lead anything, fear of standing out, fear of shining, fear of succeeding, fear of failure – basically, fear with a capital F.
In 1997 when I was with Youth with a Mission I took the Myers Briggs (MBTI) Test which reveals the 16 categories of basic personality types. My results informed me I was an introvert, an “ISFJ”. My Team Leader called me a ‘wounded extrovert’ believing certain areas in my life and upbringing had affected my true identity and who I was in God.
I spent years thinking my personality wasn’t acceptable, holding a belief system that being outgoing, extroverted and excited about many things were negative qualities. I thought my worth and value could only be found in being quiet, orderly and introverted.
When my Dad died in 2013, I had to face my fears whether I liked it or not. Flying to the other side of the world, I dealt with more than I ever thought possible. I was also reunited with people from my long distant past.
My life, you see, was compartmentalised – there was my past in the UK and my now in New Zealand. It was as though I were two different people with two entirely separate lives. However, by confronting my past and those fears, God brought me into a place of freedom and healing. I felt I now had the permission to be my ‘whole’ self.
But who was that? I was more outgoing and no longer trapped or ‘drowning’ in my emotions, but I still did not know who I was or what my true identity was. It was like starting over.
If I thought I was in for an easy ride following my Dad’s death, I was wrong. Three years followed of unrelated fiery tests and intense struggles. I felt I was in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Yet, in this season I said yes to leadership (after 20 years of ‘who me?’) and doors of ministry started to open.
“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me”
This Easter Sunday, God set me free from one particular struggle I’d been wrestling with. “It ends today”, He told me - and it did, I haven’t looked back! God did the miraculous – He released this prisoner, spoke love and identity over me and made me whole.
Subsequently, I found freedom in yet more areas of my life because of those struggles I encountered. God brought so much restoration to my life whilst I was in the valley. In that place, He told me who I was in Him, who I was to Him and what my destiny was because of Him.
My identity was not found in what others may have labelled me, or desired me to be. It wasn’t in my past, it wasn’t defined by my struggles or circumstances, nor conditional on my ability or strength. My identity I learned could only be found in God and who He says I am.
I am no longer introverted and shy, or unable to express how I feel. I am alive, free, affirmed by God and the person I was created to be. I re-tested for the MBTI recently with very different results – as an “ENFP”. Yes, I am an extrovert, no longer wounded. The test was an encouraging indicator but my true identity is in God.
God knew us before we were born, we are wonderfully and fearfully made - and our identity and security is in Him - He is the one who lovingly takes our broken pieces and makes us whole.
It is never too late for change, God restores, renews, revives and speaks life into our identity because He loves us and fights for us. In the valley He is the Good Shepherd who comforts you and leads you along right paths.
I believe and pray that He will brings wholeness to you also, no matter the valley you are enduring or the battle! Your identity is in Him.
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We're entering the final weeks of winter and despite the biting cold, the signs of new life, of new beginnings are bursting forth. The lambs are being born, the barren trees are budding ready for the blossoms to emerge, and dormant bulbs are starting to push their way up and out of the dark heavy earth that has been concealing their existence.
It was a number of years ago now, in the midst of a dark winter season of my own soul, that God revealed this truth to me: the seeds of new life don't begin in the spring but in the winter. In the midst of the cold and sometimes barren landscape, things of great beauty are being realised.
Just last winter God led me to a new beginning of my own, asking me to resign from what I would have previously described as my dream job to be at home with my children and to write. In the midst of laying down the plans that I had built for myself - of allowing dreams to die and be rebirthed - I have been reminded afresh of the truth that God spoke through the seasons to me all those years ago, that the 'new things' often spring forth from the most unlikely of landscapes. That beautiful things can be born out of the hard things.
See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.
The question that God asks us through the prophet Isaiah, is the question that we must each answer when we find ourselves in the midst of the winter - will we have eyes to see the new things God is doing? Will we have faith to believe that He is able to bring beauty out of our barreness?
There is a fragility to new beginnings. Like the lambs born into a harsh climate, seasons of transition, where we are just beginning to embark on a new path, can be times of vulnerability. The elements often oppose the new life that is emerging which is why we must guard our hope and protect the seeds that God has planted within us.
As we grieve what we have had to let go of; what we have had to release in order to embrace the new, we must trust in His redemptive plans and purposes for our lives. We must believe that He can make a way where we might not yet see one.
When we find ourselves in the paralysing throes of fear, questioning whether we have heard God right; wondering if we are adequate for the task before us, we must lean into His strength and trust that His grace is sufficient. Sufficient to equip us for what He is calling us to and sufficient to cover us when we mis-step and get it wrong.
When the path ahead feels lonely and confronting we must remember that He is not only with us, He is for us. He believes in us and He is cheering us on. God knows that we need His care and protection equally in times of despair and of advancement which is why He not only walks through the valleys with us, He is also, as Psalm 23 tells us, going ahead of us, preparing the table - preparing places of rest and provision - as we ascend the mountain. He understands our vulnerability and provides all that we need to go from strength to strength.
Stripped of my titles; stripped of my familiar routines, my own new beginnings have required me to face these same myriad of emotions. The contrasting emotions of grief and hope; of letting go and picking up have been overwhelming at times. Forging new paths and allowing God to do a fresh work in our lives is seldom a comfortable experience - they are however an opportunity to draw near and rely on God in a deeper way. To find our rest in Him instead of striving to make things happen on our own terms.
I have learned that it is only when we embrace the companionship of the Comforter over being comfortable that we are positioned for new things to emerge. But as long as we fight for our own comfort the seeds of new life are constrained.
As far as the seasons go, I actually love winter. I love cosying up to the fire with a glass of red or a warm cuppa and a good book, drawing comfort and warmth from its embers; accepting its offer of respite from the cold. I have not always loved it though as an analogy for my life. Experience has taught me however to appreciate the beauty that God births in us throughout the winter months.
Yes, the winter months can feel relentless, but beneath the surface beauty is waiting to be revealed. Do you see the new thing that God is preparing to spring up in your life?
P.S. Want to understand more about the table that God has prepared? Sign-up to get the devotional series, The Good Shepherd, to your inbox here.
Isolated and alone. They're not words that I would have typically used to describe my life - not for an extended period of time anyway. But a few weeks before I was due to give birth to our youngest, Lucas, it felt like everyone moved away. My parents had been a five-minute drive from our home, now they were over an hour away. Both of my sisters then moved to the outskirts of our city and six months later my brother and his family moved back to the inner city. We'd always lived in close proximity and it wasn't until we all dispersed that I realised how much I'd taken it for granted, but also how much I'd depended on their presence in my everyday routines.
It was to be the beginning of everything moving around me.
In the last few years, God has taken me on a journey of being stripped back; of being asked to leave the familiar and the comfortable behind to forge a new path and say yes to what is yet unknown. It's not only been hard, at times it's been lonely.
We are designed for community, not only with God, but also with one another. But here's the reality: there are some seasons, some places that God asks us to go to that others cannot go with us. Yes, we need to allow others to stand with us, to like Aaron and Hur did, lift up our hands when we grow weary. But equally, we need to know how to strengthen ourselves in the Lord if we do not want to be undone in the lonely battlegrounds of life.
There is an episode in David's life that takes place during David's time of exile and persecution under King Saul which challenges me. David and his men have been fighting for over a year as mercenaries under the commander Achish but when all the Philistine rulers come together for battle, the others are uncomfortable with David fighting for them. They think he could turn against them and so David and his men are sent home.
Three days later, David and his men arrive home to find their settlement burned to the ground and their wives and children taken captive by the Amalekites. Understandably, David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep. But there's a difference between how they all handle things after that. Scripture tells us that his men began to talk of stoning David because they were bitter in spirit. In contrast, we read this about David:
But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.
Some translations say that he found strength in the Lord or that he encouraged himself in the Lord. When he had lost those that mattered most to him, when everyone around him turned against him, David knew to turn to God and find strength in him. He allowed the presence of God with him and the truth of who God is to encourage him in the midst of despair. He let God be with him when he felt destitute and alone.
Lonely seasons can become places of bitterness and destruction, but they also have the ability to become something beautiful in our lives - to be where God gives us the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places (Isaiah 45:3). Leaning on Him opens us up to His perspective and seeing what He sees, changes everything. For David, it meant being able to rise up and fight with courage and tenacity the battle that lay before him, recovering all that had been lost.
Henri Nouwen in his book Spiritual Formation writes:
Jesus liberates human history from mere chronology to kairos - God's time, where past, present and future merge in the present moment... Even hard and painful times can be converted to occasions for learning, shaping influences forming us into the persons we are and leading us to the Source of healing and salvation. The spiritual life is not a life that offers a few good moments between the many bad ones, but an abundant life that transforms all moments of time into windows through which the invisible becomes visible.
Opening myself up to God's perspective, learning to see this time as not something just to endure but a kairos moment in which I can experience God, has given way to a strength that is not my own.
Yes, this season of being stripped back has been hard and at times lonely - but can I tell you this: it has also been breathtakingly beautiful. It has caused me to wholeheartedly pursue and rely on the Source of healing and salvation. To see Jesus at work in all the aspects of my life, weaving the past, present and future together for His purposes. No longer able to depend on proximity to those I love; no longer able to place confidence in titles and positions that I have held; no longer able to rely on the comfortable and familiar, I have had to rely on Him. And as I have, the fingerprints of His invisible work in my life have slowly become more visible as I have been shaped by His hand.
Don't let lonely places and seasons become destructive in your own life, allow them to become a place of communion with the only true source of strength, Jesus.
How can you strengthen yourself in the Lord 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,
Low-tide is my favourite time to take a walk along the beach. There is plenty of room for Lucas to run and we are free to explore the full length of the beach without getting cut-off by the incoming waves. But as an analogy for life, I much prefer the idea of high-tide - of my life brimming to overflowing and reaching its full potential.
I recently heard a pastor make this statement: the tide will turn. He was encouraging people from the life of Nehemiah, reminding us that the Israelites had faced much opposition when they rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem and exhorting us that just as the tide of opposition against them turned and they were able to complete their work, it will turn for us too.
This declaration resonated with me and I've found myself contemplating it over and over in recent weeks. Pondering, what does it look like when the tide turns? What happens in the natural when the tides change? I googled these questions and came up with a bunch of answers that made my sleep-deprived (and somewhat unscientific) brain glaze over. But one thing did stand out and brought back some vague recollections of High School Science classes:
The tides change because of the gravitational pull of both the sun and moon.
There is a pull, a tension that causes the waters. to change their path. This is often our experience in the natural - when it's time to change direction; when God is calling us into something new; when breakthrough is imminent, we can feel a conflicting pull.. It usually gets messy before the new direction emerges.
This is the precise time that we must stand firm. When we must keep our eyes on the prize of what God is calling us to - seeing our lives and circumstances as God does. Not allowing the mess, the tug and war pull of our circumstances, to derail us from pursuing God's purposes for our lives.
The opposition that Nehemiah and the Israelites faced as they set about rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem was both external and internal. Their enemies mocked and ridiculed them; plotting against them and accusing them of rebellion. And in the face of this opposition and the enormous task that lay in front of them, the Israelites grew tired - their strength gave out - and they were afraid of what might happen to them. They faced lack and it all seemed too hard.
As they faced all this opposition from both within and without, Scripture records Nehemiah's response:
But we prayed…
But I prayed…
Nehemiah continually sought out God’s perspective, inviting God’s power to be at work in their circumstances. He chose to exalt God above His circumstances and to fight for what had been promised.
“Don’t be afraid of them. Put your minds on the Master, great and awesome, and then fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.”
Fighting faith, faith that stands firm, refuses to lose sight of who God is. Refuses to passively allow the enemy to take territory that is rightfully ours. And as the Israelites stood firm, vigilantly continuing to do what God had asked them to do, the tide turned. Not only was the seemingly impossible task completed, but it was completed in record time.
So the wall was completed... in fifty-two days. When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realised that this work had been done with the help of our God.
After a storm, the full-tide reaches new heights. It exceeds its former boundaries and claims new ground. I believe that this is a prophetic statement for this season - not only will the tide turn, but it is turning. And as it does, as you stand firm in the face of opposition, you will not only take back what has been lost, you will gain ground.
Where do you need to put your mind on the Master - to remember how great and awesome He is? To recall what He has promised? Stand firm in that place and fight, confident that high-tide is coming.
Live today with purpose,
Enjoy this guest post from Karen Frith - Karen and I had a chance encounter in a bathroom one morning and ever since she has been bringing timely words of encouragement into my life and I know that this will be a word in season to help you to step into what God has prepared for you in 2017.
Are you looking forward to what 2017 holds? Could it be that you’ve been looking back over 2016 and reflecting on what did not happen; those things you had hoped would?
Maybe, just maybe, God has wanted our view point of all our dreams and destinies that He has called us to believe for, to die. Not that God wants our dreams to die, but rather our views of how he will do it and how it will look.
I draw parallels from the death of Lazarus as recounted in John 11. Whilst Lazarus is desperately ill, his sisters Mary and Martha beseech Jesus to come. Jesus however, does not rush to Bethany to see Lazarus, instead He REMAINS a further two days where He is, during which time Lazarus subsequently dies.
Yet Jesus decrees in John 11:4:
“This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”
When Jesus does arrive in Bethany, Mary and Martha go to Him, opening up about their distress and pain over their beloved’s brother’s death.
Maybe your dreams and hopes died during 2016 and you feel that the Lord hasn’t answered your prayers as you hoped He would. This is the time to turn to God, not away. This is the time to bring your confusion and pain to Jesus, as Mary and Martha did over Lazarus.
Here comes the different view point. The one we do not always see.
“Jesus said to Martha, your brother will rise again... I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”
Martha responds to Jesus’s question with a resounding yes, declaring, “Yes Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.”
Let 2017 be a time to say look forward; to say yes I believe Lord; to be confident that He hears every one of our prayers. That we will see the glory of God, that the promises will come forth and we will have a greater revelation of Jesus. Because even though Martha believed in who Jesus was, there was still so much more that He wanted her to understand; that He wanted to demonstrate to her.
Jesus can show us in a far better way who He is to us and for us.
And as they arrive at the tomb where Lazarus has been buried, Jesus instructs that they “Take away the stone.” As it is rolled away, He calls out in a loud voice saying, “Lazarus, come out!”
The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
Even though Lazarus was free from the tomb; even though he was resurrected from the finality of death – he was still wearing the grave clothes of death, and these needed to be removed from his body. Just as Jesus calls Lazarus out from the Tomb, He calls us out from the places of death in our lives. And He asks us to take off our grave clothes; our mourning; our ashes.
Are we ready and willing to give Him those things? Are we willing to make the exchange, to surrender our pain and our past to Jesus?
We are promised beauty for our ashes and a garment of praise instead of garments of mourning. And throughout Scripture, God makes this exchange with His people - taking from them the old, and clothing them in His goodness; in His provision; in His promises.
In the book of Ruth chapter 3, we read about Naomi making Ruth change her clothes. Why? Because Ruth was still wearing the clothes that were linked with Moab and these garments were filled with grief from the loss of her husband. Before she could meet Boaz, her intended – she needed to take off the grave clothes.
In Zechariah 3, satan accuses Joshua the High Priest over his past. The Lord however changes Joshua’s clothing. The dirty clothes which represent his past are taken off and he is given new garments. A new turban is also placed on his head which indicates a change of mind, new thoughts in a new season.
“See I have taken away your sin and I will put fine garments on you”
God wants to give you new clothes for a new year. Clothes that reflect the future and the hope that He has for you. So as we go into 2017, let’s sort out our ‘closets’. Let’s make an active choice to shed our grave clothes - our filthy garments of the past, the clothes which carry mourning and grief - for the beauty and joy that Jesus has promised us.
Mourn no longer, rather rejoice as you go into 2017 in the beautiful exchange that Jesus is offering you. He is the restorer of life - your life!
Dreams are funny things - sometimes they feel like a seed of hope within us, other days they can feel heavy. Distant and seemingly out of reach they fill us with despair.
I can't help but wonder if the latter was how Joseph felt.
When he was betrayed by his brothers
When he was sold first to the Ishamelites and then to Potiphar - traded like an object
When he was falsely accused - set up on an attempted rape charge
When he was wrongly imprisoned
When he was overlooked and forgotten by those he helped - left to languish in prison for another two years
Did the dreams that had once filled him with so much excitement, feel lost and hopeless? Did they feel like a reminder of a different lifetime, of a time when he was loved and highly favoured? Were they yet another disappointment; a taunt of what could have been?
We know the end of his story, but at the time Joseph had no idea how it would all turn out. He was just a seventeen year old boy who'd had the rug pulled out from under him. As you read about everything he endured, one thing is clear though - he never lost sight of who he knew God to be.
When he was propositioned, he refused to sin against God
When those around him needed wisdom, he looked to God as the source
When he was praised, he kept giving God the credit and the glory
Where others saw destruction and suffering, he saw the purposes of God woven throughout his life
In all the uncertainties of his life, God was enough for Joseph. He let God be bigger than what he didn't understand. And this posture of trust enabled Joseph to experience the blessing, the favour, the presence of God in every season and situation. It was evident to all that whether slave or Pharoah's right-hand man; whether imprisoned or free, that God was with him.
...the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favour in the eyes of the prison warden.
And He wants to be with us too, because the favour, the presence of God is meant to be experienced in any and every season. It is not only intended to be manifest in our lives when everything is going well, but also in the hard times - in the seasons and places that don't make sense. When our dreams and destiny feel opposed.
Joseph's awareness of God with him transformed his experiences and enabled him to become fruitful in the very place of his suffering. It caused him to see purpose in his pain. And as he served the interests of others; as he diligently and honourably managed their affairs; as he interpreted their dreams, God revived his own.
Over twenty years had passed since his brothers had sold him, and when they bowed before him in the time of famine seeking grain - Joseph remembered his dreams about them (Gen. 42:9). And I can't help but wonder as he remembered the sheaves of grain bowed before him, if he also reinterpreted what he'd been shown as a young man. Dreams begin like a seed - and often only time reveals their true nature and extent.
In his youthful enthusiasm, Joseph had recounted his family bowing before him - his focus had been that they were honouring him. But the years have changed him, and as his family come to him in a time of need - as they bow before him - I think he realises that he had been elevated not to be honoured, but to serve. That he had been given position and power for purpose - to be a source of provision for those in need.
And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.
Joseph was intended not just to receive honour - but to give it; to preserve the life and dignity of those around him. But sometimes, God has to shape us before he can allow our dreams to take shape. He knows what needs to be cultivated in the soil of our hearts for the desires that He has planted within us to reach maturity - to realise their true nature and extent. God took Joseph on a journey not to break him or to rob him, but to prepare him. To ready him for what he had planned for him.
As I write this, I am seeing God unfold some long-held dreams of my own - dreams that I cried out for in another season that I now see I needed to be shaped to carry. But I am also laying down the form that I thought some of the deepest desires of my heart should take. I am choosing to not allow disappointment to weigh heavy, but to trust like Joseph did in the hard places, so that I too can declare, "...you intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good." (Gen. 50:20). I am choosing to believe that one day I will be able to look back on the things that have brought pain in my own journey and reinterpret their place and meaning in my life; that I will see dreams revived and understand them as He intended them.
What dreams, what desires of your heart is God asking you to trust Him with today?
Live today with purpose,
A girlfriend texted me earlier this week, wondering how I was going with this new season - this new season of letting go, of laying down titles and roles and being at home. She knows me well, and she had an inkling that perhaps not having so much responsibility, not being so busy might be hard for how I'm wired. And in part it is. If I haven't said it before, I'll share it with you now - I am a type A, highly driven, tick-the-list, be productive kinda-girl. Navigating a season with no expectations on me, no plan, is new territory.
As I was processing this with God, I felt Him whisper - you've been really good at being Martha for a really long time. Busy involved with all the preparations. But now I need you to learn from Mary so you can bring the two together.
Mary and Martha - two well-known sisters found in Luke's gospel. We typically praise Mary for being willing to sit at Jesus' feet and Martha gets the bad rap for being distracted by the preparations. But in truth, we can learn from them both. Martha was the one who opened her home, who made sure that things were ready - she was hospitable and practical, a hand-to-the plough, get-stuck-in kinda girl (I suspect that her and I would have got on well!). Her failing was that she was so busy doing what the culture expected of her, that she forgot to consider what God might be asking of her. That was Mary's strength - leaning in to the voice of her Saviour.
...Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what He said.
While everyone else hurried around her, Mary was to be found sitting at the feet of Jesus, attentive to His voice.
It was a posture of rest.
It was a position of learning.
It was completely counter-cultural.
It was customary at that time for disciples to sit at the feet of their teacher, their rabbi, in order to learn. This was a privilege typically only afforded to men - but Jesus doesn't condemn Mary for sitting at His feet.with His disciples, instead He commends her saying:
Mary has discovered the one thing most important by choosing the most beautiful place of sitting at my feet. She is undistracted and I won't take this privilege from her.
Mary pushed back against the demands of her day; against the demands of her culture and recognised who she had with her. She was mindful of the presence of Jesus with her and she honoured it by the posture that she chose. In contrast, Martha allowed the tasks before her to distract her from being with Jesus. It was not that she was wrong to be about the preparations - Luke tells us that they had to be done (v.40) - but she allowed them to take precedence over connecting with Jesus. And in doing so she lost her sense of rest and entered into striving.
I love what Bonnie Gray writes in her book, Finding Spiritual Whitespace:
Sometimes, we carry preconceived notions about connecting with Jesus. Trying to figure out how to spend time with God may be the last thing on our minds when we are stressed. But Jesus can enter into whatever space we find ourselves. As is.
Jesus wants to share all our moments with us - He wants to be a part of our preparations and of our rest; of our highlights and of our trainwrecks. In any and all situations, Jesus wants us to have an internal posture of sitting at His feet, of connecting with Him and leaning into what He is saying; of being teachable in the moment.
We don't always get to be in a season like the one that God has positioned me in - times where we get to literally stop and cease all our activity to be with Him - but wherever we find ourselves, we can adopt the posture of Mary, honouring His presence with us as we learn to sit at His feet.
What would it look like for you to sit at the feet of Jesus today?
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 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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