I am blessed to have many women in my life that encourage and lift me up. One in particular - I call her Mama Pip - is my 'church mum' or 'spiritual mum'. She has played a pivotal role in my life, far more than she probably realises. One of her catchphrases is “Shine on you crazy diamond”. It was years ago that she centred one of her messages around this line and it has stuck with me ever since.
Now, the cool thing about diamonds is that they start as boring old carbon. It takes heat and pressure to turn them into the beautifully unique jewels we see in the store windows. The Nature journal gives this basic recipe to make a diamond:
1. Bury carbon dioxide 100 miles into Earth, billions of years ago.
2. Heat to about 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit.
3. Squeeze under pressure of 725,000 pounds per square inch.
4. Quickly rush towards Earth’s surface to cool.
Just like the diamond, we too are put through trials and pressures in life. And with God on our side, we can go through these challenges and come out the other side a beautiful, crazy, diamond.
James told the twelve tribes to:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
It’s easy to say “thank God for your trials” - it’s a whole other thing to actually live through them. Some days there is too much to handle, and it would be so much easier to stay in bed, pull the blankets over my head and pretend the world doesn’t exist.
Some days it’s the little things that matter the most. I have had seasons in my life where there were some big challenges that I had to face and to get through each day, I had to just find one small thing to be grateful for. It is a choice we have to make, to seek joy.
Hebrews 12:1-2 says:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
We have to choose to look to God; to look for His light in all things and at all times.
I used to attend a ladies life group where we would have “praise reports” at the start of our weekly meeting. Sometimes it would be an answer to a prayer request from the week before, but sometimes it would be something really random. For some of us, it would be the fact that we made it to life group! With three children and everything that goes along with that, it was a big deal for me to go out in the evening. It was a great encouragement to all of us, whether we were sharing or listening, to see how God had blessed us, even in the little things.
Can I encourage you, every day, to find at least one little thing to be grateful for. Whether it was the cup of coffee when you got up in the morning, enough fuel to get to where you wanted to go, sufficient food to feed your family, a smile from a friend, or perhaps the fact that at the end of the day you had a warm bed to get into.
Find a “spiritual mum” who can support and encourage you through your life. This could be a Pastor, a Small Group Leader, a Spiritual Director, a wise friend. Keep a diary. List the little things you are grateful for each day. In a few weeks, you will be amazed at all the things God has done for you!
Shine on you crazy diamonds and never stop looking for his light in the little things!
I recently admitted to myself that I struggle with perfectionism.
Peer into my life and you’ll realise it’s highly imperfect.
But I guess that isn’t the point.
Perfectionism is in the straining towards an ideal standard in your head – not the (highly mythical) achievement of that standard. I now believe that those wise people who’ve mastered ‘imperfectionism’ are the ones who’ve discovered that ‘good enough’ is much, much more liberating…
I think part of my struggle comes from the deeply embedded idea that if I succeed in doing everything just right, I’ll be acceptable and loved by everyone.
It’s irrational, but I think such striving simply reflects a desire we all have to prove our own worth, and to be loved for it.
You’d think that when I accepted just how much God loves me and has forgiven me I would’ve given up the need to prove myself. But it’s in my nature to keep trying to earn his favour – as if it was about me, and my ability to impress him – and others.
But this kind of thinking never ends well. It only leads us on a cycle of self-driven effort and striving that causes stress, disappointment, frustration, and more anxiety.
When I’m tempted to ‘strive’ rather than let God take over, I try and remind myself of the following truths...
Only God is truly perfect, and He alone can make me more like Him.
When we receive Christ into our life we receive his perfection – God accepts us as righteous because of what Christ has done for us. Knowing that it’s God that does the ‘perfecting’ takes so much pressure off! Once I remind myself he’s done it all, there is so much freedom….
True strength and power comes to us when we admit our weakness and our complete need for God.
Remembering that I’ll only succeed when I rely on God rather than my own reasoning and effort gives me a whole new perspective – whether it’s facing the challenge of finishing an important project at work, or resolving a conflict with a friend, or learning how to parent a special needs child. There is no perfect – only perfect reliance on a much-bigger God.
As 2 Corinthians 12:9 says:
I am loved
Knowing just how much I am loved and redeemed by the God of the universe helps dispel the fears and anxieties which keep the focus on me, and my achievements. God is love, and His love is constant and true regardless of what I do or don’t achieve – however perfectly or imperfectly.
I might be tempted to believe that creating the perfect dinner party meal, or getting an A-plus on that exam, or winning every netball game might make me worthwhile, valuable, loveable… But God says no – while these things are good, they are not what qualifies me for his love, or His acceptance. What qualifies us is the blood of Jesus, shed for us to take away our sin and redeem us from our old way of thinking; our previous way of life.
May we lean completely on the qualifications Christ has earnt for us by his blood, and start to do life in His strength rather than our own.
God, thank You for Your love, which makes me whole. Forgive me for trying to earn Your favour and the favour of others through my own efforts. Help me to accept that You’ve done the work of redeeming and sanctifying me…I don’t have to do it for myself. When I’m tempted to ‘strive’, give me the courage to let go and fall into your arms – my loving, all-sufficient Father, who has provided for me and will always be my strength in my weakness. Help me to “be anxious for nothing” but trust completely in Your will and purpose for my life and in the amazing power of the cross and resurrection of Jesus. In His name, Amen.
I've often thought of myself as someone who colours inside the lines. You know, a good girl who gets on with what's expected of her and keeps the rules. But the more I journey with God, the more I can see that I've learnt to colour outside the lines; to go against the grain and walk with Him by faith.
Isaiah 55 tells us that God's ways are not our ways - they often sit outside of our logic and reasoning and because of this, faith often calls us to a path that feels counter-intuitive.
Sometimes faith says pull back when we would think rush in
Sometimes faith says give when we would like to hold back
Sometimes faith says go when we would prefer to stay
This has been the pattern all throughout Scripture:
God asked Noah to build an ark when he'd never even seen rain
He sent Abraham on a journey to an undisclosed location - asking him to pack up all his belongings and leave everything he had ever known
He asked a destitute widow to share the last of her provisions when she had no means to replenish them
He sent the disciples out in pairs to do ministry and wouldn't allow them to take any provisions with them, asking them to rely on those they ministered to for sustenance
All things that fly in the face of conventional wisdom - that go against the grain of forming a plan, of making provision, of having a safety net. Yes, while faith isn't about being reckless, sometimes it will sure look that way!
In my own journey, I've come to realise that my ability to walk by faith - to be obedient to what God is asking of me - is tied to my priorities and my affections. Hebrews 11 tells us that the men and women we so often refer to as the 'heroes of faith' were able to live as they did because they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth (v. 13). The Passion Translations challenges me with this rendering:
For clearly those who live this way are longing for the appearing of a heavenly city. And if their hearts were still remembering what they left behind, they would have found an opportunity to go back. But they couldn't turn back for their hearts were fixed on what was far greater, that is, the heavenly realm.
These heroes of faith both endured and achieved much for the Kingdom of God because they had determined where their treasure lay. They had fixed their heart to His.
When this world and all of its comforts has more of a hold on my heart than He does, my capacity to embrace His wisdom and to walk in faith is diminished. When He is no longer enough for me, then I hesitate to walk in surrendered obedience and even my frail human logic seems safer than the path that He has set before me.
Yes, this life of faith requires on my part a constant checking of my heart and my pursuits.
Am I distracted by what is temporal instead of engaged with what is eternal?
Am I self-reliant or God-reliant?
Am I craving the approval of the world or anchored by His love?
The current landscape of my own life is both exhilarating and terrifying. And truthfully, I find myself having to continually determine and redetermine to walk by faith. It's not a one off decision but a day by day, sometimes moment by moment process of choosing to trust and obey. To keep my heart fixed to His.
But the last two years have reminded me afresh that not only are God's ways not our ways, they are higher.
“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
And because they are higher than ours, we find rest and strength in them; provisions for the journey that He has sent us on. The path of faith might be uncomfortable, but because it is marked out by His presence we can expect to experience His comfort along the way.
However much sacrifice walking by faith invites, the rewards are far greater.
How is He inviting you to fix your heart to His today?
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.
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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