'But'. It's a word that gets used on a daily basis in my household:
But you said...
But that's not fair...
I don't want to hear any 'buts,' just do it...
And on it goes. This little yet powerful word gets thrown around throughout the day - throughout our lives - and depending on the context, it will remind us of the obstacles, the limitations and perhaps even injustices that we might find ourselves facing, or it can open up another perspective. 'But' has the potential to unlock a new way of thinking; to cause us to focus less on the impossibilities and more on the possibilities.
I've been offering plenty of my own 'buts' up to God of late; dampening the desires and the dreams that I know He has placed within me with a narrative of impossibility.
But I don't have enough [I could write a shopping list for you here!]...
But I just want a break...
But I'm tired of waiting...
But it's just too hard - impossible even...
Scripture shows us a pattern of such impossibilities encountering a 'but God' truth - however if you're anything like me, you've probably been guilty more than once of switching it round. Of derailing what God wants to do with 'but impossibility.' We allow our obstacles and inadequacies to become bigger than who God is.
I love what Paul Manwaring writes:
This is where the real battle of faith is, the battle of trusting an unseen, eternal reality and letting it transform the way we negotiate visible, temporal reality.
'But God' is not a denial or whitewashing of what we face; rather it is allowing the reality of who He is, of eternity, to reshape how we see our lives and our circumstances.
David models this for us throughout the psalms:
When he had to flee from his son Absalom and his foes were many and people were telling him that God would not deliver him, he said, "But you are a shield around me, O Lord; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head." (Psalm 3)
When he felt forgotten and he wrestled with his thoughts - his heart heavy with sorrow - he declared, "But I trust in Your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in Your salvation.. I will sing to the Lord for He has been good to me." (Psalm 13)
When he considered God's holiness, that the wicked could not dwell in His presence, he was aware of the grace that enabled him to draw near saying, "But, I, by Your great mercy, will come into Your house; in reverence will I bow down toward your holy temple." (Psalm 5)
David allowed himself to express his worries and his fears; he acknowledged the obstacles he faced and the enemies who opposed him; he accepted his own inadequacies and failings but he didn't allow his thoughts to stop there. Time and time again the Psalms show us how David lived not in light of his impossibilities but by the truth of 'but God.'
It is not a sin to see the obstacles we face or to give voice to our fears and our anguish but we mustn't allow them to stop us from encountering God or pursuing His plans for our lives. In 2 Corinthians 10:5, Paul writes:
We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
I don't know about you, but when I continually interrupt God with a narrative of 'but this' or 'but that,' the truth gets distorted and I become susceptible to believing lies; to elevating my problems above the wonder of who God is. And when I do this, I am robbed of truly knowing God and from experiencing the fullness that He has for me.
We need to recognise that our minds are a battlefield - that the enemy would love us to think in a way that keeps us distracted from seeing God's goodness. We must learn like David to process our reality and to then submit it to the powerful truth of 'but God.'
And when we allow 'but' to become an invitation to a new way of thinking - to God's perspective - then we will be positioned to see and experience His goodness in each and every season of our lives.
Where do you need to say, 'but God' today?
Life is very different for my wife and I in this season of our journey. Through it, we are rediscovering identity, meaning and purpose as we travel with weakness and the revelation of ‘the power of weakness and the weakness of power’. The revelation that God works through our weakness and woundedness.
It is both fascinating and challenging to note that Christ’s key point of self-identification after the resurrection and in heaven was His wounds (see Revelation 5:6-14). In the post-resurrection accounts in Luke and John when the disciples were uncertain as to whether the person standing before them was Christ, He identified Himself by simply saying:
"Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have." When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet.
Christ affirmed His identity to the disciples through His wounds. It was what Thomas stated would be the convincing factor for him that Christ had truly risen, that it was truly Christ. Jesus asked them to look at His wounds, to touch them, in order to verify it was truly Him.
His wounds are a source of resurrection life and hope and we too can experience resurrection life and hope through our wounds and brokenness. The cross is a journey through woundedness to resurrection life and hope. In that magnificent chapter in Isaiah fifty-three, it was prophesied that Jesus, the suffering Messiah, would be ‘pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed’ (verse 5).
It took woundedness on the part of Christ, to create our healing. God’s ways are not our ways. The price and pathway for healing, forgiveness and new life, was through His wounds.
The Apostle Paul experienced a powerful ministry, yet he also was a wounded warrior. When the Apostle Paul asked the Father to remove His ‘thorn in the flesh’, He was told that, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”. Paul’s response was,‘Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me’. (2 Corinthians 12:8-9)
I have learnt over the years, that my wounds, my weaknesses, become a point of identification with people, through which God’s resurrection life and power can flow and be expressed to them, bringing hope and healing. Therefore, we should not be afraid or ashamed of our wounds or weaknesses (we are not referring to sin but our frail humanity), knowing that the treasure we contain - the resurrection life of Christ, dwells within ‘jars of clay’ :
In our western culture we value perfection over imperfection. This is clearly seen in the medium of advertising and modelling where we airbrush people on and in magazines to cover the least imperfection. In some cultures, an imperfection can lead to becoming an outcast. We must take care even in church culture, in the ‘pursuit of excellence’, to not shun weakness because God doesn’t.
God demonstrates throughout Scripture and history, that He marries power with weakness and frail humanity to bring about His redemptive purposes. Just look at the twelve Jesus chose! This equation is seen in His working through men and women in Scripture such as Abraham, Moses, Gideon, David, Peter and many more. God is greater than our wounds and weaknesses!
The word for ‘weakness’ in 2 Corinthians 12:9 is astheneia (as-then’-i-ah) conveying the meaning of lacking in and needing strength due to weakness or an infirmity, whether of body or soul. Also it can convey the idea of being frail. It derives from the word asthenes (as-then’-ace) meaning to be weak, feeble, and infirm. This word is not a reference to sin, but simply to our human frailty which God works His power in and through, so he gets the glory.
We need to embrace our humanity as much as we need to embrace His resurrection life; to allow God to infuse our weaknesses with His power because only then can we offer a broken world hope.
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.
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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