Ever felt the urge to compare your body to someone else’s?
Or ponder why some things come so easy to other people while you have to struggle through the same problems every day?
Or why you weren’t given the talents or gifts of someone who seems to just naturally succeed at life?
Making comparisons is all too easy.
The media is often blamed – and rightly so – for the pressure it places on young women to look a certain way. Even church, which should be a place of acceptance and freedom to be who God has gifted you to be – can become competitive too. Sometimes churches can over-emphasise how much work you’re doing for the kingdom, or how committed you are, or what your attendance record looks like. And some youth groups can be more intimidating than high school, with the pressure to fit a certain mould.
Social media can be a breeding ground for competition and comparisons too.
Had a bad day? Well, log on and witness how many women have had breakfast in bed served by their fabulous husband when you’ve just gone through a separation… or observe photos of gorgeous newborns when you’ve been trying for a baby for years… And it’s really not the fault of the person posting the pics – most of the time they’re just sharing good news. But because it's human nature to compare ourselves to others, it really can be quite depressing…
I like this quote:
“One reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with other people’s highlight reel.”
Facebook is a truckload of highlight reels. Of course if you knew the behind-the-scenes of every smiling image, you would find the girl on your friends list may well have just as many insecurities, low moments, and silent struggles, as you.
We’re all struggling with something, at some time.
As a parent of a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder, I've often found it tempting to compare my family situation to others. Scrolling through photos where kids my son's age are receiving awards at school and thriving can be a real trigger for me – and I slip into despondency. But I need to keep coming back to the fact that God has taken me and our family on this journey for a reason, and remind myself to be thankful for the many blessings and beautiful moments that come along with the trials.
In whatever we’re facing, it’s so reassuring to know we have a God who has mapped out our life from the beginning.
He knew what struggles would be unique to us and has a plan and a purpose for every aspect of our lives.
Because of Christ, we are well-equipped and more than enough.
With God, we have what it takes to face life head on.
And if we don’t already have the skills needed to confront our daily dilemmas, we will learn them soon enough!
We are works in progress, moulded by each new thing that comes our way.
And we have a loving, comforting Heavenly Father who knows exactly what we need at all times.
Not that it isn’t still tempting to play the comparison game...
But when we remember that God’s ways are higher than ours; His intentions towards us are only good; and He is with us all the way – then we find the strength to keep pushing through and meeting each new challenge with confidence, boldness, and wisdom.
He is with us, right now, in our unique struggles, and he will guide us through.
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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
They were bickering over something. I can't even remember what. It wasn't even a full-scale argument, just a difference of opinion, but on this particular day, it just felt like too much. I could feel myself reaching breaking point. I wanted to scream all manner of things; instead I abruptly sent them to their rooms with no explanation. I'd have to later explain it wasn't because of anything that they'd done (I have one daughter who is devastated at the mere thought of making a mistake and upsetting someone); it was because of me. It was to protect them from me.
I did not have the reserves that day to speak with wisdom or grace; to be sensitive to their own struggles in the midst of all our transitions. At that moment, I was definitely not the epitome of a Proverbs 31 woman!
The Proverbs 31 woman. Sometimes we read of her and find freedom in the many and varied tasks she engaged in; in how industrious she was both inside her home and in the marketplace. Other times? Well, let's just say we wish she hadn't been quite so talented at balancing it all so virtuously!
A few years back, I was invited to be part of a series a Women's Ministry was doing on the Proverbs 31 woman. I was assigned verse 26 and it was loosely titled wisdom. I was excited - that is until I actually read the verse and realised that it was about the tongue! It says:
She opens her mouth in [skillful and godly] wisdom, And the teaching of kindness is on her tongue [giving counsel and instruction].
When I read these words I think I literally sighed. The Message paraphrase summarises it saying: "When she speaks she has something worthwhile to say, and she always says it kindly."
Can I be honest and say that this is not always what comes out of my mouth?
You've probably gathered by now that I am a words girl. I love words. I love to read them, write them and if you've ever met me, then you'll know I'm seldom short on them in conversation either! But what is my strength is also an area of weakness for me. And I know, that when I can't control my tongue; when I'm lashing out or not opening my mouth in wisdom, that it's an indication of something deeper. It's an indication of how healthy my heart is.
In Luke's gospel, Jesus said this:
A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.
The mouth speaks what the heart is full of.
One of the biggest things I've realised as a Mum, is that more than managing a household, I am managing an economy of hearts. And each of these hearts is indelibly tied to the health of my own heart.
When my heart is tired, impatient words spill over.
When my heart is disappointed, cynical words squash expectation.
When my heart is holding on to hurts, bitter words poison the air.
Healthy words and healthy connections require a healthy heart. I love how the NLT translates this verse, it says: A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart.
My heart is a treasury. It is worth taking care of.
Over the years I've learnt the importance of doing things that bring me joy; of nurturing my soul and practicing self care. But the biggest thing I've come to realise that my heart needs to be healthy is truth. God's truth. I don't want the world's wisdom or its ever-fluctuating truth. I want His.
Sometimes storing up His truth in my heart is hard - not merely because life is busy, but because sometimes His truth is confronting. It asks me to surrender. It asks me to obey. It asks me to trust.
But only God's truth can refresh my weary soul and renew my strength.
Only God's truth can speak to my disappointment, reviving faith and restoring hope.
And only God's truth has the power to wash me clean; to heal and redeem my hurting, broken places.
So I store it up in my heart. Some days I snack on it - grazing where I can. Other days I sit and feast, savouring each morsel. I let it sustain me. And with every deposit, His wisdom shapes my life.
What are you storing up in your heart? Allow His truth to reveal the treasure that lies in your heart today.
I was forever sketching and painting when I was young, my heart so full with a passion for Art. Seeds of this passion were planted in the soil of my life; yet somehow for the last 35 years they have lay dormant as I entered into an Art wilderness. But last August God spoke to my heart “Karen, this is your Jubilee year (I had turned 50), freedom and new things are coming forth”. On hearing that I felt an awakening in my spirit, a desire to be creative and explore new things.
What I did not expect was to be revisiting old dreams long, long since buried and even obliterated from my memory. The Holy Spirit gave me two scriptures which both spoke of a wilderness that would blossom and a way that would be made in the desert.
“The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom”
“Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert”
Karen Symons, an Artist at my Church began Adult Art Lessons this year and like a moth to a flame I signed up excitedly for them; unaware that even though I’d forgotten my dreams, God had not! I know now that He was showing me He cared about every aspect of my life and who He has made me to be.
Armed with a spectrum of beautifully coloured Acrylic paints and canvases I attended that first Art class, wondering if I’d even manage to paint anything passable at all. No one was more shocked than me at the well of creativity that bubbled up. I found I had an aptitude for Art and I experienced such joy in the process of painting. The lights just started to turn on and as the weeks went by I realised it wasn’t a one off but that God had relit the fires of my passion for Art.
But you know what, I have learned something more valuable than gold; I discovered that God loves me so much as His daughter and wanted to bless me by giving me good and perfect gifts. Oh, and gifts are exactly that as they are freely given and not something that must be earned or strived for. He wanted to lavish his perfect love on me.
He was encouraging me: “Karen - the best is yet to come”. As a woman, who is busy with part-time work, activities, teenagers and a home, taking time out to explore new interests and creativity is good, a part of who I am, my identity. He was loving me to life!
Dear ladies, we are so busy nurturing our families and ministering to those around us, we forget to self-care! We feel guilty for taking time out to pursue what we love. Have you ever said to yourself, I will wait until the children are older, or when I can carve out the time, and have enough money? Oh, how easy it can be to let our dreams and creativity die and lose our sense of self. God however has created us to live abundantly and joyfully, not to merely exist.
I have met amazing women of God at these Classes, who have lifted me to reach higher. We have encouraged one another in God! I believe too that there is a prophetic unction to painting – God is a creator God who spoke and the world was formed; who strategically placed the stars in the midnight blue velvet skies. He is the Master Painter, He is the source of all creativity and He has given us gifts and anointings to bless us and those around us -why? because He loves us.
Can I ask you dear women – have you given up on your dreams? Do you feel perhaps not good enough to pursue them? I believe God wants you to know you are worth it, to not be afraid, but to embrace life and the wonder of creativity in all its forms. It could be Art, Photography, Music, Dance, Craft – you name it, there are no limits. God has placed gold within you, He’s calling it forth. He loves you and everything about you. He made you, He created you, His very own Masterpiece.
And God has not forgotten your dreams and the desires of your heart.
Oh, have faith for yet more! I do. As a girl my dream to play the piano was thwarted, but next term some 40 years on– I’m going to start learning to play the keyboard with a tutor.
Let Him love you, Let Him bless you, Let creativity blossom and bloom.
Meet my friend lack. Lack and I have been friends for longer than I care to admit. And while this relationship frustrates me with its constant reminders of my inadequacies and insufficiencies; and its tendency to hem me in and roadblock my plans for progress, recent events have also made me realise that I have put my friend lack on a bit of a pedestal. Perhaps even made an idol of him.
That might seem like a strange statement to make. But our journey of looking for a new home has made me realise that deep down I thought it was more spiritual to be in want; to be in need because then I was truly dependent on God. So, when we ended up with a house that was above and beyond what I had ever anticipated or dreamt would be possible in this season of our lives, I struggled to receive it.
While on one hand the woman of faith in me could see the hand of God upon us; see His hand in every detail and His favour in the process, the woman who had made friends with lack wanted to refuse this gift. I felt unworthy - guilty even - of having such a lovely and spacious home. And this new home, with its somewhat empty rooms waiting to be filled, has been challenging me as to whether I am ready to break it off with my friend lack in order to pursue true dependency on Christ.
Paul's words in Philippians 4 have been echoing in my head. You know the often quoted, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. They are words that I have often leaned on over the years: the knowledge and truth as lack and I have journeyed together that it's ok that I don't have enough because He does; the freedom of knowing that it's ok that I don't feel enough for this calling because He is.
But here's the thing: I've only applied this dependency on Christ's sufficiency to some things. To the living in want things. And His invitation to be dependent upon His riches and grace is for ALL things.
...for I have learned to be content, whatever the circumstances may be. I know now how to live when things are difficult and I know how to live when things are prosperous. In general and in particular I have learned the secret of facing either poverty or plenty. I am ready for anything through the strength of the one who lives within me.
Christ's invitation, is to a life of dependency upon His strength and His power even when I feel like it's something that I've got under control. It's for the places that I think 'I've got this" and for the places where resources and talents abound as much as it is for the places that I wrestle and struggle in.
And when I receive this offer of grace for all instead of just some things, my places of lack are not more holy than my places of abundance. They are each simply an opportunity to lean on Him in a different way.
Because the friend that I need is neither lack nor abundance, it is Jesus.
It is Jesus in every strength and in every weakness
It is Jesus in every triumph and in every failure
It is Jesus in every season and in every chapter
It's His hand that I want to hold and His embrace that I need at the end of a long day. It is His truth, and His wisdom, and His love that feeds the ache in my soul. That's the only truly holy thing in all of this: wholeheartedly pursuing and surrendering myself to Jesus. Allowing myself to be fully reliant upon all that He is and all that He offers me; abiding so deeply in His presence that He becomes as necessary to me as the air that I breathe.
So I'm ending this thing I've had going on with lack and taking him off the pedestal that I've wrongly put him on. Do I expect to never be in want again? No, but I want to shift the focus. Instead of glorifying my circumstances I want to glorify Him. To look for how my season invites me to know Him more and to lean more deeply on His grace.
Which is why as I clean my house this weekend, I will be choosing gratitude for this unexpected blessing of a home instead of guilt. I'll be looking at the empty spaces and instead of feeling frustrated about what I don't have, I'll be choosing to see a space that God has created to be filled by Him. Just like my life.
How is Jesus inviting you to rely on Him for ALL things today?
I thought everything in my life was trucking along just fine. I thought I was OK –until that was a recurring issue in my life had me heading into freefall and my world was turned upside down. Crying before God I asked “Will I ever be free, truly free? Am I inherently evil that I struggle like this?” Straightaway the following passage of scripture was quickened to me: “I have loved you with an everlasting love” Jeremiah 31:3 (NIV)
No, I responded! love can only be earned if I do the right things, never fail and perform well. (See the problem there?) “Do not strive” God replied gently and still my soul railed “No, I must start achieving, do some courses, make my mark and validate my existence”
A memory flashed into my thoughts. I was aged 7 lying in my bed one night when I was overwhelmed by a sense of evil in the room, an evil so intense I could not breathe. I prayed for the first time, “God, place 4 Angels in each corner of my room to protect me”.
I saw those huge Angels, handsome with amazing feathers on their wings. Each with long, glinting swords which radiated light in the darkness. Even at 7 I was aware that a battle was taking place between good and evil. Light filled the room and evil was driven back.
When I shared this my husband challenged me – “Do you remember what was happening in your life when you were 7?” It had never crossed my mind so I asked God if He would show me. As I waited on God for that answer, I asked Him why I struggle with performance orientation; why I am so driven. God amazed me by swiftly answering both my questions.
Aged 7 my Dad became irritated that I was not ‘doing enough’ or earning my keep. He wanted me to spend more hours on the farm helping out. In my little girl’s heart, I resolved to earn my Father’s love by working harder. With tears in my eyes, I remember writing in my diary “I am not enough, I must do better and work harder” I started to perform to earn love and worth.
I also developed Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) which lasted over 30 years before God set me free. It began as I cleaned my bedroom in a certain way each week. I’d start with the window sill and the skirting boards, then clear out and organise each cupboard, every drawer and every book on my shelf until everything was perfect.
Worth was found in being orderly and until my tasks were accomplished to a certain standard I would hold of going out of having fun. Fun had to be earned.
Healing of my OCD was progressive and deep, but performance orientation remained. I kept feeling I was not enough and had to work harder. Striving, striving, striving. Yet I was craving love which I could not seem to find anywhere.
At night I’d go to bed troubled with these thoughts of not being enough, that I was not lovable as just ‘me’. I believed God and man expected so much of me and was aware I was seeing God as I did my earthly Father. The Holy Spirit gave me a key in a revelation – He showed me how as a 7-year-old girl I had made an inner vow stating that in order to earn love I must work harder.
God led me to break that inner vow for it had reaped an unholy harvest in my life – the Performance Orientation and the belief that love was conditional. I repented for believing lies that I was not enough. I forgave my lovely Dad, who was only busy with much work on the farm at the time. God showed me that Jesus’ death on the Cross, was pure love and because of what He had done I was enough - whether I did anything or not, whether I failed or succeeded. His love was not conditional. My worth was not based on how good or bad I was.
“I have loved you with an everlasting love.”
The cry of my heart for so many years has been “Somebody please love me – just as me”. When my Dad died in 2013, it was one of the first cries of my heart, for now, my Dad could never affirm me, I could not earn his love – he was gone. And I started looking for love and attention in all the wrong places, reaping more and more from that inner vow.
But even this message isn’t all tied up and neatly finished, for now I must learn to replace my thinking and allow God to pull down the ‘structures’ of behaviour I’ve had for many years. I am a work in process, no drive thru breakthrough here, it’s a journey of broken-ness and truth – but I know I am on the way to true freedom.
And I know that while I am a work in process, often only seeing the mess, He sees the end. And He will complete what He’s begun in me; like a master artist, He’ll keep putting His finishing touches on the canvas of my life until I can see the glorious work He’s done.
Where do you need to embrace being a work in process and rest in His faithfulness to bring wholeness?
It's a vulnerable thing to write about the places you are currently receiving healing, and even more so when it's on a topic that may be sensitive for a lot of people. I wrote this down in the hopes that whispers of truth would find their way into hearts where shadows have begun to form like they did in mine.
A while back I heard news that a married couple I hugely admired, particularly for the strength of their relationship, had separated. I didn't vocalise it, but I was angry. I felt like I was owed an explanation or something. Where normally I would feel compassion for the person or sadness for a situation, this time I was just angry. I was embarrassed to admit it because it seemed judgy, so I just pushed it down and "moved on."
To different degrees, this pattern has gone on over the last few months where I've felt angry at an outcome or expression of another relationship that sometimes doesn't even directly affect me. Now I'm self reflective enough to know that anger is my cover-up emotion for fear. I decide to be angry at something instead of facing whatever anxious thought is swirling around in my heart. I considered that maybe I was insecure in my own marriage, for if all of these other vows were being broken, what are the chances that the Flatts would succeed? But since my marriage is one of the safest places I know, I knew that my fears must be deeper.
Finally, I asked, "Papa, why is my heart fearful when I know I am safe and secure in my own marriage?" He said, "Because your heart is constantly being told covenant is fragile and breakable and you have begun to fear the one I made with you is too."
Maybe for you it is your own marriage that feels shaky. Or maybe a friend that you thought was forever has gone in a different direction. Maybe your parents fight or have separated or divorced. In all of these places the enemy will whisper, "Nothing is for sure. It's only a matter of time before things will break. Covenant is fragile, so don't let your heart feel secure or you'll be blindsided when it finally cracks."
If he can get you to partner with that belief, you will put up the very walls that hinder the intimacy that covenant should birth. It was only when I let Him show me what my heart was believing that I could hear the kind, reassuring voice. The voice that comes with such authority that every cell in my body takes note.
"For the mountains may be removed and the hills may shake, But My loving kindness will not be removed from you, And My covenant of peace will not be shaken," Says the LORD who has compassion on you.
God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?
His covenant is not fragile. It cannot be shaken or removed. It's not dependent on you and I. Though we are faithless, yet He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.
Amanda Cook summarises beautifully in her song Pieces: "Love keeps its promises It keeps its word It honors what’s sacred Cause its vows are good Your love's not broken It's not insecure Your love's not selfish Your love is pure."
It's the only certain thing we have. He's the same for me on my worst day as He is on my best. Even if I tried, I cannot get him to "un-choose" me. It's only through the experiential knowledge of the strength of His covenant with me that I have the grace to fulfill my own.
One of the lyrics to my wedding song with Matty was "You know my paper heart, the one I've filled with pencil marks.. I think I might have gone and inked you in." Exposing my paper heart and fearful little pencil marks to the permanent ink of His love is the way to wholeness. He'll address every fear, comfort every sadness, and restore hope for every disappointment.
Today I declare over you that any misbelief around covenant or vows would collide and give way to the strength and sheer determination of His unchanging desire toward you.
Editor's Note: Please know that our heart in sharing this post is not to make anyone who has or is experiencing the pain of divorce or separation feel under condemnation, but to remind and encourage us all that no matter how much in our humanity we fail one another, His love for us always stands firm.
Before the sun sets, I ask myself, have I been fully present to God, others and myself?
Transitioning into a new year is something some of us do with great joy and goal setting; for some of us it is just another year to get through. Some people give no thought to their future and live day to day, while some, I have observed, are so future focused, waiting for the big breakthrough, that illusive defining moment that will change everything, that they are rarely fully present day by day - to God, themselves or others.
I love the quick wit of that great philosopher, Groucho Marx, who when out one evening said to his host, “I’ve had a wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it!” For some of us there never seems to be ‘a wonderful evening’ because we keep looking for that big breakthrough evening or event. Is such a desire wrong? No, but when we live so future focused, we run the risk of missing present moments that bring great joy, life, community, deepening of relationships, hope, personal transformation and healing.
As my wife, Pip, and I have navigated our personal journey of health these past years and stepped into a new year, I realise I have discovered more from learning to be fully present each day than constantly staring into the future hoping for one big miracle that will make everything all better (not that I do not hope). As I seek to practice the art of being fully present to the moment, to each person and to myself, I am laying stepping stones that create a pathway to the possibility of breakthrough in areas of my life. Sometimes big breakthroughs are the accumulation of small, moment by moment breakthroughs, which become the foundation blocks to the larger ones.
My personal defeats and victories in navigating this season of recovery have become in themselves, defining moments of growth.
You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.
I see why Jesus encouraged us to live one day at a time, not worrying about the next day (Matthew 6:25-34) because worry only robs us of present moments to grow, change and become the person God desires we be. As we journey through life, God is more concerned about the enlargement of our heart and our mind towards Him, ourselves and others so that we will have the capacity to receive and steward the big breakthroughs He has for us.
Today, He enlarges us to receive tomorrow.
While future hope is a wonderful focus, there is great power and transformation in learning to be fully present today, advancing one day at a time, not worrying but trusting.
“Worrying is carrying tomorrow's load with today's strength- carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying doesn't empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”
God has invited us on a journey of trust, of learning to be fully present to Him, living in and from His
presence, so that we grow and become enabled to receive all He has for us. He alone knows the end from the beginning and crafts everything and everyone along the way.
Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.
If we can learn to be fully present to God, ourselves and others and not miss today’s moments, we will become more greatly equipped to see the breakthroughs we desire - whether small or large. Let us steward today well so that we can be entrusted with His tomorrows.
“Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid only of standing still” (Chinese proverb)
May 2018 be a breakthrough year for you - each and every moment.
I was torn between laughing and crying when I went to make myself a much-needed cup of coffee and the jug wouldn't work. It was on a long list of appliances and furniture that had decided to give up on us. As I got out a pot to boil some water on the stove (I told you I really needed that cup of coffee!), I heard the whisper of the Holy Spirit speak to my heart, "You're not moving with junk Aimee."
We've spent the past month packing up the house ready for our move and this phrase has kept resounding in my spirit. It's made me ruthless in my packing and sorting but it's also had me evaluating what I carry around on the inside. Determined that I wasn't going to bring any internal junk with me into this new season, I set aside time for a period of prayer and fasting, inviting the Holy Spirit to reveal to me what didn't have a place in this move.
But throughout the fast I felt haunted by the past. Things that I thought I had laid to rest long ago resurfaced and I found myself feeling incredibly frustrated. I mean, haven't we already covered this Lord?!
As I've been unpacking over the last few days, I realised that despite the fact that I thought I had ruthlessly disposed of all our junk, some had still managed to make the move with us. It was only as I unpacked it all in a new environment, seeing it with fresh eyes that I realised these possessions didn't belong anymore.
God has used all our packing and unpacking to show me that there were events in my life that I was not only holding on to, but even holding over myself as a source of condemnation that He needed me to be willing to let go of once and for all. To believe that because of His grace, things could be different - I could be different.
In Joshua 7, we read the account of a man called Achan and his family who were stoned for Achan's disobedience. His sin was that he had taken items from Jericho - items that were meant to be devoted to God; items that God had declared were sacred to Him and belonged to His treasury (6:17-19). God had forewarned the Israelites that taking what belonged to Him would make them liable to destruction and bring trouble. And who knows that God doesn't lie - trouble was exactly what the Israelites found themselves in when they next went to battle!
When Achan's sin was discovered, the penalty was death. He and all his household were stoned in the Valley of Achor, the Valley of Trouble. I know, it's hard for us to fathom, hard for us to read and contemplate what would have taken place and I'm not trying to gloss over this part - but the story doesn't finish there. There are five references to the Valley of Achor in Scripture. Two relate to this episode, and one is a boundary description, but the other two promise that a place of trouble and condemnation will be made into a place of hope.
Sharon will become a pasture for flocks, and the Valley of Achor a resting place for herds, for my people who seek me.
I will give her back her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope...
As I was reading this story, this story of sin, of condemnation and of judgment, I was struck afresh by the grace of God. The Valley of Achor - the places where we have sinned and fallen short - don't have to remain places of trouble in our lives. They can become places of rest, doorways of hope if we will be willing to seek Him out and receive His grace.
Because while the wages of sin is death, the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 6:23). As I have stepped into this new year and into a new home, God has been reminding me, teaching me AGAIN that I must see my life through the filter of Christ.
Yes, there are places where I have fallen short, things that I should be condemned for, but instead, God invites me to find rest there. In the very places that the enemy would like me to see as 'trouble' He asks me to see doorways to hope; opportunities for a confident expectation of His goodness in my life.
I've found that when we camp out in our personal 'Valleys of Achor', focused on the trouble we have known there, that we not only lose our expectation, we also close our hands to the gifts that God is wanting to give us and the new things that He is wanting to do. Clinging to my past instead of God's grace was hindering my ability to move into what He has for me. I didn't feel worthy enough to hold what He was wanting to entrust to me at this time. And while the truth is that I am not worthy, the greater truth is that Jesus has made me worthy.
So this year I'm letting go of the past to cling to grace; to open the door to fresh hope so that I can see myself and my life in a new light. His light.
What are you going to cling to in 2018?
It had been one of those mornings. From the moment he opened his eyes I had known it would be. After a night of broken sleep, Mr. 2 was on a rampage. Nothing and no one was safe in his overtired, illogical state.
Toys and tantrums were thrown, food was refused, plates overturned and the cover of our advent book torn in two. While I was busy cleaning up one mess he was off creating another one. Not even a turn on the neighbours' new swing could placate him.
Miss 12 got frustrated as he dismantled her picture perfect Christmas tree for the umpteenth time - the baubles were now his 'footballs' and he was delighted to find that some of them had confetti stars inside! His sisters, on the other hand, were not so delighted to have to pick up the said stars to return them to their rightful place.
We all breathed a sigh of relief when he went back to bed at 10am.
Cuppas were made, Christmas cookies popped on a plate and we grabbed our advent book - its torn cover now repaired by Miss 9. As I looked at this book and thought about our morning, God spoke to my heart. Amongst all the chaos of the morning there had been moments of beauty - and this torn book with words filled with the truth of Christmas was another pause, another moment of respite in our day.
This is the heart of Christmas - that into all our mess, from two-year old tantrums to when life feels torn at the seams - Jesus brings His beauty.
That first Christmas was far from picture perfect.
Israel was occupied
Elizabeth was barren
Mary was unwed
The journey to Bethlehem, long and uncomfortable - on a donkey no less
There was no room at the inn
Nor in men's hearts
Because Jesus did not come in the way they expected. They were looking for a warrior; for a resplendent King, not a baby. They did not anticipate Him coming so softly, so gently - so vulnerably. And so they missed Him - rejected and despised Him even.
I wonder how many times I've missed Him with me because life hasn't looked the way that I've wanted it to or thought it should? How many times I've rejected or even despised His work in my life?
Yet just as He did for Israel, He keeps drawing near. Keeps seeking me out. Keeps offering to exchange the ashes and messes of my life for His beauty.
For my chains, He offers freedom
For my shame, He bestows honour
From my barreness, He brings new life
When the journey is long, He lends me His strength
When I feel alone, He stays with me. Never leaving, never forsaking.
My life - this Christmas - does not need to be picture perfect for Him to be present and neither does yours. Jesus is the One who stands at the doors of our hearts and knocks, waiting for us to hear His voice; to open up our hearts and make room for Him to be with us so that we can feast on all that He is..
This invitation was not given to a people who had it all together; whose life and faith was picture perfect. It was spoken to a Church who had lost their passion and had become self-satisfied and self-sufficient. Jesus saw them as they really were: wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked and He offered them what they could not supply for themselves. In His love for them He spoke correction and reminded them that He was still there; still wanting relationship with them; still wanting them to experience and taste His goodness.
And this is what He desires for us this Christmas. That we would not rely on our own strength and resources; that we would not measure our lives against a store catalogue or social media highlight reel, but that we we would open the doors of our hearts and make room for Him to be with us, mess and all. That we would make Him our source and the object of our affections. That we would dine on His abundance and enjoy His riches.
You don't need a picture perfect Christmas because you have the most perfect gift that there is, Jesus. Hear Him knocking - not just at Christmas - but each and every day and open the door wide for Him to be Emmanuel, God with us, God with you.
As the Christmas season fast approaches, my thoughts have not been on the miracle of Jesus’ birth and the visitation of the 3 wise men. No, I’m feeling Charles’ Dickens' “A Christmas Carol” and the 3 spirits who represented the past, present and future - in particular, I am identifying with the spirit of Christmas past.
I’ve been dragging the chains of Jacob Marley’s Ghost around with me for more years than I care to say, my heart filled with negativity about Christmas.
As the merchandise and Christmas baubles appear in the shops from as early as late September, my heart begins to sink. Commercialism and the forced happy family ‘vibe’ start to fill my mind. The spirit of Christmas past visits me in the form of unhappy Christmas memories lodged in my heart and thoughts.
But, this year as I walked through a local Department store, cringing at the Christmas music which is played year after relentless year, God spoke to me in a new way about Christmas and the ghosts that have lingered on in my life. “It’s time to let go of the past” He said (He’s used this sentence to me before on a number of topics). “It is time to see the real spirit of Christmas, not what the Devil has blinded you into believing”
It was then I realised I have been parked in “Christmas past” way, way, way too long and have only believed lies, giving them more power year after year. By wearing the black tinted glasses of self-pity and gloom, my eyes have not been open to what is true, what is noble, what is right, pure, lovely, praiseworthy and so on.
The Spirit of Christmas Past took Ebenezer Scrooge back to his childhood where he revisited all the miserable times he endured as a boy - and we know that Scrooge became a hardened bitter man over the course of time as he allowed those childhood wounds to poison his heart.
The Holy Spirit took me back to my past, not to indulge me in my sorry memories, but to make peace and move on to the present. I noticed a few days later as I walked around the Mall and saw the Christmas Tree in the main square and gifts galore in the shops, that for the first time ever I did not feel like Scrooge, emitting groans of “Baa Humbug” here, there and everywhere.
No, I was smiling, feeling more than able to celebrate, understanding at last the truth of the first Christmas there ever was. A Christmas that wasn’t all glory and a 5-star hotel, with England’s Royal Portland Hospital birthing rooms and a family welcome later.
It was far removed from this. Never mind the 3 spirits mentioned in Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol”, the Christmas story that should touch our hearts, has much to thank to the 3 angels of the Lord.
We pick up the story with Joseph who is engaged to a godly woman named Mary. The unthinkable happens (this is how the world would see it) – an angel of the Lord visits her, foretelling that she will have a baby. In due course she becomes pregnant and it isn’t Joseph’s child - how culturally unacceptable, how shaming. Is this the glorious start for Jesus’s arrival into our world?
Joseph considers ending the engagement, but does not want to expose Mary to public disgrace (even though he considers a divorce). A 2nd angel visits and speaks to Joseph in a dream, telling him not to divorce her, for this is God’s work. So, Joseph marries Mary, who I’m sure had no end of trouble explaining away this pregnancy. This was not the way to usher in the birth of a King.
But trouble isn’t over yet. Jesus is born in Bethlehem and King Herod upon hearing of his birth wants to see him. Enter the 3rd angel of the Lord who appears in a dream, warning Joseph, instructing him to flee to Egypt as Herod has plans to kill the baby Jesus.
I felt God say to me through this “Don’t read the Christmas story one more time – read it for the first time”. I discovered a lesson as well through Dickens' writing, for when Scrooge saw what was ahead with the spirit of Christmas future, he dealt with his own Christmas past and embraced the present and the truth.
By looking to God and giving him my Christmas past, by seeing the true story of Jesus’ humble birth and God risking his beloved son– I saw that the true spirit of Christmas is love. True love. A love that brings healing to my past and hope to my present and future days.
Let me leave you with a question. How are your viewing Christmas this year? Through the eyes of Scrooge and the spirit of the past? With eyes that have heard the story so many times it’s just become a routine festive occasion? Or are you allowing God to speak to your heart and show you the truth, of the love that came down at Christmas?
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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