We had a team day at work recently where actors came in with pretend problems, and we had to practice “active listening” for four minutes. The idea was that we would be asking questions to understand their perspective and situation. I was proud that in about 40 seconds I had figured out the cause of the issue and solved the problem.
When it was time for me to get feedback on the exercise, I was surprised that they told me I had only listened enough to decide what I would say in response. Their impression was that I had asked questions to find out and fix the problem but had not been seeking to understand the person.
I agreed with the feedback but secretly thought I’d done the more efficient and loving thing by getting to the solution faster than anyone else.
Fast forward a few weeks, my husband and I shifted in with a friend to save money while we build our new home. It’s pretty embarrassing to admit, but I was really struggling with the transition to a smaller space, an older kitchen and feeling like one of my biggest passions (cooking and entertaining) had been taken away as I didn’t have the environment to relax and enjoy it.
I was sitting in my room, wrestling with the grief of letting go of having space with my husband, of the time and expense of the house, along with a bunch of other (let’s be honest) first world problems. I hadn’t talked to God about any of it, as I was too embarrassed to ask Him to change my situation - I already knew the problem bigger than the situation was my lack of gratitude. Gratitude for everything I had and would have in the future. I knew that if I showed him my heart, admitted that I was feeling trapped and stuck, that he would tell me to get over myself and be grateful.
So I began to say out loud all the things I was thankful for, and as I did, I saw in my spirit the scene from John 11:32-36 where Jesus approaches Mary on His way to raise her brother Lazarus from the dead. He knows that in about 3 minutes time Lazarus will be alive and all the mourning will be over. But the King of all creation, the solution holding, miracle making God, stops and weeps with her. Because he saw pain in the eyes of His friend. Because He understands.
Then the vision changed and I saw him walking toward me, arms outstretched. No words were spoken but in His eyes, I saw pure compassion. Permission to feel. Released from guilt, and totally understood.
The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom.
Many of us are trained to analyze problems and create solutions. We forget that our life with Jesus is relationship. Religion tells you that you are a project to be completed or a problem to solve.
Religion has a goal of defending ourselves or setting other’s straight. Religion wants messy things cleaned up. But relationship, above all, wants to discover your thoughts and feelings - no matter how messy. God wants to understand you.
Jesus will never move quickly to the solution at the cost of relationship. He doesn’t struggle with four minutes of active listening! His desire to understand the depths of your soul was so strong, that He took on human flesh to experience first-hand what it’s like to walk this earth. Then he took up residence inside your heart to experience first-hand what It’s like to walk in your shoes. There is nothing you could experience that He has not felt. You cannot fathom how deeply He understands.
Do you not know? Have you not heard?
Can I encourage you today, whatever you’re walking through, instead of looking at your heart like a problem to solve or a project to be completed, to let Love’s loudest voice be one of understanding. Give Him a chance to actively listen, He never grows tired or weary.
Side note- but definitely worth mentioning- I am writing this from an apartment one block from the beach that my husband and I have been generously gifted for a week. His understanding no one can fathom!
I 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!
When my kids are fighting over something I sing 'Let It Go'. I get down on one knee and make a fool of myself, changing the mood and making them forget what they were fighting over in the first place.
I can often have an internal argument and end up singing the song to myself… which, if you were watching me, would be quite weird…
I can be quite particular. I like to do things in a certain way; I have my routine, and a method to carry out my tasks. But I struggle to keep going if my routine gets interrupted for some reason. There is a part of me that says, if you can't do it perfectly, you might as well give up now. It might sound odd, but it can be physically exhausting. And this is where the song comes in.
I have to shift my focus from whatever is blocking me to the simple truth: God doesn't ask for perfection, he asks for perseverance. John Bloom from desiringgod.org said:
Perfectionism is a pride- or fear-based compulsion that either fuels our obsessive fixation on doing something perfectly or paralyzes us from acting at all — both of which often result in the harmful neglect of other necessary or good things.
There are things in life that are beyond our control. Schedules, situations, and people are ever changing. And while I like my to do lists and love the feeling that comes when I can cross something off one of those lists, I've had to learn that when things beyond my control hinder me from being able to achieve my tasks, that I need to let go and let God. There is a prayer that I say often:
The Serenity Prayer
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
This is where I thought it finished. But I have recently discovered a second verse:
Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His will;
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next.
Taking this world as it is, not as I would have it - we need to be faith-based, not fear-based, followers of Christ, accepting the things we cannot change and trusting God to make things right.
We are reminded of this in Proverbs 3:5:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.
I love worship music. It soothes my heart and fixes my eyes on God. It Is Well With My Soul is a popular hymn and has been remade by many musicians, but the second verse of the original lyrics seems to connect with me:
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
Although Satan will continue to strike repeatedly, attempting to knock me off course, I can stand sure that my God loves me and gave His only son for me. (John 3:16)
Can I encourage you: whatever is holding you back or frustrating you, give it to God. Through praying, singing or writing. Let go of what is holding you to this world’s lies and grasp hold of His truths that you are loved and you are worthy. Let it be well with your soul.
Keep shining, you never know whose dark day you might be lighting up!
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?
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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