As a girl I loved building sandcastles; armed with my bucket, spade and imagination I would construct a castle replete with turrets and towers, windows and bridges, a surrounding moat of water and carefully placed decorative shells to top it all off. Once complete I would stand back to admire my work of art. However, the inevitable tide would advance up the beach only to remove my precious sandcastle bit by bit; how sad I would be seeing my masterpiece collapse and disappear into nothingness.
The fact is, that no matter how good that sandcastle looked, or how intricate or creative – it could not withstand the incoming tide. Why? because it had no solid foundation to keep it standing there. This is also true in our own lives, anything that is built on a foundation of sand is not secure and will be washed away when storms, rains, tides and tempest come.
Let me be honest with you. I’ve had a very tough 5 years and this year has surpassed itself on the toughness scale. I’ve wondered how many more mistakes I could possibly make; I’ve not understood what’s driven me to do the crazy things I’ve done and I’ve been all at sea seeing my ‘sandcastle’ washed away.
“Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.”
There are painful consequences when we dis-obey God’s word, when we justify our own behaviour and do not surrender our hearts and lives fully to Jesus. Yet, my faithful God has removed from my life, that which needed to be removed. He has shown me He truly is who He says He is. I grieve and repent for what I have done yet marvel at his faithfulness and His promise to build me up again, with my foundation built on Him alone.
The Lord appeared to us in the past saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness. I will build you up again.”
God in his mercy and grace has been exposing the areas of my life that have been built on the wrong foundations. Through the storms and the rising tides, I have learned first-hand there is only one I can trust. Only one that has my best interests at heart – only one that is my true rock in this life: Jesus. On Christ the Solid Rock I stand.
I am aware of God’s discipline as a true loving Father. The struggle and suffering are hard, but oh, let me tell you, I have seen the goodness of God. He has rescued me and set me upon the solid rock.
Have you felt like your life has slipped so far that God cannot reach you or change your situation? That you have made so many bad decisions and wrong choices that you cannot be re-routed? Let me tell you now - that is a lie. You may have failed. But you are not a failure. God is in the business of restoring and rebuilding. Let Him rebuild your life with your foundations set on Jesus, the Solid Rock.
Building a sandcastle maybe easy and fun. There you are at the beach on a balmy sunny day with no storm in sight, armed with your bucket, spade, shells and not a care in the world. But building spiritual foundations; building on a rock is about faith, obedience, commitment, determination, blood, sweat and tears.
But once you build on the solid Rock, on foundations that will not be shaken - no matter the storms you have to weather, no matter the tides that rise above your neck, this true foundation will not be washed away. There true security is found.
Let me leave you with the first verse and reprise from the old classic hymn by Edward Mote, and pose these questions to you – where is your hope? What foundation are you building on?
My hope is built on nothing less
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus Christ, my righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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?
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.
If you want to get blog posts direct to your inbox pop here.