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.
We sat together on the couch, her head buried into my shoulder as she wept for the things, the people that she was missing. And my heart ached for my daughter as she tried to figure out how to navigate her current season.
Change is hard. Being brave and willing to give new things a go and walk down yet unknown paths can be overwhelming.
As winter has given way to spring in our part of the world, something deep within us rejoices and celebrates the signs of new life. We have ached for something to come and replace the barreness. But new beginnings aren't always looked for or even necessarily wanted; they aren't solely the territory of the dead and barren places. Sometimes, God asks us to allow Him to prune the fruitful things - the things that are in full bloom - in our lives so that we can be even more fruitful (John 15:2).
Over the last two years, God has been bringing restoration and life to areas in my heart and story that I have longed for Him to, but He's simultaneously been asking me to let Him bring about new beginnings - to be pruned - in places where I wasn't looking for change.
He has asked me to resign my position and my ministry credentials
He has called us out of the Church we helped plant to start over after some 18 years of community
He has led us to homeschool when I never even wanted to be a stay at home mum (He sure has a sense of humour!)
And each of these changes has asked a question of me - do I really trust Him in the place of exchange? In the place where I don't yet know what my hands will hold and all I can see is what I'm letting go of?
Pruning seasons can be a unique type of change because we don't always know exactly what it is that God is making room for in our lives. We often only see the gaping whole left that was once fruitful and flourishing. Pruning inevitably ushers us into an in-between time - a time of uncertainty and waiting - just like in the natural, it takes time for the new growth to become visible.
In my own life, the place of exchange has tested whether I really believe that He is who He says He is. Whether I trust His heart towards me and the plans that He has for me. The place of exchange has revealed whether the Scriptures I quote are merely platitudes and bumper stickers or the foundation of truth that I've built my life upon because the place of exchange requires us to live with a deep assurance of His goodness and His love for us.
Jesus makes the Father's heart in pruning us abundantly clear - it is not to diminish us in any way but to increase us. To make us more fruitful. Pruning is not about judgment but preparation. And while it can be easy to entertain the voice of condemnation when we feel like we're being cut back, Jesus offers us this assurance:
You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
Jesus is telling us, You are mine, I have washed you. Don't let the enemy tell you that you don't belong, that you're not valuable because you're being stripped back. Don't isolate yourself from Me; don't try and make things happen in your own strength, Trust that my heart is to cause you to flourish and be fruitful. Come, tarry a moment with Me. Apart from Me you can do nothing, but with Me, you can trust that greater fruitfulness is coming.
The word for 'remain' or 'abide' meant to remain, abide; to sojourn or tarry; to continue to be present; to be held, kept continually. It paints a picture for us of lingering in and savouring the presence of God with us. For me personally, I've found this 'abiding' to be both the challenge and the invitation of the place of exchange. My grief, my disappointment, my frustrations and impatience, the uncertainty can either build a wall between me and God or they can become a bridge to greater dependency, greater trust in His wisdom and goodness and in His time, greater fruitfulness.
If I want them to be a bridge, I must settle the question of trust. Will I trust His heart to lead me and yes, even to prune me?
I've decided yes. What about you?
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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I mindlessly scroll through Instagram feeling a growing wave of discontent building within me.
I see the catalogue worthy homes and I wonder if it's just me whose furniture needs replacing; just me whose children seem to litter every room with evidence of their messy existence.
I see their beautiful workspaces and I think of how I write with children climbing over me and nestled against me on the couch. The luxury of defined work hours seems a distant memory and part of me longs to go back to their comfortable routine but instead, I'm stealing time whenever I can to get my words out of my head and onto a screen.
I see their impressive number of followers and platforms and I wonder what it took to get there - what will it take for me to get there? When will I get to get there?
And as this wave of aching discontent washes over me, I hear the Holy Spirit whisper, "What is that to you, Aimee?" What is that to you if I've blessed them with a beautiful home? What is it to you if I've wired them to be like Martha Stewart? What is it to you if I've called them to the marketplace and you to be at home? What is it to you if now is the proper time in their lives for promotion and platforms? What is it to you?
My Dad calls it the W.I.T.T.Y principle. In John 21, following the resurrection, Jesus is ministering to Peter. Mirroring and restoring him from his earlier denial of Christ, Peter has confessed three times his love for Jesus, and Jesus now gives Peter a glimpse of what is in store for him – it’s not a pretty picture!
“I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go …. Follow Me!”
Jesus was telling Peter that he too would one day suffer death by crucifixion, He was laying out the cost of loving Him, making Peter pause and determine, did he really want to follow Jesus?
I can’t really blame Peter for what he did next – I think I would have too! Peter turns and looks back and he sees John, also known as the disciple whom Jesus loved, and he asks, “What about him?” He wants to know, does John get the same deal! Jesus replies saying,
If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow Me.”
The W.I.T.T.Y principle - What Is That To You?
How much trouble we get ourselves in; how distracted, resentful and frustrated we become when we concern ourselves with how God is working out another’s life; when we compare or wish for another’s journey. The crumbs of comparison take our eyes off the prize - off of Jesus - and leave us feeling empty. They hinder us from becoming like Him, from fulfilling His call on our lives.
Peter chose Jesus. Peter determined that whatever it cost he would follow where Jesus led.
And I want to too. Because I know that when I take my eyes off of everybody else's calling; off of everybody else's lives and just look at mine, keeping my focus on what God is saying to me, the discontent dissipates. When I keep choosing Jesus, I am freed to run with perseverance the race that He has marked out for me.
When I stay in my lane; when I run my race, not only does the discontent dissipate, but I am also deeply satisfied. In John 4:34, Jesus said this:
"My nourishment comes from doing the will of God who sent me, and from finishing His work."
Jesus had been resting by a well, ministering to a Samaritan woman as He waited for the disciples to return with food and provisions. But when they do, He tells them that He already has food to eat - they're confused, and ask themselves if somebody else could have brought Him food? Jesus responds by telling them that His food, the nourishment for His soul, comes from doing what God has asked Him to do.
We were never designed or intended to live lives that look like clones of one another. You are one of a kind and so am I - each of us fearfully and wonderfully fashioned by God Himself. And in His wisdom, He plants dreams and desires within us; opens doors and leads us in ways that fit with our unique design. We will be satisfied - nourished - not when we are wanting someone else's life, but when we are living out His will for our life.
Where do you need to refocus on Jesus? Follow where He's leading you knowing that only His path can truly satisfy your soul.
The posy sits in the center of my table, bathed in warm sunlight. Every time I pass by it, I whisper a prayer of gratitude for what it represents - for the friend who brought it and the healing that came with it.
We had been the most unlikely of friends and even though we’d known each other since childhood, it wasn’t until much later that our connection was formed. But when it was, it was like we were soul sisters. We laughed and cried on one another’s couches; took holidays together; spent hours on the phone and when our babies arrived, swapped our café catch-ups for mornings at the playground. Together we dreamed big Kingdom dreams, soaking each other’s lives in fervent prayer.
But then one day something changed. We both changed. It was subtle at first, but over time our different seasons – our different struggles – drove a wedge between us. I began to feel like a stranger in her presence. Misunderstood. Lacking. Deficient. Then one year, we both experienced overwhelming losses, and while I in my grief wanted to draw closer, she needed to retreat.
And so, in no uncertain terms, she moved away from me.
I drove home from that conversation in a daze of disbelief; tears streaming down my cheeks. They would not be the last tears that I would cry as the finality of no longer doing life together settled in.
But I knew in the midst of my pain, that I faced a choice. I could choose to live offended – to keep replaying the wrong that I felt had been done to me, or I could pursue forgiveness. In Colossians 3, Paul writes:
…Christ is all, and is in all. Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience… Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
As I wrestled through my hurts, giving voice to my anger, the Holy Spirit graciously reminded me of this truth: Christ is all and is in all. I was His chosen and dearly beloved daughter. And so was my friend. The way that I thought towards her; the way that I spoke about her; the way that I prayed for her needed to reflect this truth. Needed to honour who she was in Christ and His presence within her.
This truth released me to trust God to heal my own heart, but also to believe for Him to do the same for my friend. To trust that in His infinite love, He could take the threads of what felt like opposing stories and conflicting needs to create something beautiful for each of us. Respecting her need for space, I sent her a card apologising for how some of my choices had impacted her. I no longer needed to agree with her interpretation of events in order to forgive; the Holy Spirit was awakening compassion within me for her perspective. Secure in the Father’s love for me, I was now free to wear love towards her.
Over the coming years, the distance remained. And although we occasionally exchanged texts and well-wishes, when our paths crossed I still felt held at arm’s length. Milestones passed and I felt the ache of her absence. Some days the grief and sting of rejection rose up afresh driving me back to my knees. Back to the truth that in Christ, I am dearly loved. At such times I had to choose again to entrust my aching heart to the one who loved me completely; to forgive as He has forgiven me. And as I did, my heart became whole again.
Then one day she arrived with flowers and her own apology. We sat on my couch like old times and the walls came down. The path of forgiveness – the path of love - paved the way for reconciliation.
I don’t yet know what will be written in the days to come about our friendship, but I do know this: the call to live in relationship, in authentic community will never be without challenges. We must continually choose to live loved – allowing His love to fill and clothe us so that we can love others well, even when we hurt. As we do, like my posy of flowers bathed in warm sunlight, things of great beauty will grow in and around us.
Live today with purpose,
Our choices often have a way of catching up with us. I know that they certainly did for us. For five years we lived beyond our means; borrowing and topping-up our borrowing whenever something went wrong, or there was quite simply, just something that we wanted and wanted now. But after five years all those choices caught up with us and we had to face the consequences.
In Isaiah 30, God told the Israelites that their sin was like a crack that makes the high wall quickly crumble and shatter. Well, this was us, the cracks in the walls - our sins - brought life as we knew it crumbling down. Everything changed and with our first child in tow, we moved in under my parents to begin the task of rebuilding.
It's been a long and humbling journey living with the consequences of the choices we made. But it has also been a journey marked by God's rich mercies and grace. Because here's the thing that I've learnt - no matter how far we fall, or how far off-track we wander, God is always for us.
In spite of their sin, God had offered the Israelites His help, but they had chosen instead to look to Egypt for protection saying, "No, we will flee on horses... we will ride off on swift horses." But even after they had run off on their swift horses, God's heart was still for them. He still longed to bless His people.
And therefore the Lord [earnestly] waits [expecting, looking and longing] to be gracious to you; and therefore He lifts Himself up, that He may have mercy on you and show loving kindness to you. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed (happy, fortunate, to be envied) are all those who [earnestly] wait for Him, who expect and look and long for Him [for His victory, His favour, His love, His peace, His joy, and His matchless, unbroken companionship]!
And even when we've raced off pursuing our own strategies and agendas, His heart is still for us. In spite of all our failings, He waits for - actually looks for - opportunities to show us His goodness and to be gracious to us. The Father lifts Himself up to show us mercy - to spare us from what we deserve - and in the ultimate expression of His loving kindness, John 3 tells us that He allowed His own son Jesus, to be lifted up on the Cross in order to show us the depths of that love; in order to spare us the punishment that our sins - all these cracks in the wall - really deserve.
We might have to live with consequences but we no longer have to live with condemnation.
Condemnation is a damnatory sentence, an expression of disapproval, the action of condemning someone to punishment. It sounds heavy doesn't it - and if you've ever allowed yourself to come under condemnation then you'll know first-hand just how weighty it is. Condemnation coats us with shame; it taunts us with failure and it lies about our identity - breeding despair and robbing us of hope for the future.
Walking out the consequences of our sins has been much longer than the five years it took to get there and there have been moments that I have wrestled to break free from the clutches of condemnation. But I have learnt that I must bring myself back to the truth that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. We have been set free from carrying this weight because of Jesus' extravagant love on the Cross. We have been set free to live by His Spirit. We have been set free to know His victory, His favour, His love, His peace, His joy and His matchless, unbroken companionship!
We are not our pasts. We are not our mistakes. We are His beloved children whom He has redeemed. And He is now in the process of restoring our lives back to the glory that He intended - of rebuilding our broken walls.
Whatever cracks have caused your walls to come crashing down, know this: despite the consequences, He does not condemn you. You are still loved and in His unfathomable grace He will help you to rebuild what has been cracked and broken.
Live today with purpose,.
This blog was adapted from The Power of Quiet devotional reading plan - you'll find it for free here.
Last year, I had an email from a young woman who had been reading the blog - she had a sense of frustration. She wanted it to be her for such a time moment. And I understood. Because I've been there. I've been in that place of dissatisfaction; of sensing that there is more than what I am currently experiencing; of feeling held back. Like life will never happen and the remote is permanently stuck either on pause or replay!
This week, it will be one year since the On Becoming Esther website went live and I hit publish on my first blog post for this site. This milestone has got me thinking about God's timing - about how different it often is to our own plans and timetables, but how right it always is.
I blogged for five years elsewhere before I set up this site. Those years were hard years for me - there was a lot of refining taking place; a lot of waiting; a lot of silence. There were a lot of prayers that I prayed that I wanted answered right then and there - and they weren't. I lacked peace as I strived to find my purpose, hungering for my own for such a time as this moment.
Those words, for such a time as this, remind us of Queen Esther's defining moment. Of that point in time when she stepped into her divine purpose and destiny; when she was used powerfully and visibly to free God's people. But Esther's life was not one big highlight reel, and she was not just her for such a time as this moment. She was also all the moments in-between. Every season, every experience mattered as God worked in her heart and life, so that He could also work through her.
Her losses mattered. Esther had been orphaned as a young girl and was raised by her cousin Mordecai, and when we first meet her, she is alone yet again. Stripped of everything familiar, robbed of the future that she had planned for herself, she finds herself caught up in King Xerxes's plans to find a new queen.
Her waiting mattered. Twelve months of waiting for her turn to meet the King. Twelve months of wondering if she would be chosen or discarded - relegated to the King's harem for the rest of her life. Twelve months of preparation for one night. Then later she would learn to wait on God - to come before Him in prayer and fasting. To trust Him in the middle of the impossible.
Her successes mattered. From the favour that she found in the harem, to her coronation as Queen, to when she rose up in faith to speak on behalf of her people, God celebrated her growth and her breakthroughs.
Her silences mattered. From the time she became Queen to her for such a time as this moment of prominence, there are five years where nothing is written about her. Five years of her life where nothing much seems to happen. But it doesn't mean that they weren't important.
And here's the thing that I've learnt as I've gone through my own seasons and moments:
We are just as valuable to Him in our for such a time moments, as we are in our seasons of grief and loss; as we are in our seasons of waiting and preparation. Our lives serve a purpose in both the public and private moments. In our successes and in our silences; when we are living our dreams and when we feel frustrated by delay - our lives are significant. Because the journey of becoming, matters just as much to God as who we become.
In a sense, they are all for such a time as this moments - because we become the sum of not just our moments and seasons, but also of how we choose to respond to them. Of how we choose to live and of how we choose to trust Him in it all.
Don't despise the process of becoming or you will miss out on all the treasures that He has for you along the way. Live every season with purpose knowing that they all matter to Him - that you matter to Him.
Live today with purpose,
Enjoy this guest post from Pastor Mazhar Kefali - his words and wisdom have been shaping my life for years, and I know that the wisdom in this post will help ground you in 2017.
I have learnt over the years that everything and everyone has a ‘context’. To understand the part, the pieces of conversation, the bits of behaviour, the person – we need a context, their story. We need the big picture. My grandfather taught me this valuable life principle when I was young.
He had come up through life the hard way. His parents emigrated from Edinburgh, Scotland, to New Zealand in the late 1800’s. He was born in a tent in a field, as his parents pioneered a new life in our nation. He left school at age fourteen to work and help provide for the family. Starting out in the office of an engineering firm collecting mail, cleaning and making tea and coffee, he eventually became an engineer himself with his own business. He built roads, bridges, buildings and the original Rangipo Prison in the Desert Road in the middle of the North Island, where I spent several years growing up as my mother ran the workers cook house.
One day, I asked him how he achieved this with no formal education, and why he was so good at it. I never forgot two pieces of advice he gave me – “God gave you two ears, two eyes and one mouth. Listen and observe twice as much as you speak. When you speak, open your mouth to ask questions and never be too proud to learn.” Piece of advice number two, was with regards to why he was so good at his work. He was very gifted at reading plans and seeing how everything fit together. He shared how he found people got too bogged down in the details first, before learning to see the big picture. He said you need to stand back and get the bird’s eye view first, and then you can see more clearly where the details fit in the context of the big picture.
As we seek to navigate a year ahead, life itself, we need to learn to live from the perspective of the ‘big picture’ - learning to see life and people through the lens of the Fathers eyes and perspective, understanding the context of their story. We need to learn to listen more than we speak, and to hear the ‘context’ of people’s stories, so we then understand their words and actions more clearly.
Every person has a story, every detail has a context. ‘Context’ is simply the ‘structure, framework, environment, frame of reference, background – the surrounding words and circumstances’, which when known and understood, help us make sense of the details. Over some thirty years of pastoral ministry, I learnt that one of the key ways to understand why a person was behaving, responding, the way they did, was to know their story. I learnt that knowing their story, understanding surrounding circumstances of a person, an event etc., gave context to the details.
“Do not forget this! Keep it in mind! Remember this, you guilty ones. Remember the things I have done in the past. For I alone am God! I am God, and there is none like me. Only I can tell you the future before it even happens. Everything I plan will come to pass, for I do whatever I wish.
Only God knows the big picture - the end from the beginning - therefore it is wisdom to learn to see through the Fathers eyes. Jesus lived from His humanity with this perspective - doing what the Father showed Him.; conscious of Heaven's bird's eye view.
Likewise, we need to learn to live from Heaven to earth. Life will throw many ‘details’ our way, and we tend to get bogged down in them. We need to learn to push pause, step back, be reminded of what the Father has done for us in the past; to live from the big picture that Christ lived in – that we are the beloved children of the Father. That is our identity before we ever do anything. We must learn to 'think' from Heaven's perspective; to think with the mind of Christ so that we live within His ‘big picture’ purpose. We must allow the details of our lives and circumstances to find their context within the Kingdom of Heaven.
Soren Kierkegaard said:
Life must be lived forward, but can only be understood backwards.
Isaiah invites us, as we seek to navigate the details of life and relationships, to remember what God has done in the past, because testimony says He can do it again! He invites us to live life from the big picture context that our Father knows the end from the beginning - He will outwork His purpose for our lives and nothing can stop that! This year, place the details of your life and relationships within the context of His sovereign love for you.
Enjoy this guest post from Karen Frith - Karen and I had a chance encounter in a bathroom one morning and ever since she has been bringing timely words of encouragement into my life and I know that this will be a word in season to help you to step into what God has prepared for you in 2017.
Are you looking forward to what 2017 holds? Could it be that you’ve been looking back over 2016 and reflecting on what did not happen; those things you had hoped would?
Maybe, just maybe, God has wanted our view point of all our dreams and destinies that He has called us to believe for, to die. Not that God wants our dreams to die, but rather our views of how he will do it and how it will look.
I draw parallels from the death of Lazarus as recounted in John 11. Whilst Lazarus is desperately ill, his sisters Mary and Martha beseech Jesus to come. Jesus however, does not rush to Bethany to see Lazarus, instead He REMAINS a further two days where He is, during which time Lazarus subsequently dies.
Yet Jesus decrees in John 11:4:
“This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”
When Jesus does arrive in Bethany, Mary and Martha go to Him, opening up about their distress and pain over their beloved’s brother’s death.
Maybe your dreams and hopes died during 2016 and you feel that the Lord hasn’t answered your prayers as you hoped He would. This is the time to turn to God, not away. This is the time to bring your confusion and pain to Jesus, as Mary and Martha did over Lazarus.
Here comes the different view point. The one we do not always see.
“Jesus said to Martha, your brother will rise again... I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”
Martha responds to Jesus’s question with a resounding yes, declaring, “Yes Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.”
Let 2017 be a time to say look forward; to say yes I believe Lord; to be confident that He hears every one of our prayers. That we will see the glory of God, that the promises will come forth and we will have a greater revelation of Jesus. Because even though Martha believed in who Jesus was, there was still so much more that He wanted her to understand; that He wanted to demonstrate to her.
Jesus can show us in a far better way who He is to us and for us.
And as they arrive at the tomb where Lazarus has been buried, Jesus instructs that they “Take away the stone.” As it is rolled away, He calls out in a loud voice saying, “Lazarus, come out!”
The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
Even though Lazarus was free from the tomb; even though he was resurrected from the finality of death – he was still wearing the grave clothes of death, and these needed to be removed from his body. Just as Jesus calls Lazarus out from the Tomb, He calls us out from the places of death in our lives. And He asks us to take off our grave clothes; our mourning; our ashes.
Are we ready and willing to give Him those things? Are we willing to make the exchange, to surrender our pain and our past to Jesus?
We are promised beauty for our ashes and a garment of praise instead of garments of mourning. And throughout Scripture, God makes this exchange with His people - taking from them the old, and clothing them in His goodness; in His provision; in His promises.
In the book of Ruth chapter 3, we read about Naomi making Ruth change her clothes. Why? Because Ruth was still wearing the clothes that were linked with Moab and these garments were filled with grief from the loss of her husband. Before she could meet Boaz, her intended – she needed to take off the grave clothes.
In Zechariah 3, satan accuses Joshua the High Priest over his past. The Lord however changes Joshua’s clothing. The dirty clothes which represent his past are taken off and he is given new garments. A new turban is also placed on his head which indicates a change of mind, new thoughts in a new season.
“See I have taken away your sin and I will put fine garments on you”
God wants to give you new clothes for a new year. Clothes that reflect the future and the hope that He has for you. So as we go into 2017, let’s sort out our ‘closets’. Let’s make an active choice to shed our grave clothes - our filthy garments of the past, the clothes which carry mourning and grief - for the beauty and joy that Jesus has promised us.
Mourn no longer, rather rejoice as you go into 2017 in the beautiful exchange that Jesus is offering you. He is the restorer of life - your life!
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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