I am not the greatest gift giver. I struggle to choose the ‘right’ gift for people.
When my husband and I started dating, he would buy me over the top gifts that I always felt like I could never live up to. One such gift was a custom-made surfboard. I’d watched the movie Blue Crush, a surfer girl movie and had subsequently decided that I wanted to learn to surf, so he thought he'd encourage my aspirations. Let’s just say I’m not a pro surfer now!
I always felt like I could never repay the outrageous gifts he gave me. I wish I had realised back then that his gifts were simply an expression of his love for me and that he didn’t expect anything like it in return.
I was reminded recently of a Christmas song I love, The Little Drummer Boy. A young boy has been invited to come and bring a gift to the king, a gift to Jesus, and his response is, “I have no gift to bring….that’s fit to give the king.”
Have you ever found yourself in the same shoes? I think the reason I love this song so much, is because it resonates with how I have felt at times, just like that little boy with no gift that is fit for Jesus.
But the song doesn’t end there - the little boy looks down and sees what he had overlooked, what was right in front of him all along and asks, “Shall I play for you, on my drum?”
Picture this young boy standing before Mary and Joseph, standing in the presence of the newborn king, Jesus. He’s been invited in to give his gift and I’m sure he is feeling inadequate, unprepared, and under-qualified to even be in the presence of this king. Maybe he doubted whether his gift would be enough, but his longing to offer something, anything, compelled him to offer what he had.
Mary nodded her approval, and the boy continues,"I played my drum for him, I played my best for him”.
The little drummer boy’s confidence rose a little and a smile appeared on his face as Mary nodded to him that they would love to hear him play. You mean I get to play my drum for the king?
My daughter Evelyn, who is 4 1/2 (and the sunshine of my life), recently sang to me one of the lines from a Christmas song her class is preparing for their end of year concert. The words were so precious, “The best gift I can give Jesus is me”.
What if, that really is the truth, that in all my exhausting, striving efforts to bring my best to Jesus, all he really wants is ME?
What if the whole point of this song, is that the gift that the little boy brought for Jesus, was just him? Him on his drum, singing to the king?
I don’t know where this Christmas finds you, or what circumstances you are walking through, but I do know that whatever your life looks like, God still wants you. You are the gift that He desperately wants to receive this Christmas.
“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.”
As I present to Him myself, the gift He offers me in return is more than I could imagine.
He not only reminds me who I am, He offers me His love, grace and peace. That day, the little drummer boy left having encountered Jesus, and that changed everything.
Jesus invites me to come as I am - to let Him receive me into His family. But the beautiful truth is that in the coming, in the giving of myself, I am forever changed by the gift He then offers me. Himself.
Then He smiled at me, pa rum pum pum pum.
I am feeling hemmed in with no means of escape, not even a handy fire exit. I stand before God with all my insecurities exposed knowing the only way ahead is to go ‘through’ the pain, ‘through’ the hurts and ‘through’ it all. I am on a journey of obedience and self-discipline as I surrender my heart and my will to God. But let me tell you a secret – my spirit is rejoicing, even though my flesh is complaining.
A couple of years ago my son celebrated his birthday at the “Escape Rooms” in Auckland. As a group they were locked into a ‘themed’ room patiently following a series of clues and puzzles which provided keys to enable their exit. I find this concept very relatable right now.
“I am in (the Biblical) Joseph’s Prison” I wailed to the Lord, aware of the restriction and confinement I’m in. “It’s not a comfortable place, it’s confronting and it hurts – a lot.”
“No, you’re not; you are in a Refinery” I heard the Holy Spirit reply.
A Refinery? What did this mean and how did it apply to my present situation?
Wikipedia enlightened me “A refinery is a production facility composed of a group of chemical engineering unit processes and unit operations refining certain materials or converting raw material into products of value”
I had to smile (albeit with some derision) at that last sentence. Basically, I’m a lump of shapeless clay on the potter’s wheel being crafted into a product of value by the Master Potter - God. I realise my job is to stay put and allow Him to mould me into what He plans to make. I can’t pipe up and say “Actually I’ll be a Port Merion vase please” or “A nice soup bowl”. The Lord knows what He’s fashioning and He’s doing the refining.
Aware that God is making something beautiful of my life sings to my heart and my spirit. I am not in a dark depressing Prison with only a visiting sparrow hopping onto my window ledge for company. No, I’m in a place where I’m being converted into something of value, purified, refined and sanctified by the God who loves me and wants the very best for my life.
I hope to bring encouragement to you also. Maybe you are feeling like you are in a tight restrictive place which doesn’t make sense as you navigate pain and disappointment. Or perhaps you have some unanswered questions. I believe that the work God began in us He will fully complete! Friends, please stay put on the Potter’s Wheel. You are his Masterpiece.
“See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.”
Once moulded the finished piece of pottery is placed in the hot Kiln oven. This process in the furnace serves to increase its strength and set its shape. You and I cannot grow without this refinement, or be free without God going deep into the painful recesses of our hearts.
At times I have wanted to give up, leave the ‘Refinery’, jump off the Wheel and get out of the hot Kiln oven. But where would I go? What would I do? And what would it achieve? The truth I’ve found is that God is the only one who can fill the void in my heart and soul. My happiness can only be found in Him. Throughout this season He has been showing me who He is, His constancy, faithfulness, love, grace and mercy. My part is to have faith in the process, faith in the Master Potter’s work.
The Refinery is indeed a place of testing and affliction, but I’m seeing it as a pivotal point where major life changes happen. Affliction sucks; it’s pressurising and brings up the ‘stuff’ within us that the good times conceal; but without it, how can there be any transformation?
As I was writing this piece, I paused to look up the Greek meaning of the word affliction, a laugh escaped from my lips at God’s humour. If you re-read the first sentence of this post you will see just what I mean.
The meaning? Oh yes - “Used of a narrow place that hems someone in, no way of escape.”
God is at work in my – our – lives.
“There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears.”
I love watching my kids try new things. My daughter Evelyn, who is my only girl and the baby of our family, has a little code sign for me to let me know she is doing ok in new situations. Most recently, watching her try out soccer - where might I add, she is the only girl on the team - she will be in the middle of her lesson, and then look back at me to make sure I’m watching and give me a big two thumbs up! She waits until I respond back with a thumbs up also. Even as I write this, it brings tears to my eyes, because I know she has so much trust that I am there loving her and supporting her, that she knows she is going to be ok. I have to admit, I’m sure there have been times I have had my head down checking my phone or something, and I’ve missed it, but as I was thinking about that very thing today, I was reminded that we have a God who is so near, who is on the sidelines cheering us on and giving us a big thumbs up back, as we walk out our days.
And I pray that he would unveil within you the unlimited riches of his glory and favor until supernatural strength floods your innermost being with his divine might and explosive power. Then, by constantly using your faith, the life of Christ will be released deep inside you, and the resting place of his love will become the very source and root of your life.
I love this whole passage, but the phrase that caught my attention, was this…
“and the resting place of his love will become the very source and root of your life.”
I started to ask myself, “Where is my resting place?”, and “How does having the love of a heavenly father as my resting place, change the way I do life?”
On a daily basis, I have to remind my kids, my boys especially, to eat their breakfast. They would quite happily get ready for school without thinking about eating. I’m not sure how this happens, as I need breakfast in the morning or I’m grumpy, but I keep reminding them that they have a big day ahead of them, and they need to start it off with something good to fuel their bodies and give them the energy to accomplish what’s in front of them.
How often do I find myself navigating life on drive mode? Things to get done, places to be, people who need my attention… yet this verse reminds me that I too need the right source to fuel my days. I love that the posture Paul describes as our source, isn’t one of striving or meeting an expectation. Quite the opposite, the posture is one of rest, and not resting in our own achievements, but in ‘the resting place of his love’.
As I am writing, I get a sense that God wants to bring many of His girls back to the resting place of His love as their source. Rest has been a hard thing for me to learn, if I’m honest, and one I am still on the journey of learning. I find it hard to truly rest, and not have ten million thoughts going through my head.
But what if we truly walked out each day from that posture of rest? I know the days I do, feel so much more productive and my eyes are just open to see things from a different perspective. There are for sure going to be days that we don’t get it right, and where we start to strive again, but I’m so thankful for a heavenly Father who draws me back and reminds me who I am in Him.
Read the first few verses of Psalm 23 with me:
“The Lord is my best friend and my shepherd. I always have more than enough. He offers a resting place for me in his luxurious love. His tracks take me to an oasis of peace, the quiet break of bliss. That’s where He restores and revives my life. He opens before me pathways to God’s pleasure and leads me along in his footsteps of righteousness so that I can bring honour to His name.”
Did you hear that? His footsteps of righteousness. That’s a trail we can’t carve out on our own, that’s a trail He invites us to follow Him down.
I don’t know about you, but I need a daily reminder to rest in Jesus and what He has already done for me, that no performance of mine is going to change or alter, that He doesn’t need another driver, He’s got the wheel and we can trust the direction He’s going.
Jesus I thank you right now for who you are, that you invite me into a journey of resting in you. I invite you into my mess, into the difficulties that I just can’t see past, into my every day life. Thank you that you are with me, and that I don’t walk alone. Thank you that I am SO loved by you, that nothing I can do changes your love for me. Amen.
Of late, my devotional reading has been the writings of the great Puritan Pastor and preacher Richard Sibbes (1577-1636). During his lifetime he was referred to as ‘the heavenly Richard Sibbes’ and it was said of him that when he spoke ‘it was as if his words were dropping from heaven’. When he died at the age of fifty-eight, his epitaph was: ‘Of this blest man, let this just praise be given, Heaven was in him, before he was in heaven’.
I wondered what it would be like to have this as my epitaph? (Not just yet though!) I have been blessed to be around people, influenced by some, who seem to carry the presence of heaven. We hear a lot about this subject in books, teachings, and worship songs etc. that speak about bringing heaven to earth. Sometimes it comes across as almost too mystical, intangible and disconnected from life.
Sometimes Christians have been derided as being ‘so heavenly minded, they are no earthly good’. The reality should be that we are so heavenly minded that we are every earthly good. In the third chapter of Paul’s letter to the Colossians, before instructing them about what it means to live the Christian life, he lets them in on the secret, the key to living a life as a believer in Christ that will impact every sphere of their life and influence.
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.
The key to staying spiritually alive, connected to Christ and being every earthly good is essentially recognising that we live from a position of having been ‘raised with Christ’. We are resurrection life people. We live and outwork our faith from the resurrection side of the cross. To outwork this and walk in it, we must set both our heart (affections and will) and our mind (thinking, understanding, perceiving) on ‘things above’.
In simple terms, we must live from heaven to earth and be so heavenly minded we are every earthly good. Jesus had this in mind when He taught the disciples how to pray (Matt. 6:9) and when He told them to ‘seek first his kingdom and his righteousness’ (Matt. 6:33). The New Testament makes it clear that we are people of two realms – heaven and earth, but we are citizens of one – heaven (Philippians 3:20). Believers are referred to as ‘aliens and strangers on earth…in the world’ (Hebrews 11:13; 1 Peter 2:11) and we are therefore to ‘live our lives as strangers in reverent fear’ because one day the Father will hold us to account for our lives (1 Peter 1:17). Heaven is our home, we are visitors here.
These verses effectively reveal where our truth-view and perspective on life should derive from; what our point of reference should be – ‘things above’. Heaven is our starting point and pattern for how we see and relate to our world, ourselves and others and it should determine how we speak and act towards people and life. It should be the filter through which we evaluate life.
I like the way the following people translate this verse:
He must be heavenly minded here on earth and so help to make earth like heaven.
‘You must not only seek heaven; you must also think heaven.’
This is not something passive and mystical; it is something we set our hearts and minds intentionally to seek. The word set conveys the idea of ‘craving something, seeking in order to find - by meditating on, thinking on, aiming at, striving after’. It can also be translated ‘think’ or ‘have this inner disposition’. We are called to pursue the things ‘that are above’. We must be intentional about it and ‘set our hearts, set our minds, on things above’ to know heavens perspective on life, so that we influence what happens on earth. It is a proactive, constant persevering with all our heart and mind for the things of the Christ and the kingdom of heaven. It is a passionate pursuit of seeking to live and think from heaven’s perspective.
How do we do this? How can we learn to see our world, the circumstances we face, and the people we encounter through heavens eyes? The Father has given us two primary means - the Scriptures – the written Word of God and the Saviour Jesus Christ – the living Word of God. God has given us His Word that reveals His mind, heavens reality and perspective. Later in this same chapter of Colossians, Paul tells us to ‘let the word of Christ dwell in you richly’ (verse 16). In Jesus Christ we see heaven on earth in action, in the flesh, displaying our Heavenly Father’s heart and mind to a lost and hurting world.
For us to set our heart and mind on things above, we need to soak them in the Word – the written and Living Word of God.
Imagine if we did this...
Imagine if heaven was in us before we were in heaven...
Imagine how different our earthly sphere of influence could be...
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.
I often label myself as a Jack-of-all-trades, or should I say Jill-of-all-trades. I have tried my hand at many different crafts, skills and tasks and at home I cook most meals, fix the leaking toilet, mow the lawns, mend the uniforms, sew the costumes, wash the car… just don’t ask me to climb a ladder!
“Jack of all trades, master of none…” Sometimes it can have a negative tone to it; that I am not a Specialist in any field, I’m just a Generalist. But that’s ok. This is who God made me to be, and I am truly thankful to him for it.
I haven’t always been satisfied with who or what I am. I grew up with a low self-esteem, being the chubby girl at school. All the other girls were prettier or excelled at sport, or singing, or writing and here was me, just doing my work. Throughout my primary years I often had someone pointing out what was wrong with me. The names still echo in my mind, “Beached Whale”, “Roly Poly Nicholy”. I dreaded PE Classes, especially swimming! Of course I had some great friends, and they would always support me - and I knew my parents believed in me and loved me. But isn’t it funny how the negative things stick in my mind more than the positive?
It has been a long road to get to the point of accepting who I am, and it is something I have to continually reiterate to myself. I am a child of God. And regardless of what is going on in my life, no one can take that away from me.
If God is for us, who can be against us?
I am a visual learner, so for me, I have to put my reminders where I will see them every day. Whether at home or at work, I have things on the wall and written on the mirror. Scriptures are crucial. A couple that I keep close are:
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. Psalm 139:14
I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13
I also tend to collect items that tie in with a scripture or an event that had meaning for me. I have a bracelet that I wear most days with a cross on it from a ladies retreat; I have small canvas paintings that I made at prayer weekends at church that sit on my desk to remind me of the truths I learnt through those weekends. I have colouring books with verses throughout them and a bible with pages for journaling and drawing and colouring. I love to colour. And I love to be able to ponder on one verse. Even for weeks at a time. Sometimes just one word. Last year, God gave me one word, Precious. That word has stuck with me. I have a whole page in my diary of just that word written creatively with swirls and colours and hearts. I am an avid believer in rote learning. The more I write it, the more it will stick in my head. And being able to see the word that I heard from God makes it all the more special.
Can I encourage you, if you are struggling with self-acceptance, if you feel like everyone is against you, if you don’t even want to go outside, just remember: You are a Child of God. He loves you more than you will ever realise or understand and whether you are a Jill-of-all-trades or a Master-of-one, you were fearfully and wonderfully made and God will never tell you otherwise!
Make a conscious decision to remind yourself of that fact every day.
How could you help cement His truth and what He says about you in your life?
Keep shining, you never know whose dark day you might be lighting up!
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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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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