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've always known that my girls are chalk and cheese: one of them gravitates towards a schedule, liking to know not only what is happening, but exactly when it's happening. She thrives on order and clear expectations while the other is more free-spirited. With her creative temperament she doesn't like the how - or even the when - being dictated to her.
Our recent foray into homeschooling has brought these differences to the surface and I've struggled at times to figure out balancing their competing needs for freedom and discipline. But it's not only watching them that has had me contemplating this balance - as I've been adjusting to our new lifestyle and settling into our new community after our move, my own routines have been somewhat upset. Constantly surrounded by children with very little time to myself, I'm having to find a new normal and create new spaces and ways for staying connected to God.
The process of carving out new rhythms and routines has made me realise afresh that we all have this need for both freedom and discipline. And that rather than competing, they are actually complimentary threads that we need to learn to weave together; that we can't truly have freedom in our lives without discipline.
In my own journey, I've tended to swing like a pendulum towards one or the other, failing to allow them to work in sync. When life has felt out of control I've grasped on to discipline in an attempt to regain control; to help me feel like I'm doing and being enough. If life is reduced to lists and tasks that can be ticked off then I feel a sense of achievement and worth.
But such phases are short-lived simply because, well, life happens and I can't sustain the internal pressure that comes with having to constantly achieve my 'list' or the guilt that comes when I miss something on my list. So I throw off the yoke of discipline because, after all, the one whom the Son sets free is free indeed, meaning, I can do what I want, when I want. I don't need systems and structures and disciplines because I'm free; I'm covered by grace.
Again though, it doesn't take long before chaos ensues and the pendulum swings back to discipline and then back to what I think is freedom. This backwards to and fro movement stems from a false understanding of what it means to be free and of the heart and purpose of discipline.
My rebellion against discipline is often tied up in how I see it and in what is driving me towards it. When I associate discipline with punishment alone, then a fear of disappointing those that I love, of disappointing God, paralyses me and all I can hear are voices of condemnation. When I look to discipline because I am driven to perform, driven to prove what a 'good girl' I am, it becomes a relentless master that I cannot appease.
I have a very wise father, and he once said something that has always stayed with me, shifting how I viewed the subject of discipline. He said: We must steward our desires with discipline. Desire without discipline is fantasy.
What if I could see discipline as the vehicle through which I steward the desires that God has planted within me? What if instead of connecting it to fear and punishment, I saw it through the lens of love and grace?
Proverbs 3:12 tells us:
For the Father’s discipline comes only from his passionate love and pleasure for you. Even when it seems like his correction is harsh, it’s still better than any father on earth gives to his child.
God disciplines us, and encourages us to discipline our own lives, because His heart is to facilitate the freedom and the fullness that He created us for.
Because while we might think of freedom as licence, it is actually the power to choose well. And if we want to enter into all that God has for us, we will use our freedom to steward that desire with the appropriate disciplines.
People who accept discipline are on the pathway to life.
My own journey in recent months has reminded me that the absence of discipline was robbing me of freedom and fruitfulness and that I needed to make wiser choices.
Without disciplining myself to spend time in the Word I was being robbed of the power of its truth. My life and my heart couldn't be washed by its wisdom.
Without disciplining myself to be connected; to gather regularly with other believers I was being robbed of the power of what happens when two or more gather. I was robbed of their gifts in my life.
Without disciplining myself to pray and commune with God, I was being robbed of the power of intimacy. I was missing out not only on sharing my heart, but on hearing His.
I have felt the gentle and yet firm whisper of God inviting me to interweave my freedom with discipline, and as I have heeded His correction, I have been reminded why the puritans referred to spiritual disciplines as disciplines of grace. Disciplines, when they flow from our freedom to choose, instead of our efforts to prove ourselves, create times and spaces for us to experience the grace of God in our lives.
So I'm learning (yet again) to slow the pendulum down; to allow freedom and discipline to come together to shape my life.
What desires is God inviting you to steward with discipline in this season?
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.
From the moment we wake up, we are faced with decisions - what to eat, what to wear, should we even get up or should we hit snooze for another 5 minutes (this is not really a choice in my household as the alarm clock comes in the form of a VERY busy 2 year old!). Some decisions we make almost automatically, but others, well they weigh heavy. We want to get it right. We're afraid of getting it wrong, perhaps we worry we'll miss out on what God has for us.
For me, this fear of getting it wrong coupled with my deep-seated desire to honour God with my choices, became somewhat paralysing. I had brought into a false interpretation of Romans 12:2 where Paul writes:
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - His good, pleasing and perfect will.
His good, pleasing and perfect will. I'd understood this verse as progressive 'levels' of living in God's will that we could experience and not as describing the nature of God's will. So I thought why would you settle for what was just 'good' if you had the opportunity to walk in what was 'perfect'? For someone wired as I am, this self-imposed pressure to not just avoid making wrong decisions, but also to then try and discern whether I was choosing what was merely good or attaining to the perfect, was incredibly dis-empowering. It threatened to rob me of the freedom to make decisions.
It wasn't until we were faced with an impossible decision for our family that tore at my heart and I heard God's whisper - it's ok Aimee, if you think you can keep going that's great, if you need to stop, that's ok too, either way I love you - that I came to understand that there isn't always 'one' right decision. Sometimes (or oftentimes), there are several 'good' options and God trusts us to choose.
God is a sovereign God, He is still on His throne and He rules and reigns. But He has also chosen to partner with us - He has created us in His image and entrusted His creation to our care until His return. And because we reflect Him, we have the ability to think and to feel; to dream and to create - and He wants to see us use these abilities.
He has invited us to enter into relationship with Him and this relationship does not render us powerless; it does not require us to act like robots or reduce us to clones of one another; it does not reduce our lives to a predetermined script. In fact, He empowers us, makes us able to test and approve what His will is.
It's a bit like those 'Choose your own Adventure' books - the ones where every few pages you're presented with different options and where you choose to go next determines the ending of the story. In some editions there were up to forty possible endings! Rather than having one fixed ending, I've discovered that in life there are a variety of possible outcomes and paths that we might go down and they all have the potential to have God-honouring endings. To be marked out by what is good, pleasing and perfect.
The paradox of this freedom and power to test and approve God's will is that it requires complete surrender. It requires us to hold nothing back, to be what Paul describes as a living sacrifice.
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.
Such a surrender is a safe-guard to the incredible freedom we have in Christ. God can always work with a heart that genuinely desires to serve and honour Him - even if we mis-step or mis-interpret what His Word says, He is big enough to redirect us and get us back on track.
And as we surrender our lives to Him - as we trust in the goodness of His nature and His purposes - our hearts and minds are transformed and renewed. Made whole. We no longer measure our options against the world's standards and wisdom, but against His. When life feels like a multi-choice test, we are able to recognise the paths that hold what is good, pleasing and perfect. And then, we can exercise our freedom to choose.
Over the past year or so, my husband and I have had to process A LOT of decisions - life-altering decisions - and I am so grateful that I am no longer afraid of 'getting it wrong.' That I am no longer (or at least less frequently) plagued by decision-paralysis because I know that I have been empowered to make choices.
And with each decision, we return to our posture of surrender, inviting God to confirm or correct the path we have chosen. Expectant that as we seek to honour Him, this life will hold untold adventures.
What adventures are waiting for you to choose them?
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.
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.
Something profound happened to me as I restudied Galatians and wrote the Set Free devotional series, I was undone just a little more by the wonder of His grace, and ever since, I've found myself feeling rather weepy - not my usual state I assure you! I'm weepy over happy things. Weepy because His grace is so incredible. Weepy over my hard and broken places; weepy over the things that feel so far from what He has promised me - but not because I feel helpless, more because I sense that His grace will amaze me in those very places.
I thought that when I finished writing Set Free, that the weeping would finish too. But it didn't - in fact, even as I sit to write this post I can feel the tears pricking at my eyes! I started to think that maybe my tears were not at all spiritual, but just the result of having not slept much for the last 14 months (Lucas is still learning that sleep is a beautiful thing!). But as I encountered others having similar experiences, I felt the Holy Spirit say that it is a season for softening hearts so that we can be the good soil that produces the thirty, the sixty, even the hundred-fold crop that Jesus spoke of.
In Matthew 13, Jesus tells us the parable of the sower - of a farmer who scatters his seed and how it fell in different places. Where it fell determined its fruitfulness. Some fell on the path, and before it could have a chance to grow, the birds came along and ate it up. Jesus said that this is the person who hears, but doesn't understand what he has heard. Because of this the enemy is able to come and steal that word from him. Then some fell in rocky places where the soil was shallow - so while it grew, it did not last because it had not been able to put down roots that would sustain its growth. And then there was the seed that fell among the thorns - the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of riches - which choked it out, and made it unfruitful.
There was only one place that the seed fell where it could actually produce a crop - and that was on the good soil. Matthew tells us that the good soil is the person who not only hears, but understands; Mark tells us that it is the one who hears the word and accepts it (4:20), and Luke's gospel adds that it is the one who hears the word and retains it - persevering with it to produce a crop (8:15).
But not just any crop. Jesus said:
...the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty, thirty times what was sown.
Good soil produces a crop that far exceeds what was sown. Good soil multiplies what it receives because it is characterised by understanding; by accepting and retaining the word, and by patiently persevering until the harvest is realised. These characteristics create an environment where God's Word and God's promises can flourish.
We often think of this parable in terms of categories of people and how they respond to the gospel. But it also relates to the soil of our hearts - how we receive God's Word, God's promises for our lives. There are some words that fall on good soil, but within the same person there can be other words that are unfruitful because in that particular area we lack understanding or perseverance.
As I meditated on this parable, I began to ask myself a series of questions:
Is there any word from God that I need to ask the Holy Spirit to help me understand so that the enemy can't rob me of that promise?
Is there anywhere in my life that I am not putting down roots? Anywhere that I am allowing trouble to dislodge my roots and make me lose sight of what God has spoken?
What promises from God is worry destroying in my life?
What promises is God asking me to accept - to receive and believe as true, and to therefore retain - to hold fast, keep in my possession and in my memory?
I realised as I answered these questions that there were things God had, and was speaking to me, that I needed to get into agreement with and keep in the forefront of my mind. There were words that I had initially received with joy as Jesus described in Matthew 13:20, that I risked relinquishing because of the obstacles I was encountering.
This is the journey of faith - to hold tightly to what God has spoken when life opposes it. To choose to see what He sees and not be deterred when we face delay. And as we recall what has been spoken over our lives, Peter wisely tells us that we must not forget this one thing:
With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise as some understand slowness. He is patient with you...
God's timetable is not the same as ours, but we can always trust that His heart is for us to be fruitful - and that He is faithful to keep His promises. But just as where the seed fell determined its fruitfulness, where God's Word falls in our hearts will determine what it produces in us and through us.
What word from God, what promise is He asking you to accept today? Deliberately take it up - give thanks for it, delight in it and look forward to the harvest from it!
Live today with purpose,
A girlfriend texted me earlier this week, wondering how I was going with this new season - this new season of letting go, of laying down titles and roles and being at home. She knows me well, and she had an inkling that perhaps not having so much responsibility, not being so busy might be hard for how I'm wired. And in part it is. If I haven't said it before, I'll share it with you now - I am a type A, highly driven, tick-the-list, be productive kinda-girl. Navigating a season with no expectations on me, no plan, is new territory.
As I was processing this with God, I felt Him whisper - you've been really good at being Martha for a really long time. Busy involved with all the preparations. But now I need you to learn from Mary so you can bring the two together.
Mary and Martha - two well-known sisters found in Luke's gospel. We typically praise Mary for being willing to sit at Jesus' feet and Martha gets the bad rap for being distracted by the preparations. But in truth, we can learn from them both. Martha was the one who opened her home, who made sure that things were ready - she was hospitable and practical, a hand-to-the plough, get-stuck-in kinda girl (I suspect that her and I would have got on well!). Her failing was that she was so busy doing what the culture expected of her, that she forgot to consider what God might be asking of her. That was Mary's strength - leaning in to the voice of her Saviour.
...Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what He said.
While everyone else hurried around her, Mary was to be found sitting at the feet of Jesus, attentive to His voice.
It was a posture of rest.
It was a position of learning.
It was completely counter-cultural.
It was customary at that time for disciples to sit at the feet of their teacher, their rabbi, in order to learn. This was a privilege typically only afforded to men - but Jesus doesn't condemn Mary for sitting at His feet.with His disciples, instead He commends her saying:
Mary has discovered the one thing most important by choosing the most beautiful place of sitting at my feet. She is undistracted and I won't take this privilege from her.
Mary pushed back against the demands of her day; against the demands of her culture and recognised who she had with her. She was mindful of the presence of Jesus with her and she honoured it by the posture that she chose. In contrast, Martha allowed the tasks before her to distract her from being with Jesus. It was not that she was wrong to be about the preparations - Luke tells us that they had to be done (v.40) - but she allowed them to take precedence over connecting with Jesus. And in doing so she lost her sense of rest and entered into striving.
I love what Bonnie Gray writes in her book, Finding Spiritual Whitespace:
Sometimes, we carry preconceived notions about connecting with Jesus. Trying to figure out how to spend time with God may be the last thing on our minds when we are stressed. But Jesus can enter into whatever space we find ourselves. As is.
Jesus wants to share all our moments with us - He wants to be a part of our preparations and of our rest; of our highlights and of our trainwrecks. In any and all situations, Jesus wants us to have an internal posture of sitting at His feet, of connecting with Him and leaning into what He is saying; of being teachable in the moment.
We don't always get to be in a season like the one that God has positioned me in - times where we get to literally stop and cease all our activity to be with Him - but wherever we find ourselves, we can adopt the posture of Mary, honouring His presence with us as we learn to sit at His feet.
What would it look like for you to sit at the feet of Jesus today?
Live today with purpose,
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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