We had a team day at work recently where actors came in with pretend problems, and we had to practice “active listening” for four minutes. The idea was that we would be asking questions to understand their perspective and situation. I was proud that in about 40 seconds I had figured out the cause of the issue and solved the problem.
When it was time for me to get feedback on the exercise, I was surprised that they told me I had only listened enough to decide what I would say in response. Their impression was that I had asked questions to find out and fix the problem but had not been seeking to understand the person.
I agreed with the feedback but secretly thought I’d done the more efficient and loving thing by getting to the solution faster than anyone else.
Fast forward a few weeks, my husband and I shifted in with a friend to save money while we build our new home. It’s pretty embarrassing to admit, but I was really struggling with the transition to a smaller space, an older kitchen and feeling like one of my biggest passions (cooking and entertaining) had been taken away as I didn’t have the environment to relax and enjoy it.
I was sitting in my room, wrestling with the grief of letting go of having space with my husband, of the time and expense of the house, along with a bunch of other (let’s be honest) first world problems. I hadn’t talked to God about any of it, as I was too embarrassed to ask Him to change my situation - I already knew the problem bigger than the situation was my lack of gratitude. Gratitude for everything I had and would have in the future. I knew that if I showed him my heart, admitted that I was feeling trapped and stuck, that he would tell me to get over myself and be grateful.
So I began to say out loud all the things I was thankful for, and as I did, I saw in my spirit the scene from John 11:32-36 where Jesus approaches Mary on His way to raise her brother Lazarus from the dead. He knows that in about 3 minutes time Lazarus will be alive and all the mourning will be over. But the King of all creation, the solution holding, miracle making God, stops and weeps with her. Because he saw pain in the eyes of His friend. Because He understands.
Then the vision changed and I saw him walking toward me, arms outstretched. No words were spoken but in His eyes, I saw pure compassion. Permission to feel. Released from guilt, and totally understood.
The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom.
Many of us are trained to analyze problems and create solutions. We forget that our life with Jesus is relationship. Religion tells you that you are a project to be completed or a problem to solve.
Religion has a goal of defending ourselves or setting other’s straight. Religion wants messy things cleaned up. But relationship, above all, wants to discover your thoughts and feelings - no matter how messy. God wants to understand you.
Jesus will never move quickly to the solution at the cost of relationship. He doesn’t struggle with four minutes of active listening! His desire to understand the depths of your soul was so strong, that He took on human flesh to experience first-hand what it’s like to walk this earth. Then he took up residence inside your heart to experience first-hand what It’s like to walk in your shoes. There is nothing you could experience that He has not felt. You cannot fathom how deeply He understands.
Do you not know? Have you not heard?
Can I encourage you today, whatever you’re walking through, instead of looking at your heart like a problem to solve or a project to be completed, to let Love’s loudest voice be one of understanding. Give Him a chance to actively listen, He never grows tired or weary.
Side note- but definitely worth mentioning- I am writing this from an apartment one block from the beach that my husband and I have been generously gifted for a week. His understanding no one can fathom!
I grew up in Church and I loved it. In fact, I loved it so much that I even played 'Church' with the neighbourhood kids and my toys - Mum had to put some rules in place though when I started taking up an offering!
As a pastor's kid, and later becoming a pastor myself, Church has always been an integral part of my life. I've never woken up on a Sunday and thought, "Should we go to Church today?" because we've usually been the first there and the last to go.
That is until recently.
Two years ago, I resigned from my pastoral role. A year later, we felt God calling us out of the Church family that had been home for some 18 years. Both these changes required a lot of letting go and a lot of grieving. They caused me to do a lot of reflection and wrestling over this beautifully messy thing we call 'Church.' And all this wrestling saw me pull back.
At first I pulled back to process. To rest. To heal. This was wisdom for my season.
But then I pulled back because I felt alone. I felt adrift and I didn't know where I fitted anymore
Dave would head off to services with the kids without me. I just need some time alone with Jesus I'd tell him.
And honestly, I welcomed the extra time a Sunday with no rushing around gave me!
Yet the more I pulled back, the more empty I felt. Because we are not just called to relationship with God, we're also called to relationship with His people. No matter how hard it is. No matter how messy and complicated it gets, we are called to belong to a family and you can't belong from a distance.
So I've been taking small yet deliberate steps back towards committed community. I'm rediscovering what it means to belong and all the blessings that go with that.
The writer of Hebrew tells us this:
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
We hold tight to Him, but we must also hold tight to one another. The Passion Translation renders this passage beautifully saying:
This is not the time to pull away and neglect meeting together, as some have formed the habit of doing, because we need each other! In fact, we should come together even more frequently, eager to encourage and urge each other onward as we anticipate that day dawning.
These verses, are not a denial of the mess that will inevitably come wherever people in all their human frailties gather together, but they are a promise that in the midst of that mess we will find beauty. We will find encouragement and hope. That we will be spurred on to keep doing the good things that God is calling us to do both individually and collectively.
Over the past two years, I have been reminded just how deeply we need one another. Just how much I need the encouragement of others and also how much I am renewed and transformed as I reach out to those around me. How coming together to worship recalibrates my heart and keeps me focused on the truth that it's not all about me, it's about Jesus. It's about establishing His Kingdom here on earth.
Yes, I can listen to podcasts and watch services online. I can open my Bible and create an atmosphere of worship in my home with the music I put on, and I am so grateful these mediums are there for when gathering with others is genuinely not possible. But they were never intended to replace community.
Community is where I am discipled and refined, It continually gives me opportunities to become more Christ-like as I learn to love and serve like He does. Community is also how we show the world what it means to belong and just how powerful the love of God is.
I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one - I in them and you in me - so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
If you, like me, have taken a step back from meeting with other believers, if a season has turned into a lifestyle, can I encourage you today to reconsider. To be brave and try again. You will not find perfection but in your obedience to God's command to meet together and to love one another, you will encounter blessing.
Please note that in writing this I am aware that Church is not a building but the body of Christ, and as such, has many varied expressions. Acts 2:42-47 gives us some of the practices that should characterise a healthy expression of Church and it is commitment to a group of believers that meets to fulfill these purposes that I strongly encourage you to pursue.
It had been a particularly trying night. My sons had been fighting with me, and each other, and I’d been doing everything in my power not to yell back. The last thing I wanted was to add to the chorus of ‘stop it’ and ‘don’t’ and ‘aarghhh!!!’
My job is to be the calm one, right?
Calm, yet firm. In control, aware of my emotions, centred… The parent, not the oldest child. Yes, the parent – not the pushover.
I was trying – and failing, fast.
The minutes were racing towards their designated bedtime and my heart was pounding with either excitement at the prospect of ‘me time’ or the adrenaline of trying to wrangle two argumentative boys. Don’t know which. Either way, we were nearly there.
My nine-year-old was ramping it up more than usual, pushing back on my every request, pushing his brother, pushing every boundary.
“Maybe you need to get to bed earlier tonight,” I said. “You seem very tired…”
“No! I’m fine!” he yelled, before knocking over several toys in his path.
“What’s going on with you, Tom?” I said.“You seem really angry.”
At that point he started crying; sobbing…
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” he said. “I can’t stop this attitude. I keep having this attitude, and I don’t know how to stop…”
It’s a rare moment when a child confesses to an attitude problem.
As he continued to tell me about his ‘issues below the tip of the iceberg’, which included some mild bullying at school, and a general feeling of ‘not fitting in’, it made me think about my own ‘stuff’. Often my behaviours stem from deeper concerns too, and I don’t always take the time to address them.
Recently, I said goodbye to a church I’d been part of for over six years, and it was hard. I also changed workplaces after being at the same publishing company for close to 15 years.
Change is hard. Really hard.
And I think all of it has affected my emotional responses to my family, in subtle ways.
We all have worries and concerns that are simmering under the surface, and we tend to react by either melting down or shutting down. But the best thing we can do for ourselves when our behaviours take us by surprise, is to stop and question them. To do a bit of digging. And engage in a bit of raw honesty.
Sometimes we need to admit that ‘our attitude’ may be connected to something else… something deeper. Something which needs the hand of God on it, and the Spirit’s gentle guidance as we go to the Word and ask for fresh insight.
For me, working through all the changes in my life over the last 12 months has meant creating dedicated time with God where I talk freely and openly about how I’m feeling and what I’m struggling with. And he’s been gently leading me back to Scripture, where I’ve found refreshment and nourishment for the road ahead.
I’ve been able to admit my weariness and entrust my fears and concerns to him as I’ve spoken out loud – or written down in my journal – the words of God and allowed them to minister to my tired heart.
What are some of the areas of your life that need a bit more ‘digging’ with the help of a ‘gardener’ who knows you through and through?
John 15 says:
"He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful…I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing."
We depend on Jesus for everything, starting with our very lives – “for in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Only Jesus can bring the healing and wholeness that we long for. Only Jesus can help us live fruitful lives for His glory.
Let’s pray that we’d have eyes to read between the lines of our lives and see what God needs us to see and faith to trust Him in the times and places that require pruning.
Lord, help us not to carry our ‘stuff’ alone. Help us to have the wisdom to take it to you; to engage in Scripture; and allow you to direct our thinking so that our attitude and actions are transformed. Help us to receive your grace for each new day, as we dig up all those things ‘under the surface’ and bring them into your glorious light. Help us to abide in you each and every day and be willing to serve you with our whole selves.
In Jesus’ name I pray,
It's a vulnerable thing to write about the places you are currently receiving healing, and even more so when it's on a topic that may be sensitive for a lot of people. I wrote this down in the hopes that whispers of truth would find their way into hearts where shadows have begun to form like they did in mine.
A while back I heard news that a married couple I hugely admired, particularly for the strength of their relationship, had separated. I didn't vocalise it, but I was angry. I felt like I was owed an explanation or something. Where normally I would feel compassion for the person or sadness for a situation, this time I was just angry. I was embarrassed to admit it because it seemed judgy, so I just pushed it down and "moved on."
To different degrees, this pattern has gone on over the last few months where I've felt angry at an outcome or expression of another relationship that sometimes doesn't even directly affect me. Now I'm self reflective enough to know that anger is my cover-up emotion for fear. I decide to be angry at something instead of facing whatever anxious thought is swirling around in my heart. I considered that maybe I was insecure in my own marriage, for if all of these other vows were being broken, what are the chances that the Flatts would succeed? But since my marriage is one of the safest places I know, I knew that my fears must be deeper.
Finally, I asked, "Papa, why is my heart fearful when I know I am safe and secure in my own marriage?" He said, "Because your heart is constantly being told covenant is fragile and breakable and you have begun to fear the one I made with you is too."
Maybe for you it is your own marriage that feels shaky. Or maybe a friend that you thought was forever has gone in a different direction. Maybe your parents fight or have separated or divorced. In all of these places the enemy will whisper, "Nothing is for sure. It's only a matter of time before things will break. Covenant is fragile, so don't let your heart feel secure or you'll be blindsided when it finally cracks."
If he can get you to partner with that belief, you will put up the very walls that hinder the intimacy that covenant should birth. It was only when I let Him show me what my heart was believing that I could hear the kind, reassuring voice. The voice that comes with such authority that every cell in my body takes note.
"For the mountains may be removed and the hills may shake, But My loving kindness will not be removed from you, And My covenant of peace will not be shaken," Says the LORD who has compassion on you.
God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?
His covenant is not fragile. It cannot be shaken or removed. It's not dependent on you and I. Though we are faithless, yet He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.
Amanda Cook summarises beautifully in her song Pieces: "Love keeps its promises It keeps its word It honors what’s sacred Cause its vows are good Your love's not broken It's not insecure Your love's not selfish Your love is pure."
It's the only certain thing we have. He's the same for me on my worst day as He is on my best. Even if I tried, I cannot get him to "un-choose" me. It's only through the experiential knowledge of the strength of His covenant with me that I have the grace to fulfill my own.
One of the lyrics to my wedding song with Matty was "You know my paper heart, the one I've filled with pencil marks.. I think I might have gone and inked you in." Exposing my paper heart and fearful little pencil marks to the permanent ink of His love is the way to wholeness. He'll address every fear, comfort every sadness, and restore hope for every disappointment.
Today I declare over you that any misbelief around covenant or vows would collide and give way to the strength and sheer determination of His unchanging desire toward you.
Editor's Note: Please know that our heart in sharing this post is not to make anyone who has or is experiencing the pain of divorce or separation feel under condemnation, but to remind and encourage us all that no matter how much in our humanity we fail one another, His love for us always stands firm.
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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