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...
When my kids are fighting over something I sing 'Let It Go'. I get down on one knee and make a fool of myself, changing the mood and making them forget what they were fighting over in the first place.
I can often have an internal argument and end up singing the song to myself… which, if you were watching me, would be quite weird…
I can be quite particular. I like to do things in a certain way; I have my routine, and a method to carry out my tasks. But I struggle to keep going if my routine gets interrupted for some reason. There is a part of me that says, if you can't do it perfectly, you might as well give up now. It might sound odd, but it can be physically exhausting. And this is where the song comes in.
I have to shift my focus from whatever is blocking me to the simple truth: God doesn't ask for perfection, he asks for perseverance. John Bloom from desiringgod.org said:
Perfectionism is a pride- or fear-based compulsion that either fuels our obsessive fixation on doing something perfectly or paralyzes us from acting at all — both of which often result in the harmful neglect of other necessary or good things.
There are things in life that are beyond our control. Schedules, situations, and people are ever changing. And while I like my to do lists and love the feeling that comes when I can cross something off one of those lists, I've had to learn that when things beyond my control hinder me from being able to achieve my tasks, that I need to let go and let God. There is a prayer that I say often:
The Serenity Prayer
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
This is where I thought it finished. But I have recently discovered a second verse:
Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His will;
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next.
Taking this world as it is, not as I would have it - we need to be faith-based, not fear-based, followers of Christ, accepting the things we cannot change and trusting God to make things right.
We are reminded of this in Proverbs 3:5:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.
I love worship music. It soothes my heart and fixes my eyes on God. It Is Well With My Soul is a popular hymn and has been remade by many musicians, but the second verse of the original lyrics seems to connect with me:
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
Although Satan will continue to strike repeatedly, attempting to knock me off course, I can stand sure that my God loves me and gave His only son for me. (John 3:16)
Can I encourage you: whatever is holding you back or frustrating you, give it to God. Through praying, singing or writing. Let go of what is holding you to this world’s lies and grasp hold of His truths that you are loved and you are worthy. Let it be well with your soul.
Keep shining, you never know whose dark day you might be lighting up!
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?
Is it just me, or do you find that your mind easily wanders?
A perfect example, was when I sat down to start writing this, only to remember I needed to send out some text messages before the day was done, and half an hour later, I now begin….
More seriously though, how easily does not only our mind wander in the moment, but the more life I live, I realise how powerful my thought life is, and how easy it can be for my thoughts to wander off course.
There are a lot of places our thoughts can go, and one of my many go to’s can be that of “worry”. It could be as simple as worrying about a trip to the dentist, or as complex as worrying about a diagnosis you’ve been given. It could be worry about how a relational issue is going to be solved, or worrying about how you are going to meet your bills this month.
I don’t know about you, but in this fast-paced life we live, with opportunity to be bombarded at any moment with news of another traumatic incident, I need some good tools under my belt to know how to deal with worry. One of my favourite passages of Scripture is found in Philippians:
Don’t be pulled in different directions or worried about a thing. Be saturated in prayer throughout each day, offering your faith-filled requests before God with overflowing gratitude. Tell him every detail of your life, then God’s wonderful peace that transcends human understanding, will make the answers known to you through Jesus Christ.
Could it really be that simple? Is it even possible? I mean, Paul tells us not to worry about ANYTHING….
So if he is serious about this, how can I put this into practice in my everyday life; when I am overwhelmed and can’t see a way out?
For me, in this season of my life, as a Mum (or Mom now that I’m living in America), as a wife, as a volunteer pastor alongside my husband, my go to worry can be, “Am I doing enough?” If I let my thoughts go down that path long enough, I find myself in a place of discontent, and a little bit paralysed if I’m honest. It can at times, feel like, where do I even begin? Who needs my time?
I am so grateful for a God who meets me in my mess, and reminds me, that He is with me. This passage in Philippians gives me confidence that I don’t have to tackle my situations alone, or worry my way down a path that leads me nowhere good. He invites me to “Tell him every detail of my life”. I think we can get good at giving people the glossy version of how we’re doing and sometimes that can roll over into our relationship with God. Can I remind you, and myself (haha), that God is not afraid of your emotions, or your disappointments, or your lack of faith in the moment. He instead invites us to lay it out with vulnerability before Him, nothing left unsaid… and He makes this incredible promise in return:
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
The “peace of God” is available to each one of us, and it is something that no earthly thing can replicate. It literally is a peace that “transcends human understanding”.
2 Thessalonians 3:16 says,
Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.
What if we I took God at His word, and trusted that not only is He with us, but that we can experience this “peace”, no matter where we find ourselves? If we believed that there really is no place that His peace can’t find us?
What are you going through today that you need the peace of God to invade?
My prayer for you is that you would allow God into those spaces and places of your life, those worries that feel so overwhelming, and let His peace meet you right where you are at. He doesn’t promise to always change what we are walking through, but He does promise His peace in the middle of it, and when we discover that peace, our thoughts are refocused in the light of who our God is.
They were bickering over something. I can't even remember what. It wasn't even a full-scale argument, just a difference of opinion, but on this particular day, it just felt like too much. I could feel myself reaching breaking point. I wanted to scream all manner of things; instead I abruptly sent them to their rooms with no explanation. I'd have to later explain it wasn't because of anything that they'd done (I have one daughter who is devastated at the mere thought of making a mistake and upsetting someone); it was because of me. It was to protect them from me.
I did not have the reserves that day to speak with wisdom or grace; to be sensitive to their own struggles in the midst of all our transitions. At that moment, I was definitely not the epitome of a Proverbs 31 woman!
The Proverbs 31 woman. Sometimes we read of her and find freedom in the many and varied tasks she engaged in; in how industrious she was both inside her home and in the marketplace. Other times? Well, let's just say we wish she hadn't been quite so talented at balancing it all so virtuously!
A few years back, I was invited to be part of a series a Women's Ministry was doing on the Proverbs 31 woman. I was assigned verse 26 and it was loosely titled wisdom. I was excited - that is until I actually read the verse and realised that it was about the tongue! It says:
She opens her mouth in [skillful and godly] wisdom, And the teaching of kindness is on her tongue [giving counsel and instruction].
When I read these words I think I literally sighed. The Message paraphrase summarises it saying: "When she speaks she has something worthwhile to say, and she always says it kindly."
Can I be honest and say that this is not always what comes out of my mouth?
You've probably gathered by now that I am a words girl. I love words. I love to read them, write them and if you've ever met me, then you'll know I'm seldom short on them in conversation either! But what is my strength is also an area of weakness for me. And I know, that when I can't control my tongue; when I'm lashing out or not opening my mouth in wisdom, that it's an indication of something deeper. It's an indication of how healthy my heart is.
In Luke's gospel, Jesus said this:
A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.
The mouth speaks what the heart is full of.
One of the biggest things I've realised as a Mum, is that more than managing a household, I am managing an economy of hearts. And each of these hearts is indelibly tied to the health of my own heart.
When my heart is tired, impatient words spill over.
When my heart is disappointed, cynical words squash expectation.
When my heart is holding on to hurts, bitter words poison the air.
Healthy words and healthy connections require a healthy heart. I love how the NLT translates this verse, it says: A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart.
My heart is a treasury. It is worth taking care of.
Over the years I've learnt the importance of doing things that bring me joy; of nurturing my soul and practicing self care. But the biggest thing I've come to realise that my heart needs to be healthy is truth. God's truth. I don't want the world's wisdom or its ever-fluctuating truth. I want His.
Sometimes storing up His truth in my heart is hard - not merely because life is busy, but because sometimes His truth is confronting. It asks me to surrender. It asks me to obey. It asks me to trust.
But only God's truth can refresh my weary soul and renew my strength.
Only God's truth can speak to my disappointment, reviving faith and restoring hope.
And only God's truth has the power to wash me clean; to heal and redeem my hurting, broken places.
So I store it up in my heart. Some days I snack on it - grazing where I can. Other days I sit and feast, savouring each morsel. I let it sustain me. And with every deposit, His wisdom shapes my life.
What are you storing up in your heart? Allow His truth to reveal the treasure that lies in your heart today.
Before the sun sets, I ask myself, have I been fully present to God, others and myself?
Transitioning into a new year is something some of us do with great joy and goal setting; for some of us it is just another year to get through. Some people give no thought to their future and live day to day, while some, I have observed, are so future focused, waiting for the big breakthrough, that illusive defining moment that will change everything, that they are rarely fully present day by day - to God, themselves or others.
I love the quick wit of that great philosopher, Groucho Marx, who when out one evening said to his host, “I’ve had a wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it!” For some of us there never seems to be ‘a wonderful evening’ because we keep looking for that big breakthrough evening or event. Is such a desire wrong? No, but when we live so future focused, we run the risk of missing present moments that bring great joy, life, community, deepening of relationships, hope, personal transformation and healing.
As my wife, Pip, and I have navigated our personal journey of health these past years and stepped into a new year, I realise I have discovered more from learning to be fully present each day than constantly staring into the future hoping for one big miracle that will make everything all better (not that I do not hope). As I seek to practice the art of being fully present to the moment, to each person and to myself, I am laying stepping stones that create a pathway to the possibility of breakthrough in areas of my life. Sometimes big breakthroughs are the accumulation of small, moment by moment breakthroughs, which become the foundation blocks to the larger ones.
My personal defeats and victories in navigating this season of recovery have become in themselves, defining moments of growth.
You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.
I see why Jesus encouraged us to live one day at a time, not worrying about the next day (Matthew 6:25-34) because worry only robs us of present moments to grow, change and become the person God desires we be. As we journey through life, God is more concerned about the enlargement of our heart and our mind towards Him, ourselves and others so that we will have the capacity to receive and steward the big breakthroughs He has for us.
Today, He enlarges us to receive tomorrow.
While future hope is a wonderful focus, there is great power and transformation in learning to be fully present today, advancing one day at a time, not worrying but trusting.
“Worrying is carrying tomorrow's load with today's strength- carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying doesn't empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”
God has invited us on a journey of trust, of learning to be fully present to Him, living in and from His
presence, so that we grow and become enabled to receive all He has for us. He alone knows the end from the beginning and crafts everything and everyone along the way.
Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.
If we can learn to be fully present to God, ourselves and others and not miss today’s moments, we will become more greatly equipped to see the breakthroughs we desire - whether small or large. Let us steward today well so that we can be entrusted with His tomorrows.
“Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid only of standing still” (Chinese proverb)
May 2018 be a breakthrough year for you - each and every moment.
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?
We're entering the final weeks of winter and despite the biting cold, the signs of new life, of new beginnings are bursting forth. The lambs are being born, the barren trees are budding ready for the blossoms to emerge, and dormant bulbs are starting to push their way up and out of the dark heavy earth that has been concealing their existence.
It was a number of years ago now, in the midst of a dark winter season of my own soul, that God revealed this truth to me: the seeds of new life don't begin in the spring but in the winter. In the midst of the cold and sometimes barren landscape, things of great beauty are being realised.
Just last winter God led me to a new beginning of my own, asking me to resign from what I would have previously described as my dream job to be at home with my children and to write. In the midst of laying down the plans that I had built for myself - of allowing dreams to die and be rebirthed - I have been reminded afresh of the truth that God spoke through the seasons to me all those years ago, that the 'new things' often spring forth from the most unlikely of landscapes. That beautiful things can be born out of the hard things.
See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.
The question that God asks us through the prophet Isaiah, is the question that we must each answer when we find ourselves in the midst of the winter - will we have eyes to see the new things God is doing? Will we have faith to believe that He is able to bring beauty out of our barreness?
There is a fragility to new beginnings. Like the lambs born into a harsh climate, seasons of transition, where we are just beginning to embark on a new path, can be times of vulnerability. The elements often oppose the new life that is emerging which is why we must guard our hope and protect the seeds that God has planted within us.
As we grieve what we have had to let go of; what we have had to release in order to embrace the new, we must trust in His redemptive plans and purposes for our lives. We must believe that He can make a way where we might not yet see one.
When we find ourselves in the paralysing throes of fear, questioning whether we have heard God right; wondering if we are adequate for the task before us, we must lean into His strength and trust that His grace is sufficient. Sufficient to equip us for what He is calling us to and sufficient to cover us when we mis-step and get it wrong.
When the path ahead feels lonely and confronting we must remember that He is not only with us, He is for us. He believes in us and He is cheering us on. God knows that we need His care and protection equally in times of despair and of advancement which is why He not only walks through the valleys with us, He is also, as Psalm 23 tells us, going ahead of us, preparing the table - preparing places of rest and provision - as we ascend the mountain. He understands our vulnerability and provides all that we need to go from strength to strength.
Stripped of my titles; stripped of my familiar routines, my own new beginnings have required me to face these same myriad of emotions. The contrasting emotions of grief and hope; of letting go and picking up have been overwhelming at times. Forging new paths and allowing God to do a fresh work in our lives is seldom a comfortable experience - they are however an opportunity to draw near and rely on God in a deeper way. To find our rest in Him instead of striving to make things happen on our own terms.
I have learned that it is only when we embrace the companionship of the Comforter over being comfortable that we are positioned for new things to emerge. But as long as we fight for our own comfort the seeds of new life are constrained.
As far as the seasons go, I actually love winter. I love cosying up to the fire with a glass of red or a warm cuppa and a good book, drawing comfort and warmth from its embers; accepting its offer of respite from the cold. I have not always loved it though as an analogy for my life. Experience has taught me however to appreciate the beauty that God births in us throughout the winter months.
Yes, the winter months can feel relentless, but beneath the surface beauty is waiting to be revealed. Do you see the new thing that God is preparing to spring up in your life?
P.S. Want to understand more about the table that God has prepared? Sign-up to get the devotional series, The Good Shepherd, to your inbox here.
I could see the whispers of fog wrapping themselves around the trees outside my bedroom window and it captured the emotion of how this season feels for me. Of how I'm not quite sure of what comes next but aware that there is beauty in the midst of the fog; in the midst of this somewhat ambiguous time in my life.
You see, as I've been journeying through my season of letting go - a season that has lasted longer and touched more areas of my life than I ever envisaged that it would - I've become aware that the satisfied life isn't always found where you expected it to be. That Scripture is full of people whom God called to step away from what they had planned and built for themselves to step into what was unknown and wouldn't always be fully realised in their own lifetime.
Men like Abraham who left his homeland - left the familiar and comfortable - to say yes to an undisclosed destination.
Women like Jesus' mother Mary whose surrendered yes took her down unexpected and sometimes lonely and painful paths.
People like the disciples who had trained in various professions and left it all behind to follow Jesus.
And so many more for whom the path looked different to what they had anticipated.
We have the benefit of knowing the end of their stories - of knowing that they stayed the course to possess what was promised even if they did take some detours along the way. But they must have had their in-between times and seasons like we all do. The days, weeks, months and even years where they didn't quite know how it was all going to turn out. Where the fog wrapped around their hearts and minds and tried to obscure their vision.
But here's the thing that I've learnt about fog; you don't have to be able to see everything that lies ahead to keep moving forward. You just need enough light to illuminate where you currently are.
Now this truth is not always easy for me to accept. I like to have things all planned out. To know the end-goal and exactly how we're going to get there. But life's not that simple - the journey is not always linear like we think it should be - and I doubt it was for the ancients either.
God offers to be the light that illuminates our path just as He has for those who have gone before us. For His presence to be a light within us and without. I've discovered that when knowing Him and not my own agenda becomes the goal, that the fog around me begins to clear and the beauty of who He is and how He loves me, shines bright. As David wrote:
For it is you who light my lamp; the LORD my God lightens my darkness.
All our worrying, all our striving and efforts to clear the path for ourselves will not bring clarity in the fog because clarity comes from intimacy. Only trust, only relationship with the One who sees all; with the One for whom the darkness is as light (Psalm 139:12) can cause the fog around our hearts and minds to clear.
Later that day, the sun shone bright. All trace of the morning fog had lifted and I was reminded that there will come a day when we see clearly; when we know and understand in full because we see Him face to face (1 Cor, 13:12). Our revelation, our knowing continually grows and deepens as we know Him more, but none of us can know fully this side of eternity. For now, we only see in part and the journey of faith is to keep saying yes. To keep trusting in who He is, allowing His goodness, His love to be the light for where we find ourselves; to be the light that leads us forward.
How can you let Him shine His light for you today?
Isolated and alone. They're not words that I would have typically used to describe my life - not for an extended period of time anyway. But a few weeks before I was due to give birth to our youngest, Lucas, it felt like everyone moved away. My parents had been a five-minute drive from our home, now they were over an hour away. Both of my sisters then moved to the outskirts of our city and six months later my brother and his family moved back to the inner city. We'd always lived in close proximity and it wasn't until we all dispersed that I realised how much I'd taken it for granted, but also how much I'd depended on their presence in my everyday routines.
It was to be the beginning of everything moving around me.
In the last few years, God has taken me on a journey of being stripped back; of being asked to leave the familiar and the comfortable behind to forge a new path and say yes to what is yet unknown. It's not only been hard, at times it's been lonely.
We are designed for community, not only with God, but also with one another. But here's the reality: there are some seasons, some places that God asks us to go to that others cannot go with us. Yes, we need to allow others to stand with us, to like Aaron and Hur did, lift up our hands when we grow weary. But equally, we need to know how to strengthen ourselves in the Lord if we do not want to be undone in the lonely battlegrounds of life.
There is an episode in David's life that takes place during David's time of exile and persecution under King Saul which challenges me. David and his men have been fighting for over a year as mercenaries under the commander Achish but when all the Philistine rulers come together for battle, the others are uncomfortable with David fighting for them. They think he could turn against them and so David and his men are sent home.
Three days later, David and his men arrive home to find their settlement burned to the ground and their wives and children taken captive by the Amalekites. Understandably, David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep. But there's a difference between how they all handle things after that. Scripture tells us that his men began to talk of stoning David because they were bitter in spirit. In contrast, we read this about David:
But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.
Some translations say that he found strength in the Lord or that he encouraged himself in the Lord. When he had lost those that mattered most to him, when everyone around him turned against him, David knew to turn to God and find strength in him. He allowed the presence of God with him and the truth of who God is to encourage him in the midst of despair. He let God be with him when he felt destitute and alone.
Lonely seasons can become places of bitterness and destruction, but they also have the ability to become something beautiful in our lives - to be where God gives us the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places (Isaiah 45:3). Leaning on Him opens us up to His perspective and seeing what He sees, changes everything. For David, it meant being able to rise up and fight with courage and tenacity the battle that lay before him, recovering all that had been lost.
Henri Nouwen in his book Spiritual Formation writes:
Jesus liberates human history from mere chronology to kairos - God's time, where past, present and future merge in the present moment... Even hard and painful times can be converted to occasions for learning, shaping influences forming us into the persons we are and leading us to the Source of healing and salvation. The spiritual life is not a life that offers a few good moments between the many bad ones, but an abundant life that transforms all moments of time into windows through which the invisible becomes visible.
Opening myself up to God's perspective, learning to see this time as not something just to endure but a kairos moment in which I can experience God, has given way to a strength that is not my own.
Yes, this season of being stripped back has been hard and at times lonely - but can I tell you this: it has also been breathtakingly beautiful. It has caused me to wholeheartedly pursue and rely on the Source of healing and salvation. To see Jesus at work in all the aspects of my life, weaving the past, present and future together for His purposes. No longer able to depend on proximity to those I love; no longer able to place confidence in titles and positions that I have held; no longer able to rely on the comfortable and familiar, I have had to rely on Him. And as I have, the fingerprints of His invisible work in my life have slowly become more visible as I have been shaped by His hand.
Don't let lonely places and seasons become destructive in your own life, allow them to become a place of communion with the only true source of strength, Jesus.
How can you strengthen yourself in the Lord today?
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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