A park bench, me and God

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It’s so easy to see God as distant or judge-y, or both. When I’m slogging through a challenging day, it doesn’t feel like He’s nearby, or even very happy with me.

Which is why I enjoyed this verse so much this week:

So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.”

Romans 8:15 NLT

In reality, God is not distant. He is not judge-y.

In reality, He is the best ‘Daddy ‘ (the translation of ‘Abba ‘) that ever existed.

Is that how we really see him? Or do we need to pray that we see him for what he really is?

I listened to speaker Allen Arnold this week, who described a joyful friend of his. This man said every day he pictured a park bench, with both him and God sitting on it.

They didn’t have to talk. He just spent every day, mentally in God’s presence.

I loved that story. It reminded me of my dance floor.

God is here, right now. Next to me. Next to you. Ready to spend some quality time together.

You don’t have to talk. You don’t have to do anything.

You just have to be, and let his love soak in.

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Six lessons that changed my life in the last three years

This month, it’s been three years since I started this blog, and I am such a different person to what I was back then.
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I’ve been scanning over my posts, reflecting on what God’s been doing in my life. And while I am very much still a work in progress, I feel like he’s taken a person bound up in guilt, fear and worry, and set me free to be the person He made me to be.
Not that I don’t still struggle with all those things. I do.
But only one-tenth the amount that I did when I was 22, this time three years ago.
So here’s my top major changes since November 2013.

God taught me I didn’t need to be terrified that He had something He wanted me to do, but I was missing it

I always wondered if I was in the right job, the right ministry, living in the right place. Any time I had to make a decision, I felt that it would be the wrong one either way. I was certain I was doing things wrong, disappointing God, but I couldn’t figure out how.
In this blog post, I shared how the whole year of 2014 taught me that God will convict me if something needs to change, but never condemn me, and he doesn’t speak quietly in a corner. And, most of all, He loves me.

God taught me that my feeling that He wasn’t using my life for anything that mattered eternally wasn’t true

I struggled for years, because people talked about the power of God changing people, but it seemed that I never saw it.
I see now that was probably due to a number of factors. I’ve also now seen that God’s eternal purposes are fulfilled when I’m obedient, whether I can see anything amazing happening or not. A big part of this has come through the lessons I’ve learned in being a part of a now almost two-year-old church plant. But another major lesson came from Daisy, whose faithful life was lived in isolation for 50 years, yet it brings so much glory to God. Which leads me to another lesson…

God taught me how to trust

I always struggled to understand trust, because saying ‘trust God’ doesn’t mean bad things won’t happen. But Daisy’s  testimony showed me that trust is about believing that God is with you, loves you, and will use your life for His glory, no matter what happens.

God taught me to take a step of faith

In mid-2015, I had three chapters of a second-draft manuscript and a 10 week deadline before I went to an American writing conference. That meant I had to write 60,000 words and put together my book proposal in 10 weeks. The last time I tried something half that difficult, I completely burnt out.
But before I could even start writing, I had to go lead at a Christian youth camp. I was in turmoil for much of the week, about many things, as well as writing. And while we were listening to the song ‘Oceans’, I heard that quiet voice in my head say, “You can stay in this place forever, or you can step out in faith. We have bigger fish to fry.”
I decided to step out. I had to cancel everything in my life except working, eating, sleeping and writing. Every morning I woke up and thought, “I can’t do this again today”. Then I’d have a shower, listen to ‘Oceans’, pray, and go out and do it again.
Ten weeks later I went to the conference with a finished manuscript and a proposal. It didn’t even matter if I had a successful conference – we’d done it! God had sustained me through something I never thought I could do.
(And I did end up having a very successful conference. 😃 )

God taught me not to wrap my identity up in things other than Him, like my job or writing

I have no anecdote for this one, other than to say it’s been a 3 year process (which will probably continue till the day I die) of unwinding my identity from things that are not God.
But the less I depend on things like my financial security, writing career, an interesting job, or relationship status, the more secure I feel in God. I can think of nothing more beautiful than a person who has their identity 100% in God.

God helped me to forgive, especially the church

In the space of 5 years I watched two churches I was involved in fall apart, plus a number of other painful events involving other Christians. And though I knew that I had resentment against the church as an institution, I didn’t know how much until I became a church leader at the beginning of this year.
I love my current church, and the people in it. They had nothing to do with the painful incidents of the past.
But I had so much anger inside at the church as a whole. I thought I’d forgiven those people from before, when a quiet voice in my head said, “Say it”.
And, lying in bed, when I went to whisper, “I forgive–” the words stuck in my throat when I reached the name.
I couldn’t physically say it.
And then I realised that I had a serious problem.
So, I prayed. About all of it. And I had to say, aloud, “God, this person doesn’t deserve forgiveness. But neither did I, and you forgave me. So because of what you did, I forgive XXXX.”
And 99% of that anger and resentment melted away.
I’ll be honest, 1% raises its ugly head from time to time. So I pray the prayer again, and again, and again. And each time, it works a little better.
So, there you have it: that’s most of what I learned in the past 3 years in a nutshell.
Who knows what the next 3 will bring?

What to do with discouragement

I’ve been increasingly discouraged over the past two months or so, with a few different factors building over that time.

When this time first started, I said that the events happening weren’t in my control; all I could do was continue to be obedient and trust God.

To be honest, I think I’ve kinda forgot about that over the past month.

I’ve allowed a combination of circumstances to drag me down, and forgotten that it’s still my job to just keep praying and being obedient. Being glum doesn’t help anyone.

I have a few friends who really encouraged me on Monday night, and that really helped jump-start me again.

They reminded me that expectations don’t matter, but joyful obedience does.

It reminds me of one of the last things Jesus said to Peter:

When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”

 Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.

John 21:21-22 NIV (emphasis mine)

Am I really relying on God?

I woke up this morning with a to-do list in my head.

In the next two days I’ve gotta talk to builders, do my tax, go to the dentist, edit my book, visit a friend, run home group, and write this blog. Oh, and go to work. And find clean clothes to wear.

It’s not impossible, but the list is taking up a lot of brain space. And making me a little tense.

But while I was thinking about it this morning, God was like, “Why are you concerned? I can deal with the blog. I can deal with the book. They’re both things that should happen in My time anyway.

“And the other things will all be done once these two days are over.

“So chill. I’ve got this.”

To which my response is, “Sweet. Please help me to be chill. And pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeease let things go well at the dentist!”

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Phil 4:6-7 NIV

 

Figuring out success

God’s challenged me this week not to make success an idol.

I’ve been getting a little stressed lately, just over the thought of possibilities in my writing future. Stuff like the edits will be endless, no publisher will like my book, and once I get published my career will tank within a couple of books.

All of those thoughts really been pounding through my head. That’s not from God. And that’s faithless. I need to hand that over to Him.

I write for two reasons: enjoyment, and obedience to God.

So where does stress factor into either of those two things?

Think about it: why would God want me to write? It’s not like He can’t think up His own words. No, God doesn’t need me to write at all. But He wants to take the journey with Him. And He wants me to learn to trust Him.

And what do I define success as, anyway? A relationship of love, trust and obedience with God. That may include a great writing career, a mediocre one or none at all.

My job is to simply do my best, and walk with God through it all.