religion

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.

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A challenge to trust, remember the dance floor

the-sea-in-december

Mum challenged me with a question when I was worried about something over the weekend:

“How can you tell others to trust God when you can’t trust him in this circumstance?”

Snap!

She said it very nicely, but hit the nail right on the head.

It reminded me of this part of the Bible:

Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

“Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.  But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down.  Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Matthew 14:25-33 NIV

 

I have to admit, I start sinking all the time, so Mum’s reminder is a good one. If I’m telling others to trust, it’s nothing less than hypocritical to not trust God myself. Understandable, in some circumstances, but still hypocritical.

So, how do I trust?

For me, it always helps to listen to the song ‘Oceans’, by Hillsong United. This is the song that got that critical draft of my book done in just 10 weeks before the writing conference last year. Every time I freaked out (happened on average every 3 hours), I listened to it. And it reminds me that God is bigger than whatever problem I’m focusing on.

I also have some go-to Bible verses, (Is 40, Phil 4:6-7, Ps 139 and Ps 55 are favourites) and I remember what I learned from Daisy: whatever’s happening, God can and will use it for His glory.

And prayer makes a difference. On Sunday I remembered this post from 2014, and how I used to spend time with God on the dance floor. That post really defined my prayer life for at least six months, but in the two years since I slowly forgot about it.

I’m glad God reminded me. 🙂 It was a really special thing, still is.

What about you? What do you do when your trust is challenged?

Share in the comments below!

 

What Does God Think About Fun?

 

Catching some rays at Bondi.

Catching some rays at Bondi.

Did you know that enjoying life can be part of being a good witness for God?

I sure didn’t. If anything, I thought the opposite; that enjoying yourself too much meant you weren’t spending your time and money on more worthy causes.

I was also overly aware of how things in life can go wrong. Even while having regular fun with my family or friends, I would clench up inside and think, “Remember, life won’t always be this good. I will get old, people will die, and things will get tough. Don’t get so used to the good things that you can’t handle the bad.”

Boy, I sound like a bundle of laughs, don’t I?

But I had a lightbulb moment in December as I sat with a friend, discussing whether I should go on a overseas holiday or not.

I expressed a concern that it was a lot of money just to spend on fun. He (a non-Christian) went on to tell me about a family member of his; a religious and very-obligation-driven person. He said he watched the way his family member lived and believed that her ‘religion’ sucked all the joy from her life.

I don’t want to be like that. That is not a good witness.

Since then, I’ve seen and heard little things during my day-to-day life that has reinforced this ‘revolutionary’ thought:

Joyfully embracing God’s gifts on earth brings him glory. Having fun can be part of being a good example of a God-follower. And being a grinch glorifies no-one.

So my one and44020957958040__405x720-ARGB_8888-1545801598 only New Year’s Resolution for 2015 is to live a more joyful life.

I got off to a good start, enjoying a family Christmas at the beach before I travelled to Sydney to spend New Year’s with one of my brothers and some friends. We watched the famous fireworks at Sydney Harbour, tanned on Bondi Beach and ate at Darling Harbour’s Hard Rock Cafe.

Now I’m back at work, enjoying getting back into routine. However, my new routine is going to include a lot less pressure on myself and a little more downtime.

As part of that, I have decided to blog once a fortnight instead of every week. I will still post at the regular time, but it will be every second week starting from today.

I look forward to another year full of growth as we continue our journeys with God.

 

What about you? What did you learn over the holiday period? Share below!

How do I Reconcile God, Suffering and ‘Taken’?

This is a movie that always rattles my faith in God. But when you watch it, you just can’t look away.

taken-film

‘Taken’, starring Liam Neeson, tells the story of an ex-spy (Neeson) whose daughter, Kim, has been kidnapped by a European sex trafficking ring.

It’s a fast-paced, well-crafted, gritty story, and it shows all too clearly that the illegal sex trade is not just a third world problem.

In the movie, Neeson basically shoots his way through the continent to rescue Kim. Along the way, he witnesses some of the brothels where they take the kidnapped girls. Suffice to say, it’s horrific.

Thankfully Neeson rescues his daughter in the nick of time. But as you watch, you see so many girls who don’t get rescued. And while the story is fiction, the issue is not.

The movie is a strong reminder that not everyone’s life is as protected as mine. And it makes me question God.

How can the God who says ‘trust Me’ when I stress about little things like work, also be the God who watches over those girls?

What does He say to them? Does He love them?

At the moment I’m writing the end of my second novel, Hating Jeremy Walters. Two of my characters are also struggling with the question of God’s love, but in very different ways. One lives as through she has to earn it. One believes she can never earn it. Both attitudes are wrong. And the lesson that I’m teaching my characters, I often must repeat to myself.

At the end of the day, we have to view everything through the lens of the cross. (I’m pretty sure I stole that line from Experiencing God,  so full kudos to Henry Blackaby).

The truth is, God loved us enough to watch His Son die for our sakes. It seems impossible to imagine suffering worse than what those trafficked girls endure, or what Syria and Iraq are enduring right now. But God Himself, through Jesus, experienced worse. It wasn’t just in the physical pain of the cross, but in being separated from God the Father and taking the full weight of our sin.

I struggle to understand how God can witness such suffering, like what we see on the news or in movies like ‘Taken’. I wish He’d just fix it.

But then I remember, it’s mankind doing those things, not Him. And while He could stop it, He must have reasons for waiting.

It’s tempting to doubt whether God loves people, if he allows such terrible things to happen for them. But God endured even worse things for those same people.

This is a case where I don’t understand, but I do know. I don’t understand how He can bear to watch, but I know that God loves us all. I know He cries alongside us. I know His motives are perfect and pure. He proved it 2000 years ago.

I’m just going to have to trust that.

How Prayer Works

Sourced from CreationSwap.com, by Joel Joseph.

Sourced from CreationSwap.com, by Joel Joseph.

How much good do my prayers really accomplish?

It’s a question I’ve been thinking about ever since our Project X meeting on Monday night. Project X is a youth outreach that I’m a part of, and in addition to running our yearly event, we also meet every week to pray together. In fact, Project X is pretty much built entirely on prayer. Some awesome stuff has happened; stuff I’ve rarely seen anywhere else.

While I was there, someone quoted a verse from the Bible:

The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

James 5:16 NIV

A thought jumped instantly into my mind.

I mustn’t be a righteous person, because my prayers aren’t powerful or effective.

The thought left, but I pondered it. Were my prayers weak and ineffective? When had one of my prayers really, unmistakably, worked? I couldn’t think of a single instance. My ‘prayer resume’ certainly couldn’t compare to Project X’s. Wherever that group goes, awesome stuff seems to happen. But not so with me individually.

I kept trying to think of answered prayers during the week. I still couldn’t come up with anything. But I while I contemplated the issue, I held back on feeling guilty, frustrated or sad. I hit the pause button. Because I’d seen this trick before.

I’ve often blogged about my frustrations that my good works seem ineffective, and sometimes it feels like God doesn’t use me. God’s been changing me in that regard all year. This prayer thing was just a variation of that same old lie.  I didn’t want to get sucked into that trap again.

But still, the question remained in my mind. That is, until I started planning this blog post. This is, word-for-word, what I wrote in my red polka dot  notebook.

notebook skitch

 

“Be on guard. Holy Spirit for all. No favourites. Duh.”

I looked at what I’d written, and the penny dropped. God doesn’t play favourites. 

It’s a simple truth that I know in my head, but my heart looked at other people whose prayers got answered all the time, and wondered, ‘What’s wrong with me?’

The answer? Nothing.

If God has told us that He hears our prayers, and I pray, then my prayer is just as effective as anybody else’s. Sometimes it might not look that way. But what do I trust more? The way things look, or what God says?

That’s part one of God’s answer to my query. Yesterday morning, part two happened.

It was about 5.50am, and I was sitting in bed, yawning, doing my morning devotions. I prayed for various people and my writing and causes like Project X. Well, not so much praying as begging. “Please, please God, help us with this event. Please, please, please touch my reader’s hearts with what I write today. Don’t let it all go to waste. Please don’t let me miss an opportunity.” I was imploring Him to act, like I had to talk Him into it.

Then remembered that the Lord’s Prayer does not start with a shopping list. So I backtracked and figured I’d honor God by thanking him for some stuff.

“Thanks God, that You’re this big, amazing, powerful God who knows everything and sees everything and knows what He wants to happen and has the power to do it —” then I stopped. God knows what He wants to happen and has the power to do it. So I don’t have to talk him into it.

This doesn’t take away from that fact that I should obey God by doing good stuff. It doesn’t take away from the fact that God tells me to pray. Obeying and praying aligns my heart with His, which is  a great thing. We should pray with passion, even urgency.

But I’ve been thinking that His work won’t get done unless I badger him into it. I have to convince him. And I can never be confident that I said things the right way and He’s convinced. I feel like Project X has cracked a secret to prayer that I’m yet to discover.

But God is God. He knows what He wants to happen and when He wants to do it. I’ll be obedient in taking action, and obedient in prayer, but I can also be confident in His intentions.

 

 

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How God Strengthened my Identity

God's been strengthening my identity

©CreationSwap/Dawn Lamper

 

I’ll admit it; I like to be the best.

Whether it’s beating my friends in a game, coming up with the top idea at a work meeting or winning an award, being the best at something—no matter how small—feeds a deep-seated belief in me.

It says, I am not Most People. 

Throughout my life I’ve striven to be better than Most People. Most People aren’t careful with their money. Most People aren’t diligent about spending regular time with God. Most People don’t bother to turn their ideas into a book. A lot of advice I hear sounds like, ‘most people do this, but you should do that’. And I do. I’ve become proud of it.

But that attitude has crippled my identity. Especially as a wannabe author.

For a long time I’ve equated being like Most People, to failure.  I shouldn’t be like Most People; I should be better than that. I know better, I try harder, I work smarter.

But keeping that (very arrogant) mindset while trying to become an author is … well, it’s soul-crushing. This industry is so hard to succeed in. Even if I become part of the tiny minority that scrapes some profit from a book, the percentage of authors who have a long-standing career is even tinier. Looking at this big, scary industry, I’m overwhelmed with the fear that I will turn out to be Most People after all.

That fear has driven me to write more, learn faster and stress repeatedly. Failure is not an option, but if you judge a writing career by my (ridiculously high) standards, it’s not only possible, but probable. And if my identity as a successful person, a person who’s better than Most People, is tied to my writing career, then my own dream is a massive threat to my identity.

This is something God’s been working on in my heart ever since I decided to start seriously working on my first book, at the start of 2013. I’ve blogged about it throughout the year. Every time I investigated what it takes to get published or ways to promote my work, I’d feel panicked. Every time I tried an idea and it didn’t pan out, the pressure increased.

God repeatedly told me that success is not measured by numbers, but by obedience. And I could acknowledge those truths in my head, but my heart usually just muttered something under its breath and sulked off.

But lately, I’m starting to notice change in myself. The more I consider the idea of self-publishing (not that I’ve decided anything yet), the more I’m okay with not having my name plastered across every Christian bookstore. If God doesn’t plan for me to make money from my writing, that’s alright. If my career is short-lived, that sucks, but it’s okay as long as it’s part of His plan.

Now the pressure to crack the secret of book marketing is decreasing all the time. And thank goodness for that, because it was getting heavy. I want to simply try my best, be obedient, work hard, and then watch my career go in the direction God wants it to go … whatever direction that is. If He plans for me to reach 50,000 people, that’s what will happen. If it’s 500 people, that’s also what will happen. Neither option makes me a better or worse person.

All that matters is my obedience.

 

LIES I NEVER KNEW ABOUT ME

God's been teaching me lessons in doubt and effectiveness.

Photo by Jenna Machum, sourced from CreationSwap.com.

I was shocked when God used me last week.

Here’s why.

Last week’s post was, in my opinion, not that great. I wasn’t entirely sure what I didn’t like about it, but it annoyed me that I couldn’t find a theme verse to talk about what I’d learned that week.

Still, I wrote down what I’d learned and shot it off to cyberspace, praying for the best. Then I went away for the weekend.

During my weekend, some terrific stuff happened. I’m involved with a group called Project X, and we do youth outreaches in outback towns. The next event is happening in Roma in September, so we headed out there to do some groundwork.

The whole weekend was full of prayer, and for the first time in a good long while I felt like my presence mattered. Usually at things like this, I think, “If I wasn’t here, someone else could easily replace me. What I’m doing isn’t very vital to God’s kingdom.” My mission trip to India in 2012 was another example. It wasn’t till the end of the trip, when a few teammates told me specific ways I’d helped them, that I realized I brought something to the table.

But this weekend, I felt like God was saying, “You’re right, anybody could do this. I can give anyone the ability to do anything; it’s all from Me anyway. What’s important is that you are here. You have been obedient. And that pleases Me.”

It’s an entirely different thought process, and one I’m loving so far.

During the weekend we also discussed the role of the church and effectiveness in serving God. Those are all issues that have bothered me. I usually feel very ineffective in anything I do with God.

This is how the thought process worked: Yeah, I do some God-stuff, but none of it ever seems to work. I was a youth leader, but some of those kids backslid. We saw heaps of conversions in India, but that was probably all the hype of the event. My church is growing, but I’m only a tiny part of that. And I write a blog, but how much of an effect can a blog post really have on someone?

This sound silly to you yet? For the first time, it does to me too.

When I got home I saw my blog stats for the weekend. I try to not put too much stock in statistics (though I check them every day, so maybe I’m not doing so great at that …) but when I checked them this time I was floored. They were way higher than usual!

And even better than that, was the feedback that started popping up. A Facebook comment here, a Tumblr share there, and a really encouraging email from a lady I haven’t seen in years. They all had a similar theme:

This helped me. Thanks for your honesty. Don’t let discouragement get you down!

To every person who commented, shared or visited this blog, thanks. It was a big encouragement.

It all sparked a new thought: Maybe God CAN use my writing.

That was the first time I realized that I didn’t believe God could. The doubt had always been far more subtle than a conscious thought.

I write because I like it, and God has given me the gift, so I figure He wants me to use it. But a piece of doubt has been lodged in my brain all this time, telling me that writing is just something I enjoy, nothing more. It has no real value to God. After all, how much can a blog or a book really pull someone closer to God?

After getting such a boost of encouragement last week, I thought to myself, Maybe my decision to write isn’t just a selfish thing. Maybe God can use it, and He wants me to invest this time and effort into it. Maybe He has a plan to use it, whether it’s in a big or a small way.

Had you asked me last week if God wanted me to write, I would have said yes. But the doubt, wedged in my brain, would have poked me and whispered, “Selfish. Ineffective. Waste of time and money.”

And while I never would’ve thought those words consciously, I’d have felt their cold shadow pass over my soul.

But what does that doubt say about God? Do I really not believe that He’s powerful enough to use my writing? Last week was a great example that He can use whatever He wants. I wasn’t even happy with that post I wrote, yet it’s attracted the most encouraging response of anything I’ve done so far. It’s obviously not my mind-blowing genius accomplishing anything here. No, it’s God saying, “I can use the strong and the weak. The good blog posts and the not-as-good-as-you-wanted-it-to-be ones.”

This week’s been a big one. I have a whole attitude to change. I’m going to outline it, so that I can recall it easily next week when I begin to forget.

  1. Who am I to question where God asks me to work? As long as I’m obedient, it doesn’t matter if I’m not converting the millions of people I expected to be. I am working where God placed me. I cannot do any better than that.
  2. It doesn’t matter if I’m replaceable, or quiet, or freakishly brilliant, or anything. What matters is that I go where God says. I participate. Again, I’m obedient.
  3. Doubt can be so very, very subtle. And so very, very hurtful. Please God, keep showing me these splinters of doubt and tweezing all of them out!

 

But Samuel replied, “What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice?

Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams.”

1 Samuel 15:22 NLT

 “And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.”

 

 2 John 1:6 NIV