Faith

Set your sights in 2020

Sight is a gift. (Ask anyone who doesn’t have theirs and they will tell you so). To be able to see is something that we take for granted every single day. But there is a difference between having sight and seeing.

You have no doubt heard the term 20/20 vision a few times already this year, but do you know what it actually means? It is the term used to describe the clarity or sharpness of vision at 20 feet. If you have 20/20 vision, you can see clearly at 20 feet what should normally be seen at 20 feet. If you have 20/40 vision then you must be at a distance of 20 feet to see what someone with normal sight can see at 40 feet.

20/20 vision doesn’t equal perfect vision

It doesn’t take into consideration your peripheral sight, depth, ability to focus etc. You can still see without 20/20 vision, but your clarity isn’t as good.

I don’t have 20/20 vision, and I wear glasses every day to improve my sight. But physics sight isn’t the only thing I need improvement on.

Since becoming a Christian, I have wrestled so often with not knowing what’s ahead. As a believer I have given my heart to Jesus but my giving my head is not so easy. I want to trust Him while having complete control over the curveballs heading my way so that I can intercept them and manage them. I want to know where I am headed, so I can find the quickest, most direct route to get there.

But God isn’t in the habit of letting us see the full picture all in one go.

2 Corinthians 5:7 says that we should walk by faith and not by sight.

This has always been real hard for me. I like to be in control, but that is not my job it is God’s. It is therefore unsurprising to me that in my experience, that God has used the unexpected, the unknowns and the uncertainties to draw me closer to Him. More often than I care to admit, I have had to rely on the Holy Spirit showing me what is right and wrong. I have had to talk to Jesus and delve deeper into God’s word than ever before to find insight for the situation ahead.

Do you know that God doesn’t want you to have control?

Yep. That’s right. He doesn’t want you in control of your life anymore than you want your toddler in control of your car. In the wrong hands, a vehicle meant for driving can lead to our death.

God knows the plans He has for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future ~ Jeremiah 29:11

So does all this mean are we supposed to walk blindly? No. We are meant to walk with Jesus. He knows the Father’s heart, and He also knows the trials we face on this earth. Jesus wants to walk with us, to strengthen us and to equip us. He is not just a character in a book; He is the living breathing Son of God, who died for you and me and rose again from the dead.

We are not meant to walk blindly, we are meant to walk with Jesus

I am a recovering control freak. I like to know what’s ahead. I want to see what’s around the corner, but without spiritual insight I may as well be walking around with a blindfold on. Jesus is teaching me to trust Him, to take His hand and let His word illuminate the path. He didn’t say He would give me the road map, but He did promise to shine enough light for me to take the next step.

New Year is the perfect opportunity to change. But in order to see change you need to see things differently. It’s time to set our sights.

Can I encourage you today to get a spiritual sight test. Take off the tinted glasses that the world would give you. See things through the lens of the Holy Spirit and let Jesus be your guide.

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Faith

Why there is power in pruning

I am no gardener. One look at my forgotten borders will tell you that. However once or twice a year I will get a sudden surge of enthusiasm to trim edges and plant bulbs in the hope that something beautiful will burst forth in the summer months. So, it is of little surprise to me that my blooms are never anywhere near as impressive as those of my neighbours, who have lovingly tended them.

We have a lovely rose bush in our garden that is climbing up a trellis, and one year my mother in law cut every single flowering head off and put them in a vase. As beautiful as they were on my windowsill, I was horrified that she had butchered my beloved rose bush. I was convinced that my plant would not survive the massacre, much less ever flower again that year, yet the roses came back three fold a few months later.

I had never understood the importance of pruning until now. You see pruning isn’t just a way to control growth, it is the way to increase it. By pruning a rose, you cause the plant to produce a growth hormone called auxin which helps it to grow to its optimum. Pruning strengthens the very vines that connect it to its life source, the stem, so that when they grow and flower they are able to bear much larger, heavier blooms.

Pruning isn’t just a way to control growth, it is the way to increase it

2017 was a year of pruning for me. We voluntarily stepped back from ministry as we focussed on our family, but the stepping away felt more like stripping away. Who was I if I wasn’t a worshipper on the platform? Who was I if I wasn’t a pastoral leader looking out for our area? Or preaching on a Wednesday morning?  Who was I if I wasn’t ‘known’ or ‘seen’ by others? I truly believe that my heart to serve has always been from a place of authenticity, and a desire to make Jesus famous, not myself. But when all the ‘stuff’ was stripped away, I felt exposed, vulnerable and a little lost.

I am a ‘do-er’ by nature. My strength finders list includes activator and achiever, and I like to muck in and get my hands dirty. Even being a stay at home mom, my ultimate life dream isn’t enough, and I run two businesses to keep my mind busy and my bank account in the black. My husband says I can’t sit still for two minutes and he is right. I am constantly flitting from one thing to another, and frequently have two or three tasks on the go at any one time much to his annoyance. But as I gradually reduced my tasks and increased my time, panic crept in.

Don’t panic in the pruning

Stepping away from gifts that I loved was like watching the full blooms of my roses being cut down. I know they are still there, but I wanted them to be connected to the vine, not placed in a vase. I never feel more alive than when I am serving in the house of God, either in worship, preaching or in pastoral care, and I found myself frustrated at serving in my home instead. The pruning season felt painful; I didn’t feel free, I felt like a fish out of water. No longer ‘busy’, I had too much time on my hands and too many thoughts in my mind. I found myself questioning my destiny, my purpose, God’s plans, and during these times of sadness and self-pity I was forced to sit and be still.

Be still and know that God loves me.

Be still and know that I am loved regardless of how or where I serve. That I am perfectly positioned in His will, right here, right now. That my purpose in the Kingdom of God is as important on a platform as it is in a playdate. That my service to my children and my husband is as valuable as any song I could ever sing, or any sermon I could ever write.

And as I rest in the stillness, the pruning season will ensure that my branches are stronger than ever so that I can grow new shoots and produce better blooms.

Pruning prepares for producing

I don’t know what season this finds you in. Perhaps your blooms are budding, waiting to explode in glorious technicolour, maybe you are already in flower, displaying your gifts and fragrancing the world with your own unique aroma, or perhaps your petals are beginning to wane, and you are bracing yourself for the dead-heading. Wherever you are, know that God is working. He is cultivating the ground where you are planted. He is watering the seeds of your faith. He is tending to your shoots and leaves, and He is removing the dead-heads so that they don’t block the Son.  You are standing in the light of Jesus, connected to the vine, and as the ultimate gardener, He will remove what isn’t necessary to strengthen you for the next season.

Don’t panic in the pruning, you are being prepared to bring forth beauty.

Go ahead and bloom like never before.

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5 

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Faith

Fall in love with autumn

Autumn (or Fall to my American readers) is hands down my favourite season. There is nothing better than walking in the last of the summer sunshine breathing in the sweet smell of chestnut trees, my eyes feasting on the vibrant russets and golds all around me while savouring the crunch of fallen leaves beneath my feet. Creation sings and begs the world to gaze upon it’s beauty and, for me, there is simply no other season that compares.

While enjoying one of many walks through our local park recently, I couldn’t help but think how terribly sad it was that such beauty was temporary; that these exquisite trees who proudly displayed their autumnal décolletage were about to lose the very leaves that gave them this beauty. Furthermore, this beauty was at its most splendid right before it was lost.

When something is beautiful, attractive or successful we don’t like to let it go.

I have found that almost every autumn I have been faced with a difficult decision or experienced a turbulent time as a result of a change in attitudes of those around me, the environments that I am in or the circumstances that present to me. From redundancies to cancer scares and two house moves, the past autumn seasons have brought me to somewhat painful periods where I have fallen from the heady heights of a blissful summer holiday and hit the ground of reality with an unceremonious thud. As the beauty of health, home stability or financial security that defined me fell from my fingers I had two options – panic and scrabble around amongst the fallen leaves of my life, or embrace the new season and allow my heart and soul to rest and heal in the winter.

Because after winter comes spring.

The circle of life is perpetual, and as winter follows autumn, so spring will follow winter, and with it the promise of regeneration and new life.

Don’t be frightened of letting go of this season’s leaves. You are not defined by your job, the success of your latest deal, or the pay packet in your purse. You are not defined by the friends that support you or your marital status. You are not defined by your current health situation.

People will come and go in your life, health will improve and decline, love will ebb and flow, finances will increase and decrease and the only way to navigate the changes in life is to know when to let go of people, possessions and positions.

The Message Bible puts it this way;

There’s an opportune time to do things, a right time for everything on the earth:

2-8 A right time for birth and another for death,
A right time to plant and another to reap,
A right time to kill and another to heal,
A right time to destroy and another to construct,
A right time to cry and another to laugh,
A right time to lament and another to cheer,
A right time to make love and another to abstain,
A right time to embrace and another to part,
A right time to search and another to count your losses,
A right time to hold on and another to let go,
A right time to rip out and another to mend,
A right time to shut up and another to speak up,
A right time to love and another to hate,
A right time to wage war and another to make peace.

9-13 But in the end, does it really make a difference what anyone does? I’ve had a good look at what God has given us to do—busywork, mostly. True, God made everything beautiful in itself and in its time—but he’s left us in the dark, so we can never know what God is up to, whether he’s coming or going. I’ve decided that there’s nothing better to do than go ahead and have a good time and get the most we can out of life. That’s it—eat, drink, and make the most of your job. It’s God’s gift.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-13

There is a time for everything, there is a time to gain and a time to lose, there are some friends that you have for a season and some you have for a lifetime. There are some positions and promotions that you must accept and many more that you must turn down, there are many doors that you could open but more still that you need to firmly close. My friend, if you are in a season of change, don’t panic. Embrace the pruning and the shedding, the dying away of the old and look forward to the new life that will spring forth in due course.

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Faith, Parenting

Enjoy the view from the harbour

Nowadays we are always in such a rush. We simply cannot wait to be independent; as children we can’t wait to walk, ride a bike, catch the bus to school alone, to start secondary school, learn to drive… the list goes on and on. It is human nature to want to be independent, to learn new skills and to survive under our own steam, and we fight against anything or anyone that holds us back.

I was reminded of this during our recent holiday to North Devon. We made a quick whistle stop at a gorgeous little harbour town to try to get some panoramic shots of the coast, and as I stood on the harbour walls looking out at the vast ocean the small stone harbour to the right of my view kept drawing my attention. The tide was in and the waves crashed against it’s rocky walls, creating great swathes of white froth fizzing around the base, however the waves within the harbour were lapping gently against the boats that were moored there.

“You feel so restricted sometimes,” God whispered to me. “Like those boats bobbing along in the harbour, my sons and daughters are full of potential, ready and raring to go on the next adventure on the wide open sea as they peek through the narrow harbour entrance and glimpse the promise of undiscovered territory. Yet like these boats they are held back by an anchor, hemmed in by a harbour and they feel impatient. I hold you back to keep you safe. Your faith in me is your anchor in uncertain waters. My Holy Spirit is the harbour that protects your bows from the crashing waves as the angels fight unseen battles in the spiritual realms.”

A smile spread across my face, as I thought of how many times I tell my own children that I am keeping them from harm when I tell them they can’t cross the road unsupervised or can’t play out alone.

If you feel like you are in a harbour, desperate to get out on the open waters, just stop a moment and consider that the waves rippling around your feet were buffeted by your heavenly Father before they ever reached you. Don’t be in a rush to move forward into what ever you feel God has put on your heart. If He called you to it, He will bring you through it, but first you must fix your eyes on him and wait for Him to say “Come”.

When the disciples were on their boat in the middle of Lake Galilee, I am sure they would have given anything to be back in the harbour, to have their vessel protected from the powerful tidal waves threatening to capsize them. But Jesus was there in the middle of the storm, and when He said “Stop” the waters stilled, when He said “Come” Peter was able to walk on the water. When the time is right and you are ready for that new venture or the next chapter in your story, Jesus will say the word. He will give the command and will direct your steps when it is time to walk out on those troubled waters. He will be your strength and your stay as you dive into depths you have never been to or swam out to unchartered territory, but just as Peter soon discovered, the key is keeping your eyes fixed on Jesus at all times. (Matthew 14:22-33)

But meanwhile, if you are in the harbour, just enjoy the view while you get ready, relax in the rippling waters and trust that God knows the timing for everything.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens. Ecclesiastes 3:1 NIV

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Faith

The private pain of perfect people

 
  “This one is perfect!” My five year old exclaimed as he thrust a smooth round pebble in to my hand. We were combing the beach at Porlock, searching for pebbles that were completely round, completely smooth and completely uniform in colour. 

As I examined his rather exceptional offering to my small collection, I couldn’t help wonder what it had taken to get that pebble so smooth. 

That’s when God whispered: That pebble didn’t start out that way, it was shaped. 

I thought for a moment about what that meant, pondering the fact that this lovely little pebble must have been buffeted by waves crashing over it, slammed against cliff walls and scraped against other stones. The shaping process of this solid spherical rock in my hand had not happened overnight, nor had it happened easily. It has taken years, decades even, of pummelling, grazing, chipping, smoothing and polishing to create this perfect pebble.

People are like pebbles, God whispered to my heart. You see that person at the pinnacle of their game, the height of their ministry and think you can never be like that, that they must have been born with that gift, but what you don’t see is the years of buffeting in the storms of life, the waves of ill health, the whirlwind of abuse, the rain of depression that they have had to endure to become the person you see today.

It is hard to measure up to someone else’s calling or ministry, it is difficult to visualise is in positions of influence when we are muddling through our messy lives. But we are called not to compare ourselves but to complete Gods vision for ourselves. Yes it’s true that we are born with a gift, a talent, an anointing, but very often these gifts are not realised nor released to their full potential until the bearer has gone through the shaping process that will enable them to use them most effectively. 

Don’t envy others for their situations or positions. Don’t wish for her anointing in worship, his gifting in evangelism or her passion for preaching. Each of us has a unique gifting and a God-ordained purpose. Don’t squander your individual destiny, embrace it. If you don’t yet know what that looks like for you then ask the Holy Spirit to reveal it to you.

For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord…plans to give you a hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11 

‘Perfect people’ like these perfect pebbles have been through the mill. We can’t have their Don’t shy away from your story, seek God and share it. 

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Faith, Parenting

Come and rest awhile…

“My not sleep now” insisted my 2 year old son this lunch time, despite my best efforts to coax him in to a slumbering state (including me reaching said state without him). I knew he was tired, and especially so due to a lingering cold, so I pulled him in close for a mama cuddle but he arched away, resisting my lullabies and caresses indicating that this was indeed the best thing for him. I eventually relented and shut the stair gate, much to his dismay, allowing him to potter in his darkened room in desperate hope that he would take himself off to sleep.

He did not.

And as I climbed the stairs a short while later, my red cheeked, bleary eyed little boy reached out to me and said “Need a cuddle.” A cuddle (and necessary nappy change) later, and my previously boisterous boy had ceased careering round his room with a duplo car and was now completely relaxed in my arms, clutching his favourite bear. He looked at me through sleepy eyes and said “my sleep now” and promptly closed his heavy eyelids, causing my heart to melt as he gave me the most adorable view of his chubby little face, cherub like lips and exquisite eyelashes.

Oh if only you had done this sooner and saved yourself the fight, I thought to myself, as I held my precious bundle close. I leaned in to bury my face in his soft, wispy hair, inhaling the soapy scent of my second born and God whispered to me “Me too.”

You see, as parents we have a different perspective on our children, we know what is right for them, what they can handle, what they need (and what they don’t), and our heavenly Father is no different. He knows how long you can take enduring that illness, that overbearing boss, that rogue relationship. He knows how far you can take that project or that ministry and he knows when you need to stop, take time out, hand it over or move on or simply and rest awhile.

“Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” Mark 6:31 NIV

So often in our lives we try and do things in our own timing and in our own strength, and it is nothing short of exhausting. We end up tired, red cheeked and bleary eyed, crying out to God, why? Why is this happening? Why can’t I run round doing what I want to do? Why can’t I have that house/job/relationship/ministry?

But God is saying to us just wait a while, precious one, I know what you need and what you can handle right now and in the future. Allow your heart, mind, body and soul the chance to breathe, to rest and ultimately to grow.

It is no secret that the body does most of its growth and repair while we sleep, and so in order to be strong enough to take the next challenge and move in to the next season we need to make sure that we rest in God. Take time out to be still in his presence today. Listen to some worship music, light a candle and read a psalm or two before allowing your mind to drift in to the heavenly realms where your heavenly Father is waiting to draw you close, bury his face in your hair and shower your head with kisses.

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Faith

In the potters hands

I must confess I have some slight OCD tendencies. (Ok, I have a lot of OCD tendencies!) 

These little idiosyncrasies such as colour coding my wardrobe and arranging my shoes appear to have been passed on to my eldest son who takes great delight in lining up his cars in order of colour and size. There is one box in the playroom however that causes my inner Monica to recoil whenever it is pulled out to play with, and that is the playdoh box.
 playdoh tubs 
We have several pots of beautiful brightly coloured playdoh with which we have such fun creating models, people and more often than not some form of edible treats to ‘bake’ in the oven. However when my back is turned (usually retrieving said items from the actual oven before starting dinner), I find that the gorgeous coloured balls have been marvellously mashed up my by master crafter. 

 playdoh  image 
For any fellow OCD people out there, you can understand my horror at the contents of my wonderfully organised, pristine playdoh pots being unceremoniously mixed to create a far less appealing greenish brown lump.

You see, like the playdoh, I like my life organised. I have a box for my marriage, a box for my children, a box for friends, a box for ministry, a box for my career and, God forgive me, at times a box for God. I like to pack one box away before I get another one out, and I like to keep my boxes neat and tidy. It would never do to have a messy, untidy box or to spill the contents out. And if I was unfortunate enough to get my playdoh colours all melded together I would never be able to separate them fully again which in my eyes would render them useless.

As I looked at the ‘ruined’ lump of playdoh in my hands, God whispered into my heart “you see a mess of colours, I see malleable clay that is ready to mould”.

You see, God knows that we all fall short of the mark, that we all make a mess of the boxes of life, sometimes through bad choices and oftentimes through circumstances beyond our control. When we mess up the chances are we can never fully restore our lives or circumstances to exactly what they once were, our life colours will always be changed, altered somehow. But God doesn’t look at our mixed up colours and render us useless. He sees situations to serve through, experiences to encourage and testimonies that will teach others. God sees a lump of clay that has already been handled by the world, so much so that it is now soft and malleable, and the God colours of our lives are ready to be shaped by the Potter’s hands. 

And yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay and you are the potter. We are all formed by your hand. Isaiah 64:8

Can I my do to you as is potter has done to his clay? As the clay is in the potters hand, so are you in my hand.” Jeremiah 18:6

Do you feel like you have messed up? You are in good company. Jacob was a deceiver, Martha was distracted, Mary Magdalene was demon possessed, Peter denied Jesus, Thomas was a doubter, yet God used these individuals in the Bible to define history and to further his Kingdom. 

Friend, I want to urge you today that no matter how colourful your past or how much you have mixed up your once pristine playdoh tubs of life, God can and will use you. And the most amazing part of it all is that he wants to! You just have to place your life in his hands and trust that he can shape you into the man or woman of God you were created to be.

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