Dropping the Defences

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“A man, to be greatly good, must imagine intensely and comprehensively; he must put himself in the place of another and many others; the pains and pleasures of his species must become his own. The great instrument of moral good is the imagination.”
― Percy Bysshe Shelley

It would be wonderful if we could drop our defences completely with one another. Be free to bare our souls, our cracks, our joys unhindered by fear or experiences of reproach. It takes a lot of mental energy to maintain those defences, valuable energy which wastes away in the process, forfeiting the opportunity to channel itself into something holy and beautiful.

Jesus had no defences; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter and breathed not one word of justification. Jesus knew what was in man, He had no need for anyone to remind Him of the fickleness of human nature, yet He lived His life boldly in the face of exposure to mockery, jealous backlashes and the attention of hungry crowds.

Maybe we could let down our defences and let ourselves be seen as God sees us. When we live before Him we live transparently regardless of our attempts to be otherwise. God sees past our defences and loves us deeper still.

Why do we need to justify our stories? Every person’s encounter with Christ looks different. Every person’s experience of God is different. Every person’s understanding of how He moves in our lives is different.

Yes, there are always fundamental principles and truths… but no set of fingerprints are the same, no snowflake that falls replicates another.

If we laid down our defences I am convinced others would more clearly see Christ formed in us. If we uncovered the treasure within these earthen vessels and admitted once and for all that it’s Christ in us who is our hope of glory.

How liberatingly beautiful it would be to join Paul, to be unafraid and unashamed to say:

‘My experience of the law is that when I want to do good, only evil is within my reach. For I am in hearty agreement with God’s law so far as my inner self is concerned. But then I find another law in my bodily members, which is in continual conflict with the law which my mind approves, and makes me a prisoner to the law of sin which is inherent in my mortal body. For left to myself, I serve the law of God with my mind, but in my unspiritual nature I serve the law of sin. It is an agonising situation, and who can set me free from the prison of this mortal body? I thank God there is a way out through Jesus Christ our Lord. – Romans 7 v 21-25

Maybe it is no coincidence that Paul was one of the most influential men in the early church. He was aware of himself, but better still- he was acutely aware of God.

2014 -Simplicity of Heart

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‘One moment your life is a stone in you, and the next, a star.’– Rainer Maria Rilke

As I look back on the year 2013 I see a year filled with opportunity, uncertainty, pain, hard lessons, confusion, misunderstanding, feeling misunderstood and towards the end- being totally blindsided by love.

In the economy of God, a wounded heart coupled with pain and confusion can be swiftly transformed into a heart learning to embrace and enjoy love again. God is simply good to us. He never has an ‘off’ day, never misunderstands our hearts but knows the deep motivations and desires that drive us.

Simplicity is something I plan to focus on this year. I refuse to complicate following Jesus anymore. It is either true that if we believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord then we are saved… or it isn’t. It is either true that the work of God is to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ… or it isn’t. God’s written word and the assurance of His Spirit remind me continually that this is indeed true.

If this is truth, then I want to live according to the simplicity of this Gospel. To not create complexities where there are none, to avoid putting up unnecessary barriers and hoops to jump through for those who would seek to know the living God.

‘But alas for you, you scribes and Pharisees, play actors that you are! You lock the doors of the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces; you will not go in yourselves neither will you allow those at the door to go inside…’– (Matthew 23 v 13)

I believe God loves simplicity, after all, He chooses to reveal His greatest mysteries to the simple over the ones who consider themselves wise (Matthew 11 v 25-26).

My goal this year is to keep my life simple, without unfounded restriction or limitation, without falsehood or show. I desire to love God and others with a simplicity that puts others at ease, makes them feel valued and seen. Cooking meals, showing hospitality, remembering birthdays, remembering to send cards…

Making that phone call to see how friends are, preferring to listen rather than rushing to speak my mind. Honouring God through creativity, building relationships, spending time with the one I love just because…

As God’s eyes roam to and fro about the Earth I don’t want to be found judging others by my own religious standards, or declaring my own criteria for those who are pleasing to God and those who are not. God forbid.

To take a lesson from light; we don’t need to fight the darkness we just shine the light and darkness flees.

I want to be found simply enjoying Jesus; admiring and imitating Him and not anyone else.

I want to be found using the gifts He has given me; doing what I can to spread the fragrance of life which leads to life and extending His kingdom.

I want to be found reading His word and believing it.

Living simply is not a matter of disengaging our brains. It is not a matter of limiting our knowledge or settling into mediocrity. It is a conscious focusing of our minds on what really matters in the grand scheme of life, on what really matters to God.

Living simply for me means not bowing to the expectations of others, resisting the need to please people and checking out my heart with God on a regular basis. We can check our hearts with God without fear as He understands us completely and created us just how He wanted us- He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love.

You give life, You are love
You bring light to the darkness
You give hope, You restore
Every heart that is broken
Great are You, Lord

It’s Your breath in our lungs
So we pour out our praise
We pour out our praise
It’s Your breath in our lungs
So we pour out our praise to You only

All the earth will shout Your praise
Our hearts will cry, these bones will sing
Great are You, Lord

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2qUOHjnDIFs

Within or Without

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‘Do you see the will of God as outside you, or as in-built? Is it something you are meant to be doing for God, or is it mainly something God is doing in you? ’

I have been mulling over these questions this week. Thinking about how my attitude towards myself, others and God reflects my answers to the questions. The will of God is as big a concept as it is a minute and detailed one. There are two major ways of viewing God’s will; the panoramic view of the will of God encompassing plans for humanity as a whole, the story woven from creation right through to eternity. Or, the individual 20/20 vision of the will of God encompassing our daily decisions and lifestyle choices, how we practically walk out what we perceive to be God’s will for us individually in each moment.

I believe the will of God is not just something worked from without, but a mixture of within and without. It is working with God for God.

If we believe His will is something solely outside of us it is easy for us to become detached and distanced from involvement in it. Our responsibility to see His will worked out in our lives and in our world somehow seems ethereal, a product of Holy Spirit direction and not a collaborative effort with our own co-operation. In this instance, His will is external and aimed at reaching those around us; we take a backseat in the great cosmic plan. We retreat back to the age old refrain ‘the will of God is not about us…’

But, I think the will of God has everything to do with us and everything to do with Him. It is in-built within us from the day we were born. We have an innate desire to not only be with God, in His presence and in His glory, but to serve Him for a purpose much bigger than ourselves. To be creative in how we live out the story of our lives, to be like Him.

To be like Him means that we need to allow God to do something in us. Therefore, His will is not just something we are doing for God; it is something He is doing in us.

The will of God from without;

‘The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. Instead He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.’– 2 Peter 3 v 9

‘For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.’– John 3 v 16

The will of God from within;

‘For those God foreknew He also pre-destined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.’– Romans 8 v 29

‘For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil His good purpose.’– Philippians 2 v 13

Within and without, with and for– God is working out His will in our lives.

The Gift at Work

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‘I now see how gifts like courage, compassion and connection only work when they are exercised. Every day.’– Brene Brown

If we use our gifts, they will grow stronger. But this requires that we put ourselves in situations that demand the use of our gifts. Situations that squeeze us stretch us and cause us to dig deep for our inner God given resources. It is of little use if we whip our gifts out every now and again in a whirlwind of ‘Christian’ activity or ministry effort. Without consistent use our gifts remain weak and immature, lacking depth and maturity…and power.

Maturity in our gifting is shown through faithfulness, consistency of use and willingness.

In certain situations, particularly those that challenge me and cause me to feel out of my depth, I’ve noticed gifts and abilities emerge. Often it’s something I never considered to be a gift, or a completely fresh ability which seemingly just ‘shows up’ to meet the need.

It’s an amazing feeling to discover the gems God has hidden within us.

As a nursing student specialising in mental health, I get ample opportunity during placements to use my gifts. The ferocity and intensity of the impact of mental illness on individuals demands a wholehearted response from me. I cannot hide away, I cannot retreat, I have to face the person and respond to their distress. I have to look them in the eye and offer support and reassurance. I have to listen to words spilled out in confusion and frustration. It is not easy; in fact at times it is heart-breaking and draining stuff. But it draws the gifts out of me.  It causes me to rise to the challenge or be taken down by it, to sink or swim.

My own needs fade into the background during those times and I focus on the needs around me. It is a freeing place to be.

There is balance in this though, the placement ends and studying begins again. Rest is needed to sustain our gifts. In quietness and confidence is where our strength lies, not in the busyness of the day.  We need time to breathe, to reflect and to renew. Time to remember that there is only one God…and we are not it.

Our gifts make room for us and for other people too.

‘For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you….Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you– guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.’- 2 Timothy 1 v 6; 1v 14

Stumbling into the Light

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I celebrate those moments in my walk with Christ when it all seems to fall into place. When I have vision and passion, and where my focus is firmly on Him. At these times I can sense destiny in the air, His word seems to speak directly to my heart and a lifestyle of worship is the norm. It feels safe to be in this place, safe and good. In those moments there is clarity in my life.

But those other moments, in between the experiences of clarity… feel like I am stumbling around in the dark, weighed down with a shattered heart, deep disappointment and far off dreams.

The stumbling feels unsafe, dangerous. I feel guilty before God for my emotional state, as though by acknowledging the wounds in my life I am somehow betraying the goodness of God.

The thing is, in the midst of it all, way way down in my heart, I know God is faithful. I know He is good. It’s just that my human experience in this season briefly eclipsed the light of His purpose and plan for a time.

So what do we do when we are stumbling? How do we regain hope when it has been dashed against the rocks? We continue. Continue stumbling down the path of righteousness. As Eugene Peterson so aptly phrased; it’s a long obedience in the same direction.

We sit before God and weep. We read the word and meditate on truth, even as our minds are racing with thought after thought of loss and pain. We sing to God songs of praise, believing in our hearts that its authenticity is in our choosing to do so in spite of the sadness we feel.

This is truly a sacrifice of praise.

This is where my journey has led me recently. I have wrestled with hurt, guilt and sadness. I have revisited old wounds and fought off bitterness and anger. I have arrived at a place of process in God. He is more than able to handle our process;

‘For He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust.’– Psalm 103 v 14

Even so, these 3 remain… faith, hope and love. I learned in this season that without hope, faith and love fall flat. Without hope, faith is a burden and a struggle to maintain. Hope brings joy to our journey of faith and ignites love within us.

Hope is springing back slowly but surely. It always does given enough time.

So don’t quit. Don’t look back in anger. A season of clarity is coming once again; though the vision tarries it will surely come.

Stumbling into the light is better than losing the light altogether. It’s definitely humbling, but I know which route I need to take.

“I will have nothing to do with a God who cares only occasionally. I need a God who is with us always, everywhere, in the deepest depths as well as the highest heights. It is when things go wrong, when good things do not happen, when our prayers seem to have been lost, that God is most present. We do not need the sheltering wings when things go smoothly. We are closest to God in the darkness, stumbling along blindly.”
― Madeleine L’Engle

An Integrated Life

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“The adventure of life is to learn. The purpose of life is to grow. The nature of life is to change. The challenge of life is to overcome. The essence of life is to care. The opportunity of life is to serve. The secret of life is to dare. The spice of life is to befriend. The beauty of life is to give.”
― William Arthur Ward

In the business world, taking time to consider the aims and objectives of a venture is considered time well spent. Aims and objectives shape a venture and help to mould it into something viable and relevant. Aims and objectives keep things on track; they help maintain focus and direction.

I spent time this week thinking about the aims and objectives of my own life. I thought about the direction it is heading in and what drives the life decisions I am making or will make in the future. So here is a (brief) summary of my life manifesto…

I don’t want my life to revolve around the finite plans of my own little world, with a good work thrown in here and there. I don’t want a life with definable lines between stepping out in the things of God and my everyday routine. I want to give and live generously to the point where my life is an indefinable, integrated mesh which consists of pouring myself out into God’s Kingdom purposes, making a difference in the lives of others in small ways and grand ways. I want to be like Jesus, not anybody else. I want Him to be well pleased with me. I want my life to have lasting, tangible, eternal impact. No demarcation lines between my everyday life and the mission of God. I want the life that God designed for me from the beginning of time to run through the very veins of my daily lifestyle decisions, to shape how I work, rest and play. I want every facet of my life to follow the leading of His Spirit and to flow with Him, not against Him. I want to deliberately choose Gods way over the way of others. I want to please Him.

Listening to this song today reinforced my conviction of the above. I have decided…

Christ is Enough (Hillsong)

I have decided to follow Jesus
No turning back
No turning back
The cross before me
The world behind me
No turning back
No turning back

These are my aims and objectives. What are yours? 

Return to the Source

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‘Come to Me, I’m all you need
Come to Me, I’m everything’
– Bethel Music

God does not want to be first in our lives. He wants to be the first, the last and the everything in between. He wants to be the one we turn to and the one we return to- in times of distress and fear, or times of joy and elation.

He alone is the source of our witness for Christ and the fire within us. We’ve heard it before but could stand to hear it another ten thousand times; without Him we can do nothing. Without Him, we wouldn’t want to do anything. He is the one who works eternal significance into every ministry effort or good work we put our hands to.

Before we turn to anyone else for advice, guidance or words of assurance, let us turn to God. Throughout the scriptures He repeatedly invites us to come to Him, when we are weary, thirsty or heavy laden. He ensures we know we are welcome to come to Him for forgiveness, mercy, wisdom and provision.

Like the man at the train station waiting for the love of his life to get off the train and run into his arms, God waits. Unfortunately, the scene sometimes plays out with the beloved jumping off the train and running into the arms of another…

Yet still, God waits. He continues to extend the invitation, rejection or no rejection. How great is our God?

We want to reach people; we want others to know the reality of salvation and a living relationship with the fully alive Jesus. We want to see people set free, healing manifested and broken hearts made whole again.

But we come to Him first. We listen to His good, pleasing and perfect directions, and then we move. This is a cycle that is designed to repeat itself; we continually have need of hearing from heaven. At every road block, at every bend in the road and wall in front of us we need to seek the heart of God.

Returning to the source is a necessary part of the process.

‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in Me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing.’– John 15 v 5

How much do we believe this? Nothing means nothing worth anything in the kingdom of God.

The good news is that we can make a difference. Possibly one of the most encouraging verses in the whole of scripture tells us that it is:

‘Christ in you, the hope of glory.’– Colossians 1 v 27

Therefore, if Christ is in us (and He is if we have believed and professed faith in Him), there is hope… the hope of glory.