This weekend I visited my parents church in the valleys of Wales. The church is small (around 40-60 attendees) and is in one of the poorest areas in the south of Wales. There is high crime and unemployment rates and they have had two murders directly in front of the building. This is a tough area with tough people.
Before the service began two little girls sat on the two chairs next to me and one of them was reading the church news letter and the other was reading her bible (see picture above). There was no one there looking at her apart from me and she did not know who I was. She was not pretending to win any favour or look like she was a good girl, she just wanted to read her bible. I asked her what she was reading and she just looked at me and giggled.
Later on she went out of the service and as she did she held her bible so tightly as if she never wanted to damage it or loose it. Her bible was the most precious thing to her.
That girl had a simplistic love for what God has for her and there are so many times in life when helping to lead a church that you loose that first love, the passion for the word of God. I regurgitate old revelations or second hand words instead of what God has personally shown me.
So often I get home, put my feet up and veg my brain with FIFA or rubbish TV and escape. And yet God never turns on FIFA, he never makes sure he gets in the latest episode of Xfactor before he hangs out with me. No he is there, waiting, willing, excited, passionate! Desperate to hold us close and unpack the things he has for us.
Father God help me to have the same desire for the things of you as you have for the things of me.
Matthew 6 v 21 (NLT)
'Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of you heart will also be'
Recently I have been spending some time and asking God how we can see some serious growth in our church. We have so many things happening and have a large congregation but we do not see massive growth. I look at pastors from the states like Matthew Barnet (The Dream Centre), Mark Driscoll (Mars Hill) and Bill Johnson (Bethal Church) and they see huge growth numerically in their church and regularly lead people to God. The way they do ministry is totally different. Matthew B is all about projects in the community, Mark D is all about Truth, word etc and Bill J is all about signs and wonders, miracles etc. They all basically believe the same thing but their focus is different. I have seen lots of pastors try and imitate these church leaders and what they do over here in the UK but it never seems to quite kick off. I don't know of any church who is seeing the kind of growth that they see in the US.
So I spoke to God. I asked him what I should do. How I should lead? I believe that my motivations are right, I mean its not for my glory it is for his glory. It's not for Ego but for the kingdom of God. Should I copy someone else?
There is one common denominator with these church leaders. INTIMACY WITH CHRIST!
God then reminded me about the times in my life when I had tried to copy someone else. This never went well. And I remember what some of the biblical giants had to face when they started telling God they knew how to do something or started trying to make formulas.
God told me to be intimate with him. He told me to find him in every part of life. He told me to be known as someone who has Jesus living inside them. He told me to be a light in the darkness. He told me to guard my tongue and to watch what I say. He told me to look at my lifestyle and ask myself if I am inline with Christ. He said nothing about strategy, vision, direction, big picture, little picture. He just told me to be intimate with him.
So this week I have been with him more. I have thanked him for the rain in my holiday instead of being annoyed that it was sunny last week. I have taken time out to look at listen to creation. I have been aware of how I treat and speak to my friends and my wife. I have found my God in the strangest of places!
1 Corinthians 10 v 31 "So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God."
These last few weeks have been an emotional roller-coaster. There have been amazing highs and some swooping lows. It is has been tiring and draining but I still have the overwhelming sense that God is there. God has been speaking clearly over the last couple of weeks. Prophetically through others. Visually through pictures. Amazingly through every day life. It feels like spring has finally arrived.
All the little pictures and whispers have been specific and spot on. They have been a relief to hear since winter felt very sparse. Spring has already bought many new things.
Challenge to step into what God has in store for me.
Permission to step up and out.
Reassurance that I am loved.
Insight into what is in store.
But Gods whispers are not just for me. They are for you. He loves you with an everlasting love. He has started doing good work in you and will not stop until it is finished. He has good plans to prosper you and not to harm you. You are part of the plan and you are unique. It cant be done the same without you.
So many times I have opted out because I have not grasped those truths. There always seems to be someone better, more experienced. Someone more connected to God. But it is not about what you or I bring, its that we opt in. Whether we turn up. God puts what we need inside us when we need it. He doesn't call the equipped, he equips the called. And you are all called. You are equipped.
I had a picture recently of golden orbs of light falling down from the sky into people. As I was mulling it over and wondering what it meant I felt like God was saying He was giving us the gifts and abilities we had laid down when we chose to believe we are not called. Not part of the plan. Insignificant. He has held them and looked after them, but now He was giving them back to us to use.
You may not think you have anything to offer. I guess in some ways you might be right. Its not about you, its about God working through you. It is His wisdom, prophesies, words of knowledge, kindness, hospitality, love that we can give away and bless others with. It is not in our own strength. All He asks is for us to be still and know that He is God. We are just a vessel He chooses to use. But we have to step out and use it to get those things to give away. They are not for us to keep to ourselves.
So, my challenge to you is this. Will you pick up that golden orb of light? Will you use what God has given you? Is giving you? Will you step out in faith? Will you look to bless others? Really seek it out? Will you practice and learn how to use your gift in the best way? Will you practice on a Sunday so it comes more natural when its Monday to Saturday? Will you choose to opt in and be used?
You were born for such a time as this. To be used. To bless. To make an impact.
Does your heart start racing when you start to hear or see the values that you hold dearest? Mine does....
I hear these words or I see them in action and life excites me. It sometimes surprises me. I have been bowled over recently by stories of people showing the most amazing compassion, integrity, creativity, vulnerability and kindness. For me, this is what makes life worth while.
I regularly check what I do and how I am against the values that are most important to me. I often don't measure up. I often settle for less than what I want. I choose ease over living life to the full. I choose selfishness over community. Pretence over authenticity. Hiding rather than being transparent. I am faithless rather than faithful. Surface rather than depth. But I do try. There is something within me that seems to not want to settle and until it finds what it is truly seeking.
My heart will also start to beat, panicked, when these values are dishonoured. Often by me. Sometimes by others. My conscience reminds me, yet still I walk into situations where I choose what is 'less'. And as a result I am less. These values are who I want to be. Who I am meant to be. Created to be. And when I choose to be a lesser version, it hurts. Life is not so bright, so full. And neither am I.
God has called us to be many things. We are called to be living wholehearted, full lives. I think He has sown individual values into our characters. Our souls. And we notice when they are not honoured. When we don't measure up. I think it is because we are not yet who we are created to be. And that ache in your heart, that's the reminder. We see glimpses now and then. But we are not there yet. We have to persevere. To reflect. Grow. Choose.
God is showing me that I CAN choose. I have been convicted of the phrase "that's just who I am!" The many times I have been less than what I can be is because I have allowed myself to believe that it is out of my hands and that the box I put myself in is really who I am. It is not. I am an evolving being that is sum of her choices.
We can choose and own the consequences of our choices. And then choose again. This is freedom.
So lets do just that. Lets choose daily. Choose to be what God has created us to be. Choose to change and grow. When we grasp the fact that we hold the reigns of life, we are set free and can move in the direction God calls us.
Today, I sat in a room with professionals who all work with young people learning about the sad subject of child protection. We were reminded that we not only have a responsibility but a duty of care for the young people we are in contact with. My heart started to race, the proverbial walls started to close in. Fear and panic gripped me. The weight of that responsibility is heavy. The consequences of decisions I can make are huge. As we looked at case studies, I realised that, in some cases, it is life or death. To say I felt under qualified is an under statement.
In my role, I mostly feel like I am juggling students. Picking up the ones that need some extra care and attention. But it often feels like I am dropping them or don't have enough hands to hold them all. I deeply care for a lot of these students. Don't get me wrong, they also infuriate me and frustrate me. But I care. I carry them with me. Sometimes they weigh heavily on me. And sometimes I feel like I drop them because it all gets a bit much. I snap. I lose focus. I fail at being who I wanted to be in this school.
Today as we were hearing more about legislation and practice when dealing with child protection issues, I was mentally preparing for picking up even more burdens. Seeing more sadness. Facing even more darkness. And then I stopped.
“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.
He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge;
His faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night,
nor the arrow that flies by day. ”
I find that place "under his wings" when I spend time in His presence. Time in nature. In beauty. In prayer. That is when I can willingly give over the burdens. Entrust Him with those I carry. That is where I learn to share. To put down what is heavy and pick up *LOVE*. If I carry what is not mine, I end up tired. Impatient. Stressed. Worn out. And weighed down. But with picking up what God has given me I will have the strength to face each day. Each situation. With grace. With compassion. With love. I will have the resources I need to care long term. To help. To stand with each individual. To be able to know that it will be ok in the end.
God has got it.
Last night at Alpha, we were discussing the whole topic of faith. Questioning whether we could be a Christian without change. We talked about the difference between knowing about God and having a real, tangible relationship with God. The difference between head and heart knowledge. If God dwells within us, can we do anything but mould. Change. Grow.
When you think back over the last week, the last month, the last year, the last season..have you seen any change? Change in your situation? Change in your character? Change in your behaviour? Have you grown recently?
Philippians tells say that we can be...
“...confident of this very thing, that he who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ.”
God has started doing a good work in us. In you. In me. He has promised to keep doing that until the day we are deemed perfect by our Father in Heaven. He works in us and through us. But do we get in the way? Are we stubborn to his gentle call?
I look back over the time since I became a Christian and life is vastly different. I am different. I have found the promise that we become a new creation to be true. I often meet people who I haven't seen in several years and they literally don't recognise me. It is not just my outward appearance, it is everything. I hold my self differently. I think and speak differently. I am no longer little timid Louise. I am Lou. I have a long way to go, but I am on that journey. I look back and see that I have grown. But has it been recently?
I always find it amusing when I hang out with a friend for a prolonged period of time, I end up sounding like that person. Sharing phrases and mannerisms. I change and grow more like that person. I think its a sign of a good friendship. So shouldn't that be the same with our faith? Should it be natural to become more and more like Jesus as we spend time in his presence? Perhaps the reason I am not more like him is because I don't spend enough time with him. Is it because I unconsciously lock him out of my heart? Is he still knocking at a door thats been barricaded in a while? I wonder if I need to get into the habit of inviting him in every day.
I want to be transformed. I want to grow, to journey, to change. I seek out mentoring, those deep relationships that challenge, inspire and motivate. I welcome (most of the time) conversations that move me on and point out where I am going wrong. I am part of an amazing community that worship God. I spend my time doing things for Church. I have been reading the word each day. But how often am I welcoming Jesus in? Really letting Him dwell within me?
"And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit."
All those choices, habits and disciplines are good, don't get me wrong. They are all part and parcel, but I wonder if I unbalance my relationship with God by doing rather than being. Maybe daily growth would come by sitting and beholding. Opening the door of my heart and gazing at Him. I wonder what revelations, what challenges, what calls I would hear if this was part of my day? I wonder if I would grow. More tangibly. More wholly. More often. More like Him.
"What if your blessings came through rain drops? What if your healing came through tears? What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know you're near? What if trials of this life are your mercies in disguise?"
I find this quote inspiring and disturbing at the same time. I am aware life is full of seasons. Of ups and downs. Of good and bad. I also know that God has His hand on my life. Leading. Guiding. Beckoning me on. I know that God is good and only good things come from His hand. So what about the darkness that often accompanies life. Could it be that those are also good? Could it be that I don't have the perspective to decide what is a blessing and what is a curse?
Recently, I have been working my way through a book called, "A Thousand gifts" by Ann Voskamp. Its a book that dares us to live fully right where we are. Fully. In every situation. In every season. In every emotion. It's a beautifully written book but it holds a HUGE challenge. To live. Fully. Right now. When I reflect on my life, it is full. But I do question whether I am living fully. I dont know if those two things are different. I know my diary is full of things to do. I know my head is full of thoughts. Spinning. But is that what Jesus meant when he said he had come to give us life, life to the full? I am not convinced. It has been something I keep coming back to, pondering how to secure that elusive full life.
Perhaps, like Ann suggests, living fully is about gratitude. By saying thank you for the extraordinary and the mundane, we open the present. I mean that in all senses of the word. We open the present that God bestows upon us. Freedom. Salvation. Grace. Blessing. But we also open a door to the present, the place where we can live right where we are.
The bible is full of examples and calls to lead lives full of thanks giving. But how good are we at really being thankful? I know I am rarely full of thanks. What would happen if we woke up tomorrow with only the things we were thankful for today? Tomorrow would be bleak.
Luckily, the Bible also suggests that this life of thanks giving is learnt and needs practice. Philippians 4 says,
"I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little."
I know I am so guilty of not being content. I believe the lie we are sold, that happiness is secured with what society deems as important. That life is not complete unless I have the latest....fill in the blank. It is never ending. What if I saw through a lense of thanksgiving? What if I sought to be thankful for all the things that had already been given? Naming each and every blessing. Perhaps then my life would be FULL. I would be PRESENT. I would be ALIVE in each and every moment.
And then, "The ugly can be beautiful. The dark can give birth to the light. Suffering can deliver grace."
So this is my challenge for this year, I want to name the blessings. Seek them out. Record them. Be content. Learn thankfulness.
* Quotes and thoughts shaped from Ann Voskamps book which I would highly recommend :)
I love the beginning of a new year. It feels like a fresh start, a clean slate. I love the chance to reflect on the past and learn how I can bring those lessons into the present. Recreating. Restoring. Redeeming. I love the feel of hope in the air. Anything is possible. Anything can happen.
As I looked back over the last year, it has been full.
So much to be thankful for. So much to learn from and try again. I am learning to not see the times I fell short as failures, but opportunities to try again. I remind myself this is a journey. I am not yet there. I am not yet all I was created to be.
Sometimes I find myself longing for a new beginning. A new chance to have a go at being. It can be as simple as being ridiculously excited about finishing a journal, so I can write my first word in my new one. Or it can be as complex as that deep yearning to be given a second chance when you have let someone down.
As I have been pondering I had a sudden revelation that we can have these fresh starts daily. Each morning. Each minute.
"Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." Lamentations 3 v 22-23
I LOVE this. I cannot believe I havent fully embraced this before. It has never sunk in. I can wake up each morning with new mercy. With the gracious invitation to give life another go. Even better than that, each time I ask for forgiveness with a humble heart, I accept that invitation of a new beginning. AMAZING!
As I walk into this fresh start, it means more than just a new year. It is both metaphorical and literal. It is freeing and challenging. So, as I have looked back thankfully at 2011, I am looking forward with hope and anticipation to what 2012 will bring. To what I will bring. Become. I have goals in mind but most importantly, I am going to enjoy "new mercies" and new starts each morning. Grabbing it with both hands as I learn to journey through this year free. Free of guilt. Free of failure. Free of shame. Free of walls. Free.
This week I had the privilege of visiting one of the cell groups I look after. I went along expecting to just hang out and be a bit of a bystander, intruding a little bit on their journey. The last thing I was expecting was to be blessed and spurred on. I had one of those moments where you know you were meant to be in that place, at that time, for a reason. A real God appointment.
Recently, Will and I have been talking about dreaming and how we can do that better as a couple. I need to process out loud. I need to dream with someone. With a bit of structure, space and encouragement.
So with the desire to dream together, we set a time over the holidays to cultivate the space to open up the conversation. A space to start to unwrap the dreams and vision we have together for our future. This excited me and scared me at the same time as I realised, I am not very good at dreaming. I tend to limit God and myself. I would describe myself as an idealist and visionary but it would seem when it comes to my dreams, I am at best a realist. At worst a pessimist.
Even though God has graciously let us in on a few things that will be in our future. Things that we will grow into, it feels unbelievable. Im not sure I see what God sees in me. In us. Im not sure I am deserving. I am not sure I have what it takes. But as I read Philippians 3 this week with the lovely Chloe Richards, I was reminded again about one of my favourite verses;
"Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus"
As we sat round at cell we were asked to reflect on the last year and what God has been doing. I felt a bit ashamed that I doubted the good things God has for us in the future. Doubted that he had given me the gifts I would need. Doubted that He loved me enough to bless me so richly. Because as I looked back, He has done abundantly more than I could have hoped for or imagined in the last year alone. He is doing it right now. And I am starting to have a little more faith that He will keep doing it until I get to Heaven. What I do know is that I He is spurring me on, standing on the sidelines of my journey cheering. Encouraging. Willing me to walk in to the place He is calling me.
As the last person in the cell shared, they reflected on the dreams that God had made come to pass this year. She showed us a book called "Chazown" by Craig Groeschel that helps you learn about your individual dream and vision and guides you to discover the individual call on your life. My heart started beating faster. I had that butterfly feeling that something exciting was happening. Right there, as she spoke, I knew God was there. He knew my worries of not knowing how to dream. He knew my doubts and limited faith. He knew I needed a bit of structured guidance. He spurred me on. He met me right there in the everyday.
p.s Needless to say, I went straight home and ordered the book. Cant wait to start dreaming :)
This week I have mainly been thinking about how to honour the things I most value when life is happening. In the midst of life I find the important things can sometimes be left forgotten. I can tell when life is out of kilter when I dont quite feel myself. And its often because business gets in the way of the life I want to live. It has made me realise how important time and balance is.
I want to have a life that is authentic. Where I live wholeheartedly. Vulnerably. Where there is depth and realness in connection. But so often I settle for a glimmer of the ideals I hold. I am guilty of choosing the easy route. Of switching of my brain. Of hiding. Of smiling through pain. And then a week of two down the road I realise I am a shadow of who I am created to be. I am disconnected.
I felt like I was jolted awaken whilst listening to a really interesting talk about connection, from a lady called Brene Brown that a friend sent me. The video literally made my heart beat faster as it felt like she summarised part of my journey in the last 10 years into a 20 minute talk. She talked about how connection is the reason we are here and how vulnerability is the key. Without the willingness to be vulnerable, we can never experience connection.
It made me wonder whether I feel disconnected due to being busy. Or whether business is my protection from getting too vulnerable. I find myself in a place where I dont have time to go deep. I dont have time to process the feelings that bubble just under the surface. I am too tired to have the conversations that viagra to be had. Too tired to go out or do the things I really want to do. So I switch off and subdue.
Vulnerability isnt easy. It takes courage. It means embracing your imperfection. Fighting against the nagging feeling that we dont measure up. Not pretty enough. Not holy enough. Not clever enough. Not enough. Full stop. Vulnerability means being willing to share your whole self. The good, the bad and the ugly.
I think God calls us to live an authentic, whole hearted, vulnerable life. He wants us to connect with Him and with the people around us. He doesn't want us to pretend or perfect. He calls us, just as we are, broken and bruised. He asks for our heart, no matter what its state.
So, this week I think God has shown me how to get back to a place of connection...
I need to lean on His grace, in the knowledge that I am loved. Not for what I do, or what I look like but because I am. I need to stop numbing, pretending and perfecting and just be. And for now most importantly, I need to put boundaries round my time, protecting what I value most. Connection. Connection with my Father and with the people I love.
What do you need to do?