The Repeat Examination

Since moving to Germany last year, money has been tight.  It has been one of the greatest tests of my faith, yet the provision of such has been at the heart of the majority of my testimonies.

I wrote about a particularly challenging need in August of last year (you can read about it in Um, Where’s my Miracle?) when I allowed fear and doubt to overwhelm me as I failed to see how God would or could come through. And yet He did, in incredible ways (you can read about that in Um, Where’s my Miracle? (Part 2): The Overflow), topping it all off by providing me with a part-time job the very next day.

Following this, there was the temporary loss of that same job and that newly-acquired income just a few weeks later, yet God worked wonders once again and never failed to meet a need (you can read about that in Facing the Flame).

So it should come as no surprise that when I faced difficulties over the past few weeks, God was right there by my side every step of the way.

My last German course ended mid-February so, for the past six weeks, I have felt a bit aimless and discouraged.  I recognised God’s hand in my circumstances, even if I could not always understand what He was up to, and continued doing all I knew to do: work, serve in church, and revise the German I had learnt previously, but I was praying for direction and opportunity.  My plan had been to continue with further language courses but they were proving too expensive so instead I began looking for more work.

Then last week I was invited to interview for a Learning Support Assistant vacancy in an International School in a town just north of where I currently live.  In my mind, it ticked all the boxes of what I was looking for except for one; the start date.  The post had been advertised for the new school year, beginning in August, but I was ready to begin work now and hoped for an opportunity to start sooner.

Echoing my circumstances of last August, I began the week with €4 in my purse and just  €0,89 in my bank account.  I had already moved a small amount from my German account into my UK account to help cover an expense on my property in Scotland so that account was lying empty too.  I really needed that job.

On the morning of my interview I bought my travel ticket with my credit card, knowing I didn’t have the cash to cover it but believing it would be a worthy investment.  I was also due to meet a friend afterwards and I wondered how I would fund the lunch that would inevitably follow.

As I was shown around the school and participated in the short interview, I found the warmth of the staff and atmosphere in the school so inviting.  I concluded that I really wanted that job… only one issue remained: the start date.

“Do you have any questions for us?” they asked. Hmm… well, yes, I did. But dare I ask?

“The post was advertised for the new school year,” I began, “is that the case, or…”

But before I had even had the chance to ask the question that I was so hesitant to voice, I was informed that there was paternity leave to cover from the beginning of May, therefore the new post would begin then.  This was an answer to prayer.  This was the job.

As I thanked my interviewers for their time, the Deputy Head Teacher said he would walk me back to the reception area (as he was walking that way anyway, carrying a crate of small bags).  As we approached the exit, he said, “I don’t normally do this,” taking a bag from the crate and offering it to me, “but would you like a school packed lunch to take with you?”

I couldn’t believe it.  I smiled at God’s creativity, opportunity, and provision. That was another answer to prayer.

As I headed to meet my friend, still grinning widely at God’s clear hand in my morning so far, I walked by a woman not much older than me, sitting begging and wrapped tightly in a blanket against the biting wind.  I smiled again at God’s provision; this packed lunch was not intended for me, but for her.  And I handed it to her without hesitation.

That, of course, left me once again without lunch, but I was confident that God would provide.  In His grace, He prompted my friend to treat me to lunch that afternoon and we enjoyed valuable time together.  She had no idea of my needs that day (she’ll read about them here, no doubt) but demonstrated generosity (which is one of her many great qualities) and it met a significant need in my present circumstances.

In the days that followed, God continued to stir the hearts of various individuals who responded in obedience and blessed me in incredible ways.  By the end of the week I had the promise of full-time employment doing something I love, I had been encouraged by the kind words and support of many, and I had received overwhelming financial provision that not only met my current needs, but that will assist in supporting me until I begin work in May.

As I reflect on this past week, I see so many parallels between it and that difficult week in August last year.  Each time I had no money, each time I had no idea what was just around the corner for me, yet the evolution of my faith is glaringly evident.  Last week I experienced no anxiety, no illness, no doubt; I had seen God do it before and I knew He would do it again.  Yet just like last time, His provision extended far beyond money; He provided supportive people, timely opportunities, financial provision, and the ‘perfect’ job.

I would not have chosen to be placed in the same set of circumstances that I had experienced before and responded so poorly to, but it illustrates so clearly my own growth over the past year and the many, many, many ways in which God has worked; sometimes in obvious, for-the-world-to-see ways, and other times in the quiet, behind-the-scenes, gift-wrapped-just-for-me kinda ways.

As I celebrate my first anniversary living in Germany in just a few days time, I sense the dawn of a new season but I am so very grateful for the desperate circumstances I encountered that demanded a miracle, for without those desperate times, I would not have had the opportunity for a front-row seat to displays of God’s infinite glory and power.

The Depth of a Hug

In 2014, I participated in a four-month Internship with Metro World Child in New York City.  The experience was one of the most challenging, exhausting, but rewarding of my life thus far.  But one instance, one moment left a crack in my heart like no other during those months.

Every Saturday I rode Bus 19 to bring kids to and from Metro Christian Center for Indoor Sunday School.  The ride was short but chaotic with up to 60 kids ranging from 3 years to 13 years old, all scrambling for attention.  I have to admit it was not a time I particularly looked forward to in my week.

And every week a young girl, around eleven years old, got on our bus looking sour-faced and edgy.  Without fail I would utter the same instructions to her multiple times every bus ride: “sit back in your seat”, “stop screaming”, “back away from [insert child’s name here]” and so on.  And without fail, I received the same responses: she argued back, she stomped her feet, she folded her arms tightly as she threw herself aggressively back into her seat.

That particular day was no different.  If anything, she was even tenser.  She clearly struggled to manage her anger and the slightest thing could set her off; I believe that day she was triggered because someone else had sat next to her.  Regardless, we had the same verbal to-and-fro all the way to Sunday School.  But I knew that the same offensive strategy would continue to produce the same results so, on the journey home, I decided it was time to switch my approach.

She had just been told off for the umpteenth time and had done the obligatory cross-armed throw-back into her seat.  But this time she began punching the seat she was sitting on and I knew it was only a matter of time before her fists moved from upholstery  to flesh.

I quietly walked towards her, put my hand on her back, and said in her ear, “gimme a hug.”

It could have gone either way, really; I wasn’t sure how she’d react.  She could have made me her punching bag instead.  But, as hoped, she lowered her arms and allowed me to hug her.  I held her tightly for a couple of seconds then let her go, patted her on the back, and took a step back, thinking disaster had been averted.

But almost immediately, the other girl seated behind her who had been previously taunting her started up again.  And so did the Rambo routine.

I bravely tried my new strategy again.  More confident, this time, when I asked and, sure enough, she allowed me to hug her once more.  This time I pulled her closer, hugged her tighter, and waited longer.  After a few seconds I felt her whole body relax in my arms and when I released her she had a huge smile on her face.  In the five weeks I had ridden the bus with her to and from church I had never seen her smile.  But this wasn’t just a weak curve in her mouth; a wide grin broke across her face like a ray of sunshine piercing through the clouds on a stormy day.

We spent the remaining three minutes of the bus ride playing a game which she thoroughly enjoyed beating me at.  It was a simple game but it provided her with an escape; having momentarily been able to bring down the defences that who-knows-what had caused her to put them up in the first place.

As she left the bus, I opened my arms for a final hug and she leapt into them and gave me a good squeeze.

As I reflected on this experience, I was reminded of 1 Corinthians 13:1. It says, “If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”  This young girl was not interested in anything I had to say because she had heard it all before. But when I softened my heart and approached her with love (instead of frustration or anger; emotions she was likely very familiar with) she was confronted with something different and her response changed also.

Though I easily communicated in English in New York (though not always with the desired effect), this verse has taken on a whole new meaning for me here in Germany. I often feel so ineffective and frustrated in my endeavours as I continue to battle with the language, but the Bible speaks of something far greater than words. We can talk, and declare, and announce until our voice breaks, but if our heart’s attitude does not reinforce our words, they will be fruitless. I may not speak the language well, but I can show love.

A smile.  A polite gesture.  An offer of hospitality or to help meet a need.  These are tokens of love recognised the world over.

So let’s all take a moment this week to consider: Where could I show love where words have previously failed me? How could I serve someone this week by showing love? What attitude needs to change in me in order for my heart to be softened?

Love is the universal language that everyone understands and a small act of love can make a big difference.  I didn’t know that young girl’s story.  I didn’t know what she faced at home.  I didn’t even know her name.  But I do know that a simple demonstration of love made a significant impact on her that day.

The Ache of Unrequited Love

I’m sure we’ve all been there at one time or another; we fall hopelessly for a man or woman who does not share the same feelings for us.  We lose time day-dreaming about them and imagining a life together, making all sorts of plans for the future, while they live their lives without us in it.

Or perhaps we are the recipients of such love; we enjoy the attention, the chase, flirting with the idea of commitment but never actually willing to enter into it.  Maybe we enjoy the ‘perks’ of the pursuit but run as soon as something is required of us in return.

To love someone demands something of us; the giving of ourselves for the benefit of the other person. It can be a wonderful thing to enter into with another person and share that respect, that care, that sacrifice with one another. That is why unrequited love is all the more painful, for we enter into it alone, never sure of any reciprocation.

And yet that is what we are called to do.

In 1 John 4:7-12, we read, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.”

God is only too familiar with unrequited love.  From the very beginning, He has loved every one of us; He has dreamt of a future with us; given of Himself to save us, protect us, and care for us.  He loves us, dotes on us, reaches out to us, and pursues us… and still we often show little interest in response.

We may appreciate His love when we reap the benefits, but we run away if He requires something of us or if something of the world seems more attractive to us. Perhaps we enjoy the gifts He gives us when they meet our own desires, but reject His good gifts of discipline, or sacrifice, or abstinence that benefit us the most.

God knows and understands the ache of unrequited love. He experiences it every single day as He lovingly pursues humanity and we respond selectively, selfishly, only when it suits us. Perhaps we lead Him on and enjoy the thrill of a new relationship, but flee as soon as things get difficult.

The Bible tells us that the Lord God is a jealous God.  He longs for us to renounce the idols we allow to come between Him and us; gods of comfort, and comparison, and marital status.  He desires for us to resist the expectations the world places on us and to commit fully to Him.

The early-20th Century evangelist, Oswald Chambers, said, “Get into the habit of saying, “Speak, Lord,” and life will become a romance.”  We all know that the foundation of any good relationship is communication, so rather than viewing our relationship with God as anything different, we can begin by inviting His presence into our lives and quietening our spirit enough to listen to the words of encouragement, and worth, and purpose that He delights in speaking over us.

When we truly know the love of God, we are free to love others, regardless of their response, because we are secure in the love of the Father. The love of Jesus is the most fulfilling, the most rewarding, the most steadfast love that we can receive and share with others. When we are consumed by His love, it overflows into the hearts of everyone around us and there is no room for the ache of unrequited love, for we are safe in the love of our Saviour.

So, no matter what our current relationship status is, let’s first sort out our relationship with The One who has loved us and pursued us and cherished us for millennia. Let’s not shrug off His advances or resist commitment, but give of ourselves to Him who gave us everything when He sent His Son to die on a wooden cross to save us from eternal death and separation from Him. He loves us so much, and the ache in His heart for us is real.

“We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)

 

The Mathematics of Generosity

I recently FaceTimed my youngest brother and we were chatting, as we often do, about our next steps and what God is calling each of us to next.  At the time of the phone call, I was facing a number of challenges myself and was a little preoccupied by them as we spoke.  But then my brother began sharing about some of the questions and uncertainty he was battling and it became apparent that we were facing similar issues.

Soon, the lessons that God had been teaching me and the struggles of recent weeks became the fuel I used to encourage and help direct my brother.  Together, we declared faith in each of our circumstances and believed God for great things in our coming days.

God blesses us with so much, every single day, but perhaps at first glance it does not all appear good.  How can a challenge or a struggle be considered a blessing?

Romans 5:3-5 says, “we can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.”

All that we receive is for our good and is given by God out of love.  The Apostle Paul later wrote, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” (Romans 8:28)

He calls us to a purpose and He uses all things to prepare us for that purpose.

But more than that, He multiplies all that He has blessed us with when we return it and use it for His glory.  The multiplication of our generosity is not only applicable to money, though of course He does that too, but it is about so much more.  God calls us to use all that He has given us; finances, resources, talents, experiences, testimonies, opportunities, time, love, relationships.  When we shift our perspective and allow God to work in all things, He can multiply what little we have to reach far beyond our own limited means.

I could have chosen to respond to my own struggles in bitterness, and therefore have nothing to share with my brother.

I could have decided not to share my own challenges with him for fear of seeming weak or being shamed.

I could have waited until my own prayers had been answered before sharing the testimony with him.

But, instead, I allowed God to use my own vulnerability and doubt to partner with my brother so that we could encourage one another with previous testimonies of God’s goodness and timing, and to spur one another on in our faith.  The impact of the lessons we were learning and the testimonies we had experienced were multiplied as we shared them with one another.

Back in January, I FaceTimed a friend in Canada and was sharing with her some of the challenges I was facing, including financial struggles.  Just before we ended the call, she asked if you could pray for me.  As part of her prayer, she asked the Holy Spirit to prompt the right people to help meet my financial needs, then we said our goodbyes and hung up.  Less than 20 minutes later, I received a text message from a friend in the UK stating that they had felt prompted to send me a gift and had transferred money directly into my bank account there and then.

The money that I received was needed and much appreciated, and I praised God for His provision.  But this story was not just my testimony.  It was now that of my Canadian friend as well.  She had partnered with me in that challenge and had offered her prayers and encouragement.  When I shared the testimony with her later that night, she was so excited and encouraged that God had used her in that moment to work a miracle in my life.  He had multiplied the impact of this miracle and all three participators had a testimony to share, for she was as much part of meeting that answer to prayer as the giver was.

The Bible tells the story of a young boy who offered his meagre lunch of five bread rolls and two fish to Jesus, in the hope that his small contribution might at least feed the tired Teacher and perhaps some of his companions.  What the boy could never have anticipated was Jesus, having given thanks to God for this provision, proceeding to feed over 5000 people with the food and still have plenty leftover.  That is how the mathematics of generosity work.

In It’s a Marathon, not a Sprint, I introduced Jim Elliot and his missionary companions who were killed in their efforts to reach a primitive tribe for Jesus.

For Jim, his Unrivaled Road led him to the Aucas but also to death, as he perished that Sunday afternoon on a sand bank along the Curaray river in Ecuador. And though we could view his premature death as a great tragedy, it created vast opportunity for the Gospel.

As the story was retold across the world’s media, testimonies of how their tale of bravery and obedience had positively impacted lives for Christ began to flood in.

A once forgotten tribe deep in the heart of the Ecuadorian jungle was now known and prayed for by thousands around the globe.

Only months after their death, the widows of the five men personally illustrated God’s love and forgiveness by continuing the work that their husbands had begun.  To this, the Aucas responded positively, and many in the tribe were, indeed, won for Christ.

Even now, decades later, the story of the five American missionaries who were slain for the Gospel continues to challenge, convict, and inspire many.  For them, they were simply obeying God’s call on their lives, yet through them, God reached many, many more than just the Auca tribe the men had reached out to.

Their sacrifice, perhaps much more than any of us would be willing to give, was magnified and multiplied far beyond what any of them or their wives could have foreseen.  They simply gave back to God what He had given them.

We cannot underestimate what God wishes to do with our giving, whatever form that may take.  Don’t hold back because you consider your offering to be too small or insignificant.  It is not.  He is in the business of multiplication; when placed into the hands of God, your giving will reach farther and impact many more than you could ever imagine.