Beyond Breaking Point

Stress; it’s a word that we are all only too familiar with. We associate it with work, with certain people, with responsibility, with busyness. But I’m beginning to believe it’s much more than just the extreme emotions we identify as “stress”. What if it’s even more acute than that? What if, rather than reaching the heightened level we call ‘stress’, it is, in fact, anything other than living in the restful state we were created for?

“My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.”

Psalm 62:1-2

In physics, stress is a quantity that describes the distribution of internal forces within a body or object in response to an external force.

Imagine you are a student in my class at school. You’ve been sitting with your hand in the air for a few minutes, trying to attract my attention, but I’m busy working with another student and haven’t yet noticed your request for help. You decide it could be a few minutes more before I turn towards you so you begin to fiddle with your plastic ruler. You tap it on the desk, you spin it between your fingers, then you hold it with a hand on either end and begin to flex it in the middle; first, extending your elbows wide, bending the ends upwards toward one another to create a satisfying ‘U’ shape, then, pulling your elbows tightly to your sides, doing the same in a downwards direction.

“This is fun,” you think, with a smirk. So you do it again, this time a little farther, just to see how far it will bend… SNAP! Your hands drop to the desk, a shattered half in either hand, grimacing weakly at your peers who have turned to identify the source of the sudden noise.

Maybe this is not an example you can immediately identify with, but I see this scenario all the time at school. So stay with me…

In your boredom and impatience, you had put the ruler under stress. The external forces that you applied with your hands to bend it – first, small forces, slowly increasing as you sought to find the (literal) breaking point – caused unseen, internal stress forces as the ruler sought to counteract the external forces being applied and to remain in a state of equilibrium. As you bent the ends of the ruler upwards, compressive (negative) stress forces were acting on the topside of the ruler, while tensile (positive) stress forces were acting on the stretched underside of the ruler. When you bent the ends of the ruler downwards, the object experienced the opposite stress forces. At first, switching these forces around a couple of times had no lasting effect on your ruler: when you stopped applying external forces, the ruler bounced back to it’s original, straight state of rest. This flexibility – when stress and strain occurs in an object but can return easily to its original state when the force is removed – is called the ‘elastic region’. In the elastic region, any damage done can be rectified when the external force is removed.

“Cool!” you thought. “I can push and pull and bend and twist this ruler and nothing bad happens!” So you pushed a little harder next time, applying a greater force – so far there had been no lasting consequences, maybe a little more force would do no harm either… Wrong. The greater applied force caused greater stress and strain forces, and resulted in deformation of your ruler. Once stress and strain experienced by the object exceeds the elastic region, deformation occurs and this cannot be reversed, even if the forces acting on the object are removed.

Now ruler companies know that children (and sometimes teachers, too) like to test the flexibility of a ruler once in a while, therefore they employ people to calculate the stress of the various manufacturing materials to predict when the ruler will fail; physics tells us that failure occurs when the stress within the object is greater than the strength of the material.

So why am I giving you a physics lesson about a plastic ruler? Well, because I’ve been acting like that student of late. Except I’ve not been simply playing with a ruler, but pushing and pulling and bending and twisting myself, my health, me. I’ve been doing so for a long time without any lasting consequences – I’ve always bounced back – so why should it be any different now? But recently, without realising it, I pushed too far.

“Failure occurs when the stress within is greater than the strength of the material…”

At the beginning of the year I visited the doctor for a routine check-up and was quickly informed that my blood pressure was too high. We talked about some of the causes and implications of that and I proceeded to make some diet changes to help lower that number. By my follow-up appointment a few weeks later, however, my blood pressure reading was even higher than the first, and I was immediately put on medication to bring it back down.

In the weeks that followed, I paid even closer attention to my diet, stringently weighing up every choice I made; I underwent multiple blood tests in a specialist clinic to help identify the root cause of my high blood pressure, I even wore a large and awkward device for 24 hours to track my blood pressure at 15 minute intervals to see if a pattern related to my daily routine emerged.

But as I waited for the results of each of these tests, I suddenly and unexpectedly got sick and was out of work for more than two weeks. My energy levels were very low, I was sleeping for 12-14 hours each night, and my pulse was racing even when I was (physically) resting. For the first week, I didn’t have the emotional capacity to even look at my phone or talk to anyone; it all felt too much. I couldn’t make decisions, I couldn’t leave a short audio message for a friend without feeling breathless. What was going on? I returned to the doctor and underwent further tests.

Upon my recovery, I followed up with the doctor to discuss in detail the results of the plethora of tests I had undergone. The conclusion? Stress. Every single test conducted came back clear and showed no underlying issues whatsoever. I was even told to stop taking my new blood pressure medication because the 24-hour test had indicated that, while on the medication, my blood pressure actually dropped dangerously low while I slept. The only culprit that could be identified was stress.

The insights of those first medical appointments were indications that I was allowing myself to be bent and twisted in ways beyond what my body or mind was comfortable with, but the pressures I was feeling at that time were still in the ‘elastic region’; I would experience stress and strain, but my body (and mind) would always bounce back and no permanent damage was done. But as the weeks went by, and the external forces mounted – uncertainty about my health (ironically!), future decisions to be made, adopting a new role and responsibilities in church, relationships that needed some TLC, and so much more – I reached breaking point. All of a sudden, the stress that I had accepted as ‘normal’ had pushed me beyond the ‘elastic region’ and deformation occurred: I broke. The pressure I had allowed in my life had put me under stress and strain, and it had finally reached a point where it could no longer be reversed without inflicting permanent damage.

So why had I not noticed the stress sooner? Well, honestly? Because it didn’t overwhelm me. I had accepted that it was OK to live in the ‘elastic region’ and had allowed it to become my ‘normal’. On reflection now, I am ashamed to say that I don’t think I’ve come close to equilibrium – true rest – in a long, long time.

I have had to take a serious look at my responsibilities, my boundaries, my priorities in recent weeks. This experience – though (sadly) not entirely a new one – has, for the first time, been supported with substantial medical evidence and I can ignore it no longer. It has been a wake-up call of gargantuan proportions. Stress is no joke; it is no small thing that is part of a ‘normal’ life (at least, it shouldn’t be!) It is not something that we just have to suffer through. There is, believe it or not, another way.

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will give rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.

Matthew 11:28-30

The Bible talks extensively about rest, yet we, as Christians, rarely do. And I don’t just mean don’t-go-to-work-but-spend-all-day-doing-chores-instead kinda rest, which is what I have, until very recently, understood Sabbath rest to be. Instead, Sabbath rest is to be dedicated to God (Exodus 20:10). It is time that we can set aside all of our burdens, our worries, our responsibilities; a day that we can turn off our phones, close our full inbox, and ignore our to-do list. Instead, it is a day to be enjoyed with the Lord; a day to physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually rest; a day to invest in relationships and to be filled up and recharged, ready for the week ahead.

The world does not sit on our shoulders – as I have so unwittingly yet arrogantly believed of late – and Sabbath rest (when we do it right) reminds us of this. At rest, we surrender our power, our strength, our control, and trust God to carry all of our concerns for us. Why on earth would we seek to carry the weight of the world ourselves? Because we get caught up in the swirl of activity happening around us and inevitably get sucked in if we are not alert to it. But Psalm 127 reminds us that all of our activity is in vain, if not in partnership and agreement with the Lord.

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord guards the city, the guard keeps watch in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives sleep to his beloved.

Psalm 127:1-2

I used to think that stress and rest were dependent on circumstances, but I have learned afresh this year that they are, in fact, dependent on our faith. Do we trust God to carry our worries for us? Do we trust that He holds all things in place? Do we trust His timing and that no good thing will pass us by, even if we stop for a day and rest? Do we depend on His strength and not our own?

Since those weeks of sickness last month, I have worked hard at identifying stressors and then at setting new boundaries to relieve some of the pressure. I have sought to reassess priorities, and to cut out unnecessary strain in my week. But have I reached the root of the problem yet? No, not really. These are good changes – and necessary – but the stress is still present. At least it was, until I eventually stopped all ‘activity’ this week and finally started surrendering.


God, forgive me for thinking that everything depends on me. You are God, not I. You are in control, not I. If you chose to rest after you created the world, how much more should I choose it too. Forgive me for allowing busyness and responsibility – even ministry – to come between us. Thank you that you love me for me, and not for what I do for you. I surrender all my worries to you again today, God, knowing that you do not ask or expect me to carry them alone. In Jesus’ precious name, amen.

Defying the Facts

October was an interesting month.

I knew breakthrough was coming; I was anticipating it, I was ready for it, I was looking for it. I’d been declaring it for months, and inviting others into my journey of faith.

Then a series of breakthroughs came! … And looked nothing like I’d expected them to…

Instead of bringing me closer to the promises that God has been speaking over me this year, circumstances appeared to broaden the chasm between where I am, and where I believe God is leading me. And when I asked God about it? Well, His answer was simple and sincere: with me, nothing is impossible (Luke 1:37).

You might argue, because I didn’t see the fulfilment of any one of the promises that I am waiting for, that I didn’t really receive breakthrough. But there was a noticeable spiritual shift; a re-focus; progress, regardless of my circumstances. My focus had been on taking ‘two steps forward’, toward these promises, but I felt God nearer to me still, having seemingly taken ‘three steps back’.

Much of the time that has lapsed since then has been spent in prayer, as I determine to focus on the Truth of what God has promised, rather than the truth of current circumstances around me.

There’s no denying the facts that I have been confronted with in recent weeks; my surprise was not based on doubt, or questions, or perceptions, they were based on hard facts: truth.

‘Why hold on, when things look so hopeless?’, you may ask.

Because truth is no object for the Truth of God’s Word to contend with. Because circumstances mean nothing to the God who created all things and orchestrates them around us. Because the peace and joy in my heart encourages me to hold on to faith.

Faith can defy facts.

As I’ve battled with God in prayer and worship, He asks me to remain on this path. He reassures me that I am being obedient. He reiterates these promises, reminding me that they are not lost. There are way too many ‘coincidences’ to make me think this is anything but an act of God.

Common sense makes me want to self-protect; to run away; to analyse my circumstances; to justify my thoughts or actions; to compare my situation to others’. But God is saying something different.

“Invite people in,” He says. “Invite people into your testimony. It is a miracle in motion. It may not yet look the way You want or expect it to, but that is when I do My best work. Invite them to be a part of this ‘meantime’ season. Gather a crowd of witnesses around you so that, when My fire falls, they all may know that I am God (1 Kings 18:36-39).”

So here’s the thing: I’ve written a book. Some of you already know that, but for most this is probably a new insight. It’s been a dream of mine for many years to write, and on arriving in Germany, I felt God prompt me to begin the journey towards my first book. Having no idea what to write about, or how to begin such an abstract process, I depended on God to guide me step by step. And He did.

By December 2017, my first manuscript was complete, and I began to submit it to publishers. But rejection after rejection came, and I soon ran out of options. So I laid it aside, and got on with life.

Then in the early part of this year, God began to draw my attention to my forgotten script, saved in the archives of my computer. The truth was, I was afraid to pursue publication any further; I was afraid of more rejection.

“Jane,” He said, “your fear is stealing breakthrough from others.”

My fear of rejection; of being so vulnerable in sharing my tear-stained words with the world; of worrying what others might say or think of me; of daring to believe an impossible dream, was stealing the opportunity for God’s Word and testimony to bring freedom and peace in the lives of many others?! Well, not for much longer!

I didn’t have much left in me to fight for myself, but this Word had lit a fire under me that propelled me back into the ring, to fight for the sake of others. (I documented this particular breakthrough in an earlier post, Humility: Redefined).

I spent my six-week summer break re-reading, editing, and adding to my manuscript, completing my review just days before I returned to school in August. Then I, once again, began the long, time-consuming process of identifying and submitting to publishers.

My progress to date? More rejections.

My attitude, this time round? Determination. Hope. Perseverance.

I no longer take the rejections personally, for my fight is for a greater promise; a greater crowd of witnesses. But it doesn’t always soothe the niggle of doubt or make this journey of ups and downs any easier, I simply have to be obedient and continue to trust God’s leading.

The publication of my book is just one of the many promises I am waiting for and trusting God with.

So I hereby invite you into my inexplicable, don’t-know-what-comes-next, seemingly impossible, confusing meantime moment. I am opening the door to my heart and giving you the opportunity to witness my current, rejection-weary reality, believing that all the promises that God has spoken over me will be fulfilled at His appointed time. I am asking you to look beyond the truth that is before me, and instead focus on the Truth of His promises.

A bank balance may state that you have no money, but God promises to provide for all of your needs (Philippians 4:19).

A medical diagnosis may condemn you, but no sickness is too advanced to stop God from healing you and restoring you (Jeremiah 30:17).

A rejection may discourage you, but God uses all things to protect us and to lead us into His best (Romans 8:28).

The manifestation of His promises are coming. They are coming.

Join me, as I (continue to) watch this space.

Holding on to Hope

For months now, I’ve held a strong sense of anticipation that God is up to something big. Between the far-reaching promises He declared over me in January, the ever-growing wisdom and influence He has gifted me with, and the significant open-heart surgery He has been conducting in the secret place, my anticipation of a new season and new opportunities has gently but exponentially grown since April.

However, anticipation, or hope, often comes with it a fear that what we want or expect to happen, will not happen. There is a constant tension between the anticipation of what we believe God has spoken and the fear of hearing Him or understanding Him incorrectly.

In this battle, we must be diligent in the focus of our hope. Are we placing our hope in a particular outcome, or are we hoping in the One who holds all outcomes in His hands, and promises to be faithful?

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

Romans 5:1-5

In this holding-pattern of hope, I’ve been pondering the testimony of Naaman (2 Kings 5). He was a commander in the king’s army; well-respected and powerful. However, Naaman had leprosy.

His young Israelite servant girl suggested that he travel to her homeland, believing that the God of Israel would heal her master. Naaman dared to hope; he began his journey, believing that it would end in his healing.

The commander first visited the king of Israel, laden with great riches and a letter from his own king demanding healing from his leprosy, but the king of Israel was angry and distraught, concluding that the Syrian king was simply picking a fight with him by making such a ridiculous request.

No doubt, as Naaman left the presence of the king – the most powerful man in the land – his hope dwindled.

But the prophet Elisha heard of what was going on in the king’s palace and invited Naaman to visit him at his home. Once again, the army commander arrived with his great caravan of pomp and riches in tow, with his own expectations of how his meeting with the prophet might go down. But Elisha was absent, sending a messenger instead.

Now faced with a servant, instead of a prophet or king, Naaman’s anticipation ebbed further.

“Wash in the river Jordan seven times and you will be healed,” the messenger told Naaman.

Eh, what?

The little expectation that remained in Naaman’s heart vanished. This was not at all what he had imagined when he had left his home, holding on to hope and expecting a miracle.

Naaman had expected healing. He was willing to hope for it. But when faced with the circumstances that would eventually lead him to it, he wasn’t so sure…

“Naaman was angry and went away, saying, “Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage.”

2 Kings 5:11-12

He had expected a king to help him. He had hoped that the prophet would make a great spectacle as he called upon God for healing. And, as none of these expectations were met, Naaman reasoned that, at the very least, he could choose a cleaner river than the Jordan to bathe in.

But that was not where healing was to be found. Naaman had allowed his own expectations to distract him, even blind him, to the work that God was seeking to do; to the journey that God was leading him on. For this journey was not just about physical healing, but included lessons in humility and obedience too. There was far more in play than just Naaman’s own desired end product.

We, as Christians, are called to hope (Ephesians 1). It is good to anticipate and believe for all that we believe God has spoken over us. But that does not guarantee us the easy or most straight-forward route there. Are we willing to trust Him anyway? Are we willing to be patient? Are we willing to lay aside our pride? Are we ready to be obedient, even when it feels foolish? Are we going to dare to keep hoping, keep believing, keep anticipating, even when the journey looks nothing like we expect it to?

Eventually, Naaman discarded his pride and obeyed the messenger’s instructions to dip in the Jordan river seven times, receiving the longed-for healing and complete restoration of his skin. He saw the manifestation of his anticipation, but not before God had drawn Naaman’s eyes to see the true Provider, and prepared his heart to receive it.

I expected to see the manifestation of my anticipation in July, however two months later I am still waiting, still journeying, still trusting that I will see it one day soon. Though the timing, the pace, the route are not what I expected, still my anticipation remains. I see the lessons I have continued to learn in the time since. I see the careful placement and positioning of people and circumstances that God lovingly orchestrates for my good. I endeavour to repeatedly re-focus my eyes on the Provider, trusting His timing and His process. I see progress, even when it has been a struggle, at times, to keep hoping.

But Naaman’s journey, the pilgrimage of the Israelites to the Promised Land, Joseph’s story from dreamer to diplomat, and so many other Biblical examples all illustrate the same message: a detour or a delay does not mean denial.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.”

Hebrews 10:23

Dare to keep trusting, keep hoping, keep anticipating. Breakthrough is coming.

A Tale of Two Tests

As I reflected over the Easter period, I was struck by two different perspectives of the well-known Easter narrative. Each describe a test of faith, and each have relevance in our own faith journeys two millennia later.

The first, is that of Jesus Christ, Himself. A.W. Tozer said, “True obedience is the refusal to compromise in any regard our relationship with God, regardless of the consequences.”

When I think of the cross, I think of Jesus’ determined obedience to His Father. He knew what was ahead; He knew what God was asking of Him; He knew the pain and suffering He would have to endure. He fully understood the consequences of His obedience. But He did it anyway.

He did it because He loved the Father, and because He loved us, but ultimately He did it because of His obedience. Just before He was arrested, He uttered this prayer, “Abba, my Father, all things are possible for you. Please – don’t allow me to drink this cup of suffering! Yet what I want is not important, for I only desire to fulfill your plan for me.” {Mark 14:36 TPT}

I find this incredibly humbling, for I know that there have been many times (I don’t need to think too far back) when I have either hesitated in my obedience, or flat-out disobeyed the prompt of the Holy Spirit because I have been afraid of the possible consequences of my obedience; whether it be awkwardness, rejection, or something worse (and let’s face it, in the western world, we are rarely faced with much worse).

Often there will be pain, or discomfort, or rejection, as a result of our obedience. Jesus experienced that too (on a much greater scale). But this momentary suffering led to something exponentially greater, with eternal consequences.

When commanded by God, we must seek to look beyond our own discomfort and fear, and trust His bigger plan; His sovereign perspective. If Christ had thought only of His own impending suffering, He could have chosen to save Himself from His agonising crucifixion. But He trusted God’s greater plan. He recognised that God was outworking something far greater than just His own destiny. His obedience made way for the redemption of mankind!

Just as I shared in a previous post, Humility: Redefined, we need to resist being distracted by our own interests, and instead consider the impact of our obedience on others. Don’t allow your fear to steal breakthrough for someone else.

The second perspective I have been pondering on is that of Jesus’ followers, specifically in the hours after his death. They had spent three years listening to the teachings of Christ and witnessing His miracles. They had hoped that He was the much-anticipated Messiah, but it now appeared that their hopes had died with Him.

As He breathed His last, they wept; they mourned; they felt broken, empty, disorientated. They were not only faced with the emotional grief of losing a loved one, but also with the devastation of lost hope.

Slowly, one by one, they turned their faces away from the cross and began to imagine a life without their friend, their teacher, their Saviour.

The disciples had held a vision of what the manifestation of God’s Messiah might be like, but when their current circumstances didn’t match their expectations, all hope was seemingly lost.

They had never anticipated Christ’s resurrection. And yet, Christ had spoken of it (Matthew 27:63). His disciples, too, would have known the writings of Isaiah and the other prophets, and the promises that God had made to the Israelite nation. God’s Promises had not been broken, they had simply been received through the microscope of human understanding.

Proverbs 3:5 reminds us that we cannot depend on our own understanding. We cannot depend on what we think the end product of God’s guidance is going to look like. Rather, we need to depend on what God says and then simply trust Him.

Despite the panic, despite the confusion, despite the fear, despite the tears amongst the believers at the foot of the cross, God knew what He was doing. No moment or outcome was a surprise to Him. Everything played out the way He wanted and expected it to. And the greatest sadness unfolded into victory!

God had a perfect plan to redeem us through His Son, Jesus Christ. His love and foresight aligned everything up perfectly so that, at just the right time, Christ went to the cross and paid the price for the sin of the world; our sin. His blood bought our freedom; freedom from punishment and death, freedom from fear, freedom from isolation and loneliness apart from Him. Christ became the bridge that connected us directly to God, and made a way for us to be in relationship with Him again.

How do we respond when the expectations that we have seem to die before us? Do we lose hope? Do we allow panic, confusion, and fear to consume us? Do we turn our faces away from Jesus, concluding that our hope, our anticipation, our trust was in vain?

When we look back on the Easter story, perhaps we know that the disciples only had to wait until the third day to see the glorious end to their perceived tragedy. But when you are still waiting – when you are in the midst of hopelessness – it can feel like the consuming darkness is endless.

Here’s the simple, yet challenging truth: It is not our responsibility (or even a possibility) to dictate the outcome of our current circumstances. It is our job, however, to trust God in those silent moments and not to allow confusion or doubt to fuel those fears that threaten us.

One of the most freeing lessons I’ve learnt in the last 12 months is to resist spiralling into doubt and depression in the dark hours that follow an unexpected turn of events. In an effort to self-protect, I would have always sought to think through every possible outcome and begin actioning thoughts or plans in an effort to protect my heart from further disappointment. Then God began to reveal to me a pattern of behaviour in myself that actually made the experience for me worse, not better. The enemy played on my vulnerability and fed my fears with lies and gleefully watched me spiral into misery. But as I learned to identify those lies, I began to resist them rather than partnering with them, and rather chose to hope. I chose to trust. I chose to wait with expectation to see what God would do next. He held the final word. I only needed to patiently and courageously (and it does take courageous) walk it out, one hour, one day at a time.

What I found was that God would often reveal Truth within 24 hours of my disappointment. Now, this is not a hard and fast rule, I don’t believe, and not every experience fits this timeline, but these experiences taught me to always wait a little longer, hope a little longer, trust a little longer, and allow God time to outwork what He had planned and purposed for me in a particular trial. And let me tell you, I saved myself a whole lot of tears in the process!

The grace that God offers us is sufficient for every challenge that we face (2 Corinthians 12:9). In difficult times, His peace buoys us up in the midst of the waves. We may try to jump to conclusions or guess what will happen next in an effort to self-protect, but God does not ask that of us. He asks us to trust Him.

There will be many times in our lives when it appears that hope or promises are lost, and yet God has the ability to raise them back to life. He will finish what He starts; He will bring His work to completion, but He determines what that completed work looks like, not us.

The recount of Christ’s death and resurrection reminds us that no matter how bleak our circumstances look, God has a bigger plan. We may not recognise it immediately. We may need to blindly trust Him in some of our darkest moments. But we can trust Him to allow His plan to unfold in the way it should – no delays, no absences, no detours – simply the best way.

The Hidden Door

In J.R.R. Tolkein’s tale, The Hobbit, a company of dwarves led by Thorin, the heir to the throne, embark on a quest to reclaim their home in the vast caves of the Lonely Mountain. Now housing a greedy dragon, the dwarves have little hope of re-entering the mountain and defeating the dragon unless they enter by a secret door. The problem is, however, the door can only be found by the last light of Durin’s Day.

It is a race against time, and against a pursuing horde of enemy orcs, to reach the mountain and find the door, ready to open it as the last light of Durin’s Day falls.

But as the sun sets, and the golden beams illuminate the hidden doorway, panic and frustration arise as the dwarves search franticly for the keyhole amongst the rough stone mountain-face. The impatient dwarves resort to kicking, tapping, and shouting orders to one another in an effort to force the entrance open as the light fades behind the surrounding hills.

“Break it down!” Thorin commands, in a last-hope attempt to unseal the mysterious gateway, as his comrades begin hacking at the rock with their plethora of weapons.

As the sky grows dark, and hope fades, Thorin re-reads the words inscribed upon the map that led them this far, but failed to lead them to success. “What did we miss?” he asks, rhetorically. “What did we miss?”

Discouraged and dismayed, the dwarves begin their slow descent back down the rock face, but Bilbo Baggins, the unlikely hero in the Hobbit tale, remains behind and ponders the instructions on the map for a moment longer. Meanwhile, the moon appears from behind a cloud, reflecting the lost sunlight, and shines upon the rock-face, revealing the much-sought-after door.

Once illuminated, the keyhole is quickly found, the entrance unlocked, and the door swings open with ease.

I’ve watched the Hobbit movie trilogy a number of times, and have also read the acclaimed novel, but this scene really struck me as I watched it again, recently.

We are all on a quest for a hidden door, are we not? Not a magical door on the side of a mountain, perhaps, but what about a door of opportunity, or a door of provision? Maybe one of breakthrough, or revelation, or freedom? But these doors often seem hidden to us.

Our journey towards these doors can sometimes feel long, treacherous, even endless. And when we finally reach what we perceive to be the end, we grow weary and anxious at yet another hurdle. We, too, may echo the words of Thorin; “What did we miss?”

Sometimes we wait for doors into promises that we have waited for for a long time. On occasion they are doors that God has spoken about clearly and with conviction. We know they will open, but frustrations and impatience arise when the light begins to fade and we feel like we are running out of time.

Have you attempted to break down a door or two? Have you spent far too much time wondering what you must have missed for the door to remain closed? I have.

But know this: God does not lead us to despair.

When the last light fades and the shadows grow long, this is when our faith is tested the most. Hope dissipates, and we may succumb to desperation or resignation. But, let me say it again: God does not lead us to despair.

Are we to be found amongst the dwarves; we perceive failure, having engaged our own limited efforts, and walk away distraught and discouraged, accepting defeat?

Or do we count ourselves within the minority; those who hold on to belief even when our own understanding assumes defeat? Do we hang on just a little longer, believing that our journey of faith counted for something? Are we humble enough to recognise that God’s mind far exceeds anything we could even begin to imagine or understand? These are the few who witness God opening doors that no man could ever prise ajar.

God’s timing is perfect (Ecclesiastes 3:11). His words do not fail (Isaiah 55:11). The instructions He sets out before us are not false (Numbers 23:19). He does not seek to fool us or cause us to stumble (Romans 10:11). He simply asks us to trust Him (Proverbs 3:5-6).

The Bible reminds us, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

The doors that God opens for us are surrounded in mystery, and intrigue, and surprise. They cannot be forced open, or ‘figured out’, or opened prematurely. But be assured of this: at the right time, under the right circumstances, the door will swing open, and all we have to do is walk through it.

Humility: Redefined.

In church, we are currently journeying through the book of Philippians together, considering, last week, Christ’s example of humility (Philippians 2:1-11).

As part of his introduction, the Pastor quoted C.S. Lewis:

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.”

It was not the first time I had heard or read that quote. It did not bring with it great revelation or conviction. However, as I continued to ponder all that this passage teaches, with this quote reverberating in my mind this week, I made a breakthrough.

It is no secret that God has whispered big vision, big promises into my heart; some of which I share openly, others I keep hidden until the appointed time. But they all share one thing in common: they will become a reality. God speaks to accomplish; no word of His will fail (Isaiah 55:11).

And yet:

For the past several weeks (since – unsurprisingly – a big revelation from God about my future) I have faced a barrage of fear.

Lies. Comparison. Doubt. Insecurities. It has been relentless.

But the enemy is cunning. He knew he couldn’t take me down easily, so he began to twist my understanding of the Word of God for his own purposes. In my pursuit of humility, I was tricked into thinking less of myself. Satan shone spotlights on my own insecurities to back-up his offensive strategies, and fear weighed heavy on my shoulders; fear of what other people thought of me; fear of shame and rejection; fear of not living up to expectations; fear of missing out on what God had for me because of my own weaknesses.

I sought to hide pieces of myself – ideas or suggestions or enthusiasm – hoping not to be an inconvenience to those I was working with. I found myself trying to be who I thought others perhaps wanted me to be, and hiding (or even, at times, resenting) the unique qualities and gifts that make me me. I adopted the heavy responsibility of making God’s promises a reality; an impossibility in my own strength. All this in an attempt to be humble.

But let me be clear: this is not humility. This is sabotage.

In the midst of this spiritual warfare, my heart and spirit remained at peace, but my mind has been full, chaotic, busy, cloudy. The enemy loves to do that to us. If he can’t make us bad, he monopolises our minds to fill them with nonsense so that we cannot find quiet to hear and be reminded of God’s truth.

Our minds will not clear by processing, or thinking it through, or problem-solving; we receive clarity and peace when we fight the lies with truth. Truth we find in God’s Word, in words He speaks over us, in worship, and in recalling promises and affirmations we have received in the past.

It is in truth that we develop humility. Humbling ourselves before God means hearing, receiving, and believing all that He says about us. It is trusting Him to act, even when our circumstances seem out of control. Humility is most evident in us when we submit ourselves to Him and live each day in obedience to Him, no matter how nonsensical or foolish it may look to the world.

So by definition, a humble spirit does not attempt to stifle the talents, blessings, gifts, wisdom, opportunities that God has bestowed. Instead, humility invests these things well and correctly attributes honour and glory to the Giver, not the steward.

In my fight against fear, I realised that I was so focused on how God’s call could/ might/ will affect me, that I had forgotten about the many individuals who will benefit from my acts of obedience. The longer I allow fear to thwart my advances in faith, the more I allow the enemy to steal the work of God in the lives of others.

Well not anymore.

I refer, often, to John 10:10 – my favourite Bible verse – for it promises a full, abundant life; one that I seek to encourage and inspire us all to take hold of; one that only God can imagine, design, orchestrate and gift us with. But the verse begins with these simple, yet deadly, words:

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy…”

As we reach out to receive the full and abundant life that Jesus promises us, there is a spiritual enemy who is focused on stealing our peace, killing our dreams, and destroying our hope. He will do everything he can to disrupt our lives and tear our eyes away from the One who sustains us through all things.

Do not let him take you down.

He may be tactful, but God is greater. He may be cunning, but God is wiser. He may be determined, but God is already victorious. Do not allow the enemy’s lies to take hold; stand firm on the truth of God’s Word.

Do not be afraid of him; do not be distracted by his advances, or allow him to draw your eyes inwards. Instead, choose to focus on God. Choose to focus on the circle of influence that God has given you. Choose to focus on the hope and life that God offers through Jesus.

I cannot and will not let the enemy steal away all that God has poured into me and blessed me with. God has positioned me and prepared me to be used by Him to share His love for humanity. That is not something to be hidden, but something to be used to bring glory to God.

Today, I choose not to be tricked into thinking less of myself, but to simply think of myself less.

The Catalyst for Answered Prayer

I returned from New York City in December 2014, just days before Christmas, having completed a four-month internship programme with Metro World Child.  I arrived back in my home city with little idea of what would happen next; having felt that the season I was in was not yet over.

Having been asked to be bridesmaid for my friend in the following March, I decided that remaining in Scotland until then seemed sensible, so I turned down an opportunity to return immediately to New York and instead accepted a ministry job at home on one condition: that it was understood that I was only committing to stay for six months.  After all, I still felt I had unfinished business with the States and, therefore, expected to return later that year.

But months ticked by and I was no closer to returning Stateside.  I kept a keen eye out for different opportunities and made several inquiries into different ministries but every door shut before me.

Meanwhile, doors for ministry and work were opening effortlessly for me in Scotland.  In my fourth month, I felt a burden to begin a childrens’ ministry in the local community where I was working.  I did not want to begin something if I was only going to be present for a couple more months so I committed to a further year in employment; the duration of the next full academic year.

Throughout that year I lived with a short-term mentality.  Every commitment I made had the disclaimer, “if I’m still here, then I will….” or, “if I’m not gone by then, perhaps…”  I sought not to distance myself from everyone and everything so much as I did not want to commit to anything I would not see through until the end.  But by the following Spring, having faced challenges and frustrations both professionally and personally, I decided that living with this short-term mentality was unhelpful for both myself and my colleagues.  I stopped using disclaimers and decided to be fully present in the season that God had placed me in.

“Ok, God,” I reasoned, “if this is where You have me for now, I will be all here.  I will stop living in limbo; neither fully in the present, nor fully in the next season.  I will resist trying to make the next step happen, so it is up to You to act when that right time comes.  I’m committing to ‘here’ until You move me ‘there’.”

I began putting down roots again and, most significantly, decided to put my apartment up for sale.  If I was to remain in my home city for the foreseeable future, then I would invest in a larger place that I could be comfortable in.

But time passed and my apartment attracted very little interest.  A number of people viewed it, there were even some promising conversations about follow-up actions and further negotiation, but my apartment didn’t move.  However, God did…

It was only once my attitude had changed and I had surrendered my desires, my expectations, and my timing to God, that He began to act.  My recent actions had reflected my changed focus and I no longer sought to second-guess God’s timetable, but, instead, to fully embrace my present circumstances.  I realised that God had not forgotten me or overlooked me; He had placed me there for that time and with purpose, therefore I should make best use of the time with those people, in that job, living in that city.  My change in attitude changed my whole demeanour, and my remaining months there became far more pleasant and enjoyable.

Then, on the last day of that academic year, I flew to Germany to visit a friend for a much-needed weekend break.  It was my first time stepping foot on German soil (admittedly, a country well down my travel bucket-list) but it was a cheap weekend break and a greatly anticipated reunion with my friend.  There was nothing special about the particular weekend that I had chosen, other than that it being the most convenient for each of our schedules, but I also don’t believe that it is any coincidence that it coincided with the last day of the school year.  It was there that God began to nudge me forward once again.

My change in attitude had been the catalyst for God to move in me once again.  I changed my priorities and how I spent my time; I chose to invest in myself instead of wasting time daydreaming about what I wanted and sulking because I didn’t have it yet.  I became intentional about my own spiritual growth.  I fasted TV and movies that summer (a time-consuming hobby of mine) so that I could better invest that time.  I dived into God’s Word, I read faith-inspired books packed full of wisdom and personal testimonies.  I told God everything that I had been feeling: my hopes, my dreams, my doubts, my disappointments, my failures, and my regrets.  God reminded me of the purposes He had created me for but I knew that I was not yet ready to enter into them.  So becoming ready became my new goal.

Without rushing ahead or trying to second guess or take control, I simply began asking God, “what next?” And in the meantime, I continued to serve in my existing situation as best as I could.

In the months that followed, God actually used the non-sale of my apartment to direct me further and to finally confirm that a new season was imminent.  Though I had initially envisioned this ‘meantime’ season would only last 6 months, it did, in fact, last a little over two years.  Neither, of course, did it lead me back to America, but overseas to mainland Europe.  The growth and preparation I experienced in that time was absolutely essential in allowing me to step into all that God had prepared for me in Germany.  I am unspeakably grateful for that meantime.

In times of waiting, it can be easy to slip into a dreamlike state where your body is firmly in the present, but your mind and heart have gone ahead and are endeavouring to live prematurely in your Promised Land.  But we must guard our minds and not allow ourselves to drift too far into the future, that we miss out on the present.

God is less worried about our circumstances and more interested in the state of our heart.  Are we making demands of God for the things that we want, or do we trust Him to lead us into His best?  Do we throw a tantrum if our expectations aren’t met, or do we surrender our own ideals and ask Him to act as He chooses, when He chooses?  I believe that our attitude is very often the gateway to seeing our prayers become a reality.

Until we truly know God and trust His heart towards us, we will be fearful or resentful of His instructions.  But as we prioritise knowing Him, rather than simply seeking His ways, trusting Him will become easier, and following His path for our lives will become a delight.

Even while we wait for God’s promises, there is a life to be fully embraced and lived out every single day.  Be fully present wherever you are right now.  It may not be where you want to be, or what you would like to be doing, but when we walk in obedience to where God has placed us at this moment instead of always wishing each day away, we learn to see God in the mundane and life becomes an adventure!

Do It Anyway

A few weeks ago I was asked to share a testimony at church.  The opportunity thrilled me and I was grateful to have the chance to share a little of my heart with my new church family.  But then I hesitated, as I carefully typed my reply to my pastor… “Sure. In English or German?”

Hmm… My initial excitement faded a little at the thought of this forgotten obstacle.  I waited anxiously for his reply.

“Both is fine.  If you do it in English, I will translate.”

English it is, then!

It was the option that came most naturally, and posed the least challenge.  Sharing in English would require minimal preparation and would permit me to speak eloquently and passionately.  “Piece of cake!” I concluded.

But the following day my conscience stirred as I remembered the reason why God had called me to Germany in the first place… What if I was to testify in German?

My range of vocabulary would be significantly reduced.

Do it anyway.

It would require far greater preparation time.

Do it anyway.

My nerves will likely cloud my thinking and I will have to depend on written notes.

Do it anyway.

I would be greatly restricted in how I could adequately express my heart.

Do it anyway.

My perfectionism and pride threatened to dissuade me, but I knew that God was calling me to step out of the boat once again.  It is in our weakness that His power is most evident (2 Corinthians 12:9).  It is only when we step out of our comfort zone that we see our trust exercised and our faith grow.

2 Kings 5 tells the story of a man called Naaman.  Being an army commander, he was used to an audience with men in high places, including the king.  He was well thought of in the land, was a great warrior, and a man of significant wealth. However, he suffered with leprosy.

Concerned for her master’s health, Naaman’s young slave girl suggested that he present himself to the prophet Elisha to receive healing.  So the soldier embarked upon a journey to Israel to meet the prophet of God and seek His intervention.  Upon reaching the prophet’s home, however, Naaman is met by a lowly servant with a simple message for Naaman: “Go and wash yourself seven times in the Jordan River. Then your skin will be restored, and you will be healed of your leprosy.” (2 Kings 5:10)

Appalled at the prophet’s lack of decorum, Naaman left in a huff.  He couldn’t believe that he had travelled all this way and the man of God had not even had the decency to meet him person!  And as for his instruction; dip in the River Jordan seven times and be healed of this skin disease? Pah! Who had ever heard of such a thing!

But Naaman’s officers cautiously approached their superior…

“If the prophet had asked you to do something brave and difficult, wouldn’t you have responded differently?” they asked. “Instead he asks of you but a simple request…”

Do it anyway.

Naaman’s issue was not his leprosy – not really – his issue was pride. His healing was not dependent on some great victory in battle (which came somewhat easily to him) or a feat of strength, but it relied solely on his ability to humble himself and be obedient to God’s instruction.

I had sought to share my testimony in a language that I was comfortable communicating in and therefore assumed to depend on my own abilities.  But as I humbled myself before God, before the people in my church, and attempted to express my heart in simple, broken German, God did a work that He could not have otherwise done.  He softened my heart, and He used not only the testimony that I communicated but also the added testimony that was being outworked in those moments by operating in a foreign tongue.

The courage I demonstrated that day, by letting go of my pride and allowing God to speak through me, brought breakthrough in my on-going effort to master the German language.  My courage and daring has grown, permitting me to take more risks when engaged in conversation.  My vocabulary has broadened and my ear has better attuned to the distinct accents.  My mind comprehends better the intricacies of the German grammar, causing sentences to flow more freely from my lips.

I am reminded again how pride can become an obstacle in our race of faith.  The life we lead, the call we answer, is not one that we can do alone.  The purpose for which we were created is impossible to achieve in our own abilities.  If we truly commit to walking our unrivaled road, then it is absolutely necessary that we lay aside our pride and allow God to operate through our weaknesses. When God prompts us to act; when He calls us to obey Him, even at the expense of our prestige, let’s do it anyway.

The ‘I Don’t Know’ Taboo

I recently returned from a 3-week trip back to Scotland to visit my family & friends.  It was a fantastic time to reconnect with people, make memories, and share with them all that God has worked in me and through me in my time in Germany so far.

But what struck me the most was my okay-ness with answering their questions with, “I don’t know.”

When I visited at Christmas, every enquiry into my new life in Germany was met with an uncomfortable internal struggle of seeking to somehow provide an ounce of know-how to an otherwise unknown faith-journey.  I sought to sometimes exaggerate a tenuous line of inquiry in an effort to sound like I knew what I was doing.  But the truth was – I didn’t know.

But why the torment? Why are we so afraid to state, “I don’t know”?

There seems to be this unspoken rule that we should have the answer to every question, to every life decision, to every new season in life.

These days, we have Google and Siri and Alexa and countless other humanoids to help answer those unanswerable questions.  Knowledge is now at our fingertips everywhere we go.  But is knowledge enough?

When King Solomon wrote the Proverbs, he wrote them with the intent;

“for gaining wisdom and instruction; for understanding words of insight; for receiving instruction in prudent behavior, doing what is right and just and fair; for giving prudence to those who are simple, knowledge and discretion to the young— let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance— for understanding proverbs and parables, the sayings and riddles of the wise. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:2-7)

The fear of God and placing Him firmly as god and father of our lives should be our starting point; fear of Him is the beginning of knowledge.

It is only through Him we will receive the answers to all our unanswered questions – in His way and in His time.  Seeking Him in prayer and through His Word will provide the answers we need… eventually. And in the meantime? “I don’t know” is perfectly adequate.

When we’re uncomfortable with ‘I don’t know’, we often times face the temptation to guess or make-up an answer in an effort to appease ourselves and others (just like I did at Christmas). But who does that help? That just inflicts the weight of further pressure and expectation upon ourselves.  Instead, being comfortable with ‘I don’t know’ demonstrates a resilient trust in who God is and what He is capable of; it emanates a quiet confidence in His ways and in His timing.

So now that we’re OK with giving ‘I don’t know’ responses, how are we at receiving them? Do we (especially we Brits) frantically search around for some clever piece of advice to fill the awkward silence that immediately follows? Or do we pause and reflect for a moment, realising perhaps we can better assist our friend by praying and asking God to give them wisdom, or to make His next step clear to them. There are times we do have wisdom to share and wisdom to receive from others, but don’t make something up just to have a more comprehensive response to ‘I don’t know’.  That helps no-one.

As Christians, we need to learn to be OK with ‘I don’t know’, believing that God does know and that He’s capable of opening the right doors of opportunity at the right moment.

Of all the answers I sought to give at Christmas, I think at least 80% of them are now void and irrelevant in my life today.  I had a whole bunch of ideas and hopes of what might be to come, but God has led me on a very different path these last ten months.  Therefore, as I look ahead to the remainder of 2018 and beyond, I have even more reason to respond, “I don’t know”, but I have finally resolved to be entirely OK with that.