The Power of Position

Michael Apted’s movie, Amazing Grace, features the life and works of William Wilberforce,  an English politician who led the movement to abolish the slave trade in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries.  Following his conversion to Evangelical Christianity in 1785, Wilberforce toyed with the notion of leaving politics and a life in the public eye.  He sought council from friends, including Prime Minister William Pitt, and Anglican clergyman John Newton, a former slave ship captain, best known for penning the hymn that the movie is named after.  In response to his dilemma, their on-screen counterparts state, “Mr Wilberforce, we understand you are having problems choosing whether to do the work of God, or the work of a political activist.  We humbly suggest that you can do both.”

Wilberforce was an intelligent man with great passion and focus, but he was torn between living for God and living for justice.  It took some time, plus the insight of his friends (friends are great at bringing fresh perspective, are they not?) to realise that his privileged responsibility within parliament positioned him perfectly to carry out the unique role God had created him for.  He did not have to choose one cause or the other, they complimented one another perfectly.

How God has created us and where He has placed us is in exact keeping with how He will use us.  Yes, He might call some of us into full-time ministry, but more often than not, He is calling us to bring His light into our workplaces, our colleges, our schools, our families, our friendship groups, and our neighbourhoods.  He uses the skills and gifts that He has created us with to open doors of opportunity for us to serve Him and to build His Kingdom.

We need to own who He has created us to be, because, if we do not rise up to take our place in this world, we can be sure that the enemy will claim it.

You may look around and think to yourself, “why has someone not done anything about that?”  But is it possible that, in fact, you are that someone?  The world needs people who are ready to stand up and say, “This is my time.  This is my opportunity.”

In the book of Esther, King Ahasuerus threw a feast for all his kingdom officials and commanded his queen, Vashti, to join them so he could show off her beauty.  But upon her refusal, she lost her crown and the king’s aides suggested that virgins be presented to the king so that he could inspect them and select a new queen.

At that same time, Mordecai was a Jew living in Susa; a Benjaminite who’s people had been taken from Jerusalem by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, 117 years earlier.  He had raised Hadassah, better known as Esther, his cousin, since her childhood, for her father and mother had died.

Esther was very beautiful and was brought into the palace to join the king’s harem with other virgins from the kingdom.  However, Modecai warned her not to make known to the palace her Jewish heritage.  Having then been subjected to 12 months of preparation,  as was the custom, Esther and the rest of the harem were presented, one by one, to the king.  When the king met Esther, she instantly won grace and favour in his sight, more than any of the other women he had already seen, so he duly crowned her his new queen.

Some time later, the king promoted a man called Haman to lead all the palace officials, and the people dutifully bowed down to their new leader and worshipped him.  However, Mordecai the Jew did not; he would bow to no-one but the one, true God.  This made Haman so furious that he set about plotting to destroy all Jews in the kingdom, not just Mordecai.

Haman was devious and presented to the king a decree to kill all the Jews throughout the kingdom and successfully tricked the king into officiating it with his royal seal, arguing that the Jewish subjects did not observe the king’s laws.  When Mordecai and the people of Susa heard about the decree, they tore their clothes, donned sackcloth and ashes, as was custom in the day during a period of mourning, and cried bitterly throughout the city.

I want to pause here for a moment, because what challenges me most in this part of the story is the emotional response displayed by the Jews when their authorities discriminated against them.  “Well of course they are upset,” you might be thinking, “they have been sentenced to death!”  But do we not also witness laws and decrees being passed in our world today that discriminate against nationality, faith, beliefs?  We watch our generation turn their backs on God, but a passive-aggressive post on social media is near the extent that most of us will rise to.  Why are we not moved to tears and mourning as our world rejects their Saviour?  Why have so many of us become immune to the injustice and persecution of God’s people all over the world?  We need to start taking these things personally.  I need to start taking these things personally.

So when Esther discovered what had happened, the queen was seized by fear, as she herself was also a Jew.  She sent clothes to Mordecai to encourage him to remove the sackcloth he was wearing, but he did not accept them.  Instead, Mordecai sent a copy of the decree to Esther and urged her to speak to the king to plead for the lives of her people.

This request, however, only increased the fear in Esther’s heart, for she knew that, unless the king summoned someone to himself, they were sure to be put to death when they approached him, unless the king held out his royal sceptre to them and spared their life.  Esther had not been summoned to the king for over a month.

Then Mordecai penned the words we all associate best with the Biblical account of Esther’s life: “Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews.  For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish.  And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:12-14)

For such a time as this.

Esther had been obedient to her uncle Mordecai when he had suggested she present herself to join the king’s harem.  Her beauty had won her the king’s affection and the crown.  Oblivious to the special role God had for her to fulfil, she was faithful with what was available to her.  But we can see that God had strategically placed her there to save His beloved Jewish people.  Was she ready to step up to the plate?  Was she willing to accept the role that she was created for; a role that no-one but she could fulfil?

Esther responded to Mordecai once more, asking him to gather all the Jews in Susa and to fast on her behalf, and informing him that she and her maids would do the same.  Then on the third day she would approach the king in the name of her people, “and if I perish, I perish.” (Esther 4:16b)

She stepped up to the plate.  She stepped forward, knowing it may even mean her end.  She stepped up for the greater good; to save a nation from injustice and persecution.  And God used her mightily in His great plan for His people.  We know about her story because she was faithful with what she had been given and what was made available to her.  She has a whole book of the Bible named after her, because she accepted the unique role that God had created her for.

Every experience that Esther had faced up until that moment – both the good and the bad – had prepared her and positioned her for success.  God knew that this moment would come so He had used her faith, her painful family history, her loyalty to her uncle to make sure that she was ready.  That didn’t make it easy, or comfortable, for her to approach the king uninvited – she still required courage to do what was being asked of her – but her obedience saved an entire nation from death.  How’s that for purpose?  Her adventure led her to the palace, right into the royal family, and perfectly positioned her for all that God had called her to do.

Voices all around us will constantly try to label us, influence us and put us in neat little boxes; the media, our bosses and teachers, politicians and professionals.  The only way to combat that is to draw close to the One who created us and ask Him who He has made us to be.  None of us were created to fit neatly into categories or boxes because we were all made to be different.  There is only one of you!  So find your own sphere of influence and do what only you can do.

When we give power to the voices around us, sometimes even well-meaning ones, confusion and stress begins to impress upon us.  We become so distracted trying to meet the expectations of others that we forget to listen out for the voice of God.  Your current position may not carry a title, or come with a fancy office, or include a big pay-check, but don’t doubt it’s significance.  God is always at work, leading His disciples to the right opportunities at the right time for the greater good.  Our obedience to His call guarantees us His best life.

The gifts and passions within each of us hold the potential for all that God wants to do on earth in the next 100 years; our response will determine how much of that potential becomes reality.  So now is the time to press into the future that God is calling us to.  We need to be brave, like Esther, and step into our destiny.  We were created, positioned and called, for such a time as this.

A Modern Day Epidemic

In my late teens and early twenties, I was plagued with sickness after sickness.  Nothing serious, usually just the flu.  But I would catch it often, sometimes up to four times in one year.  These bouts would floor me and leave me with no energy, resulting in weeks off sick from work and, most disappointingly, forfeiting the chance to attend and serve in church.

But as the months and years went on, I began to notice a pattern: I would most often become sick around the same time I would accept ministry opportunities; opportunities to serve in my local church or help pioneer new initiatives.

Upon this realisation, I was then plagued by an even greater sickness: fear.  You see, now that I had identified a pattern, I began to anticipate when I might get sick as different opportunities arose.  And sure enough, that’s exactly what happened.

But it all came to a head in January 2011.  It was only one week into the new year; I had already been off sick from work for two weeks over the Christmas period, I had then recovered and returned to my staff role in church for just a few days when another feverish spell hit me during the Sunday morning service and I felt the energy drain out of me once more.  I was due to jump up onto the stage after the first worship set to enthusiastically welcome everyone to church and to provide a rundown of the events going on in church that week but I was struggling just to stand and sing.

As I battled my predicament in my mind, God intervened.  The Holy Spirit moved and the entire service shifted.  The Pastor called forth people who needed healing, as the worship team continued far beyond their planned set.  Shaking, I stood up from my front row seat, grateful that I did not need to walk far.  With tears streaming down my face – tears of frustration and exhaustion – I shared with the Pastor’s wife what had been previously running through my head and she began to pray for me.  Yes, she prayed for physical healing, but, most significantly, she prayed that the habit of fear would be broken.  And her words filtered through my fear like a ray of sunshine.  As we stood together praying at the front of the church, God gave me a vision of Him protecting me from the enemy and pointing to the clear path ahead.

In a matter of minutes, as the worship team played the final song in their extended set, the energy returned to my body and joy filled my heart.  I leapt onto the stage to welcome everyone to church, they being entirely unaware of the miracle that had just occurred in my heart.  The enemy had used my physical symptoms to distract me from the real weapon: fear.  But we had identified it, called it out, and conquered it in Jesus’ name, and it was no longer an issue for me.

Fear is the modern day epidemic that is stealing our dreams and opportunities.  As I observe the world around me: the rise in terror, turbulent politics, shocking media headlines, provocative posts on social media, conversations with my peers, it pains me to see the fear and anxiety that dominates humanity.

Society encourages us to worry about our own challenges, and then burdens us with further doom and gloom across all media genres.  Whether it is as trivial as the number on our bathroom scales or the devastating reports of war and terror across the world, we rarely receive good news.

The media has most of us thinking that we can no longer visit big cities for fear of terrorist attacks.  Or the lies and failed promises of politicians have us doubting whether we can trust anyone.

I believe we are now so immune to fear and anxiety, that we have also become blind to it’s effects on us.  Our increased heart rate and restless sleep, night after night, have become acceptable parts of modern-day life.

But these external influences do not have control over how we respond to situations that seek to scare us.  Anxiety is only present when we fail to trust God.

“While it looks like things are out of control, behind the scenes there is a God who has not surrendered His authority.”

A.W. Tozer

We are guilty of burdening ourselves with too much responsibility, and we try to solve the world’s problems – effectively trying to adopt the role of god – when we simply need to release them back into His hands.  God already has a plan, He has not given up His authority even in the midst of such atrocity, we just need to be quiet enough to listen for His instruction. (Read more here: Trust: Active or Passive?)

Fear declares that we do not trust that God is in control.  It tells the world that we count our own efforts to be more effective than His.  Worry is a waste of energy and time and achieves absolutely nothing.

Overcoming fear is less about us working harder or smarter to solve problems, and more about fighting in the strength that is only available at the feet of Jesus.  Imagine how different our world would be if we spent the same amount of time we spend worrying, in prayer instead?

No matter how big or small the concern is that we bear, we must stop immediately when anxiety begins to swell up within us and talk it through with God.  Just talk; it is not necessary to use any fancy language or even to sugar-coat your words, just tell God exactly how you are feeling.  Perhaps, after the first time you share the concern, nothing changes; you still feel tense and anxious.  So tell Him again.  And again.  And again… until peace begins to dawn in your heart.  God hears you and He will respond.  God loves His children and never grows sick and tired of hearing their worries and requests.  He is patient with us and it pains Him to see us live in a way that is anything but peaceful.

Now, do not misunderstand me; peaceful does not mean uneventful, or even easy.  We will all face challenges and difficulties, whether we follow God’s best for our life or not.  But depending on God, instead of our own understanding, will bring us peace in the midst of it.  He does not always immediately remove us from the trial, but He promises to be there with us in it.  Living at peace is only possible when we trust God entirely, believing Him to be the answer to every prayer.

In Matthew 14:22-33, we read an account of when Jesus’ disciples found themselves on a lake during a ferocious storm.  As the wind and waves tossed the boat back and forth throughout the night, Jesus approached them, walking on the water.

When they spotted Him, they were terrified and thought that He was a ghost.  But He called out to them and reassured them that it was He.

“Lord, if it’s really you,” said Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples, “tell me to come to you, walking on the water.”

“Yes, come.” Jesus replied.

So Peter threw one leg over the side of the boat, then the other, and gingerly stepped out onto the sea.  But after a few steps, his eyes were distracted by the waves around him and he immediately began to sink.

“Lord, save me!” he cried to Jesus.

And Jesus reached down and grabbed Peter’s hand, pulling him to safely.

“Why did you doubt me?” Jesus asked him.  And as they climbed back into the boat, the wind and waves ceased and there was calm.

We can commend Peter for having the faith to step out of the boat and to begin walking on the water.  But after only a few steps, fear arose within him and his faith faltered.  Jesus’ power had not changed, but Peter’s focus did.  Only then was he overwhelmed by the circumstances around him.

Yet our peace is determined by our faith in God, not in our circumstances.  We must not allow ourselves to be distracted by our ever-changing situation, but instead choose to trust the One who remains ever constant.

So take your eyes off of the challenges surrounding you today, and fix them on the One who stands with you in the midst of them.  The wind and waves still respond to His voice.  He will see you through safely.

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 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.

Um, Where’s my Miracle?

I began this week with 1p in my bank account.

I knew this day would come eventually, having had no regular income since I quit my job in Scotland in March.  But, I was also confident that God is a God who provides, therefore I had no reason to worry when it did arrive.

However, despite endeavouring to steward my money well, that day came a little sooner than expected due to a number of circumstances out with my control.  Last week the tenant in my property in Aberdeen moved out with just 3 weeks notice, despite his contract not due to end until February 2018.  Although I have applied for a number of jobs here in Germany, every door has closed so far, not least due to my still limited language skills.  And unexpected expenses including insurances and bank fees crippled my finances further.

At first, I thought that surely God would come through for me by the time my current tenant had moved out of the apartment… but that day came and went.

Then I knew He would definitely have to provide for me before my mortgage payment was taken a couple days later… then He missed that deadline too.

Hours ticked by as I refreshed my mobile banking app more than regularly, just in case I had ‘missed’ the miracle.  My increasingly insistent prayers and positive declarations of faith appeared to be bouncing off the ceiling and going no further.  Last week I had assured my church home group that I would have a miracle to report by this weekend.  How could I tell them that I had been sorely mistaken?

Very quickly, the strong, resilient faith that I had been holding firmly in place since I arrived on the continent began to fall apart.

In the days that followed, I experienced all the emotions.  It began with anticipation and excitement at the expected miracle, which soon turned to doubt, that spiralled into fear and anxiety like I have never experienced before.  I became so anxious that I spent several days fighting the physical manifestations of it.

But where was God in the midst of this?  I had trusted Him, had I not?  I had given up everything to follow His call, so why had He not come through yet?  Would He really leave me with nothing?

Gideon was a man who lived his life in fear.  He was busy beating wheat in a wine press and hiding from the Midianites when God paid him a visit.

“The Lord is with you, O brave man,” God said to Gideon.  Brave?  Really?  This was a man who beat wheat in a wine press for fear of what the Midianites would do to him; he obeyed God’s commands under the protection of darkness afraid of what his own family and friends would think; he repeatedly asked for signs of confirmation from God, just to be sure of what God had asked him to do.  But what I love here is that God spoke life and strength over this man who was yet timid and afraid.

God had chosen Gideon to lead Israel into victory against the Midianites.  But Gideon begins to ask the same questions I have been asking myself this week: “if the Lord is with me, why has this happened to me?”, “Why haven’t You come through for me yet?”, “Show me a sign you are really with me.”

“Go in this strength of yours…” was God’s response.  Um, what strength?  Gideon does not appear to demonstrate much strength here!  But throughout Judges 6 and 7, God graciously encourages Gideon and takes Him through the plan one step at a time.  Gideon may not appear to be up to the task, but he was God’s chosen man.  God had created Gideon and knew him intricately and, despite his sensitive disposition, Gideon was the right man for the job.

Gideon’s fear did not disqualify him from the very purpose he was created for.  The Spirit of the Lord was with him (Judges 6:34) and empowered him to do what God had asked him to do.

Gideon now had a huge army at his disposal but God knew that if the entire army entered into the battle, they would claim the victory for themselves and not have the ability to see God’s hand in it.  Therefore, God began to whittle down the crowd…

Using a series of seemingly insignificant details, God began to instruct Gideon to send men home (I can only imagine how Gideon must have felt about this!).  Those who were afraid were the first to go.  A detail as small as how they chose to drink their water was also used to sift out who would stay and who would leave.  The army was streamlined from 32,000, all the way down to just 300 men.

Then God once again reassured Gideon and strengthened him by leading him into the enemy camp where Gideon heard chat amongst the Midianites that God had already revealed the impending victory to some of them in a dream.

Only now was Gideon ready to do what God had called him to do; what he had been created and purposed for.  Now Gideon would lead the Israelites to victory.

At Gideon’s word, the 300 men surrounded the enemy camp, blew their horns, smashed pots and shouted victory to the Lord, the Midianites panicked and God caused them to turn on one another, killing many.  Some fled, but Gideon and his men pursued them, despite their exhaustion (Judges 8:4), and eventually subdued the Midianite army, bringing peace to the land once again.

Gideon was no perfect specimen – none of God’s chosen instruments ever are – but this Biblical account shows us that God can use us despite our fear, as long as we are willing to take steps to obey Him.  God is gracious and will reassure us, strengthen us and help us overcome our fears.  The more we obey God and see His provision, the more fearless we will become.

Sometimes God will whittle us down and intentionally weaken us (illness, redundancy, financial crisis, isolation) so that His victory can be all the more greater.  But we must be careful not to panic in these moments (like I did!), thinking God has abandoned us.  He works all things for His glory, not ours.

Gideon surrendered to God’s way and God won him the fight.  Though Gideon did not feel equipped for the task, God called him so he responded in obedience, and God provided all that he needed.

It is true for us too.  When we surrender to God and allow Him to work, past our fears, doubts and inabilities, He will act.  We can trust God’s capability, His willingness and His timing.

Gideon and his army lifted their voices to God and the battle was won.  We, too, are victorious when we lift our voices in prayer and praise instead of being overwhelmed by the circumstances around us.  God is mighty to save, whatever the situation.  When nothing is certain, anything is possible.

This week has felt long, and exhausting.  But I have learnt three valuable lessons:

  1. God provides one day at a time.  Even though it felt like God had abandoned me, or not provided for me like He promises in His Word, I began to realise that I had what I needed for that day.  He had provided enough food for me for that day.  He had provided grace for me to cope with what I faced that day.  There was no point dwelling on tomorrow, or next week, for God promises that that provision will come when I need it.  I was looking for a miracle that would meet my needs for the coming weeks or months, but Oswald Chambers said, “you cannot hoard things for a rainy day if you are truly trusting Christ.”
  2. God’s timing is perfect.  I see now that I began to panic, not because I doubted that God would come through, but because I felt like God was late.  Yet that was according to a timeline that I had concocted, not Him.  Trusting His provision also means trusting His timing – this is never a fun lesson, no matter what we are waiting for!  But His timing is wrapped up in grace, protection, and glory too.  God is never in a hurry, but He is never late.
  3. God weakens us to reveal His glory.  Just like Gideon’s army, God will sometimes strip back the worldly provision we come to depend on so that our focus returns to Him.  We can become blinded to His goodness when we only see provision in pay cheques, pension schemes, or a clean bill of health from medical staff.  But when those things fail us, God lovingly draws our attention back onto Him, to witness His miraculous provision, so we no longer wrongly accredit it to perishable things.

I am reassured that God is faithful, He loves me, He cares for me, He has heard my prayers, He knows what I need, He is capable of providing, He is a good Father.  I know my Dad would go to any length to provide for me, so how much more will our Heavenly Father do so to meet our every need.  When we trust Him, we do not need to do anything to earn His love or provision, it brings Him joy to give us His best.

So my miracle is still on the way, but I am grateful for the fresh perspective God has given me this week.  He has not abandoned me or forgotten me, He is working behind the scenes and His provision will come, right on schedule.

Want to read more? Check out Um, Where’s My Miracle? (Part 2): The Overflow.

Choose Your Hard

I’ve been exhausted the past couple of weeks so last night I intentionally went to bed early.  Ninety minutes later, however, I was still awake, having lain in bed thinking up a wide range of social scenarios and rehearsing German dialogue, should I ever find myself in such circumstances.  But this delay in falling asleep is not a new dilemma; instead, a familiar nuisance that has been repeating itself since the turn of the year.

Immersion in a new language is considered to be one of the best ways to learn.  But immersion can also feel like drowning.  It is very difficult to come up for air when everything around me is in German: from daily four-hour-long language classes, group conversations, and Bible studies, to letters from the bank, public announcements, text messages from new friends, and everything in between.  Every routine simplicity now takes a great deal more time and effort.  And it’s exhausting.  Mentally exhausting.

It’s hard to move to a new country, to adopt a new culture and to familiarise yourself with new government rules and legislation.

It’s hard to learn a new language.  It’s hard to be immersed in a foreign language and feel like every day is a school day with an unrelenting demand to exercise the new language.

It’s hard to build a new friendship group from scratch.  It’s hard to be so far away from friends and family in whom you have invested for a lifetime.

It’s hard not having a steady income to rely upon, or, indeed, the basic language skills to acquire one.

The mental strain can feel relentless: headaches, tiredness, a weakened ability to focus and to process are just some of the symptoms I battle regularly.

All these things are hard.  But it is even harder for me to contemplate a life outside of God’s very best for me.  I seek not only to survive, but to thrive.  I want a full and abundant life (John 10:10) and to enter fully into the adventure that God has prepared for me.  I want to walk in complete obedience to Him.  I want my faith to be tested, for without a test there can be no testimony.  And I want the testimonies of what God does in my life to encourage others in their walk with God, and to inspire them to pray bigger prayers, dream bigger dreams, and to take greater risks in faith.

I want to look back on my life and say that I embraced it entirely; that I was not held back by fear (2 Timothy 1:7) but trusted in God wholeheartedly to do just as He said He would (Romans 4:21).

So I have to choose my hard.  I have a choice to choose whether the challenges I currently face are worth it, or whether I would rather opt for less than God’s best for me, forever feeling just a little under-fulfilled, a little under-satisfied, with many of my dreams unrealised.

I may choose the greater hard, but the greater hard comes with God’s help, His grace, and His guidance.  Better yet, the greater hard promises adventure and purpose and miracles!

I have chosen my hard.  And as challenging as it can be, I’m having the time of my life and wouldn’t change a thing!  Everyday is an adventure, and an opportunity for me to depend on God’s grace once again.  Every week brings new challenges and surprises, revealing more of God’s character and His love for mankind.  I love it!  This is the adventure I want to live.  I choose this hard.

Today I Cried in Public

Yesterday marked two months since I moved to Germany.  For the most part, it has been a relatively smooth transition and God continues to be faithful every step of the way.

But this weekend I feel like I’ve hit a wall.  I suspect hormones and tiredness have something to do with it, but that does not negate how I’m feeling.  It is right that I permit myself to recognise it and admit it.  I think up until now I have been so intent on declaring strength and peace and courage in my circumstances (which, again, for the most part, has truly reflected how I have felt) that I have perhaps stifled some of my other emotions for fear of them being construed as negative (whether by myself or by others).

You might be familiar with the movie ‘Inside Out‘ (click for a fun snippet to jog your memory!)  It explores this concept and cleverly personifies the different emotions experienced by a young girl.  This particular girl, Riley, and her family have just moved from the American Midwest to San Francisco, bringing with it new surroundings, a new school, and new challenges.

Inside her brain, we are introduced to her emotions – Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust – all of whom watch a projection of Riley’s life and respond accordingly, depending on which emotion is operating the control panel at that time.

Naturally, Joy endeavours to remain always optimistic and takes the lead, seeking to see the positive in all situations faced by Riley.  However, as the reality of their new life sinks in, Sadness begins to taint more or more of Riley’s thoughts.

The movie follows Joy’s quest to subdue Sadness and restore Riley to the happy-go-lucky girl she once was.  But in the end (spoiler alert!) Joy realises that it is sometimes appropriate and necessary to feel sadness too.  Having run away from her family, it is Sadness that prompts Riley to return home again, while finding joy in reuniting with her parents.  Sadness permits Riley to miss her old friends and recall memories of significant moments of her life back in the Midwest, but Joy encourages her to begin to build that in her new city.  The movie illustrates that no single memory, thought or experience can be accurately described using just one emotion.  Each emotion plays a necessary role.

So here it is – today I feel lonely, sad, frustrated, confused, weak, upset, rejected, exhausted.

I’m finding it so hard to build friendships, especially in a different language and culture.  I’m emotionally exhausted after every church service and every Connect Group.  I feel so vulnerable continually putting myself ‘out there’ – to try to connect with people and engage in meaningful conversation – for fear of rejection.  For this introvert, it takes so much courage to walk into church every week, full of unfamiliar people, desperately scanning the crowd for the handful of known faces that I have already been introduced to.

But while emotions are valid, they do not always portray truth either.  I may feel lonely but I am not alone, for God is with me.  I experience sadness or frustration because my daily reality is not always what I had hoped for, but it is exactly what God had ordained for me that day.  Confusion, rejection, and exhaustion may seek to overwhelm me but I rest in the knowledge that I can wholeheartedly trust God despite those feelings.

None of us feel on-top-of-the-world at every waking moment, but sometimes we try to act like that is the case.  I’m learning that it is OK to demonstrate weakness, vulnerability, and uncertainty because this is when God’s strength, grace, love, faithfulness, power, and glory is best demonstrated.

“…but He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you [My lovingkindness and My mercy are more than enough—always available—regardless of the situation]; for [My] power is being perfected [and is completed and shows itself most effectively] in [your] weakness.” Therefore, I will all the more gladly boast in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ [may completely enfold me and] may dwell in me.  So I am well pleased with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, and with difficulties, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak [in human strength], then I am strong [truly able, truly powerful, truly drawing from God’s strength].” – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (AMP)

So today I cried in public.  I’m usually a private crier, and a seldom one at that, but today that was not an option.  I fought back tears for the 20-minute bus journey back to the train station and found some relief when a 10-month-old girl initiated a game of peek-a-boo with me on the bus.  But, when I could fight it no longer, I sat outside the train station and cried.  It wasn’t pretty and it certainly wasn’t something I was comfortable doing, but in that moment it was necessary.

However, I did not remain in a state of feeling sorry for myself (even though I did feel sorry for myself in that moment).  Instead, I sat on the train and prayed.  I listened to worship music as I walked back to my apartment.  I sat on the balcony and journaled.  I talked through my spectrum of emotions with God; all my frustrations, my concerns, my desires.  And slowly peace returned to my heart once again.

Today may be a difficult day (and I say that lightly, considering the devastation in London last night), but it doesn’t detract from my confidence that:

  1. God brought me to Germany for a specific purpose (of which I am still seeking clarity in) and I experience pure joy knowing that I am at the centre of His will for my life.
  2. Despite insisting that there was nothing particularly special about me choosing to move to Darmstadt, since arriving here I am more and more convinced that God led me to this area for a reason and I am so grateful for a couple of existing friends who have made the transition inexplicably easier.
  3. I have no doubt that Move Church is the right church for me, having been clearly led there by God.  Therefore, the right friends, the right opportunities to serve, and the right provision (e.g transport to make the 80km round trip) is also included as part of God’s plan.
  4. My focus for this season is to learn the language and to learn the culture, both of which are progressing well at a good pace (even if I do get a little impatient at times!)

So if you’re struggling today too, tell God how you’re feeling.  Every raw thought, feeling, and emotion.  He alone can give us the peace, courage, and comfort that we so deeply desire.  We can give Him our worries, our frustrations, our fears, and our disappointments, and He will always respond with peace and rest.

When the Honeymoon Ends

Gosh.  Moving abroad is not for the faint-hearted.

It’s been 20 days since I moved to Germany from the U.K.  A busy, full 20 days.  It actually surprises me that it has only been 20 days because so much has happened in such a short space of time.

I have settled into an apartment, begun language school, found a church to call home, found employment teaching English to children, and met some lovely people.  God has most definitely gone ahead of me, opened up incredible opportunities for me, and worked miracles into daily living.

But, being a solid To-Do-list person, I’m now facing the future with many of the big items checked off the list.  So, what now?  To live life.

Yet it’s the ‘living life’ bit that I’m beginning to feel a bit overwhelmed by.  You see, you can’t check it off a to-do list.  It’s difficult to measure any progress, you simply be.  Day on day, week on week.  And any progress takes time.

Now I face the challenge of transitioning friendly faces into meaningful friendships, vacation-worthy German into everyday language, and sign-posted pit-stops into a familiar home town.

I face introducing the real me – my passions, my gifts, my humour, my observations and considerations – and not just the glassy-eyed mute that smiles awkwardly when utterly lost in German conversation.

My introverted being finds it hard enough to introduce myself to new people and face big crowds without adding a foreign language into the mix.  It is both exciting and exhausting integrating into new spheres of life: home, work, church, school.

Tiredness has set in.  Frustration has set in.  Impatience has set in.

I am unspeakably grateful for the handful of people I already knew here and for their assistance in helping me settle – they have truly been a God-send!  But I am determined not to become dependent on them.

Yet I’m not here alone.  I’m not lost, I do not lack provision, I do not lack courage, support, guidance, love, wisdom, peace.  Because God is here.  He led me here.  In the last 20 days I have witnessed miracles in the mundane; received unimaginable provision; recognised clear direction, and received many answers to specific prayers.  ‘Coincidences’ that are no coincidence.

God was present in the transition from the U.K. to Germany and remains present in this new season of settling-in.  He is all I need.  I sometimes have to remind myself of this but there is no doubt in my mind that He truly is all I need.  Because when God is present, friends will come, language will come, patience will come, church-family will come, opportunities to serve will come, provision will come, peace will come.

I look forward to the day when I can reflect back on these first weeks, months and be able to identify progress; to recognise growth and thank the One who meticulously orchestrated it.

The Uncertainty of Change

For most people, change is scary.  Perhaps, for you, The Change has manifested as marriage, a new baby, a career change, or facing an illness. Navigating change takes hard work, expends much energy, and raises many questions.

“How will The Change affect me?”

“How will life be different for my family after The Change?”

“What about my… home, job, finances, <fill in the blank>?”

Can you relate?

I find that I am often in the minority when it comes to change – I quite like it. You see, change brings challenge, and I love a challenge! The dormant physicist in me cries, “give me a problem and I’ll solve it!”

But what happens when I can’t solve the problem? How do I feel when I can’t see ahead to what The Change will bring? That’s when I find myself facing uncertainty, and that no longer feels like fun…

“I don’t know where I’m going to live.”

“I don’t know how I’ll pay my rent.”

“I don’t know where I’ll work.”

These are just some of the answers I’ve been repeating to friends, family members and colleagues over the past few weeks as I navigate a big change in my life – moving to Germany.

The Change, in this instance, is probably the biggest change I’ve faced in my thirty years on earth. It brings plenty of challenge – learning a new language, no less – but it brings much uncertainty too.

And how does that make me feel?

Honestly? I’m ok.

So I’m not over-the-moon about it. What control-freak would be? Don’t get me wrong, I’m very excited at the endless possibilities of this new chapter, but facing these practical challenges often leaves me feeling frustrated and overwhelmed. Yet I’m not afraid.

Fear is a terrible thing. A crippling thing. It sucks all the joy out of experiences. But fear is only present when we depend on ourselves. On our own problem-solving abilities, if you will.

If I was entirely dependent on myself to find accommodation 1000 miles away, I would have nowhere to go when I land in Frankfurt airport on 4th April.

If I was entirely dependent on myself to cover the mortgage on my own property in the UK as well as rent on a property in Germany while studying part-time, the financial burden would cripple me and most likely scare me into staying put.

If I was entirely dependent on myself to find work in a country where I don’t speak the language, I’d look for an isolated job where conversation was minimal.

The bottom line? If I was entirely dependent on myself to face this Change, I would have backed out months ago.

But I’m not. I’m not dependent on myself. I choose to depend on God. I’m not always good at it, and sometimes I try to carry some of the details myself, but it is only when I entirely depend on God that The Change becomes something I can anticipate with great excitement instead of being overcome with fear.

My answers to those questions listed above remain, “I don’t know…” But I rest in the fact that I know the One who does know. He knows the answers to all these questions. He knows the answers to the questions I’ve not even thought to ask yet. He knows everything that The Change will bring and we will navigate it together.