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.

How Do I Know It’s God?

“But how do I know it’s God?”

I’ve been asked this question over and over again the last few months; friends, acquaintances in church, family members, even social media connections from the other side of the world, all want to know the same thing: how do we know we are being led by God?

So many voices fight for our attention on a daily basis; colleagues, social media, friends, politicians, family members, news reporters, music artists, our own voice of reason and common sense.  So how can we sift through the rabble in our minds to hear and be convinced of God’s voice?  How does He lead us? And what if we get it wrong?

Here’s a few key things to remember when seeking the voice of God.

God wants to be heard

Sometimes we maybe feel like God is hiding from us or intentionally making things difficult for us, just to test us, but that is not the case.  Yes, God does test our faith at times, and may appear to lead us on a grand detour to our own Promised Land (Exodus 13), but He is not doing it to wind us up or tease us.  His motive for all that He does is love (Romans 8:28).  And because of that, He desires a relationship with us; one full of heartfelt exchanges and vulnerable conversations.  Just as in our friendships or relationships with one another, the more we talk, the tighter the bond; the more honest and open we are, the more intimate the relationship.

So it is only natural that God, who created us in His image – to love, to live in community – values these same things in our relationship with Him.  More often than not, our assertion of a ‘silent’ God is less about God not speaking, and more about the fact that we are not listening.  God wants to be heard.  He speaks to accomplish (Genesis 1).  He speaks value, and worth, and purpose over us.  He doesn’t say these things for His own benefit, but for ours!

So don’t kid yourself that God is speaking to everyone else except you, that is not the case.  Even in my own ‘silent’ seasons, when I have waited for God to speak and reveal His next step, He has still spoken to encourage me in my waiting.  He maybe wasn’t (yet) saying what I wanted Him to say, but He was not quiet.  When I stopped to listen, He was always faithful to respond.

God will not let you miss His will

If you are seeking God’s heart and live in a way that endeavours to align your heart with His, He will not let you miss His direction (Jeremiah 29:13).  Sometimes, when faced with a number of possibilities or decisions, we allow fear to enter into our hearts, worrying that we will choose something that is not from God.  Be careful, because this is a cunning trick of the enemy who is doing all he can to throw us into confusion and hijack our Christian walk (John 10:10).

Rarely will God speak to us in a loud, booming voice.  Instead, He is the quiet, persistent whisper that pursues us and gently guides us (1 Kings 19:12).  He never misses deadlines or leaves us to walk blindly into foolish decisions.  When we are truly seeking to know His will for us, He loves that and honours that, and will be faithful to answer.

God’s timetable is not ours

I have just said that God never misses deadlines.  But hear me: He never misses His deadlines; He quite often misses ours!  But that is exactly my point: God’s timetable is not ours (Ecclesiastes 3:11).  Often times, when faced with a decision or trying to identify our next step, we allow ourselves to think that God has abandoned us because He fails to speak to us in what we believe to be a timely manner.  But the problem is with us, not Him.

If we believe that God will speak to us, and will not allow us to miss His best for us, then we have to trust His timing too.  Frequently, His persistent whisper begins to speak long before we see the fruition of those promises (Hebrews 11:8-12).  It is seldom a good idea to act on a promise, a direction, an instruction that we have only heard spoken once, for we cannot be sure that it is from God.  But God’s persistent whisper speaks time and time again, allowing His Holy Spirit to minister to our hearts, and confirm the word that has been spoken over us.

God is a God of peace, not confusion

And along with His repeated word, God will also gift us His peace to cement His will in our hearts.

God’s will cannot be worked out logically.  His ways do not align with common sense.  But His voice is always accompanied by peace, not worry, stress, or confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33).

The peace that God gives is a peace that cannot be given or understood by the world (Philippians 4:7).  It is a peace that carries us through the storm of uncertainty; though everything around us may appear (to us) to be out of control, we can rest in our hearts knowing that God walks every step with us.  Where He is leading us, we will not want to or be able to go alone.  So resist trying to walk ahead of Him, instead allow Him to set the pace and just take one step at a time.

The bottom line is this: we must be listening in order to hear from God.  The Bible tells us, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).  If our Bibles are sitting on the bookshelf gathering dust, we can be sure we will hear very little of God’s voice.  The Word of God will always be the primary way in which God will speak to us.

By praying before we open the Bible, we can invite the Holy Spirit that lives within us to help us identify and discern the voice of God.  His Spirit works in partnership with the Word of God to bring the verses into words of encouragement, instruction, and correction that are relevant and applicable for our lives today.

Learning to hear the voice of God, recognise the voice of God, and then have the courage to obey the voice of God is a beautiful journey that He lovingly walks us through as we seek to grow closer and closer to Him.  God longs for a relationship with us, first and foremost, not just simply people to do His bidding.  So focus on getting to know your Heavenly Father, and soon His direction and instruction will become part of your daily dialogue.

Making Way for Miracles

A number of years ago I had the opportunity to visit Montenegro as part of a short-term missions team.  My local church in Scotland was partnered with a church in the Montenegrin capital city, Podgorica, but our work was primarily with three Balkan refugee camps in the eastern town of Berane.  The first team that went out in 2010 were involved in installing a toilet block in one of the camps; that which we affectionately called ‘The Container Camp’ because the families there lived in metal shipping containers.

Upon their return, the team presented to the church all that they had done on their trip.    That particular night, I happened to be manning the Information Desk at the back of the church.  And that particular night I carried extra information about our Montenegro partnership, including a sign-up sheet for people interested in going on the next trip.

As the team shared their experience, they explained the different work initiatives they had been involved with in the camp, including work with the children, and maintenance work to improve the basic facilities that were available.  They told stories of a head-lice infestation amongst the young ones, and shared photos of team members knee-deep in sewage.  Then they called for volunteers to be part of the next team that would visit a few months later.

I don’t consider myself to be a particularly ‘high maintenance’ kinda gal, but I do appreciate my home comforts like my hair-straighteners.  Somehow, I didn’t think this was the kind of trip that had time (or need) for hair-straighteners, so I was ready to politely decline the team’s request.  But God had other ideas…

Nothing in me wanted to join that next team, yet something in me knew I had to.  My heartbeat quickened, my mind began to race, and everything around me swirled in slow motion.  I was terrified to volunteer, but it was an excited, expectant kind of fear.  It was like my hand had a mind of its own, and before the team’s presentation had even ended, the sign-up sheet lying on the desk in front of me already had my name scribbled at the top.

For the next three years I participated in the annual aid trips to those Montenegrin refugee camps.  I fell in love with the people and longed to make more of a difference in their lives.  I delighted in building relationships with the individuals, especially the children, in each camp, and endeavoured to learn just a few words through which we could communicate and play games together.

But that third return trip very nearly did not happen.  You see, my personal finances were a struggle that year and common sense told me I could not afford to go.  I had already agreed to co-lead the team, however, so the question was not if I was going, but how.  I had little more than the amount required for the first half instalment but I was worried about clearing out my bank account, leaving me broke for the remainder of the month.  Not to mention my concern over where the rest of the fees would come from when the second half instalment was due.

I pondered my predicament over lunch with a friend one day and explained the situation.  I did not want to miss out on being part of the trip but my circumstances had me feeling defeated.  Yet God is not defeated by circumstantial evidence.  If He wants something to happen, it will happen.

As the deadline for the first payment drew ever closer, I continued to pray and consider the best way to move forward.  Somewhat reluctantly, I decided to take a risk.  I recall journalling about it and stating, almost in diva-like fashion, that God would just have to come through for me.  He had put me in this predicament and therefore He would just have to get me out!  So, only a day ahead of the deadline,  I cleared out my bank account and paid the first half instalment.

And then the miracles began to tally.

The very next day, I received a cheque in the mail from the friend I had previously had lunch with.  She had spoken with her husband after we had met and they had felt compelled to give me a financial gift.  Its amount matched the first instalment I had paid not 24 hours before.

A week or two later, I was approached at the end of the church service by a member of the church finance team.  This was nothing particularly unusual, as his work would sometimes overlap with mine, but our conversation that day was not about business.

“Someone would like to give towards your Montenegro trip,” he told me,  “for the next three months, they will contribute towards the remainder of your fees.”

And they did just that.  To this day, I have no idea who that anonymous supporter was but I am incredibly grateful for their generous contribution which provided for me in ways beyond just financial.

I couldn’t believe it; my entire trip fees had been covered and God had proved Himself faithful once again.  But He was not done yet.

Around that same time, I came home one day to find an envelope had been slid under the front door of my apartment.  Ordinarily, my mail was posted through the main front door to the apartment block and I would pick it up from the lobby on my way past before I entered my own apartment.  But this envelope had clearly been personally delivered, right to my own front door. It only had my name hand-written on the front, with no mention of who or where it had come from.  And inside was a small sum of cash.  The mystery of that gift was never solved either.

Then shortly before we left the country, I received a final financial gift.  This gift covered the cost of my spending money and the petrol I needed to drive the 400km round-trip to the airport.  By the time I boarded the plane, I was better-off than the day I had taken a risk and paid that first instalment.  God had not only provided, but He had made available His abundant provision.  Those months and that experience completely transformed my understanding of God’s generous spirit and the ways in which He works.  It challenged me to be more generous and to be more readily available to walk in obedience to Him, trusting Him to provide all that I need along the way.

I personally experienced God come through for me in just a small way, but its lesson and impact on my life was huge.  Even now, years later, I often recall that testimony when I am faced with financial challenges.  I am reminded that when we walk in obedience and take a risk for God, He blesses us with far more than we ever sacrificed for Him.  We cannot anticipate or understand the ways through which He works, but we can be sure that He will surprise us.

That first risk; that first step of obedience to pay the first instalment; that first act demonstrated that I was willing to pay the price to follow God’s call.  That action became the catalyst for God’s blessing.  All too often we do not take that first step because we fear it will cost us too much, but when we give our all to God, He always returns with more.  Our obedience brings breakthrough and leads to blessing.

God knows what we need, when we need it, and how to provide it.  Sometimes, He gives differently to what we expect.  Sometimes, His provision is not financial but relational or circumstantial.  Sometimes, He withholds it for a little while to give us time to settle our eyes on Him first.  But He is not defeated by our needs, like we often feel we are.  Our needs are an opportunity for His miracles.

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.

Are You Sitting Comfortably?

I was sat comfortably, as it happened, in my economy seat onboard the British Airways aircraft that would take me back to Germany after a fortnight of reunions and precious time with family in Aberdeen over the Christmas period.  The flight roster was quiet, gifting me an entire row of seats to myself.

The safety video full of famous British faces had ended and the lights dimmed as we prepared for take-off.  I had shortly before been sent on my way by 75% of my immediate family and had had no trouble putting on a brave face as we said our goodbyes.  I rarely get teary at farewells, instead typically approaching the occasion all too matter-of-factly, and eager to get on my way.  But as the plane sped along the runway and the nose lifted off the ground, I was overwhelmed with a flood of emotions and they began leaking down my face.

As the granite city grew ever smaller below me, I stared purposefully out of the window.  The winter sun bounced off the fluffy clouds surrounding the plane as I reflected on the incredible time I had spent in my homeland; of the valuable time I had had with so many special friends; of the quality time enjoyed with my extended family; of the ease of spending two weeks at my family home where food and electricity and transport was not my concern.  I reflected on two incredible weeks; two weeks spent entirely within my Comfort Zone.

I had never really considered my life to have been lived in my Comfort Zone before, but from the moment I stepped foot in Germany it became glaringly obvious that I had left it far behind me.  It had been my choice to respond positively to God’s call, and one that I would not change for the world, but it has been a journey full of challenge, and earnest prayers in the face of great fear.  Back in April 2017, I boarded my one-way flight with great excitement and intrigue, expecting adventure and opportunity for the miraculous.  And it has been all those things.  But having settled comfortably for two weeks back into very little worry or concern or responsibility, the reality of what I was returning to in this second instance was viewed with stark clarity.  I had pushed all German matters comfortably to the back of my mind and left them there for 14 days of bliss.  But as I started the return journey, I could ignore them no longer.

I remembered that I had big decisions to make upon my return.

I remembered that the ease with which I had enjoyed relationships in Scotland was not yet available across the language barrier.

I remembered that I was returning to face huge financial challenges.

I remembered the great unknown that 2018 held.

I remembered that every day would be a test of my faith.  But that it was sure to bring even greater testimony.

As the plane flew south over snow-capped hills and winding rivers, I grieved the life I was once again leaving behind.  I silently handed all my friends and family members over to God for His safe-keeping.  As we crossed the border and entered English airspace, I declared all the concerns and fears that I knew I would face upon my return, but recognising that my God, who had been faithful throughout 2017, was the same God who returned with me as I looked ahead into 2018.

It was not until I stepped out of my Comfort Zone that I recognised just how comfortable I had become living inside of it.  Yet the growth and development of my faith that I saw in 2017 would not have been possible if I had remained there.  The miracles I have witnessed and the characteristics of God that I had only ever read about became a reality for me when I left comfort behind.  The God I have come to know and the closeness I have experienced with Him was previously hindered by my comfy, cosy Comfort Zone.

As I consider 2018 and all that this new year will bring, I recognise that the concerns, responsibilities and fear that I carry may be great, but my God is far greater!  The challenges I face only set the stage for God to accomplish infinitely more than I could ever ask or imagine!  And knowing Him and experiencing Him in new ways every single day is a far more exciting and rewarding way to live than settling for comfort and ease.

Though I more reluctantly left my Comfort Zone this time around,  the truth is that our Comfort Zone is where our faith becomes stagnant.  If we have all that (we think) we need, we have no reason to engage our faith and to trust God for His guidance and provision.  Are we not all guilty of drifting a little from God when things are going well?  Yet when circumstances around us get tough, we draw close to Him again and ask for His intervention in matters we cannot ‘fix’ ourselves, do we not?  Instead, let us seek to continually draw close to God this year, no matter what we face.  Let us endeavour to remain just as close to Him through the good times as we do through the struggles.  May our faith in the Almighty God be where we find our greatest comfort.

I have been back in Germany for just under two weeks now and God has overwhelmed me with His goodness once again.  His presence brings me peace, and the evidence of His hand in the detail of my life never eases to amaze me and bring me to tears of pure joy!  Thank God for His personalised love and interest in each one of our lives!  His love reaches far beyond our realms of understanding; so far, in fact, that He sent His only Son, Jesus, to carry the punishment for our sins and die in place of us.  That is real love!

“We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters.” 1 John 3:16 (NLT)

So let’s not remain in our comfy armchairs, watching life go by.  Let’s live the full and abundant life that Jesus bought for us on the cross!  I would encourage us all to push forward in this new year into all that God has for us.  His purposes will always take us outside of our Comfort Zone and require us to lean more heavily on Him, but the reward of knowing Him more intimately, experiencing His miracles first hand, and receiving the freedom and peace that He brings far outweighs anything we leave behind.

How about we just start small: what is it that God is asking you to do today?  Perhaps, like me, the problem is not figuring out what that is, but simply having the courage to do it!  I spent hours yesterday arguing with God over an issue that was settled weeks ago, but in my fear I sought to make excuses and delay my obedience.  Yet as I surrendered to His plan, mustered up the courage and acted in faith, He met me exactly where I was and led me graciously, step-by-step.  In just a few short hours, I am already a witness to His blessing, for when we act in obedience, blessing will always follow.

I hope that 2018 will be a year full of surprises, opportunities, miracles, and fresh encounters with God for each of us.  Together, let’s leave behind what is comfortable and put on a brave face, stepping boldly into the fullness of what God wants to do in us and through us this year.

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.

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.