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.

So Why am I Here Again?

It can be easy to look at the everyday, mundane nature of life and ask ourselves this very question.

I remember reading a book in school that described people in the “rat race”. People going to and from their work and daily lives,  like a swarm of mice going back and forth, back and forth, without taking the time to stop, take a breather and ask the question: “so why am I here again?”.

My name is Lolu and I’ve always been a person focused on keeping the main thing the main thing. For example, when I was at uni, my focus was on learning the specific things that I needed to know to pass my exams and get a good grade. Rather than studying everything under the sun that I had been taught on my course, because let’s be honest, not everything you learn will show up in your exam. Likewise, when someone asks me a question, I focus in on answering the exact question they’ve asked – focused on being as accurate as possible, rather than beating around the bush. As I said, I keep the main thing the main thing.

So when I ask the question “so why am I here again?”, I’m interested in understanding exactly what I need to do in life to fulfil my purpose.  Because if we are not fulfilling our purpose, then what’s the point of life? Like really, what’s the point?……. There is no point.

So let’s see what the creator has to say about it.

In Genesis 1:26 we see God saying “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us.”

It’s like when people desire to have kids. Children resemble their parents; often have similar attributes to their parents; and are the fruit – the legacy of their parents’ lives. So when God created us in his image, to be like him, he created us to be his children – in relationship with him, reflecting his character.

God’s character is love. In fact God is love (1 John 4:8). He loves on us and we are an expression of his love in the world.

As God’s love is revealed to the world through us, people are drawn into relationship with Him. Therefore THEY become God’s children – reflecting His love and so the cycle continues… Just like generations in a family.

What is in your hand?

So let’s talk more about this expression of God’s love through us. God created each of us different and unique with different life experiences, abilities, passions, talents, personalities etc, so that we can express his love to the world in different ways.

So my question to you is the same as God’s question to Moses in Exodus 4:2 in the Bible: “What is that in your hand?” In Exodus, God was referring to the staff that Moses was holding. Moses would ultimately end up using this very staff – insignificant though it may have initially seemed – to perform miracles, demonstrating God’s power. So when I ask what is in your hand, I am asking, what do you have at your disposal? i.e. What experiences have you had in life? What is going on in your circle of influence or community? What are your abilities/ gifts/ talents? What are you passionate about?  What moves you? What are the needs around you? What is your personality like?

Whatever it is, start there. Do SOMETHING. God wants to use it to express His love to the world through you.

Build and cultivate your relationship with God. As you do that, God’s Holy Spirit will reveal to you more about who you are and, as you journey with Him, He will guide you into what He wants you to do and will help you to refine, tweak or change accordingly. He will also BRING opportunities to you. Just be available to receive God’s love and for God to use you to show His love to the world.

So Lolu, what is in YOUR hand?

And this is the question I had to ask myself and my God in late 2016.

So let’s take inventory of me and my world and identify what is in MY hand (because I need to practice what I preach right?!)

1) I am a Nigerian chick who grew up in Scotland and I am single… so much to say, so little time!

2) And in my singleness I love to enjoy life and live a full and purposeful life – I volunteer, I travel, I socialise, I’m a corporate manager and I love to put an outfit together (because unlike Beyonce, I did NOT wake up like this).

3) I see women around me who are also single… but are so unhappy. And as a single woman I have also gone through times where I needed some encouragement as well.

4) I think that living the life you were created to live is what life is about and that this is what brings fulfilment.

5) I  have a natural ability and confidence for communicating with people.

6) I am truthful and transparent about my own life. Because after all, being fake never helped anyone.

7) And last but certainly not least, I love Instagram.

So with that mixture of ‘stuff’ “in my hand” and after many conversations with God,  I started The OTM Collective in June 2017.

The OTM Collective is a social media driven movement that encourages and inspires single women to “own this moment”, live their best lives and flourish in their God given purpose during this season of their lives.

The question I am constantly asking women on The OTM Collective Instagram stories, posts and videos is “single ladies, what are you doing with your single season?” After all, life doesn’t just begin when you get the ring. It begins way before that – regardless of how long a person’s single season might be!!

God wants us all to live full and purposeful lives NOW regardless of whether we are married or single. There is plenty that He wants to do in and through us on this earth. He also wants us to use this time to become the best version of ourselves, dealing with our insecurities, bad habits and mindsets. And to form healthy behaviours, healthy mindsets and build up a great relationship with Him.

This is what we talk about on The OTM Collective, with topics ranging from “live your best life in 2018” right through to “sexual habits of a single woman”. I try to be as real, authentic and transparent as possible about where I am on my journey so that others can also be freed to be real too and can therefore collide in a real way with the grace, love and power of a very real God.

For more from me check out The OTM Collective on:

Instagram:  http://www.instagram.com/ theotmcollective

Facebook: http://www.facebook. com/theotmcollective

YouTube: Search for The OTM Collective: https://bit.ly/ 2rxthaD

So now it’s over to you. What is in YOUR hand?

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.

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 Depth of a Hug

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trust: Active or Passive?

At the turn of the year I decided it was time to switch my daily Bible readings from English to German.  By that time, I had had nine months of language study under my belt and I was spurred on by my desire and goal to begin ministering in German this year.  Progress has been slow and I regularly require a dictionary, but the act of reading text so familiar yet in another language has shone a new light on God’s Word for me and opened up a realm of new insights.

Deciding that starting with a ‘story’ book might be an easier introduction, I began working through the narrative of one of my all-time favourite Biblical heroes: Moses.

I think the reason Moses’ story captivates me so much is because we have the opportunity to track his journey from start to finish.  We read about all his highs and lows, successes and failures, doubts and faith; we are reassured that he was just like you and me.

But God had a huge calling on Moses’ life, as He does for each of us.  And through time, circumstances, challenge, and a growing relationship with God, Moses was prepared for and propelled into his calling.  No experience or lesson learned or ‘coincidence’ was wasted in leading Moses along his Unrivaled Road.

The unique purpose that God had placed on Moses’ life was to safely lead His people, the Israelites, out of captivity in Egypt and on the path to the land that God had promised to them (it was not, however, Moses’ job to lead them into the Promised Land, for that purpose would become part of someone else’s Unrivaled Road).  The purpose may have been clear, but the process, on the other hand, was anything but straight forward.

After a series of confrontations with Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and a number of plagues that exercised God’s power, Moses led his people safely out of Egypt and into the desert. Then Israel began their long trek toward the Promised Land.

But unbeknown to them, God had caused Pharaoh to change his mind about releasing the Israelite nation, and he ordered his chariots to pursue his departing slave-force and return them to Egypt.  As the dust rose from beneath the hooves of the thundering horses, the Israelites panicked.  They were faced with the Red Sea ahead of them and Pharaoh’s angry horde behind them.

Then Moses turned to the people and announced, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” (Exodus 14:13-14)

Until not so long ago, this would be as far through the passage as I would have read (or, at least, be willing to comprehend) and it quickly became my favourite Bible verse.  You see, I have always been a problem solver and a doer, therefore finding solutions to challenges is what comes most natural to me.  But that was not what God wanted of me.  Fighting challenges in my own strength only led to exhaustion, frustration, and usually, failure.  So reading Exodus 14:14 came like a breath of fresh air to me, thinking that, instead of frantic activity, I was to, instead, literally do nothing and wait for God to act. Yet that wasn’t quite what God wanted of me either.

If we read on, the next verse says, “The Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward. Lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the people of Israel may go through the sea on dry ground.”” (Exodus 14:15-16)

I always thought that that was a funny thing for God to ask; “why do you cry to me?”  Surely He wants us to call upon Him, does He not? But God was reminding Moses that He had already provided the means for a miracle.  God had been preparing Moses for years and building up his faith so that he would be ready to act in the face of such impossible circumstances.

“Don’t stop.  Don’t stand still.  Keep moving forward,” God told them. “Trust me, but be active in your trust. Do as I say and you will be saved.”

It is true, what Moses says in verses 13-14: We do not need to be afraid; we can stand firm on our trust; God does fight for us. But when He asks us to act, we must partner with Him and trust that He has a good plan.

So where are we on the trust spectrum?  At one end, we are so distracted by self-propelled activity that we neglect to trust God altogether, whether believing He cannot or will not help us, thinking that the matter is too inconsequential to bother the Almighty with, or simply forgetting that He is present and ready to act on our behalf.  And yet sometimes, in His grace, He acts anyway.

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At the other end, we may find ourselves playing the damsel in distress.  Here, we wait and we wait and we wait for God to intervene in our circumstances and become discouraged when He fails to do what we expect Him to do.  We sit – doing nothing and saying nothing, perhaps even pretending our problems don’t exist – expecting Him to act alone.  We kid ourselves that He is to blame, not us, for the circumstances we find ourselves in.  And yet sometimes, in His grace, He acts anyway.

But what Exodus 14:13-16 teaches us is that we are called to live in the tension between the two: activity and trust.  When we are engaged in active trust we recognise that God is the One who saves us and acts on our behalf, in His way and in His timing.  But He also calls on us to act with courage; to use the skills and gifts He has instilled in us, to exercise the faith that He has developed in us throughout our journey so far, and to respond in obedience to whatever it is He asks us to do.  Sometimes He will just ask us to wait on Him, and that’s OK.  Don’t fill the time with activity just because you see no progress.  But, equally, do not sit and twiddle your thumbs when He has called you to act.  Active trust means walking in obedience to God’s will.  Sometimes it will require activity, other times it will require you to wait and trust that God is acting on your behalf.  The key is to draw close to Him and to listen for His voice.

Moses exercised active trust. As he and the Israelites faced an impossible situation, he lifted his eyes to Heaven. He listened to God and obeyed His instruction, God brought His mighty power, and the people of Israel walked through the parted Red Sea to safety.  Why was it so easy for Moses to hear and obey God when He asked him to hold his hand out over the sea?  A body of water does not simply part if you wave your hand over it!  But Moses had seen God do it before.  He had already experienced God’s power and seen evidence of God’s miraculous ability.  And with every step forward, his faith grew, as did His knowledge of the God of Israel.

We may not yet have the faith to hold our hands over the sea and believe that God will part it, but we do have the faith for what God is asking us to do next.  Whatever that may be, big or small, muster up the courage and step out in faith.  Remind yourself of what He has already done in you and through you.  Recall to mind the countless times you have seen His faithful answers to prayer or miraculous intervention in your difficulties.  Strengthen yourself in the Lord and believe that He will act again, even if your circumstances say otherwise.  Then walk confidently forward, further along your Unrivaled Road.

Facing the Flame

Just a day after I published Um, Where’s my Miracle? (Part 2): The Overflow I was invited to interview for a job as a cleaner of a local Kindergarten and I began that job less than a week later.  It is the perfect wee money-earner for my current circumstances: it doesn’t require a high-level of the German language, the working hours are flexible, and it is a short 20 minute walk from my apartment.

But I have not been allowed to work since the end of September.  After only six weeks, a paperwork hiccough caused my boss to hit ‘pause’ on my employment and I have been income-less ever since.

It felt like a terrible inconvenience after such a long job search; to have finally found something so suitable only to then have the rug pulled from beneath my feet.

Due to a previous misunderstanding, my boss confronted me at the end of September and rejected the health insurance that I had held (for foreigners) and required me to switch to mainstream German Health Insurance.

Though I believed I had in place the paperwork that was required, I was irritated with myself for not having foreseen this complication and done something about it sooner.  It was a switch I had always intended on making, but this inconvenience had brought it swiftly up my list of priorities.

I worked as quickly as I could to try to gather together everything I needed to put the new insurance in place so I could get back to work as soon as possible.  In the UK, insurance can be purchased quickly online or over the phone so the anticipated timescale in my head was a couple of days at most.  Oh, how wrong I was…

I spent hours on the phone to various insurance companies trying desperately, in broken German, to explain my situation and seeking a solution.  Yet every company said the same thing: I did not earn enough to qualify for their insurance.  I was stuck in a frustrating, endless cycle;  I needed insurance to work, but I could not get insurance because of my work!

Having finally found a company who would insure me, the paperwork proved long, complicated, and full of the longest German words I have encountered thus far.  The evidence required was difficult to compile as it involved having to identify the relevant UK-counterparts.

The process raised hurdle after hurdle after hurdle and proved incredibly challenging to transition into as a non-German citizen.  As part of the application, I had to apply to HMRC for relevant certificates and I was informed that it would take 8 weeks for my request to be processed.

That meant 8 weeks before I could even apply for the new health insurance.

And to top it all off, the precious income that I was now earning would be halved in future due to the hefty insurance fees.

For the first time since arriving in Germany, I felt utterly defeated.  I recall walking home from school one day imagining that my only option might be to return to the UK for a few months until the issue was resolved.

But God had never left my side.

King Nebuchadnezzar ruled Babylon around 600B.C.  He did not know God, and had no love or care for God’s people.  He besieged Jerusalem, stealing many items from the temple, and taking many of Israel’s young men to serve in his palace.

Among these wise and skilled men were Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

Nebuchadnezzar was a proud and selfish man.  He had no compassion or patience for those who did not heed his every will.  He, then, had constructed a ninety-foot-high gold statue and commanded that everyone in his kingdom bow down and worship the statue when the horn would sound.  Those who did not comply would be thrown into a furnace of fire.

Shadrach, Mesach, and Abednego were Jews and God-fearing men.  They only recognised and worshipped the one true God, so when the horn sounded, they did not fall down and worship the gold idol.  On seeing this, the king’s men reported their disobedience to the royal command and they were called to stand before the king.

“Is it true,” the king asked, “that you do not serve my gods or worship the gold idol I have set up?  If you are ready to fall down and worship the gold idol, then great, we have no further business here.  But if you do not worship my statue, then you will be tossed immediately into the blazing furnace.  Who is there that could rescue you from my hands?”

But the men answered him with boldness and confidence; “Our God whom we serve is able to rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire, and He will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up!”

But even if He does not.

These men knew their God and knew what He was capable of.  Yet they also acknowledged His divine and unrivalled sovereignty in the situation: “but even if He does not…”

They knew God could save them, but they were also willing to risk that He may choose not to, and still not bow before any god but the great I AM.

We may not be required to bow before a gold statue to avoid the fire, but what about the idol of comfort, or convenience, or acceptance, or popularity?  Do these idols get in the way of our 100% devotion to God?  Would we rather compromise than be thrown in the fire?

On hearing the men’s response, the king was furious and ordered that the three be tied up tightly and thrown into the furnace.  The flames were so hot that the heat killed the soldiers who had handled the three men of God.

“Did we not throw three men into the fire?” the king enquired, peering into the flames, “I see four men, untied, and walking around!  And the fourth looks like a son of the gods!”

The three Jews were called out of the furnace and stood before the king completely unharmed.  Not a single hair on their heads was singed.

“Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent His angel and rescued His servants who believed in, trusted in, and relied on Him! They violated the king’s command and surrendered their bodies rather than serve or worship any god except their own God… there is no other god who is able to save in this way!” (Daniel 3:28-29)

There is no other God who is able to save in this way.  Do we truly believe that?  With every challenge I face, and every miracle I witness, I am beginning to accept it without dispute.

With so many obstacles to overcome, I feared that I would lose my job if I told my boss that it would take so long to acquire the insurance.  Yet, incredibly, she promised to keep it for me, and conveniently found someone to cover my absence in the meantime.

I received the paperwork from HMRC after just 3 weeks, not eight, and was able to submit my application much sooner than I had anticipated.

Having accepted my application for insurance, the company sent me a bill for over €1200, having backdated the insurance to the day I landed in the country.  I challenged this with proof of my previous insurance, and they have since reviewed the charges.

I am still in the midst of sending paperwork back and forth to the insurance company and, therefore, anticipate that I will not be able to return to work until January, however I believe the end is now in sight.

So that’s eight weeks and counting since I last received a pay-check.  There have certainly been times that I have felt the heat.  But it was never unbearable.  It never singed me.  And God has faithfully walked with me every step of the way.  He has opened doors, shown me grace and favour, and provided for every single need.

Sometimes we may feel like we are doing everything right and obeying God every step of the way and yet still find ourselves facing the furnace.  Do we take matters into our own hands to avoid the heat, or do we remain faithful to the One who never fails us?  God does not always save us from the flames, but we can be reassured that He is always present with us in the flames.  When we trust Him to see us through, we can exit the furnace unharmed and whole.

A few verses later, king Nebuchadnezzar, having witnessed God’s wonders for himself, declares to his people, “It has seemed good to me to declare the signs and wonders which the Most High God has done for me.” (Daniel 4:2)

The king, once a pagan with no knowledge or interest in the God of the Jews, had now experienced Him for himself.  He had seen the miraculous and there could only be one explanation: God.  He could not keep this revelation to himself, he just had to tell people about it!  God’s fame spread through Nebuchadnezzar’s testimony.

How quick are we to share the signs and wonders that God has done for us?  Our testimony is a powerful tool!  Sometimes we hold back for fear of what people may think of us, or judge us for the situations we have found ourselves in before God intervened, but I believe if we humble ourselves and admit our failings, our weaknesses, our disappointments, our struggles, God uses our testimony to draw others unto Himself.

Our faith and perseverance through the fire declares to the world where our trust really lies.  Are our eyes so focused on the flames that we miss the One who is standing next to us?  Or do we believe that we have a God who can save us and do we trust Him enough to choose the best way to save us, even if we have to face the heat?  He will always choose the way that points people to Himself.

Dear Twenty-Something Me…

With my 31st birthday just a few weeks away, I have been reflecting on another year of God’s grace and faithfulness.  What an incredible year it has been!

However, more than that, I have come to recognise just how many needless concerns or insecurities I was burdened with throughout my twenties.  So much worry and pain over issues that now seem so trivial.  If I could go back and tell myself not to carry so much, I would…

Dear Twenty-Something Me,

You are just beginning.  You have so much of life ahead of you; so much to look forward to, so much to learn and experience, so many of God’s promises yet to be fulfilled.  So don’t take life so seriously.  Allow yourself to laugh a little more, dance a little more, to take a few more risks.  Don’t be so eager to grow up that you miss out on the season you are currently in.

It is not necessary to have a long-term plan.  Plans change, but God remains constant.  Just commit everything to Him and enjoy the present; take it all in.  Embrace what is happening now.  Don’t wish away this current season for what may never come.  The future will come in time, you can be sure of that, but you will never get to relive the present.  Don’t dream away the weeks, months, years.  Resist placing timelines and expectations on God’s promises or, indeed, your own desires.  Simply enjoy the now.

And don’t focus so much on marriage and relationships.  Believe me, it is not the be-all and end-all.  There are so many other experiences in life to be enjoyed and savoured too.  Live life; stop fixating on what you don’t have, and start appreciating what you do have.

Fight those thoughts; the ones that plague you in those quiet moments and tell you that you are not good enough or fun enough or pretty enough.  Stop expending so much energy and time comparing yourself to others: Just be you.  In a world full of wannabe-replicas, God created only one of you.  Don’t deprive the world of you.

Remember, nine times out of ten, people are not really thinking what you believe they are thinking about you.  Don’t let the lies of the enemy steal your courage or conviction.  Step out in faith and allow God’s voice to speak truth into your heart.

Don’t place so much value on what the world values: money, possessions, fashion, a career.  Be careful not to allow the voices of the world drown out the voice of the One who matters.  Instead, invest in relationships, community, new experiences, and, above all, chasing after God.  When you are sold out to Him, He will make a way where there appears to be no way.  Live for His approval, not that of men.

Ease up on yourself, ok?  Forgive yourself.  Jesus died so that you could live in freedom from your sins, so be quick to repent and receive His forgiveness.  Learn the lesson and move on.  Don’t torment yourself, allowing guilt and shame to remain, when your God and Saviour has already wiped your slate clean.

Stop living life as if everything depends on you, because it doesn’t.  Everything depends on God.  So don’t worry so much, don’t carry so many burdens, don’t adopt so much fear and responsibility.  And pray more.  Talking to God about that worry – that problem to solve – is far more effective than carefully deliberating over every possible eventuality.  Be quicker to hand it over to Him who is infinitely more equipped to be God than you are.

I know you love God and want to give Him your best, but don’t try so hard to fill the blanks of what He might be saying or doing in your life.  He’ll give you the information you need when you need it.  You have no reason to strive.  Instead of stressing about what those ‘meanwhile’ moments look like, just enjoy them and rest in God’s ways and timing.  Don’t take on the burden yourself.  God’s will is not a problem to solve; it is a gift to receive at the appointed time.

God holds you securely in His hands so live in the freedom His Son bought for you on the cross.  You are going to do great, so stop worrying.  Prioritise peace and rest over frantic serving; you can’t earn more of God’s love, just sit at His feet and receive it.

Love, the One You Will Grow To Be