A Tale of Two Tests

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 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!

A Crisis of Faith

I have always believed in the existence of God and His role in the creation of humanity; it was what I was taught as a young child, having attended Sunday school each week, and it is what I read for myself in the Bible as I grew up and explored the ideas for myself.

However that does not mean that I do not have questions or ‘gaps of knowledge’ that I cannot account for. I wonder about the marriage between historical records, Biblical accounts, and scientific discoveries. I consider the tragedy in our world and ask why an Almighty Being would allow such things to happen. I ponder the existence of other religions, and question why I choose my beliefs over so many others. But this does not make me naive or ignorant, it simply means I place faith in the stop-gap.

Because what I can account for is this:

The crippling fear and insecurities that I carried for decades have been eradicated as I have personally seen God work miracles of healing and provision and timing in my own life.

I can testify to the healing in my heart of great pain and distress that I have experienced in my short life thus far.

I am grateful for the protection I have received; whether emotionally, while faced with hurtful relationships; or physically, when encountering violence while working on the streets of Brooklyn, New York.

I could share with you the countless moments of comfort I have felt through song, or a beautiful sunset, or a bright blue sky, or a right-place, right-time encounter with someone, as God lovingly makes Himself known to me in a variety of forms.

And as time has gone on, that belief that I loosely held as a child, I now own passionately and resolutely, because I have seen the goodness of God in my life. I have experienced the love that He has for me. I have received His blessing in so, so many ways.

As I reflect back on 2018, I wonder at the journey of faith I have traveled this year. I thank God for many, many answered prayers; for guidance, for financial provision, for provision of friends, for the health of my family, for provision of work, for a new home, for a new church, for opportunities, for emotional healing, for peace, and for rest. He has exceeded every expectation.

My favourite Bible verse, John 10:10, says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Fear seeks to steal our hope, kill our dreams, and destroy the good that we hold on to, but Jesus was born as a baby so that there could be a way for us to know God that was tangible and relatable. Jesus Christ came to unite us with God so that we could have the full and abundant life that we were created for; one free from shame, fear, and isolation. That is why I celebrate Christmas. That is why I celebrate the baby born in a stable in Bethlehem, two thousand years ago.

Today, my relationship with- and understanding of God is not one that can be explained, or justified, or measured, rather it is evidenced by the joy on my face, and the peace in my heart.

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.

Building Momentum

I recently read a social media post from Paul Scanlon that resonated with me as I reflected back on my time in Germany so far.  It read:

“Q) How do you attract divine guidance? A) Movement.

The biggest thing I’ve learned about divine guidance in over 45 years of walking with God is that: GOD IS DRAWN TO MOVEMENT.

That movement doesn’t have to be well planned or even accurate it just needs to be intentional and from a good heart.

Point your life in the general non-specific direction of service to others and HE WILL DIRECT YOUR STEPS.” – Paul Scanlon

Once upon a time I wouldn’t have dreamt about moving to a new country without a carefully constructed plan of where I would live, how I would fund myself, where I would work, which church I would attend, how I might serve, and so on.  But when I responded in obedience to the first step, God graciously showed me the second, then the third, and the fourth…

God uses His Word to speak to us and guide us through this life, but in order to speak into the specifics of our world, He often needs us to present Him with possible options.  How will we be sure of the right door if we have not pushed at a few wrong doors first?  God gently steers us through life using the path of least (spiritual) resistance.  That’s not to say that we won’t face challenges along the way, but as we attempt to move in different directions, God can use firmly closed doors to keep us from wandering off our own unrivaled road.

These doors come in all sorts of shapes and sizes: opportunities, conversations, invitations, circumstances outwith our control. Our attitude and perspective then determines our response when faced with these different doors.

“Trust in the Lord completely, and do not rely on your own opinions. With all your heart rely on him to guide you, and he will lead you in every decision you make. Become intimate with him in whatever you do, and he will lead you wherever you go. Don’t think for a moment that you know it all, for wisdom comes when you adore him with undivided devotion and avoid everything that’s wrong.”

(Proverbs 3:5-7 (TPT))

At the beginning of the summer, when I was searching for a new apartment closer to my workplace, I enquired about over fifty different apartments online.  From those fifty, I received only a handful of responses and was consequently invited to viewings.

Apartment hunting in the Frankfurt area is no joke.  The apartments that I was fortunate enough to be invited to view often had at least one hundred other interested parties; the competition is fierce.  A friend recently shared with me that she was the successful one out of 600 applicants for her apartment in central Frankfurt!  While I was not too picky when sending out emails of interest, I prayed that God would use circumstances and opportunities to whittle out the wheat from the chaff and lead me to an affordable, safe, convenient apartment.

Consequently, after three months of searching, scores of emails exchanged, hours spent travelling back-and-forth on public transport, several viewings, and a few unsuccessful applications, God led me to the right apartment and allowed me to (literally) enter.  (Interestingly, the apartment did not, in the online advertisement, meet my defined search criteria, so how it landed on my results page I’ll never know.  God clearly knew what He was doing.)

In order to find the right apartment, I had to be active.  I had to search online, and enquire, and send emails, and view them, and have conversations in broken German, and run credit checks, and submit applications.  It was time consuming, and frustrating, and sometimes felt never-ending.  But with every ‘wrong’ apartment, I drew a little closer to the right one; I learnt to know what to look for, I discovered what was important to me in selecting an apartment suitable for my needs and desires, I explored different areas and got a feel for the my new surroundings.  At the time, it maybe felt like I was making no progress, but these closed doors were all steering me towards the right one.

Now I’m not suggesting that we need to over-spiritualise every little decision and movement that we make; as we draw close to God and speak to Him regularly in prayer we will receive the wisdom and discernment to make good decisions.  Our desire to follow Him and serve Him will grow, and He will gently steer us towards His best: physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

But do you think that God can steer us if we are sitting comfortably in our armchair at home, waiting for Him to drop a Billy-Graham-revival-sized idea into our hearts?  Well, He might.  But it is far more likely that the road to such an incredible privilege is paved with hundreds, nay thousands, of tiny steps forward, seeking simply to honour God with our life.

Consider this: if God were to call you to a Billy-Graham-revival-sized idea tomorrow, would you be ready?  Would you have the faith, the courage, the experience to see it through?  Not many of us would.  But the beauty of the journey – all those incremental steps that lead us there – is the preparation we experience along the way.

And as we become more confident and practiced in stepping forward in faith, the more familiar His voice becomes.

Could I have moved to Germany if I hadn’t previously gone in faith to NYC for four months? No.

Could I have worked in Tillydrone, at the Lighthouse Support Centre, if I had not gathered skills and experience from my time working with Metro World Child and King’s Community Church? No.

Could I have pioneered the role of Administration Manager at King’s Community Church if I had not previously volunteered with Souled Out? No.

Could I have been successful in the role as Event Manager at Souled Out events if I had not previously volunteered in the stewarding team? No.

Could I have co-led short-term mission trips to Montenegro if I had not previously participated in GLO Teams in Italy? No.

We take one shaky step forward, not knowing what to expect or what God might do, but He shows up, takes our hand, and our faith grows… So we take another step forward – a little easier this time, having seen His faithfulness in our first step – and God nudges us to the left a little cus He has something better for us than what we anticipated for ourselves…

Now we’re on a journey – we don’t want to go back to where we were – so we look around, considering our options, and walk in the direction that seems to align with the peace that the Spirit gives us, and God continues to use opportunities and circumstances and timing to bring us further down His path…

And we walk.  And momentum builds.  And we become more confident living in a way that contradicts society and culture, but a way that brings us joy, and peace, and life.

The ‘I Don’t Know’ Taboo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.