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.

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 Ten Year Wait

I remember the night well. I was sat in Deeside Christian Fellowship Church in Milltimber, Aberdeen – It was 2006 and I was part of the Senior Youth Fellowship (SYF) group, sitting on the back right of the dimly lit hall. One light shone brightly, illuminating the gentleman speaking at the front. He shared his experiences of many years on the mission field in southern Italy and my heart was stirred.

Overseas mission and the life of a missionary had always fascinated me. I grew up hearing the incredible true stories of great men and women of faith, such as David Livingstone and Jim & Elisabeth Elliot, who gave everything to spread the love of Jesus to those who had never experienced it.

As a family, we often hosted missionaries who visited the UK and, indeed, my own uncle spent a number of years on the mission field in Brazil.

As soon as I was old enough, I signed up to take part in short term mission teams. Firstly, around Scotland, then further afield in countries across Europe. Barely a year has gone by since my mid-teens when I haven’t spent time as part of a short-term missions team.

So that night, at just nineteen years old, when God whispered into my heart His call on my life to overseas missions, I welcomed His purpose with great anticipation. I would daydream about where God might be sending me and I very nearly quit university the following summer, ahead of my second year, to go to Bible College instead.

But that was not God’s plan. As the years went on, my anticipation dwindled and I began to doubt what God had said, or indeed, if I’d already missed my opportunity.

I was working as a physics teacher in a respected high school when, in 2010, I was approached by my Pastor and invited to join the staff team at King’s Community Church (KCC). With an invitation into full-time ministry, I recall thinking that I must have misunderstood God all those years previous. Yes, that must have been it. He had surely called me into full-time ministry, but not overseas mission.

Having then been appointed as Administration Manager in KCC, I thought I’d made it. I was working in full-time ministry – living my dream! – it was time to settle down, start a family, live locally and serve the church for the rest of my days.

I didn’t feel I had compromised in any way – I hadn’t disobeyed God – I was, I believe, in exactly where God wanted me for that season. But that’s just it. For me, it was only to be for a season.

My time working for KCC moulded me, shaped me, grew me, challenged me, and matured me, more than I could ever truly articulate and I’m so grateful for that season. Yet, throughout my four years on staff I was given several opportunities to co-lead short-term mission teams and my heart for overseas mission was stirred again.

Then in 2014 God began to transition me into a new season; one that would indeed lead me into overseas missions. “This is it!” I thought. And off I went to New York City.

I initially signed up for four months in NYC as part of the Metro World Child internship program but hoped that an opportunity would arise to allow me to stay long-term. As it happens, an opportunity did arise – three opportunities, in fact. Yet my spirit was not at peace with any of them. It didn’t make much sense to me at the time, feeling that the ‘overseas’ bit of my calling was about to be fulfilled, but I chose to return to Aberdeen nonetheless.

“I’m only back for six months,” I assured everyone. “I’ll be back in the States by the end of the year.” And as month by month passed, I was no closer to returning State-side. Was that it, I wondered, was that my calling to overseas mission fulfilled?  Had that been all that God had called me to?

And I began to spiral. By the end of that first year back in Aberdeen, as I turned 29 years old, feeling dejected and forgotten by God, I hit an all-time low (I’m sure you’ve read all about it by now, in Thirty Lessons to 30)

What now? Where now? Was it all over? Had my life ‘peaked’ and it was all downhill from here? Had I done something wrong? Had I made the wrong decision? Should I never have left NYC in the first place? Had I just been chasing a fantasy; the romantic idea of ‘overseas mission’, and not really counted the cost of all that that would entail?

The truth is – and it’s much easier to see it now in hindsight – that what was to follow would inevitably be some of the most difficult months of my personal and spiritual life to date, yet they proved absolutely essential in the preparation for what was to come.

Ten years on from when God first whispered the call to overseas mission into my heart, I am finally ready (well, ready for this initial step, at least!) That naïve nineteen year old lacked life experience, spiritual disciplines, leadership skills, and faith, among other things, to step out back in 2006. But this thirty year old has since been shaped and challenged by a number of different roles and relationships, developed spiritual disciplines and deepened her walk with her Father, honed leadership skills in an array of situations and seen countless evidences of God’s guidance and provision during that period.

I now have the wisdom to see that God’s call on my life is no romantic fantasy.  To be able to share such incredible testimonies, you must first face incredible challenges.  It’s going to take every lesson God has taught me so far to face this new season in Germany.  Every historic chip and bruise will help me to show compassion to those I meet and work with. Every previously answered prayer will inspire me to raise my hands once more and trust God to meet each need. Every past mistake and failing will remind me to lean on God even more heavily in the future.

Now that I’m thirty I see that I don’t have what it takes to fulfil God’s call on my life. I wonder, why me? Why choose me, God? But all God is really looking for in each of us is the willingness to obey Him. So I may not be able to fulfil His call, but I can answer it. I can walk this path with Him. I trust my Sovereign God and I believe that He knows what He’s doing. Therefore I step out in faith and obedience to Him, thanking Him for the Ten Year Wait; for the way He has prepared me and for all that He has taught me along the way.

So, to summarise the Ten Year Wait in just ten seconds:

  1. Don’t forget the promises God once whispered into your heart.  Don’t think you’ve missed your opportunity.  Don’t consider yourself not good enough, not holy enough, not young/old enough, not… whatever lies are swirling around your head.  Wait.  Wait well.  Wait with anticipation.  Wait with intention.  Prepare.  Allow yourself to be prepared.  And at God’s appointed time, be ready to just say “yes”.
  2. Don’t misread a delayed response to be a ‘no’ response.  We all have many tasks and roles that God wishes us to fulfil in His name.  Every season, every mountain-top experience, every struggle in the valley is shaping us and preparing us for all that God has for us.  There is no ‘peak’ until we reach heaven.  God always has more.
  3. It doesn’t matter how equipped or ready we feel, God knows best.  Trust His ways.  Trust His timing.  And be ready to obey Him when He speaks.  There’s no greater adventure than a life with God holding the map.

Want to read more? Check out The Ten Year Wait (Part 2): Still Waiting.

The Uncertainty of Change

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

“How will The Change affect me?”

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

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

Can you relate?

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

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

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

“I don’t know how I’ll pay my rent.”

“I don’t know where I’ll work.”

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

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

And how does that make me feel?

Honestly? I’m ok.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the Shoulders of Giants

New Year’s Eve always causes me to reflect on the year gone by and inspires hope for the new year to come. This year my reflections are full of wonder and awe at the incredible work God has done in my life and the stark contrast of how I felt and where I was (literally and metaphorically) 365 days ago (for more on that, check out my previous blog post Thirty Lessons to 30).

This year I’m welcoming the new year at the ‘Jesus Saves’ conference in Germany with 850 other youth and young adults. With ages ranging from early teens to 30(ish) – I reckon I’m one of the oldest here! – I recognise the immense pleasure it gives me to see so many young people worshipping God so passionately and engaging with what the Holy Spirit is doing in their lives. However, I’m also left challenged by the incredible responsibility we have as the older generation to lead these youngsters and to lay the foundations for all that they will achieve in God’s Name in the future.

Sir Isaac Newton once said, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”  But this raises two challenges;

1. Are we developing ourselves to BE spiritual giants? And,

2. Do we allow the next generation to STAND on our shoulders?

Practically, this prompts me to consider:

  • Am I investing in myself with an earthly perspective or a heavenly perspective?
  • Am I laying firm foundations for those I influence around me?
  • Do I allow myself to be vulnerable and honest about my challenges so that they might learn from my mistakes and avoid repeating these same mistakes themselves?
  • Does my life act as a springboard for the next generation?

Yet we need to examine ourselves deeper still… you see, when you build a house, no-one sees the foundations. So am I willing to be unseen, unrecognised, without appreciation in order to be a catalyst for the future development of the Church? Am I secure enough in my leadership of the next generation – and in my faith in God – to allow them to identify and develop their gifts, even if it threatens ‘my’ ministry/role?

I’m passionate about seeing everyone, regardless of age or stage of life, identify and nurture their gifts and to walk confidently in the unique purpose God has called them to. But this calls for a generation of leaders willing to invest time, energy and wisdom into those that follow.

This morning I was reading 2 Kings and I was struck by 2 Kings 2:9 when Elijah asks Elisha, his successor, “what shall I do for you before I am taken from you?” And his young apprentice requests a double portion of his leader’s spirit.

Are we secure enough in God’s ways and wisdom to allow the next generation to be more, see more, believe more and receive more of God’s Spirit than we ourselves have experienced? Do we create opportunities and cultivate faith in such a way that catapults young people into an even greater Church than that of today?

As I look ahead to my hopes and desires in ministry in 2017, I’m challenged to be more mindful of the next generation and of my responsibility to them and to the future of Christ’s Church here on earth.