Holding on to Hope

For months now, I’ve held a strong sense of anticipation that God is up to something big. Between the far-reaching promises He declared over me in January, the ever-growing wisdom and influence He has gifted me with, and the significant open-heart surgery He has been conducting in the secret place, my anticipation of a new season and new opportunities has gently but exponentially grown since April.

However, anticipation, or hope, often comes with it a fear that what we want or expect to happen, will not happen. There is a constant tension between the anticipation of what we believe God has spoken and the fear of hearing Him or understanding Him incorrectly.

In this battle, we must be diligent in the focus of our hope. Are we placing our hope in a particular outcome, or are we hoping in the One who holds all outcomes in His hands, and promises to be faithful?

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

Romans 5:1-5

In this holding-pattern of hope, I’ve been pondering the testimony of Naaman (2 Kings 5). He was a commander in the king’s army; well-respected and powerful. However, Naaman had leprosy.

His young Israelite servant girl suggested that he travel to her homeland, believing that the God of Israel would heal her master. Naaman dared to hope; he began his journey, believing that it would end in his healing.

The commander first visited the king of Israel, laden with great riches and a letter from his own king demanding healing from his leprosy, but the king of Israel was angry and distraught, concluding that the Syrian king was simply picking a fight with him by making such a ridiculous request.

No doubt, as Naaman left the presence of the king – the most powerful man in the land – his hope dwindled.

But the prophet Elisha heard of what was going on in the king’s palace and invited Naaman to visit him at his home. Once again, the army commander arrived with his great caravan of pomp and riches in tow, with his own expectations of how his meeting with the prophet might go down. But Elisha was absent, sending a messenger instead.

Now faced with a servant, instead of a prophet or king, Naaman’s anticipation ebbed further.

“Wash in the river Jordan seven times and you will be healed,” the messenger told Naaman.

Eh, what?

The little expectation that remained in Naaman’s heart vanished. This was not at all what he had imagined when he had left his home, holding on to hope and expecting a miracle.

Naaman had expected healing. He was willing to hope for it. But when faced with the circumstances that would eventually lead him to it, he wasn’t so sure…

“Naaman was angry and went away, saying, “Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage.”

2 Kings 5:11-12

He had expected a king to help him. He had hoped that the prophet would make a great spectacle as he called upon God for healing. And, as none of these expectations were met, Naaman reasoned that, at the very least, he could choose a cleaner river than the Jordan to bathe in.

But that was not where healing was to be found. Naaman had allowed his own expectations to distract him, even blind him, to the work that God was seeking to do; to the journey that God was leading him on. For this journey was not just about physical healing, but included lessons in humility and obedience too. There was far more in play than just Naaman’s own desired end product.

We, as Christians, are called to hope (Ephesians 1). It is good to anticipate and believe for all that we believe God has spoken over us. But that does not guarantee us the easy or most straight-forward route there. Are we willing to trust Him anyway? Are we willing to be patient? Are we willing to lay aside our pride? Are we ready to be obedient, even when it feels foolish? Are we going to dare to keep hoping, keep believing, keep anticipating, even when the journey looks nothing like we expect it to?

Eventually, Naaman discarded his pride and obeyed the messenger’s instructions to dip in the Jordan river seven times, receiving the longed-for healing and complete restoration of his skin. He saw the manifestation of his anticipation, but not before God had drawn Naaman’s eyes to see the true Provider, and prepared his heart to receive it.

I expected to see the manifestation of my anticipation in July, however two months later I am still waiting, still journeying, still trusting that I will see it one day soon. Though the timing, the pace, the route are not what I expected, still my anticipation remains. I see the lessons I have continued to learn in the time since. I see the careful placement and positioning of people and circumstances that God lovingly orchestrates for my good. I endeavour to repeatedly re-focus my eyes on the Provider, trusting His timing and His process. I see progress, even when it has been a struggle, at times, to keep hoping.

But Naaman’s journey, the pilgrimage of the Israelites to the Promised Land, Joseph’s story from dreamer to diplomat, and so many other Biblical examples all illustrate the same message: a detour or a delay does not mean denial.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.”

Hebrews 10:23

Dare to keep trusting, keep hoping, keep anticipating. Breakthrough is coming.

Look What You Have Done!

“Look what you have done!”

Perhaps you heard this often as a child, having made a mistake or acted clumsily or not thought through the consequences of your actions. Or maybe you are a parent who has used this statement all too frequently.

Well, I’ve been saying this a lot recently. Admittedly, I am a school teacher, and I do work with young children. But in this instance, my exclamations have not been directed at them.

As the days have grown longer and the temperature has creeped upwards, my mind has been regularly transported back to summer last year when I had newly acquired my job in an International School. I was still squatting in the living room of an acquaintance in Darmstadt, months longer than I had expected to live there. My finances were low. My friends were few. My language skills were frustratingly inadequate. My church-involvement was minimal. My next steps were unclear.

Now, here I am, 12 months later, having acquired a comfortable apartment and a new car. Frankfurt is now home. My financial situation is the best it has been since the day I moved to Germany. I have a vast network of friends and a solid core whom I consider family. Though still a way to go, my German is at an adequate level that I now have the ability to build friendships and minister in my second language. The home I have found in New Life Church Germany and the opportunities I have now to serve there is beyond anything I could have dreamed of last year. And as for my next steps… God is busy preparing me and guiding me into the most exciting and overwhelming future that He has planned for me.

“Look what You have done!” is my daily heavenward declaration. Just look what God has done.

When I packed up seven boxes, two suitcases and a backpack, and boarded my one-way flight to Germany on 3rd April 2017, I had no idea what to expect. But to see God’s faithfulness outworked in my life one day at a time; to see His careful care for me and His generous provision; to experience His gentle shaping and stretching; to hear His quiet whisper to hold on just a little longer… I could never have imagined this. Just look what He has done.

Those first 15 months in Germany were tough. Every day was a fight of the faith, but one that I was willing to enter into, for I knew victory was already mine. I’ve said often in the last two years that “my worst day in Germany was still better than my best day in Scotland”; not because of my circumstances – they were pretty dire at times – but because of the joy and peace in my heart. This joy and peace was far beyond anything I had ever experienced before; it was a peace that surpassed all understanding (Philippians 4:7). I knew I had been obedient in following God to Germany. I knew I was exactly where He wanted me to be. I knew He would finish what He had started.

Since August 2018, my circumstances have begun to catch up with my heart and life has looked pretty rosy at times, there’s no denying that. But just because my circumstances have changed, I dare not lose that raw and vulnerable dependence on God. I do not, for one minute, want to lose sight of Who brought me this far; of Who met every need; of Who led me into a life that I could only dream of living.

Look what God has done.

It is not just my external that has changed, either. A far greater work has been done in my heart. My faith is stronger, my insecurities are diminished. My vision has grown, my dependence has shifted. My anticipation is fuelled, my expectation is magnified. My fear is bridled, my hope is lifted. That insecure, timid girl that once sought control as a safety mechanism around her heart has been stripped away to reveal the fierce, determined, courageous woman that God always intended me to be.

Friends, family, acquaintances, readers: look at my life, hear my testimonies, read my words, and recognise that the Lord God has done all of this, not me.

It was like a dream come true
when you freed us from our bondage and brought us back to Zion!
We laughed and laughed and overflowed with gladness.
We were left shouting for joy and singing your praise.
All the nations saw it and joined in, saying,
“The Lord has done great miracles for them!”
Yes, he did mighty miracles and we are overjoyed!
Now, Lord, do it again! Restore us to our former glory!
May streams of your refreshing flow over us
until our dry hearts are drenched again.
Those who sow their tears as seeds
will reap a harvest with joyful shouts of glee.
They may weep as they go out carrying their seed to sow,
but they will return with joyful laughter and shouting with gladness
as they bring back armloads of blessing and a harvest overflowing!
(Psalm 126 TPT)

The Worst Kept Secret

A few months ago I celebrated my 32nd birthday.  My parents made their first trip to visit me in Germany and we enjoyed traditional German food and plenty of sight-seeing around the province of Hessen.

As messages of congratulations flew in from friends all over the world, I noted the occasional hint of awkwardness or pity surrounding my ever-increasing years on earth. “The thirties aren’t so bad,” some would say.  “Twenty-eight again, then?” mused a colleague.  And I wondered, why do we do that? Why do we insist on marking another birthday with commiseration instead of celebration?

All too often age becomes a defining factor in our culture, and it even infiltrates our churches: the events we are allowed to attend, the ministries we have the opportunity to lead, the friendship group we are expected to be a part of. But that is not God’s design.

At aged 16 years, Timothy believed under the teaching of the Apostle Paul and went on to spend his twenties accompanying Paul on his second missionary journey.

Moses was 80 years old when God spoke to him through the Burning Bush, calling him to confront Pharaoh and lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt.

As a teenager, Esther was summoned before King Xerxes and became his new Queen. Through her courage and obedience, the Jewish nation was saved from a plot to destroy them.

Abraham and Sarah birthed a nation at a combined age of nearly 200 years, despite Sarah having already journeyed through menopause. Her body was incapable of conceiving, yet God’s plans and purposes could not be thwarted by her physical state.

The prophet, Samuel, was just a boy when he entered the service of God in the temple.  He would later anoint David to be king of Israel in his latter years on earth.

The Bible assures us that there is no ‘prime’ age in God’s Kingdom. Each season acts as preparation for the next, and God decides when we are ready and to where He will lead us.

God does not consider our age when He calls us, we do that. We use it as an excuse or a barrier or a (dis)qualifying factor, not Him. Our age never hinders us from what God has prepared for us. His timing is perfect; He is never in a hurry, but He is never late.

Our worth & relevance is based on so much more than just the number of candles on our birthday cake. Each generation has something to learn, each generation has something to teach (Psalm 78). Our age should be a celebration of sustained life, in all it’s fullness; every stage, every season.

I would not be where I am now if it were not for the many years, the many mistakes, the many lessons, the many experiences, the many opportunities that have come before. As I reflect, I am confident that I could not have faced this season any sooner, I simply wasn’t ready. I have lived through seasons that others my age only dream about, but, equally, there are experiences and opportunities that my peers have faced or enjoyed that I have not yet had the chance to sample.

However, life is not a competition, or a race; it is not to be compared or envied, it is to be enjoyed. You only get one chance at it, so don’t waste it. Savour it. Be present. And celebrate the journey that God has led you on.

We can do nothing to change our date of birth, but we can be intentional about pursuing God’s heart; about studying God’s Word and exercising our faith; about making ourselves available to serve and lead as God directs us. Our age is rarely an accurate reflection of our maturity, our faith, or our capacity. Resist allowing yourself to be defined by such – by yourself or by others.

I’m not too young to outwork what God has poured into me. I’m not too old to receive God’s best, either. He had purpose in choosing the day he called me out of my mother’s womb, and he continues to prepare me, position me, and propel me forward, for such a time as this.

For, maybe, the first time ever, I proudly announced my 32 years on all my social media accounts.  I wanted to celebrate my ageing, not cringe at it.  I chose to share my gratitude for the wisdom, growth, experience and life that each birthday represents.  I do not long for former days, because each one taught me something new and brought me a step closer to where I am now. I love where I am now.  But I also hold great anticipation for all that is still to come. God’s only just getting started…

The Hidden Door

In J.R.R. Tolkein’s tale, The Hobbit, a company of dwarves led by Thorin, the heir to the throne, embark on a quest to reclaim their home in the vast caves of the Lonely Mountain. Now housing a greedy dragon, the dwarves have little hope of re-entering the mountain and defeating the dragon unless they enter by a secret door. The problem is, however, the door can only be found by the last light of Durin’s Day.

It is a race against time, and against a pursuing horde of enemy orcs, to reach the mountain and find the door, ready to open it as the last light of Durin’s Day falls.

But as the sun sets, and the golden beams illuminate the hidden doorway, panic and frustration arise as the dwarves search franticly for the keyhole amongst the rough stone mountain-face. The impatient dwarves resort to kicking, tapping, and shouting orders to one another in an effort to force the entrance open as the light fades behind the surrounding hills.

“Break it down!” Thorin commands, in a last-hope attempt to unseal the mysterious gateway, as his comrades begin hacking at the rock with their plethora of weapons.

As the sky grows dark, and hope fades, Thorin re-reads the words inscribed upon the map that led them this far, but failed to lead them to success. “What did we miss?” he asks, rhetorically. “What did we miss?”

Discouraged and dismayed, the dwarves begin their slow descent back down the rock face, but Bilbo Baggins, the unlikely hero in the Hobbit tale, remains behind and ponders the instructions on the map for a moment longer. Meanwhile, the moon appears from behind a cloud, reflecting the lost sunlight, and shines upon the rock-face, revealing the much-sought-after door.

Once illuminated, the keyhole is quickly found, the entrance unlocked, and the door swings open with ease.

I’ve watched the Hobbit movie trilogy a number of times, and have also read the acclaimed novel, but this scene really struck me as I watched it again, recently.

We are all on a quest for a hidden door, are we not? Not a magical door on the side of a mountain, perhaps, but what about a door of opportunity, or a door of provision? Maybe one of breakthrough, or revelation, or freedom? But these doors often seem hidden to us.

Our journey towards these doors can sometimes feel long, treacherous, even endless. And when we finally reach what we perceive to be the end, we grow weary and anxious at yet another hurdle. We, too, may echo the words of Thorin; “What did we miss?”

Sometimes we wait for doors into promises that we have waited for for a long time. On occasion they are doors that God has spoken about clearly and with conviction. We know they will open, but frustrations and impatience arise when the light begins to fade and we feel like we are running out of time.

Have you attempted to break down a door or two? Have you spent far too much time wondering what you must have missed for the door to remain closed? I have.

But know this: God does not lead us to despair.

When the last light fades and the shadows grow long, this is when our faith is tested the most. Hope dissipates, and we may succumb to desperation or resignation. But, let me say it again: God does not lead us to despair.

Are we to be found amongst the dwarves; we perceive failure, having engaged our own limited efforts, and walk away distraught and discouraged, accepting defeat?

Or do we count ourselves within the minority; those who hold on to belief even when our own understanding assumes defeat? Do we hang on just a little longer, believing that our journey of faith counted for something? Are we humble enough to recognise that God’s mind far exceeds anything we could even begin to imagine or understand? These are the few who witness God opening doors that no man could ever prise ajar.

God’s timing is perfect (Ecclesiastes 3:11). His words do not fail (Isaiah 55:11). The instructions He sets out before us are not false (Numbers 23:19). He does not seek to fool us or cause us to stumble (Romans 10:11). He simply asks us to trust Him (Proverbs 3:5-6).

The Bible reminds us, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

The doors that God opens for us are surrounded in mystery, and intrigue, and surprise. They cannot be forced open, or ‘figured out’, or opened prematurely. But be assured of this: at the right time, under the right circumstances, the door will swing open, and all we have to do is walk through it.

Humility: Redefined.

In church, we are currently journeying through the book of Philippians together, considering, last week, Christ’s example of humility (Philippians 2:1-11).

As part of his introduction, the Pastor quoted C.S. Lewis:

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.”

It was not the first time I had heard or read that quote. It did not bring with it great revelation or conviction. However, as I continued to ponder all that this passage teaches, with this quote reverberating in my mind this week, I made a breakthrough.

It is no secret that God has whispered big vision, big promises into my heart; some of which I share openly, others I keep hidden until the appointed time. But they all share one thing in common: they will become a reality. God speaks to accomplish; no word of His will fail (Isaiah 55:11).

And yet:

For the past several weeks (since – unsurprisingly – a big revelation from God about my future) I have faced a barrage of fear.

Lies. Comparison. Doubt. Insecurities. It has been relentless.

But the enemy is cunning. He knew he couldn’t take me down easily, so he began to twist my understanding of the Word of God for his own purposes. In my pursuit of humility, I was tricked into thinking less of myself. Satan shone spotlights on my own insecurities to back-up his offensive strategies, and fear weighed heavy on my shoulders; fear of what other people thought of me; fear of shame and rejection; fear of not living up to expectations; fear of missing out on what God had for me because of my own weaknesses.

I sought to hide pieces of myself – ideas or suggestions or enthusiasm – hoping not to be an inconvenience to those I was working with. I found myself trying to be who I thought others perhaps wanted me to be, and hiding (or even, at times, resenting) the unique qualities and gifts that make me me. I adopted the heavy responsibility of making God’s promises a reality; an impossibility in my own strength. All this in an attempt to be humble.

But let me be clear: this is not humility. This is sabotage.

In the midst of this spiritual warfare, my heart and spirit remained at peace, but my mind has been full, chaotic, busy, cloudy. The enemy loves to do that to us. If he can’t make us bad, he monopolises our minds to fill them with nonsense so that we cannot find quiet to hear and be reminded of God’s truth.

Our minds will not clear by processing, or thinking it through, or problem-solving; we receive clarity and peace when we fight the lies with truth. Truth we find in God’s Word, in words He speaks over us, in worship, and in recalling promises and affirmations we have received in the past.

It is in truth that we develop humility. Humbling ourselves before God means hearing, receiving, and believing all that He says about us. It is trusting Him to act, even when our circumstances seem out of control. Humility is most evident in us when we submit ourselves to Him and live each day in obedience to Him, no matter how nonsensical or foolish it may look to the world.

So by definition, a humble spirit does not attempt to stifle the talents, blessings, gifts, wisdom, opportunities that God has bestowed. Instead, humility invests these things well and correctly attributes honour and glory to the Giver, not the steward.

In my fight against fear, I realised that I was so focused on how God’s call could/ might/ will affect me, that I had forgotten about the many individuals who will benefit from my acts of obedience. The longer I allow fear to thwart my advances in faith, the more I allow the enemy to steal the work of God in the lives of others.

Well not anymore.

I refer, often, to John 10:10 – my favourite Bible verse – for it promises a full, abundant life; one that I seek to encourage and inspire us all to take hold of; one that only God can imagine, design, orchestrate and gift us with. But the verse begins with these simple, yet deadly, words:

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy…”

As we reach out to receive the full and abundant life that Jesus promises us, there is a spiritual enemy who is focused on stealing our peace, killing our dreams, and destroying our hope. He will do everything he can to disrupt our lives and tear our eyes away from the One who sustains us through all things.

Do not let him take you down.

He may be tactful, but God is greater. He may be cunning, but God is wiser. He may be determined, but God is already victorious. Do not allow the enemy’s lies to take hold; stand firm on the truth of God’s Word.

Do not be afraid of him; do not be distracted by his advances, or allow him to draw your eyes inwards. Instead, choose to focus on God. Choose to focus on the circle of influence that God has given you. Choose to focus on the hope and life that God offers through Jesus.

I cannot and will not let the enemy steal away all that God has poured into me and blessed me with. God has positioned me and prepared me to be used by Him to share His love for humanity. That is not something to be hidden, but something to be used to bring glory to God.

Today, I choose not to be tricked into thinking less of myself, but to simply think of myself less.

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.