Counting the Cost of Obedience

A number of years ago I had the opportunity to visit Montenegro as part of a short-term mission 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 the camp which we affectionately called “The Container Camp” because the families there lived in metal shipping containers.

Upon their return, the team gave a presentation to the church about all that they had done on their trip. On that particular night, I happened to be staffing the information desk at the back of the church. And on that particular night, I carried in my hands extra information about our Montenegro partnership, including a sign-up sheet for people interested in participating in the next trip.

As the team shared their experience, they explained the different 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 mind began to race, my heartbeat quickened 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 of their language so that 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 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 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 we have learnt that 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 journaling 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 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. The amount matched the first instalment I had paid not twenty-four 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. It had clearly been personally delivered, and only had my name scribbled on the front, with no indication 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 500 kilometre 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 the 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, 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.

An excerpt taken from Adventure Awaits: Harnessing Today’s Potential for God’s Greater Purpose (pg. 151-154).

Beyond Breaking Point

Stress; it’s a word that we are all only too familiar with. We associate it with work, with certain people, with responsibility, with busyness. But I’m beginning to believe it’s much more than just the extreme emotions we identify as “stress”. What if it’s even more acute than that? What if, rather than reaching the heightened level we call ‘stress’, it is, in fact, anything other than living in the restful state we were created for?

“My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.”

Psalm 62:1-2

In physics, stress is a quantity that describes the distribution of internal forces within a body or object in response to an external force.

Imagine you are a student in my class at school. You’ve been sitting with your hand in the air for a few minutes, trying to attract my attention, but I’m busy working with another student and haven’t yet noticed your request for help. You decide it could be a few minutes more before I turn towards you so you begin to fiddle with your plastic ruler. You tap it on the desk, you spin it between your fingers, then you hold it with a hand on either end and begin to flex it in the middle; first, extending your elbows wide, bending the ends upwards toward one another to create a satisfying ‘U’ shape, then, pulling your elbows tightly to your sides, doing the same in a downwards direction.

“This is fun,” you think, with a smirk. So you do it again, this time a little farther, just to see how far it will bend… SNAP! Your hands drop to the desk, a shattered half in either hand, grimacing weakly at your peers who have turned to identify the source of the sudden noise.

Maybe this is not an example you can immediately identify with, but I see this scenario all the time at school. So stay with me…

In your boredom and impatience, you had put the ruler under stress. The external forces that you applied with your hands to bend it – first, small forces, slowly increasing as you sought to find the (literal) breaking point – caused unseen, internal stress forces as the ruler sought to counteract the external forces being applied and to remain in a state of equilibrium. As you bent the ends of the ruler upwards, compressive (negative) stress forces were acting on the topside of the ruler, while tensile (positive) stress forces were acting on the stretched underside of the ruler. When you bent the ends of the ruler downwards, the object experienced the opposite stress forces. At first, switching these forces around a couple of times had no lasting effect on your ruler: when you stopped applying external forces, the ruler bounced back to it’s original, straight state of rest. This flexibility – when stress and strain occurs in an object but can return easily to its original state when the force is removed – is called the ‘elastic region’. In the elastic region, any damage done can be rectified when the external force is removed.

“Cool!” you thought. “I can push and pull and bend and twist this ruler and nothing bad happens!” So you pushed a little harder next time, applying a greater force – so far there had been no lasting consequences, maybe a little more force would do no harm either… Wrong. The greater applied force caused greater stress and strain forces, and resulted in deformation of your ruler. Once stress and strain experienced by the object exceeds the elastic region, deformation occurs and this cannot be reversed, even if the forces acting on the object are removed.

Now ruler companies know that children (and sometimes teachers, too) like to test the flexibility of a ruler once in a while, therefore they employ people to calculate the stress of the various manufacturing materials to predict when the ruler will fail; physics tells us that failure occurs when the stress within the object is greater than the strength of the material.

So why am I giving you a physics lesson about a plastic ruler? Well, because I’ve been acting like that student of late. Except I’ve not been simply playing with a ruler, but pushing and pulling and bending and twisting myself, my health, me. I’ve been doing so for a long time without any lasting consequences – I’ve always bounced back – so why should it be any different now? But recently, without realising it, I pushed too far.

“Failure occurs when the stress within is greater than the strength of the material…”

At the beginning of the year I visited the doctor for a routine check-up and was quickly informed that my blood pressure was too high. We talked about some of the causes and implications of that and I proceeded to make some diet changes to help lower that number. By my follow-up appointment a few weeks later, however, my blood pressure reading was even higher than the first, and I was immediately put on medication to bring it back down.

In the weeks that followed, I paid even closer attention to my diet, stringently weighing up every choice I made; I underwent multiple blood tests in a specialist clinic to help identify the root cause of my high blood pressure, I even wore a large and awkward device for 24 hours to track my blood pressure at 15 minute intervals to see if a pattern related to my daily routine emerged.

But as I waited for the results of each of these tests, I suddenly and unexpectedly got sick and was out of work for more than two weeks. My energy levels were very low, I was sleeping for 12-14 hours each night, and my pulse was racing even when I was (physically) resting. For the first week, I didn’t have the emotional capacity to even look at my phone or talk to anyone; it all felt too much. I couldn’t make decisions, I couldn’t leave a short audio message for a friend without feeling breathless. What was going on? I returned to the doctor and underwent further tests.

Upon my recovery, I followed up with the doctor to discuss in detail the results of the plethora of tests I had undergone. The conclusion? Stress. Every single test conducted came back clear and showed no underlying issues whatsoever. I was even told to stop taking my new blood pressure medication because the 24-hour test had indicated that, while on the medication, my blood pressure actually dropped dangerously low while I slept. The only culprit that could be identified was stress.

The insights of those first medical appointments were indications that I was allowing myself to be bent and twisted in ways beyond what my body or mind was comfortable with, but the pressures I was feeling at that time were still in the ‘elastic region’; I would experience stress and strain, but my body (and mind) would always bounce back and no permanent damage was done. But as the weeks went by, and the external forces mounted – uncertainty about my health (ironically!), future decisions to be made, adopting a new role and responsibilities in church, relationships that needed some TLC, and so much more – I reached breaking point. All of a sudden, the stress that I had accepted as ‘normal’ had pushed me beyond the ‘elastic region’ and deformation occurred: I broke. The pressure I had allowed in my life had put me under stress and strain, and it had finally reached a point where it could no longer be reversed without inflicting permanent damage.

So why had I not noticed the stress sooner? Well, honestly? Because it didn’t overwhelm me. I had accepted that it was OK to live in the ‘elastic region’ and had allowed it to become my ‘normal’. On reflection now, I am ashamed to say that I don’t think I’ve come close to equilibrium – true rest – in a long, long time.

I have had to take a serious look at my responsibilities, my boundaries, my priorities in recent weeks. This experience – though (sadly) not entirely a new one – has, for the first time, been supported with substantial medical evidence and I can ignore it no longer. It has been a wake-up call of gargantuan proportions. Stress is no joke; it is no small thing that is part of a ‘normal’ life (at least, it shouldn’t be!) It is not something that we just have to suffer through. There is, believe it or not, another way.

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will give rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.

Matthew 11:28-30

The Bible talks extensively about rest, yet we, as Christians, rarely do. And I don’t just mean don’t-go-to-work-but-spend-all-day-doing-chores-instead kinda rest, which is what I have, until very recently, understood Sabbath rest to be. Instead, Sabbath rest is to be dedicated to God (Exodus 20:10). It is time that we can set aside all of our burdens, our worries, our responsibilities; a day that we can turn off our phones, close our full inbox, and ignore our to-do list. Instead, it is a day to be enjoyed with the Lord; a day to physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually rest; a day to invest in relationships and to be filled up and recharged, ready for the week ahead.

The world does not sit on our shoulders – as I have so unwittingly yet arrogantly believed of late – and Sabbath rest (when we do it right) reminds us of this. At rest, we surrender our power, our strength, our control, and trust God to carry all of our concerns for us. Why on earth would we seek to carry the weight of the world ourselves? Because we get caught up in the swirl of activity happening around us and inevitably get sucked in if we are not alert to it. But Psalm 127 reminds us that all of our activity is in vain, if not in partnership and agreement with the Lord.

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord guards the city, the guard keeps watch in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives sleep to his beloved.

Psalm 127:1-2

I used to think that stress and rest were dependent on circumstances, but I have learned afresh this year that they are, in fact, dependent on our faith. Do we trust God to carry our worries for us? Do we trust that He holds all things in place? Do we trust His timing and that no good thing will pass us by, even if we stop for a day and rest? Do we depend on His strength and not our own?

Since those weeks of sickness last month, I have worked hard at identifying stressors and then at setting new boundaries to relieve some of the pressure. I have sought to reassess priorities, and to cut out unnecessary strain in my week. But have I reached the root of the problem yet? No, not really. These are good changes – and necessary – but the stress is still present. At least it was, until I eventually stopped all ‘activity’ this week and finally started surrendering.


God, forgive me for thinking that everything depends on me. You are God, not I. You are in control, not I. If you chose to rest after you created the world, how much more should I choose it too. Forgive me for allowing busyness and responsibility – even ministry – to come between us. Thank you that you love me for me, and not for what I do for you. I surrender all my worries to you again today, God, knowing that you do not ask or expect me to carry them alone. In Jesus’ precious name, amen.

A Dream Come True

On 15th June 2020 I witnessed a dream become reality; I held my first published book, Adventure Awaits, in my hands and awed at the journey that had led me to that moment. Yes, my life journey – all the experiences, lessons, hurts, and breakthroughs – had paved the way for the content of the book, but the publication journey – all three years of it – had also reminded me of God’s faithfulness and His ability to do the impossible with a surrendered heart.

For years I had quietly held the dream of writing a book. It was a dream that was rarely voiced, rather simply penciled silently in my journal, weaved amongst my thoughts and reflections. Though I never believed it to be an impossible dream, I always assumed it might be realised much later in life; once I had lived a few more decades and my fiery red hair had long-since faded. In 2014, when I spent time in New York City working with under-privileged children in the projects of The Bronx, I began sharing my experiences via my blog. I used it as an easy and efficient way to communicate with friends back home, but as the weeks went on, the reach and response to my writing grew. And my dream swelled in my heart.

Then in spring 2017, just weeks after moving to Germany, God used two friends to confirm what He had already been saying to me: now was the time to write a book. He was right (I mean, He always is, but even I could see it now); in this season, as I spent my mornings in language school learning German, and with few other established commitments in my new home country, I had the gift of time.

But how does one go about writing a book? I had no idea. I knew no-one in the publishing industry, yet my conviction was clear. So I asked God to be my teacher. I asked Him how to write a book; what initial steps I should take, what I needed to consider, what themes I should write about. And just like He does in every other area of our lives, God led me every step of the way. He even drew my attention to a specific Christian publisher whom, at that time, had just published the first book of someone I greatly admire.

Now, if you’ve been following my blog for a while, you probably already know what happened next: I ran out of money. Yep, having moved my life to Germany, my funds dried up and I began to look for a job to supplement my living expenses while I was learning the German language. But the thing was, God told me not to. “Em, what?” I hear you ask. Believe me, I know. I asked that too. But God repeatedly said no. Except… I had no money. So, I did it anyway…

I’m gonna skip the gnarly details of that particularly challenging few weeks as I wrestled with God over financial provision in my life, but you can read about them here, if you wish: Um, Where’s my Miracle?, Um, Where’s my Miracle? (Part 2): The Overflow, and Facing the Flame.

And so I had finally found a German-competency-appropriate job for myself, to then be told six weeks later that there was a problem with my insurance documents and I wasn’t permitted to work until that issue was resolved. For about a month I stressed over it and tried everything I could to get myself back to work, until I eventually stopped and asked myself, “what was the last thing God told me to do?” Write. Right?

So, after weeks of working and/ or frantically pushing papers around, I returned to what God had asked me to do (long before He had told me not to look for a job). And you know what happened? That week, that first week back to writing – back doing what God had asked me to do – having stepped back into obedience, God provided me with more than the equivalent of two months wages, in just one week!

Well, let me tell you, that was one of the biggest lessons of my adult life right there: be obedient. No matter what He asks you to do (or not do), no matter whether it makes sense to you or not (I mean, how was I supposed to earn money by writing on my laptop from home?), no matter how challenging or seemingly impossible the circumstances look around you, be obedient to what God asks you to do.

From that moment on, I knew God really was behind this book, so I pressed forwards. I finished the first draft in December 2017 and proceeded to submit it to six or seven publishers, including the one that God had drawn my attention to months earlier. But one by one, they all said no. Then a couple months later, I began working full-time at an international school and my manuscript was pushed aside.

After a while, I began to think that maybe the drafting of my first manuscript had just been a practice-run for future books. I knew I had been obedient to God, but perhaps the end result wouldn’t look the way I had expected it to. Quite honestly, I was glad that it had not been made public because I held much fear of being so vulnerable. Yet God kept prodding at my heart and challenging my fear. Then, in spring 2019, God spoke to me as I drove home from work one day, and He said very clearly that my fear – that is, my fear to publish – was stealing the breakthrough that He wanted to bring about in others through my writing. The problem was, I could not overcome my fear myself.

God’s words danced around my mind in the days that followed, but it was easier to ignore them than to begin to deal with the fear that was holding me back. About six weeks later, I found myself in my car with two friends. During a lapse in conversation, one asked, “Jane, are you writing a book?” Stunned silence followed. How did he know? I hadn’t told him. He questioned why I had not published yet and repeated word-for-word that which God had spoken to me less than two months earlier: your fear is stealing the breakthrough from others. I knew, then, that it was time to resurrect my draft and pursue publishing once again.

I spent that summer re-reading, editing, updating and re-writing my manuscript. Meanwhile, God worked on my heart. Only then, with an updated manuscript and a healed heart, was I ready to publish. And at the end of that busy summer period, I submitted my book to just one publisher – that which God had drawn my attention to at the beginning of this journey. That submission took an entire Saturday to prepare – about 6 hours – so I prayed and told God that preparing and submitting numerous book proposals was not realistic while working full-time as a teacher and continuing to serve in leadership in church. I asked Him to make my efforts fruitful. And did He? Well, of course He did!

Though that one publisher rejected my manuscript a second time, their reply directed me towards a smaller publishing house, about whom they had heard positive reviews. That small publishing house was Sacristy Press, and they said yes to publishing my manuscript. Three years, several detours, and multiple lessons later, I held the reality of my dream in my hand, and I watched God demonstrate His faithfulness every step of the way.

My book, Adventure Awaits, is ultimately a self-fulfilling prophesy, in that it seeks to encourage and inspire the reader to recall those once-longed-for, long-since-dismissed dreams and to believe for them again. It describes a faith adventure that is readily available to all those who surrender their lives to God’s will and act in obedience to His word, being sensitive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This life of ours is not just about enjoying ourselves or ‘finding’ ourselves. This life of ours is a gift, and is to be treated so; it is an opportunity to become intimately acquainted with our Creator, and permit Him to be known and glorified through our lives (2 Thessalonians 1). God gifts us life, with all its ups and downs, to teach us, to purify us, to mould us into a better likeness of Christ (Romans 8). The extent to which God can do that is up to us and how much permission we give Him to do that in our lives. But if we are willing – if we truly allow Him to weed out the ugly parts of us and shape us into earthly reflections of heaven – He promises to take us on a wild ride, beyond anything we could fathom ourselves (Ephesians 3:20). Are you ready? Because adventure awaits.


Ready to order your copy of Adventure Awaits? Find out more here.

Defying the Facts

October was an interesting month.

I knew breakthrough was coming; I was anticipating it, I was ready for it, I was looking for it. I’d been declaring it for months, and inviting others into my journey of faith.

Then a series of breakthroughs came! … And looked nothing like I’d expected them to…

Instead of bringing me closer to the promises that God has been speaking over me this year, circumstances appeared to broaden the chasm between where I am, and where I believe God is leading me. And when I asked God about it? Well, His answer was simple and sincere: with me, nothing is impossible (Luke 1:37).

You might argue, because I didn’t see the fulfilment of any one of the promises that I am waiting for, that I didn’t really receive breakthrough. But there was a noticeable spiritual shift; a re-focus; progress, regardless of my circumstances. My focus had been on taking ‘two steps forward’, toward these promises, but I felt God nearer to me still, having seemingly taken ‘three steps back’.

Much of the time that has lapsed since then has been spent in prayer, as I determine to focus on the Truth of what God has promised, rather than the truth of current circumstances around me.

There’s no denying the facts that I have been confronted with in recent weeks; my surprise was not based on doubt, or questions, or perceptions, they were based on hard facts: truth.

‘Why hold on, when things look so hopeless?’, you may ask.

Because truth is no object for the Truth of God’s Word to contend with. Because circumstances mean nothing to the God who created all things and orchestrates them around us. Because the peace and joy in my heart encourages me to hold on to faith.

Faith can defy facts.

As I’ve battled with God in prayer and worship, He asks me to remain on this path. He reassures me that I am being obedient. He reiterates these promises, reminding me that they are not lost. There are way too many ‘coincidences’ to make me think this is anything but an act of God.

Common sense makes me want to self-protect; to run away; to analyse my circumstances; to justify my thoughts or actions; to compare my situation to others’. But God is saying something different.

“Invite people in,” He says. “Invite people into your testimony. It is a miracle in motion. It may not yet look the way You want or expect it to, but that is when I do My best work. Invite them to be a part of this ‘meantime’ season. Gather a crowd of witnesses around you so that, when My fire falls, they all may know that I am God (1 Kings 18:36-39).”

So here’s the thing: I’ve written a book. Some of you already know that, but for most this is probably a new insight. It’s been a dream of mine for many years to write, and on arriving in Germany, I felt God prompt me to begin the journey towards my first book. Having no idea what to write about, or how to begin such an abstract process, I depended on God to guide me step by step. And He did.

By December 2017, my first manuscript was complete, and I began to submit it to publishers. But rejection after rejection came, and I soon ran out of options. So I laid it aside, and got on with life.

Then in the early part of this year, God began to draw my attention to my forgotten script, saved in the archives of my computer. The truth was, I was afraid to pursue publication any further; I was afraid of more rejection.

“Jane,” He said, “your fear is stealing breakthrough from others.”

My fear of rejection; of being so vulnerable in sharing my tear-stained words with the world; of worrying what others might say or think of me; of daring to believe an impossible dream, was stealing the opportunity for God’s Word and testimony to bring freedom and peace in the lives of many others?! Well, not for much longer!

I didn’t have much left in me to fight for myself, but this Word had lit a fire under me that propelled me back into the ring, to fight for the sake of others. (I documented this particular breakthrough in an earlier post, Humility: Redefined).

I spent my six-week summer break re-reading, editing, and adding to my manuscript, completing my review just days before I returned to school in August. Then I, once again, began the long, time-consuming process of identifying and submitting to publishers.

My progress to date? More rejections.

My attitude, this time round? Determination. Hope. Perseverance.

I no longer take the rejections personally, for my fight is for a greater promise; a greater crowd of witnesses. But it doesn’t always soothe the niggle of doubt or make this journey of ups and downs any easier, I simply have to be obedient and continue to trust God’s leading.

The publication of my book is just one of the many promises I am waiting for and trusting God with.

So I hereby invite you into my inexplicable, don’t-know-what-comes-next, seemingly impossible, confusing meantime moment. I am opening the door to my heart and giving you the opportunity to witness my current, rejection-weary reality, believing that all the promises that God has spoken over me will be fulfilled at His appointed time. I am asking you to look beyond the truth that is before me, and instead focus on the Truth of His promises.

A bank balance may state that you have no money, but God promises to provide for all of your needs (Philippians 4:19).

A medical diagnosis may condemn you, but no sickness is too advanced to stop God from healing you and restoring you (Jeremiah 30:17).

A rejection may discourage you, but God uses all things to protect us and to lead us into His best (Romans 8:28).

The manifestation of His promises are coming. They are coming.

Join me, as I (continue to) watch this space.

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.

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.

Trust: Active or Passive?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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