Rather You Than Me

I have lots of great memories from my childhood.  There was the day I became a big sister for the first time, or when I was told a third sibling was on the way.  I remember laughing until I cried on a family holiday a few years later as the three of us attempted to fool our parents into pushing back bedtime, or, some time later still, visiting Legoland during a thunderstorm and enjoying the vacant rides despite the downpour.

But other memories remain etched in my mind for the wrong reason; because they scarred me.  One of my most vivid memories of my childhood features a trip to the dentist.

I had never enjoyed visiting the dentist but I think it was this experience that turned my dislike into fear. As I began adolescence, I faced the problem that I had too many teeth for the space available in my top set, with some teeth overlapping others. The solution? To have eight teeth removed during one visit, with the promise of braces to follow.

I recall it vividly: sitting in the chair with fists clenched to stop my hands from shaking; the dentist explaining what he was about to do; coming closer and closer with the needle, ready to numb my gums… and I ran! I leapt up out of the dentist’s chair, raced along the corridor and locked myself in the bathroom. While I barricaded myself in there for the next ten minutes, the dentist agreed with my Mum that the best solution was for me to return another day and have the teeth extracted under general anaesthetic instead.

And so my fear of the dentist was established.

I could never understand people who were not phased by a trip to the dentist; I would have to psych myself up for days beforehand (I sometimes still do…) Why were others not as traumatised as I was? And why on earth would someone wish to become one?!

Well, I’m now finding out. My friend of 15yrs+ is currently studying dentistry and – get this – absolutely loving it. Say what?!

She enthusiastically tells me about the tasks she’s performing in the clinic. She sends me pictures of the dentures she has carefully crafted. She explains that she’s so tired because she barely slept during her week-long placement in a dental surgery; she was just so excited to be there. Her eager face even features on her dentistry school’s website.

I don’t even begin to understand why she has such a fascination with dentistry, but I’m glad that she does.  Her passion for something that holds so little importance or desire for me only demonstrates how necessary it is that she pursues that passion whole-heartedly.  For if no-one was passionate about dentistry, the oral health of the world would suffer.

As I’ve journeyed with my friend through her studies and often joked at how she could be so excited about something I fear, I actually awe at our contrasting passions and thank God for that.  It has highlighted for me, once again, the creativity of our Creator and how He designed us all so uniquely and perfectly.  But, even more so, how essential it is that we pursue those personal passions for His glory.

In 1 Corinthians 12 the Apostle Paul describes the global church as a body. He writes, “But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. How strange a body would be if it had only one part! Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.”” (1 Corinthians 12:18-21)

He reminds us, here, that we are called to work together as one, but to operate in our individual abilities, giftings, passions. It is no accident that we have been created with different skills and interests than that of our friends because God has much to accomplish through us! The very way we were created was intentionally aligned with the purpose that God calls us to.

So if you are unsure how God wants to use you, first consider how He has made you and what your heart burns for. That will be your first clue.

If you are feeling discouraged and caught comparing yourself to others, you can stop now.  Because God’s plan for you looks nothing like that of those around you. And that’s a good thing.

If your current passions do not align with the Word of God, then take some time out and seek God. As you draw closer to Him, He will heal your heart and swap destructive passions for those that will fuel His call on your life.

God calls each of us to walk the path that He has laid out before us.  That is why it is unrivaled; because no-one else can do what God has purposed for you to do.  You do not need to be concerned about someone else stealing what was intended for you, for God is sovereign over all things and gives and removes as He pleases for the greater good.  There is no use in seeking to copy the life or path of another, because yours won’t look like their’s.  Instead seek God in all things; trust Him with your whole heart and don’t depend on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct you (Prov. 3:5-6).

The only person capable of forfeiting your unrivaled road is you. The enemy seeks to derail us by distracting us with lies, comparison, disappointment, or condemning words of worthlessness, but instead we must press into God’s Word and allow His voice to speak louder.

When God calls us, He doesn’t call us alone. He promises to walk with us, every step of the way.  He positions people along our path to encourage us and build us up. He meets every need and equips us for the tasks He calls us to.  Our job is to remain close to Him and walk with courage and boldness.

This week, don’t fall into the world’s trap of comparison, but instead embrace your own passions, your unique opportunities, celebrate your gifts, talents, and abilities, and use them to glorify the One who carefully selected them and wrapped them all up in you.

 

 

A Modern Day Epidemic

In my late teens and early twenties, I was plagued with sickness after sickness.  Nothing serious, usually just the flu.  But I would catch it often, sometimes up to four times in one year.  These bouts would floor me and leave me with no energy, resulting in weeks off sick from work and, most disappointingly, forfeiting the chance to attend and serve in church.

But as the months and years went on, I began to notice a pattern: I would most often become sick around the same time I would accept ministry opportunities; opportunities to serve in my local church or help pioneer new initiatives.

Upon this realisation, I was then plagued by an even greater sickness: fear.  You see, now that I had identified a pattern, I began to anticipate when I might get sick as different opportunities arose.  And sure enough, that’s exactly what happened.

But it all came to a head in January 2011.  It was only one week into the new year; I had already been off sick from work for two weeks over the Christmas period, I had then recovered and returned to my staff role in church for just a few days when another feverish spell hit me during the Sunday morning service and I felt the energy drain out of me once more.  I was due to jump up onto the stage after the first worship set to enthusiastically welcome everyone to church and to provide a rundown of the events going on in church that week but I was struggling just to stand and sing.

As I battled my predicament in my mind, God intervened.  The Holy Spirit moved and the entire service shifted.  The Pastor called forth people who needed healing, as the worship team continued far beyond their planned set.  Shaking, I stood up from my front row seat, grateful that I did not need to walk far.  With tears streaming down my face – tears of frustration and exhaustion – I shared with the Pastor’s wife what had been previously running through my head and she began to pray for me.  Yes, she prayed for physical healing, but, most significantly, she prayed that the habit of fear would be broken.  And her words filtered through my fear like a ray of sunshine.  As we stood together praying at the front of the church, God gave me a vision of Him protecting me from the enemy and pointing to the clear path ahead.

In a matter of minutes, as the worship team played the final song in their extended set, the energy returned to my body and joy filled my heart.  I leapt onto the stage to welcome everyone to church, they being entirely unaware of the miracle that had just occurred in my heart.  The enemy had used my physical symptoms to distract me from the real weapon: fear.  But we had identified it, called it out, and conquered it in Jesus’ name, and it was no longer an issue for me.

Fear is the modern day epidemic that is stealing our dreams and opportunities.  As I observe the world around me: the rise in terror, turbulent politics, shocking media headlines, provocative posts on social media, conversations with my peers, it pains me to see the fear and anxiety that dominates humanity.

Society encourages us to worry about our own challenges, and then burdens us with further doom and gloom across all media genres.  Whether it is as trivial as the number on our bathroom scales or the devastating reports of war and terror across the world, we rarely receive good news.

The media has most of us thinking that we can no longer visit big cities for fear of terrorist attacks.  Or the lies and failed promises of politicians have us doubting whether we can trust anyone.

I believe we are now so immune to fear and anxiety, that we have also become blind to it’s effects on us.  Our increased heart rate and restless sleep, night after night, have become acceptable parts of modern-day life.

But these external influences do not have control over how we respond to situations that seek to scare us.  Anxiety is only present when we fail to trust God.

“While it looks like things are out of control, behind the scenes there is a God who has not surrendered His authority.”

A.W. Tozer

We are guilty of burdening ourselves with too much responsibility, and we try to solve the world’s problems – effectively trying to adopt the role of god – when we simply need to release them back into His hands.  God already has a plan, He has not given up His authority even in the midst of such atrocity, we just need to be quiet enough to listen for His instruction. (Read more here: Trust: Active or Passive?)

Fear declares that we do not trust that God is in control.  It tells the world that we count our own efforts to be more effective than His.  Worry is a waste of energy and time and achieves absolutely nothing.

Overcoming fear is less about us working harder or smarter to solve problems, and more about fighting in the strength that is only available at the feet of Jesus.  Imagine how different our world would be if we spent the same amount of time we spend worrying, in prayer instead?

No matter how big or small the concern is that we bear, we must stop immediately when anxiety begins to swell up within us and talk it through with God.  Just talk; it is not necessary to use any fancy language or even to sugar-coat your words, just tell God exactly how you are feeling.  Perhaps, after the first time you share the concern, nothing changes; you still feel tense and anxious.  So tell Him again.  And again.  And again… until peace begins to dawn in your heart.  God hears you and He will respond.  God loves His children and never grows sick and tired of hearing their worries and requests.  He is patient with us and it pains Him to see us live in a way that is anything but peaceful.

Now, do not misunderstand me; peaceful does not mean uneventful, or even easy.  We will all face challenges and difficulties, whether we follow God’s best for our life or not.  But depending on God, instead of our own understanding, will bring us peace in the midst of it.  He does not always immediately remove us from the trial, but He promises to be there with us in it.  Living at peace is only possible when we trust God entirely, believing Him to be the answer to every prayer.

In Matthew 14:22-33, we read an account of when Jesus’ disciples found themselves on a lake during a ferocious storm.  As the wind and waves tossed the boat back and forth throughout the night, Jesus approached them, walking on the water.

When they spotted Him, they were terrified and thought that He was a ghost.  But He called out to them and reassured them that it was He.

“Lord, if it’s really you,” said Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples, “tell me to come to you, walking on the water.”

“Yes, come.” Jesus replied.

So Peter threw one leg over the side of the boat, then the other, and gingerly stepped out onto the sea.  But after a few steps, his eyes were distracted by the waves around him and he immediately began to sink.

“Lord, save me!” he cried to Jesus.

And Jesus reached down and grabbed Peter’s hand, pulling him to safely.

“Why did you doubt me?” Jesus asked him.  And as they climbed back into the boat, the wind and waves ceased and there was calm.

We can commend Peter for having the faith to step out of the boat and to begin walking on the water.  But after only a few steps, fear arose within him and his faith faltered.  Jesus’ power had not changed, but Peter’s focus did.  Only then was he overwhelmed by the circumstances around him.

Yet our peace is determined by our faith in God, not in our circumstances.  We must not allow ourselves to be distracted by our ever-changing situation, but instead choose to trust the One who remains ever constant.

So take your eyes off of the challenges surrounding you today, and fix them on the One who stands with you in the midst of them.  The wind and waves still respond to His voice.  He will see you through safely.

The Repeat Examination

Since moving to Germany last year, money has been tight.  It has been one of the greatest tests of my faith, yet the provision of such has been at the heart of the majority of my testimonies.

I wrote about a particularly challenging need in August of last year (you can read about it in Um, Where’s my Miracle?) when I allowed fear and doubt to overwhelm me as I failed to see how God would or could come through. And yet He did, in incredible ways (you can read about that in Um, Where’s my Miracle? (Part 2): The Overflow), topping it all off by providing me with a part-time job the very next day.

Following this, there was the temporary loss of that same job and that newly-acquired income just a few weeks later, yet God worked wonders once again and never failed to meet a need (you can read about that in Facing the Flame).

So it should come as no surprise that when I faced difficulties over the past few weeks, God was right there by my side every step of the way.

My last German course ended mid-February so, for the past six weeks, I have felt a bit aimless and discouraged.  I recognised God’s hand in my circumstances, even if I could not always understand what He was up to, and continued doing all I knew to do: work, serve in church, and revise the German I had learnt previously, but I was praying for direction and opportunity.  My plan had been to continue with further language courses but they were proving too expensive so instead I began looking for more work.

Then last week I was invited to interview for a Learning Support Assistant vacancy in an International School in a town just north of where I currently live.  In my mind, it ticked all the boxes of what I was looking for except for one; the start date.  The post had been advertised for the new school year, beginning in August, but I was ready to begin work now and hoped for an opportunity to start sooner.

Echoing my circumstances of last August, I began the week with €4 in my purse and just  €0,89 in my bank account.  I had already moved a small amount from my German account into my UK account to help cover an expense on my property in Scotland so that account was lying empty too.  I really needed that job.

On the morning of my interview I bought my travel ticket with my credit card, knowing I didn’t have the cash to cover it but believing it would be a worthy investment.  I was also due to meet a friend afterwards and I wondered how I would fund the lunch that would inevitably follow.

As I was shown around the school and participated in the short interview, I found the warmth of the staff and atmosphere in the school so inviting.  I concluded that I really wanted that job… only one issue remained: the start date.

“Do you have any questions for us?” they asked. Hmm… well, yes, I did. But dare I ask?

“The post was advertised for the new school year,” I began, “is that the case, or…”

But before I had even had the chance to ask the question that I was so hesitant to voice, I was informed that there was paternity leave to cover from the beginning of May, therefore the new post would begin then.  This was an answer to prayer.  This was the job.

As I thanked my interviewers for their time, the Deputy Head Teacher said he would walk me back to the reception area (as he was walking that way anyway, carrying a crate of small bags).  As we approached the exit, he said, “I don’t normally do this,” taking a bag from the crate and offering it to me, “but would you like a school packed lunch to take with you?”

I couldn’t believe it.  I smiled at God’s creativity, opportunity, and provision. That was another answer to prayer.

As I headed to meet my friend, still grinning widely at God’s clear hand in my morning so far, I walked by a woman not much older than me, sitting begging and wrapped tightly in a blanket against the biting wind.  I smiled again at God’s provision; this packed lunch was not intended for me, but for her.  And I handed it to her without hesitation.

That, of course, left me once again without lunch, but I was confident that God would provide.  In His grace, He prompted my friend to treat me to lunch that afternoon and we enjoyed valuable time together.  She had no idea of my needs that day (she’ll read about them here, no doubt) but demonstrated generosity (which is one of her many great qualities) and it met a significant need in my present circumstances.

In the days that followed, God continued to stir the hearts of various individuals who responded in obedience and blessed me in incredible ways.  By the end of the week I had the promise of full-time employment doing something I love, I had been encouraged by the kind words and support of many, and I had received overwhelming financial provision that not only met my current needs, but that will assist in supporting me until I begin work in May.

As I reflect on this past week, I see so many parallels between it and that difficult week in August last year.  Each time I had no money, each time I had no idea what was just around the corner for me, yet the evolution of my faith is glaringly evident.  Last week I experienced no anxiety, no illness, no doubt; I had seen God do it before and I knew He would do it again.  Yet just like last time, His provision extended far beyond money; He provided supportive people, timely opportunities, financial provision, and the ‘perfect’ job.

I would not have chosen to be placed in the same set of circumstances that I had experienced before and responded so poorly to, but it illustrates so clearly my own growth over the past year and the many, many, many ways in which God has worked; sometimes in obvious, for-the-world-to-see ways, and other times in the quiet, behind-the-scenes, gift-wrapped-just-for-me kinda ways.

As I celebrate my first anniversary living in Germany in just a few days time, I sense the dawn of a new season but I am so very grateful for the desperate circumstances I encountered that demanded a miracle, for without those desperate times, I would not have had the opportunity for a front-row seat to displays of God’s infinite glory and power.

The Depth of a Hug

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ache of Unrequited Love

I’m sure we’ve all been there at one time or another; we fall hopelessly for a man or woman who does not share the same feelings for us.  We lose time day-dreaming about them and imagining a life together, making all sorts of plans for the future, while they live their lives without us in it.

Or perhaps we are the recipients of such love; we enjoy the attention, the chase, flirting with the idea of commitment but never actually willing to enter into it.  Maybe we enjoy the ‘perks’ of the pursuit but run as soon as something is required of us in return.

To love someone demands something of us; the giving of ourselves for the benefit of the other person. It can be a wonderful thing to enter into with another person and share that respect, that care, that sacrifice with one another. That is why unrequited love is all the more painful, for we enter into it alone, never sure of any reciprocation.

And yet that is what we are called to do.

In 1 John 4:7-12, we read, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.”

God is only too familiar with unrequited love.  From the very beginning, He has loved every one of us; He has dreamt of a future with us; given of Himself to save us, protect us, and care for us.  He loves us, dotes on us, reaches out to us, and pursues us… and still we often show little interest in response.

We may appreciate His love when we reap the benefits, but we run away if He requires something of us or if something of the world seems more attractive to us. Perhaps we enjoy the gifts He gives us when they meet our own desires, but reject His good gifts of discipline, or sacrifice, or abstinence that benefit us the most.

God knows and understands the ache of unrequited love. He experiences it every single day as He lovingly pursues humanity and we respond selectively, selfishly, only when it suits us. Perhaps we lead Him on and enjoy the thrill of a new relationship, but flee as soon as things get difficult.

The Bible tells us that the Lord God is a jealous God.  He longs for us to renounce the idols we allow to come between Him and us; gods of comfort, and comparison, and marital status.  He desires for us to resist the expectations the world places on us and to commit fully to Him.

The early-20th Century evangelist, Oswald Chambers, said, “Get into the habit of saying, “Speak, Lord,” and life will become a romance.”  We all know that the foundation of any good relationship is communication, so rather than viewing our relationship with God as anything different, we can begin by inviting His presence into our lives and quietening our spirit enough to listen to the words of encouragement, and worth, and purpose that He delights in speaking over us.

When we truly know the love of God, we are free to love others, regardless of their response, because we are secure in the love of the Father. The love of Jesus is the most fulfilling, the most rewarding, the most steadfast love that we can receive and share with others. When we are consumed by His love, it overflows into the hearts of everyone around us and there is no room for the ache of unrequited love, for we are safe in the love of our Saviour.

So, no matter what our current relationship status is, let’s first sort out our relationship with The One who has loved us and pursued us and cherished us for millennia. Let’s not shrug off His advances or resist commitment, but give of ourselves to Him who gave us everything when He sent His Son to die on a wooden cross to save us from eternal death and separation from Him. He loves us so much, and the ache in His heart for us is real.

“We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)

 

The Mathematics of Generosity

I recently FaceTimed my youngest brother and we were chatting, as we often do, about our next steps and what God is calling each of us to next.  At the time of the phone call, I was facing a number of challenges myself and was a little preoccupied by them as we spoke.  But then my brother began sharing about some of the questions and uncertainty he was battling and it became apparent that we were facing similar issues.

Soon, the lessons that God had been teaching me and the struggles of recent weeks became the fuel I used to encourage and help direct my brother.  Together, we declared faith in each of our circumstances and believed God for great things in our coming days.

God blesses us with so much, every single day, but perhaps at first glance it does not all appear good.  How can a challenge or a struggle be considered a blessing?

Romans 5:3-5 says, “we can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.”

All that we receive is for our good and is given by God out of love.  The Apostle Paul later wrote, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” (Romans 8:28)

He calls us to a purpose and He uses all things to prepare us for that purpose.

But more than that, He multiplies all that He has blessed us with when we return it and use it for His glory.  The multiplication of our generosity is not only applicable to money, though of course He does that too, but it is about so much more.  God calls us to use all that He has given us; finances, resources, talents, experiences, testimonies, opportunities, time, love, relationships.  When we shift our perspective and allow God to work in all things, He can multiply what little we have to reach far beyond our own limited means.

I could have chosen to respond to my own struggles in bitterness, and therefore have nothing to share with my brother.

I could have decided not to share my own challenges with him for fear of seeming weak or being shamed.

I could have waited until my own prayers had been answered before sharing the testimony with him.

But, instead, I allowed God to use my own vulnerability and doubt to partner with my brother so that we could encourage one another with previous testimonies of God’s goodness and timing, and to spur one another on in our faith.  The impact of the lessons we were learning and the testimonies we had experienced were multiplied as we shared them with one another.

Back in January, I FaceTimed a friend in Canada and was sharing with her some of the challenges I was facing, including financial struggles.  Just before we ended the call, she asked if you could pray for me.  As part of her prayer, she asked the Holy Spirit to prompt the right people to help meet my financial needs, then we said our goodbyes and hung up.  Less than 20 minutes later, I received a text message from a friend in the UK stating that they had felt prompted to send me a gift and had transferred money directly into my bank account there and then.

The money that I received was needed and much appreciated, and I praised God for His provision.  But this story was not just my testimony.  It was now that of my Canadian friend as well.  She had partnered with me in that challenge and had offered her prayers and encouragement.  When I shared the testimony with her later that night, she was so excited and encouraged that God had used her in that moment to work a miracle in my life.  He had multiplied the impact of this miracle and all three participators had a testimony to share, for she was as much part of meeting that answer to prayer as the giver was.

The Bible tells the story of a young boy who offered his meagre lunch of five bread rolls and two fish to Jesus, in the hope that his small contribution might at least feed the tired Teacher and perhaps some of his companions.  What the boy could never have anticipated was Jesus, having given thanks to God for this provision, proceeding to feed over 5000 people with the food and still have plenty leftover.  That is how the mathematics of generosity work.

In It’s a Marathon, not a Sprint, I introduced Jim Elliot and his missionary companions who were killed in their efforts to reach a primitive tribe for Jesus.

For Jim, his Unrivaled Road led him to the Aucas but also to death, as he perished that Sunday afternoon on a sand bank along the Curaray river in Ecuador. And though we could view his premature death as a great tragedy, it created vast opportunity for the Gospel.

As the story was retold across the world’s media, testimonies of how their tale of bravery and obedience had positively impacted lives for Christ began to flood in.

A once forgotten tribe deep in the heart of the Ecuadorian jungle was now known and prayed for by thousands around the globe.

Only months after their death, the widows of the five men personally illustrated God’s love and forgiveness by continuing the work that their husbands had begun.  To this, the Aucas responded positively, and many in the tribe were, indeed, won for Christ.

Even now, decades later, the story of the five American missionaries who were slain for the Gospel continues to challenge, convict, and inspire many.  For them, they were simply obeying God’s call on their lives, yet through them, God reached many, many more than just the Auca tribe the men had reached out to.

Their sacrifice, perhaps much more than any of us would be willing to give, was magnified and multiplied far beyond what any of them or their wives could have foreseen.  They simply gave back to God what He had given them.

We cannot underestimate what God wishes to do with our giving, whatever form that may take.  Don’t hold back because you consider your offering to be too small or insignificant.  It is not.  He is in the business of multiplication; when placed into the hands of God, your giving will reach farther and impact many more than you could ever imagine.

It’s a Marathon, not a Sprint

The life and death of Jim Elliot has always been a great source of inspiration for me.  Indeed, it was his biography, ‘In the Shadow of the Almighty’, written by his wife Elisabeth, that played an instrumental role in confirming my call to Germany.

Jim and Elisabeth, along with four other missionary couples, were positioned by God deep in the Ecuadorian jungle in the mid-1950s, called to reach the savage Auca tribe with the Gospel.  But on January 8th 1956, as Jim Elliot, Nate Saint (a pilot with Mission Aviation Fellowship), Pete Fleming, Roger Youderian, and Ed McCully attempted to make personal contact with the Auca tribe after weeks of friendly interactions and gift exchanges via Nate’s plane, they were killed by the very people they were trying to reach for Christ.

Yet it was not Jim’s resolve to do as his Heavenly Father required of him, though inspiring, or his willingness to die for the sake of the Gospel, though incredibly challenging, but his readiness to act in obedience to God, one step at a time, that spoke most significantly to me.

As evidenced by his personal journals, Jim spent much time through his teens and twenties seeking God regarding his calling and where God might be leading him to.  For a while, he was torn between India and Ecuador, both of which he had formed connections with and felt his heart stir for.  However, through His quiet, persistent whisper, God eventually confirmed Jim’s call to Ecuador.  And though he still held many questions and was uncertain of his specific purpose in that country, Jim and his friend Pete Fleming arrived in Ecuador in February 1952, just four months later.

For the next three and a half years, Jim worked on learning Spanish, and then using that foundation to familiarise himself with the unwritten tribal languages.  He used the time to build relationships with locals, with other missionaries, and with friendly tribe members.  The growing missionary team set about building homes, schools, and various landing strips for Nate Saint and his plane.  There was plenty to do, but all the while the greater question rung in Jim’s mind: why am I here?

In her book, ‘Through Gates of Splendor’, in which Elisabeth Elliot details Operation Auca (as the missionary five called it), she describes the stark reality of missionary life; “A missionary plods through the first year or two, thinking that things will be different when he speaks the language. He is baffled to find, frequently, that they are not. He is stripped of all that may be called “romance”. Life has fallen more or less into a pattern. Day follows day in unbroken succession; there are no crises, no mass conversions, sometimes not even one or two to whom he can point and say: “There is a transformed life. If I had not come, he would never have known Christ.””

It was not until October 1955 that God confirmed to the missionary five that their purpose in the Ecuadorian jungle was to reach out to the primitive Aucas.

Step by step, God had led Jim to the right people, the right places, the right experiences, and the right opportunities, all building towards something greater.  But that does not mean that those early years were wasted; not at all!  Jim’s Unrivaled Road was a journey, not a single destination.

And so, here I am in Germany; nearly a year has gone by since I first touched down in Darmstadt.  I arrived with such great expectations and an estimated timeline in mind: I’d be fluent in the language within 9 months and then move to another part of the country to begin ministering (and I had some specific ideas of what that might look like too).

But almost 12 months have passed and, at first glance, my life looks much the same as it did on that first day; 3rd April 2017.  What progress has been made?  I still don’t know exactly why God has called me here.  And yet… I have a wealth of experiences, and lessons, and relationships, and opportunities to testify of.  I’m quickly realising that this journey is a marathon, not a sprint.

Yet God, in His grace, allows me to glimpse His mighty hand at work on a daily basis as He carefully leads me forward, one step at a time.  Every week; another piece of the puzzle falls into place and I am amazed at the bigger picture He is fabricating before my eyes.

We can become disheartened, can’t we, when we are anxious to reach the next milestone?  But God is less interested in the noteworthy moments that we place so much value on, and more invested in our moment-by-moment trust, our step-by-step obedience, and our day-by-day growth.  It is just as important that we are prepared and ready when we ‘arrive’ as it is that we ‘arrive’ at all.

So resist putting a timeline on God.  Take your eyes off that speck in the distance that represents the next milestone or the finish line.  Learn to enjoy the journey.  Appreciate every conversation, every opportunity, every blessing as a gift from God and accept that His plans and ways are fuelled by love for you.  Don’t let the uncertainty of tomorrow distract you from what He is doing in your life today.  He is a good Father and can be trusted to outwork His purposes in your life in the best way and in the best time.

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.

Are You Sitting Comfortably?

I was sat comfortably, as it happened, in my economy seat onboard the British Airways aircraft that would take me back to Germany after a fortnight of reunions and precious time with family in Aberdeen over the Christmas period.  The flight roster was quiet, gifting me an entire row of seats to myself.

The safety video full of famous British faces had ended and the lights dimmed as we prepared for take-off.  I had shortly before been sent on my way by 75% of my immediate family and had had no trouble putting on a brave face as we said our goodbyes.  I rarely get teary at farewells, instead typically approaching the occasion all too matter-of-factly, and eager to get on my way.  But as the plane sped along the runway and the nose lifted off the ground, I was overwhelmed with a flood of emotions and they began leaking down my face.

As the granite city grew ever smaller below me, I stared purposefully out of the window.  The winter sun bounced off the fluffy clouds surrounding the plane as I reflected on the incredible time I had spent in my homeland; of the valuable time I had had with so many special friends; of the quality time enjoyed with my extended family; of the ease of spending two weeks at my family home where food and electricity and transport was not my concern.  I reflected on two incredible weeks; two weeks spent entirely within my Comfort Zone.

I had never really considered my life to have been lived in my Comfort Zone before, but from the moment I stepped foot in Germany it became glaringly obvious that I had left it far behind me.  It had been my choice to respond positively to God’s call, and one that I would not change for the world, but it has been a journey full of challenge, and earnest prayers in the face of great fear.  Back in April 2017, I boarded my one-way flight with great excitement and intrigue, expecting adventure and opportunity for the miraculous.  And it has been all those things.  But having settled comfortably for two weeks back into very little worry or concern or responsibility, the reality of what I was returning to in this second instance was viewed with stark clarity.  I had pushed all German matters comfortably to the back of my mind and left them there for 14 days of bliss.  But as I started the return journey, I could ignore them no longer.

I remembered that I had big decisions to make upon my return.

I remembered that the ease with which I had enjoyed relationships in Scotland was not yet available across the language barrier.

I remembered that I was returning to face huge financial challenges.

I remembered the great unknown that 2018 held.

I remembered that every day would be a test of my faith.  But that it was sure to bring even greater testimony.

As the plane flew south over snow-capped hills and winding rivers, I grieved the life I was once again leaving behind.  I silently handed all my friends and family members over to God for His safe-keeping.  As we crossed the border and entered English airspace, I declared all the concerns and fears that I knew I would face upon my return, but recognising that my God, who had been faithful throughout 2017, was the same God who returned with me as I looked ahead into 2018.

It was not until I stepped out of my Comfort Zone that I recognised just how comfortable I had become living inside of it.  Yet the growth and development of my faith that I saw in 2017 would not have been possible if I had remained there.  The miracles I have witnessed and the characteristics of God that I had only ever read about became a reality for me when I left comfort behind.  The God I have come to know and the closeness I have experienced with Him was previously hindered by my comfy, cosy Comfort Zone.

As I consider 2018 and all that this new year will bring, I recognise that the concerns, responsibilities and fear that I carry may be great, but my God is far greater!  The challenges I face only set the stage for God to accomplish infinitely more than I could ever ask or imagine!  And knowing Him and experiencing Him in new ways every single day is a far more exciting and rewarding way to live than settling for comfort and ease.

Though I more reluctantly left my Comfort Zone this time around,  the truth is that our Comfort Zone is where our faith becomes stagnant.  If we have all that (we think) we need, we have no reason to engage our faith and to trust God for His guidance and provision.  Are we not all guilty of drifting a little from God when things are going well?  Yet when circumstances around us get tough, we draw close to Him again and ask for His intervention in matters we cannot ‘fix’ ourselves, do we not?  Instead, let us seek to continually draw close to God this year, no matter what we face.  Let us endeavour to remain just as close to Him through the good times as we do through the struggles.  May our faith in the Almighty God be where we find our greatest comfort.

I have been back in Germany for just under two weeks now and God has overwhelmed me with His goodness once again.  His presence brings me peace, and the evidence of His hand in the detail of my life never eases to amaze me and bring me to tears of pure joy!  Thank God for His personalised love and interest in each one of our lives!  His love reaches far beyond our realms of understanding; so far, in fact, that He sent His only Son, Jesus, to carry the punishment for our sins and die in place of us.  That is real love!

“We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters.” 1 John 3:16 (NLT)

So let’s not remain in our comfy armchairs, watching life go by.  Let’s live the full and abundant life that Jesus bought for us on the cross!  I would encourage us all to push forward in this new year into all that God has for us.  His purposes will always take us outside of our Comfort Zone and require us to lean more heavily on Him, but the reward of knowing Him more intimately, experiencing His miracles first hand, and receiving the freedom and peace that He brings far outweighs anything we leave behind.

How about we just start small: what is it that God is asking you to do today?  Perhaps, like me, the problem is not figuring out what that is, but simply having the courage to do it!  I spent hours yesterday arguing with God over an issue that was settled weeks ago, but in my fear I sought to make excuses and delay my obedience.  Yet as I surrendered to His plan, mustered up the courage and acted in faith, He met me exactly where I was and led me graciously, step-by-step.  In just a few short hours, I am already a witness to His blessing, for when we act in obedience, blessing will always follow.

I hope that 2018 will be a year full of surprises, opportunities, miracles, and fresh encounters with God for each of us.  Together, let’s leave behind what is comfortable and put on a brave face, stepping boldly into the fullness of what God wants to do in us and through us this year.