The Catalyst for Answered Prayer

I returned from New York City in December 2014, just days before Christmas, having completed a four-month internship programme with Metro World Child.  I arrived back in my home city with little idea of what would happen next; having felt that the season I was in was not yet over.

Having been asked to be bridesmaid for my friend in the following March, I decided that remaining in Scotland until then seemed sensible, so I turned down an opportunity to return immediately to New York and instead accepted a ministry job at home on one condition: that it was understood that I was only committing to stay for six months.  After all, I still felt I had unfinished business with the States and, therefore, expected to return later that year.

But months ticked by and I was no closer to returning Stateside.  I kept a keen eye out for different opportunities and made several inquiries into different ministries but every door shut before me.

Meanwhile, doors for ministry and work were opening effortlessly for me in Scotland.  In my fourth month, I felt a burden to begin a childrens’ ministry in the local community where I was working.  I did not want to begin something if I was only going to be present for a couple more months so I committed to a further year in employment; the duration of the next full academic year.

Throughout that year I lived with a short-term mentality.  Every commitment I made had the disclaimer, “if I’m still here, then I will….” or, “if I’m not gone by then, perhaps…”  I sought not to distance myself from everyone and everything so much as I did not want to commit to anything I would not see through until the end.  But by the following Spring, having faced challenges and frustrations both professionally and personally, I decided that living with this short-term mentality was unhelpful for both myself and my colleagues.  I stopped using disclaimers and decided to be fully present in the season that God had placed me in.

“Ok, God,” I reasoned, “if this is where You have me for now, I will be all here.  I will stop living in limbo; neither fully in the present, nor fully in the next season.  I will resist trying to make the next step happen, so it is up to You to act when that right time comes.  I’m committing to ‘here’ until You move me ‘there’.”

I began putting down roots again and, most significantly, decided to put my apartment up for sale.  If I was to remain in my home city for the foreseeable future, then I would invest in a larger place that I could be comfortable in.

But time passed and my apartment attracted very little interest.  A number of people viewed it, there were even some promising conversations about follow-up actions and further negotiation, but my apartment didn’t move.  However, God did…

It was only once my attitude had changed and I had surrendered my desires, my expectations, and my timing to God, that He began to act.  My recent actions had reflected my changed focus and I no longer sought to second-guess God’s timetable, but, instead, to fully embrace my present circumstances.  I realised that God had not forgotten me or overlooked me; He had placed me there for that time and with purpose, therefore I should make best use of the time with those people, in that job, living in that city.  My change in attitude changed my whole demeanour, and my remaining months there became far more pleasant and enjoyable.

Then, on the last day of that academic year, I flew to Germany to visit a friend for a much-needed weekend break.  It was my first time stepping foot on German soil (admittedly, a country well down my travel bucket-list) but it was a cheap weekend break and a greatly anticipated reunion with my friend.  There was nothing special about the particular weekend that I had chosen, other than that it being the most convenient for each of our schedules, but I also don’t believe that it is any coincidence that it coincided with the last day of the school year.  It was there that God began to nudge me forward once again.

My change in attitude had been the catalyst for God to move in me once again.  I changed my priorities and how I spent my time; I chose to invest in myself instead of wasting time daydreaming about what I wanted and sulking because I didn’t have it yet.  I became intentional about my own spiritual growth.  I fasted TV and movies that summer (a time-consuming hobby of mine) so that I could better invest that time.  I dived into God’s Word, I read faith-inspired books packed full of wisdom and personal testimonies.  I told God everything that I had been feeling: my hopes, my dreams, my doubts, my disappointments, my failures, and my regrets.  God reminded me of the purposes He had created me for but I knew that I was not yet ready to enter into them.  So becoming ready became my new goal.

Without rushing ahead or trying to second guess or take control, I simply began asking God, “what next?” And in the meantime, I continued to serve in my existing situation as best as I could.

In the months that followed, God actually used the non-sale of my apartment to direct me further and to finally confirm that a new season was imminent.  Though I had initially envisioned this ‘meantime’ season would only last 6 months, it did, in fact, last a little over two years.  Neither, of course, did it lead me back to America, but overseas to mainland Europe.  The growth and preparation I experienced in that time was absolutely essential in allowing me to step into all that God had prepared for me in Germany.  I am unspeakably grateful for that meantime.

In times of waiting, it can be easy to slip into a dreamlike state where your body is firmly in the present, but your mind and heart have gone ahead and are endeavouring to live prematurely in your Promised Land.  But we must guard our minds and not allow ourselves to drift too far into the future, that we miss out on the present.

God is less worried about our circumstances and more interested in the state of our heart.  Are we making demands of God for the things that we want, or do we trust Him to lead us into His best?  Do we throw a tantrum if our expectations aren’t met, or do we surrender our own ideals and ask Him to act as He chooses, when He chooses?  I believe that our attitude is very often the gateway to seeing our prayers become a reality.

Until we truly know God and trust His heart towards us, we will be fearful or resentful of His instructions.  But as we prioritise knowing Him, rather than simply seeking His ways, trusting Him will become easier, and following His path for our lives will become a delight.

Even while we wait for God’s promises, there is a life to be fully embraced and lived out every single day.  Be fully present wherever you are right now.  It may not be where you want to be, or what you would like to be doing, but when we walk in obedience to where God has placed us at this moment instead of always wishing each day away, we learn to see God in the mundane and life becomes an adventure!

Do It Anyway

A few weeks ago I was asked to share a testimony at church.  The opportunity thrilled me and I was grateful to have the chance to share a little of my heart with my new church family.  But then I hesitated, as I carefully typed my reply to my pastor… “Sure. In English or German?”

Hmm… My initial excitement faded a little at the thought of this forgotten obstacle.  I waited anxiously for his reply.

“Both is fine.  If you do it in English, I will translate.”

English it is, then!

It was the option that came most naturally, and posed the least challenge.  Sharing in English would require minimal preparation and would permit me to speak eloquently and passionately.  “Piece of cake!” I concluded.

But the following day my conscience stirred as I remembered the reason why God had called me to Germany in the first place… What if I was to testify in German?

My range of vocabulary would be significantly reduced.

Do it anyway.

It would require far greater preparation time.

Do it anyway.

My nerves will likely cloud my thinking and I will have to depend on written notes.

Do it anyway.

I would be greatly restricted in how I could adequately express my heart.

Do it anyway.

My perfectionism and pride threatened to dissuade me, but I knew that God was calling me to step out of the boat once again.  It is in our weakness that His power is most evident (2 Corinthians 12:9).  It is only when we step out of our comfort zone that we see our trust exercised and our faith grow.

2 Kings 5 tells the story of a man called Naaman.  Being an army commander, he was used to an audience with men in high places, including the king.  He was well thought of in the land, was a great warrior, and a man of significant wealth. However, he suffered with leprosy.

Concerned for her master’s health, Naaman’s young slave girl suggested that he present himself to the prophet Elisha to receive healing.  So the soldier embarked upon a journey to Israel to meet the prophet of God and seek His intervention.  Upon reaching the prophet’s home, however, Naaman is met by a lowly servant with a simple message for Naaman: “Go and wash yourself seven times in the Jordan River. Then your skin will be restored, and you will be healed of your leprosy.” (2 Kings 5:10)

Appalled at the prophet’s lack of decorum, Naaman left in a huff.  He couldn’t believe that he had travelled all this way and the man of God had not even had the decency to meet him person!  And as for his instruction; dip in the River Jordan seven times and be healed of this skin disease? Pah! Who had ever heard of such a thing!

But Naaman’s officers cautiously approached their superior…

“If the prophet had asked you to do something brave and difficult, wouldn’t you have responded differently?” they asked. “Instead he asks of you but a simple request…”

Do it anyway.

Naaman’s issue was not his leprosy – not really – his issue was pride. His healing was not dependent on some great victory in battle (which came somewhat easily to him) or a feat of strength, but it relied solely on his ability to humble himself and be obedient to God’s instruction.

I had sought to share my testimony in a language that I was comfortable communicating in and therefore assumed to depend on my own abilities.  But as I humbled myself before God, before the people in my church, and attempted to express my heart in simple, broken German, God did a work that He could not have otherwise done.  He softened my heart, and He used not only the testimony that I communicated but also the added testimony that was being outworked in those moments by operating in a foreign tongue.

The courage I demonstrated that day, by letting go of my pride and allowing God to speak through me, brought breakthrough in my on-going effort to master the German language.  My courage and daring has grown, permitting me to take more risks when engaged in conversation.  My vocabulary has broadened and my ear has better attuned to the distinct accents.  My mind comprehends better the intricacies of the German grammar, causing sentences to flow more freely from my lips.

I am reminded again how pride can become an obstacle in our race of faith.  The life we lead, the call we answer, is not one that we can do alone.  The purpose for which we were created is impossible to achieve in our own abilities.  If we truly commit to walking our unrivaled road, then it is absolutely necessary that we lay aside our pride and allow God to operate through our weaknesses. When God prompts us to act; when He calls us to obey Him, even at the expense of our prestige, let’s do it anyway.

Building Momentum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Proverbs 3:5-7 (TPT))

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The ‘I Don’t Know’ Taboo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Do I Know It’s God?

“But how do I know it’s God?”

I’ve been asked this question over and over again the last few months; friends, acquaintances in church, family members, even social media connections from the other side of the world, all want to know the same thing: how do we know we are being led by God?

So many voices fight for our attention on a daily basis; colleagues, social media, friends, politicians, family members, news reporters, music artists, our own voice of reason and common sense.  So how can we sift through the rabble in our minds to hear and be convinced of God’s voice?  How does He lead us? And what if we get it wrong?

Here’s a few key things to remember when seeking the voice of God.

God wants to be heard

Sometimes we maybe feel like God is hiding from us or intentionally making things difficult for us, just to test us, but that is not the case.  Yes, God does test our faith at times, and may appear to lead us on a grand detour to our own Promised Land (Exodus 13), but He is not doing it to wind us up or tease us.  His motive for all that He does is love (Romans 8:28).  And because of that, He desires a relationship with us; one full of heartfelt exchanges and vulnerable conversations.  Just as in our friendships or relationships with one another, the more we talk, the tighter the bond; the more honest and open we are, the more intimate the relationship.

So it is only natural that God, who created us in His image – to love, to live in community – values these same things in our relationship with Him.  More often than not, our assertion of a ‘silent’ God is less about God not speaking, and more about the fact that we are not listening.  God wants to be heard.  He speaks to accomplish (Genesis 1).  He speaks value, and worth, and purpose over us.  He doesn’t say these things for His own benefit, but for ours!

So don’t kid yourself that God is speaking to everyone else except you, that is not the case.  Even in my own ‘silent’ seasons, when I have waited for God to speak and reveal His next step, He has still spoken to encourage me in my waiting.  He maybe wasn’t (yet) saying what I wanted Him to say, but He was not quiet.  When I stopped to listen, He was always faithful to respond.

God will not let you miss His will

If you are seeking God’s heart and live in a way that endeavours to align your heart with His, He will not let you miss His direction (Jeremiah 29:13).  Sometimes, when faced with a number of possibilities or decisions, we allow fear to enter into our hearts, worrying that we will choose something that is not from God.  Be careful, because this is a cunning trick of the enemy who is doing all he can to throw us into confusion and hijack our Christian walk (John 10:10).

Rarely will God speak to us in a loud, booming voice.  Instead, He is the quiet, persistent whisper that pursues us and gently guides us (1 Kings 19:12).  He never misses deadlines or leaves us to walk blindly into foolish decisions.  When we are truly seeking to know His will for us, He loves that and honours that, and will be faithful to answer.

God’s timetable is not ours

I have just said that God never misses deadlines.  But hear me: He never misses His deadlines; He quite often misses ours!  But that is exactly my point: God’s timetable is not ours (Ecclesiastes 3:11).  Often times, when faced with a decision or trying to identify our next step, we allow ourselves to think that God has abandoned us because He fails to speak to us in what we believe to be a timely manner.  But the problem is with us, not Him.

If we believe that God will speak to us, and will not allow us to miss His best for us, then we have to trust His timing too.  Frequently, His persistent whisper begins to speak long before we see the fruition of those promises (Hebrews 11:8-12).  It is seldom a good idea to act on a promise, a direction, an instruction that we have only heard spoken once, for we cannot be sure that it is from God.  But God’s persistent whisper speaks time and time again, allowing His Holy Spirit to minister to our hearts, and confirm the word that has been spoken over us.

God is a God of peace, not confusion

And along with His repeated word, God will also gift us His peace to cement His will in our hearts.

God’s will cannot be worked out logically.  His ways do not align with common sense.  But His voice is always accompanied by peace, not worry, stress, or confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33).

The peace that God gives is a peace that cannot be given or understood by the world (Philippians 4:7).  It is a peace that carries us through the storm of uncertainty; though everything around us may appear (to us) to be out of control, we can rest in our hearts knowing that God walks every step with us.  Where He is leading us, we will not want to or be able to go alone.  So resist trying to walk ahead of Him, instead allow Him to set the pace and just take one step at a time.

The bottom line is this: we must be listening in order to hear from God.  The Bible tells us, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).  If our Bibles are sitting on the bookshelf gathering dust, we can be sure we will hear very little of God’s voice.  The Word of God will always be the primary way in which God will speak to us.

By praying before we open the Bible, we can invite the Holy Spirit that lives within us to help us identify and discern the voice of God.  His Spirit works in partnership with the Word of God to bring the verses into words of encouragement, instruction, and correction that are relevant and applicable for our lives today.

Learning to hear the voice of God, recognise the voice of God, and then have the courage to obey the voice of God is a beautiful journey that He lovingly walks us through as we seek to grow closer and closer to Him.  God longs for a relationship with us, first and foremost, not just simply people to do His bidding.  So focus on getting to know your Heavenly Father, and soon His direction and instruction will become part of your daily dialogue.

Making Way for Miracles

A number of years ago I had the opportunity to visit Montenegro as part of a short-term missions team.  My local church in Scotland was partnered with a church in the Montenegrin capital city, Podgorica, but our work was primarily with three Balkan refugee camps in the eastern town of Berane.  The first team that went out in 2010 were involved in installing a toilet block in one of the camps; that which we affectionately called ‘The Container Camp’ because the families there lived in metal shipping containers.

Upon their return, the team presented to the church all that they had done on their trip.    That particular night, I happened to be manning the Information Desk at the back of the church.  And that particular night I carried extra information about our Montenegro partnership, including a sign-up sheet for people interested in going on the next trip.

As the team shared their experience, they explained the different work initiatives they had been involved with in the camp, including work with the children, and maintenance work to improve the basic facilities that were available.  They told stories of a head-lice infestation amongst the young ones, and shared photos of team members knee-deep in sewage.  Then they called for volunteers to be part of the next team that would visit a few months later.

I don’t consider myself to be a particularly ‘high maintenance’ kinda gal, but I do appreciate my home comforts like my hair-straighteners.  Somehow, I didn’t think this was the kind of trip that had time (or need) for hair-straighteners, so I was ready to politely decline the team’s request.  But God had other ideas…

Nothing in me wanted to join that next team, yet something in me knew I had to.  My heartbeat quickened, my mind began to race, and everything around me swirled in slow motion.  I was terrified to volunteer, but it was an excited, expectant kind of fear.  It was like my hand had a mind of its own, and before the team’s presentation had even ended, the sign-up sheet lying on the desk in front of me already had my name scribbled at the top.

For the next three years I participated in the annual aid trips to those Montenegrin refugee camps.  I fell in love with the people and longed to make more of a difference in their lives.  I delighted in building relationships with the individuals, especially the children, in each camp, and endeavoured to learn just a few words through which we could communicate and play games together.

But that third return trip very nearly did not happen.  You see, my personal finances were a struggle that year and common sense told me I could not afford to go.  I had already agreed to co-lead the team, however, so the question was not if I was going, but how.  I had little more than the amount required for the first half instalment but I was worried about clearing out my bank account, leaving me broke for the remainder of the month.  Not to mention my concern over where the rest of the fees would come from when the second half instalment was due.

I pondered my predicament over lunch with a friend one day and explained the situation.  I did not want to miss out on being part of the trip but my circumstances had me feeling defeated.  Yet God is not defeated by circumstantial evidence.  If He wants something to happen, it will happen.

As the deadline for the first payment drew ever closer, I continued to pray and consider the best way to move forward.  Somewhat reluctantly, I decided to take a risk.  I recall journalling about it and stating, almost in diva-like fashion, that God would just have to come through for me.  He had put me in this predicament and therefore He would just have to get me out!  So, only a day ahead of the deadline,  I cleared out my bank account and paid the first half instalment.

And then the miracles began to tally.

The very next day, I received a cheque in the mail from the friend I had previously had lunch with.  She had spoken with her husband after we had met and they had felt compelled to give me a financial gift.  Its amount matched the first instalment I had paid not 24 hours before.

A week or two later, I was approached at the end of the church service by a member of the church finance team.  This was nothing particularly unusual, as his work would sometimes overlap with mine, but our conversation that day was not about business.

“Someone would like to give towards your Montenegro trip,” he told me,  “for the next three months, they will contribute towards the remainder of your fees.”

And they did just that.  To this day, I have no idea who that anonymous supporter was but I am incredibly grateful for their generous contribution which provided for me in ways beyond just financial.

I couldn’t believe it; my entire trip fees had been covered and God had proved Himself faithful once again.  But He was not done yet.

Around that same time, I came home one day to find an envelope had been slid under the front door of my apartment.  Ordinarily, my mail was posted through the main front door to the apartment block and I would pick it up from the lobby on my way past before I entered my own apartment.  But this envelope had clearly been personally delivered, right to my own front door. It only had my name hand-written on the front, with no mention of who or where it had come from.  And inside was a small sum of cash.  The mystery of that gift was never solved either.

Then shortly before we left the country, I received a final financial gift.  This gift covered the cost of my spending money and the petrol I needed to drive the 400km round-trip to the airport.  By the time I boarded the plane, I was better-off than the day I had taken a risk and paid that first instalment.  God had not only provided, but He had made available His abundant provision.  Those months and that experience completely transformed my understanding of God’s generous spirit and the ways in which He works.  It challenged me to be more generous and to be more readily available to walk in obedience to Him, trusting Him to provide all that I need along the way.

I personally experienced God come through for me in just a small way, but its lesson and impact on my life was huge.  Even now, years later, I often recall that testimony when I am faced with financial challenges.  I am reminded that when we walk in obedience and take a risk for God, He blesses us with far more than we ever sacrificed for Him.  We cannot anticipate or understand the ways through which He works, but we can be sure that He will surprise us.

That first risk; that first step of obedience to pay the first instalment; that first act demonstrated that I was willing to pay the price to follow God’s call.  That action became the catalyst for God’s blessing.  All too often we do not take that first step because we fear it will cost us too much, but when we give our all to God, He always returns with more.  Our obedience brings breakthrough and leads to blessing.

God knows what we need, when we need it, and how to provide it.  Sometimes, He gives differently to what we expect.  Sometimes, His provision is not financial but relational or circumstantial.  Sometimes, He withholds it for a little while to give us time to settle our eyes on Him first.  But He is not defeated by our needs, like we often feel we are.  Our needs are an opportunity for His miracles.

The Power of Position

Michael Apted’s movie, Amazing Grace, features the life and works of William Wilberforce,  an English politician who led the movement to abolish the slave trade in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries.  Following his conversion to Evangelical Christianity in 1785, Wilberforce toyed with the notion of leaving politics and a life in the public eye.  He sought council from friends, including Prime Minister William Pitt, and Anglican clergyman John Newton, a former slave ship captain, best known for penning the hymn that the movie is named after.  In response to his dilemma, their on-screen counterparts state, “Mr Wilberforce, we understand you are having problems choosing whether to do the work of God, or the work of a political activist.  We humbly suggest that you can do both.”

Wilberforce was an intelligent man with great passion and focus, but he was torn between living for God and living for justice.  It took some time, plus the insight of his friends (friends are great at bringing fresh perspective, are they not?) to realise that his privileged responsibility within parliament positioned him perfectly to carry out the unique role God had created him for.  He did not have to choose one cause or the other, they complimented one another perfectly.

How God has created us and where He has placed us is in exact keeping with how He will use us.  Yes, He might call some of us into full-time ministry, but more often than not, He is calling us to bring His light into our workplaces, our colleges, our schools, our families, our friendship groups, and our neighbourhoods.  He uses the skills and gifts that He has created us with to open doors of opportunity for us to serve Him and to build His Kingdom.

We need to own who He has created us to be, because, if we do not rise up to take our place in this world, we can be sure that the enemy will claim it.

You may look around and think to yourself, “why has someone not done anything about that?”  But is it possible that, in fact, you are that someone?  The world needs people who are ready to stand up and say, “This is my time.  This is my opportunity.”

In the book of Esther, King Ahasuerus threw a feast for all his kingdom officials and commanded his queen, Vashti, to join them so he could show off her beauty.  But upon her refusal, she lost her crown and the king’s aides suggested that virgins be presented to the king so that he could inspect them and select a new queen.

At that same time, Mordecai was a Jew living in Susa; a Benjaminite who’s people had been taken from Jerusalem by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, 117 years earlier.  He had raised Hadassah, better known as Esther, his cousin, since her childhood, for her father and mother had died.

Esther was very beautiful and was brought into the palace to join the king’s harem with other virgins from the kingdom.  However, Modecai warned her not to make known to the palace her Jewish heritage.  Having then been subjected to 12 months of preparation,  as was the custom, Esther and the rest of the harem were presented, one by one, to the king.  When the king met Esther, she instantly won grace and favour in his sight, more than any of the other women he had already seen, so he duly crowned her his new queen.

Some time later, the king promoted a man called Haman to lead all the palace officials, and the people dutifully bowed down to their new leader and worshipped him.  However, Mordecai the Jew did not; he would bow to no-one but the one, true God.  This made Haman so furious that he set about plotting to destroy all Jews in the kingdom, not just Mordecai.

Haman was devious and presented to the king a decree to kill all the Jews throughout the kingdom and successfully tricked the king into officiating it with his royal seal, arguing that the Jewish subjects did not observe the king’s laws.  When Mordecai and the people of Susa heard about the decree, they tore their clothes, donned sackcloth and ashes, as was custom in the day during a period of mourning, and cried bitterly throughout the city.

I want to pause here for a moment, because what challenges me most in this part of the story is the emotional response displayed by the Jews when their authorities discriminated against them.  “Well of course they are upset,” you might be thinking, “they have been sentenced to death!”  But do we not also witness laws and decrees being passed in our world today that discriminate against nationality, faith, beliefs?  We watch our generation turn their backs on God, but a passive-aggressive post on social media is near the extent that most of us will rise to.  Why are we not moved to tears and mourning as our world rejects their Saviour?  Why have so many of us become immune to the injustice and persecution of God’s people all over the world?  We need to start taking these things personally.  I need to start taking these things personally.

So when Esther discovered what had happened, the queen was seized by fear, as she herself was also a Jew.  She sent clothes to Mordecai to encourage him to remove the sackcloth he was wearing, but he did not accept them.  Instead, Mordecai sent a copy of the decree to Esther and urged her to speak to the king to plead for the lives of her people.

This request, however, only increased the fear in Esther’s heart, for she knew that, unless the king summoned someone to himself, they were sure to be put to death when they approached him, unless the king held out his royal sceptre to them and spared their life.  Esther had not been summoned to the king for over a month.

Then Mordecai penned the words we all associate best with the Biblical account of Esther’s life: “Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews.  For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish.  And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:12-14)

For such a time as this.

Esther had been obedient to her uncle Mordecai when he had suggested she present herself to join the king’s harem.  Her beauty had won her the king’s affection and the crown.  Oblivious to the special role God had for her to fulfil, she was faithful with what was available to her.  But we can see that God had strategically placed her there to save His beloved Jewish people.  Was she ready to step up to the plate?  Was she willing to accept the role that she was created for; a role that no-one but she could fulfil?

Esther responded to Mordecai once more, asking him to gather all the Jews in Susa and to fast on her behalf, and informing him that she and her maids would do the same.  Then on the third day she would approach the king in the name of her people, “and if I perish, I perish.” (Esther 4:16b)

She stepped up to the plate.  She stepped forward, knowing it may even mean her end.  She stepped up for the greater good; to save a nation from injustice and persecution.  And God used her mightily in His great plan for His people.  We know about her story because she was faithful with what she had been given and what was made available to her.  She has a whole book of the Bible named after her, because she accepted the unique role that God had created her for.

Every experience that Esther had faced up until that moment – both the good and the bad – had prepared her and positioned her for success.  God knew that this moment would come so He had used her faith, her painful family history, her loyalty to her uncle to make sure that she was ready.  That didn’t make it easy, or comfortable, for her to approach the king uninvited – she still required courage to do what was being asked of her – but her obedience saved an entire nation from death.  How’s that for purpose?  Her adventure led her to the palace, right into the royal family, and perfectly positioned her for all that God had called her to do.

Voices all around us will constantly try to label us, influence us and put us in neat little boxes; the media, our bosses and teachers, politicians and professionals.  The only way to combat that is to draw close to the One who created us and ask Him who He has made us to be.  None of us were created to fit neatly into categories or boxes because we were all made to be different.  There is only one of you!  So find your own sphere of influence and do what only you can do.

When we give power to the voices around us, sometimes even well-meaning ones, confusion and stress begins to impress upon us.  We become so distracted trying to meet the expectations of others that we forget to listen out for the voice of God.  Your current position may not carry a title, or come with a fancy office, or include a big pay-check, but don’t doubt it’s significance.  God is always at work, leading His disciples to the right opportunities at the right time for the greater good.  Our obedience to His call guarantees us His best life.

The gifts and passions within each of us hold the potential for all that God wants to do on earth in the next 100 years; our response will determine how much of that potential becomes reality.  So now is the time to press into the future that God is calling us to.  We need to be brave, like Esther, and step into our destiny.  We were created, positioned and called, for such a time as this.

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.

 

 

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.