Facing the Flame

Just a day after I published Um, Where’s my Miracle? (Part 2): The Overflow I was invited to interview for a job as a cleaner of a local Kindergarten and I began that job less than a week later.  It is the perfect wee money-earner for my current circumstances: it doesn’t require a high-level of the German language, the working hours are flexible, and it is a short 20 minute walk from my apartment.

But I have not been allowed to work since the end of September.  After only six weeks, a paperwork hiccough caused my boss to hit ‘pause’ on my employment and I have been income-less ever since.

It felt like a terrible inconvenience after such a long job search; to have finally found something so suitable only to then have the rug pulled from beneath my feet.

Due to a previous misunderstanding, my boss confronted me at the end of September and rejected the health insurance that I had held (for foreigners) and required me to switch to mainstream German Health Insurance.

Though I believed I had in place the paperwork that was required, I was irritated with myself for not having foreseen this complication and done something about it sooner.  It was a switch I had always intended on making, but this inconvenience had brought it swiftly up my list of priorities.

I worked as quickly as I could to try to gather together everything I needed to put the new insurance in place so I could get back to work as soon as possible.  In the UK, insurance can be purchased quickly online or over the phone so the anticipated timescale in my head was a couple of days at most.  Oh, how wrong I was…

I spent hours on the phone to various insurance companies trying desperately, in broken German, to explain my situation and seeking a solution.  Yet every company said the same thing: I did not earn enough to qualify for their insurance.  I was stuck in a frustrating, endless cycle;  I needed insurance to work, but I could not get insurance because of my work!

Having finally found a company who would insure me, the paperwork proved long, complicated, and full of the longest German words I have encountered thus far.  The evidence required was difficult to compile as it involved having to identify the relevant UK-counterparts.

The process raised hurdle after hurdle after hurdle and proved incredibly challenging to transition into as a non-German citizen.  As part of the application, I had to apply to HMRC for relevant certificates and I was informed that it would take 8 weeks for my request to be processed.

That meant 8 weeks before I could even apply for the new health insurance.

And to top it all off, the precious income that I was now earning would be halved in future due to the hefty insurance fees.

For the first time since arriving in Germany, I felt utterly defeated.  I recall walking home from school one day imagining that my only option might be to return to the UK for a few months until the issue was resolved.

But God had never left my side.

King Nebuchadnezzar ruled Babylon around 600B.C.  He did not know God, and had no love or care for God’s people.  He besieged Jerusalem, stealing many items from the temple, and taking many of Israel’s young men to serve in his palace.

Among these wise and skilled men were Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

Nebuchadnezzar was a proud and selfish man.  He had no compassion or patience for those who did not heed his every will.  He, then, had constructed a ninety-foot-high gold statue and commanded that everyone in his kingdom bow down and worship the statue when the horn would sound.  Those who did not comply would be thrown into a furnace of fire.

Shadrach, Mesach, and Abednego were Jews and God-fearing men.  They only recognised and worshipped the one true God, so when the horn sounded, they did not fall down and worship the gold idol.  On seeing this, the king’s men reported their disobedience to the royal command and they were called to stand before the king.

“Is it true,” the king asked, “that you do not serve my gods or worship the gold idol I have set up?  If you are ready to fall down and worship the gold idol, then great, we have no further business here.  But if you do not worship my statue, then you will be tossed immediately into the blazing furnace.  Who is there that could rescue you from my hands?”

But the men answered him with boldness and confidence; “Our God whom we serve is able to rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire, and He will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up!”

But even if He does not.

These men knew their God and knew what He was capable of.  Yet they also acknowledged His divine and unrivalled sovereignty in the situation: “but even if He does not…”

They knew God could save them, but they were also willing to risk that He may choose not to, and still not bow before any god but the great I AM.

We may not be required to bow before a gold statue to avoid the fire, but what about the idol of comfort, or convenience, or acceptance, or popularity?  Do these idols get in the way of our 100% devotion to God?  Would we rather compromise than be thrown in the fire?

On hearing the men’s response, the king was furious and ordered that the three be tied up tightly and thrown into the furnace.  The flames were so hot that the heat killed the soldiers who had handled the three men of God.

“Did we not throw three men into the fire?” the king enquired, peering into the flames, “I see four men, untied, and walking around!  And the fourth looks like a son of the gods!”

The three Jews were called out of the furnace and stood before the king completely unharmed.  Not a single hair on their heads was singed.

“Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent His angel and rescued His servants who believed in, trusted in, and relied on Him! They violated the king’s command and surrendered their bodies rather than serve or worship any god except their own God… there is no other god who is able to save in this way!” (Daniel 3:28-29)

There is no other God who is able to save in this way.  Do we truly believe that?  With every challenge I face, and every miracle I witness, I am beginning to accept it without dispute.

With so many obstacles to overcome, I feared that I would lose my job if I told my boss that it would take so long to acquire the insurance.  Yet, incredibly, she promised to keep it for me, and conveniently found someone to cover my absence in the meantime.

I received the paperwork from HMRC after just 3 weeks, not eight, and was able to submit my application much sooner than I had anticipated.

Having accepted my application for insurance, the company sent me a bill for over €1200, having backdated the insurance to the day I landed in the country.  I challenged this with proof of my previous insurance, and they have since reviewed the charges.

I am still in the midst of sending paperwork back and forth to the insurance company and, therefore, anticipate that I will not be able to return to work until January, however I believe the end is now in sight.

So that’s eight weeks and counting since I last received a pay-check.  There have certainly been times that I have felt the heat.  But it was never unbearable.  It never singed me.  And God has faithfully walked with me every step of the way.  He has opened doors, shown me grace and favour, and provided for every single need.

Sometimes we may feel like we are doing everything right and obeying God every step of the way and yet still find ourselves facing the furnace.  Do we take matters into our own hands to avoid the heat, or do we remain faithful to the One who never fails us?  God does not always save us from the flames, but we can be reassured that He is always present with us in the flames.  When we trust Him to see us through, we can exit the furnace unharmed and whole.

A few verses later, king Nebuchadnezzar, having witnessed God’s wonders for himself, declares to his people, “It has seemed good to me to declare the signs and wonders which the Most High God has done for me.” (Daniel 4:2)

The king, once a pagan with no knowledge or interest in the God of the Jews, had now experienced Him for himself.  He had seen the miraculous and there could only be one explanation: God.  He could not keep this revelation to himself, he just had to tell people about it!  God’s fame spread through Nebuchadnezzar’s testimony.

How quick are we to share the signs and wonders that God has done for us?  Our testimony is a powerful tool!  Sometimes we hold back for fear of what people may think of us, or judge us for the situations we have found ourselves in before God intervened, but I believe if we humble ourselves and admit our failings, our weaknesses, our disappointments, our struggles, God uses our testimony to draw others unto Himself.

Our faith and perseverance through the fire declares to the world where our trust really lies.  Are our eyes so focused on the flames that we miss the One who is standing next to us?  Or do we believe that we have a God who can save us and do we trust Him enough to choose the best way to save us, even if we have to face the heat?  He will always choose the way that points people to Himself.

Dear Twenty-Something Me…

With my 31st birthday just a few weeks away, I have been reflecting on another year of God’s grace and faithfulness.  What an incredible year it has been!

However, more than that, I have come to recognise just how many needless concerns or insecurities I was burdened with throughout my twenties.  So much worry and pain over issues that now seem so trivial.  If I could go back and tell myself not to carry so much, I would…

Dear Twenty-Something Me,

You are just beginning.  You have so much of life ahead of you; so much to look forward to, so much to learn and experience, so many of God’s promises yet to be fulfilled.  So don’t take life so seriously.  Allow yourself to laugh a little more, dance a little more, to take a few more risks.  Don’t be so eager to grow up that you miss out on the season you are currently in.

It is not necessary to have a long-term plan.  Plans change, but God remains constant.  Just commit everything to Him and enjoy the present; take it all in.  Embrace what is happening now.  Don’t wish away this current season for what may never come.  The future will come in time, you can be sure of that, but you will never get to relive the present.  Don’t dream away the weeks, months, years.  Resist placing timelines and expectations on God’s promises or, indeed, your own desires.  Simply enjoy the now.

And don’t focus so much on marriage and relationships.  Believe me, it is not the be-all and end-all.  There are so many other experiences in life to be enjoyed and savoured too.  Live life; stop fixating on what you don’t have, and start appreciating what you do have.

Fight those thoughts; the ones that plague you in those quiet moments and tell you that you are not good enough or fun enough or pretty enough.  Stop expending so much energy and time comparing yourself to others: Just be you.  In a world full of wannabe-replicas, God created only one of you.  Don’t deprive the world of you.

Remember, nine times out of ten, people are not really thinking what you believe they are thinking about you.  Don’t let the lies of the enemy steal your courage or conviction.  Step out in faith and allow God’s voice to speak truth into your heart.

Don’t place so much value on what the world values: money, possessions, fashion, a career.  Be careful not to allow the voices of the world drown out the voice of the One who matters.  Instead, invest in relationships, community, new experiences, and, above all, chasing after God.  When you are sold out to Him, He will make a way where there appears to be no way.  Live for His approval, not that of men.

Ease up on yourself, ok?  Forgive yourself.  Jesus died so that you could live in freedom from your sins, so be quick to repent and receive His forgiveness.  Learn the lesson and move on.  Don’t torment yourself, allowing guilt and shame to remain, when your God and Saviour has already wiped your slate clean.

Stop living life as if everything depends on you, because it doesn’t.  Everything depends on God.  So don’t worry so much, don’t carry so many burdens, don’t adopt so much fear and responsibility.  And pray more.  Talking to God about that worry – that problem to solve – is far more effective than carefully deliberating over every possible eventuality.  Be quicker to hand it over to Him who is infinitely more equipped to be God than you are.

I know you love God and want to give Him your best, but don’t try so hard to fill the blanks of what He might be saying or doing in your life.  He’ll give you the information you need when you need it.  You have no reason to strive.  Instead of stressing about what those ‘meanwhile’ moments look like, just enjoy them and rest in God’s ways and timing.  Don’t take on the burden yourself.  God’s will is not a problem to solve; it is a gift to receive at the appointed time.

God holds you securely in His hands so live in the freedom His Son bought for you on the cross.  You are going to do great, so stop worrying.  Prioritise peace and rest over frantic serving; you can’t earn more of God’s love, just sit at His feet and receive it.

Love, the One You Will Grow To Be

Um, Where’s my Miracle?

I began this week with 1p in my bank account.

I knew this day would come eventually, having had no regular income since I quit my job in Scotland in March.  But, I was also confident that God is a God who provides, therefore I had no reason to worry when it did arrive.

However, despite endeavouring to steward my money well, that day came a little sooner than expected due to a number of circumstances out with my control.  Last week the tenant in my property in Aberdeen moved out with just 3 weeks notice, despite his contract not due to end until February 2018.  Although I have applied for a number of jobs here in Germany, every door has closed so far, not least due to my still limited language skills.  And unexpected expenses including insurances and bank fees crippled my finances further.

At first, I thought that surely God would come through for me by the time my current tenant had moved out of the apartment… but that day came and went.

Then I knew He would definitely have to provide for me before my mortgage payment was taken a couple days later… then He missed that deadline too.

Hours ticked by as I refreshed my mobile banking app more than regularly, just in case I had ‘missed’ the miracle.  My increasingly insistent prayers and positive declarations of faith appeared to be bouncing off the ceiling and going no further.  Last week I had assured my church home group that I would have a miracle to report by this weekend.  How could I tell them that I had been sorely mistaken?

Very quickly, the strong, resilient faith that I had been holding firmly in place since I arrived on the continent began to fall apart.

In the days that followed, I experienced all the emotions.  It began with anticipation and excitement at the expected miracle, which soon turned to doubt, that spiralled into fear and anxiety like I have never experienced before.  I became so anxious that I spent several days fighting the physical manifestations of it.

But where was God in the midst of this?  I had trusted Him, had I not?  I had given up everything to follow His call, so why had He not come through yet?  Would He really leave me with nothing?

Gideon was a man who lived his life in fear.  He was busy beating wheat in a wine press and hiding from the Midianites when God paid him a visit.

“The Lord is with you, O brave man,” God said to Gideon.  Brave?  Really?  This was a man who beat wheat in a wine press for fear of what the Midianites would do to him; he obeyed God’s commands under the protection of darkness afraid of what his own family and friends would think; he repeatedly asked for signs of confirmation from God, just to be sure of what God had asked him to do.  But what I love here is that God spoke life and strength over this man who was yet timid and afraid.

God had chosen Gideon to lead Israel into victory against the Midianites.  But Gideon begins to ask the same questions I have been asking myself this week: “if the Lord is with me, why has this happened to me?”, “Why haven’t You come through for me yet?”, “Show me a sign you are really with me.”

“Go in this strength of yours…” was God’s response.  Um, what strength?  Gideon does not appear to demonstrate much strength here!  But throughout Judges 6 and 7, God graciously encourages Gideon and takes Him through the plan one step at a time.  Gideon may not appear to be up to the task, but he was God’s chosen man.  God had created Gideon and knew him intricately and, despite his sensitive disposition, Gideon was the right man for the job.

Gideon’s fear did not disqualify him from the very purpose he was created for.  The Spirit of the Lord was with him (Judges 6:34) and empowered him to do what God had asked him to do.

Gideon now had a huge army at his disposal but God knew that if the entire army entered into the battle, they would claim the victory for themselves and not have the ability to see God’s hand in it.  Therefore, God began to whittle down the crowd…

Using a series of seemingly insignificant details, God began to instruct Gideon to send men home (I can only imagine how Gideon must have felt about this!).  Those who were afraid were the first to go.  A detail as small as how they chose to drink their water was also used to sift out who would stay and who would leave.  The army was streamlined from 32,000, all the way down to just 300 men.

Then God once again reassured Gideon and strengthened him by leading him into the enemy camp where Gideon heard chat amongst the Midianites that God had already revealed the impending victory to some of them in a dream.

Only now was Gideon ready to do what God had called him to do; what he had been created and purposed for.  Now Gideon would lead the Israelites to victory.

At Gideon’s word, the 300 men surrounded the enemy camp, blew their horns, smashed pots and shouted victory to the Lord, the Midianites panicked and God caused them to turn on one another, killing many.  Some fled, but Gideon and his men pursued them, despite their exhaustion (Judges 8:4), and eventually subdued the Midianite army, bringing peace to the land once again.

Gideon was no perfect specimen – none of God’s chosen instruments ever are – but this Biblical account shows us that God can use us despite our fear, as long as we are willing to take steps to obey Him.  God is gracious and will reassure us, strengthen us and help us overcome our fears.  The more we obey God and see His provision, the more fearless we will become.

Sometimes God will whittle us down and intentionally weaken us (illness, redundancy, financial crisis, isolation) so that His victory can be all the more greater.  But we must be careful not to panic in these moments (like I did!), thinking God has abandoned us.  He works all things for His glory, not ours.

Gideon surrendered to God’s way and God won him the fight.  Though Gideon did not feel equipped for the task, God called him so he responded in obedience, and God provided all that he needed.

It is true for us too.  When we surrender to God and allow Him to work, past our fears, doubts and inabilities, He will act.  We can trust God’s capability, His willingness and His timing.

Gideon and his army lifted their voices to God and the battle was won.  We, too, are victorious when we lift our voices in prayer and praise instead of being overwhelmed by the circumstances around us.  God is mighty to save, whatever the situation.  When nothing is certain, anything is possible.

This week has felt long, and exhausting.  But I have learnt three valuable lessons:

  1. God provides one day at a time.  Even though it felt like God had abandoned me, or not provided for me like He promises in His Word, I began to realise that I had what I needed for that day.  He had provided enough food for me for that day.  He had provided grace for me to cope with what I faced that day.  There was no point dwelling on tomorrow, or next week, for God promises that that provision will come when I need it.  I was looking for a miracle that would meet my needs for the coming weeks or months, but Oswald Chambers said, “you cannot hoard things for a rainy day if you are truly trusting Christ.”
  2. God’s timing is perfect.  I see now that I began to panic, not because I doubted that God would come through, but because I felt like God was late.  Yet that was according to a timeline that I had concocted, not Him.  Trusting His provision also means trusting His timing – this is never a fun lesson, no matter what we are waiting for!  But His timing is wrapped up in grace, protection, and glory too.  God is never in a hurry, but He is never late.
  3. God weakens us to reveal His glory.  Just like Gideon’s army, God will sometimes strip back the worldly provision we come to depend on so that our focus returns to Him.  We can become blinded to His goodness when we only see provision in pay cheques, pension schemes, or a clean bill of health from medical staff.  But when those things fail us, God lovingly draws our attention back onto Him, to witness His miraculous provision, so we no longer wrongly accredit it to perishable things.

I am reassured that God is faithful, He loves me, He cares for me, He has heard my prayers, He knows what I need, He is capable of providing, He is a good Father.  I know my Dad would go to any length to provide for me, so how much more will our Heavenly Father do so to meet our every need.  When we trust Him, we do not need to do anything to earn His love or provision, it brings Him joy to give us His best.

So my miracle is still on the way, but I am grateful for the fresh perspective God has given me this week.  He has not abandoned me or forgotten me, He is working behind the scenes and His provision will come, right on schedule.

Want to read more? Check out Um, Where’s My Miracle? (Part 2): The Overflow.

Choose Your Hard

I’ve been exhausted the past couple of weeks so last night I intentionally went to bed early.  Ninety minutes later, however, I was still awake, having lain in bed thinking up a wide range of social scenarios and rehearsing German dialogue, should I ever find myself in such circumstances.  But this delay in falling asleep is not a new dilemma; instead, a familiar nuisance that has been repeating itself since the turn of the year.

Immersion in a new language is considered to be one of the best ways to learn.  But immersion can also feel like drowning.  It is very difficult to come up for air when everything around me is in German: from daily four-hour-long language classes, group conversations, and Bible studies, to letters from the bank, public announcements, text messages from new friends, and everything in between.  Every routine simplicity now takes a great deal more time and effort.  And it’s exhausting.  Mentally exhausting.

It’s hard to move to a new country, to adopt a new culture and to familiarise yourself with new government rules and legislation.

It’s hard to learn a new language.  It’s hard to be immersed in a foreign language and feel like every day is a school day with an unrelenting demand to exercise the new language.

It’s hard to build a new friendship group from scratch.  It’s hard to be so far away from friends and family in whom you have invested for a lifetime.

It’s hard not having a steady income to rely upon, or, indeed, the basic language skills to acquire one.

The mental strain can feel relentless: headaches, tiredness, a weakened ability to focus and to process are just some of the symptoms I battle regularly.

All these things are hard.  But it is even harder for me to contemplate a life outside of God’s very best for me.  I seek not only to survive, but to thrive.  I want a full and abundant life (John 10:10) and to enter fully into the adventure that God has prepared for me.  I want to walk in complete obedience to Him.  I want my faith to be tested, for without a test there can be no testimony.  And I want the testimonies of what God does in my life to encourage others in their walk with God, and to inspire them to pray bigger prayers, dream bigger dreams, and to take greater risks in faith.

I want to look back on my life and say that I embraced it entirely; that I was not held back by fear (2 Timothy 1:7) but trusted in God wholeheartedly to do just as He said He would (Romans 4:21).

So I have to choose my hard.  I have a choice to choose whether the challenges I currently face are worth it, or whether I would rather opt for less than God’s best for me, forever feeling just a little under-fulfilled, a little under-satisfied, with many of my dreams unrealised.

I may choose the greater hard, but the greater hard comes with God’s help, His grace, and His guidance.  Better yet, the greater hard promises adventure and purpose and miracles!

I have chosen my hard.  And as challenging as it can be, I’m having the time of my life and wouldn’t change a thing!  Everyday is an adventure, and an opportunity for me to depend on God’s grace once again.  Every week brings new challenges and surprises, revealing more of God’s character and His love for mankind.  I love it!  This is the adventure I want to live.  I choose this hard.