Defying the Facts

October was an interesting month.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Faith can defy facts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My progress to date? More rejections.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Look What You Have Done!

“Look what you have done!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Look what God has done.

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

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

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

A Tale of Two Tests

As I reflected over the Easter period, I was struck by two different perspectives of the well-known Easter narrative. Each describe a test of faith, and each have relevance in our own faith journeys two millennia later.

The first, is that of Jesus Christ, Himself. A.W. Tozer said, “True obedience is the refusal to compromise in any regard our relationship with God, regardless of the consequences.”

When I think of the cross, I think of Jesus’ determined obedience to His Father. He knew what was ahead; He knew what God was asking of Him; He knew the pain and suffering He would have to endure. He fully understood the consequences of His obedience. But He did it anyway.

He did it because He loved the Father, and because He loved us, but ultimately He did it because of His obedience. Just before He was arrested, He uttered this prayer, “Abba, my Father, all things are possible for you. Please – don’t allow me to drink this cup of suffering! Yet what I want is not important, for I only desire to fulfill your plan for me.” {Mark 14:36 TPT}

I find this incredibly humbling, for I know that there have been many times (I don’t need to think too far back) when I have either hesitated in my obedience, or flat-out disobeyed the prompt of the Holy Spirit because I have been afraid of the possible consequences of my obedience; whether it be awkwardness, rejection, or something worse (and let’s face it, in the western world, we are rarely faced with much worse).

Often there will be pain, or discomfort, or rejection, as a result of our obedience. Jesus experienced that too (on a much greater scale). But this momentary suffering led to something exponentially greater, with eternal consequences.

When commanded by God, we must seek to look beyond our own discomfort and fear, and trust His bigger plan; His sovereign perspective. If Christ had thought only of His own impending suffering, He could have chosen to save Himself from His agonising crucifixion. But He trusted God’s greater plan. He recognised that God was outworking something far greater than just His own destiny. His obedience made way for the redemption of mankind!

Just as I shared in a previous post, Humility: Redefined, we need to resist being distracted by our own interests, and instead consider the impact of our obedience on others. Don’t allow your fear to steal breakthrough for someone else.

The second perspective I have been pondering on is that of Jesus’ followers, specifically in the hours after his death. They had spent three years listening to the teachings of Christ and witnessing His miracles. They had hoped that He was the much-anticipated Messiah, but it now appeared that their hopes had died with Him.

As He breathed His last, they wept; they mourned; they felt broken, empty, disorientated. They were not only faced with the emotional grief of losing a loved one, but also with the devastation of lost hope.

Slowly, one by one, they turned their faces away from the cross and began to imagine a life without their friend, their teacher, their Saviour.

The disciples had held a vision of what the manifestation of God’s Messiah might be like, but when their current circumstances didn’t match their expectations, all hope was seemingly lost.

They had never anticipated Christ’s resurrection. And yet, Christ had spoken of it (Matthew 27:63). His disciples, too, would have known the writings of Isaiah and the other prophets, and the promises that God had made to the Israelite nation. God’s Promises had not been broken, they had simply been received through the microscope of human understanding.

Proverbs 3:5 reminds us that we cannot depend on our own understanding. We cannot depend on what we think the end product of God’s guidance is going to look like. Rather, we need to depend on what God says and then simply trust Him.

Despite the panic, despite the confusion, despite the fear, despite the tears amongst the believers at the foot of the cross, God knew what He was doing. No moment or outcome was a surprise to Him. Everything played out the way He wanted and expected it to. And the greatest sadness unfolded into victory!

God had a perfect plan to redeem us through His Son, Jesus Christ. His love and foresight aligned everything up perfectly so that, at just the right time, Christ went to the cross and paid the price for the sin of the world; our sin. His blood bought our freedom; freedom from punishment and death, freedom from fear, freedom from isolation and loneliness apart from Him. Christ became the bridge that connected us directly to God, and made a way for us to be in relationship with Him again.

How do we respond when the expectations that we have seem to die before us? Do we lose hope? Do we allow panic, confusion, and fear to consume us? Do we turn our faces away from Jesus, concluding that our hope, our anticipation, our trust was in vain?

When we look back on the Easter story, perhaps we know that the disciples only had to wait until the third day to see the glorious end to their perceived tragedy. But when you are still waiting – when you are in the midst of hopelessness – it can feel like the consuming darkness is endless.

Here’s the simple, yet challenging truth: It is not our responsibility (or even a possibility) to dictate the outcome of our current circumstances. It is our job, however, to trust God in those silent moments and not to allow confusion or doubt to fuel those fears that threaten us.

One of the most freeing lessons I’ve learnt in the last 12 months is to resist spiralling into doubt and depression in the dark hours that follow an unexpected turn of events. In an effort to self-protect, I would have always sought to think through every possible outcome and begin actioning thoughts or plans in an effort to protect my heart from further disappointment. Then God began to reveal to me a pattern of behaviour in myself that actually made the experience for me worse, not better. The enemy played on my vulnerability and fed my fears with lies and gleefully watched me spiral into misery. But as I learned to identify those lies, I began to resist them rather than partnering with them, and rather chose to hope. I chose to trust. I chose to wait with expectation to see what God would do next. He held the final word. I only needed to patiently and courageously (and it does take courageous) walk it out, one hour, one day at a time.

What I found was that God would often reveal Truth within 24 hours of my disappointment. Now, this is not a hard and fast rule, I don’t believe, and not every experience fits this timeline, but these experiences taught me to always wait a little longer, hope a little longer, trust a little longer, and allow God time to outwork what He had planned and purposed for me in a particular trial. And let me tell you, I saved myself a whole lot of tears in the process!

The grace that God offers us is sufficient for every challenge that we face (2 Corinthians 12:9). In difficult times, His peace buoys us up in the midst of the waves. We may try to jump to conclusions or guess what will happen next in an effort to self-protect, but God does not ask that of us. He asks us to trust Him.

There will be many times in our lives when it appears that hope or promises are lost, and yet God has the ability to raise them back to life. He will finish what He starts; He will bring His work to completion, but He determines what that completed work looks like, not us.

The recount of Christ’s death and resurrection reminds us that no matter how bleak our circumstances look, God has a bigger plan. We may not recognise it immediately. We may need to blindly trust Him in some of our darkest moments. But we can trust Him to allow His plan to unfold in the way it should – no delays, no absences, no detours – simply the best way.

Humility: Redefined.

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

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

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

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

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

And yet:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well not anymore.

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

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

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

Do not let him take you down.

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

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

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

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

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!

My Top 5 Takeaways from 2018

No, I’m not talking about fast-food (although, admittedly, I did enjoy a few tasty dishes last year), I’m referring to the lessons and threads of grace that God wove through my life in the last twelve months.

These lessons are on-going, and in no way ‘complete’; no doubt I’ll have to resit a test or two in the months and years to come. But the journey that God took me on last year was no less than miraculous, and I enter into 2019 with such great anticipation for all that He is preparing me for.

So, here’s my year in a nutshell…

Lesson 1: Taking ownership of who God made me to be.

Since arriving in Germany in April 2017, God said nothing more (until a few days ago) of the vision He had laid on my heart of why He would lead me here. The tasks or practical steps remained blank spaces, but His consistent affirmation of who He has created me to be has finally penetrated my insecure heart.

I have faced a constant barrage of lies from the enemy and have fought hard to reject those lies, instead focusing on the truth of who God says I am in His Word. It was an all-out battle to identify and cling to God’s definition of me. But with this victory (at least in part; it will inevitably be a life-long battle that must be fought to remain on my unrivaled road) came the courage to make significant decisions for my future that would have otherwise been lost in the casualty of spiritual warfare.

I fought introverted tendencies and insecurities from past experiences as I struggled to take hold of all that God was declaring over me. What I considered to be humility, was actually self-sabotage, and I recognised that true humility is receiving what God offers to us.

So, here I am, presenting myself to the world as a daughter of God, adopted into His family, and heir to all that He offers me. Who am I to argue with that?

Lesson 2: Learning to be vulnerable.

I have always been open and honest with people, but I recently read a quote that nails this lesson on the head for me. Rebekah Lyons said, “Transparency is sharing where you’ve been. Vulnerability is sharing where you are.”

There were a number of moments in 2018 when God required me to be vulnerable. He asked me to share deeply personal things with individuals that I would have rather chosen not to. He orchestrated opportunities and conversations that prompted me to open up about hurts and insecurities without having had the time to process and heal from them first.

But God did not waste a single one of these moments. The Bible tells us often that, when we follow God, we will not be put to shame. And in those moments of vulnerability – most often, not of my own choosing – God used my vulnerability to outwork His will and purposes.

Hindsight revealed to me just some of the ways that God used my vulnerable moments to act, and to change, and to heal, and to position, and to inspire according to His much greater plan. So I am encouraged, now, to be more vulnerable, especially when I sense a prompt from the Holy Spirit, and rest in the sovereignty and care of my Good, Good Father, allowing Him to use my vulnerability in whichever way He chooses.

Lesson 3: Learning to filter everything through God’s perspective.

Of course, we can never truly know God’s perspective, but I guess my objective this past year has been to see beyond my own perspective. Questions like, “But how might they be feeling?” or “What underlying hurt caused them to act in this way?” have begun to circle my mind as I seek to choose more carefully how I respond to unexpected circumstances.

At times, my emotions have sought to outwork a different reaction within me, but my focus has been on striving to see the bigger picture.

By drawing courage from God daily, I have developed a greater trust in Him; trust with every feeling, every detail, every opportunity. Learning this lesson has allowed me to better partner with what God wants to do, instead of partnering with my own fear when things don’t happen the way I want or expect them to. It is a liberating place to be, and it frees me from so many stresses that would otherwise weigh me down.

Lesson 4: Learning to obey in the big and the small.

Perhaps this lesson doesn’t need much explanation, but I have learnt that the God who made a way for me to move to Germany is also the God who carefully made available fun Christmas plans for me. This may not seem like much, but as I have grown sensitive to the prompts of the Holy Spirit, I have seen God outwork incredible things, on both a grand and a minute scale.

2018 showed me that small steps of obedience, no matter how seemingly insignificant, still hold purpose in God’s economy. Even in times when I wondered if I was even hearing God at all, or simply attributing him with my own thoughts, He still revealed Himself faithful. According to His own choosing, sometimes He would reveal the bigger picture to me and sometimes He wouldn’t (at least, not yet). Yet every prompt led me into a greater understanding, a greater peace, and a greater adventure of faith.

Lesson 5: Learning to receive all the good gifts God wants to give me.

Waiting for a gift you want – one that God hasn’t offered you yet – is hard, but simply extending your hand to gratefully receive all that He offers..? What is challenging about that?! But this has truly been one of the most difficult lessons I have grappled with these past 12 months (and counting…)

When we live in obedience to God and offer Him our lives, to do as He chooses, His blessing is poured out on us in ways we can’t even begin to imagine (Ephesians 3:20). I live my life the way I do because I love God with all my heart, not because I want something in return. But His love for me seeks to bless me abundantly (Psalm 1), and I have noticed that I am often resistant to that.

I ask Him, “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that you have brought me this far?” (2 Samuel 7:18) The privilege to be used by Him and have a front-row seat to the miracles He outworks is blessing enough! And yet He offers more.

The more I develop an attitude of gratitude, the greater the blessings are; not always because the blessings themselves grow, but because my perspective shifts, understanding that God is my ultimate provider.

An unseen battle continues to rage within me, as insecurities and lies seek to steal all that God offers freely to me. But a gift is not forced upon someone, it is offered and must be received.

So that is my position, in this, the first week of January; my hands are open, facing upward, but still hesitantly held close to me. Now is the time to stretch out my arms toward heaven and simply receive the good gifts that God offers me in 2019.

A Crisis of Faith

I have always believed in the existence of God and His role in the creation of humanity; it was what I was taught as a young child, having attended Sunday school each week, and it is what I read for myself in the Bible as I grew up and explored the ideas for myself.

However that does not mean that I do not have questions or ‘gaps of knowledge’ that I cannot account for. I wonder about the marriage between historical records, Biblical accounts, and scientific discoveries. I consider the tragedy in our world and ask why an Almighty Being would allow such things to happen. I ponder the existence of other religions, and question why I choose my beliefs over so many others. But this does not make me naive or ignorant, it simply means I place faith in the stop-gap.

Because what I can account for is this:

The crippling fear and insecurities that I carried for decades have been eradicated as I have personally seen God work miracles of healing and provision and timing in my own life.

I can testify to the healing in my heart of great pain and distress that I have experienced in my short life thus far.

I am grateful for the protection I have received; whether emotionally, while faced with hurtful relationships; or physically, when encountering violence while working on the streets of Brooklyn, New York.

I could share with you the countless moments of comfort I have felt through song, or a beautiful sunset, or a bright blue sky, or a right-place, right-time encounter with someone, as God lovingly makes Himself known to me in a variety of forms.

And as time has gone on, that belief that I loosely held as a child, I now own passionately and resolutely, because I have seen the goodness of God in my life. I have experienced the love that He has for me. I have received His blessing in so, so many ways.

As I reflect back on 2018, I wonder at the journey of faith I have traveled this year. I thank God for many, many answered prayers; for guidance, for financial provision, for provision of friends, for the health of my family, for provision of work, for a new home, for a new church, for opportunities, for emotional healing, for peace, and for rest. He has exceeded every expectation.

My favourite Bible verse, John 10:10, says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Fear seeks to steal our hope, kill our dreams, and destroy the good that we hold on to, but Jesus was born as a baby so that there could be a way for us to know God that was tangible and relatable. Jesus Christ came to unite us with God so that we could have the full and abundant life that we were created for; one free from shame, fear, and isolation. That is why I celebrate Christmas. That is why I celebrate the baby born in a stable in Bethlehem, two thousand years ago.

Today, my relationship with- and understanding of God is not one that can be explained, or justified, or measured, rather it is evidenced by the joy on my face, and the peace in my heart.

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.