A Modern Day Epidemic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A.W. Tozer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, come.” Jesus replied.

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

“Lord, save me!” he cried to Jesus.

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

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

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

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

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

The Repeat Examination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Mathematics of Generosity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a Marathon, not a Sprint

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trust: Active or Passive?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screenshot2018-02-2215_Fotor

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

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

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

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

Are You Sitting Comfortably?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I remembered the great unknown that 2018 held.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Um, Where’s my Miracle? (Part 2): The Overflow

Last week (on Sunday) I posted Um, Where’s my Miracle? and the response has been quite overwhelming.  This is what happened next…

On Monday afternoon, I received an email from former missionaries offering wisdom and guidance, having faced similar challenges themselves.  I’m so grateful that God’s provision is not just financial; finance is only a means to an end, after all.  But His provision extends to people, resources and opportunities too.  These are the things that truly bring wealth.

On Monday evening, I was contacted by friends here and informed that a gentleman in Germany – whom I have never met – had heard my story and would like to financially support me… for an entire year.  I cried.

On Tuesday, more friends called me, asking for my bank account details, for they also wanted to send me money and begin supporting me monthly.

On Wednesday, I attended my church small group and was now able to share with them how God had provided.  It was the testimony that I had indeed hoped to have shared with them, but it had looked so unlikely just a few days previous.

On our way home in the car, I shared with my group leader that the mortgage payment that had been deducted from my account last week had taken me into the red, having had received no rent from my tenantless flat this month.  So he prayed, asking God to expunge the overdraft, as we sat waiting for the traffic lights to turn green.

On Thursday (today), I received a letter from the bank informing me that I was overdrawn (yes, I was well aware, thank you) and that fees would be deducted for every day I had been overdrawn.  Later, feeling dejected at the thought of further financial loss, I logged on to my Online Banking platform and found that a further two financial gifts had been transferred into my account without my knowledge, bringing me back into the black, and even covering all the fees I had incurred.  I cried again.

I reckon this is just a handful of the miracles I will continue to see in days to come, but I simply couldn’t wait any longer to share His goodness!  He is so good.  Like, so good.  He is at work for us behind the scenes, lovingly caring for our every need, even when we don’t see it or appreciate it.  His love for us is so great, so deep, and so personal.  His timing is spot on, always.  And He never abandons us, we simply need to call out to Him and He meets us right where we are.

Without my turbulent week last week, I could never have truly appreciated the extent to which God goes to surprise us and reveal to us how much He loves us.  I would have missed His hand in the detail of my life.  He has shown His Word to be true and Himself to be faithful.  And others now have the opportunity to partner with the work God is doing, today and in months and years to come, here in Germany.

So thank you for standing with me in prayer for my miracle(s).  I have no doubt that there is more to come, including the provision of a tenant for my property in Scotland.

If you are still waiting for your miracle, I would love to stand with you too and intercede on your behalf.  If you know me personally, just drop me a message, or you can contact me here.

Whatever you are facing right now, be assured that God loves you, He is for you, and He is ready and willing to work a miracle in your life; just call out to Him and watch Him act.

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.