Wrestling With Wonder.

A few months ago, I picked up a book called Wrestling With Wonder by Marlo Schalesky.  It was the title itself that caught my eye as I felt that those very words easily describe what I so often do- wrestle with wonder.  Immediately,  I rushed to the titles of the chapters where other words stood out from the page; words such as disappointed, blessed and transformation. These titles whetted enough of an appetite that I quickly bought the book and over the past few months, have slowly been remunating over this very subject of wrestling with wonder.

I wish that I could say that I loved to wonder and ponder various subjects all of the time, especially the thoughts that involve the future. Sometimes it is really great and it is exciting not to be able to predict what’s around the corner. However, it can often feel more like drowning in a sea of questions and just wanting to know some of those answers. I desire so much to have that open hand that says ‘Yes, Lord, send me’ or ‘ I’ll do whatever you want!’. But if I am honest, the joy and excitement in the adventure can be robbed from me as the unknown is just a little bit scary at times! So I wrestle with it. With a tension between wanting to exude excitement and the reality of shedding tears because I’m weary of wondering. I just want to know. 

In this book, the author brings us through the journey of Mary. A young woman who was called blessed and was given the responsibility and privilege of rearing the very Son of God in His great redemptive plan for mankind. Her obedience and her heart paved the way for her to experience such a close encounter with Jesus and yet if we actually take a moment to think back on her life, it certainly wasn’t always an easy one. The chapters break down her journey, from the manger to the cross. From the beginning to the end, her story involves trust, confusion, fellowship, the witnessing of miracles, the example of love and being blessed, her nightmare unfolding, her disappointment arising and her hope being fulfilled. There is one segment of her life that I cannot stop thinking about and I had never really taken the time to consider. It is this that I’d like to share today and if you are intrigued by the other topics that I’ve mentioned, I do encourage you to pick up the book!

In Luke chapter 2, we get a glimpse into the life of Jesus as a twelve year old. I actually cannot imagine what it would be like to be the mother of a child who was perfect and did not sin. I’m sure it was very convicting at times! Here, we are told that Jesus’ earthly family were in Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover, as they were every year.  When the feast was over, they were returning home when they realised that Jesus wasn’t with them. I’m presuming that they must have been travelling with a large group of people for this delayed realisation that your child isn’t with you. So as parents might do when not knowing the whereabouts of their twelve year old, they searched for him. They actually searched for three days and had to retrace their steps back to Jerusalem. I can only guess that they must have been frantic and worried. I wonder what their prayers would have been like. ‘Hey, I know you gave me the responsibility of helping raise your Son, God, but I seem to have lost him…… Sorry?’ I don’t know what would have been racing through their mind but I don’t think it would have been something that was blasé or with  a carefree demeanour. I’m sure heartfelt tears were shed and cries poured out as to the wonder of where the Son of God could have been!

Lo, and behold, thankfully, Jesus is eventually found in the temple. In fact, scripture tells us he was sitting among the teachers- listening to them and asking questions. This alone, would tell anyone that this boy is not your typical twelve year old. I would have loved to have been a fly on that wall and to hear the very words spoken by both divinity and humanity to a group of teachers! I’m sure they were amazed, intrigued and challenged by this young boy. But let us look at Mary’s response and this is the very thing that I had never really thought about before. 

And his mother said to him. ‘Why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress. Luke 2.48 

Why have you treated us so? I probably would have said and done the exact same thing. Why? How could you do this to me? Because this is the thing. Jesus, in His great knowledge, wisdom and sinless being, would have known that his mother would have been distressed at his absence. As he stayed behind in Jerusalem and allowed his family to continue their journey, he would have known that his mother (and father) would become deeply distressed. Most of your average twelve years olds might consider that their parents will be wondering with worry where they are or it might even cross their minds that when they are found, their parents are going to kill them for causing them such angst. But this young boy is different. Not only He is intelligent enough to be found in philosophical conversations with religious teachers but He is sinless. Which means…… that He wasn’t doing anything wrong in allowing his parents to go through a diffulcult, distressful and tear filled part of their journey! Mary’s first response and concern was ‘how could you do this to us?’. Have you ever been there? ‘God, why are you allowing this to happen, its really distressing for me to go through this!’. It feels like we are even wronged! We are confused that our loving Father, who knows what’s ahead, would even lead us into this. And we cry out WHY?? I want to know! But that is the wrong thing that we are wanting to know. We are seeking to know the why’s, when we should be seeking to know the Who. 

Jesus responded to that question with Did you not know that I would be in my Father’s house? He was asking them ‘do you not know WHO I am?’. ‘Had it not occurred to you where I would be? With my Father.’ And that is the very truth that we can hold onto in our great distress. He is the Son of God, interceding on our behalf to the Father. When trials comes and we are wrestling with all the wonder and the why’s, we don’t have to wrestle with who He is. He is perfect and He is perfect in all of His ways to us. He was perfect in His ways to his earthly family, even when they might have felt abandoned or alone. 

Oh how easy it is to write these words and how hard it can be to really live them out. This one thought has continued to seep its way into those times of wrestling with wonder. I am still left with that tension of wanting to feel excited and enthuastic but struggling with doubt and distress. However, in it all and even amongst those feelings, I find who He is. He is with me and His ways are not wrong, they are perfect. I may not have grasped or understand all the why’s. I may still be hit with waves of questions but I have the very hand of God present to be my hope and anchor. Like Mary, who was considered blessed, I may sometimes be confused as to His whereabouts. However, I follow a God who is continously at work in bringing me to a place that knows who He is. 


          On the subject of journeys and confusion, I thought I’d share a road sign from Ireland.

I am a child of God.


Today, I was driving along when the song No longer slaves by Bethel came on. It was so relevant to the things that had been racing through my mind, that although I had already reached my destination, I decided to keep driving till the song was over! (Not very L is for Lifestyle, for any of you fellow book club members who are reading this…). Anyways, there are so many lines to take from that; ranging from our fears dissipating when we trust in God to being delivered and freed in our new life with Him. However, what I love most (and is repeated over and over again in the chorus) is not only the lines that tell us that we are no longer slaves, but it also continously highlights what we now are- a child of God!!!
Every Wednesday a group of us meet for a Bible study and we have been making our way through a series called What Love Is by Kelly Minter. In this, we have been pulling apart, digesting and discussing the letters of 1,2 and 3 John. I cannot tell you how pertenant its words have been to me lately.  There are so many topics we could explore in these books as its many running themes unfold. Nonetheless we cannot help but notice that throughout its verses and chapters,  John addresses us, the readers, as beloved and indeed little children.  

Ok, so maybe you are like me and  are thinking that if someone ever began their sentence by calling me a little child, they would soon come to find out that… well… its not going to go down too well. However, as John uses this title on more than one occasion, we begin to see that it is always exemplified with a Father’s love and in no way, he is implying otherwise. When those words are read, in fact, we should view them with the comfort and awe that we are loved by God and adopted in His family. That as we come to know and love Him, we are invited into something that is much bigger than ourselves and requires a life that begins to speak of what has taken place within. The Father’s love changes us and it calls us to not only say that we love God, but that we are to follow His ways as well. 

Based on the texts throughout these three books, here is a list of only SOME of the things that we are or have when we become children of God:

1. We have fellowship with God and we have fellowship with others. 1 John 1.7

2. We are forgiven. 1 John 1.9

3. We have an advocate. 1 John 2.1 

4. We  have assurance that we know Him. 1 John 1.5

5. We can walk in the light.

6. We can overcome the evil one. 1 John 2.13, 1 John 4.4

7. We are anointed by the Holy One and have knowledge. 1 John 2.20

8.  We can know the truth. 1 John 2.21

9. We can have confidence and not shrink in shame. 1 John 2.28

10. We can have hope and be purified. 1 John 3.3

11. We are righteous and are no longer slaves to the sin that entangles us.

12. We can love one another. (Even when its not easy to do!) 1 John 3.11

13. We can lay our requests before Him and know that He hears us! 1 John 5.15

14. We can follow His commands and they are not burdensome. 1 John 5.3

I haven’t even completed all of 1 John but you get the point… there is a lot to describe who we are as children of God and what an awesome provider, protector, carer….. our Father is.

There are some that particular stand out to me and I hold close to my heart. It is what I was reminded  of when I listened to that song this morning.

  • When I am a child of God and His love is in me- that perfect, perfect love casts out all fear. 1 John 4.18. Those words are comforting, encouraging, strengthening, powerful. They give freedom and they produce fruit. They are a promise that I can cling to in those moments of fear. And we all have them. Fear of the unknown, fear of being hurt, fear of death, fear of loneliness…. you name it. As a child of God though, we don’t have to be a slave or paralysed by it. His love is the only thing that can drive that fear from our hearts and give us a new song to sing. Oh our Father is so worthy!
  • When I am a child of God, I abide in Him and He abides in me. In these passages, I have highlighted every time the word abide appears. The text is an array of highlighters now as that’s how many times that we are reminded and called to abide. We remember John 15 and the imagery of the branches and again, we are told to abide- to attach our selves to the branch who is Jesus Christ. As we do so, our Father, the vinedresser, is continously at work- pruning us to produce a fruit. All we are to do is abide in Him. Stay, continue, remain in Him. This is just so comforting. When I don’t know what to do next and all I want to do is to do something! I remain in Him. I love Him and obey Him. I follow His ways and I love others. I lay before Him my requests and I can have confidence that He hears me. I can know His protection and I can seek His guidance. I can trust Him and depend on Him. Because He is our father and we are His children! Wow!

I understand that this is only touching the surface of all that these passages have to offer in their depth and richness of truths. Perhaps it is the platform for future topics and posts. I hope that you are encouraged, not by my words, but by the very words of God in 1,2,3 John. Dig deeper in these promises and truths that tell you who you are, if you love and abide in Him. So that we can sing along to that song that states

I am no longer a slave to fear, for I am a child of God.

The very worst missionary. Part 2

Last week, I shared a bit about how a missionary’s journey may begin, with their seeking and direction coming from the Lord! I don’t feel like it should be a last resort because you couldn’t get the other job that you wanted, so figured that this would be a good thing to fill in time. Yes, it can fit into an in-between stage of our lives and doesn’t have to be a full life commitment. However, I think our mindset going into it, should never be something that was a ‘last resort’, but something that we are intentional and passionate about. Something that we are called to-for whatever amount of time that might be for! God should always be at the forefront of it, directing it, not simply going along and holding second place in your heart and on the mission field.

So, this week, I would like to write a bit about what a missionary may ‘look like’ in our modern day communities. Perhaps, you are one, or know and support one. If so, it might be likely that you receive a regular newsletter or update from that particular missionary. Maybe they have had a photo like this in the corner of their newsletter…


I bet they don’t have a photo like this in their header…

 
….and that’s probably a good thing. Because I certainly wouldn’t give money to anyone who dances like that… 

My whole point of mentioning this, is to highlight that a missionary is so much more than that photo or newsletter. It may be a person who is striving to share Christ with others, but it is never the person to follow. The missionary points to the one who is trustworthy and worthy to follow. We can read about, support, pray for and care for the missionaries who come into our lives. As we journey with them and their stories, we hopefully become excited for what God is doing. As for the missionary themselves… who are they? And where do they really belong in sharing the gospel? 

 I have asked these questions on multiple occasions and at various stages. What do you think of when you think of a missionary? Do you envision someone surrounded by people of all ages in a third world setting? Are they clothed in simple attire and live by the basics, denying themselves all forms of social pleasures? Do they begin their days at the crack of dawn, praying for those they have come to share the good news with? Is the only thing they ever do are read their Bibles and hold prayer meetings? Are they always, joyful, serious, compassionate? Are they ever fun, make mistakes, say the wrong things? Do they have all the answers? Do they ever fumble or stumble? I throw out these questions and in no way to mock or belittle anyone or their way of life. I’m simply wondering these very things myself, as I did when growing up in Sunday School. Those were some of my definitions and I’m pondering now if you’ve ever thought the same thing? It makes me laugh now to think of those boxes that I had created and it leads me to ask: What happens when we meet someone who is a missionary but doesn’t necessarily fit into our box of what we think that is or how it looks? What does the Bible say about it and what form can that take in our day and age? So here goes some of my thoughts in trying to make new boxes…

A missionary is:

A Messenger. As we mentioned in the last post and can read in Matthew 28, missionaries (as well as all who follow God), are asked to go into all of the world and make disciples.  That person is intentional in telling others about God, what He has done and what He can do in our hearts, if we accept Jesus, whose perfect life, death and resurrection atones for our sins. I love the simple term to describe it as ‘one beggar showing another beggar where they got bread!’. It doesn’t elevate the messenger and it is who the message is about that we should elevate- Jesus! This modern day messenger in a first world country, may look like you and I by the clothes that they wear. They may have an accent but they don’t necessarily have to speak another langurage to qualify. They may be seen in some of our social groups and may even be ‘the life of the party’. They might be able to dance to some of the songs you know and drive a car that you wouldn’t mind having parked in your driveway. They may live in a beautiful home and have a beautiful family. They could be a wonderful cook or hit the gym every day. Whatever they may look like or do, as God constantly refers to throughout scripture, the heart is where the mission field really takes place. And that heart should not be concerned or driven by the things that they wear, the stuff that they own, or even being the life of the party. That heart should be concerned and driven to send the greatest message to ever encounter and impact our lives. The good news that takes a hungry beggar to everlasting fulfilment. In my opinion,that is the difference and one of the greatest definitions for the missionary.

A Carer. That brings us on to examine more of what the missionary’s heart may look like, as opposed to focusing only on the external. I believe they should be caring people, servants who seeks others needs before their own. Jesus came to be our greatest example of a servant, laying his very own life for us. I think a missionary should care so much for others that they absolutely cannot stay in the comfortable and do nothing. Their caring heart challenges them to move countries, learn languages, face persecution, live away from family and deny luxuries. All in order to tell someone else about the One who has provided a way, who changes us, who loves us.

Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, BE MOVED to treat one another as more important than yourself. Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well. Philippians 2.3-4

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many. Matthew 20.28

A Doer. It’s all good to say you deeply care about people and their eternity, and another thing to do something about it. James especially talks about it in chapter 2, where he writes : You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. If you are going to have someone say they care for you and have a good message to tell you, then I’m pretty sure you don’t simply want them to talk the talk but you want them to walk the walk. There cannot be a contradiction in what the messenger is thinking and what they are doing. (Yes, no one is perfect and slips up but give me a minute before I go on to that.) So as you are out and about in your community, you should see the messenger being active in sharing that message. That could involve activities that involve the Bible and praying, but it could also incorporate delivering food to comfort a family, giving medicine to someone who is sick, having a coffee with a heartbroken individual, displaying a love for those who are difficult to love. I guess my point is that it won’t be something that is just internal, it will seep out to the external and it will be accompanied by a servant’s heart – not self-seeking or for attention. It will be because they care enough to DO something. It will be because they know the One who cares for us. They may not be feeding the hungry and thirsty with physical food or with water, but they are active in helping to lead others to the ‘bread’ and  ‘water’ that gives life, Jesus!

A Person. And at the end of the day, the messenger is simply the messenger. A person who is like you and I. They will probably make mistakes and at one stage say something that probably wasn’t the best thing to say. They too, fumble, stumble, dance, sing and cry.  Thank God that we can follow the One whose life was spotless and whose life was given for us. Thank God that He is patient with us and that He cares enough to do something about it. Thank God that He sends messengers and that His message is powerful and one to be told! 

Therefore, whether you are a missionary or you know one, remember that the messenger may come in all shapes and sizes of boxes but it should always be about Who they are pointing to! Also, be mindful of your part in showing ‘another beggar where you found bread!’ 

….and put up a crazy photo in your newsletter….just to see what happens!

In case you missed last weeks! https://underthedogwoodtrees.wordpress.com/2017/05/11/the-very-worst-missionary-part-1/

The very worst missionary. Part 1.

Let me begin by saying that the title isn’t necessarily reflective of what the post is actually about. It is not naming and shaming or even listing out all the attributes of  ‘the very worst missionary’. In fact, it is simply a place where I’m going to throw out my thoughts on the following: What does a missionary ‘look’ like? Do you have to go far to be a missionary? How do you even know if you are meant to be a missionary? Like I iterate in most of my posts, I don’t actually have the answers. I’ll just set the scene with what I may think or feel but that doesn’t make it true. Perhaps like you, I am on the journey that is figuring out some of these things along the way. I do believe I know where and who those truths come from. So please be patient with me as I too, try to search the Bible for more of those truths. As for the title? Well, I use to follow a blog called Jamie, the very worst missionary. She made me laugh and sometimes I couldn’t believe she was brave enough to share a particular thought with the world, especially as a missionary :0 ! But it was always her honesty that struck me, as she never claimed to be ‘the very best missionary’. So with these thoughts and as the sentences unfold, I aim for one thing. It’s not to be the very best missionary but it’s actually to be honest and transparent with you, the readers. In order to save this from being one extremely long, drawn out post, I’m going to break this up into parts, so please stay tuned…

A little about me.

First of all, I will not claim any title for myself as I start to write this. I will not say. Hello, I’m Erin. I’m a teacher…youth worker… youth pastor…missionary….whatever other name that could fill in that blank. I’ll just say. Hello, I’m Erin. ‘Cause sometimes, if I am honest, I’m not quite sure where I fit in with it all. Sometimes, I don’t ‘feel’ like some of those things and it leaves me wondering: well what does it mean to be any of those? What exactly is a missionary?

From a young age, 99% of the time, when asked the questions of ‘ What would you like to be when you grow up?’. I was quite confident and excited to reply with ‘an art teacher’. However, I do remember this one time of replying with the answer of ‘a missionary.’ Did I just say this because it was the Sunday school thing to say? I don’t know or even remember the motive. Besides this and the moments that I went on mission trips or volunteered for some sort of outreach activity, I pretty much imagined myself in the art room of a school. This is what I worked towards for many years, its what I did for a while, and its what I occasionally will ponder about whenever I see students pour out of the doors of the local highschool. 

The Call.

If you are wondering how I went from the art room to the church, I have gone into more detail in the post An Unexpected Journey. For now, I’m going to skip those details and focus a bit more on the subject of being called. I guess the first question that pops into my head is, ‘does someone have to be called to missions’? And if so, what does that even look like? How do you know you have been called and how can you even be sure it’s of God? 

I think as Christians, if we are to follow Jesus, we each play a missional role. In Mark chapter 4 and Matthew 28, we read about Jesus asking us to be fishers of men and to go into all the world and make disciples. It doesn’t mention that only certain people are to do this but that we EACH have a part to play in sharing the good news. How can we even keep these things to ourselves when we experience this new life that Christ brings about within us? I always felt passionate and adamant in sharing God in our ‘secular’ (even though I sometimes cringe in reservation at using that word) workplace, in our communities, on our sports field and within our extra curricular activities and past times. I don’t think this is reserved for those only in full time missions or ministry. I think its each of our responsibility and it should be our joy to share our lives with Christ, with one another. I believe that as we follow God and understand more of who He is, as we look to the example of Jesus- we understand that the heart and the intention is always something to flow out into the people around us and not to be kept to ourselves. So what about ‘the call’ to be a missionary? How is that different?

I don’t really, fully know or understand. I believe that we serve an all-knowing God and from this, I trust that He sees needs and reasons that sometimes we don’t. God, being outside of time and even our little world, can see why so and so should go to such and such in order to spread His love and His news. That is my foundation for when pondering the why’s and how’s for God sending people to the ends of the earth. Why did He send my friend from California to Ireland, while I’m here in New Zealand and someone from New Zealand is overseas serving elsewhere? I don’t have those answers but I trust that God does. I think that as we journey with God…as He reveals Himself to us through His Word…as we come to Him seeking guidance… as we wonder what to do and where to go….that He is indeed faithful in leading us. I don’t believe there is a one-fits-all formula in how each of our paths unfold and I have only experienced my story of how God brought me to New Zealand. I do think that the common denominator answer to ‘being called’ will incorporate spending time with God through digging into scripture, being on our knees and serving others. I know that sounds very general! However, it becomes personal and particular when we open our hands in surrender and say ‘God, show me!’. I remember one of the verses that stood out to me during that time in taking the steps to leave Ireland, was from Jeremiah 33.3. It says Call to me and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things. God may keep us in a waiting period but He will show us. He will lead us to where He wants us to go. I also think that He will give us a peace about it and it is that, as well as His faithful character, that we can hold onto. Sometimes people feel called to a particular place or to a specific people group or need. For me, I just always wanted to come to New Zealand and as things unraveled, I guess a little of that desire began to make more sense. God might lay things especially on our heart beforehand or even during but it will always be about serving Him and serving others.  Do you think God wants you to stay within your ‘secular’ job and share Him as the opportunities arise? Do you believe God wants you to go somewhere with the intention and primary purpose of sharing Christ with others? Are you going to consider being called?

If you have found this somewhat thought provoking and wish to read more, please keep an eye out for part 2, The Missionary.

Here is a photo taken from my journal in 2011, where I was listing possible options for the future. I don’t even remember contemplating ‘missions’ in NZ at that time, but I guess, sometimes God lays things on our hearts that we don’t quite understand at the time. 

https://underthedogwoodtrees.wordpress.com/2016/02/08/an-unexpected-journey/

Your Dwelling Place.

Last week, I had the opportunity to walk the Milford track. A four day hike of 53.5km which involved sights of mountains, glowworms and some of the clearest waters I have ever seen! It was beautiful and here are a few photos below to share some of that. 

Before I went on the tramp, I had decided to pick a random Psalm and print it out on a piece of paper to bring with me. (I learned from the first tramp I did, that I wasn’t about to carry a book with me and have some extra weight!). The psalm that I printed out was Psalm 84 and here are some of the thoughts that I had about this as I was walking for the four days. 

First of all, on the very first day, I lost my voice. Very convenient! I figured if I fell and was unable to shout for help, that it was a beautiful place to die. Complete wilderness and tranquillity; with only the waterfalls and the birds producing some of nature’s loveliest sounds. This gave me extra time to be quiet myself and to ponder on some of the truths that are laid out before us in this particular psalm.  A few things especially stand out to me. The sense of what a dwelling place is and that our hearts should yearn for the Lord and His dwelling place. That in this dwelling place we find it better than anywhere else and with no good thing withheld from us. Sounds almost too good to be true!

Psalm 84 starts off with ‘How lovely is your dwelling place , oh Lord!”. I found it interesting to think about the subject of a dwelling place as we hiked from one hut to the next over the course of the time. Going tramping is wonderful for seeing how little you can live with, because once you are out there, unless you barter or kill for something, there is no way of getting your hands on it till you’re out in civilisation again. You would be surprised how much you will treasure a bandaid to put on your blistered feet, or how much your food and snacks can weigh! As I mentioned in a previous post, Stumping the Hump, you learn about what is most important to carry in order to survive and you also think really hard about the luxuries that might bring that extra bit of happiness your way. But the question that arises here is ‘what does it take to have with you to actually make a dwelling place’? Indeed, one of my favourite things about moving into a new place is making it into a home. Decorative pillows, candles, throws, plants….. these are all things that add to the comfort and ambience that I try to create in the place that I live in. When you are tramping, you have to stuff your stinky clothes into a bag to act as a pillow. If you tried carrying a candle or a potted plant with you, you would soon find out that this is the most ridiculous thing you could do to create your dwelling place for those nights in the hut. So what makes a dwelling place then, if my french vanilla scented room isn’t necessarily going to cut it?

A dwelling place has to be more than just the physical, as all that is temporary. Even if we followed the lates decorating trends, we find that they go in and out of season too. So I guess whatever dwelling place we want to invest in, its going to have to involved the security of something that is more lasting. We learn from this passage that, whatever that place may be, that our hearts should yearn for it, even faint. We read that a day in that place is better than a thousand elsewhere! Can you believe that? A thousand days in your most favourite or treasured place and that doesn’t even compare to how good that one day in the courts here!! But what is the common dominator in each of these examples of Psalm 84. Each mention of a dwelling place or courts is followed by our Lord. Thus it seems, that this beautiful dwelling place that sounds too good to be true can only be found with our Lord there. We cannot make it on our own or by ourselves. Not only is our Lord found in that place but ee also learn that He provides for us in that place; as He even cares that the birds finds a home. How applicable to be in such a spot as the Milford with the soundtrack of birds constantly playing. (Did you know that when the settlers first came to New Zealand, there was so much bird activity that they could hear it long before they reached the islands ?) And God ,as it says in Matthew 6, cares for them too. It goes on to say in the same stanza as the birds, that those who dwell in His house are blessed, and like those birds are ever singing… singing His praises forever!

The passsages unfolds to even talk about pilgrimage and that those who seek the Lord go from strength to strength. That even when they go through tough times, they make a place of refreshment as ‘they make it a place of springs’. Springs and pools that are filled with the rain from above. Isn’t it also fascinating that the mention of water is often being described as a picture of the Holy Spirit in scripture. That even though we pass through the valleys, that God provides the Holy Spirit, Himself, to be with us there and from these ‘springs’, we can carry on from strength to strength! The verse that always stops me in my tracks is found in verse 11. No good thing does He withhold from those who walk up rightly. A lot of the time I believe that God does withhold good things from me. Like He is punishing me or it is some kind of experiment that seems to give out lots of good things to other people but not necessarily to me. How wrong I am in that when I encounter the very words of God that say other wise. Following Him. Following His Ways. They guarantee only goodness for us. That doesn’t mean we won’t pass through the valleys and we only dwell in comfortable places. No, we dwell with God, whatever the terrain may be that we are currently in. And that is the best place to dwell. Only good things.

What is your dwelling place? Is it with God- walking with Him along the mountains and the valleys, along the pilgrimage of life? What is in that dwelling place? Is it filled with a veneer of a homey and comfortable setting or is it filled with those pools or springs where you can draw your strength from? Is it better than anything else or your most favourite place? Is it blessed by God as you trust in Him? Is it worth dwelling there for a thousand years of even a day? Does your soul long and even faint for it? Does everything within you call out for the living God? Because that’s where we find our rest, our search for a physical dwelling place ends because our hearts are satisfied with the springs and the courts of our Lord.


God answers prayer.

The subject of prayer encompasses so many things and could take many more posts to work through what it can entail! When you think of prayer perhaps you think of engaging with God, talking to Him, thanking Him, asking Him questions. Maybe you think of what happens to you when you pray- you have peace, the strength to keep going, a growing faith, understanding more of who God is and getting to know Him in a deeper way. These are all the parts that play in that time where we converse with the One who created us, who provided life for us and will always be with us to engage with! Sometimes, we may question or wrestle with whether our prayers have been heard, especially those ones that seem to go unanswered. We may ask ourselves ‘Is He really listening to me?’, ‘Does He hear my prayers?’, ‘Does He answer them?’ For this post, I want to write a little about prayers and their answers.

 This is a photo I took this weekend in Queenstown. I love the colours and it reminds me of how some things are clear to us at times and other things are not. All can be beautiful and appreciated in their various ways.

I didn’t know what to title this post. One of the ideas I had to call it was When God answers prayers, but then I thought that actually…. perhaps…..God always answers our prayers. Does He? I got to thinking more about how the answer might look different to what I thought it would be or from what I had asked for. Sometimes, He answers those specific prayers and we receive that very thing we have brought before Him. Other times, He might have said ‘no’ and that is an answer too, although at times not one that we really want. And what about those prayers that haven’t been answered yet? The seeds of doubt of trying to creep in as to whether God is listening to all those heart felt prayers, poured out and doused in tears? I remember at one stage, feeling like I was in a sea of questions, drowning in them and feeling like God’s hand was the only thing I could hold on to in such confusing times. All the prayers spoken, uttered, cried, and even when there has been no words to possibly express those things. What about those prayers? Did He or will He answer them all? I don’t have the answers to those questions but I have faith that God does have the answers….. and I see a bit of what happens to me in that time of asking and supplication. Oh that we would see more and more of that around us too, as we list off our questions and speak them out amoung all those praying alongside of us.

I’m sure that each one of us have stories of how God answered a particular prayer, leaving us amazed at who God is and excited for what He can do. It concretes our faith in Him and reminds us that He is trustworthy to follow and lean into. We have those ‘big’ prayers and the ‘small’ ones too- the ones that seem impossible to answer and the ones that could almost go a miss. One of my bigger stories includes how I came to New Zealand. As I mentioned before (and in the post, An Unexpected Journey) I was in a sea of many questions and prayers, asking for answers and relief! It was tough and it was overwhelming. However, it is what God did within my heart and my trust deepening in Him. I began to see the ways in which God provided. Ways that I didn’t imagine or expect and they are so much more than I could have asked for. He answered those prayers in the way He saw best. He gave me relief and that sea became especially peaceful as the waves smoothed out for a time to experience those unexpected answers. Take the time to think about those stories along your journey, it will deepen your faith as you know only such a powerful, all knowing God could have done that. No coincidence enters the equation. 

But what about the times that He says ‘no’? Is that an answer to our prayers too? Perhaps you have a story for that one as well. Maybe it’s a little painful to remember, or you might even be thanking God that He didn’t answer it in the way that you thought! I’ve definitely had those times. I’ll refer once again to that confusing time and some of the prayers I had then. It became clear that God was giving me a ‘no’ and wow, am I so very thankful!!!!! I wouldn’t want to be in that position that I had been praying about! I can see God’s protection in so many ways. Can you think of a similar situation you have had? Hindsight is great and I guess one of the things that I have learned is that God’s ‘no’ can deepen our trust in Him too, even if we don’t understand it now or ever on earth! I am reminded of Jesus in the garden, the night before He was crucified, the words He uttered- that pain filled prayer. Not my will, but yours. Even the Son of God exemplified surrendering to the yes’ and the no’s of our Heavenly Father. I don’t think I’m the only one out there who doesn’t particularly like to be told ‘no’. But what if I had the mindset of Jesus on the night He was betrayed, your will, Lord, not mine. Would it make it easier for me to accept that answer? Would it draw me into the arms of a loving Father and not running away seeking ways to answer those prayers in our own way? Would it continue to deepen my trust and my faith in God? Would it help me to understand more that I’m a finite and limited being, serving an infinite and unlimited, big, powerful God? That His answers to my prayers are THE ANSWERS, not a plan B or suggestion, not a trick or something that will destroy. Always for my good and always for His will.

And here we seek the answers for all of those unanswered prayers. What is your unanswered prayer right now? I think we always have one up our sleeve, or in a tear drenched tissue. If we didn’t always have something to bring before God, then we would probably not give two thoughts to Him and continue on in figuring out what to do, where to go, who to be with, all on our own. In our finite and limited ways. Wow, I’m so thankful that I can go to a God who is bigger than me to answer those things! The struggle I have in the times of waiting for an answer, is not to lose faith or sight of who He is. He is the God of promises, promises to provide. He is the God of love, love that knows no bounds. He is the God who hears us, hears all of our thoughts and yearnings. He is the God of wisdom and with that wisdom, love, provision He hears our prayers and He answers them. Today, tomorrow, years from now, eternally. I hold onto the knowledge that God won’t continually leave us in a sea that is overwhelming, restless, unknowing. He will one day answer those things. He will one day wipe every tear as it says in Revelation. I think of Hannah in the Bible and how she prayed and prayed for a son. She poured out her heart despite how it looked to others. She continuously handed it over to God, she did not look elsewhere for those answers or manipulate the situation. She poured out her heart and she trusted. God did answer her, He did bring her that relief. As I think about her example in this. I know that I can still continue to pour out my heart. That it is actually ok to cry and really care about what you are praying for. That trusting God will always bring us peace, no matter if we ever see the results of that prayer in this lifetime. We can take comfort that God does hear our prayers. They don’t bounce back down to earth, or we don’t have work towards being good enough for them to be heard. We only have to surrender our will to His.

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 1 John 5.14

Because I find myself often in the third category, I have recently been writing out all my prayers requests. How encouraging and faith building this is when looking back on all those answers. The ‘yes’, the ‘no’ and the ‘not yets’. It reminds me to thank God for each one of them and be mindful that He is always at work, around me and within me. And as we utter and wrestle from one prayer to the next, remember that He does hear and He does care. He does answer.

Becoming Weaker. 

Recently, we have been talking about Lent at church. Growing up in Ireland, it is a word or practice that is not uncommon to me. I must admit I have never gone 40 days with out anything! But as the days build up to Easter, I have been thinking about what it might mean for us. What is the first thing that we think of when we think about Lent? Usually, it means to go without something…but for what exactly? What is our motive or aim in doing this? Is it to draw closer to God, it is to try and understand more about Him and ourselves? Is it for a personal accomplishment? Is it to lose weight? (Don’t tell me that that never crossed your mind as the days before lent you stuffed your face with every junk food imaginable!) Does God call us to participate in it? We do read a lot about fasting in the Bible and I encourage you to seek them out too, as I do believe it is something that helps us to be intentional in knowing and seeking the Lord.

So this whole going without thing? Is it just food? Is it from certain past times? Watching Netflix? Reading a good mystery book? God forbid, don’t say it…. Social Media!!!! I guess that is up to you to decide and if the whole point of going without is to be intentional in using that time to be more mindful of God, it is probably going to be the thing that has the most strong hold on you or takes up most of your time (or thought life!). I suppose it isn’t suppose to be easy. In fact, its going to be really tough and we are going to have some weak moments. For this post, I want us to have a little think about what happens to us during that time of going without and to also take a look at Jesus’ example to us in this.

Last week I showed a clip to the church called Becoming Weaker. In it, we hear of this man share his thoughts on our own weakness and powerlessness. We hear about how life comes from surrender and that we cannot do it on our own, we need a Saviour in fact. We are reminded that our powerlessness, our fragility is not an evil but can be used to connect with God and with others around us too. It is an experience of vulnerability and how being vulnerable requires that honesty to say I need help! This clip might makes us question if brokenness or weakness is really a bad thing, or is it something good, if it draws us closer to a very powerful God. This video clip also reminds me of the verses of 2 Cor 12.9 and 10 where it says:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore (Paul says) I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Indeed the Bible is filled with passages about brokenness and I encourage you to seek them out too! However, as I was thinking about the subject of weakness, I began to think of Jesus’ example to us in this. Jesus was fully God and man, and in his humanity, we see a glimpse into his physical weakness, such as when He was forty days in the desert. As we were saying before lent can be a time where we go without, so that we aren’t distracted by some of the things around us or in our lives. And this is a little of what we see here as Jesus removes himself to be alone, and He goes for forty days without food. (I can barely go half a day without food, and thinking that I’m going to die of hunger!) In Matthew 4.1-11, we read about this time in the wilderness and it gives us a picture of what Jesus faced and did during that time of physical weakness. 

Here we are told that Jesus was fasting for 40 days and nights. He was hungry and there was certainly not the distraction of the crowds like he might have been used to. You can imagine the physical weakness one might have felt without food to give them energy. During this time, we hear of Jesus being tempted several times. First to make the stones turn to bread to satisfy that hunger. Second to throw Himself off and see if God would save Him. And lastly, He was tempted with power and wealth if He was to worship Satan and not God. Even as Jesus was fasting, there was still the temptation to distract himself from God. In that weakness, we could be tempted to satisfy that hunger, to test God or even to worship something else other than God. But as we look to Jesus’ perfect example, what did He do in his physical weakness? Two things especially stood out to me. He responded by getting past the physical needs that Satan was concerned with and as Jesus usually did he got to the point- the things that really are important. He tells Satan that ‘man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ That food may satisfy our needs momentarily but it is God’s words of truth that satisfy us! And to live by them! It is nourishing and it sustains us in our walk with the Lord. 

The second thing that stood out to me, was when He was tempted to worship Satan who promised him temporary things of this world-power, wealth being some of them. But Jesus saw beyond the lies of those deceitful promises. He said ” You shall worship the Lord our God and him you shall only serve.” Jesus pointed to the one who was worthy of our worship. He knew that worshipping another would not lead to being filled or satisfied. He knew it wouldn’t be lasting. But He knew what was everlasting. And as we see here, even in a physical weakness, it drew Him to God. He knew of what was really important in life, despite the distraction or the temptation to get caught up in other things. In this, we can learn that in our weakness, we can go to the source of truth, power and meaning and be fulfilled through the one who is worthy of our worship! That in our powerlessness and fragility, we need God, we need a Saviour!

So with that in mind, what is lent? It is going without, trying to get away from the things that distract us from what’s most important- spending time with God. So whether, its an hour, a day, a week or even forty days that you have put aside, go to that place where you can find nourishment and fulfilment in Him. What will happen to you during that time? You will probably become weaker… you will face the temptations to satisfy that temporary need or to give your time to another. But in your weakness, you can rely on the Lord’s strength to help you! What do you do in this time? You worship the one who is worthy of your time, energy, mind and strength! 
And what would be some of the things that would be difficult for me to give up…. Coffee and Chocolate. This is probably what I would look like on like Day2 of 40!