Whirlwind

It was a still, hot day.  The cicadas were singing their midday chorus under a bright blue sky and there wasn’t even a breath of wind to disturb the highest of the cypress trees.

I was driving back along the edge of town, the dashboard thermometer was touching 44 degrees and, apart from my car, it felt as if not a thing was moving for miles.

Stillness.

And then I saw this…

A tiny whirlwind, only about a metre across, moving across the field next to me and picking up every blade of straw twirling it around and laying it down in a different place. Even in a sea of stillness, this whirling concentration of energy was completely rearranging the way things were.

You might be like me.  I’ve got this little bit of longing in my heart to see revival  – to witness the Holy Spirit on the move in my nation, in my community, in my family.   And that would of course be amazing and wonderful.   I’ve spent some time on the carpet in times of renewal,  loving soaking in his presence and in awe of what God can do in his church.

But the reality is that life isn’t always like that.

There are sometimes days of heat and stillness and cicadas.

It can even seem as though God isn’t moving in the world we live in or in the lives of those around us.

But here’s the thing.  Even on days of utter stillness, a tiny whirlwind can move through a place and pick up every stick, every piece of grass and chaff, and put it all down in new order.

Even in a season that looks still, God can cause a revolution in someone’s heart.  Even when it looks like he’s not doing anything he can burst into a situation and pick up every piece and put it back into a new place.  Even in a place that looks like it there is no hope, he can come in with the power that raised Jesus from the dead, whirl everything up and make it entirely new.

Such is the power of our God.

 

Keeping in step

Have you ever noticed how difficult it is to walk or run out of time with music that’s playing loudly in the background?

If there’s music playing in the supermarket, I find myself walking in step with it.  If what’s playing over the speakers at the gym is out of time with the pace I’m trying to run at, I stumble.  It seems to be natural to keep time with whatever is playing around us.

I wonder if this works in our spiritual lives as well? Whether we fall into time with the song that’s playing the loudest?

Paul writes this in a chunk from Galatians 5, a chapter which is all about being set free from walking in time with our old rhythms:

 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed their sinful desires to his cross. They don’t want these things anymore. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.  Galatians 5: 24-25

The trouble is that there are some times when the tune of our old ways is louder in our ears than the one that the Spirit is playing.

In the gym, or at the supermarket, the solution is easy.  I just plug in my headphones and play the music I want to keep time with.   It’s a choice.  I choose what to listen to.

Of course it can be harder spiritually.  When someone has hurt you, or behaved unfairly towards you, or when something you really want is right in front of you.

The song of my right to justice and vindication can play pretty loud I can tell you.  But somewhere on the edge of my hearing is a sweeter but more difficult melody of forgiveness, grace and friendship.  The song of the value of ‘things’ plays at top volume all through our society, and yet there’s a silvery theme of generosity and value outside of the material that can be heard if you listen heard enough.

And it is possible, if I keep making the choice, to tune into those other tunes instead. To walk out of step with the world, but in step with the Spirit.

As well as that, sometimes the tune that the Spirit would like me to line my life up with changes as circumstances, seasons and people around me change…

While I was thinking about and praying about this postcard I happened to see a Facebook clip of a class of 10 year olds performing on Djembe drums.  They were following a teacher, keeping in time with her using their ears to listen but also their eyes to see the little signals that showed she was about to change to a new rhythm.  It was amazing.  And the focus and determination they had to keep in time really spoke to me.

It made me think about the number of times in my life that the Spirit has started to play a different tune, but that’s it’s taken a while for me to catch on because I was getting on with the last thing, but not watching closely for a new thing.  Maybe because I’m not a fan of change, maybe because I’m easily distracted, maybe because I’m still learning to watch closely!

Keeping our eyes and ears on the spirit isn’t always easy.  But it is a choice, and it’s one that we need to make if we want to keep in time.

 

Flying Pigs

Sometimes faith falters in the face of improbability.

I find while I’m praying that a voice in my head suggests I aim at targets that are more realistic,  pray for things which are ‘easier’ for God to answer.

And yet, God keeps on calling me in the direction of flying pigs(!) – of impossible prayers that can only be answered by miracles.  Drawing me to hope for things that are beyond reasonable hope; to believe in the things I think I’ve heard God whisper; to expect that God will bring those things into presence of his kingdom so that they have no choice but to confirm to his will.

Flying pigs.

Something about this picture reminds me of the story of Abraham, as told by Paul in his letter to the church in Rome:

18 Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”[d] 19 Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead.20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, 21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.   Romans 4:18-21

The key here of course is that Abraham had heard what God had promised and believed it.  This isn’t a random, wobbly faith in something I want, it’s a faith based on the solid rock of what God has said.

“Ok, but”, I hear you say, “Abraham actually heard God, out loud, for real. Of course he had faith”

True…

But we have the revealed word of God, written down, full of promises true for every follower of Jesus, right now and forever;  He is faithful, we are never abandoned, he will build his church, he is not willing that any be lost, he is our Provider, our Hope, our Saviour, our Strength.

And we also have the now-word of God as whispered to us by the Holy Spirit in a hundred different ways.  God’s promises – Faith-bombs ready to be released into our hearts.

And in the face of the unshakeable granite of God’s word; simple, obvious reality (a ninety-year-old womb) starts to look a little less solid.

We have our hands full of promises that we can choose to stand on in faith, some of them that we’ve held onto for years, some which we might have left lying around for a long time and are just now picking up again.  Sometimes circumstances make those promises painful to look at, but perhaps it’s time to take them and like Abraham be strengthened in faith, give glory to God and be persuaded that God has the power (and the will) to do what he has promised.

So bring out your flying pigs today, dust them off and remind yourself and remind God of those things he said he would do. Cry out to him about the things he has said, and stand on the rock of his word.

May we see God do what seems impossible.

flying pigs

 

Breakfast

Today I forgot to eat breakfast..

This is actually a pretty unusual occurrence.  Unlike my teenage daughter, I am totally committed to both the concept and practice of breakfast, but somehow in the middle of the hunt for hairbrushes, socks and PE bags… I just forgot to eat anything.

I didn’t notice my error on the way to school or on the way back, in the supermarket or while hanging out the washing.  But I really noticed 4 minutes into my daily dose of pain on the treadmill:  There was nothing in the tank.  I could amble, but running, or even a moderately brisk walk was completely out of the question!  I was going nowhere.

I don’t often make the same mistake with the car.

If I’m going on a long journey I make sure the tank is absolutely full before I start.  It’s expensive to fill the car up, and it takes a few minutes longer, but I need to know I’m not going to run out of fuel halfway through the journey.  And I don’t know what might happen on the way, what the traffic will be like, or whether the road will be closed and I’ll have to make a detour so I need to know I’ve got not ‘just enough’ but ‘more than enough’.

Around the town I take more risks:  Waiting until my fuel light is blinking frantically before I put in just enough petrol to get the needle out of the red zone,  knowing that the light will be flashing again a few days later.  I tell myself it’s OK to run the car like this because I’m never very far from a fuel station and I do seem to  manage to just dodge disaster, but…

All this has made me think about how I live my spiritual life.

I know that when I’m aware of a challenge ahead, something where I need to do more than just survive, but to be able to pour out God’s love, grace and power to people around me, I take my time with God a bit more seriously.  Praying, reading the word, soaking, reading scripture aloud, singing worship and spending time with other Christians talking about Jesus… all these things that ‘fill-up’ my spiritual tank I do when I realise there’s something on the road in front of me that’s going to require more than just myself.

Most of the time though, I suspect I get by on the ‘just enough’, and occasionally, like this morning, I realise that I’ve run completely empty and that I need to drag myself back into God’s presence and ask him again to pour out his abundance into my emptiness.

There are times in life that it’s hard to do anything but grab a moment with the Lord here and there.  Kids, jobs, family, sickness, life,  all require our attention and time and energy. It can be so hard to find time to invest in our relationship with God.

And there is grace for difficult times: We can get by like that for so long. But it’s not a way to live long-term.

We need quality time in God’s presence.

We need it because we don’t actually want our lives to be just ‘getting-by’, but because God has written a much more exciting calling in our hearts:

to be a continual outpouring of God’s love, grace and power to the people around us.

And we can’t only be pourers, it simply doesn’t work…  Like jugs we are made both for pouring out and for filling up.

 

 

It’s actually pretty obvious which one of those needs to happen first.

 

So whether it’s daily, weekly or monthly.  Whatever it looks like for you.

Carve out time, make a priority, find a space: Eat your breakfast!

Poured Out

 

It’s nearly Pentecost.  And this year more than ever I’m aware of the need for a fresh pouring out of the Holy Spirit in my life.  So here’s a repost from a couple of years of ago… May some fresh hope and fresh hunger bubble up in your heart this week…

I’ve been thinking about Pentecost, about the confused but hopeful disciples gathered in an upper room. Meeting together perhaps to celebrate Shavout – the festival of the first fruits, but certainly to pray, to stare at their empty hands, to hope. Waiting, but not sure about what they were waiting for. Hoping, but not sure what to hope.

And then suddenly…

The Holy Spirit showed up in the room.

And he sounded like a violent rushing wind and he looked like flames of fire.

I suspect the Holy Spirit can choose to look and sound pretty much how he likes, but on this occasion he came to them in a way they could not mistake. The same fire that had burned with the presence of God in the bush where Moses heard God speak now came to rest on each of them. Wonderful but terrifying.

Almost every time I read a story in the Bible, something different about it grabs my attention. What stirs me most when I read this one today is the very first gift that the Holy Spirit chose to give to those trembling disciples. As the Spirit was poured out he gave them a gift of languages, the ability to make the good news available to everyone.  

I love that. The very first gift of the Spirit was one that shouted for all to hear that everyone could be included, that the presence of God was not just for the chosen few, but from now onwards it was for everyone who called on the name of the Lord regardless of where they came from.

Of course they were misunderstood. And some who didn’t quite understand what was happening yelled out their criticism (as occasionally happens today when the Holy Spirit shows up in a way that’s not quite what we expected!) so Peter stood up to explain what was happening, quoting this beautiful verse from Joel:

‘In the last days I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions
and your old men will dream dreams.’

Acts 2:17 NRSV

Sometimes we think about the presence of the Spirit or the gifts of the Spirit (or of some of them), as being just for ‘the special’, just for ‘the holy’ or just for ‘someone-else’.

But God is pretty clear about it here.  When he pours out his Spirit, it is on all flesh.  No-one who calls Jesus ‘Lord’ is excluded from that statement:  we can’t exclude others from it and we can’t exclude ourselves from it.

God didn’t say, “I will pour out my spirit on those who shout loud enough, or pray hard enough, sing sweet enough or close their eyes long enough”.

He said “all flesh”

even when you’re tired

even when you’re lonely

even when you’re grieving

even me

even you.

That’s the beauty of Pentecost – the good news in my language, the spirit poured out into my flesh. The precious, beautiful Holy Spirit, suddenly available and present to us all. Poured out not in a trickle or a dribble, but in abundance – a gush of the pure, sweet, inexhaustible presence of God poured out over anyone who wants to come and stand underneath it.

Any time you like.

You just have to ask.

Revolution

I’ve experienced a revolution. It was peaceful, and so quiet you could be forgiven for not noticing it at all,  but it was real…

In the weeks before and after Easter I was really struggling: feeling something deep and painful but not really able to work out what was wrong. And then, as I was fighting/ grumbling/ praying with God, he showed me this picture of a bottle –  knocked over and with bright orange liquid spilling out from it and running out over the ground.

‘Yes!’ I thought, ‘THAT IS EXACTLY how I am feeling right now’.

Let me explain:

I always associate the colour orange with the future. (This is almost certainly due to the mobile phone advertising slogan that played right through my twenties: ‘the future’s bright, the future’s orange’)  So for me this picture represented a lost or wasted future, or more specifically,  the vanishing of the future I thought I was going to have when I was twenty-something.

It started on a day when I’d mislaid my ipod and picked up the very old one that our youngest uses as her ‘storyteller’.  (I can deal with the pain of the treadmill, but not with the musical choices of the young guy who runs the gym!)  On it I found a playlist that dates back almost fifteen years, full of songs which reminded me of the years before that.  Music sometimes has the power to transport us back in time, and that playlist of nineties worship songs (anyone else remember History Maker?) took me right back to my mid-twenties, just married, totally sure of my calling to preach God’s word, and excited about what the future would hold…

There are days when it feels like the decision we made to leave home and move to Cyprus has had the effect of kicking over the bottle of my ‘future’ and seeing most of it be spilled out and lost.  A lot of what I had hoped for and expected, particularly in terms of ministry, has been poured out, and those precious years have been wasted.  Of course in those moments I conveniently forget the part where we heard God tell us to come here, and all the great things that have happened in those years,  but the hard part of this picture is that in some senses it is entirely true. There has been a sacrifice of some things that I loved and that I felt sure God had called me into doing, and that hurts.

So I’ve been (slightly angrily) trying to avoid thinking about this picture for about a month, finding reasons not to have time to paint it.

But it wasn’t going away… so here it is.

And as soon as I saw my overturned bottle on paper, with the golden orange liquid flowing out of it,  I suddenly realised how much it’s like the one I painted of Mary of Bethany as she poured out perfumed oil on Jesus’s feet.   And I could hear my words echoed in those of Judas when he objected to the valuable nard being wasted when it could have been used for something ‘useful’.

‘and the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume’

The picture looks different to me know.  It’s still true, but there has been a revolution in my heart, and I can now see the beauty in it, sense the fragrance of it.  It’s still shot through with pain, but I understand something I didn’t understand  before, something that I can’t quite pin down in words, but which changes the way I see the sacrifice.

It helps.

I wonder if  you need a revolution?

Do you need God to come in and change the way you see something?  Maybe today is a good day to ask him to reveal that something to you, and to show you how he sees it differently.  Perhaps his perspective is what you need to restore hope and courage to your heart.

 

 

 

 

 

A lolly stick, three felt tip pens and a bouncy santa…

This is the pot of pens in my kitchen.  I expect you have one too.  About twice a year I go through it, make sure all the pencils are sharpened, throw away dried up felt tips and remove all the random objects that have collected at the bottom.  After about a week, it looks like this again.

The idea of the pen pot is that whenever someone sits down to do their homework, everything they need is already at their fingertips, and we don’t need to waste precious time searching for a pencil sharpener or a purple pencil or a protractor.

Of course, this is an impossible ideal, and often the pen pot contains everything except the item that someone absolutely can’t do without to finish their homework.  But I persevere, because I believe that while I never do achieve the organisational perfection I strain for, it’s better to have a few felt tips, some biros and a pencil with a bouncy santa on the end than nothing at all…

A while ago I asked my group of girl guides to bring in a quotation that they believed in.  It could be from anywhere and we had some wonderful contributions from a variety of authors from Maya Angelou to Winnie the Pooh.  Possibly my favourite though, was this:

“Not everything has to be perfect”

Pause with that for a while…

 

Not everything has to be perfect

It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make an effort to do things well.  It just means sometimes it’s better to do something badly than not to do it at all.

Sometimes it’s great to give yourself the freedom to have a go at something and not be brilliant at it.  After all, most artists started with stick men, most concert pianists once struggled to make their left hand do as it was told and I imagine even the best poets have occasionally written something dreadful.  Creativity always carries the risk that whatever you’re making might turn out badly, that’s part of its joy.

Is God calling you to do something you’re worried aren’t all that brilliant at?

Is he asking you to take a risk and do something that it might take a lot of practice to do well?

Are you discounting yourself and your gifts and wondering why God doesn’t find someone ‘better’ to do the job?

Not everything has to be perfect.

pensIt turns out that it’s good to have an imperfect and slightly random collection of pens.  It’s not perfect, but it’s still good.

Just like you.

 

 

Words and Pictures to help you hear from God

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