Category Archives: Surviving Tough Times

More than you can Handle?

“God will never give you more than you can handle”

This well-meant little piece of not-actually-scripture is, I’ll admit, one of my ‘pet peeves’.  It annoys me because it seems to be saying that whatever difficult or awful circumstance you might be walking through you ought to be able to stoically bear it alone.  It also suggests that strength is to be rewarded with pain, more strength with more pain – Rubbish!

Pain and suffering is a part of life.  Jesus never said that it wouldn’t be (rather the opposite).  But I know many people who, even as I’m writing this are in the middle of circumstances: financial, physical, emotional that no-one should be expected to be able to ‘handle’.   I know that some of them desperately need to have permission to ‘not handle it’ alone so that they can be free to cry, shout, rest, lean on others and above all lean on the God who loves them.

 

Here’s what I think is true:

Sometimes it’s OK to say to God your Father “I can’t handle this – I need you to step in with a miracle here”   And this picture of a falling doll being caught is meant to show something of what I think our Father replies to us…

handlewords

I pray that today you will receive permission from God to lean into him.  To fall, and be caught.

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For your journal:

What things are there in your life that are hard to handle?  What keeps you from letting go of your need to handle them alone?

 


 

 

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The Hardest Cut: on the experience of pruning

Ouch.

A while ago, not for the first time,  I went through an experience of pruning:  Of God removing from my life something I love, something I’m good at, something that I was (and am) unwilling to let go of.  Familiar story?

john 15

I can deal with God cutting away parts of my life that aren’t fruitful! But here Jesus talks about pruning the healthy branches of a vine, cutting back branches that are bearing fruit.  And that’s much harder to get my head around…

I’ve been involved one way or another with church youthwork for about twenty years, and I love it.  So it was very hard when a few months ago God asked me to lay it down.  I’m ashamed to say that he had to tell me a lot of times and in several different ways.  And I wrestled with it, I was angry with Him about it, but eventually I got the message, waved the white flag and stepped down.

And it really, really hurt… (still does a bit)

In the middle of that time I painted a picture.  I’ve never grown grapes, but I have grown and pruned roses, so I painted a rose bush… and a gardener.   The message God spoke to me through it really helped, and if a pruning-time comes, I hope it will help you too.

You prune rosebushes back for two reasons: so that they will grow into a more balanced shape, not becoming lopsided or straggly; and so that they will bear even more flowers.  So pruning, though it seems harsh, actually makes the rose bush much more beautiful.

After I’d finished the painting I noticed two things:

The first was that the branch is not being pruned away because it is not being useful or beautiful or because it is ‘bad’ at the job it was supposed to be doing.  It is not diseased, or flowerless… but its time has come.  When God takes you out of a ministry or situation, it is not necessarily an indication of His judgement on the job you were doing.  God often calls us to stop doing things that we are good at!

pruningdetailThe second was that the healed wound from a past pruning is clearly visible.  And so is all of the growth and beauty that came about because of that cut.  It stands as a testimony that pruning has brought fruitfulness in my life and is promise of more roses yet to come.


God sometimes takes away or asks us to give up things which we are good at and which we love.  And it’s not always clear why!  It may be that he needs to make space in your life in order to do something else. Perhaps  He wants you to stop putting energy into supporting an old branch and pour that energy into growing a new one.   Or it may be just that He wants you to do something where you’ll need to lean on Him more.  

What is certain is that to be pruned is part of ‘normal’ Christian life. For me the challenge is to surrender to it quickly rather than sink huge reserves of effort into resisting it;  to accept it as part of the ongoing careful work of my Father.

Looking back now, six months on, I can see the fruit of having allowed God to make some space in my life for other things.  If I’m honest I can also see how it would have been so much less painful for me if I had listened and responded the first time I heard God speak on the matter!

So now I’m asking God what else in my life has to go.  If He needs to make more space or wants me to be more focussed, I want to volunteer to make the cut!  Will you join me?   He might ask you to give something up… He might not.  Either way, surrender to the gardener is the road to more growth, more blessing and more fruitfulness.  I recommend it.


pruning

Not Alone – the art of firewalking

Sooner or later, we all come to a part of our life that feels like walking through a fire: bereavement, losing a job, miscarriage, illness, or  many other painful, difficult and stressful circumstances. Probably you’ve done some firewalking in your time. Perhaps you’re in the middle of a fire season right now.

It’s not so long since I came through a furnace of my own:  Moving from a secure life in England to a new, much less predictable one overseas, dealing with my kids’ reactions to leaving and losing friends, coping with their angry heartache as well as my own. It’s been a fire-walk: intense, painful, and sometimes terrifying.  But, (and it amazes me that I can write this) like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, thrown into a furnace because of their faithfulness to God, I have looked for, and found, the presence of God in it all.  I’ve been able to stand and walk around, even when I feared that I’d be consumed by the intensity of the flames. I have been ‘Not alone’.

And it is not that I’ve discovered that the fire was not so hot after all.

In the story we’re told that this furnace was seven times hotter than usual.    The miracle was not that the fire turned out not to be so hot after all. And moving country didn’t turn out to be easier than I expected… if anything it’s been much harder…

And it’s not that I was instantly rescued out of it.

These guys spent a while in the fire, and so did I, and so, probably, will you.  But, like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, I did walk out the other side eventually and when I did I discovered that I wasn’t singed. Changed by the experience certainly, but not scarred… not defeated…not destroyed.

And, like them, I now notice that the only things that have actually been burned away and destroyed are ties that had bound me up: false beliefs and ways of living that had limited me – constraints that had stopped me from being all that God wanted me to be.  Now that’s a miracle!

Not that I believe that my heavenly Father caused that fire in my life, or intended it for me, I don’t.  But instead, I’ve learned that there are fire times in life, and that the enemy will use them to try to destroy, but that when we choose to trust God and look for Him among the flames,  our wonderful, redemptive, creative Father can use them to bring us into new places of freedom.

So this week’s postcard is a fire.   And the message on the back is simple:

notalone

 

fire 1

As I write this, I am painfully aware of friends who live their lives in a fire from which they expect no release until they stand in heaven itself, held in the arms of their Saviour. I think especially of those I know who have experienced, and are experiencing every day, the death of a loved one, particularly of a child.  Friends, I cannot begin to understand your fire. I could only say that for you, every day that you stand and walk around in that fire is a victory, and I honour you for it. And whether or not you are able to stand, I am confident of this, Jesus will stand, sit, kneel, weep, be alongside you every day, every minute that you are there. You are not alone.

Lord, be close,

when I walk into the fire

hold me

when all I see is flames

let me turn and see your face.

and on days when I cannot cry out to you.

call out to me,

shout loud, whisper quietly,

and I will try to lean into you.

Until the day that you lead me out into open space again

Let me know

that I am not alone.

 If you want to travel with this a little more, read Isaiah 43: 1-2

Rooted – on surviving the dry season

I really like to read the Bible aloud, and last week I was reading from Ephesians when this phrase caught in my mind.  And it’s been sitting there ever since…

roots

I keep coming back to wondering what it must be like, and how(!)  to send roots down deep into God’s love.   I really want to be like the tree described in Jeremiah 17 that’s fruitful in all circumstances.  Its root system goes deep into the water table, so even when there’s no water to be seen on the surface, it’s able to draw refreshment and life up from deep places.

Spiritual life seems to run in seasons. One day I’m flying, Jesus has never seemed so close, miracles are happening around me, I’m undone in the presence of God and every page of the Bible comes alive.  A few months later everything can suddenly seem much more difficult.  Faith might not waver, but enthusiasm and energy certainly do.

For a long while I thought this was a kind of malfunction.  That I should be able to maintain a level of passion and fervency and intimacy with God all the time.  Truthfully – I can’t.  But I’m starting to believe that it might not be so abnormal.  All around us seasons come and go, plants grow vigorously and are then pruned back, people are active and then sleep.  It seems to be the way of the world our Father has created that things have a rhythm to them.

The picture of being rooted says to me that perhaps it’s OK for spiritual life to be seasonal-  That an ebb and flow of feelings and experiences is natural – but that it is possible to be rooted in God’s love in such a way that no matter what season you are in, living water can always be drawn up from the deep.

Are you in an easy season or a dry one?  Are storm winds catching your branches or are you resting in a time of peace?  Either way the advice is the same – send your roots down deeper into the river of life.  Joseph advised Pharaoh to store up food during the times of plenty in order to be able to survive times of famine.   If you’re in a plenty time – enjoy it – store up food for the future,  practice trust.  And if you’re in a drought – look deep, the water of life is still present, seek and you will find.

Plant me Lord

on the bank of a river

Show me how to send roots deep into you.

So that in good years

in bad years

in wet times and in dry

There will be fruit to feed the hungry

There will be leaves to give shelter to the weary

There will be the promise of water nearby for the thirsty

And when the storm comes

Though I bend in the force of the wind

My heart will remain – anchored to yours.

like a tree planted by the water

rivertree

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I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you can do to drive roots down deep into the love of God. Please leave a comment -either here or on Facebook- Ellie