“Have you seen my phone?”… A lesson in listening

This is my phone…    It’s set to silent…    I’ve lost it.

This happens to me way too often.  I’m actually pretty good at remembering to set my phone to silent for church meetings, school music recitals etc. But I never remember to turn it back onto loud again afterwards.  If I want to be able to hear it above the background music of my world (guitars, computer games, disney channel, noisy five-year old) then I have to leave it set to what the kids call ‘old lady loud’.  But once again, I’ve forgotten and I’ve put it down ‘somewhere’.  Argh.

In a moment, when I’ve finished writing this, I’m going to go on a hunt for it.  But first I’ll go round and turn off everything that makes a noise:  Youtube, the water cooler, the extractor hood, the tinkerbell movie that Katie is watching and anything else I can think of.  Then I’ll confiscate my son’s guitar and beg everyone to be quiet, just for five minutes, so that I can HEAR.

And then I’ll call my phone from the landline and walk slowly around the house straining to hear any slight sound of my phone vibrating in it’s hiding place.  And if I begin to hear it I’ll hone in my search to one room until I eventually find it.. down the side of the sofa or in a  pocket or on a shelf (or in the toybox.)

So for five or ten minutes of my day because I really want to hear something I will listen for it – really listen.

I’m really hoping that some of you who read this will be thinking “yes, I’ve done that” because it will really help you to get what I think God has to say to us today..

When I lose my silent phone I make space to listen for a barely audible whisper.  I consciously turn off the noise that would interfere with my ability to hear and I listen hard.  And the last time this happened, I heard God say,

“I want you to listen for my voice like that”

So I’m thinking about blocking off some time in my diary, just for listening to God.  For me, turning off noise has to mean not being in the house (where there are a million jobs shouting at me that they need to be done).  So I’ll go for a walk somewhere quiet.  For you it might mean the last ten minutes of the day, or sneaking somewhere at lunchtime, or locking yourself in the bathroom…

But will you find a way to make some space,  take some time, turn off some noise so that you can hear the still small voice of God this week? Who knows what things He has to say to you?  Who knows what revelation He is longing to share with you; who knows what part of His word He wants to bring to life for you; who knows what comfort or encouragement He wants to bring to your heart?

I don’t… but I bet it’s worth you finding out.

 

listeningfeature

Still small voice
On the edge of my hearing
help me to still my noisy soul

Still small voice
constantly calling
spill your milk and honey out
over my heart

reflect white

 

The challenge for this week is to spend some time listening to God’s voice and write down what you hear him say…  for those new to listening for the voice of God there are some starting guidelines here.

 

 

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The Way God Moves…

OK, I’ll admit it…  God doesn’t always act the way I expect Him to.  His timing can be wonderful and it can be extremely frustrating!

It seems to me that in the kingdom of God there’s a lot of waiting and a fair amount of suddenly. And the suddenly-stuff would often fit in neatly under the heading of not-quite-what-I-expected.

We often expect our progress towards the things God has promised us to be step by step in a straightforward direction, like the pawn on a chessboard.  But perhaps it’s more normal to be a bishop!

The pieces on a chess board each have their own unique way of moving.  The pawns mostly move one step at a time, forwards.  The bishops on the other hand can move right across the board (diagonally) in one move.   They often spend most of the early part of the game not moving, but can go from hiding at the back to the thick of the battle in an instant – suddenly.

So I’ve painted a chess-bishop this week for all those sitting on the back row wondering when God will use them and how.   And for those who have heard God’s call on their life to do something, and yearn for a step-by-step obvious route to get there, but don’t see the ‘pieces’ neatly falling into place.

I went to see a school production of the musical ‘Joseph’ last week. It was great, but a really odd piece of the music got stuck in my head (still there). Sung by the narrator to Joseph, hopeless, in prison:

‘strange as it seems there’s been a run of crazy dreams, and a man who can interpret could go far..’

I feel like God is drawing my attention to something here…

The line marks the moment when Joseph, alone in the prison, is about to be asked to interpret Pharaoh’s dream.  It’s the big turning point in the story:  It looks as though Joseph is as far as he can be from the promises that God gave him and yet there is barely time for a shave and change of clothes before he stands before Pharaoh interpreting his dream.  In a matter of hours Joseph goes from prison to power, from hopelessness to walking out into the promise God had given him all those years before.

Joseph had years and years of waiting and then a ‘suddenly’.

I hate waiting.  Patience is a fruit I’m yet to grow much of.  But I know that I shouldn’t abandon his promises for me and my family just because His timing is not what I’d expected.  So, when I am trying to work out how God could possibly give me the things I have heard Him whisper,  I’m learning to remember that it may not be step-by-step in a straight line that I get there.

It might be suddenly.

 

waiting
impatiently
for a moment in battle
unwillingly
hidden
away
struggling
painfully
with unresolved promises
fighting to hear
what you say
desperately
hoping
I've not been forgotten
fearfully 
wondering why?

and  then  suddenly

Bishop FB

 

If you’d like to take this further, why not meditate on and pray through Psalm 40 1:3.

Or write down in your journal some of the things God has promised you, but that you’re not walking in yet and ask God to help you to wait for them with faith.

 

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

Faith and the Flying Fox

I don’t often feel faith, it’s much more likely in any given situation that I’ll be feeling terror.  But to my great relief I’ve finally concluded that faith isn’t something you feel, it’s something you do.  And in some ways that’s much easier!

faith

I’ve come to believe that ‘faith is being certain of what we do not see’ can also be read ‘faith is hearing God, and then acting like you believe what He says is true.  For example:  Father God says that I am his precious child, that I am beautiful, that I am valuable.  Honestly, a lot of the time I struggle to feel like these things are true.  But I know they are, so I try to behave like they are.  I’m not pretending, – I’m lining my behaviour up with what I know to be true.

My kids went on a really high flying fox once… It was as much as I could take to stand on the ground watching them…  They were 40 ft or so up in the air and had to step off the platform and put their entire trust in the harness that strapped them to the wire.

That’s a great picture of faith – Standing on the edge of what feels safe, gripped by fear, but trusting that God has said this is the right thing to do and stepping off anyway.  Much, much easier to write down than to do!   On the flying fox, even when you have just seen your brother fly down in front of you and you know it is safe, it’s really hard to step off.  And sometimes it’s like that when God asks you to do something ….  

But the faith isn’t in the feeling. – It’s in the jumping.

The other thing I remember clearly about watching this zip line in action was the pep-talk on how to land safely:

“What you must do” insisted the instructor, “is start running while you are still in the air,  a long time before you hit the ground, or you will just wipe out”  And he wasn’t kidding!  As I watched people fly down the wire at great speed,  it was clear that those who began the action of running before their feet hit the ground managed to stay on their feet; and those who forgot were dragged unceremoniously through the mud.

Faith is being certain about the things that God has promised but you are not actually experiencing yet.  On the flying fox, the ground is coming, and you have to start acting like the ground is there before you actually get to it.

If God has said you’re going to have a ministry with young people, start talking to young people in your church.  If God has said He wants you to lead worship one day, learn an instrument.  If God has said to you that you are going to see people healed when you pray for them, start praying for the sick (and keep going until people start being healed).

I have a friend who dreamed one night that she was on a stage in a huge auditorium, talking about Jesus to thousands of people.  In her dream she was terrified – she could never stand up in front of so many people and yet she felt that this was a dream from God calling her to be prepared to preach.   Her response wasn’t to say “I could never do that” or to sit around waiting for it to happen.  She went out the following week and joined a public speaking club!  Isn’t that great?  Even if the reality of the dream is still a long way off, she’s getting ready for it.  That’s faith.

I don’t know what God has called you to do.  I do know that for many of you, you’re also not quite ‘there’ yet.  You’re still in the time of waiting.  But faith begins to act like you’re there a bit before you are. It  stretches out; it gets trained and equipped; it looks stupid; it cries out to God for help; but it starts running

Live in faith.  Then, when your feet hit the reality of what God has promised… you will be ready.

flyingfoxfeature

 Things to think or journal about:

Come before God today and ask Him to remind you of things He has promised you.  The many beautiful promises of scripture, or promises He has spoken to you personally.  What would it look like if you were to live as though that promise is a reality?  Is there a small step you could take this week into living in the light of that promise? If there is, then take it!  Jump!

Perfume poured out

I love the story from John’s gospel of Mary of Bethany.  Especially the moment where, perhaps overwhelmed with gratitude for the raising from the dead of her brother Lazarus, she comes to Jesus, pours oil over his feet then wipes them with her hair.

Today there are two things that strike me about this public display of adoration…

One is that it is an act of incredibly expensive worship.  It makes me wonder what a family in a little hill village above Jerusalem were doing with a pint of perfume that was worth a year’s wages?  One commentator I read suggested that it might have been a way of saving money, an investment for the future, perhaps for a dowry when Mary or Martha wanted to marry.  In any case it was a hugely expensive offering.

It may be that Mary was literally pouring out her financial security, her plans for the future, her hopes and her dreams over the feet of Jesus.  An act of pure worship.  It was extravagant, costly, over the top,  and it caused others to question whether she was getting too ‘carried away’, but in this moment it was undoubtedly entirely the right response to Jesus.

Sometimes singing a song of worship is a costly act for us, but there are many other things which we are called to do which require much greater obedience, trust, surrender and sacrifice.   These choices, to do what Jesus asks of you even when it might cost you your dignity, your good name, your financial security, your  dream of how life would be, are extraordinary acts of silent worship.

 

The second thing I notice today is that in John’s account ‘the house was filled with the fragrance’ of the spilled perfume.  I have a tiny, tiny bottle of spikenard oil from Israel that a friend gave me.  Just the tiniest dot of it has a heady perfume that I can smell on my skin for hours.  I can’t quite imagine what the fragrance of a whole pint spilled on Jesus’ feet and the floor would have been like.  The scent of it would’ve been totally overpowering and would have not only filled the whole house but would have lingered in that place and on Mary’s hair and on the feet of Jesus for days if not weeks.

When I painted this postcard, I wanted to show that in our moments of love, surrender and giving,  in singing worship and in the rest of life, Jesus does not remain impassive.  He responds. He smells the fragrance and he leans towards us to receive the gift. He honours us and our costly gifts to him as He honoured Mary and He wears the fragrance of our worship with pride.

When we not only declare our love publicly and with extravagance, but anoint Him with our trust, our hopes and our dreams, the perfume is spilled out over both Him and us.  We share in the lingering scent of it and the fragrance spreads out to fill the room.

I wave the white flag

and I pour out,

my heart,  my life,  my hopes,  my dreams,  my security,

over your feet.

Already washed in your blood

made clean by your sacrifice

restored by resurrection

alive in your life…    I choose

to trust

and place my all

into your hands

may the house be filled with its fragrance

Perfume poured out

If you want to read it for yourself, this story is in John ch 12 v 3-8.

reflect white

Changing Key: On choosing the uncomfortable

Turns out I spend a lot of my life avoiding being uncomfortable. You?

This week, Jesus has called me on that with a picture of piano keys…

I’m learning to play the piano… Not real piano, but just enough to be able to accompany songs I like, using the chords written for guitar. I’ve got really good at songs written in the keys of C and D. I know the chords that usually pop up in those keys (the easy ones), and they’re mostly in what I suppose is my muscle memory… I’m practiced enough that when I see those chords, my hands can find them without me really having to think about it. The upshot is: I mostly play songs in those keys. If I’m just messing around for my own pleasure I’ll pick C or D and if there’s any danger that someone might hear me, I definitely stick to where I know I’m safe!

And this morning, as I was singing to Him, God said to me, “you try to live your life in C and D”

Ouch

He’s saying that I tend to live my life inside the boundaries of what I find comfortable. I’m guessing that I’m not the only one. So this week’s postcard is piano keys, and it’s an invitation to walk differently.

I don’t much like learning to play in a new key… There are new chords which are awkward, stretching my fingers and requiring counting and working out. It’s slow and frustrating; it makes my hands ache and I have to keep thinking about what I’m trying to do. The draw to go back to where I’m comfortable is so strong.

“What does it matter” I ask myself, “if I only ever learn to play in D?” And the answer is:

“Not much, but there’ll just be a whole load of great music that you’re never going to get to play”

Read that last line again. I wonder if it does to your heart what it does to mine… Our Heavenly Father doesn’t want us to live in limited places, within narrow boundaries. He wants us to be willing to persevere with the uncomfortable until it becomes natural. And then… well, He’ll probably challenge us to get uncomfortable again. Why? … Because all the time we are stretching out; covering more ground; becoming more available; we are pushing deeper into faith and the adventure with Him.

There is a beautiful piece of music that God wants to play with your life. It’s a duet – written by the great Creator of all things to play alongside you, His precious child. He will adapt it to what you’re prepared to learn to play, and it will still be beautiful. But there is some awe-inspiring, extraordinary music which he would love to play with you, and that duet will only work if you’re prepared to follow the key changes. You might have to trust and follow him into stretching, uncomfortable places. You might have to work hard to keep up with Him and you might long for your comfortable easy place. But then I didn’t ever hear Jesus say,

“Come, follow me, and I will give you an easy, comfortable and unchallenging life”

Please know how hard it is for me to write this down, to confirm that I hear Jesus saying this to me today. I’m not a risk-taker. My husband describes me as ‘risk-averse’ and I tend to take it as a compliment. I like predictable, and have been known to view ‘adventure’ as a word for a badly-planned expedition.

But I want to be on this adventure with Jesus and to move out into the spacious places that he’s promised me, not limited by my fear or my need to be comfortable. So I’m going to follow the call and to let him stretch me: in ministry, in faith and in what I believe about Him and about myself. I’m going to choose to be uncomfortable until it gets comfortable, and then I’m going to choose to be uncomfortable again.

How about you?

Jesus

You are the one who goes ahead of me

And calls me out into new places

give me the courage to say

“today,

Yes. I will follow you”

piano

reflect white

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

Words and Pictures to help you hear from God

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