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!

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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.

 

 

Brownies

Yesterday I made chocolate brownies. They didn’t turn out as I expected.  This seems to be a recurring theme.

You may be surprised to learn that it’s not the first time brownies have caused consternation.  I read that when the famous cookery writer Delia Smith first tried to launch American Brownies on the unsuspecting British public her mailbag was full of letters from concerned would-be-bakers wondering why the brownies weren’t properly cooked.   Her website now notes ‘they are not cakes’, I guess in the hope that people will adjust their expectations and realise that squidgy and a bit damp can actually be a good thing in a baked item.

It’s not just baking.

Sometimes life: ministry, relationships, jobs, kids, health, security… just doesn’t turn out as we expected and planned.  Sometimes because of our mistakes, or someone else’s; often because we live in a broken world; and perhaps sometimes because, like the brownies, it was never supposed to be the way we imagined it.

It would be easy to live a life coloured by disappointment and recriminations over the things that are not as they might have been, either with God, with yourself or with others.

The truth is that more or less everyone I know is living a life that in some respect is different to how they had imagined it would be. Even those whose facebook profile might suggest otherwise are facing trials behind the scenes. Because life is, on the whole, neither fair nor easy. The rain falls.

However there is an alternative to disappointment, confusion and resentment.   There has to be, because those things will eat you up from the inside.  It’s this…

You eat the brownies.

As it happens, my brownies are actually a bit overcooked (new house, new oven).  I’m not saying they ‘d break your teeth, but they’d give it a good go.   Thing is, they still taste pretty good.. If you adjust your expectations and think ‘cookie’ then they’re sort of OK, the ones in the middle are edible at least.

This is hard to write friends, because I know many of you are facing situations so hard you can barely stand up.  I’m not saying that everything about life is good. Sometimes it really, really stinks.  Sometimes it’s so far away from what you’d hoped it would be that it makes you grieve in the depths of your soul for what might have been.

But God is good and sometimes there’s blessing hidden deep in amongst the difficult. Sometimes God has brought us this way on purpose, sometimes this is the way he is leading us out.  The one thing we know for sure is that he travels with us through it, whispering encouragement and ready to catch us if we stumble.

Mostly, we don’t get a lot of choice over which life we live.

Where we do have a choice though, is in how we face our unexpected lives,  and how we adjust our attitude towards them.  We can perhaps choose to step away from disappointment and blame and look for what is good and enjoy it.

Perhaps today we can acknowledge that our ‘brownies’ are not we expected, not what we asked for, or what we’d hoped for; but perhaps we can pull together the courage, take a breath, reach for God’s hand, and eat them.

I hope you will find, that in some unexpected way, they are good.

 

 

 

The monster under the bed

In the half-light of my smallest child’s bedroom, lit only by a glowing IKEA nightlight, almost anything can look like a monster.

The only cure is to call for monster-fighting Mummy, who comes wielding a mightiest of monster beating weapons: The light switch

One flick of the switch and the evil monster that lurks beneath the bed is shown up for the what he really is… A pile of tennis balls, a broken doll, that long lost trainer and an abandoned sweatshirt.

I felt just like this the other day when troubled by a decision I’d made, and desperately worried it was the wrong one. I went for coffee with a friend and poured out all my concerns, all the reasons behind my decision, and my fears for the future. Then God used my friend to shine some light on my situation, to reveal that things weren’t quite as I had understood them to be, that there was hope. She turned on the lights and the monster wasn’t quite the monster I had thought it was.

One of the prayers I’ve been taught to pray a lot is to ask God to shine his light into the situations I’m facing. This picture reminds me of just what a powerful prayer that can be. So often our ‘monsters’ turn out to be less unpleasant than we feared.

Of course, not everything is a pile of shoes… there are sometimes real live terrifying monsters lurking in our lives. But God’s light switch will always show them up to be smaller than they have become in your imagination.

More importantly, it will light up the strands that cannot be seen in the darkness, that powerful hope that is anchored in Jesus:
the monsters are temporary, but the love, peace and joy of his presence will be eternal.

Doppleganger prayer

Ever meet someone who strongly reminds you of someone else? I often see a girl walking around our neighbourhood who from a distance could be my eldest daughter. Same height and build, same long curly hair, same hipster glasses and same taste in clothes.

Seeing her again this week reminded me of a teaching on prayer that I heard in my twenties. It was simply that when you saw someone familiar or a car like the one they drive, and had that moment of ‘recognition’, you should pray for whoever you were reminded of.

Simple enough. And yet God has often used this powerfully in my prayer life. I have prayed for people when meeting their double, or even hearing ‘their voice’ on the radio, and found out, sometimes weeks later, that they had been in particular need at that time.

This postcard isn’t really to promote ‘Doppelgänger prayer’ as a particular method, although it is pretty cool, but mostly to say that God has so much to say to you and not only in the ways you’re already used to hearing him.

God will often speak in whatever language we’re listening in.

Of course, it is important to weigh up whatever you think you hear against the truth of his Word. But hearing starts with listening, and God speaks to his people in many wonderful creative ways.

I’m wondering what new ways of hearing God wants me to find and delight in this summer. I hope you find some too.

Words and Pictures to help you hear from God

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