Tag Archives: Christian life

Reflections

I’m searching for stillness.

There was a rare day of sunshine yesterday, so I went for walk in my local park.  As I wandered aimlessly along the riverbank, enjoying the frosty air and the slanted winter light, I suddenly found my heart caught up in the beauty of this sight –  sun and trees reflected almost perfectly in the still water.

A moment later and the wind had nipped at the surface, stirring the water into ripples and eddies which wiped the reflection away.  But joy had already captured my heart and I stood watching until my toes froze in my muddy boots, hoping to see it again.

Even the fast-flowing, muddy waters of the Derwent, when caught in a brief moment of stillness, can open a window onto heaven.

I’m aware that, in a way, this is us.  Made in his image and following Jesus, we reflect a tiny bit of God’s glory, or his likeness, into the world.  The light and the glory aren’t ours of course, both come only from Him, but, at our very best, we reflect that light and glory out into our lives, punching a hole in the veil between earth and heaven so that his kingdom comes..

And when we do there may be those passing by who are so arrested by the sight, so captivated by his beauty that they become desperate to see it again.

Our world so needs to have the God’s beauty reflected into it:  Light, joy, grace, redemption, forgiveness, love, peace, hope.

‘And yet’, the Spirit seems to be whispering, ‘to reflect the very best image the water needs to be perfectly still’.

Be still and know that I am God – Psalm 46:10

So that’s why I’m hunting for stillness.

Because I find a longing has awoken: a longing to be a reflector of that captivating beauty of God; a longing to be a window through which people see Jesus; a longing to see Heaven itself leaking through into the world. And I’m wondering if a bit more stillness in my life might be the key.

So I know it’s a battle to carve out the time to say to ourselves ‘be still’, but I’m convinced it will be worth it.  I’m going to take some time today, just a few minutes, to remember who God is, to draw on the deep well, to lean back into his strength.  Perhaps you could join me, so that through your stillness you can become a reflector of light, love, grace and beauty into the world.

Peace be with you.

 

There aren’t many answers on the back of this postcard – but in times of turmoil, i’ve found this helps – Our lovely choir leader taught us to capture a moment of stillness by taking a minute to breathe this prayer:

Taking a deep breath in for two counts you say to yourself, ‘Be still,’  then hold it for the next two thinking ‘and know’ then slowly breathe out for four – ‘that I am God.’  Try it.

 

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If you enjoyed this post – you might like my book Postcards of hope available here.   Ellie

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Candyfloss

I once stood with my daughter for 20 minutes by the side of a candyfloss stall.  not because she wanted more of the stuff, but because she was fascinated by the way it seemed to grow out of nowhere, collecting round and round the stick until it there was a huge pink cloud of softness.

I was captivated too, because it reminded me somehow of the anxiety I had been experiencing.  Something smallish: an upcoming event; something someone said; a decision I had to make or a journey I had to make;  would somehow collect streamers of anxiety like these threads of cotton candy.  And even though each thread was fragile, together they grew and grew into a great cloud of panic that was way beyond my ability to carry it.

As my children have grown, I’ve had less and less of this suddenly ballooning, crippling anxiety in my life, but I’ve sometimes had to watch them battle it in theirs; and this picture suddenly came back to me when my youngest was describing some of the things she was worried about to me.

Then a week or so ago I was sitting in a worship time at a conference and I had this sudden urge to paint clouds and clouds of pink candyfloss, and as I was painting I felt God ask me to think about what happens if you hold a stick of it out in the rain.

It melts.

Yes.  That huge cloud of smothery, billowy softness gently melts away in the presence of water, leaving only the stick behind.

So the message that goes with this postcard is simply this.  If this sounds familiar to you, don’t hold that cloud of sugary anxiety under your coat.  Don’t cover it up and keep it hidden.  Bring it out into the rain of God’s presence, surrender it to him, and watch it melt away.

Of course, you’ll still have the stick in your hand. You’ll have to look to him for courage to deal with it- and that might be pretty hard – but it will be so much better than living with the cloud.

 

 

Emmanuel

A couple of years ago, at the start of the long summer holidays my eldest daughter asked me if I’d help her dye her hair purple.  I agreed on two conditions – one, that she bought gloves so that I didn’t get purple hands and two, that (because her school requires that hair look ‘natural’) the box had the words ‘temporary colour’ on it somewhere.

Hair colour boxes lie.

The purple, while beautiful, was much more permanent than expected.  Term started and in spite of numerous washes,  her hair was still a defiant, glorious, royal purple.

Some things are just much more permanent than expected, and at this time of year I’m reminding myself that Emmanuel – God with us –  is one of them.

You see, in Wilko’s (our local everything store), Christmas tinsel has already given way to cleaning and storage products and any day now there’ll be eggs where the chocolate Santas have been and little net bags of bunnies instead of chocolate coins. In the city centre shops twinkly lights are replaced with cheery red sale stickers and although technically we still have at least two of the twelve days of Christmas left to sing about, Michael Bublé and Mariah Carey have already retreated to wherever they hide until after Bonfire Night.

The guests are gone, the puzzle is done, there are only caramel bites (shudder) left in the family tub of Roses.  It was great, but it’s over for another year.

Christmas is temporary.

But Emmanuel isn’t.

He came… and he stayed.

At first in a body, and then by his spirit, Jesus stayed.

It’s good to remind ourselves as we face the anticlimax of January, that although the season of celebration is over, the person we were celebrating is still with us.  We can pack away the nativity scene, but Emmanuel stays.  He is with us for good.

So while the world is telling me it’s time to move on, to stop the party and get back to work.  I’m remembering that this glorious invasion of royalty and colour and light into a dull dark world is real, and permanent.  God with us, not just in December, but in January and February and in every minute of every hour of every day for the whole of the year and the next.

May this year be one of God breaking through in unexpected places and unexpected times. May it be a year where each of us experiences the truth of God-walking-with-us

Emmanuel.

 

 

A Crucible for Silver… or for Steel?

The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but the Lord tests the heart.

Proverbs 17:3 NIV

This postcard of a crucible in action might be making you concerned for tough times ahead, a fire that will heat you up and draw impurities to the surface so that God can skim them off.  Probably good, definitely terrifying, possibly true;  and the way people often interpret this verse.

But the journey God has taken me on while praying about this picture has led me to some other places, and I’ll share them with you now, in case he has something to say to you in them too.

The first thing I’ve been reflecting is another verse from Proverbs, which casts a light on how the Lord tests us for purity:

The crucible is for silver and the furnace is for gold, so a person is tested by being praised.

Proverbs 27:21 NRSV

So it’s not the oncoming stress of Christmas that’s going to test your heart in the crucible; or people yelling at you over the things you did or forgot to do; or grumpy teenagers, or any of the many genuinely difficult things you face.

No.

It will be the praise of men: the pats on the back, the applause, the people telling you what a great mum, chef, crafter, singer, house-decorator, work colleague, teacher, father, pastor _________ (fill in the blank) you are, that will be the heat that drives the impurities to the surface and shows you up for who you really are.

Of course, I’m not saying it’s bad to give or receive encouragement or praise, I think it’s great.  But just be aware that it will test you.  When people praise you, notice what rises to the surface, how you react and feel.  It may be an opportunity for revelation!

The other thing I felt God say when I looked at this picture is:

“Don’t think you’re always the silver, sometimes I am calling you to be the crucible“.

So I looked it up. A crucible is a container made of a material that is able to withstand very high temperatures.  It can be used to melt metals to make tools or beautiful jewellery, and also to create alloys – a combination of metals that can’t be reversed – like bronze or steel.  The reaction that needs to take place to create these strong, important, useful materials can only happen in a container able to cope with very high heat.

Some changes, some miracles, can’t take place without a crucible, a person willing to carry the miracle, a person willing to take the heat

And at this time of year, when I’m thinking of the ultimate miracle of the incarnation, this reminds me of the extraordinary faith and courage of a very young woman who looked into the heat ahead of her and said: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38 NRSV)

This Advent, may you each have the faith and courage of young Mary, and if God calls you to be a crucible for your miracle, or someone else’s, may you be able to say with her, “Yes,  let it be as you have said”.

Leaning

 

As my eight- year olds favourite movie tells me – “Life isn’t all cupcakes and rainbows y’know”

But I still sometimes find myself wondering why God leads me into difficult places.  I’m not massively resilient, or patient, or strong; I hate change, I care too much about what people think and I have to fight a tendency to want to run away from confrontation and hide under my bed.  I am weak.

I know that many of you are fighting a battle that is leaving you feeling weak and wounded.  Perhaps you too question whether you’re the right person for the job.  Maybe you’re asking God why he didn’t pick someone stronger? Someone more resilient?  Someone who could forge this raging  river victoriously and energetically and well?

Why did God pick the weakest man, in the weakest family in the weakest tribe in all of Israel to lead his army?

Well here’s the answer, right at the end of the story of the Song of Songs, and the title of this painting.

Who is this coming up from the wilderness leaning on her beloved?

God chooses the weak, because they are the ones who learn how to depend on him.

The strong fight in their own strength, but those who limp, lean.

In your fight, or your walk through the wilderness, lean into him, that’s how your weakness can become his strength, and his strength made complete.

And this will be the end of your story too.  You will come up out of this wilderness, and you’ll still be leaning.

 

 

When all is not lost

You may recognise this smile.  It featured in the book, Postcards From Heaven, when the front tooth was missing, and now 3 years on it’s full of big teeth, and the somewhat irresponsible owner of a (very-expensive-to-replace) removable palate-expander-thingy.

We were having a fantastic day at the Zoo and it wasn’t until we were just about to feed a magnificent giraffe that the gorgeous Chaos-Generator turned and grinned at me, revealing the tell-tale lack of wire.

“Where’s your brace?!” I yelled, “and why isn’t it in your mouth?”…

Fellow parents of wonky-toothed children may recognise the scene that followed. After an intensive hunt through bags and pockets and some frustrated remonstrations,  I left the kids with their Grandma and unenthusiastically retraced my steps around the Zoo wondering where on earth she might have taken it out and dropped it.

After unsuccessful hunts around the ice-cream stand and the Gopher viewing area, eventually I returned to the picnic area where we’d had lunch, more than an hour after we had left it.  The picnic table we had sat at was empty, and I hunted on and around it and the bin where I’d thrown the empty crisp bags, but the floor was covered in a thick layer of bark chippings and I imagine several families had used the table since we had.  There really was no chance of finding a 4cm wide piece of see-through plastic and wire.

The tiny bit of hope I had left drained away as I sat down at the table,  convinced that we would never see it again.

And then I looked down, and there it was, just next to my foot.

I’m not sure now whether it had been there all along, or whether God had moved it there.  But as I picked it up, flooded with relief, I heard God whisper “I am a God who restores”.

“I am the God who restores”

It’s funny because I would have said I knew God as Restorer well already, and I do, but in the sense of a restorer of a master painting – someone who comes in and painstakingly cleans something up and carefully repairs damage!  But obviously I only had part of the picture…

When I looked it up, the first definition of restore that I found was ‘to give back or return’.

Part of what God longs to do as our great Restorer is to return to us things that have been taken away,  things that feel forever-lost.

Perhaps there are parts of your heart,  your confidence, your strength, your faith or your hope that feel as though they have been taken away and are gone.  There are times in life when difficult things happen to us and something good that we had is taken away; we make a mistake and some part of us is lost.    If that sounds familiar, hear this:

 

Our God is the God who restores.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On fruitfulness

It’s nearly pomegranate season here on the island, and recently I saw a tree so laden that its branches were bowing under the weight.  These beautiful fruit are not quite ripe enough to be harvested, but heavy enough to change the shape of the tree that’s bearing them.  And it’s made me think again about the reality of bearing fruit in the kingdom of God.

Firstly, there are seasons.  The harvest has to come at exactly the right time. Too soon and the fruit isn’t ripe, too late and the wasps will steal it away.  Different fruit is ready at different times:  Accepting that life too has seasons and that God makes things happen according to his timing makes christian life a little bit less frustrating.

Secondly try as it might, this pomegranate tree will never produce a lemon, or cherries, or a sweet juicy nectarine.  Those things are wonderful, and I’m grateful that there are trees that grow them. But pomegranates are beautiful in their own way.  There’s something really powerful about seeking out what kind of fruitfulness God has for you in this particular season and then not wasting time or energy trying to do or be something else.

The third thing is that fruitfulness can be really heavy work – The branch that carries these fruit has taken time to mature and grow strong enough to bear them, but still, it’s bowing a little under the weight.   Sometimes fruitfulness is tiring: doing the things God is calling you to do, investing in the people God has given you, making the choices he is challenging you to make; all of those things weigh heavy.  But it doesn’t mean you’re getting it wrong.  Just that you need to make sure you make time to retreat into God’s presence to be filled and strengthened.  Just like the tree that needs to have a prop or two under its branches to carry the weight of its fruit  so we need to learn to lean back into him and let him shoulder the burden of ours.

 

If this is you – please schedule yourself some time with God as soon as you possibly can and ask for his strength and grace as you bear and gather in this harvest.

If it’s not you right now, can I make this a call of prayer for those that do need it?  I’m reminded of the time that Moses was praying over a battle, and the people of God were winning the battle as long as he had his arms raised in prayer, but would begin to lose as he tired and his arms fell. It’s a great story of the power of prayer, but I especially like the part where his friends realise what is happening and stand with him as they build stone towers that he can rest his arms against.

Perhaps you have a friend, or someone else who comes to mind, whose ‘branches’ are bowing under the weight of the ministry that God has given them.  Please pray for them. Call out to God and let’s be a part of releasing some supernatural strength into some parts of the kingdom that really need it!

 

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