Tag Archives: Christian life

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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Orienteering

In a bid to avoid joining the teenagers on a (frankly terrifying) high ropes course, I spent a morning of our UK summer doing a family orienteering course in the woods with our youngest.  The idea is that you get given a map with little red boxes on it marking the location of marker posts, decide on the quickest route between all the posts and then race against the clock to visit each one and find your way back to the start.

“This is going to be easy”, I thought, “after all I’m a Girl Guide Leader –  I can do tents, campfires, the great outdoors and coating things in glitter –  a little bit of map-reading isn’t going to be a problem”.

Hmmm.

Katie and I set off with great enthusiasm.  A short but frustrating while later I realised that although my map reading is pretty good, my ability to walk in a straight line is sadly lacking.  I could line up the blue lines on the map with the north-pointing needle on the compass, point confidently in the direction of the next little red box and then head off (child now trailing behind).  But then somehow I’d slowly veer off,  distracted by the presence of an well-worn path or the sight of a family heading purposefully in another direction, and once again we’d find the wrong post, or no post at all.

What I needed to do was keep checking that the map we were following was lined up with the needle on the compass, and keep checking that we were walking in right direction.  Eventually I put the map in a clear plastic bag (this was England in the summer, remember) and held it out flat in front of me with the compass on it.

We made it home.

I’ve thought about it quite a bit since, this need to be continually checking I’m on the right path, continually lining myself up with the direction I’m being called in.

It reminds me of these verses:

… let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,  fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.  Hebrews 12:1-2 NIV

Running the race of life isn’t just about keeping going, it’s also about staying true to the path marked out and continually checking in with Jesus to make sure we haven’t wavered off.  It’s about being sure we’re running our race, not someone else’s; about going the way we’re called, not the way that looks easiest and it’s about keeping our eyes on the one who went first and has already completed the race.

For me this is about spending time looking at Jesus in the morning, worshipping him and letting him bring all of the stuff of my life into perspective; and then about checking in throughout the day, inviting the Holy Spirit into each situation and asking for advice: ‘Which of these things is most important?’, ‘How should I respond to that?’, ‘What would be the wise thing to do right now?’, ‘What do I need to do today?’ ….  What does it look like for you?

 

P. S. I suspect as well that it helps to remember that when it comes to the life-race,  even if you do go a little bit off course, there’s always a way back.   It probably doesn’t matter which order you visit each post in, only that you keep asking Jesus, “which way should I go next?”, and that you make it home in the end.

 

 

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.