Tag Archives: Christian life

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.

flying pigs

 

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.

 

 

 

All about change

August seems like the perfect time to send a holiday postcard, so here’s one from the week my family and I spent traveling through Shropshire, Cheshire and the West Midlands on a canal boat.

Water doesn’t like to slope, so when the great engineers who built the canal systems encountered a landscape that needed to be climbed, they built amazing water-filled lifts called locks. Each lock is a chamber with heavy gates at each end which can be filled up or emptied of water so that the boat can rise up or lower down to the level of the next stretch of canal.

To fill the lock you use a turning handle to wind up heavy paddles in the gate which let water into (or out of) the chamber at a tremendous rate creating a huge amount of noise and splash. We quite enjoy working the locks but there’s no denying that it’s really hard going! Pushing the gates open against the weight of the water, closing them again, winding up the paddles, waiting for ages for the lock to fill then pushing the gates at the other end open is slow and heavy work, but it’s amazing to witness the extraordinary power of all that water moving from one place to another.

And it’s necessary: without these powerful level-changers it would be impossible to travel through the ups and downs of the British countryside.

I’ve written before about the seasons we go through in life, being a child, being a parent, being a parent of children who have grown up, living in one place or another, working, retirement…

Often it’s the shifts between seasons that are the hardest to deal with. The parts where you’ve said goodbye to what was, but haven’t really stepped into what is next. Those times, like the minutes that the boat is in the lock, can be turbulent, a bit scary and slow in passing.

The locks reminded me this week that change, even good change, like getting married, having a child or starting a new job, can be really hard work.
Like traveling through a lock, there is a cost to change which is measured in effort and in unsettling turbulence but there is also a sense something incredibly powerful is going on somewhere below the surface. The other hung it’s reminded me is that change is also really necessary if you want to continue on with your journey.

I often describe myself as being change-intolerant, a natural settler. But I also really want to keep pressing onwards towards what’s ahead and like water, life doesn’t slope, so there are bound to be locks ahead.

The challenge to me is to willingly step into times of change, to accept the turbulence and scariness with faith, because I’ve realized that even if the only way forward is through locks, that’s the way I want to go.

Remind me of that when I’m complaining about it 🙂

Full of holes

There have been times this past week when I’ve felt rather like a colander, full of holes.

It’s all very well standing before God and asking him to fill me up again when I feel like a bucket. Even if I’ve run completely dry and empty I can gather together the faith that the Holy Spirit is good at filling me up with his presence, peace and power.

But this week it was harder. We’ve been camping at our church stream’s Bible camp and although the teaching, worship and fellowship were great, the weather was a bit challenging! Putting up an enormous tent in driving rain was not ideal, lying awake and shivering in our sleeping bags at 3 am was a bit wearing, but when rain gave way to gales, and the marquee housing the prayer space that I and others had worked hard to put together literally blew away, it was quite a struggle to keep hold of my sense of humour!

We salvaged stuff and rebuilt the space somewhere else of course, but I was left feeling just like this picture – like tiredness, stress and disappointment had knocked out lots and lots of little holes. And asking God to fill me felt a bit hopeless. I mean, how do you fill a colander?

His answer was simple.

Call on me more.
I can fill you faster than you can leak.
Even on colander-days.

Actually I suspect that I’m a bit colanderish on more days than I realise. I get the impression that God is not as surprised by my state of leakiness as I am.

So if you’re feeling full of holes today, ask God to fill you to overflowing. Don’t fall for the lie that there isn’t really any point because you’re a bit broken and full of holes. He is more than able to fill you faster than you can leak.

*sorry to all those who have noticed I’ve been a bit less regular posting over the past few weeks! Canal boating is a great get-away-from-it-all holiday, but low on opportunities for internet connection! Back on dry land again soon! Ellie x

Umbrella.

I seem to spend a lot of June and July under an umbrella.  Not because it’s raining, but because my fair, freckly, northern-European skin makes me fundamentally unsuited to the Mediterranean sun.  So,  a shade-junkie, I dart about between patches of coolness, clutching a bottle of water and wearing a big hat.

Because I appreciate the shade so much, I love these verses from Psalm 121:

The Lord watches over you—
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
 the sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

Sometimes, even a big hat isn’t quite enough.  The first time I saw someone carrying an umbrella like this in brilliant sunshine, however, I thought it looked very odd indeed.  Where I come from umbrellas are sold in the autumn when skies are ominously grey and then blow inside out on arctic railway station platforms.  In my mind, unless it’s enormous and anchored to a lump of concrete outside a cafe,  an umbrella is about keeping dry.

But in a Cyprus summer it’s not uncommon to see an umbrella on a blazing hot day, carried by someone who needs a portable pool of respite from the harsh sun.

God is speaking to me today about the shade he offers, about his promise to protect me day in and day out, about his constant presence over, around and next to me.

Firstly, like this umbrella, his shade is portable. I don’t have to dart from prayer meeting to church meeting, from quiet time to worship CD to experience his protection, his presence.  I can carry it with me all the time.  There is truth in the words that he is always with me, and his intention is that I should experience it.

Secondly, God’s protection is at work in season and out of season.  It may be that you are used to experiencing God’s help in one area of your life, but it has simply never occured to you to ask for it in another situation.  Perhaps you haven’t seen that an umbrella can be as helpful in sunshine as it is in rain.

Lastly, I also notice that there is room under this shelter for more than one person.  One of the great advantages of an umbrella is that it moves with you.  You can take it into places where it is needed and then invite others to walk alongside you for a while.  As they walk with you, they too can experience the shelter of God’s love, the nearness of his presence.  Today’s postcard is an encouragement to me to invite others to walk beside me, to learn to let other people step into the presence of God that I carry with me.  I’ll have to let you know how I get on with learning how to do that.

God is always with us. But it is possible to carry an umbrella in all kinds of weather, and yet never put it up, never stand underneath it and benefit from its shelter.  Perhaps today the Holy Spirit is calling you to step under his protection, to stop trying to brave it out by yourself and to ask for some help.

Whatever God is saying you today, I hope that you will enjoy the shade of his presence as you draw close to him.

Blessings and Butterflies

I read a post once about a friend who had found a butterfly while clearing out books in his attic.  He assumed it was dead, and picked it up gently to have closer look.  As the hibernating butterfly absorbed the warmth of his hand it woke up, ‘came to life’ and then fluttered away.

For some reason I’ve been thinking about that butterfly this week, so I’ve painted one, and here it is, resting on one of my favourite pages of the Bible, ready to flutter into life at any moment.

I’ve always loved the list of spiritual blessings in Ephesians: holiness, blamelessness, love, destiny, adoption, grace, forgiveness, revelation, reconciliation, redemption, hope, and a guaranteed inheritance.  Unshakeable, irrevokable blessings that every single one of us who trusts in Christ can call our own.  Each blessing like an individual butterfly, beautiful alone, but even more wonderful dancing together in a glorious symphony of colour.

A friend once said to me that if only she could get her head around these blessings, if only she could really understand them and appreciate them, she was sure it would change her life forever.  I think she’s right.  Catching a hold of the reality of these truths, having revelation of the impact of these spiritual blessings really would change everything.

It occurs to me that we all have times and seasons when we lose touch with one or more of these ‘butterflies’.  We turn around and our sense of being loved, or having a future, or cleanness, or belonging, or closeness to the Father has disappeared, slipping away quietly in the night. It might even be a while before we notice that it’s gone.

The truth is that these blessings cannot be lost, but our awareness of them, and of their importance, can hibernate for a season and be temporarily ‘lost-to-us’.

Are any of these butterflies sleeping out a winter for you just now?  Have you been distracted, as I so often am, by the smaller, beautiful, but much less important blessings of ministry or gifting? Or has something come in to rob you of one of these truths, chipped away your faith in it until it no longer flies for you?

I believe that today is a great day to go hunting in the attic for butterflies.

A day to remind ourselves of the extraordinary, amazing, unearned and priceless blessings that are ours in Jesus.

And perhaps even the day to pick up those that look like they have died, to hold them in your hand and to ask the Holy Spirit to breathe.

butterfly

May you be blessed with the waking up of butterflies in your heart today.

For your Journal.

Read through that list (in Ephesians 1), and ask God to highlight to you, in whatever way he can, which of these blessings he would like to bring back to life for you today.  Then think, pray and journal about that blessing: draw pictures, write words, listen to music, sing… do whatever it takes to bring that butterfly back to life.

Empty Hands

There are days when you feel like you have nothing left to give. There are days when you notice that your energy for ministry has somehow evaporated. There are days when you kneel before God with nothing but empty hands.

Those are the best days.

Because those are the days when you remember again that true friendship is not based on how much I can do for you or you for me. Love isn’t measured in gifting, or energy, or effort, or results. Love just is.

God loves you.

And on the days that you recognise the truth – that before him your hands are empty –  he smiles.

Because on those days he knows

that when your heart is hit by the force of his unchanging love for you,

when it is drawn by the irresistible pull of his open arms,

on those days you will understand the miracle of grace.

‘We have this treasure in (otherwise empty) jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us’

2 Cor 4:7 NIV

emptyhands

There’s more than one way to Manchester Airport

When I was a child, if we were driving somewhere and Dad said, “I think we’ll take a scenic route” it was never good news. Usually it meant that we were lost…

Maybe because of that, or perhaps just because I’m generally impatient to get to where I’m going, the concept of the scenic route has never appealed to me.  I’ve always thought that journeys are something you want to get over with quickly – life happens at destinations.

I’m pretty much the same when it comes to living.  When I hear a whisper from God about where he might want to take me, I become anxious to get there as soon as possible.  I would pick the direct, fast, straight-line, know-exactly-where-you’re-going motorway route every time.

However…

In my experience, life with Jesus is much more like taking the A-roads (and often some ‘B’ ones).  There are destinations, sure, but he is in charge of the route to get to them, and he may well want me to take in some beautiful views and visit a few other interesting places on the way.

I learned something about this last year when some friends kindly offered to drive me from Derby to Manchester Airport.  “We’ll come early” they said, “and drive across country – that way you’ll enjoy the journey”. I didn’t tell them that it had never even occured to me that there was more than one way to Manchester Airport, or that it was possible to do anything other than endure a journey!

Our not-motorway route took us around the edges of the Peak District and past breathtaking scenery, through industrial towns and forgotten villages, up hills and down, through places where people live and nature grows.  It was anything but a straight line and took us much longer to get to the airport, but for once, I actually enjoyed it.

The A-road life can feel hugely frustrating.  Especially if, like me, you are wired a bit impatiently.  Where are the big blue signs that I’m heading towards my ‘destination’?  Where are the numbers that tell me how far I have left to go and how much longer I have to wait? Can I even be sure I’m heading the right way?

Even if I’m carrying in the back of my mind the feeling that the airport is somewhere up ahead in my future, I have no idea how long it will take to get there, or how near or far away I am.

On the B-road route, there are no signs pointing the way to the airport until you are almost there.

You could be five miles away and still not know.

You just have to trust the driver.

manchester airport

That’s it, that’s what I’m trying to get my head around:

I don’t even need to have a look at the map.  Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.  He is the map

I just have to trust the driver, lean back, and see what I can learn along the way.

And if we take the scenic route, so be it, I’m going to enjoy the ride.

…because we definitely won’t be lost.

a moment’s peace

I wonder how many times a day I wish I could have a moment’s peace and quiet?  Not just from the actual noise of my family, but from the things-to-do, worries, good-ideas and other thoughts that constantly spin around inside my head.

My life is inside-and-out noisy.  Good noise mostly just now, but I know from the past that grief, pain, anxiety, disappointment and not being very good at saying no to things can also cause different kinds of overpowering ‘noise’ that I eventually become desperate to escape from and utterly exhausted by.

I said I would write for the next few weeks on some of the ways that having a relationship with Jesus makes a difference to my life.  If I had to answer the question ‘What difference does it make having Jesus in your noisy, cluttered, slightly out of control life?’ – this is the picture that comes into my head:

My life is like an LP being played at full volume on the record player my dad gave me when I was 9 years old.  It’s loud with no pause button and I mostly love it, but every now and then, I come to God desperate for some respite, and for a moment he carefully lifts the needle from the record and holds me there, out of the noise.

recordplayer2

And those moments- of peace, of restoration, of rest – I could no longer live without.

The peace of being lifted out of the noise is not just silence… it’s a stillness, a quietness of heart that somehow enables me to hear the pure, clear song of heavenly places. The voice of God that can so easily be drowned out by the clamour of our everday lives, has the power to lift and restore us, to reset our perspective and slow down our anxious hearts.  Hearing it, allowing it to wash over you, leaning back for a moment into God’s arms and listening to the song he sings over you, is inexpressibly beautiful.

And after a little while, sometimes just five minutes, sometimes a bit longer, he gently lowers the needle again and the music begins to play in more or less the place it was in before. The noise resumes, but now my heart is better able to deal with it.

I know that each of you who reads this are living different, complicated, unique lives.  The noise you might need to be lifted out of might be very different to mine.  Loneliness or boredom can be just as deafening as busyness is.   However, I’m equally sure that there is noise that you need to be lifted out of and away from once in a while.

This picture is a promise to each of you.  Although the record will probably not stop turning, and your own noise may well still continue for a while; at any time you can call out to him,  and God will lift you out into this place of peace.  He will hold you so that you can lean into him, he will whisper to you in the stillness,  he will sing his song of love over you and he will restore your soul.  And then… he will put you back into your noisy world, but with the stillness of heaven in the centre of your heart.