Tag Archives: discipleship

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

 

Guitar Strings

I played the guitar and sang for 40 adoring fans this morning. I hope you’re impressed.  It’s a regular gig, and the crowd all think I’m brilliant (they’re also all under six).

I’d just got going when I realised that the guitar I’d grabbed out of my son’s room at the last minute was slightly out of tune. *wince*

Fortunately preschoolers are not usually very musically discerning and this bunch were quite happy to sing ‘wheels on the bus’ even with my somewhat discordant accompaniment, but it was a pretty painful experience!

It may be that the lesson I need to learn from this is to be more prepared (or not to say yes in the first place), but as I did my best to fix the problem, God reminded me of something a friend said to me just yesterday about guitar strings:

Only one string has to be out- either a bit sharp or a bit flat, for the whole instrument to sound wrong.

The quickest solution to an out-of-tune guitar is to tune it ‘to itself’.  You pick a string you think is about right and then adjust all the others to be in harmony with it.. It works really well if the first string you pick is actually in tune, but even if it isn’t the guitar is playable and probably won’t make you wince when you strum it!

My conscience works a bit like this… If one part of my life is out of line with the others, there is a discord, a lack of comfortable harmony, and my conscience nags at me to pull that part back in line, in tune with all the others.

Perhaps this is what people mean when they talk about ‘being true to myself’. It’s about having the way you think and behave lined up and in harmony with the things you believe and value.  Like me trying to line up my urge to yell at the kids’ drama teacher with my belief that all people are valuable and deserve kindness; or making my desire to get myself out of trouble by telling a lie subject to my value of honesty and integrity. It’s good to be in tune.

A guitar that is in tune with itself usually sounds pretty good – unless you try to play with someone else.

Which is why groups of musicians working together tune to ‘concert pitch’, so that each instrument is not only in tune with itself, but also with something outside of themselves like a tuning fork or electronic tuner. This makes it possible for them to work together in unity and in harmony.

The process of discipleship seems to me to be a lot like tuning a guitar.  One day God might be drawing your attention to one ‘string’ and sometimes to another, sometimes to beliefs and sometimes to behaviours, but always with the aim of making changes that help you to become everything that you were designed to be.

Today’s postcard is a challenge to surrender to God and ask him what needs tuning in your life.

Because although it’s good to be in tune with yourself, it’s good to have the way you think and behave ‘tuned to’ the things you value and believe,  sometimes it’s those things need adjusting so that your whole life can be tuned to something better.

Take some time to stop and listen and see what he has to say to you today…

‘be transformed by the renewing of your mind’

because the music is going to be beautiful.

Meandering

There are times when life feels like floating along a great big meandering river: it takes an enormous amount of time to negotiate a long curve and then, after what seems like an age, you find yourself back in almost exactly the same place that you were before.

Arriving back in a place that you thought you’d left far behind you can be deeply disappointing and frustrating.  Becoming ill again after a time of feeling better, revisiting a family or relationship issue, facing the same old temptation or just realising that once again you can hear God saying the same thing to you that he’s  said over and over again in the past; all these can leave you ready to give up or to yell at the Lord “but we’ve been here before!”

“All that effort and I’ve travelled no distance at all”.

It amused me this morning to read that in rivers, meanders are a feature of maturity.  Young rivers cut in a straight line to begin with,  and only as they get more mature (and more powerful) do they start to wander about revisiting old ground and seem to make only very slow progress forwards.

I wonder if life-meanders are more likely to be a feature for us too as we become more mature in faith? When I first became a Christian, so much seemed to be easy and obvious,  life and discipleship was much more of a straight line.  It felt as though I was quick to learn things and deal with things. As time as gone on I’ve realised that there are deeper things, ground-in patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving that seem to need a different treatment.  Revisiting the same issues and challenges, each time armed with a little more experience and grace seems to be a part of that process.

If you understand this experience of having travelled the long bend of the river and found yourself, unexpectedly, back where you started, this is God’s word for you today:

It’s not about the distance travelled, it’s about who you’ve become while we travelled it together.

Because even if today you’re arriving back in the same old place, you are not the same old you.

On the journey to get here you will have changed, grown and learned. You don’t actually have to respond in the same way you did before.  You probably won’t.

And while you are back in almost the same place, this time you’re approaching it from a different direction and with grace and experience in your backpack.

So don’t get frustrated and lose heart my friends, when you find yourself back in old places, don’t believe the lie that you’ve travelled nowhere. Instead, remember that journey, and all the things that God taught you while you were travelling and then look down at the new you that Jesus has helped you to become on the way.

meandersreflect greens

Wallpaper

Sometimes you just become so used to things that you can’t see them anymore.

After we took down the old cooker hood in our first home we were left with an ugly taped-up wire sticking out of the kitchen wall. In the beginning it really annoyed me, but after a few months I stopped noticing it and after two years we were discussing jobs that needed doing and I genuinely thought we had already had it fixed!

Even gruesomely patterned wallpaper like this one can eventually become so familiar that you no longer notice it (or no longer find it offensive!).

Whether or not we notice it, most of us have wallpaper inside our heads:  The background messages of the things that were spoken over us, or that we said to ourselves, when we were kids and trying to make sense of the world.  Messages like ‘I’m not important’ or ‘it’s not safe’, ‘I’m lazy’ or ‘I’m not good enough’.

Many of us have come to faith in Jesus and have valiantly tried to paste the truth he has to say about us over the top of the words of the past, covering up the old messages with the new ones that know in our heads are true.

I don’t know about you, but my trouble is that the wallpaper of my past is definitely of a 1970’s variety – Bright bold patterns and made of shiny vinyl.  It’s a big job to get any new wallpaper to stick over the top of a decorama vinyl like this one… and even if you do get it to stick, chances are that a pattern this bright and bold will show through whatever you paste on top!

When this happens to you, it’s not a sign that you’re not a good enough Christian; that you’re not ‘saved’ enough; or that you’re not believing hard enough… It just means you need to do some redecorating..

If this was a wikihow, there would be pictures… but:

Stage One: Notice what’s there

Ask God to show you what it is your believing about yourself, or Him that is not true.  Even if you’re so used to it that you don’t really see it anymore, ask him to show you the wallpaper.

Stage Two: Look at it

Admit that what’s there is not the truth about you.  Even if you’ve got so used to it that it feels kind of comfortable and familiar, if it’s not what God says it has to go…

Stage Three: Get rid of it

Now you’ve seen the ugly truth… Don’t just try to cover it up again! Start stripping it off. Confess to God that you believe a lie about yourself, or Him.  Repent of it.  Choose not to behave as if it’s true.. Ask him to reveal the truth under the layers…  Just as it takes steam to melt the glue that sticks the paper in place, so it takes some prayer (yours and maybe someone elses) to loosen the grip of old lies in your life… but it can be done.

Well doesn’t that make it sound easy.

Honestly?… Anyone who has stripped off Vinyl wallpaper will tell you it’s really hard work, but not impossible.  Be kind to yourself… do a bit at a time!

And finally- Whenever we take down old wallpaper in our house in England, I’m always afraid that the plaster on the walls is going to come away with it, like actually it’s only this sheet of wallpaper that’s holding the wall together, and taking it down is probably a really bad idea.

If you’re afraid of taking down your wallpaper, because of what you might find underneath – know this: The moment you trusted in Christ, and handed over the reins of your life to him, the plaster, the part at the core of who you are, underneath all the messages you’ve papered on, was made completely new.

Perfect.

Spotless.

Without bump or blemish.

New.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”

wallpaperfeat

For your Journal:

Ask God if there’s a wall that needs a bit of attention in your heart.  Ask him to show you if there’s a lie you are believing about yourself or about him.

It might not just ‘fall into your head’, but at some point this week it might be that the Holy Spirit draws your attention to something you think or feel, or an incident that hurts you or angers you more than you think it should.  If you have one of these ‘aha’ moments, choose to look at the wallpaper and see it for what it is.  Then start to take it down.

Changing the ground

This is the plant that ‘would never grow’.

Years ago, when my parents moved house, they brought with them a  large rhododendron in a wooden pot that was a favourite of my Mum’s. The pot was old and failed to  survive the move, so my stepfather stripped what was left of the wood away and planted the Rhododendron straight into the soil of the garden.

And my Mum, who is the only one of us who has any clue at all about gardening said,

“it will never grow”

Because, she knew what the rest of us didn’t: that some plants need a particular type of soil to flourish.  Rhodedendrons need to have their roots in acidic soil, not in the chalky clay of an Essex garden.  So it really didn’t stand a chance…

However, 25 years later, here it is – not just surviving but thriving.  A great big green and purple horticultural-impossibility!

You see, it turns out that even though most of the garden behind our house does indeed have very alkaline soil, the corner where this shrub was planted is in the shadow of a centuries old oak tree.  Year after year that oak has been releasing hundreds of leaves, which fall in a thick layer over this part of the garden.  And year on year many of those leaves have been absorbed into the soil and have changed it.

The oak tree has changed the soil around it from a place where the rhododendron had no hope of surviving into a place where it has been able to become glorious.

When my Mum emailed me a snapshot of it a couple of weeks ago,  I heard God whisper two things into my ear.

Firstly:

“don’t give up on people – you don’t know as much as you think you do”.

I do have a tendency to fall into a trap of thinking I know things.  Accepting that God knows better than I do is a good place to be.  Conventional wisdom says: ‘that plant can’t survive in that place’ but God says – ‘There’s a bigger picture’

and second,  a challenge:

“Be an oak”

Because this plant is under the edge of an oak tree, it’s alive and blooming, even though the soil is naturally hostile to it.   Some people are living their lives, day in, day out, in environments that are hostile to their faith.  Conventional wisdom might say that their walk with Jesus has no hope of surviving, let alone thriving…

But you and I can choose to be oaks.  We can choose to be continually releasing grace, hope, compassion, truth, faith and love.  And even when it feels as though those ‘leaves’ are just falling to the ground, unnoticed by anyone, they are making a difference…  soaking into the soil and changing it…

It lifts my heart to think that I could be an oak tree in someone else’s life,  quietly releasing what it takes to support life, changing the environment, making a difference.  I’m not even entirely sure how, but I’m up for finding out.  you?

all is not always as it seems
sometimes
you and I

can change it

Mum's Rhododendron

 

reflect greens

 

For your journal

What do you think it takes to be an oak tree?  Ask God to speak to you about how you’re already doing this, and how you could do more.   If you have any ideas, please comment them below!

Maybe you feel more like the Rhododendron, struggling to survive in a hostile world.  Perhaps you need to find a place where you can be in community with some oak trees and to choose to receive whatever it’s going to take for you to grow.