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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”.

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You are the Light of the World

I can’t tell you how odd it feels to be staring at a blank page and a ticking cursor again after all this time away!  But here I am, called back into a familiar place, a postcard bubbling away in my mind, words wanting to be written..  Thanks to all of you who have waited patiently through this busy season, who have prayed, helped and encouraged and who have bought and given away copies of my new book Postcards of Hope.  I deeply appreciate you all.

You are the light of the world.

This is a picture of a storm, and of a lighthouse, built onto the solid rock of the cliff, but surrounded and battered by the wind and the waves, and wondering when it will all stop.

All of us who have built our lives on the rock of Jesus know that sooner or later a storm will come, and although our feet are firmly rooted, we will be buffeted by the gale.   We also know that even though after it all we will somehow still be standing, there is no doubt that it’s going to be difficult, frightening and perhaps painful for a while.

This postcard is especially for those who right now are weathering a storm.

I think I can hear God whispering two things through this picture:

The first is a promise that nothing can ever sweep us off of this Rock.  However terrifying the waves look, however relentless the pounding, however lengthy the storm, nothing can separate us from him.  You will not, you can not, be swept into the sea.

The second is a call to try to shift our focus from the storm, and onto being who he has called us to be.

The storm, weak or powerful, that fills our horizon is God’s problem.  It is only he who is able to tell the wind and waves to be still, the thunder to be silent; only he who can control it, only he who can give us the strength to bear it

It’s so easy to get distracted by the noise and power of the storm; so easy to give it all of our attention; to pour our energy into fighting it, or trying to resolve it.  And yet the job of the lighthouse is not to deal with storm, but to be a light in it.  Its calling is simply to continue to be a beacon for others; to lead and to guide and to continue to hold out the hope of a safe harbour to those who haven’t yet found it, even in spite of the waves.

Today, even in the midst of pain and chaos and uncertainty,  lean into him.  Believe that one way or another he can and will deal with that storm, while you, leaning back, do what you can to hold out the light.

You are the light of the world.

 

 

 

Sleeping Beauty

You know the story – The beautiful princess wandered idly through the castle and then pricked her finger on a poisoned spinning wheel. The poison had been intended to kill her, but the protection of the Good Fairy’s spell saved her – she could not die, but she did fall asleep – for a very very long time…

Sometimes you see something like this happen to the faith of someone dear to you.  They get touched by some kind of poison, perhaps disappointment, or hurt or rejection or grief or pain, and it sends them deep into a kind of spiritual sleep.

Often the spinning wheel they pricked their finger on was the church itself- something that someone did, or said, or didn’t say or didn’t do. And when someone feels let down by God or his people, it can cause them to withdraw, carrying their injured heart to the safety of the highest tower of the castle, to bolt all the doors and to allow the forest to grow around.

Of course the castle that made you feel safe for a while can become your prison, and after a few months or years of letting the dust settle and the forest grow it might seem impossible that anyone could ever reach you again.  Isolation from the people of God isn’t actually all that good for us, much less turning our face away from God himself.

I’m not one for reading the last chapter of a book before you’ve read the rest, but in this case it’s good to know the end of the story:

Even after 100 years of growing thorns and gathering dust, a Prince comes.

Not only does he have the means to cut through the thorns and brambles, but also the will and determination to do it.  Love compels Him. The Prince is able to make it through to the highest room in the tallest tower, or wherever else the princess has gone to hide, and stands on the threshold, waiting to be invited in.

And this is the point where the story in my head strays away from the one in the movie.

For the Prince of Peace waits on the threshold for an invitation.  He is ready to come and breathe new life into the soul of the one who has been sleeping, to heal the old injury that led to their hibernation, but he seems to wait to be asked.

If you hear something of yourself in this story, today is a good day to respond…

If you wonder how God could ever find you again through the doors you’ve locked and forest you’ve allowed to flourish, know that He can.  He already has.  He is just outside the door, waiting to hear you whisper his name.

If you are frightened by the thought of trusting, of trying to belong, of being hurt again, I understand.  But the people of God need you, and you need them. It may take enormous courage, but it’s time, and you will have a Prince by your side.

Perhaps you have watched as someone you love has withdrawn from faith.  Keep praying my friend.  The pilot light is probably still lit, and just one breath from God can make their Spirit roar into life again.  Until then, your friendship is a gift in itself.

 

 

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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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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