Tag Archives: hope

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.

 

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

 

Breakfast

Today I forgot to eat breakfast..

This is actually a pretty unusual occurrence.  Unlike my teenage daughter, I am totally committed to both the concept and practice of breakfast, but somehow in the middle of the hunt for hairbrushes, socks and PE bags… I just forgot to eat anything.

I didn’t notice my error on the way to school or on the way back, in the supermarket or while hanging out the washing.  But I really noticed 4 minutes into my daily dose of pain on the treadmill:  There was nothing in the tank.  I could amble, but running, or even a moderately brisk walk was completely out of the question!  I was going nowhere.

I don’t often make the same mistake with the car.

If I’m going on a long journey I make sure the tank is absolutely full before I start.  It’s expensive to fill the car up, and it takes a few minutes longer, but I need to know I’m not going to run out of fuel halfway through the journey.  And I don’t know what might happen on the way, what the traffic will be like, or whether the road will be closed and I’ll have to make a detour so I need to know I’ve got not ‘just enough’ but ‘more than enough’.

Around the town I take more risks:  Waiting until my fuel light is blinking frantically before I put in just enough petrol to get the needle out of the red zone,  knowing that the light will be flashing again a few days later.  I tell myself it’s OK to run the car like this because I’m never very far from a fuel station and I do seem to  manage to just dodge disaster, but…

All this has made me think about how I live my spiritual life.

I know that when I’m aware of a challenge ahead, something where I need to do more than just survive, but to be able to pour out God’s love, grace and power to people around me, I take my time with God a bit more seriously.  Praying, reading the word, soaking, reading scripture aloud, singing worship and spending time with other Christians talking about Jesus… all these things that ‘fill-up’ my spiritual tank I do when I realise there’s something on the road in front of me that’s going to require more than just myself.

Most of the time though, I suspect I get by on the ‘just enough’, and occasionally, like this morning, I realise that I’ve run completely empty and that I need to drag myself back into God’s presence and ask him again to pour out his abundance into my emptiness.

There are times in life that it’s hard to do anything but grab a moment with the Lord here and there.  Kids, jobs, family, sickness, life,  all require our attention and time and energy. It can be so hard to find time to invest in our relationship with God.

And there is grace for difficult times: We can get by like that for so long. But it’s not a way to live long-term.

We need quality time in God’s presence.

We need it because we don’t actually want our lives to be just ‘getting-by’, but because God has written a much more exciting calling in our hearts:

to be a continual outpouring of God’s love, grace and power to the people around us.

And we can’t only be pourers, it simply doesn’t work…  Like jugs we are made both for pouring out and for filling up.

 

 

It’s actually pretty obvious which one of those needs to happen first.

 

So whether it’s daily, weekly or monthly.  Whatever it looks like for you.

Carve out time, make a priority, find a space: Eat your breakfast!

Poured Out

 

It’s nearly Pentecost.  And this year more than ever I’m aware of the need for a fresh pouring out of the Holy Spirit in my life.  So here’s a repost from a couple of years of ago… May some fresh hope and fresh hunger bubble up in your heart this week…

I’ve been thinking about Pentecost, about the confused but hopeful disciples gathered in an upper room. Meeting together perhaps to celebrate Shavout – the festival of the first fruits, but certainly to pray, to stare at their empty hands, to hope. Waiting, but not sure about what they were waiting for. Hoping, but not sure what to hope.

And then suddenly…

The Holy Spirit showed up in the room.

And he sounded like a violent rushing wind and he looked like flames of fire.

I suspect the Holy Spirit can choose to look and sound pretty much how he likes, but on this occasion he came to them in a way they could not mistake. The same fire that had burned with the presence of God in the bush where Moses heard God speak now came to rest on each of them. Wonderful but terrifying.

Almost every time I read a story in the Bible, something different about it grabs my attention. What stirs me most when I read this one today is the very first gift that the Holy Spirit chose to give to those trembling disciples. As the Spirit was poured out he gave them a gift of languages, the ability to make the good news available to everyone.  

I love that. The very first gift of the Spirit was one that shouted for all to hear that everyone could be included, that the presence of God was not just for the chosen few, but from now onwards it was for everyone who called on the name of the Lord regardless of where they came from.

Of course they were misunderstood. And some who didn’t quite understand what was happening yelled out their criticism (as occasionally happens today when the Holy Spirit shows up in a way that’s not quite what we expected!) so Peter stood up to explain what was happening, quoting this beautiful verse from Joel:

‘In the last days I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions
and your old men will dream dreams.’

Acts 2:17 NRSV

Sometimes we think about the presence of the Spirit or the gifts of the Spirit (or of some of them), as being just for ‘the special’, just for ‘the holy’ or just for ‘someone-else’.

But God is pretty clear about it here.  When he pours out his Spirit, it is on all flesh.  No-one who calls Jesus ‘Lord’ is excluded from that statement:  we can’t exclude others from it and we can’t exclude ourselves from it.

God didn’t say, “I will pour out my spirit on those who shout loud enough, or pray hard enough, sing sweet enough or close their eyes long enough”.

He said “all flesh”

even when you’re tired

even when you’re lonely

even when you’re grieving

even me

even you.

That’s the beauty of Pentecost – the good news in my language, the spirit poured out into my flesh. The precious, beautiful Holy Spirit, suddenly available and present to us all. Poured out not in a trickle or a dribble, but in abundance – a gush of the pure, sweet, inexhaustible presence of God poured out over anyone who wants to come and stand underneath it.

Any time you like.

You just have to ask.

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.