Tag Archives: trust

You go before me

I’m back, did you miss me?

Sorry I’ve been quiet lately.

Sometimes life can be like a stage in a car rally: racing through winding country roads much faster than is comfortable.   The driver clings to the wheel as twists and turns come up on the road ahead, swerving past, over and sometimes through obstacles. All at breakneck speed.

Some of the countryside is beautiful, but it mostly just streams past the windows while you try to focus on the bit of road in front of you and wonder what’s around the next corner.

 

As I painted this picture God spoke to me about three things:

1. Life isn’t a long, straight, easy highway all the way.

Not for anyone.

There are unexpected twists and turns, hazards and dead ends, and sometimes places where you have no idea which is the way ahead.  (There is also occasionally a patch of breathtaking scenery, which you might never have seen if you’d gone an easier way.)

My momentary struggles aren’t a punishment for something I did, or even, necessarily, a result of my bad choices.  They’re normal life.  Whatever Facebook might be telling you, no-one has it completely easy all the time.  It’s tough, but it helps to admit that, to realise that you or your family aren’t the odd ones out here.

2. I’m not in this race alone

Each driver in a rally has a co-driver who has studied the course and made notes about where the turns are.  All the way through the race the co-driver calls out that it’s time to turn to the left or right.  They’ve already worked out a route past any obstacles, seen where it’s necessary to brake hard and are aware of what’s coming up around the next corner, and the next one.

The driver would do well to listen carefully.

Jesus is the one who goes before me.  He’s the one who knows the route through the field of boulders, in and out of the winding lanes  or wherever else we end up.  In fact he’s the only one who can navigate us through it.

Of course, I do have to listen.  And when you’re stressed out and under pressure listening doesn’t always come easily.  But it does seem to be possible to choose it. I’m trying.

3. There’s a roll cage

Sometimes we try to reassure ourselves that God will make sure no bad things happen to us if only we follow him and have faith in him. Perhaps the reverse is actually true?  I wonder if a deeper faith lies in a place where bad things happen and yet still we follow him.  I’ve watched faith-filled people experience the worst and yet survive with their faith mostly in tact. God is also our roll cage.

It was only as I painted this picture from one I found online that I noticed the roll cage in the car.  The worst might happen, but the team can survive it.

 

 

 

 

 

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Willow

I’m a bit willow-ish – not willowy, that’s for sure – but willow-ish.

It’s about nine years since God told me I’m like a pile of sticks.  Words from God aren’t always easy, but sometimes the most difficult ones have the most value.  I was (and still am a bit) like a pile of dry willow sticks: brittle, stubborn, prickly, awkward, broken in places and very much in need of being bent into shape.

But God, because he is gracious, also gave me a picture of how I could be…

This is a basket made out of willow.  It can both hold a harvest and carry a feast. It is strong.  It is still what it once was, but also completely transformed.

God and I have talked many times about the process of transformation that makes useless sticks into a beautiful basket. And I always end up with these two ‘keys’ to becoming:

Soaking and Surrender

Willow must be soaked, preferably overnight, to make it flexible.  Otherwise when the weaver attempts to bend it or twist and wind it between the uprights it will simply snap.

Dry willow is brittle and inflexible: soaked willow is soft and pliable.

I need soaking.

I need to immerse myself in God’s presence and in his word.  I read once that we are like pendulums, we need to swing between abiding in God and working; worship and ministry; backwards and forwards.  Not spending enough time in God’s presence will make my heart brittle again, but time soaking him in will quickly soften it up.

And as he softens my heart I become more and more ready to be transformed into the shape he wants for me. But even then I need to be willing to let him.

In my willow-ness, most of my task is to surrender. Some of my stubbornness has been soaked out, but most of my determination remains.  I have to choose to allow the weaver to create whatever shape he has in mind for me and not to insist on becoming something else.  It’s so easy to try to second-guess God, to demand to know exactly what he’s doing, or even to come up with a ‘better’ idea.   It’s a challenge to trust him, to rest in the truth that he knows what he’s doing, but it’s necessary.

Soaking and surrender.

It’s great when God gives you a picture of how you could be, especially if he then reveals the keys to becoming.  It may take a long time to get there, but we have do some ability to speed up the process.

For me, and I suspect for many of you, a continual process of soaking and surrender is the way forward.

basket

Sailboats and Rowboats

I’ll start with a confession…  I wasn’t going to post this week, I’m so tired that I was going to give myself some grace and not write anything, have a day off..

But then all day this thought that I read about in someone else’s blog* has been in my head, and it’s ministered to me so much and so deeply that I thought I’d share it with you, just in case you needed to hear it too…

“You are designed to be a sail boat, not a rowing boat”

I love this so much.  I love that all the power to do anything God asks me to do comes from him.  I love that I was never meant to serve him out of my own strength, out of my own effort.

My job is to put up the sail, his job is to provide the wind –  so simple, and so true.

No-one who has ever sailed a boat would want to row it across the lake instead.  No-one who has felt the exhilaration of catching the wind and feeling a boat suddenly accelerate across the water would prefer to slowly drag heavy oars.  It’s not that sailing is effortless, but it is less effort than rowing, and so much faster and so much more fun!

I know this.

And yet when I am tired, when life seems overwhelming, when everything is a bit too much – that’s when I start rowing.

True.

Honestly, how sad is it that I pronounce myself too tired to put up a sail and then pick up the oars?  That when I have no strength, that’s when I start trying to do things in my own strength? I’m smiling as I write this, partly because it is just that ridiculous and partly because I can hear the theme of what God has been saying to me for weeks echoing in the words.  I’m clearly a slow learner.

When you realise your hands are empty, when you come to the end of yourself – that’s a good place, that’s when he can begin.

So this is my new piece of advice to myself:

Whatever you do, don’t try to row.

Grab hold of whatever strength you have left, and use it – to walk into his presence and to put up your sail.

sailboat

And if you find there’s no wind today, no power to help you move forwards, don’t panic – it just means that today is a day to be still. To be still and know that you are you and God is God.

and that’s OK.

*This postcard was inspired by a great blog I follow written by theologian, teacher and asker-of-awkward-questions, Ian Paul… I painted the picture straight away and put it on the wall because I knew it was such an important bit of life to me –  you can read the original here.

Consider the Birds: On being an opportunistic feeder

Have you ever noticed that when you sprinkle seed onto a bird table, in no time at all, loads of birds show up?  I always find myself wondering “How on Earth did they know?”

I know nothing at all about birds, so when I felt that God was giving me this postcard to paint for this week I was a bit stumped. But it was definitely the right picture,  so I did what any other person would do… I asked google!

It turns out that lots of other people have asked this question too, and although there’s no definitive answer, two theories seemed to emerge:

Birds have great eyesight and they’re constantly watching for food.

Birds let each other know when they find something good and plentiful.

 

So I’ve been simmering those thoughts away, and asking myself a couple of questions:

What does it mean for me as a follower of Jesus to be ‘constantly watching for food’?

‘Food’ is anything that sustains you and helps you to grow.  So it could probably be many different things: teaching; wisdom; reading the Bible; praying or worshipping with friends; or escaping to somewhere quiet to be alone with God.  You might find it at a certain times of day or at a certain place; at church services; in a person; at prayer meetings; on the internet; or in a book.

The thing I’m really hearing God say to me through this picture is that he’s calling me to be like a bird: an opportunistic feeder.

Birds will return to a place where they’ve been fed before, but will always be on the lookout for more.  They are picky about what they will eat, but eat from a variety of sources.  Ever watchful,  if an opportunity comes their way to take on board things that will give them energy and help them to grow they will take it.    This speaks to me about flexibility, alertness and also my own responsibility to seek after God’s provision for me:  For a bird, maturity is to go out there and look for your own nutrition… not to stay where you are and wait to be fed!

How can I let others know about the feast?

I was amused to read that some birds live as part of a community and let each other know where food is to be found… by tweeting. Smirking aside, there’s a message here too – It’s much easier to find out about places to eat, to grow and be strong, when we are part of a community.  And taking an active part in seeing other people in our community get ‘spiritually fed’ is an important part of what we are called to be.  This too will look different for everyone.  Sometimes it will be choosing to breathe words of life and encouragement over people; sometimes it will be sharing a link to a worship song on Facebook; it might be recommending a book, it might be writing one. Find a way that works for you.

 

‘Taste and see that the Lord is good’

Maybe for some of us this is also a challenge to call others who don’t yet know Jesus to come and join in the feast. A bit of ‘tweeting’ about how good and sweet life with Jesus can be might be in order!

 

birdsfeedingfeat

 

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For your Journal:

Think about the ways and places you ‘find food’?  In what ways can you pay more attention to them, or how could you look for new ‘food sources’?

How can you let others know about the feasts you find?  Who in your life could you ‘call to”?

 

And finally…  Writing this blog is like throwing seeds onto the bird table… Thank you to every one of you who has shown up to taste it, and has called friends in to have some too.  I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it.   Ellie x

The Hardest Cut: on the experience of pruning

Ouch.

A while ago, not for the first time,  I went through an experience of pruning:  Of God removing from my life something I love, something I’m good at, something that I was (and am) unwilling to let go of.  Familiar story?

john 15

I can deal with God cutting away parts of my life that aren’t fruitful! But here Jesus talks about pruning the healthy branches of a vine, cutting back branches that are bearing fruit.  And that’s much harder to get my head around…

I’ve been involved one way or another with church youthwork for about twenty years, and I love it.  So it was very hard when a few months ago God asked me to lay it down.  I’m ashamed to say that he had to tell me a lot of times and in several different ways.  And I wrestled with it, I was angry with Him about it, but eventually I got the message, waved the white flag and stepped down.

And it really, really hurt… (still does a bit)

In the middle of that time I painted a picture.  I’ve never grown grapes, but I have grown and pruned roses, so I painted a rose bush… and a gardener.   The message God spoke to me through it really helped, and if a pruning-time comes, I hope it will help you too.

You prune rosebushes back for two reasons: so that they will grow into a more balanced shape, not becoming lopsided or straggly; and so that they will bear even more flowers.  So pruning, though it seems harsh, actually makes the rose bush much more beautiful.

After I’d finished the painting I noticed two things:

The first was that the branch is not being pruned away because it is not being useful or beautiful or because it is ‘bad’ at the job it was supposed to be doing.  It is not diseased, or flowerless… but its time has come.  When God takes you out of a ministry or situation, it is not necessarily an indication of His judgement on the job you were doing.  God often calls us to stop doing things that we are good at!

pruningdetailThe second was that the healed wound from a past pruning is clearly visible.  And so is all of the growth and beauty that came about because of that cut.  It stands as a testimony that pruning has brought fruitfulness in my life and is promise of more roses yet to come.


God sometimes takes away or asks us to give up things which we are good at and which we love.  And it’s not always clear why!  It may be that he needs to make space in your life in order to do something else. Perhaps  He wants you to stop putting energy into supporting an old branch and pour that energy into growing a new one.   Or it may be just that He wants you to do something where you’ll need to lean on Him more.  

What is certain is that to be pruned is part of ‘normal’ Christian life. For me the challenge is to surrender to it quickly rather than sink huge reserves of effort into resisting it;  to accept it as part of the ongoing careful work of my Father.

Looking back now, six months on, I can see the fruit of having allowed God to make some space in my life for other things.  If I’m honest I can also see how it would have been so much less painful for me if I had listened and responded the first time I heard God speak on the matter!

So now I’m asking God what else in my life has to go.  If He needs to make more space or wants me to be more focussed, I want to volunteer to make the cut!  Will you join me?   He might ask you to give something up… He might not.  Either way, surrender to the gardener is the road to more growth, more blessing and more fruitfulness.  I recommend it.


pruning

Faith and the Flying Fox

I don’t often feel faith, it’s much more likely in any given situation that I’ll be feeling terror.  But to my great relief I’ve finally concluded that faith isn’t something you feel, it’s something you do.  And in some ways that’s much easier!

faith

I’ve come to believe that ‘faith is being certain of what we do not see’ can also be read ‘faith is hearing God, and then acting like you believe what He says is true.  For example:  Father God says that I am his precious child, that I am beautiful, that I am valuable.  Honestly, a lot of the time I struggle to feel like these things are true.  But I know they are, so I try to behave like they are.  I’m not pretending, – I’m lining my behaviour up with what I know to be true.

My kids went on a really high flying fox once… It was as much as I could take to stand on the ground watching them…  They were 40 ft or so up in the air and had to step off the platform and put their entire trust in the harness that strapped them to the wire.

That’s a great picture of faith – Standing on the edge of what feels safe, gripped by fear, but trusting that God has said this is the right thing to do and stepping off anyway.  Much, much easier to write down than to do!   On the flying fox, even when you have just seen your brother fly down in front of you and you know it is safe, it’s really hard to step off.  And sometimes it’s like that when God asks you to do something ….  

But the faith isn’t in the feeling. – It’s in the jumping.

The other thing I remember clearly about watching this zip line in action was the pep-talk on how to land safely:

“What you must do” insisted the instructor, “is start running while you are still in the air,  a long time before you hit the ground, or you will just wipe out”  And he wasn’t kidding!  As I watched people fly down the wire at great speed,  it was clear that those who began the action of running before their feet hit the ground managed to stay on their feet; and those who forgot were dragged unceremoniously through the mud.

Faith is being certain about the things that God has promised but you are not actually experiencing yet.  On the flying fox, the ground is coming, and you have to start acting like the ground is there before you actually get to it.

If God has said you’re going to have a ministry with young people, start talking to young people in your church.  If God has said He wants you to lead worship one day, learn an instrument.  If God has said to you that you are going to see people healed when you pray for them, start praying for the sick (and keep going until people start being healed).

I have a friend who dreamed one night that she was on a stage in a huge auditorium, talking about Jesus to thousands of people.  In her dream she was terrified – she could never stand up in front of so many people and yet she felt that this was a dream from God calling her to be prepared to preach.   Her response wasn’t to say “I could never do that” or to sit around waiting for it to happen.  She went out the following week and joined a public speaking club!  Isn’t that great?  Even if the reality of the dream is still a long way off, she’s getting ready for it.  That’s faith.

I don’t know what God has called you to do.  I do know that for many of you, you’re also not quite ‘there’ yet.  You’re still in the time of waiting.  But faith begins to act like you’re there a bit before you are. It  stretches out; it gets trained and equipped; it looks stupid; it cries out to God for help; but it starts running

Live in faith.  Then, when your feet hit the reality of what God has promised… you will be ready.

flyingfoxfeature

 Things to think or journal about:

Come before God today and ask Him to remind you of things He has promised you.  The many beautiful promises of scripture, or promises He has spoken to you personally.  What would it look like if you were to live as though that promise is a reality?  Is there a small step you could take this week into living in the light of that promise? If there is, then take it!  Jump!

Rooted – on surviving the dry season

I really like to read the Bible aloud, and last week I was reading from Ephesians when this phrase caught in my mind.  And it’s been sitting there ever since…

roots

I keep coming back to wondering what it must be like, and how(!)  to send roots down deep into God’s love.   I really want to be like the tree described in Jeremiah 17 that’s fruitful in all circumstances.  Its root system goes deep into the water table, so even when there’s no water to be seen on the surface, it’s able to draw refreshment and life up from deep places.

Spiritual life seems to run in seasons. One day I’m flying, Jesus has never seemed so close, miracles are happening around me, I’m undone in the presence of God and every page of the Bible comes alive.  A few months later everything can suddenly seem much more difficult.  Faith might not waver, but enthusiasm and energy certainly do.

For a long while I thought this was a kind of malfunction.  That I should be able to maintain a level of passion and fervency and intimacy with God all the time.  Truthfully – I can’t.  But I’m starting to believe that it might not be so abnormal.  All around us seasons come and go, plants grow vigorously and are then pruned back, people are active and then sleep.  It seems to be the way of the world our Father has created that things have a rhythm to them.

The picture of being rooted says to me that perhaps it’s OK for spiritual life to be seasonal-  That an ebb and flow of feelings and experiences is natural – but that it is possible to be rooted in God’s love in such a way that no matter what season you are in, living water can always be drawn up from the deep.

Are you in an easy season or a dry one?  Are storm winds catching your branches or are you resting in a time of peace?  Either way the advice is the same – send your roots down deeper into the river of life.  Joseph advised Pharaoh to store up food during the times of plenty in order to be able to survive times of famine.   If you’re in a plenty time – enjoy it – store up food for the future,  practice trust.  And if you’re in a drought – look deep, the water of life is still present, seek and you will find.

Plant me Lord

on the bank of a river

Show me how to send roots deep into you.

So that in good years

in bad years

in wet times and in dry

There will be fruit to feed the hungry

There will be leaves to give shelter to the weary

There will be the promise of water nearby for the thirsty

And when the storm comes

Though I bend in the force of the wind

My heart will remain – anchored to yours.

like a tree planted by the water

rivertree

reflect white

I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you can do to drive roots down deep into the love of God. Please leave a comment -either here or on Facebook- Ellie