Friday, 27 September 2013

Cry Out To God

Dear Friends,

The last year or so has had some really challenging moments for me and over that time the truth of James 4:8a "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you." (NKJV) has become very real to me.

In those difficult, challenging times that we all face from time to time, we can feel as though we are totally alone, that no-one really understands what we're going through and that there's no-one we can rely on.  This may not be the reality of the situation, but because of the intensity or the length of the trial it is how we feel, and those feelings are very real.  I think this is what Paul felt when he wrote "At my first defence, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me... But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength," 2 Timothy 4:16-17 (NIV).

I have found in my own experience, that nothing makes me cry out to God and long to hear his voice more than when in the midst of a trial - whether that trial is physical, spiritual or emotional.  In those times there is no-one else to rely on other than God, there is nowhere else to turn.  And God is so gracious to me, that as I draw near to him, when I'm so taken up in my need of him, he does draw near to me.  In the midst of those challenges I have had some blessed times between my God and me, when I've reached the end of myself and cry out to him that I need to hear from him if I'm going to have the strength to endure, to keep following him.  I guess those challenging times are one of the ways God uses to help me to tune in to hear him speak.

I long that I would always experience that closeness with God, but my reality is that I don't.  I wonder how much I miss out on what God is wanting to say to me just because I'm not tuned in to hear from him.  Perhaps I need to be more deliberate in seeking him, not half-hearted, and more focused, letting go of distractions so that I do draw near to him, not just in the challenging moments of life, but daily.

When I have my quiet time and wait patiently and expectantly to hear him speak to me, I'm not disappointed.  But I confess that sometimes my quiet times aren't like that, sometimes my mind is distracted, sometimes I don't want to hear what he may have to say and sometimes I'm just too busy to take the time to wait.

I'm so glad that God doesn't give up on me, he keeps pursuing me, using whatever it takes to bring me back to a place where once again I long to have that closeness with him.  I love that promise in James 4:8a, that if only I will choose (and it is a matter of the will, the choice I decide to make) to draw near to God, then God will draw near to me.  And God always keeps his promises!

To Think About:
Have you experienced the blessing of that promise "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you." and what has it meant to you?

What has God used in your life to prompt you to draw near to him?

What do you think you need to do to enable you to tune in to hear his voice?  Are there distractions you need to avoid/eliminate?  Do you need to stop listening to another voice which is blocking you from hearing God's voice?


Saturday, 21 September 2013

God Is In The Detail

Dear Friends,

My Auntie was recently diagnosed with cancer and had to go in to hospital to have an operation.  Friends and family have all been praying for her, and as the date came round for her operation my prayer was that God would give the medical staff the skill to treat her and to also be sensitive in their care of her afterwards.

I received a text after the operation from my cousin (one of my Auntie's daughters).  She told me that her Mum's nurse was the sister of my cousin's old school friend and the nursing assistant was a lady who was deaf.  My cousin was so thankful to God for this because she believed he couldn't have chosen two better people to care for my Auntie.

You see, my Auntie was born deaf and learned as a young girl to lip read.  She does this very well, but of course, to be able to read lips she needs to have the person who is talking to her facing her, and not covering their mouths when they talk. My cousin shared with me in another text that God's choice of carers meant that my Auntie was looked after by someone who understood  how she needed to be communicated with and also that the other ward staff were familiar with speaking appropriately to my Auntie having worked with a deaf colleague.  My Auntie's family had been concerned about how bewildered she would feel in recovery after the anaesthetic and whether the nursing staff would understand.  God had covered all these different angles.  I was amazed by God, that he had thought through and arranged everything even down to the smallest of details so that my Auntie was in the best possible hands.  He answered my prayers in ways I could not have thought of or imagined.  He's so much better at the details than I am! I love being amazed by God, I hope there never comes a time when the ways of God become so familiar to me that I cease to be amazed by him.

Ephesians 3:20 says "Now to Him Who, by (in consequence of) the [action of His] power that is at work within us, is able to [carry out His purpose and] do superabundantly, far over and above all that we [dare] ask or think [infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, hopes, or dreams]—" (Amplified Version)

Now some people would call it fate or co-incidence that my Auntie had these people take care of her, but I believe, I know, that this was neither fate or co-incidence, it was God working, it is an illustration of a God-incidence.

In Philippians 4:6 we read "Do not fret or have any anxiety about anything, but in every circumstance and in everything, by prayer and petition (definite requests), with thanksgiving, continue to make your wants known to God." (Amplified Version)  We can take anything and everything to God in prayer because he cares for us.  We make our requests, he has the answer, he doesn't need me to tell him what to do, and yet sometimes I find myself trying to work it all out for him, I say to God, if you will do A, B, and C, then the result will be X, Y and Z.  But God doesn't need me to work it out, he wants me to trust him, to rely on him, to put my hope in him, to leave it in his hands for him to do his will, which is good, pleasing and perfect.  God is all-knowing and he sees the end from the beginning, he knows exactly what to do and is completely able to bring it about.  He knows just who to use and what needs to be done to accomplish his will, just as he did in my Auntie's situation. We can rest in the assurance that nothing ever takes God by surprise, us yes, often there are circumstances in my life that take me by surprise, but him, no, he's never ever surprised, nothing that happens catches him unawares and we can know that whatever we face he already has the details sorted.

To Think About:

Can you think of any "God-incidences" when you look back over your own life?  Take a moment to thank God for those times.

Do you really believe that whatever your situation is right now, that God is there with you, working out all the small details?  

Do you need to hand your situation over to God and ask him to work it all out, rather than worrying about the situation and trying to work things out for yourself.


Friday, 13 September 2013

I Will Show You The Way

Dear Friends,

Josh and Jess are settling back into a new year at secondary school.  Josh is in his final year and Jess is no longer one of the new pupils as she's now in her second year.  Jess, like me, is an introvert, and content in her own company.  She does not have a lot of confidence and so finds it hard to speak up in class, preferring to sit back and let others do the talking.  Having said that she shared something with me last week about an incident at school which showed how she is growing and maturing.  I was so proud of her because what to many might not seem a big deal was huge for her. 

When walking down a school corridor to her music lesson in MU2, she passed two new pupils asking a teacher for directions to their next lesson, music in MU1.  Rather than continue on her way, Jess stopped and spoke to the teacher telling her that she was going in that direction and would show the girls the way to go.  Jess and I continued to discuss this and she told me how she found it hard, when given directions, to remember all that she was told, and found it much easier when someone actually showed her the way to go.  So that's what she did for these two girls.  Despite not finding it easy to speak up, God gave her the confidence to do so.  I also told her that God had placed her there at the right time so that she could provide help to the girls just when they needed it.

I told Jess what a great illustration it was to use in my next blog.  (And yes, she is ok with me telling you, I have checked with her first!)

It reminded me of something Jesus said when he was talking to his disciples.  Jesus said
 “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me."  John 14:6 (NLT)  It is particularly the first part of the verse: "I am the way," I want us to think about today. Jesus is the one route to God, it is through him that we can come into God's presence, Jesus is the only way.

Not only that, Jesus does for us exactly what Jess did for the girls, Jess showed them the route to take rather than just giving them directions to find it on their own.  God doesn't just give us a set of directions and instructions to follow, he came down to earth in human form to show us the way.  He lived out the way of God on earth and he blesses us with the presence of his Holy Spirit in us, showing us the way.  God the Holy Spirit is with us, right beside us, he goes before us as we follow, he guides us on the right path and he goes behind us as our protector.  We can trust him with our life and trust him to take us along the right pathway.  I love the verse in Isaiah 30:21 "Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, 'This is the way; walk in it.'" (NIV)  Another verse which has meant a lot to me over the past year or so is Psalm 32:8 "The Lord says, 'I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you.'" (NLT)

He promises his comforting presence, but we have a choice to make, do we choose to trust  God, believing he won't misdirect us or do we think we know better and want to direct our own way?  The two girls had a choice to make - to trust Jess and go with her, or choose to use their own instincts, or wait to ask someone else they think might know better. 

There will always be people around us, happy to give their opinion as to what we should do, where we should go, the route we should take.  But be careful, ultimately, the only voice we should listen to is Jesus, he has promised us HE IS THE WAY.  God knows you best, after all he created you and he has a specific plan and direction for your life, if you truly believe that then he is the only one to show you the right way to go and the right way to live.

This doesn't mean the journey will always be easy, there will be valleys as well as mountaintops, but whatever we face we can be assured that God walks with us as we place our hands in his and hear his voice saying "Come with me".  What an encouragement to know that we never have to face anything, whether it's big or small, on our own.

To Think About:
What does it mean to you to know that Jesus shows you the way to walk?

What do you think God wants to say to you today about the direction you are considering?  Will you choose to listen to his voice and follow where he leads you?

Spend some time meditating (pondering on, thinking about, chewing over) the verses I've mentioned, and what they mean to you.

There's a song I really enjoy singing at church, it's called "Guardian" by Ben Cantelon.  The words of the song fit really well with today's blog theme.  Please take a few minutes to click on the link below to listen to the song and read the lyrics. 


Friday, 6 September 2013

A dreadful smell or a sweet perfume?

Dear Friends,

In my last blog I mentioned we had recently been on holiday with friends.  We stayed in a self-catering cottage (a converted granary) on a farm.  There were some lovely views and our neighbours included chicken, 2 horses, pigs and their piglets.

One morning we woke to a dreadful stench as soon as we opened our bedroom window, and whichever room we went into, whether it was upstairs or downstairs, we were greeted with that same dreadful smell.  It was, in my opinion, disgusting and outside the smell was just as bad.

Now Jason, having been brought up on a farm, knew exactly the reason for the stink, (for me there's no other way to describe it!) the farmer had been muck-spreading, fertilising the ground, in good preparation for growing a good crop.

To me, the smell was horrible (I think I've made that clear by now!) but I'm guessing the farmer didn't see it that way, he knew the purpose behind it, the reason why he needed to spread the foul-smelling muck.  It was necessary if he was to grow a good, healthy, strong crop.

This reminded me of what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 2:14b-16 "Now he [God] uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume. Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing. To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume." (NLT)

It's my responsibility and yours to spread "a Christ-like fragrance" by the way we live for God.  How do I do this?  By living wholeheartedly for him, living consistently the Christian life, living in a way that honours him, living by the principles of God's Word, sharing the good news of Christ, loving others etc.

It means living counter-culturally to the world and that kind of fragrance is not pleasant to some people.  To some it may very well be a "dreadful smell" as we make a stand for what we believe, a stand for what God says and a stand for a different way of living. 

Even if some don't like it, we're not to hide this fragrance, not to water it down, not to replace it with another smell by living with by worldly values rather than God's.  We're told in God's word not to conform to worldly values, to the pattern or "smell" of this world but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.  "Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." Romans 12:1-2 (NIV)

By spreading a Christ-like fragrance wherever we are, we are making people aware of the truth about God, the good news, the hope that we have found in him.  This smell around us should be unmistakeable and may even linger after we have left.

To Think About:
In what specific and intentional ways are you spreading a "Christ-like fragrance" wherever you go?

Are there any circumstances in which you are tempted to hide, replace or water down this fragrance, tempted to conform to the world's values?

Ask God to give you the courage to spread this fragrance, this sweet perfume, everywhere you go, in a way which is honouring to him.