Friday, 25 October 2013

The Gift of Encouragement

Dear Friends,

My sister and I were blessed to grow up in a home where our parents always encouraged us.  We were encouraged to do our best, encouraged in our efforts, encouraged to be the person God wanted us to be and to live the life God intended for us.  We were encouraged in our hopes and ambitions and to pursue our dreams.  We were encouraged to keep going when we encountered setbacks.  This encouragement helped us to see ourselves as God sees us, as someone worth loving and someone of value.

It helped me to also see how important it is to regularly encourage my own children.  I encourage my daughter Jess when she shows me a piece of homework that she has worked hard on and tried her best. I did this again just recently and in the smile she gave me I could almost see evidence of how it was nourishing and nurturing her very being.  It installed some confidence and belief in herself that she had done well.  Recently too with my son, Josh, I told him how proud I was when he had made a decision that while right, had not been easy to make.  I believe it's important to encourage our children so that they have the courage to make difficult decisions in life.

When I trained as a teacher I again learnt the value of encouraging my pupils.  So many needed encouragement for their efforts and their behaviour and to realise their own self-worth.  The results when you encourage children are wonderful, it makes them believe they can achieve more and that they do have the ability to behave well.  Too many children are told that they are worthless, that they are stupid, that they're no good, and if they're told it enough times then they begin to believe it as truth and act on it.

We need regular encouragement as much as children do, and yet, though I'm determined to encourage children, for some reason I think (and wrongly so) that it's just not necessary to encourage adults.

I'm aware over the last few weeks just how much I've personally been blessed by various people encouraging me.  I really feel as though it's been showered on me and I can't tell you how much it has meant to me, whether it's been face to face, or by email, texts, phone calls.  And, whether they've known it or not, I know that ultimately it's been God encouraging me through them.  So if I know how much encouragement means to me, why am I not doing it more for others?

The bible shows us how important it is that we encourage one another.  For example, Paul, in his letter to the Thessalonians writes "and we sent Timothy to visit you. He is our brother and God’s co-worker in proclaiming the Good News of Christ. We sent him to strengthen you, to encourage you in your faith," 1 Thessalonians  3:2 (NLT)  and later in that letter he writes  "11 For you know how, like a father with his children, 12 we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory." 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12. (ESV)  Our God is a God who encourages and there are examples of this throughout the bible, just one example of this was when God encouraged Joshua to take over from Moses as leader of the Israelites (Joshua 1:1-9).  In Paul's second letter to the Thessalonians he writes  "May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, 17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word." 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 (NIV).

When we give others encouragement it helps them to continue in their Christian journey, it strengthens their resolve and commitment to their faith, when we encourage them in how they are seeking to use the gifts and talents God has given them, it affirms for them that they are doing what God has called them to do and it strengthens them in their service.  Encouragement helps people to live courageously, it helps them to persevere during times of difficulty, it encourages them to continue to be obedient to God and it comforts them in times of trouble.

It costs us very little effort to encourage another person when compared with how much it means to the one who receives the encouragement.  Let's determine together to be regular encouragers.

To Think About:
What has it meant to you when someone has taken the time to encourage you?

Who has God used to be an encouragement to you?  Take some time in prayer thanking God for that person in your life.

Ask God this coming week to place on your heart someone who is in need of encouragement, and ask him to show you how best you can encourage them.

Vicki

Friday, 18 October 2013

"Do You Dare To Change?"

Dear Friends,

I don't usually pay much attention to television adverts, but there's been one recently that has really caught my eye and inspired me.  Not so much what it's advertising but the actual content of it.  It's about the high jump athlete, Dick Fosbury and the voiceover says "When every high jump athlete jumped forward, Dick Fosbury dared to jump backwards."  This was in 1968 when just one man (Fosbury) out of the 27 high jump athletes jumped backwards.  In 1972 the number using Dick Fosbury's technique rose to 28 out of 40, in 1980 it was 23 out of 28 and in 2012, 26 out of 26 now used his technique!

In an interview he said "When you believe in something, that's when you really go for it...even though that was the standard technique (jumping forwards) I really believed there was some other way to jump over the bar."  He continued to say that he came up with the backwards technique that would help not only himself but other athletes too.  He said he had to avoid the critics, work hard at it because he was convinced that this would succeed and by actually jumping backwards he proved there was another way to jump over the bar.  He ends the interview by saying: "Do you dare to change?"

I'm struck by the spiritual principles there are in this and that's what I want to share today because it's encouraging, and like I said earlier, inspiring.

Our culture, our society, our world says there is one way for us to live and we are expected to live by its rules, its standards, which, in many ways, are contrary to God's standards.  We read in Romans 12:2 "Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect." (NLT) or as the Amplified version puts it: "Do not be conformed to this world (this age), [fashioned after and adapted to its external, superficial customs], but be transformed (changed) by the [entire] renewal of your mind [by its new ideals and its new attitude], so that you may prove [for yourselves] what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God, even the thing which is good and acceptable and perfect [in His sight for you]."

God's standard means that we are to live differently to the world, we are not to copy them, we are to be transformed by God's power in us and transformation begins in our mind, and having our mind renewed by new ideals and new attitudes.  We are to be like Christ in the way we think, act and speak.  Romans 8:28-30 "Moreover we know that to those who love God, who are called according to his plan, everything that happens fits into a pattern for good. God, in his foreknowledge, chose them to bear the family likeness of his Son, that he might be the eldest of a family of many brothers. He chose them long ago; when the time came he called them, he made them righteous in his sight, and then lifted them to the splendour of life as his own sons." (Phillips)

Do you dare to be different?  Do you dare to change?  To show others that there is a better way to live?  Do you dare to show them that having Jesus as Lord of your life enables you to live the life that God intended for you along. Jesus said in John 10:10 "I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of." (The Message)

Dick Fosbury said 3 things which I want to adapt for us:
1. Don't pay attention to those who criticise you - don't listen or allow the world to dictate how you should live, don't listen when they try to convince you that there's is the only way to live, don't be persuaded by their arguments, don't give up on living differently, living by God's standards because you know they are best and are right.  Remember, we're not here to fit in with the world's standards and we're not here to please them, the only one we seek to please is Jesus and our goal is to bring God glory.

2. Rely on the power of the Holy Spirit living within you to enable you to live that changed life - will power alone just won't do it, I know, I've tried.  The Holy Spirit gives us the boldness, the courage and the power we need to live differently and with his help we can dare to change.

3. Prove there's another, better way to live - by living it out.  As Dick Fosbury said "When you believe in something, that's when you really go for it..."  If I really believe God loves me, if I really believe what the bible says, then I will go for it, my faith in God will be shown in my actions.  Dick Fosbury believed that what he was doing would help not only himself but other athletes too.  For us, when we take up the challenge and dare to change, dare to be different for God, then it will bless others as well as ourselves.

I find this very exciting, but I admit, very challenging too!  If I've made you feel a little uncomfortable, don't worry, I'm also feeling uncomfortable!  But, despite the discomfort, let's decide to go for it, and let's encourage one another as we do.  Let's keep in mind that we want others to see Jesus in us, we want them to be drawn to him and discover for themselves that better life, the eternal life that he offers each of us when we come to him.

To Think About:
Ask God to show you if there are any areas of your life where you have been conforming to the world's way of living and ask him to give you the power, the courage, to change, the boldness to live differently.

Could God be asking you to review how you do something at home, work or in your ministry etc. and change the way you do it, not necessarily because it's wrong, but because there's another, more effective way of doing it?

Do others see Jesus in your life as you seek to live for him?

Vicki

Friday, 11 October 2013

Isn't Waiting Just a Waste of Time?

Dear Friends

I don't know anyone who really enjoys waiting, I know I don't!  Whether it's waiting in the queue at the supermarket, sitting in the waiting room to see the Doctor, waiting for test results, or waiting for your birthday or a family holiday. Waiting just seems such a waste of time, doesn't it? Time that we could spend doing something else, something more productive, and we fuss and fume over the wasted time that we will never get back.

I've been thinking about last week's blog and it led to thoughts on how God often asks us to "wait" or says "not yet" to something we long for.  We can read of many instances in the bible when God tells a person to wait.

It seems to me that God is asking that I wait for his timing, so how do I make the most of this waiting time so that it's not a wasted time?

I think there are two kinds of waiting, passive waiting and active waiting.  Passive waiting means I sit around, twiddling my thumbs, waiting for something to happen, just waiting for God to tell me that now it's time to act, that the waiting is finally over.  That to me is a waste of time, and is not how I should be living.

God has a purpose in asking us to wait and this can be accomplished through active waiting.

Let me explain: what I am doing when I'm actively waiting is I'm saying to God, I trust you, I put my faith in you, that what I am waiting for will happen when the time is right, when You will say to me "now" rather than "not yet".  But while I wait for the "now" from you, God, I'm going to keep trusting and waiting on you.

Abraham placed his trust in God and waited for 25 years to be given the son God had promised him.  When Abraham was 100 years old, God said, "now" is the right time for Abraham and Sarah to have their son, Isaac.  That's a long time to wait!  "Then Abraham waited patiently, and he received what God had promised." Hebrews 6:15 (NLT), another translation says "patiently endured".  Despite the long wait, Abraham kept believing God's word, he trusted that God would act on his behalf.  This wait strengthened Abraham's faith, he kept believing despite the odds, despite what others said, despite his circumstances.  Abraham illustrates for us active waiting.  God strengthens my faith and your faith when we wait as Abraham did, when we keep trusting God despite the odds, despite what others say to us and despite our circumstances.  And when the time is right God will act on our behalf and we will be blessed because we have actively waited.

God's purpose in our active waiting is to prepare us for that which we are waiting for.  When God plants a dream in our hearts, when he promises us something, we naturally assume that because God has said so, it will be so right now.  But usually he gives us a waiting time to prepare our hearts, our minds, our attitudes, our character so that we are ready for the time when God says "now".  I mistakenly think that I'm ready right away to begin to live out the promise, the dream God has given me, but God has said to me "not yet".  He wants to develop my endurance, to give me time to grow character - patience, love, compassion, faithfulness etc. and he also wants to develop in me the skills necessary for the task which lies ahead.  If I'm to practice active waiting then I need to be open to God teaching me, to him showing me where my attitude is wrong, to him developing a characteristic in me, and to be obedient to what he says.  Then the waiting time is not a wasted time, I can make the most of the time I have, whilst still trusting and believing God.  God has given me a love of studying his word, the bible and a love of sharing it with others, so, as I spend time in his word, and as I share, whether in my ladies' small bible group or writing this blog, I am using this time to actively wait and allowing God to develop the necessary skills in my life.

David was a shepherd boy, anointed by the prophet, Samuel, to be Israel's next King.  This didn't mean that immediately he left his work as a shepherd to become King.  David actually had to wait about 14 years before he became King.  He needed to wait for God's timing, to wait for God's "now" and in the meantime God continued to develop in David, through his role as shepherd and his position at the royal court, the skills he needed to be Israel's godly king.  God was able to say of David "‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart. He will do everything I want him to do.’" Acts 13:22 (NLT)  David was a better king for having used his time wisely in his waiting period and trusting God.  It meant that he was ready for it when God told him that he didn't need to wait anymore and today was the day he would be King.  I want to be like David, and make the most of my waiting time so that I am ready for the time when God says "now".  I don't want it to get to the "now time" and turn to God and tell him I'm not ready for it after all, and for God to then say to me, well, that's why I gave you this time, what have you been doing with it?!

Sometimes we think the time to act must be now.  I know I've made that mistake in the past - I've thought I'm ready for it, I've looked at my circumstances and thought that now is the right time, or that I've waited long enough.  But what I've actually done is taken my eyes off God and tried to work it out for myself.  You see, our sense of timing is so different to God's, and as I've said before on previous blogs, his timing is right and is always best, because he sees and knows the big picture.

There were a couple of times when David could have taken advantage of his situation and listened to his men, who told him that it was time for him to become King.  (You can read about it in 1 Samuel 24 and another instance in 1 Samuel 26:1-8.)  But he didn't make that mistake, he knew that those times were not God's "now" and so he was able to rest secure in his relationship with God and trust him that God would make him King when God wanted him to be King.  He knew God would keep his word to him.

God doesn't need me to manipulate the situation or people around me so that I get what I want.  He is more than able to manage all things so that it happens in his time and his way, when he knows that I am ready for it, not when I think I must be ready.

I confess that there are times when I just don't wait well, when it seems as though all this time of waiting is a waste and that I could have done so much by now, that I'll never get those years back and that soon I'll be too old anyway (don't laugh at me, but now I'm in my 40s I do find myself thinking more about my age and that I'm old now!  If you don't agree with me, just ask my children, they'll tell you I'm old! I know it's a mind set, I know the saying "You're as old as you feel", but even so, it feels now that time's not on my side, as it was in my 20s and 30s).  I need to remember the truth that when I place myself in God's hands and submit to his will for my life then nothing is wasted - not the waiting time, not my life experiences, not my pain - and that actually God can take everything and use it according to his plan and use it for good, for myself and for others.  I think that's what is meant in Joel 2:25 "And I will restore or replace for you the years that the locust has eaten—the hopping locust, the stripping locust, and the crawling locust, My great army which I sent among you." (Amplified Bible).  The years that we think have been wasted, that were taken from us, for whatever reason, or we felt were unproductive, are restored and proven to be useful when we surrender it all to God.  I may not fully understand this at the time, in the middle of those years, but my lack of understanding doesn't mean I'm not able to trust God.  No, in my active waiting I can still demonstrate my faith in him, just as Abraham, David, and many other men and women of the bible did.

To Think About:
If you are in the midst of a waiting period, are you actively waiting or passively waiting?

What do you think God wants to develop in you whilst you wait on him?  What particular characteristics?  What particular skills?

Ask God to help you see this time, not as time wasted but as a time which has purpose and is valuable in preparing you to accomplish his will for you.

Vicki

Friday, 4 October 2013

Changing the Well-Worn Tracks in your Mind

Dear Friends,

Ever had one of those days, weeks, seasons which has been frustrating and difficult, when you're frustrated by your limitations, when you want to do so much more than you are doing, when you're not able to do the things you want to do, let alone the things you need to do?

I know I have.  I live with the long term illness, M.E (Myalgia Encephalitis), some days are worse than others, some are bad, some are not too good either.  I've been in the middle of one of those bad times and to be honest with you, I was feeling really frustrated!  When the M.E. is worse, everything is so much harder, even simple things such as walking up my stairs and preparing a meal, become almost impossible tasks as I have limited strength and energy.  Because we are so much more than just physical beings, my whole self is affected - emotionally and spiritually.  I am so frustrated by my limitations, there's so much more I long to do but I'm just not able to, and the more frustrated I feel, the more depressed I am.  When the M.E. is more manageable, my depression is also more manageable with the aid of antidepressants.  I see an opportunity and want to grab it with both hands, but the reality of my life is that I just can't, and when I'm in this downward spiral (physically, emotionally, spiritually) I believe that my hopes and dreams will never be fulfilled, I waiver between wanting the chance to develop my spiritual gifts to thinking that I'm just not good enough anyway and others who have the same gifts as I do are so much more gifted at them than I am, so just give up.

So, I throw a pity party... as you read the last paragraph did you notice that it is all about me, me, me, what I want, what I feel, what I think.  And you know, the only person who is really happy at that party is the devil.  He's happy because my focus is no longer on God, where it should be, instead it's on me.  Oh, the devil's loving this and he's making the most of this opportunity, he's egging me on all the time, with the intention of robbing me of my joy, peace and hope.

I don't want to be like this, think like this, feel like this, I know it's not a healthy way to think, but the truth is that this kind of thinking has become a very well worn path in my mind.  It's like being on autopilot and before you know it, you're headed once again down that track.  If you drive a car you know what it's like when you're driving a familiar, regularly used route, such as going to church, or home from work, or taking the kids to school.  You don't even have to think about the direction, you're on autopilot.  However, when you need to change the route, say to accommodate a work colleague or your son's friend to their home, you need to think and concentrate that much more because it's not a route that you're familiar with.

What I'm trying to say is that instead of allowing my mind to travel it's usual, familiar, well-worn unhealthy track I need to develop a new one, and this isn't easy, it does mean being deliberate about the direction I allow my mind to take and it also means relying on the power of God's Holy Spirit to help me.  Romans 12:2 "Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect." (NLT)

So, God and I had time out together, I shared with him how I was feeling and thinking - it's ok to be honest with God.  He helped me to redirect my thinking and to put my frustrations and limitations into perspective.  And he showed me what I needed to do.  This included thinking about verses in the bible that are precious to me and are helpful for getting my thoughts on the right track, such as Jeremiah 29:11 "For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope." (NLT), Romans 8:28 "And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them." (NLT) and Proverbs 3:5-6  "Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.  Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take." (NLT)

I listened to Christian radio, such as UCB Inspirational, and as I listened to and sang along with the worship songs, my thoughts were changed from going down their usual track to focusing on God.  I find that my thoughts are so quick at turning to their familiar track that it is really helpful to play worship songs, even if it's only in the background, because the songs do redirect my focus onto God.

When I turned the radio on the other morning, I caught the last part of an interview the radio host was giving, and what I heard at that particular moment, even though I'd come in halfway through was just what I needed to hear to encourage me right where I am.  I know this was of God, one of those God-incidences I talked about in a previous blog.

Later that day I read an article that had come through on my email by Cortni Marrazo.  (You can read her aticle by clicking the link: http://www.crosswalk.com/faith/women/how-to-deal-with-dashed-hopes-and-disappointments.html ) It fitted so well with what God and I had talked through, and it included more of what I needed to know, so that I was greatly encouraged by it.  Yes, it was another God-incidence!

Changing those well-worn tracks in our mind will take time, so please, don't be discouraged when you think it's taking longer than it should, don't give up, keep persevering, keep bringing your focus back to God and relying on him and his transforming power.  Those well-worn tracks you find yourself travelling so often, actually took a long time to become well-worn, they didn't appear overnight, so keep that it mind when creating new tracks in your thinking.

To Think About:
Are you aware of some of the unhealthy, well-worn tracks in your mind?

Recognising them is the first step to dealing with them and changing them.  What practical things can you do to start creating new, healthier tracks?

Vicki