Friday, 28 March 2014

Things I've Learnt From My Mother

Dear Friends,

Mother's Day will soon be upon us so I want to concentrate on Mothers in this post.  Mothers have such a significant role in the family and we should never underestimate the value and influence of mothers.  God knows how important the family is and he may perhaps have placed another woman in your life to be a "mother" to you, such as an older sister, an aunt, a grandmother, or someone in your church.

My Mum will never be famous, she will never have her name in a "Who's Who" book, although, more significantly, her name is in God's Book of Life, just as all those who have accepted Christ as their Saviour are named in his book. "They worked along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are written in the Book of Life." Philippians 4:3 (NLT).  The world may never believe she has contributed anything of significance, but I know there will come the day when God will recognise her for what she has done and will say to her "Well done, my good and faithful servant." Matthew 25:23 (NLT) and she will leave a lasting legacy behind her.

I want to share with you some of the things I've learned from my Mum, principles that can be put into practice in every area of life, not just in my role as a Mum myself.

1. Her relationship with God.  My Mum taught both my sister and me what it means to have a real relationship with God.  She showed us how to put God first in everything.  She taught us not just through the things she said but also by her example.  It was because of my Mum that I learnt how to pray and have a quiet time with God, she taught me how to have a meaningful relationship with him in every part of my life, not just for a Sunday morning, and how to be a follower of God.  "But we know that there is only one God, the Father, who created everything, and we live for him. And there is only one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom God made everything and through whom we have been given life." 1 Corinthians 8:6 (NLT)  My relationship with God is the most important relationship I will ever have.  As I make my relationship with him a priority I too can be an example to others of what it means to know and love Christ and what it means to live for him.

2. She made herself available.  Growing up I never knew a time when she wasn't there for either my sister or myself.  She never gave us the impression that she was too busy for us. She was a great listener.  We had her attention the moment we walked in at the end of a day at school.  We would sit together over a drink and a biscuit and while we talked about the things on our hearts, she listened.  She always made time for us and she made it clear we were valuable to her.  We could talk to her about anything and everything, knowing that we were free to do so without being judged or criticised or made to feel small or unimportant. Even now, married and with children of my own, she's at the end of the phone if I need to talk to her and barely a day goes by when we don't chat on the phone.  We need to have that kind of listening ear when we are with others and to make ourselves available to them when it's needed.  Many people just need someone to talk to, someone who will take the time to listen to them.   As we make ourselves available for others they will get a sense of their own worth and value in God's eyes.

3. She demonstrated a servant attitude.  Part of God's call on her life was for her to be a mum and she did this wholeheartedly.  As she served her family she was also being a servant of God.  In Colossians 3:23-24 we are told "Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ." (NLT) Whatever she did, she did it to the glory of God. I truly believe that my sister and I would not be who we are today without the influence she had (and has) on us.  I never knew her to be selfish in her attitudes or actions.  She demonstrated the truth of Philippians 2:4 "Each of you should look not only to your own interests but also to the interests of others." (NIV).  I still remember clearly the hours she spent with me helping me to revise so that I could get a good grade in my GCSE exams.  I know too well that she didn't do it for the fun of it, she did it because she loved me and wanted me to reach my potential.  I remember as a young mum myself, unable to take care of my own children because of poor health, how she would give up her days to not just be a gran, but be like a second mum to them.  This was not a short term thing for her, this went on for years.  And there are many more examples I could tell you about her servant heart.  By her example she showed me the importance of relationships and that people matter far more than amassing wealth and possessions.  After all, Jesus taught us to "'love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Matthew 22:37-39 (NLT)  In my relationship with others I too can show them I love them by demonstrating a servant attitude.

4. She ensured we had fun even in the tough times.  We were not a wealthy family and there were a few occasions as we grew up when we were short of money (although my sister and I never knew about it until much later).  I remember one time we were without electricity, but even in that difficult time my Mum stayed positive, kept her trust in God and made sure we had fun.  In the evening Mum would light our old fashioned oil lamp, and while my sister and I ate a snack of cheese, apples and sultanas Mum would read to us "The Old Faraway Tree" or a book similar to it. To my sister and I this was really special and we actually saw it as Mum giving us a treat,  we never saw it as having to go without something, because Mum never presented it as such.  That time is probably up there in the top ten of my favourite family times!  I have learnt from Mum to keep trusting God and to be satisfied in him and to see the difficulties as opportunities to grow my faith in him.

Today's post is dedicated to my Mum with grateful thanks for all she means to me and for being my good friend. 

To Think About:
What have you learnt from your mother or from one who was a "mother" to you?

Find some way to let her know how much you have appreciated the influence she has had on your life, e.g. send her a card telling her what you learnt from her and what she means to you, take her out to lunch, have a day out together.  If she is not around anymore, why not write out a prayer in your journal thanking God for her and for the ways she has been a blessing to you.

To any women readers: who may God want you to be a "mother" to?  Ask God to help you to be the mother he is calling you to be, whether it's to your own children, your grandchildren, a young woman at church, or someone else.


Friday, 21 March 2014

Hearing From God

Dear Friends,

Last Sunday morning at church I preached on 'Hearing from God'. Whenever I preach I know that what I'm sharing is as much for me as it is for those who are listening.  God really made that very clear to me that very afternoon. I based the message on 1 Samuel 3:1-4:1 and shared how we need to have the same attitude as Samuel, who, when he realised God was speaking to him said "Speak, your servant is listening." (v10 NLT).  I shared that if we are really listening to God then we will act on what he says to us no matter how hard it may be.

Jason and I had a decision to make and we had been seeking God for the answer. That afternoon, as we chatted over a cup of tea, Jason shared what he thought God was saying.  He said there was a part of him that didn't want to follow through on it, but he couldn't get away from what he felt God was telling him, and God had brought it back to him as I'd been preaching that morning.

To say I was surprised by what Jason thought God was saying to him is an understatement.  I was unprepared for what Jason had to say especially as it didn't make a lot of sense from a human perspective.  Because we both see our marriage as a partnership and the decision we needed to make would affect us both, he wanted us to come to a joint decision.  I agreed that I would take a couple more days to pray and consider what God was saying to us.

That afternoon as I read my daily bible reading God drew my attention to one particular verse which appeared to confirm what God had already said to Jason.  The following morning as I had my quiet time with God I was reading an email devotion from "Girlfriends in God".  The writer referred to the following verses: Luke 5:4-5 "When he (Jesus) had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” Simon answered, 'Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.'" (NIV)

What Jesus was telling Simon Peter to do did not make a lot of sense to him, fishermen fished at night not during the day, so what Jesus was saying just didn't seem wise or good advice.  Peter and John were the fishermen, they were experienced in their jobs, they knew what to do without being told it.  Yet, despite having fished all night and catching nothing, despite everything saying to the contrary, they agreed to do what made no sense because they had heard the voice of Jesus and chose to do what he was asking them to do.  It meant letting go of what they knew to be right humanly speaking and taking a step of faith.

I believe God was using that example to say to me that Jason had heard correctly, that despite what we know when we look at our circumstances, despite our situation seeming to indicate the contrary, we were to listen to God's voice, trust him and be obedient to him by taking that step of faith.

So, even though it was difficult, Jason and I agreed together that we were hearing from God and that we were to take the appropriate action of obedience. 

I believe it brings God pleasure when any of his children pay attention to his voice and demonstrate their trust in him by their obedience.  Our obedience positions us to hear God speak to us again and again and I believe that being in the centre of his will is the best place we can possibly be.

To Think About:
Take some time to read the whole of that story in Luke 5:1-11.  Is there something God wants to say to you through it?

Read 1 Samuel 3:1-4:1.  What can you learn from Samuel's example?

When you hear from God what might stop you from stepping out in faith and obedience?


Friday, 14 March 2014

Trust to Luck or Trust in God?

Dear Friends,

Ever had one of those times when it seems that one thing after another goes wrong? 

At the end of last year our heating broke down and we needed to call the plumber.  Early on in this year Jason's car had a service as it had a major problem, we thought we had it all sorted when, in only a matter of days, another problem with the car surfaced so it needed fixing again and then last Sunday it broke down as Jason and my son, Josh were leaving church after the morning service.  I couldn't believe it when Jason rang me to let me know what had happened and to ask me to come and pick them up as his car was going nowhere!

I was annoyed to have something else go wrong, especially when we had anticipated an enjoyable afternoon with friends.  Like I said, it was one thing after another and I'd had enough!  Where was God in all this?  How could he let this happen?  Didn't he know the affect it was having on us to cope with one problem after another?  I was thoroughly fed up and discouraged.  Jason, on the other hand, had a great attitude in it all, at least one of us did.

When the breakdown truck (finally!) arrived, the guy said to Jason more than once how lucky we were.  If Jason had been driving at a fast speed when it happened, the back of the car could have broken right off causing a terrible accident.  When I heard that, my perspective on it all changed.  Not because I believe in luck, chance or fate or anything like that but because it made me realise that God really was in it all.  He was watching over us, keeping us safe and protecting us from real harm.  If God hadn't been with us I dread to think what could have happened. 

He knows exactly what he is doing and he knows just how much trials and difficulties to allow into our lives. "For no temptation (no trial regarded as enticing to sin), [no matter how it comes or where it leads] has overtaken you and laid hold on you that is not common to man [that is, no temptation or trial has come to you that is beyond human resistance and that is not adjusted and adapted and belonging to human experience, and such as man can bear]. But God is faithful [to His Word and to His compassionate nature], and He [can be trusted] not to let you be tempted and tried and assayed beyond your ability and strength of resistance and power to endure, but with the temptation He will [always] also provide the way out (the means of escape to a landing place), that you may be capable and strong and powerful to bear up under it patiently." 1 Corinthians 10:13 (AMP)  

Sometimes, when we go through trials and difficulties it's hard to believe that God is with us, we feel he's deserted us, yet this experience reminded me that God is always there, that he is working behind the scenes, watching over us and protecting us.  God oversees everything that is happening and he is in control.  We may not know it as we don't always see what he is doing, we don't always realise it, but that doesn't change the truth of it and this brings me so much comfort.  Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 "17 For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! 18 So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever." (NLT)

God is watching over us all the time, sometimes we can see him working in the situation and at other times when we don't see it, he is working in it just the same.  The Psalmist wrote in Psalm 121:3-5  "He will not let you stumble; the one who watches over you will not slumber.  Indeed, he who watches over Israel never slumbers or sleeps. The Lord himself watches over you!  The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade." (NLT)  These verses apply to us today as much as they did when they were written for the Israelites.

I'm glad God reminded me of these things recently, I just need to keep remembering them, especially when I'm faced with another difficulty or trial. I need to trust and believe in him, focusing my attention on him, rather than on what is happening around me.  Psalm 20:7 "Some trust in chariots and some in horses, (or in cars or other things) but we trust in the name of the Lord our God." (NIV)

To Think About:
What does it mean to you to know that God is always watching over you?

Have you had experience of God working in your life behind the scenes?

Are you able to trust God in the midst of difficulties? What can help you to keep trusting in God?


Friday, 7 March 2014

Why Now, God?

Dear Friends,

While trying to come to terms with the diagnosis that I was suffering with M.E I can remember asking God "Why now?"  Why now when I'm in the early years of marriage to Jason and we are still adjusting to the relationship, why now when I'm busy with church activities, why now when, in my 20s, I should be fit and healthy and able to go out to work and make a financial contribution to our marriage.  Now is just not a good time to have to deal with a long term illness.

I didn't realise it at the time but what I was actually saying to God was: "You know what, you've got it wrong, I shouldn't be ill now, you've made a mistake and I'm going to tell you why you're wrong."  I thought I knew what was best for my life, surely I knew better than God what I needed and when I needed it.  I had forgotten that God is my Creator and I am his created one, that he is the potter and I am the clay.  "And yet, O Lord, you are our Father.  We are the clay, and you are the potter.  We all are formed by your hand." Isaiah 64:8 (NLT) 
God used the example of a potter and clay to say this to Jeremiah: "'Up on your feet! Go to the potter’s house. When you get there, I’ll tell you what I have to say.'  So I went to the potter’s house, and sure enough, the potter was there, working away at his wheel. Whenever the pot the potter was working on turned out badly, as sometimes happens when you are working with clay, the potter would simply start over and use the same clay to make another pot.  Then God’s Message came to me: 'Can’t I do just as this potter does, people of Israel?' God’s Decree! 'Watch this potter. In the same way that this potter works his clay, I work on you, people of Israel.'" Jeremiah 18:1-6 (The Message)
God is the potter and you and I are the clay.  God, the potter, shapes us according to his plan and even before he begins shaping he knows his intended outcome.  He has a purpose for each of us and so shapes and reshapes us using what he wants to make us fit for that purpose.  He knows what is best for us because he created us and because he loves us.  So he works on us, moulding, bending, shaping and transforming.
One day God answered my "Why now?" with a question for me.  He said if not now, then when?  As I considered this question of when (in my opinion) it would be a good time, God helped me to understand that there is never a 'good time' to face a long term illness.  Just as there is never a good time for your husband to say he doesn't love you anymore and for him to walk out on you, there's never a good time to be told the cancer which you thought was in remission has returned, there's never a good time for your teenage daughter to come home after school one day and tell you she's pregnant, there's never a good time to face bankruptcy, there's never a good time to face any kind of trial or difficulty.  
God has shown me that although there is never a good time to go through difficulty, that there is a right time to go through it and that right time is known only to God.  He's the one who knows the end from the beginning and he's the one who holds time in his hands.  God says "'I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come.  I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’" Isaiah 46:10 (NIV)  When I know the truth that God is love and he loves me, that he is good and wants only the best for me, that he has everything under control, then I can begin to put my trust in him, I can rest in him knowing that if God is allowing me to go through this difficult trial then it is the right time for me to go through it, even if I never understand why. I can have the security of knowing that I will never have to go through it alone, he will be with me every step of the way.  Not only can I lean on his promise to be with me, I know that he will also give me the strength and grace I need to be an overcomer.

If you know and love God, then whatever trial you are going through has first been Father-filtered by him.  What do I mean by that?  I mean that it has passed through the loving hands of God our Father who knows just how much we can handle, if only we will place ourselves in his loving care. 
A better question for me to ask God is not "Why now?" but "What now?"  During the trial how can I glorify God? How do I live in such a way so as to not waste the experience?  It doesn't mean I'm resigned to the difficult situation, that I lose hope of life ever changing, it does, however, mean that I accept it. I accept that God knows what he's doing even if I don't know.  It means I willingly hand over the control of my life to him and I trust him with everything. Only when I understand that God loves me, that he wants the best for me, that his purpose is not to bring me down but to build me up, am I able to accept that all that comes into my life, whether good or bad, comes just at the right time. 

To Think About: 
If you're in the midst of a trial why not tell God everything, your thoughts and your feelings, be completely honest with him.  By doing so, you will be opening up an opportunity for him to reveal himself to you in a deeper way, you will connect with him in a way that perhaps you've never known before.

What have you learned about yourself and about God during a trial or when you've looked back over it?

Have you come to the point when you can say to God "What now?"

During the coming week take time to meditate on 1 Peter 1:6-7 "So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honour on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world." (NLT)