Friday, 29 August 2014

Coming Home

Dear Friends,

I have a close relationship with my Mum.  She lives just a 15 minute walk from my home making it easy to pop in and see her, we often share lunch and a chat together once a week, and if we don't see each other then we speak  regularly on the phone or send each other text messages.

Being the summer season, over the last few weeks either my parents have been away on holiday or I've been away with my family.  During those weeks I found I really missed her as we weren't able to connect in the same way.  We did manage to send a text or two during that time, but this didn't make up for the lack of real, meaningful conversations.  It was so good to come back from our holiday and meet up a day or two later to have a proper sharing time over a cup of tea.

I also found that while I was on holiday I faced a similar situation in my relationship with God.

I know it's not the same for everyone, but I find I tend to thrive and live life best when I have structure and routine.  It's within that structure and routine that I have a regular quiet time with God, time when I can really connect with him and have deep, meaningful times of sharing with him.

But when I'm away on holiday structure and routine tend to go out the window, making it much harder for me to have those times of one-to-one connection with God my Father. During the holiday my relationship with him was based more on snatched moments with him, short snippets of time in his word, in prayer and listening to worship CDs as we travelled by car.  The connection and close relationship I have with him was just not there in the same way, and I found myself really missing him in a similar way to how I'd been missing my mum.  These feelings really made me look forward to going home and returning to him.

Now, I knew he was still with me on holiday, he hadn't removed himself from me, because of his promise to be with me always, as it says in Hebrews 13:5 “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (NIV), but in the circumstances I had become somewhat removed from him, and in doing so our relationship felt more distant.

I could have beaten myself up over this, told myself what a failure I was as a Christian etc, but I don't think that would have been the best response from me.  Instead, the time apart revealed to me the close relationship I do desire and need with God and it made me long all the more for coming home, and coming home to him, as it were.  I'm so thankful that God is the one who gave me a desire for him in the first place.  By his Holy Spirit he gives each one of us the desire to know him for ourselves.  I imagined him with his arms open wide (like the father in the parable of the lost son, in Luke 15:11-31) and of him enfolding me in his arms as I ran to him, telling him how I'd missed him and his response of "I've missed you too, my daughter, welcome back, welcome home."

I don't believe God stands over us in judgement, waiting to condemn us the moment we slip up or fail to behave as we think a Christian "should" behave.  "So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus." Romans 8:1 (NLT) Rather he stands looking at us with love in his eyes, waiting for us to re-connect with him, to pursue him and an intimate relationship with him.  As it says in James 4:8 "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you." (NKJV)

It's been so good to come home, to come home to God, to spend quality time with him and his word.  To once again be able to share with him on a deeper level, to share with him the things on my heart and to just be with him.  For me, coming home to God, feels so right, it's just where I need to be, it fills me with a sense of joy, peace, safety and security.  The Psalmist in Psalm 119 writes about his close relationship with God and his love for God's word.  It's a long psalm but well worth reading.  I particularly like the Message paraphrase of Psalm 119:169-176 which I think fits so well with the things I've been sharing in this week's blog. "Let my cry come right into your presence, God; provide me with the insight that comes only from your Word.  Give my request your personal attention, rescue me on the terms of your promise. Let praise cascade off my lips; after all, you’ve taught me the truth about life!  And let your promises ring from my tongue; every order you’ve given is right. Put your hand out and steady me since I’ve chosen to live by your counsel. I’m homesick, God, for your salvation; I love it when you show yourself!  Invigorate my soul so I can praise you well, use your decrees to put iron in my soul. And should I wander off like a lost sheep—seek me! I’ll recognize the sound of your voice."

To Think About:
Has there been a time in your life when you have felt that you've really been missing God in your life?  What has been the reason for this?  Was it an unintentional drifting away on your part? Were you replacing your relationship with him with something else?  Had you deliberately distanced yourself from him?

Do you sense God saying to you "I've missed you, welcome back, welcome home my child"?  If so, what will your response be?

What does "Coming home" to God feel like to you?


Friday, 15 August 2014

How Do You Make The Most Of Your Time?

Dear Friends,

Where does the time go?  Have you ever found yourself saying that?  I'm sure most of you have said that on more than one occasion.  I had planned a relaxing week when I was home alone whilst Jason and our kids were away at camp.  I knew that if I was going to feel at my best so that I could really enjoy my holiday with my family, I needed to be careful the week prior to our holiday (the week they were all at camp).

But before I knew it the first day had gone by and I was on to my second day, and frankly I wasn't feeling particularly relaxed!  Instead of relaxing I kept noticing things that I thought needed to be done, such as hoovering, or changing the sheets on the children's beds, or giving the living room an intense dust and polish. I know if Jason were here he would have told me not to bother, but he wasn't and so there was no-one to stop me.  I do tend to put pressure on myself to do things that aren't always necessary.  I tell myself they can't be put off, that they need to be done now. I've been there before, where I've literally collapsed under it all, when my body said enough is enough and the outcome was M.E. 

How quick I am to return to that path despite years of trying to learn to live differently.  So far, there is no definite cure for M.E, but there is a way of managing it better and that is by pacing yourself.  Learning to pace yourself is not easy for most of us, but it is actually an important life skill which I believe we can all benefit from.  I don't think I would have ever begun to learn how to pace had it not been for living with this long term illness. 

I think Martha was a woman who found it hard to pace herself: "Now while they were on their way, it occurred that Jesus entered a certain village, and a woman named Martha received and welcomed Him into her house. 39 And she had a sister named Mary, who seated herself at the Lord’s feet and was listening to His teaching. 40 But Martha [overly occupied and too busy] was distracted with much serving; and she came up to Him and said, Lord, is it nothing to You that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me [to lend a hand and do her part along with me]! 41 But the Lord replied to her by saying, Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; 42 There is need of only one or but a few things. Mary has chosen the good portion [that which is to her advantage], which shall not be taken away from her." Luke 10:38-42 (Amp)

I want to make the most of my time, the most of my day - I really do, but running myself ragged on a list of things to do is not actually making the most of my time.  Pacing myself is a way of making the most of my time and energy.

Reflecting on this as I write this blog, gives me time to stop and think, to consider what's really important and what's unnecessary pressure I'm putting on myself. 

We all need times of relaxation and reflection on how we are living, to consider whether we really are making the most of our time.  You may find it helpful as I share what has come out of my moments of reflection.
1. My priority is my time alone with God, to have real, deep meaningful conversations with him, and what better time is there for me than when I'm completely on my own at home with few distractions.  If that happens to be the only thing I feel I've accomplished in my day then it's time well spent.  Jesus often made sure he had time alone with his father at the start of the day, for example we read in Mark 1:35 "Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray." (NLT)  If Jesus needed to do this, how much more do I?  How much more do you?

2. I need times of complete rest through the day so that I manage my health and the strength and energy I have. That means total bed rest, resting both body and mind (not reading or listening to music).  I know I need this, but I can find myself resenting this, feeling like I could be "doing something", but if I re-train the way I think, I can use the time positively, because I know it makes me more productive in the long run and I can also consider it as a time to just rest in God's presence and allow him to restore me, body, mind and soul.  "The Lord is my Shepherd [to feed, guide, and shield me], I shall not lack. He makes me lie down in [fresh, tender] green pastures; He leads me beside the still and restful waters. He refreshes and restores my life (my self);" Psalm 23:1-3a (AMP) We all need to build rest times into our day, for you it may not necessarily be bed rest, but it may be putting your feet up for a few moments with a cup of tea in your hand.

3. Rather than try to rush through tasks and push myself past my limitations I need to remind myself to slow down, to give myself permission to go at a slower pace and have regular breaks between tasks, even if it's just a 5 min break.  We all need to know our limitations and to work within them, to be familiar with the way our body works and not work against it.

4. To decide that I won't keep working until it's almost time for bed, but to have a cut off time so that after that point I do something for me whether it's put my feet up and read my kindle, or meet up with friends etc.  One reason why some of us have difficulty sleeping at night is because of the pace we have gone during the day and not giving ourselves time to unwind and relax before we go to bed.

5. To ask God to help me make the most of my time and my day.  So often I find myself working out how I think the day/time will be best spent, when actually God knows how I can best use my day, so I need to approach him honestly and openly, with the intention of following through with how he directs me, rather than asking him and then just going ahead anyway with what I think needs to be done.  "He guides me along right paths, bringing honour to his name." Psalm 23:3b (NLT)

6. Sometimes it's about looking at my priorities and asking God to help me assess which ones I continue with and which ones I am to lay down or not to concern myself with for this particular day.  I can so easily get caught up in the trap of thinking I've spent the day well when I've ticked off a large number of tasks on my list, when really the effectiveness of my day is not down to quantity but quality.

7.  With not being responsible for my husband and children for the week I found myself replacing the time I would usually spend on doing things for them, with other things to do, and perhaps this is not what God wants, perhaps he is saying, this is time I've given you, it's my gift to you, not to use up on other tasks but spare time just for you, and you don't need to feel guilty because I've made sure your family are being cared for where they are. I'm giving you this extra time for rest and relaxation, use it this way and you will be using it as time well invested.

You may find it helpful over the coming week or two to reflect on how you are using your time and how pacing yourself could be a way forward in helping you to make the most of your time.  I always find that having time alone with God near the beginning of the day helps to set me off on the right foot and then it's disciplining myself to keep in step with him which helps me to continue to use my time wisely during the rest of the day.

To Think About:
Rather than planning out what you think needs to be done today or this week, spend time asking God what he wants you to do.

Are your priorities God's priorities or is there some rearranging you need to do?

How can you build the life skill of pacing into your life?  Can you see how you would benefit from it?


Friday, 8 August 2014

Ready and Waiting?

Dear Friends,

These last few weeks have been busy with preparations and planning, firstly for the Youth Camp that both children have been on this week, and which Jason also went on as one of the camp leaders, and then a day or so after they get back we are off to Spain for a holiday.  So there's been much washing to do, sorting out what needs to be packed, leaving keys with our neighbour for them to take care of our fish, giving our rabbits a holiday at Jason's parents home, making sure our flights are booked, that we have car hire whilst in Spain, leaving our home in a reasonable state to come home to (strangely enough I'm the only one who seems to see this as a priority. Neither of the kids could understand why I asked them the morning they went to camp to make sure their bedrooms were tidy before they left!)  Although there is much to do, I am glad that I'm not solely reasonable for everything.  All the planning and preparations pay off in the end because it means we are ready to enjoy the holiday and make the most of it.

There's something that's far more important for each one of us to be ready for, and that's Jesus' second coming.  Are you making plans and preparing for that day?  Paul's two letters to the Thessalonians gave them valuable teaching on Jesus coming again because these young Christians had become confused.  Paul refers to this day as The Day of the Lord and he tells them in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 "Now concerning how and when all this will happen, dear brothers and sisters, we don’t really need to write you. For you know quite well that the day of the Lord’s return will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night... But you aren’t in the dark about these things, dear brothers and sisters, and you won’t be surprised when the day of the Lord comes like a thief. For you are all children of the light and of the day; we don’t belong to darkness and night. So be on your guard, not asleep like the others. Stay alert and be clearheaded...  But let us who live in the light be clearheaded, protected by the armour of faith and love, and wearing as our helmet the confidence of our salvation. For God chose to save us through our Lord Jesus Christ, not to pour out his anger on us. 10 Christ died for us so that, whether we are dead or alive when he returns, we can live with him forever. 11 So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing." (NLT)

Some had got the idea that because Jesus could return any day, they didn't need to do anything, all they needed to do was wait for his return.  Paul wrote to correct them of the error in their thinking in 2 Thessalonians 3:11-13  "11 Yet we hear that some of you are living idle lives, refusing to work and meddling in other people’s business. 12 We command such people and urge them in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and work to earn their own living. 13 As for the rest of you, dear brothers and sisters, never get tired of doing good." (NLT)  He tells them that knowing Jesus could return at any time means that they need to be living out their faith, doing the work they have been called to do, loving one another and following the teaching they have been given.

Don't make the mistake of thinking that now you are a Christian there's nothing you need to do, that you can just wait for Jesus to return as you are secure in your salvation.  Just as our family have been looking forward to our holiday and have spent time getting ready for it, we can do the same with waiting to see Jesus. We can look forward to the day when we will be with Jesus in heaven, and let me tell you, that day is going to be far better than any amazing holiday you can look forward to!  There are also things we need to do to be ready for this, you see, while you and I are still on the earth, there are reasons for us to be here, one reason is that we are to share the good news about Jesus with those who don't yet know him for themselves.  We want them to be ready for Jesus too, we don't want them to miss out on knowing they are loved and forgiven by God and that he has a place for them in heaven too, as long as they will turn to him. Jesus has given each one of us this command, when he says “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  Matthew 28:18-20 (NLT) and the other reason is that the Holy Spirit is working in us to make us more like Jesus, so that we are ready for heaven.  Paul writes in Philippians 1:6 "And I am convinced and sure of this very thing, that He Who began a good work in you will continue until the day of Jesus Christ [right up to the time of His return], developing [that good work] and perfecting and bringing it to full completion in you." (Amp).

The following verses is one of Paul's prayers for the Thessalonians and as we wait and prepare ourselves for Jesus's coming we can pray this for ourselves and one another, "So we keep on praying for you, asking our God to enable you to live a life worthy of his call. May he give you the power to accomplish all the good things your faith prompts you to do. 12 Then the name of our Lord Jesus will be honoured because of the way you live, and you will be honoured along with him. This is all made possible because of the grace of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ.1 Thessalonians 1:11-12 (NLT)

We may not know when Jesus will come again or when we will meet him in heaven but the bible teaches us that we can and should be ready and waiting for that day.  Let's not choose to wait as some of the Thessalonians were doing but let's live out each day with purpose, let's make the most of every opportunity we have, actively waiting for Jesus.

To Think About:
How are you readying yourself for Jesus' return?

How are you living as you wait for him?  Are you living "a life worthy of his call"?  Is there anything in your life which is stopping you from living worthy of his calling and which is not honouring to God?

I really like Paul's prayer in 1 Thessalonians 1:11-12.  This week make some time to meditate on those verses and ask God how you can apply them to your life.


Friday, 1 August 2014

Out Of Your Comfort Zone

Dear Friends,

My family seem to be getting used to me using family experiences in my blogging.  We had a family get-together on Saturday and Josh, my son, said to me, "You can use this in your blog!"  So here goes...

My sister, her husband and my niece came to spend Saturday with us, and as the weather was lovely we decided to go to the beach.  Jason and our children very quickly got in the water and started swimming.  It took me a little longer!  Even though the water was cold, I was happy paddling in shallow water where I was in my comfort zone.  However, my family kept encouraging me to come further in and join them.  After a few minutes I was in up to my middle, but they still said I wasn't in deep enough yet, telling me that I would feel a lot warmer once I had my shoulders in too.  My sister was cheering me on from the edge of the water.  I really wanted to do it, if they could do it, so could I, but it was sooo cold!  Eventually I made it all the way in and I was so glad I had.  I felt like I had really achieved something.  It's been some years since I've been right in the sea.  My sister was very proud of me and said seeing me go all the way in made her wish she'd also brought her swimming costume.

In our Christian journey we all need people who are with us, who support us and encourage us to keep going and who will also cheer us on from the side-lines. There are times when the journey is challenging, when God wants to take us out of our comfort zone and to a place where we can be used more by him.  Sometimes we want to stay where we are, we'd rather just be paddling where it feels safer and we feel more in control instead of letting go and depending on him.  But when we see others who have chosen to follow God go further in their walk with him, it encourages us to go deeper and further.  They have already paved the way and shown that with God it is possible to accept the challenge to move out of the comfort zone.

Not only do we have other Christians around us to support and encourage us, we also have the example of many ordinary people in the bible who answered God's call and moved out of their comfort zone to do extra-ordinary things for him.  Here are just a few examples: Ruth went from young widow to a descendant of King David and Jesus (the book of Ruth), Deborah from wife and mother to Israel's only female judge (Judges 4&5), David from shepherd boy to King (1 Samuel 16, 2 Samuel 2&5, 1 Chronicles 11), Amos from shepherd to God's prophet (the book of Amos) and Esther from orphan to Queen (in the book of Esther).

God doesn't expect us to stand still in our relationship with him, he doesn't want us to settle for less, he wants us to discover more, to experience all that he has for us, to live extra-ordinary lives.  If I had not gone in as deep as I had in the sea, I know that when we left the beach I would have regretted it, that I would have spent time thinking "If only..."  When it comes to my relationship with God, I don't want to live with the regret of things I didn't do when he asked them of me, to have thoughts of "If only..."  Whenever God says to me "Come, follow me, let's move further and deeper, this is what I want for you."  I want to hear his call, accept the challenge and move out of my comfort zone.  I want my response to be like Matthew's when Jesus called him in Matthew 9:9 "As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at his tax collector’s booth. 'Follow me and be my disciple,' Jesus said to him. So Matthew got up and followed him." (NLT)

The Christian life was never meant to be lived alone, that's why God made his church, we are made for relationships, to connect with others. Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:11 "So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing." (NLT)  Each of us need people around us who will encourage and support us, who will stand with us, and cheer us on from the side-lines as we follow God's call on our lives.  Likewise, we are to stand with others and encourage them as they move on with God and as they make themselves available to be used by God.  In Hebrews the writer tells us "let us consider and give attentive, continuous care to watching over one another, studying how we may stir up (stimulate and incite) to love and helpful deeds and noble activities," Hebrews 10:24 (Amp).  The writer of Hebrews also tells us that having many examples of people of faith who have gone before us gives us the courage and the confidence in God to do the same, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us." Hebrews 12:1 (NLT) 

We can also be an example to others who may not be as far on in their journey as we are.  As they watch us to see how we respond to God, as they see us go further and deeper with God, they realise it really is possible to move out of their comfort zone and live for God.   As they see us trust God and step out in answer to God's call it inspires confidence in them that they can do the same.

To Think About:
Consider the image of going out in the water as a description of your relationship with God.  Are you "paddling" with him or are you "all in"? 

What is your response to Jesus saying to you  "Follow me and be my disciple"?

Is God calling you to move out of your comfort zone?  Have you given him an answer?