Friday, 21 November 2014

With God, Preparation Time is Not a Waste of Time

Dear Friends,

Many years ago I knew that God was directing me to train as a junior school teacher, and I was confident of his guiding hand in choosing the right college for me. I knew with certainty that this was what God wanted for me and I had no doubt that at the end of my training God would also lead me to the school he wanted me to teach in.

However, at the end of the training there was no job for me, I worked voluntarily in a school and as a supply teacher but no full-time job as a teacher opened up.  I found this so strange as I had been convinced that this was God's call on my life.  What was the point of all that training if there was no work at the end of it?  Wasn't it just a waste of four years of my life? 

Then when I became ill I never imagined that the illness would continue through most of my 20s and all of my 30s.  They were years when really I should have been in my prime, with plenty of health, strength and energy.  Such a waste!  All of that time when I could have been so productive, yet the reality was I could do very little.

However, God sees things so differently to the way we see things.  I believe that with God, none of our past experiences are wasted.

Yes, I still believe that it was God's will for me to go to teacher training college, but I also now know that his purpose for this time was different to my purpose. His purpose, as I moved away from home, as I experienced four years of further education, was that I would be prepared and equipped for what he wanted me to do in the next season of my life.  As a result I learned much that enabled me to step into my ministry at church and my ministry as a wife and mother.

God never saw my years of illness as wasted time as I did.  He was actually using it as a time of preparation. To prepare me for what he was calling me to do next.  I'm certainly not the same person I was before my illness, because all the time he has been changing me, teaching me, shaping me and equipping me for his service.

In the Bible, individuals often needed to go through a time of preparation before they were ready to be used by God.  For example, for Joseph it was 13 years of working as a slave and also experiencing imprisonment before he was ready to step into what God was calling him to.  In Psalm 105:16-22 we read "16 He (God) called for a famine on the land of Canaan, cutting off its food supply. 17 Then he sent someone to Egypt ahead of them - Joseph, who was sold as a slave. 18 They bruised his feet with fetters and placed his neck in an iron collar. 19 Until the time came to fulfil his dreams, the Lord tested Joseph’s character. 20 Then Pharaoh sent for him and set him free; the ruler of the nation opened his prison door. 21 Joseph was put in charge of all the king’s household; he became ruler over all the king’s possessions. 22 He could instruct the king’s aides as he pleased and teach the king’s advisers." (NLT)  The words in verse 19 show that God's time of testing Joseph was a time to prepare him for the role God had purposed for him.  These years were not wasted ones.

Moses' time of preparation took 40 years in the land of Midian before God called him to lead God's own people, the Israelites, out of Egypt, see Acts 7:20-3830 “Forty years later, in the desert near Mount Sinai, an angel appeared to Moses in the flame of a burning bush...Now go, for I am sending you back to Egypt...  Through the angel who appeared to him in the burning bush, God sent Moses to be their ruler and saviour. 36 And by means of many wonders and miraculous signs, he led them out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, and through the wilderness for forty years.  Acts 7: 30, 34b, 35b-36 (NLT)

David's time of preparation included working as a shepherd boy, his anointing by Samuel the prophet, and then spending years on the run from King Saul. God took him through 15 years or so to ensure that he was prepared and equipped to become King of Judah. Those years of preparation were not wasted years, they were necessary so that when God's time came he was ready to be a good leader of God's people.

Then, of course, we have the example of Jesus, who spent years in preparation so that at around the age of 30 years he was ready to step in to the ministry God had called him to.

Perhaps as you look back over your own life you remember certain times, years which, from your point of view, just seem to be wasted years. However, from God's perspective, they've not been wasted years at all, they've been times which he has used to change you, equip you and prepare you for the next season in your life.

In Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 we learn that there is a time for everything, "For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven." Ecclesiastes 3:1 (NLT) and in verse 11 we read "God has made everything beautiful for its own time." (NLT) I just love that last sentence, don't you?  It gives me such an inner thrill, to know that God is working in my life, working in your life, and he knows the season you and I need to be in right now, whether it's a season of preparation or a season of action, whichever it is for you and me, God is the one who is making it beautiful.  It may be hard for us to understand or believe right now, but that doesn't make this statement any less true for each one of us.

To Think About:
Have you grieved over what you believed were your wasted years?  How would your thoughts and feelings change if you saw these years from God's perspective? 
When have you experienced times of preparation?  What do you think God was wanting to teach you?  Do you know what he was preparing you for?  If not, ask him to show you.

What season are you in at the moment?  Can you see how God is making everything beautiful for its own time?


Friday, 14 November 2014

Pass It On

Dear Friends,

With the help of a friend and also YouTube I have been learning how to crochet.  I have learnt how to crochet a dishcloth, and I'm planning that my next project will be to crochet a scarf. 

I have discovered that I find it easier to learn if someone will teach me by showing me what to do and then give me the opportunity to try do it with them.  I am then ready to try it on my own.  Although there are a variety of ways to learn I believe we learn best in the context of relationships.  We are learning all the time, from the moment we are born we learn by observing our parents and other family members and we also learn by participation, by trying an activity together. 

Once we have learnt something we can then pass it on to others.  I still iron shirts in the way my Mum taught me, and have passed that skill on to my son, Joshua, (having said that it's been some time since he ironed one of his own shirts!)  I can also remember teaching Josh how to tie his shoelaces and discovered the best way for him to grasp this was to sit side by side with a shoe in front of us both and to tie them simultaneously.  Once he had mastered it we both felt a sense of satisfaction over his achievement. 

This same principle of learning something new and then teaching it to someone else is also a part, or should be a part, of our Christian life.  A good way to learn about being a Christian is again in the context of relationships.  We can learn from one another and then when we have understood something new, we can then have the joy of passing it on to another. 

I can learn from a more mature Christian, someone who has had more experience and walked with Jesus for longer than I have.  For example, if I am struggling over a particular issue of temptation, I can go to my mature Christian friend, who can tell me how they overcame, and they can give me encouragement and offer to stand with me to support me, and bring me through it too.  If I'm struggling with my challenging teenage children I can ask her for parental advice, ask her for suggestions of how she parented her own teenagers.  As I observe my friend in her Christian walk, I can learn from her how she responds to people, the way she uses her resources such as time and spiritual gifts etc.  Paul wrote in his letter to the Philippians, "Dear brothers and sisters, pattern your lives after mine, and learn from those who follow our example." Philippians 3:17 (NLT)  As we watch and learn from others we can begin to put it into practice in our own lives.

Anything I have learned as a Christian I can share with a friend who is younger in the faith.  I can model the Christian life to my friend, so for example, I can share with her the value there is in a regular quiet time with God and how I connect with God through his word and through prayer, I can model what a Christian marriage looks like and in group settings, I can teach others about prayer as I model praying aloud within the group. 

In his letter to Titus, Paul gave advice to him about how to encourage more mature believers to pass on the things they have learned to younger believers. "they (older women) should teach others what is good. These older women must train the younger women to love their husbands and their children, to live wisely and be pure, to work in their homes, to do good, and to be submissive to their husbands. Then they will not bring shame on the word of God. In the same way, encourage the young men to live wisely. And you yourself must be an example to them by doing good works of every kind." Titus 2:3b-7 (NLT)

You can see from this passage in Titus that teaching and learning should be happening in more aspects of our life than just spiritual matters, it's actually for every area of our life, including our relationships, our work, our ministry, our home life etc.

We can learn from one another and teach each other as we walk together side by side on our Christian journey. We are to "Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity."  1 Timothy 4:12b (NLT)  

We  need to watch for opportunities to teach others, both by the things we say and share with them, and by our actions and responses to others and our circumstances.  We need to do this in a sensitive, encouraging and supportive way so that others feel comfortable about coming to us for advice or help, and will want to learn from us.

We also need to have a heart attitude that is humble and open to learning from others, rather than thinking we know it all and there's nothing left for anyone else to teach us. For as long as we live there will always be something new to learn. 

To Think About:
Who is there in your life you can learn from?  What have you already learned from them? In what ways could you strengthen and further develop this relationship?

Are you teachable?

Is there someone in particular God may want you to be an example to?  How can you develop this kind of relationship with this person?  Keep in mind that we learn best in the context of relationship.


Friday, 7 November 2014

It's A Girl!

Dear Friends,

I learned this morning that I have a new baby niece, Abigail, born to my sister-in-law and her husband late last night.  My sister-in-law and her husband have waited, and longed for, and prayed for a baby of their own for a long time and now they have this wonderful miracle from God.  You can imagine how the whole family are celebrating with them at this time.

We are all looking forward to seeing her for the first time, and Josh, who has a busy day at college and then is working in the evening, has only a short window of time to see her today, but we are under strict instructions not to see her without him!

Whenever I think about the birth of a child my thoughts always go to the amazing words written by David in Psalm 139:13-16 (NLT) 13 You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!  Your workmanship is marvellous—how well I know it. 15 You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. 16 You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.

Why not stop and take a moment just to think on those verses and the truths within them.  Each one of us have been lovingly created by God, and when you stop and think about the human body, we truly are remarkable. What comfort these verses give me, that no matter what others may think, believe or say about us, we are significant and precious in God's eyes. Before anyone truly knew us, before we were born, when all anyone could see with the human eye was our mother's bump growing, God knew us and was watching over us (v15).  Even with today's technology and the medical knowledge available, as much as we have come to understand about a baby in it's mother's womb, it is nothing compared to all that God knows about us. 

Today I'm celebrating, but, when it comes to God and miracles, I will never fully understand him.  My heart goes out to those who have longed for and prayed for a miracle (whatever that miracle might be) and have not received it from God.  How can that be?  Why don't we receive the miracle we hope for?  I don't know that there is any satisfactory answer to that question.  I don't know why God will grant a miracle to one person, yet not to someone else. 

But it's at times like these, when God doesn't act as I might hope for and long for that I remember some things about him.  That, as much as I think I know what is best for me, God really does know what is best for me.  That God is good, he does good and is good all of the time, it's who he is.  Therefore, whether he answers my prayer or not, he is still good.  That God is love, (18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Ephesians 3:18-19a NLT)  his nature is love and he is always loving in all he does, so whether he does or doesn't answer my prayer, he still loves me, the denial of a miracle is not a sign that he has removed his love from me.  Finally, I can know, with full assurance and confidence, that God is with me always, he does not leave me to face my situation on my own. God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5b (NIV)

To Think About:
What miracles have you known in your own life?  I'll start you off with one - Jesus willingly took all my sins on the cross, he took the punishment I deserved, that I might know God and have a relationship with him.

Have you prayed for something for many years and seen God answer that prayer with what you asked for?

What about when you don't receive the answer you've hoped for?  What has been your response?  Have you learned something new or gained something else instead?  Has it made a difference to your relationship with him?