Saturday, 24 October 2015

Take Time to Listen

Dear Friends,

When you believe God has placed a desire in your heart or given you a dream, it can be really hard to wait patiently for his timing.  Then, when you sense that he is telling you now you can go ahead, it can be easy to get carried away with it.  At least, I can find that so and when God says "Yes" I just want to get on with it straight away so that it happens tomorrow at the earliest, not months ahead! 

Jason has been with me on this journey and I was talking with him recently about what I felt God was telling me was the next stage.  Before I had got very far, he said one sentence which I interpreted as meaning that he didn't think now was the right time, and I thought he was being negative and unsupportive.  It's amazing how quickly your brain starts to process your thoughts, sift through them all and come up with a response almost before the sentence is out of the other person's mouth.  I was just about to either react badly to what Jason was saying or I was going to put my fingers in my ears, as it were, and not listen to anything more he had to say.  After all he was wrong and I was right and he didn't have a clue.  Have you ever been there or done that?  But somehow, God managed to quickly get my attention, stop me in my tracks and told me not to say anything, but just listen to Jason, be open to what he had to say and hear him out before I responded.

As I listened to Jason I realised that I had completely misunderstood what he was saying and I was so glad God had stopped me from responding too quickly.  What in fact Jason was saying was that he was in total support of what I felt God was calling me to do, but that there was actually another, possibly better way of going about it.  Rather than rushing into it, I needed to plan and organise it properly, so that the outcome would be the best one it could be.  He was able to look at it objectively because he was a little removed from it and he was able to give me some good advice and words of wisdom.  He was even willing to actively support me to make it happen. 

God knew what he was doing when he brought Jason us together.  I have certain gifts and abilities that Jason doesn't have, and Jason has many that I don't have. Both are needed in this undertaking, so we actually complement each other very well.  Jason was happy to use his gifts and abilities to help me see my dream become a reality.

This experience has reminded me once again of the verse in James 1:19 "Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry." (NLT) 

I believe God has placed people in each of our lives who have wisdom to share with us if only we will stop and take the time to listen.  It's also about being open to what someone tells us, rather than closing our mind just because it may not fit with our way of thinking.  Proverbs 19:20 "Get all the advice and instruction you can, so you will be wise the rest of your life." (NLT)  Of course, we also need discernment as we decide whether what they have just said to us is in fact in line with what God is saying, and we can have this discernment if only we ask God for it.  "If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking." James 1:5 (NLT) 

It has also reminded me how beneficial it can be to work with others.  I admit, I don't always find this easy as I like to work alone and I find it hard to delegate.  Working as a team can bring it's own share of problems but there are many advantages to working together, such as a greater mix of skills and gifting.  Paul writing to the Christians in Rome says "Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well." Romans 12:4-6 (NLT).  

In discussions, others can suggest good ideas which we had not thought of, they can bring solutions to problems and can share in the work load.  We read in Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 "Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. 10 If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble...  12 A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken." (NLT)

If you have a desire or a dream that you know God has placed in your heart, share it with a select few, those Christians whose judgement and wisdom you respect, and listen to what advice or suggestions they give you.  Keep an open heart and open mind so that God can speak to you through them.  Then again when the time is right, gather around you a team of people who you know will buy into your dream and will help to make the dream a reality.

To Think About:
How easy do you find it to be quick at listening and slow at speaking?  Who has God placed in your life you can turn to for advice and help?

What gift(s) has God given you to equip you to accomplish the desire he has placed in your heart? 

Ask God who you should approach to work alongside and with you.  God may be asking you to practice the art of delegation.

Vicki

Friday, 16 October 2015

Spiritual Training

Dear Friends,


Over the past few months I've been having trouble with a frozen shoulder.  This has caused my movements to become more and more restricted.  I have difficulty doing simple things that I've always taken for granted, such as washing my hair. The pain at times has been unbearable.

My Doctor has given me two steroid injections and some physiotherapy exercises which have to be done two to three times a day.

Now, I know these exercises look strange - if I do them in front of my family I become a source of much amusement!  (I'm so glad I can bring some joy in to their lives.)  However, I don't find the exercises enjoyable, they are painful and tedious.  But I am determined to persevere in them because in the end it will be worth it.  My shoulder will be restored and I will be able to function normally once more with no pain.  The consequence of not persevering would mean more pain, muscle weakness and a restricted life.  So I persevere with the exercises.

As I do these exercises I'm reminded of what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run [their very best to win], but only one receives the prize? Run [your race] in such a way that you may seize the prize and make it yours! 25 Now every athlete who [goes into training and] competes in the games is disciplined and exercises self-control in all things. They do it to win a crown that withers, but we [do it to receive] an imperishable [crown that cannot wither]. 26 Therefore I do not run without a definite goal; I do not flail around like one beating the air [just shadow boxing]. 27 But [like a boxer] I strictly discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached [the gospel] to others, I myself will not somehow be disqualified [as unfit for service]. (AMP)

Paul is using the example of an athlete's training to relate to our Christian life.  An athlete is disciplined and consistent in his training, he exercises self-control, develops good habits, for example where food is concerned and how he spends his time.  He is focused on his goal and shows determination and perseverance.  He knows the purpose behind his training.  The reason why he trains makes it all worth while.

Living the Christian life is also about discipline, self-control, determination, perseverance and laying aside our own interests to pursue the goal.

We can tend to have a negative view of the word "discipline" - it's linked to being told what to do by someone in authority, having to do something we don't want to do, a punishment, hard work etc.

However, when it comes to our Christian life, I don't believe that discipline is to be understood in the same way.   Spiritual discipline is more about our motives.  Our love for God motivates us to exercise discipline. Although we are motived by love and have the desire, this in itself is not enough to maintain or progress in our training.  

Jesus knew this and that's why he has given each of us the gift of his Spirit who gives us the supernatural power we need. We work in partnership with him.  If we have the will (the desire) the Holy Spirit provides the way (the power).  Some people today will pay a personal trainer in their pursuit of physical fitness.  We also have our own personal trainer - he's the Holy Spirit.

So what are the spiritual exercises we need to regularly practice?  They are such things as reading and meditating on God's Word, prayer, worship, service and more.  If we are to be spiritually fit it's not enough just to train on a Sunday morning, a once a week exercise, or even just exercise once a day.  They are things we need to exercise through the day.  We will then reap the benefits, just as doing my physio exercises need to be done several times a day so that my body will reap the benefits.  The more we train, the better life will be.

You may like to look at different spiritual disciplines over the coming weeks.  Why not spend a week on one discipline, considering how to put it in to practice so that it becomes a regular habit.  Then when you feel ready move on to another discipline. 

So we develop habits and behaviours which aid us in our spiritual growth.  The purpose is to draw closer to God and grow more like Jesus. It's the goal of every disciple (follower) of Jesus to become more like their teacher.  We do this by imitating him.  Jesus said in Luke 6:40 "Students are not greater than their teacher.  But the student who is fully trained will become like their teacher." (NLT) 

Paul not only practised discipline and was purposeful in his training, he encouraged others to do the same.  "On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness [keeping yourself spiritually fit].  For physical training is of some value, but godliness (spiritual training) is of value in everything and in every way, since it holds promise for the present life and for the life to come."  1 Timothy 4:7b-8 (AMP)

To Think About:
Meditate on 1 Corinthians 9:24-27.  How does the example Paul use relate to your Christian life?  What do you learn from this?

How spiritually fit are you? In what areas do you lack self-control and determination?  What can you do about this?  Which spiritual discipline would you like to start with as the first step in your spiritual training?

From a spiritual perspective do you train with purpose and keep focused on your goal?

Vicki





Friday, 9 October 2015

F.R.I.E.N.D.S

Dear Friends,

One evening last Summer my friend and I organised a women's evening, with the aim of strengthening and encouraging women in their friendships with other women.  As well as some fun activities we also shared a message on the qualities to look for in a friend.

Each of us, whoever we are, whatever our characters or personalities, need good friends in our lives and there is something very special about same sex friendships.  We have examples of these in the Bible, such as David and Jonathan, and Ruth and Naomi.

Using the acronym F.R.I.E.N.D.S and examples from the life of Ruth and Naomi I want to share with you what makes a good friend and how we can be a good friend too.

FUN
Laughter is important in life and we all need friends we can enjoy being with and have fun together.  "A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance."  Ecclesiastes 3:4 (NLT)

Ruth and Naomi had some enjoyable times, times when they could celebrate and laugh together. Such as when Ruth and Boaz married, and when Ruth gave birth to Naomi's grandson, Obed.

RELIABLE
"A friend loves at all times..." Proverbs 17:17a (NIV)  We need friends in our lives who are there for us, who we can depend on, who we can lean on when we go through difficult times.  Friends who are trustworthy, who we can share with on a deep, personal level and know that they won't gossip about the things we've shared.

Ruth was a loyal friend to Naomi.  She loved her in such a way that she was able to say “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. 17 Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!”  Ruth 1:16-17 (NLT)

INVESTING
A good friend puts time in to the relationship because the relationship is valuable to them.  There will be give and take in the friendship.  Rather than being one sided where one friend will do all the giving, the friendship will be a blessing and beneficial to both.  In order for the relationship to grow to a strong, deep, mature level it is important to put time into it.

Both Ruth and Naomi were invested in their friendship.  Ruth went out to work in the fields to support Naomi, and Naomi took care of the home.  They were both considerate of each others' needs.

Paul writes in Philippians 2:4 "Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too." (NLT)

ENCOURAGING/SUPPORTING
Friends can encourage and support each other as they listen, as they help bear each other’s burdens, pray for each other, build up one another and encourage each other to pursue their dreams.

"9 Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. 10 If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. 11 Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? 12 A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken."  Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (NLT)

Ruth and Naomi both experienced grief - Naomi grieved the death of her husband and two sons and Ruth grieved the death of her husband (who was also Naomi's son).  In their grief they could comfort each other and they understood what each other were going through.  They were also a support to each other as Naomi returned to Bethlehem and Ruth went with her.

NOT TOXIC
Some people can have a toxic influence on your life, for example, if they are holding on to negative emotions or attitudes, such as bitterness, unforgiveness, anger.  If we are not careful then we can become like them.

"Do not be deceived: 'Bad company ruins good morals.'" 1 Corinthians 15:33 (ESV)

Instead, we need to surround ourselves, as far as it is possible, with friends who have a positive outlook on life, who have a strong, personal relationship with God.  We need to develop healthy friendships, ones that are for our mutual good.

Naomi had had a hard life and she had experienced much sorrow, but she didn't allow any bitterness she felt to have a negaitive affect on her relationship with Ruth.  She didn't allow it to get in the way of mentoring Ruth in her Christian faith.

DE-CLUTTERING
This is about not allowing any kind of baggage to have a negative affect on our friendships.  For example, if you have been hurt in a previous relationship, ask God to help you not to take it in to a relationship with a new friend.  It can also be about dealing with anything that may have happened to upset you within the friendship, being open with each other and working through misunderstandings rather than burying them and pretending they don't exist.  It may also mean letting go of preconceived ideas about a person and getting to know who they really are.

Ruth and Naomi were from two different cultures, Naomi's followed God whereas Ruth's culture practised things which were abhorrent to the Israelites.  They both had to lay aside their cultural prejudices so that they could really get to know each other and become good friends.

SHARPENING (or ACCOUNTABILITY) 
"As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend."  Proverb 27:17 (NLT)

When iron blades are rubbed together, each becomes sharper and more effective.  This is what a healthy friendship can do for us.  You and I need friends who will hold us accountable to God's standards.  Who will have the courage and grace to confront us when we go off track.  Friends who will encourage us to discover what God's will is for us and support us in following God's will.  Friends who will encourage us to grow and change.

Naomi helped Ruth to grow closer to God.  She gave her good advice and Ruth had the strength of character to pay attention and learn from Naomi.

To have friends with these qualities we also need to be a friend who demonstrates these qualities.

To Think About:
Do you have a friend/friends as described in this week's blog?  If not, ask God to provide you with that kind of friend.

Do the qualities mentioned  above describe the kind of friend you are?  If not, are there any changes you need to make and how will you go about doing this?

Which of the qualities do you find hardest?  What would help make them easier to demonstrate?

Consider reading the book of Ruth concentrating on what you can learn from Ruth and Naomi's friendship.

Vicki








 
     







 
     


Friday, 2 October 2015

Listening As A Disciple

Dear Friends,

Have you ever felt inadequate when it comes to speaking into the lives of those around you?  When they come to you for some words of comfort, support, advice, do you worry that you won't have the right things to say to them?  Do you believe that you're not the best person for them to be talking to?  Do you compare yourself with others and think they really should be speaking with so and so because they always know just what needs to be said and how to say it? 

I admit that there have been plenty of times when I have felt just like that.  I have believed that I just don't have the wisdom to know what they need to hear and have thought that they would be better off speaking with someone else.

I have found great encouragement in a particular verse from Isaiah:
"The Sovereign Lord has given me his words of wisdom, so that I know how to comfort the weary.  Morning by morning he wakens me and opens my understanding to his will."  Isaiah 50:4 (NLT).

The Amplified Bible puts it like this:
"The Lord God has given Me [His Servant] the tongue of disciples [as One who is taught], That I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. He awakens Me morning by morning, He awakens My ear to listen as a disciple [as One who is taught]."

Now, although this words were a prophesy by Isaiah concerning the coming Messiah I believe they are just as relevant for me and you.

I live my Christian life as a disciple (or in other words a follower) of Jesus.  He is my teacher and I am his student.  How does he teach me?  In a huge part, it is through his Word, the Bible.

So, if I want to know how to speak words of sustenance, comfort, counsel, encouragement, wisdom etc. then I need to spend time learning from my teacher, Jesus and use the tool he gives me, the Bible.  Everything I need is found within those pages and as I spend time in them God promises to give me "his words of wisdom so that I know how to comfort the weary" and he gives me "the tongue of disciples"

You see, it's not about me, with my earthly, limited wisdom speaking the words I think will bless others, it's about using the spiritual wisdom that God gives me, that God gives to each of us when we ask for it.  God is the one who can teach you and me exactly what to say to others if we will only listen to him.

If I want to know daily the things to say which will bless others, then I need to be daily in God's Word.  I can't expect what I learned yesterday or last week to be enough for myself and for others for today.  That's why Isaiah says that God awakens us "morning by morning".  It is vital that I am regularly reading the Bible, first and foremost for myself, to help me in my own Christian walk, but also so that I can share with others what I have learned and be a help to them.  I cannot share with them what I have not first learned for myself.  That's why Jesus told his disciples in John 14:26 "But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you." (NLT).  The Holy Spirit cannot remind you and me if we have not learned it in the first place!

The last part of the verse in Isaiah tells us that God "wakens me and opens my understanding to his will." or "awakens My ear to listen as a disciple [as One who is taught]."

This is not just about physically waking up, it's also about having our minds awake and alert, our ears ready to hear what God has to teach us on that particular morning.  It's about concentrating on what he wants to say to us and it's about us asking him, by his Holy Spirit, to help us to not only hear but also understand what he says.

If we will spend that quality time with Jesus, sitting at his feet as his disciple, listening to him and learning from him we will then be equipped with the words that people need to hear.  And they won't be our words, but they will be the words he has taught us.  We will be enabled to share his truths with others in a relevant way.

The challenge for me is to stop thinking so much about myself and worrying about whether I have the right thing to say and concentrate on God asking him for his spiritual wisdom and ask him to speak through me so that I may say what he would have me say.

This is what Paul explained to the Corinthian believers  when he spoke about how he relied on the power of the Holy Spirit when he shared God's Word with them.  "When we tell you these things, we do not use words that come from human wisdom. Instead, we speak words given to us by the Spirit, using the Spirit’s words to explain spiritual truths."  1 Corinthians 2:13 (NLT).

To Think About:
Do you feel inadequate when people look to you for words of support, comfort, counsel, encouragement etc.?  What can you put into practice in your own life that will better equip you for speaking to others?

When have you experienced God giving you a word which "sustains the weary" or blesses them in some other way?

How regularly do you sit at Jesus' feet with a mind alert and prepared to learn from him?

Vicki