Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Surviving Christmas

Dear Friends,

Christmas time, for some, is one of the hardest times of the year. This can be for a variety of reasons, such as the loss of a loved one, heartbreak, poor health, financial worries, difficult family relationships, loneliness etc. Then, on top of this, is the guilt we feel for not being filled with the Christmas spirit as we think should be.

In these situations where is the peace and joy that God promised us?

Coming up to Christmas I can struggle with mixed emotions. I am looking forward to the four of us (my husband, Jason, myself and our kids) all being together. But I'm also feeling physically unwell at the moment. This can take the edge off of things, and if I'm honest, does also mean that a part of me dreads this season. I would like to be really looking forward to Christmas, preparing our home for visitors, wrapping presents, baking treats etc.  But it's hard when you just don't feel well and don't have the strength or capacity to do these things.

I thought today I would share with you some tips that you may or may not feel are helpful for surviving Christmas. Actually, not just surviving it, but actually in some degree be blessed by it. So that we can experience the peace and joy that comes from God. 

"Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, [the shepherds] and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in highest heaven,    and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” Luke 2:9-14 (NLT)

(The following suggestions are ones that I have learned over time to put into practice and are also ones that I am still learning to practice.)

So here goes:

1. Stop comparing your Christmas festivities with someone else's or with the picture in your head of what Christmas should be like. Don't think you need to make it a perfect Christmas. Or that you need to do it all or have it all. Cut yourself some slack. I tell myself that although I would like to do some Christmas baking, I need to accept that it's not possible this year and actually my family won't be missing out just because I haven't done extra baking. In fact, we will be better for it as I won't have pushed myself past my own limits.

I could try to force myself to do all the things I think should be done. I could put myself under far too much pressure to achieve the perfect Christmas. But if I did, I would be in no fit state to enjoy any of our celebrations. I would far rather have stored up a bit of energy so that I can be there for my family and we can enjoy the day together.

2. Learn to let some things go. It really doesn't matter in the scheme of things if I'm not able to clean our home from top to bottom. (I would probably be the only one to notice the dust anyway!) The layer of dust can wait till after the Christmas season. Learn to prioritise - recognise what is important and let go of the less important stuff.

3. Buying Christmas gifts - Jason and I spread much of this out during the year and then keep it safe in our 'Present Cupboard' where we also keep a list of what we've bought and who it's for. The New Year's sale is always great for getting bargain gifts, and we also look out for gifts when we are on holiday. This cuts out a lot of the stress of having to buy everything at the last minute and fighting your way through the bustle of crowds of shoppers. There's always some presents we need to buy nearer to Christmas and rather than go alone I find it so much more enjoyable going with Jason and making a day of it and a time to enjoy each others' company. Who could you go shopping with? A good friend? A spouse? A son or daughter?

4. Learn to delegate (yes, I do know how hard this is for some of us!) Don't try to do everything yourself. Ask for help. Accept your strengths and also your weaknesses. For example, Christmas dinner is now always given to Jason, to do. He's good at it. It's his gifting. It's definitely not mine. I don't need to give myself the unnecessary stress or hassle of trying to do something which is not my gifting. I am, however, very good at cleaning the kitchen once the meal is over.

5. Make the most of the holiday season to spend some quality time with family and friends. Enjoy the gift of having time together. Create some wonderful memories and traditions together. Be there for each other. What I remember most from my Christmases over the years is not who got me which present but who we shared Christmas with and our time together. Such as having my grandparents stay with us over night Christmas Eve when my sister and I were children, so that we could then enjoy opening our presents all together the following morning.

6. Take time to focus (or refocus) on God and his Son. In the midst of it all, don't forget what it's all about. Without Jesus there would be no reason to have Christmas. I've written before how I find listening to Christian music a great blessing. Well, this time of year, I like to listen to carols. Going to Christmas events at church also helps me to focus on the 'Reason for the Season'. I am looking forward this week to going  to our 'Carols by Candlelight' Service.

During holiday seasons, we can be so busy that our daily time alone with God can be easily nudged out if we're not careful. So I still find it vital to spend some time alone with him and re-focus my attention on God.

When God the Father sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to the earth, he sent us the gift of love. His gift of love is a gift that keeps on giving. It's also a gift we can share with others. My prayer for me and you is that we will again experience God's gift of love this Christmas and that we will have the opportunity to share that love with others this Christmas time. 

"For God so [greatly] loved and dearly prized the world, that He [even] gave His [One and] only begotten Son, so that whoever believes and trusts in Him [as Savior] shall not perish, but have eternal life." John 3:16 (AMP) 

To Think About:
Which of the suggestions mentioned above do you think will be helpful for you to put into practice?

How can you focus (and re-focus) on God and his Son, Jesus?

If you have ideas on what helps you during the Christmas season you may like to share them in the 'Comments' section, so that others can also be.

Vicki

Friday, 9 December 2016

Have you ever treated God like some kind of Father Christmas figure?

Dear Friends,


As a child, I loved the run up to Christmas. When we were young, my sister and I would always write a letter to Father Christmas to tell him know what we would like for Christmas. My list usually consisted of a Sindy doll, some notebooks, some reading books (mostly Enid Blyton ones), and chocolates. I would also end with ... and anything else you (Father Christmas) might like to give me. (Just in case I had forgotten something.) I didn't want to miss out on anything that he might like to give me! It was always exciting to go down the stairs on Christmas morning to our living room and see the room transformed with presents near the tree.

Remembering childhood Christmases has made me wonder if there are times when I begin to think of God as I do about Father Christmas. I wonder if there have been times, even without realising it, when you too have muddled up the two in your thinking?

Father Christmas is usually only thought about at Christmas time. He is pretty much ignored the rest of the year.  As children, we only thought about him when it came to telling him what we wanted for Christmas from him. Our communication with him was all about what he would give us. Giving him a list of our wants, even if we did try to make it a very polite letter with a please and thank you.

Do you only think about God at set times throughout the year - Christmas, Easter, weddings, the occasional Sunday etc?  Do you only pray when you want something from him?  Do your prayers consist of a shopping type list of things you would like him to do for you?  Or is he an important part of your everyday life. Someone who you share your hopes and dreams, your fears and your worries, your joys and your sorrows with. Do you seek his wisdom and guidance and help as well as presenting your requests before him? 

"Do not be anxious or worried about anything, but in everything [every circumstance and situation] by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, continue to make your [specific] requests known to God." Philippians 4:6 (AMP)

Is your relationship with God a two-way thing, in which you give yourself to him and choose to live for him rather than for your own selfish desires?

When children write to Father Christmas they write with the expectation that he will bring them what they have asked for.  For many it doesn't enter their heads that he might not give them just what they've asked for.

Have you gone to God with the attitude that God should give you everything you've asked for, just as a spoilt child might do?

Yes, God loves to give us good gifts, but he doesn't always give us what we ask for. He knows what is best and right for us. He knows when to give a gift and when to withhold it. Sometimes his reply is a "no" because he knows what we're asking for is not for our good. Sometimes it's a "no" because we ask from wrong motives. 

"Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure." James 4:2b-3 (AMP) 

Sometimes his reply is a "not yet" because he knows the timing is not right and he wants us to learn while we wait.  And sometimes he gives us something different to what we have asked for.

When we ask something from God which is in line with his will, we can be confident that he will answer our prayers.

"This is the [remarkable degree of] confidence which we [as believers are entitled to] have before Him: that if we ask anything according to His will, [that is, consistent with His plan and purpose] He hears us." 1 John 5:14 (AMP)

I'm glad he doesn't answer all my prayers with a "yes". He knows me better than I know myself and he knows just what I need better than I do.  I can trust him in this. I can have confidence in his answers.  

We can have confidence to enter in to his presence and bring our needs before him because Jesus has opened the way for us to be in God's presence. 

"Therefore let us [with privilege] approach the throne of grace [that is, the throne of God’s gracious favor] with confidence and without fear, so that we may receive mercy [for our failures] and find [His amazing] grace to help in time of need [an appropriate blessing, coming just at the right moment]." Hebrews 4:16 (AMP)

To Think About:
Do you have a constant relationship with God or do you only think about him when you want something from him?

How can your communication with God become more of a two-way conversation and less about talking at him with a list of requests?

If you have the confidence that your prayer is in line with God's will then can I encourage you to keep praying and not give up.

Vicki



Friday, 2 December 2016

A Month of Thanksgiving

Dear Friends,


If you read my blog post at the beginning of November, you'll know that I had made the decision that for this month I was going to thank God daily for three things he had blessed me with from the previous day. 

I wonder if any of you also took up the challenge and if so how was it for you?

I was chatting with my Mum about my challenge and she shared with me how she had been doing a similar thing for a few years now. She took it a step further and had been writing the things she was thankful for in a book. I thought it was a great idea so I have been doing the same. I had a spare notebook at home which has become "My Book of Thanksgiving".

I highly recommend you find someone mature in their faith who you can talk openly and honestly with about your Christian journey. We can learn so much from one another. We can also provide each other with encouragement and support.

I don't have a great memory, so it was definitely a good idea for me to write down what I am thankful for. My memory is so poor that often by the next day I have forgotten what I was thankful for. It works much better for me if I write it down at the end of the day rather than waiting for the following morning. 

It's great having a written record of what I'm thankful for. In fact, I've decided to continue to keep writing in my book of thanksgiving. It's been a good habit to develop in my life. It serves as a good reminder and it's uplifting to look back over the weeks to see the variety of things I have to be thankful for. It also helps me not to take so much for granted.

Looking back over the month of November I've noticed how often it's the small and simple things that I'm thankful for. Such as the way my niece, Abi, made me laugh as we spent the morning together. Or my Dad taking Rue (our puppy) for a walk as I wasn't able to some mornings.Or when my Mum lent me a warm cardigan to wear as I'd been cold whilst undertaking my duties as an Exam Scribe and Reader at our local school. Or my sister sending me an encouraging text when I had got a long day ahead of me at work. Or a family game of 'Ligretto'.

Of course, there were still some days when I struggled to be thankful. Those difficult days which we all have from time to time. On those days I found it even more important to focus on God and all he means to me. Such as being thankful for his presence with me on a tough day, his faithfulness, his goodness etc.

This month of thankfulness has been a positive step in changing my attitude and my mindset. It helps me appreciate so much more what I have and what God has blessed me with. I acknowledge I still some way to go yet, but that's OK, because I know that transformation doesn't happen overnight or because of my own will power. It happens with the help of the Holy Spirit and his power working in me.  As it says in Romans 12:2 "Don’t copy the behavior 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)

I'm grateful that God is working on me to change me.  He won't give up on me.  He will see through to the end what he has begun to do in me.  As it says in Philippians 1:6 "And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns." (NLT)

Cultivating an attitude of thankfulness makes such a difference to our day. Especially if you are like me, and lean towards a pessimistic or negative outlook and are quite easily swayed by feelings. I believe that the more I focus on God and being thankful, the stronger this attitude will become and in time, being thankful, will become second nature. When I choose a thankful mindset, then the feelings will follow. If I'm not deliberate in doing this, then my negative feelings will determine my mindset.

When we seek to live life this way then we are doing as Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 "Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus." (NLT)

To Think About:
If you took up the thankfulness challenge last month, how did it go?  Has it made a positive difference in your life?

Will you take the time to build a close relationship with another Christian? Someone you can be honest with. Someone who will encourage and support you. Someone you can learn from.

Spend some time reflecting over this past week and thank God for all that you have to be thankful for. (If you're memory is poor, like mine, ask him to remind you of all you have to be grateful to him for.)

Vicki




Friday, 25 November 2016

Man-made Cisterns v The Fountain of Living Water

Dear Friends,


One Sunday morning back in September I preached on the following passage:    

11 Has any nation ever traded its gods for new ones, even though they are not gods at all?  Yet my people have exchanged their glorious God for worthless idols!  12 The heavens are shocked at such a thing and shrink back in horror and dismay,” says the Lord.

13 “For my people have done two evil things:
They have abandoned me - the fountain of living water.
And they have dug for themselves cracked cisterns that can hold no water at all! Jeremiah 2:11-13 (NLT)

God told Jeremiah, his prophet, to pass on his words to his people, the Israelites. Using the metaphor of water, God was describing the spiritual state of his people, the Israelites. 

In the parched land of Israel, cool spring water was extremely rare and highly valued. Running, living water, which flowed all year, was important to them. It provided them with the refreshment they needed and was deeply satisfying.

In contrast, cisterns were man-made holes dug in the ground. The Israelites collected rain water in wet weather so that they had water for their dry summers. However, these cisterns could become putrid and dangerous to drink.  The cistern walls would also often crack and then the water would drain out.

If you had the choice of these two different water sources, would you choose these man-made cisterns over a fountain of living water?

But this was what God’s people, the Israelites, had done. They chose to abandon God, their true source of life, the fountain of living water, the one who refreshes, who gives lasting satisfaction and fulfillment and instead they chose to worship man-made idols which were empty, worthless and dangerous.

It’s easy for us to read these verses and criticise them for what they were doing.  And yet, if we take a step back from the Israelites for a moment, we realise that actually we are not so different from them. God is the true source of life, the one who gives us real life, who refreshes us, who provides us with lasting satisfaction and he is available to us any time, all the time. 

But instead of going to God to be refreshed and satisfied, we replace him with other things or other people (man-made cisterns).  Even after we have chosen to follow God and to be committed to him, there is still something of our old nature in us, and sometimes we can still displace God by putting something or someone else in his place. 

The Israelites had chosen to worship other idols instead of God.  We do the same when we choose to make something or someone, other than God, the centre of our life.

There was a time in my own life when I put service – doing things for God - ahead of my relationship with him. The time I spent with him became less and less important. Without realising it I was no longer really relying on God, the true source of my life.  I was too busy going to church meetings, leading Junior Church, being a housewife, working as a part-time shop assistant etc. I was living an unbalanced life and I was not getting the refreshment I needed.  Drawing from my man-made cistern was breaking me.  I believe it was actually one of the factors leading to me becoming ill.

I became so ill with M.E. (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) that I was no longer able to do all the things I had been doing.  Over time God graciously and gently revealed to me how my "doing" had become more important to me than anything else and that this needed to change. I needed once again to put God at the centre of my life. So that he was the one I went to when I was in need of refreshment, of encouragement, of comfort, of strength. So that he was the one I went to for approval, love and acceptance, rather than seeking it elsewhere.

No longer able to do all that I had once done, I was able, with God’s help, to begin to live a more balanced life. I had more time to be in a relationship with him. He drew me closer to him and as I drew closer to him, my relationship with him became stronger and more vital to me.  I learnt what it meant for him to refresh me.  By placing him at the centre of my life, I became more satisfied and fulfilled.  I learnt that he is more than enough for me and that my needs can only be met in him.  

Instead of going to God as your source of living water, have you been going to man-made cisterns to find refreshment, satisfaction and fulfillment? Perhaps for you it’s been something similar to service or ministry.  Or maybe it’s something else such as a relationship, employment, entertainment, hobbies, shopping, drugs, pornography, alcohol etc.

We need to stop going to our man-made cisterns.  We need to stop seeking satisfaction and fulfillment there and instead go to God who is the source of all that we could ever need. These man-made cisterns are no good for us.  They may appear so at the beginning, they may bring some satisfaction and fulfillment to our life, but none of it is lasting.  Eventually they will fail us and we will keep seeking other man-made cisterns to fulfill our needs, until we turn to God. 

Only God can provide lasting satisfaction and fulfillment. A fountain of living water is a never ending, limitless supply of water necessary for life.  God too is a fountain of living water - he is the source of everything, his resources are limitless and he gives us all that we need to live a full life.




To Think About:
Have you been going to a man-made cistern rather than to the fountain of living water?

Have you ever put something/someone in God’s place?What was it and what was the result of going to something/someone other than God to have your needs met?

Do you need to put God back where he belongs?

Will you keep drawing from him daily, moment by moment for all that you need?

Vicki 

Friday, 18 November 2016

A Dream Come True

Dear Friends,

You'll know from my blogs that I love to write. I love to share with you the things I've been learning from God. And I love reading and digging deep into the Bible to uncover wonderful truths and treasures. 

A few years back I believed God was calling me to write a book. So, I compiled a selection of devotionals from this blog. I spent time researching the market, and gaining advice and help from others. 

Despite sending my book proposal to several publishers, no one was interested in my book.  It was hard to keep receiving rejections. I was convinced this was what God had called me to do and yet no doors seemed to be opening.

I kept persevering. But, I was told on more than one occasion, that getting a devotional book published by an unknown author was difficult. After more time, I decided to go down the route of self-publishing. And after two years of working towards it, my devotional book "Dear Friend...52 weekly devotions to Encourage, Challenge and Inspire" is now ready and available to the public. (You will find it available to buy from Amazon if you are interested.)

The desire for me to write came from a place deep within me and it would not be shaken off. Yes, there were times when I felt like giving up. Yes, there were times when I questioned whether I was right or not. But that desire to write never fully left me and I don't believe it ever will. 

I believe that when God gives you something to do, when he calls you to something, whatever that may be, the drive to do it, the passion for it, will always be with you, stirring you on.

I believe God created each one of us at a particular time and in a particular place for a reason. None of us are here by chance. I believe that he created me for such a time as this. He created you for such a time as this. A time when so much technology is available at our fingertips making it possible to reach others outside our immediate sphere of connection. 

One of my favourite characters in the Bible is Esther.  Esther was a Jew who was chosen by the King of Persia to be his Queen.  He was not aware that she was a Jew, and he was tricked by Haman, one of his men, into making a decree that all Jews were to be killed. Mordecai, Esther's cousin, believed that Esther had been made Queen so that she was in a position to stop this from happening and he sent her a message which read:  "Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?”  Esther 4:14 (NLT)

God has blessed me by giving me the desire of my heart.  He has fulfilled the dream I had of writing a book.  It may not have happened in quite the way I had expected it to or as quickly as I would have liked.  But God often does the unexpected - his ways are certainly not our ways, and our thoughts do not compare with his thoughts.

I am so grateful to God, for giving me the desire and for making it happen.  I am so thankful to him for giving me the endurance I needed to see it through rather than give up when things were tough or looked impossible.

Yet, even with the excitement of having my dream become a reality, the Devil still seeks to sow discouragement and bring me down. I've entertained thoughts such as "I'm not really a published author. It's only happened because the route I went down was self-publishing. No actual publisher saw any worth in my writing otherwise they'd have accepted my book proposal. I just don't meet the standard. I'm below par." Etc. I know these kinds of thoughts are the ones the Devil wants me to believe. He wants to steal my joy. He wants me to believe his lies (and he's so good at making his lies sound like the truth). He wants to kill any desire I have to use my gifts in service for God. He wants to keep me from aiming for whatever God has planned for my life. We are told in John 10:10 "The thief’s [the Devil's] purpose is to steal and kill and destroy." (NLT) Whereas Jesus' purpose, as mentioned in that same verse is to give us "a rich and satisfying life."

Why have I shared this with you today?  For two reasons:

First, if you have a dream, a desire that God has placed within you, I want to encourage you to keep pursuing it. Don't give up on it when it's tough or when it looks impossible. Keep trusting in God to make it happen in his time and his way. Ask him to give you the strength to endure, to push through. Don't listen to those who tell you it's not possible, or that you're not qualified, or that you're only going to fail. Don't let the opinion of others stop you. You may experience frustration and discouragement along the way but don't let that stop you. If God has called you to something and if he has given you the desire then he will be true to himself and he will make it happen. God is faithful.

Ephesians 3:20-21 are two great verses for us to hold on to.  I particularly like it from the Amplified Version: "20 Now to Him who is able to [carry out His purpose and] do superabundantly more than all that we dare ask or think [infinitely beyond our greatest prayers, hopes, or dreams], according to His power that is at work within us, 21 to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations forever and ever. Amen."  So worth an "Amen!" I'm also thinking I need a copy of those verses printed out as a daily reminder for me.

Secondly, whenever you step out in faith and do what God wants you to do, the Devil will also be right there doing his best to stop you. He will do whatever he can to prevent you from living out an active faith. He will use all the tactics and strategies he has at hand to stop you or slow you down.

We don't need to be afraid of the Devil, after all, he who is in us (Jesus) is greater than he (the Devil) who is in the world. But we do need to be aware of what he is trying to do.  We need to be alert to his tactics and strategies. "Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour." 1 Peter 5:8 (NLT). We need wisdom from God so we can discern the thoughts, fears, doubts etc. which are coming from the Devil. We need to know the truth of God's Word for ourselves.  (I say we, but I also mean "I" because I am aware of how much I need to apply this in my own life.)

One final verse of encouragement:

"So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up."  Galatians 6:9 (NLT)

Or as the Amplified Bible puts it: "Let us not grow weary or become discouraged in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap, if we do not give in."

To Think About:
What has God placed on your heart? What dreams and hopes do you have? What has God gifted you to do? If you're not sure what it is, take some time alone with God and ask him to reveal it to you. 

Will you take that step of faith? Will you pursue what God is calling you to, even though it takes you out of your comfort zone?

Have you already made that step of faith? Have you got discouraged along the way? Do you feel like giving up? Do you feel like it's taking too long and you're running out of time? Can I encourage you today to keep persevering. To keep God ever before you and focus on him. And trust in his promises.

Vicki

Friday, 4 November 2016

Remove your Blinkers

Dear Friends,


November is recognised by many as the month for thankfulness.  A few weeks back I was finding it difficult to be thankful for anything. My physical health had taken a dive and I was struggling on many fronts - church life, home life, family life.  My mental health, so closely connected to my physical well-being, was also not good.  I was feeling completely overwhelmed. I felt that I just couldn't cope, and the thought of one more responsibility sent me into a deeper depression.  I could see no way out and no hope for improvement. My focus was narrow - all I could see was my struggles.

We can become blinkered when we are in the midst of our difficulties, trials and struggles. Our circumstances can then become all that we see. Horses sometimes wear blinkers (or blinders) to keep them focused on what's in front of them. Blinkers are good for horses.  However, they are not good for us. 

We need to remove our blinkers so that we can get a change of perspective.  So we can change our focus from our problems to our God who is bigger than our problems. Blinkers cause our perspective to be narrow but removing them widens our perspective so we can see the bigger picture.

One way to remove our blinkers and change our focus is to choose an attitude of thankfulness towards God - for who he is, what he means to us, what he has done for us and what he has given us.  This won't change our circumstances, but it will change our attitude towards our circumstances.  We will see there is more to life than what we are dealing with right now.

"Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever." 1 Chronicles 16:34 (NLT)

I can remember the chorus of a hymn we used to sing when I was a child.

Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God has done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your many blessings, see what God has done.
[And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.]

"Blessings" by Johnson Oatman Jr. 1897  (Full lyrics found at the end of this post)

Have you ever done that?  I've found it true that when I take time out and think about all that God has done for me, given me, and who he is, I'm surprised at how much I have to be thankful for. I so quickly forget when my focus is on me and my problems. It does me far more good to focus on God than on my situation with all it's difficulties.

So I've chosen that for this month of November I will think each day in the morning of three things from the previous day that I am thankful to God for blessing me with. 

I say I'm choosing to do this, because I know that there will still be some days when I may not necessarily feel like being thankful, but I can still choose to be thankful whether I feel like it or not. 

"I will praise you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all the marvelous things you have done."  Psalm 9:1 (NLT)

I've decided to be specific in my thanksgiving to God.  So rather than making a generalised statement such as "Thank you for my family" I will think about the previous day and choose something specific to be thankful for such as "Thank you God for Jason who cooked us our evening meal because he knew I didn't have the energy to cook it myself."  Or "Thank you God for Jess' willingness to take Rue (our puppy) out for a walk after school."

As I ponder whilst writing this, I realise that there is more I can do.  I can remember to thank the person themselves at the time and show my appreciation of them.  I'm usually good at doing this - but maybe not so much when I've kept my blinkers on and been more focused on myself.  I also don't need to wait until my morning time of thanksgiving to God, I can develop the habit of giving him thanks in the present as and when I recognise his blessing.

"in every situation [no matter what the circumstances] be thankful and continually give thanks to God; for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus." 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (AMP).

To Think About:
Will you remove your blinkers so that you can begin to see the big picture more easily?

Will you take the opportunity of this month to find three things to daily thank God for (whether it is first thing in the morning or last thing at night)?

I have downloaded the "Thanksgiving Gratitude Prayer Guide" from http://www.biblestudytools.com/  Each day for thirty days it gives something to be thankful for, a short thought and some bible verses and sometimes an action.  A great tool for this month to help us in our thankfulness.  You may like to download and use it yourself.

Vicki


Lyrics to "Count Your Blessings":
When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.
Refrain:
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God hath done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your many blessings, see what God hath done.
Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,
And you will keep singing as the days go by.
When you look at others with their lands and gold,
Think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold;
Count your many blessings—money cannot buy
Your reward in heaven, nor your home on high.
So, amid the conflict whether great or small,
Do not be discouraged, God is over all;
Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.



Friday, 14 October 2016

God Has The Answer

Dear Friends,

A few months ago our son, Josh, had some important decisions to make. He was coming to the end of his A Levels and was offered work as an apprenticeship in Accounting.  It was just what he wanted to do. The offer was a good one and it was with a company he liked. At the same time he was offered work in a church as an intern. It came out of the blue, but again was something he was interested in. Now what was he supposed to do?  He wanted to do what God had planned for him, he just wasn't sure what that was.

God makes us a promise in Psalm 32:8 "I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you [who are willing to learn] with My eye upon you." (AMP)

As his Mum there was part of me that wanted to tell him what was best for him, but this wouldn't have been right. It was not my decision to make. It was for him to decide. Jason and I told him that we would support him in whatever he decided and we would be there to talk things through with him. We would also be praying for him.

How did Josh come to his decision? Well, this was what he (and we) did.  You might also find this helpful when applying it to any decisions you need to make.

1. We prayed.  He prayed.  We also asked people to pray for him. We knew God had the answer so we prayed for God to direct and guide him. I find such encouragement from the following verse in James 1:5 "If any of you lacks wisdom [to guide him through a decision or circumstance], he is to ask of [our benevolent] God, who gives to everyone generously and without rebuke or blame, and it will be given to him." (AMP)

2. We talked it through together, looking at both the options. I believe that God gives us common sense and expects us to use it.

3. Reading the Bible is also important.  God reveals his will through his word and will often confirm his will to us as we read it.  I've certainly known this to be true in my own life.

4. Joshua talked with one of our church leaders.  It's always good to be able to share with a mature Christian who you respect.  Someone outside of the situation can be more objective and see things differently.  Although it is useful to consult with another person, we need to remember that our final decision is not based on whatever anyone else may say but is based on what we ourselves believe God is saying to us.

When we genuinely seek God's will, he will not punish us if we get it wrong.  Either he will make it clear that we are to go in a different direction or he will use it for our good.  Nothing is wasted with God.

We told Josh that we are proud of him and that whichever option he went for, we would support him in the decision he came to. Josh came to the decision that God was directing him to take a year out to work as a church intern. He contacted the accounting firm to see if they would be willing for him to defer his training for a year . But, even if they didn't, he had made up his mind to still honour God by taking the year out and trusting God with his future. The firm replied that they were happy for him to do this, as long as he achieved the exam grades they were asking for. We saw this as an answer to prayer as it's not their usual practice.  

Josh is now into his second month working as an intern and is enjoying what he is doing.  I know that this year will be so good for him.  it will take him on further in his faith and will also develop him as a person.

He did really well in his exams, but didn't quite get the grades needed in a couple of his subjects.  He has informed the accounting firm but hasn't heard yet as to whether they are still happy to have him next September.

I don't know the future, but I know God has the answer.  David says of God in Psalm 139:16 "Your eyes saw me when I was still an unborn child.  Every day of my life was recorded in your book before one of them had taken place." (GW) 

I don't know whether Josh will train as an accounting apprentice next year or whether he will be doing something different.  But that's OK.  As long as Josh keeps looking to God for his direction, there is no need to worry about the next stage in his life.

Not only does God have the answers when it comes to your life and my life, he is the answer for our life. 

"The secret [of the wise counsel] of the Lord is for those who fear Him,
And He will let them know His covenant and reveal to them [through His word] its [deep, inner] meaning." Psalm 25:14 (AMP)

With our lives in his hands we have no need to worry or fear about what tomorrow may bring.

"The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me. Lord, Your love is eternal; do not abandon the work of Your hands." Psalm 138:8   (HCSB)

To Think About:
What do you do when you have a decision to make?

How have you seen God's direction in your decision making in the past?

Is there a decision you need to make today which is troubling you?  What do you need to do which will help you?

Vicki

Friday, 7 October 2016

A Difficult Season

Dear Friends,

Some people may see a season of change as a frightening challenge whilst others see it as a challenging adventure. Are you facing a new season right now?  Perhaps your son or daughter has left for university and you are facing "empty nest syndrome", or you're learning how to parent a newborn baby (or house training a new puppy in my case!), or coping with health issues, a change in your employment, a new stage in your education, or changes at church etc.


In the Bible, Joshua faced a new season when God called him to step up from being Moses' assistant to become the leader of God's people.  A huge task lay before him and he had some big sandals to fill!


Going into a new season can be scary.  We can assume Joshua was fearful because God says to him: "This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”  Joshua 1:9 (NLT)


Joshua may have been afraid of the responsibility.  Perhaps he was afraid the people wouldn't follow him.  He knew exactly what they were like, the way they criticised and complained.  He knew they wouldn't hesitate to point out when he was wrong.  Maybe he was afraid of failure, perhaps he questioned whether he was really up to the role or whether it was just too soon.  Perhaps he was afraid of the unknown.  Of moving out of his comfort zone and leaving the familiar behind.


We may feel assaulted by all kinds of fears as we face our new season.  Fears of the unknown, fears of failing, of having to move out of our comfort zone, of it all being too much for us, etc. But we need to remember that what God told Joshua is true for us too - God's presence is with us, wherever we are, whatever we go through, whatever happens in our life.  God is with us and he loves us.  He will give us the strength we need as we go through a new season in our life. God's presence with us means that he gives us his peace and his comfort.  He is also a place of refuge and our protector. 


Not only was Joshua afraid, he was also discouraged: grieving the loss of his mentor and friend; perhaps he felt alone; or thought his relationship with God wasn't as close as the one Moses had with God;or perhaps he had heard negativity, doubts, murmurings and nit-picking amongst the people.  Any number of things could have led to feelings of discouragement.


Thoughts of fear and discouragement could have become a stronghold in his mind.  If they had, then he would not have been able to move forward into his new season and he would not have been able to lead God's people forward either. 


Perhaps you too are feeling discouraged right now.  Maybe you're questioning God as to why this is happening.  Maybe you can't see a way through it.  Or you feel like you're very much on your own and there's no-one you can share with.  


When we dwell on our fears and discouragement, when we allow our minds to go in that direction and allow these thoughts to go round and round in our head, they can quickly become strongholds. They can paralyse us, making us unable to move forward.


Instead of being consumed with fear and discouraging thinking, Joshua chose to listen to God. He heard and believed the promises God gave him.


God promised Joshua that he would overcome: "No one will be able to stand against you as long as you live. For I will be with you as I was with Moses. I will not fail you or abandon you." Joshua 1:5 (NLT).  Yes, he would face battles, but with God's help he would overcome. God promised that he was trustworthy and dependable.  That Joshua could count on him, he could rely on him.


God promised to fulfill his plans for Joshua:  "Be strong and courageous, for you are the one who will lead these people to possess all the land I swore to their ancestors I would give them." Joshua 1:6 (NLT)  God would make a way through for Joshua. God has a plan and a purpose for your life and for mine, just as he had for Joshua. If we trust and obey God we will see him working out those plans. 


In verses 6-9, God told Joshua to be strong and courageous no less than three times.  God was reminding Joshua that he was capable for the task, not because of who Joshua was, but because of who God is.  God would enable, equip and empower Joshua through this difficult season.  Joshua really needed to hear this from God.


I am so glad that God does repeat himself. I don't know about you, but sometimes I need God to do just that and remind me of the things he has said to me because I can so easily fall back into thinking fearful or discouraging thoughts.


As we go through a new season we need the right mindset, we can have this if we do what God tells Joshua in 1:8 "Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it." (NLT)


We are to:

  • Study God's Word - this means reading the Bible, taking the time to take it in, reading it carefully, asking God to help us understand what we are reading.  Listening to what God has to say rather than listening to our own fearful and discouraging thoughts.
  • Meditate on God's Word - rather than allowing our fears and other negative thoughts to fill our minds, choose to think on God's truth from the Bible, such as his promises and his truth.  Focus on God rather than our circumstances.
  • Speak out God's Word - another version of the Bible tells us not to let these words depart from our mouth. We're not just to think about God's Word, we're also to speak it out.  "Joshua then commanded the officers of Israel, 'Go through the camp and tell the people to get their provisions ready. In three days you will cross the Jordan River and take possession of the land the Lord your God is giving you.'"  1:10-11 (NLT)  Joshua spoke out what he heard from God.
  • Obey God's Word - Joshua acted on what God told him to do.  Despite our fears and concerns, we need to act on and obey what God is telling us.
To Think About:
Read Joshua 1:1-11.  There is far more in those verses than I've had time to share today. What do you think God wants to say to you?

What season are you in?  How are you feeling?  What thoughts keep running through your mind? What has been helpful from today's blog post? 

Memorise Joshua 1:9 as one way of keeping a right mindset.

Vicki