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.