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Recently i was reading through Ephesians 5 and came across this verse that really impacted me –
‘… instead [of filthy or foolish talk] let there be thanksgiving’ (Ephesians 5:4)
The Message translation puts it like this: ‘Thanksgiving is our dialect’.
I like that. I am created to be a woman who is fluent in thanksgiving. A woman who is aware of her good, good Papa in all circumstances so is able to speak the language of gratitude irrespective of my surroundings. A woman who finds that thanksgiving is instinctive – not something i have to actively think about but something that just comes out naturally.
Much like learning any language, it may be challenging to begin with and the language may not flow too easily from me. But, with enough intentionality, enough time given to practice and any language becomes increasingly instinctive.
I want thanksgiving to be instinctive for me.
A couple of weeks ago i read a Bill Johnson quote – “Complaining proves nothing but that you can hear the voice of the devil”.
Complaining is a practice completely at odds with thanksgiving. Complaining puts me in the slip stream of the devil’s ideas and intentions for my circumstance. Thanksgiving on the other hand is the language of heaven – constantly connecting me with the heart of my kind Papa who has shown His goodness to me time and again.
So here’s my challenge to you and to me – let’s be a people who start speaking the language of our home and let thanksgiving flow from our lips. Let us step out increasingly to see our intentionality lead to fluency. Let our natural response in all circumstances become the dialect of thanksgiving because we are a people who know that our Papa is with us and His goodness will be our ever present reality.
In my quest to stop ‘playing it safe’ in life, i’ve been asking myself some hard questions about what i believe God has created me to do and how i’m positioning myself for it. It’s not good enough to fill our journals with prophetic words that people have given us and simply wait for them to happen. God invites our involvement. And whilst only God can bring the words to full fruition, our role is that we would position ourselves in faith for them and, crucially, when an offer of a compromise comes along, refuse to settle.
The Devil’s aim is to try to derail us from our prophetic destiny and to do so he often uses one of the three Ds:
If the devil can get you looking in any other direction, he will. Whether it be sin, or just getting busy with life, or even other ‘good’ pursuits – as long as it’s not the reason you were created, he’ll happily lead you there.
He loves this one. Whether it be by intimidation or by causing delay, if the devil can he will try to sap all the courage from you so that you won’t have the heart left to pursue your destiny. Look at the life of David – he had to overcome both the in-your-face intimidation of Goliath and the long years of waiting in Saul’s shadow in order to step into the fullness of his destiny as King of Israel. Intimidation and delay both have one purpose in the mind of the devil: discouragement.
If he can’t succeed in either of the above, he’ll go for a compromise to diminish your impact. His plan is one of containment – if you have to pursue your destiny, he’ll try to get you to stop at a lesser stage than the one you were created for. Look at Moses for this one. God tells him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and when he tells Pharaoh that, Pharaoh initially says no and then starts offering Moses a compromise instead –
Exodus 8 – ‘If it’s worshipping your God you’re after Moses, why don’t you just do that in this land? I’ll let you worship, but just stay in Egypt’
Exodus 10 – ‘Okay, okay, if you have to leave Egypt, why take all the bothersome women and children with you – they’ll only slow you down anyway – why don’t all you guys go alone instead?’
In both cases, the enemy’s intention was clear – if Moses insisted on pursuing his destiny, then an offer of a compromise would have to be made so that at least there would be a diminishing of the effect of his destiny.
I feel like often we are good at spotting the first two of the enemy’s tactics, but sometimes stumble at the last hurdle. Maybe we feel like close enough is good enough, or are nervous to hold out for the fullness of what God’s spoken – what if it doesn’t come to pass and we’re left with nothing to show for all our trouble? But let me tell you, both of those thoughts are whispers directly from the enemy’s camp. Don’t pay him any attention – he’s a liar!
Don’t lose heart! You were made for greatness and the enemy knows it. Keep fixing your eyes on Jesus, keep listening to the voices of those who have gone ahead all standing witness to the faithfulness of God. He who called you knows what He’s doing. Refuse to turn aside, refuse to let your knees get weak, refuse to settle for less than the full prize. Keep your eyes straight ahead, for just beyond the horizon, just beyond all the enemy’s scare tactics, you’ll see the sun in all its glory rising.
Do you have a theme for your year? Every January i like to spend some time thinking, dreaming and praying to get a sense of what the year ahead is going to look like and to settle myself into a truth that i believe will be key for the challenges and adventures ahead – a theme for the year if you like.
For any of you who’ve been following this blog for a while now, you may remember that last year’s theme was God’s faithfulness – and boy did i need to return to that wonderful truth again and again as my husband and i said goodbye to loved ones, moved countries, took on new jobs, renovated a house, found new friends and had a gorgeous little baby boy! Faithful is certainly one of the words i’d use to describe my Papa God in 2015!
So, looking ahead for 2016, i’ve stumbled upon a new theme for a new year. This one’s going to require more courage from me. My theme for this year is ‘Playing by the Rules’. Now that may not sound like it will need much bravery to see it through, so let me try to explain –
In Ezekiel 11 God tells the Israelites “You have not walked in my statutes, nor obeyed my rules, but have acted according to the rules of the nations that are around you.” As i read this verse a couple of weeks ago, it struck me that we are all playing by someone’s rules. No matter how we live our lives, no matter how independent-minded or unusual we like to think of ourselves, the reality is each of us is living life either according to Kingdom rules or worldly ones – there is no other option.
The more i think about it, the more i can see how big a temptation it is for me to live by worldly rules – rules that dictate how i spend or save my money (usually selfishly and in accordance with my bank statement), rules that dictate how i interact with people (often seeking to please people so i will be liked), rules that dictate whether i take risks or not (failure is something to be feared so playing it safe is often deemed more ‘sensible’). The temptation to live by worldly rules is strong because it makes me feel more in control.
Playing by Kingdom rules is much more risky. Now, don’t get me wrong – when i mention Kingdom rules, i’m not talking about the 10 commandments. I’m talking values far deeper and far harder than 10 simple laws. I’m talking about outrageous, over-the-top love like Jesus modelled, even to my enemies. I’m talking extravagant generosity, for my finances are dictated by the unlimited resources of heaven and my Papa who loves a cheerful giver is my provider. I’m talking crazy faith that laughs in the face of risk – for faith pleases Him, not performance, and so the fear of failure need not have a hold over me anymore. I’m talking unreasonable joy and unshakable hope and mystifying peace.
So, you see, my theme of ‘playing by the rules’ is no easy task – it will take courage to live in the grace that will empower me to live according to these rules. But oh, i want to go all out in playing by them. I don’t want to play it safe any longer. I want to be outrageous and unreasonable and unshakable and risky. And i want to do it all to the glory of God.
How about you?
In recent days i’ve been thinking a lot about the power we have in forgiving ourselves. Unless we’re able to embrace God’s grace and mercy in wiping the slate clean for us and walk freely forward without looking back at our own failures, we’ll never be able to step fully into all that God has for us.
I keep going back to Peter’s story in the gospels. The ‘head boy’ of Jesus’ disciples who then falls so epically in denying Jesus just before His death… we all know the story. The bit of the story that i can’t get out of my head is the series of events after Jesus has risen from the dead.
We get a little hint that all’s not well in Peter’s heart when Jesus speaks to the ladies at the tomb to ‘Go and tell the disciples and Peter’ (Mark 16:7) about the resurrection. Why would Jesus feel the need to say ‘and Peter’ when Peter was one of the disciples – and arguably one of the most important at that? Had Peter been voted out of the discipleship group? – we get no indication from that in scripture. Maybe Jesus knew that Peter would need special encouragement after such a deep failure, to see himself again as the person he’d been called and created to be. Maybe Jesus wanted Peter to know that He still believed in him, that He still wanted him in his original role, even after the betrayal.
The next clue that we get that Peter’s heart is hurting is after Jesus has appeared to him and the disciples. Jesus turns up and shows the disciples that everything He ever said and claimed was true and that He really is God. WOAH!!! Time to throw a party! Jesus is alive and is GOD! But Peter does’t throw a party. In John 21 we see that knowing everything he now knows, Peter decides to go back to his old job – ‘I’m going out to fish’ (John 21:3). Now what on earth would make him do a thing like that? This is the same Peter who once said there’d be nowhere to go outside of Jesus because He ‘holds the words of life’ (John 6:68). Why’s he now walking away from Jesus who’s just had His most victorious moment? I wonder if it’s because Peter couldn’t shake off his sense of disappointment in himself. I wonder if it’s because He couldn’t look at Jesus without seeing his own worst and lowest moment and he couldn’t take the pain of that. I wonder if Peter walked away not so much because he was seeing Jesus differently, but because he was seeing himself differently – because he no longer felt worthy of his ‘head boy’ status but now was struggling with such a sense of unworthiness because of his failure that he decided to walk away.
But here’s the beautiful thing – Jesus was not disappointed with Peter. Disappointment requires for you to have had higher expectations of someone than what actually happens. But Jesus had accurate expectations of Peter right from the beginning. He knew that Peter was going to fail dramatically even when He called him. He knew on the night it happened and so warned Peter that ‘“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. but I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31+32) We often read these verses thinking that when Jesus is praying for Simon’s faith not to fail, He’s praying that Peter won’t betray Him – but i don’t think that’s what Jesus is getting at at all because in the very next sentence, Jesus makes it clear that Peter will fail, but will then turn back. I think the ‘faith’ that Jesus is praying for is not the faith that stops the mistake, but the faith that helps us to continue believing in His words declared over us, in what He’s called us to be after the mistake is made so we’re able to turn back and strengthen others. Listen up: Jesus is not disappointed in you when you fail, because His expectations of you have always been 100% accurate, so He saw what was coming even when He called you. What He’s drawing you towards and strengthening you for is the ability to accept His grace over you, for the courageous faith to believe Him even when you no longer feel like a person worthy to carry His promises. The power to ‘turn back and strengthen the brothers’ is the power to forgive yourself and believe Jesus’ words over you again.
In one of the most tender moments of the gospels, the God of the universe cooks His disciples breakfast so that He can help one of His friends back to a place of faith again (John 21). Jesus calls Peter back from his sorry fishing expedition so that He can restore him to the fullness of his call and so that he can step freely into the destiny marked out for him. I wonder how many of us need to accept Jesus’ invitation to breakfast this morning? I wonder how many of us need to invite Holy Spirit to empower us to walk free from the shame of the past? Let Him in today – He cannot wait to break off the chains of your self-disappointment so you’re able to run again with full abandon the race marked out for you.
There are some friends that pull you towards another world. Friends that stir in you a hunger for something more, something other, something altogether more beautiful than the world you’re living in. Talking to them awakens in you the cry for the life you’ve always wanted, the life you were created to live – even if you were unaware of it before. This week i have the privilege of spending time with just such a friend. Talking to him of miracles and encounters and heavenly resource and Kingdom breakout tugs at my heart for more than i’ve settled for. I don’t want to build my life simply with routines to inform me about another world (which is so easily what ‘spiritual disciplines’ can be reduced to), i want to build my life with routines that enter me into that world. For whether i know it or not, that other world, that upside down Kingdom is coexistent with and in fact dominant over the world i’m living in. And if i want to, if i allow the cry of my heart to bubble up, if i listen to the quiet but determined invitation offered to me, i can experience in the here and now the vibrancy and colour of that Kingdom as it becomes my most perceived reality. Who are you spending your time with? Find friends who will help you listen to your heart cry. Put into your life-diet books and video clips and blog posts and anything else that will tug at you until you cannot ignore the life you were always created to live. ‘Seek the things that are above where Christ is seated… set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth’ (Colossians 3:1+2) – notice Paul isn’t saying ‘set your heart and mind on Jesus’ (although that’s a great thing to do!), but he’s saying ‘fill your heart and mind with the things, the realities of heaven where Christ is’. Let’s live from heaven’s technicolor reality and let the pale greys of earth fade away.
I realised something this week: the way I read my Bible & hear God’s voice has completely changed over the last few years.
I noticed it as I was reading 1 Peter & came across this verse: ‘Be holy as I am holy’. Now, the way I used to read this & hear God’s voice in it, was a command. God commanding me to live a holy life because He is a holy God. But I don’t read it like that anymore.
This week as I read those words, I was aware that I was hearing a tone of promise not command. I was hearing life-giving, fully transforming words where Jesus was declaring over me ‘Be holy’ much like he would declare healing over someone – ‘Be whole’ – not a command to them to make it happen, but a declaration of life over them – ‘This is what I’m saying you can be & now are’. Why? Because He is holy. His DNA is holy & that very DNA is in me. I get to be holy not because I try to be but because He has put His DNA in me & therefore I will be holy. I hope this makes sense to you – a promise, not a command.
I realise too that I now read words that I used to see as rebuke – words like ‘Go & sin no more’ – as promise not rebuke. Again, Jesus releasing life-giving transforming words over the hearer. Because He says it, power is released to accomplish it and therefore it’s a promise not rebuke.
What enables us to access the power of the promise is how we hear the words. If we hear Jesus’ words as command or rebuke that’s all the power we will encounter. But if we recognise in His words transforming power (which is His intention) and take hold of his words as such, explosive miraculous life will lay hold of us.
I wonder, what is Jesus saying to you today? If it’s ‘Stop sinning’, it’s not a rebuke but a word of empowerment – releasing over you the power needed to stop sinning. If it’s ‘Lay hold of me’, it’s not a command but a promise – he is to be found by you. If it’s ‘Run faster’ (ooh such a goody!!), it’s not a rebuke or command but a word of supernatural acceleration.
Hear his intended tone & you will reap his intended purpose: life and life in all its fullness.
It’s been a while since i wrote anything on this blog. Life’s been busy. I’ve been easily distracted. But here we go, let me catch you up on something my heart’s been pondering over –
A little while ago i was reading from 1 John and stumbled upon some words that have got lodged into me. Words that provoke me with their simultaneous simplicity yet impossibility. Words that make me want to live differently and fill me with hope because i know i was created to live differently – everything God has put in me is enough to see these impossible words come to reality.
‘And this is His [the Father’s] commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another’ – 1 John 3:23 (ESV)
Now at first glance you may be wondering why these words have stopped me in my tracks and are filling my thoughts – they’re so basic. But i think that’s why they’ve got me. In reading these words i started thinking about what my every day moments would look like if i actually did both of the things i’m commanded to. What would my internal life look like and what would my interactions with the world outside me look like if my moments were motivated by living out these two things?
What does it look like for me to really BELIEVE Jesus in my everyday moments? For me to put my full weight of belief on Him? To believe what He says about Himself – that He’s good – really good – not just a little bit good but so lavishly good that He takes my breath away; that He’s strong enough for all my weakness and in fact most glorified if i press into Him in the moments where i come face to face with my greatest inadequacies; that He’s kind and loving and gracious and full of laughter and the only one i need with me in a storm. And what does it look like for me to really believe Jesus about what He says about me? – that i’m wonderfully made; that i can live truly free – free from fear, free from enslavement to man’s thinking and expectations and ‘wisdom’; that i’m powerful because His power is at work in me; that there’s God’s very DNA coursing with life in me prepared to take impossibilities and make them possible.
And what would my world look like if i learnt to really love others? Not just those i like. Not just those i find convenient. But really lived in a place of loving the people i meet every day, every moment? Love may look different in each different moment depending on the person before me and the needs of their heart. But i wonder, could i really be the sort of person who truly LOVES people, all the time?
And herein lies the reason for me finding these words stuck in my heart and echoing in my brain. The sheer impossibility of being a woman who lives her life according to these simple words staggers me. A woman who would believe Him and love others with all her heart. Now that seems a simple but tall order.
But the more i think about what God has promised for those of us who have put trust in Him, the more i realise that i don’t have to pray to become this person, but i get to embrace myself as this person because that is the reality of God giving me His nature. His nature at work in me is overflowing with belief. His nature at work in me is the very essence of love. And so my prayers have become less striving – ‘Oh God, turn me into a believing, loving person’ to ‘Oh God, help me embrace my real identity, because my new nature from You is a fully believing and loving person’. Subtle difference in words but massive difference in the fruit. I’m now staggered not only by the impossibility of the command, but more so by the graciousness of a good, good Father who has created in me the very nature able to live out that impossibility.
I want to encourage you today – won’t you join me in entering the adventure of living this simple, impossible life? A life where really all our moments boil down to us believing Him and loving others? Let’s make it our day’s mission to be more of who we have been made to be – fully believing, fully loving. And so the simple impossible life will ever so steadily become our reality.
Recently i was teaching on the principle of sowing and reaping. The Bible (and nature) is pretty clear on this – we reap what we sow. You reap in kind what you have sown. You can’t sow apple seeds and expect to reap oranges. You can’t sow unrest and expect to reap peace and unity. You can’t sow in honour and reap anything but honour. Both in the good and in the bad, you’re going to reap what you sow. Pretty simple.
Got me thinking – it must mean that God reaps what He sows. And that then must mean really good news for us, because He has sown supernatural seed in the hearts of His followers. Incredible miraculous, life-giving, identity-transforming, power-infusing seed! And He reaps what He sows. Which means what God has sown in your life, He will see through to fruition. There’s nothing that He’s planted in you which will be wasted or come to nothing – His seed in you is good, and His work in you is trustworthy.
As you go about your day today, know this: what He’s started, He’ll complete in you. You don’t have to try really hard to be good, you don’t have to strive to keep the rules, He’s not relying on your strength or ability to perform, He knows His seed is what has the power to yield the fruit in us. We just get the privilege of leaning on Holy Spirit who loves to lead us into all truth – into the experience of true reality. He has sown in us wonderful new creation seed. Watch how it bears good fruit in His hands.
‘By day the LORD commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me’
Just a little thought today, because i can’t get these words out of my head this morning. Wonderful, strength-giving words from Psalm 42. Words that pour courage deep into me because i know whether in the day or night, whether in the brightest moments or darkest valleys, i am surrounded. Surrounded by His love, surrounded by His song.
I love the thought that in the night time God’s song is with me. His lullaby fills the atmosphere around me and chases away the hopelessness of the dark. There are songs that He reserves only for the night. Songs that bring peace in the midst of storms. Songs that bring comfort in heartache and strength for battle. Songs that ultimately speak of an unimaginably good Papa who’s got you in His hands.
As you read this – whether the sun is shining brightly over you, or even the moon is hidden on the darkest night – know this: He has committed Himself to loving you persistently and tenderly. There is not a moment where He hasn’t chosen to surround you and cover you. You are never alone and you’re never outnumbered. He’s got you.