We're entering the final weeks of winter and despite the biting cold, the signs of new life, of new beginnings are bursting forth. The lambs are being born, the barren trees are budding ready for the blossoms to emerge, and dormant bulbs are starting to push their way up and out of the dark heavy earth that has been concealing their existence.
It was a number of years ago now, in the midst of a dark winter season of my own soul, that God revealed this truth to me: the seeds of new life don't begin in the spring but in the winter. In the midst of the cold and sometimes barren landscape, things of great beauty are being realised.
Just last winter God led me to a new beginning of my own, asking me to resign from what I would have previously described as my dream job to be at home with my children and to write. In the midst of laying down the plans that I had built for myself - of allowing dreams to die and be rebirthed - I have been reminded afresh of the truth that God spoke through the seasons to me all those years ago, that the 'new things' often spring forth from the most unlikely of landscapes. That beautiful things can be born out of the hard things.
See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.
The question that God asks us through the prophet Isaiah, is the question that we must each answer when we find ourselves in the midst of the winter--will we have eyes to see the new things God is doing? Will we have faith to believe that He is able to bring beauty out of our barreness?
There is a fragility to new beginnings. Like the lambs born into a harsh climate, seasons of transition, where we are just beginning to embark on a new path, can be times of vulnerability. The elements often oppose the new life that is emerging which is why we must guard our hope and protect the seeds that God has planted within us.
As we grieve what we have had to let go of; what we have had to release in order to embrace the new, we must trust in His redemptive plans and purposes for our lives. We must believe that He can make a way where we might not yet see one.
When we find ourselves in the paralysing throes of fear, questioning whether we have heard God right; wondering if we are adequate for the task before us, we must lean into His strength and trust that His grace is sufficient. Sufficient to equip us for what He is calling us to and sufficient to cover us when we mis-step and get it wrong.
When the path ahead feels lonely and confronting we must remember that He is not only with us, He is for us. He believes in us and He is cheering us on. God knows that we need His care and protection equally in times of despair and of advancement which is why He not only walks through the valleys with us, He is also, as Psalm 23 tells us, going ahead of us, preparing the table - preparing places of rest and provision - as we ascend the mountain. He understands our vulnerability and provides all that we need to go from strength to strength.
Stripped of my titles; stripped of my familiar routines, my own new beginnings have required me to face these same myriad of emotions. The contrasting emotions of grief and hope; of letting go and picking up have been overwhelming at times. Forging new paths and allowing God to do a fresh work in our lives is seldom a comfortable experience--they are however an opportunity to draw near and rely on God in a deeper way. To find our rest in Him instead of striving to make things happen on our own terms.
I have learned that it is only when we embrace the companionship of the Comforter over being comfortable that we are positioned for new things to emerge. But as long as we fight for our own comfort the seeds of new life are constrained.
As far as the seasons go, I actually love winter. I love cosying up to the fire with a glass of red or a warm cuppa and a good book, drawing comfort and warmth from its embers; accepting its offer of respite from the cold. I have not always loved it though as an analogy for my life. Experience has taught me however to appreciate the beauty that God births in us throughout the winter months.
Yes, the winter months can feel relentless, but beneath the surface beauty is waiting to be revealed. Do you see the new thing that God is preparing to spring up in your life?
We sat together on the couch, her head buried into my shoulder as she wept for the things, the people that she was missing. And my heart ached for my daughter as she tried to figure out how to navigate her current season.
Change is hard. Being brave and willing to give new things a go and walk down yet unknown paths can be overwhelming.
As winter has given way to spring in our part of the world, something deep within us rejoices and celebrates the signs of new life. We have ached for something to come and replace the barreness. But new beginnings aren't always looked for or even necessarily wanted; they aren't solely the territory of the dead and barren places. Sometimes, God asks us to allow Him to prune the fruitful things--the things that are in full bloom--in our lives so that we can be even more fruitful (John 15:2).
Over the last two years, God has been bringing restoration and life to areas in my heart and story that I have longed for Him to, but He's simultaneously been asking me to let Him bring about new beginnings--to be pruned--in places where I wasn't looking for change.
He has asked me to resign my position and my ministry credentials
He has called us out of the Church we helped plant to start over after some 18 years of community
He has led us to homeschool when I never even wanted to be a stay at home mum (He sure has a sense of humour!)
And each of these changes has asked a question of me--do I really trust Him in the place of exchange? In the place where I don't yet know what my hands will hold and all I can see is what I'm letting go of?
Pruning seasons can be a unique type of change because we don't always know exactly what it is that God is making room for in our lives. We often only see the gaping whole left that was once fruitful and flourishing. Pruning inevitably ushers us into an in-between time--a time of uncertainty and waiting--just like in the natural, it takes time for the new growth to become visible.
In my own life, the place of exchange has tested whether I really believe that He is who He says He is. Whether I trust His heart towards me and the plans that He has for me. The place of exchange has revealed whether the Scriptures I quote are merely platitudes and bumper stickers or the foundation of truth that I've built my life upon because the place of exchange requires us to live with a deep assurance of His goodness and His love for us.
Jesus makes the Father's heart in pruning us abundantly clear--it is not to diminish us in any way but to increase us. To make us more fruitful. Pruning is not about judgment but preparation. And while it can be easy to entertain the voice of condemnation when we feel like we're being cut back, Jesus offers us this assurance:
You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
Jesus is telling us, You are mine, I have washed you. Don't let the enemy tell you that you don't belong, that you're not valuable because you're being stripped back. Don't isolate yourself from Me; don't try and make things happen in your own strength, Trust that my heart is to cause you to flourish and be fruitful. Come, tarry a moment with Me. Apart from Me you can do nothing, but with Me, you can trust that greater fruitfulness is coming.
The word for 'remain' or 'abide' meant to remain, abide; to sojourn or tarry; to continue to be present; to be held, kept continually. It paints a picture for us of lingering in and savouring the presence of God with us. For me personally, I've found this 'abiding' to be both the challenge and the invitation of the place of exchange. My grief, my disappointment, my frustrations and impatience, the uncertainty can either build a wall between me and God or they can become a bridge to greater dependency, greater trust in His wisdom and goodness and in His time, greater fruitfulness.
If I want them to be a bridge, I must settle the question of trust. Will I trust His heart to lead me and yes, even to prune me?
I've decided yes. What about you?
I've often thought of myself as someone who colours inside the lines. You know, a good girl who gets on with what's expected of her and keeps the rules. But the more I journey with God, the more I can see that I've learnt to colour outside the lines; to go against the grain and walk with Him by faith.
Isaiah 55 tells us that God's ways are not our ways--they often sit outside of our logic and reasoning and because of this, faith often calls us to a path that feels counter-intuitive.
Sometimes faith says pull back when we would think rush in
Sometimes faith says give when we would like to hold back
Sometimes faith says go when we would prefer to stay
This has been the pattern all throughout Scripture:
God asked Noah to build an ark when he'd never even seen rain
He sent Abraham on a journey to an undisclosed location - asking him to pack up all his belongings and leave everything he had ever known
He asked a destitute widow to share the last of her provisions when she had no means to replenish them
He sent the disciples out in pairs to do ministry and wouldn't allow them to take any provisions with them, asking them to rely on those they ministered to for sustenance
All things that fly in the face of conventional wisdom--that go against the grain of forming a plan, of making provision, of having a safety net. Yes, while faith isn't about being reckless, sometimes it will sure look that way!
In my own journey, I've come to realise that my ability to walk by faith--to be obedient to what God is asking of me--is tied to my priorities and my affections. Hebrews 11 tells us that the men and women we so often refer to as the 'heroes of faith' were able to live as they did because they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth (v. 13). The Passion Translation challenges me with this rendering:
For clearly those who live this way are longing for the appearing of a heavenly city. And if their hearts were still remembering what they left behind, they would have found an opportunity to go back. But they couldn't turn back for their hearts were fixed on what was far greater, that is, the heavenly realm.
These heroes of faith both endured and achieved much for the Kingdom of God because they had determined where their treasure lay. They had fixed their heart to His.
When this world and all of its comforts has more of a hold on my heart than He does, my capacity to embrace His wisdom and to walk in faith is diminished. When He is no longer enough for me, then I hesitate to walk in surrendered obedience and even my frail human logic seems safer than the path that He has set before me.
Yes, this life of faith requires on my part a constant checking of my heart and my pursuits.
Am I distracted by what is temporal instead of engaged with what is eternal?
Am I self-reliant or God-reliant?
Am I craving the approval of the world or anchored by His love?
The current landscape of my own life is both exhilarating and terrifying. And truthfully, I find myself having to continually determine and redetermine to walk by faith. It's not a one off decision but a day by day, sometimes moment by moment, process of choosing to trust and obey. To keep my heart fixed to His.
The last two years have reminded me afresh that not only are God's ways not our ways, they are higher.
My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
And because they are higher than ours, we find rest and strength in them, provision for the journey He has sent us on. The path of faith might be uncomfortable, but because it is marked out by His presence we can expect to experience His comfort along the way.
However much sacrifice walking by faith invites, the rewards are far greater.
How is He inviting you to fix your heart to His today?
Low-tide is my favourite time to take a walk along the beach. There is plenty of room for Lucas to run and we're free to explore the full length of the beach without getting cut-off by the incoming waves. But as an analogy for life, I much prefer the idea of high-tide--of my life brimming to overflowing and reaching its full potential.
I recently heard a pastor make this statement: the tide will turn. He was encouraging people from the life of Nehemiah, reminding us that the Israelites had faced much opposition when they rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem, and exhorting us that just as the tide of opposition against them turned and they were able to complete their work, it will turn for us too.
This declaration resonated with me, and I've found myself contemplating it over and over in recent weeks. Pondering, what does it look like when the tide turns? What happens in the natural when the tides change? I googled these questions and came up with a bunch of answers that made my sleep-deprived (and somewhat unscientific) brain glaze over. But one thing did stand out and brought back some vague recollections of High School Science classes:
The tides change because of the gravitational pull of both the sun and moon.
There is a pull, a tension that causes the waters. to change their path. This is often our experience in the natural--when it's time to change direction; when God is calling us into something new; when breakthrough is imminent, we can feel a conflicting pull. It usually gets messy before the new direction emerges.
This is the precise time that we must stand firm. When we must keep our eyes on the prize of what God is calling us to--seeing our lives and circumstances as God does. Not allowing the mess, the tug and war pull of our circumstances, to derail us from pursuing God's purposes for our lives.
The opposition that Nehemiah and the Israelites faced as they set about rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem was both external and internal. Their enemies mocked and ridiculed them, plotting against them and accusing them of rebellion. And in the face of this opposition and the enormous task that lay in front of them, the Israelites grew tired--their strength gave out--and they were afraid of what might happen to them. They faced lack and it all seemed too hard.
As they faced all this opposition from both within and without, Scripture records Nehemiah's response:
But we prayed…
But I prayed…
Nehemiah continually sought out God’s perspective, inviting God’s power to be at work in their circumstances. He chose to exalt God above His circumstances and to fight for what had been promised.
“Don’t be afraid of them. Put your minds on the Master, great and awesome, and then fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.”
Fighting faith--faith that stands firm--refuses to lose sight of who God is. Refuses to passively allow the enemy to take territory that is rightfully ours. And as the Israelites stood firm, vigilantly continuing to do what God had asked them to do, the tide turned. Not only was the seemingly impossible task completed, but it was completed in record time.
So the wall was completed... in fifty-two days. When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realised that this work had been done with the help of our God.
After a storm, the full-tide reaches new heights. It exceeds its former boundaries and claims new ground. I believe that this is a prophetic statement for this season--not only will the tide turn, but it is turning. And as it does, as you stand firm in the face of opposition, you will not only take back what has been lost, you will gain ground.
Where do you need to put your mind on the Master--to remember how great and awesome He is? To recall what He has promised? Stand firm in that place and fight, confident high-tide is coming.
This is part one of a two-part series. You can read part two, 'Recover Your Fight' here.
Isolated and alone. They're not words that I would have typically used to describe my life--not for an extended period of time anyway. But a few weeks before I was due to give birth to our youngest, Lucas, it felt like everyone moved away. My parents had been a five-minute drive from our home and now they were over an hour away. Both of my sisters then moved to the outskirts of our city and six months later my brother and his family moved back to the inner city. We'd always lived in close proximity, and it wasn't until we all dispersed that I realised how much I'd taken it for granted, but also how much I'd depended on their presence in my everyday routines.
It was to be the beginning of everything moving around me.
In the last few years, God has taken me on a journey of being stripped back; of being asked to leave the familiar and the comfortable behind to forge a new path and say yes to what is yet unknown. It's not only been hard, at times it's been lonely.
We are designed for community, not only with God, but also with one another. Yet the reality is that there are some seasons, some places, that God asks us to go to that others cannot go with us. Yes, we need to allow others to stand with us, to like Aaron and Hur did, lift up our hands when we grow weary. But equally, we need to know how to strengthen ourselves in the Lord if we do not want to be undone in the lonely battlegrounds of life.
There is an episode in David's life that takes place during David's time of exile and persecution under King Saul which challenges me. David and his men have been fighting for over a year as mercenaries under the commander Achish but when all the Philistine rulers come together for battle, the others are uncomfortable with David fighting for them. They think he could turn against them and so David and his men are sent home.
Three days later, David and his men arrive home to find their settlement burned to the ground and their wives and children taken captive by the Amalekites. Understandably, David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep. But there's a difference between how they all handle things after that. Scripture tells us that his men began to talk of stoning David because they were bitter in spirit. In contrast, we read this about David:
But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.
Some translations say that he found strength in the Lord or that he encouraged himself in the Lord. When he had lost those that mattered most to him, when everyone around him turned against him, David knew to turn to God and find strength in Him. He allowed the presence of God with him and the truth of who God is to encourage him in the midst of despair. He let God be with him when he felt destitute and alone.
Lonely seasons can become places of bitterness and destruction, but they also have the ability to become something beautiful in our lives--to be where God gives us the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places (Isaiah 45:3). Leaning on Him opens us up to His perspective and when we see what He sees, everything changes. For David, it meant being able to rise up and fight with courage and tenacity the battle that lay before him; recovering all that had been lost.
In his book Spiritual Formation, Henri Nouwen writes:
Jesus liberates human history from mere chronology to kairos - God's time, where past, present and future merge in the present moment... Even hard and painful times can be converted to occasions for learning, shaping influences forming us into the persons we are and leading us to the Source of healing and salvation. The spiritual life is not a life that offers a few good moments between the many bad ones, but an abundant life that transforms all moments of time into windows through which the invisible becomes visible.
Opening myself up to God's perspective, learning to see this time as not something just to endure but a kairos moment in which I can experience God, has given way to a strength that is not my own.
Yes, this season of being stripped back has been hard and at times lonely--but can I tell you this: it has also been breathtakingly beautiful. It has caused me to wholeheartedly pursue and rely on the Source of healing and salvation. To see Jesus at work in all the aspects of my life, weaving the past, present and future together for His purposes. No longer able to depend on proximity to those I love; no longer able to place confidence in titles and positions that I have held; no longer able to rely on the comfortable and familiar, I have had to rely on Him. And as I have, the fingerprints of His invisible work in my life have slowly become more visible.
Don't let lonely places and seasons become destructive in your own life—instead, allow them to become a place of communion with the only true source of strength, Jesus.
How can you strengthen yourself in the Lord today?
This post is part two in a series. You can read part one, 'For the Lonely Battlegrounds' here.
I'll never forget the feelings that I had when we arrived home from one of my childhood holidays to find that our home had been robbed. The feelings of vulnerability; of violation and of anger. It was evident that they'd been interrupted and not taken everything that they'd intended to - what I would later find out, was that friends of ours camped out in the lounge the following night with baseball bats on-hand to ensure that nothing further was lost!
Last week, I was reflecting on some of the lonely battlegrounds that I've personally been faced with in recent months. Actually, if I'm honest it was more like moping and feeling sorry for myself! I'd finished a time of prayer and Daniel Fasting and I just hadn't seen any of the breakthroughs that I'd hoped for, In fact, I found myself left with more questions than before I began and I was feeling somewhat flat and defeated. As I sat in my favourite chair (with coffee in hand of course!), David's story, his season of needing to strengthen himself in the Lord, challenged me for a different reason.
You see, after David wept; after He strengthened and encouraged himself in the Lord; after he sought God's counsel, he did something else--he pursued his enemy.
David fought them from dusk until the evening of the next day, and none of them got away, except four hundred young men who rode off on camels and fled. David recovered everything the Amalekites had taken, including his two wives.
Our weeping matters. Not only because our grief matters to God and He wants to comfort us in it, but because unless we allow ourselves to feel the depth of our loss and the weight of our pain, we will not reach the point of coming to the end of ourselves. We will not make room for God to be with us. What we do not mourn, we will not desire to recover.
But equally, God does not desire us to stay in the place of mourning and weeping indefinitely. There are times that He asks us to rise up and pursue the enemy. To have the resolve that our friends did when they guarded our house that night with their baseball bats—that we will not allow ourselves or those we love to be robbed of what is rightfully theirs. That we will fight as long as it takes to recover what has been lost.
The word pursue and you will recover that God gave David was not a detailed road map outlining exactly how he should do everything--it was more like a road sign giving David a sense of direction. It was an invitation for David to use his strengths and abilities to partner with what God was wanting to do in that situation.
David's resolve and his victory were fueled by his intimacy with God. When his own strength was gone, he leaned on God to receive His. When he didn't know what to do next, He asked God. And when others wanted to claim the victory for themselves and not share the spoils with those who had remained behind, David gave God the credit saying:
"No my brothers, you must not do that with what the Lord has given us. He has protected us and handed over to us the forces that came against us."
David understood that victory did not lie in running ahead of God or in pursuing his own agenda, but in aligning himself with what God was saying and doing; in looking to God and honouring Him for His work in his life.
I knew that day that God was asking me to recover some of my 'fight.' That I was being challenged to not give up or retreat from what was before me. And so I wielded my sword, which is the Word of God (Eph. 6:17), and I began to declare aloud truths from Scripture; precious promises of God that have been meaningful in my own journey. Strength and determination began to build within me as I partnered with what God was saying,
As I write these words, I wish I could tell you a story like David's--that after a few days of pursuing my enemy and wielding my sword that the victory was won and all was recovered. But that's not my testimony --yet. What I can tell you though is this: I'm not ready to give up on my lonely battlegrounds. I'm standing firm because I've learnt that when you stay steady in what God has promised, He can do the suddenly.
Where is God asking you to stand firm? To be willing to pursue and fight for what is rightfully yours? Partner with what He has promised and trust that He will not only protect you, but that in time, He will give you the victory.
I've chosen some of my favourite pieces from my blogging years and collated them here. These nuggets of wisdom were gleaned from that beautiful chaos I keep telling you about—I pray they encourage you to see the beauty God has waiting for you to discover in your own life.