2020. “The year the world stopped” is perhaps how it will be described in the history books. Part of me has relished the slowing down—evenings usually spent ferrying my daughters to all their dance classes, working from my ‘office’ in the car, have been replaced with unrushed family dinners, happy hours and movie nights. Slow Sundays have enabled us to pay greater attention to the spiritual health of our family—and to drag all the kids down to the beach for a walk whether they want to come with us or not (anyone else have teenagers who prefer the four walls of their room?). But while isolation has ushered in gifts of togetherness, it’s also exposed all the things that I was too busy to pay attention to—the things I kept telling myself I’d deal with tomorrow.
Well, tomorrow has come, forcing me to face the places that have not been healthy in our life as a family—that have not been healthy in my own heart. And with this exposing, has come a fresh realisation of just how much I need to hear the voice of God. How desperately I need His wisdom and perspective on the things I find myself navigating; His vision for my family, my marriage, my work and my ministry; His truth to help me stand firm in a world that is being shaken. Because otherwise, the voice I find dominating my heart is the voice of fear. And fear never leads us well.
As I’ve sought to quieten the voice of fear and lean into what God is saying, I’ve found myself repeatedly drawn to an episode in Elijah’s life, recorded in 1 Kings 17-19. Israel had been in drought for three years—not a single drop of rain had touched her land in all that time. Famine had ensued, and I don’t doubt that fear’s voice could be heard loud and clear. Yet Elijah heard something different—he heard the voice of God. Throughout those three years, we are repeatedly told that “the word of the Lord came to Elijah,” and each time it came to him, it either directed Elijah to a place where he could personally receive the provision that he needed, or where he could release the provision that others needed.
I long to be like Elijah, listening above all to the voice of the Father. I want to draw on His provision and carry the truth of who He is with me in this season, and in doing so, shine a light for those who feel overcome by darkness. But how do we do this? How do we quiet our fears long enough to hear the Father's voice? Elijah's story offers us some keys that can help us be intentional about the sounds that fill our hearts and minds and strengthen our ability to hear "the word of the Lord" for ourselves.
THE POWER OF GOD
It was the late 2000’s and I found myself with three preschoolers, an unemployed husband and a mountain of debt. We struggled constantly just to keep our heads above water. Yet in those lean years, we also stood witness to Jeremiah’s words, “Sovereign Lord, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for You” (Jeremiah 32:17, NIV). People loved on us in ways that went far beyond just making sure our basic needs were met, grocery vouchers showed up in our letterbox every month for a year and debts were miraculously forgiven—by the tax department even! Friends helped keep a roof over our heads, and whenever we would think we couldn’t possibly make it through one more day, by His grace we would. God demonstrated to us time and time again that He is outside of our economy and unconstrained by the things that constrain us.
Elijah’s story reminds me of this same truth: God ordered the ravens to feed him (1 Kings 17:4), commanded a penniless widow to feed him, extending to her a miraculous supply of resources to carry out this task (1 Kings 17:9), and sent angels to serve him bread and water (1 Kings 19:5-7). In the midst of drought and famine, God made provision for Elijah and those connected to him. Elijah is not alone in experiencing God’s supernatural provision—from the manna that fell from heaven (Exodus 16), to the widow’s oil (2 Kings 4:1-7), to the multiplication of two fish and five loaves to feed thousands, Scripture continually reminds us of God’s ability to provide for His children.
As we face these uncertain times, we must recount the testimonies of God’s faithfulness—both our own and those recorded for us in the pages of Scripture—allowing them to fuel a continued expectation for more of the same. God is not hemmed in by COVID-19; it has not stripped Him of His power. He is still able to speak to us; still able to tend to the needs of His people; still able to heal and restore. He has done it before, and He will do it again.
Reflect: Recall God’s faithfulness. What testimonies of your own, and of the saints, encourage you in this season? Carry them with you and draw on them for strength.
THE POWER OF PRAYER
I wish I could tell you that recalling the many and miraculous ways God has provided for and worked within our family over the years is enough to quiet the fears of today. But I’ve learned that while the past does provide fuel for the present, I must also be proactively leaning into what God is saying and doing now; learning to look beyond what the naked eye can see to perceive the Father’s activity and purpose so I can partner with Him in it.
After demonstrating God’s power to the people and exposing the futility of their worship of Baal, Elijah turned to King Ahab and declared, “Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain” (1 Kings 18:41). There was not a cloud in the sky at the time Elijah spoke these words. He heard the answer—the promise of God in relation to their need--before it was a visible reality. But it’s what he did next that caused the sound of rain to become the release of rain. Elijah climbed to the top of Mt. Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees (18:42)—he chose to align himself with what God was saying and to then persevere in prayer.
In Hebrew, Carmel means a garden land, a place of fruitfulness and fertility. In a time of need and lack, Elijah chose to retreat to a place of fruitfulness, and he did not move from that place until he saw the clouds of rain beginning to rise from the sea; until what he had ‘heard’ was made manifest. Prayer—our intimate communion with the Father—is our place of fruitfulness. Just like Elijah, we must learn to climb—climb above the shouts of fear, above the obstacles and lack that surround us, to see as the Father does. We must cultivate time in His presence, time spent in a posture of worshipful surrender, allowing the hope of Christ to inspire perseverance within us while we wait for what God has spoken to also become our experience (1 Thessalonians 1:3).
Reflect: What is the Father saying to you in this season? What does it look like practically for you to align yourself with His purposes?
THE POWER OF REST
In my own life, I’ve found that fear screams loudest when I’m weary. Uncertainty is tiring, suffering is exhausting, and even though the hope of Christ shines bright, standing firm and contending in the spirit, takes its toll. Just ask Elijah.
On the heels of his success, Jezebel made a threat against his life. And though you’d think that after demonstrating God’s power, putting the prophets of Baal to shame, and calling forth rain to end Israel’s drought that Elijah would have been steadfast, instead we read that he was afraid and ran for his life, telling God he’d had enough and praying that he might die (1 Kings 19:3).
It encourages me no end that even the heroes of our faith got tired and worn down, but it’s God’s response to Elijah that encourages me even more. God did not berate Elijah or give him a pep talk, but instead sent an angel to minister to him. He tended to his physical needs, providing food and water and time to sleep so that he could gain the strength he needed to continue his journey.
We are both spiritual and physical beings, and strength flows when we tend to both these aspects. Our spirits are strengthened as we commune with God, listening to His voice and recalling His past faithfulness, and our bodies are strengthened when we care for them well. In the midst of all the demands and pressures we face, we need to be aware of the cues and warning signals our bodies send us and honour them. We need to view nourishing our bodies as holy work. Rest, fuel your body with good food, run a relaxing bath, exercise, get outside and breathe in the fresh air, and allow God to minister to the fullness of who you are.
Reflect: What does it look like for you to enjoy rest and tend to your physical well-being today?
* * *
As the people of God, we are not immune from the challenges of this season—but how we walk through those challenges should look different. We have not been given a spirit of fear, but the Spirit of God Himself, who enables us to walk with love, power and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7, NKJV). He delights to give us the wisdom and counsel that we need; to direct us to the provision that is needed at this time.
Elijah’s willingness to hear and respond to the voice of God, caused the people of Israel to fall prostrate and cry out, “The Lord—he is God! The Lord—he is God!” (1 Kings 18:39). If we, too, will turn from the lies of fear and allow our hearts to hear the voice of the Father, we will be equipped to navigate life in such a way that not only are we reminded of who God is, but the world is too.
What will you hear?
'But'. It's a word that gets used on a daily basis in my household:
"But you said..."
"But that's not fair..."
"I don't want to hear any 'buts,' just do it..."
And on it goes. This little yet powerful word gets thrown around throughout the day—throughout our lives—and depending on the context, it will remind us of the obstacles, the limitations and perhaps even injustices that we might find ourselves facing, or it can open up another perspective. 'But' has the potential to unlock a new way of thinking; to cause us to focus less on the impossibilities and more on the possibilities.
I've been offering plenty of my own 'buts' up to God of late; dampening the desires and the dreams that I know He has placed within me with a narrative of impossibility.
But I don't have enough [I could write a shopping list for you here!]...
But I just want a break...
But I'm tired of waiting...
But it's just too hard - impossible even...
Scripture shows us a pattern of such impossibilities encountering a 'but God' truth--however, if you're anything like me, you've probably been guilty more than once of switching it round. Of derailing what God wants to do with 'but impossibility.' We allow our obstacles and inadequacies to become bigger than who God is.
I love what Paul Manwaring writes:
This is where the real battle of faith is, the battle of trusting an unseen, eternal reality and letting it transform the way we negotiate visible, temporal reality.
'But God' is not a denial or whitewashing of what we face; rather it is allowing the reality of who He is, of eternity, to reshape how we see our lives and our circumstances.
David models this for us throughout the psalms:
When he had to flee from his son Absalom and his foes were many and people were telling him that God would not deliver him, he said, "But you are a shield around me, O Lord; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head" (Psalm 3).
When he felt forgotten and he wrestled with his thoughts--his heart heavy with sorrow--he declared, "But I trust in Your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in Your salvation.. I will sing to the Lord for He has been good to me" (Psalm 13).
When he considered God's holiness, that the wicked could not dwell in His presence, he was aware of the grace that enabled him to draw near saying, "But, I, by Your great mercy, will come into Your house; in reverence will I bow down toward your holy temple" (Psalm 5).
David allowed himself to express his worries and his fears; he acknowledged the obstacles he faced and the enemies who opposed him; he accepted his own inadequacies and failings but he didn't allow his thoughts to stop there. Time and time again the Psalms show us how David lived not in light of his impossibilities but by the truth of 'but God.'
It is not a sin to see the obstacles we face or to give voice to our fears and our anguish but we mustn't allow them to stop us from encountering God or pursuing His plans for our lives. In 2 Corinthians 10:5, Paul writes:
We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
I don't know about you, but when I continually interrupt God with a narrative of 'but this,' or 'but that,' the truth gets distorted, and I become susceptible to believing lies; to elevating my problems above the wonder of who God is. And when I do this, I am robbed of truly knowing God and experiencing the fullness that He has for me.
We need to recognise that our minds are a battlefield—that the enemy would love us to think in a way that keeps us distracted from seeing God's goodness. We must learn like David to process our reality and to then submit it to the powerful truth of 'but God.'
And when we allow 'but' to become an invitation to a new way of thinking—to God's perspective—then we will be positioned to see and experience His goodness in each and every season of our lives.
Where do you need to say, 'but God' today?
This piece was first published in the SURRENDER issue of The Joyful Life Magazine.
My childhood summers were synonymous with lazy days by the beach, getting lost in the pages of a good book and jigsaw puzzles. Not just any jigsaw puzzles, mind you, but giant jigsaw puzzles with hundreds of pieces that required hours, if not days, to sort and deliberate over which section of the puzzle they belonged to. I constantly referred back to the image on the box for clues. Once complete, I was reluctant to ever return the pieces back to the box, wanting to somehow enshrine the puzzle and my achievement.
The feelings of frustration when I couldn’t get a piece to fit where I was convinced it belonged, remain vividly etched in my mind. I would turn them and then turn them again, trying over and over to make them fit, until eventually, I would walk away or work on a different section before attempting to place the piece again. Positioning just one piece wrongly could skew the whole picture, affecting all the surrounding pieces.
I’ve spent much of the past few years trying to figure out where various pieces of my own life ‘puzzle’ belong, wrestling with the tension of old and new, of past and present. With how to "forget the former things and not dwell on the past" (Isaiah 43:18), no matter how precious or painful that past might be, in order to have the capacity to fully and freely hold the new things God has for me. At times, I’ve found myself getting stuck holding on to pieces I’ve desperately wanted to make fit in my current season, even if they weren’t meant to—pieces God asked me to surrender and trust Him to rightly position.
A NEW BEGINNING
“You’ve been holding your father’s dream in your hands for a really long time and perhaps it’s time for you to hold some dreams of your own.”
The words of my mentor arrested me, inviting me, forcing me even, to evaluate the life I was living.
In my late teens, my now-husband and I helped my parents plant a church. It was a labor of love that we poured our hearts into for nearly eighteen years, nine of which I served on staff, eventually becoming a credentialed minister and associate pastor to my father, a role that truly felt like a desire fulfilled. Those years abounded with rich vibrant community and deep disappointments simultaneously.
Ten years into the church plant, this small faithful congregation had sacrificially sown of their time and finances to enable us to lease and renovate a building we could call home. Our days of setting up and packing down every week appeared to be over and we were going to put down roots in our community. At first, the church flourished and grew. All felt right and promising. But then, abruptly, we started hitting roadblock after roadblock, and entered a season marked by financial challenges, sickness, loss, and death. These challenges culminated in us deciding to return to renting a community facility to help relieve the financial pressures. We made the painful decision to assign our building lease to another local church and move on. But the reality was I could not simply leave my grief behind. Many of the losses in this period had touched me personally—I was amongst the women in our congregation who lost babies that year; it was my father who had suffered a series of strokes, and my dear friend that we had buried too soon.
In the latter years of this journey, lingering health issues made it necessary for my parents to step aside from being the Lead Pastors. They relocated an hour’s drive away to live by the beach and recover. Their absence, as well as the birth of our youngest child, caused me to question the various hats I had been wearing. I couldn’t shake the feeling God was calling me to something new, that He was asking me to let go of how I thought my life and ministry should look in order to allow Him to reshape and redefine my dreams.
At the suggestion of our leadership, I took a few weeks leave to pray and determine what I felt God was saying. I returned from my leave and offered my resignation, fully intending to remain a committed member of our church community. Yet only ten months later, it became apparent that to remain was not what God had planned for us. After a period of prayer and fasting and seeking counsel from trusted advisors, my husband and I sensed that God was inviting us to a new beginning and asking us to release the Church we had poured our lives into to a new beginning of their own.
It was hard to believe that after eighteen years of community, we were starting over. The picture that God was forming looked nothing like the ‘box’ I had been referring to, and I no longer knew where all the pieces belonged.
STRAINING TOWARD WHAT IS AHEAD
The old and the new are often indelibly entwined. I couldn’t amputate my past—it had formed me. But I also couldn’t keep grasping at what had been or even what I had hoped would be for the future. I needed to loosen my grip and shift my focus. In the words of the apostle Paul, it was time for me to "forget what was behind and strain towards what is ahead" (Philippians 3:13).
The motif in this and the surrounding verses is of an athlete running a race and all the time keeping the finish line firmly in sight. Paul knew well that we cannot take hold of all that Christ has for us if we are continually looking in the rearview mirror. Like the athlete he envisioned, we have to choose to press forward—to stop tilling the ground of our past and put our energy and focus into straining towards what is ahead. In the Greek, the word ‘strain’ is an athletic word depicting a runner using every muscle to stretch forwards. And that’s the truth. Sometimes it is a strain and a stretch to look toward the future and believe that something new is possible. It can take every fiber of our being to change our narrative and accept God’s perspective—to believe His truth, His promises, and His Word over and above our circumstances or past experiences.
As I began to press on and look ahead, I found the past to be a hurdle not only because of its disappointments, but also because of its highlights. As my disappointment whispered that it would never get better, my treasured memories spoke the same lie—that my future could never be better than my past, could never live up to what I had previously known.
I couldn’t bypass these hurdles. In order to keep running my race, I needed to clear them. I needed to allow God to show me how He saw these pieces that I could no longer place.
REVISITING THE PAST
In His infinite grace and wisdom, God took me back to a place of past disappointment to remind me that He wasn’t finished with my story yet; that if I could trust Him, there was still more to come.
As we hesitantly stepped away from the old and began to look towards the future, we decided to join the congregation led by my spiritual director and her husband. Her gentle and insightful wisdom had been invaluable in helping me work through all of the change and loss we had experienced, and they and their congregation felt like a safe place to sit while we continued to process our journey and build new community. The great irony of this decision was that they were the same church who had taken over our former church’s lease and premises. I found myself worshiping again in the same building that once embodied my dreams, yet now symbolized loss and failure.
At times, it felt overwhelming to be in this familiar place. I kept expecting to see my father pop out of his old office or to be greeted by someone I knew at the door. I knew every inch of the building—its history, its quirks and smells, the stories the walls could tell—and yet everything about it had changed. The old and new collided in my mind and grief would well up within me as I remembered the faces of people I had once stood shoulder to shoulder with in this very space. I felt the sting of disappointment afresh. Why had our old church not been able to enjoy the fruit of our sacrifices? Why had our story not had the ending we had believed and prayed for, and labored toward? Why did we have to start over? Why could I not have continued doing life and ministry with the people I had come to love so completely? If I was to be in this space again, why couldn’t it be with them?
Ever so gently and slowly, God gave me a different perspective, His perspective.
I had been viewing my life with a somewhat finite lens, so focused on the current part of the puzzle that was forming that I had lost sight of the big picture, the eternal picture.
In the scheme of eternity, our labors had not been futile. God did not see wasted efforts, He saw faithfulness. We had partnered with him to establish something in our community that was still extending His love and truth, even if we no longer inhabited it.
Where I saw a scattered people, He saw a people sent out. He planted these mature seeds of disciples in new ground to keep building and strengthening His wider church.
Where I saw barrenness, He saw pruning—areas of my life and heart that He was preparing and cultivating for greater fruitfulness.
This new perspective didn’t completely undo my disappointment, but it did help me to stop dwelling on it. I realized God wasn’t asking me to forget the past as much as He was asking me to reposition it. To frame it with His Kingdom purposes and then allow it to fade into the background so He could bring a new section of my ‘puzzle’ to the forefront. Ironically, the only way I could regain my focus on His faithfulness was by looking at my past. The very things I needed to no longer dwell on also held the key to my being able to press on.
In the same way, when Isaiah called the Israelites to forget the former and see the new thing God was doing, he first recounted the ways in which God had previously worked on their behalf, reminding them that He had made a way for them out of slavery and through the Red Sea, into a new beginning. If He had done it then, He could do it now. He encouraged the Israelites to allow God’s prior acts of faithful provision to fuel in them an expectation for something new again—no matter how impossible that might have seemed.
THERE IS ALWAYS MORE AHEAD
I have often contemplated the stark contrasts found in the life of Paul. He was a man who miraculously and dramatically encountered God. He planted churches and wrote much of what we now call the New Testament, witnessing healings and countless conversions. And yet, he was also a man who prior to his conversion, persecuted believers and had to live with their blood on his hands. He was shipwrecked, rejected, imprisoned, and beaten. This man, who had much to celebrate and much to wrestle with, tells us not only that he presses on to lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of him, but that he does not consider himself yet to have taken hold of it (Philippians 3:12-13). Paul understood that no matter how much of God’s grace and favor he had already experienced, there was still more for him to lay hold of and live out. His past had convinced him of it.
So he pressed on. Not out of obligation, nor of drudgery, but fuelled by his passion for Jesus.
“I run with passion into His abundance so that I may reach the destiny that Jesus Christ has called me to fulfil and wants me to discover” (Philippians 3:12, TPT).
We sat in our old building with a new congregation for just over twelve months. In that time, God not only used the precious people there to minister to our weary hearts, but even allowed us the tender grace of witnessing some of the fruit that was growing out of the seed we had planted in that space. He showed us the truth of Isaiah’s words—that He provides water in the desert and streams in the wasteland so that we might be released to proclaim His praise (43:20-21). As we allowed ourselves to process our past, to voice our questions and grieve our losses, entrusting them to Him, He turned a place of disappointment into an oasis of delight demonstrating to us the depth of His redemptive power.
Like Paul, I’ve come to realize I will never exhaust the riches, the abundance that is found in Jesus. Jesus is my finish line. He is the picture on the box that I look upon to determine where the pieces of my life rightly belong. He is the One who brings perspective, beauty, truth, hope, redemption, and the promise of something more, something new. In Jesus, I find the grace to honor my past, to acknowledge both its beauty and its pain without getting stuck. My past is redeemed, and my hope for the future revived. In Jesus, all my ‘pieces’ find their meaning.
Even as I write this, I still hold pieces in my hand that are yet to be placed. Perhaps they will be positioned imminently, perhaps it will be some time before I know where they belong. When frustration begins to rise, I take a step back, I look at how much of the ‘picture’ God has already formed, and I allow His faithfulness to frame my ‘pieces.’
“But our citizenship is in heaven and we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious one” (Philippians 3:20-21, NIV).
Meet my friend lack. Lack and I have been friends for longer than I care to admit. And while this relationship frustrates me with its constant reminders of my inadequacies and insufficiencies; and its tendency to hem me in and roadblock my plans for progress, recent events have also made me realise that I have put my friend lack on a bit of a pedestal. Perhaps even made an idol of him.
That might seem like a strange statement to make. But our journey of looking for a new home has made me realise that deep down I thought it was more spiritual to be in want; to be in need because then I was truly dependent on God. So, when we ended up with a house that was above and beyond what I had ever anticipated or dreamed would be possible in this season of our lives, I struggled to receive it.
While on one hand the woman of faith in me could see the hand of God upon us; see His hand in every detail and His favour in the process, the woman who had made friends with lack wanted to refuse this gift. I felt unworthy—guilty even—of having such a lovely and spacious home. And this new home, with its somewhat empty rooms waiting to be filled, has been challenging me as to whether I am ready to break it off with my friend lack in order to pursue true dependency on Christ.
Paul's words in Philippians 4 have been echoing in my head. You know the often quoted, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” They are words that I have often leaned on over the years as lack and I have journeyed together, knowing that it's okay that I don't have enough because He does; knowing that it's okay that I don't feel enough for this calling, because He is.
But here's the thing: I've only applied this dependency on Christ's sufficiency to some things. To the living in want things. And His invitation to be dependent upon His riches and grace is for ALL things.
...for I have learned to be content, whatever the circumstances may be. I know now how to live when things are difficult and I know how to live when things are prosperous. In general and in particular I have learned the secret of facing either poverty or plenty. I am ready for anything through the strength of the one who lives within me.
Christ's invitation, is to a life of dependency upon His strength and His power even when I feel like it's something that I've got under control. It's for the places that I think “I've got this”—for the places where resources and talents abound—as much as it is for the places that I wrestle and struggle in.
And when I receive this offer of grace for all instead of just some things, my places of lack are not more holy than my places of abundance. They are each simply an opportunity to lean on Him in a different way.
Because the friend that I need is neither lack nor abundance, it is Jesus.
It is Jesus in every strength and in every weakness
It is Jesus in every triumph and in every failure
It is Jesus in every season and in every chapter
It's His hand that I want to hold and His embrace that I need at the end of a long day. It is His truth, and His wisdom, and His love that feeds the ache in my soul. That's the only truly holy thing in all of this: wholeheartedly pursuing and surrendering myself to Jesus. Allowing myself to be fully reliant upon all that He is and all that He offers me; abiding so deeply in His presence that He becomes as necessary to me as the air that I breathe.
So I'm ending this thing I've had going on with lack and taking him off the pedestal that I've wrongly put him on. Do I expect to never be in want again? No, but I want to shift the focus. Instead of glorifying my circumstances I want to glorify Him. To look for how my season invites me to know Him more and to lean more deeply on His grace.
Which is why as I clean my house this weekend, I will be choosing gratitude for this unexpected blessing of a home instead of guilt. I'll be looking at the empty spaces and instead of feeling frustrated about what I don't have, I'll be choosing to see a space that God has created to be filled by Him. Just like my life.
How is Jesus inviting you to rely on Him for ALL things today?
A card arrived in my letterbox today. Filled with words that overflowed from a generous heart, it touched me deeply. I felt seen. I felt known. I felt appreciated and I knew that I held in my hands a precious gift...
These are the words God impressed upon my heart when I asked Him recently what it looked like for me to live in light of His everlasting and indestructible Kingdom. And they've continued to reverberate in my heart on a daily basis ever since.
I am, by both nature and nurture, a generous person. Growing up with parents who despite their own lack, continually had open hands and open hearts, I learned from a young age the beauty of cultivating a generous spirit. Yet, it's an attribute that I have struggled to give full expression to at various points in my journey.
We have never been materially wealthy. A combination of some unwise decisions in our youth, coupled with our obedience to pursue a call to ministry, has meant that the budget has seldom balanced, and we have had to daily trust God for what we need. For whatever reason, God has also chosen to position us in some of the more affluent parts of our city, and consequently, I have found myself continually confronted by what others have the ability to do and to give. In the face of their apparent abundance, I have often allowed lack and my perfectionist tendencies to close my hands and my heart, believing the lie that I have nothing of value to give.
Christmas--the time of giving and receiving--can amplify these lies and the accompanying anxiety that I do not have enough to offer.
But here's the thing that God keeps graciously and repeatedly reminding me of: radical generosity, kingdom generosity, is not based on what we do or don't have, but on what He has. It lives rooted in the truth of His abundance and His goodness.
Every single one of us faces poverty in some area of our lives. Whether external or internal, we all experience the frustration of our own limitations. But radical generosity is not hindered by such lack. It takes what we do have and sees it as a seed to sow--a seed that when we release in partnership with Him, will be multiplied beyond our wildest dreams.
He multiplies the seed as you sow it, so that the harvest of your generosity will grow.
Fear would try to tell us that if we release the little we do have, we will not have enough. It tries to scare us into clutching at our time and possessions, into closing off our hearts. But God's Kingdom doesn't work that way--it knows nothing of lack. When we release what He has given us, he simply expands and multiplies it.
I've discovered that we don't have to wait until we feel like we have accumulated or accomplished enough to be generous. We can start right where we are, trusting in the goodness of the One who always has enough.
Scripture is full of acts of generosity. Some of them carried extravagant price tags like the perfume that Mary poured out upon the feet of Jesus or the thousand burnt offerings that Solomon sacrificed to God, while others could have easily been overlooked and seen as insignificant--like the few coins that the widow popped in the offering box or the young boy's lunch of bread and fish. What they all have in common is that God commended the heart with which they gave to Him.
You can't attach a price tag to true acts of generosity. Their worth has nothing to do with their monetary value. They are defined by the heart of the giver to minister to and bless the recipient.
In writing this, I have found myself reflecting on the generosity that I myself have been a recipient of recently. Generosity that has sprung up in spite of lack and limitation in the giver's own life.
Like the friend who gave me money to buy something to wear to an event I was running when I knew she needed new clothes herself.
Or the friend who often texts me about what she has been praying for for my children when I know that she is currently knee-deep in a crazy mothering season.
Or the friend who faithfully sows $5 out of every paycheck into this ministry when I know she is still waiting for her own financial breakthrough.
Or the woman who became a friend after reaching out to me when she heard I was writing a book and she didn't want me to feel alone in the process like she had.
In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability.
Each of these gifts have given me an even greater gift--the gift of presence. Their acts of generosity towards me have been a statement that they see me and desire to identify with my need, with my season, with my heart.
Presence is the gift Christ offers you and I each and every day. It's the gift that we remember as we prepare to celebrate Christmas. The gift of Him dwelling among us and within us. The gift of Emmanuel, God with us.
And it's the gift that we also get to give if we will choose to push past the lies and limitations of our circumstances and simply open our hands and hearts to those around us.
Radical generosity is a spirit. It is the fruit of living according to the reality of heaven and not the reality of our circumstances. It is a pouring out of ourselves knowing that He will pour back into us all that we need because He never runs out. He never runs out of resources and He never runs out on us.
This Christmas, let's give the gift of presence. It costs nothing and yet everything.
What does radical generosity look like for you today?
I mindlessly scroll through Instagram feeling a growing wave of discontent building within me.
I see the catalogue worthy homes and I wonder if it's just me whose furniture needs replacing; just me whose children seem to litter every room with evidence of their messy existence.
I see their beautiful workspaces and I think of how I write with children climbing over me and nestled against me on the couch. The luxury of defined work hours seems a distant memory and part of me longs to go back to their comfortable routine but instead, I'm stealing time whenever I can to get my words out of my head and onto a screen.
I see their impressive number of followers and platforms and I wonder what it took to get there--what will it take for me to get there? When will I get to get there?
And as this wave of aching discontent washes over me, I hear the Holy Spirit whisper, "What is that to you, Aimee?" What is that to you if I've blessed them with a beautiful home? What is it to you if I've wired them to be like Martha Stewart? What is it to you if I've called them to the marketplace and you to be at home? What is it to you if now is the proper time in their lives for promotion and platforms? What is it to you?
My Dad calls it the W.I.T.T.Y principle. In John 21, following the resurrection, Jesus is ministering to Peter. Mirroring and restoring him from his earlier denial of Christ, Peter has confessed three times his love for Jesus, and Jesus now gives Peter a glimpse of what is in store for him--it’s not a pretty picture!
“I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go …. Follow Me!”
Jesus was telling Peter that he too would one day suffer death by crucifixion, He was laying out the cost of loving Him, making Peter pause and determine, did he really want to follow Jesus?
I can’t really blame Peter for what he did next--I think I would have too! Peter turns and looks back and he sees John, also known as the disciple whom Jesus loved, and he asks, “What about him?” He wants to know, does John get the same deal! Jesus replies saying:
If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow Me.”
The W.I.T.T.Y principle: What Is That To You?
How much trouble we get ourselves in; how distracted, resentful and frustrated we become when we concern ourselves with how God is working out another’s life; when we compare or wish for another’s journey. The crumbs of comparison take our eyes off the prize--off of Jesus--and leave us feeling empty. They hinder us from becoming like Him, from fulfilling His call on our lives.
Peter chose Jesus. Peter determined that whatever it cost he would follow where Jesus led.
And I want to too. Because I know that when I take my eyes off of everybody else's calling; off of everybody else's lives and just look at mine, keeping my focus on what God is saying to me, the discontent dissipates. When I keep choosing Jesus, I am freed to run with perseverance the race that He has marked out for me.
When I stay in my lane; when I run my race, not only does the discontent dissipate, but I am also deeply satisfied. In John 4:34, Jesus said this:
"My nourishment comes from doing the will of God who sent me, and from finishing His work."
Jesus had been resting by a well, ministering to a Samaritan woman as He waited for the disciples to return with food and provisions. But when they do, He tells them that He already has food to eat--they're confused, and ask themselves if somebody else could have brought Him food? Jesus responds by telling them that His food, the nourishment for His soul, comes from doing what God has asked Him to do.
We were never designed or intended to live lives that look like clones of one another. You are one of a kind and so am I--each of us fearfully and wonderfully fashioned by God Himself. And in His wisdom, He plants dreams and desires within us; opens doors and leads us in ways that fit with our unique design. We will be satisfied--nourished--not when we are wanting someone else's life, but when we are living out His will for our life.
Where do you need to refocus on Jesus? Follow where He's leading you knowing that only His path can truly satisfy your soul.
I've always known that my girls are chalk and cheese: one of them gravitates towards a schedule, liking to know not only what is happening, but exactly when it's happening. She thrives on order and clear expectations while the other is more free-spirited. With her creative temperament she doesn't like the how —or even the when—being dictated to her.
Our recent foray into homeschooling has brought these differences to the surface and I've struggled at times to figure out balancing their competing needs for freedom and discipline. But it's not only watching them that has had me contemplating this balance—as I've been adjusting to our new lifestyle and settling into our new community after our move, my own routines have been somewhat upset. Constantly surrounded by children with very little time to myself, I'm having to find a new normal and create new spaces and ways for staying connected to God.
The process of carving out new rhythms and routines has made me realise afresh that we all have this need for both freedom and discipline. And that rather than competing, they are actually complimentary threads that we need to learn to weave together; that we can't truly have freedom in our lives without discipline.
In my own journey, I've tended to swing like a pendulum towards one or the other, failing to allow them to work in sync. When life has felt out of control I've grasped on to discipline in an attempt to regain control; to help me feel like I'm doing and being enough. If life is reduced to lists and tasks that can be ticked off then I feel a sense of achievement and worth.
But such phases are short-lived simply because, well, life happens and I can't sustain the internal pressure that comes with having to constantly achieve my 'list' or the guilt that comes when I miss something on my list. So I throw off the yoke of discipline because, after all, the one whom the Son sets free is free indeed, meaning, I can do what I want, when I want. I don't need systems and structures and disciplines because I'm free; I'm covered by grace.
Again though, it doesn't take long before chaos ensues and the pendulum swings back to discipline and then back to what I think is freedom. This backwards to and fro movement stems from a false understanding of what it means to be free and of the heart and purpose of discipline.
My rebellion against discipline is often tied up in how I see it and in what is driving me towards it. When I associate discipline with punishment alone, then a fear of disappointing those that I love, of disappointing God, paralyses me and all I can hear are voices of condemnation. When I look to discipline because I am driven to perform, driven to prove what a 'good girl' I am, it becomes a relentless master that I cannot appease.
I have a very wise father, and he once said something that has always stayed with me, shifting how I viewed the subject of discipline. He said: We must steward our desires with discipline. Desire without discipline is fantasy.
What if I could see discipline as the vehicle through which I steward the desires that God has planted within me? What if instead of connecting it to fear and punishment, I saw it through the lens of love and grace?
Proverbs 3:12 tells us:
For the Father’s discipline comes only from his passionate love and pleasure for you. Even when it seems like his correction is harsh, it’s still better than any father on earth gives to his child.
God disciplines us, and encourages us to discipline our own lives, because His heart is to facilitate the freedom and the fullness that He created us for.
Because while we might think of freedom as licence, it is actually the power to choose well. And if we want to enter into all that God has for us, we will use our freedom to steward that desire with the appropriate disciplines.
People who accept discipline are on the pathway to life.
My own journey in recent months has reminded me that the absence of discipline was robbing me of freedom and fruitfulness and that I needed to make wiser choices.
Without disciplining myself to spend time in the Word I was being robbed of the power of its truth. My life and my heart couldn't be washed by its wisdom.
Without disciplining myself to be connected; to gather regularly with other believers I was being robbed of the power of what happens when two or more gather. I was robbed of their gifts in my life.
Without disciplining myself to pray and commune with God, I was being robbed of the power of intimacy. I was missing out not only on sharing my heart, but on hearing His.
I have felt the gentle and yet firm whisper of God inviting me to interweave my freedom with discipline, and as I have heeded His correction, I have been reminded why the puritans referred to spiritual disciplines as disciplines of grace. Disciplines, when they flow from our freedom to choose, instead of our efforts to prove ourselves, create times and spaces for us to experience the grace of God in our lives.
So I'm learning (yet again) to slow the pendulum down; to allow freedom and discipline to come together to shape my life.
What desires is God inviting you to steward with discipline in this season?
I could see the whispers of fog wrapping themselves around the trees outside my bedroom window and it captured the emotion of how this season feels for me. Of how I'm not quite sure of what comes next but aware that there is beauty in the midst of the fog; in the midst of this somewhat ambiguous time in my life.
You see, as I've been journeying through my season of letting go--a season that has lasted longer and touched more areas of my life than I ever envisaged that it would--I've become aware that the satisfied life isn't always found where you expected it to be. That Scripture is full of people whom God called to step away from what they had planned and built for themselves to step into what was unknown and wouldn't always be fully realised in their own lifetime.
Men like Abraham who left his homeland--left the familiar and comfortable--to say yes to an undisclosed destination.
Women like Jesus' mother Mary whose surrendered yes took her down unexpected and sometimes lonely and painful paths.
People like the disciples who had trained in various professions and left it all behind to follow Jesus.
And so many more for whom the path looked different to what they had anticipated.
We have the benefit of knowing the end of their stories--of knowing they stayed the course to possess what was promised even if they did take some detours along the way. But they must have had their in-between times and seasons like we all do. The days, weeks, months and even years where they didn't quite know how it was all going to turn out. Where the fog wrapped around their hearts and minds and tried to obscure their vision.
But here's the thing that I've learnt about fog: you don't have to be able to see everything that lies ahead to keep moving forward. You just need enough light to illuminate where you currently are.
Now this truth is not always easy for me to accept. I like to have things all planned out. To know the end-goal and exactly how we're going to get there. But life's not that simple--the journey is not always linear like we think it should be—and I doubt it was for the ancients either.
God offers to be the light that illuminates our path just as He has for those who have gone before us. For His presence to be a light within us and without. I've discovered that when knowing Him and not my own agenda becomes the goal, that the fog around me begins to clear and the beauty of who He is and how He loves me, shines bright. As David wrote:
For it is you who light my lamp; the LORD my God lightens my darkness.
All our worrying, all our striving and efforts to clear the path for ourselves will not bring clarity in the fog because clarity comes from intimacy. Only trust, only relationship with the One who sees all; with the One for whom the darkness is as light (Psalm 139:12) can cause the fog around our hearts and minds to clear.
Later that day, the sun shone bright. All trace of the morning fog had lifted and I was reminded that there will come a day when we see clearly; when we know and understand in full because we see Him face to face (1 Cor, 13:12). Our revelation, our knowing continually grows and deepens as we know Him more, but none of us can know fully this side of eternity. For now, we only see in part and the journey of faith is to keep saying yes. To keep trusting in who He is, allowing His goodness, His love to be the light for where we find ourselves; to be the light that leads us forward.
How can you let Him shine His light for you today?
From the moment we wake up, we are faced with decisions - what to eat, what to wear, should we even get up or should we hit snooze for another 5 minutes (this is not really a choice in my household as the alarm clock comes in the form of a VERY busy 2 year old!). Some decisions we make almost automatically, but others, well they weigh heavy. We want to get it right. We're afraid of getting it wrong, perhaps we worry we'll miss out on what God has for us.
For me, this fear of getting it wrong coupled with my deep-seated desire to honour God with my choices, became somewhat paralysing. I had brought into a false interpretation of Romans 12:2 where Paul writes:
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - His good, pleasing and perfect will.
His good, pleasing and perfect will. I'd understood this verse as progressive 'levels' of living in God's will that we could experience rather than as a description of the nature of God's will. So I thought why would you settle for what was merely 'good' if you had the opportunity to walk in what was 'perfect'? For someone wired as I am, this self-imposed pressure to not just avoid making wrong decisions, but also to then try and discern whether I was choosing what was good or attaining perfection, was incredibly dis-empowering. It threatened to rob me of the freedom to make decisions.
It wasn't until we were faced with an impossible decision for our family that tore at my heart and I heard God's whisper--it's okay Aimee, if you think you can keep going that's great, if you need to stop, that's okay too, either way I love you--that I came to understand that there isn't always 'one' right decision. Sometimes (or oftentimes), there are several 'good' options and God trusts us to choose.
God is a sovereign God, He is still on His throne and He rules and reigns. But He has also chosen to partner with us--He has created us in His image and entrusted His creation to our care until His return. And because we reflect Him, we have the ability to think and to feel; to dream and to create--and He wants to see us use these abilities.
He has invited us to enter into relationship with Him and this relationship does not render us powerless; it does not require us to act like robots or reduce us to clones of one another; it does not reduce our lives to a predetermined script. In fact, He empowers us and makes us able to test and approve what His will is.
It's a bit like those 'Choose your own Adventure' books--the ones where every few pages you're presented with different options and where you choose to go next determines the ending of the story. In some editions there were up to forty possible endings! Rather than having one fixed ending, I've discovered that in life there are a variety of possible outcomes and paths that we might go down and they all have the potential to have God-honouring endings. To be marked out by what is good, pleasing and perfect.
The paradox of this freedom and power to test and approve God's will is that it requires complete surrender. It requires us to hold nothing back, to be what Paul describes as a living sacrifice.
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life - your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life - and place it before God as an offering.
Such a surrender is a safe-guard to the incredible freedom we have in Christ. God can always work with a heart that genuinely desires to serve and honour Him--even if we mis-step or mis-interpret what His Word says, He is big enough to redirect us and get us back on track.
And as we surrender our lives to Him--as we trust in the goodness of His nature and His purposes--our hearts and minds are transformed and renewed. Made whole. We no longer measure our options against the world's standards and wisdom, but against His. When life feels like a multi-choice test, we are able to recognise the paths that hold what is good, pleasing and perfect. And then, we can exercise our freedom to choose.
Over the past year or so, my husband and I have had to process A LOT of decisions - life-altering decisions --and I am so grateful that I am no longer afraid of 'getting it wrong.' That I am no longer (or at least less frequently) plagued by decision-paralysis because I know that I have been empowered to make choices.
And with each decision, we return to our posture of surrender, inviting God to confirm or correct the path we have chosen. Expectant that as we seek to honour Him, this life will hold untold adventures.
What adventures are waiting for you to choose them?
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?
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.