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?
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.
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.