Sometimes something has to die for there to be space for life

Our neighbours are getting ready to build their new home. It is quite a huge task, not the least of it including the removal of a number of trees. And these are not your average suburban bushes, but towering 40+ metre (120+ft) mountain ash, up to 100 years old. As these giants started to come down, my days were rendered with a backdrop of the whine of chainsaws, the cracking of timbers and the massive, ground shaking thump as they were felled.

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Part way through this process, I found myself starting to feel some grief about the fact that something so magnificent and beautiful had to die to make way for a home. But right into the middle of those thoughts and feelings came a reminder of who our God is:

He is a God who creates space for life.

One of the most profound examples of this comes from Genesis 1:1, where God creates the earth as void – the whole earth is created as a space for life - and then God fills it with an incredible abundance of life.

Unfortunately, we have spent much of the intervening time re-filling our days with, and even chasing after, that which is not life and does not lead to life. We’ve done it since the fall, where we believed the lie of the enemy of our soul: that which looks good is good for us.

We have often crammed our lives so full that there is no longer any space for God and the life He has for us.

Recently, in conversations I had as I organised a prayer event, I came across numbers of people who said how much they wanted to be part of it all, a time to stop and seek God, but just didn’t have the space. This was not just individuals, but also a number of churches – their programs and schedules were already too full to be part of even an hour.

Over the past year or so, God has been highlighting to me the need to be careful and to really seek Him regarding those things that I allow to fill my time. The last little while, this has intensified to the point where it is getting to the daily, to check in with Him: is this ok for me to pick up?

As I reflect on the idea of these giants, I really feel that there is a strong call from God to His people - both at an individual and a corporate level – to reassess what we are doing.

Are there giants that we have allowed to fill the space God has given us for life, within our days, our families, our church communities that actually need to be removed or even put to death?

Have our programs, our activities, our busy-ness grown so huge that we don’t have time and space left for that which - if asked - most of us would put a high value on: our time with God, worshipping Him, praying, and simply waiting to hear from Him?

Sometimes, as I look at our church services, perhaps the one time in the week we deliberately put aside for God - I feel that we can do the same even there – program out any space for Him. Often that time is tightly regulated: how long we worship in song, how long we pray, how long the message can go for, so that we can rush out and get on with all the rest of our lives.

Are we willing and open for God to break into our sacred places and override us?

My challenge to myself and to you is to set some time aside in the next few days – or even over Lent – to allow, or take back, some time for God to speak into those things filling our days. Ask Him if there are things He wants us to do less of or even stop? Are there giants in our lives that He wants to root out to give space for Him again? It may cost and be awkward – some people may not like it, nor understand; it may even cause some whining, upheaval and mess, but I promise you, it will be worth it!

Got protection?

A number of years back, I got one of those 'too good to refuse' offers on a home security package. Somehow, I got suckered into listening to the sales spiel - I think it came with a 'free offer' (read: just listen to this guy for an hour and we will give you a free meal/holiday/gift situated somewhere you'll never get to at a time that is equally unavailable). The sales pitch consisted of painting the absolute worst case scenario about what thieves had done to other homes and would do to your home if you didn't have proper security. Fortunately, it came with a 24-hour cooling off period!

Although we have become much more savvy at picking apart sales pitches and avoiding these sorts of traps, we can still be quite easily triggered by our supposed need for protection from all the ills in the world. Whether it be protecting our finances through various forms of insurance, our bodies from the sun, sex or car accidents, we don't have to look too far through advertisements to find that many are pitched at our need for protection of some kind: the list is endless.

So why do they work?

The trigger to buy comes from our feeling the need for protection, which is the outworking of us feeling unsafe, whether through perceived or real threat. Underlying all this, though, what is really being poked is our fear button. If you don't buy this product, this is what could happen and you would do well to be afraid! 

It is not just in the physical realm that our need for protection gets triggered, though. Most likely you can also think of times where you have been surprised by your reaction to a circumstance or person that has been way beyond rational or even helpful. At some deep level, our fear response gets triggered to flight or fight and many times, our protection mechanisms have popped up before we are even aware. 

The problem is, going into protection mode is generally not something we have control over. Our responses are so innate, so automatic and so familiar that we think they are simply normal. Perhaps for you, it is putting on your big voice, talking over the antagonist, shutting them down, either through your volume, the cutting words you use, or simply denigrating everything they say. You might even use your physical body to make you seem bigger and more powerful, and you may not even be conscious that you do it. 

For others, you may withdraw inside yourself, or remove yourself physically, shut down and refuse to engage any further, hiding from whatever makes you feel fearful. 

And it is not just external responses that we use to protect us. At an even deeper level, we also engage a complex series of beliefs about people, the world and our circumstances that also help us to feel safe or protected.

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In my own journey, I became aware of just how extensively my protective systems were being used in the way I interacted with others. An example that comes to mind is the belief that people are broken and that they cannot help but hurt you at some point. This is true and so appears to be helpful. In terms of protection it led me to engaging with distrust. It meant I lived from a perspective that no one was really trustworthy.

I put a barrier around my heart with this belief that said no one is safe, so don't let them get too close, then they can't hurt you.

Don't trust them too much, don't care too much about them, their opinion or their words, and then they can't hurt you. 

Along the journey, I came to a point where I realised that I was struggling to receive love, care, affection, affirmation or encouragement from anyone or anywhere. Even though people may have given these to me, I couldn't receive it because I didn't trust them. It soon became clear that this protective belief, so grounded in 'truth', not only kept the bad out, but also the good, even from God.

And this highlights the problem of our protection mechanisms. Whether we use distrust, offense, anger, hatred, bitterness, hurt (to name a few), to protect ourselves, what we are actually saying to God is that we also don't trust Him, that His opinion or provision is not enough, that He doesn't have ability or power to protect us, so we partner with something else instead. We actually replace our relationship with God with something else.

What is the answer?

It is easy to say “God”, but if you are anything like me, you might wonder what that looks like?

How do I actually engage with God as the answer?

For me, in the above scenario, as I was sharing my struggle with knowing in my head that I needed to receive from God, but fearful of the pain of hurt from others, God actually gave me the answer to the problem. What I saw was that His love was all the protection I needed. The picture was of a ‘bubble of love’ surrounding me, like a soap bubble, beautifully shimmering with ever changing colour. Even as I saw it, my spirit was asking, but how can it protect me, it is so fragile, as soon as anything touches it, it will pop! However, at the same time, God showed me that His love was actually very strong and had the ability to only allow good stuff in and keep the bad stuff out. The fiery darts of the enemy just bounced off!

Although I still find myself liable to hurt from others at times, I do know from this that I have my safe space, my strong, protective tower in the love of God. I can always head into that space to receive His love for me. Remembering that my identity is found in what He says about me and His love for me gives me strength and, hopefully, all the protection I need.

Why not ask Him what you are using to protect your heart and what He would like to replace it with, if its not Him?