When anticipation doesn't deliver the goods you expected

At the beginning of this year, I felt God give me the word “anticipation”. It came with a real sense of excitement and joy bubbling up in my spirit. I was ready to see what would happen. As we have waited for breakthrough in a number of areas of our life, I felt sure this sense of anticipation would deliver the goods in at least some of these.

As we near the end of the year and I reflect on what has been, I realise that sense of anticipation has not decreased. It has not dissipated the way so many other New Year’s hopes and dreams do as the year goes on. It has actually increased! However, we are still waiting for those breakthroughs in our personal life. Nothing seems to have shifted; we seem no closer to an outcome, yet I can say with conviction that hope still has not disappointed me.

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I am reminded, though, of what the Jewish nation was going through a little over 2000 years ago. Under harsh Roman rule, they scoured the Scriptures, trying to see if they could further pinpoint when their Saviour, the Messiah, would appear. In all their deliberations and calculations, they were quite certain that it should be soon. They were on the lookout.

But so many of them missed it.

Their anticipation and expectations were not fulfilled. At least, not in the way they were thinking it would happen.

They looked for a king who would come in military might to overthrow the Romans and bring Israel back to the glory days of David and Solomon. They looked for freedom from tyranny and the salvation of their nation from annihilation.

But what they got was a baby, a helpless, crying baby from an impoverished, low class background, with questionable paternity.

They had no concept of how this could possibly lead to their salvation and restoration, how this baby could be a King,

so they missed the signs, missed the joy and missed the celebration.

Anticipation is a term for many contexts, good and, well, not so good. Sometimes it is helpful to us - especially when we are anticipating someone doing something they shouldn’t on the road in front of us! But at others, anticipation can lead us to downright disappointment. I remember as a child, the sense of anticipation in the lead up to Christmas. Would I get that longed for gift? And even when I had no idea of what the gifts might be, there was always the excitement and hope associated with getting any gift. And, yes, sometimes there was disappointment when the longed-for gift didn’t eventuate or wasn’t quite what was wanted, the disappointment of hope deferred.

Heading into Christmas this year, I was aware that the childlike sense of anticipation has dissipated for many of us. Perhaps one too many disappointments has eroded our capacity to engage with hope anymore. And maybe life is just not as simple as it was in the past; a long year may have left us weary and possibly a little more jaded.

Maybe, like me (and the Israelites) you have been waiting for a long time to see a hoped for change or breakthrough. Maybe, like Sarah, Rachael, Hannah and others, you wonder if you missed a turn off, made a mistake, or simply didn’t hear quite right. Perhaps you wonder if you should have or could have done something different to bring about the promise: thoughts we have had a number of times in the last few years.

And yet, as I turn my focus from what I want to what I see, from my longings to what is happening around me, I realise that there is a bigger picture. Just as the arrival of Messiah had way bigger ramifications for the Jewish people - past them to a global perspective; past their time to all ages - my longings and desires must come into line with the bigger plan God has and His timings for it all. It is the place I find myself returning to again and again. It is the place where I find the grace to take the next step in my waiting. It is the place where I learn again to celebrate ALL He is doing. And here, I find - amazingly - I can look with anticipation and GREAT JOY toward all He has for us in the New Year and in the years to come.

Tired of the same old song? Maybe it's time for a NEW SONG!

As we rush towards the half way mark of this year, I have been reflecting back on some of what God has been saying to me over the last six months. 

I began the year in anticipation, which was accompanied by about three months of drought. (You can check out my thoughts on this period on previous blogs here.)

My last blog was written at the time a significant shift occurred with a day of rain. I believe it heralded a shift in the spiritual world as well. Doors are opening that have the possibility to bring great changes in God’s people, the Church and beyond. 

The word I got at that time was disruption Get ready for disruption! As I look around, I would have to say that this has happened. There has been a number of disruptions in various ways and may be more to come. Some of this has been obviously good, some has been more difficult. All of it means we have to shift and change our ways of doing things to manage. Sometimes we have to let go of other stuff to do what is really important. While it might disrupt the status quo - the ‘normal’, what God is doing in the midst of it has the potential to grow and transform us and our community.

While I won’t go into all the details here, a number of things are happening and growing around me in ways I haven’t seen before, particularly in the unity and collaboration of Christians across denominations and backgrounds to do Kingdom work. In the middle of all this, God is speaking ever deeper to my heart about His heart. Here are three things that stand out.
The first is that He has been talking to me about REST. Not rest in the sense of an absence of activity, but rest in the sense of a lack of worry and anxiety. He has shown me that rest is closely related to TRUST. Anything we worry, have anxiety, or a lack of REST about is a place where we need an upgrade in our TRUST in God. 

When we are going through change, it is easy to get worried about so much. For me, it is the sense of “will I cope” or “what if this is bigger than my ability/strength/capabilities?” “What if it is all too much for me?” Learning not to run ahead of the Holy Spirit is part of dealing with this. Remembering that He will provide all our needs in the places He takes us also helps.

The second focus is about our role as the Bride of Christ. Ephesians 5 talks of the preparation of the Church as the Bride of Jesus through cleansing and purification. The question is whether we are willing to be prepared? Are we willing to lay down our old life, the ‘life’ the world promises for life with Him? (You can listen to more on these topics in a message I gave at my local church recently titled “Peace and Safety: Living in uncertain times”).

The third was a word I felt God give me at a retreat a couple of weeks back about it being time for us, His people, to sing a new song. It wasn’t necessarily about music or words, but about our attitude, heart and foundations. The sense is that God is calling us to become a people of worship; that our worship of Him is to become the foundation of our lives, the base line for all we do and how we live. No matter the circumstances of our lives or around us, we are to start with worship and to live through worship with all our being. 

10 Points extra if you can correctly name this song!

10 Points extra if you can correctly name this song!

Psalm 137:4 comes to mind. When the Israelites were in exile in Babylon and their captors wanted them to sing their response was

“How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?”

When we are going through tough times, times of brokenness, pain or loss, it can be a very foreign place to sing God’s praises. It is counterintuitive.

Sometimes we would rather get mad at Him!

I was recently reminded though, that we are created to worship. Whether it is God or something else, we are always worshipping.

What is it that claims your time and attention?

What are you devoted to? What do you focus on? What is more important – your comfort and safety or God’s will? The answers to these questions give a good indication of what is most important to you, and hence, what you tend to worship. Challenging, isn’t it!

When we have lived out of our circumstances, maybe complaining or wanting to fight the injustices we see, or in offence or fear, whether personal or toward others, we have shifted our focus from Creator to created. However, I sense that Father God is calling us back to Himself, calling our focus back to Him, off ourselves, our needs, our feelings and back onto Who He is in a big way. He is not content with a little bit of us or our time, but wants ALL of us, ALL the time. It’s not about faking it until we make it, but about being real with Him, listening to Him, waiting on Him.

Do you feel that new song rising up in you? Let it rise, let it come out in a new and deeper way of worshipping God, body, mind and spirit. Open yourself up, be completely vulnerable with Him – let Him in to all those places you want to hide, bringing His healing and His cleansing, His purification and worship will fill each of those places anew. And as we each do this, those around us will also be drawn to worship God. As He is given all the glory due to Him, more will be drawn to worship Him. Imagine if we became known as “The People of The Song”, and as we sing His praise more and more people want to join in, bringing glory to God in an ever increasing spiral upwards.

Psalm 96 (NIV) is a great starting place:

Sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, praise His name;
proclaim His salvation day after day.
Declare His glory among the nations,
His marvellous deeds among all peoples.

For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
He is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the nations are idols,
but the Lord made the heavens.
Splendour and majesty are before Him;
strength and glory are in His sanctuary.

Ascribe to the Lord, all you families of nations,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name;
bring an offering and come into His courts.
Worship the Lord in the splendour of His holiness;
tremble before Him, all the earth.
Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns.”
The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved;
He will judge the peoples with equity.

Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
let the sea resound, and all that is in it.
Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;
let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.
Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for He comes,
He comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
and the peoples in His faithfulness.

 

Get ready for disruption!

Yesterday I went to meet some friends in the central part of the city. I thought I would catch the train as I enjoy being out among people as well as being able to sit and think my own thoughts or read a book on the hour long journey. On the way to the station, it started to rain. Getting there early, I sat in the car for a few minutes waiting for the rain to abate and eventually made the trek through the pouring rain to the platform, only to find the train was cancelled. Being a Saturday, the next one was going to get me in way too late, so I decided I was better off driving.

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On my way, I reflected on my disappointment with not being on the train and the extra pressure of driving on the freeway in heavy rain, not to mention the traffic jams, gridlock and detours at the other end. Asking God about what was going on, the first word that popped into my head was "disruption". Yep, that was true. My day wasn't wrecked and even my overall plans hadn't changed. They had just been disrupted. What disrupted them was that rain!

If you have been following my previous posts, you would know that we have been longing for rain. It has been about 10 weeks since we have had any significant rain, so I could not possibly be upset or annoyed about the rain. However, it did disrupt me. Besides the train being cancelled, I was wearing sandals and my feet got wet! (Everyone say "ohhh")

However, as is His way, this wasn’t the only time this week God has flagged disruption with me. On Thursday we had our 'lives' disrupted when our new neighbour was taking down a tree and managed to drop our telephone line in the process - no internet!! Quelle horreur! Amazingly, Telstra came out and fixed it within a couple of hours and I got a lovely bottle of red from the neighbour for our trouble. But, oh, the potential for disruption!

The third disruption happened today, with a farewell to our much loved senior pastor and his wife as they (and we) move into a new season. This one has the even more potential for real disruption. Replacing a pastor is not usually a quick and easy process and there is the problem of keeping up momentum in the meantime. And what if we don't like the new person? What if they want to change stuff we like? What if they make us uncomfortable?

Coming back to the rain, what strikes me is that sometimes the things we really want to see happen, that we know are from God impact us in unforeseen ways and disrupt our lives. However, I do believe that when God disrupts us, there is always blessing and provision in the midst of it, (way better than phone data and red wine!)

It reminds me of when my daughter was born. I was ready to be a mum. I wanted to be a mum. I was so happy when she was born (she was getting way too big and uncomfortable inside!) and I finally got to meet her. It was so amazing to go through that experience of a new being growing inside you and of becoming a family. 

However, boy did it disrupt my life!

I remember having a conversation with myself one morning at 3am as I was awake feeding her, having my very own little pity party about disrupted sleep. "You wanted this - and this is what it means to have a child. No, your life will never be the same, but it is a good thing."

So, yesterday, when my day was disrupted by the rain in the middle of it all, I felt God was saying, 

Get ready for disruption!

Many of us are longing for change. We are longing for God to step in and bring about those shifts, whether in our personal lives or in our communities and beyond. As we look around the world, we are longing for the transformation that only God can bring: New Life!

And what I feel God is saying to us is: 

"You want change? You want transformation? You want Me to birth something new? Well, get ready for disruption. I am going to do something, and it is going to be big, but I warn you, it is going to disrupt you. Are you ready for that? Anything other than Me that you have held on to as central, as so important, vital even, in your life, are you prepared to have disruption there? Because when I come, I disrupt the status quo, I disrupt the comfortable, I disrupt the satisfied, I disrupt the self-important and self-focussed. There is something bigger at hand, and I am not going to let anything come before it. I'm not going to let anything disrupt my disruption!"

If you don't believe me, just look at what happened when Jesus came the first time - even as a tiny baby, He caused huge disruption. By the time He was a fully grown man. He caused so much disruption to people that they wanted to kill Him, which is exactly what they did, and He even disrupted that, by rising from the dead!

So how will you respond to God's disruptions to your plans, your comfort? Will you complain? Will you throw yourself a little pity party? Will you run and hide? Or will you ask Him to show you the way forward, and embrace the new path, be ready to pour yourself out for whatever God is doing to bring about that change?

Get ready! Disruption is coming!!

 

Hungry?

In a dry and dusty season, my soul starts to feel as parched as the land. Looking around my garden, I am noticing more and more plants starting to wither and die. Down the road, the once bright green fronds of the tree ferns are weighed down with a suffocating coat of grey dust. After really good rain in December - the first month of our summer - we had a little rain early in January, followed by virtually no rain in February and March is shaping up the same. As I posted earlier, the promise of rain a week ahead slowly dissipates into the actuality of an all too brief shower, or less, a vague sprinkling.

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The cooler weather brings some relief and balmy dry days should be a joy, until the impact of these, day after day, start to show up. And because we are now having to buy water trucked in to fill our tanks, we are a little choosy about where we use it. 

And meantime, the weather continues to reflect our own waiting time: waiting for the change in our season, too.

Over the last week or so, God has been nudging me again though.

"What do you want to show me, Father?"

I am reminded of a picture God gave me a couple of years back. It was a little confronting, seeing Jesus at my feet, attaching sandals. They were like those of a Roman soldier, with laces tying up around my calves. He was making sure they sat comfortable and flat, but were firm. My reflection at the time was that they needed to be on firmly to give support and protection for a long journey, to give strength and longevity to my stride.

Looking back, I know that there have been many times I have wanted to give up, wanted to let go of the dream. "Perhaps I heard you wrongly, perhaps I am just a daydreamer. Perhaps we should be going in another direction." Each time I have felt myself nearing that breaking point, as I have sought His face and heart again, I have come away strengthened, encouraged and refreshed, at least enough to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I realise that I have needed the spiritual footwear that Jesus gave me.

Even more recently, another picture has come to mind. 

As we enter our third month without sufficient rain, I have been reflecting on the promises of the beginning of the year: 2018 will be a year of great moves of the Spirit; the word I felt God give me, "ANTICIPATION"; of a new season of abundance. However, it feels as though we are getting the exact opposite. The ministries I am involved in are very quiet, longed for breakthroughs don't seem to be coming, and meanwhile our society seems to be going down a ever darkening spiritual path.

What is going on God?

In the last couple of weeks, I have had two other pictures that, even as I have shared them, have found me bubbling with anticipation and hope again.

The first was to do with the quietness I was sensing in the Spirit, like nothing was happening. I was reminded of stories from people who experienced the tsunami in Indonesia and Thailand. Suddenly everything went still and quiet as the water disappeared way out to sea. This is exactly what I am sensing - what appears to be a quiet withdrawal by God. But it is what comes after that brings the sense of anticipation - the water comes back in force, in power, overwhelming everything in its path. However, in this case, rather than being a force of destruction and death, God's tsunami brings cleansing and new life. 

In among this, is a sense of God almost holding His breath, waiting for the right moment to bring in the winds of change. It reminds me of Bert in Mary Poppins: "Winds in the east, mist coming in, Like somethin' is brewin' and bout to begin..." It's like the hushed stillness before a storm.

The other picture is more of a challenge. It started with a series of thoughts about being hungry. The first was about not being so hungry you will accept anything to answer the hunger for more. This was specifically about being so hungry for a move of God that we accept what is good rather than what is God. 

The second part of this was about our hunger for God.

The challenge that came to mind was that even while I am in this place of waiting for the answer to the promise (just like Abraham, really),

how hungry am I for God?

Do I look for other things to fill that space? Do I look for ways in which I can make the promise come about?

The picture I got here was of a person travelling through the wilderness or desert. We might start out with all the things we think we need to make our journey comfortable, pleasant and even survivable. Like when I go camping - I like to take all my comfort supplies: extra blankets, hairdryer, tasty snacks, all the clothes I think I might possibly need, plenty of books...

However, if we start to run out of sustenance and water, the other things start to lose their appeal. When we are struggling to keep going, the excess baggage starts getting left behind. We start to understand what is really important to us.

I sense here that God may allow us to go through periods of difficulty, where things don't seem to be going the way we would like, when we get to the point where we are so weary that we really start to question and examine what is really important to us. I think that it is in this place where

we discover what we have given higher precedence than God.

Is it our way of life? Is it our job or career? Is it even the needs of our family? Our kids? Our spouse? Our ministry?

I am wondering right now, whether sometimes God makes us wait until all those things lose their place of preeminence, and in our hunger for God, get put back in their right order. When we get so desperate for a touch of God, for a move of God, when we realise that all the other things are meaningless and unimportant without Him, and we lay them down, we move into a place where we stop trying to manipulate Him.

I found this Spiderlily randomly growing in my garden - as I looked at it, I noticed gold glitter on its petals. In the midst of drought, God's glory continues to shine out in His creation!

I found this Spiderlily randomly growing in my garden - as I looked at it, I noticed gold glitter on its petals. In the midst of drought, God's glory continues to shine out in His creation!

What He really wants is not our conditions, bribes and manipulations: "if you give me this, do this for me, I will serve you", or even the more subtle desires of the proof we want of His love for us, when we desire certain blessings, no matter how faith-filled and 'for-His-glory" they may seem.

In this place of hunger, all our motives lie bare and exposed for the self-seeking that they are.

In this place, where we find that none of them really mean anything without Him, then maybe we are really ready to serve, really ready to lay down our whole lives, every aspect, to pick up our cross and follow Him.

And maybe then we are ready to go on that next step, where He really does get ALL the glory and we are lost in His Shadow, and there we are found whole, holy and wholly in Him. 

What's Your Next Season?

There are only two certainties in life: Death and Taxes.

So goes the quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin. Not wanting to upstage him at all, though, I would like to add a third certainty: Change. Change is just as inevitable. The way we respond to change, however, is as unique as each of us.

My husband and I are going through one of those changes in life right now. As we move toward becoming "empty-nesters", the next generation of our family is arriving. Our niece had her first baby last October (so now I have graduated from being an ordinary, run-of-the-mill aunt to being a great-aunt!), and we became grandparents in January, with a second grandchild on the way in August. It is a new season in our lives, and one we are happy to see.

But what happens when we approach changes we are not so sure about? What happens when we are comfortable where we are, and we don't want things to change? How do we deal with changes we just don't want?

 

Sitting out on our deck recently, I noticed that a few leaves on the trees were starting to exchange their vibrant summer green for their autumn glory. It got me thinking: how do the leaves know it is getting time to change? The weather didn't seem any cooler or wetter. And what makes some leaves change earlier and others wait?

As I reflected on this, I realised that it was a good picture of how we humans can respond to the changing seasons of life.

Some people are ahead of the game. They can see change is coming, and they get ready straight away, embracing it with gusto. While others are still settling in after the previous shift, they are already looking ahead, already preparing for and getting excited about what is coming.

For others, they wait a little longer, wait until they are sure the change is coming. Like the leaves realising the temperature is dropping, the days are significantly shorter, we can wait until the previous season is definitely over before we are ready for the next. Sometimes we see the trend, also. We see the increasing numbers of others ready for change, and we join them, moving with them, not wanting to be left behind.

Then there are those who just want things to stay the way they are. We can be like those leaves that just hang on and hang on, all through winter, stubbornly refusing to let go of the tree even though they are well and truly past their prime, brown and dried up, but refusing to drop. We can be just as stubborn, holding on to the past when that season has well and truly finished and we should be well in to the next.

Jesus talked a bit about recognising seasons in some of His final messages, (see Luke 21, for example). In the middle of describing some of the signs of the times, He reminds us not to be afraid, (v.9), but to be alert, ready for what is next (v.34-6). The bridal party in Matthew 25 is another great example of our need to be prepared for what is imminent, to be looking ahead.

Dealing with change has been a real struggle for me at times. Either living in denial of my need to change, or having unrealistic beliefs about my ability to change things back to how they were kept me stuck at a number of points in my life, even contributing to depression at one point.

Over the journey of transformation that God has led me on, I have realised that burying my head or running away is counter productive. I have learnt that it is much less painful and far quicker to embrace change, to push past the struggle; to meet the difficulty head on in those times where change is not my choice. I have learnt that although change can be uncomfortable, if I allow myself to move and even be changed with it, the benefits generally far outweigh any discomfort.

Although we can get very comfortable in the season we are in, and wish we could stay there forever, just like the leaf on the branch, refusing to fall, we end up out of place and alone. The weather has changed around us, and we find it is no longer as comfortable as it once was. One way or another, we will get shifted on by what it coming next. It is up to us whether we jump or get pushed. 

What changes are on the horizon for you? Are you  ready to allow your true colours to come through as you launch off your branch into the next season?

It's about to explode!

Spring is on its way!

Yes, dull, dreary, drizzly days may suggest otherwise, but the inevitable pull of life force tells another story. 

You can virtually feel the buzz of the energy of burgeoning life pulsating the air. Like a racehorse waiting at the gate, itching to burst forth, Spring is coming

Blossoms bursting forth on magnolias, rhododendrons, camellias and daffodils call out the news. Spring is coming!

Oh yes, the trees still hold their bare, dead limbs towards the heavens, pleading for sunshine, pleading for warmth, but their fingertips are showing signs of life as the first tips of green appear.

Spring is coming!

Approaching the end of a season of winter, it is easy to feel that this season will never end, that change and renewal are not possible, that it is all too hard. The idea that it is always darkest before the dawn doesn't seem to hold hope, but despair. Will this never end?

But I feel promise in the air. A change is coming, a big change.  A promise of fruitfulness, of newness, and not just a little bit, not just a regular amount. I hear the clarion call - get ready! Are you ready for all that this Spring will bring? For the inevitable harvest that comes from an abundance of nourishment and refreshing rain from heaven? 

The One who loves us is calling to us: come join Me, come join the fun! An abundance of new life is about to burst forth. Come revel in it with Me!

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. 
(Isa 43:19)