When your tank is running dry

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It’s only just past 10 in the morning, and already I have found myself looking up at the sky many times today. What started out as blue skies has gradually been covered with ever darkening clouds. The wind is strong from the north and the temperature was already over 25°C at 8am. The humidity is well up and I am dripping. But what I am hoping for still hasn’t arrived. What has been promised by the weather bureau so many times may just pass us by again.

RAIN!

As we near the official end of summer, we are feeling the effects of very minimal rain over the last two months. The grass is a dry grey-brown and some plants are looking very much worse for wear. Even the weeds are dying! Being reliant on our rain tanks, we have had to pay for water to be trucked in.

Please let it rain today!

Perhaps you can relate to this - those feelings of disappointment about hopes that seem to never materialise and maybe you even feel as though disappointment has been a recurring theme in your life?

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Back at Christmas, I was reminded anew of this struggle between hope and delivery.

In many ways, Christmas can be fraught with unmet hopes and disappointments. However, this year I was reminded of the depth and reality of hopes actually being met at that first Christmas.

In the lead up to Christmas, I experienced a number of disappointments. So I was really not feeling very celebratory at all and trying desperately to find some meaning in all the festivities. 

Finally, on the morning of Christmas Eve in church I had my own little epiphany. I am not sure why - I am not aware of anything especially different being said, and the Christmas carols we sang were not unusual. But somewhere in the midst of the singing, I found myself reflecting "this really did happen". Jesus really was born to real people who experienced those things we are told about. Mary really had an encounter with the Holy Spirit, Joseph really had those struggles and those dreams. The shepherds really had an angelic encounter. Anna and Simeon were real people who finally saw their hopes birthed in Jesus. It really all happened

Don't get me wrong. I hadn't been having a faith crisis or anything. This was simply a new level of 'knowing'. It was as though it almost became my own memory. Think of the Israelites, who told their stories over and over and other cultures where stories of the past are told - it becomes part of their cultural memory. It wasn't just a story that happened to someone else at some other time. It happened to their family.

It's a bit like the ownership we start to take of our ancestors when we find out more about them. Even if we never knew them, their story becomes part of our DNA. I have been sensing this particularly with members of my family tree who were involved in Christian ministry or mission - there is a greater level of affinity. (Although, I am not sure what this says about a large proportion of Australian people who would like to find they had convicts in their ancestry!)

Back to my own journey, this experience was not simply an anomaly or blip along the way. It tied in well with another insight I sensed from God around the same time.

This was to do with hope. I was reminded again of my own story and the realisation there are two ways to hope in God.

One is the belief that it is all about our ability. The belief that if we can cling tightly enough to God, we will get to the places and circumstances He has for us; we will be ok. But we have to do the work to cling to Him, to press further into Him. I recall the picture He gave me some time ago of how I had been when my first marriage ended, where I was like a little child being taught to float in the pool. Even as I was told, "lay back and relax, I've got you, I won't let go", I was clinging so tightly that I wasn't even in the water! My fear of the unknown, the future was preventing me trusting that God had it all under control.

What I sensed Him reminding me was that hope is not all about us. It is not even about our ability to hope.

Hope is about rest.

If we hope in God, it is not vain hope. It is hope at rest. We know He is good, we know He is able.

The alternative to hope is hopelessness, which can lead to despair. When we make hope all about our workings, then when those things we would like to see come about don't, we quickly fall into feeling powerless in our ability to do anything. Which, really, is the whole point of faith and prayer. It is the recognition that we are powerless to make God do anything, to change many circumstances we find ourselves in. 

As I was doing my Lenten readings the other day, I didn’t get past the first few words of one of the Scriptures. As I read it, I just wanted to stop there and soak deeply in what God showed me. It was so freeing! The reading was from Isaiah 9:6-7

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders…Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end.”

It is Jesus who shoulders the responsibility of the governments and the governance of every aspect of our world, human as well as all the physical, chemical and biological laws and so on. 
So often, we feel as though we have to do something to change the world, we despair of where it is all heading and live in fear of the future. This reminded me that Jesus knows and has already done something about it

We are not the answer. He is. 

We can work hard at all sorts of solutions, but unless He is in the midst of them, unless they are His ideas, they will be temporary fixes at best. True transformation – of individuals, of communities, of our world – only comes through encounter with the risen Christ, encounter with the Kingdom of Heaven. 

For me, this has become a resounding hope. I can look around at what is going on in our world: millions of refugees; another mass shooting; the effect of pornography, drugs and a permissive culture on our young people – on it goes, and find it easy to despair and wonder how it can change. However, two words keep resounding in my mind: 

“BUT GOD…” 

It doesn’t matter how big the problem or need, God is way bigger and He can change everything in an instant. We just have to connect with that close relative of hope, and TRUST His impeccable timing and His perfect ways to bring it all about!

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Meanwhile, I’m off to hang the washing out.

"And this hope is not a disappointing fantasy, because we can now experience the endless love of God cascading into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who lives in us!" 

(Romans 5:5, Passion)

I want to sleep like a baby...

Driving home up the hill the other night, I caught a whiff. One of those infinitesimal whiffs that leave you wondering if you actually smelled anything or not. But it was enough to take me back in time.

For many, this smell is considered unpleasant, and it must be said that it is pungent. However, for me the faintest smell of cow manure, mixed with hot, sweaty cow, mud and milk, took me back to my earliest years. And the feelings that were stimulated were of peace, comfort and freedom. I was immediately taken to a time when life was simpler, when there were few responsibilities or expectations from others. 

This experience tied in with one of those gentle nudges I have been getting from God in a number of ways. It was the reminder that being part of the Kingdom of God requires us to be childlike.

“...unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”
— Matt 18:3 (NIV)

The Amplified version says: "unless you repent [that is, change your inner self—your old way of thinking, live changed lives] and become like children [trusting, humble, and forgiving], you will never enter the kingdom of heaven".

As I have thought about what it means to be childlike over the years, I often return to the idea of freedom from responsibility; the space where I can just stop and not have to do all those things I see others as expecting from me. Its a hard place to find at times when we have "adulted" for so long that we have really forgotten how to lay down all our burdens. We have long since embraced the belief that if we don't do it, no one will, or that it won't be done properly. 

Sometimes, I have to ask myself the question, "So what"? "What will happen if it is not done?" Many things I see as being vital are really not. 

And then there is that four-lettered word that keeps cropping up: REST.

We so long for it, but are generally so bad at it. Maybe that is why we are so wistful, even emotional when we look at a baby sleeping. How much we would like to sleep like that baby, without a care in the world, in complete confidence that Someone else will take care of us, Someone else will always be there. But do we really believe it?

The problem we really have with rest is trust.

To rest, I need to trust that everything will be ok if I am not rushing around sorting it.

When I make myself the answer, when I am what is required, two things happen. One is that I take way more responsibility than I was designed for, which is pretty exhausting in itself. The other is that I deny God. I deny His ability to sort it without me and I deny Him the opportunity to do it for me.

It is tough. I know. I wonder, though, if one of our biggest reasons for taking responsibility for so much is that we have been disappointed so many times in the past, either by other people or by God. And it is not that they have let us down in their promises necessarily, but in our expectations. 

Earlier this year, I went through one of those times where I was feeling a little distance between God and myself. As I asked Him about this, He showed me that I had been building a few expectations of Him around His promises and my timing. When things didn't turn out according to my expectations, I had become disappointed in Him. 

Underlying these feelings and behaviours is the belief that I know best, that I can see clearly and that God should do things my way and in my timing. As soon as it is said, or recognised, we generally realise the folly of this. It is only in living from the place of complete trust in God's goodness and faithfulness that we can rest properly and then we get to sleep like a baby.

 

 

Relentless Pursuit

"Relentless Pursuit"

These were the words I found coming out of my mouth during a marathon four hour coffee catch up the other week (that didn't feel anywhere near that long!).

The discussion was about aspects of both our lives, and also encompassed someone passing who was encouraged by the snippets she heard of our conversation. As she shared the way God had broken into her life, had pursued her, I was encouraged with the affirmation that what He did for her, what He has done for me, what He has done for my friend, He can and will do for our loved ones and others, whether they seek Him or not.

The theme of Father God's pursuit of us has been recurring for me more recently and it continues to cry out for further reflection. It has been presented to me in song, in sermon and in what I have been reading on a number of fronts. 

However,it can be so easy for us to think our relationship with God is all about us, about our efforts. WE must spend more time praying, more time worshipping, more time reading the Word. WE must pursue God. And despite best efforts and beliefs otherwise, so many messages we hear from pulpits and every other media can reinforce this: If you want to be closer to God, then you need to do this; you should do that; you must do the other. And it's exhausting!

How much more restful would it be if we realised that so many of our problems in our relationship with God are not about what we should do more of, but what we should stop doing?

If we stopped believing that we are unacceptable to God, or unworthy of His love, how would that look?

If we stopped believing that we are responsible for making ourselves more Christlike to be acceptable to God, and recognised that Jesus has come to dwell in us through His Spirit, that His indwelling is the only mark of acceptability we need, what would be different in us?

If we stopped holding onto all the "Christian sanctioned" false humilities of thinking less of ourselves and minimalising our importance, gifts and dreams, where could we go?

If we stopped trying to hide all our imperfections, sin and brokenness from God, and faced Him with them, what new freedoms would we find?

I am so painfully aware of my own tendency to fall back into that pattern of thinking that I must be the relentless one, that I must chase God with all my being to not miss out, to catch up to where He is at, to where I "should" be. Instead, it is time to stop; time to rest; and time to remember that it is He who pursued me from the start and that it is He who continues to pursue me today. 

The Deafening Roar of Silence

I am an extrovert. Take away human contact for too long and I quickly cease to function well. My energy and creativity drop and the most mundane tasks become difficult. 

However, in more recent years I have also come to value time alone; time with peace and quiet. 

Fortunately, I live somewhere I get plenty of that, even though noise and people are never far away. But there are those times when I just love to decrease the sensory input. At those times, even music can be an intrusion.

Of course, not everyone is like this. I know many who rarely enjoy a really quiet environment. There are those who, to my amazement, love to have the tv or radio running in the background from morning to night. The idea of not having noise is isolating at best, for them.

For me, though, heading up to the mountains this week for a day of cross-country skiing was one of those welcome time outs. As we left the resort and headed up the trail, all noise of people, vehicles and generators drifted away behind us. Although there were the occasional other skiers, they quickly disappeared and we were on our own again. Eventually, we became aware that the only sound apart from ourselves was the thump and crash of ice and snow falling off the trees.

At one point, we stopped for a snack and a bit of a rest and just listened to the silence. Complete and utter silence. Not even the sound of birds. You don't realise how noisy life is until you are in a space where there is absolute silence. It was beautiful. I longed to just stay there, and if it weren't for the cold and the need to ski back to the car park, I could have quite easily set up camp and remained indefinitely.

As we stood and quietened even our breathing, listening to the sound of silence, the sound of nothing, I became aware of noise that wasn't noise. The words that came to mind were 'the thunder and roar of God'. I am not sure how to really describe it, whether it was just the awareness of His majesty in the beauty of His creation, or the fact that as all other distractions were stripped away, His sovereignty was somehow obvious - we were in the presence of royalty. It was like the majestic music from a movie, or even the reverberating sound check in the cinema. And yet, physically it was silent. It was one of those moments where I would have liked to build a little memorial, like the piles of rocks the Israelites left at places of encounter with God. Like a sign, "God was here".

We had been discussing the whole creation idea earlier in the day, what it was like for God to create from nothing, to dream up the ideas, the seeds of what it would all look like. My husband shared the thought that creation was an expression of God, it is a reflection of who He is, but more than that, He is within and through it. He permeates creation. He is the life blood that pulsates through it all. Perhaps this was part of the thunder and roar. Hearing His heartbeat in His creation. 

Sometimes we can hate the silence because of what we cannot silence - the voices of despair, of pain, of loneliness, of hunger, of anger or bitterness that scream out at us if we don't have enough other distractions. We can fill up our lives with other stuff so we don't have to deal with that which is too hard. Perhaps we don't even realise we are doing it, until silence comes crashing in on us. And for some, silence is to be feared, because we don't want to face that which dwells within. 

And yet, I want to promise, to give a commitment that what we fear, what we dislike so much can be exactly what we need. Like Elijah hiding in the cave (see 1 Kings 19:11-14), in pain and despair, longing for God to speak, make it all right - first there was mighty, loud wind; then an earthquake, then fire, before the gentleness and stillness of God came upon him. He wanted God to act strongly, to be loud and present and forceful, and yet God came in silence, in stillness, because this is what Elijah actually needed.

So it is with us. While we want to keep running from the 'demons' that chase us down, that haunt us, we stay exhausted; we are never free, never rested. We remain trapped in the lie that these things have power over us; that living in fear is the only safe way to live. It is only as we stop and wait on God, that His stillness, peace and gentleness can start to infiltrate us with His answers, His rest for us, and His freedom. It is in this place that we start to find what really defines us - is it Him or the world, Him or our circumstances? It is only when we cease striving to deafen the silence, we discover the space to find the One who truly defines us.

On the road again...(or Lessons from the road Part 2)

"Whatever you do, don't run into the screen door!"

These were my father's famous last words as he released me to ride alone. He was teaching me to ride a bike in our yard, and as I wobbled and peddled and hoped I wouldn't fall off, I rode straight into the screen door of the french window. 

This story has had a great workout in my family over the years, usually at my expense. I was about six or seven and my dad was helping me get my balance riding around in our garden. Knowing what I know now, there are a few things I would probably have done differently if I were my dad, one of them being the words he used. 

Through driving lessons and more recently, motorbike riding lessons,  I have repeatedly been told that we tend to go in the direction we look. That's how you get out of a skid - look where you want to go, and your brain will respond accordingly. So if someone mentions something like a screen door, you are likely to look at it, and hence, head straight for it!

However, when it comes to riding on a motorbike, I am struggling to put this into practice. Even though I have been riding pillion on the motorbike for some years now, cornering is still something of an issue. (Confession: I get scared.) As we lean into the corner, I often do battle with the fear that the bike is either going to tip or slide out, especially if there is any gravel about or it is a particularly tight curve. It is not a healthy or helpful way to ride!

In dealing with this problem as a rider now, I have been given similar tips by numerous people - obviously I am not alone in my fear! One of the main pointers is to look ahead to where you want to go. Don't look at the curve or look directly at the road you are on, but look up, look ahead. The other is to breathe out as you go around the corner, which perhaps helps you to relax.

Aside from the more irrational fears, there are many other aspects of the road that are far more dangerous for riders than those inside vehicles. Simple oily patches, gravel or potholes on the road can mean serious injury or even potential death if not dealt with appropriately. Riding in fear of all these, though, can be just as dangerous. 

Contrary to what seems natural, however, looking up, looking ahead at the direction we are going, we will find that we naturally avoid most hazards. Our brain is quite good at directing us if we don't over-think it. I am reminded of a time I was walking on a beach  covered in pebbles. I suddenly realised that without even thinking about it, or watching where I was walking (barefooted), I was choosing a path on the sand automatically avoiding stepping on the pebbles. Our brains are quite amazing at keeping us out of danger if we allow them to do their thing!

 

These principles can be applied far more widely than simply riding a bike, though. We can easily spend many aspects of our lives in fear. If we choose to focus on all the bad things that could happen, there is a never ending list. Just like when riding, if we focus on that pothole, that gravel on the side of the road, that screen door, we will, in all likelihood, end up in it.

We will head where we focus our attention.

 Just as true is the fact that what we think about, what we dwell on, will become the way we think. A favourite quote from a friend, is "don't think about pink elephants". What's the first thing that comes to mind?

We have to purposefully change our thinking. Paul puts it brilliantly in Philippians 4:5-8 "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation...present your requests to God. And the peace of God,which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus...whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things...And the God of peace will be with you."

If we want to change our thinking, we have to practice thinking differently!

 And of course, we can tie ourselves in knots trying to change, as well, beating ourselves up with thoughts like "I have to stop thinking like this", which leads to the other helpful tip.

Breathe.

Just breathe.

Just breathe and relax. After all, most things are not as bad as we tend to think, and even if they are, all our stress and worry is not going to improve anything.

If we are walking in faith, we can stop everything and focus on simply breathing, on purely be-ing. Relaxing is the place of rest that is promised by God so regularly. When we live from this place of resting in Him, which is really about trusting Him, He becomes our focal point. Then we will find ourselves naturally changing direction, automatically avoiding those obstacles which endeavour to trip or waylay us. Over time, chances are we won't even notice them anymore!

Rest on the Run

We went to see the third Hobbit movie the other night. What a marathon! About two hours into a movie that lasts just shy of two and half hours, I whispered to my husband, "I'm exhausted!" Without really needing to give a spoiler alert, possibly two hours of the movie is devoted to battle scenes. Toward the end of course (and this is a spoiler alert if you couldn't see it coming), just when you think all is sure to be lost and the few that are left have no more energy, the eagles swoop in and save what is left of the day, completely routing the enemy.

Something about this movie struck a chord with me, mainly because I have felt like I am in an ongoing battle on a number of fronts for most of the past year. I have been feeling exceptionally tired. At times I have wondered whether I can continue and sometimes I have wondered what I am even fighting for - does it even make a difference or is the outcome already decided? At the end of the movie, I found myself almost tearfully whispering, "God, send Your eagles, it is time for Your eagles. I need your eagles."

As I reflected on this over the next few days two things came to mind. The first was the words, "The battle belongs to the Lord". This well known verse comes from 1 Samuel 17:47, where David is proclaiming his victory against Goliath before it had happened. Although the context probably suggests this means the victory belongs to God, the perception I saw was that although I may have a role to play in the battle, it is not my battle; it is His. I don't have to take responsibility for the outcome.

The second part of my reflection was regarding how I can find rest and restoration in the midst of my battle-weary state. What does rest look like when you can't afford to let your guard down for a minute? 


I realised that the place of rest is in worship. Our battle song is one of worship of our great God. This reminds me of some of the Old Testament stories, where the people sang as they went to physical battle. As we worship, our eyes turn to God, and we see things from His perspective, particularly who God is and what He is about. This brings us hope and refreshing.

My end point on this reflection was the realisation that we actually have an opportunity to be the eagles. As I thought of verses about eagles in the Bible, I was immediately reminded of the promise from Isaiah 40:31


"they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, and they shall walk and not faint." 

It is not something that comes automatically, though. We cannot rouse this strength by our own acts or abilities. It comes from waiting on the Lord. Not just stopping, but waiting in expectation and hope that He will show up and show us the way forward. And I think we must wait as long as it takes, as opposed to getting impatient and going on in our own strength and ways.

Personally, I think I probably need to practice that sort of waiting bit a little more.