Be Still and Know

There’s something special about buying a new diary. Every time a year draws near its end, I head to the Christian bookstore, eager to get ready for the next one. I ponder all the diary options—their size and themes and layout—and flick dreamily through the hundreds of pages, wondering, What will these be filled with? What will the new year bring? Usually my heart dances in anticipation.

Except last time.

Last time, I already knew what lay ahead. 2020 was going to be punctuated by multiple major events, each of them God-ordained and exciting when considered on their own. Crammed together within a twelve-month span, though, they felt overwhelming.

At heart, I’m a girl who likes stability. Balance. Breathing space. This year loomed as one packed so full, I knew it would drag me out of my comfort zone and hold me there for a long time. There would be new responsibilities at work, an overseas holiday with extended family, several months involvement in a course at church, a three day writer’s conference in Queensland, the release of my first book,  launches of that book in two states and a journey to Thailand to meet our sponsor children. Phew! All of these lined up in my mind as though they were a series of wild waves I was about to ride, exiting each one just in time to turn around and ride the next. It wasn’t only the events that stressed me. It was all the organization required to see them run smoothly.

So, my diary-shopping trip last December was far more serious than usual. If I was going to survive the coming year, I knew I’d need something to remind me of the truth—often. My diary was something I looked at every day, at least once a day. It had to provide something that would help me keep perspective. Around and around the display table I circled, picking up one book then another, reading, flicking, thinking. Finally, I settled on one with a cover inscription that instantly quieted my anxious heart.

“Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10.

That was it. I needed to fix my eyes on the One who ordained all these plans. He was God. And He was more than enough. If He had directed that our year be full and hectic, He would give me all the grace I needed—not only to survive but maybe even to thrive.

Grey diaryThat was December. Now it’s May. Five months have passed since that moment and I’ve found myself referring to those words many, many times. Just a few days ago, I sat on the edge of our bed, staring again at the curving letters on the cover. Again, I was struck by the first instruction. ‘Be still’.

This year is turning out so differently to what any of us expected. Most of the big events we planned have been cancelled or postponed. With each cancellation, I noticed myself breathing easier. My world was settling down, becoming more manageable.

Then, everything changed again. The ‘Stay Home’ policy brought drastic changes to my work as a teacher’s aide.  Suddenly, I had to acquire a whole new skillset so I could support students while they learned at home. I’ve spent countless hours in front of a screen—learning how to use new technology, creating timetables, scheduling Zoom meetings, sending emails, talking with colleagues and children and recording everything in detail. I’ve scrawled pages and pages of notes to help me remember what I’ve learned and remind me of all I need to do. Every day has had a long list. Sometimes, particularly in the early weeks, my mind was so busy, it was hard to switch off. Stillness came only when I made a very deliberate choice.

When I was still, as often happens, all that was building in my heart came pouring out. I told God how desperately I needed His help, how hard it was that everything at work changed just when I’d adjusted to my new role, how much I missed my life in Tasmania where there was time and space and quiet. As my eyes ran again over my go-to verse, I felt God emphasize the second part. ‘And know that I am God.’

He is God.

You thought you needed this diary because of all the plans you had, He whispered. But I knew you would need it for this. He was God. He was still in control. None of these restrictions or demands were a surprise to Him. His plan—as always—was to grow me through them.

Most of the time, when I’ve pondered those words— ‘know that I am God’—I’ve been comforted by the assurance that my God is powerful, able to protect and provide for me. Psalm 46 describes Him as refuge and strength, a mighty fortress, the one who holds us together, even when everything around us is crumbling. But there’s another aspect to the psalm, where the writer speaks of God as ‘the Most High’, greater than any ruler or kingdom, the one who will be exalted over all the earth.

Wow.

When I see that reality afresh, I am humbled. He is God. It’s only when I acknowledge who He is that I see more clearly who I am. It’s a privilege to belong to Him. A privilege that brings responsibility to also honour Him as ruler of my life.

Who am I to question His wisdom in allowing me to go through times of stretching? He is God. None of the changes in my life, in any of our lives, have taken Him by surprise. He is God. He has a plan and is able to work it out through all the challenges of this time—and the process goes far more smoothly if we choose to yield rather than wrestle. That day, I sensed God’s encouragement to fully embrace this season, to allow it to refine, grow and strengthen me for His purposes. The clincher came when I felt Him speak to my heart, If you shrink back, you’ll miss out.

What a challenge! I don’t want to miss out on the growth and plans God has for me. I’m sure you don’t either. We can’t always see what lies ahead in our lives. This year has made that clear. But God can—and He wants to get us ready. If we’re willing to make time to be still—regularly—we’ll see clearly again both who we are and who He is. This knowledge gives us fresh confidence to walk forward in His plans, whatever they might be, knowing He walks with us every step.

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Learning to Listen

I’ll never forget that crisp winter’s day. It was half past one in the afternoon.  I’d eaten lunch and tidied the kitchen. My track pants and polar fleece had been traded for a jumper, skirt and boots. I was heading to the shops on my way to collect our children from school. As I stood in our family room, mentally running through the list of all the errands I needed to do, some brown fragments on the carpet caught my eye – wood chips from the firewood that had been carried in that morning.

I grimaced. That kind of mess really annoyed me. I glanced at the clock. I’ll just quickly vacuum those up, I thought – a very small, everyday decision in a housewife’s world.

But as soon as the thought had run through my mind, something inside me shifted. It’s hard to explain. The peace I’d felt a moment earlier seemed to fade. I huffed and reasoned with myself. It’ll be all right. I’ve got time.  Surely two minutes of vacuuming won’t make much difference to the afternoon.

I strode to the cupboard and yanked out the vacuum cleaner then froze as two words boomed through me: NOT NOW. The words were stern and came with a strong sense of warning.

What should I do?

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It wasn’t always like this – this hearing God’s voice.

As a little girl, I was taught to pray each night, reciting words by rote as I drifted off to sleep: “Heavenly Father, help me be a child who’s kind and good . . .” The teens brought times when God seemed so close my heart pulsed with longing to know Him more – until I went to university, where cold, intellectual water was thrown on my desire. “It’s impossible to know Him,” the wise ones said. “He no longer speaks; we rely on our sanctified common sense now.”

Still my spirit yearned.

In my twenties, I met people who knew God – really knew Him – ones whose words and insights seemed to flow straight from His heart. My hunger burned once again. That’s what I wanted – to know Him like that. But could I?

The more I spent time with these people, the clearer it became: all the time I’d been craving God’s presence, He’d been right there – ready, waiting, eager to share His heart with me, if only I’d take time to listen.

So, I learned to sit – heart quiet, journal open and pen poised. At first I only sought God’s direction for the big things – the major life decisions. Was it a yes, or was it a no? A clear sense of peace often came, pointing me one way or the other.

Retreat time

Then, inspired by my husband’s example, I started seeking to hear God daily – taking time to read the Word, yes, but also to wait on Him and write down whatever He spoke. Gradually I learned to distinguish between His thoughts and mine by using His Word and His character as the measure.

Then a visiting preacher came to our church. “Jesus was very clear,” he told us. “He said, ‘I am the good shepherd and My sheep hear My voice.’ If you’re one of his sheep, you can expect to hear Him. He doesn’t have favourites. In order to hear Him, you need to function like a radio. Just as a radio tower is transmitting all the time, Jesus is speaking all the time. All we have to do is put up our aerial and tune in.”

Those words propelled me into a new level of listening. If Jesus was speaking all the time, then I could hear Him all the time. I became aware of the subtle nudges which punctuated my thoughts – go there, take this with you, say that. Many times I impulsively chose to ignore those prompts. Every time, in hindsight, I regretted my decision.

————————————————————————————————————————————–So on that June afternoon I decided to listen. Okay God. I don’t understand why I have to leave now but I know You do. The tension inside me evaporated as I put the vacuum cleaner back in the cupboard. I grabbed my handbag and water bottle and headed towards the front door.

As I drew closer a strange sound rang in my ears – like a very sick rooster trying to crow. Our chickens were kept in a run which sat just across the driveway from our front porch. We didn’t have any roosters but owned about a dozen hens, including three we were minding for a friend.

The strangled sound continued. Alarm flooded through me. Something was wrong!

I threw open the front door and sprinted towards our chicken run. Instantly I spotted our neighbour’s dog inside the fence with one of our hens clutched firmly between his teeth – by the neck. I watched, aghast, as he dropped her lifeless body on the ground and trotted back towards our henhouse, a little terrier following merrily on his heels.

Two more hens lay dead nearby, blood oozing from their throats.

Fuming with rage, I yanked the gate of the chicken run open and leapt for the larger dog. In one swift action I grabbed him by the collar and tail and threw him backwards out of the coop. Inside, three hens were crammed one on top of the other in a trembling mound. I turned and chased the dogs around the run, leaping over tussocks of grass in my skirt and boots, waving my arms and hollering wildly until they both made their way under the fence and headed home.

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It was out of His great kindness that God spoke to me that day. If I’d chosen to ignore Him, I’m certain all our chickens would’ve been killed. And perhaps, if I’d been quicker to listen, the first three hens could have been spared.

Sometimes the little decisions we make are far more significant than we think.

Chickens

If you were to ask me if I listen to God all the time now, honestly, I’d have to say no. My mind, like yours, is often fully focused on the tasks at hand. And sometimes I’m just too caught up in my own thoughts and feelings to stop and get quiet. But I am seeking to grow. This year, under God’s direction, I’m taking a few extra hours each week to ‘retreat’ with Him. Although it’s sometimes hard to carve out that block of time – it may end up being spread over a few days – that retreat has become something I crave, an anchor-point in the midst of this crazy season of transition.

I still have so much to learn but there is one vital truth that draws me on: When God speaks to us, it’s because He wants to do us (and others) good. What He says won’t always be easy to hear – or to obey – but we can trust that it will ultimately be for the best.

On the same day Jesus described Himself as the good shepherd He explained that, unlike a thief, He came to give His people life – in all its fullness. Not a half-life but the best possible life they could live.

That’s got to make walking in step with Him the best possible ambition to have – whatever the cost.

“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10

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