A Holy Encounter

The lights were low, the room warm and full of people. I closed my eyes while music and voices swirled around me, my heart swelling with emotion. We were back—together at last—singing carols in anticipation of Christmas. We’d just begun one of my favourites. This year, after many months of restrictions and isolation, its words seemed especially poignant.

‘Long lay the world in sin and error pining . . .’

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Didn’t that describe the journey we’d been on? Regardless of our viewpoints, we’d all suffered loss and heartache—so much waiting, disconnection and wondering.

‘ . . . Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.’

This testing had brought for each of us a fresh awareness of our flaws and need of rescue.

‘A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices . . .’

Goose bumps tingled over my skin as I lifted a silent prayer. Oh, yes, Lord! Our world is weary. We desperately need Your hope.

On through the verses we caroled, our voices rising in measure with our passion, till we neared the crescendo. ‘Fall on your knees . . .’

And there it was again – that tug on my spirit. Every time we sang, ‘Fall on your knees,’ I sensed God’s whisper, Don’t just sing the words. Do what they say. Kneel.

I opened my eyes, scanning the room. People in our church didn’t often kneel. Everyone was caught up in the joy of worshipping together—did I really want to distract them? Wouldn’t they think I was weird?

The pull grew stronger. I breathed deep. Okay, God. I will.

As the words came around again, I lowered myself to the carpet. Closing my eyes once more, I rested my hands on the back of the chair in front of me and continued singing, ‘O night divine, O night when Christ was born.’

My surroundings seemed to fade and I saw myself in a starlit stable, kneeling on a bed of straw. The scene reminded me of a Christmas card I’d seen many years earlier, where Santa knelt at the foot of a manger, his hat in his hands, head bowed before the sleeping baby. That card made such an impression on me, the image was still vivid in my mind.

This time, though, it wasn’t Santa lowered in reverence. It was me. If I opened my eyes, I knew everything around me would look the same as before. So, I didn’t. God was showing me something and I didn’t want to miss a moment.

From my position on the stable floor, I leaned forward and peered into the manger. There He was—Jesus—tightly wrapped, his head covered with dark hair, his tan face glowing with the sheen of new birth. This object of our worship, Who came to offer hope to a world in crisis, was the Son of God—co-creator of the universe, more powerful than any earthly or spiritual ruler. Yet here He was—a baby?

I knew the story. We all knew the Christmas story. Jesus came as a baby. But on this day, I felt it. It became real to me. And I wept.

Jesus looked exactly like any other newborn. So tiny. So fragile.

This mighty one had given up all His splendour, all His elevation above earthly concerns, to become the most vulnerable of humans. Easily crushed. Completely dependent on others to sustain Him.

How could that be? What love must have compelled Him to be reduced to such a state?

In that moment, something shifted inside me. All the hardships of my year—all the challenges I’d been wrestling with—suddenly looked very small. If Jesus could humble Himself in this way, and later lay down His life to rescue me, how could I offer Him anything less?

I wiped my eyes as the song came to an end and stood once more, my heart at peace.

Lord, I’m yours. Whatever you want, I’m willing. You are worthy. Help me to follow you.

I don’t know what lies ahead for me. I don’t feel any stronger than I did before. But I am comforted. Because I know that whatever comes, Jesus gets it. He’s already walked the hardest of roads—and He knows the way through.    

‘In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

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Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
    rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!’

  Philippians 2:5-8

Victory in Defeat

My plan was to pray over the long list of verses and thoughts in my diary ready to create an author post. But I found my eyes drawn to the last topic in my short list of blog ideas, ‘Overcoming in Defeat’. I stared at the words, acutely aware of their relevance for the season we’re in. Pulling out my journal from July— where the original ideas were recorded—I read and was stirred once again.

I had been mulling over Paul’s instruction in Romans 12:21 ‘Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.’ The idea sounded inspiring—but how did it work?

As I mused, I had written, ‘Lord, doing good when we’re treated badly doesn’t feel like overcoming. It feels like defeat, like bowing to the evildoer.‘ I was thinking of some painful conflicts I’d faced in the preceding week.

Almost immediately, I sensed God’s response. ‘So it was with the cross. My son’s death had every appearance of defeat and injustice. He was condemned via an unfair trial, placed in the hands of prideful, demon-driven zealots, treated with utmost brutality, betrayed and abandoned by most of His dearest friends. He even felt forsaken by Me—His Father, who sent Him.

It was true. I could see Jesus in my mind—accused, betrayed, dragged away like a criminal, ridiculed and beaten by supposedly God-fearing people, then enduring a slow, agonizing death in front of a jeering crowd. He had the power to crush those who attacked Him, yet He forgave them, yielding to His Father’s will. To any onlooker—even Jesus’ closest friends—it appeared the enemy had soundly defeated Him.

That morning God reminded me of an important truth—what we perceive isn’t always reality.

The gruelling process Jesus endured had a purpose far beyond what anyone could see at that time. What looked like defeat was, in reality, stupendous victory. Through His suffering and death, Jesus disarmed the very powers that were trying to destroy Him, making a public spectacle of them. And He opened up the way for us to be forgiven, set free and welcomed into the family of God. Victory indeed! None of those breakthroughs could have come without Jesus’ humble willingness to walk in obedience.

My notes from God’s revelation continued,

Every time you choose good, there is a victory in your spirit and your character. Each time you submit to Me and lay down your desire to do things your own way, I build muscle into your character and grow you in authority for greater victories.

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Eating the best of the land (as promised in Isaiah 1:19) isn’t just about material, tangible experiences. It’s about the heart, the spirit and the spiritual realm. So be willing and obedient. Follow the way of the cross. It will be worth it.

God’s route to victory is rarely the high road. More often it is a path of servanthood, humiliation and frail dependence. In God’s economy the last are first, servants are declared the greatest, the proud are opposed and the humble are lavished with grace. Those events that have all the appearance of failure are forward steps on the path to triumph.

This concept is foreign to our success-oriented world. Our bibles are laden with living examples. Think of Joseph—a slave and a prisoner—made second in charge under Pharaoh; of Gideon—the least of the least—who led God’s people into conquest; of David—the shepherd boy with a sling and a stone—who defeated a terrifying giant; of Rahab—a prostitute—who had her pagan family rescued from certain destruction and was welcomed into the lineage of Jesus.* Then there was Jesus—the Son of God—who made Himself nothing, taking on the role of servant to His subjects and surrendering His life in the most gruesome of deaths. His humble obedience led to ultimate exaltation, higher than any other—forever .

There’s always more to the story than what we see. Always.

If we’re seeking to walk with God and doing good as He directs, His victory will come. We may not always see the full result of our obedience, but we can be confident of this—God will fulfil His purpose, in our hearts and in our world. So, let’s press on, choosing willing, trusting obedience. Jesus is with us—and He knows the way.

Triumph comes via the low road.

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‘Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.’

Hebrews 12:2-3

*You can read more about these overcomers in the following passages.

Joseph: Gen 37-41

Gideon: Judges 6-8

David: 1 Samuel 16-17

Rahab: Joshua 2 and 6

On Christmas Morning

On Christmas morning, my husband and I were up well before our children—not so unusual now they’re all teens and young adults. The weather was cool, so I pulled my robe from the cupboard and wrapped myself in its warmth. While my husband busied himself in the kitchen, I made a hot drink then moved to the lounge, where I sank into the couch closest to our Christmas tree.

Up till that point, my days had been full of activity. Finishing the year at school, sorting final details for the design of my book, making gift lists, shopping lists, lists of things to cook, shopping then chopping and baking and creating in the kitchen—all the while my mind whirring with everything I needed to remember and consider and organise.

Finally, on this special day, there was time to stop all the activity and savour the moment. 

Coloured lights glowed in the semi-darkness, drawing me in and slowing my mind and heart. I wrapped my hands around my mug and sipped, smiling as my eyes drifted between the decorations adorning our tree. There were felt stars and hearts and stockings, odd-shaped and lumpy with stuffing, sewn by eager little hands so many years ago. Nearby were wooden figures, large and small, painted by the same hands a year or two later. Red and white tasselled triangles took my thoughts to a visit from old friends, missionaries to Tibet. There was a swirly purple bauble I’d received from our mothers’ group and a red satin chilli given by friends from New Mexico when we celebrated Christmas together, in Taiwan, thirty years earlier. There were baubles and beads and sparkly stars, each looped over the ends of bristly green branches.

Our tree wouldn’t be chosen to grace the pages of a Home Beautiful magazine. It didn’t stand especially tall or impressive. In my eyes, though, it was a treasure trove, covered with emblems of life and love and the beauty of relationships.

My heart was full as I gazed at the display before me. Truly, we were blessed. Those decorations represented relationships I’d cherished over the years. The time and effort that went into making or choosing these ornaments was an outflow of the love we shared. A prayer lifted from my heart. Lord, thank you! Thank you for all the people you’ve brought into my life and the special times we’ve shared. I’m so grateful. Far beyond any material gift I could be given, I valued the gift of relationship.

My thoughts moved on to Jesus, the reason for Christmas—for the carols we sang, the gifts we shared, the feasting and goodwill to those beyond our home.

How could I put into words my gratitude for Him?

God gave His very best, His own Son, to show the world His love and power. When Jesus lay down his life on the cross, He offered forgiveness and rescue from all our failings and invited us into God’s family, with all its privileges. The most astounding gift I’ve ever been given is to belong to God and have Him walking with me through every day, every season—even the unexpected challenges of the past year. I can’t imagine facing any stage of life without Him.

My relationships with people would wax and wane as time and movement affected our level of connection. But God’s presence with me would be constant, bringing deep peace and security to my heart. He knew me. He loved me. He would never stop loving, even for a second, for His entire essence was love.

Whatever the days ahead would hold, whatever surprises the new year would bring, God would be there. He would lead me through every season, all the way into eternity, and through the process our relationship would grow stronger.

I pulled my eyes from the tree, climbed off the couch and strode to my phone. It was time to put on some carols. There was so much joy bubbling up from my spirit, I couldn’t help but sing.

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God!”

1 John 3:1

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” Revelation 3:20

Living for God?

Sometimes, early in the morning when I’m drifting from sleep to waking, God shows me something important. Sometimes I see a picture. Sometimes I hear words in my mind. Last week, a sentence came with such weight, I knew it was from Him.

Our focus should be less on living for God and more on living with God.

Such a simple phrase, but oh-so-powerful. I’ve been mulling over it ever since.  

When our primary goal is to live for God, we can take on the mindset of a servant, seeing God as the Master we consult with in the morning to receive instructions before heading out to fulfil His commands. With this perspective, it’s easy for us to be performance-focused, always monitoring how we’re doing and getting discouraged if we fall short. After all, we’re striving for perfect obedience.  

In one sense, this is our purpose—to serve God with all we have. Paul said it so well: We are not our own. We were bought with a price. Therefore, our lives should be set on honouring God. (1 Cor 6:19-20)

But that’s not the whole picture. It’s missing the foundation.

When Jesus walked the earth, He immersed himself in the everyday lives of people, transforming their mundane days with words of truth and tender acts of love. Some were invited to join Him in His travels, to share meals and sleeping quarters and have a close-up view as He taught and healed and performed miracles. Sometimes He sent them to do important jobs, always giving clear instructions on how to proceed. He made time to speak to lonely individuals, to small groups and to pressing crowds of thousands. Every time, He showed profound insight into who they were and exactly what they needed.

Jesus was able to walk steady—all the way to the cross—because of His close relationship with His Father. He spent time with God before dawn and their connection continued all through the day. The oneness of heart they shared was so complete, Jesus said His every word and action flowed directly from His Father (John 5:19-20, John 12:49-50).

Jesus was named ‘Emmanuel’—God with us. Through His life, He revealed God’s deep desire for relationship with us. Through His death, He opened the door for us to enjoy the same oneness with God as He has (Hebrews 4:16). When Jesus returned to the Father, God’s Holy Spirit was poured out to dwell with—and in—each one of us who love Him.  

We are not only servants. We are sons and daughters, fellow-heirs with Jesus . And we’re friends of God. He offers us full and constant access to all His wisdom, provision and power. And when He gives instructions, God doesn’t expect us to head out and fulfil them on our own.  

He goes with us.

If Jesus relied on the Father to lead and enable Him every minute of every day, why would we think we need anything less? Every moment, God is present by His Spirit, ready to show us the way, to give us the heart and words to do good to the people around us. He offers wisdom to deal with difficult situations, power to overcome the enemy’s onslaughts and hope and strength to sustain us when we think we’ve reached our limit. It’s all there, available to us through faith in Jesus. All we need to do is enter in.

When we seek to live for God, our focus is firmly on ourselves—our own efforts, how we’re performing and where we fail to measure up. If we seek to live with God, our attention shifts to pursuing Him. As we become familiar with His heart and His ways, a unique rest brings quiet to our hearts—a confidence that He really is with us and will show us how to walk in His plans, no matter how challenging. Then living for Him comes as a natural outflow of living with Him—just as it did with Jesus.

I don’t know about you but for me, the phrase ‘living with God’ brings a deep sense of relief. Perhaps it’s because that’s what we were made for—just like Adam and Eve in the garden, back at the beginning. I long to live with God, as Jesus did, and there are many times I’ve known Him leading me. But there are far more times my mind is so full of my own thoughts and ideas and ambitions I miss the things He wants to show me.

Thankfully, He looks beyond my performance to my heart. He knows my desire to walk close with Him and beckons me to keep following, keep learning and keep relying on the sacrifice Jesus already made for my failings.

I’m expecting this growing-closer process to be a stretching, wonderful, lifelong one—worth every step for the reward of knowing Him.

“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom

or the strong boast of their strength

or the rich boast of their riches,

but let the one who boasts boast about this:

that they understand and know me . . .”

Jeremiah 9:23-24