Overcoming Darkness

Her name was Bec. Small in stature, with shoulder-length, sandy hair, a face free of make-up and an unpretentious manner, there was nothing to give the impression of authority or passion as she took her place at the lectern. But when she opened her mouth, I realised she had the heart of a lion.

Bec had been living for several years in Cambodia, a nation where trafficking of women and children was common—and many nationals viewed it as a way to survive financially. Fathers sold their young daughters into prostitution. Some children were rescued and returned to their families, only to be sold again. The blindness and injustice of it made my stomach churn. Yet Bec’s tone held steady as she shared. How can she be so calm? I wondered.

After reading some sad statistics, Bec lifted her eyes to her listeners. ‘Because of this, many people view Cambodia as a very dark place. When we look at the darkness in our world, we can shake our heads in despair, fearing the darkness will grow so large that it snuffs out the light.’ Her voice grew louder. ‘But that’s because we have the wrong idea. We think darkness and light are equal and opposite forces. They’re not. Darkness isn’t a force at all. It doesn’t have a power of its own to do anything.

Darkness is just the absence of light. To overcome darkness, all we need to do is turn on the light. Even the tiniest flame can cut through it.’

I sat in my seat, stunned, as Bec’s words cut through the shadows in my mind.

She opened her bible and read from John chapter 1 verse 5. ‘”The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”’

Hope stirred inside me. Light overcomes darkness. Darkness—no matter how black it is—cannot overcome light.

Bec continued, ‘This principle is the foundation of our work in Cambodia. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.”’ (Matthew 5: 14-15) She smiled. ‘To overcome darkness, we need to find the highest stand—the highest platform—we can and shine as brightly as we can, so our light reaches as many people as possible.’

Photo by Pezibear on Pixabay

For Bec and a team of Cambodian nationals, that meant working together to shine the brightest light they could into arenas which held the greatest sway over young people’s minds—music and media. The team formed a band, wrote music and worked with some media experts to produce albums and advertisements that challenged popular views on issues such as drink spiking, date rape, prostitution and trafficking. As they shone their light, they were changing mindsets, little by little.

It’s been fifteen years since I heard Bec speak, but her words have stayed with me—and they came up again a couple of months ago. In fact, I woke with them echoing through my mind.

It’s so easy for us to be overwhelmed by the darkness we see in our world, especially in this COVID season when there’s upheaval almost everywhere we look. Now, more than ever, we need to remember that we can overcome darkness—if only we’ll turn on the light.

So, how do we do that?  

We fix our eyes

First, we shift our gaze from the darkness—all the doom and gloom around us—to focus on God. The bible says He is light and darkness has no place in Him. It’s only through His light, His enabling, that we can overcome.  When we fix our eyes on the pure brightness of His light, everything else is put into perspective. He gives us hope. He exposes any darkness residing in our hearts, washing us clean and setting us free to move forward and live at peace with others.

‘If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin.’ 1 John 1:7

We act in the opposite spirit

Darkness cannot be overcome by more darkness. Instead, we live in God’s light and let it shine through our lives.

Where there is hatred, we show love.

Where there is division, we build unity.

We offer hope in the face of doom, truth where there is deception, comfort where there is pain, peace amid turmoil, acceptance where there is rejection. Enabled by God’s overflowing love, we press forward, relying on the wisdom and power He offers.

‘Do not be overcome by evil,

but overcome evil with good.’ Romans 12:21

We let the Light guide our steps.

As we choose to walk with God, He shines His light on our path, revealing His specific purpose for each of us. As we give ourselves wholeheartedly to that purpose, His light emanates from our lives, dispelling the darkness around us.

He may lead us to do something as small as smiling at a neighbour who’s struggling, or as large as funding a programme to help those who are homeless. For each of us, the path will be different, but we all have a part to play.

‘A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other.’ 1 Corinthians 12:7 (NLT)

Our light may seem small to us. Insignificant, even. But think of a flickering candle. The tiniest flame still penetrates the darkness. And if we all shine together, think of how bright the light will be. Together we can overcome.  

Photo by Irina Anastasiu on Pexels

‘In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ Romans 8:37-39  

Personal Training

Their numbers are growing, this army of people. We see them more often now COVID has pushed them outdoors. Clad in cotton, spandex and microfibre, they leave their homes just as the sun stretches its fingers across the sky and take their place in pairs along the Wollongong waterfront—the eyes of one fixed on the other, their ears hungry for instruction.  

I watch them as I stroll past—the trainer giving guidance and encouragement, the client pushing their body through the motions. They squat and crunch, lift enormous weights and stretch beyond what seems natural, their faces contorting with effort yet radiating hunger for more. The transformation they’re experiencing—it seems—is worth the pain.

I’m impressed by these people. They care enough about their health to commit time and money to glean from another person’s skill and experience. Funnily, we also engage in personal training—almost every day—though we don’t often realise it.

A few months back God whispered to my heart. As I drifted up from slumber, His words echoed through me with clarity and conviction,

You are discipled by whatever you give your time and attention to.

Now that’s confronting. And thought provoking.

‘Discipled’ is a word we rarely use these days. It refers to a form of training where one person is guided by another to become a follower of their way or belief system. Sound familiar? Like personal training, discipling goes beyond merely passing on knowledge. It equips the learner to so fully embody the key aspects of the new way that their life is completely changed. Like a rhythmic dance, this discipling process is an ongoing dynamic—the teacher offers ideas through word and example and the student takes them on, allowing them to infuse and shape their lives.

So how does this happen to us?

Each day, whether we make conscious choices or roll with our fluctuating whims, we take on the role of learners. Through our senses, we absorb ideas, values and priorities from a whole range of sources. People we meet, music and books, world events and the array of internet platforms each have their part to play.

Photo by Tofros.com from Pexels

When something catches our interest, we focus on it, opening not only our mind but our heart. If we dwell on it long enough it begins to seep into our soul, permeating our whole being and colouring the way we think and feel, the language we use and the way we relate to others. It filters the way we perceive the world and the events of our day.

How do we figure out which input has the greatest influence on who we’re becoming?

We look at what receives the largest measure of our time and attention.  

With every turn of the earth, we’re gifted with twenty-four hours of life. Most of that time is poured into the normal rhythms of eating, working and sleeping, but we still have a few hours through the week and more on weekends where we can choose what we do. In those moments, what takes first place in our list of priorities?

I wonder, if we took an honest, detailed inventory of an average week in our lives, what it would reveal about who we are, where we’re headed. If you’re anything like me, you have a clear idea of what’s important to you, but the reality of your day-to-day life often paints a different picture. Sometimes unexpected needs arise and we get waylaid from the priorities we’ve set. Other times we’re lured away by our own curiosity, or hunger for comfort, and find ourselves on a path far removed from where we truly want to be.

Those little everyday choices have more impact than we think.

Choice by choice, they accumulate and set the course of our life.  

It’s good to stop and recognize what is our primary focus. What gets us out of bed in the morning? And what is the most significant subject in our thoughts through the day—the focal point we return to whenever we can?

Who do we follow on social media and other online avenues? And what’s our motivation for following them? Are we after distraction? Entertainment? Do we crave their lifestyle and want what they have? Whatever our reason, the longer we linger over their photos and feed on their words, the more permission we give them to disciple us.

Do we really want their lifestyle and values to be reproduced in our lives? It’s worth thinking about.  

Three years and two children into our marriage, my husband and I hit a bumpy patch and needed some help to find our way through. Eager for guidance, we began a three-month marriage course with several other couples. For a girl like me who relishes deep connection, the weekly homework was the absolute highlight.

With hot drinks in hand, hubby and I would sink onto the couch, open our workbooks and pore over questions from that week’s lesson. Many times, we’d spend a good hour doing our homework. The questions weren’t the simple ‘tick-the-box, regurgitate-the-content’ kind. They were probing, the dig-deep kind that made us stop, reflect and pray over ideas that would shape the future of our relationship.  

Photo by Tymur Khakimov from Pexels

One lesson was a standout. The topic? Sowing and reaping. Two pictures were printed in the workbook—a sack bulging with seed and a sheaf of freshly harvested wheat—vivid reminders that the seeds we plant always produce a crop of the same kind, both in nature and in our lives. We were challenged to recognise the seeds we were sowing into the soil of our marriage and what kind of harvest they were producing, whether good or bad. From that place we could turn the dynamic around. We clarified our real desires—what we felt God wanted for our marriage—and listed what seeds we needed to sow to see those desires fulfilled. That lesson opened our eyes to some negative patterns we’d slipped into. As we prayed, we felt a new excitement and sense of vision for the way ahead. Those principles of sowing and reaping are integral to our lives now. They’ve built us into a strong team and guided our decisions—big and small—through the twenty-two years since that time.

Married or not, it’s helpful for all of us to stop and ask the question,

‘Where’s my life headed?

And how are my day-to-day choices shaping my journey?’

Just like those early risers who hurry to meet their personal trainer, we need to be intentional in where we focus our time and attention. We each have one life—a limited number of days to embrace and use well. Whichever way we choose to spend them, one thing is guaranteed—as we sow, we will surely reap.   

‘Pay careful attention, then, to how you walk—not as unwise people but as wise . . .’

Ephesians 5:15 CSB

A Book is Born

It’s hard to describe the elation I feel. Almost eleven years from the point of conception, I’ve had the joy of seeing my memoir, “Skinny Girl: a journey through anorexia”, enter the world like a newborn babe. After a whirlwind few weeks sharing it with eager readers in two states, I’m still coming down to earth.

Some of you have shared in my writing journey via the stories I’ve shared on this blog and will understand my relief and satisfaction in reaching this point. Despite the many setbacks, God has been faithful to lead me all the way through the process and I’m delighted with the outcome. I’m trusting Him now to use the book to bring hope and healing to many.

I would love to share “Skinny Girl” with you, dear readers. Please take a minute to jump over to my “Book” page and find out how to get your copy. Thanks so much.

Warmly,

Sue.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

2 Corinthians 12:9

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

What If?

Do you ever hear a voice whisper, “What if . . .?”

What if things don’t turn out the way I hoped?

What if they don’t like me?

What if the test result is bad?

What if our money runs out?

What if we lose x? y? z?

I wonder how many ‘what ifs’ we’ve allowed to tromp through our mind, bash and crash their way through our dreams, keep us tossing and turning all night, stealing every trace of peace . . . only to come to nothing, like a rolling storm that evaporates to reveal the sun.

Some days what ifs simmer under the surface, quietly unsettling our soul. Other times, their voice is booming and powerful, drowning out all other sounds. In our mind’s eye we see the what ifs’ predictions playing out, our emotions surging as if they were already a reality. At their worst, what ifs bind and cripple us, making us unable to function at all.

The crazy thing is, as convincing and real as they may seem, what ifs are merely that—what ifs—figments of our imagination, with no real substance. The only hold they have over our mind and heart is because of the time and attention we give them.

A couple of months back God cut through my time of prayer and reflection with these words: You’re forming a habit of listening to what ifs.

He was right. I was.  

What if I fail? What if things don’t go to plan? What if? What if? What if? Unknowingly, I’d been letting my imagination run off on negative tangents, even though I knew they would do me no good. So subtly had the what ifs crept in, I hadn’t noticed them building, bringing heaviness and tension to the way I worked, the tone I used with my family, my mood when I contemplated the days ahead. God had shone His light on these recurring questions, exposing the load of doubts I’d taken on—and I was grateful.

Once the truth was out, His remedy was swift, His instruction clear. Stop it now.

Okay, God. I will. Please show me how to break this pattern.  

He planted a new word pairing in my mind—one so minimally different to ‘what if’, the change seemed almost insignificant. Yet, unlike the fear and anxiety ‘what if’ provoked, the new duo pulsed with truth, security and authority.

‘Even if.’

Even if . . .

Even if things go wrong . . . God will be there. He will be enough. His love will stand firm.

I scribed His words in my journal as He worked this truth into my heart.  

Even if plans don’t turn out quite as you’d imagined, even if something terrible happens, even if circumstances turn upside down or you fail at something, My love for you never fails, My presence still offers you rest and I will show you the way through.

Photo by nicollazzi xiong on Pexels.com

In Isaiah 43 God doesn’t shy away from the reality of tough times in our lives. If anything, He hints they are inevitable, the only question being ‘when’ rather than ‘if’. In the face of this hard truth, His accompanying promise gives a firm foundation for hope—when we pass through the waters and walk through the fire, we will not be overcome, for He is with us. We will not drown. We will not be burned. He will bring us through. (Isaiah 43: 1-5a)

And how about Paul’s declaration in Romans 8?

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life,

Neither angels nor demons,

Neither height nor depth nor anything else in all creation

Will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8: 38-39)

Did you notice the first obstacle Paul mentioned? Even death—what we may view as the most devastating ‘what if’—cannot separate us, or those left behind, from God’s powerful presence or His tender love.

We can’t predict what the days ahead will hold. This year full of strange happenings has taught us that. But the one who already sees our future is with us and He will never let us go. When we drag our thoughts away from what ifs and fix our eyes on His loving face, we find a peace and strength that holds us steady—even if the unexpected happens.

 

It’s All in Your Mind

I was surprised how quickly I slipped. For several months I’d been mulling over some wonderful truths, gaining understanding and mentally preparing to share them on this blog. I’d learned to see challenges as an opportunity for growth and felt I could approach any difficulty with a positive attitude. Yet all it took was a few unexpected comments at a crucial moment to send me into a spin.

I was six days away from sending my final documents for my book, “Skinny Girl”, to the publisher when an email came from a trusted contact suggesting further edits. By this time—ten years into the writing and editing process—I hoped I had worked through every change that was needed.  I was wrong.

The point my friend made was important and I was glad she raised it. Still, I felt myself plummeting into a crazy mental tug-of-war, my thoughts flitting back and forth between accusations of failure and quieter assurances that correction would only help improve the book. Tiredness and hormones added their weight to the gloomy side, whispering in my ear, No matter how many changes you make, there will always be another error to fix, another fault to correct. This is never going to end.

Always. Never. I’d heard taunts like that before. I knew how to deal with them. But that day—my daughter’s birthday—I was too busy bustling through my list of essential birthday tasks, so the struggle simmered on. Late that evening I finally stopped, took a deep breath and verbalised what God had already whispered to my heart. “It’s gonna be okay. God will work it for good.” As soon as the words left my mouth, the inner battle waned and I could view the setback through eyes of hope. When I read the email again next morning, the words that tormented me had lost their sting and I began to get a sense of the way forward.

Sometimes our thoughts seem to run out of control.  Like cars on a racetrack, they hurtle through our mind, leaving impressions that guide our decisions—often without us realizing. Some days negative thoughts fire at us like a volley of bullets, making us cower in the corner, unable to function. Sometimes they even make us sick.

But are our thoughts really beyond our control? Are we helpless victims to their fluctuations?

Here’s what I’m learning.

The apostle Paul wrote, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2b). He wouldn’t say this unless change was possible. This process of renewal begins the moment we place our lives in God’s loving hands. He infuses us with His life-changing power, giving us a new heart and a new spirit. (Ezekiel 36:26, Titus 3:5) Then He calls us to partner with Him on the journey of transformation—a makeover that begins in our mind.

Holding hands looking at viewIt’s important to note that the verse in Romans doesn’t say, ‘Sit back and watch while God does all the work.’ It instructs us to, ‘Be transformed’. ‘Be’ is an action word. When we say, ‘Be quick,’ ‘Be thankful,’ or ‘Be quiet,’ we expect the listener to make a choice to do what’s been asked of them. When, through Paul, God says, ‘Be transformed by the renewing of your mind,’ He’s telling us to choose to change the way we think, so we can grow into the people He designed us to be. He doesn’t leave us alone in this. He’s with us—offering strength and wisdom—every step. But the choices we make are vital to the process.

There are many people who’ve already put this principle into practice:

Wise King Solomon advised his listeners to, ‘Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and lean not on your own understanding.’ (Proverbs 3:5-6)

When David battled depression, he told his soul to, ‘Put your hope in God,’ (Psalm 42: 5) Many, many times he made a decision to shift his focus from the hardships in his life—which were extreme—to the goodness of God. ‘My soul is downcast within me; Therefore, I will remember you . . .’ (42: 6)

Isaiah said, ‘You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast because they trust in You.’ (Isaiah 26:3)

The writer of Lamentations followed his outpouring of grief over his homeland’s devastation with a determined re-direction of his thoughts. ‘Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope. Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail . . . great is your faithfulness.’ (Lamentations 3:19-23)

Paul wrote to new Christians, ‘Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.’ (Colossians 3:2) He told his readers to think about whatever is true, noble, pure, lovely and so on. (Philippians 4: 8)

These verses are the kind we look to for hope and perspective when we’re in a rough patch. We admire the faith of these people and the victories they experienced, often overlooking the fact they made a choice for hope and peace—even while their circumstances screamed pain and hopelessness. They faced their despair and negativity, renewed their mind, rose above the trials and ultimately went on to fulfil God’s purpose for their lives. Their example urges us to do the same. To acknowledge the Lord. Put our hope in Him. Remember His love. Trust in His strength and stability. Call to mind His great compassion. Set our minds on Him and His inherent goodness.closer slow down sign

‘Mindfulness’, the practice of slowing our thoughts and calmly observing them, is popular in our world right now. Many people are adopting it as a lifestyle in the hope of finding peace. To recognize what we’re thinking is an important first step— as we see in the example of David. However, like him, we have opportunity to go beyond merely observing our thoughts to leading them into truth.

Through God’s enabling, we can make a conscious decision to redirect the traffic in our mind. As we recognize destructive thoughts and turn them around, the truth will set us free. Then, further transformed, we can press on to fulfil God’s purpose for our lives.

So how do we renew our mind? Here are a few techniques I find helpful. I’ve mentioned some of these before, but they’re so important they’re worth repeating.

1. Read your Bible. Find verses that address the area where you need renewal.

“For the word of God is living and active . . . it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12

  1. Display truth. Put these words in a prominent place and read them often.

“Pay attention to what I say; listen closely to my words . . . for they are life to those who find them and health to a man’s whole body.” Proverbs 4:20 – 22

Studying word on deck

3. Meditate. To meditate, in its most general sense, means ‘to think about something very carefully and deeply for a long time’, much like a cow chewing its cud. Journalling can help with this. Dwelling on specific verses over a period of time can help embed them in our memory. Then they’ll be available for us to draw on any time.

“My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises.” Psalm 119: 148

  1. Speak life daily. In conversation, in prayer, in gratitude. There is power in the spoken word, especially when it’s God’s word.

“From the fruit of his mouth a man’s stomach is filled; with the harvest from his lips he is satisfied. The tongue has the power of life and death.” Proverbs 18:20 – 21

  1. Learn. Listen to teaching related to your struggle on YouTube and podcasts.

“Let the wise listen and add to their learning and let the understanding get guidance . . .” Proverbs 1:5

  1. Sing. Use music that lifts you out of those mental tug-of-wars and into freedom. Lyrics tend to stick with us long after the song is over, so choose carefully.

“But I will sing of your strength, in the morning I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble.” Psalm 59:16

  1. Sift. Disconnect from anything you read, watch or listen to that feeds destructive thought patterns. Replace them with good fuel.

“I will not let anything worthless guide me . . .” Psalm 101:3a

The process of mind renewal is a lifelong one and it will often be challenged. It’s good to remember that each time we make a choice for truth, God will strengthen us and give us clearer vision for the things to come.

Joy's misty morning

Photo credit to Joy Van Namen

“. . .we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10: 5b

“. . . be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2b-c

 

References

OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS, Lexico, 10 June, 2020, https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/mindfulness

COLLINS COBUILD, Collins, Glasgow, UK, 10 June, 2020, https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/meditation