Don’t Push!

Last Saturday was a day for celebration. Late in the afternoon, as the heavens opened and released a torrent of rain outside, I sat with my computer in the quietness of our study and emailed the final documents for “Skinny Girl” to my publisher. Finally, the work was done! The fact this event took place almost two months later than planned was sure to mean the book’s release date would be delayed. Yet, I smiled as deep peace and satisfaction flooded my heart—more than I would have felt, I’m sure, if I had sent the documents on time.

Often, when we set goals, we have a clear picture in our minds of how we want things to play out—what will happen, how and when the goal will be achieved. Later, looking back, we measure our success by how close the reality was to our imaginings.

But what if there was a better route to achieving our goal than the plan we’ve created? And what if we switched our focus from the outcome to the process? How would that change our understanding of success?

When I was asked to consider changing some crucial points in my book manuscript just five days before the due date for submission, my whole mindset had to shift. Already—numerous times—I’d sought feedback from a range of people, discussed necessary changes and prayerfully gone over the material again. To be told I needed to retrace my steps once more, and at such a late stage, had me feeling like a marathon runner plunging towards the finish line, only to be intercepted and told I must turn around and run the last two kilometres again. The loss of momentum felt awfully like defeat—until I was able to quiet my heart and listen to my Father’s still, small voice.

I was reminded this book was God’s idea, not mine. I needed to yield to His process, even when it didn’t make sense to me. Over the next few days, I was able to lay down my expectations and time frame and release myself from the drive to ‘just get it over the line’. I explained the situation to my publisher, who offered an extension for however long I needed. Her grace released me to yield completely to God’s plan.

Several weeks in, I felt Him remind me, Rest. Don’t rush. If you push ahead for the sake of expediency, you are no different to Saul.(1 Samuel 13-15) An image of  King Saul impatiently taking things into his own hands, disregarding God’s command and consequently losing his crown sent a shudder through me. I didn’t want to be like that! Be like Mary, the Lord continued. Sit at My feet. Worship. And know that the practical things that need to be done will be—if you truly put Me first.”

Those words transformed my perspective on the setback. Suddenly, it was no longer a hindrance but a gift. Rather than being blocked from achieving my goal, I’d been given an opportunity to rest, listen and allow God to add new dimensions to the story, to make it even better. He dropped a picture of two pieces of fruit into my mind. The first was fuzzy and pink with a sweet outer layer, but a firm, sour centre that made it difficult to digest. The second was plump and fragrant and richly-coloured, dripping with flavour and lasting, life-giving nourishment. To give readers an incomplete book simply because I felt it had been ripening long enough was like picking a piece of immature fruit and offering it to someone I cared about. Its benefit would be limited and some of its effects could be unsettling.

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Image by flockine from Pixabay

With renewed desire to let things develop according to God’s plan, I spent long periods studying my bible, poring over verses on trust, submission and rest and scrawling long prayers and notes in my journal. I consulted with key contacts and asked for prayer from people at church, all the while keeping my eyes and ears open to see what God would do. There were moments I felt Him draw my attention to particular words spoken by someone in conversation. Another when a phrase I heard uttered in prayer echoed in my heart for days afterwards. Each little piece I recorded in my journal, and as I did, I noticed a gradual shift taking place in my thinking. Slowly, beautifully, as days and weeks ticked by, God put each piece in its place to create a clear picture showing me what I needed to do to bring the book to ‘maturity’. The changes were not difficult—they took only a couple of hours to write—but they were significant to the message of the story. Even more precious to me, though, were the hours I spent resting in His presence (Psalm 91:1)

King Saul’s grandson, Solomon, showed greater wisdom than his grandfather when he said,

“Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labour in vain.”(Psalm 127:1)

Esther Wine Glass Bay lookoutI often hear God whisper a simpler version of this proverb to my heart. Don’t push. We may try to build good things—very good things—through our own efforts, but it’s only when we yield to God and His plan that we can produce something of real value. There is a time to work hard and put energy and effort into our task, but we need to be mindful of the motivation for our effort.

It’s easy, even when God plants a dream in our heart, for us to begin with Him then run ahead because our eyes are so firmly fixed on the finish line. But there’s more to the story than the endpoint. The journey has a richness of its own. If we disregard the value of the process, we’ll miss the beautiful things God wants to do in us and for us along the way. The process is what prepares us for the time of the project’s completion. It makes us ripe and ready for what comes next.

Esther holding flowersSo, if we’re not to push, what’s the alternative? To rest and be led—by the one who sees the whole picture and whose way is always best—in timing and in process.

On Saturday, as I pressed ‘send’ on the email to my publisher, I marvelled at the way God, who began this venture so many years ago had sealed it by directing, in such intimate detail, my final steps. Truly He is the Alpha and Omega—the first and the last—the one who brings the first gleaming rays of dawn and plants the sun’s final kiss on fruit-laden branches at day’s end.

“We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.” Proverbs 16:9

“. . . the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace . . .” Romans 8:6b

 

 

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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When God Interrupts Your Plans

A woman lays on her side like one in deep sleep, her petite body curved to fit the narrow space in the toilet cubicle, her back pressed against the door.

“Hello . . .” Another woman, clad in black trousers and navy blouse, kneels outside the cubicle, her hand pressed against the door. “Can you hear me?” Her words echo off the walls of the ladies’ room.

There is no movement, no sound.

She turns to me. We exchange concerned glances. “I know First Aid,” she says.

“Oh.” I nod. “Good.” I see her reach under the door to find the woman’s pulse, all the while praying, God, what do you want me to do? Do I stay? Do I go?

His words from that morning sweep over my heart again. Bask and bless. Receive My love and let it overflow to those around you.

Sunrise on distant hills

Bask and bless. I’d almost forgotten that directive in the hustle and busyness of the time since. My well-planned morning has been interrupted by one minor glitch after another. I’d arrived at the shopping centre later and a little wearier than I’d hoped.

But now I see there’s a different plan at play. God’s plan. In that plan I am exactly where I need to be, right on schedule. This is not a time to bustle on with my to-do list. It’s time to overflow.

The woman in blue tries once more. “Hello! Can you hear me?” She feels for a pulse, checks for breath. “She’s not breathing.” Her grim words hang in the space between us.

I step closer. “Do you mind if I pray?”

“No. Go ahead.” She moves aside.

I squat to reach under the door and place my hand on the woman’s back. “Lord, I thank you that you know this woman and you love her. I speak life over her now . . .”

“She’s not breathing.” Security guards have arrived and the first aider explains the woman’s condition. “Her pulse is very faint.”  Her words fall like a wet blanket over my prayer, threatening to smother hope.

Quietly I finish then move into the next cubicle where I kneel. Leaning forward, I press my chest against my legs and hang my head till I can see the woman’s face. She’s wearing jeans, a cotton t-shirt and canvas shoes. Her hair is swept back in a simple ponytail. Her face, lined with the passing of years, is pale. Her eyes are closed.

Compassion fills my heart. I touch her hand, continue praying, and notice the muscles in her jaw beginning to work. “Her mouth is moving!”

Slowly she shifts her legs, tilts her head back and groans.

“She’s breathing!”

The team’s response is immediate. “We need to get her out of there.

A man climbs into the cubicle and helps us move the tiny figure out to an open area on the restroom floor.

“Where am I? What am I doing here?”

“You’re in the ladies’ room at the shopping centre.”

The woman is groggy and disoriented. Carefully we roll her onto her side and explain that help is coming. The guards leave and return later with a clean pillow and blanket. They tell us that, due to a misunderstanding, the ambulance has only just been called.

Time passes and the woman asks the same questions over and over. “Where am I? How did I get here? Who are you?” She seems surprised that strangers have chosen to stay with her, there on the floor.  Her mind drifts back and forth from confusion to resistance, gratitude to fear. Unbidden, she pours out reflections on her life – tales of family tensions, illness, guilt and despair.

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I am compelled to speak. Taking her slender hand in mine, I tell her of love – of Jesus who laid down His life so she can be forgiven – released from the heavy burden of guilt. I stroke wisps of hair back from the face of this one who could be my mother, telling her how precious and beautiful she is. My words are few and inadequacy plagues me as I offer them. Yet I wonder – how long is it since someone treated this dear one with tenderness? How long since she heard she was worth dying for?

Has anyone ever told her?

I don’t know if my words are received; she goes back to her questioning as soon as I finish. But I’m thankful to be there, glad my plan was interrupted. The love God has lavished on me is meant to be shared, not hoarded.

The woman grows tired, her eyes close and her breathing slows once more. The first aider persists determinedly, rousing her again and again until – at last – the ambulance arrives. The medics move in and I embrace the first aider and say goodbye.

I plod through the essential tasks on my list then, my mind drifting back over the events of the previous hour. I pray for the woman – that the love she was offered takes root in heart, bringing hope and security.

And I pray for myself, that my plans are never so rigid they can’t be interrupted.

The best moments in life are the ones my Father orchestrates.

“We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.” Proverbs 16:9 (NLT)

“Always let Him lead you and He will clear the road for you to follow.” Proverbs 3:6 (CEV)

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Careful What you Listen to

Have you ever noticed how subtly negative thoughts weave their way into your thinking? So silently, those sneaky, snaky strings of words take up residence in our minds, challenging our hopes and trying to reverse every positive attitude we hold. Sometimes there’s an element of truth in what they say; sometimes they’re outright lies. Either way, we often allow them to settle into our thought patterns, unwittingly giving permission for them to influence our lives.

Sometimes we’ve lived with those poisonous little phrases for so long we don’t even realise they’re there, dictating so many of our choices – until someone points them out.

That’s what happened to me last Sunday. I was sitting in bed, propped up on soft pillows, musing over Jesus’ words in John 15, “Remain in Me and I will remain in you . . . apart from Me you can do nothing.”(1) How well I know it! The enormous changes our family is going through, with all its uncertainties, has each of us starkly aware of our need to stay connected to Jesus – like a tender branch gaining strength from the sturdy vine.

But that’s not the only transition happening in my world right now.

After more than eight years, I’m making final touches to my book manuscript, ready to submit it to publishers. Within a couple of years, the long-dreamed-of book could be in print, (God willing) bringing perspective and hope to people who struggle with anorexia – and their loved ones. Publishing a book raises your profile and brings new opportunities to speak with people. You’d think this would be a time of great excitement and anticipation. Instead, I’ve found myself becoming reflective, quiet and a little overwhelmed by the thought of all that attention.

Why, you ask. That’s where last weekend’s revelation comes in.

On that cosy Sunday morning, tucked up in bed, my attention was drawn to these words of Jesus: “If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing.” (2)

I’ve read those words lots of times. They make perfect sense. If a branch remains connected to the vine – and it’s a strong, lush, nourishing vine – of course that branch will bear good fruit, much fruit. I’ve always agreed with that principle. But until that morning I’d never stopped to imagine what ‘much fruit’ might look like in a person’s life, particularly my own. I was okay with the thought of bearing some fruit; but much fruit? Wasn’t that a bit, well . . . much?

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Photo by Luiz M. Santos on Pexels.com

In the same passage in John I read that when people bear much fruit, they bring glory to the Father. (3) Not to themselves, but to the Father. Suddenly God had my attention. A sense of wonder washed over me as I filled a page of my journal with quickly flowing revelations. Out of His great love, the Master surgeon was uncovering an oppressive pattern of thinking that had bound me up since childhood: “You can shine; just don’t shine too brightly.”

In my earliest years I had boundless confidence. The doted-on ‘baby’ of three girls, I followed my whims and said or did whatever popped into my head. It didn’t take too long to discover it wasn’t such a popular thing to be so sure of oneself. Names like ‘show off’ were fired my way, quickly teaching me it was better to shrink back and be quiet than stand out from the crowd.

More recently God has been calling me out of that self-conscious place into the peace and rest that comes when I put my confidence in Him. Jeremiah 17:7-8 is a favourite passage. Again and again, in my quiet times and through others, God has told me to ‘Arise and shine.’ Fear and intimidation have roared, Don’t be a show off! No one wants to hear what you have to say. Many times I’ve chosen to push through the fear barrier and follow God’s lead any way. But always there’s been a sense of restraint – a feeling I shouldn’t let things go too far, shouldn’t shine too brightly.

Last Sunday I realised just how much those fearful thoughts were holding me back.

I read on. Jesus told His followers He had chosen them and appointed them for a special task – bearing fruit(4). That task has also been given to us who love Him today. It’s Jesus’ desire and purpose for us to bear fruit – and plenty of it. If I want to walk in His plan for my life, I need to be willing to do that.

It really doesn’t matter what others think of me – or even what I think.

In truth, it’s all about Him.

I did a lot of praying that morning – forgiving the people who put me down in the past, rejecting those fearful thought patterns and tuning in to what God had to say. Lately I’ve been sensing He wants to lead me further out of my comfort zone than I’ve ever been before. On that particular day He asked me to throw off any limits I’d put on my life. And I did. I don’t know exactly what that will mean, but I know I can be confident that whatever comes, I won’t face it alone. He will be my strength and sufficiency each step of the way.

These words of Jesus are true for all of us who love Him. He desires us to live abundantly fruitful lives as we fulfil the specific purposes He made us for.

I wonder what that looks like for you?

And what kind of thoughts might be holding you back?

Imagine how bright the light will be if each of us shines the way we were created to.

“. . . let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Hebrews 12:1b

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(1) John 15:4a,5b

(2) John 15:5b

(3) John 15:8

(4) John 15:16