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

Made Beautiful

What do you see when you look in the mirror?  

Really.

Where does your wandering gaze land?

What emotions rise in your heart?

What thoughts run through your mind?

And where have they come from?

More than likely, they stem from the world you’re immersed in. The people you mix with—face to face and online. The celebrities you follow. The Instagram feeds you scroll through. The Netflix series you binge-watch. All the forms of media that spark comparison and whisper that you’re not enough. Too many times, you’re barely awake before discouragement kicks in. Sometimes even despair.

Please let me tell you a little story from an autumn morning a few weeks back. It might bring some fresh perspective.

There was a wintry chill in the air that day, so I pulled the covers higher on my waist and draped my dressing gown around my shoulders. My eyes, still blurry from sleep, narrowed to slits as I tried to make out the numbers on the clock in our bedroom. It was five past six—early for me. Still, I knew the next precious moments would be worth the sacrificed sleep.   

I needed to connect with my Maker before launching into the day. 

Yawning, I reached for my bible and journal in the bedside drawer, trying to sift through the fog in my mind and recall what I’d been reading the day before. It was something so intriguing, I’d wanted to study it further. I opened my bible, those strange words from the previous morning drifting through my mind like an echo. Grasping the wafer-thin pages in wads, I flipped towards the back till I reached Romans 8, then skimmed down to the verse I was after—number thirty. There, once again, I found the phrase that had me baffled.“. . . those he justified, he also glorified.”

My eyebrows rose as I read this. What on earth did that mean—God glorified us? Weren’t we supposed to glorify Him? There had to be more to this than I could understand.

I opened the lexicon on biblehub– an online tool I’d just discovered that unveils the meaning of words in their original language. Surely in this case ‘glorified’ meant something different to the way we usually understood it. Carefully, I pored over the detailed information the website provided about this confusing statement, taking note of key points and filling pages of my journal with my hurried scrawl. Before long, I was so engrossed, all sense of time and cold faded.  

Once I’d finished reading, I slumped back on my pillow, awe-struck.

Here’s what I learned. Those words about us being glorified by God? Their meaning in the original language was exactly the same as usual. God, our creator, glorifies us. And He does it willingly. When we put our faith in Jesus and surrender our lives to God, He doesn’t only forgive us and set us free from our past.

He honours us with dignity and worth.
He exalts us to a rank and condition far beyond what we deserve. That was certainly my story.
He imparts His own spectacular glory to us.
He declares us excellent and glorious,
adorns us with lustre (that’s shininess, in case you wondered)
and clothes us with splendour.

Yes, God glorifies us. Mind-blowing, isn’t it?  

I understood this a little. God had lifted me from the depths and given me a whole new life, with dignity and purpose.

But ‘glory’? That was so hard to fathom.

And what about that word, ‘splendour’—so unique and rich in imagery? In the Cambridge dictionary it’s described as ‘great beauty that attracts admiration and attention’. Again, the original language conveys the same meaning. The Hebrew word for splendour relates to ‘beautify’ and ‘glorify’. When God clothes us with splendour, He beautifies us. In that beauty, He glorifies us. That means, even on our frumpiest, very worst hair days, by God’s grace we are clothed with great beauty that attracts admiration and attention.  Imagine that!

When we focus solely on the image in our mirror, we are robbed. The pictures we’re swamped with every day narrow our view, convincing us our outward appearance is the only measure of our value. But God made us so much more. And this beauty He gives isn’t something we can attain through our own striving efforts.

It’s transcendent.

It begins in our spirit—where God comes to dwell by His Spirit. As He fills us with His beautiful presence, His splendour wells up and flows out of us . . . so clearly that others see it and marvel.

“Those who look to Him are radiant;
their faces are never covered with shame.” Psalm 34:5

I stilled my pen and closed my eyes that morning, trying to grasp these ideas in their fullness.  A fresh sense of joy welled inside me as my perception of myself grew a little closer to God’s view. Every day, no matter how I look or feel, whether I’m upbeat or melancholy, conquering or struggling, I can walk with dignity, knowing God Himself has clothed me with His splendour. It can be the same for you too—if you put your hope in Him. Regardless of how anyone else may view us, the Creator and ultimate authority says we are His beloved, His treasured possession , wholly accepted.

Who would dare argue with Him?

It’s easy to wonder why we’ve been given such stand-out glory, such splendour. Is it intended to set us strutting, eager for everyone to notice how brightly we’re shining? In reality it’s not only about us.

Look at these words.  

“Then all your people will be righteous
and they will possess the land forever.
They are the shoot I have planted,
the work of my hands,
for the display of my splendour.”       (Isaiah 60:21)

“Surely you will summon nations you know not,
and nations you do not know will come running to you,
because of the LORD your God,
the Holy One of Israel,
for he has endowed you with splendour.”  (Isaiah 55:5)

Even while He lavishes so much love and favour on us, God is also looking beyond us to those who don’t yet know Him. He’s pursuing others just as He pursued us, ready to lift them, too, out of their tangle of sin and shame and failure—and He wants our hearts to beat as strongly for them as His does.

We are like a myriad of precious, sparkling jewels—each unique in colour and cut, all reflecting the goodness of God to those around us. The attention and admiration sparked by our splendour is intended to point people to its source—the light—our gracious God.

Next time you stand in front of the mirror, pause and look beyond the outward. God loves you so much He offered His very best to rescue you. He wants to fill you with His goodness and lead you in His eternal purpose. Let that understanding propel you into your day with joy, your eyes looking right to the hearts of people around you, not merely their appearance. As you walk in step with God’s heartbeat, letting His glory shine through you, others will also be stirred to seek Him—the one who leads us into life in all its beautiful fullness.  

 

“She is clothed in strength and dignity;

She can laugh at the days to come.”

Proverbs 31:25

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Four Essentials for Parenting Teens

I can still see it so clearly in my mind—the first time my teenager zoned out on me. I was speaking words—important words—and, while my son seemed to be looking at me, it was as though shutters had come down over his mind and heart. In his eyes I saw that glazed, faraway look that told me he may have been physically present, but his thoughts were miles and miles away.

I finished the conversation and left the room, firing a prayer heavenward. God, help! What do I do now? Within a few days, He provided an answer, bringing instant perspective and direction. Over the many years since, I’ve experienced the same dynamic over and over: I hit a difficult patch in my parenting, I turn to God and, graciously, He shows me the way forward. He really is my number one counsellor.

There are countless things I could tell you of all God has shown me through the years. Today, I’ll focus on four principles that have proven crucial with all our children. Before I share them with you, I need to clarify one detail:

God is perfect, I am not.

Mulling over these concepts has confronted me once again with how much I need to grow. My children—mostly adults now—are constantly changing. I need to adapt with them. So, as I write, I’m praying you find encouragement for your situation and we each allow God to keep moulding us into the parents He wants us to be—for every stage and season.     

  1. BE SLOW TO SPEAK

“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry . . .” James 1:19

In response to the scenario I described above, God gave me this advice:

Be slow to speak and quick to listen to Me. I know what your son needs and when he needs to hear it. As you wait on Me, I’ll open up opportunities and give you the words and the ways to encourage and challenge him. Wait, watch and you will see.

As parents, we sometimes notice areas in our teenager’s life or character that concern us. It’s natural to want to address them right away, just as we did when they were young. If we sense resistance, we might even be tempted to talk longer to make sure they understand our point.

The difficulty comes because our teens are moving on from childhood. They’re starting to look more to their peers and less to us for advice—which is why it’s so important for us to wait for God’s timing. When He gives us a clear opening, we can speak the words He’s put in our mouths with confidence. Once those thoughts have been shared, we need to stop speaking and walk away, trusting the Holy Spirit to apply the truth to the listener’s heart.

“(There is) a time to be silent and a time to speak . . .” Ecclesiastes 3: 7b

2. WALK HUMBLY

“He has shown you . . . what is good. And what does the LORD require of you?

To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8

God wants us to trust in His authority to work on our behalf, rather than trying to assert our own. Instead of coming on strong, attempting to dominate and control our teens, we are to walk humbly with them, showing understanding, compassion and love—even while we set firm boundaries. Likewise, when we fail we need to quickly ask their forgiveness, acknowledging our weaknesses, even if it makes us feel uncomfortable.

When we seek to honour God in the way we lead our children, He will affirm us before them and bring down barriers between us. I’ve seen this happen in surprising ways in my own family.

“Humble yourselves before the Lord and He will lift you up.” James 4:10

3. BE PATIENT

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

We need to keep a long-term view. This can be difficult when we’re immersed in a seemingly endless struggle with our teenager. It’s important to remember—despite how intense and impossible it feels, this season will pass. What kind of relationship do we want with our young adult at the end of it? Pausing to think about this can renew our sense of purpose.

It’s also enlightening to reflect on how long we take to learn important life lessons—even as adults. Seeing clearly our own frailty can inspire us afresh to provide encouragement and support for our adolescent through their ups and downs. God is so patient and gracious with us; He wants us to show the same kindness and generosity to our children. When they fall, we need to offer forgiveness and lift them up, just as God does with us.

“Bear with each other and forgive one another . . . as the Lord forgave you.” Colossians 3:13

4. KNOW WHERE YOUR HELP COMES FROM

“I lift up my eyes to the mountains—

where does my help come from?

My help comes from the LORD,

the Maker of heaven and earth.” Psalm 121:1-2

This principle is the foundation of all the others. Parenting, especially parenting teens, confronts us daily with how much we need God. It brings us right back to the basics, reminding us He is the Creator, we the created. He sees and knows all. We don’t.

God made our teenagers. He knows them—intimately. He sees right through the image they project and their emotional fluctuations to their unique and tender hearts. And He has a clear understanding of His plans for their future.

If we lift these ones before God and choose to rely on Him, He’ll provide all the wisdom, love and courage we need to help them weather their storms and move beyond to His sunshine. At the same time, His Spirit will reach the places in them we can’t, bringing healing and comfort and giving them the strength they need to move forward.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” James 1:5

I hope you found these principles as helpful as I have. When God gives us directions like this, He doesn’t expect us to fulfil them through our own scheming and striving. Instead, He calls us to trust Him and rely on His strength and guidance. He knows the best way forward for each of us, in our unique family situations.

Will you join me in this prayer?  

“God, thank you that you see me and you know my family.

 You understand all that’s going on in each of our hearts and our circumstances.

 Please teach me how to be a loving parent to my children, at every age.  

Guide my thoughts and let the words I speak come from your heart—in your timing.

When I feel like rising up in anger or forcefully taking control, help me to stop, humble myself and put my trust in you to make things right.

Give me the courage to ask forgiveness when I fail.

In those times I feel too hurt or too weary to go on, remind me of your kindness, help me to forgive and fill me with the patience I need to keep loving, keep giving.

Thank you, God, for your Holy Spirit, who walks with me every moment, guiding my steps and working in my children’s hearts for their good.

I’m so grateful for your love and constant presence.

In Jesus’ Name, Amen.”  

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

Learning to Rest in the Land of Busy

This blog was birthed out of a season when I was a stay-at-home mum in Tasmania savouring slow time after eleven years home-schooling and a bout of serious illness. Rest— body, soul and spirit—was my primary focus. I savoured leisurely days in our spacious, sun-drenched home—reading, praying, writing, pottering in the kitchen and garden, reflecting on life with dear friends and finding joy in simple pleasures. My eyes were opened afresh to the wonders all around me—plump spring buds, alpacas frisking in the back paddock, fairy wrens hopping on the lawn in search of food.

In that season, God taught me how to enjoy ‘just being’, secure in His love irrespective of what I achieved. Like an ailing tree in fertile soil, I plunged my roots deep into Him and marvelled at the quiet strength anchoring me as I transitioned back into normal life.

Today I live almost 1400km north in Wollongong, the third largest city in New South Wales. Wollongong is a city of contrasts. Its golden ribbon of coastline and lush rainforest speak of adventure, discovery and relaxation.

Then there’s Wollongong’s busy face. I see it in the endless plume of steam rising from the steelworks, the creaking of the coal train as it rocks back and forth along its time-worn track, tall cranes reaching skyward as they lift materials for yet another apartment block and the myriad of people coming and going—always coming and going. I, too, am one of the busy ones these days, bustling out the door four mornings a week to play my part in the local workforce.

The hours I spend at home now are carefully apportioned between family, housework, writing, reading and seeking God for fresh strength to juggle it all. Many nights, dissatisfaction grumbles as I climb into bed. I didn’t get through my to-do list. Or I stayed up much too late trying. There’s an unrest I’ve noticed creeping into my heart—a frustration with my lifestyle and desperation to find a better balance. I’ve tried allocating small time periods for demanding tasks, hoping to chip away at them gradually over time. This gave me some sense of progress, but not enough to restore the peace and rest I used to enjoy.

A few weeks ago, in weariness of heart, I turned to Matthew 11:26-28, where Jesus explains that we find rest by coming to Him. Lord, I’m already coming to you—every day—and still I’m not at rest. I’m restless! How can I find that place of calm again when life is so hectic?

With soul open and thirsting, I read through Jesus’ familiar words. He spoke of the yoke, a timber crosspiece laid across the necks of two oxen so they can work together, the lead ox bearing the load’s weight and setting the course while the younger ox—the novice—walked beside.

image by 2211438 on pixabay

                                                                                                                                                                    Image by 2211438 on Pixabay

“Take my yoke upon you,” Jesus said, “and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” He said His yoke was easy and His burden light. Clearly, if I felt so heavy-laden and discouraged, I wasn’t wearing His yoke.

This made me wonder, did my circumstances need to change? In some areas, the answer was yes. I had set too many goals, was trying to squeeze too much into each day. I needed to recognise my limits and let God sift my priorities. I knew the busy weekdays would remain as He had clearly led me into my job. But there were other, optional pursuits I could lay down—at least for a time.

I sat quietly, pondering this, until a clear realization cut through my thoughts. Changing my routines might offer some relief. But my circumstances weren’t the problem.

The real issue—the root of all my unrest—was the state of my heart.

Most of the weight I was carrying came from the expectations I put on myself—to perform, to achieve, to keep everything under control. Added to that load was my frustration over my limited time at home. Wistfulness had grown into resentment, a heavy burden that made me drag my feet and overlook the blessings in each day.

My focus shifted again as I felt God draw my attention to the posture required to take on a yoke. The young ox had to bow its head—and thus its will. To bear well the yoke it had been given and fulfil its purpose, it needed to align its body with the lead ox and submit to that ox’s strength and wisdom.

 

I sensed God speak to my heart, Yieldedness is the place of rest. As you choose to trust Me and bow to My will—the yoke of My choice for this season—you’ll feel the burden lift. Then there will be a new lightness and ease in your days.

image by skeeze from pixabay

                                                                                                                                                                    Image by skeeze from Pixabay

Ah, yieldedness. That surrendering of control and laying down of our own efforts. It’s something we might fear and try to shirk, yet it offers a path straight to rest. The author of Hebrews said anyone who enters God’s rest ceases from their labour. That means we throw off the mindset that says it’s all up to us, that we need to wrestle and juggle and figure everything out. Yieldedness means letting go and taking our place as the learner beside the Lord, fully aware of our frailty and trusting in His rock-solid, abiding presence. It means surrendering each situation and each relationship to Him and trusting Him to show us the way through.

Humbled, I yielded. I recognized the yoke Jesus had given me was just what I needed—whether I thought so or not. As I surrendered, I recognized and began to thank Him for the many gifts in my busy life—the beautiful and challenging people who cross my path, daily opportunities to learn and grow, the shelter and peace of our home, the family I gather with over candlelit dinners who devour mountains of food and create piles of dirty dishes. The more I thanked God, the more clearly I could see. I was blessed! And shining brightly above all God’s gifts was His constant, strong presence beside me—a source of stability, nurture and enabling to do far more than I thought I could.

This rest of God is not dependent on our physical condition or our circumstances. It flows from a state of firm confidence in Him—His kindness, His ability, His constancy—and cannot be taken away, unless we allow it. If I shift my focus away from the Lord and onto myself, my rest is quickly stolen. Knowing my own weakness, I now begin most days with this prayer.

Lord, thank you for this new day. Please make it what you want it to be and lead me through it. And make me who you want me to be, Lord. I want to walk with you.

The moment those words lift from my heart, my perspective is renewed and I’m released from the drive to strive. I feel His response. Rest in me, daughter. I am more than enough for you. Trust me and I will show you the way through.

Daily, God calls me into His rest. He’s calling you too. He wants all of us to dwell in that place of intimacy and peace and strength in Him. It’s only by remaining yielded, yoked with Him, that we can walk in His plans and bring Him the honour He’s due. That is our highest purpose.

“Look to the Lord and his strength;

Seek his face always.” 1 Chronicles 16:11  

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.

peach-2632182_640

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

 

 

This Won’t Last Forever

Pacing in my hospital gown, I gazed out the window to the park below. In the distance a woman strolled along a winding path, her young child toddling beside her with his tiny arm upstretched to her hand. I watched them for a moment, musing. She must’ve given birth. Her baby was once growing inside her and now lived on the outside, brightening her days.

Another contraction hit. My strides to the nearby bed were quick. I stooped and pressed my hands into the mattress, flicking my TENS machine to high and breathing deep through the pain’s sharp peak and fall. More than fifteen hours had passed since we arrived at the hospital.  I’d been walking, rocking, breathing all through the night and into the following day, trusting it was for a purpose. Yet my contractions still hadn’t kicked into a steady rhythm. My waters had broken earlier that afternoon, but four hours later the doctor said there was still little progress towards delivery.  My husband and I were exhausted. How much longer would this go on? Would our baby ever be born?

Thankfully, he was. Several hours later, with a little medical help, our beautiful son arrived—and our suffering was overcome by joy. When I reflected on the experience later, I had much to ponder. The labour, with all its sleep deprivation and pain, had been so drawn out and confusing, there were times I questioned whether it would end. But it did. And that experience left a permanent imprint on my heart.

Many months later, my husband and I lay in bed, talking through the details of a different kind of struggle. I don’t recall now what the issue was, but I know it was hard. I can still remember burying my face in his chest and whispering, “Just tell me this won’t last forever.”

He kissed the top of my head and echoed, “This won’t last forever.”

He understood what I meant. The day our son was born we began to understand that trials have a beginning and an end. In our darkest moments the battle can seem endless. Unbearable. If we lose sight of the endpoint, despair can set in and the pain is magnified. In saying, ‘This won’t last forever’, we were reminding ourselves there was more to the story than the moment we were in. We were in a process, not at a destination.

74614812_2457141634564518_9072634649158615040_n

In God’s word we see trials likened to seasons we pass through. They come for a while, then they go. Grief and tears may endure, but joy has the final say. Some problems plague us for so long, we wonder whether God has forgotten us—and yet His loving presence is constant. God promises, in His lavish love, to bring His people through every hardship they face. There are times, too, when in His mercy He scoops up one of His children to lift them out of their hardship and take them home—to a world free from sorrow and pain.

Amazing Grace bears the line, “Through many dangers, toils and snares, we have already come. Twas grace has brought us safe thus far and grace will lead us home.” Over the twenty-three years since our son was born, we’ve seen those principles play out more times than I could count. Relationship strains, financial difficulties, parenting struggles and illness have all come to darken our days for a time. But they haven’t lasted forever. Always, there has been movement, a ‘going through’, even when it felt like there wasn’t.

Now we find ourselves dealing with COVID-19. Fear has its gnarled fingers wrapped around many in our nation. Businesses are closing, schools are emptying, weddings and parties and holidays have been cancelled. Precious friends and family members have passed away. People have lost their jobs, their sense of purpose and their income. We’ve been told to keep our distance, to shut ourselves away, to sterilize everything in sight. It feels like a death of sorts, this shrivelling up of life as we’ve known it. We wait and watch and wonder, How long?

This pandemic too is only for a season. Despite its intensity and spread across the breadth of the earth, it will pass. How we come out the other side will depend on how we choose to go through this time. God is not the cause of COVID-19. He understands the battle we’re in, sees it with perfect clarity and wants to lead us through it—and do us good in the process.

Trials like this sift our priorities. We realise what really matters and how far our lives have drifted. With so many of our usual comforts and distractions stripped away, we see more clearly what’s in our hearts. In the supermarket. In our homes. In the times of quiet when we’re alone with our thoughts.

We may try to drown out the gentle whisper of conviction with activity and noise. But Easter reminds us oh-so-vividly how great a price was paid to save us from our mess. If we’re willing to admit our failings and lay them before a gracious God, He’ll wash away all our mistakes and breathe new life, lightness and compassion into our formerly preoccupied hearts. Then, as we continue to walk with Him, what He’s birthed in us can grow like a newborn babe, bringing joy and blessing to others long after the trial has ended.Tree at Winbourne

1 John 1:9 (GOD’S WORD translation)

“God is faithful and reliable. If we confess our sins, He forgives them and cleanses us from everything we’ve done wrong.”

1 Peter 5:10 (New International Version)

“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”

 

 

Five Ways to Fight Body Hate

Body hate. It’s such a sad pairing of words. I remember from my anorexic days that dark sensation of so despising myself, I was willing (even eager) to make the ‘skin’ I was in disappear.

Maybe this feeling is familiar to you. Or maybe ‘hate’ seems too strong a word. How about ‘body dissatisfaction’? In our world, with its endless opportunities to compare, very few people are satisfied with their appearance—always wishing some feature looked, well, like someone else’s.

This kind of thinking steals from us in so many ways. It robs our joy. It lowers our sense of worth. And it keeps us from growing into who we were made to be.

In my last post, I asked you to join me in breaking free from pressure to fit the world’s ‘perfect’ mould. How’s that going for you? It can be hard to swim upstream alone. Here are some strategies I’ve found helpful.

  1. Shift your Gaze

The house we’re renting is full of mirrors. Almost everywhere I turn, I’m faced with my reflection—not ideal for someone who wants to set her sights higher. While we can’t remove the mirrors, I’ve found a way to adjust my focus.

Attached to our large bathroom mirror are several slips of paper, each bearing a short quote. Every morning when I’m dressing, I shift my gaze to those words and remind myself what matters most.

People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7)

You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honour God with your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

Set your mind on things above (Colossians 3:20).

These words remind me my appearance isn’t my primary feature—even though it’s the one people see first. It’s my heart that sets the course for my life. That’s what I need to check as I head into each day. Am I at peace? Am I ready to love the people around me? What needs to change?

Sue taking photos at Minnamurra

  1. Train Your Mind

Every day we’re bombarded with lies. Every day we need to replace them with truth. Romans 12:2 says we’re transformed by the renewing of our minds. This renewal doesn’t happen by chance. It comes when we stop, recognize the destructive thoughts taking root in our mind, rip them out and replace them with truth.

Reading words on the mirror helps. Speaking the words aloud—whether to ourselves, in prayer or in conversation with others—is even more powerful. Many times, my spirit has lifted as I’ve chosen to voice God’s words of promise over a difficult situation. The more we feed on His truth, the brighter our perspective grows.

How about our technology use? What are we looking at, reading, listening to? All of these are seeds we’re sowing into the soil of our minds. Recent studies have shown a clear connection between online media use and body dissatisfaction—even in young children! Maybe it’s time we think about cutting back.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Romans 12:2

what you do today mural

 

  1. Feed Your Body

That’s right. Feed it, don’t starve it. Your body is an amazing creation and needs nourishment, rest and sensible exercise to function well. Eating a well-rounded diet brings stability to our emotions, helping us have a more positive outlook. And choosing to nurture, rather than deprive, our bodies brings a heart change, sending the pendulum swinging away from body hate closer to love.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well. Psalm 139:14

 

  1. Find Your Purpose

We were made to be so much more than a good-looking ornament. Life is a gift to be embraced with all we have. In each of us God has put a deposit of His nature—a handpicked mix of personality, passions and gifts. Even before we were conceived, He had a specific path in mind for our lives.  As we grow in knowing Him, He reveals more of His purpose for us and our sense of value grows.

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:10

Entrance road at Winbourne

  1. Bless Others

The closer we draw to God’s heart, the more His love for others seeps into our veins. We realize life is not all about us—how we look or the image we project. It’s about people–living with them, loving them, seeing their needs, letting them see ours and each playing our part to boost each other on the journey. When we live this way—pursuing God and loving others—we find fulfilment that goes far deeper than any superficial happiness.

It shouldn’t be surprising, really. After all, it’s what we were ma­­de for.

Jesus (said), ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and all your mind . . . (and) Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Matthew 22:37

Sunset city beach with M, J, S, E

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just Be Yourself

I watch him often on You Tube—the guy with the big hair, vibrant personality and huge heart. He’s one of those trophies of grace—lifted out of drug addiction into a life of wholeness and purpose in God. Now compelled by a force far greater than drugs, this guy immerses himself in the everyday lives of people all over the world, offering encouragement, hope and healing. Lives are changed—radically. People find peace. Purpose. Direction.

Inspiration and passion flood through me every time I watch. I want to be a vessel like that, ready to sense and speak the heart of God wherever I go. I want to lift up those who are discouraged and see God bring breakthrough in their lives. But right on the tail of bubbling enthusiasm, anxiety rushes into my heart. Lord, I’m not that bold. I’m not as outgoing as him. I haven’t seen people healed like that. How can I do what he does?

Then there’s the book I’ve been reading by a woman who has devoted decades to serving the poor in Africa. She speaks of the joy of reckless abandon and asks, ‘Will you give yourself wholeheartedly in devotion to the one who is love? Will you let the fragrance of the Holy Spirit so fill you that you deposit him everywhere you go?’ *

Again, the stirring comes. Oh, yes! But can I? What will that mean, Lord? I don’t know if I’ve got what it takes.

Have you noticed how small a step it is from admiration to inadequacy?

It’s so easy for us to shift from being inspired to feeling discouraged. God wants us to learn from others, to be encouraged by their example. But we always need to remember He never told us to be them.

Here are the words He spoke to my fretful heart.

Daughter, do not fear. I will never ask you to be someone other than who you are. I’m not going to change you into a different person but develop the personality I’ve already given you. As you wait on Me and dig into My word, you will grow in fullness and freedom to be who I’ve created you to be.

The crucial factor in all this is love. As you centre your life on Me, as you seek to abide in My love, I will motivate, lead and empower you to love others—in whatever form that takes.

Do not allow comparison and fear to steal from you. Listen for My voice and walk in step with Me. That is the place of peace.

Once again, my heart settles. I don’t—we don’t—have to try to be something we’re not. Our job is to keep seeking God, to let Him fill us with His heart for others and watch what He does from there. The paths He leads each of us on will be unique, but together we’ll reveal a picture of His nature to the world. Yes, He’ll take us beyond our comfort zone—that’s vital for our growth. But He will also provide all the grace we need to be and do what He asks of us. That’s a promise we can rely on.

 

 

 

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10

“My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

* Quote taken from Reckless Devotion by Heidi Baker, 2014.