A Holy Encounter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  Philippians 2:5-8

A Way Through the Valley

I sat on the couch and stared blankly out the window, my eyes blind to tiny green shoots sprouting everywhere in the garden—usually a cause for joy. Depression loomed over me like a black-robed villain, pressing down on my soul, while despair tightened its grasp. I was sinking—I could feel it. I leaned forward and put my face in my hands, keenly aware that the divide between me standing firm or falling was so fragile, there was almost no barrier to stop me plummeting.

For a moment, I teetered on the edge, wondering what would happen if I let depression take hold. I was justified, wasn’t I? Wouldn’t anyone be low in my position?

Three years ago, our family uprooted and left our home state of twenty-five years to move north. While we relished being closer to my family and living near the coast, the process of establishing our career paths and forming new friendships was slow, hampered further by the 2020 lockdown.

Once COVID restrictions eased, we dusted ourselves off and ventured forward again, keen to build on the small foundations we’d already laid. Doors of opportunity began to open and our sense of belonging was growing when, wham! Our second lockdown hit. This one lasted much longer and its impact reverberated all the way to the laws of our nation. This time, along with rules and restrictions a clear message was proclaimed, challenging our ideas about what matters most and dictating the way we should view and treat people. Like the ripples of an earthquake, we felt its effects as key aspects of who we were as Australians began to shake.

Normally, I’m an upbeat girl, ready to believe the best of people and hold hope of better days beyond a trial. It’s rare for me to find myself in a place so deep and dark, I can’t see any way out. Lately, though . . . well, it’s been tough. I won’t go into detail beyond saying there are significant changes happening in my sphere and I’m facing heartbreaking loss in several areas, particularly relationships. When I see the people around me also struggling, my grief is multiplied.

We didn’t see this upheaval coming, nor can we see where it will take us. Almost every day the information seems to change. If ever there was a time to be confronted with our powerlessness, it’s now. We cry out to God and use the strength He gives to make the best of our situation and support others. Sometimes, though, the constancy of the battle wears us down and its length stretches us far beyond what we think we can bear. Hope fades and the gloom becomes so heavy, it immobilizes us. That’s where I found myself on the couch that day—staring into a darkness so thick, it seemed as if it could swallow me whole. Oh, God.

Then, softly, like a light shining through the fog, I sensed an echo of my own words from a couple of months back:

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‘The hardest of times became the high points in my life because of what God did through them.’

Those were words of hindsight, reflections on the darkest seasons in my journey. Through trauma, anorexia, relationship strains, burnout, life-threatening illness and tragic loss I’d felt God’s loving presence so close, known the wisdom of His counsel and seen His goodness poured out, even in the littlest details.

The hardest of times can become the best of times? Could that really be true in this situation?

Surely not this time, God. This is too big, too hard.

His response? You have a choice.

I paused, breathing deep. I did, didn’t I? I could let myself be pulled into the vortex of despair, or I could choose to put my hope in God and believe He would turn all of this—somehow—for good. Sitting up, I rubbed my hands against my legs and released a slow breath. I knew my emotions were shaky, far too weak to leap all the way from hopelessness to instant joy. I had a journey ahead—and from my former times of struggle I knew the steps I needed to take:

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  1. I asked for help

I picked up my phone and sent messages to my connect group leader, my church prayer team and a bunch of close friends, telling them how low I was and asking them to pray.

God puts us in community for our good. When we feel like we’re drowning, He urges us to confide in others, allowing them to lift us with their encouragement and prayers.  

‘Admit your faults to one another and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and wonderful results.’ James 5:16 TLB

2. I switched off the noise

Some words I’d been listening to offered hope. Others gave interesting information but stirred up anxiety and despair. I chose to switch off the second set.

When our emotions are too frail to deal objectively with negativity, we need to be vigilant, setting limits to protect our mind and heart.

‘Fix your thoughts on what is true and honourable and right and pure and lovely and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.’ Philippians 4:8 NLT

3. I simplified

I took a step back and chose to simplify what I could—clearing out clutter, putting aside big projects, giving myself time and space to rest.

Weary hearts and minds are easily overloaded. Sometimes we need to slow the pace for a while and just do the basics.

‘There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven.’ Ecclesiastes 3:1

4. I fixed my eyes

Once some of the mental and physical clutter had been cleared out, it was easier for me to define my focus. Again and again, I felt God urging me, ‘Fix your eyes on Me.’ So, again and again, I did. And every time I looked to Him, He brought new perspective to everything else.

No circumstance, person, disease or government determines the course of our lives. Above all, God is in control—and He is a good, loving Father.

‘Be still and know that I am God;

I will be exalted among the nations,

I will be exalted in the earth.’ Psalm 46:10

5. I nourished my spirit

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

I spent extra time in God’s presence each morning, journaling and sitting quietly, chewing over portions of scripture and writing down verses He seemed to highlight. Like a starving child desperate for good food, I devoured every word that brought truth and perspective. Through the day I fed on the wisdom of others, listening to sermons and reading articles that built my faith.

God’s word is our food, His Spirit our life-giving water. To gain the strength we need for the path He’s marked out for us, we need to eat and drink daily from His provision.

‘When your words came, I ate them;

They were my joy and my heart’s delight . . .’ Jeremiah 15:16

6. I remembered God’s faithfulness

One day I listed in my journal the many trials of my past, each one so difficult I’d wondered if they would ever end. I remembered what God did, the profound truths He taught me and the way He led me all the way through—making me richer and wiser through the process.

The trials we face don’t last forever. They have a beginning and an endpoint. How we come out of them depends on how we go through them. If we’re willing to yield to God’s refining and receive His guidance on the way, He’ll work it all for good in our lives.

‘Consider it pure joy . . . whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.’ James 1:3

7. I let go

Finally, after dealing with all the other issues, I realised how entangled I’d become in all my imaginings of what might or might not happen. My attempts to figure and plan had woven a tight web around my soul, pinching me with disappointment and despair whenever circumstances didn’t work out as I’d hoped.

God alone could see the future.

Just as He was with me now, He would be with me in the days to come, supplying all I needed at every point along the way. To try to do His job was a waste of time and energy.

So, I surrendered.

I laid down my need to know how God was going to work everything out.

I chose to trust Him, believing He would bring me through and take care of me on the way.

I chose to take one day at a time, fixing my eyes on His face, following His nudges and giving my best to the people around me.

Scrawling that prayer of surrender in my journal brought great release, lightening the burden I’d been carrying and giving me freedom to focus on each day as a gift. It didn’t fix everything—our world is still in turmoil. But I find I’m more able to manage the fluctuations between anxiety and confidence, sadness and thankfulness by choosing to stay anchored in the truth that is stronger than my feelings:

This season won’t last forever.

God’s promises are true.

He is with us and, if we keep our eyes on Him, He’ll show us the way through—choice by choice—for however long it takes to come out the other side.

Photo by Chang Duong on Unsplash

And when we emerge from this battle,

we’ll be closer to God,

stronger in His truth and

more confident in His sufficiency

than we were at the beginning.

‘And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.’ Romans 8:28

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  

When the Straight Path Takes an Unexpected Turn

I gripped the pages with trembling hands, reading and re-reading the words that had made my heart plummet. This was my final evaluation, a summing up of who I was as a twenty-seven year old woman. How could it be that my time at this place was ending on such a bad note?

I’d spent the past two years at a bible college in Tasmania, living in close community with staff, their families and other students—working, studying, eating, sleeping, laughing, singing, crying and praying together. This well-regarded training centre was not merely a place for academic learning. It was a pressure cooker, a refining fire where the jam-packed schedule and melting pot of cultures and personalities drew our well-hidden flaws to the surface.  

Every four months, each student met with a staff member to reflect on our progress and pray over any areas of struggle. As part of that meeting, we reviewed a checklist—already completed by staff—which offered detailed feedback on our character. The form in my hands that December morning was my final checklist, my graduation ‘reference’.

Up till that moment in my life, ticks always meant I’d done something right. On the form I was holding, most of the ticks affirmed positive attributes—as they had on my prior reviews. My eyes drifted over them quickly, then came to a screeching halt when they saw ticks beside comments like, ‘Somewhat over-emotional,’ and ‘Struggles with change’. To me, those ticks might as well have been glaring red crosses. If the staff who had journeyed with me over the past two years chose to highlight these flaws so late in my training, they must have felt they had potential to impact on the years that followed.

How right they were.

The ten months leading up to that day in early December had been one long roller-coaster ride as I began a wonderful relationship with my now husband and quickly became engaged. Swirling inside me was a dizzying mix of blissful dreaming and sheer terror. Along with the joy of beginning life with this man came the need to let go of my carefully formulated plans for the future. Just five weeks after our graduation, Mark and I would marry. Beyond that, our future was unclear.  For me, that was a very scary prospect.

My growing-up years were as firm and steady as a hundred-year-old oak. Almost all my family’s favourite memories were made in the same house at the end of the same quiet street in the same tiny Sydney suburb where my parents still live. We holidayed in a predictable pattern, heading inland for a dose of farm life at Easter and driving a few hours north in September to swim, fish and sunbathe. My parents followed consistent routines in what time we ate dinner, what days the lawns were done and what tv shows we watched each night. Life was stable and predictable and that gave me a great sense of security. It was no wonder uncertainty made me nervous.

The funny thing was, the closer I grew to God, the more change He brought into my life. The idea of living in total abandon was alluring—I wanted to follow God’s call, not shrink back from His purpose for my life. Yet every time He led me into something new, the drastic changes required had me panicking, wondering if I’d cope. He led me to leave my family and friends to look after orphan babies in Taiwan for six months, spend some time with missionaries in Africa, move to Tasmania to study, marry right after graduating, start a family as soon as we married, homeschool our children for more than a decade, move house six times, move interstate again to an unfamiliar region—this time with three of our four children in tow, unveil my secrets in a memoir and publish it for the world to read . . . and the list continues to grow.

Photo credit Esther Brown

There’s a little habit I’ve noticed I slip into whenever I face major change. I grab onto control wherever I can. It’s kind of a battening down of the hatches ready for a storm—probably in an attempt to control the storm roaring inside me. Thirty years ago my desperate clutching became self-destructive when I focused all my energies on extreme dieting. These days, through God’s healing, it manifests in smaller, more constructive ways. I become more determined to keep the house tidy and the day-to-day routines flowing smoothly. It’s my way of fostering a sense of security, despite the upheaval going on in other areas.  

A few weeks ago, I realized I was doing this again and stopped to ponder why. There were staff changes happening at work, my responsibilities were increasing and my husband’s schedule was becoming crazy-hectic. Then came some news from my publisher that meant my book would soon be distributed a little differently. These changes, while challenging, offered potential for good results. But none of them were expected—and I was thrown. I thought, after our crazy COVID year, my life was finally settling down to a manageable rhythm. Yet, everything was still changing and my sudden fussiness about the house showed I wasn’t coping.

I kept telling God I was scared of being overwhelmed and asking Him to give me strength and show me His way through, while on the inside, some part of me was bucking against the whole situation. Why am I always having to change and adapt, Lord? Can’t everything settle down now?

When I finally stopped talking long enough to listen, here’s what I felt God speak to my heart:

“Trust Me. I love you and I am working all this for your good. Every change has a purpose and is set to move you forward. Even closed doors are part of the forward progression, re-directing your course in line with My plans.

None of the journeys of My people have been straightforward. All have had unexpected turns and winding convolutions. It’s all part of the mystery and wonder of adventuring with Me, of learning trust and dependence and security, even when you can’t clearly see the way ahead. Those times when you think you’re settled on a certain course, then everything suddenly changes, confront you with the fact that you’re not in control—you’re not God. They bring you back to that place of child-like dependence, of thankfulness for every provision, every reassurance. And they reveal to you that I am well able to fulfil My plan, even through a different avenue than what you envisioned.”

It’s hard to describe the peace that came with that shift in perspective. Of course, God was working it all for good. Wasn’t that always His way? Every change He’d led me into so far had come with great cost, yet such richness of His presence and goodness that, in hindsight, they became the high points of my journey with Him.

So, again, I made a choice to embrace the adventure, knowing that with it comes growth. It’s all worth it. And really, life would be very dull without God’s unexpected turns. Those ‘surprises’ stretch us and take us to a place of greater intimacy with Him, greater thankfulness and ultimately, greater joy.

‘I will lead the blind by ways they have not known,

along unfamiliar paths I will guide them;

I will turn the darkness into light before them

and make the rough places smooth.

These are the things I will do;

I will not forsake them.’

Isaiah 42:16  

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

 

 

 

Snapshots

I’m so excited.
No, not about moving house, if that’s what you guessed, though we are right in the thick of that process. I’m excited about a gift I’ll receive in just a few weeks. At the end of this month I’m having a special birthday so I figured this was my opportunity to make a special request.
I asked for a camera – a good one.
This may not seem like a very big deal to you but it is to me. The thought of being able to capture fleeting moments in crisp detail thrills me. With the departure from our home of ten years almost upon us I’m aware of how much we’ll rely on pictures to remind us of all the special experiences we shared here.
But there’s another aspect to photography I’m just starting to recognise – it’s in the process of taking a picture that we more fully appreciate the moment we’re in.
Sometimes our lives can be nothing more than a frenzied series of activities, all blurred together as we hurry through our days, distracted and oblivious to the detail. But when we stop to take a picture – when we study light and shadow, colour and expression – we notice new dimensions in the world around us. . . and we savour.
On Mother’s Day my husband had to go out for the afternoon on an urgent errand. Our oldest son was needed at work. Our oldest daughter wasn’t feeling well so she retreated to the bedroom. Suddenly, with little warning, our family of six had shrunk to a meagre three, counting me. Mother’s Day was starting to feel a little mellow.
With a deep breath, I invited the two remaining children to join me in playing Finska, an outdoor tossing game. As an afterthought I snatched my phone off the bench on my way out of the kitchen, thinking maybe I could use it to take some pictures. I stepped outside and my mood instantly lifted. Rather than feeling deprived, I noticed the rich, gold tones in the afternoon sky. I gazed in wonder at the brilliant green of the grass beneath my feet.  We were surrounded by beauty – and I’d almost missed it.

FinskaFinska cheering
Our laughter and cheering seemed to echo in my heart as we played that afternoon. Each time I stepped back to take a picture I recognised afresh how blessed I was. Everything may not have been as I’d wished it that day, but I had much to be thankful for. By the end of our games – and a scenic walk with my girls – my heart was full to bursting.

Mother's day walk 2018Girls with horse Mother's day walk
Often it’s the little things that bring us the most pleasure – if we take time to notice them.
Perhaps that’s why our Father tells us to slow down. Wait, He says. Be still. Lift up your eyes. Set your mind on good things. Give thanks. So often we struggle and fight, insistent that there isn’t time.
But look what we’re missing.
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My thoughts were recently drawn to one particular line of Psalm 23 and I noticed something I’d never seen before. It says, “He makes me lie down in green pastures.” Did you see that? He makes me. It’s not an optional extra to lie down, to be still. It’s a command from God. And the purpose of that lying down?

A restored soul.

How can we refuse that?

Peace in the Puzzles

The room was silent when I woke. Jolted out of slumber, I blinked in the darkness. What time was it? Three? Four in the morning? My husband breathed calm beside me, his warm chest rising and falling in steady rhythm. I rolled onto my side and closed my eyes, willing my heart to slow and my body to sink back into dreamy slumber.

It didn’t work. Sleep was elusive.

Hazy images of loved ones travelled across my mind. Each picture stirred emotion, carefully contained during the day but so often unfurled in the mid-night hours. These people were struggling. Deep longing for their relief swelled inside me. My heart lifted each one to God, whispering pleas for healing, for understanding, for hope.

Some of these were facing challenges far beyond my realm of understanding. I yearned to help them, to somehow restore order and peace to their lives. But how?

Show me, Lord.

His voice spoke silently to my heart. Remember the puzzle.

Ah, yes. The puzzle.

Several years earlier I’d been fretting over a friend whose life was often darkened by struggle. Whatever amount of support I offered, it never seemed enough. I often felt helpless, wishing I could do more, be more.

In the midst of my yearning, God planted a clear picture in my mind – a puzzle made of many interlocking pieces. Each piece was blank. Except one. That piece was colourful, patterned – distinct from all the others.

He spoke gently to my troubled heart. This puzzle is your friend’s life. Each of the pieces are people and influences I’ve put in her world. You are one piece in her life – the coloured one.

It’s not your job to fix everything. You can’t. See all those other pieces? They are other people and circumstances I’m also using to help her. You can’t see what they’re doing but I’m working through them too.

It doesn’t all depend on you.

I see the whole picture and have everything in hand. You pray, play your part and leave the rest to Me.

puzzle piece in hand

Relief flooded through me. I was just one piece. Yes, I yearned to make everything better for her, but I wasn’t able. I could play my part, though.

That little picture taught me so much.

Each piece in a puzzle is unique. I don’t have to be like all the others to contribute to someone’s life.

A puzzle piece has clearly defined edges and a specific place in the overall picture. I too had limits in what help I could offer. And that was okay.

Each puzzle piece is put in place by the One Who sees the whole picture. My role is to rest in His hands and let Him place me where I belong.

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I smiled in the darkness as that puzzle image hung suspended in my mind once more. Thanks for the reminder, Lord. I can do that. I can play my part, be that one piece and trust You with the rest.

I breathed deep and wrapped my arms loosely across my chest. God had heard my prayers, I knew. He was working in the lives of each person I’d lifted to Him. I could trust that as I waited for direction He’d show me what He wanted me to do.

My heartbeat settled and my body relaxed. Being one piece in His hands brought peace – deep and calm.

The Master Puzzler knew what He was doing.

“We are (God’s) workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”    Ephesians 2:10

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.”    Psalm 32:8

 

Standing Firm in Turbulent Times

I never imagined we’d end up here.

A storm is brewing in our nation. This tempest grows increasingly fierce as contentious issues – the subjects of public debate – are relentlessly shoved in our faces. For some, peaceful dialogue seems to be on the decline. Words fly impulsively, venting passionate opinions without thought for the real people who’ll receive them.

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I understand that these issues need to be discussed. The decisions which are made will have lasting impact on our beautiful country. All perspectives need to be heard.

It’s the open hostility and relationship breakdown that I struggle with.

By nature, I’m a peace-lover. I’m most happy when everyone is in harmony, whether in our family or on a larger scale. The constant tension and hateful language we’re confronted with makes me shudder. Sometimes it keeps me awake at night.

“How am I supposed to deal with this, Lord?”

This question often springs up from my anxious heart. Today as I waited on God, He revealed some of the answer.

I realised Jesus understands fully what it’s like to live immersed in tension. His people, the Jews, had a level of freedom to practice their faith. They could carry out their weekly rituals and meet in temples without question. Yet overarching these freedoms was the brutal rule of the Romans, who demanded complete submission and feared any kind of uprising.

Right from birth, Jesus was seen as a threat by those in leadership. Soon after his birth, his parents had to flee to another country for a time to keep their precious baby from being murdered by King Herod (Mt.2:13-18). As Jesus matured and His fame grew, so did the hatred of the religious leaders. The common people saw Him as their King, the one who would deliver them from Roman oppression. The chief priests and teachers of the law despised Him (Lk 19:28-20:47).

Today I read Luke 22:1-6, the story of Judas plotting with the religious leaders. These priests and teachers were terrified by the people’s worship of Jesus. They feared losing the power they’d held over the faithful for centuries. When Judas, one of Jesus’ closest friends, offered to betray Him, they were delighted. If they could be rid of Jesus, they thought, life could return to its former state.

I was confronted with the way we humans clutch at control when life gets uncomfortable. We avoid difficult people, effectively seeking to remove them from our lives. We block our ears to contrary voices or try to shout them down. Anything to shut out the ripples which shake up our comfy status quo.

Jesus knew the plotting that was going on. He felt the hostility directed toward Him from several directions. He fully understood the betrayal, false accusation and intense suffering that lay ahead (Lk 19: 28-20:47).

Yet He didn’t flinch.

Not one bit.

He set His sights on the task at hand with complete confidence in His Father’s ability to see Him through. He stayed the course, doing what He’d been sent to do, step by step by step.

All the way to His final breath.

No wonder He’s referred to as the Rock.

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We can’t walk in God’s purposes while fear is ruling in our hearts. Like Jesus, we need to set our eyes on our Father and trust Him to see us through. He doesn’t want us to try to control everything. Nor does He want us to be paralysed by fear.

He has plans for us to fulfil, good works for us to do – right in the midst of the storm. (1 Peter 4:19).

No matter what tensions and upheavals we may face, there is a place of peace and confidence from which we can live full lives and bring hope to those around us.

A place we can plant our feet and stand firm, come what may.

That place is a person. He’s called the Rock.

Psalm 18:2 

“The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;

my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge.”

Isaiah 26:3-4

“You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast

because he trusts in You.

Trust in the Lord forever

for the Lord, the Lord, is the Rock eternal.”

Learning to Rest

It all began at a women’s retreat five years ago.

Twenty of us had gathered at Camp Clayton for a weekend of fun, relaxation and reflection. We’d just finished a beautiful time of singing and were waiting, with quiet hearts, for God to speak. I sat, eyes closed, smiling as I basked in the calm that filled the room. Any moment, I imagined, God would give me something to say. I was the leader. Surely He would reveal some powerful truth that would meet a need or bring new understanding.

Instead I heard, “I want you to put your children in school.”

Whaaaat?

Home schooling was my passion. I loved investing in our children. We’d been at it for almost a decade. Surely that wasn’t God speaking.

I opened my eyes to a half-squint and peered around the group. The women sat motionless, each listening for that still small voice. Oblivious. No one else had felt the earthquake that just ripped across my world.

Now’s not the time to think about that. I shoved the words into my box marked ‘later’ and continued with the retreat.

By September our children were enrolled at a local Christian school. God had spoken. The same day my husband started a new job – a wonderful opportunity which also held many challenges.

Our family was beginning a new season.

Change can be exciting…if you’re ready for it. I wasn’t.

Like a fussy mother hen I fretted almost constantly. How would everyone cope with all the adjustments? How would I cope?

That wasn’t all. Soon after, we laid down all our leadership roles at church. The time and energy required for them just wasn’t there anymore.

In a matter of weeks my whole world morphed into something unrecognisable. Almost every role that I’d held so zealously had been stripped away. Days which had been packed full with vision and activity suddenly seemed empty and aimless.

How did I cope?

I didn’t.

I fell in a heap.

I spent weeks lying on the couch, too tired to read or even pray. Anxiety flowed through my veins over the littlest things. My heart began beating in strange, thumping rhythms. I withdrew, avoiding conversation with anyone beyond family and very close friends.

It felt like my world was imploding. Burnout, some call it.

One afternoon I lowered myself into a warm bath, groaning inwardly. The weariness wasn’t lifting, no matter how much I rested.

“I’m going to bring you back,” God whispered. “Stronger than before.”

Really, God? I sighed. Is that even possible?

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In recent months I’d become the mouse in the wheel, frantically running in circles. My Father God saw what was happening and lifted me out, removing the wheel completely.

He lovingly stripped away all I looked to for identity, reminding me who I was when our relationship began. Way back then, midway through my teens, it was Him and me…just because. Nothing extra was needed. His love was enough.

Much as I thrived on all the busyness and accomplishments of more recent years, God wasn’t especially impressed. The most important thing to Him was the state of my heart.

Gently, He began to woo me again, reminding me how wonderful it was to just ‘be’ with Him. To sit in His presence and drink of His boundless peace. Such peace. He gave me courage to again lay myself at His feet and say, “Have your way, God. Do whatever you want. I’m yours.”

Then, oh-so-tenderly, He began to rebuild my life on a new foundation – one of rest.

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God’s rest isn’t like that stillness we seek at the end of a demanding day. It’s not a long, cool drink or a quick lie down. It’s not something external at all. It’s an inward condition of the heart. An awareness that everything we need is found in Him. Not in ourselves. When we understand that, we’re released from the pressure to struggle and strive (Heb.4:10).

All we need to do is walk with Him.

Jesus invites us to come in all our weariness and drop our heavy burdens at His feet (Matt. 11:28-30). He has a better way. As we look to Him He will lead us, one step at a time, in the way of rest. He will set the pace and He will set the limits. Best of all, He will shoulder the weight of any load we need to carry.

I’m still learning how this works out in practice. I have a feeling this particular lesson will last a lifetime. But the journey is an absolute pleasure. I couldn’t ask for a better travelling companion.