Whilst their are many who are joyful in this Christmas season their are also many going through huge personal battles. There were many battles going on when God became flesh in the form of Jesus that first Christmas, the pains of childbirth of Immanuel (God with us) that creation would have felt. The personal battles, worries that Joseph and Mary faced. It’s no wonder that the battles often seem more intense as we celebrate the birth of our saviour – the rumbles of history present in aftershocks.
Facing battles, we can feel lost, isolated and even question where is God when we don’t sense His presence or direction. It doesn’t mean He is not there or that we are not being led out of the battle zone. Fortunately, our faith is not based on our feelings they can rapidly change. Our faith is built on who God is. Our stance is to trust in Him and follow His leading.
All over the Bible we read about heroes of faith people who believed what God said then trusted and followed Him. Could it be that occasionally it slips our mind that there will always be battles dashed across our life span. The heroes of faith had stories of battles and how to pass through difficult times because they had lived it out. If you are in a battle right now its producing a story that will help someone else to navigate that difficult path; it’s producing wisdom in your life.
Abraham was a person of faith. He heard God, spoke to God and listened to what He said. His faith had action. James 2:23 -24“Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,”[e] and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.” Living beyond the battles takes action. Moses was another hero of faith who listened to God and responded positively to Gods voice into his life.
Any battle we encounter God has a perspective on it. We only have to chat to him through prayer and listen to His voice back. If you can’t hear then maybe the battle has overtaken and is shouting too loudly. Get to a place where you can hear Gods wisdom again. I often pray whilst I am driving. I may say something like “right I have a problem now Jesus and I don’t know what to do what’s going on?’ Strangely the ability to hear the still small voice is there. Then I push a bit more to get direction “what shall I do then?” I like to keep it simple and believe in the if I don’t ask I don’t get theory.
Faith is active and God wants to help us through the battles. Time to press in and get wisdom and direction. We are not alone God is always with us and has promised to not leave us alone as orphans. Faith is to be lived out not just a theory.
Joshua 1:9 “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Someone said those few words “look after yourself” and those few words have had me thinking for a few weeks about how we do that and the why we need to do it. I have discovered that when we look after ourselves we are then able to give love to others.
Love comes in many shapes and expressions. It is really up to us how much we access the ability to love from inside our hearts to then propel outward toward others. I think like many other things in life to flow in the ability to love is a choice we daily make. Some days we may have to choose to love ourselves first so that we can then love others.
Loving ourselves requires intentional awareness that the need is there to refuel or as the popular phrase reveals “have some me time.” This can be extremely difficult when under a lot of pressure and have a busy life. It will be the last thing you want or feel like doing but without the “me time” we will spiral and be no good for anything or anyone. It may not be appropriate to book a luxury spa or holiday or even hang out partying with friends in fact those things can produce guilt if you are. I find going for a walk alone down the street for thirty minutes can be amazing or finding a quite space and sit and read a book for ten minutes. I always carry a book with me for that reason.
I remember when my friend was very ill and dying in hospital many years ago at the time I was still in the party scene and thought I would let off steam by going out with a bunch of friends. It was the last thing I needed to be doing. I only ended up feeling ashamed and full of guilt. That wasn’t flowing in the ability to love either myself or anyone else. I learned a lesson that day of what was needed and what wasn’t.
We can have the ability to choose to love or not. The biggest challenge will come when there is a personal cost with it. I am not speaking of a financial cost although sometimes that is required, but rather the cost of time, energy a letting go of our own desires to put someone else first; that kind of cost. Jesus called this “loving your neighbour as yourself.”
Jesus often spoke about giving to those who can’t repay you or say thank you is actually really important. I have come to realise it is through those acts of love and kindness that our hearts are opened, our character is tested and formed and our skill set is developed and we gain strength on the inside. No personal challenge no personal growth. I don’t think there is any course that can teach you how to love. This one comes through opening our hearts to God and others and putting aside our own selfish desires. Then leaning into Christ we begin to understand the meaning of “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul and love your neighbour as yourself’ Mark 12:30-31
Remember to love yourself too in the midst of loving others.
If there is one message I bang on about when I am speaking it is the power of hope. It is a guarantee in life that nothing will remain the same. Change will happen therefore hope plays a big role in how we perceive the change.
I can clearly remember moments in time where I thought I wish I could stop the clock and stand still in this very moment with these very people because I am loving what I am doing right now.
Times I have travelled on teams and loved it, the day I got married, buying our first home together, my three years training for ministry at college and living in community (although some days that did grate), moments spent with my parents, doing crazy things with close friends. We all want to stay in the moment but those moments will change and we can’t recapture them as they are unique times and seasons.
I remember one early morning in a Ugandan village sat on the veranda reading my Bible and watching the world go by as people collected water before the hot sun. I still sense the memory of that moment thinking to myself this is amazing and I love it. I went back to that place a couple of years ago and it didn’t produce the same feeling as the people I shared the experience with were not with me. In fact I now felt sadness at the loss of that time and place. Change had happened and I was in a new season that was still amazing just different.
I was now with different people doing different things. Life is not supposed to be lived on repeat or hope would have no purpose. We can not recapture the past but only hope for the new. If we lived life on repeat it could be seen as strange behaviour because God has so much more for us to see and be part of. He is very much into our personal development.
The old ways and things we do will become worn out and we will need operate in hope to bring the different into being. Scripture communicates that these three remain in life “faith, hope and love.” Hope brings faith to the heart of those who desperately need change from a difficult situation. I have sat on the streets with women in addiction and heard hope in their heart for a different way of life only to sit with them years later in cafe and see that hope had worked it’s wonder and change had come. Such a privilege to watch that happen. God is often active and we don’t even know it.
So hope really is everywhere. I hope I do not stay the same, doing the same things with the same people. Change will come it is inevitable so have hope and walk it out in faith with love as you go. Wisdom states “to everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven” Ecclesiastes 3:1
I write this whilst I am sat in Rwanda preparing to leave after another tough but wonderful trip. I was asked if I miss home whilst I am away? My response was I miss people. With modern communication and social media I can keep in touch with my family.
However I miss those I have interactions with more often such as my friends who I hang out with and my work colleagues and my Church family. It is only when you are absent that you miss people and value their presence in your life.
I have been coming to Rwanda for many years now and have developed friendships and a sense of community here too. Over the years we have many genuine friendships that have grown. It is a joy to have two worlds where I can be part of communities and be accepted.
God brings people into our lives so we can have a sense of belonging and not feel isolated in the world. We pass through difficulties together and celebrate successes too. It is a place to listen, grow and share. We encourage and find a synergy to keep moving when we are together. Positive friendships build our lives and negative ones take until you have nothing left to give. Their work is done as you are destroyed.
Jesus drew a bunch of people together. They became friends and journeyed together. They had disagreements like anyone else. There were fights about who was the greatest friend to Jesus. My point is friendships are tested and we will need to be gracious and forgive. When we do we have growth. It takes the friendships to another level of trust.
Take a moment to observe those God has brought into your life. Take time to be with those that God has placed us with. Our lives are made stronger and wider by those we hang out with.
The gospel of Luke focuses on the ministry of Jesus amongst the poor and social justice. Luke 10 we read about the good Samaritan who picks up the beaten man and pays his bills. The lost son in Luke 15 who found himself in extreme poverty and the father who longed for him to come home. Hebrews 13:16 “And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased” God likes it when we share what we have. He has given us so much through Jesus it’s not much to ask that we now share our lives too.
The book of Luke is full of such stories. I am sure we could recount stories where we have noticed the poor in our world and done a random act of kindness toward someone. I try to practise this as a way of life. Not that I feel the need to be a do gooder. It’s that I can’t turn my back on social injustice as God asks us to bring reform and be the change thats needed.
When we look around societies around the world we don’t have to look far to see the resident poor. Whenever I travel to Europe, Africa, US and around the UKI notice the poor have a presence. We don’t have to look far to see them if we open our eyes and heart to engage.
I once sat and watched a woman who was mentally unwell be avoided in a cafe in the UK because she was different. I brought her a coffee and breakfast ( the staff could handle it ). That day she knew someone had noticed her. Be the change that is needed.
Another time I was with a friend and we took a woman who had severe mental health issues to lunch with us on a conference day. Six months later I saw her carrying her belongings in a trolley in Liverpool Street Station talking to herself and people avoiding her. That lunch day was a precious day that I often reflect on.
As I walked around a city in Africa. I noticed a group of women fighting in ripped clothes and high on drugs. One woman was beaten badly I knew I had to respond to what I was seeing. Hence we now have a transformational ministry that reaches out to poor women who have to sell themselves to feed their children and pay the rent. Become the change that is needed.
I noticed a bunch of young people in Uganda sitting under a tree playing instruments. They were school dropouts so we helped a friend get a farm up and running so the young people could learn some skills and eventually earn some money fro the project. It is a growing farm and young people are given value and self respect through it. We all have something in our back pocket to use, time, energy and finance to help someone else it is only a matter of our choices.
What I notice is this. As we notice the poor and respond in various ways. Our hearts are made healthier as we are look away from ourselves and our own self obsessed behaviours to become more like God the father who is love. It’s a spiritual practise.
God has His plans and purposes set out for us. We can think we are doing one thing and actually God is up to something else. I thought I was going through a mid life thing and have had a sense of discontentment for a couple of years. Great to know He had a plan to help.
On reflection I think I got lost in becoming who people want me to be. In a way I have been rejecting myself hence the discontentment. The most helpful thing that has happened this year is my reconnecting to a long lost friend after eighteen years.
Three months later we ere on the plane to east Africa together.. This is the place where I connected with God twenty years ago and where I am still called. The Bible speaks about “where your treasure is there your heart is too”I certainly have a passion and love in my heart for the people in east Africa.
By taking my friend with whom I have a shared history I realised who I was again. I noticed that I had become lost in being who people want me to be trying to fit in and avoid rejection. This trip I have been more my real self, laughing and joking ( not taking myself seriously) I felt free to worship God,dance, pray and speak from my heart when preaching than ever before. I think there is an unspoken pressure to perform in modern society and that behaviour is unsustainable.
Jesus invited people to follow Him as they were. Yes, the disciples were challenged and formed by hanging out with Jesus for three years. But I don’t sense a rule book when reading the gospels but a shaping of character through relationship with God in human form. Jesus accepts people unconditionally and draws out the true self.
I am a simple person who wants to pursue God 100% because I love Him. It’s as simple as that. I was born with a personality that is fun loving, kind and considerate person. Africa and the many friendships developed over the last twenty years have formed my relationship with God.
I have loved being in Africa with my friend and being able to laugh a lot and enjoy all Gods goodness in my life. I do sense a new beginning of being real with who I am. So thank you God for setting this up and thank you my friend for coming on the journey with me. If you feel lost ask God for help and let Him bring life to the lostness.
Around every corner is a new horizon an opportunity or a choice to move in a new direction. It strikes me that in our lifespan we can have many chapters and those chapters are written from the story of you and I. Our ups and downs, people we encounter, places we travel too, family we have, locations we live in. Each twist and turn we make expands our life story.
In the book of Psalms 139:16 it is reflected that all our days are written out in Gods book.
“Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
What amazes me about this is that God has a book and our days are noted in that book – how cool is that. That’s how much we are cared and loved by Him. However if there is a book it may have chapters. Those chapters may have sub chapters with interesting avenues to walk down in the ever-expanding story of our lives.
I think our stories are meant to expand and grow. The story of God in the Bible is one of growth and development with His love being shown to many generations. So as followers of such a person with an amazing story our lives are surely not meant to be narrow but rather be a reflection.
Each week we could look at our week as a fresh page in this exciting book being written. This grants us permission to turn the page of last week or begin a new chapter and close the last one. Even if we have had successes in the last chapter we may not want to bring those into the next. Growth, impact and creativity are the kind of words that conjure up possibilities to write a fun and inspiring life story.
So full steam ahead this week fill some fresh pages or start a new chapter. Embracing a change in our world enables others to get on the journey of change and transformation. Even Jesus spoke about the opportunities of change to His followers as He prepared them for His leaving
John 16:7 “but very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”