Battle Zone

Canva - Skylights, Spirituality, Faith, Symbol, InvocationWhilst 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.”

 

 

 

 

 

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The strength of Love

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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.

 

 

Hope is Everywhere

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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

Finding Yourself

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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.

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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.

 

Your life counts

What story are you writing through your life? I am writing this from Uganda, having been out here for two weeks. This was not my first time in fact the story of Uganda and I began in 1997 when I first travelled to an area called Kumi. That trip was the tipping point for me that led to making changes in my life. The impact of that trip will never leave me and causes me to keep investing in the story that is unfolding every time I return.

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In the west we are so goal driven to tick things off that we sometime fail to see the bigger picture that is being painted over our life span. In 1998 I went back to Uganda with the intention to live in the country and co ordinate medical services for the poor. However sometimes it is not possible at the time to go ahead with the best laid plans. But a seed had been planted in the hearts of the Ugandan people and I.

I met a man in 2003 called Simon. He helped a team I was leading with translation and logistics – he had a humble heart working as a cleaner at Ngora hospital and lived in a small garage at the time. He told me how he would come to the UK and study one day. I was blown away when he did. He studied and went back with an MA in theology and development. Whilst in the UK he had worked at a takeaway shop and sent the money back home.

Once home he brought some land and built a house in a remote village with the money he earned. Simon is ordained as a priest in the Anglican Church of Uganda and together we train and equip men and women in the ministry. This land now serves the community in that area by providing clean water that we at RSVP Trust helped to construct. Young people who were unemployed are employed to help with the project. They deliver water to elderly people who have no children to help them. They help the sick when food and wood are needed and they cannot manage. I sat down and met the young people on this trip and talked about the importance of having a vision for living whilst you are young.

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The land is about venture into poultry farming so more hopeless uneducated young people can gain employment and have a purpose in life. Who would have dreamed that the man I met who lived in a garage and cleaned the hospital would have such an impact in his community through our friendship. His latest project is to restructure and regenerate Ngora hospital. I had the pleasure of spending a day at the hospital distributing gifts of hope and thinking about how we can support local people receive medical care.

As I reflect prior to returning home I am again awe struck realising that what I thought was lost had an even larger vision waiting to be unveiled sixteen years later. I thank God for allowing me to take this journey having learned to trust Him with my life plan. So I wonder what story your life is revealing?  I would encourage you to sit back and look at the wider impact that your life is producing. 

Stay Onboard

boatHow do you keep your faith alive is a question I keep getting asked as I travel around speaking at various Churches and events. I have had times when I feel my faith has become weak but part of my personality is to keep pushing through regardless and after a time faith springs up again.

When I sat down to think through the question I recognised that faith can get knocked when we are hurt or when we are out of step with what God has been speaking to us. Suddenly we may feel and act defensively toward Gods people or God. Ultimately our hearts can become shutdown and we are unreachable.

The key to not letting the hurt take root on the inside is to speak to God immediately. Give him the problem to sort out. In this world things are going to happen that we won’t like but maybe there is a silver lining. I was recently sat with a woman who had lost her unborn baby. I was blown away when she said “maybe this is a silver lining for me here. I have to believe that to get me through.” Such a brave perspective through a difficult time. I notice that often God takes brick walls that we hit, difficult situations we face or relationship breakdowns to bring new life.

Three actions you can take to keep faith alive. Firstly hang out with other like-minded people. The Bible advises us “not to give up meeting together” for a reason. Be around people who believe the same things as you. I love hanging out with people who are Jesus focused and love listening to their stories of what he is calling them to do and opportunities they have had to share Gods love; it inspires faith in me. It is apparent that we are likely to become like those we hang out with. If you want to grow your faith then be around people who are living out faith.

Secondly cultivate time with God each day. The Bible advises us “to pray continually.” Prayer is not going to God with a list but it is the vehicle for developing our relationship. It is one of the ways that we “stir ourselves up in our most holy faith.” It would be strange if I only spoke to my husband or family when I wanted something we tend to chat and listen and share our hearts; that’s relationship. I learned to pray by listening to others, reading books, thinking about how Jesus prayed and others in the Bible and then doing it.

Allowing the Bible to lead and direct our thoughts and habits and relationships is vital to keeping our faith alive “all scripture is God breathed and useful.” If God has spoken and its written down that’s amazing I want to read and know Him through what He has said and allow His thoughts and ways permeate my life.

The book of James observes “a person who asks God for something and then doubts is like a wave thrown about on a sea.” They are not sure in their mind what they believe and then confusion can come leading to loss of faith. When we form a deep friendship with God we know whom he is and our eyes are firmly fixed on him. As we relax into God his peace comes in the most difficult of times and we are able to resist the temptation to walk away thereby strengthening our faith.

Anxious Solutions: Part Two

roseAs I sit and write this I am sat in Rwanda having travelled yesterday. Travel is always very stressful for me, not only the day, but in the lead up to it for at least three days before. I can feel all the mixed emotions kick in. So over the years I have discovered a practical way to manage myself. Travel for me means adventure, which I love. Also separation from the people and places I love. It means extra pressure, as the ministries I oversee in the UK don’t stop just because I am out of town

It is interesting to intentionally notice what brings us to the table of anxiety. Awareness is the key to not allowing anxiety to determine the course of our days. We all have difficult situations or days as we travel through life and it’s about finding small ways to manage ourselves during those days.

In the last article I recommended daily prayer as a means of giving over our anxieties to Jesus who is built to carry such things on our behalf taken from 1 Peter 5:7. There is also a great scripture in Psalm 55:22 “cast your burden upon the Lord and He shall sustain you; he shall never permit the righteous to be moved.” I love this it is filled with action on our part and then shows Gods role and why. That’s the power of having a devoted payer life.

There are several practical things that we can do to help ourselves when anxiety is trying to get a hold. I notice that structure and routine help my mind and therefore my actions. I work in a field where chaos and the darker side of life reign, so my personal life has the opposite, which means creating an organised environment and having lighter times and connecting with positive friendships each day to help me feel a lot calmer.

Over recent weeks I have been running a short distance everyday in the evening to bring routine in the chaos of transition, I find myself making lists not of what to do but what I will do each day. We shouldn’t under estimate the power of eating healthily and at regular intervals. Ditching the junk food and reducing sugar intake can help immensely so our blood sugars don’t bounce around too much helping us to.

Something my grandmother passed onto me was to stop and watch the flowers and enjoy the moment. For me that looks like taking a coffee at a set time, and tea in the afternoon at a set time on my own as much my schedule allows, each day this provides with me a margin of time to rest my mind and be.

When I feel the presence of stress or pressure I notice that I tend to get very whizzy in my thoughts and actions, some may think I am having a highly creative moment but really it’s a stress reaction. Switching off the tv, taking a break from social media and computer devises allows me to gain perspective without extra voices directing my thoughts and emotions; getting down time is really important in the age of connectivity. This is where having times of booked in gym sessions will release all of that and clear my mind completely allowing my mind and body to come back to normal rhythm.

If you remember nothing else, establishing a rhythm for life that works with your personalities, could be the way of finding your freedom from anxiety. Don Egan whom I work with has written a small booklet “Rhythm of Life” which goes into more detail about the how to gain peace on the inside when the outside is difficult.

You can order the Rhythm of Life booklet from RSVP here.
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