Walking with God

It might be of a surprise to you, however I am a daydreamer. 

By daydreamer, I mean I am one who can get quickly caught up in a thought. A thought that can rapidly wander and change from something as simple as what I had for breakfast, to the cereal supply chain to the day’s weather and the instantly jump back to how the human IQ is calculated...  Bit strange, I know...

But sometimes God uses my daydreaming. Sometimes he shows me stories. Sometimes he teaches me lessons or sometimes he uses the everyday to speak truth into my heart. 

The image I get when God and I sit together and dream about His Kingdom on earth is a little like having a cup of tea with a friend. We dream of a just world. We dream of the things He wants to do and then more often than not, He asks me to go out there, to stay the path, to remain in him and lay down the desires of my heart. 

One weekend a few years ago, my lovely boyfriend at the time (now husband)  and I decided that we would do a big day hike. The hike was from the bottom of a dam, on the outskirts of Canberra, to the tallest peak in the ACT. 

And to make this all the more exciting, we decided to do this in the middle of winter. Because being a Sydney gal, anytime there’s an opportunity to see snow - you definitely take it. 

Preparing for this hike, I can vouch that the thing that I packed the most was my excitement and I had essentially NO IDEA what was ahead. My only expectation was that there would some uphill moments, and at some stage we would get to the top. Which really means taking a sweet insta pic... becuase that’s what its all about... am I right?!?!

Long story short, the hike was all well and good. It was heaps further than I thought, and we did see a little snow, BUT essentially the reason in me telling you this story is that during our walk, I was daydreaming with God. 

God used my daydreaming to remind me of a what it is like walking with him. And I thought that I would share with you the three things he spoke to me about and where it happened on the hike. You might think they are a bit dorky, but I hope that they will be encouraging or of some comfort to the part of the journey you are on. 

they go like this...

1. During your life there will be times of rapid growth. However, during this time, you will also bear the growing pain that comes with it. *(This was right at the start of the walk, the 1km dirt wall ascent. #burnbabyburn)

I’ve found there are times in life where there is big change. It could be change in life circumstance or a change thats needed to restore and heal our hearts. Whatever it is, it generally comes with some degree of pain. I’ve had a few of these and know you’ve probably had a few yourself.

2. During your life there will be times walking on the ridge. It is here you just need to keep going and make ground. *(This happened quite a few times. It happened after a quick ascent where it was time to recover and rest. However, after a long while on the ridge it was easy to think it wasn’t going to end. It would be easy to turn around. But it was at this time to enjoy the path and get ready for the next ascent.)

I find these are the moments that are most frequent in my life. Its those moments that feel mundane. Where things are running in motion and it can feel like God is distant. But this time can be some of the most foundational moments where God wants us to lean in.  He is moving more than we know and He is preparing us for what is to come. 

3. During your life there will be times of reaching the peak – it’s here He wants to show you His faithfulness. (This happened when we reached the top of the mountain)  

Its the peak moments in life where I find God shows us how we couldn’t have done the journey without Him. He shows us parts of the journey where we think He was distant or wasn’t there (but really was). He displays his beauty and wonder. I find these moments are most common when there has been abreakthrough in a season or a step in a dream or vision he’s placed in my heart. 

So, what part of the hike are you on? Do you need to let God into your everyday dreaming and allow him to show or reveal something to you?

I know I do.

So lean in. Daydream with God. Listen to what he has to say to you today. 

Thirst Quenching Grace

I recently spoke at church on the story of the woman at the well in John chapter 4. In this story Jesus is travelling through a town called Sychar in Samaria on His way to Galilee and stops at a well for a drink. Arriving at the well at the same time, in the middle of the day to avoid the crowds, was a local woman, an outcast in her community. Jesus, not having a cup or bucket to draw water with, asked her to give him some from hers. Startled that he would even speak to her, she became curious as the conversation turned to Jesus’ living water that would quench her thirst for good.  And eventually revealed to her who he was, and also her need for Him. This encounter changed her life.

I have usually been encouraged to read this story by putting myself in the shoes of Jesus and observing how best to reach ‘such a woman’ with the gospel.

But not this time. Suddenly God was encouraging me to slip into the shoes of the woman Jesus meets – and to receive.

As I did that, I found myself resonating with the familiar feeling of being an outcast. While not in the same way or for the reasons as she is, there have been times I’ve felt I must avoid God or others – the reason she goes to the well in the hottest part of the day and not in the morning like the others.

I know what it is to squirm and share half-truths about my life to God and my friends. About the sin and weakness in my life. I know what it is to not be completely myself – just like when Jesus asks this woman about her husband.  I know what it is to feel real physical thirst and to try and rehydrate with coffee, not water. It tastes great in the moment, but only leaves me thirstier.

I realised there are things I try and quench my thirst with that aren’t the grace of God. Achievement, recognition, relationships, material wealth, just to name a few! I realized that if we chose to live our lives for these or anything else and without His grace it would only enslave us and leave us wanting.

But there’s good news for those of us in this story who are thirsty and in need of refreshment. Jesus chose to cross a number of cultural barriers and boundaries to connect with this woman. The fact that he chose to connect with her even though she was an outcast, a Samaritan and a woman reflects only grace.

And he has that same grace for us.

Just like he reaches past our walls of shame, not only did he meet her, he chose to use her to be a champion in the Kingdom of God. She told many of her encounter with Him and they too came and met Jesus and gave Him their lives. His grace gives us this opportunity too.

Like this woman, it took an encounter with Jesus to reveal my need for Him. Asking her about her husband, Jesus wasn’t trying to humiliate her, but reveal to her the need she has for him. Beautifully, he doesn’t just reveal her need and then leave her wondering with gaping open wounds, but offers her the solution to her thirst.  He showed that he knew her completely, flaws, mistakes, and all. And yet, loved her enough to want to share this living water with her.

Tim Keller once wrote:

“ To be loved and not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self- righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty that life throws at us.”

To understand we are known and loved by God is the firmest foundation to build our lives upon and prepare us to face whatever comes our way. From that experience we will not be thrown around by looking for satisfaction through recognition from other people, being loved for something we are not, and getting caught up in having to keep up the façade we’ve created. He sets us free from the fear of being known and rejected. His grace sets us free to be both known and loved.  When we are living from this place it humbles us and quenches our deepest desires for things that won’t satisfy.

This story gently forces me to receive afresh what it is like to be fully known and fully loved. To drink deeply from the well of grace, not that of fear, anxiety, recognition, or what I think I am missing in my life. Instead I can be filled with what is life-giving, true and strengthening for my life.

The Lunch Box

In my experience, God has a pretty great sense of humor!

Through the way he works in love and joy, he improves our faith and proves his faithfulness. There have been a couple of key moments in my family life where God has not only proved his power and faithfulness but challenged our faith in him to be stronger than our faith in the circumstances of this world.

My family and I went 8 years without a secure home after moving from New Zealand to Australia because we believe God had lead us to. My parents became sick of always renting and being moved on. They believed God had said that He had a home for us and we would be in it by Christmas. That was in June. On the 17th December, we moved into our new home. 7 days before the given date!

This sort of ‘faith test’ – or demonstration of God’s sense of humor, as some might say – has happened multiple times over my lifetime and I always find my faith waning near the ‘last minute’ mark. But God has always come through. He is always teaching us a lesson of His faithfulness in all things and (hopefully) growing our faith to trust Him a little bit more each time. 

A funny thought popped into my heart a couple of years ago about faith and our never-failing father. It looked a little something like this.

A father and his three-year-old boy were walking through a park together when all of a sudden the little boy crouches down all excited, focused – and then perplexed. He points to a grasshopper in the grass and says to his dad,

“Daddy, why are the grasshopper’s wings like that?”

The dad’s response was simple: “They are designed perfectly so the grasshopper can fly, find food and flourish.”

Fully satisfied with a smile, the child continued walking in the park with his dad. I love this because it opened my eyes just a little more to what it means to have child-like faith. Faith that is fully trusting, knowing that the answer the Father gives is always the best one. It’s the faith that Jesus calls us to have every day.

We read in the Bible: “To have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for, to be certain of the things we cannot see.” Hebrews 1:11

God calls us to have child-like faith, and there are so many points in the Bible where we see everyday people putting their faith in our never-failing God, and plenty of points where people don’t. But this is one where we do. In all four gospels is the miracle of Jesus feeding the 5000. This miracle occurs amongst the devastation of John the Baptist just being killed, and Jesus and his disciples possibly retreating. I encourage you to read John 6 before we move on.

There are many people involved in this awesome story. Jesus, his disciples, approximately 5000 men (and their wives and children) … and the child who gave up his lunch. Whether forcefully or not, that little boy gave up his lunch to Jesus. This young boy who was ‘the least of these’ gave up what was quite possibly his only food, on a long journey, in the middle of nowhere. It’s quite a stark contrast to the disciples who said it would be ‘too expensive’ and there wasn’t any where to buy food anyway. They didn’t turn to Jesus, but a boy offers his lunch and now that the disciples recognised their inadequacy, Jesus tells them to feed the people.

This so eloquently points to God because the disciples knew it was not in their own power, but God’s. And so after thanking the Lord for what he had provided, Jesus performed a miracle that not only sustained, but provided food in abundance for many people as they simply followed him.

We read in this story: “When they had all had enough to eat, Jesus said to the disciples “Gather the pieces that are leftover. Let nothing be wasted.” So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of 5 barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.” John 6:12-13

That little boy didn’t know what Jesus was going to do with his lunch. But in faith he gave it up.

What’s in your lunchbox that you need to give to Jesus? Ask God to search your heart for things that you need to put your faith in him for. Now pass it to him. Surrender it, because our loving Father will answer you for he is a good Father. Whatever that answer is, thank Him for it because it’s a part of his heart for you.

Don’t put God in a box! He has GRAND kingdom plans for you. I encourage you to pass your lunchbox to him with whatever you have in it, to have a mustard seed of faith and watch him grow it in his power, watch how you will continue to grow in him, and watch how you can know him.

Have faith, he will provide – and thank him for it, for he is ALWAYS GOOD.

 

Growing Down

What would you say if I suggested we need to spend as much – if not more – time “unlearning”as we do learning? 

In a society that highly values the acquisition of knowledge and learning, that may sit uncomfortably! 

At the beginning of this year I was on our annual youth camp and we were in our Saturday night session with 65 youth. It had been a special night seeing the Holy Spirit minister to so many youth. The youngest girl on our camp, who was 10 years old, shared with her leader that she had a picture of encouragement from God she wanted to share with the group. When she got up to share, I could sense the excitement and anticipation that people had to hear the words this young girl had to share. What she shared was profound: “People’s hearts are on fire, but Satan has a bucket of water trying to put the fire out, but God is saying he had an endless supply of fire starters”. People roared with joy and celebration as she shared. What struck me was the boldness and simplicity of the way this girl shared. And it was in this moment I felt the Holy Spirit say to me, “Emma, you can learn from her”. 

As I pondered this thought driving home another thought came to mind. Ironically, in learning from this girl, it would actually involve a process of “unlearning”. 

As we grow older we start to learn or adopt habits that I believe are unhelpful or restricting to our faith. Things like control, fear, independence or superiority. And in fact, what becomes essential to our walk with Jesus is that we would “unlearn” these behaviours and return to a childlike faith. In Matthew 18:2-4 Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Jesus calls us to adopt the faith and the position of a child. Childlike faith is absent of control, fear, superiority and independence – its vulnerability and humility before the Father. 

A child’s dependence on their parent is remarkable. They need the parent to care for them in all aspects of their life. That dependence starts to reduce as they get older. I believe Jesus is calling us to increase our dependence on him; to return to a dependence on the Father as a child would to a parent. To go to him for every need, every direction, to have no fear, and trust without hesitation in his leading. To seek to do only what the Father is doing. (John 5:19) 

An area for me to unlearn has been control. I like to be prepared, which isn’t always bad in itself but I need to be flexible and have room for God’s leading; to not have my feet so fixed on the ground that I won’t move where the Spirit leads. My need for control often reflects my lack of trust – or my desire to have faith in what is seen instead of trusting the unseen. Control means I miss out on faith-building opportunities because I am too concerned with the outcome I believe we should follow, instead of God’s. God has called me to give up control, to step more freely in the freedom He offers. As I give up control, I allow him to increase and me to decrease, demonstrating a wonderful childlike position before the Father.  

To give up control is inviting the Holy Spirit to lead me further into freedom and obedience. To ask the Holy Spirit to lead me further into the truth of being God’s child and how that impacts my life. Or as Charles Spurgeon puts it, “We have grown up, as we call it, so let us grow down today, and become as little children…”

What is it today you need to “unlearn”, in order to step more fully into the freedom that is offered in Christ Jesus, and to “grow down” so that our wonderful Jesus is exalted?

Anticipating Grace

It happened when I was sitting underneath a blanket on the top of a mountain wondering how my life might be different if I anticipated grace.

I am an optimist (or so I thought) who always finds something positive to say; a real silver lining-finder. But it dawned on me on the top of a mountain that all too often I live in anticipation of judgment, not grace. I expect judgments to be handed down to me in the corridors of my life. The judges seem inescapable – flatmates, colleagues, family, people I look up to – and their say feels like the final word on my identity and worth. I feel subject to these ubiquitous judges and their pervasive judgments, either real or imagined. I live defeated in expectation of condemning judgment.

Simply put, I live in fear.

To anticipate judgment is to live in submission to fear. It is to allow stomach-clenching, shadow-lurking, freedom-robbing fear to have the determining word over your life.

Fear is not what I want for my life, and it is not what I want for yours. It is a thief and it shackles us into self-protective, defensive, avoidant lives.

The question is: will I subject myself to people’s judgments and live crippled by fear or not? I prefer or not.

But where does that leave me?

It leaves me with my good and faithful God. He too has handed down a judgment to me, but it is a judgment of a different kind. It is a judgment of grace – one I do not deserve – that reads ‘not guilty’. What I deserve and expect from those around me is a judgment of condemnation. But what I receive from the Alpha and Omega, the owner of the final word, is forgiveness and blamelessness. His pure and blameless son took upon himself my deserved condemnation so I might freely wear his blamelessness.

Although I struggle to live it out, this is who I am. I have been judged blameless. This truthful word of grace is stronger and louder and truer and more authoritative than any word of condemnation either spoken or imagined. This is the truth that offers me freedom from fear if I would hear and believe that there is no condemnation for me. I can confidently anticipate grace.

Would you anticipate grace with me? Would you live free with me? Let’s soar on wings like eagles, run and not grow weary, and walk and not be faint.

Let’s live in anticipation of grace.

(First published on https://componentparts.wordpress.com) 

 

Love Letters

When I was in grade 4 I had a crush. He was completely lovely and totally cute and he sat opposite me. I let him borrow my textas, which I arranged in perfect colour order on my desk. My crush on Nathan Carr is the earliest crush I remember having, and I had visions of sneaking out of my room and walking along the beach with him, hand in hand. Being 9, innocent and ever optimistic, I decided to write this fantasy down in a love letter to Nathan. I agonised over whether or not to sign my name at the end, and then decided that I should so that he could fall in love with me and we could live happily ever after.

One Thursday, I hung around after class and left the letter in his tow tray for him to find in the morning. It was definitely the most agonising night of my life. I was paralysed with fear of rejection, and the anticipation of the possibility of the glorious future that lay before us! When I arrived at school the next day, it was clear that he had received my letter. His brother and all his grade 6 friends rode right up to me on their intimidating razor scooters with the letter in their hands, saying “Jordan? Are you Jordan? Want to walk along the beach with me too?”

Oh, the agony of a broken heart! I spent the whole weekend wishing I could attach a paper bag permanently to my face so that no one would ever recognise me again. Note to self: NEVER SIGN YOUR NAME ON A LOVE LETTER. Period.

Sometimes, prayer can feel a bit like writing a love letter to a boy you have a crush on. You feel vulnerable, nervous, and you’re not sure what the answer will be. You have a vision of what things could be if God answers positively, but live in fear of your prayer being rejected. I spend a lot of time with high schoolers and uni students, and one of the most common questions I hear – from both Christians and non-Christians – is, ‘Why do we bother praying if God’s will is going to be done anyway? Does God even hear us? And if he does, why doesn’t he answer us?’

We pray fervently for opportunities to tell a friend about Jesus, and when we it comes up, all we can do is babble and blubber. We pray for guidance about decision-making, and all we seem to receive is white noise. We pray for healing, and we can practically hear the chorus of crickets from heaven. It’s embarrassing. There have been many times that I have wondered if there’s a divine frequency that I’m not tuned in to. Is there a SCAN button that I need to navigate in order to get in touch with God? And yet, we are implored to ‘pray without ceasing’! So what are we missing here? Surely if God wanted us to pray, he would make it a more fruitful experience!

The key to understanding the cosmic, earth-shaking power and value of prayer can be found right there in Matthew 6, when Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray. The line vibrates and dances right beneath our noses, but is so little acknowledged or understood amongst the repetition of the liturgy at Sunday night church. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Friends, the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit in our hearts is centred on conforming us to the likeness of Jesus Christ, who, when faced with death, boldly declared ‘Not my will, but your will be done’. We submit all things to the Lord, by prayer and petition and thanksgiving, in order that His good and perfect will might be manifest in every sphere of our lives. The very purpose of unceasing prayer is that every relationship, every anxiety, every situation, every decision, every joy, every trial, and every doubt is brought before the Lord in order that you might catch a glimpse of the vision that He has for the destiny of His Kingdom and your position in it.

Dietrich Bonheoffer writes, ever so profoundly, ‘Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays’. When we ask, ‘Why bother praying if God’s will is going to be done anyway?’ we are, maybe accidentally, getting to the very heart of the purpose of prayer. It’s not that God might conform to your plans and your dreams, but that by His glorious grace, he might transform your heart to want what he wants. And isn’t that the profound mystery of the gospel – that our gracious God invites us into His love letter, which is the story of a God who loved his people so much that he would go to extravagant lengths to win them back. Now whose love letter is it, really?

 

Positioned for Influence - Part 3

No compromise. 

As we step into our sphere of influence, there will be moments when the enemy tries to lead us to a place of compromise. I know in my walk with God, there have been moments when I have compromised experiencing the fullness of God in order to obtain momentary satisfaction. When we do compromise, our influence is hindered and the task before us can become blurred and confused. 

Often the biggest driver of compromise is fear. Esther was given opportunities to compromise on her calling but she remained steadfast. Approaching the king without being summoned was against the law and Esther could have been put to death. Instead of giving into fear, Esther simply replies, “If I perish, I perish” and urges her people to fast on her behalf. She does not compromise and remain silent. When Esther does make the request for her peoples freedom, she has another opportunity to compromise. King Xerxes offers her “up to half the kingdom”, however Esther still risks personal comfort for the sake of her people. She denies this offer and remains true to the purposes of God. In doing so, she exposes the darkness – the evil plans and purposes of Haman. 

Esther demonstrates for us someone who knew exactly the influence she was to have and kept her eyes fixed on the task ahead. She was walking in step with the Father’s will. We will often compromise when we lose touch with walking in step with the Spirit. We must, as John 15 calls us to, remain in Him. For apart from Him we can do nothing. 

The Holy Spirit often calls us out of our comfort zone and to actively live out our faith proclamations. There have been times in my life where I have sought comfort in the face of fear, particularly when I felt under-qualified for a task. A particularly challenging area for me was being called to leadership roles. Generally, I am quietly spoken and am not drawn to being up the front. Given those tendencies, I completely disqualified myself for leadership. I was limiting myself, ruling myself out by what I considered to be my weaknesses. 

As we consider how we influence, we must be open that the Lord may call us to influence in ways that stretch us uncomfortably. I heard someone once say that God often uses our fears for his plans and victories. I believe that God can turn our fears into our greatest means of influence. Are we open to God working in our fear areas? Esther could have used her influence in a way that resulted in greater comfort for herself, but she pursued the greater and much riskier option that God was placing on her heart. The beautiful thing about the way God works is that he loves to use our weaknesses and turn them into ways he can reveal his power. 


Are there ways that you could influence that you have previously discounted? Kris Vallotton, says, “you cannot conquer what you refuse to confront”. Choosing comfort stops us conquering our fears, which could in turn become our greatest mechanism of influence. Are there areas in your life where fear is leading to a pursuit of comfort rather than wholehearted obedience in faith? 

 

Positioned for Influence - Part 2

An effortless display.

The story of Esther shows us two ways a person can display and practice influence. One is contrived, toilsome and short-lived; the other is humble, effortless and lasting. 

There is no doubt that King Xerxes had a position of influence in Persia. He ruled over 127 provinces and accumulated great wealth and power. King Xerxes made every effort to ensure that people knew of his power and wealth. He spent 180 days focused on doing exactly this! The end goal for King Xerxes was personal vindication. Haman acted in this way too and organised a gathering of family and friends, just to speak of his success, wealth and position of honor. He needed to prove his influence to his family and friends, and as a result his pursuit of influence was toilsome. In both King Xerxes and Haman we see their influence is easily compromised and fleeting. The honour that Haman so desperately sought, was given rightly to Mordecai. Furthermore, his evil plans were exposed and this led to his imminent death. For King Xerxes, in his toilsome pursuit of creating monuments of himself, history tells us this was cut short as he was assassinated by Artabanus. 

Even though these men had momentary fame, power and influence, it would fade in the light of the enduring purposes of God. 1 Peter 1:24-25 says, “All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flowers of grass. The grass withers, and the flowers fall off, but the word of the Lord lasts forever.” Are we pursuing influence that is lasting and for the glory of our Father, or are we more concerned in the displaying our personal success? 

As we look to Esther we see that that her influence is effortless. By effortless, I do not mean an absence of steps of faith or obedience, but rather that her vindication was not something she sought. In her obedience and trust as Mordecai commissioned her, and through the compassion she had for her people, she influences a change that lasts. Esther did not promote herself, use her influence for personal indulgence, but took hold of opportunities to influence for the good of others. 

We see the end result of the courage of Esther and Mordecai result in a Purim being made. The Purim was a Jewish festival that was established to celebrate the deliverance of the Jews from the lot (“pur”) that was cast by Haman.  The Purim was a beautiful image of God’s sovereignty and echoed Proverbs 16: 33: “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” Haman’s plots to destroy the Jews would falter under the providence of God. This Jewish festival was a day of remembrance for the Jewish people; a day not only of joyful celebration but where they would also bless the poor with gifts. What an incredible outworking of Esther and Mordecai’s faithfulness! Even though Esther and Mordecai were recognised for their influence, it ultimately resulted in the blessing and serving of others, and pointed to the sovereignty of God. 

Our sphere of influence must be seen through the lens of servanthood and result in the blessing of others. Jesus influenced events in history in the most profound way by adopting the position of a servant (Philippians 2:7) of God and others. He was never interested in self-promotion, but rather to promote and advance the glory of His father. Jesus ministered in the normality of life to reveal the impossibilities of God. Esther demonstrates Christ-like servanthood as she risks her life to save her people, God’s chosen nation. By adopting servant hood we avoid the risk of seeking notoriety, which leads to a focus on the self. 

Are we adopting the posture of servant hood as we enter new opportunities to influence and minister? What selfish ambitions is the Holy Spirit calling us to let go of, in order for us to discover His higher and greater ways?  

 

Positioned for Influence - Part 1

There is something incomparable about the joy we receive when the Lord gives us a personal revelation through his Spirit.  A word that pierces the heart and gives inspiring vision is something that can bring great enlightenment in a believer’s journey. 

A few months ago, the Lord blessed me with a revelation that did exactly this. He reminded me that he has “positioned me for influence”. Where he had placed me, in varying contexts and environments, and who he had placed me around, was no accident. It is in fact the sphere of influence where I have been positioned to love well. 

God has really stirred my passion to see women operate in their gifting and full potential in Christ over the past few years, for women to see their sphere of influence. No matter what our environment is, in partnership with the Holy Spirit, we can influence it positively with values of the Kingdom. Unfortunately today, I believe many miss this call by being caught in the cycle of busyness, or being crippled by fear, insecurity or apathy. 

For me personally, these are huge hurdles I constantly need to overcome. I think it is crucial for women to start unpacking lies from the enemy they have believed that stop them from knowing that they are in fact positioned for influence. We all have a sphere of influence. In our workplaces, families, and universities, we can influence for the spread of the Gospel by the power of the Spirit. 

So, how exactly do we as women effect change and influence in our contexts and surroundings? I think the story of Esther provides some great insights into this area. 

Esther was clearly someone who was positioned for influence at a perfect God-ordained time, “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14). The book of Esther is inspiring. There are clear markings of Esther’s ministry and life that reveal why she was so effective in her advocacy, leadership and influence. 

“Graced” for the task ahead

In the book of Esther we are told on a number of occasions that Esther “won the favour” of those around her. Her ministry was marked by, as Josephus the historian states, “a thread of grace”. 

Although God is not mentioned in the book of Esther, we clearly see Him preparing the hearts of those Esther would come into contact with, to advocate for the Jewish people, and achieve the purposes of God. It is clear that this was a point in time that God had chosen Esther to advocate for his people, and his empowering favor allows her to achieve justice for the Jews. The Hebrew translation of the word ‘favour’ is the same word that is used for ‘grace’ – chen or in the Greek translation, charis. We see the source of favour is God; it is a demonstration of His grace as he empowers his children to achieve His purposes. 

Psalm 84:11 says, “For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honour; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless”. The word “bestows” means a given gift, honor or right. God’s favour is an outworking of His grace for us, a gift that He gives us in order to bring Himself glory. By no means does favour warrant complacency in our journey, or an expectation of a “challenge-free” ministry, claiming prosperity for personal comfort. That would simply lead to an indulgence of the self. What it does, is bring us deep encouragement for our ministry because we know that the Lord “graces” any task the Lord puts before us by preparing the way before us and gifting us with his Spirit. Even when suffering or challenges come, we know that the Lord will achieve what he needs to.  

A good friend of mine was in charge of planning a large youth conference, with hundreds gathering together to worship the Lord. There were multitudes of challenges, plenty of things to feel anxious about, but the Lord gently reminded her that He had “graced” her for this task. He would prepare and change the hearts of the youth attending, and give her what she needed to use her position to influence for the Kingdom. 

Personally, as the Lord has laid different tasks on my heart, I am realising that I can minister from peace, not fear. I can choose to be terrified by the task before me, or I can rest knowing that his goodness and mercy follow my steps. In order to step into our sphere of influence, we need to first remember that God has graced us for this task. Why? Because, we then can minister from a place of peace not fear. The focus moves from us to Him and it moves us to a place of dependence on Him, as He is the author of our purposes. 

Esther understood that God was with her and in her courageous obedience she used her position to advocate for her people. What sphere of influence is God calling you into? Are you ministering from a place of confidence, knowing that you are “graced” for the tasks put before you? 

 

The Fellowship of the Believers

 

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

I think there are some obvious, key elements to the health of the church in Acts. They sat under the teaching of scripture; they had meals together and prayed together. They showed each other generosity in the way they shared their lives, their gifts and their wealth, and this is what drew people to the Lord and into their community.

But the key I think is beneath these things they did together: it was the understanding that the call to community is for the sake of the Lord’s mission, not their own. And they lived and loved with that intention.

It’s hard to get my head around the devotion they showed each other when we live in such an individualistic culture that suggests busy independence is the goal. We’re encouraged to own our own things, protect our own space, and be in control of how we spend our own time. But the truth is that none of these – time, possessions, or space – is our own, but the Lord’s.

It was the Acts church’s understanding of this that led to their interdependence on each other and their dependence on God. Their devotion to fellowship challenges me because individualism can, as it invades our fellowship, water it down to a couple of hours spent on a Sunday, and maybe one night in our week if we’re free. Anything more can feel time consuming, requiring too much energy or awkward vulnerability, or might seem too inconvenient. As a result, our relationships can lack depth, and we can easily lose our sense of intention and purpose in gathering well together.

Consistent in their devotion to God, the Acts church understood this, and so experienced the freedom that’s found not in individualism, but in living God’s way and not their own.

It’s tempting to brush off the challenge and assume that they somehow had it easier than we do. But you only need to read further through their journey in Acts to discover that the early church was not without their fair share of problems – from both outside and within their community. Some members were deceitful, and people were wounded by each other. Sound familiar?

What we can learn from this is that the health of their fellowship, and ours, isn’t about perfect people or relationships. Their health comes from vulnerability with and devotion to one another with the Lord. And ours can too! It’s this type of love for one another that God uses not just to encourage His believers, but as a way to reveal His love to others.

It’s not always possible or practical to physically live together, or spend all day each day together, but to be intentional in living this way is. It won’t always be about pancakes and weddings either unfortunately. When community feels too hard, inconvenient, or sacrificial, it’s in choosing to fix our eyes on Jesus together that our capacity to make His love visible grows.

Making His Love Visible in Community

A couple of years ago I lived in a share house with three others with the intent of being a blessing to our church community, and also our neighbours. Once in a blue moon we would all be home at the same time and would like to take that opportunity to sit down to a leisurely brunch on a lazy Saturday. It was a good excuse to eat delicious food, and to enjoy each other’s company. What was shared was usually unfettered vulnerability due to how comfortable we had become with one another. It was a rare, sacred, refreshing moment shared between housemates in a home that was often open and full of people from our church community.

Without fail, as soon as we were ready to tuck into the spread, Darren would be on the doorstep in some kind of crisis over a sick pet or broken relationship. It was like he was able to smell the bacon waft from our house to his and that was his cue. An extra space would be added to the table, the food would be stretched to include another person and the dynamic of that moment would shift.

For Darren, who lived alone and had suffered in his earlier years, this became his safe space with those he considered his family. So although they were good, we became well aware that he hadn’t arrived on our doorstep for the pancakes. All we would do was hope and pray that with each of these moments –  even though at times it felt inconvenient and we had to sacrifice our time and our pancakes – maybe his heart would be warmed by the love the Lord showed him through us, and he might one day trust Him.

Then there was that Friday afternoon when the wedding I was bridesmaid for a few weeks later was brought forward and scheduled for thirty six hours later – with the reception in our home! The time and energy it took to pull it off was nothing in comparison to the joy of watching as our wider church family pitched in to see the couple have a beautiful wedding with all the trimmings: the cake, flowers, music, photographer, dress, decoration, food and people; ALL the trimmings of a wedding, planned months in advance, in thirty six hours.

Our church and home were filled with the family of the couple who hadn’t known Jesus for long, and whose family weren’t believers but who were totally blown away by the generosity and love the Lord showed them through his followers that weekend. It’s a memory that softens their hearts years later. And for those of us who were part of the celebration and know the Lord, we were convinced this is the stuff we were created for; a true team effort with eternal significance.

Why do I share these stories? Because as I read this passage about the early church in Acts I am reminded of the sweet moments spent in community with other believers, and I ache for more. I want to know their secret to their growing, missional community!

Who are you inviting to the banquet?

Three years ago when I was starting out in a new job, God gave me a dream where there was a long banquet table stretching from the cul-de-sac outside my office building to the other end of the street. The table hosted a banquet, and Jesus was at the head of the table in the seat of honour. When pondering the meaning of this dream, I knew this held some symbolic significance to my workplace and how he was using me there, but it wasn’t until recently that God has revealed to me what this dream actually meant.

In the Parable of the Great Feast (Luke 14:15-24) Jesus tells a story of a man who prepared a great feast and sent his servant to deliver a message to the guests; that the banquet is ready and to come. The servant obediently went out to the guests to deliver the master’s message, however, the people had many excuses for why they couldn’t come to the banquet. On the servant’s return, the master instead told him to invite the poor, crippled, blind and lame, and then also extend the invite to basically anyone he could find, even those “in country lanes and behind the hedges” so that the house will be full.

This parable reveals that as obedient servants to our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, we are called to deliver this message to all people, in all seasons of life and invite them to share in the great banquet that Jesus has prepared for us. But practically and realistically, what does this call actually look like for us?

For me, I have been in my workplace for three and a half years now and during my time, I have been blessed with close friendships with many people I have worked with – many of which I believe will be friendships I keep for life. However, over the years I have gone from hiding my faith from my colleagues on many occasions, to eventually being open about my faith, my areas of ministry and even occasionally sharing my testimony. But in all this, I have quite often become frustrated. Am I actually making a difference? Am I being the Christian that I should be? Am I glorifying God even in the slightest in my workplace? Because if I am, why haven’t my friends at work given their lives to Christ? Sometimes I doubt if I am making an impact at all.

Yet as I reflect on the parable of the Great Feast, I notice that the servant (who represents us, as followers) steps out in childlike obedience to his master and simply invites people to come to the feast. That’s it. There is nothing complicated about it.

We see this also when Jesus called Phillip in John 1:43 – 51. Phillip believed immediately and his response was to go straight to his friend Nathaniel and tell him the good news. Although Philip was then faced with cynicism from Nathaniel as he questioned the idea of the Messiah coming from Nazareth, we soon read that Jesus meets Nathaniel and immediately gives him a word of knowledge about him sitting under a fig tree before Philip came to him. We see that Jesus met Nathaniel where he was at – he was cynical and to believe, he needed to be touched by Jesus through His prophetic word. Like Philip and the servant in the parable of the great feast, we simply need to declare the truths of the gospel, step into the opportunities God lays before us and trust God to do the rest. This takes the pressure off us. If we don’t have all the answers and we can’t convince people to have faith through many words, we can therefore cease striving and allow Holy Spirit to speak powerfully into people’s lives.

Although most of the time I cannot see the immediate impacts of the work God is doing through me, I am now beginning to see how He is positioning me in my workplace to love those around me and shine His light into their lives. Over the past year, I have had the opportunity to share my testimony with one of my friends at work, answer her questions about Christianity, tell her about my faith and even pray for her in various situations. I didn’t really go out of my way to do these things, God set up these moments and I just needed to be open and listen to the spirit’s promptings. More and more of these opportunities are opening up and I am finding myself in situations where I can speak God’s love into situations and into people’s lives. This isn’t something I have done on my own, but through the Holy Spirit living in me, and I am so overwhelmed with how God is using me little by little in my workplace.

I never thought that a dream I had one night three years ago would still be speaking to me in my walk today. However, I now know that Jesus has prepared the places at the table for the people in my life but I need not strive and worry about when and how I am bringing these people to the table. My role is to simply focus on Jesus, be in his presence, cease striving, act in child-like obedience and allow the Holy Spirit to move through me and make His love visible to those around me.

So for you, in your life and circumstances, who will you be inviting to the banquet?

When you'd rather be Royal Doulton

This might be a random thing to ask, but does else ever think it would be so much easier to make God’s love visible if we weren’t human? As in, if we weren’t frail and limited and broken and weak? Wouldn’t it be so much easier if we were perfectly aligned with God’s heart and purposes in the world so that his love just flowed through us completely unobstructed – shining for the world to see?

Wouldn’t it?!

Well, in his sovereignty, that’s not how our God has set this whole thing up. For some reason, he chooses to take us broken, fractured people to make his love visible. 

2 Corinthians 4:7 says, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”

In other words, it is through our brokenness that we make God’s love visible! As much as we might try, and as much as we might conceal and perfect and control and smooth out our appearances, we are broken vessels. We are fractured jars of clay. And that’s the way God has chosen to work. He places his love within us, and shines for the world to see his love through the cracks of our brokenness. He shines through the cracks in our lives, our hearts, our relationships, our bodies, our stories and our minds. He takes our weaknesses and uses them to display his strength.

But here’s the problem. When we try to perfect and control and smooth over our rough edges – what happens to the visibility of God’s love? Can it be seen? 

I think sometimes out of fear and pride we manage the way we present in the world. We control, we perfect, we smile with perfect teeth and invite people into perfect homes and take perfect photos for a perfectly curated Facebook profile. We cover over the cracks in our lives that God uses to display his love.

Let me ask you. Where is God in a perfectly curated life? How does hiding your weaknesses make God’s love visible?

And let me also ask, where is the room for following the Spirit when we live like that? How do we live in step with him? How do we live authentically? How do we step out into the unknown or a leap of faith if we don’t know it will end perfectly? If we can’t curate the results? Walking in the Spirit is absolutely key to making his love visible because you can’t walk in the Spirit without living vulnerable and authentically.

I want to suggest that the key to making his love visible is to choose to be both available and vulnerable to both God and others. It’s both that simple and that challenging. To be vulnerable to God and others is to accept our sin and our brokenness, to accept that we have cracks, and to be willing for him to shine through us. Without this how can we make his love visible? 

And, unable to be separated from our relationship with God, to be vulnerable to others means allowing them to see our humanity, our frailness – for how can they see the love of God in us if they cannot see the cracks it shines through? To be available to others is to get off our own agendas of curated perfection, to live interruptibly, to have our eyes open to the movements of the Spirit in those around us, and to choose to engage with him.

Will you have the courage to make his love visible today by accepting your brokenness and allowing his light to shine through you?

Hesed - More Than a Feeling

There’s a Hebrew word that describes a certain kind of love, that can’t be easily translated into English. The word is hesed. It’s described as a kind of loyal, steadfast, compassionate love. It’s sometimes translated as ‘kindness’, ‘loving-kindness’ or ‘mercy’.

One of the more well-known stories in the Bible that captures the essence of hesed is the story of Ruth. This story is one of loss, change, alienation, hard work, risk-taking and trusting in God’s provision. When you next read the book of Ruth, look out for hesed. You may see it translated as ‘kindness’ in your Bible, but regardless of the word used you may be able to spot it in the action. You can see it in the way Ruth shows loyalty and support to her mother-in-law following the death of both their husbands. You see it in the unexpected level of compassion and kindness shown by Boaz towards Ruth when she begins working in his harvest field. And you see it in Ruth’s decisions about marriage and her future, choosing a path that will provide security and comfort not only for herself, but for her mother-in-law as well.

Image by Dru Maasepp @drumaaseppphotographer

In the story of Ruth we have a first glimpse, a small taste, into the kind of compassionate love that will be shown to all of us by one of Ruth’s descendants. Jesus’ sacrificial love for us is hesed in its fullest form: steadfast, merciful, compassionate, kind.

We too can practise this kind of love in our own lives. How? By looking to the needs of others and responding with love in action. Hesed is not a trivial thing. Hesed is more than an A-frame hug and a high-pitched “love youuuu!”. It’s more than a heart emoji. It’s more than an Instagram post praising someone’s charm. While those expressions aren’t wrong, they are not the full picture of what hesed love looks like. When we show generosity to someone without expecting anything in return; that is hesed. When we extend grace and mercy to someone no matter how much they have hurt us; that is hesed. When we make a sacrifice to see someone else thrive; that is hesed.

Hesed love is not something you feel; it’s something you do. This is freeing: we can practise hesed regardless of our mood. But it may be countercultural too. In a culture where ‘follow your heart’ can be interpreted as ‘go with your feelings’, it may come across as odd to show love to someone even when you’re not ‘feeling it’. And showing generosity and compassion to people who may not ever reciprocate it, or even say thank you? How absurd! But this is the beautiful absurdity of God’s love for us isn’t it; that He loves us regardless of what we can offer Him back.

So how can you practise hesed this week? How can you live out this love with skin on? It may not be easy. But it’s what God is like, and we want to reflect that. Because remember, showing hesed isn’t just about people seeing how loving we can be. In showing hesed to others, we are making God’s love visible too.