Tuesday, 7 February 2012

What does it look like?

Have you ever seen the film 'Catch me if you can'? There's a wonderful part in it where it's explained that the people trained to look for counterfeit money aren't trained by being shown example after example of what's wrong - they're trained to know what a true note looks like by studying the genuine article. Now I'm not even going to try pretending I'm the first person to bring this analogy to us and God - but it works non the less. We're never going to find out what God says by looking at ourselves - we have to look to Him. 

This is something my church has been recently challenged to do - through various prophetic pictures and bible verses we have been reminded that we should be seeking God wholeheartedly and not have our focus elsewhere. Coincidentally (if you believe in such a thing when God is involved) this is also the focus of our ladies group this term - we're looking at Mary and Martha and spending quality time with God.

Which leads me to the title of this blog - what does it look like? What is seeking God wholeheartedly? What does spending time with God look like, feel like? How can we create space where we listen to God and don't do all the talking?

I'm not going to pretend I have all the answers to this, but I would like to share something that I've been taught recently.

We had a ladies retreat day not so long ago, a fabulous day where we spent time discussing some issues in the morning, followed by some free time to spend with God in the afternoon. Lots of activities were on offer, but I ended up going to one table and staying there until it was time for cake.

The table I stuck with was a craft table, full of all sorts of beautiful things - patterned paper, brads, stamps - the works. So I sat there, in a mini heaven and crafted my heart out. I ended up crafting something around a bible verse that I'd been given that morning and it was amazing. Not the end product, that was good, but the act itself was better. I was spending time with God, quiet in His presence, open to what He was saying and loving every second of it.

You see, I love crafty things, I have a box full of the stuff and home and I never have the time to use it. Because I'm also a useful person, a helpful person, a person that gets annoyed by things and ends up volunteering to do stuff so they won't annoy her any longer. I've ended up prioritising 'doing' work, 'doing church' and even, although I hate to admit it, 'doing' God. And in doing all that - I think I've kicked out one of the things God has created me to be.

Not everyone is designed the same way, I know not everyone would relish the idea of spending time cutting and sticking bits of paper together. But I think everyone has something that makes them tick, somewhere they feel free and some way they can have space to be and listen to God. It could be cycling, taking a bath, writing music, exploring the countryside, reading, gardening, baking - whatever it is, I'd like to challenge you not to push that part to the sidelines of your life. It might not be something you initially label as 'useful' but it could end up being what spending time with God looks like for you.

P.S. This post is dedicated to a wonderful person who's favourite question is 'What does it look like?' They'll know who it is as they've told me this several times in the last few weeks!

Your comments and thoughts would be gratefully received :)

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Patience and Perspective

So I love my nephew, love him to bits really, it was no accident that I moved back to my home town two weeks after he was born. I love spending time with him, love that since he's been learning to talk my name has evolved from Dayanna to a still not quite there Daunty Hannah. There's just one thing I struggle with, and that's his wonderful two year old strategy of whining when something isn't just quite happening quickly enough.

Take this morning. He was sat in his highchair, face still covered in the milk from his bran flakes (which he ate with approving 'mmmmms' that could be heard throughout the house) and was ready for his toast. Almost immediately his face scrunched up and his voice went all high (you've heard two year olds, you know what I mean) and he says 'Mummy, I want toast'. Now at this point the toast was already in the toaster, and from my perspective he was clearly not going to have long to wait. And that's when just a hint of my frustration seeped in. You see, he has a great mum. Sure, she's not perfect, but she's great at providing for him, and as far as I know, she's never denied him toast when it has been in her capability to provide it. He had no reason to doubt her when she said the toast was on it's way, it's just that at that moment in time the toast wasn't ready and unless he wanted that weird thing between bread and toast, he would have to wait.

Then it struck me: how often am I like that with God?

My God has never let me down, never given me cause to doubt His provision and yet I still get so impatient. I still demand to know why things aren't how I would have them right here, right now. I can see things that could happen, that possibly should and will happen and I get so frustrated that they're not happening now

But what if all I'd get now was a bit of broast - not bread, not toast, nothing really tasty or good at all? 

I guess it all depends on perspective. When my focus is all on me, then all I can see is how I would fix things, how I think things should be and I either rush right in to try to change things or have a good old moan about them. Neither strategy gets me very far, just like my dear nephew's whining doesn't actually help the toast cook any quicker. 

But it all changes when my perspective is right, when my focus is on God. When I remember the faithfulness of God, the way I see my current situation shifts - today's troubles don't seem so insurmountable after all - not for the God that is bigger than everything else I know. When I'm looking at Him like that, I realise that actually, the wait for my metaphorical toast probably won't be all that long after all.

I'm not saying it's wrong to yearn for things to change, or to question the way things are - you only have to look at the Psalms for that. It's what you do with the yearning that matters. A wise friend reminded me a few weeks ago that it's ok to have a grump at the way things are - so long as you're having a grump towards God instead of away from God. Psalm 42 (v 4-5) is the perfect example of this:

  My heart is breaking
   as I remember how it used to be: 
   I walked among the crowds of worshippers
      leading a great procession to the house of God, 
   singing for joy and giving thanks 
      amid the sound of a great celebration!
 Why am I discouraged? 
      Why is my heart so sad? 
   I will put my hope in God! 
      I will praise him again— 
      my Saviour and my God!

So it's ok to take our frustrations to God, but when we do that, and focus on Him, it can change from whining to hope, and that's pretty amazing. I may not be able to see all that He has planned for me yet, but I know that it's good, that it gives me a future and a hope and that if I take the time to look for Him, I will find Him (Jeremiah 29:11-13, paraphrased). And when I find Him, frustration is replaced by peace; things may not be right, but I'll be in the right place to pray about it and in the right mindset to do something about it if I'm called to.

I don't know about you, but I don't want to have the spiritual perspective of a two year old, I'd rather have eyes that can see the bigger picture and a heart that's open to playing whatever role in it that God has for me.

Having said all that, when it was my turn to use the toaster I popped it up halfway through just to see if it was done early - clearly there's a way to go before my life reflects this revelation! But hey, even in that there's hope:

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.
Philippians 1:6 NLT
He's got his work cut out, but thankfully He's more than big enough to deal with it!

Sunday, 20 November 2011

The difference between going and being called

How do we know when to just go and when to wait on God to be called?

One option seems to result in a church full of people rushing around doing everything and somehow losing time for God in the process, and the other could result in an apathetic church with a really convenient excuse not to do things. Except for Jesus. Because if Jesus calls us then things will happen, but they'll happen in God's time and in God's way. Through His power and grace we wouldn't have a church where some people are running around doing everything, just because they're able to do them, while others sit at the sidelines because there's nothing left to do. We would have a church where each member is focused on God first, serving in the ways God has appointed for them, full of the power and energy to do just that.

Idealistic? Maybe. Or is it what we're called to, if only we would stay still long enough to hear it?

Let me expand...

For starters, this blog isn't meant to be a way of pointing a finger at the way things are happening at my church (or any other church I've been a member of) because really, I think it's a common problem. It's all too easy to fall into the habit of 'if you want something done, ask a busy person'. It happens in all walks of life, and I guess my hope is that one day the church will be the exception.

There are several things as Christians that we know we're called to do - we're called into relationship with God and we have also been commissioned to spread the gospel. I could be wrong, but I don't think there are that many Christians I know who would dispute that. The difficulty is in how we live that out, what that looks like on a practical, day to day basis.

I would like to suggest that we're called into relationship first and foremost. When asked what the most important commandment is, Jesus replies, 
"'You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: 'Love your neighbour as yourself.'"
So both aspects are there, but the first is to love God, then from that you love your neighbour - but our starting point is our relationship with God.

We also see that modelled in Jesus' life. There are numerous references to Jesus withdrawing to spend time with God, and He didn't even start His ministry until He was filled with the Holy Spirit. We can then see Him being guided by the Spirit throughout His ministry, into meetings with individuals whose hearts are prepared for Him at just the right time. (I do realise this is a whole bible study in and of itself, so I can't really expand on this much further right now!).

The sermon at my church this morning included the passage in Matthew where Peter walks on water. Something new struck me about it today. At first glance, it could be seen as supporting the 'just get on and do it' argument, but what I really love is this:
"Lord, if it's really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water." "Yes, come," Jesus said. (Matthew 14:28-29)
Peter saw an opportunity, an opportunity that probably looked great, that looked as though it was what Jesus would want him to do, but he still waited for Jesus to call him. He didn't wait passively though, he actively sought out Jesus' will for him - thankfully not by jumping in feet first, but by simply asking Jesus.

Could this be a picture of what God wants for us? To be active about looking for opportunities to step out, while having a close enough relationship with Jesus to always be seeking His opinion on whether it's what He wants for us.

And if it is, then why do we try and do it differently? Why do we put action over and above spending time with God, stepping out into things and then expecting God to follow us, instead of developing our relationship with Him and then asking what he has in store for us?

I guess what it comes down to for me is that I'm scared. Scared of what would happen if I actually laid down all the things I do, and probably more scared of what God might give me instead. Because pottering on in my own little way is a lot safer, I'm keeping myself busy, I'm serving the church, I'm even fairly ok at having daily God times. But what I'm not great at doing is asking God what He has in store for me, who He sees me becoming, what He wants me to be spending my time doing. It's far easier to have my focus on me and my tasks than it is to focus on Him.

Because who knows what He has in store for me if I'd just let Him share it with me?

I took a 'Spiritual Gifts' questionnaire a while back, and the results indicated that I have a strong leaning towards the gift of faith. I have to admit it came as quite a surprise to me, largely because I hadn't really considered faith being a gift before. Now I'm a little more aware of it, I can see it, because there are just some times where I can look at what seems to be impossible and know that God can do it. Which is great, except when the thing I'm looking at is me. Because you see, believing that God can do anything, means also believing that He can do anything with me - and that's scary!

Well... at least it is scary until I look at God. Because the God I know promises:
"So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the LORD your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you." (Deuteronomy 31:6)
"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future." (Jeremiah 29:11)
And it's not just that, He also tells me not to worry about anything but instead pray to Him, that if I come to Him is yoke is easy and His burden is light, that He will direct my paths. He's also the huge God who created the universe, but also cared enough about me to make a way for me to have a relationship with Him because He knew I wouldn't get there by myself.

And suddenly it's not so scary any more.

In fact, you could argue that it's less scary doing things with God than trying to do good things without Him.

And the application of all this, I hear you ask - well for me, I think I'll try spending a week talking to God instead of watching TV and then I'll see what happens and where I'm called...