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!