Archive for the ‘God’ Category

Have you ever felt like a mouse running round on one of those wheels, an endless repetitive cycle, round and round and round…

 

Once there was a little mouse. He was living a seemingly happy mousey life in a  mouse home with fresh food and water every day and a clean bed of straw to lie on. Best of all, he had a big wheel that he could run round and round and round in. He could control the direction and how fast or slow it went. It never did anything unexpected and never went anywhere but round. His home was perched high on an old window ledge and he often spent his days running around in his wheel, gazing out at the beautiful fields beyond. “What are they like I wonder” he said to no-one in particular. His kind master had told him he wouldn’t be staying in this home for long; he had something much bigger and much better in store for this little mouse. As for the wheel, well the master hadn’t put it there; it had been there all along. Every now and again his master would put something new in the cage or scoop him out to hold him but the little mouse didn’t want anything to do with that. All he wanted was what he knew was safe and what he could control. And so he ran round and round and round.

As the days wore into weeks and the weeks into months he thought more and more about the lovely fields. “There must be more than this old house”. But no, how could an old mouse like him live out there and what would he do to survive? He wasn’t too sure about his master’s plan either. What if he didn’t like it, what if it was scary, what if, what if, what if? And what would he do without his wheel? At least he could control his wheel. Out there, well who knew what would become of him? He became restless, irritable and discontent knowing that somehow he was made for more than this and yet he didn’t know what that something was. “I don’t think this home is the best thing for me” said the mouse one day “and I’m not too sure I can trust my master. I must escape and go and find those fields”.

With this exciting plan in mind the little mouse waits for the next time the door to his home is opened and he darts out. How big everything is, how bright, how exciting!  Surely he will find what he’s looking for out here. He ran and ran and ran until he found himself facing a huge door. So excited was the little mouse that he didn’t pause to wonder what was beyond and so under the door he squeezed. He ran some more until he realised he was very tired and very hungry. The light was fading and he was alone. Suddenly the little mouse didn’t feel so brave and wasn’t sure he’d made the right decision. Seeing a small light glinting nearby he ran over only to find himself at another door and tantalising smells filled his little twitching nose. In anticipation of what he might find he crawls under the door and goes off searching of its source. A pantry!  A beautiful, big, food filled pantry with everything a bored, frustrated and discontent little mouse could want. He starts to eat and eat and eat. His little belly gets fatter and he feels good. Surely this is the way a little mouse should live! He has all the food he wants and he has found a little hole in the wall that he can hide in to sleep.

Days wore into weeks and the weeks into months and the little mouse started to miss the comforting voice of his master. He missed his warm bed and not having to search for food and most of all he missed his wheel; his stable, predictable wheel. One day while scampering about in the pantry the most delightful scent fills his little pink nose. With his whiskers trembling in excitement of what he might find he follows the almost palpable smell. And there it is; a big piece of cheese! As he moves closer he realises another mouse has found the cheese first and yet something isn’t right. This other mouse is very still. In timid darts he makes his way to the other mouse only to discover why it is so still. “Oh this is bad” he said in a squeaky frightened voice “this is very bad”. He knew he could no longer return to the pantry; it was not a safe place for him anymore. For days he hid in his hole wishing his master would rescue him until finally the gnawing pains in his belly forced him to tentatively peek his head out. He knew he needed food. Maybe there was another pantry or maybe something even better. “That’s it” he thought “I just need to explore some more, take control of my own destiny”. He darted out of his hole and scurried across the floor towards and then under the door. For only the second time in his life he found himself outside. But it was noisy and bright and the little mouse felt oh so timid. “I wish my master were here to help me” he thought wistfully. A faint smell drifted by, a faint but very, very good smell! Once again following his nose he came upon a mountain of food. Nothing was wrapped, nothing in containers; it was as if it were made just for him. And so he began to eat the decaying scraps. It didn’t quite taste as good as it smelt but what choice did he have? He made a small home under the scraps, it was damp and smelly but it would do. His nights were cold and his days spent avoiding all the new dangers he was encountering. “This isn’t nearly as fun as I thought it would be” said the little mouse slowly. “I want to go home. Maybe my master can be trusted after all”. He didn’t know how to get there and was too proud to ask for help and days wore into weeks and the weeks into months.

One day he found a great treasure, a scrap of food barely a day old! It was too heavy to move but he desperately wanted it and so sat there on the top of the compost heap eating as fast as his little teeth would allow. So busy was the little mouse, he failed to realise he was being stalked. Out of nowhere a huge shadow loomed over him and as the mouse looked up all he could see was the grinning face of a cat! A gigantic paw with long, sharp claws swiped at him, opening large gashes on his back. He squealed in terror and began to run as fast as his little legs could carry him. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been running or where he even was but exhausted, he had to stop. Resigning himself to fate he lay down, closed his eyes and curled his tail around his body.

“Hey there little fella, this isn’t a safe place for you” boomed a voice. The mouse’s eyes sprung open and he found himself staring into the kind face of his master! Could it be that his master had found him? And would he take him home knowing he might run away again?  To his astonishment the rough but gentle hands of his master lifted him from the ground and placed him in a warm pouch. Not knowing what was to become of him all he could do was sleep, he was so tired. The mouse woke not long after when he was lifted out of the pouch and into his old home. There was a little water bowl, a very inviting pile of straw and fresh food. And most exciting of all, his big white wheel stood in the centre of his home. “Don’t worry little fella” said his rescuer “it won’t be long ‘til you have your strength back and are ready to face the adventure I have in store for you”. The mouse still wasn’t so sure about that but he was too tired to think much about it and while his master tended his wounds the little mouse drifted off to sleep.

Days later he was strong again and running round and round and round on his wheel. He was back in control! Sometimes his master would try to talk to him but he was so busy concentrating on running in his wheel all he heard was noise. And again his master would put new things in his home or scoop him out to show the little mouse what he had in store for him, however all the little mouse wanted was his wheel. Days wore into weeks and the weeks into months and once again the little mouse began to feel restless, irritable and discontent. He knew outside was unsafe but he wasn’t entirely happy where he was either. “At least I’m in control” he thought running even faster on his wheel. One day his master sat down next to his little home and scoped him out. Cradling him gently in his hands he said “Come now little one, it’s time to move to a new phase of this grand adventure? Don’t worry, I’ll still be looking after you, you can trust me”. The little mouse trembled. He wasn’t so sure about this. How could this man, kind as he’s been, know what’s best for a little mouse? “I can’t trust him” he thought. The little mouse leapt off the man’s hand, back into his home and onto his wheel. “This is a safe place, this is what I know and trust” he said to himself. His master looked down sadly at the mouse. “I won’t force you little one” he said “but if only you’d trust me. The plans I have for you are so much better than your wheel”. But the little mouse didn’t hear. He was too busy concentrating on controlling his wheel. And he ran round and round and round….

Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track.

Jeremiah 29:11 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 hope and a future.

Psalm 139:1-18  You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. How precious to me are your thoughts,God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand—when I awake, I am still with you.

 

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Tonight I felt powerless, completely unable to help someone I love. There was not one thing I could do and I felt out of control. I don’t like to feel out of control, especially when I’ve spent so long being the boss of me (mind you, that has been a very unsuccessful venture). And then the gentle prompting of the Holy Spirit broke through my distress and reminded me I am not powerless, at least not spiritually. What better time than now, to practice what I’ve been learning about handing over to God, the one who has all power. Within half an hour a dozen people were praying for this person and while I still don’t know what is happening and am waiting to hear, I feel a peace that is not of this world. Philippians 4:6-7 says Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. It’s a peace that can’t be explained, it’s beyond our human understanding because it comes from a supernatural God.

I can know bible verses like this and quote them from dawn to dusk but they will remain words on paper, memory verses, unless I believe them and allow the Spirit of God to transform them into to a dynamic awareness of truth. My pastor said in a message a while back that we can listen without hearing. It’s like that conversation your having with someone where you can hear them talking but your mind is elsewhere so you don’t really know what they’re saying. It’s just white noise – listening without hearing. I have often done that with God, whether in prayer or in reading scripture. But I’m learning to listen and when I do, when I invite the Holy Spirit to help me understand the truth of these verses…his voice, while not audible for me, is loud and clear!

All of us at inevitably, whether often or infrequently are faced with challenges, crisis’s or stressors. We easily categorise the gravity of that concern because we compare it with what others are going through, because we’ve grown up believing we shouldn’t burden people with our worries and instead should “harden up” or because we think we can deal with it on our own. And when we do that, it can so subtly influence what we take to God. We think he won’t be interested, or he’s sick of our lamenting or that he will only help us if we first help ourselves. Bill McKibben wrote in Harper’s magazine that three out of every four Americans believe that the bible says “God helps those who help themselves”. Even the US press secretary in a follow up to an Obama speech quoted this phrase stating he believed it to be from the bible.

Over the last 6 months I have faced some difficulties and it has been the greatest struggle to talk to God about this for, I see now, all of the above reasons. And in the few times of heartfelt prayer I’ve reverted to being more religious than relational. I’m not entirely sure why, maybe I thought that by appeasing God he would be more likely to listen to me. I’ve spent much of my Christian life striving to be a good little Christian and please God in both the wrong way and for the wrong reasons. It’s a hard pattern to break and the enemy knows that; he’s more than eager to whisper his lies that I so easily believe, so often. But my saviour is persistent, relentless and I’m becoming more accustomed to his voice. There have been moments where I’ve sensed God saying “just share your heart with me” and it’s now time to do what he asks and put ego and self-pity aside. Why? Because his word tells me to. 1 Peter 5:6-7 says “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you”. Taking into consideration the Greek text it could be interpreted literally as:

Stop being self-reliant and bring yourself under God’s supreme and prevailing hand and in His time he will lift you up. Throw all your worries, cares and anxieties on him because your worry is his interest.

And what does that mean? Firstly it means that getting rid of that big ego that says “I can do it on my own” and realise that I can I NOT! Jeremiah 17:5 says that cursed is the self-reliance person. God alone has all the power and wisdom to fix us, help us, heal us, restore us, guide us and so on. Secondly, I need to humbly surrender my best laid plans to my God and completely trust Him (Proverbs 3:5) despite what I think and against all odds because he really does know best; he’s already in tomorrow and he can bring good out of yesterday! Thirdly, I need to stop categorising my worries into levels of importance thinking that he doesn’t want to know them all, or that some are just too big for him and instead give them ALL to him. Verbs for cast include throw, hurl, pitch, lob and in relation to this verse none of those implies tiptoeing up to the Father and timidly whispering our concerns. Consider the anguished cries in some of the Psalms (6, 22 and 88 for a start) and see how the psalmist poured out his every emotion, fear and turmoil. He didn’t hold back and according to 1 Peter 5:7 nor should we. Finally I need to believe, even if I don’t understand it, that God is a relational Father who deeply and passionately cares about me. Anyone who feels that way about another is concerned for their concerns and God is no different. It’s time for some of us to stop believing the lies (my concern is too small, my problem is too big, God doesn’t want to hear that, it’s not that important, he’s too busy, other people’s problems are of more concern, why would he listen to me, I can take care of myself, I don’t want to give him control, he’s not going to listen – the list is endless) and stand on the truth; two simple verses of truth!

Why is it so hard to be still, to just stop and breathe in the fragrance of being alive? We have a thirst for activity whether we give an illusion of busyness or are in fact dictated to by the seemingly endless entries on our calendar. And this is not just a 21 century phenomenon – man’s quest for more; more entertainment, more toys, more fun, more possessions, greater self-fulfilment and increased recognition has existed for millennia. Who’d have thought I would hear quite such profound words as those uttered by Captain Von Trapp in the musical the sound of music. “Activity suggests a life filled with purpose”. For a moment I completely forgot what I was watching (and ceased throwing my anti-Baroness vibes at the TV) and considered what I had just heard. Isn’t that just so true for many of us today whether consciously or subconsciously?

We complain of there not being enough hours in the day or express the desire to just stop and rest and yet the very next moment sees us driving out to yet another dinner party or going to another movie that we may have already seen or catching up with a friend for another coffee. There is nothing overtly wrong with these things in balance but so often they consume our lives. In activity we think we find meaning. If I told you to go and sit in the park for an hour without your MP3, without a book, without a friend; just you and nature what would your response be? Perhaps, “what is the point”? Maybe, “what a waste of time”? Or even “but I’ll get nothing out of it”. If we simply live then die and there is nothing at all outside of that then indeed we would be wasting precious minutes. We would want to be remembered as someone who lived a full life, busy, prosperous and well loved. As far as the world is concerned human existence is all about us from the moment we are born until our final breath. But if our epitaph reads “He/she had a really busy life, that’s all…” does that mean we discovered meaning and found true contentment outside of possessions and friends?

I think the need to be busy arises from 3 views:

  1. To displace the thought that we are nothing more than a cosmic accident.
  2. To fulfil the need to be loved and wanted.
  3. The desire to make a difference in a world that for all intents and purposes makes no sense.

I don’t believe I am a cosmic accident and I know that there is someone who loves me with a love that cannot be matched on earth. And I believe I can, with His guidance and strength make a difference in this world that has God value that lasts rather than temporary earthly value. I have known this my whole life but have never really grasped it. Knowledge is one thing accepting its truth is another. And that is where I find myself today. The world is constantly telling me that I need to find my meaning in people and in tangible things; God is telling me that if I look to Jesus I will find out exactly who I am and as I begin to comprehend this truth I think my need to live a life of purposeless activity will be replaced by a dynamic life of glorious living, just as God promises (Ephesians 1:11).

NOTE: If you’re grappling with the meaning of life, the purpose of our existence, then can I suggest starting with a book called “The purpose-driven life” by Rick Warren.

I have been thinking a lot about prayer lately, probably because I’m finding it challenging. It’s not that I don’t want to pray, more that I’m finding it hard to pray. Prayer is one of those things that we so easily complicate and yet it really shouldn’t be that way, after all prayer is simply conversation with God. As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs one of the biggest struggles I’ve had in my Christian walk has been how I made my faith a religious act rather than a personal relationship and that has affected all aspects of my walk with God, including prayer. I got to a point where I felt that unless I structured my prayer God wasn’t interested. It became nothing more than an obligatory ritual. What lies of the enemy I believed! Lately, I suppose because of circumstances in my life that have led to unreasonable self condemnation, I have once again taken on non-biblical expectations that I think God has of me and of my prayer life. Because I can never meet those expectations, I give up altogether.  

Two nights ago I was sitting on my front porch and I had the strongest awareness of God’s presence. Though I couldn’t hear Him audibly I sensed Him saying “I just want you to talk to me and I want you to listen because I have things I want to tell you”. I sat there thinking about it and realised it was as simple as that. I thought about some of the close relationships I have and how I interact with those friends. There is no superficiality, no rituals, no pretence, and no awkward silence; instead there is meaningful and intimate two way conversation and times of quiet reflection. Why shouldn’t it be that way with God? He created us not because he was bored or lonely but for relationship with him. More astounding than that he had planned each of our lives before he had even created the world. “Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love…” (Ephesians 1:4).

If he is our Father and loves us more than we can imagine any earthly father could love their child then surely he wants meaningful conversation rather than lip-service. Have you ever heard a child pray? They pray with an unpretentious honesty that as adults we often lose. Their humility and complete trust in Jesus is sometimes astounding and it is as if they are indeed having a conversation with their dad. In fact it is something Jesus wants in all of us (Matthew 18:2-5). I want to start having that type of conversation with my heavenly dad once again whenever, however and wherever and just as my catch up’s with a close friend differ from day to day – text messages, lunch, a phone call or an email, deep conversation or crying on their shoulder – I need to remember that so to can my prayer. After all Jesus himself prayed in many ways both on his own and amongst the crowds. He prayed all kinds of prayers; prayers of praise to the Father (Matthew 6:9), prayers of thanksgiving and gratitute (Matt 6:9-13, Luke 10:21, John 6:11; 11:41-42), petitioning prayers and prayers spoken in anguish (Matthew 26:39-42; 27:46). Prayer should be conversation not a ritual; maybe I need to have another cup of tea with Jesus!

My Dad once wanted to buy me a tee-shirt that said “whatever” on the front because at the time my response to anything generally consisted of the word whatever. It was an indifferent view on life. However recently I’ve learned of a different way of looking at the word whatever. Last night I heard a guy share that he says two prayers each day. The morning one is “whatever” and the evening one is “amen”. I love that! How simple and yet profound. Of course our time with the Lord can and should consist of more than two words and it doesn’t just have to be first thing in the morning and last thing at night but really these two simple words are almost the underpinnings of how we ought to consider prayer.

When Jesus was teaching a large crowd how to pray (Matthew 6: 9-13) he petitioned that the Father’s will be done; in a sense, “whatever”. And this was not an apathetic “whatever” but a surrendering “whatever”. What a wonderful way to start the day. I know I often wake up and immediately begin worrying about all that has to be done, things I have to deal with tomorrow or the week after, challenges I’m facing, how I’m going to get through situations and so on. How much easier would it be if I just said “Whatever Lord”, in every aspect of my life today, I chose to surrender my will and my control to you and I trust you. It is not a blasé surrender whereby we would expect God to do everything, we are still participators in life; it is one that chooses to allow God to be in control, one that recognises we can do anything, get through anything and face anything when we relinquish our will to God.

The Hebrew word amén when used by Jesus translates to what we read in our English versions as “truly” or “verily”. It emphasises with unwavering truth the importance of what is going to be said. When used in the epistles it comes at the end of a sentence and translates into “so let it be”. So if we are saying “amen” at the end of our day we acknowledge that what has been has been. Again this is not passive detachment to the good and bad of our day. Instead it recognises what has been, considers where we went wrong – without over analysing, without morbid dwelling on regret and without fear about tomorrow – and once again allows us to submit ourselves to God, believe in his promises and leave it at that – just amen – so let it be.

So it ends­, another year gone by far too quick and another one beginning. How can it be 2012 already when it only seems like yesterday that many were all madly buying torches and stocking up on canned food for the chaos that was expected at the turn of the century! And yet here we are. Between the 27th to New Years Eve people often find themselves reflecting on the past twelve months and considering the next 365 days. Even for those that don’t care much for New Year’s resolutions reflecting and considering are almost unavoidable. I used to make New Year’s resolutions but not anymore. I find they somehow inevitably set me up for a fall. Somehow I think that for many of us we have this idea that if we make New Year’s resolutions, that on the first day of the New Year some kind of phenomena occurs that enables us to bring about the changes we need in order to feel happy, be more successful or give up bad habits. We wake up the next day and find that nothing has changed, we don’t feel any different and a few weeks or a few months down the track we’re in exactly the same place. Disillusioned we carry on as if it were just another day until suddenly it’s Christmas all over again.

Resolutions imply change or the betterment of something. So how can I as a Christian woman, flawed as I am and with many ambitions, leave 2011 behind me without regret or guilt and begin a new year with renewed hope and confidence that the choices I make will result in the change I desire? The only answers I have ever found to my seemingly endless questions that actually result in a positive outcome are from the bible. So what does scripture say about the reflecting on the past and considering the future? I could list numerous verses that help me understand how to do this but the one that sums it up for me is one I’ve mediated on a lot over the last month. “Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in” (Hebrews 12:2). If I’m not looking to Jesus then I’m looking elsewhere and that’s usually back to the past or forward to the future. On top of that it’s beyond simple and grateful reflection and is usually accompanied with remorse and worry.  Instead if I look to Jesus and study who he is, what he said and how he lived his life, coping with all the trials he faced, three things are clear. Firstly, as his child, as someone who has given my life to him I can know with one hundred per cent assurance that I am forgiven. I no longer stand condemned for my sin. In John 3:18 Jesus tells us that he was sent not to accuse us but to put us right with God and all we have to do is believe in him (John 1:12). If I am regreting the past then I am living in condemnation and that is contrary to what Jesus has promised. The bible clearly states “… there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…” (Romans 8:1).

Secondly he trusted his Father, who is our Father, God (Matthew 6:10, Luke 22:42). Jesus put the Kingdom and will of God above everything else and as a result was able to carry on, even when he knew the great suffering he would face. In fact prior to his death he was in such great distress he sweat drops of blood but was still able to surrender his will to the Father. He also spoke about not worrying; he was speaking as someone who knew what it was like to live in this troubled world and yet had experienced the provision and care of God (Matthew 6:33-34).

Thirdly Jesus gave us the first of the two greatest commandments of all. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). The word love used here is the Greek agapáō which means that a follower of Christ chooses to embrace the will of God with the power and strength he provides. It is in a sense total surrender. If I love God with all my heart, soul and mind, with everything in me then my life, decisions, plans, hopes and dreams (resolutions) should reflect that. Whatever decisions I need to make, whatever challenges I might face should be done with a heart of surrender to my heavenly Father.

Of course we can gratefully reflect on the past and thoughtfully consider the future but more than that, we can confidently face the New Year. We can go into it without regret, without making half hearted resolutions and by handing our worry over to him (even if that’s a daily thing). As long as we’re looking to Jesus we can face tomorrow. In doing this, every day can be a new years day!