The Secret

Do you want to know a secret?

Do you want to discover how to trade your irritability for peace, your anxiety for trust, your frustration at being constrained to release and freedom? I should imagine that most people would cautiously and maybe somewhat sceptically say, yes to those questions. Do you want to find a way to remain steadfast? A word that is not used so often now, maybe we equate it with steady, and think ‘boring’ – but it is a place of strength, of having an inner peace, security and contentment, regardless of what is happening in your situation and circumstances around you.

I have always loved the verse of scripture which talks about having ‘learned the secret of being content’.

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:12-13

First the writer, the apostle Paul, acknowledges that he has experienced times of plenty and times of need, but he has learned the secret of being content regardless of his external circumstances.

Now a secret is something that is shared through intimacy – you whisper a secret, you need to get close to the person that you are sharing it with, to speak quietly in their ear. They need to be paying attention and listening carefully. A secret is not shouted out for all to hear, it is a shared confidence – and the person receiving that confidence feels privileged, that they have been trusted with that information.

The secret that Paul has learnt is that he is not controlled by external circumstances – they are, after all, beyond our control. He has learnt that God will provide him with all that he needs, with the strength for that day.

It is interesting that he states, firstly, that he has learnt the secret of contentment in times of plenty, of abundance – are you thinking surely that would be easy? I know from my own experience, however, how easy it is when things are going well to start to assume that we have control of the situation. Pride can creep in, and we can start to think we are doing fine in our own strength and then start to neglect our relationship with God.

But how quickly things can change, sometimes almost overnight, this year, more than any, is an example of how fragile life is apart from God.

And then Paul goes on to say that he has learnt the secret of contentment in times of hardship – those times of need when we are struggling to cope with life’s problems and difficulties. For some that is hard to understand, but often the trials of life draw us to God, we cling to him and depend on his every word. And that is part of the answer….

To learn the secret of contentment, we need to make space and take time for our relationship with God. Sometimes we are gifted that space and time, but often we have to stretch ourselves, we have to be creative to make that space and give up that time – but if we are seeking change we need to make room for God to move! Contentment is developed through intimacy with God, it is there that he teaches us what is in our hearts, gently revealing to us what he is refining, what needs bringing to the surface to be dealt with. It is in that intimacy that God whispers to our spirit, reminding us of his promises, of his love and faithfulness. We can treasure those words and hold them close, receiving strength for the day. It is as we learn to trust in him, to release and let go of our control, to give all our life into God’s hands that he begins to release us from those negative emotions that control us! Give to God and he always multiplies back a blessing!

In this season, I am learning the secret of contentment, making space, and taking time to hear God’s whisper to my spirit….do you want to learn to?

Born Free!

It is very true that we are all born with an innate freedom in our spirit, unconstrained, unrestricted, able to express ourselves freely! I remember my eldest son’s third birthday, he had a Batman dressing-up suit and a Batman figure among his presents, of course straight away he had to put the suit on to play. Later on, I took him out to the local park – still dressed as Batman – and I remember him running down a slope to the children’s play area, clutching the toy figure in his hand, his cape flying out behind him and shouting Baaaatmaaan!! He drew a few looks from some of the other families and particularly from older children, but he was completely oblivious, enjoying his new gifts to the full.

Somewhere along the way we become self-conscious, more concerned with what other people think – was it by his fourth or fifth birthday? Later than that I hope…..

Of course, we do need to teach and guide children to be self-aware, to consider the affect of their words and actions on other people, but it is a shame to lose some of the spontaneity and freedom.

There is a child-like simplicity that we should seek to return to when we are born-again, when we acknowledge the Lord as our Saviour, we are free to be ourselves, trusting in the love of our Heavenly Father……Dare I write a verse/poem? Well why not?

Father God I am loved by you,

I am precious in your sight.

All of my quirks and foibles,

made by you, so that’s alright……

This post is part of the Five Minute Friday link up – the prompt for today was ‘Born’

See Possibilities

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Aksah, to me, is an inspirational woman who had the vision, and motivation, to fulfill her potential. Who, you might say?

She appears in only a couple of verses of scripture¹, but her voice is still there, speaking out to us today. She was a child of the wilderness, born during Israel’s exodus from Egypt. Part of the new generation, on the move, travelling towards the promised land. She was also Caleb’s daughter – remember him? One of the men that Moses sent to spy out the land of Canaan who came back with a good report and the faith to believe that God would give them what he had promised. You can imagine the conversations she would have with her father during their travels in the wilderness – Where are we going? Are we there yet? What is our new home going to be like? And Caleb would have filled her head with stories of the richness of the land and the size of the fruit that it produced – a land full of good things!

Now their destination has become a reality, they have arrived, and the division of the land to the different tribes and families has begun. Caleb allocates land in the Negev to his daughter Aksah, she is given an inheritance within the land. In Hebrew, the word Negev means dry and this area of land is referred to as wasteland, dry and rocky. Aksah, however, does not focus on the limitations of what she sees before her, she believes in the promises of God, and sees the possibilities. She has vision and knows that if she is to use her inheritance to its potential, she will need more than what she has been given.

Aksah sees what is needed, and she knows she will be asking for a lot, as access to water in this region is a valuable commodity, but she also knows her father. She knows that her father has her welfare at heart, that she can approach him and ask for a special favour, being sure of his love for her and that her request will be well received.

When she approaches her father, he straight away asks her “What can I do for you?” She doesn’t hesitate but boldly asks for springs of water. Caleb’s response is to give her the upper and lower springs – a double blessing!

#Vision brings the motivation to act, to try something!

On finally arriving in Canaan, and receiving her inheritance, the dry and rocky hill country of the Negev does not look like a land flowing with ‘milk and honey’. Aksah, however, believes in the promises of God, her godly heritage, and visualises what it can be – therefore she has the motivation to do something about it.

#Fear paralyses #Love Mobilises

If you are held back by fear of failure this is the time to come back to God to ask for more, more knowledge of His love, a fresh revelation of how much he loves you and fresh vision for your life.

Are you being released into the open spaces of God’s grace? Are you moving forward into a place of freedom without restriction, with a new perspective of God’s plan for your life? Are you motivated to reach out to God and ask for more to fulfil your calling?

Now may the God of peace: “equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever, Amen.”  Hebrews 13:21

¹Judges 1:12-15

If you enjoy reflecting on God working in and through the lives of familiar or less well known Bible characters, then check out my ‘Books’ page – there is a chapter on the story of Askah, in Snapshots of Service, Chapter 3 – Fulfill Your Potential.

Following the Footsteps

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As I was out walking today, I was reflecting on the painted footprints on the pavement (or sidewalk!).

In our town last year three of the small primary schools (for children age 4-11) closed and they opened one big new purpose-built school, to bring all those pupils and resources together in the one building. So about town right now, every few hundred yards when you come to a turning or a junction, there are painted footprints on the pavements. These are to keep the children on the right path from their old school to the new school building. To make sure they don’t get lost on their journey, they just have to follow the footprints!

And it just reminded me that Jesus leads, and we are to follow after him, follow in his footsteps…..

He leaves footprints, clear signs for us to follow, to make sure that we keep on going on the right path and in the right direction.

This is what the Lord says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” Jeremiah 6:16

Often, we start off on the right path and then we get side-tracked, we take a detour, we take a break and get comfortable or sometimes we even begin to get a little lost. But if we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, listening for his voice, he will gently restore us. He will bring us back to where the good way is, following after him, where his yoke – being joined with him – is easy and his burden is light, the place where we can find rest for our souls.

The Holy Spirit is our guide and he does not bring confusion, but clarity – he is our conscience, and our counsellor.

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” Isaiah 30:21

So, if we are watching and listening carefully, we will see and hear the warning signs that we need to pay attention to –

Are we walking in our own strength? Are we serving with our own motives?

We all remember the story of Martha, a friend of Jesus, living with her brother Lazarus and her younger sister Mary in the village of Bethany¹. She was hospitable and in a generous moment, she had invited Jesus and a crowd of his disciples to their house for a meal. Now she was so busy, trying to make sure all her guests were comfortable, and prepare a meal for everyone. Mary, however, had sat herself down with the guests and was engrossed listening to all the conversation and to Jesus’ teaching.

This is where things started to go wrong – Martha lost her direction and now she was on her own path! Martha wanted to excel as a hostess and she became angry that Mary, her sister, wasn’t doing anything to help. So she came to Jesus, surely, he would see what was going on and insist that Mary helped her with the work?

Jesus, though, had a different perspective and gently told her that she was worried about many things, when she had no need to be, a simple meal would have been enough. In fact, Jesus went on to say, on this occasion Mary had made the right choice and what she had chosen would have lasting eternal value.

The warning signs for Martha, that she was straying off the Lord’s path, were her resentment and irritation with her sister. Whereas she had started out with the desire to serve the Lord, her motives had become self-centred and self-promoting.

Our level of irritability can be an indicator of where we are spiritually – more time spent in the Lord’s presence brings peace, less time brings pressure!

The Lord is gracious and reproves gently.

Our knowledge of Martha does not end there – later we read of an occasion where she leaves her guests to go looking for Jesus and has a private conversation with him². This creates an opportunity for Martha to make a statement of great faith, declaring her belief in the Lord.

Martha should be remembered, for far more than her mistake, as being a woman of great faith!

Thank you, Lord, that you are the restoration man. When we come to you and confess our impatience and our selfish motives, you restore completely. You do not hold our mistakes against us, we are forgiven, and we are able to move on!

Psalm 37:23-24 The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him; though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand.

¹Luke 10:38-42

²John 11:20-27

soaringwithhim.com Recharge Wednesday, marygeisen.com #TellHisStory, link-up.

If you enjoy reflecting on God working in and through the lives of familiar or less well known Bible characters, then check out my ‘Books’ page – There is more on the story of Martha and Mary, in Snapshots of Service, People Watching, Chapter 9 – Service versus Devotion.

Forward!

Everyone wants a forward going horse! One that will move forward, under saddle, with a natural energy and enthusiasm to go places.

Nobody wants a backward horse, that doesn’t want to work, that doesn’t want to do anything other than eat or stand and stare at the world going by.

I have a forward going horse, and when she was a youngster, I often thought her motto was “I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m going fast!” This created a lot of scary moments for me, as I struggled to communicate where we were going and the pace that I wanted to go at, the pace that was safe for the environment that we were in.….

You see that forward going energy and attitude still had to be channelled, to be directed with clear communication, otherwise it had the potential to be harmful to herself and to others. Slowly, with training, our communication improved, and her confidence grew. My horse had to learn, to trust that I would lead her in the right direction, that she could listen to me and I would keep her safe. I would not ask her to do anything, that was too difficult, that she could not do. And very importantly, for her well-being, that there was reward in listening and responding to my commands.

There is so much that we can learn from this analogy for our relationship with the Lord.

We run to Him, and then we learn to walk with Him!

To walk with perception, with understanding.

To walk with purpose, knowing where we are going.

To walk at the right pace, not running ahead with our own motives and in our own strength or fearfully, resisting and trailing behind.

There is so much more that I could say, but for today time is up, so I have to stop – and that is also important to know when to rest…..

This post is part of the Five Minute Friday link up, where you write for five minutes on the word prompt, today it is ‘forward’. https://fiveminutefriday.com/linkup/

Bird song and other Inspiration

Use what talents you possess;

the woods would be very silent

if no birds sang there

except those that sang best.

Henry Van Dyke.

There is so much bird song at the moment – I wake early every morning and listen to a unique choir, singing a new endless arrangement. They do not think about it, they are not inhibited, they do not hold back worrying about what other birds might think – it is the season for singing and so they sing! Their individual sounds ring out, sometimes discordant and sometimes creating a harmonious tune. To me, the beauty is in the unrestrained freedom, to make their own unique sound, to be themselves and not try to imitate anyone else. The season of singing, of bird song, is springtime – the hardships of winter are over, and the sun is appearing from behind the clouds. It is the season of new growth!

So I take inspiration from the quote and from the sound of the birds. I am embracing a new season, with more time and some space to tentatively try something new. I have always loved reading, studying scripture, writing my thoughts in a journal, with scribbles and notes everywhere! But it is only more recently that I have started ‘writing’ and trying to share in a way that is accessible to everyone.

In faith I am depositing my love for God’s word, in written form, in ‘the bank’ to see if it gains any interest.

I have taken that analogy from the story that Jesus tells, of a master and his relationship with his three servants. He entrusts them with his wealth, giving five bags, two bags and then one bag of gold to his servants, according to their ability. He then goes away and after a long time returns to see what has happened to his investment. The servant with five bags has managed to gain five more, also the servant with three bags has gained three more and both are commended by their master – what good servants. They had been faithful and productive; they had put to good use what they had been given. But the servant with the one bag of gold had buried it in the ground, he had just hidden it away. When questioned by his master, his explanation was, he knew his master was a hard man and so he was afraid to try and use what he had been given. He is condemned by his master, for his laziness, and told that at the very least he should have deposited the money in a bank where it could have gained interest.

What is so interesting to me about this story is that there is one master – but he is perceived by his servants in two completely different ways. Two of the servants are confident to try and put to good use what they have been given, they are not afraid of their master. But the servant who buried his gift in the ground, is ruled by fear!

Fear paralyses, love mobilises!

Fear paralyses us, for when we become fearful, we are afraid of making a mistake, afraid of getting it wrong and so afraid of messing up. When we become controlled by fear our default button is to do precisely nothing!

But we have been released from fear, we are dearly loved by God. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” 1 John 4:18

Love mobilises us, to try, to step out in faith, to even do something different that we have never done before and see where it takes us!

You see the master did not accept the servant’s excuse of being afraid, he challenged him about his lack of motivation. He should have done something, rather than just hiding his gift, he should at least have placed it in a bank, where it might have gained interest….

So we return to where we began –

Inspiration should gives us the motivation to try!

Each with our own unique gift – we are not responsible for the multiplication, for the result. Our responsibility is to enjoy using what we have been given, to the best of our ability, and to leave the rest to our Master. What a great place to be!

Strong, not Tough

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I don’t know about you, but for me it is a constant conflict of how to be strong and yet not become tough.

Strength is that deep unshakeable confidence in who you are and your ability to endure – to be consistent and true to yourself – through hardships and difficulties. I am not talking about physical strength, I am reflecting on spiritual – some might say mental – strength.

I want to be strong – not to be so easily influenced by outer circumstances, in particular by other people’s moods, by their anger or harsh words.

I don’t want to be tough – hard hearted and unfeeling, with no compassion or empathy for others. I want to be able to “rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.”

I want my heart to be protected from being hurt by others but I don’t want a tough hard heart that doesn’t let any ‘feelings’ penetrate. I need a filter!

I need the filter of God’s love – not allowing other people’s negativity to penetrate and embed into my heart and mind – discarding and throwing away the dross.

I need the filter of God’s word – which reveals to me his abundant, unfailing love and which will protect and keep my heart soft.

Do you know you can only really think about one thing at a time?

(I know we often multi-task and do more than one thing at a time, but conscious distinct thought, engaging with our emotions, is only possible one thought at a time.)

We are encouraged then by the apostle Paul to think about those things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy. Because he understood the influence of our thoughts on our lives, that what occupies our minds sooner, or later, is demonstrated in our actions!

So to be strong, I need to store up the word of God, to treasure it in my heart and mind, so I can filter life’s experiences through the truth of my identity according to his word! With God’s help, I will continue to battle to be strong, but with a soft, kind heart…….

link up

Normal

I have just been out to the fields this morning to check the horses and all was peaceful. They remain unperturbed by national or global events, the cycle of the seasons remains unchanged, and the flow and pattern of life continues as normal.

But for people, for mankind, this season has been far from normal. We have experienced a completely new time, unique – that overused but so apt word – unprecedented, which took everyone by surprise. For many normal has been put on hold. Here in Wales, our normal is still ’stay at home, protect our NHS and save lives’ and people are getting understandably angry with those who do not conform and abide with that instruction. This is the normal that we have had to adapt to.

If your identity then is rooted in your normal, your work, travel, sport or social life, this can be so unsettling. You see normal is a measure of conformity – the accepted pattern of behaviour, that society sets. So without your normal, who are you?

A time, maybe, to reflect and re-evaluate what really matters.

When we love the Lord, even in the middle of uncertainty, our identity is rooted in who we are in him. We are being conformed to his image, that is our normal, we are secure in him, and everything that really matters is unchanged.

This post is the part of the Five Minute Friday link up –http://fiveminutefriday.com/linkup/

Enlarge!

Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes. Isaiah 54:2

There are possibilities for growth for each one of us, where we are now within our own domain. Sometimes God asks us to stretch ourselves, to see that he has more available for us. It requires fresh vision and expectancy, to first see where the opportunity is and then the motivation to do something about it. Our faith is activated when we act, and that takes courage, to believe in God’s enabling grace towards us.

Pull up your tent peg, out of the ground, where it has been so securely embedded for so long. Now there may be a moment, when you’ve pulled that peg up, when there is a wobble – your tent is now not so secure. Don’t be tempted to just ram the peg back in the ground, in exactly the same place. Stretch yourself, reach out, extend, and place your peg in fresh ground! Those of us who have ever been camping, or put a tent up, know that sometimes you need to try more than one place for your peg. You start to push it in the ground and then you encounter a rock and it won’t go in any further or you are pushing it into loose soil and it is not secure. Then you need to move slightly and try again, a different position or a different angle.

Is this a time to reflect, to seek God for fresh opportunities?Then let the seed of this word settle in your heart and begin to sow expectancy within you. Do not be held back by fear of failure but be willing to step out in faith, to learn, to grow and enjoy the experience!