Don’t forget!

Thankfulness is a really important theme in the Bible. Many of the Psalms are simply prayers of thanksgiving.

The trouble for us is – we often have a problem with our perspective. We act as though our lives are the Big story and God’s story fits into ours. We all do it. It’s part of our humanity. We get obsessed with the details of our own lives and our focus gradually turns from God and onto ourselves.

We begin to try to make things happen for ourselves, trying to do stuff instead of receiving from God. Or  we are so focussed on our problems or circumstances or business that we miss what God is doing in our lives.virtual-reality-1541316_1280

We need help to keep looking to God. Thankfulness is a simple and helpful practice which really helps. It is not a new method or the latest idea but it is something the Bible has taught over centuries and many christians have made it a daily practice. Instead of reciting our list of requests we begin with thanks.

In Psalm 103 King David speaks to his soul, “forget not all his benefits”, many hymns take up this theme too. Why do we need reminding not to forget all that God has done for us? Isn’t it so incredible that we couldn’t possibly forget? Well Yes – and No. It is incredible but we do tend to lose sight of all the blessings we have in the light of other things that are going on for us. This is why it is so helpful for us to be reminded. What are those benefits that King David remembered?

  • that  God forgives all our iniquity
  • he heals all our diseases
  • he redeems our lives from the pit
  • he crowns us with steadfast love and mercy
  • he satisfies us with good
  • our youth is renewed like the eagle’s
  • He works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed etc

It’s all about God’s goodness towards us. It’s great to read it through thinking about how each of these phrases is true for us individually.
In Lamentations there are some  very familiar verses:

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;

his mercies never come to an end;

they are new every morning;

great is your faithfulness. (Lam.3:22)

Ask yourself what are those mercies that are new every morning? They can be as simple as I have breath in my lungs, food on the table, a roof over my head etc – things that we can take for granted.  Since having had breast cancer I am so thankful to be healthy, to be alive, that I have lived to see my son marry. I am thankful for friends who love me and support me. But of course there is so much more than that. Every day we wake up loved by God. What a mercy that is! We should remind ourselves of this and all that God has done for us everyday.

The Bible encourages us to be thankful not just because God deserves our thanks but because thankfulness changes us too. It changes our focus. It  is a great way to help get our eyes off of ourselves and our circumstances. We need help don’t we? When we are bogged down in the everyday mundane things of life, when we experience pain and hardship, when we are really joyful and happy. Emotions overwhelm us at times and our gaze turns inward.holzfigur-980802_1280 There is a reason why the Bible so often encourages us to lift up our heads. It’s because we need to. It helps us gain a different perspective. To relocate our lives into His big picture, to be dependent on Him.

Thankfulness is also a good start if we are struggling to pray or don’t know how to pray – because we always have something to thank God for.

Psalm 104  tells us I will Enter His Gates with Thanksgiving in my heart, I will enter His courts with praise. In the ancient world the courts were  the way into the Palace, where the King lives. Where He is. Thankfulness helps us to come into the presence of God. As we begin to thank Him, Praise for him begins to rise in our hearts.

Some practical ideas

Do you love lists? I do. Why not make lists of things you are thankful for. You can write a new list each day, each week or month. Whenever you do it, it is a great discipline to reflect on our lives and remember the things we are grateful for. How about starting a Gratitude Journal? bullet-2428875_1920You can do this in all sorts of ways to suit you. You don’t need to write paragraphs. You can write a list for every day. At the end of the day just spend a few minutes reflecting on your day and noticing the things you are thankful for.

 

You might want to use some prompts:

Today I am thankful for  ………………

I felt joyful today when  ……………

My favourite part of the day was …………….

You might want to take Psalm 36 as a template – take your list of things to be thankful for and after every line insert “for His love endures forever”.

Remember though, the point of the exercise is to use the list to help you give thanks to God. Don’t just make the list – use it to fuel your prayers.

Secular studies show that people are happier and healthier if they are thankful even if they don’t know who they are addressing their thanks to*. For us as Christians thankfulness holds so much more meaning and it is powerful. Being thankful reminds us that there is One to be thanked, whose love and goodness are always directed towards us whatever our circumstances might be and that He is worthy of all our praise and honour.

 

 

Photo Credits:
Don’t forget – created using wordswag
Other images: Pixabay

 

 

 

 

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God wants you to flourish Part 2

What if I don’t feel that I’m flourishing?

In last week’s blog (here) I said that God wants us flourish. But what if  you don’t feel that you  are flourishing. Why is that?

Seasons

For some of us we need to understand the season we are in. If we think of a tree in winter it is bare, no fruit or leaves are evident. It looks almost dead BUT how it looks is not an accurate gauge  of what is going on inside. It is still flourishing as it is storing up energy for the growth of fruit in later seasons. In the Spring there is new growth but it is not yet established and strong, it can be a time of vulnerability but those new shoots will grow into mature growth in time. In the Summer there is obvious mature growth with flowering and fruit. Then comes the Autumn and the leaves fall, the season has passed and with it their usefulness; there will need to be new leaves for a new season. In all of these seasons the tree is still flourishing but it is expressed differently in each of them. We need to know which season we are in.

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Circumstances

Or it may be that you are not happy with how things are for you. Many of us live our lives with a perceived need. We are always wanting something we feel we must have in order to be happy which makes us feel discontented and unhappy.

Sometimes we look at our circumstances and compare them with others’.  We may think that they have a better life, nicer house, better job, children, are able to take holidays, have more friends than we do etc  We can questions ourselvesIMG_2121

“ What is wrong with me that God doesn’t bless me? Or question God “Is He really good?  

When our boys were young, Rob, my husband, was out of work for 18 months. We happened to live in an affluent area but had bought quite a rundown Edwardian terraced house. I saw other people decorating  their homes with Laura Ashley wallpaper (the fashion at the time) and restoring original features. I didn’t compare myself with other people but I did compare our home to theirs. I felt ashamed of our threadbare carpets and woodchip wallpaper and didn’t want people to come into our house. I needed to remind myself that God had enabled us to buy this house. We lived hand to mouth for some time but were also supported by friends from our church in many different ways. Groceries would be left on our doorstep, some friends put money into our bank account every month so that we could pay our mortgage and gifts of money were regularly posted through our letterbox. This was a time when we really learned to live by faith, to trust God for our finances and to learn to give to others in need. If we had not gone through that experience we would never have learned these valuable lessons. We were flourishing but not in the way we expected it to happen.

 Sometimes we may be facing particularly challenging circumstances You could ask me how that could possible be described as  flourishing.  I believe that God wants us to flourish in and through suffering, that is why He is with us when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death (Ps. 23)

I have written about my own experience of having breast cancer (here) when God truly sustained me and helped me to understand that he is always good to me whatever my circumstances. I wasn’t miraculously healed of cancer, I still had surgery etc but my Father was with me in it.

Flourishing does not equate to being happy all of the time. There will be a day when we will truly flourish when Jesus comes again. Until then we live in a world tainted by sin, we live in the tension of the now and the not yet but in and through it all God continues to provide for us. He gives us everything we need for life and godliness whatever season we are in and no matter how difficult or disappointing life is. We have all we need to flourish.

At the most difficult point in his life when Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane anticipating his own crucifixion, He cried out to his father, “Abba” and was able to entrust himself to God “not my will but yours be done”. That prayer led to his ultimate triumph over sin and death. Sometimes we need to stop fighting our circumstances, cry out to Abba, our Father and trust Him.

It is not easy to walk a path through pain and difficulty but it is in those times that we find God to be faithful and we are able to draw closer to Him. That has certainly been my experience. My life has not been all plain-sailing but in and through it all God has been faithful and I have flourished.

 

 

 

 

          

God Wants You to Flourish – Part 1

I have been reading about the Hebrew and Greek words which are all translated into English as the word blessed. There is a wealth of meaning in these words – happiness, completeness, maturity, peace, prospering, contentment …. But they can be summed up by the word flourishing. When I first read that my immediate reaction was “YES” – what a wonderful description of the impact of the gospel on our lives.

God promised Abraham “ in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen 26:4). We can see that it has always been God’s intention to bless those who put their trust in Abraham’s offspring, Jesus.

Jesus spoke of himself in this way: “I am the door, if anyone enters by me, he will be saved and go in and out and find pasture.” (John 10:9) Jesus is the doorway to blessing.

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To be blessed means to be in a state of flourishing. God’s plan for mankind has always been that we should all flourish. He created us to be objects of his love, children, not slaves. It is not that we come to Jesus, breathe a sigh of relief and then just exist, endure, get by, or plod along waiting for the day when everything will be made new when Jesus comes again. God wants us to flourish now.

What does that mean? Definitions of flourishing include: grow, prosper, bloom, blossom, develop, do well, expand, multiply, succeed, thrive, amplify, arrive, augment, burgeon, increase, score, be on top of the heap, bear fruit, come along, get ahead, get on, go great, hit it big.

This is what it looks like when we are flourishing

It’s not static. It’s not something we have to strive for either. It’s the result of living in God’s kingdom.

What are the key essentials for flourishing? Some very basic things have to be in place. We need security – God has adopted us into his family never to be forsaken again, food – He has given us his word to nourish and sustain us, water – Jesus said that anyone who comes to Him will never thirst again, purpose – God has prepared works for us to do and relationships – he has put us into the family of God.

When we look through Scripture we see this theme of flourishing repeated over and over again. In Psalm 23 we are cared for by a Shepherd, who leads us to pastures where we can feed, by still waters where we can rest and be refreshed, he leads me the right way and when I walk through the valley He is with me, in the presence of my enemies he prepares a table and goodness and mercy are following me all the days of my life.

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In Psalm 1 we see a picture of someone who is flourishing. He is planted (intentionally not merely carried by the wind) by streams which feed his roots, he is fruitful and his leaves do not wither, in all he does he prospers.

In Prov 31 we have picture of a woman who is flourishing in whatever she lays her hand to, whether it is making clothes for her household, buying a field and planting a vineyard or caring for the poor.

God is extravagant in his love for us. He has given us everything we need for LIFE and GODLINESS. That is why we can flourish – because He has given us everything we need.

Since we have come into relationship with God, all that He is is available to us and causes us to flourish. All of His love, all of his goodness, all of His mercy, all of His provision, all of His power – the list goes on.

We can think of ourselves as seeds that have been planted in the best soil conditions for our growth, where we get all the nutrients and warmth that we need to produce growth, flowers, fruit. What would that look like in your life?

Or you can think of beautiful calligraphy where every letter instead of being a boring plain type face has a beautiful flourish. They are different for every letter. We can each flourish individually and it will look different for each of us.

We can flourish and see growth and development in every area of our lives. In our workplaces , in our serving, in our relationships, in our parenting, in our ministry, in our relationship with God, in our creativity.

Jesus came that we “might have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10)

Flourishing means realizing all the potential that God has placed within us. It means being the truest expression of humanity as God intended.

 

Part 2 – This doesn’t feel like flourishing – coming soon

 

Some visual flourishing for you to enjoy!

Photo credits
Shepherd – Unsplash
Others – pixabay

The steadfast love of God

Never-changing, never failing, always constant, love

 

Psalm 36

Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens,
    your faithfulness to the clouds.
Your righteousness is like the mountains of God;
    your judgements are like the great deep;
    man and beast you save, O Lord.
How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
    The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house,
    and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
    in your light do we see light.
10 Oh, continue your steadfast love to those who know you,
    and your righteousness to the upright of heart!

I read this passage out during a prayer meeting recently and it has stayed with me since then. I like to amplify my own reading of the Bible as it helps me to engage with the text so here are some of my thoughts and my annotations of the text.

Your steadfast (never-changing, never-failing, always constant) Love (pure, without ulterior motive, genuine, unconditional, divine, father’s love) O Lord (sovereign ruler over everything, master, king, all-powerful) extends (covers the whole distance) to the heavens. (David could not imagine anything further away to help him describe the scope of God’s love.)

Your (I’m so glad it’s your faithfulness and not mine) faithfulness (trustworthiness, loyalty, never-letting-go of me) to the clouds (David has already used the heavens so he picks something else equally out of our reach to describe its magnitude.)

bergsee-2502983_1280Your righteousness (He always acts in line with his own character: his holiness, purity, justice, love, mercy; he acts righteously) is like the mountains (rock-like, unmoving, spanning millennia, not giving way, not fickle/blown about by wind of change, prominent, visible for all to see for miles around) of God.

Your judgments (decisions made on the basis of God’s moral attributes, He is Just, Holy, slow to anger, full of loving-kindness, all-knowing, always pursuing our good) are like the great deep (like the deepest ocean still uncharted or fathomed by man or the inky darkness of the deepest reservoir – impenetrable, the depth of His judgement is a picture of His wisdom.)

Man and beast (all created things, all creatures and peoples on earth, innumerable species) you save (preserve, sustain, feed).

How precious (we can’t adequately express in words, valuable, costly, dear) is your steadfast love (David just has to repeat this phrase because it is so AMAZING), O God (isn’t it incredible, wonderful, that we can address God personally, that we can even come into his presence!)

golden-eagle-1679166_1280The children of mankind (it’s open to anyone) take refuge (hide in, take comfort from, are safe, find shelter) in the shadow of your wings (a picture of God as an eagle or a hen protecting his chicks, spreading out His wings for all His young to come under, there’s room for all, it’s warm and safe.)

They feast (not just eat for sustenance, dig in, hoover up food in quantity and in quality, the best food, treats, nom nom!) on the abundance (not stingy, rich and plentiful, more than enough) of your house (we are part of His family now, we have come home, we live with Him and enjoy all the benefits of living in His family home, not as guests but as family/residents)

And you give them drink (living water, thirst-quenching, cool, refreshing, restorative) from the river (not a trickle, but a flowing body of water, it is powerful, beautiful, mighty, always moving further downstream, it makes glad the people of God (Ps. 46) of your delights ( wonderful, joyful, pleasing, satisfying, enjoyable).

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For with you (that’s where I am – with Him and He is with me, my Beloved is mine and I am His) is the fountain (geyser, gushing up, spraying everyone, the source of everything springing out of Him) of life (that should be LIFE, not the life we once knew but the abundant LIFE of those who love Him, living to the full, fulfilling all the potential we have in God).

In your light (He is the light of the world, we are no longer walking in darkness, misery and defeat) do we see light (we have a new light to live by, all life and light emanates from him, we are no longer lost.)

(No wonder David prays) Oh continue your steadfast love to those who know you (when we have seen, when we have tasted this steadfast love all we can say is – that this is so wonderful please let it continue but in fact it will continue because that’s what steadfast love does, that is God’s heart towards us)

And your righteousness to the upright of heart (not sure that I could describe myself as upright of heart, but Jesus came for us sinners to make us righteous.)

Only one word remains:

Hallelujah!

 

Photo Credits
All photos are from pixabay

 

 

 

Winter, Spring, Summer or Fall, all you have to do is call

life is made up of all different sorts of seasons.

The first six months of this year were filled with different experiences for me:

My son got engaged and we couldn’t have been more happy, then a dear friend died and I attended his Thanksgiving Service and then I was  unwell, only a heavy cold but it knocked me for six, then we had builders working on our home for ten weeks, we had a holiday in France where a relative broke his arm necessitating a trip to a French A & E, I’ve marked exam papers and finally arrived at a more settled period before preparing for a foreign student coming to stay with us. 17022154_10154199182015800_2736362741751243244_n I’ve been reflecting that life is made up of all sorts of different seasons – it’s not just a straight-line experience of moderate happiness but actually life is made up of highs and lows and everything inbetween.

So often we think that our lives should be happy or easy, certainly not difficult and painful, but the truth is that  life is made up of many challenges. It is through those challenges that we put our faith to the test and we have to find God in the everyday, sometimes even moment by moment.

As I analysed this year’s events I thought about  my son’s engagement. It was absolutely joyful for us as parents, in fact the joy I felt  was beyond what I had anticipated. I already knew that he was going to ask his girlfriend to marry him  but when it actually happened it was so joyful and that was wonderful. But soon afterwards there were the thoughts of: Where will they live?,  When will the wedding be? Will the wedding plans come together?, Will my son be able to get a job after his internship? How will they cope financially? These concerns are probably typical of most mothers but it is so important that we don’t lose our joy through fear or anxiety. We should allow ourselves to experience joy to the full when it comes.

bereavement-1151085_1280Then there was the news that my friend had died. He was such a life-and-soul-of-the-party kind of guy, somebody who had been a friend particularly in my early adult years. He and his wife had been full of fun. I had known that he was unwell and then sadly I heard that he had died. The Thanksgiving Service was such a celebration of him, full of the gospel, full of who he was – quirky and funny, it was a special moment to mark such a great life. But of course I was not a close family member, I was not one of those having to walk through bereavement but I know that we all face bereavements especially as we get older. We begin to go to more funerals than we do weddings. It’s just another season.

 

Seasons are good for us. Seasons bring forth life. Here in the Uk the seasons are clearly different. We have periods of dormancy when nothing is happening above ground but actually it is a time when plants are storing energy for the growth that’s to come. When Spring comes they need all that energy to be put into the growing process. In our lives when we are in those kind of seasons we can feel that nothing is happening or life is isn’t going anywhere but actually these are times when we can dig deep into the resources of God and feed on his word so that we have enough to keep us going  for when we we are in the growing season and feel stretched.

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Then the Summer comes and there is heat and although we associate Summer and the sun with freedom, yes there can be times of great freedom and joy, but the heat can also be a time of intense pressure. I know that was what it felt like when I had breast cancer and at the same time my husband’s job was very uncertain, it was a time of intense pressure. It is at those times too when we are drawing on all that we have stored up during earlier seasons. Then  Autumn comes again , things begin to die and we see the season is changing.

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Sometimes we notice those things in our own lives, particularly as we grow older, or move into different phases. It is a different season now and we can worry about all that it will bring, we can be sad about what is gone, or we can embrace all that God will bring in the new season.

In difficult seasons it is tempting to get into magical thinking – if only this season were over, then I would be ok but we are in danger of missing out on what God has for us now in this very season. (I’ve written about the antidote to magical thinking here)

I want to encourage you that whatever season you are in whether it is a good season or a difficult season, whether you are young or old,  that there will be many more different seasons to come and each one is a place of God’s goodness, a place where we can find him to be faithful and we can hold on to Him because He is good and He will never leave or forsake us. Winter, Spring, Summer or Fall ….. all you have to do is call – on Him.

“The Lord is near to all who call upon Him “ (Ps. 145a)

 

Photo credits
Seasons and Statue pixabay
The other photos are my own and may not be used without permission

 

 

 

The antidote to magical thinking

We can all so easily fall into a kind of magical thinking that goes something like this “if only x would happen

“And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven?” (Acts 1:9-11).

I wonder what the disciples were thinking as Jesus disappeared from sight. I can imagine that it went something along the lines of “if only he would come back”, “I don’t want you to go”, “how will we cope now?” They hadn’t had time to process what was happening when they had an angelic visitation. These angels didn’t seem to do too well on the empathy front! They asked the bereft disciples why they were still looking into heaven. “Well duh! Why do you think?”might well have been their response. But actually those angels were pointing them to a new reality. Jesus had gone but the Holy Spirit was coming.

 

clipper-ship-760430_1920My grandfather used to tell me that when his boat came in he would buy me a doll. I was very small at the time and didn’t know that he didn’t actually have a boat and I used to regularly ask him if his boat had arrived. What I didn’t know was that this was just a kind of magical/wishful thinking – when I am rich I will buy you nice things.

 

We can all so easily fall into a kind of magical thinking that goes something like this “if only x would happen then y will (magically) happen too. If only I get that job, get married, have more time, have more money, more resources for my  project… or when I am well again , when the children are at school THEN I will be satisfied, I will be secure, I will spend time praying and reading my bible, I will give more,  I will be able to achieve what God has called me to, I will be free to help others etc  What is your if only? If only I ………………. then I ……………………… (insert your own).

The disciples were now faced with a life without the physical presence of Jesus, faced with carrying on the mission without him. The angels were encouraging them not to stand looking wishfully at the sky. They didn’t want them to get stuck there.

Sadly we can get stuck in our if only’s. Some of them are really painful to us, some are simply pragmatic but whatever they may be that is not a good place to stay. There is so much more for us than living under a cloud of regret or disappointment.

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The disciples went on to Jerusalem where in the upper room they were filled with the promised Holy Spirit. They now knew that Jesus was with them through the Holy Spirit. In the Isaiah 7:14 Jesus’ birth is foretold and that he shall be called Immanuel which means God with us.

Jesus did indeed live among men but now that he is ascended into heaven he has sent his promised Holy Spirit to each and every one of us. Having Jesus with us in the now is the antidote to magical thinking. We don’t need to wait until x, y or z happens, Jesus is with us NOW! That means that we have all we need for life and godliness now (2 Pet 1:3). In Jesus we have the answer to every aching void, every disappointed hope, every sense of constriction or limitation. God himself has promised to be with us. He will never leave us. Because of that all the resources of God are available to me – all his love, all his power, all his wisdom etc… in fact all of who He is, all of His attributes, all of His mercies. We have already got everything we need right now.

How will I ever find fulfillment in the future if I don’t find fulfillment in Him now? I am learning to take my if onlys to Jesus and to enjoy Him in the present. He truly is everything.

I don’t want to miss out on what He has for me now because I am waiting for my boat to come in.

Photo Credits
Photo by Caleb George on Unsplash
Ship: Pixabay
Screenshot Pixabay

 

It’s all mercy

I don’t receive what I do deserve, and I do receive what I don’t deserve.

When I was worshipping in a prayer meeting this week I found myself weeping at the sheer mercy of God towards me. Mercy is another of those words we use so lightly but hold so much meaning for us. I’ve been thinking about it so much since  that worship time.

The only time God has ever held anything back from me was when I was lost and did not know Him. He held back His wrath even though I deserved it. When my feet were in the miry clay, when I was in a pit of my own making, when I was as far from God as I could be – dead in my trespasses and sin, God loved me! How amazing! He held back all the punishment that I deserved, the wages of sin meant death but He held it back. He held back because of His mercy.

mercy-1However there was a day when He did not hold back, but gave everything, even His own dearly-loved son, to die for me. His mercy paid for me. Because He did not hold back I got to walk free. Free from sin, free from death and the fear of death, free from all that had ensnared and enslaved me; and more than that He lavished His love on me. I who had been opposed to God was now adopted into His family and can call Him Abba Father. I just did not deserve it.

Now, there is no good thing that He withholds. He is lavish with me, not stingy or mean but generous and liberal. It’s all  mercy – “compassion that forbears punishing even when justice demands it”. You see there was nothing good about me that deserved God’s love. I was sinful; but this is the nature of the gospel that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us, the just for the unjust. I still don’t deserve it.

This is the wonder of mercy that I don’t receive what I do deserve, and I do receive what I don’t deserve. Not just once in the past but every day. Every day when I blow it, get things wrong,  give in to temptation, get jealous, greedy, unkind, shout at my husband and/or children etc there is still mercy for me.

Because mercy is given to those who don’t deserve it I don’t have to work at being deserving- it’s unattainable anyway. Far better to spend our time worshipping the One who is merciful and let the wonder of His mercy move us to tears.

annie-spratt-156497Matt Redman has written a wonderful song about God’s mercy here. In it he describes God’s mercy as endless as the sea. Mercy is like those ocean waves – it just keeps coming towards us. We will never get anything other than mercy from God. Hallelujah!

 

Photo credits:
Photos Unsplash
Mercy word cloud created using Tagul