Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Around four years ago, while attending a women’s event at our church, I began talking with a young mum sitting nearby. Her face and manner were so open and honest, as she shared the good things happening in her life but also the challenges of balancing all the demands of managing her young family with work and other responsibilities. As we finished talking, I felt God prompted me to bless her with one simple, little phrase. ‘Peace on your home’, I said to her—and immediately saw how moved she was.

Since then, each time I see her leading worship or notice her chatting to someone after church, I repeat quietly in my heart, ‘Peace on your home—peace on your home.’ What a joy to be able to ask God to do this for her and her little family!

Recently too, I was reminded of the lovely, gentle words of farewell my dear mentor and ‘soul friend’ Joy used to say to me when I had finished pouring out all my troubles and questions during my visits to her, especially during my years at theological college. Sometimes, it would just be a simple sentence like, ‘Go gently, dear friend, in God’s love.’ Sometimes, merely a short phrase like ‘God’s peace to you’. Or sometimes, she would quote a line from a favourite poet to me or perhaps the well-known words of Julian of Norwich, written way back in the fourteenth century:

All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

Through this quote, I knew Joy was encouraging me to keep on trusting God, in the midst of all the busyness and stresses of life. Whether things turned out the way I expected them to or not, God was still there, holding me close, and always would be. Therefore, I could be at peace.

These instances of giving and receiving words of peace resurfaced for me while writing another chapter of my work-in-progress, warming my heart and encouraging me to continue. But this past week, I have been encouraged even further, as I have explored the countless references in Scripture to God’s peace —that peace God longs to give us, both on a personal and corporate level. What a privilege to reflect on such verses as those below and breathe in God’s deep comfort and peace in the process!

And as you read them now, may the Lord bless you so much and speak deep peace into your heart too.

“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”’ Numbers 6:24-26

Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you. Isaiah 54:10

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

I watched as our eight-year-old granddaughter pulled several crumpled sheets of paper from her school uniform pocket. When she smoothed them out, I saw they contained long spelling lists, starting at an easy level, but soon becoming quite difficult.

‘My friend and I were finalists in our class spelling bee and now we have to learn these words and compete against the finalists from other classes,’ she told me, obviously pleased with herself.

‘Well, how about I get you to spell some for me?’ I suggested. ‘Let’s try this middle level. What about ‘abandon’? Do you know what that means?’

Maxine not only spelt it correctly but proceeded to act out what the word meant with gusto, showing how a classmate would feel if left all by themselves. We then tried ‘dungeon’ and ‘nocturnal’, again spelt correctly, along with a graphic explanation of their meaning. A couple of harder words followed where she needed some help. I could see she was becoming a little discouraged, but then she had an idea.

‘Ask me the word “encouraged”,’ she told me. ‘I know that one!’

And she did. This time, however, we did not talk about the meaning as I was well aware she knew it. Not long before, she and her brother had wanted me to play a certain game on my phone, but I had declined.

‘Oh, I’d be no good at that!’ I had said emphatically.

But Maxine was having none of it. ‘Nanna, you have written lots of books, so you could do this,’ she informed me. ‘You’re not silly!’’

Yep, Maxine sure knows how to encourage someone.

In the end, I tried to play their game but failed abysmally, despite their expert help. Thinking back later, however, I realised I had learnt some important lessons about encouragement in the process. Firstly, I saw I needed to take smaller steps forward in choosing words for Maxine to spell rather than jump to harder ones that discouraged her. And secondly, as Maxine tried to encourage me, I saw the value of being reminded of those times when I had succeeded in doing something relatively difficult, albeit in an entirely different field from our grandchildren’s challenge to me! I am glad of both these reminders, because they are so relevant for encouraging those facing much bigger challenges than spelling bees and computer games.

I love encouraging others, seeing that smile on their faces and that flame of hope being lit inside them again. Yet this can also require much wisdom, patience and perseverance at times, can’t it? And sometimes, we may find ourselves so unsure, as we grope for the right words to say. I never want to offend or be too forceful, nor do I want merely to bolster someone’s ego or give them false hope for the future. So I am doubly glad God is always with us, empowering us and giving us insight, as we seek to spur others on to be all God purposes them to be and do the things they have been created to do. God will give us the right words, as we seek to encourage, so let’s go for it!

… Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. Ephesians 4:29 NLT

Years ago, a friend and I were eating breakfast in a B&B in Stratford-on-Avon during a trip to the UK. There was only one other couple in the dining-room that day—and they turned out to be from right here in Sydney, close to where we lived! But that story pales into insignificance, compared to one I heard last week. A couple I met while speaking at another secular club told me how, once when they were in Kenya, they met a man from the UK. This man mentioned the name of someone he knew who had emigrated to Australia and asked if they had met him.

‘Yep, we’ve met him,’ the husband replied. ‘In fact, right now, I’m sitting next to his sister—he’s her brother!’

The reason they told me this amazing story was that, in the talk I had given, I had included some photos from times when I had travelled with another friend of mine. My friend featured in some of these photos, although not many and not very close up either. However, this couple recognised her, so came up to me after I had finished speaking.

‘Um … we noticed those photos of your friend in your slides. Would her name perhaps be …?’ The man asked.

‘Yes, it is!’ I managed to get out.

‘Well, we know her too—she’s visited our church quite a few times over the years!’

We chatted for a while, marvelling at the amazing way God connects people at times. Then we also talked about the final slide I had used in my presentation that features some words from a psalm.

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.
Psalm 139:7-10

I chose to include this slide when giving this particular input at a secular group because, to me, it is a fitting end to a talk about various travelling adventures I have had. Yet, in speaking to such groups, I am always aware I need to be careful when and how I mention anything about God and faith. I know such places are non-sectarian and I need to honour that. Yet, because faith in God is such a huge part of who I am, I go ahead, hopefully in a gentle, non-threatening way, knowing I and others have prayed God will guide. So far, I have noticed that, whenever I read these words aloud from this particular slide, a hush tends to fall in the room. And twice, I have had someone come afterwards and talk about ‘the little prayer’ or ‘that lovely little poem’ I shared with them.

We can experience some amazing, unexpected connections with others, wherever we roam on this earth. Yet how much more amazing it is to be truly connected with our God who knows where we are 24/7, who holds us fast and who guides us continually! May we each find ways to share this wonderful privilege with others with sensitivity and grace, however God guides.

Sometimes it’s the simple things, the things we can do so easily, that matter most to people, isn’t it? Sometimes it can mean so much to others, for example, when we actually pay attention to them, when we listen with our whole being, when we respect them as human beings created in God’s image.

I was reminded of this last week when I gave a talk in a secular club environment. I began as usual by engaging with those present and making sure everyone felt included. Several times during my talk, I asked for audience responses—and I also continued to ‘read the room’, checking that everyone still seemed interested and awake! Nothing I did seemed special or new to me—in fact, I thought this is what every speaker they invited would naturally do. After all, who wants to drone on to a bored audience for forty-five minutes?!

Imagine my surprise then when two lovely gentlemen sitting right down the front spoke to me afterwards.

‘That was wonderful—thank you so much! You seem to …’ one man said, groping for words to express himself.

‘Yes,’ the other man chimed in. ‘It was excellent. I like how you … well … connected with us. You’re very …’

At that point, I took pity on them.

‘Inclusive?’ I suggested.

‘Yes—that’s the word!’ they agreed, beaming.

I was stunned and felt almost teary at their sincere compliments. But later, as I drove home, I began to think more about their response. At our church, all our preachers speak in a warm, inclusive way. It is what I am used to hearing and seeing, week by week. And it is also how I have always tried to speak myself—it simply seems natural to me. Yet these men, along with others present, had found it somehow different and were touched.

As I realised this, I began to feel both sad and ashamed. I felt sad that these people somehow seem to have missed out on experiencing similar warm, inclusive input. And I felt ashamed that I had taken such warm experiences of my own for granted, along with my God-given ability to speak in an inclusive way.

After my talk that day, one of these two men also told me with tears in his eyes how he does not practise his faith anymore, although he still believes in God in his heart—and my own heart went out to him. What had happened in his life? Had no one truly listened or shared the things of God with him in a loving way? He bought one of my books—and I hope and pray God will speak to him as he reads it.

But I also hope that, from now on, I treasure my own warm experiences of being part of a church family so much more. And I hope I will be much more grateful too for my own God-given gifts that enable me to speak and connect warmly with others. God has graciously given us all so much—let’s always be ready and willing to share whatever gifts we have with others.

Be generous with the different things God gave you, passing them around so all get in on it: if words, let it be God’s words … 1 Peter 4:10-11 The Message

I can still remember a terrifying ride called ‘Space Mountain’ I went on almost forty years ago while visiting Disneyland. Time and again, our carriage would teeter at some high point, then plunge headlong into the darkness below, suddenly veering this way, then that. I remember holding onto my glasses for dear life, in case they flew in one direction as I flew in the other!

I would never want to repeat the experience—yet, this past week, I realised this is exactly what happens in my faith journey at times. One minute, I can be standing firm, full of trust in God—yet the next, I am tossed around, worrying about everything and wondering whether God can indeed help.

This realisation came while reading again the account of how Jesus—and Peter—walked on water (Matthew 14). At first, the disciples are all terrified, not only because of the huge buffeting their boat is experiencing on the lake, but also because they think Jesus is a ghost (25). Straight away, however, Jesus lovingly reassures them:

But Jesus immediately said to them, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” (27)

Peter boldly speaks up then, even though he doesn’t seem completely sure it is indeed Jesus.

Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

“Come,” he said. (28-29)

Peter does just that—yet soon fear takes over and he cries out for Jesus to save him, which Jesus immediately does. One minute, Peter is brave and bold, the next so doubtful and afraid, as he flounders around and begins to sink (30-31).

Yet Peter’s whole journey of faith in Jesus was a similarly huge rollercoaster at times too.  Not long after his walking on water effort, we read how he boldly declares that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God—at which point Jesus commends him for his faith.

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church … Matthew 16:18

A few verses later, however, we read how Peter is rebuked for expressing his horror that Jesus will die.

Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me …” Matthew 16:23

On it goes for Peter, up and down. Not long before Jesus’ crucifixion, Peter declares he will never fall away from Jesus, even if everyone else does (Matthew 26:33). But, just as Jesus predicts, that very night, he disowns Jesus three times—and is utterly devastated. I always feel so relieved, however, when I read how Jesus appears to Peter and the other disciples after his resurrection and fully reinstates him (John 21). Despite Peter’s denials, Jesus shows complete trust in him and lovingly commissions him to take care of his sheep, which Peter then does with great courage, as we see throughout the early chapters of Acts.

I wonder if you, like me, can relate all too easily to Peter and his rollercoaster ride. Yet I am so encouraged that Jesus persevered with him and continued to show faith in him. And I am so grateful we too can experience that same undeserved love and grace today and feel that firm grip of Jesus’ hand as he reaches out and rescues us time and time again, aren’t you?

There I was, waiting in my car for the lights to change at a busy intersection, when our daughter suddenly started muttering out loud in the passenger seat beside me.

‘Red light. In right hand turn lane. Right indicator on.’

At first, I thought she was telling me I had missed something. I knew she was learning to drive—she has not really had the opportunity to do so until now. But … was she trying to tell me what I should be doing, when I have been driving for well over forty years?

A moment later, however, she explained what was happening.

‘My great driving instructor has me say everything out loud, so she can check I’ve noticed all the things I need to see and do.’

I was impressed. What an excellent idea, I thought—it would probably reinforce everything for our daughter too, even as she spoke those words out loud.

This little scenario at the traffic lights came back to me the next morning, as I sat reading my bible. I had decided to start delving into the Psalms again, my ‘go to’ place when things get a little hectic in my life. I was up to Psalm 18, but paused when I reached verses 28-33:

You, Lord, keep my lamp burning;
    my God turns my darkness into light.
With your help I can advance against a troop;
    with my God I can scale a wall.

As for God, his way is perfect:
    The Lord’s word is flawless;
    he shields all who take refuge in him.
For who is God besides the Lord?
    And who is the Rock except our God?

It is God who arms me with strength
    and keeps my way secure.
He makes my feet like the feet of a deer;
    he causes me to stand on the heights.

After a while, I began to read on, but then felt I needed to return to these same verses. It seemed almost a sacrilege to read them only once—they were too strong to be skimmed over in any way. Then it came to me that, like our daughter, I needed to speak the words out loud—not to let any instructor sitting beside me know I had noticed everything I was supposed to notice in these words, but rather to allow them to impact me even more and stay with me longer, on into my day and beyond.

So I did just that. I sat there, looking out at the grey skies beyond my window, and read each line out loud, with as much emphasis as I could muster. And as I listened to myself do this, I began thinking somewhere else in my mind, ‘Yes, this is so true! Our God is so strong and perfect and wonderful! And yes, this is what God has done for me in the past, so many times. God will rescue and strengthen me again, I’m sure of it.’ It then seemed so natural to continue on, praising God out loud and praying for all the people and situations I was concerned about, as well as for myself.

What a powerful experience listening to myself reading God’s Word and praying out loud turned out to be! I think I should plan to do it much more often, don’t you?

When I was a Girl Guide in my early teens, we enjoyed a variety of interesting activities, both indoor and outdoor. We also went on hikes and camps, but one thing remained constant, whatever we did. We always wore our Guide uniform, which was a navy-blue dress, with four large pockets. And in those pockets, we carried all sorts of things that might come in handy out in the bush in particular, including a compass, a notebook and pencil, some band-aids, a plastic groundsheet and even a snakebite kit back then! Also, the light-blue tie we wore was made by folding a triangular piece of material in a certain way, so it could double as an arm sling, if needs be. Our Girl Guide motto was, ‘Be Prepared’—and we certainly took that to heart.

This motto came to mind again recently, as I read in Nehemiah how, halfway through rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, the Jews became discouraged and afraid when they discovered that their enemies planned to attack them. However, Nehemiah and the other leaders prayed (4:9), then stationed the people in strategic positions, with swords, spears and bows ready, urging them to stand firm.

Don’t be afraid of the enemy! Remember the Lord, who is great and glorious… Nehemiah 4:14 NLT

With God’s help, the enemy’s plot was foiled, but Nehemiah remained vigilant. He organised half the men to protect the people, while the other half kept labouring to finish the wall. He also ordered the builders to work with their swords strapped on, ready to fight at a moment’s notice, and the labourers to carry all their building materials in one hand and a weapon in the other (4:17-18).

But that was not all. Because the workers were scattered, he organised a man to sound the trumpet to warn everyone, should the enemy attack (4:19-20). Yep, Nehemiah was determined to be prepared—and made sure his people were too.

As I pictured all this military activity in my mind, I realised what a powerful image it is for my life today. I may not have human invaders on all sides, plotting to bring me down. Yet I am well aware of the extremely alert, cunning enemy the Apostle Paul warns us about who constantly seeks to discourage, especially when I set out to tackle something I believe God particularly wants me to do.

For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12 NLT

I don’t know about you, but, unlike Nehemiah’s men, I need both hands to work on my writing each day! Yet I can still put on the armour Paul goes on to urge the Ephesians—and us—to wear, including the sword of the Spirit, the word of God (Ephesians 6:13-17). And I can pray constantly, just as Nehemiah did and as Paul taught too (6:18). Even as I keep working, I can hold these amazing weapons in my hands, so to speak. And I can also keep trusting in our ‘great and glorious’ God who watches over us, just as Nehemiah did, and not be afraid.

Let’s stay close to God each day, but let’s be armed and prepared too—always.

One recent crisp, sunny morning, my husband happened to chat briefly with our elderly neighbour.

‘It’s a lovely day,’ our neighbour commented. ‘I wouldn’t be dead for quids!’

Now this man is in his mid-nineties, would you believe. So, there is no doubt that, one day soon, he will indeed be dead, whether he likes it or not. Does he have a faith in God? It’s hard to tell from the conversations we have had with him. I hope he indeed is ready to meet God, but that day will surely come soon for him, whatever he believes and however many quids he would be willing to wager to stay here.

Last week, with three funerals to attend in the one week, we were clearly reminded of the need to be ready for that day when our own lives will end. At one of these, that of another lovely neighbour, Ruth, the minister told everyone how he visited her not long before she passed away. While he was there, Ruth apparently managed to say three very important words to him, despite being so weak and ill. And these three words were ‘I love Jesus!’

I cannot think of any better statement to make so close to the end of my life, can you? It’s as simple as that, really, when all is said and done. When we experience the love Jesus has for us and truly believe as a result, then our spirits come alive and we are able to love him in return—and others—as we are called to do.

For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 NLT

We love each other because he loved us first. 1 John 4:19 NLT

Out of our love for Jesus who showed us what perfect love is by dying for us, we are empowered to live in a way that honours him and be the faithful servants he has called us to be. Then, having loved and lived for him, we will be ready and waiting when he returns or when our time on earth is over. In fact, while we may not want to leave our loved ones behind here, just as Ruth may not have wanted to, we can look forward with anticipation to that day when we will meet Jesus face to face at last.

And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world. 1 John 4:17 NLT

What a privilege to know and love Jesus! And what a privilege to love and serve him and others each day, as we live our lives here to the full! I understand what our neighbour meant when he stated he would so much rather be alive than dead. Our life here has much to offer indeed. Yet I’m so grateful I know death is not the end too—that, one day, I will go to be with Jesus, the one I love the most, who lives and reigns forever.

It’s as simple as that really—and as wonderful.

I sometimes seem to live my life as if those around me are going to be here forever, even if they are not young anymore. Of course they will be there to talk to, I think. Of course we can do this or that together. Then the day comes when they are not there any longer and I am shocked. How can this be?

In my more rational moments, I know this is not how things work. Our time on earth is finite, however much we may try to stave off that day. People become ill and cannot be cured. Terrible disasters occur, ending even young lives, while those of us who are left become older and frailer. Yet it can still be hard to accept another’s death, whatever age they are. They were here. They were real. They were alive—and now they are no longer.

This past week, we heard of the deaths of two older friends. The first was a gentleman in his nineties who always impressed us with his zest for life and his deep commitment to God and his church. Even until the last year or two, he would bake trays of cakes for youth and outreach events at church or for the spring fair in the village where we live. He also loved writing and art and singing—he was an all-round creative person. Right now, I believe he will be rejoicing in heaven in the perfect presence of his Creator God, which is wonderful. Yet it seemed to us as if this larger-than-life person would always be here.

The second person was our lovely neighbour, Ruth, who used to live in the unit opposite us, until moving into aged care. She was in her eighties and had been unwell for some years, yet each day when she could, she would sit on her little stool, digging in her garden and caring for each plant and flower. She was a writer too—such an intelligent, interesting person. But above all, she loved God wholeheartedly and served in the Salvation Army all her life. We were still in the process of moving into our unit when she told me she had been praying for us for some time. And, on occasions, she would come to our door, holding some beans or tomatoes or other produce from her garden, and tell me they were a gift to us as ‘first fruits’ from her harvest. It is wonderful to think that, right now, she too is completely whole again in God’s presence. She was a faithful soldier all her life—and now she has marched right on into heaven.

This news of the passing of these two faithful soldiers has made me look at my own life again. There is no doubt both loved God with all their hearts. They served God and others their whole lives and were ready to meet their Lord. In my mind, I can hear each of them saying, along with the Apostle Paul, not in any boasting way but as mere statements of fact:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 2 Timothy 4:7

Whenever my turn comes, I want to be able to say that too, with humility but also with deep certainty, don’t you?

In recent days, as I have begun writing another non-fiction book, I have been thinking about various words or phrases spoken to me that have had a lasting impact in my life. Sometimes, these have been negative, sowing doubts in my mind about my ability to do something or undermining my self-worth. Yet thankfully, I can remember many positive ones too. These gave me hope for the future and reassurance that I could do the things I sensed God wanted me to do and, as I have reflected on them, I have felt so grateful all over again for them.

I wonder if there are some that immediately spring to mind for you from your own experience. Perhaps you remember some things your parents or your teachers said when you were growing up. Perhaps a friend has spoken words of encouragement into your life just when you needed them. How did you feel when you heard those words? And how did you feel afterwards, as they still rang inside your head?

I can remember my father teasing me at times when I was young by saying, ‘Oh Jo—she should have been a boy!’ I knew he was only joking and that he said it just to see my reaction. And I admit I was quite an untidy tomboy at times. Yet these words caused me to doubt myself too. Was I somehow wrong? Was I a disappointment to him?

Much later, in my forties, I remember excitedly sharing with someone that I was heading to theological college. Instead of the positive response I had expected, her words were withering and scornful. ‘What would you want to do that for? I don’t have to prove myself!’ she almost sneered. I was shocked and began questioning my motives—but also wondered why my decision had aroused such anger in her.    

Thankfully, I can remember so many more wonderful, positive words that have encouraged me over the years. I think of a time early on in my writing journey when I was so unsure about my whole approach to creating a novel.

‘Do you think this is all okay?’ I asked my lovely soul friend Joy one day.

‘Oh, I think it’s wonderful!’ she said, so delighted to be part of this new thing I was attempting.

Just a little comment, yet it encouraged me so much to keep going and keep holding onto my dream.

Or I think of an email I received only recently from a lovely new contact I have made overseas. My dear new friend, she had written—and those few, simple words stirred my heart. Yes, I thought, this person values me already as a friend. And, even at my age, I find that so encouraging and reassuring.

I wonder if I have said—or written—any unforgettable words to others lately. If I have, I hope and pray they have been of the encouraging kind, not only because they are the sort I like to receive myself but because these are the sort God wants us to say to one another. So, let’s do it—and may your heart be encouraged too in the process.

… Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. Ephesians 4:29 NLT