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Archive for January, 2013

One morning recently, I turned on my computer and noticed someone had left a Skype message for me. I proceeded to investigate and, as I had suspected it might be, it was my friend who lives on the other side of the world, sending me a chirpy, little message.

Hi!  You’re on the computer nice and early in the morning!  I haven’t even gone to bed yet on the day before!

We then proceeded to have a brief, written ‘chat’ before she closed down for the night.

Not long after, I received an email from another friend who I knew was currently overseas. She was emailing from Dubai Airport via her Ipad in the middle of an eighteen hour wait for her flight home! Her travel plans had been disrupted because of the extreme winter weather in Europe. But on top of that, she felt distinctly fluey and was asking us to pray she would be okay during the rest of her waiting period and then on the flight home.

Later that day, I began to realise how readily I had taken for granted the fact that these two friends could contact me so easily. Yet how amazing that someone on the other side of the world would notice me online and be able to say a quick hi! And how amazing my friend could immediately gather together the prayer support she needed as she sat in a strange airport!

A few days ago, I opened my computer to find that a reader had contacted me via my website to say she had just re-read my first four novels and enjoyed them so much yet again. She had written especially to encourage me. Yet I did not stop to enjoy the moment, take in her words fully and thank God for them. Then I noticed someone had sent me a message via Facebook, telling me how she had given some copies of my non-fiction book Soul Friend away at Christmas and how one girl she mentors had devoured the book and gained so much from it. ‘Oh, that’s nice!’, I thought to myself—and went blithely on with whatever I was doing.

But then that voice inside me pulled me up short. Here I was, taking for granted these lovely messages from my readers. Here was I, so full of my own concerns, almost missing the gentle ways God was using others to encourage me in my writing journey.

Have you been so wrapped up lately in all the big and urgent issues of life that you have almost ignored that prompting inside you, urging you to stop and enjoy the moment, to be thankful for the blessings right before your eyes that you take for granted? Could God be trying to get your attention, too?

This week, I read a familiar verse, Psalm 46:10, that I am sure was another little prompt from God:

Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

I don’t want to take God for granted. Each day, I want to be still and acknowledge God’s greatness, tuning my ears in more and more readily to the Holy Spirit’s voice and seeing God’s hand in every part of my life.

How about you? Stop for a moment. Look around you. Listen for God’s gentle whisper. Be still, and know that God is there.

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I think I have mentioned once or twice before that we have a cute little grandson! On various occasions when I have been minding him, he has been quite happy with me—until he sees his mother or father arrive. Then a sudden transformation seems to occur. A delighted grin spreads across his face, his eyes sparkle and he quickly heads for whichever parent it is as fast as his little legs will go. He then proceeds to sit in his mother’s or father’s arms with an extremely satisfied look, as if well pleased with himself and the world at large.

Perhaps you have grandchildren of your own who behave the same way. Or perhaps, like me, you have been to the airport to meet someone you haven’t seen for some time. At last they emerge from the customs area. Their faces light up and they quickly move towards you, eager for that hug and to hear that ‘Welcome home!’ I love watching the faces of others at the airport, too, as they wait to greet family members and friends. Even though they are strangers to me, it is a delight to see their faces light up with joy when their loved one appears.

I love to think of God’s face lighting up like that for me whenever I seek to spend time reading my Bible or just being quiet in God’s presence. I know God is everywhere and always sees us, but when I consciously make time to do this, I believe God welcomes me with joy and delight. After all, God loves me and I love God—so why wouldn’t both of us to rejoice?

This week, I came across another of my favourite verses from Psalms. Psalm 44 begins with the psalmist declaring how they heard from their forefathers what God has done for them in the past, driving out the nations before them. Then in verse 3, we read:

It was not by their sword that they won the land, nor did their arm bring them victory; it was your right hand, your arm, and the light of your face, for you loved them.

How much the light of God’s face must have meant to the children of Israel as it shone upon them in love all those years ago! And how privileged we are to know that same love of God in our own lives today through Jesus Christ! On occasions in the media, we hear some comment such as ‘the gods must be smiling on us’, when the weather is good or some event has gone well or some fortunate thing has occurred. But we can each know the one true God, whose face is always turned towards us in love and whose light shines upon us continually because of Jesus Christ.

I remember when I first came to understand this amazing love of God and how the face of the speaker I was listening to at the time truly shone with the light and love and joy of the Lord. It was like a special switch had been turned on inside him—and I wanted that, too. So this year, may the light and love of the Lord shine through my face and yours, as we reach out to a needy world. May we be fully switched on inside by God’s love, ready to shine that light through everything we do!

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P1030746To celebrate the launch of my first non-fiction book in October, a friend gave me the very thoughtful gift of a new journal. Now this isn’t any old journal, I hasten to add. It is from Turkey and is handmade, with a wonderfully ornate blue cloth cover, decorated with gold thread and patterns of green, red and white, and the word ‘Türkiye’ (the name the Turkish people call their country) on the front and back. As well, there are small, metal triangular pieces attached to each corner, so the whole thing does not get worn or tattered. And inside are lots and lots of lovely blank, white pages!

Now when I was in Turkey once, I saw a similar one with a deep red cover in a shop in Istanbul and could not resist buying it. I was so looking forward to using it, but some time later, when another good friend celebrated an important birthday, I realised I needed to give this journal to her. It just seemed right in so many ways—and I know she truly appreciated it. Not long after, I mentioned this to my friend who was still in Turkey and asked her to buy me another one if she was ever in the vicinity of the shop where I had bought it. Time went on and I forgot about it—but obviously, my friend didn’t. So what a special surprise it was to receive such a precious and moving gift from her when I least expected it!

And this week, I decided to begin writing on those pristine pages it contains. Despite having a few unused ones in my old journal, I wanted to commemorate the start of my writing year in some significant way. But what should I write first? My thoughts about my writing at this point? Perhaps my own personal prayer for the year ahead? Or maybe a quote from one of several good books I am currently reading?

In the end, I believe I made the best choice. On the first page of my new journal, I copied out the words of Psalm 33:20-22 as neatly as I could:

We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield.

In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name.

May your unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord, even as we put our hope in you.

Can you think of a better statement or better prayer with which to begin a new year? I know I can’t. This world really is an uncertain place, isn’t it? No one can say with complete confidence that they know what 2013 will hold for any of us. This past week, parts of our country have been in the grip of catastrophic bushfires, which can turn and race this way or that, according to which way the wind is blowing. One moment, those living in these areas had homes and property and businesses and livestock and pets—and the next, it was all gone. But for any of us, there is no real certainty in life. Yes, there are those who love us deeply, but they may not be able to be there for us forever. Only God is eternal.

So may you too face the year ahead with hope and trust in the Lord, fully aware of the Lord’s unfailing love resting upon you, whatever happens!

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This Christmas, among the many beautiful gifts I received was a small silver and gold tin from one of our daughters. Judging from the wonderful, gardenia-like perfume I could smell even before I opened the lid, I knew there was something special inside. Yes, to my delight, it turned out to be a precious cake of soap.

I love receiving such gifts, but this particular one seems almost too good to use. At the moment, it lives beside me on my desk so I can open it and enjoy its beautiful perfume from time to time. And that’s how I recently noticed the fine gold lettering on the back of the tin.

Housed in a collectible tin, I read. Yes, it is a pretty cute container. Each precious soapette is made from a rich vegetable base … to create a decadent lather that leaves the skin brilliantly refreshed, it went on. Yes, my skin could definitely do with such refurbishment, I decided!

But it was what I read next that dumbfounded me. There was the word ‘DIRECTIONS’, written in capitals, just as I have here. Yet … wait a minute! What special instructions could one possibly need when it comes to using soap?

I read on with interest. Add water and massage onto body for a creamy lather. Rinse thoroughly with water. Really?! I checked again to make sure there was no hidden gem here I was missing. After all, perhaps I’d being doing it wrong all these years. One never knows. But in the end, I decided that yep, that’s pretty much what it boils down to—adding water, then rinsing!

I laughed out loud. Who could possibly need such simple directions? Doesn’t everyone know that? But then it occurred to me that perhaps cakes of soap were a novelty to some people. Perhaps they always use liquid soap or gel. Perhaps not everyone is old-fashioned like me.

Then I began thinking a little more about it all. Are there other instructions in life I laugh at because they’re so simple or commonplace? What else might I decide not to read because I know all about it already? How often have I jumped in and done something, without bothering to take the time to read the directions or do the necessary preparations?

I’m a bit like that at times when it comes to the Word of God, I decided. I skim over so much, thinking I know all the wisdom contained there. I see and hear the words of Jesus to his disciples and think to myself I’ve heard it all before. Of course I believe it all and try to put such things into practice in my life. Who wouldn’t? But then something—perhaps God’s Spirit—pulls me up short. Are you hearing me, Jo-Anne? Are you really putting into practice the things I am asking you to do here?

Then I remembered the simple story of the sower Jesus told (Luke 8)—and took it to heart. What riches from God have a trampled on in 2012 and simply left for the birds? What wisdom did I not cultivate? What things did I allow to crowd into my life and crowd out God?

In 2013, may we have ears to hear what God says to each of us, however simple and familiar it may seem. And may we have the courage to put it into practice in our lives.

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Here we are at the brink of 2013, with a blank slate before us yet again. Some of us may feel we know already what our year will contain. For others, there may be all sorts of unknowns, options, possibilities, decisions ahead. But for all of us, there will no doubt be those challenges or hiccups along the way we didn’t foresee that may threaten to discourage or even derail us.

I love the Psalms. Even when I am reading another part of Scripture, I keep on returning to them. And as I did this yet again recently, I came upon Psalm 25:15:

My eyes are ever on the Lord, for only he will release my feet from the snare.

What is this snare King David talks about here, I wondered. What will such snares be for me in 2013? What traps lie ahead for you, do you think?

In one sense, such snares or traps are by definition unexpected—we don’t know where or what they are so we fall into them. But judging from past experience, for me one of the most obvious could be failing to give myself enough time, in the midst of everything else involved in a writer’s life, for actually writing. There is nothing like being truly creative, listening to what my characters want to say and do, letting my imagination take wings. This brings me such fulfilment. And in those times, God is also very close—even intrinsically involved in the whole process.

Another obvious trap for me could be forging ahead in my own strength and according to my own wisdom, rather than looking to God for such things. I should know by now not to load myself down with speaking engagements, for example, that may not be God’s idea, but instead may arise from my own fear that God is incapable of providing me with such opportunities. Of course I have to play my part in finding these, but there is a fine balance between trusting in God and trusting in myself.

Yet another possible trap for me could be comparing myself with other authors. Their books are so different from mine. Am I completely on the wrong track? They seem to be doing so well—everyone seems to be reading their books. Should I try to change my style? Should I stop writing altogether? Should I expend my energy in other, more fruitful directions?

But the trap that could present the most danger for me in 2013 is that of crowding God out in the midst of everything else. How could that happen? How could I possibly lose sight of my Lord, the one who gives life, who comforts, guides and sustains? Yet I have found, even in a busy ministry and speaking role, how easily this can happen. Our enemy doesn’t give up and is always busily setting those snares and hiding those traps.

So today, on the brink of a new year, I take note again of David’s words in Psalm 25:15. It is only God, I know, who is capable of helping me see those hidden traps and of releasing my feet when I do stumble into them. I want to walk through 2013 with my eyes on the Lord, who alone can show me the way ahead.

How about you? Are your eyes in the right place too as you step into the new year?

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