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Archive for the ‘Devotions’ Category

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.

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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?

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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

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Soon after my first novel Heléna was published in 2007, I became curious about where all those early copies would get to. I remember wishing I could install a tracking device on them so I could see who read them and what interesting adventures they had along the way. Of course, I also realised that could be discouraging. After all, some might end up unopened on dusty bookshelves somewhere or, worse still, in the recycling bin! On the other hand, some readers might love the novel and even lend it out—or buy it as a gift. Some copies might end up in libraries too and hopefully be borrowed often. The possibilities were endless!

During COVID lockdown, I had several requests for my older novels, especially All the Days of My Life, the sequel to Heléna. It seemed people had re-discovered Heléna on their bookshelves while bored at home, then decided they would like the sequel. I do not stock any of these two novels now, so asked family and friends if they would part with their old copies. Several were unearthed in this way and it was fun to give them another chance at life with new owners.

Then this past week, I received another request via email for All the Days of My Life. A lady wrote to tell me her husband had just finished reading Heléna and loved it. So … did I have any second-hand copies of the sequel available? I didn’t—but I knew a friend had one. I drove to pick it up and emailed the prospective buyers to sort out postage, only to discover this couple actually live in Canada! Apparently, they found my novel Heléna in their church library—but how did it get there? What’s more, the copy is signed by me, so I must have sold it personally to someone.

To be honest, I am amazed people anywhere are still reading my very first novel published way back in 2007—and I am certainly amazed a copy has ended up in a church library in Canada! Somehow, time and distance have been no barrier for this particular copy at least.

Yet, as I have reflected on this whole story, I have realised something even more amazing. I may not be able to install tracking devices on my books, but God knows where they have all got to—and God is quite able to carry them through time and space to wherever they can minister to someone. Those fifteen years since Heléna was published here in Australia are the mere blink of an eye to God—they are certainly no barrier to the One who was and is and always will be.

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 2 Peter 3:8

I find this verse so reassuring, don’t you? Somehow, it puts everything I worry about into much better perspective. Things may take longer to unfold in life than I might have hoped—and yes, my books may also not have as wide a distribution as others. But I can be at peace about it all, because I belong to the most awesome, powerful Creator of the universe for whom no barriers are ever insurmountable.

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I usually enjoy myself wherever I am invited to speak. I have given all sorts of talks at all sorts of venues to all sorts of audiences—I still do. I am so thankful for these opportunities and for the many lovely people I have met along the way. But occasionally, these experiences can leave a little to be desired. And on those days, I can come away feeling quite frustrated and disappointed.

After a time of reflection, however, I usually become a little more balanced and can see the positive elements in the whole experience too. Also, I try to ask God how I could have responded better and what I need to learn through it. There is always room for growth, isn’t there?

This was the process I went through again only last week, after speaking at two different secular groups on consecutive days. The first day, I came away more than a little cranky. The group leaders were quite disorganised and, as a result, I had to shorten my input and zip through it all so the meeting would not run overtime. I kept a careful eye on the clock, yet, just as I was finishing, someone called out rudely that my time was almost up. I suspect a good portion of my audience felt as embarrassed as I did, judging by the sympathetic looks several of them gave me as they specially came to thank me afterwards and take my card!

That night, I tried to give it all to God, hoping and praying my speaking engagement the next day would be more pleasant. This time, I got to speak first off and, because I could see I had a few minutes to spare, I even managed to read out the words I had put on my final power point slide:

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

The rest of the meeting was very well organised and finished early, so at the end, I had time to chat at my book table with the lady who had invited me to speak. Then another lady joined us.

‘What was that poem you read out at the end of your talk, dear?’ she asked me. ‘It was so lovely!’

I told her it was from Psalm 139 in the Bible and gave her the page of my notes where I had printed the verse out.

‘Thank you so much,’ she responded a little tearily. ‘I’ve been to two funerals this week and… well… those words are just so… ’

As we talked, I silently prayed and thanked God for this lady. Yes, God comforted and encouraged her so lovingly through the words of this psalm. But God also ministered to me by giving me this precious moment with a complete stranger—a moment that far outweighed all that had happened the previous day and has served to encourage me to keep speaking wherever I am invited.

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I often feel it would be good if we could be in two places at once. At times I would like to attend some event, yet have promised to do something else already on the same day. At times too, my heart may say yes to turning up at some gathering, yet my head tells me I need to catch up on things at home. It can be a dilemma, can’t it?

One Saturday recently, our church held a retreat day. I sensed God wanted me there, yet it was a tussle. Life had been a little hectic and I longed to be quiet somewhere by myself, rather than be with a hundred other women. And I knew that going out for a whole day would make me even busier the following week, as I caught up on everything. Yet, somewhere inside, a gentle but insistent voice urged me to put my name down to attend.

I went—and it was not long before I found out why I was supposed to be there. In the very first of our three sessions, we focussed on the theme ‘Living with a kingdom perspective’, during which the speaker read out Colossians 3:1-2 from The Message version:

So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.

At the end of that session, we were invited to jot down what we sensed the challenge or invitation from Jesus was for us so far, which I did. I wrote how I did indeed want to see my life from God’s perspective. In particular, I needed to discern whether God wanted me to write another non-fiction book at this stage or whether it was time to put the whole idea aside. I had started on a particular project already—I had even written an introduction and jotted down ideas for various chapters, as well as a possible title and sub-title for the book. Yet, my progress had been slow and discouraging. I sensed something was wrong with my whole approach—or was it that the whole idea was just a bit crazy?

As I sat trying to listen to God, something seemed to shift inside me. I felt as if a bright light had been turned on somewhere in my mind. In an instant, an idea for an entirely different way to tackle my projected book seemed to drop into my lap, complete with a title I love and a sub-title that describes exactly what I want to write about. I would never have dreamt these up myself. Instead, God simply gave me a much better perspective on it all and did so with such gentleness and grace. Of course, I still have to write the book—and that will require lots of work. But now that I sense it is God’s idea, I can tackle it with much more confidence.

It’s such a relief to be able to see things more from God’s perspective, isn’t it? Our own view may be skewed, but God’s never is.

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We sat on the back patio in the warm sun, chatting as we ate our lunch. This year, while my husband and I met with our son’s family for afternoon tea on Mothers’ Day itself, I decided I wanted to catch up with our two daughters separately on different days. This then was my opportunity to be with our older daughter and, even though our meal was relatively simple, I found our time together and the warm conversation we enjoyed priceless.

I had made egg sandwiches which our daughter then garnished with parsley and chives from her garden, thus adding wonderful aroma and taste and lifting my basic fare out of the ordinary. Then our daughter served a delicious sponge cake she had baked, complete with jam and cream in the centre and icing sugar on top. What a treat! Immediately, it brought back such comforting memories of my mother’s and grandmother’s sponges which I myself have never been able to replicate.

We topped off our special yet simple lunch with hot cups of tea—all so enjoyable on that level alone. But as we relaxed and chatted, I was reminded again of a deep truth I have noticed many times in the past and experienced myself—the truth that most of us so long to be listened to. Really listened to, that is. This day with our daughter, I felt heard, airing all my various current concerns about my writing and life in general with her. And I hope and pray she felt the same, as I tried my best to hear clearly the things she shared and empathise with her in the process.

You see, one thing she mentioned in this time was that, when talking with a particular friend, she often does not feel heard. ‘They just do not listen!’ she told me with great frustration. Have you ever experienced this yourself? This is how misunderstanding happens, isn’t it? We can feel negated and disrespected and … well, somehow plain wrong. And we can come to believe what we offer the world is worthless.

I suspect I am particularly aware of this issue because I myself tend to talk a lot when in a one-on-one setting with someone. I have so many thoughts and ideas running around in my head I want to share that I know I can easily monopolise the conversation at times and even silence the other person. Yet often I am there to listen to them, not vice versa! Instead, I need to give them space, to honour who they are and, in general, to hear them well. I need to rein in my own desires and, instead, put the other person first.

I have always found what James says about listening very challenging.

Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry … James 1:19 NIV

As for the following verse from two different versions … ouch!

To answer before listening is foolish and shameful. Proverbs 18:13 NIRV

Answering before listening is both stupid and rude. Proverbs 18:13The Message

I don’t want to be stupid or rude when talking with others, do you? And I don’t want to feel ashamed either of my own self-centredness. So … let’s listen to others more. And let’s listen so well!

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One night recently, I received a phone call from a distraught friend.

‘I’m in a terrible pickle!’ she gasped. ‘We filled in a form on my computer and now I’ve been scammed. Please pray!’

The next morning, I received a text from another friend. She has been quite unwell and was facing a scary doctor’s appointment.

‘Would appreciate prayer,’ she wrote. ‘I don’t want to cough in the middle of my eye injection!’

My heart went out to these friends who both needed God’s protection—and the courage to keep trusting God in their scary situations.

I began to pray for them, yet soon found myself almost overwhelmed with fear and so doubtful God would be able to rescue them. Then I realised I was falling for one of those old traps the enemy loves to set for us. I could almost hear him sniggering at my lack of faith and, at that point, I became determined not to let him win—over me or my friends. So, I prayed again, entrusting them and their situations to our loving, all-powerful Lord.

We all need courage, not only to face life’s challenges but also to stand firm in our faith, resist the enemy and be prayerful at all times. Recently, I started reading Acts again. And again, I marvelled at the change in the disciples, particularly Peter, when the Holy Spirit comes upon them at Pentecost (Acts 2). Immediately after, Peter does not hesitate to address the crowd who have gathered and call them to repentance (2:38). Then, after the lame man at the temple gates is healed, Peter boldly preaches to a huge crowd (3). And when he and John are jailed and hauled before the rulers, elders and teachers of the law, he again does not hold back.

It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. 4:10

I find the religious leaders’ baffled response so interesting too:

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realised that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. 4:17

But this is not the end. After Peter and John are commanded not to speak or teach in Jesus’ name again, they boldly declare they simply have to (4:20). They are threatened further but finally released—at which point they head back to the other believers. Then a wonderful time of prayer ensues, during which the Holy Spirit fills everyone present, enabling them to share the word of God with great boldness (4:31). And on it goes, with Peter and the apostles continuing to proclaim the good news of Jesus day after day with amazing courage (5:12-41).

I want to face life with more of this same courage and boldness, don’t you? Although we cannot be with Jesus in human form, as Peter and John were, we can still talk with him and learn from him each day. And, like those early believers, we also have God’s Spirit within us who will fill and empower us to face whatever comes our way. So … let’s trust God and go for it!

Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong.1 Corinthians 16:13 NLT

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Last week, I reached a milestone in my little corner of the blogging world. I did not notice until this week because of a glitch in my numbering system, so what a surprise to discover I had written 700 personal blogs since July 2009!

At first, I thought, ‘Ho hum—who cares?’ After all, I enjoy writing my blogs and hope to continue for a while yet, regardless what number blog I am up to. But then I paused … and listened. It was as if God was whispering gently to me, ‘Whoa, Jo-Anne! How about you stop right now and think about all that has happened for you over these past almost thirteen years?’

So, I stopped and reflected. What a crazy but wonderful writing and speaking journey I have had in those years! Not only did God enable me to churn out a blog each week, but also to produce five more novels and two non-fiction books to add to my two previously published novels. Who would have thought? Certainly not I. And who would have thought too that I would have the opportunity to speak at all sorts of places along the way? I have lost count of how many such events have taken place, but it would be over two hundred, many wonderful, some … well … interesting!

As I looked back, however, I realised so much else has happened during these years too that I did not expect—personally, family-wise and certainly wider afield. For example, we sold our home of 32 years for what to us was a staggering sum and came to live here in our lovely, restful unit—an unexpected blessing indeed. Family-wise, we welcomed a fourth grandchild—another lovely blessing. In that time too though, my special ‘soul friend’ Joy suffered from dementia, something I did not expect to happen to her, eventually passing away last year. And, of course, who would have thought we would all be facing a worldwide pandemic in 2020—and 2021—and 2022?

We can plan and work towards what we dream of doing and what we may also believe is what God wants for us—and, by God’s grace, these plans and dreams may be fulfilled beyond our expectations. Yet, for many of us, this does not turn out to be the case, for one reason or another. For some, the question ‘Who would have thought?’ may be a joyous exclamation, while for others, it may well be a deep cry of anguish.

Yet, however surprised or shocked we may be at the twists and turns in our lives, positive or negative, God surely is not. And perhaps that is what God wanted me to see, as I reflected on these past thirteen years. Perhaps God is challenging me to remember who truly is in control of my life. Perhaps I need to be much more thankful I belong to such a loving, powerful God. And perhaps I need to realise my role is to keep living for and trusting in God, whatever happens.

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

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I thought I had cured myself of being a ‘glass half empty’ person. I thought I had learnt to be more grateful for family and friends, for the lovely things I own and the wonderful experiences I have had. Yet now and then, I hear this peevish, little voice inside me complaining about something I have missed out on or pointing out things tantalisingly beyond my reach. ‘Yes, you have that,’ it says, ‘but … well, you could have had this instead. Look what you’ve missed out on yet again!’

Recently, I received an email announcing the results of a short story competition I entered months ago. In it, I discovered that, while I did not win, my story was among the ten best entries and that, as a result, I would receive $150. This was a pleasant surprise, especially since I had forgotten all about the competition. But then came that ‘glass half empty’ moment when I remembered that the first prize was ten times that amount—$1500. Immediately, my joy in winning my $150 was dimmed. ‘I could have done lots with that $1500,’ I grumbled. ‘The email says that choosing a winner was difficult. Probably I just missed out.’

Thankfully, God soon intervened and I began to laugh at myself—especially when I remembered that the basic story idea had emerged from something someone else told me rather than from any cleverness on my part. Yes, I embellished it and put time and effort into polishing it up, after gaining my friend’s permission. But in reality, as I believe God showed me, this story was a gift from the very beginning—and any prize I received was an added bonus.

I suspect all of us can think of things or experiences we would very much like to have, including those we may have enjoyed in a past role or setting. Recently, I attended a funeral back at the church where we spent many years and, while it was good to honour our friend who had passed away, see other old friends and be in a place we had loved so much, it was also rather painful to realise those days are well and truly gone now. For a while, I indulged in a little self-pity, but then God reminded me of lessons learnt back then and the wonderful life experiences I have had since, including my writing journey.

I may yearn for times past or for things beyond my reach, for one reason or another, yet it is unhealthy to stay in this negative, ‘glass half empty’ space, isn’t it? Instead, I am called to live fully and realistically in the present moment with God, noticing what there is for me to do right now and doing it with all my heart. And I am also called to be thankful and at peace, knowing God is with me, whatever is happening or not happening around me.

May I soon learn to see that glass not as half empty at all, but gloriously half full—indeed, constantly brimming over with God’s grace and goodness and incredible love!

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5

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