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Posts Tagged ‘encouragement’

Jo 12Have you ever experienced a time when someone reminded you of something helpful you said to them once, yet you had no memory of ever saying it? You know this person is not lying—you know you must have said those words they remember. Yet you still feel something of a fraud, taking any credit for the encouragement you gave them, when it has now gone from your mind!

Recently, I heard how Jeanie Wood, whom I met around two years ago, was about to release her first novel (The Travel Club, published by Elephant House Press).That’s nice, I thought, I’m so glad she will have the joy of seeing her book in print. Now people often tell me how they would like to write a book ‘one day’—and equally often, I suspect they will never get around to it or have the self-discipline to complete such a big task. But Jeanie had actually followed through with it all and achieved her long-held dream.

Then one day she messaged me, thanking me for encouraging her to write a novel ‘just for fun’. Wow, I thought, did I really say or write that? I remembered chatting to her when we first met and offering to read a few chapters of some of her writing, which she subsequently sent me. I remembered too how one piece of non-fiction she had written was very sad and would have stirred up past memories for her of difficult times. Was that perhaps the reason I had encouraged her to write something quite different? Whatever the case, God had obviously used those three words I can’t even remember saying or writing to spur her on and help usher her into a new and extremely fulfilling part of her writing journey.

But then there are other words we say at times that do not bring joy and fulfilment. I wonder if someone has ever reminded you of something you said or wrote that hurt them, yet you were unaware that was the case—and again, may not have remembered saying or writing it.

This too happened to me once. In that instance, while I remembered what I wrote, I had no idea my words would offend. Imagine my horror then when, a few years later, this person let me know in no uncertain terms how deeply I had hurt her. I then had to write back, asking what she meant, only to be shocked all over again at the depth of her feelings as she reiterated in fine detail what I had said and done. Yet how to apologise? I did try—and I also tried to explain what I had meant, but I am unsure how successful my overtures were.

Sometimes we can be so amazed and grateful that our words have impacted others in a positive way, can’t we? At other times, we may wish we could take those words of ours back and swallow them whole! Either way, let’s continue to learn to listen well to God, to seek to tame our tongues and to share more of those positive, life-giving words rather than any that will hurt or discourage.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Ephesians 4:29

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Jo 23After writing seven books, one would think I’d know the drill when it comes to my eighth. But no. Instead, I seem to have the knack of forgetting the painful parts of bringing a book into being and remembering only the joy of it all—a little like when having our three children!

So here I was, about a third of the way through editing and re-writing my latest book when I came to a particularly poorly written section. What was I thinking when I wrote those words? What did they add to the storyline? Why would anyone be interested in reading such rubbish anyway? So out these wondrous sentences all went, with one click of that handy delete button on my keyboard.

But that wasn’t the end of it. I began to question more than just a few sentences here and there. I began to question the whole idea of writing a second memoir. Was it worth all the effort I was exerting to polish it up? Would my publisher be interested in it anyway? Would there be a market out there for it?

I was tired. And I had other things to do, such as preparing for some upcoming writing workshops. I had also spoken somewhere the previous day where only a few people turned up. I’m sure God touched those present, but it had required effort on my part and a long drive to be there. I sat at my desk feeling somewhat hard done by, to put it mildly. Was it all worth it?

At that point, I noticed my Bible open beside me. I had not read it that day—I had been too busy editing. I glanced down at that open page and it was then that I saw the heading of the particular section I was to read next in Hebrews:

A Call to Persevere!

I literally felt a slight jolt through my body and almost laughed out loud. How like God to set my thinking straight in such an ‘in your face’ way!

I read on. Yes, I soon realised that Hebrews 10:19-25 deals with the need to hold onto our Christian faith and the hope this gives us and to encourage one another to do the same, right to the very end.

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Heb 10:23-24

So essentially, this passage is not about hanging in there in writing books. But behind those words, by the Spirit’s prompting, I believe I saw and heard the heart of God for me, right where I am now—and for us all. And as my own spirit was encouraged, I began to see things from God’s perspective instead of my own warped and limited one. I began to look at my writing with fresh eyes and to see that yes, perhaps I was saying some worthwhile things after all and perhaps I could polish and fine tune this manuscript as required. I simply needed to persevere. And I know how to do that. I’ve done it before and I can do it again, in God’s strength.

How about you? Do you need a little more God-perspective too?

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Have you ever looked forward to having some ‘down time’ in a coffee shop by yourself, perhaps reading a favourite book or just chilling out? On a recent visit to a coffee shop, I saw someone doing exactly that—or trying to. The only trouble was he was sitting near a table where two women were talking animatedly. And I was one of those two women!

It happened like this. My friend and I had not seen each other for some time and were looking forward to catching up. She arrived at the coffee shop first and found a table in as private a spot as possible. As I joined her, I noticed a girl sitting in a nearby lounge and hoped our talking would not annoy her. I then bought our coffee and soon became immersed in the conversation with my friend.

We talked … and talked … and talked! At one stage, I remember noticing the girl near us leave and another person take her place—this time a youngish man. Again, I hoped we would not disturb him, but he soon seemed happily immersed in reading a book and drinking his coffee. So we continued talking … on and on and on … for over two hours all up!

After some time, the man stood up to leave. But as he did, he turned to us and smiled. I apologised in case we had been disturbing him but he shook his head.

‘No, no—I should be the one apologising!’ he quickly told us. ‘I probably shouldn’t have been eavesdropping. I could easily have just sat and read, but I was interested in what you were saying!’

At that point, my mind did a huge back flip. What sorts of things had we talked about? I was sure we hadn’t put anyone else down or gossiped or anything. But our conversation had ranged over a variety of subjects—from books we had read to thoughts about living the Christian life and being part of a church and many other similar topics. And I had shared quite a bit about my writing journey and the current opportunities I had to speak at different places. What could this man have possibly made of it all?

‘I just want to encourage you to keep doing what you’re doing and keep going—that’s wonderful!’ he went on then. ‘In fact, there’s a really good women’s conference starting soon near here. I’m even prepared to pay or you to go! I’ll give you my email address so you can contact me.’

We sat stunned. He duly wrote down his contact details and as he did, we checked if he meant the ‘Colour’ conference conducted by Hillsong, which he did. He then left, still showing his appreciation for what he had overheard.

I was impressed. What a gracious eavesdropper! But this event also made me think. What if our conversation hadn’t been honouring to God and others? What a disservice we would have done to the kingdom! And what if this man hadn’t bothered to take a risk and speak to us? I would have missed out on so much encouragement. How right Paul is when he says in Colossians 4:6:

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

So … when you next go out for coffee with someone …

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I almost missed it. There I was, so busy feeling sorry for myself because of my continuing lower back trouble that when the doorbell rang, all I could think of was the annoying fact that I had to get up to answer it. I asked the delivery man to put the box he was holding on the floor for me and decided not to open it at first. After all, I knew what was in it.

Soon curiosity got the better of me, however, and I opened the box to find twenty brand spanking new books there, hot off the press. I took one back to my bed and flipped through it.

‘That’s nice,’ I thought – then put it aside, still determined to feel sorry for myself.

Not long after, my husband came home.

‘A present for you,’ he said cheerily, as he threw a small parcel from our letterbox onto my bed.

In it, I found three audio CDs I also knew were coming.

‘That’s nice,’ I thought – and put them aside as well.

But then a challenging thought managed to worm its way through the cloak of self-pity I had wrapped firmly around me.

‘Look at you! You prayed this morning for God to encourage you – and now you’re letting this “dog in the manger” attitude spoil everything. Open your eyes! Wake up!’

I did just that. I picked up the book and CDs again and looked carefully at them. They were complimentary gifts, sent to say ‘thank you’ to me. You see, the book was ’40 Aussie Stories’,  just released by Strand Publishing, and among those stories were two of my blogs I had written for this very site during the past year. I had not submitted them to be included in this collection. Instead, the publisher had somehow found my blogs online and written to ask if he could use two or three of them in his book. And of course I was very happy for him to do so.

As for the CDs, they were from the Christian Blind Mission International in Melbourne. Some time back I had provided them with copies of my novels to record for people with print disabilities. I knew the first three had been professionally narrated and recorded, and now my contact there had sent me copies of these. As I examined them, I noted they had been narrated by Joy Westmore, a well-known Australian actor who has starred in various TV series such as ‘Prisoner’, ‘Neighbours’ and ‘Blue Heelers’, as well as playing many stage and screen roles.

I saw then how blessed I was that my writing had been used in such interesting ways to minister to others. But on top of that, here was God arranging that these gifts would arrive within minutes of each other on the very day I most needed encouragement. This was God’s grace reaching out to me, I realised – and I had nearly missed it.

In Hebrews 12:15 we read:

See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.

I had almost fallen into that trap – despite having written a novel with this specific verse as its theme! I immediately paused to thank God yet again for rescuing me and encouraging me in such amazing and timely way.

How about you? Have you missed out on seeing God’s grace at work in your own life lately?

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I am sure many of you, like me, have had a very big 2010. Perhaps, like me also, you look back at times with a kind of surreal feeling and wonder how you did it all. I think at this stage of the year we can all be excused for ‘feeling our noble tiredness’, as Michael Leunig once put it.

But this is also the time of the year, I often find, when I can tend to feel a little ‘blue’, wondering if all my speaking and writing efforts have made much difference in this world. This is warped thinking, I know. I have some lovely email and Facebook messages from readers who tell me how much they have valued my books – and it was only a few days ago after speaking somewhere that several people told me how much God had challenged and encouraged them through what I said. These comments set my heart and mind and rest and inspire me to keep going. But nothing speaks peace and encouragement into my heart more than God’s word itself, which has a unique way of putting everything in perspective, I find.

Take Isaiah 26, for example. Three things in particular here impacted this week. Firstly, verse 3 reminded me I need to keep trusting steadfastly in God if I am to remain at peace as I look back over the past year:

You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.

What a good antidote that is to the warped thinking of a tired brain! It is also a death knell to the distortions and accusations the enemy delights to throw at us when we are weary. As I choose to remain faithful, my mind focused on God, then I can be at peace, whatever has happened or will happen.

Secondly, verse 8 reminded me why I have put all this effort into speaking and writing this past year. It has been for God’s glory and not my own – ultimately, it’s not about what I have achieved or not achieved or how well people think of me. It’s not about me, full stop – it’s about God.

Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts.

So I can be at rest and at peace, as I take my eyes off myself and instead concern myself with bringing honour to God, waiting for him to show me how that can best be done.

And finally, verse 12 put all my efforts of the past year into very clear perspective. Yes, I might have worked hard, preparing talks, writing and editing my novels, liaising with people and travelling here and there to speak. But behind and in and through all that, God was at work.

Lord, you establish peace for us; all that we have accomplished you have done for us.

So again, it’s all about God and not about me. Yes, I needed to be willing to serve God and use my gifts, but God is the one who gave me the gifts; God is the one who called me; God is the one who empowered me; and God is ultimately responsible for what has or has not been accomplished.

I think I like God’s perspective, don’t you? So right now, I’m choosing to remain steadfast, to put God’s renown first and foremost and to remember who has enabled me to accomplish what I have this year.

And that, I believe, is how true peace comes.

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