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Posts Tagged ‘God-given gifts’

Do you remember a time when you had to blow your own trumpet, so to speak, and convince others you could handle a particular task or fulfil a particular role well, perhaps when applying for a job you truly wanted? It can feel very awkward, can’t it—not to mention downright pushy! 

Ever since my first novel was published, I have had to promote myself in ways I would never have dreamed of doing earlier on. I thought I was becoming more used to it and beginning to see it as merely a necessary part of the writing journey. Yet, recently, I felt daunted all over again when I filled in an author submission ‘pitch’ for a potential publisher of my next non-fiction book I am currently completing. This form consisted of only five questions, but each one necessitated much thought and re-writing. And two in particular made me cringe as I tried to answer them as best I could.

The first of these asked, ‘How will new readers benefit from your book?’ Now, I am indeed passionate about this book I am writing. It deals with the many words we all speak and write throughout our lives and urges us to leave a life-giving legacy behind us when we share them with others. I believe one hundred per cent in the thoughts it contains and sincerely hope and pray they will indeed benefit and build up many of my readers. Yet, it still seems presumptuous to me to declare with certainty, in black and white, ‘My readers will benefit from this book in the following ways …’. What happened to any humility I might have gained over the years?

Another question I sighed over asked, ‘Why are you qualified to be the person to write this book?’ Hmm! I do have a couple of tertiary degrees and diplomas in the areas of language, education, theology and ministry. I have written nine other books and hundreds of blogs. I have also spoken in all sorts of meetings in recent years, had many conversations with people and written countless emails. Yet, surely in stating all this on that form, I would be loudly blowing my own trumpet?

This strange saying ‘blowing our own trumpet’ apparently refers to past days when heralds sounded trumpets to let everyone know the king was coming! Instead, Jesus, our King, set us such a perfect example of true humility and grace when he put everything aside, came to this earth in human form for us and died a criminal’s death (Philippians 2:6-8). What a contrast! And we too are called to have that same heart of humility today.

 Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves … You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Philippians 2:3, 5 NLT

This is the attitude I indeed want to have in all my writing and speaking and in life in general. Yet, we are also called to use our God-given gifts to their fullest extent to bless others and draw them closer to God—and I want to be faithful in doing that too. It can be tricky, to step out in confidence yet also to remain humble—but let’s keep trusting God to show us how.

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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

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We are complex beings, aren’t we? Sometimes we think we know why we do the things we do, but then we may discover other reasons lurking beneath the surface. We may try to help someone, yet find in the end our actions are more to make us feel good about ourselves. Or we may give that help in the hope that, when we need help, they will perhaps return the favour. We like to think our motives are pure, but sometimes they can be more mixed than we care to believe, as I myself discovered recently.

Sometime last year, a gentleman invited me to speak at a secular venue and told me I would receive a monetary gift towards my travel costs. I thought that was quite generous as, often in the past, I have received instead either a bottle of wine, which I usually give away, or some chocolates, which I don’t eat! I thanked him, but then enquired whether I could also display my books. This seemed to shock him, however.

‘Well, either we give you the money or you sell your books!’ he told me in a rather incensed tone. ‘But if you want to bring a few, I’ll look the other way.’

I felt like some mercenary criminal. Why he would need to look the other way? I have sold my books at such meetings many times before and still received some sort of gift at least. Besides, any author will tell you writing books is not a good way to get rich quickly—unless one’s book is a bestseller!

This particular meeting was cancelled because of Covid but, when we made a new date, I discovered this man would not be there then. So, I decided to display my books after all and see what happened as far as any monetary gift was concerned.

Nothing did. I sold two books, which of course did not cover travel costs, and returned home more than a little disgruntled.

As I reflected on this experience, however, I began to feel more ashamed than disgruntled. Hands down, if I had to choose, I would prefer to sell my books rather than receive money to cover travel costs. After all, I want readers to enjoy my books and also hopefully be drawn closer to God in some way. Besides, many times I have happily spoken at different places, well aware there will be no monetary gift afterwards. Yet this day, I sensed my motives had shifted a little.

In the end, I decided to sit down and remember who gave me the gifts of writing and speaking and who has enabled me to do both for years now. I might not have made a great deal—but I am not in debt either. And I have met many interesting people along the way and learnt so much. Soon I began to feel thankful again for my wonderful, God-given, unexpected, later-in-life journey. And I remembered too the verse featured on my website, reminding me to glorify God, rather than seek glory and gain for myself.

Not to us, O Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness. Psalm 115:1

I hope I keep that wonderful, pure motive in mind more often in future.

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I wonder how you have found the whole experience of coming out of hibernation, so to speak, now some of our COVID restrictions have lifted. It has been wonderful to re-engage with family and friends again at home and in public places after so long, hasn’t it? But I have also heard comments from others that have reassured me I am not the only one finding this re-emerging experience a little challenging at times.

A few weeks ago, I spoke at a Probus Club where over a hundred people turned up. It was their first meeting back after lockdown and everyone seemed so eager and happy to see one another again. Yet it all felt a little surreal … was it truly okay for everyone to be gathering again publicly like this? I didn’t even have to wear a mask while speaking—such liberty indeed! I enjoyed my time there, but how lovely it was too to get back in my car afterwards and head home to my own quiet haven!

A few days later, I attended my first ‘live’ church service for many months. Again, it felt surreal, as I looked around and tried to recognise everyone behind their masks. It was lovely to sing those worship songs again, albeit in a muffled way, and connect with a few people afterwards. But it was also a joy to return to the quietness of our home later.

The following week, I drove to a large shopping centre to meet a friend. As I approached the coffee shop where we were to meet, those niggling doubts surfaced again. Were we truly allowed to spend quality time in a place like this, enjoying each other’s company? When we finished talking over two hours later, it was lunchtime and the nearby food hall area was crammed with diners. What a shock to see and hear so many people eating and talking together in the one big area—where had they all come from? I quickly donned my mask and scuttled to the car park.  What a relief to head home, back to my safe cocoon!

It’s so easy for those of us who are more introverted to hide away and not connect with others, isn’t it? Yet I know when I do make the effort, there are lovely conversations and special connections with others to be had that I would otherwise miss out on. I would be the poorer as a result—and others may be too.

God has gifted each of us to serve others and touch others’ lives in some unique way. Yes, it may be through being alone for long periods as we write or compose or create some unique work of art—or even pray for the world around us. But it’s important, as we are able, to take courage and make those face-to-face connections too.

Each one should use whatever gift he (or she) has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. 1 Peter 4:10

As we step into the new year, may we remember well how Jesus chose to come to earth to engage with each one of us in a deep, life-changing way. May we have that same gracious heart and freely choose to reach out in love to those around us.

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IMG_20180410_101220307One morning recently, I drove across town to speak at a women’s event. When I arrived, I saw at once how much work the organisers had done. Everything looked perfect—all the tables were beautifully decorated and there was a mound of food ready for the women to enjoy. Later, I was told one lady had made all those scrumptious delicacies herself—her labour of love and gift to others.

Then I noticed one table that looked a little out of place. It was piled high in a kind of haphazard way with balls of wool, ribbons, pieces of lace and containers of buttons of all shapes and sizes, plus a few other decorative odds and ends. Had the ladies organising everything forgotten about it?

After the meeting began, someone explained to everyone why that unusual table was there. This group has undertaken the project of knitting ‘mitts’—thick  hand warmers, sometimes called ‘twiddle mitts’ or ‘fidget muffs’ made of different textured yarns, with all sorts of beads, buttons, ribbons, lace and other interesting objects sewn onto them which dementia sufferers can ‘twiddle’. These mitts often help sufferers stay calm and overcome restlessness, which are common symptoms of dementia. They may also prevent some from pulling their clothes or scratching their skin and can help trigger memories too.

What a lovely idea, I thought—such a good way for ‘crafty’ people to use their gifts to benefit others! And such a good way to use up those odds and ends of wool, ribbons, lace and other bits and pieces too.

Then it was my turn to speak. At one stage, I showed a photo of my lovely ‘soul friend’ Joy and mentioned the fact that she now sadly suffers from dementia. The point I was making was just one among quite a few—but someone was listening carefully with a caring heart and came up to me later.

‘Please choose one of our knitted mitts for your “soul friend”,’ she said quietly. ‘We wouldIMG_20180422_173401196 love you to take one to her.’

I was touched by this lady’s thoughtfulness—not to mention the hours of knitting and sewing on of buttons, beads, ribbons and laces someone had spent making the lovely mitt I chose. What a wonderful treasure to be able to give my friend!

As I drove home, the following verses came to mind:

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 4:10-11

While I used what I believe is my God-given gift of speaking, others had served via baking, decorating the tables beautifully, making cards and gifts for each person attending and of course knitting those calming mitts. In short, we had each in our own way enjoyed the amazing privilege of being ‘faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms’, of enabling that grace to flow through us to others.

How wonderful to be involved in such labours of love and hopefully to bring God praise in the process!

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piano-1655558_1920I wonder if you have ever been thanked for something you truly had not even thought twice about—something that perhaps came easily to you or was almost automatic? This happened to me on two occasions recently—and, with each one, it had to do with playing the piano, something I have not done seriously for many years.

The first occurred just before I was due to accompany our Village choir for their Christmas presentation in the nearby nursing home. Before the program started, I decided to play some carols softly, more for my own sake than anything else, to get my fingers working. I did not think many were listening—but I was wrong. Later, as I was about to leave, a lady stopped me.

‘I truly enjoyed your soft playing before the choir came,’ she said with some emotion. ‘It was so beautiful—it made me cry!’

I was quite shocked—but also extremely humbled.  I had not really thought about those residents sitting patiently waiting—I was just running through some simple carols. Yet somehow God used my playing to bless one other person at least.

The second occurred a few days later at a Christmas gathering for our particular area of the Village, when a lady I had only vaguely seen in the distance prior to this approached me.

‘I want to thank you so much for playing those carols in your unit!’ she said. ‘My husband is not well at all and can barely get out of bed. But he wanted me to tell you how much he has enjoyed lying there, listening to you play. So thank you!’

This time, I was very shocked. I am always aware when I play my piano in our lounge area that nearby residents may hear me, but I did not think the sound would reach as far as the unit where this lady and her husband live. Yet in this case, what I thought might annoy someone intensely turned out to bless them deeply instead. Once again, I had underestimated God. Once again, even when I was not trying much at all and not producing any sort of polished performance, God used my playing to bless this sick man.

At first, these events almost made me feel guilty. I should have tried harder. I should have put more thought into my playing. But then I stepped back and decided instead simply to be grateful that something I could do relatively easily could bless others so much. And I remembered too my old music teachers of many years ago who schooled me so well in sight-reading and music theory. As a result of their efforts, I had much less trouble swapping from one key to another for each carol!

It’s kind of like the story of the loaves and fishes, don’t you think? An insignificant offering—yet the end result was something I bet that young boy whose lunch it was could never have envisaged (John 6). So in the new year, let’s continue to offer up and use our God-given gifts, even without thinking too much about them, and watch God do the rest!

Each one should use whatever gift he (or she) has received, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various ways. 1 Peter 4:10

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