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Posts Tagged ‘listening to God’

One Sunday morning recently, I walked past my husband’s study and heard his voice, loud and clear. He had been invited to preach at a ‘live’ service for a church across town via Zoom. I could tell he was putting his heart and soul into his message, as he tried to ensure this multicultural online congregation would understand and take his words to heart. Later that day, however, he felt quite tired. He had done it gladly, but it had taken extra effort to communicate in a way that would make his message understood by all. 

The previous afternoon, I had connected via Skype with a friend who has recently arrived home from overseas. We found it ironic that, even though she now lives only five minutes from me, we had to communicate in the same way as we had when she lived thousands of kilometres away. I felt disappointed, as I truly wanted to be present for her and hear her heart, which I find much easier face to face. But I tried hard to understand and empathise—and I hope she felt she had been listened to well, by the time we had finished.

A few days later, I took part in a Zoom interview hosted by a staff member of the Locker Valley Libraries in the area of Queensland where my latest novel Down by the Water is set. It was a little nerve-wracking, as I had only a vague idea beforehand what questions I would be asked. Nevertheless, I tried hard to focus and respond clearly, because I wanted any who might view the video to understand my heart in writing this particular novel and my motivations for writing in general. And thankfully, despite the challenges involved, I truly did enjoy the experience in the end.

It’s wonderful that, in these times of COVID restrictions, we have such ways of communicating at a distance. Yet it takes extra energy and effort too, don’t you think? It’s as if we have to compensate for all that space between us—as if we somehow have to add extra warmth and life and a sense of immediacy to the conversation as best we can. Yet I’m so glad that, when it comes to communicating with God, I don’t have to try to compensate for anything. I’m so glad God is always there, in me and around me, always ready to listen and to speak. I don’t have to work hard to explain myself or share what is on my heart, because God knows already anyway. What a relief!

Yet could it be that I sometimes take all this for granted? Would my times of connecting with God perhaps be even more wonderful if I put the same effort into them that I put into my Skype and Zoom calls, if I listened more with my whole heart and if I sought more earnestly to understand God’s heart?

This week, may we all be fully present to God. May we sense God’s loving gaze on us as we do. And may we listen well, with our whole hearts.

This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him! Matthew 17:5b

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. John 10:27

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I did not feel like baking on this particular day—and that should have been a warning to me. I know from past experience that when my mind is elsewhere, whatever I attempt in the kitchen may not turn out well. And that was definitely the case this time around.

I measured out the butter for my fruit cake carefully. Then the sugar followed—and the mixed fruit and nuts. I even congratulated myself that I had enough mixed fruit left for another fruit cake some other time. Then, after adding water, I put everything on to boil for a few minutes. But as I stirred that mixture, it did not look the same as usual. Had I put too much butter in? No—I remembered weighing it out so carefully. Perhaps I was imagining it. After all, I had not made this particular boiled fruit cake for a while.

I put the mixture aside until cool. But later, when I added the eggs, vanilla, flour and spices, it still looked different. I checked through the ingredients again. Yes, I had remembered everything. So, with a shrug, I put the cake in the oven.

Over two hours later, as I went to cut that cake, I noticed a lot less mixed fruit than usual in it. How could that be? Then in a sudden flash of insight, I realised what I had done. I had used only one cup of mixed fruit instead of three! As a result of my lack of concentration, I had left out two-thirds of the main ingredient! Yes, the cake was still edible. But it lacked its usual firm texture and lovely, rich taste my husband enjoys so much.

I slunk off to my study, feeling so disgruntled and annoyed with myself. But as I mulled over my mistake, I decided to ask God what I could learn from the whole experience. Surely something could be salvaged from this disappointing event, apart from a rather crumbly cake?

Then into my head and heart came the following thought. Yes, Jesus is Lord of my life. He died for me, has forgiven me, has brought me into God’s family, has given me fulfilment in this life and hope for the future. I love him and belong to him. Yet at times, I still manage to step into my days without giving much thought to this ‘main ingredient’ in my life. Or perhaps I spend some moments with him, but take on board only a portion of what he wants to say to me. As a result, I miss out on so much of the richness Jesus wants to pour into my days. And there is little of value within me either that I can offer to others for them to enjoy. In other words, I know the best recipe for my life—but I do not always follow it well.

I hope I take more care next time I bake. But much more importantly, I hope I have learnt that deeper lesson God had for me and ensure I am filled each day with the best main ingredient ever—that rich, tasty soul food God offers each one of us.

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. Psalm 34:8   

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‘You’re brave, attempting a Facebook Live Book Launch,’ someone told me recently.

I laughed, but wondered if ‘brave’ was the right word to choose. Surely ‘foolhardy’ would be better—or even perhaps ‘slightly deluded’? After all, while I use Facebook often, I have never quite understood it all. As well, our internet connection can be a little hit and miss at times, for unknown reasons. And we also suspected that, when too many people are using the internet at once, the sound quality of a Facebook live video can be affected.

Nevertheless, because of COVID restrictions, we decided to go ahead with an online launch, rather than a face-to-face gathering, which might not be possible on the day. We knew it would not be the same, being unable to see friends and family in the flesh and celebrate together over afternoon tea. And there would be no opportunity for them to pick up my latest novel and decide whether to buy it or not. Yet we realised there were advantages too in hosting an online launch. For a start, friends and family far away could join in. And if someone was unavailable at the actual launch time, they could always watch the saved version later.

At last, the moment came this past weekend for me to sit down at my laptop, take a deep breath and press that red button that said, ‘GO LIVE’. But as I waited for everyone to ‘arrive’ at the launch, I saw some comments from my audience about the poor sound quality. I sat closer to the microphone, but that made no difference. All I could do was forge ahead, hoping everyone could hear well enough.

And they did. To my great delight, even a good friend far away overseas was able to join in at 7.30am her time when it was -6 degrees Celsius where she lives. Undeterred, she snuggled under the bed covers, still in her warm PJs, and watched my live launch via her mobile, as I sat talking at my desk here in Sydney, in the middle of a heatwave!

I’m so glad that sound was good enough for her to understand me. But as I reflected more on my rather heart-in-mouth experience, I began to think how often, in the midst of life’s pressures, God’s voice can sound so muffled and distorted, just as mine did for my audience. Yet that is definitely not God’s fault! God is always there, speaking clearly to us each day through the written Word and in other ways too. Instead, I am the one who muffles or even mutes that loving voice, as I refuse to listen, choosing instead to busy myself with other things. Yet, just as I made the decision to keep talking during my launch, despite that poor sound quality, so God perseveres with us, always reaching out to us in love and grace, always calling us back, longing for us to listen.

In John 10:27, Jesus says:

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me.

May we all be such good listeners and good followers. And may we not let those cloudy connections muffle God’s voice and spoil the beautiful, loving relationship God offers each one of us!

PS If you missed the online book launch of my latest novel Down by the Water, please click here.

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Jo 23Sometimes it’s good to stop, isn’t it, and think about why we do the things we do? Perhaps for you, this isolation time has been an opportunity to do exactly that. And once we have thought about whatever it is, we can decide whether to continue on or try something different—or perhaps simply stop and be refreshed for a while.

Take blogging, for instance. This blog happens to be Number 600 of my personal, weekly blogs, each around 550 words long—yikes! That’s more than three of my novels put together! I began blogging in July 2009 and here I am, still going strong. But when I remember each blog would have taken me at least two hours to write—and some much longer, as I reflected on what I was trying to say—I shake my head a little.

So … why am I still writing them? Is it all worth it?

I still blog for various reasons and the first is quite practical. As a wordy writer, restricting myself to around 550 words each week on a topic that has touched or challenged me is an excellent exercise! My 550 word limit is self-imposed, but I try to stick to it, as it forces me to express myself more clearly and succinctly, remove unnecessary information and focus on my main point.

Much more importantly, however, I enjoy reflecting on some event in my life or something I have observed or that God has shown me and putting it into words, so that others too may be blessed in some way. Yes, sometimes I end up taking hours to come up with those 550 words. But in the process, through trying to listen to God as I write, I internalise more of what God is saying to me and always end up the richer for it. So even if I do repeat myself and write about things I already covered years ago, I am not in the same place as I was back then. We all change over time—for better or worse! But I do believe that, when God’s Spirit is alive in us, we can change for the better, as we listen and apply the lessons God is teaching us.

I also blog because I want to continue to use the gifts God has given me to the best of my ability. We all have seasons in our lives, don’t we? In my life, I have found I have used certain gifts where God has placed me for a time, but then that time passes and I need to use other gifts and abilities. Now in this season, surely, as well as doing other things for God when the opportunity arises, I can write and share from my heart in a way that will hopefully encourage and build others up?

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

Yes, let’s keep asking those important ‘why’ questions. But let’s also be faithful in doing what God gives us to do. After all, what a privilege it is to be entrusted to share God’s grace with others, however we can, in our world that is hurting so much right now!

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Jo 23Things have changed a little on the communication front since our children were young. Back then, we did not even have a home phone—or a TV until our oldest child was eight. And there were certainly no mobile phones or computers around. Instead, we read, enjoyed music and played games. And I also wrote many long letters, particularly to the grandparents interstate.

But the other day, within the space of a few hours, I accessed several means of communication that are now commonplace. I began by emailing on my laptop. Then I checked my Facebook posts. Next, I wrote and scheduled my weekly online blog. Soon after, my mobile rang—and it was a friend who lives in another town wanting to talk, as her husband is ill. Later, she put me on speaker phone so her husband could also hear, as I prayed for them both.

That afternoon, I sat at my laptop and ‘attended’ a friend’s funeral, livestreamed from a chapel in a cemetery on the other side of Sydney. No, it was not the same as being present, but at least I could join in to some degree as those close to him said goodbye to our friend.

Not long after, I managed to turn up at a family birthday party via Zoom—that day, our oldest granddaughter turned seventeen. This was a new experience for me, but how amazing to be able to see all our family members in their respective homes and to chat to one another! We  tried, with mixed success, to sing Happy Birthday together, as the candles were lit, then watched longingly as our granddaughters consumed that enticing looking ice cream cake right before our eyes!

Two days later, we ‘attended’ our church’s online service, pre-recorded and available on YouTube, which we watched on our TV in the comfort of our lounge. Then I accessed another service being livestreamed from a friend’s church. This past week too, I talked with another friend whose son’s recent wedding was livestreamed to all the wedding guests elsewhere, including interstate and overseas, then later enjoyed seeing the wedding photos sent to my mobile.

I am so glad we have all these wonderful means of communication in this time of isolation in particular. But some do take a bit of getting used to—and not everyone has a tech-savvy husband nearby like I do who can rescue me! Yet however much knowledge we have, sometimes those connections just do not work, do they? Sometimes, the mobile phone or Skype or Zoom reception can be poor in our area. Or sometimes, the person we wish to contact is simply unavailable.

And that’s why, as I sit quietly reading my Bible and talking with God, I am so grateful God is always there and always accessible, always listening and always ready to respond in love. No technical devices are needed. Instead, we can communicate heart to heart and spirit to Spirit with our loving Lord, wherever we are and whatever is happening around us. Surely, nothing can be more amazing than that?

The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfils the desires of those who fear him. He hears their cry and saves them. Psalm 145:18-19

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I have done my share of gardening over the years. Wherever we lived, I usually tried to make some sort of garden or use what was already there as best I could. But then we moved to our retirement village, where we have gardeners to look after all the trees and shrubs and flowers everywhere. And, apart from asking if I could plant some roses near our balcony, I was happy to leave all that trimming and digging and weeding to them!

IMG_20171008_170427567But then I met our wonderful neighbour and soon realised she was responsible for the beautiful flowers growing outside our front door and along the nearby pathways. I would see her working there for hours, as she sat on her little stool and weeded or broke up old leaves, then scattered them back in the earth. She would often spend her own money too, buying little, half-dead plants on special, then bringing them back to life, as well as more expensive ones. But the day came when our friend could no longer care for it all and she and her husband moved into our nearby nursing home.

In the following weeks, I watched as her beautiful garden deteriorated. Occasionally, I pulled out weeds or cut off dead flowers, but we knew that the gardeners, who had been happy to let our friend care for it and indeed to learn from her, would deal with it all in good time.

Eventually that day came and soon, many of our friend’s beautiful plants were no more–although some were left in certain spots to continue flowering where they were. And then something else sprouted in those gardens as well—two little signs that read ‘GardenIMG_20200220_092912991 Renovation in Progress’.

What a lovely concept, I thought to myself. My friend’s garden hasn’t disappeared altogether—it’s just being renovated! No doubt it will all look lovely again soon, with the remaining spaces filled with hardier, easy-care plants such as azaleas and nandina.

But as I gazed at those signs, another thought came to me too. Sometimes, I think my life can be a little like that garden outside our front door. Yes, when I first believed in Jesus Christ, I was given a completely new start in life (2 Corinthians 5:17). Yet despite that wonderful ‘renovation’, I can still easily mess things up. I can forget to listen to God—or perhaps deliberately choose not to. At times, my own selfish desires might kick in or I take my eyes off God and let the worries of this world overwhelm me. Then those weeds can begin to grow in my heart—and soon that internal ‘garden’ of mine needs a good overhaul yet again.

I’m so glad God doesn’t give up on us, but instead, graciously sets about renewing us, picking us up and setting us on our feet again. Truly, we are each a ‘renovation in progress’. But we are in the hands of the greatest master gardener ever who will continue to transform us to become more like Jesus. And that has to be the best reno ever, don’t you think?

And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18

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Jo 17Recently, I did something I have never done before. Each day for one whole week, I deliberately chose to do some special activity I have wanted to do for some time but always had a reason not to. On top of that, I did not cook dinner any night that week. Instead, we ate out or bought takeaway. You see, the whole thing was a unique birthday present for me—and what fun it all was!

Originally, my husband had wanted me to enjoy a few days away somewhere by myself—to relax, recharge and spend time with God. I thought about this lovely idea and even looked up various venues online but did not feel settled about any of them. Then one night, it came to me. I did not want to go away anywhere. Instead, I wanted to enjoy different, interesting experiences within reach of our own beautiful unit, then come home and not have to cook dinner! A win-win situation, don’t you think?

In the end, we called this wondrous week ‘The Festival of Jo-Anne’ (!)—and I thoroughly enjoyed it all. I went shopping, twice over. I went to the movies. I had coffee out. I had a massage. I read. And in between, I had time simply to sit and be and reconnect with God. Yes, it was all very good indeed.

But one reason I enjoyed it even more was that, two weeks earlier, I had finally finished the first draft of my latest novel that had languished on my laptop for over three years, waiting patiently for me to unfold the rest of the story. This special week of mine then was also for me a time when I came up for air, so to speak, when I allowed my poor brain to rest, when I graced myself a little more than usual—and when I sensed God’s love and grace being showered on me from every angle. It was a lovely, hiatus period—a time to gain clearer perspective, not only on my novel, before I plunged into all that necessary editing, but on my life in general.

At one stage in writing this particular novel, I wondered if I should keep going. Should I be content with the eight books of mine that have already been published? Was that where God wanted me to stop? But one day, I sensed God saying gently to me, ‘Jo-Anne, whether you write this book or don’t write it, remember I’ll be just as delighted with you either way!’ What gracious, loving, freeing words to hear! I did not need to feel pressured to produce in any way. Instead, I had permission to write the sort of novel I have wanted to write for some time and to leave the outcome in God’s hands.

Yet I think God was saying more than that too. I think God wanted to remind me that, all the time, whether celebrating the Festival of Jo-Anne or writing or speaking or whatever, I can rest fully in this amazing love of God that accepts me, no matter what.

How precious is your unfailing love, O God! All humanity finds shelter in the shadow of your wings. Psalm 36:7 New Living Translation

Maybe you too need to hear this reminder right now?

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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 23While shopping recently, I asked a young salesgirl for a particular product.

‘We don’t have it,’ she told me, ‘but you could check on the net. Um … could you do that?’

Her tone of voice and the sceptical glance she gave me conveyed a crystal-clear message—’I’m sure you wouldn’t know the first thing about computers. You’re far too old!

I tried to suppress a smile. Little did she know that, as a writer, I spend hours and hours at my laptop—and that is why my husband decided recently I needed a new one, complete with the latest Microsoft Office.

As some of you know, setting up a new laptop can be a scary experience fraught with difficulty, but my husband has done this many times before and was sure he could tackle it again. So when my new laptop arrived, he set about it all in his usual meticulous way.

At first, everything worked smoothly—but then something weird began to happen. While I could easily receive emails, I could not always send them! Sometimes they would jack up, dig their heels in and stay right where they were—which they eventually did all the time, unless we connected my laptop to our modem via a cable, instead of using wifi. But that could only be temporary—we still needed to fix the problem.

First of all, my husband explored all the common causes of such difficulties. Then he contacted the manufacturer, who suggested he contact our service provider, who suggested we contact Microsoft. Round and round it went, with various phone conversations with overseas employees whose strong accents my husband had great difficulty understanding! He asked some tech-savvy friends as well—but everyone was flummoxed.

Then one night, as he mulled over the whole issue, he sensed God saying to him: ‘Just relax about it all—leave it to me!’ So he decided to do exactly that, while still carefully working on the problem. And it was not long before, by many devious means, he discovered on the net how a particular little program on my laptop had caused similar troubles for others. He investigated further, found the spot somewhere in the bowels of my laptop where he could turn this program off—and voila! Problem solved, just like that. In the end, his tally of options tried that didn’t work as opposed to the one that did was 18:1!

So what did we learn in all this? Yes, God does answer our prayers—even those to do with troublesome computers. But that does not always mean we are to sit back and do nothing. In this instance, it seemed my husband discovered God’s answer while giving his whole heart and mind to solving the problem—yet the difference was that now he was more relaxed that God would indeed lead him to a solution. Yes, sometimes God steps in and rescues us straight away. But at other times, God gently shows us the way forward, as we continue to persevere and work hard in God’s strength.

Have you found this to be so in your life too?

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6

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Jo 17I have discovered that, unless I am vigilant, I can sometimes become a lot more self-focussed and self-serving than I like to think I am. I may gladly agree to do something, but soon those selfish questions I am loath to acknowledge resound in my brain. What will I get out of this? How can I impress others as I complete this task? What if nobody sees all my effort?

Hmm!

One recent Saturday morning, I was ahead of schedule to get to a speaking engagement some distance away, so sat down to check over my input and read my Bible before leaving. I found I was up to the story in John 5 of how Jesus heals a man who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. This takes place on the Sabbath, so the Jews begin to persecute Jesus—and even more so after Jesus refers to God as his Father (5:17). Yet Jesus still proceeds to explain how he does only what he sees the Father doing and how he has received authority as the Son of  God to give life and to judge others (5:19ff).

Then the following words caught my eye:

By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me. John 5:30

Okay, I found myself thinking—Jesus chose to listen to his Father and not step out in his own strength. And he chose to please his Father rather than think only about his own wellbeing. What a challenge! If Jesus had that attitude in his life and ministry, then surely I should aim to do likewise—especially as I set out to speak somewhere.

I read on, admiring Jesus’ boldness as he addressed those Jews seeking to kill him: ‘But I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts.’ (5:42) Wow—how confronting that must have been for them to hear! Yet I personally found his next statement even more challenging:

How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God? John 5:44

As I drove to my speaking engagement, I found myself hoping I had heard my Father God well and prepared the message God wanted me to give. But then I asked myself: What are my real motives in it all? Is it just to receive praise from others—or is it to hear that ‘Well done!’ from God deep in my spirit and to know that is enough? Usually after I speak, someone will come and say something positive about my input—and I hope I have learnt to accept this with grace and not let it add to my pride. But if I begin to care more about that than about whether I have pleased God in it all, then something is sadly out of balance in my whole approach.

Sometimes our real motives for doing what we do can be well hidden, don’t you think? Let’s bring them into the light of day and check them out with our loving, caring, gracious God, who does not want to see us go astray.

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