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Posts Tagged ‘listening to God’

I recently did something I have been putting off for years. With great regret, I at last steeled myself enough to throw my much-loved and much-used NIV bible I have had since somewhere in the middle 1980s into the bin. In one way, it felt as if I was throwing part of me out along with it. My hands had held that deep red cover so often that a lot of the fake leather had worn off and my fingers had turned some of those pages so much that the corners were ripped, with one or two having disappeared altogether.

Now many might think, ‘Why all that fuss? It’s just an old book!’ And at one level, that is true. After all, it is not the book itself that is sacred but rather the words it contains—and they can be found just as well in my brand-new, more recently translated NIV bible I received at Christmas or in any other bible. And yet … and yet …

You see, that old bible symbolised so much to me in so many different ways. It was my companion through countless amazing times in my life, as well as hugely difficult ones. I carted it with me to all sorts of places—on camps and retreats, away on holidays, to lectures at theological college, to nearby parks to sit and reflect, to places where I spoke. When it finally become too risky to use while speaking somewhere because it threatened to fall apart on me, I let it rest on my desk beside my laptop and bought another copy to take with me instead. And there my favourite, old bible has remained for many years now as I have written several more books and many blogs. I have read it each day, then left it lying open so I could look over at any time and be reminded of what God had said to me as I read. And sometimes that re-read turned into a little prayer, either whispered or spoken aloud—perhaps for perseverance in writing or in preparing a message to speak somewhere or as intercession for someone else.

As well as featuring occasional finger-marked and dog-eared corners, some of the pages of that old bible also contained verses I had underlined or highlighted with a little line at the side. At times, I had even put an exclamation mark beside some words that had particularly impacted me or left a brief comment there in tiny letters. And I had read some passages so often that I could visualise where the words I wanted to find were on the page before I even looked them up—so much so that even my other NIV bible of the same vintage did not seem quite right to me at first.

Yet, I know I will soon become used to this other bible now open on my desk. I am familiar with its wording and will keep my more recent Christmas NIV for speaking somewhere. Whichever bible I use, it is still God’s precious Word that I look forward to exploring again in the year ahead and finding great wisdom and encouragement in its pages. And I hope you do too.

Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. Psalm 119:105

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Recently, while taking part in a Christmas carol service, I found myself sitting straight and tall in my seat and automatically taking a deep breath before singing each line. After all, I did not want to gasp for air halfway through—and definitely not halfway through a word as I sometimes hear singers doing on TV and elsewhere. I also tried to sing all the words clearly, even though I was certainly not giving any solo performance. But then I laughed at myself. You see, suddenly I realised that, without any conscious effort on my part, I had slipped back into singing exactly as I had learnt to do over sixty years ago! It all felt so natural—and so wonderfully fulfilling too.

During my middle school years, I belonged to two different choirs. The first was the Queensland Junior Conservatorium Choir which I joined after a nervous audition with the rather scary Director there at the time. In that choir, we learnt so much about the basics of good singing and about performing two-part songs well. The second was the Brisbane Junior Eisteddfod Choir where I ended up in the second soprano section as we sang three-part madrigals, sacred anthems, folksongs and all sorts of other beautiful music. In this choir, I learnt to keep my eyes on the conductor at all times, to listen to the other singers around me and to commit our whole repertoire to memory. We practised long and hard and in a very disciplined way, yet it was all so enjoyable, especially when we staged our own concerts and competed at eisteddfods.

These were the same skills then that popped up all over again, even in a humble little carol service. And I was glad. Perhaps you have experienced something similar in another context—perhaps you may have discovered to your great surprise that you still know how to ride a bike or swim or knit or sew, things you put a lot of effort into learning when very young. What a joy to find you still remember the basics, even if you might be a little rusty on the actual execution of your hard-won skills at this stage!

On the other hand, like me, you may also have other less joyful skills you acquired early on and have honed over the years so that they are second nature now. For me, I suspect they may be things like easily becoming defensive, too readily judging others, finding it difficult to apologise, not caring enough about others—the list goes on. Instead of celebrating these skills and continually resurrecting them, I need to let them disappear forever. And to do that, the best way I have found is to listen to what God says, both in Scripture and directly through the Spirit.

Perhaps you were blessed to learn to do this early on in your life so that it is second nature for you now. Yet this is a lifelong lesson we all need to keep learning, isn’t it? So, in 2023, let’s do exactly this— then faithfully put into practice everything we hear and learn.

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

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. James 1:22

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Recently, our eight-year-old granddaughter came up with a most intriguing Christmas wish list that boggled my mind:

Go Go Flamingo (an expensive toy)

Robux gift card (Max: $50)

Cloud Puddy (she means ‘putty’!)

Ipad with Apple pen

Pet hamster

Magic Mixies (another expensive toy)

Bunch of Reese’s chocolates from Nanna and Granddad!

New TV in my room

Five-dollar allowance monthly (optional)

Drivers’ licence, car and keys

Makeup desk with chair and wall mirror

Snuggles Dream Puppy (yet another expensive toy)

Hmm. Nothing like a list that ranges from special playdough and a few chocolates to a drivers’ licence and car—oh and the car keys would help too! Although Maxine has been quite reasonable, I suppose, with her request for a five-dollar allowance each month—especially since she has stated it is optional! I strongly suspect, however, that Maxine may be heading for disappointment as far as this list is concerned, except perhaps for one or two of the cheaper items included. And I know her parents would not welcome a hamster into the household!

I laughed at my granddaughter’s wonderful list when I first saw it. But as I have thought about it since, I have realised I have often made up equally weird lists over the years when it comes to asking God for things. In my late teens, I used to pray I could become a famous opera singer one day! Instead of heading to the Conservatorium, however, I ended up studying languages at university. Now, I think God honestly preserved me from making a big mistake back then.

Much later, I remember praying our children would turn out to be geniuses and always top their classes at school. In the end, God had to show me my prayers were really driven by my own desire to achieve academically, rather than our children’s own desires and interests. I was pushing my agenda onto them—and I was hoping God would step into line and make it all happen.

Of course, we can—and should—bring all sorts of requests to God, as the Apostle Paul urges us to:

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. Ephesians 6:18

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. Philippians 4:6

Yet, sometimes, like a petulant child, I can demand things from God, then become upset and disappointed when I don’t receive them. How much better would it be if I took time to try to listen and hear God’s heart on these matters, even as I pray? And how much better it would be too if I accepted it when God, who is all-loving, all-knowing and all-wise, says no or perhaps ‘wait a while’?

I hope Maxine won’t be too disappointed when she doesn’t receive that car for Christmas—I suspect she was only kidding with that request anyway! I am sure she will be happy, whatever gifts she receives. And I am sure she will still love her parents and will know they love her so much too. As for me and those prayer requests of mine—and yours, I hope we can all continue to love and trust God, whatever the outcome, because God will never give up on loving us.

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This past week, my husband and I had the privilege of conducting a brief funeral service for a friend’s mother at a nearby crematorium. We had not expected to be doing this, yet, as things unfolded and the minister conducting the larger memorial service later in the day could not manage both, we knew this was what we should do.

The whole idea of offering to help began as one of those strong nudges inside me and, when I talked about it with my husband, he immediately agreed. God was in it—and we should do it. It was as simple as that really. Besides, we could see how much this little effort on our part would greatly help our friend and her family. In the end, it did seem to—and we felt very blessed.

After the memorial service later in the day, I chatted with an acquaintance present about a mutual friend who is working overseas with a Christian aid organisation. She brought me up-to-date with the latest news about our friend and mentioned how she phones her each week—and, at that point, I remembered what this friend working overseas had told me about these same phone calls.

‘The work here is so rewarding,’ she had said, ‘and I know we’re making a huge difference in the lives of the families we care for. But I wouldn’t have stayed here as long as I have, without my friend’s weekly phone calls—I wouldn’t have been able to. At times, they were the only thing that kept me going.’

When I told this lady what my friend had said, she seemed embarrassed and played down her efforts. ‘Oh, it’s nothing really—just a weekly phone call.’ And I understood what she meant. Just a simple, little act on her part, the same as my husband and I felt about our own efforts. Yet, what a huge difference her encouraging calls have made in our friend’s life—and indirectly in the lives of so many others too who may well have starved, without the food and shelter my friend helps provide in the remote area where she is based!

Sometimes, we can all too easily be talked out of doing things we know in our heart God wants us to do. Yet, when we listen to God, step out in obedience and act, we often find God uses our little efforts in more ways than we would ever have imagined. God can do so much, even with something so little, just as Jesus points out when teaching about the Kingdom of God:

Then Jesus said, “What is the Kingdom of God like? How can I illustrate it?  It is like a tiny mustard seed that a man planted in a garden; it grows and becomes a tree, and the birds make nests in its branches.”

He also asked, “What else is the Kingdom of God like?  It is like the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough.” Luke 13:18-21 NLT

Let’s keep being faithful with our tiny mustard seeds and grams of yeast. They may not cost us much but, in God’s hands, they can truly become invaluable.

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We were excited, as we set out on our recent road trip from Sydney to the Omega Writers’ Conference at Kingscliff in northern NSW. We headed inland from Gloucester and reached Uralla on our first night, near Armidale. Eventually, we found our Air BnB in a lovely, rural setting, with horses in a paddock nearby and quietness all around. Now we could begin to relax!

While my husband rested, I sat reading, but suddenly noticed a nearby light go off. I went to investigate and found that all the power to the house was out. It had been an overcast day and this house relied on solar energy—maybe that was the problem?

Eventually, we located the owner who soon discovered there was a power outage in the whole area. Hmm! Undeterred, we decided to drive into the town to see if any restaurants were open, to no avail, so we headed back home and opted for a dinner of leftover sandwiches from lunch and a banana each!

But what to do then? There was no hot water for a shower and it was too cold to sit anywhere, without heating, so we headed for bed—at around 7.00pm! But as we lay there, we began talking—and talking—and talking. We went from one topic to another, as we recalled different events from our respective childhoods that had impacted us in some way. And in this time, my husband told me stories I am sure I have never heard before, in all our fifty-three years of marriage, about his maternal grandmother whom he loved and the kind things she used to say and do. How had we missed talking about such things before—at least at any depth? In the end, we both found it such a memorable way to spend an evening, but it set me thinking too.

What have we lost in our world in recent years, with all the technology available to us and all sorts of entertainment on TV or YouTube or Netflix or whatever there at hand each evening? What has happened to sitting and actually talking to one another? Has coming together around the dinner table chatting while we eat disappeared forever? How do we hear each other’s hearts and enter fully into others’ lives, when we stare at a TV screen instead and allow other voices to drown out any real communication between us?

As I thought about all this, I felt quite shocked and sad. That night, our conversation was rich and deep—what a wake-up call that power outage was for us! Yet this event also impacted me in another way, as I lay in the dark after my husband eventually fell asleep. How many of us have drowned out God’s voice too in our lives, as we abandon these times of stillness and silence and true communication with our heavenly Father? How often have I opted to allow other voices to take over my mind and heart, rather than listen to what God might want to say to me?

Let’s stop and listen well, because God has so much to say to us all.

I will listen to what God the Lord says; he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants—but let them not turn to folly. Psalm 85:8

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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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I wonder if you have ever run into someone you know in a most unexpected place. When I was a teacher, I well remember encountering one of my more troublesome students in the middle of my weekly supermarket shop. ‘Mum, there’s my teacher!’ this girl blurted out in a shocked voice. I suspect she wanted to see me about as much as I wanted to see her that day!

On another occasion, however, I came across a pastor friend in a bookstore. While we chatted, several folk from her church came by, which perhaps could have disconcerted her. Instead, she seemed to enjoy the moment. ‘It’s like I’ve died and gone to heaven!’ she exclaimed, beaming at everyone.

Recently, I headed to a nearby medical facility for an injection into a troublesome shoulder. I was certainly not expecting to see anyone I knew there—or anyone who knew me. All I was thinking about was whether my scheduled injection would help alleviate the pain I was experiencing. Eventually, a young woman called my name and ushered me into a small room. We chatted together as she prepared the injection for the doctor to give. A few moments later, it was all over, and the doctor left. But then the young woman suddenly said, ‘You must be the author, are you?’

I was stunned.

‘Um … yes, I am, but … how did you know?’ I eventually managed to ask.

‘Oh, I’ve read some of your books!’ she told me then. ‘I borrowed them from my mother.’

So that was it! She must have recognised my name from the patient list—mystery solved. But I was still curious.

‘What would your mother’s name be? Perhaps I know her.’

Sure enough, I did, from two or three occasions in the past.

‘Well, it just shows we have to behave wherever we go, don’t we?’ I joked as I left. ‘You never know who you’ll meet!’

Beneath my joking, however, I was also trying to remember what sort of comments I had made to her. I was so focussed on myself that I had not put much thought at all into anything I said. Had I been polite and considerate towards her? Had I listened well? Had I honoured God throughout our conversation?

It was too late now anyway. The exchange was over.

I came away from that experience realising again that, wherever I go and whether I feel like it or not, I am God’s ambassador (2 Corinthians 5:20). I never know whom I will meet. I never know who will recognise my name, even though I am not a famous author—yet! And I never know who will be listening or watching. But I’m so thankful God does. And I’m so thankful too that God’s Spirit is with me and in me, ready to give me those words of grace to share with others and the wisdom to act in a godly way. But I need to listen, to keep any unwise words in check and then to say those things that will bless and build others up.

May I remember to do that next time, because you never know …

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. Colossians 4:6

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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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