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Posts Tagged ‘listening to God’

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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This past month, I discovered once again how life can have a way of springing interesting surprises on us! Out of the blue, I was asked if I would accompany the small choir in our Village on the piano. And in what was perhaps a weaker moment, I agreed!

What could have possessed me? After all, it’s a long time since I accompanied a choir or singing group—possibly around … ahem … thirty-five years! Yes, I have played for congregational worship in that time—but not a great deal, as I have felt those days too are over.  Yet I could not help but say yes when our lovely conductor phoned and asked if I would help out. Besides, I soon discovered how much we had in common, with our lifelong involvement in music and also with husbands who are both retired ministers.

In no time at all, I was given the music for five items the choir will sing at two Christmas concerts. Four of these turned out to be easy enough, but the fifth one saw me scurrying to the piano to practise. So many tricky twists and turns and unexpected key changes!

Then the moment came for my big return to accompanying.  Everyone was so welcoming—and so grateful to have someone prepared to play for them. I soon felt at ease, especially when I realised the group found that challenging carol even more challenging than I did! I kept my eye on our conductor—and I also tried to help everyone along, wafting up into the melody line at times when the tricky accompaniment was leading some astray. I knew my role as an accompanist was just that—to accompany the singers and enhance their efforts rather than try to outdo them in any way.

As I strolled home that afternoon, it dawned on me that accompanying others in a musical sense is a little like the style of mentoring or spiritual companionship I have tried to give others over the years and still do. As best I can, I endeavour to walk in step with them, to listen to them, to pray for them, to provide resources that may help them somehow and yes, perhaps even to challenge at times when needed.

Then I realised too what a big part the whole idea of accompanying has played in my own journey with God—and still does. Recently when I spoke somewhere, I shared the following quote from Clement of Alexandria:

Prayer is keeping company with God

This is the privilege you and I have as children of God—to walk hand in hand with Jesus each day, listening, learning, knowing we are loved and accepted, talking with him, receiving strength, comfort and guidance. Of course, the difference is that Jesus is the perfect Shepherd, who is also to be honoured and obeyed as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Yet by grace, he chooses to accompany us day by day through all our ups and downs.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. Psalm 23:1-3

Now that’s the fine art of accompaniment at its best, don’t you think?

 

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Jo 17Recently, our grandson went to dart across the driveway in the grounds of our church when his lovely Kids’ Church teacher managed to grab him in time.

‘Careful! We need to stop, look and listen for cars before we cross,’ she reminded him.

‘Oh, I have supersonic hearing,’ Zain blithely told her. ‘I can hear from a long, long way away. I can even hear people in Ghana!’

Last year, Zain went to Ghana with his family to visit his dad’s home town and to meet his other grandmother, so he knows how far away it is.

‘That’s interesting,’ his teacher said. ‘What are they saying?’

‘They’re saying they need help!’ he told her in all seriousness.

What could he have meant? In Ghana, Zain did visit some little villages not far from his dad’s home town where the children have very few new clothes and hardly any toys, so perhaps he meant his friends there really do need our help. On the other hand, perhaps he was thinking of his favourite ‘Power Rangers’ TV characters, who seem to have all sorts of abilities like supersonic hearing that enable them to know when people need rescuing!

Now our Zain has an amazingly vivid imagination. Sometimes he can become so lost in his imaginary world that he has trouble hearing his parents or grandparents or teachers calling him or telling him to do something. So, while he may not have supersonic hearing, there is no doubt his selective hearing is well developed at least! And that’s something I can easily relate to, especially when it comes to hearing what God is saying to me at times. The reasons for this may vary, but I know that, on occasions, fear and unbelief have caused my ears to become deaf to God’s voice and very selective about what I choose to hear.

One example of this occurred in mid-2003 when I was overseas, visiting a friend. I was reading my Bible one morning and asking God to show me what I was to do next in my life. I had recently left a ministry role and sensed God wanted me to write, something I had wanted to do for years. Yet I was unsure I could do it, so found myself reluctant to try. Then I came to Isaiah 42:18-20:

Hear, you deaf, look, you blind, and see! Who is blind but my servant, and deaf like the messenger I send?  …  You have seen many things, but have paid no attention; your ears are open, but you hear nothing.”

Wow! Gulp! I knew immediately that God was saying to me, with even perhaps a little sigh: ‘Come on, Jo-Anne—how many times do I have to show you? Go home and start writing!’ So that is what I did—and here I am, almost fourteen years and eight published books later, still writing.

I might not have supersonic hearing quite yet, but I hope in those years I have become a little better at hearing God’s voice and at acting on what I hear—because that, after all, is what really matters.

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

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

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