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Posts Tagged ‘repentance’

Jo 12For quite a few Christmases, I have worked hard at perfecting a certain little trick with my mind—the art of deliberately forgetting. Now I can already forget many things without much effort. For instance, this Christmas, when the time came to put our grandchildren’s presents under the tree, I discovered I had forgotten where I had hidden several of them. Then after finally locating them, I found I had no idea what was in those carefully wrapped parcels!

The older I get too, I find I am improving at forgetting people’s names. How embarrassing it can be, when I find myself unable to introduce someone whose name I was told only moments earlier! Then recently, while reading the Psalms again, I was a little shocked to discover some key verses I had almost forgotten hidden away there. How could I do that? How could I forget Psalm 52:8, for example:

But I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God; I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever.

Or Psalm 55:22:

Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.

Or Psalm 56: 4:

In God whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?

So why would I want to fine hone this skill of forgetting things any further? Well, the reason I do this each Christmas is to help out my husband, who is often stumped for gift ideas for me. So if I see something I would like for myself for Christmas, I buy it—providing it’s not too expensive, that is! Usually it is a book—perhaps a new one by a favourite author or one a friend whose opinion I trust has recommended. But once the checkout person puts that book in its carry bag, my little forgetting trick comes into play. There is a way, I have discovered, of not letting my mind dwell on that purchase anymore, of choosing to delete it from my memory—perhaps not completely, but close enough to it. If I tried, I’m sure I could recall the author of the book, although the title might escape me. But … why would I want to? After all, why spoil the lovely surprise on Christmas morning when I am presented with my gift and discover it is just the sort of excellent book I love to read?!

There are much more important things, however, than Christmas presents bought for oneself that God challenges us to forget or not hold onto—past failures, past regrets, past sins already forgiven as we have come to God in repentance. How wonderful that, by God’s grace, we can let go of them instead and move on with a light, joyous step, looking forward rather than back, as the prophet Isaiah challenged the Israelites to do:

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? Isaiah 43:18-19

So as you step into 2019, what is God challenging you to remember that will strengthen you and give you much needed wisdom and peace? But also … what things might be better to forget?

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IMG_20181121_121203912Recently, I found myself wondering whether our four-year-old granddaughter truly is only four and not a hundred and four! There we were, sitting on the floor, trying to set up some wooden train tracks together. I could see on the box that those train tracks were meant to link up in a certain way, forming three intertwining loops, yet I could not seem to make them do what they were supposed to do.

‘Oh dear!’ I told Maxine at last. ‘I think I’ve made a big mistake somewhere. These tracks aren’t going to connect up at all.’

Thankfully, Maxine did not show any disappointment or frustration.

Don’t worry, Nanna!’ she said in a lovely, compassionate tone. ‘Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone!Even I made a mistake once!’

I tried not to laugh or even smile—I knew she would be highly embarrassed and offended if I did. Besides, she had meant it so kindly. And there was so much wisdom in the first part at least of what she had said. As for her last sentence—well, even it was meant to be kind and generous! At that point, I let her know I appreciated her words. And I realised too how weirdly comforting they had been, because I was feeling a little silly that I could not put a simple train track together.

Eventually, I found some instructions in the box and, after my husband and Maxine disappeared to the playground, I managed to work them out. What a sense of accomplishment I felt, as that train track came together!

Maxine’s gracious response, however, led me to reflect on the many other much more serious mistakes I have made in my life, some more accidental than others. Sometimes I have said or done things out of ignorance, thinking I was right and even, in fact, acting in a godly manner. On those occasions, God has known my heart, seen my sorrow and graciously picked me up, strengthening me to do better. Yet on other occasions, to my regret, I have deliberately chosen a wrong course of action, knowing full well I am making a huge mistake—sinning, in fact. Many times, I have said that hasty, angry word or judged someone harshly or refused to listen to God and do some kind act or speak those life-giving words to someone. Yet each time, God has still reached out to me, shown me my wilful mistakes and in kindness led me to repentance, setting my feet on solid ground once again (Romans 2:4). What a loving, patient God we have!

The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbour his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him: as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. Psalm 103:8-12

Yes, Maxine is bound to make more than that one mistake in her life, but I hope and pray she will always know her loving, compassionate Lord is with her to comfort her and enable her to move on in his strength.

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There are certain little members of our family who are adept at delaying tactics. At a family birthday celebration this past week, I watched as our grandson kept refusing to eat his dinner, despite the threat of no special dessert or lollies until he ate some of it at least. Eventually, he gave in and wolfed it all down in no time—we are still mystified as to what the fuss was all about.

IMG_20150702_144848558Then recently, his little sister discovered a very useful little phrase. She has started saying, ‘Not yet!’ in a definite voice to her mother when faced with having to do something she doesn’t want to do. Can you imagine a sweet little eighteen-month-old sizing you up with her big, brown eyes, then uttering those two powerful, little words?

Now how did our Zain and Maxine come to be so determined? Did they inherit this from their father, who readily admits to being very strong-willed as a child and getting into lots of trouble? Perhaps our daughter was responsible—or maybe even their Nanna! I well remember my mother saying to me as a child more than once when I would not listen to her or do what she asked: ‘I might as well speak to a post!’

Sometimes this childish wanting our own way carries on into our adult years as well. And, sadly, that was the case with me as a young mum when it came to my attitude to God—that is, until one Sunday morning over forty years ago now. I was standing in the crèche at the back of the church we attended, holding our baby son who was unwell. I had come because I wanted to hear the visiting speaker. Instead, God spoke to me so clearly through the Bible reading that preceded the sermon—the parable of the unmerciful servant from Matthew 18:21-35—that that was all I remembered afterwards.

You see, I was very involved in church activities at the time, but I knew I was neglecting my own personal relationship with God. So there I was, listening to the story of the servant who owed the king a great deal of money and couldn’t pay. And then came verse 26:

The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘And I will pay back everything.’

I did not hear the rest of the story that day—how the king forgave the servant that huge debt and how this servant did not show similar compassion to others. All I heard was God saying clearly to me, ‘This is how you’ve been treating me, Jo’. In an instant, I realised I been saying to the King of Kings: ‘Yes, I know I need to spend more time with you, but I’m too busy right now. Just wait—just be patient and I’ll get back to you when I’m good and ready!’

It was as if a knife had been plunged into my heart as I realised the enormity of saying ‘Not yet!’ to God. That day I repented—and my journey with God changed forever. Yes, our God is gracious and longsuffering and so patient with us. But let’s think twice before we turn and say ‘Not yet!’ to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

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One morning last week, I took myself off to the movies to see Helen Mirren in Woman in Gold. I really enjoyed the film—as did the one other person present! I came home feeling glad I had made the effort—until I realised one of my earrings was missing.

P1040097Now these earrings hold great sentimental value for me. They were a gift from one of our daughters and are cleverly handcrafted from slivers of old china. I searched our house, while my husband checked outside and in the car. I then phoned the movie theatre, but to no avail.

I decided to go back myself to look. As I retraced my steps from the theatre complex car park, my eyes were glued to the ground. Nothing. I entered the foyer, examining that multi-coloured carpet with every step. Still nothing.

‘Hi, I phoned earlier about my lost earring,’ I told the young ticket seller.

‘Oh yes—I checked but couldn’t find anything. You can look yourself, but you’ll need a torch.’

I headed along the wide corridor, searching all the while, then pushed the heavy theatre doors open and immediately found myself in pitch darkness. Using my little mobile phone flashlight, I checked around the seat I had occupied earlier, unearthing old pieces of sticky popcorn and other choice morsels in the process. But alas—no earring.

My check of the ladies’ toilets proved equally fruitless. Then, just as I was heading disconsolately back past the doors leading to the theatre, something small and whitish on the floor caught my eye. … My earring! For some reason, I had missed seeing it earlier—yet there it was, as if begging to be found.

Brandishing the earring and babbling with joy, I raced back to the young ticket seller, who obviously thought I was a little crazy. But I didn’t care. As I headed home, the world around me seemed so much brighter and more colourful and I wanted to smile at everyone and tell them about my find. I texted my husband—‘Found it!’ And back came his message—‘Great! Now go and celebrate!

So that’s what I did. And as I sat enjoying my celebratory coffee, I remembered a time when another woman rejoiced at finding something she had lost—a precious coin worth a great deal to her. I remembered too that it was a story Jesus told to illustrate the deep joy experienced by his Father in heaven when one of us is found.

Suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbours together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. Luke 15:8-10

If my joy at finding my earring was anything to go by, then that heavenly joy experienced when one of us is found must be absolutely awesome. And the love of God that culminates in such joy must be even more awesome and mind-blowing, don’t you think?

I once was lost… but now am found. How about you?

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Jo 23Waiting our turn anywhere can be boring and frustrating. Yet, this past week, during a routine hospital check-up, I was challenged to react in a different way. I could choose to feel annoyed about wasting so much time, I decided, or I could opt to live in that present moment, fully seeing what God has for me to see and to learn.

Taking a deep breath, I begin to look at those around me. I notice the administrative staff as I wait at that counter. One sits staring and withdrawn at her computer, determined not to see us. Another is jolly and friendly as she talks on the phone while taking someone else’s details and keeping a general eye on things. She finally attends to me and we have a pleasant conversation about her ability to multi-task. A third worker wanders around, getting in everyone’s way. She seems to irritate the other staff, although they try not to show it. What are the dynamics here, I wonder. Why is this worker so annoying? She is older and has a thick accent. What are her personal needs? Is she lonely?

As I make it to the x-ray waiting room, an Indian woman starts chatting to me, as does her daughter. I notice an older gentleman with a glum expression sitting silently nearby. It must be his son beside him, I decide—they have the same features and profile. Yet they do not appear to be on friendly terms at all, unlike my lovely Indian lady and her daughter. As we wait, several beds with patients in them are wheeled past and parked nearby. I notice one older man lift his head from the pillow and look around as if a little frightened. No one is there to answer any questions he might have, so he closes his eyes in a resigned fashion and is still. What is his story? What is he worried about? Eventually, an African orderly comes to wheel him away. She has beautifully braided hair but looks bored and moves slowly, without even looking at her patient. What is going on in her head? Where would she rather be?

I glance around me again. So many people from so many different backgrounds and nationalities. Are they happy? Are they at peace? Do some of them at least know and love the Lord? For some reason, I remember what Jesus said when he looked at all the people who came to hear him and to be healed:

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Matt 9:36

I don’t know these people and their stories—but the Lord does. I pray each one of them will hear his voice and follow him. I pray for joy instead of sadness, fulfilment instead of boredom, healing instead of sickness, peace in the midst of whatever is happening around them. And I repent of my frustration and my desire to be anywhere else but in the moment, seeing with God’s eyes and sensing God’s heart for those around me.

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One day last week, I found myself waiting with one of our daughters at a medical centre so her new baby could be immunised. We waited … and waited … and waited. Eventually, with the baby’s feed time rapidly approaching, my daughter decided to call it quits and head for home.

“I’ll come back another day,” she said in an exasperated voice. “I hate waiting, don’t you?”

Later, I thought about that question a little more. On the whole, I realised, I don’t mind any normal sort of waiting—as long as I have the time and it doesn’t inconvenience me too much! And as an author, I should be used to it. After all, even when we have finished a manuscript, we still usually have a few long waiting periods ahead—firstly, while we wait for our editor or readers to go through it; secondly, while we wait to hear back (often a very long time) after submitting it to a publisher; thirdly, while we wait for the book to be released; and finally, while we wait for it to reach the bookshelves in the stores and for people to buy it!

Right now, I am in one such waiting period—not just for one book, but for two. They are both being considered by publishers and who knows whether these publishers will take them on? In the meantime, I am left sitting here, hoping and praying—and waiting.

A few years ago, when in the middle of a different waiting period, I was complaining loudly to a dear, older friend who has been my spiritual mentor for many years. I soon discovered she had a different perspective from me on it all.

“Could you view this waiting as an active time—perhaps even an honourable activity?” she challenged me gently one day, after listening yet again  to my whinges and moans.

It was such a simple but radical change in perspective for me to see waiting as part of the whole process and accept it, refusing to let it frustrate me. I needed to keep on trusting God and wait patiently, without wavering. This was further emphasised through a passage from Isaiah I read around the same time, Isaiah 30:15-18:

In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength,but you would have none of it.

You said, ‘No, we will flee on horses.’ Therefore, you will flee!

You said, ‘We will ride off on swift horses.’ Therefore your pursuers will be swift!

A thousand will flee at the threat of one; at the threat of five you will all flee away

till you are left like a flagstaff on a mountaintop, like a banner on a hill.

Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion.

For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!

I believe God was showing me I was not to run around, trying to make things happen in my own strength. Instead, I was to look to God to bring it about and wait patiently. I did not envisage that meant I was to sit around idle, however. I needed to keep writing and praying and doing my best to look for speaking opportunities, but I also needed to listen well, acting when God said to and not before. And somehow I suspect that’s what I have to do right now too.

How about you? Have you discovered that waiting can actually be an ‘honourable activity’?

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