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Posts Tagged ‘spiritual companion’

Jo 12One morning around two years ago, I spoke to a group of women at a church on the other side of town. Afterwards, I was introduced to a lady who I discovered had really come to catch up with friends before heading home to Sweden a couple of days later. However, having heard me speak, she told me she was particularly interested in my book Soul Friend and in the whole concept of mentoring or being a spiritual companion. She then shared her desire to set up a program in her church to equip people to mentor others, so I offered to send her some material on the subject.

The next day, I emailed her a basic mentoring course a friend had written and I had edited, after checking that he was happy for it to be shared in this way. Then I thought no more about it—until last week, when an email arrived from this lady. In it, she wrote:

Hi Jo-Anne,

You may not remember me but I attended a meeting at Miranda Congregational church in April 2017 where you were speaking and selling your books. I spoke to you afterwards and mentioned my interest for Christian mentoring in Sweden where I live. You very kindly emailed me your manual.

This was the encouragement I needed to start a course in Christian mentoring in my church, the Lutheran church of Sweden in my area Stockholm. I gathered a team of four people including myself and we organised a one day course for those who would like to be mentors or have a mentor … One of our team members is a skilled translator and translated your manual into clear simple Swedish. We gave each of the 18 participants a print copy of the manual at the end of the course. 

The team then matched up mentors and mentorees during the months that followed … The result was very exciting with the present number of mentors being 11 and mentorees around 15. … Our team will meet again in September to decide if we will run the course again in January 2020 and widen the participants to the three other Lutheran churches in our parish and 5 other denominations.

So, I just wanted to express my thanks to you for being so generous in sharing the manual and for your books …

Isn’t God amazing? As soon as I read this, I thought of the little parable Jesus told about the mustard seed:

The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the bird of the air come and perch in its branches. Matthew 13:32.

God builds the kingdom using our faltering efforts with such grace, don’t you think? Surely, as we plant whatever little seeds we have, which are a gift from God anyway, God will step in, watch over them well and enable them to bear fruit just at the right time.

Who would have thought that brief, ‘accidental’ contact with this lady would have resulted in our little mentoring course blessing folk in faraway Sweden? But that’s just like God, isn’t it!

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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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This week it was brought home to me again how much our lives can impact others. As a writer, I always hope my books will spread far and wide and encourage those who read them in some way. To me it is a wonderful privilege to be given this opportunity. But what about our more personal, one on one relationships? Often these can have a much deeper and far reaching impact than we realise or could ever imagine.

This past Sunday, we held the launch of my non-fiction book Soul Friend here in Sydney. Soul Friend is the story of my journey with my mentor or spiritual friend Joy, now in her eighties, and the close relationship that developed between us during our fifteen years of meeting together. I believe God brought Joy into my life just at the right time when I needed someone to walk closely with me as I returned to study, then headed into local church ministry and from there into writing. At the launch, I was able to interview Joy briefly and highlight how her input into my life has strengthened me to do what I believe God wants me to do. Joy has passed on to me so many beautiful insights from God through a variety of means—and I am grateful for them all.

But at my launch, I also interviewed a younger woman whom I myself have mentored for around fifteen years. She is based overseas, and I find it a great privilege that she still welcomes me to be part of her life in such a role. In the process of that interview, we talked briefly about how she herself mentors others in the country where she serves God and how that can be a difficult task at times in a place that is by and large hostile to the gospel.

As I went to move on with our book launch program, this same friend was suddenly impacted with an insight, I believe from God, about our respective mentoring roles and shared it with us all. She drew our attention to the fact that while Joy had walked with me and helped me grow in my faith, so I had then functioned in the same way with my friend. She in turn has now done the same with one new believer in particular where she is based, journeying with her through many struggles and helping her draw closer to Jesus. Now this same believer is learning to be a true spiritual friend with even younger believers herself, modelling what it means to be a woman of God to them, just as my friend has done for her.

And so it goes on, stretching not only across the world but also across the generations. It is a special ‘chain of grace’ I feel so privileged to be part of. How great is our God that, as we invest ourselves in others’ lives and share the wisdom and insights we have been given, our small acts of obedience are multiplied in this way?

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. Eph 3:20-21

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I am a champion at post mortems. After engaging in any public activity that requires me to perform in some way, I have been known to spend an inordinate amount of time mulling over it all, scrutinising my part in it to the nth degree. I think back over what I said, cringing at some phrase I used or some unwise comment. And often I wish I could do it all again—but this time do it right!

This has its positive aspects, I have argued. For example, looking back over my notes for a talk I have given and realising where I could have done better helps me improve for next time. After all, who wants to keep making the same mistakes over and over again? But it also has its negative aspects, not least of which is being too hard on oneself!

Last Friday, I fronted up at Hope103.2 FM radio station, ready to be interviewed by Leigh Hatcher for his Sunday evening program ‘Open House’. Although feeling a little nervous, I was looking forward to it. After all, I knew that anything I might say that was too way off could be edited out! Leigh Hatcher greeted me warmly and suggested he take a photo for the station’s Facebook page. Then as we sat down in his studio, he told me we would be talking about mentoring, something he believes can be so valuable to people.

Now this was a very sensible suggestion, since my new book Soul Friend: The story of a shared spiritual journey, which has just been released, is about the warm, life-giving relationship that developed between my mentor and me during our fifteen years of meeting together and the great encouragement she was to me in my struggles during this time. However, I had thought Leigh might ask questions about the book itself, such as why I wrote it, what a ‘soul friend’ is, how I met my mentor, how I as a novelist came to be writing non-fiction, and other similar questions. Obviously, a quick mental back flip was required. So I put on my mentor hat and marshalled my thoughts.

Leigh’s questions were excellent and I did my best. I knew I was quite capable of talking about mentoring and enjoyed myself. But afterwards … well, you can imagine how my thoughts went! Why didn’t I say this? Why hadn’t I thought of that? Why couldn’t I remember that definition of mentoring I knew so well? Or the list of qualities of a mentor I myself had written?

I returned home and, still in my rather fazed, post-interview state, opened my computer. And there I found an email from a younger friend who is part of my little prayer team. All it had in it was the following verse:

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way … 2 Thess 3:16

As I sat smiling at the screen, I knew I needed to hand over the whole interview to God, put it behind me and receive that peace this verse talks about. I had done my best. Now I needed to rest in that and in the peace God is willing to give us at all times.

May you too know this same deep peace in your heart right now, however good you are at post mortems and whatever your situation in life.

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This past week, I enjoyed another interesting experience in this writing journey of mine. À la Kath and Kim, for a few brief moments, I became a ‘filum star’! You see, I had agreed to make a little book trailer/promotional video for my non-fiction book Soul Friend, due for release next month. I invited two of my very good friends to take part and engaged a young photographer to film us. We laughed a lot, as, one after the other, we sat in front of that camera, trying to speak as naturally as possible. But in the midst of all the fun, some deeper thoughts also surfaced for me.

As I observed my lovely spiritual mentor Joy, now over eighty years old, bravely sharing her feelings in front of that camera about my writing a book featuring her role in my spiritual journey, I felt so humbled and grateful for her support in it all. Then when my younger friend present—someone I have mentored for many years—took her turn and shared how helpful our relationship has been, these same feelings almost overwhelmed me. Again I glimpsed God’s amazing grace at work, as we have each fed into the lives of the other, through God’s leading and enabling.

But later I realised that, represented in my lounge room, were four generations of committed Christian believers—my spiritual mentor in her eighties, I in my sixties, my younger friend in her forties and our wonderful video person in his twenties. God has gifted us all in a variety of ways and each of us is endeavouring to use these gifts as best we can at this stage of our journey. The opportunities my older friend Joy now has for ministry are different from the many she had earlier. Mine too have changed over the years, as I have moved through various careers into my current writing and speaking role. My younger friend is giving herself totally by serving overseas and is home only for a visit. And our young photographer friend is poised on the brink of doing wonderful things in his field, I believe. Whatever our age, God is using each of us as we step out in faith.

Now I am sure I am not cut out to be a ‘filum star’! I have spoken publicly many, many times—but sitting in front of that camera is a different experience altogether! I knew I couldn’t ‘run off at the mouth’, as I tend to do on occasions. Our time was very limited and we had to watch our words. And that’s why I was so thankful when, as we waited for our other collaborators to arrive on the day, my friend Joy, who felt somewhat the same as I did, quoted some encouraging words from Scripture out loud and prayed for God’s wisdom and peace for both of us.

And God does not let us down, we discovered yet again. God rescues, God guides, God gives wisdom and peace—even in front of a camera.

For who is God besides the Lord? And who is the Rock except our God?

It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he enables me to stand on the heights. (Psalm 18:31-32)

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We all know how powerful stories are. Many of us spend hours glued to TV screens as we watch plots unfold, mysteries solved, the ‘baddies’ brought to justice, the ‘goodies’ almost mess things up but then win through in the end. But there is nothing like hearing a real life story told from the heart. And when God is involved, there is even more power in those words we hear or read.

This past Sunday at our church, the usual sermon took the form of interviews with four different people. Three of these interviews had been filmed previously and interwoven at different points as the stories unfolded, while a fourth happened live in the service. All illustrated a journey through a very difficult situation in the lives of those involved and God’s eventual deliverance. One story involved business difficulties and financial loss; another, the struggle to conceive a child. A third dealt with loss of a partner’s faith in the context of ministry, while the fourth grappled with holding onto God in the midst of enormous physical pain and suffering. I had never been in any of these situations, but my heart was touched and my faith in God strengthened as I saw the pain of those who shared but also their faith in a loving God remain firm, even in the most desperate of situations when there seemed to be no miracles or easy answers.

Afterwards, our minister reminded us of Paul’s story in 2 Corinthians 1 about the hardships he and Timothy suffered as they journeyed through Asia:

We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. (2 Cor 1:8-9)

Paul shares his story honestly with us, here and elsewhere in Scripture, so that his words still encourage and inspire us today.

But Jesus himself clearly believed in the power of story too. Many times in the Gospels we see how he used parables to get his message across in simple, powerful ways. In the middle of Luke’s Gospel, for example, we have parable after parable recorded that Jesus told—the Good Samaritan (10), the rich fool (12), the great banquet (14), the lost sheep, lost coin and lost son (15), the shrewd manager (16), the persistent widow; the Pharisee and the tax collector (18), to name a few. Yes, Jesus’ culture was different from ours today, but the power of story does not change. Surely in endeavouring to share the good news about Jesus today, we would be foolish to ignore the power of story?

Which brings me to the second reason I was so encouraged by hearing these stories of difficulty and deliverance. I write stories. That’s what I do. Even the work of non-fiction I have just completed is a story of my own experience of a beautiful, spiritual mentoring relationship. So how encouraging it was to be reminded of the power of story to minister to others and to convict!

But what about you? Do you have a story to tell of God’s grace in your life? It may not seem earth-shattering to you, but God can use it, whether written or spoken. So keep looking for those opportunities to share it. And keep telling it truthfully and with love.

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I received a very special gift this past week. It might not seem wonderful to others, but I absolutely love it. I am looking at it now as it sits beside my desk – and even as I do, I feel blessed all over again. So … it is just an old chair, some might say! The cover looks a little worn and ‘pre-loved’ and is in need of being tacked on again in one spot, while the seat itself is definitely lumpy in places. And yet I chose it from my dear friend’s possessions above other things that were freely offered to me.

My friend wanted me to have something of hers with all her heart before she moves out of her very large, old home – and I did not want to disappoint her. Besides, I was delighted at the thought of having something to remember the many times we had met there together. This dear friend has been my ‘spiritual companion’ for a long time now – I know I would not have achieved what I have in my writing journey these past few years, were it not for her wisdom, support and encouragement. But what would be best, we wondered, as we sat drinking our favourite Lady Grey tea and reminiscing? Perhaps one of her precious, old books or some cuttings from the wonderful array of treasured plants in her cottage garden? Or perhaps something else I had admired over the years?

We wandered then along the winding path towards the tiny chapel her husband built many years ago. We stepped across the threshold and I gazed around – this truly was a sacred space that had been lovingly set aside and used for prayer and worship through the years by men and women from a variety of backgrounds. Again my friend asked if there was anything I would like and I shook my head. But then she lifted a cover off an old chair that stood in one corner – and I knew this was what I wanted.

I carefully carried the chair to my car, but whichever way I manoeuvred it, it would not fit in the boot. As a last resort, I flung open the back door and tried sliding it in there – and to my surprise, it fitted perfectly.

My friend and I flung our arms around each other. We were both so happy – she, that she could give me something that had been a precious part of worship for her for so long, and I, that this old chair would continue to be used well by those I now talk and pray with. I am honoured to have it in my study. It symbolises to me all the richness of the loving relationship my friend and I have enjoyed – and beyond that, the relationship of love and grace that God holds out to me – and hopefully to any who may come to talk and pray.

God’s presence is not dependent on particular chairs or any other piece of furniture, I know. But at this stage of the year when tiredness seems to have taken hold, it is so good to have a tangible reminder nearby of the one who is always with me, who knows my heart, who knows everything I have tried to achieve this past year, who knows all the coming year holds and who says to me lovingly: ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.’ (John 14:27)

May God bless you too with deep peace as you celebrate the birth of our Saviour Jesus, the Prince of Peace!

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I’ve been told I’m a pretty independent person.  I hate to ask for help, yet there have been times in my life when I’ve been so grateful that others saw my need and gathered around, willing to do what they could.

Many years ago when I was expecting our third child, neither set of grandparents was free to come and help out with the rest of the family.  I will never forget the amazing way all our friends in the Body of Christ rallied round, providing meals, ferrying our two older children to and from school and kindergarten, minding them until my husband was free to take them home.  Truly they were ‘God with skin on’ for us at that time.

Years later, I ended up in hospital for an unexpected operation, just prior to my husband’s sixtieth birthday party.  Invitations had already been sent out – what should I do?  I arrived home from hospital on the day of the party to find my friends from our church had everything in hand.  They rearranged our house and set out all the food, while I sat and watched.  Again, my friends showed me exactly what God is like.  Again, they were ‘God with skin on’.

Over the years too, God has provided people who strongly believed in me, who cheered me on when I studied for my Bachelor of Theology in my late forties and when I later went on to write my novels.  One such special mentor or ‘spiritual companion’, as she prefers to term it, rescued me so often from my confusion and discouragement that I call her my ‘lifesaver’ and dedicated my first novel ‘Heléna’ to her.  She was, and still is, ‘God with skin on’ for me.

We all need such people – even the strongest and most independent among us.  Recently I noticed in the bible how even the great apostle Paul admitted to that.  In one breath, in Philippians 4:13, he maintains the following:

I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

Yet in the very next breath, he tells his Philippian friends and supporters how good it was of them to share in his ‘troubles’ and reminds them how they sent him aid ‘again and again when I was in need (v 16).

So whoever you are, may you find ‘God with skin on’ beside you too, when you need help. Yes, God is always there anyway and will never leave us, but it helps so much to see God’s love ‘fleshed out’ before our eyes too, don’t you agree?

And perhaps you – or I – need to be ‘God with skin on’ for someone even today.  What do you think?

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