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Posts Tagged ‘the Holy Spirit’

Jo 17Years ago, I discovered something that intrigued me. I was in the middle of preparing a talk and had become stuck, as I tried to organise my thoughts. So I took a break and went to have a shower. To my surprise, as I stood there, letting that water flow over me and mulling things over in my mind, my input simply fell into place. Somehow, it was as if the water was cleansing not only the outside of me but the inside too, washing away my muddy thoughts and bringing so much more clarity.

Now some might say it was the relaxing effect of that water flowing over me that cleared my mind—and I’m sure that was part of it. But I suspect there was more to it too. It seemed to me that, as the physical water flowed over me, so did the living water from God’s Spirit, inspiring me so I could express myself so much better. And, while I hadn’t swallowed any actual water, I felt I was being filled up on the inside with ‘spiritual water’ somewhere deep in my being, so that the right words were able to form and bubble away there, ready to flow onto the page and eventually out to my audience.

Only a few days ago, I experienced something similar—but not in the shower this time! Twice a week, usually late in the afternoon when no one else is around, I try to make my way up to the heated pool and spa in our Village Centre, not far from our unit. I am quite out of practice as a swimmer, so each week, I challenge myself to do a few more lengths of our smallish pool and improve on my previous efforts. Gradually, I am beginning to enjoy the sensation of that water flowing under and around my body again, now that I don’t have to focus on whether I will make it to the other end of that pool or not! Instead, I can let my mind mull over whatever blog I am writing or whatever talk I am preparing and chat about it all with God as I swim.

It was afterwards, while relaxing in the spa, however, that I felt that lovely, cleansing flow of both actual and living water strongly again. As those super warm bubbles surged around me and the water jets massaged my body, it was as if a curtain lifted from my mind, giving me much clearer direction for my writing projects. Then, once again, I sensed that deep peace and joy filling me up inside. And I knew the Source of this peace and joy was Jesus, who still delights to provide living water today, just as he offered to give that Samaritan woman at the well all those centuries ago (see John 4).

How much I need that beautiful, life-giving water to fill me, so it can overflow to others as I write and speak! How much we all need it, so we can bring light and life to our hurting world!

… Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” John 7:37-38

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IMG_20170609_143813167I sit at my desk, enjoying the sunshine that streams through my study window. I can see shrubs close by, then taller trees beyond. Today, their leaves are rippling in the wind—it feels somehow soothing to watch them and to note how their shapes are etched against the bright blue sky. It is cool outside, but I am warm and snug, as I try to find words to describe what I am seeing and feeling. I love writing about my beautiful surroundings, but I so much want to do justice to it all.

As I reflect, I realise I am feeling a twinge of what could only be called guilt. How did we end up here, after living in our little, wooden house for thirty-two years? How come that old house sold for such a good price, enabling us to afford our comfortable, spacious unit? Perhaps it’s all a dream, I think to myself. Perhaps I’ll wake up one morning and find myself back in our old home, instead of in this lovely, quiet place where the only sounds are the birds outside, twittering and singing to one another. I know there are people nearby, but we are on the edge of our Village, where our peace is largely undisturbed, unless we choose to venture out somewhere.

In the quietness, I try to slow my racing mind. God is here with me, I know—and I choose to stop, be still and settle into that warm, loving Presence all around me. Yet, for some reason, I feel unworthy at this point in time. God, why have you chosen to give us all this beauty and comfort, my heart cries out. What have we done to deserve so much material blessing? Could it be … maybe you meant it for someone else, God? Has it all been a big mistake?

Then I sense God’s loving arms around me and feel the Spirit’s warmth and fullness flooding my being. I open my Bible, but even before I do, I seem to hear God’s gentle, reassuring voice: This is no mistake, Jo-Anne. This is just a picture in the natural of the grace I have poured out on you in the spiritual. As you look around and enjoy what you have received, know it is my delight to give you a place where you can flourish and where you can serve me with a heart at peace and overflowing with my love for others. And as you do, may you be reminded of the abundance of my grace that called you to be part of my family forever—that grace beyond measure that you can never earn or buy.

I turn the pages then and read one of my favourite verses written by the Apostle John, then another from the Apostle Paul:

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! 1 John 3:1

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God …. Ephesians 2:8

Then I sit back and relax. Yes, Lord, it is all gift. Everything we have, everything we are. Thank you, from the depths of my heart, for your amazing, overwhelming grace.

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Jo 23We have had an interesting time in our house recently. Our bedroom and bathroom needed painting, as well as various spots in the kitchen. So each morning, bright and early, our friendly painter turned up, cheeky and chirpy as ever.

Some parts of our house needed much painstaking work. We have lived here for thirty-two years, after all, and the house was in existence long before that. But other parts, especially our kitchen area, needed only a little touch-up on the ceiling—or so we thought. However, when asked his opinion, what was our erstwhile painter’s response?

‘Look, I don’t need any more work … but have you noticed at how dirty these walls are? It’d be just as easy to paint’em than to scrub them all. I could clean’em down a bit with metho and water, then give’em a quick couple of coats. That way, it’ll all look spic and span!’

I was doubtful—until he showed me the area high up he had wiped clean. In that spot, the wall was a nice, light cream colour, while elsewhere … Well, let’s just say it was noticeably a few shades darker. Hmm. Now I could see where all that kitchen grease had gone!

In the end, we decided to paint those kitchen walls. It made sense, after all—and that way, other imperfections would be covered up as well.

As I watched the whole process unfold, I began to think how much easier it is to repair our material surroundings than to repair ourselves. If we try to clean ourselves up in our own strength and make ourselves appear more presentable, we might look and feel okay for a while, but nothing has really changed. Soon we fall into those same old traps—judging others, losing our temper, being a little dishonest here and there, or whatever seems to come naturally to us and has been our weakness for so long. As Jesus himself said:

No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.” Matthew 9:16-17

What we truly need in our lives is not just a ‘touch-up job’—or even a good makeover. We need those new wineskins. We need a complete demolishing of the old, a brand new start, a deep change that begins on the inside and flows out into our words and actions.

And that is exactly what God has given us in Jesus.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 2 Corinthians 5:17

Yes, we will still make wrong choices in our lives. But we are still God’s beloved children, part of God’s family, changed forever at the core of our being. God’s own Spirit lives in us. And God is always there for us, welcoming us home, reaching out in forgiveness. In Jesus, God has given us much more than a couple of coats of paint to cover those blemishes. And I’m so glad of that.

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It’s not too often I’m challenged on my way into church—but that’s what happened this past Sunday morning. After one of our ministers greeted me as I arrived, we had a brief conversation that, rightly or wrongly, kind of took over my mind during the service itself!

You see, we had talked about how amazing our brains are in that we can be fully engaged in one activity, yet be able to take in something else entirely that is happening at the same time. In the process, I had commented how, on occasions, I have found myself speaking from the heart on an important topic in a church or to a group somewhere else, only to find another section of my brain is busily involved in thinking of practical details that have nothing to do with what I’m sharing. I can be in the midst of trying to connect on a deep level with those present, but somehow my brain can be busy on another parallel track as well. For example, in mid-sentence, I can find myself noting how someone is smiling or looking upset—or, worse still, bored! Or I might realise I am taking too long with my input and begin deciding what I will need to leave out. Or part of my brain might even be sending me little messages such as ‘This isn’t making sense! It’s rubbish! You’re making a fool of yourself!’ And if I then notice someone get up and walk out, for whatever reason, these doubts are very quickly confirmed in my mind!

But the profound question my minister friend then asked and that I carried with me into our service was this: What if we used all our mind in whatever we were attempting to do, particularly speaking? What would the results be then? Hmmmm!

Well, much as I hate to admit it at this point, my immediate response was, ‘Oh, we might change the world!’ It was not so much what I said but the facetious way I said it and what I was thinking as I did that makes me shudder now. I say that because, the more I have reflected on my response, the more I have realised that, if our minds were totally filled with God’s message for those present and totally filled with the Spirit of God as we spoke, then yes, it’s entirely possible we could change the world by the power of God at work in us.

In that same church service, we were reminded of Jesus’ words in Matthew 28:18-20:

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

Wouldn’t it be better if, next time I speak, I focus on the One Who is with me forever, the One Who has all authority and can very well deal with any of those extraneous thoughts of mine? Wouldn’t it be better if I were to shut out those destructive messages from the enemy that invade my brain and listen to God’s loving, empowering voice instead?

Yes, in God’s power and by God’s presence within us, I believe we really can change the world!

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I wonder if you can think of a time when you almost held your breath because God seemed so close to you, perhaps even almost tangible. Back in the seventh century or thereabouts, the Celtic Christians in Britain and Ireland had a phrase for such a moment. They termed it the ‘thin place’ – a place or instance when that separation between heaven and earth or God and human beings seemed almost to disappear and the two blended together in perfect harmony.

Does your heart long for such places and experiences? I know mine does. They can happen in all sorts of ways, I’ve discovered – sometimes when we least expect them. Just yesterday, when I had the house to myself, I decided to sit down at our piano and play some of the old, classical pieces I used to enjoy many years ago. I am very much out of practice, but now I was just playing, letting the music flow as best I could and enjoying the beautiful melodies and harmonies of Brahms and Beethoven and Mozart. Memories came flooding back, but along with them was a distinct sense of the presence of God. It was as if God’s heart was reaching out to me through those notes and speaking straight into my spirit. It was as if God’s own immeasurable creativity was inspiring me through the creative works of others, as I cooperated by bringing my own creative ability to the moment through my playing.

Perhaps you have experienced such moments of closeness with God as you have gazed in awe at a beautiful coastline scene or mountain vista or observed God’s creativity at work in the exquisite, intricate design of a tiny flower. Or maybe it has happened in the midst of a time of worship or prayer, as you have gathered together with other believers, or alone as you have put time aside to read Scripture and reflect. Perhaps you have even sensed God close by right in the middle of the hustle and bustle of a busy street or a noisy crowd. And maybe you who are authors out there will be familiar with God’s comforting, encouraging presence as you attempt to write words that will minister to others in some way. But in all these situations, we need to have our ears attuned to that still, small voice of the Spirit and our eyes focused not only on what we see before us but beyond that on our ever-present God.

You know, it seems such a shame that we so often miss out on these wonderful, life-giving encounters with the reality of God that go far beyond anything this world can provide. Of course God has called us to make a difference for the Kingdom right here and now, but that’s not all there is. Because God’s Spirit lives in those of us who believe, we will never be fully at home here—along with those great men and women of faith listed in Hebrews 11, we will always be ‘aliens and strangers on earth’ (11:13). So we need to find those thin places for our own wellbeing and spiritual survival. And God is there, ever willing to meet with us, when we take the time to look.

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity.” (Jeremiah 29:13-14)

This week, may you all experience God in your own thin place and be truly nourished and refreshed in the process.

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