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Posts Tagged ‘the kingdom of God’

Jo 12I am an expert at feeling sorry for people. Just ask my husband, who simply sighs and shakes his head at me, after fifty years of marriage. Last year, during a road trip interstate when we passed through various little country towns where everything looked more than a little down-at-heel, he knew what I would be likely to say next.

‘Oh, this all looks so quiet—and everything seems so old! How do the shops here survive? I feel so sorry for them. Even the pub looks deserted! Oh dear!’

Sometimes too when I spy a small, corner store right here in Sydney somewhere, I can easily feel sorry for its owner, who must find it so hard to compete with the bigger shopping centres. And when I see shop after shop all crammed together in close proximity to its competitors in one of our more heavily populated suburbs, I can manage to feel sorry for those owners too.

‘How do they all make a bean?’ I ask in a worried voice. ‘They must have to work such long hours seven days a week to survive!’

Yes, I am a champion at feeling sorry for all sorts of people—probably unnecessarily, most of the time! That is one reason I do not watch those current affairs shows that often feature some poor person who is being picked on by a neighbour or who has been duped by some dodgy, unscrupulous builder or tree-lopper or who is at odds with a hard-hearted insurance company who refuses to pay up. I cannot bear to see their need—and to be unable to do anything about it. All I can do is hope and pray the story has a good ending and that someone else who can do something about it takes action.

There is a sensible limit, I suspect, in how much energy we should expend in feeling sorry for others in this unproductive way. And there is a difference too, I think, in feeling sorry for someone and having true empathy or compassion for them. So perhaps those of us who can so easily feel sorry for others would do better if we realised this and modelled ourselves more on our great God of compassion, who not only empathises perfectly, but can actually do something about our situation.

The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. Psalm 103:8

As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. Psalm 103:13-14

The Lord did not simply wring his hands and say, ‘Oh dear—what a mess my children are in!’ Instead, because of his great compassion for us, he sent his Son Jesus to rescue us. And we see that same compassion in Jesus himself in the way he reached out to those around him, healing so many and preaching the good news of the kingdom.

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

What a wonderful, powerful, compassionate God we have who does not simply feel sorry for us but reaches out in love, rescuing us, restoring us and drawing us ever closer to himself!

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Jo 23‘Would you like to go to a park, Maxine?’ I asked our granddaughter, soon after she arrived to spend the day with us.

She shook her head very definitely, as she settled herself at our dining-room table and began to work on a puzzle book.

‘Well, would you like to go to the shops? You could have fun in the play area and then I’ll buy you a doughnut!’

Again, she shook her head. At that point, I gave up and let her be. But after a while, I wondered if she might be hungry.

‘Maxine, would you like a little cake for morning tea? I have a pink iced one here. And you can have a drink too.’

But she assured me she was not hungry. I was amazed, as it is not every day she turns down a pink iced cake!

Half an hour or so later, however, things took a different turn.

‘Nanna, I’m hungry now!’

‘Oh, are you? Well, I’ll get out the little pink iced cake for you and a drink.’

‘But Nanna,’ our Maxine said gently then, ‘I’m hungry for a doughnut!’

As we quickly headed for those shops, I began to wonder if I am in fact so vastly different from Maxine. On occasions, I have been known to declare that I want something to eat but don’t know what. I try this and that, but nothing seems to hit the mark. Finally, it dawns on me what I want—and then I, the adult, am not satisfied until I have it.

But I also began to think about that amazing moment many years ago when I came to realise what I needed above all else in my life in general—and that was to experience and accept God’s love for me, through truly believing in Jesus Christ, God’s own Son. The night I committed my life to Christ, I remember thinking, ‘Yes, this is what I want most of all! Whatever else I do, I need to live for God.’ Back then when I was fifteen, I sensed nothing else in life would truly satisfy—and I was right.

Then many years later, I met some Christians who seemed so much closer to and on fire for God than I was. I remember asking, ‘What is it you’ve got that I haven’t?’ They refused to answer me, but instead told me to wait—God would show me. And that is indeed what happened. One night during a worship time, I experienced the amazing love of God in a fresh way as God’s Spirit overwhelmed me and filled me with deep and abiding joy. From then on, I became even more convinced that nothing else in life will truly satisfy—only knowing that gracious love of God, clearly seen in the death of his Son Jesus Christ for us.

On one occasion, Jesus told two parables about the hidden treasure and the priceless pearl and how the men who wanted these sold all they had to obtain them (Matthew 13:44-46). He was talking about the kingdom of heaven, about finding new life as a child of God and then loving and serving the King of Kings, above all else.

That’s what I truly want to do in my life. Is that your desire too?

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Jo 23‘Savour the moment,’ the little, old nun told me during a time when I was experiencing some deep sadness, ‘because you might not pass this way again.’

I did not know her—our paths crossed for only one session at a conference. Yet, the more I thought about her words, the more I realised what a gift they were to me. In essence, she had encouraged me not to miss out on what God had to teach me right in the midst of that difficult time. I had been given a unique opportunity to experience more of God’s love and grace, to grow in my relationship with God and to learn some important lessons about myself too—and I needed to grasp it fully.

‘That’s not humility—that’s self-protection!’ an insightful pastor friend told me once.

I was a little shocked. Yet I trusted him and knew he was challenging me in love. I had just refused to take up a new role in our church that he felt was so right for me. I thought I was being humble by pointing out how hopeless I would be at it. Yet, in reality, I panicked and wanted to protect myself from any humiliating failure rather than allow God to help me grow and to use me in a different way to bless others. I needed to think again—and respond to the challenge before me.

‘They might not be able to have you,’ my dear spiritual mentor told me gently, as I questioned whether I was truly wanted at the place where I was then employed.

Again, I was shocked. In fact, I found her words quite amusing. Imagine thinking something like that! The privilege of having such a position was all mine, wasn’t it? Surely I had no right to choose to go elsewhere or do something different? Yet I respected my friend and tucked her comment away in my mind to consider at a later date. And when that date arrived, I realised what little sense of self-worth and self-respect I had had for so long and how blind I was to the work of God’s grace and love in my life.

This week, I came across one of the littlest parables Jesus ever told:

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 birds of the air come and perch in its branches. Matt 13:31-32

So many times, God has given me precious mustard seed moments when one small comment has ended up changing the course of my life in some significant way. With each one, God has shown me a better way to respond to my circumstances or a healthier and more courageous way to live. These brief words have enlarged my heart, leaving more room for God and providing a place of shelter and strengthening. Some have impacted others as well as I have shared them both personally and via my writing. God has been at work, building the kingdom in me and in others, little by little, word by word.

Let’s not downplay those tiny mustard seeds. In God’s hands, the possibilities are infinite.

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Right now, I am in the middle of a lengthy task that has become quite familiar to me in the past few years. It is the task of destroying something I have been at great pains to create over many months—those wonderful, superfluous words in my latest manuscript.

Years ago, I would almost have died at the very thought. ‘No!’ I would scream. ‘These priceless pearls are all necessary to set the scene and make my meaning clear.’ Alas, I soon discovered this extra verbiage did not do anything of the sort. So I have disciplined myself since then to step back and try to see what I have written through someone else’s eyes—perhaps eyes more like my husband’s, who much prefers novels where the storyline is untrammelled by any excess baggage.

So in editing my seventh book and first non-fiction effort, I find I am relatively at ease in throwing out hundreds and even thousands of words over which I laboured long and hard. After telling a friend this recently, she commented how we may be quite content not to own this or that. But once we do own it, then it is much, much harder to consider throwing it out. It is ours. It is part of us now. How then could I possibly delete so many words I had created and now had a life out there on the page/screen?

Well, in many cases, I can see they have served their purpose. I needed them to help me shape what it was I really wanted to say. They were written in an initial burst of enthusiasm and insight, but now are either expendable or at least in line for a solid makeover. I can get rid of them without much regret then, knowing my work will be the better for it. I have learnt to be ruthless for the sake of what is to come.

But what about the rest of my life? What if some things are standing in the way of forging a better relationship with God? Yes, I can be ruthless is getting rid of material possessions, although I may cringe a little when it comes to books. And I can give away money to bless others and be used in God’s kingdom. But what about my precious time? And what about all those creative thoughts in my head I am loath to put aside in order to spend even a few reflective moments with my heavenly Father?

I suspect I need to employ a few more ruthless editing skills in my life in general in order to focus on the things that really are important—things like listening to God, reflecting on God’s Word, praying, doing what God wants me to do. Perhaps I need to have a mind like Paul’s when he writes in Philippians 4:7-8:

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him …

How are you doing at hanging onto what is really important and getting rid of the rest? How are you at being ruthless in order to gain Christ?

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Possibly the only thing I am disappointed about with the study I have finally acquired for myself in our home is the fact that when I look out of the window beside my desk, what meets my eye is the ugly fibro wall of the neighbour’s garage and the paling fence between their property and ours.  Yet this morning, when I looked out, my eyes travelled upwards and I realised I could see the tops of the trees growing in the park on the other side of our neighbour’s house.  And high up in the branches of the tallest tree there I saw two birds.  They were perched precariously on two of the topmost slender branches, seemingly unperturbed by the fact that these branches were swaying markedly as the wind blew them and as they bent under the weight of the birds themselves.

I returned to my Scripture reading for the day and a few moments later read these words from Luke 13:18-19:

What is the kingdom of God like?  What shall I compare it to?  It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden.  It grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air perched in its branches.

As I reflected on this, I realised that I can choose to view the words I will write in the hours ahead of me this morning – or any day – as mustard seeds.  I ‘sow’ them, if you like, as I carefully choose which word to use and blend them together with others in whole sentences and paragraphs.  I read and re-read, trying to find the right combination that will convey exactly what I feel needs to be conveyed at that particular point and through that particular character.  Often I end up deleting what I have written and begin to ‘re-plant’, this time in a different way.  All the while, I am hoping that the words I write will combine with the whole, each in their own individual and important way, to form a story fashioned under God’s hand – perhaps even a story that will touch people’s hearts and lives and hopefully bear fruit for the kingdom.  And daily, as my story grows, I continue to craft it and fine hone it, shaping it in the way that best conveys the seeds of truth it contains, as far as I am able.  And as I do, I try to stay close to God, so that God’s very Spirit will somehow draw my readers to find their place in the story.  Perhaps they will rest there for a moment, perching on the branches, as it were, regaining strength and being challenged to spread their wings yet again and continue their own journey of being who God intends them to be for the kingdom. 

The wind is still buffeting that tree I can see from my window, even as I look now.  But the birds are gone.  May you too go out into your world today, strengthened by God to sow whatever ‘mustard seeds’ you have been given.  And may you face whatever you need to with peace, hope and joy, as you seek to play your part in God’s kingdom.

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