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Posts Tagged ‘Walking on Water’

For years I drove my family crazy. At regular intervals, I would come out with statements such as the following:

‘I’d like to write a book one day.’

‘Oh, I could write my Great Australian Novel in that beautiful spot!’

‘You’ll see. One day I’ll write my own novel.’

Eventually, our older daughter got tired of hearing me talk like this. For my birthday, she gave me a pile of books on how to write, plus a bookmark she had made herself, with a picture of a steaming cup of tea on it and a little sticker that said ‘Write your own!’

So I did—although it took me over twenty years to get around to it! I still have that little, handmade bookmark and often take it with me when I speak somewhere. I use it to encourage others not to ignore the dreams God has put in their hearts and to step out with courage and do whatever it is they have longed to do.

Recently, I met someone who wants to write and has even planned out her first novel. But as for actually starting on the writing itself—well, that’s another matter. Somehow it’s all just too scary for her. What if she finds she can’t do it? What if she discovers, after months of effort, that she has been wasting her time?

I understand how she feels—as would many writers, I believe. Even now, with seven books published, I find myself a little reluctant to launch into writing that eight book. I want to write it, with all my heart. I believe I have something worthwhile to say in this book. I fully intend to write it and have even begun, but it’s amazing how many other tasks I decide I have to do first! Yet I know from past experience how wonderfully fulfilling it is to give myself over to writing and allow those words to flow out onto that screen, to see those characters and storyline develop or to be carried along as a non-fiction book takes shape.

So what’s to be done?  You may not intend to write a book in 2014. Perhaps it’s the last thing you could imagine yourself doing! But we all have things in our minds that we would like to do—some day.  Sometimes we even know in our hearts it is what God wants us to do, yet still we are reluctant to rise to the challenge and respond to that call on our lives. Maybe we all need to take to heart more Paul’s words in Colossians 3:23-24 during the coming year:

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

Will 2014 be the year for you, like Peter in Matthew 14, to step out of that boat that represents safety and familiarity and instead walk on the water towards Jesus? Will you listen when Jesus looks straight at you with such love and speaks that one strong, encouraging word, as he did to Peter—‘Come!’?

I hope you do. I hope I do. God is faithful. May we be equally so.

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I wonder if you’ve ever had some nice plan or scheme all worked out, only to have someone come along and mess the whole thing up! Perhaps this person might ask a simple question or give a suggestion for a better way forward. Yet you don’t want to hear. After all, you’ve invested a lot of time and energy into this particular project. Or it might be that you finally think you’ve come to grips with some issue and know what you believe. Then someone comes up with a radically different idea that makes your whole concept—or perhaps even your whole world—seem a little wobbly. Maybe it could even cause it to come crashing down! So, however well intentioned this person might be, how dare he or she throw a spanner in the works like that!

If you have, then perhaps you might relate to those Jews in Jesus’ time who, according to John 8, had apparently believed in him to some extent. But then, Jesus started talking about things like knowing the truth and being set free. What was this all about? Weren’t they Abraham’s descendants? They didn’t need to be set from anything. They were fine, thank you very much. More than that, it was very dangerous teaching. Much better to get rid of him if he’s going to keep talking about such rubbish as pleasing his Father and being ‘from above’.

Yet perhaps we should give them some benefit of the doubt. Maybe they hadn’t heard about the amazing things Jesus had been doing, like changing water into wine, healing people, feeding more than five thousand with a few fish and rolls, not to mention walking on water. Whether they had or not, however, they decided there was no place for this crazy, insulting person in their world and that he was better right out of the picture.

But Jesus saw right through them. He knew they wanted to get rid of him—and he did not beat about the bush. In Jn 8:37 we read:

I know you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are ready to kill me, because you have no room for my word.

No room for his word? No room to hear what the Son of God was saying? What a sad, sad statement! These Jews seemed to be too full of pride in their heritage and too concerned about their own wellbeing to have any space in their hearts and lives to take Jesus’ words on board. They knew God in a special way—yet Jesus bluntly tells them that ‘the reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.’ (Jn 8:47)

Yet … yet what about us today? In fact, what about me? How often in my busy life do I simply have no room for God’s word? Yes, I might get to read it somewhere along the line, but how often does it not really enter my heart? Or worse still, just like these Jews, how often do I decide I simply don’t like what God has said and choose not to make any space for those changes that need to happen in my life?

You have no room for my word.

I still think that’s one of the saddest statements in Scripture, don’t you?

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If it wasn’t so serious, it would be funny how often what I say when speaking at the various groups or churches where I am invited applies first and foremost to me. There I am, merrily encouraging others to take heed of the things God is saying when a gentle voice somewhere inside me pulls me up short and says, ‘So Jo-Anne, where are you on this matter? What are you going to do about this?’

Last week was an almost too perfect example of one such time, to my shame. I had been invited by a particular group of women to share something of how God has guided and encouraged me in my writing journey. As I prepared my input, I kept coming back to a story from the gospels I have often spoken on in the past—the account from Matthew 14 of Peter walking on water. I love so many things about this story. First off, I love Jesus’ words in verse 27, where, as soon as he notes how terrified his disciples are when they see him walking on the water, he says to them, ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’ Many times in my writing journey, I have drawn on these words of Jesus in order to keep going.

I love it how Peter then finds the courage to suggest that Jesus actually should invite him to walk on that water too. And as soon as he hears that little word ‘Come’, he takes the risk of stepping out of that boat—and off he trots towards Jesus (29)! But when he notices how the wind is buffeting the waves and begins to sink, Jesus is immediately there, reaching out his hand to rescue him. Yet it is what Jesus says to Peter next that spoke to me the most this past week.

You of little faith,’ he said, ‘why did you doubt? (31)

You see, I was sharing how, given the fact that I now have five novels published and one non-fiction work, there was no need for me ever to have doubted God’s call to write and the fact that God would bring it about. Likewise, I was urging these women to do all God was calling and had gifted them to do and to trust God in the process. Yet, that very day, I myself had doubted. Not believing I would sell many books at this particular venue, I had brought with me only a small number of my earlier novels in particular. Imagine my surprise then when, before my eyes, every available copy of my first two novels speedily disappeared from my book table—along with a large number of my later books! All up, I sold more than double what I had expected.

It was time to eat my words. I had doubted God big-time. I knew God had given me this speaking engagement—yet that did not translate into having the faith to pack a good number of books in the car to sell afterwards. When it came to showing my trust in a concrete way, I was definitely found wanting on this occasion.

How humbling it was to hear God’s gentle question ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ yet again in my life! Is this a question God often seems to have to ask you too?

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‘We all have to go through change—that’s what life’s about,’ a friend told me this week. Her comment arose from dealing with someone who complained when things were done differently in a certain area of their church life. Yes, change can be hard—but it is inevitable. And right now, many people are experiencing it. For some, it is loss of a job while for others it’s the end of a period of study and the necessity of finding employment.

I reflected on my friend’s words later that same day, as I removed an old lavender bush from our front yard. It had well and truly had its day, yet I had been reluctant to pull it out for sentimental reasons. It was the first gift I received for speaking to a group outside our own church a very long time ago now. But with deliberation, I reached down and pulled that old thing out of the ground. It was time for a change.

I reflected further as I prepared for two speaking engagements this week. One is at a community group where I am speaking about my writing journey and the challenges and rewards of the writing life. I plan to talk about how I had always wanted to write and how a change in my job situation, not to mention that huge tug in my heart, caused me to take that step of beginning my first novel. My other talk will be given to a women’s group in a large church. There I’ll be speaking more overtly about God’s leading in my writing journey and about learning to trust, just as the apostle Peter had to when he walked on the water towards Jesus (Matt 14).

Both these talks have reminded me of the changes in my own life over the years and the widely different roles God has given me. I can remember leaving some jobs with reluctance to move onto the next. I remember not wanting to put aside my editing role that I took up after teaching. Here was a job where, as I told my boss one day, I could not believe I was being paid to do something I loved so much! Later, I remember leaving my office job at our church with mixed feelings, including excitement at my theological studies ahead. But above all, I remember the sadness with which I left my ministry role on our church staff, still sure God had wanted me there but equally certain God was saying it was time to move on. Now, after almost nine years of writing and seven books later, I am horrified at the thought that I might have missed out on such a wonderful privilege, had I insisted on staying where I was.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven’, the writer of Ecclesiastes tells us (Ecc 3:1). Times change—and we change too. I have seen how God taught me many things in one season of my life, then gave me a role where those skills and the experience gained were so much needed. And as we continue to listen and to trust, our God walks with us through each twist and turn of our lives, constant and faithful. ‘I the Lord do not change’ is the simple, unequivocal statement we find in Malachi 3:6—and I find that so reassuring.

Are you in the midst of a time of change? May you find your strength and comfort in our God who sees everything, who with faithfully lead you and who is the same, yesterday, today and forever (Heb 13:8).

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Yes, I was asked this question last week – although it wasn’t worded exactly that way! It occurred during a conversation with our four-year-old granddaughter and went something like this:

Olivia:    ‘Nanna, do you work?’

Nanna: ‘Yes … I work right here at home. I sit here at my computer and write my books – that’s my work.’

Olivia:    ‘No, but do you go out to work like other people?’

Nanna: ‘Well, I don’t go out to work – but I still work!’

My answers didn’t seem to satisfy our granddaughter. Obviously in her mind her Nanna didn’t have a ‘real’ job at all. Yet she isn’t alone in her opinion, I’ve discovered. Some time back, I was asked another similarly intriguing question:

‘We know you write, but what do you do?’

And then there was the form I had to fill out recently that asked about my employment status. Am I self-employed? Well … yes. Do I work fulltime or part-time? Hmmm! Why is there never a category for more than fulltime, which is where writers who spend many long hours at the keyboard would fit?

In her book ‘Walking on Water’, American author Madeleine L’Engle describes a ‘New Yorker’ cartoon depicting a woman opening the door to welcome a friend to her house. The friend notices a man there working at a typewriter, with a large manuscript piled on the desk beside him. The friend then asks, ‘Has your husband found a job yet? Or is he still writing?’ I am left wondering exactly how the woman responded! Madeleine L’Engle also tells the story of a businesswoman who asked her about her royalties, at a time when she was at last doing quite well in that regard. When told this, the businesswoman remarked, ‘And to think most people would have had to work so hard for that!’

So where does this leave me? Well, I could sit here feeling sorry for myself, as I put all my heart and mind and soul into preparing four talks I am scheduled to give in the next four weeks and simultaneously try to write my current novel and plan out a workshop. I could nurture great resentment at the lack of understanding out there and the devaluing of the whole creative process in general. I could try to be superwoman and prove myself on all fronts, looking for a ‘real job’ to hold down while I seek to produce my next ‘great Australian novel’. Or I could simply laugh it off, knowing my granddaughter at least couldn’t be expected to understand, and develop a thicker skin about it all.

But I believe there’s an even more positive way forward. I believe I need to remind myself that God has called me to spend these long hours writing and preparing talks and that I need to be faithful in responding to that call. I need to view this vocation of author and speaker as an absolute privilege – one in which, after all, I get to be ‘me’ and feel completely fulfilled, whatever the tangible rewards or lack thereof. I need to remember to throw myself into it all with a full and grateful heart, as Paul reminds us:

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. (Colossians 3:23-24)

So whether we have a ‘real job’ or not, let’s remember our ‘audience of one’ and perform our hearts out with great thankfulness!

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