Ways to Grow in God: Learning how God guides us part 2

My name is Laurie-Ann, and I’m a missionary. During my mission travels, I have ministered with people in Northern Ireland, Pakistan, Canada and the USA.  I’ve also ministered in African countries like Kenya, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, South Africa and Botswana. But at this time, we live in the beautiful Western Cape of South Africa.

In the last article, we began to learn some of the ways that God guides us.  There are Old Testament scriptures about what happened when the Hebrews, Israelites and then the Jews didn’t follow God’s plans for them. They instead did not trust God, and made their own plans. A good example of this is in Isaiah 30, when some Jews fled to Egypt, when they were asked not to do so. It broke God’s heart, yet there was always a remnant that stayed true.  Quite often, when left your own unaided decision making, you end up in places you shouldn’t be, and eventually live to regret it.  Nicky Gumbel shares that many new Christians say to him “I wish I had become a Christian five or ten years earlier. Look at my life now. It’s such a mess.” If we are to find out about God’s plans for us, we need to ask him about them.

When we are seeking guidance for our lives, there is general guidance, as shown through scripture and there is specific guidance.  When we are making major life decisions we may need confirmations in the many ways that God speaks to us.  He gives us directions, but he’s not a cosmic GPS.  He’s so much more than that.

There are five CS’s – and we started our journey through the first CS – Commanding scripture, and learned some of the second CS – Compelling Spirit.  That is the Holy Spirit.   Sometimes a scripture verse can seem to leap off the page of the Bible into your heart.  It isn’t taken out of its original context, but it’s like the Holy Spirit breathes into the words that he originally inspired – to have an encouragement just for you.  It could be about the love of God for you as his child.  It could be about having to leave your parents’ house or country to go somewhere new. This was the call of Abraham, and also the same call to many missionary monks from Ireland.    Some are called to stay single, others to get married.  Sometimes that person is shown their spouse, and other times, we are given more choices, as long as they are compatible, love God and have a similar calling.

Compelling Spirit is the second CS.  It’s one of the more supernatural ways of hearing God.   Sometimes the Holy Spirit seems to grab us through dreams, impressions during prayer, godly desires, and supernatural enlightenment of our minds and hearts. The Holy Spirit works in different ways. Some are quiet, some are not.    He speaks through our conscience, to stop and love the one.  Or to show kindness in another way, like saving a life.

God often speaks in impressions when we pray.  Shawn Bolz shared recently at a Toronto conference that God speaks to most people in impressions.  He does this in a quiet way so we lean into him for more.  It’s not like he’s shouting in an audible voice from a distance.  He’s not distant at all.

Impressions and pictures are the major ways that the Holy Spirit speaks to me.  This is because I’m an artist, and I also get guidance in how to pray and encourage others in this way.  Tony gets loving thoughts in his mind, this is also called the still small voice of the Holy Spirit.   This is one the most common ways that the Holy Spirit speaks, after illuminating scripture and impressions.  He can remind you of scripture, past events, and also give inspirational ideas for art, business and to bless relationships.

But we need to test these thoughts and pictures.  Sometimes they are from God, and other times from our own strong desires or even from the devil.  So you check if the impression promotes love, lifts up Jesus and is in line with the Bible. What is the motive behind the picture or word?  Does it give you peace or fill you with love and joy?  Here are a few examples: Impressions of greed, causing someone harm, or a fantasy of having lovers we are not married to is not from God.

God sometimes speaks to us by giving us a strong desire to do something.  During the last broadcast I shared about Tony’s change of heart to go on his first mission trip with me in Kenya.  It turned out to be a wonderful experience for him, although he was initially reluctant.  It took the Holy Spirit to change his mind – in a space of a few short minutes.  The same happened with Tony’s application to Harvest School, although this was a longer process.  It took weeks for Tony to come around and decide to answer God’s call to him as a missionary for a season.  While I had accepted my call gradually by a series of saying yes, he had to grow from no to a yes.  But since then, Tony has become an amazing and loving missionary.  It’s a calling that takes in whatever skills, talents and drives each of us possess.

God guides us in more unusual ways.  Impressions and the still small voice are ways that God often speaks to most of us, including well-known prophets.  God often does not shout, but whispers.

I have had had many gentle whispers from the Holy Spirit in my journaling times, soaking prayer times, when I am worshipping, and sometimes when I draw.  This is how I expand drawings into prophetic art, from the smallest of impressions, that grow deeper as I dive into the prophetic pool, so to speak.  I had one directive impression in 2014, when I was driving to Toronto to see my parents.  I had planned a little trip with my mother to the Finger Lakes area of New York State.  Just out of the blue, I had an impression that I would be teaching African children about art.  I had hoped that I could also teach radio, but that hasn’t happened yet.  So when I was offered the position of teaching art at Worcester’s MasterPeace Academy, it fitted.  So did turning my newer prophetic drawings into what will be a colouring book.  I know there’s so much more in store for me as I continue to walk that specific part of my calling.

Yet, there are examples of some even more fantastic ways that God can share a message with us.  God spoke to the prophet Samuel when he was a child – not with the still small voice in his heart, but an actual audible voice.   In this story, young Samuel kept hearing a voice calling to him, and he thought it was his mentor Eli, whom he lived with.  The story goes as follows:  Suddenly the Lord called out, “Samuel!”

“Yes?” Samuel replied. “What is it?” He got up and ran to Eli. “Here I am. Did you call me?”  “I didn’t call you,” Eli replied. “Go back to bed.” So he did.   Then the Lord called out again, “Samuel!”  Again Samuel got up and went to Eli. “Here I am. Did you call me?” “I didn’t call you, my son,” Eli said. “Go back to bed.”  Samuel did not yet know the Lord because he had never had a message from the Lord before. So the Lord called a third time, and once more Samuel got up and went to Eli. “Here I am. Did you call me?”  Then Eli realized it was the Lord who was calling the boy. So he said to Samuel, “Go and lie down again, and if someone calls again, say, ‘Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went back to bed.  10 And the Lord came and called as before, “Samuel! Samuel!”  And Samuel replied, “Speak, your servant is listening.”

This was the beginning of Samuel’s ministry as a prophet to Israel.  He was used to minister to many, including King David as a boy. He was the one who prophesied he would be king, and anointed him for the eventual position.

Jesus heard the audible voice of the Father after his water baptism in the Jordan river.  Matthew 3:17 shares that the audible voice said, “This is My Son, whom I love; this is the Apple of My eye; with Him I am well pleased.”  Our own Iris Global co-founder Heidi Baker also heard the audible voice of God the day she came to faith.  She shared in the Compelled by Love movie that the voice told her that she “was called to be a minister and a missionary, and she was to go to Africa, Asia and England.”  And so she did.

There are many biblical examples of God guiding his people through angels – in the case of Abraham, Joseph and Peter.   In Abraham’s story, three angels visited him in the guise of men.  In Genesis 18, they told him that he and Sarah would have a child in a year.  In Genesis 16, an angel also came and told Hagar, Abraham’s concubine, a message of hope and survival.  An angel appeared to Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, in a dream three times.  In Matthew 2:13, He was warned to take Mary and Jesus into Egypt, since King Herod was sending soldiers to kill all the baby boys in Bethlehem. The same angel then told Joseph when it was safe to return home.  The angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, who announced to her a special calling.  This was right before she conceived Jesus by the Holy Spirit.  In Acts 12, the apostle Peter was also freed from prison by an angel.   Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist was also told by an angel about his barren, middle aged wife becoming the mother of a special prophet.

Angels have also encouraged and strengthened, such as Joshua at the city of Jericho in Joshua chapter 5, and others have been involved with commissioning, such as the angels with hot tongs, in Isaiah’s commissioning.

I’ve encountered angels in human form quite a few times, when I’ve been spared dangerous circumstances. I’ve often sensed them, but I’ve not yet seen one in angelic form with my earthly eyes.  Two prophetic leaders in my life have regular stories about them – Shawn Gabie, pastor of Kingdom Culture, and Darren Canning, a Canadian prophet, artist and writer.  I used to work as Darren’s assistant, which was a wonderful time. During that year, I once told Darren I always wanted to see an angel, and he replied that I do see them.  Have I been guided by one?  Yes, to safety.  Yes, when I worship.  But it’s more the Holy Spirit that guides me personally, although I know that angels are there to protect me and strengthen me.  I sense their presence, and I’m thankful for their ministry.

God guides through visions – These are stronger than fleeting impressions that we may have when we pray.  They can seem like full movies that come when we’re awake, but it seems that we may be in an interested trance.  Peter had such an experience on his rooftop before he was asked to come to Cornelius’s house to minister.  This experience, and the resulting time at this God-fearing Gentile’s house, transformed Peter’s ministry beyond being to Jews only.   In Acts 16, Paul also had a powerful vision showing a Macedonian man calling to him and asking for his help.  This was authoritative guidance.

God guides through dreams.  Earlier I mentioned the dreams of Joseph, the husband of Mary.  He was given two dreams concerning moving his family into and out of Egypt.  When he was engaged to Mary and still confused on how to handle her pregnancy, he also had a dream that confirmed that the baby was conceived through the Holy Spirit, and he had a calling to care for them.

Tony and I had many dreams leading us to South Africa. Others also had dreams that affected us.  One such dream was from one of my Ottawa pastors, Joe.  I remember going to Joe and asking for prayer and advice on whether it was the right thing to do for Tony and I to sell our house and downsize into a condo – one that had just been offered to us.  After all, we were expecting to go to Harvest missions school, how could we sell a house, and move into a condo at the same time?   Pastor Joe looked at me with an excited look on his face and told me that he had a dream that was about me.   In his dream, I had asked him to take care of a beautiful two bedroom condo while we were in Africa.   This was the first confirmation, and there were others that followed it.  So Tony concentrated on the sale of the house, we both downsized, and I concentrated on preparation for Mozambique and South Africa.  We did enjoy the condo, and know it will be there for us when we return from our time in South Africa.  It’s currently rented out, so it pays for our rent here in Worcester.

The first dream that we ourselves had leading us to South Africa was initially Tony’s.  While we were in Pemba, Mozambique, Tony woke me up in the middle of the night, after he had an intense dream.  He dreamed that I had a baby, but he didn’t get to see the baby, due to various distractions from family, work and other involvements. I knew from studying about dreams in a seminary course, that babies can symbolize something new.  That something could be a ministry, idea, or business that would require care to launch and nurture.   I remember asking Tony what colour the baby was.  Since we were in Mozambique, I expected the baby to be a beautiful brown shade.  He didn’t know the ethnicity of the baby, since he didn’t get actually to SEE the baby.  So I prayed and asked that the Holy Spirit would give me a download of what the baby looked like – whether by dream, vision or impression.  I didn’t have to wait very long. I was given an impression of the baby during worship in the Harvest School hut.  I asked to see the baby up close, and it was like I was looking at a beautiful black baby in a bassinet.  Then the baby changed colour, again and again to look like many colours.   I was confused about what that meant.  Did it mean many children all over the world?

Then came our extended outreach in South Africa’s Western Cape. We had already had impressions, feelings, general knowings, and prophetic words from others about South Africa, so we felt comfortable with the idea of exploring ministering here. Our group stopped for coffee and a picnic near Swellendam, and I shared with our Iris leaders Johan and Marie Fourie about this dream and some others.  While it’s Marie who often interprets dreams, it was Johan who confirmed this one.  Johan laughed, and said, “That is a rainbow baby. Do you know what South Africa’s nickname is?  It’s the rainbow nation.  You are called here.”

We both had other dreams that confirmed our ministry together, and I’m thankful these were written down so they weren’t lost.  I’ve re-read them since, and they’ve given comfort and confidence.    If you would like to read more about the dreams and words that called us into ministry, please go to our copplewestern.ca website, and click on the dreams page!

There is also a recorded dream in church history that gave a long-suffering praying Christian mother hope for her son’s future.  Monica prayed for her son in the fourth century AD/CE.  At the time, her son was a seeker.  He experimented with different philosophies and slept around.  He even had a child.  His mother was given a vision of her son in heaven, glorifying Jesus lovingly with all his heart.  This gave her hope to keep praying, until his conversion.  The day he did come to faith, in 386, he had a supernatural realization about reading the Bible, when a neighbourhood child was chanting “Pick up and read. Pick up and read.”   He thought the child may be singing a children’s game, but he didn’t recognize the song. Then he realized the song may be about reading scripture, so he found a Bible and opened it to the first passage he saw.  A scripture jumped off the page into his heart.  I was from Romans 13:13-14.   Augustine read, “Because we belong to the day, we must live decent lives for all to see. Don’t participate in the darkness of wild parties and drunkenness, or in sexual promiscuity and immoral living, or in quarreling and jealousy.14 Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires.”

Augustine felt as if his heart was flooded with light. He turned his back on his former way of living, and never went back.  He became a major leader and theologian in the early church.   Never underestimate the prayers of praying Christian relatives!

God also guides supernaturally though our conscience – to do the right thing.  This is part of stopping for the one.  When we see someone in need and our heart fills with love, we know we have to act.   May our hearts be able to feel this compassion and not become too hard or uncaring.

During this article, I’ve shared some of the more supernatural ways that God guides us, with dreams, visions, impressions, angels, and the audible voice of God, which is one of the more rare ways.   In our next article, we’ll share some ways that are just as important, but may be overlooked. These are common sense, counsel of praying people, and circumstantial signs.

I pray that you have been blessed by our journey through some of the ways that God guides us.  What I’ve shared is only a taste of a much larger menu.  I encourage you to seek the scriptures yourselves.  Ask Holy Spirit for an encounter.  Ask him to show you Jesus, and the Father.

Lord, I ask that you will touch every heart that reads this article.  Point them to you. Open their inner eyes and ears to see you with them, in whatever circumstance they are in.  Surround and fill them with your love, as they seek you.  Show them that you have plans to prosper them, and not to harm them.  In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Be blessed my friends,
Laurie-Ann

To hear an audio version of this article, visit the podcast page  and scroll down to #45.

 

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Growing in God: Learning how God guides us part 1

 

During our last article, we learned that we can fast from negativity.  As we continue the process of rooting out lies we believe, and ongoing complaints that draw us down, we become more free.  We learn a higher perspective, and see life with promise and hope.  I hope that you are continuing to live, think, see and speak positively.  While we may encounter difficult times, we don’t need to make it worse. In fact, we can receive blessings and joy even in times like those.

There is one commonality in all seasons: difficult and easy – God’s faithfulness.  He does not change and continues to carry you through thick and thin. We also discover the depth of God’s love, since this really is all we have.  We need to hear and listen to God’s voice. This is a time for learning deeper identity in Christ, where we learn that he does fulfill our deepest needs of significance and security.

It’s good to bring our major decisions to God.  We need to make decisions every day – but we have potential to grow in these decisions.  One is in how we spend our money.  Another is in how we spend our free time.  These resources are not endless, but while we can grow our finances, we can’t gain more time.  And then there are our really big decisions.  Where to live?  What career should we work towards?  Which church or ministry do we join?  If we are to marry, whom should we marry?  We all need God’s help. Guidance is part of our relationship with God.  Psalm 32:8  gives us the promise that the Lord “will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you.”  So we need to seek him.  Jesus taught that he is the shepherd and we are his sheep.  He was originally speaking to country folk, but he also speaks to us, today.  We must learn to know his voice.  John 10:3-4 shares that “the gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice.

We need to understand our purpose and why we were put on this earth.  The first commandment is to love God. But we all have callings. Some will be creatives, others engineers, some pilots, others entrepreneurs. But that is not all we are.  The future possibilities are more varied than we think.   God has a plan for our lives.   So we are encouraged to follow the Apostle Paul’s advice in Ephesians 5:17. He said “don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do.”  And in Ephesians 2:10, he shared: For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”  God has a unique job for us?  Yes he does!  And it’s not always to be a pastor or work in a church.  Most of us are called to something in the marketplace.  You could be a godly businessman, a teacher, a writer, an astronomer, musician, chemist and so much more.  What makes your heart sing?  The prophet Jeremiah shared in Jeremiah 29:11,  “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”

Nicky Gumbel shares, “God is saying, ‘Don’t you realize that I have a really good plan for your life? I have prepared something wonderful.’ This cry from the Lord’s heart came because he saw the mess his people had got themselves into, when they didn’t follow his plans.  All around us we see people whose lives are in a muddle. Often people say to me after they have come to Christ, ‘I wish I had become a Christian five or ten years earlier. Look at my life now. It’s such a mess.’ If we are to find out about God’s plans for us, we need to ask him about them.”

We make mistakes when we fail to ask God for help.  We stumble on our own past mistakes, bad advice, and confusion.  Sometimes we try to please our parents instead of following the path we’re meant to lead.  One example is Vincent Van Gogh’s physician, Dr. Gachet, whose father wanted him to become a doctor, but his dream was to be an artist.    And then there’s the case of rebellion.  How many of us pull a Jonah and run from God, and then end up in the belly of a fish.  Isaiah shared God’s heart in Isaiah 30:1-2:  “What sorrow awaits my rebellious children,”says the Lord. “You make plans that are contrary to mine. You make alliances not directed by my Spirit,    thus piling up your sins.  For without consulting me,  you have gone down to Egypt for help. You have put your trust in Pharaoh’s protection. You have tried to hide in his shade.”  Pharoah in this example is a symbol for leaning on worldly help, rather than God’s help.

Jesus led the way by consistently following the Holy Spirit.  In Luke 4:10 and John 5:19, he said that he only did what he saw the Father doing.  He also knew his purpose from the beginning, although he also had to trust the Father.

When I was baptized as an adult, I was given a scripture by my then pastor, Laurie Barber.  It’s Proverbs 3:5-6, which is, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.”  This has been one of my guiding words, so  I return to these verses often. Psalm 37:5 “Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him, and he will help you.”

This guidance works whether it’s in finding a life partner, ministry partner, job or where to live.  Nicky Lee met his wife Silla in university. During that time, he came to faith, but Silla did not at that time.  He wanted to pursue his relationship with her, and asked God for guidance.  He prayed that if the relationship were to continue, she would come to faith by the end of the term. On the last day of the term, they attended a party, and at the end of it, Silla asked Nicky to go for a drive. She blurted out random directions, which brought them to a place that had great significance to her.  She turned to her boyfriend and asked to be led to Jesus.  At the very end of the term, just before midnight, Nicky had his prayer answered.    Sometimes the answer is gradual. Other times the guidance is instant, although it takes time to work through the details.

God’s guidance, as described in the Alpha course, comes down to Five CSs.  This isn’t CS Lewis, but rather: Commanding scripture, Compelling Spirit, Common Sense, Counsel of the Saints, and Circumstantial signs.  We’ll journey through the first two.

Commanding Scripture usually involves general guidance. Some general guidance shows that we can be sure about certain things that are wrong.  Here’s one example. If a married man falls in love with another woman and wants to leave his wife, can this be God’s will?  No, he is not being led by God.  It says in Exodus 20:14, that you shall not commit adultery.  Another example relates to the justification for paying our taxes. We’re shown in Romans 13:7 that paying taxes is our civic duty, and what is due to the government should be paid.

Then there is specific guidance – through scripture illumination.   There are many examples in Church history of missionaries who were given their calling and direction through one verse.  The original call and context was to Abraham, but others had a similar call to leave their homes and trust God.  They were given comfort in the Lord’s call to Abraham in Genesis 12:1, “The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” This same call was repeated in Genesis 18, since Abraham had moved but still had not left yet his country. This was a common call to the Irish missionary monks that travelled all over Europe from the seventh to eleventh centuries.

However we need to be discerning when seeking scripture illumination. Nicky Gumbel  says “Sometimes a verse seems almost to leap off the page at us.”   But don’t just open a Bible at random and expect a message – it could get very confusing. Imagine if you open a Bible to the verse where Judas decides to hang himself, and then you open to the verse where Jesus says “go and do likewise.” That’s not God’s leading – it’s scripture confusion.

Let’s go back to general guidance. There are scriptures saying that we should marry a Christian and not someone of another faith. One of these is 2 Corinthians 6:14, where the Apostle Paul advises, “don’t team up with those who are unbelievers. How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness?”   But the Bible doesn’t say specifically who to marry!  God will guide you another way for that.  Paul also advises about whether you should change your job when you become a Christian.  He generally advises not to.  Job changes do happen in scripture, but it’s more common to remain in the same job with kindness and influence.   Peter and some of the disciples changed their profession of sorts. They were fishermen, and then they became fishers of people.  Levi the tax collector left his job for Jesus, but others are called to live faithful lives where they are.  Paul advises in 1 Corinthians 7:20-21, to basically, bloom where you are planted unless you are called out of your job into something better.  Paul was speaking about being an indentured slave or servant, which in his days was not like the brutal human trafficking of current days.  We can liken this scripture to employment.  Paul says,  Yes, each of you should remain as you were when God called you. Are you a slave? Don’t let that worry you—but if you get a chance to be free, take it.”

Not everyone is called to be a pastor, priest or missionary.  One of the leaders of our Afrikaaner church believed she was called to full-time ministry in music and teaching.  Her outreach has touched many people, and she was the first speaker we saw in our church.  I still remember her talk about the colour purple and our identity in Christ. It tied in with a vision I was given three times in our church.  Jesus is indeed calling us into our true identity.  However, that doesn’t mean that your calling is to go into long-term full-term ministry.  Sometimes it’s for a season, and other times, it’s a part-time thing.  All of us are called into ministry, not just those who are clergy.   It turned out that Erika’s call included her very much needed medical skills.  I applaud her for having a re-think and confirming that she has more than one ministry.  Caring medical professionals in their places are indeed fulfilling a calling.  I have great respect for the South African doctors who have listened and treated me.

Nicky Gumbel has his own calling story.  He comes from a family of lawyers – barristers in particular.  He still has a very logical way of describing faith and life stories. He had fifteen different occasions where he was spoken to about leaving the law profession to become an Anglican priest.   Many of these were various scriptures in circumstances that led him to his final decision to say yes.  He finally was given a prophetic word by someone later that gave confirmation to his call.

Compelling Spirit is the second CS.   Sometimes the Holy Spirit seems to grab us through dreams, impressions during prayer, godly desires, and supernatural enlightenment of our minds and hearts. The Holy Spirit works in different ways. Some are quiet, some are not.

Sometimes this compelling comes in a way that strikes our consciences. The Apostle Paul tried to go to two provinces in what is now present day Turkey to preach the gospel and minister to the people there. Twice they were given strong leadings that said NO to going there. While these areas later accepted the gospel, God had other plans at that time.  It was then that Paul was given a strong dream of a man from Macedonia, and they knew they must go there instead.  Read Acts 16 and you’ll have the story.  If Paul had not listened, he wouldn’t have met key future leaders in the church, like Luke, who wrote the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. And there are more examples.  So listen!

God actually speaks to us when we pray.  Imagine going to a doctor and sharing a list of current and past illnesses, along with all their symptoms.  It’s like you’re reading a shopping list. Then you decide at the end of the list that it’s time to leave, so you thank the doctor and leave without hearing what they have to say.  Can you imagine how that doctor feels? They wanted to help but weren’t given the opportunity.   So if we do stop and listen, after we share our hearts, what will we hear?

God often speaks in impressions.  These can be a thought that comes into our minds, or a picture. Tony gets thoughts, I get pictures, although sometimes we can get both.  These need to be tested, since the thoughts or pictures aren’t always from God.  Sometimes they are from ourselves, or somewhere else.  Does the impression promote love?  Is it in line with the Bible?  Does it lift up Jesus?

Paul Cowley is a man who God has inspired to work with inmates, the military and the homeless.  His past life of brokenness brought him through prison, the military, two divorces and finally to a life in Christ and a loving family.  He has encouraged many inmates, ex-offenders and us personally when we drove him around on a visit to Ottawa back in 2006.  He shared in a recent Alpha Course video about how he was given an impression to bless his complaining, bitter father.  His dad was also sick and he helped care for him in hospital.  When it was time to send him home from London to Manchester, Paul was given an impression on his heart on how to bless his dad.  He brought him to Euston station, “put him on the train and sat him down.  Right in the middle of the carriage (he says he) had this overwhelming feeling of love for (his) dad.  It was really weird.  (He) almost started to cry in the carriage. Paul looked at him and felt really sad for him, that they had never really had a relationship.  (He remembers) having a meal with his father.  All that stuff came up for him. And in his mind, came this idea, to upgrade his ticket, to a first-class ticket to Manchester. Paul bought a very expensive single first-class ticket back to Manchester.  He walked him into the first-class compartment; he sat him down and kissed him on the head.   Then as Paul stood on the platform with his wife, Amanda, she asked “What on earth are you doing?” He said, you know what? I have no idea.  I just really wanted to see my dad happy.’  And as Paul looked at him through the window of the carriage, he saw his father took his hat off and put it on the table.  He hit the recline button and went back in his seat.  Then he clicked his fingers, and some of the waiters brought him a cup of tea and biscuits.  And he got his newspaper out and started to read it. And as he was doing that, he just turned to look at Paul out of the window.  He had the biggest smile on his face that you could ever see.  It was like every birthday, every Christmas had all come together.  And he was beaming.  That was the last time that Paul ever saw his father. Three weeks later, he died of a massive heart attack.  Paul then thought, “was that me, making up an idea that I might buy him that ticket?  Or was that God guiding me?  Paul has a real peace with his father now.  Despite years of heartache and grief, Paul’s image of his dad is of his beaming face from the train carriage as he drove off.”   This is a beautiful example of how a loving impression that’s acted on can bring great blessings from God.

God sometimes speaks to us by giving us a strong desire to do something. An example of this is from Philippians 2:13, “God works in you to will and to act according to his good pleasure.” This was a scripture that Nicky Gumbel battled with for some time.  When he first came to faith, he didn’t want to be a priest. Eventually he came round and was very happy to be one.  In time he felt it was all he wanted to do.  When God gives you a strong desire to do something, it doesn’t mean that he will give you your worst fear.  It just means that he has something for you that you will love, and he will help you prepare your heart for it.

Tony also experienced this change of heart three times.  The first time was after I encouraged him for weeks to go on a short-term mission in western Kenya.  We were invited to Migori, Kenya to plant the Alpha Course and my own early Ways to Grow in God teachings.  After a month or so, the two of us went on a Daniel fast, which is to be vegetarian, for eight days.  Many people also prayed over us, and yet Tony believed he had not yet heard from God on whether to go with me.  He kept saying no. He told me it was my thing and not his, even though this particular trip was tailored to have him encourage and teach Alpha leadership, which is and was his heart. He didn’t see that aspect of it at the time.   So I eventually put my heart’s desire and what I believed was God’s call back into God’s hands.  Only God could make it happen. I’m not God.

I went away for a weekend to Belleville, Ontario and stayed with a close family friend.  That morning I prayed with a ministry team member and shared my heart.  I finally felt peace.  That afternoon, Tony called me with a different tone in his voice.  He wasn’t harsh but rather, full of joy.  He came right out with, “I have something to tell you. We’re going to Kenya!”   I couldn’t believe my ears.  Apparently Holy Spirit spoke to him and changed his mind within a few minutes. Everything made sense to him.  What the Holy Spirit said to him floored me.  He said, “Hey you.  Your wife gave up her missionary career to marry you.  The least you can do is to make her dream come true and go to Kenya short term with her.”  It was like Tony was hit by a cricket bat.  He hadn’t always recognized the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit.  It takes time to recognize his voice.

Tony went through a similar process again before applying for Harvest School after his retirement, although he had two prophetic words spoken over him about a new ministry that would start a new chapter of his life.  He relented and applied for Harvest School, along with my own re-application from the year earlier.  It was the right time, and Tony was willing to go through the experience. He thought it may enhance the many different lay ministries he already did in Ottawa.  There’s nothing wrong with his ministries.  It’s just that God had a new season for him, as well as me as a couple.  It was time for us to jump into ministry together.

Tony’s experience at Harvest School began with resistance, since Heidi Baker spoke a bit too soon on the long-term call for his comfort.  She was to speak on our identity and calling, which is an essential foundation of our faith, let alone ministry.  However, there were so many young students keen on a long-term call, that Heidi responded to their yearning. So Tony was annoyed and told me that he didn’t want to be a missionary.  This upset me and I grew very sad and quiet.  People noticed, but I didn’t know what to say in my frustration.  I felt like I was stuck, but all I could do was to stay still, while the Holy Spirit refined my own heart.  Though the school, he learned to speak in tongues, recognize prophetic words, release them in ministry and he grew comfortable in stopping for the one.  By the end of the school, he told our house parents that he was “ready to be a long term, full-time missionary.”  Isn’t it amazing how hearts can change in God’s leading.  Tony’s a lot more fulfilled now in this new season, even though he enjoyed the last season in Ottawa.  God gave Tony the same desire that was in line with his life purpose – to encourage, uplift and empower people.  The only difference was a different location – from Ottawa, Canada to Worcester, South Africa.  All his skills, wisdom, knowledge would be used to teach and in other practical ways.  His love of music, internet and prison ministry would all be used.  The ministry to children however, would be a stretch, but that’s another story.

So God speaks through scripture, either directly or indirectly.  We need to know the whole Bible and its message.  Pray as you read, and listen.  Understand the message in its original context by learning about the cultures of the time.  But also read the scripture again and ask how Holy Spirit would speak to you.  Sometimes, it’s a message of love, wisdom and peace.  Sometimes it’s conviction of sin that leads to changing your mind and coming to him.   Sometimes it’s a direction leading.  It’s a wonderful adventure.

And then there is the compelling of the Holy Spirit.  We’ve shared the examples of the Irish missionary monks, Nicky Gumbel and Tony.  The Holy Spirit speaks in so many supernatural ways.  We’ll share more about that in our next article, as well as common sense, counsel of other prayerful people, and circumstantial signs.

Lord, thank you for the many ways that you guide us.  Thank you for not leaving us in limbo, but patiently drawing us to our purpose here on earth.  Thank you for your wonderful plans for us, and how you put love in our hearts. I ask that you would open our eyes and ears to hear and see you and your direction in scripture and begin to recognize your voice.  Help us to journey and experience the other ways we can hear and see you, through your Holy Spirit and the Bible. Surround and fill us with your love.  In Jesus’ name.

If you’d like to hear the audio version of this article, please listen on Ways to Grow in God podcast page, and scroll down to: #44

https://www.coppleswesterncape.ca/wtgig-podcasts.html

Blessings, Laurie-Ann

 

Growing in Gratitude and positivity: Giving up negativity for the new year

Happy New Year!  In our last article, we journeyed through divine appointments that we’re given during the Christmas holidays.  Often people are more open to receiving help at Christmas, and this opens them up to the real meaning of Christmas – about Jesus.  The gift is Jesus, not physical presents, as good as they can be sometimes.  This year Tony and I had two Christmases – a South African one with our friends Andre and Janey, and one with some of our Iris Western Cape family, Maggie, Kaysha and Kaysha’s fiancée, Alex. They are to be married on January 19th. We greatly look forward to that event and blessing their union.   We had a Christmas feast with them of hard to find turkey, honey glazed ham, stuffing, veggies, and two puddings – syllabub and Christmas pudding.  We’ve not had turkey since Canadian Thanksgiving 2017, so this was a big treat for us.  Life is a time of feasts and fasts. Tony and I have an Anglican background, so we’re familiar with the concept of both feasts and fasts.  Fasts aren’t just for lent, or when you are praying for miracle breakthroughs in healing or the mission field.  Deeper fasts involve allowing God to change US, which is a good thing.  So for the beginning of 2019, we’ll step into a refiner’s fire for something better.  I’ve heard quite a few prophetic words that 2019 will be a breakthrough year and a new season for many.  I trust that will also be the case for you and for us.  But when you step from one season to another, there is change and transition.  I’ve spoken on transition before, and how we need to keep a thankful attitude during times like this.  It opens our hearts to the wonderful surprises that we might miss if we are in complaint mode. I’m not talking about a one-off rant.  Sometimes we need that – I’m talking about stopping a lifestyle of complaining that just drags us down.

While many others are considering the New Year’s resolutions of losing weight – which is something I’ve already been doing for a months – we’re going to offer a different challenge.  How about a fast from negativity?  We can do this in small steps.  But how do we fast at all?

Some people do fasts during Lent – the season between epiphany and Easter.  It’s a devotional time to remember Jesus’s earthly ministry and his suffering.  It’s an intentional time of discipleship.  My Anglican priest John, tells us to not just give something up, but also to take something on.  So perhaps what you might take up is more devotional time – more dates with Jesus. Or maybe volunteering in a soup kitchen. Some give up coffee, tea, chocolate or sweets.  One year I gave up television, and another credit cards.  Some give up Facebook and other social media. And then in 2015, I took on a negativity fast for Lent, although sadly I didn’t continue it through the year.  In 2015, I had just finished my third Ways to Grow talk on thankfulness and gratitude.  Originally, I had planned to write only one post on being thankful.  But there was so much more on the topic than I realized – and out came four talks.  It was the same when I wrote on honour, which resulted in three talks.

I believe one major barrier to thankfulness and gratitude is a complaining attitude.  You may remember that in-gratitude, grumbling and complaining kept the Hebrews in limbo land.  Their fear and complaining kept them stuck between Egypt and Canaan, their promised land.  This attitude can also keep us stuck in the quicksand of nagging, doubts and complaints.  If it feels like we are being pulled down by this bog,  we are! This situation can even be life threatening!  Endless complaining and nagging steals the joy and life out of you, even if you try those methods to motivate, they often back fire. Husband and wives of nagging spouses can relate to this phenomenon.

Back in 2015, I was drawn to learn more about the ‘joy of the Lord.’  This is something that is called our strength in Nehemiah chapter 8:10.  He shared a message of encouragement to the disappointed Jewish refugees, after they arrived to see Jerusalem in ruins.  Nehemiah told them to “go and celebrate with a feast of rich foods and sweet drinks, and share gifts of food with people who have nothing prepared. This is a sacred day before our Lord. Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!”  That was to be not only a feast of food, but a feast of trusting God.  The joy he describes is more of a deep contentment and trust in God. It’s not always actual laughter, but it can include this as well.  Sometimes this is like being so filled with the Holy Spirit that you can’t help laughing.  But usually, it’s an unshakeable knowing that God is faithful. You believe you will be okay despite difficult circumstances.

This is a joy that comes even in suffering, and is far deeper than the optimist’s ‘half-full’ glass.  It is more like the cup of thankfulness that runs over that King David mentions in Psalm 23:5, which depicts a feast in the midst of a difficult time.   David prayed, “You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies.  You honour me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings.”  This cup of joy or blessing sustains you even in the deepest, darkest suffering. It is not diminished in persecution or difficult times. The cup sustains us because of the One who gives us the cup. When you drink this cup of joy, your eyes are completely focused on Him.

I thirsted to journey with and for more of that joy.  I took a stand on negativity and complaining in my own life, and took this stand again when Heidi Baker asked us to go on a negativity fast at Harvest School.  It was more difficult in Mozambique, since I was already in an intense refining season that was necessary for people to see Jesus in me without my own worries getting in the way.  But I did try, as I will again.   Before Harvest School, my Kingdom Culture pastor, Shawn Gabie prophesied over me and told me that I would go through a difficult refining season, but I was to not quit.  During this time, as joy and trust were worked deeper into my heart, I remembered encouragement from Heidi Baker to not quit, and that if you don’t quit, you win.  The other encouragement was from Pastor Shawn, who told me to “fix my focus forward on what the Father had for me that season.”   I need to remember these same encouragements in my current weightloss journey, which has had me lose 5 kilos, or 11 pounds so far. Slow but sure, just like our faith.

So back in February 2015, I took a stand on negativity and complaining in my life for the first time.  I declared with Shawn Gabie that “if I have a problem, there is a solution.” And if I get impatient, I will leave the struggle in God’s hands.   I then entered negativity fast.  I had some challenges along the way, and some days I completely fell off the wagon, due to disappointments, pauses and challenges.  Confusion and restlessness became my response to delays of hoped-for advances.  Yet, it’s necessary to spend time in the pause, to reflect and prepare.  We must not rush this season, as much as we want to do so.

Sometimes, life throws you more difficulties than heavy traffic and a set of red lights on the road when you’re in a hurry.  How many of us get upset in heavy traffic?  How many of us are impatient when you want to ‘do’ something, but that time is ‘not yet?’  And what about those who deal with other things that hold them back in their daily lives? It may be time for a “re-frame!”  What’s a “re-frame?”

I learned the art of “re-framing” in one of my counselling classes at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto, Canada. To re-frame is to look at a ‘bad’ situation in your life through a new perspective.   In order to do this, you must take how you perceive as a difficult situation and choose see it through a new ‘frame’ of mind. Sometimes it requires a higher perspective – that of the Holy Spirit.  A friend can also give you a different view of how they see you in your current circumstance.

When you view a difficult situation in a negative way, it seems even more menacing.   It begins to “look” like you’re facing an impossible obstacle.  What do I mean by this? Think of how you may feel if you’re having a ‘crummy’ day. You may believe the ‘crummi-ness’ will last all week.  You may feel as if a rain cloud is continually over your head, despite the weather. You might feel that negativity encompassing all of your life, when in reality, that difficulty is a very small part of your life!  So along comes a friend or counsellor who has the art of re-framing. They see possibilities in your difficulty.  They see a positive challenge that offers growth and reward on the other side.

I recently drew a prophetic drawing while having a soaking and drawing session with our girls that we minister with through My Father’s House in Avian Park.  We listened to a series of beautiful soaking songs, and then all of us drew.  Even Tony drew.  The girls drew Christian symbols of hope, faithfulness, peace and love, as did Tony.  I drew a girl who raised her umbrella up against the rain.  Although the rain was really an abundance of hearts of God’s love, and the umbrella was limiting the flow of love into her heart and life.  Then I was led to draw Jesus, carrying his cross, and the love that flowed from him to the girl.   The word that came to me with the drawing was “I love you. Don’t put a limit on my love for you. Time to put the umbrella down.  Soak in the rain of my love.”

And so that was the Holy Spirit’s perspective to one friend who limits God’s love in her heart.  Some of you may feel the same way, but don’t see that you are stuck.  So it helps to have a friend who can encourage you in this way.  However, you can also learn to do this yourself!  This doesn’t replace our need for godly friends in our lives. But does help to create a daily discipline of choosing to see every aspect of your life in a positive way. This may be a challenge, but the Holy Spirit can help us. He is the ultimate  ‘re-frame’ counsellor in our lives.  God never puts us down; he never condemns us.  He convicts us of sin, yes. But he cleanses us when we come to him and say we are sorry.  He also shows us possibilities.  He is the God of Hope.

Have you considered taking up a negativity fast? Some people may wait until Lent, but I believe the beginning of the year is even better.  The longer you practice this discipline, the more it will become a daily practice. Leaders Steve and Wendy Backland of Igniting Hope Ministries encourage this kind of fast for at least forty days.

Christian neuro-scientist Caroline Leaf also works on the same principle in a 21 day period. She concentrates on eradicating one negative thought pattern rather than many.  But if you target one negative thought or self-talk per three week period, by the end of the year, you will be free of old lies that you have believed.  You will be a much happier person!

A negativity fast also includes feasting on and thinking positive thoughts, like Philippians 4:8 encourages us to do: Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Consider yourself a pilgrim in the land of the positive. I wish you well on your journey as we walk along together with thanks and gratitude.  May you have a blessed 2019, full of breakthrough and joy.

Let me pray over you:  Lord, thank you that you have plans for our future that are to prosper and not harm us.  Help us as we journey to see the joys in life that you give us.  Open our eyes to the lies we tell ourselves, and the complaints that fall from our lips. We don’t even realize it.  Set us free by renewing our minds one thought at a time.   Help us day by day as we walk out of the storm into the light.  In Jesus’ name. Amen.

If you would like to hear an audio version of this article, please visit our podcast page, on the Copples’ missionary site – Coppleswesterncape.ca, and scroll down to #43.

Ways to Grow in God podcast page

This article will be broadcast as the devotional segment on January 3, 2018 on CWCP’s The Worcester Reports.

Blessings and love,
Laurie-Ann Copple

 

 

Growing in God through God moments at Christmas

Okay, with the above picture, it shows that even if this is our second Christmas in the southern hemisphere, the weight of so many northern hemisphere Christmases is still stronger.  But it’s still Christmas!   Where ever we are – on a skating rink, the mall, the beach, or in church – there are lots of opportunities to stop for the one at Christmas (or what South Africans call ‘the festive season.’)

My name is Laurie-Ann, and I’m a missionary. During my mission travels, I have spent Christmas in Northern Ireland, England, Pakistan, St. Maarten, Canada and South Africa. This time, it’s Christmas in the beautiful Western Cape of South Africa.    In our last article, I shared about learning to thrive in God despite disappointment.  We are to pause, ponder, praise and psalm.  It’s at times like this that we remember God’s faithfulness.  The Psalms often mention “Selah” or pause. A friend of mine just named their little one this precious name.  And what beautiful one wouldn’t cause a parent’s heart to pause and ponder?  So it is the same as we think of the heavenly child, Jesus, who came to earth for us.  We also praise Jesus for every good thing that he’s brought us, including our very lives and salvation. Psalming is a beautiful devotional practice that allows you to voice disappointments to God, choose to lay them at his feet, and then trust him.  If you’re disappointed during this Christmas season, then I recommend you do this.  Your perspective may get deeper, as you realize that God is indeed Emmanuel, God with us.  God is with you – he is closer than you think.

During my last two broadcasts on CWCP Radio, I spoke about depending on God for all our strength when we have none of our own.  Sometimes disabilities sap us of strength and other times, we are brought into weakness when we use up our own strengths.  We can’t run on our strengths and gifts alone. The Apostle Paul shared with us to use our weakness as an opportunity to lean on God.  2 Corinthians 12: 10 says, “That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”   Gideon was transformed from a fearful man to become a great hero.   We can do more in our weakness that we realize.  If you have any form of disability, it does not stop you from doing great things in God. There are many other examples of people that  God worked through their weakness.  I recommend you visit the Ways to Grow in God podcast page on our Coppleswesterncape.ca website to learn more. These are #40 and #41 on the page.   

When I was in the acceptance process to become a long-term Iris missionary, my health was a question that topped the list.  Our base co-founder Johan Fourie, defended me and said, that while I couldn’t do certain things more ‘able-bodied’ missionaries could do, I could do a lot of other things.  These things include our call to love, teach, disciple and befriend vulnerable farm kids and township kids.  It includes our prison ministry, my artwork, bookkeeping, and webwork.  It includes writing, CWCP Radio, and stopping for the one.

Tony and I often talk about stopping for the one, wherever we are.  It’s something that our Iris Global co-founder Heidi Baker says all the time.  When people ask her how she does ministry in a nutshell, she often says “We just stop for the one, it’s not complicated.”    Heidi also says that love looks like something – and it does.  This means that love has different flavours.  This isn’t about chocolate, vanilla and strawberry, but about the many different ways of showing love in practical ways.  To a single-mom, it’s about practical help in fixing things, and being a support to their children, as well as her.  To a lonely senior, it’s in lovingly listening to their stories and encouraging them that they still have purpose.  It’s in relationship.  To a person with various disabilities, it’s in bringing practical help that they need and want, while respecting their dignity.  There are so many examples.

To a love-starved child, it means being like a loving aunt and uncle. Sometimes, well maybe a lot more often than sometimes, this means giving them something good to eat, while listening to them, teaching them, and holding them close to you – that is, once they trust you enough to hug them.

I’m fortunate; some kids have warmed up to me right away, since they see I’m not threatening.  And many kids love Uncle Tony and have wormed their way into Tony’s heart.  Sometimes it’s a ride in Avian Park, one of our townships in Worcester, and other times it’s a ride to church.  We also disciple and love on eight or more teen girls from Avian Park.  They love to come up to our retirement village home, for the wifi, sandwiches, Bible study and the love.   These are often planned times of ministry – usually on Monday and Saturday afternoons.  We have many times of planned ministry, and we give these times to God for opportunities for what God would have us do beyond our planned items.  In other words, our agenda is very loose, so we can allow for what the girls want and we would like to share.   We also have many beautiful God moments with the Brandvlei inmates on Saturday mornings; it is amazing what happens within the space of two hours.  It’s the same when we are teaching at MasterPeace Academy – we are teachers, but in some of those moments, we have God opportunities to bless each child, depending on their needs and the Holy Spirit’s leading.  The most needy child is Mpho, who has ADHD, but learns and receives love by touch.  So I always hug him and touch him gently and appropriately to show him that we love him and are there for him.  Sometimes stopping for Mpho in the context of school is to encourage him that he can still learn despite his disability.  He actually came top of the class in the art exam last term.

Then there are the moments that are in-between planned activities.  They go beyond Tony’s visits in the Hospice, which involve healing, prayer and pastoral care.

These are the moments when we meet people in cafes, grocery stores, on holiday and in need anywhere at all.  Ministry time isn’t just for planned times during the week.  This can be for anyone at all, not just full-time missionaries or pastors.  But the biggest step is to intentionally go beyond your comfort zone and trust the Holy Spirit’s leading.  It’s a little adventure that can be a great blessing.

God often sets up little divine appointments in our lives.  Ask God to set them up for you, and they will be most fulfilling. The person we are to connect with could be anyone at all – male, female, teen or child. The key that I’ve discovered is that you sense a nudge inside you.  Any fear for the unknown becomes overwhelmed by a wave of compassion towards that person.  That is the key.  Then you know that this is the person that you are to speak to.  This person could be a lonely person in a café, and you find you have something in common. Say you’re reading the same book.  Or you feel a nudge to give them a little treat to share with their tea.

Tony finds opportunities like this to find people to interview for the Worcester Reports.  Sometimes we may find a place or a person seemingly by accident, and yet it’s no accident at all.  Tony found the Iris affiliate couple Josh and Rachel Minter of the East London ministry, Global Mercy Missions when I searched out ministries near our Grahamstown B&B.  He found the co-founder of the Rooibos Teahouse in Clanwilliam while we stayed in the Cedarberg just before Christmas. She brought us the rooibos experience, and we even shared our faith together, with wonderful stories on both sides.   Sometimes stopping for the one involves people you don’t expect – including family members.

Stopping for the one at Christmas involves insight into those who are lonely and alone.  Some of these people are seniors, but they also include busy single-moms and caregivers.  Christmas can be a stressful time, and a lonely one for those who are on their own.   One way is to invite someone to Christmas dinner (or another festive meal) and love on them.  Make their Christmas.  Another way may be to help a working poor person with a Christmas purchase.  Say you’re in the queue at a store, and the person in front of you is short a few rand for an important meal purchase, or toy for their child.  If you feel that wave of compassion, then reach out, and help their Christmas.  Or help someone struggling with their grocery bags.  You may see someone in obvious physical pain.  They may need practical help and prayer.  It doesn’t hurt to ask.  People rarely say no, and you can bring a touch of hope into their lives.  You may even be asked why you’re filled with such love and joy.  Or they may remark about the peace that surrounds you.  It’s Jesus!

The key components of stopping for the one during the festive season, as they call it in South Africa, are the same as the other times of the year, with more opportunities.  Most people are actually more open to receive at this time of year. Christmas carols, gift-gifting and special meals don’t always require financial resources.  These are opportunities for giving and showing love.   The components of stopping for the one include: that you need to allow God to love others through you, and to trust the Holy Spirit to guide you.  You don’t need fancy words or a formula.  Be yourself.  Be willing to be humble.  Don’t rush.  Heidi Baker was always telling us at Harvest School to “go low and go slow.”  This means to be humble and to take your time. And if you  work with children, lower yourself down to their level.  Your divine appointments with people are not a project.  They are real people, with real needs.  They also give unique blessings that can blossom into special friendships.

The journey can be a wonderful one, especially if you can allow God to give a special “Kairos” God moment to someone at Christmas.   Pray about the opportunities as God opens doors for you.  You don’t have to go to Bible School, seminary or missions school to stop for the one. Sometimes it’s as simple as bringing your neighbour cupcakes, tea and a loving chat.

Lord Jesus, thank you for the Christmas season.  Open our eyes to see the moments right in front of us.  Let us see you in others, and allow others to see you in us.  Fill us with your compassion, and give us direction to love on specific people at this time.  We give you our calendars to fill with your appointments.  Open our eyes to see them and you, and our ears to hear your loving voice.  Thank you for coming to earth to show the Father’s love that we never could have received without you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Be blessed my friends, and have a lovely Christmas.   May you encounter Jesus today.

Love, Laurie-Ann

If you’d like to hear an audio version of this article, it’s on the CWCP podcast page as #42, and will be broadcast December 27, 2018

Growing in God despite Disappointment: Pause, ponder and praise

During my last article, we learned about growing through perseverance.  Seasons of the “pause button” can work in us peace, pruning, peace and preparation for later seasons.  God does deep heart surgery in our hearts at this time.  We can turn these times into times of worship.

We also learned during an earlier article of the peculiar combination of suffering and joy.  God’s grace is such that he empowers us with joy as we trust him in very difficult circumstances.  This isn’t just about the refiner’s fire of life – it’s about living a victorious life despite suffering.  Examples of people who do this include Heidi and Rolland Baker, Supresa Sithole and more.  They also live a life of worship in the midst.  They are grateful for all God does in their lives and ministry.  They praise God often.

Some people call pause seasons time in the desert.  I’ve spoken about this as well.  Deserts can be even more refining than regular waiting seasons, but they are necessary to refine us. This is when we learn to let God refine us from the fear that holds us back, like Hannah Hurnard’s character called “Much Afraid” in her book Hinds Feet in High Places. The desert can transform the image we have of ourselves as well as our image of God. These false images we stored in our hearts are shattered in the desert. Once they are destroyed, we can then see and discover what is real about God. We are transformed as we journey on in four unique desert gifts: spiritual transformation, psychological change, a new role and a new future.

That transformation can take further seasons in the desert for pause and reflection.   I shared about this in an earlier broadcast about persevering what I called seasons of the “pause button.”  Yet even in seasons where we are gladly busy and moving along, we have disappointments.  Some of these are small, and some are deep.  In the midst of the waiting, or the pause, as I like to call it, is an opportunity to assess and remember God’s faithfulness.  Iris base leader Surprise Sithole has endured much persecution and trauma in his life, yet he is always filled with joy.  Every day can be a good day.  His attitude towards pausing is that waiting on God is worship.

I recently read Philip Yancey’s book Disappointment with God. He deals with our human view of personal disappointment and suffering, and then God’s view through Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  He shares that three questions surface in human suffering. These are:  Where is God?  Why is God silent?  And Why is life unfair?

Sometimes it seems like God is absent in the midst of pain and darkness. This especially is shown in the middle chapters of the book of Job, although the first chapter and last chapters reveal that God had been there all along. The story had a good ending. The Old Testament showed God the Father as so holy that he was nearly unapproachable in the temple, and showed himself in a burning bush and other miracles. While he is invisible, he made himself clearly known. However, most of the people cowered in fear so most did not seek him out, which was his deepest desire.  His love was rejected except for the prophets and David, who was known as a man after God’s own heart. When the Israelites turned away in sin and worshipped idols, it broke God’s heart like a spurned lover.

It was the Israelite’s way, and later the Pharisee’s way to demand signs, and miracles.  And yet their hearts did not come close to the God of miracles.  God doesn’t like to be put to the test. Listen to Mark chapter 8. Even Jesus response towards the demand for a sign showed his disappointment “When he heard [the Pharisees’ request], he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why do these people keep demanding a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, I will not give this generation any such sign.”  So he got back into the boat and left them, and he crossed to the other side of the lake.”  Miracles may catch our attention, but it is love that changes hearts.

Then Jesus came to earth as a human being. He was neither silent, not invisible.  He was approachable. He still is. Then he showed his love when he died for us. He was resurrected, and sent the Holy Spirit to live inside us, so we could experience that love all the time.  So if we have faith in Jesus Christ, God never leaves us. He is always Emmanuel, God with us, through the Holy Spirit. So God is not absent, nor is he silent; although there are times that it seems like he is.  Sometimes that’s when we’re asking the “why” question, or shouting at God, “life isn’t fair!”  Life isn’t fair.  We are NOT immune from suffering.  And we see unfairness and suffering all around us. God is working out an answer to this pain through US.  Sometimes we feel sorry for ourselves and forget that we can make a difference.  WE can do something as Matthew West sings in his song “Do Something.”

“Why” questions are often difficult, since we are steeped in self-pity. Quite often we struggle most not only from the pain of difficult times, but from our own attitude of self-pity.   This attitude is reflected by the sayings, “poor little old me,”  “pity me,” “what about me?” and one that I learned in an inner healing school I took in the 1990’s.  It was “PLOMS” disease:  poor, little old me syndrome.  This outlook doubles or triples the pain you’re in and focuses either just on your or on your circumstances.  Sometimes cartoonists draw someone like this under a perpetual raincloud.  They can’t see the sunshine that is just beyond the cloud, nor the rainbow that accompanies the sunshine after the rain.  This attitude shows up as Eeyore, the depressed donkey that is a friend of the Winnie the Pooh character. He is always saying, “Oh, well.”

While there is a place for not rushing the process of genuine grief, self-pity can keep you stuck for weeks, months and even years.  Leanne Payne called this ‘descending into the hell of self,’ which essentially makes you your own worst enemy.  I know this personally, since I often fell into this mode of thought.  My Australian friend Jan went with me to experience a Leanne Payne Pastoral Care Ministry School in Wheaton. I received deep emotional healing for past abuse, and the beginning of healing for crushed will issues.  Yet one part of my healing was to lift off a cloak of shame and self-pity.  Even though I had a larger degree of freedom, I had to choose to walk as a free person.  We develop habits and coping skills that are based on lies we believe about ourselves, our environment and God. When we deal with these, and also form healthier habits, we maintain our freedom.

Pause:  So we pause and reflect. The Russian Christians have a wonderful attitude of pausing in a retreat.  That’s not a retreat that goes backwards, but a retreat to spend time with God. They call this cabin in the woods a poustinia, where they seek God in silence and solitude. Jesus also often went to solitary places to pray and spend time with the Father. We need to do this as well.  This is when we can come to Jesus with our broken hearts and disappointments.  He is still with us and cares.  Don’t harbour it in your heart and get bitter.  Stop going around in circles in the desert of disappointment.  I had a friend who did this.  Let’s say his name is Jack. Jack became bitter and continually railed against God because he wanted a wife.  He fell in love with another friend of mine, who was in love with two men – Jack and Ted.  She finally decided for Ted, rather than Jack. I don’t think Jack ever got over it.  And so Jack stayed in his disappointment and did not move on, until just recently. He made an announcement on Facebook that he just got married, but gave no details.  At least I hope he’s happy.

Ponder:   Once we stop and pause, look up and ponder.  Look all around you.  Are you still under that rain cloud? Or are you ready for a second touch from God?  Jesus is with us.

Our Afrikaans pastor Johan shared about God’s second touch, through the Gospel of Mark, chapter 8.  Let’s take a look at that chapter.  Jesus had encountered blind men several times in his ministry. One of the times is written about in the Gospel of Mark, chapter 8.  It was the time that Jesus made a mud poultice to put on the blind man’s eyes.   The man had to be prayed over more than once.  The first touch restored the man’s sight, but he could only see in a very blurry way.  People looked to him like trees.

This showed that even Jesus sometimes had to give a second touch for healing prayer.  Healing has come, but not in its fullness.  Johan shared that we should content that God has touched us in the past, but not satisfied with mediocrity.  So let’s turn the disappointment around.  Yes, there is a need.  Just think – Jesus didn’t want that man to be stuck in limbo.  In his case, the second touch came right away, and Jesus prayed again.  Often that completion of healing comes later on. Johan told us prophetically that we may be satisfied with a little touch, but God actually isn’t.  He has a second touch coming our way.  Since he is the one who gave us saving faith, he is the one who will complete us in all ways.  God did not create us to have half of our destinies.  So while we pause, ponder and consider all our little blessings. While you are counting them, he just may surprise you with what you need.  The Apostle Paul reminds us in Colossians 3:15 to “let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.”  May you fill us with that peace, Lord as we ponder you.

Praise:  Once we know that we can trust God, we can take time and praise him.  We thank him take the focus off of ourselves.  We were never in control anyway – it was always just an illusion. It can be difficult to be thankful, but if you make a habit of it, your eyes will open at all the little blessings in your life.

Here’s an example of what praise and thanksgiving can do in scripture. In Acts 16, Paul and Silas were on a mission trip in Philippi, Greece.  Paul got annoyed by a girl who was demonized, because the spirit drew attention to itself.  After the girl was delivered, her owners were angry that the girl could no longer tell fortunes.  This had an effect on their finances.  So they reported them to the authorities with lies, and they were publicly beaten and thrown into prison. “The jailer was ordered to make sure they didn’t escape. 24 So the jailer put them into the inner dungeon and clamped their feet in the stocks.

 Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening. 26 Suddenly, there was a massive earthquake, and the prison was shaken to its foundations. All the doors immediately flew open, and the chains of every prisoner fell off! 27 The jailer woke up to see the prison doors wide open. He assumed the prisoners had escaped, so he drew his sword to kill himself. 28 But Paul shouted to him, “Stop! Don’t kill yourself! We are all here!”  Did you notice what Paul and Silas did in the midst of being in prison?  They were singing worship songs!  They were praising God in the midst of their trial!  I’ve heard other mission stories that are similar, although deliverance didn’t always happen that fast.

Psalming:  Finally, there is another step in pausing, pondering and praising.  It’s Psalming.  There are 150 Psalms right in the middle of the Bible.  King David was one of Psalm writers. He had a pattern of complaining to God of difficult circumstances, asked God what he was going to do about it, and poured out his heart in distress.  But always at the end, he chose to trust God.  Either he asked for vindication due to God being just, or he just chose to trust God in that situation. In Psalm 4, he declared that God would keep him safe so he could sleep.  In Psalm 5, he declared that God was a shield of protecting love. Psalm 6 declares that God has heard David’s prayer.  Psalm 7 ends in thanks, and 8 ends with praise. Psalm 13 ends with trust, David sang, “But I trust in your unfailing love. I will rejoice because you have rescued me. I will sing to the Lord because he is good to me.” And so, the pattern of complaint, praise and trust continues.

My seminary professor David taught me a course called Foundations of Christian spirituality.  One of the topics he shared was about writing your own psalm in difficult times.  It allows one to pour out their grief and sorrow, and then offer it back to the Lord.  That emotion could also show more than sorrow – there are one or two psalms in the Bible that were written in anger. If you remember reading about dashing babies against rocks, this was an example of something akin to road rage.  Does God condone infanticide?  Absolutely not.  But he does understand anger, and you can bring whatever that is in your heart to him.   Together with him, he can give you peace as you work through your feelings.  It could be then that you get your second touch.

So remember to pause.  Look up to God, past your disappointments.  He is not silent.  He is with us.  Then ponder. You are not forgotten.  You are in the midst of a process where he is making you beautiful.  And Psalm, like David.  Pour out your heart to him in your own poem.  Then turn it around as a declaration of trust or thanks.  You’ll find that you’ll grow in the process.   You might even write a song through the experience.  Let me pray over you.

Lord, thank you that you never leave us.  I ask you to help us pause and look up to you, no matter our disappointment.  A delay is not a no.  Help us ponder all the wonder you’ve created around us. There is suffering but there is also beauty and joy.  Help us praise and be thankful for each thing you’ve given us.  And help us to psalm – to remember your loving kindness.  To help us turn our perspective from the pit, to the plain, to the mountain top. You never leave us.  Fill my friends with your peace.  In Jesus’ name.

Love and blessings, Laurie-Ann
Waystogrowingod.org and coppleswesterncape.ca

If you’d like to hear the audio version of this talk, please visit the Ways to Grow in God podcast page on our Copples missionary website, then scroll down to Podcast 25.

 

Growing in God through Perseverance and Waiting: Seasons of the Pause Button

 

During my last article, we learned the importance of simplicity. It is something that impacts every area of our lives – our faith, our finances, shopping, driving, possessions and how we manage time. Simplicity requires a generosity of spirit, by knowing that your life is not entirely your own.  It gives more space to live, less chaos and less stress.  We yearn for it, yet we also want our choices.  Most of us have a pull in both directions, so this can be a long process. I can say that I like my choices, yet I also am becoming used to our simpler way here in South Africa. It doesn’t make sense to live like we’re rich, when we’re working with the poor – even if poverty and riches are subjective.

One aspect of faith involves waiting. Waiting and delay has been a theme throughout my life. Waiting was again highlighted to me when I recently took debriefing training through Le Rucher ministry.  We explored our personal timelines and marked small and significant changes, concerns, criciticisms, conflicts and crises along the journey.  These are called the 5 ‘C’s.’ Each “C” had to be addressed, by mapping out our story, and identifying the losses connected with those issues. This timeline was understood through the biblical story of Jesus walking with minor disciples on the road to Emmaus.  This story happened after Jesus rose from the dead. Despite this, these followers were still grieving and walking in disappointment. Jesus helped them to realize they were stuck in their sense of loss. He drew them out of it by explaining the scriptures, and he eventually opening their eyes to see who he really was.

I realized at the end of the workshop just what all my own little delays meant. These delays were put into the context of our first six months in South Africa. They seemed bigger than they were because they were fed by a river of delay and disappointment of a much bigger loss.  All the delays were like pause buttons. They were fed by a disappointment that had to be addressed. So I brought these delays to God. I told him, “thank you that your delays are not a ‘no.’   I choose to trust you.”  Indeed, delays are NOT a no.  In the end, it’s about trust.  The scripture given to me at my baptism was Proverbs 3: 5-6, which is “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. Acknowledge him in all your ways, and he will make your paths straight.” This scripture is about trust and direction, but also about God’s way of doing things. His way may be completely different from what you expect. We also need to wait for how he wants us to go.

This theme of waiting is shown in many worship songs.  Randy Thomas wrote songs with the Maranatha Singers in the 1970’s and 80’s.  He encouraged a generation of worshippers to sing the words “We must wait.”   This song was one that I first learned after my faith came alive.  It goes, “We must wait, wait, wait on the Lord, We must wait, wait, wait on the Lord.
And learn our lessons well; In His timing He will tell us, what to do, where to go and what to say.”   Now let’s fast forward to 2017, where Kristene DiMarco of Bethel Music picks up the reminder of waiting.  Kristene powerfully sings these words:

“Slow down, take time. Breathe in, He said. He’d reveal what’s to come. The thoughts in His mind, always higher than mine. He’ll reveal all to come.

Take courage my heart, Stay steadfast my soul, He’s in the waiting. He’s in the waiting. Hold onto your hope, as your triumph unfolds. He’s never failing, He’s never failing.

Sing praise my soul, find strength in joy, let His words lead you on. Do not forget His great faithfulness, He’ll finish all He’s begun…”

These are two of the most powerful waiting songs that I’ve ever heard.  There are even more songs about trusting God and finding him faithful.

Waiting is revealed throughout the Bible. It’s a major part of the biblical worldview.  Abraham waited for the promise of his son Isaac, and in the middle of the wait, he faltered and Ishmael was the result.  Moses waited forty years for his ministry, before delivering the Hebrews out of Egypt. Jesus waited until he was 30 to begin his full-time ministry. The Apostle Paul waited in the Arabian desert for years, before beginning his itinerant ministry, although he was vocal from his very conversion.  David Matthis shares in the devotional blog desiring god.org that “waiting is the hardest part”.  He says, “our perspective on waiting is perhaps one of the stronger ways our society is out of stride with the biblical worldview. Not that waiting was easy for our forefathers, but they were more at peace with it, and more ready to see its goodness and potential.”

In the Old Testament, we find many Psalm writers who sing about waiting for the Lord. David wrote in Psalm 40, “I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry.  He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire.  He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along.”  The prophet Isaiah promises us in Isaiah 40: 31, that those “who wait for the Lord, shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”

David Matthis shares that waiting on God is a regular refrain in the life of faith.  It is an expression of the healthy heart’s desire.”  Isaiah proclaims in Isaiah 26:8,  “Lord, we wait for you; your name and remembrance are the desire of our soul.” The Jewish people waited centuries for the Messiah. Some of them don’t recognize Jesus and so are still waiting.  As Christians, we also wait – for Jesus’ second coming. We live in the shadow of his return.  Anglicans regularly say the liturgy refrain, “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.” And while Jesus said, “I am coming soon,” that ‘soon’ is relative, and has us wait.  Jesus’ original disciples believed that Jesus would return in their own lifetimes.  However, yet God also waits. As he waits, he also draws more and more people to him.  This is actually a good thing – although we do long for the time when all will be made right.  The Apostle Paul shared in Romans 8: 23 that we “groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”  Peter encouraged us to live in “holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God… to wait for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” (2 Peter 3:11-13)

And so we wait.  We PAUSE.  It isn’t a matter of how long the pause is. It’s like the South African concept of time – now, just now and now now.  Now is between now and eventually. Just now is a bit faster, but still may take longer than expected.  Now now is more urgent, so it could be immediately, but don’t count on it.  But don’t be distracted by looking at how many minutes or hours tick by.   Just sit in the pause.

How do we pause and wait?  In the generations of baby boomers, generation X, generation Y and millennials, we don’t want to pause and wait.  We grow agitated and want everything immediately.  I found myself profoundly affected by this mentality when I attended radio school with millennials. I grew more restless and I began to lose my precious ability to concentrate on one thing at a time. My attention span grew shorter, and I could not learn as quickly. I couldn’t wait as well, even though I still practised soaking prayer with my friend, Lorna. So the lesson of pause and perseverance became even more difficult.  Pause was no longer understood as a blessing because of this mentality. However, God can transform the hearts of the impatient and the restless, with the invitation to “be still.” Psalm 46:10 reminds us of the command to “Be still, and know that I am God!  I will be honored by every nation.  I will be honoured throughout the world.”  Pausing, otherwise known as “Waiting on God’ is actually a discipline in intimacy with God.  It’s even deeper than the disciplines of soaking prayer, practising the presence of God and meditating on scripture. Waiting is often done in silence.  The author Catherine Doherty journeys through this discipline through her book Poustinia – by encountering God through silence, solitude and waiting.  So PAUSE, be STILL and let his peace fill you.  When we finally  pause, we can realize there are different receiving seasons in that space.

The Different seasons of the “Pause Button“

There are different purposes for what I call a “life pause button.”  I had one pause season that was quite painful.  I grew sad instead of looking to the Lord in hope. I still had the deep trust that I gained after Rolland Baker prayed over me. However, I didn’t have a focus point and or know where I was going.  Hope looks forward to the future.  I needed vision for what would come. I was still very much in transition. I worked as an Ottawa church volunteer in many ministries: including outreach, admin and media. During that time, I was part of a connect group that explored something called a possibility board.  We were to paste onto a board our hopes, callings and dreams of our life. Some of these included ministries that we were already involved in, others would be ones we hoped to join.  I pasted on my own possibility board far more than I expected! Yet, in the middle of it was a great big pause button.  My life felt like it was on pause – yet not everything actually stopped.  During this time,  I took an inventory of my life. I shared with my connect group leaders that I had always wanted to write a book.  They encouraged me to write about my life, since I had so many great stories.  I began compiling many of these into a future book which will be called Holy Ghost Sommelier.  I was able to reflect on God’s faithfulness in my life, and was reminded that he will continue to be faithful. Reflecting on God’s faithfulness brought me peace.  We are meant to stop before God and receive God’s peace.  If we continue to rush around as fast as we do, it becomes hard to hear God in the midst of that adrenaline rush.

The first season of pause brings us PEACE in the the storm.  These storms can be many things: difficulties, loss of expectations, change, upheaval, war, disaster, hurt, disappointment and loneliness.  Yet, the Holy Spirit calls us to wait and trust both through seasons of pause and seasons of acceleration.

Here’s one of my “pause buttons.” During my university and seminary years, I had an extensive network of friends and churches I was involved in. I was spiritually hungry. I also longed for wisdom, identity and deep love.  I was one of the lonely, as mentioned in Psalm 68:6. That scripture gives the promise that “ God places the lonely in families; he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy.”  This was wonderful.  I received much love and affirmation through my Christian family and networks.  Yet part of me still longed for a husband. I was in my thirties, and I didn’t know if there was such a person.

Then I was given a word while I was on my first mission trip to Northern Ireland.  I travelled there to work with army teens, wash dishes in an army canteen, and encourage the local Christians.  I fell in love with that land, and returned the following year to do prayer walks throughout Belfast.  I even received a call there, which I still carry in my heart for a later time.  Meanwhile, Maisie, a wise older lady from Ballynahinch, shared this word with me from Isaiah.  I had read this scripture before, but this time, the words seemed to jump off the page, into Maisies’ mouth, and right into my heart.  It was the message about our land being married by the Lord. She saw an impression of the man who would marry me.  She read Isaiah 62: 4: “No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah; for the Lord will take delight in you, and your land will be married.”  I remember looking at her and saying, “Does it really said married?”  She assured me that it was so.  I had assumed that the scripture meant that the Lord was marrying his people, which is true. But this word was also telling me that indeed, God had someone for me.   I had spent so much time waiting, that I had assumed I was to stay single.  So in the waiting, I now had peace.  Yet even five years later, when Tony began to court me, I told him,  “I spent so much time waiting, that I didn’t think I would this would happen.” Tony told me, “it is happening.”  Singleness doesn’t always end in marriage. Some people are called to a lifetime of that state; but it is a unique part of their calling.  I was never given a specific calling to be single. I just assumed in my disappointment that I was. When I married Tony, my life changed in so many ways. I went into another pause season, until I realized I had to say goodbye to my previous life expectations. I had to let go before I could say hello. When I did, I was again at peace.

Another season of pause brings PRUNING

This season of pause can be within a time of physical activity. You might mentally learn things, and physically do things. But your heart feels like it’s being sanded with harsh sandpaper: this is a time of refining and pruning.  You really do have to stand still to be pruned!  Jesus tells us in John 15: “I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you.Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful, unless you remain in me.”  We need to lean on God even more during times of pruning and refining.  Although it’s uncomfortable, it’s a good thing in the long-term. We begin to look more like Jesus through the process. We begin to show the fruit of the Spirit, as Paul shares in Galatians 5: 22-23.  “The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!”  Notice that patience is right in the middle of this list!  Patience requires waiting too!

The storms of life are also pruning instruments, just like the way the famous South African “Cape Doctor” wind blows autumn leaves off the trees.  These are times of letting go.  We too, have to let go of what hinders us.  Before Tony and I travelled to our Iris Harvest School, the leadership team at Ottawa’s Kingdom Culture intensely prayed over me. I received wonderful words of promise and hope for both Tony and myself.  Tony already had been given several prophetic words that he was to step into ministry after he retired; but he didn’t yet understand what that meant. He didn’t know what that would look like.  He decided to attend Harvest School with me, and see what would happen.

Tony was to grow and blossom. He sure did.  It was wonderful – he was and still is, a changed man. He was changed for the better.  However, I was to receive a much different blessing. I had looked forward to Harvest School for over two years. I already had a year delay so Tony could be available to take the school with me. I found that waiting period difficult, but it was necessary.  I will return to this shortly.  My pastor Shawn Gabie  had a specific word for my time at the school. He said it would be a “season of shredding and shedding,” of refining and purging.  It would be difficult, but necessary to prepare me for the  future.  He specifically told me to not give up, but to “fix my focus forward on what the Father had for me this season.”  I clung to these words during my time in Mozambique! The school was as intense as it was in radio school. Both were curriculums meant for much younger people, nearly all of whom were able bodied. Here I was in contrast, walking with a cane on the steep uphill grade of the base. I spent a year exercising with my friend Lynn, just to prepare for the physical requirements of the school and the bush outreaches.  I also had to endure Tony’s struggles as he resisted, relented and finally received.  I instead waited and was refined. Not that I didn’t enjoy the amazing worship, fellowship and excellent teaching.  I did – just differently. I had received a pause to prepare for Harvest School, and found that the school itself was another pause.  But this was a pause of growth through pruning.  This brought me to the lesson of perseverance.

Another season of pause develops PERSEVERANCE.

The Apostle Peter encouraged and guided early Christian disciples into maturity.  He reminded them that we are given very great and precious promises. These promises are part of the maturing process. Through them you may participate in the divine nature. He told them and us in 2 Peter 1: 5-9, to make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge. And to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

When you are in a season of perseverance, this pause looks like a delay!  As of June 2018, this is my current pause season.  It is true that Tony and I are also busy in many respects:  especially in our outreach with children and the vulnerable.  Yet, I have found myself in one big delay: that of my physical healing.  I have been given many prophetic promises about healing, and I have received different forms of healing. I’ve entered deeper into peace and freedom emotionally and spiritually.  I have received physical healing in my back and knees. I have been given extra strength when I needed it most.  I was given extra endurance when I was in Mozambique.

Tony and I later attended the revival leadership conference at Toronto’s Catch the Fire. This was during our preparation to return to South Africa. I brought my little stool to sit on during ministry times, so that I wouldn’t have to endure long times of standing on my feet.  I didn’t even have to fall down when I received prayer ministry.  All of this was fine. When I received prayer, I was given a little impression that there were angels pouring bucket showers of joy into me.  Each bucket filled me with joy and strength to persevere.  I shared this picture with the congregation, and a young woman named Peyton had a word for me that God would heal me that year.  I fully believed this healing would come during our visit to Bethel Church in Redding.  We had just booked our 18th anniversary holiday to northern California. We were expectant that I would receive during their healing rooms ministry five months later.  I did, but not in the way I expected. I again was given strength to persevere, although also received some temporary relief for my knees.

Before we finally left for South Africa, I was again given a promise, which was: “As I stepped onto South African soil, the next stage of my healing would begin.” We again thought it would involve my knees and weight, but so far, it hasn’t. I was overcome by a heel injury, which was healed.  I also was hit with a wave of colds, exhaustion and brain fog, which required me to rest often, and limit myself to what really mattered.  Then I had an intense illness that was menopausal related.  I’ve endured hot flashes, chills, headaches and other symptoms for a number of years, but I wasn’t taken seriously by my doctor.  I was put on the wrong medication, which made me ill, so I stopping using it.  Then fast forward to March 2018, when I had an emergency visit with our new South African doctor. I had at least one tumour that made its presence known in a very uncomfortable way.  When this doctor confirmed the need for a specialist, he also confirmed that the medication I had been prescribed was dangerous to my condition.  It didn’t help that I now had endometriosis and tumours.  I was quickly scheduled for an operation to treat me. I trusted both this doctor and the specialist, and after the procedure, I have received complete healing in that area.  I may not even need progesterone.    But we had to persevere through the process.

There was still the healing of my weight and mobility.  There was still the healing of this ever-present virus that is the thorn in my flesh, slowing me down to often rest.  Then I listened to a sermon by our Afrikaaner senior pastor, Johan. He spoke on our need for hope, and how God is a God of hope.  During that time, the Holy Spirit whispered to my heart with hope that I also needed.  He said:  “The enemy has been trying hard in an assignment to kill, steal and destroy you, and your ministry in South Africa.  But South Africa will instead be the place of your healing and my shining glory.” This word filled with deep peace. While I wait in hope and persevere for this healing, there is a purpose for this pause in the healing process.  This is a time to deepen my compassion and understanding for the disabled.  Sometimes the disabled just survive.  Often people in the townships just survive.  Sometimes the best way to identify with someone is to become one of them. There is a purpose in it.

Jesus identified with us so much, that he became one of us. At the same time, our town of Worcester is known as the care capital of South Africa.  Not only am I to receive this care, as I did in the Medi-Clinic, but I am to receive divine health care in other ways. One of the things I am receiving is resilience and strength. So there is a purpose in it. Heidi Baker wrote a book called Birthing the Miraculous.  Throughout the pages, she often says that we should not quit. She later cautioned at a Toronto leadership conference that we cannot allow ourselves to abort our dreams.  She took this further in our Harvest School. She told the future missionaries, including us: “Don’t give up.  If you don’t quit, you win.”  This is the call to persevere.

And the last season of pause develops PREPARATION.

Earlier I mentioned a painful pause when I was a volunteer.  I began a deeper pause before that when I was let go from my full-time radio job.  Both pauses brought deep searching. But looking back, I can see this was actually a time of learning and preparation.  While I was a volunteer, I learned to live on little income. It was a season of increasing my trust in God as provider. I also developed skills at Kingdom Culture that would be used for South Africa.  These skills were expanded after we returned from Harvest School.  We already were strongly directed through our call to South Africa.  We were in extreme downsize mode.  At the same time I was given a job for 13 months as social media assistant to Canadian prophet Darren Canning.  I learned the tools of Mailchimp and Weebly websites to help him, but I was also training myself for our own newsletters and website.

All of the work that I previously did, including the art and seminary began to converge and be weaved together.  And still Jesus is drawing all the strands together from my former tasks, jobs and ministries so everything will be used, from media and admin, to art and prayer counselling.

So what pause are you encountering in your life? Do you intuitively feel a pause button or stop sign in your heart?  Ask the Holy Spirit,  “What are you teaching me?  What are you showing me?”  Pause seasons can be refining deserts.  Pause seasons can be training.  Pause seasons can be soaking and leaning on God in intimacy.  Pause seasons can be times of deep worship.  So pause seasons can actually empower us for the next season!  Pause seasons must not be skipped! They aren’t an inconvenience – they are meant to be a blessing.

So don’t skip your own pause season.  Take time out to ponder and reflect – it’s preparation for what’s to come.

Blessings,
Laurie-Ann
Ways to Grow in God
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This talk is #19

Growing in God through Simplicity

During my last article, we discovered that we can grow in God through giving him our timetable.  Not just our timetable, but out time, period. We need to have intentional dates with God, so we are filled with love, and not just to utilize him as a filling station.  Our time with God is to deepen our relationship. Some of this time with God includes being still before him.  This is a simple, yet profound practice. Simplicity is something that I’ve been drawn to for years.  What is simplicity?  Simplicity cultivates the great art of letting go. Simplicity aims at loosening inordinate attachment to owning and having. Simplicity brings freedom, and with it, generosity. While I spent endless hours doing ministry, study and other things, I often burned out.  I loved variety and adventure, and yet would be refreshed by quietness.  I loved to do different things but was not content with what I had.  I was always longing for more, and I don’t mean just more of God.  I felt empty and wanted to just be filled.   My life felt so… complicated and chaotic.

At the same time, I was strangely drawn to desert spirituality, and the idea of simple living. I researched and loved the stories of the Irish missionary monks who lived from the time of Columba of Iona to the 11th century.    One day when I was helping lead a retreat, I was drawn to a special little book in the bookstore. The book is called “Simple Living” by a native American Franciscan sister called Jose Hobday.  It’s revolutionary.  I seemed to sense that I would need this book in a future downsizing stage in my life.  I tried to read it several times, but I didn’t understand it at the time.  I kept the book through my moves to British Columbia, back to Kanata, downsizing to an Ottawa condo, and then moving to South Africa.  I only had room to take a shoebox worth of physical books with me.  Books are heavy!  My first encounters of simplicity were when I worked with street people in Toronto, and on other mission fields.  I learned a little more when I visited the Open Gate in Lindisfarne, which is part of the order of St Aidan and Hilda.  They have Ten Elements in their Way of Life, including simplicity.

I’m not the only one who has had this irresistible pull towards simplicity.  Part of this includes actual downsizing.  In Canada, it’s a phenomenon for aging baby-boomers who decide to simplify their lives. They move into small houses, or apartment condos so they can avoid yard or house maintenance.

In 2013, I moved from Ottawa to British Columbia, on the other side of Canada, for a radio job.  I had to downsize as much as I could very quickly – especially books and clothes.  I could only bring one car load, since my car wasn’t strong enough to pull a trailer.  This made for hard choices. I trusted Tony to downsize other items and sell the house so he could follow me. But it didn’t turn out as expected.  By the time he arrived to help me move back, I actually had accumulated again. Many items were gifts that were unique to the area.  So I didn’t exactly learn about living simply, did I?  Yet, I am thankful for my time in that province. It gave me a love for mountains, learning to do things on my own, and the wonder of an amazing Christian community that does outreach to the homeless.

We discovered during our further downsizes that many Ottawans didn’t want to buy second hand furniture, which is completely different to the attitude in British Columbia!  We did garage sales, and church ‘car boot’ sales.  I began to fret about certain items that we couldn`t  fit in our condo, since the previous owner had left it nearly furnished! We eventually put cherished items, like a unique childhood dresser, on the front lawn. We offered them for free.  I prayed about the dresser and I decided to trust God.  I was relieved that Tony met someone who loved my dresser, and returned with a pick-up truck to take it home.  He helped the man lift the dresser into the truck, and told him, “I trust your family will enjoy this dresser – it is my wife’s pride and joy. But we just don’t have room in our new condo.”

After we had sold the house and fully moved into the condo, we left the country for a three month mission school.  On our return, we confirmed our missions call to South Africa.  We have noticed some missionaries have a turnaround from ‘home’ to long-term mission field within a few months.  With us, our last extreme downsize was part of the preparation process.  Tony spent months digitizing a very large music and video collection.  I scanned hundreds of photographs and sketches.  It took us 15 months of preparing and downsizing, to arrive in South Africa.  It could have easily taken 2 years.  The books were the most difficult.    When we came to South Africa, we felt free that we could live with the contents of our seven suitcases and two trunks. Since we do a lot of media work, art, music and Alpha ministry, we needed what we brought. There isn’t anything that we haven’t used – from medication to art pens.  However, something amusing happened when we were at our Paris stopover. We had six suitcases, one ‘wheely’ bag full of laptops, my backpack and Tony’s guitar. We had trouble finding a taxi to take us to our hotel.  The bag carriers made fun of me. They thought I was carrying all these bags to use on a holiday.  Our first guesthouse hosts in Cape Town thought the same. They visited us in our room so they could see my drawings, and were curious why we had so many suitcases – until they realized that we were moving to South Africa. We weren’t on holiday.  Then everything was clear.  However, people have moved with far less.

Downsizing, moving, transition and simplifying your life is scary. Is it really all about living a simple life?  I believe simplicity is an excellent virtue. What is essential? What can we live without?  I learned to drop things in my life so I could have more room to be creative. Creativity gives me energy, since I was born to be creative. I also had to listen to my body to only do so much, otherwise I would be forced to stay in bed for a couple of days.  But one thing that does give me energy is my faith. So this is what I’ve learned from personal experience.  Let’s discover some of what others teach about simplicity.

The first place that I heard about simplicity is through the Community of Aidan and Hilda.  I already was drawn toward the Celtic Christian stream, due to my interest on Patrick, Columba, Aidan and Cuthbert in church history.  I first visited the Holy Island of Lindisfarne in January 2008, right after my second mission trip in Pakistan.  I returned multiple times with my mother, my husband Tony and again on my own.  Tony truly understood the pull on me, and even joined me on a special barefoot pilgrim walk we did on the mud flats, during low tide.  We also discovered the well balanced, beautiful form of Christian faith from this community.  While they include the special centres of Lindisfarne and Iona, they also have a world-wide community.  Their way includes three promises: that of simplicity, purity and obedience.  This is further expanded into ten elements of the Celtic way. Each of these elements deserves attention.  Yet I was most drawn to the ones I needed most: spiritual journey, rhythm of prayer, rest and recreation, simplicity of lifestyle and mission.

Their promise reads: “We are willing to be rich or poor for God, according to God’s direction. We resist the temptation to be greedy or possessive. We will not manipulate people or creation for our own ends. We aim to be bold in using all we have for God, without fear of possible poverty. However, if God demanded it of us, it would actually become a blessing.”  While this is not the vow of poverty that monks and nuns make, it is powerful choice not to let greed or fear of lack get in the way of a life calling.

Simplicity as a life-style is based on an understanding that our financial income, savings and possessions are not solely ours.  We are stewards of all we have: whether they are in our possession for a short time or a long time. It’s a matter of being in tune with creation.  “Our belongings, activities and relationships should be ordered in a way that liberates the spirit. We aim to cut out those things that overload or clutter the spirit.” It’s not a life of denial. There are times to feast and celebrate as well as to fast. “We stand against the influence of the god of mammon in our society by our life-style, by our hospitality, our intercession and by regular and generous giving.”  “We also feel that having a good balance in prayer, work and recreation usually also helps to keep things simple.  The more complex things become, the more stress we feel!”

These promises still ring in my heart. As I read these and other teachings, the process of simplifying didn’t seem simple at all.  It involves many different aspects of our lives, from what we buy, what we choose to keep and learning to hold everything we have in life lightly – whether it’s our possessions, time, or money.  As Christians, our life is not entirely our own anyway.  It’s God’s.  So let’s sift through the process of pushing away what distracts us from our goal.

The pull of our Western culture is to accumulate. The advertising on all kinds of media shouts this sentiment even louder. I had two pulls on my heart.  I do not worship money, but I found myself drawn by the advertising jingles that make me giggle.  Advertising is everywhere and part of every media. The message is repeated: consume, buy, get, then do it some more. Jose Hobday shares that “Gluttony is no longer a vice, it’s a triumph.  The two most used words in advertising are ‘new’ and ‘improved.’ The third is ‘Now!’ Everything must be instant and immediate. It does not allow for saving, pacing, waiting and setting goals.”

Richard Foster shares in his book ‘Celebration of Discipline’ some gems from Francois Fenelon.  He said, “Simplicity is freedom. Duplicity is bondage.  Simplicity brings joy and balance.  Duplicity brings anxiety and fear.”  To be pulled in two directions is like double-mindedness, and to suffer from a divided heart.  We are called to have an undivided heart with a single focus.  How rare that is.  When we see it, it’s a treasure.  Yet, if we allow God to work in our hearts, we can have this too.  We can learn to let go, in baby steps.  That was what faced me.  I thought, “Wow, this is great, but how do I begin?”  And I didn’t feel my baby steps were enough. However, I still had some momentum, which increased with the moves and forced downsizes.  Ecclesiastes 7: 29 tells us: “God made men and women true and upright; we’re the ones who’ve made a mess of things.”  We do make life far more complex than we need to. We get caught up in the details!  Adele Calhoun shares on the spiritual discipline of simplicity.  “Keeping it simple has fallen on hard times. And though we like the idea, we also like our choices.”

Jesus teaches us that freedom is found neither in having or doing. Rather, it is in keeping God first.  He shared in Matthew 6 to not store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal.  Instead, store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal.  Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will be. Jesus wants us to know that we don’t NEED all the things and experiences that we think we do. What we really need is to keep things first: Jesus and his kingdom.  Life becomes simpler when only one thing matters most.  This doesn’t mean that we are to be beggars in the street.  It does mean that we are called to be free of the grip of these ‘things’ on us.

Even Jesus dealt with a rich seeker who came to him seeking eternal life – yet he also loved money.  Matthew 16 shares the seeker’s plight.   He asked, “Teacher, what good things shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” So Jesus shared with him the top commandments, including loving neighbours. The young man replied, “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?” 21 The answer was “If you wish to be [complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”  But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property.”

The man’s wealth wasn’t the problem. His attitude and attachment to it was.  In his case, he really DID need to give away his wealth.   Orphans and those who have an orphan spirit, feel that they need possessions and hoard them. They also become chained to what they have or don’t have.  They don’t realize that who we are is not based on what we have or what we do.  Their fists are closed so they cannot receive what they really need. They are living in fear of going without.  Those who are living by consumerism alone have the very same outlook. To begin to let go of things and give them away requires faith.  We discover what we really don’t need.  Barbara Sorenson shares that “choosing a simple life is not a cookie-cutter philosophy. Each one of us lives it out in our own circumstances and situations as we accept the grace to do so. Voluntary simplicity does not mean we all have to sell our homes. It doesn’t even mean we can’t have nice things. It may mean that we can’t have all of them.”   So consumerism, leave the room.  Now we’ll deal with what to do with all we have.  Most of us have too much.

There is a song that goes, “Tis a gift to be simple, tis a gift to be free, Tis a gift to come down where we ought to be.” Simplicity requires discipline but it is also a gift of God.  Our longing to be simple is often the sign of the presence of this grace. Once we are free from the pull of consumerism, we can remember to share what we have.  We are no longer bound by things, so we can pass them on to others who need them more than we do.  This is freeing.  As Elizabeth Ann Seton says, “Let us live simply, so that others may simply live.”  So we need to think about our use of resources.

In the West, we use an excessive amount of precious fossil fuel just to live.  It is a destructive pattern. We don’t have a global view of our consumption patterns.  We have little realization of our degree of spending. In 1998, North America was 5% of the world’s population, consuming 82% of the world’s raw materials. [Figures from Simple Living by Jose Hobday.] This figure may have fallen with the rise of  China and India, but still we have the same attitude. “Our mindset finds it hard to understand that less can be more.”

Jose Hobday shares that simplicity is one of those great words that can’t be defined easily.  But it can be described and it can be distinguished from things that just look little like it.  If we persevere, we can recognize simplicity when we experience it in others and, more importantly, when we practice it. This now goes beyond resources to all aspects of our lifestyle.  Simple living is not about elegant frugality.  It is not really about deprivation.  It is not about harsh rules. To live simply, one has to consider priorities more than variety. Simple living is about the freedom to choose space rather than clutter. It’s choosing open and generous living, instead of a hoarding mentality that imprisons you.  Freedom is about choices:  Freedom to choose less rather than more. It’s about choosing time for people and ideas, and what makes you grow. It’s not about keeping, guarding and possessing what you have.  Simple living is about moving through life rather lightly, delighting in the plain and the subtle.”  When our friend Maggie moved from England to South Africa in months, she was moving more freely than we were. But we also learned.

Simplicity also is welcoming.  We need to live in a way that all people feel welcome in our home.  When they come to visit, they don’t have to worry that they might soil good furniture, or break expensive glassware, or leave fingerprints on something precious.

Simplicity includes the rhythm of nature.  Life does not stop. Neither does the universe around us. We are always moving forward in cycles and seasons.  Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8 mentions this fact. This was picked up by Pete Seeger in his song, “Turn, Turn, Turn.”  So the secret is to be carried by the harmony and rhythm of all creation.  Enjoy quality of life around you! This mystery is celebrated in the Celtic Christian stream I mentioned earlier. If you don’t move forward, you become stuck – and out of step. Simplicity keeps you walking with what is real.  Hobday says, “Simple living forces you to attend to value, insisting on quality over quantity.”

Simplicity also involves our time. In Africa, time is elastic. It is not pinned to specific tasks or events.  Relationships are more valued.  This view of time may drive task-oriented people crazy, but the simplicity of waiting is actually a good thing.  Too many times we try to fill every moment with activity, like I used to fill my academic papers past the regular margins. I did not think simply.  My professors could not explain things simply. Some things are difficult to share in only a few words – and simplicity is one of them.  When you are in a hurry, it is terrible to wait. But in a simple life, we might think about what we can do with the space of waiting five to thirty minutes.  The space can give us a sense of openness, fullness, and a keen sense of delight.  We suddenly have much more time to stand and look, to appreciate, enjoy, think and feel.  We can read another chapter of that book we love. We become less time-conscious.  Instead of fretting, ideas and desires and possibilities come to mind. You become creative.  If you also create empty space in your calendar and give it to God, you are creating a container for God to fill.  It is an empty space or margin on the page of your life.  You can breathe, because you have chosen to focus on priorities.

Downsizing in quantity reminds you that your priority is quality. This is more than simplifying your lifestyle, finances, possessions, and timetable.  They include space to just breathe and know your dreams, and your heart. It may seem trite that less clutter is easier on our soul, but it really is easier on us.

Yet when you are ready to downsize right, go in steps. Hobday takes an inventory:   Note your items in categories like food, clothing, shelter, transport and work.  Then you itemize them further into must have needs, what is helpful, what is your preference and what is luxury in each category. Go through each category, with a separate list. When you’ve finished each list, pray over them. Ask yourself questions. Do you need this in home, or work?  Is this helpful? Do you actually wear this blouse?  When was the last time you wore those shoes?  Is this a luxury?

Hobday says it is fine to have luxuries, but just once in a while.  Each person has different needs, so don’t just copy someone else.  What is the Holy Spirit whispering to you?  Are you to give a certain item away?  Have you met someone who needs that item?  One time when I was listening to a friend play her drum, I was given an image in my mind’s eye of one of my percussion instruments.  Was I meant to give her that drum? I asked if she had been looking for more drums.  It turned out that she was.   So I gave her the drum.  Sometimes it is that easy.  And other times, it is hard.

So to downsize, we must take actual steps. Choose the area of your life that you would like to simplify first. We must physically clear out the excess, we must take steps to prevent accumulation.  We can’t do it in our heads. Simplicity is not just an idea, it is practical.  Use your list, but be kind to yourself.  It took Jose Hobday TWO YEARS to simplify after she became a Franciscan nun.  So at the start, pray.   It will make the process easier. You need to take small steps in progression. Let Holy Spirit guide you on what to discard. If you do, it will also bless areas of your inner life. It will give you discernment. Living simply is not about looking poor, or depriving yourself of something you really need.  It’s about less is more.  Jose shares that “true simplicity teaches us joy with less.” The “stuff” you don’t need is no longer in your way. But say you discover that something you really need has to be replaced?  Then replace it.  Do you need to keep it, or give it away?

Discernment shows you the difference between being simple and stingy. Stinginess is self-centred and narrow, just the opposite of the expansiveness of simplicity.  Stinginess doesn’t share. We hoard out of fear, just the opposite of faith.  Stinginess is selfishness, but simplicity is real love for ourselves and others.” Simplicity gives. Stinginess is greed, and clutters our lives.  Simplicity is to look carefully at what is needed, while still being generous.

Jesus’ call to simplicity is a call to complete contentment in him that overflows into every area of our lives:  our prayer life, our shopping habits, our schedules, and our comforts we run to when we are stressed. All of this should carry the flavour of Jesus.  So as I was reading all these wonderful truths from various writers, it seemed overwhelming. So I sought for some truths to sum up what I believe about simplicity.

Simplicity is about honouring God first with an undivided heart, and to use your resources as tools for the kingdom of God. Either you can give away what you have, as Jesus advised the rich young ruler who struggled between God and money, OR you can use it as God directs.  Simplicity is about honouring others with your hospitality and not looking down on them.  It includes sharing resources and identifying with other humans. It is humility with grace.

Simplicity is honouring the simple Gospel and not being distracted by fashion or advertising.  Simplicity is knowing that you are a child of God, without having to hoard things as if you were an orphan.  Your things are not just for you.  Simplicity is harmony with creation and to not let cultural difference and view of time shock you.  Be flexible. Simplicity is a focused discipline and requires work. And simplicity is so much more, including being content.  The Apostle Paul writes in Philippians 4  that he had learned to be content whatever the circumstances. He said, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

May we too learn that source of contentment, as we ask Holy Spirit to help us learn the simple life step by step.

If you would like to hear the audio version of this article, go to the podcast page, and scroll down to #16

Blessings, Laurie-Ann Copple
Worcester, Western Cape, South Africa