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