Category Archives: Ways to Grow articles

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.

 

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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

Growing in God through time with God

During my last article, we discovered the power of blessing others.  We bless others intentionally by smiles, hugs, kindness, prophetic words, and sowing blessings into each other.  This is an intentional act that you can cultivate as a lifestyle.  Just as Tony and I choose to stop for the divine opportunities God brings our way, we also choose to bless. Sometimes this is done in practical ways, since love looks like something.  However, other times it’s simpler in forms of touching, hugging, listening as wells as speaking hope and positive encouragement for their future.  All of these ways of blessing and validating others involves time.  It’s important to spend good relational time with people. It’s a two way blessing.

Before we spend this valuable time with other people, we need to spend time with God even more so.  When Tony and I attended the Iris Global Harvest School, we learned from many local and international speakers.  Rolland Baker was among my favourites. He would amaze us with incredible wisdom, and yet sometimes he would simply want to touch downcast hearts with deep joy.  I came to love Rolland when I first saw him at a September 2014 conference in in Richmond, Virginia. God has gifted him with a sense of knowing when someone is secretly depressed.  During the conference, he followed me around during ministry time; and he did not let up.  I was secretly sad and grieving because no job was open to me at the time. I still didn’t have a paying job until two years later, shortly after Tony and I returned from our ministry in Mozambique, South Africa and Botswana.  Rolland imparted to me a deep trust-joy in my heart through the Holy Spirit. This deep trust laid a foundation so I could spend more time waiting before God.

When I spent time with God, I wasn’t as restless before him as I was. I already practiced soaking prayer; which is a devotional time of silently listening to God with your spiritual ears, while also listening to soft worship music with your physical ears.  This is a form of contemplation.  But now was a time to go even deeper.   Heidi Baker says, there is always more, and it’s true. She always cries out for more, and God responds.  Do we cry out for more time with God?  I believe that God wants to spend more time with us. He’s very patient for us to come invite him.  Hollman Hunt created a series of paintings of Jesus standing at a door knocking.  There were a lot of overgrown weeds around the door, and there was no handle on the door. The door could only be opened from the inside – by the person who owns the house.  But think, we are the house.  The house represents our lives, and Jesus won’t come in, unless we open the door. It’s amazing how patient Jesus is! This surely shows his mercy and kindness.

Heidi also shared with the All Nations Church in Arizona after a women’s conference. I attended this conference in an earlier year. At that time, I had the pleasure of Heidi ministering to me in a special way. Heidi was led to walk towards me with a bouquet of roses.  She approached me with the flowers, a hug and a kiss, before she continued on her way to her seat at the front of the church. Basically, she was stopping for the one – and I was the one that she stopped for! It was an incredibly humbling experience – where I felt I was being loved on by Jesus himself. I was!  She spends so much time daily with the Lord, despite being incredibly busy.  This is her secret.  She is so filled with the love of Jesus, that she really does pour out his love.  Before she approached me, I stood worshipping in the back row of the church. The only thing that caused me to open my eyes was that I sensed the strong presence of Jesus beside me.  It was like Jesus himself was standing right beside me.  So I opened my eyes, and there was Heidi!   This wasn’t the only time that I could clearly and powerfully see Jesus in another person.  It happened before with Dennis Bennett, the man who led me to Jesus in 1988.  Then it happened again through two of my professors in Tyndale Seminary.  Every once and a while, I again get a similar experience.

Could we be filled with Jesus’ love that? Could we touch others with the love of God? Perhaps so deeply that you can see the difference it makes?  The answer is simple.  We can.  Spend time with God.  We desperately need him, not just for ministry – but for our own needs too. Both Heidi and Rolland speak at length about this essential need.  We need God. We really do.

Jesus was asked by a religious law expert on what was the most important commandment of the Torah.  His reply cut to the heart of the matter.  Jesus said, “you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’[a 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’[b] 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

The first commandment is absolutely crucial.  You need to spend time loving him, and letting him love you.  Loving God with your heart could involve worship and realizing that God is our treasure.  He is the pearl of great price.  Loving God with your soul would be acts of service just for him in obedience, humility and integrity.  Loving God with your mind could involve reading scripture while praying, and actively meditating on him.  My Afrikaaner pastor Pieter-Louis says to love God in this way is to actively cultivate your ‘dianoia.’  This is your active imagination – it is part of how you think.  When you give this to God, you allow Holy Spirit to speak to you through pictures, impressions and words.  You can also imagine him right with you, which of course, he actually is.  Through this practice, your eyes can actually open to see him more and more.

The version of the story I shared is in Matthew 22, but in the Gospels of Mark and Luke, Jesus is also quoted as including loving God with all your strength.  Jesus was actually quoting Deuteronomy 6:5.  What does it look like to love God with all your strength?   To love the Lord with all our strength is to love him with reckless abandon out of simple devotion.  Heidi and Rolland have a daily devotional book called Reckless Devotion. It captures a taste of being completely wrecked by the love of God, in a way that you become love-sick for him.   Here’s another example – the woman who broke open an alabaster jar of expensive perfume over Jesus’ feet. It’s likely she had this jar as a treasure for her wedding night – but instead, she recklessly shared it with Jesus – her spiritual bridegroom.   So this greatest commandment is definitely not one we should skip.  However, too often, that is exactly what happens. Some of this distraction is by little things that come up in our day, which rob us from our time with God.  The most sad distraction is one that has the best of intentions!

Rolland Baker shared with us at Harvest School that even many missionaries skip the first commandment to get to the second commandment.  They move too quickly through their devotions because they see the great need of those around them.  YES, we need to reach out.  But if you reach out without the love, power and leading of God, you have nothing to give them but human sympathy.  Human love runs out quickly, and you get exhausted.  It’s far better to take the time, before you go out to the people.  While I’m not a morning person, morning is probably the best time, unless you’re working and ministering at night.  Without loving God with all of you, you will have no energy to do the commandment of loving your neighbour.

So we need to pursue God with reckless pursuit, and he will fill us with all we need to do life.  This is life in ministry, the workplace, family, studies and everything else you can think of.  I can honestly say that I was helped by God to excel in university, seminary and radio school.  I didn’t do as well in art school, before I knew Jesus.

So we need to give God our time – our calendar, and all that is in it.  We need to schedule dates with God that can’t easily be moved. One of my Afrikaaner pastors and his wife have a date with God every night at 9.  You can see the life and love of God in their lives.  They shine for Jesus like bright lamps in the darkness.   So let’s think back of Heidi speaking in that Arizona church.  I watched on a webcast and could not tear my eyes away.  She was speaking on the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25: 1-13, and she began singing her prophetic wisdom from Holy Spirit.

So I’ve done some searching on this story. Five of the virgins were prepared and had enough oil while they waited for the bridegroom overnight. Five weren’t prepared and didn’t have enough oil – they couldn’t borrow oil from the others, and had to go buy some. The five wise virgins couldn’t even transfer some of their oil.  The others had to go get their own.  There is a deeper meaning of this story other than the suddenness of the bridegroom’s arrival.  What is the oil?  The Holy Spirit?  Yes.  But wait, there’s more.  Yes, the Holy Spirit is often symbolized by oil, fire, water and wind.  But there’s more.   Perhaps grace?  Yes, grace is a gift of God but there’s more.  Perhaps the oil is gained through obedient Christian living?  Yes, but there’s still more.

So what’s the more?  The very thing that God sees as our precious gift we give to him.  It’s TIME.  How do you get the oil?  By your TIME spent with God.  God takes the gift we’ve given by our lived out space in our calendars – to become the very oil that we need.  Not just the anointing oil of the Holy Spirit, but something deep within, so that we shine from the inside.  We become like a lamp.

I think I’d like to stay and think on this revelation. I’m thankful that Heidi obeyed Holy Spirit when she shared it.  So please, do not hesitate to give God your time.  It may not be the hours that Heidi spends – but your own date with God.  You can worship, ask questions, read the Bible, and so much more. This is a date journey with God, and he’s inviting you right now.

I’d like to pray with you.  Sorry Lord, that we’ve been neglecting you – Christians and non-Christians alike.  Thank you for dying for us.  We give you our calendars, and our lives.  Cleanse us from all we have done wrong, and the tendency to go our own way.  Please fill us with your Holy Spirit.  Help us to respond to your invitation to spend time with us.  Bless my friends who are reading this article. Touch their lives, as they take time for you. In Jesus name.

If you’d like to hear audio podcasts of Ways to Grow in God, they are available on our missions/radio website coppleswesterncape.ca  Here is the direct link to the Ways to Grow in God podcast page:   WTGIG Podcasts

You can also hear them Thursdays on CWCP via Galcom audio streamer  on Thursdays 8 pm SAST, or on the CWCP podcast page as full radio shows.

Blessings,
Laurie-Ann

Laurie-Ann Copple
Worcester, South Africa

 

Growing in God through the power of blessing

 

 

 

 

During my last article, we discovered the power of encouraging others.  We encourage others by smiles, hugs, kindness, prophetic words, and sowing blessings.  When my husband and I got married, we took our commitment to encourage each other seriously. We included the phrase ‘to love, honour and encourage’ each other in our wedding vows.  It’s a lifetime commitment to bless others, including your spouse.  When we sow blessing into others, we reap blessing.  The law of sowing and reaping is a biblical principle that’s often talked about concerning finances.  But this is about far more than money.

Let’s take the idea of encouragement further into blessing.  In the last article, I spoke of my encouragement to singer-songwriter Lynne Hanson, who now is blossoming in her music career.  And we discovered another example – that of Anne Sullivan – who was deeply loved into life by a nurse that gave her brownies and a loving, listening ear.  That young girl later was to mentor Helen Keller.  When you bless others, who knows how far that can reach?

One of the missionaries that we work with in Worcester, South Africa is Mella Davis.  She is a missionary and an educator.  We teach in her school, and help her with a kids club in Riverview township. These kids have responded sweetly to her strong and loving personality. When she gives discipline, it’s done with love, and deep blessing.  One thing that she does at the end of the time together is to have the children and helpers join hands in a circle.  We sing together of the power of blessing into each other, and the surrounding world.  Believe it or not, this song is known as an Aretha Franklin Song!

She sings, “Reach out touch somebody’s hand, make this a better place, if you can.”  The kids love it, and everyone’s heart is warmed by the sharing and the song.  Here are the lyrics of the song:

Chorus: Reach out and touch Somebody’s hand;
Make this world a better place, If you can (x2).
Take a little time out of your busy day To give encouragement To someone who’s lost the way;
Or would I be talking to a stone, if I asked you to share a problem that’s not your own;
We can change things if we start giving.
Chorus: Reach out and touch Somebody’s hand;
Make this world a better place, If you can (x2).
If you see an old friend on the street, and he’s down,  Remember his shoes could fit your feet; Try a little kindness you’ll see, It’s something that comes very naturally. We can change things if we start giving.

Here is the song sung by Diana Ross: video
Here is the song sung by Aretha Franklin video

These well-known African-American singers are basically encouraging us to bless.  There are so many scriptures that back this up.  Paul in Romans 12 reminds us that we are to remember to bless and pray for those who curse us.  This is intentional.  You have to choose to bless – whether it’s the one person in front of you, or many who are watching. We all need blessing – one at a time.

Yet sometimes we do the opposite of blessing.  We may be mean without even realizing it.  Complaints, sarcasm, and cutting comments can strike a person’s soul deep within in.  If the target is a child, it’s even worse.   And if you’re a teacher, like we are… this is a warning.  These kids have more than enough discouragement in their lives without adding un-intentional curses from us.  So we need to stand guard and make it a habit to be kind at all times.

The writer of the book of James makes clear how easy it is to control our tongue. If you control it, you can intentionally bless and not discourage by mistake.  James 3: 1-11 goes as follows:

Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers, for we who teach will be judged more strictly. Indeed, we all make many mistakes. For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way.   We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth. And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong. In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches.

But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.

People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison.Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. 10 And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right! 11 Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water?”

Another form of ‘cursing’ is teasing.  I shared in another article that my father used to constantly tease me.  And then I endured it at school so much that we had to move neighbourhoods.   I am not talking about light natured teasing, where you don’t mind because you know you are loved by the person.  I am talking about the feeling of wilting under constant negative words.  They cause you to shut down inside, rather than to grow and blossom.

I travelled to Lahore, Pakistan for a mission in January 2006.  I went alone and stayed with a local ministry.  It’s not generally a good idea to go alone on missions, but no one else would join me at the time.  And I found that both India and Pakistan were lands where most people I saw were thin.  In Pakistan, if you were a little overweight, you’d be teased lightly until you lost the weight.  And then they saw me.  I think I shook their cultural constructs of what a missionary could look like.  In my case, the gospel message came in a different package.

So I at first got light natured teasing, and I just laughed it off with something like, “no sweets for me.”  That was easy, since I found Pakistani sweets too sugary for my liking, but I did like their ice cream.  But then the teasing increased exponentially.  It seemed like I would be teased at least four times an hour.  That’s once every fifteen minutes.  I took a day off to visit a friend in another neighbourhood, and was at peace, since there was no teasing.  However, that’s when the teasing caught up with me, and I realized there was something wrong.  That night I cried and couldn’t fully sleep. I prayed through the night, and in the morning, I had a strong sense of peace.  Somehow I had learned of a local Punjabi proverb that was “there is no need to state the obvious.”  So I was greeted by the cook, who teased me.  I was filled with peace from God, so it was easier to respond in a positive way. I said good morning, then that proverb, and that I would love some chai. Then my hostess came in and also teased me, and I smiled and said, “Esther, if you really loved me, you wouldn’t say that. Let’s move on and talk about something else.” And then it happened a third time, and again, I stood up with kindness.

However, I was exhausted, and later had to lie down.  Unfortunately, my bed was in their main living room, where they did ministry.  So I asked the ministry leader to just ignore me resting, and to carry on with his work. After his guest left, he asked me why I needed to sleep during the day.  I explained to him about the sleepless night I just had, as well as the effect of all the teasing.  He was familiar with spiritual warfare, and that Satan was using these words to shame me. While this was true, the source of the poison came from the tongues of those who worked under him.  Their teasing was like curses.

I explained that I understood Pakistan has a culture of thin people, and if anyone was bigger than that, they would be teased. However, I said in my own culture, it was seen as an offense to go on and on about it.  That was not teasing, it was fat shaming. Then I asked if they have bees in Pakistan, and when was I told that there were, I used an analogy of bee stings.  I said, “unless you are allergic to bees, if one or two bees sting you, they won’t kill you.  You’ll just get a sore arm.  But if you get many bee stings, it can kill you.”  The leader’s eyes opened wide in surprise, and from then on, all teasing stopped.  They learned through my example what little stings of teasing can do.  Even as a Christian, they can get under your guard, when you least expect it.  So bless them back.

My friend Tanya shared with me another story.  She was shown three bowls of cooked white rice that were stored in different rooms.  The first bowl of rice was blessed and people spoke kind words over it.  The rice in that bowl turned pink!  The second bowl was ignored, and the rice stayed white.  Finally, the third rice bowl was cursed, and people spoke negative words over it.  The rice in the third bowl turned black!    There have also been similar experiments over plants – they respond to blessing and cursing.  I have to look more into this to confirm these reports, but I can say that I’m not surprised.  Both Blessing and cursing have a powerful effect on the environment.  So WHY do we curse when we can bless?

American prophet James Goll shared an online “Elijah List” article about blessing back in 2015. He said that we are indeed blessed to BE a blessing. We are to proclaim blessings over our families, churches, cities and nations.  Even if our own parents haven’t blessed us, there are some people who have.  And God always blesses, he does not curse.

We are all crying out for encouragement and to be blessed.  It doesn’t have to be a priest or pastor who does it, although that’s special too. And a father’s blessing is absolutely essential for a child to come into their own during puberty.  It’s like the child needs this blessing to grow into their masculinity or femininity. But still anyone can bless.  And if you have come to faith, you have Jesus living inside of you.  You can bless with real spiritual power.

Gary Smalley and John Trent wrote about expressing blessings, in their book The Blessing.   The First is to TOUCH.  Through touch, we can impart life, warmth, compassion and blessing. There is a reason why leaders and prayer people touch you when you ask for prayer. This could be a light touch on the hand, shoulder, or a hug. You are connecting and imparting love and care to that person. The Apostle Paul told the Romans in Romans 1:11 that he wanted to be with them so he could impart a blessing to them.   Touch is also one of my husband Tony’s love languages, so when I touch him, he feels loved.  We have been married for (almost) nineteen years, but we still hold hands all of the time. And Tony is not alone in receiving love this way.  This is the same with many people.

The second way to bless is through a spoken word.  This can be prophetic as in giving specific hope to people, or it can be as simple as a sincere, loving compliment.  The third way to bless is to attach high value to the person that you are blessing. This means you don’t give the same words of blessing to everyone.  Sometimes a blessing in words is specific.  The important thing is to honour the person, for honour is the language of heaven.  Stop and offer an arrow prayer to God.  What would Holy Spirit say to that person?  Or give that person thanks for something good they have been doing.  When you really notice people, it validates them. They are not invisible.  They matter. Choose to notice and bless them.

The fourth way to bless is to give them a taste of favour for their future.  Blessings help move people into their destiny.  Why?  Because someone believes in them!  Whether your blessing is general or something just for them, that person now has a deposit of hope and joy to see their future in a brighter light.

And the fifth way to bless is to commit to follow-up on the person you blessed.  How are they doing?  Encourage them, that the blessing was not a mistake, and that they are valued.

And so, I take it as an honour to bless all of you.  May the Holy Spirit pull out any darts in your hearts that brought shame and discouragement. You matter. You really do.  Please don’t allow the words of the past to haunt you and follow you all of your days.  And if you’re looking for the blessing of a mother, I give it.  Grow, child in Jesus’ name.  You are loved. You were created to be loved.  Forgive those who have hurt you so that you can receive even more blessings.  It’s time to open your heart.  You are safe.

As I write this article, I am reading this scripture over you from Numbers 6: 24-27: May the Lord bless you, and protect you.  May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you.  May the Lord show you his favour and give you his peace.

And so Lord, fill my friends with your peace, in Jesus’ name.   Now, let’s all choose to bless!

Growing in God through encouragement

 

 

 

 

During my last written article, we discovered the near joy of finally depending on God completely.  Sometimes we are forced to do so through health concerns or disability.  Yet, what may seem like disability to people, actually can be turned positive for God.

One thing that helps anyone who is struggling in life – whether disabled, ill, or insecure is encouragement.  Encouragement is a spiritual service gift mentioned in Romans 12:8.  The Apostle Paul tells us “If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging.”  Encouragement means to exhort, comfort, counsel or help.  It means to offer thanks or appreciation, and to cheer someone on.

Unfortunately the world doesn’t have enough encouragers – most people complain or are critical.  But is that actually helpful?  Complaining is different than stating a fact and moving on.  Complaining and criticism actually tear down, rather than build up.

One of my former pastors was named Dale.  He used to say that encouragement is the oxygen of life.  And so it is.  When we encourage with love, words and action we positively impact the people around us.  When we encourage in love, we change the atmosphere,  and God can bless others through us.  And they just may bless us back.

Smiles can particularly encourage.  I’ve been told many times that my smile blesses people – it disarms shyness and breaks down barriers.  I’ve had this happen in church, divine appointments, and on the mission field.   It’s the same with calling people by name.

Tony and I feel so strongly about encouragement, that we changed the regular wedding vows.  Tony did not say he would love, honour and cherish me and I did not say I would love, honour and obey him.  Instead, we chose to bless each other with the same promise:  to love, honour and encourage. We took that further and promised to always forgive and always strengthen each other.  Through 19 years, we have worked to do that.  Sometimes it’s been easy, and other times it’s been more difficult.  Yet always there is love. Always there is encouragement that comes from the Holy Spirit.  Choosing to encourage is a commitment.

When you choose to encourage daily – it affects your spouse, your friends, and all those around you.  Tony and I are called to underprivileged children.  Some of them are latch-key kids.  Others are orphans. And yet others have parents, but still need all the love and encouragement they can get.  It’s a real blessing to pour this kind of love into people.  And really, it doesn’t cost you anything. It’s kindness. It’s just one of the love languages that make people thrive.

Encouragement and kindness are linked.  Kindness can take many forms. Some of these acts of kindness are practical deeds.  Sometimes they are called random acts of kindness.  This can be going out into the community and helping a senior clean their home or garden.  Or perhaps to provide a sandwich and glass of juice to a child.  It could be taking a disabled friend to go do their grocery shopping.  In a sense, this is not just something that missionaries do.  We can all do this!  We have opportunities to be kind every day.  EVERY day!

Okay, so you’ve had your eyes open to human kindness – which is everywhere.  It’s not exclusive to Christians.  There isn’t just darkness and evil around, although there is a lot of that.  But think of God’s kindness.  Think of how he encourages us with love, joy and peace in our hearts. He opens our hearts to more.  When we act on and live in this compassion, we grow the fruit of the spirit KINDNESS.  The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!  It is the exact opposite to a lot of the evil in the world.

We are also encouraged in Colossians 3:12 to “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”  These aren’t something we can grow on our own.  We need to keep spending time asking to be filled with these things – even patience.  However, kindness and encouragement are a lot more fun to grow in than patience!

So what are some other ways to grow this gift?  It happens with practice! Also when we continue to encourage, we can also receive some back.  Remember, what you sow, you also reap. The Apostle Paul writes about this in Galatians 6:7.  If you sow kindness, you reap kindness.  Patricia King once told a story that she was led to give away many of her clothes.  She did this time and again.  Each time she did this, she was given more clothes!  That’s just a side benefit. But basically, if you are sowing blessings, you will reap blessings. If you sow curses, even if they seem to be deserved curses, guess what comes back your way?  Better to stop the cursing right now.  There’s way too much of that around.  Remember what Paul says to us in Romans 12: Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them.

So here’s some ideas to grow that gift of encouragement in your life.  Write someone a letter.  Visit a sick person in the hospital or hospice.  Pat someone on the shoulder or back. Sit with someone who has just lost a family member.  Listen to someone who is struggling.   Ask God what to say, or even, if you’re not meant to speak.  Sometimes encouragement is not saying anything at all, but is just to be there with someone – especially if they are grieving.

Here’s a good example of encouragement.  A young girl known as Little Annie was locked up in a mental institution outside Boston in the US.  Doctors saw her as hopelessly insane.  Yet an old nurse felt compassion and kindness for Annie, and in time, she responded to the nurse’s attention and regular gifts of brownies.   Eventually, Annie was completely changed and wanted to give back to the other patients. Annie became Anne Sullivan, the woman who loved and encouraged Helen Keller.  Through Anne’s encouragement through the years, Helen blossomed, despite being blind and deaf in the years before the cochlea implants.

Encouragement is indeed the oxygen of life, as the words used also nourish our souls deep within.  Choose to bless someone with encouraging words, or actions today. Once you make this a habit, it will become a wonderful lifestyle.  We were created to love.  We were created to grow in love.  So choose to be kind and encourage, even when you don’t feel like it.

Here’s a small example of my own.  When I still lived in Ottawa, I had two radio shows on CKCU.  One is a Christian show called Over My Head, where we would play music from artists from a Christian world-view. This could be music of any genre – from contemporary classical, to jazz, to blues, to folk. The other show was Window of Opportunity, a folk show where we would especially encourage up and coming folk musicians. Some were local, others from further afield.  Two musicians played in our studio live – Shane and Lynne.  Shane is a bluesy folk artist, who was accompanied by his then-girlfriend Lynne.  Lynne was and is a great musician in her own right.  She has a warm clear voice, and light touch on the acoustic guitar.  I was given insight during my interview with them, and encouraged Lynne on the spot.  I asked her, “What about your own music, Lynne?  I think you have wonderful potential.”  Lynne had a pained expression on her face, and unfortunately I can’t remember what she said.  However, apparently she needed to hear my encouragement.  She in time released her first cd, “Things I miss.”  This was the first of many cds to come.  She wrote a lovely note in the thanks section of that cd liner.  She gave thanks to “Laurie-Ann for saying the right thing just when I most needed to hear it.”  While I made a point of encouraging all of the artists who I had on the show, it was even more special when what I said made a turnaround for Lynne.  And what a turnaround it was!  Not only is Lynne an amazing singer-songwriter, but she also pairs with Lynn Miles as part of the Two Lynn(e)s!  So never underestimate the power of encouragement.  And when you are the one to encourage, it blesses you back.

Now think of all the people who need encouragement out there.  Too often some people work or minister for years and never know whether know how well they are doing.  They get no positive feedback, and eventually if they make a mistake, they only receive criticism!   Please encourage the people around you.  Like Lynne, this may be the moment they need it the most.

Lord Jesus, I lift up my friends who are reading this and ask that you enlarged their hearts.  Also enlarge mine. Give us the promptings to be kind and encourage at just the right time.  Thank you for how I could encourage Lynne.  Please give my all who are reading, the special opportunity to bless and encourage.  Let it become something that will catch on as they pay it forward.  In Jesus’ name.

If you’d like to hear an audio version of this article, please visit the Ways to Grow in God podcasts on coppleswesterncape.ca

Click the link here: Ways to Grow in God podcasts   This particular podcast is #12  It comes up as after the podcast on Growing in God through Bible Study.  The audio versions are in a completely different order than the articles on this website.  The audio versions are sometimes updated stories, but other times are completely new.  However you receive these teachings, I pray they will bless you.

Love, Laurie-Ann Copple

Waystogrowingod.org
Coppleswesterncape.ca

 

Can God use those who are weak? Growing through leaning on God

 

 

 

 

 

During my last article, we discovered the near joy of letting go of our self-sufficiency. We often need to come to the end of ourselves to find God.  We realize that there is something more.  Heidi Baker often cries out “More!” in her pre-talk prayers.  Andrew Murray had to come to the end of himself so that he could lean more on God – in his preaching, devotions and impact on others.  He was used as one of the leaders of the 1860- 1862 Cape Awakening here in South Africa.  Sometimes those with incredible abilities have to put them aside so that they don’t coast through life on those abilities.  These are incredible gifts, yes, but God has so much more.

When it comes to the extraordinary, brilliance often comes through imperfect vessels.  This is the case in secular society outside the church, like Stephen Hawking’s science done in a body trapped by ALS.  But it shows up even more so in the lives of people like Joni Eriksen Tada, who was a very active person until she had a diving accident at age 18.  She became paralysed from the shoulders down.  However, she shines with brilliance in ministry and reaches out – she’s written 51 books, hosts a radio show and so much more.  She’s an inspiration.  Joni posted on Facebook about God being her support and stay recently.  While some people would say, “Hey, why hasn’t God healed you?”  I say, sometimes God chooses another way.  Yes, absolutely God heals.  I’ve received healing for some problems myself.  I’ve prayed for others and they’ve received healing.  But sometimes, for a season, God blesses in a different way.  Joni shared “God has used my many years in a wheelchair to remind me that yes, I am completely inadequate and anything but competent – goodness, I’m just a quadroplegic!  But my weaknesses keep pointing me to the source of all authority and ability, God, and God alone.  Praise the Lord, He makes us competent as ministers of the new covenant!”

Don’t ever think that because you have a disability or struggle with illness that you can’t have God give you a life filled with purpose.  I can think of countless times that God has used me on the mission field to surprise people.  The gospel, and especially the cross can be offensive to some people. And if it comes in a different package then what your culture expects, wow.  This happened to me the first time I went to Pakistan.  During that time, I could still walk without a cane, since the osteo-arthritis did not yet appear in my knees.  But I was still plus-size in a land where most people were rail thin.  If anyone was overweight, they would be lightly teased.  In my case, teasing came, and I just laughed it off, until it increased and I finally got it to stop. That’s a whole different story.  However, the matter was that the people of Kot Lakphat in Lahore got a taste of the gospel through a different package, an offensive one. And…it got them to think.  God is still doing the same for me in South Africa.

If God can use a donkey to rebuke and stop someone causing harm, as he did with Balaam in the Old Testament, he can surely use everyone.  Everyone has a story. Everyone has a purpose – whether they are able bodied or not.

So we’re going to hear some stories!  In Kenya, being disabled is considered a curse. Stereotyping and social exclusion are common problems among the disabled in Kenya, according to Anjeline Okola of the Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network. I’ve ministered in Kenya four times, and last stopped there while Tony and I were on our way to Sierra Leone. Thankfully for me I was not disabled at the time.  However,  I’ve learned of an inspiring Kenyan female pastor who co-pastors in the Bahati neighbourhood of Nairobi.  The Bahati neighbourhood isn’t far from the Eastleigh area where I used to minister to Somali refugees.  This pastor’s name is Dawn Gikandi, and she was ordained by the Presbyterian Church of East Africa.  She was born disabled due to her mother being hit by a car when crossing the road.  When her mother was advised to abort her child.  She was told that her child would never walk and may suffer severe deformities.  But instead, the child was loved on. She was given the name Dawn, which signified the beginning of their joy.

Dawn wears a back brace tightened around her back to give it strength and uses a walking stick for stability. She says these do not stop her from enjoying her work.  She seeks to make God real to people, and says that God is not limited to choosing able-bodied people for service. She said that “God can use anything or anybody for his work.”

To learn more about Dawn: click here

Ron Piggott:  My long-time friend Ron is another example.  Ron practically lives in a power wheelchair. I met him when I was in seminary and he was in Bible College.  He became like my little brother.  He had several surgeries on his hips when he was a little boy due to Leg Perthes disease.  He was fine and quite active in online ministry and work with youth until his hip joints deteriorated. He had four surgeries, and stayed with Tony and me during some of that time.  After his hips began to finally work, his knee joints also became very bad.  He has managed life in a power wheelchair for years now.   Many people have prayed over him for healing, but instead, Ron was given a deep grace to endure.  He has wisdom beyond his years, with an attitude of grace and perseverance. He is thankful for Holy Spirit helping him manage his life, as well as being able to reach out to others.  He continues to minister online through several websites devoted to evangelism and Bible verses.   Local youth randomly drop in on him and he pours love and encouragement into their lives.  Recently one of them shared to Ron that a few years ago, he came to visit with secret plans of suicide.  Ron spoke life into the boy without him even realizing what was in his heart.  Another boy shared that Ron taught and showed him how to be a man.  Normally a father figure does this for his son, but Ron did this instead. The mission field was coming to his house.

Ron even turns the chance encounters of curious people asking about his wheelchair to opportunities to pour God’s love into people.  And since Ron is no stranger to the internet, he set up a You-Tube channel to minister to struggling people on life skills and on dealing with disability in a positive way.  My little brother is just as much a missionary as I am, and people are receiving life through Jesus.

Avis Goodhart: Avis Goodhart got a taste of missions when she went on her first mission at age 50.  That’s not as unusual as you may think – Tony’s first was at age 64.  She had dyslexia, permanent nerve damage from Bells palsy, and a life of past abuse.  She was let go as a special eds teacher, and God used her skills on the mission of Peru.  And although he calls herself an unlikely missionary, she founded a children’s centre and school, which has lasted for more than 20 years.  She often says “Don’t waste your pain.”

I had the opportunity to meet Henri Nouwen, who was a wonderful Dutch devotional speaker and writer.  Later in life he worked with L’Arche, a French ministry to the developmentally disabled.  And he often fought depression through his life, and chose to keep ministering by allowing himself to be a wounded healer.  I saw him speak at my University – with the encouragement to put our brokenness under the blessing of Jesus.  Jesus transforms our pain and brokenness, just like he did his own.   It was a perfect example of 2 Corinthians 5:4 – He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.

Andrew White:  I was also blessed in hearing Canon Andrew White in person.  He’s a charismatic Anglican priest, who started out in England and eventually earned the nickname of “Vicar” of Baghdad.  He was the only western Anglican priest in what was originally an expat church.  During Andrew’s ministry in Baghdad, the congregation was all Iraqi.

He has a huge heart of reconciliation in the Middle East, and compassion for the persecuted Iraqi Christians. Had it not become incredibly dangerous, he would still be ministering there.  He was like a dear uncle to many children and the poor. He is not only a priest, but is also a medical professional.  He had a medical outreach in his church that provided free medical care, dental care and prescriptions to Muslims and Christians alike.  Yet he is disabled himself through MS.  His own clinic found a way to treat him with his own stem cells, which gave him further perseverance in his ministry.  He is often in Jordan with his Iraqi refugees, making sure the Iraqi church remnant survives, and there is a school for the children.   And while he walks with a cane and has to limit his ministry time, the time he spends with those he is with is very, very precious. You would feel like you were a beloved member of his congregation.

Michele Perry:  I was amazed to discover that there is an Iris example of a disabled leader.  Michele Perry has an amazing story. She accomplished much after coming to faith at age seven, including motivational speaking, leadership training, consulting and writing before she was 16.  She also “stopped for the one” in the American inner-city streets, the streets of Calcutta, and later in Bangladesh.  She was led to Iris after seeing Papa Rolland speak in Denver and went off to Harvest School, like Tony and I did years later. She even arrived at the school with shingles, which was healed by God in Mozambique.  She was the one who pioneered the Iris base in South Sudan, which is now led by Carolyn Figioli.

Michele endured the war-torn South Sudan bush with only having one leg. I can’t imagine how hard that must have been, but her book “Love has a Face” describes all the walking and ministry she did, so she must have been fit.  Add to her situation that she stood out. The fact that she was so white, among very black Sudanese, was already a contrast.  She said, “If I had been Sudanese, no one would have cast a second glance. But I am very white and everyone was fascinated. In addition, I have one leg and walk with crutches, making my white appearance all the more fascinating.”   They probably gave her the same curious looks that I received in Pemba when I was walking around with a cane, only having one leg is even more obvious. She was already forced to depend on God physically, and her time in Sudan taught her even more about extreme dependence on God in other ways.  We cannot love people to life on our own – it’s entirely with his life.  It’s entirely through Him transforming our hearts to reflect His.  Having a less than perfect body even shows the point even more. It’s only by His grace.

Michele came to faith in the hospital.  She said she was no stranger to hospitals. She was born missing her left hip, leg and kidney.  She also had other birth defects that needed 23 surgeries before she was 13.  So she walks with crutches.

Michele came to faith when Jesus gave her a physical encounter in her hospital room. He was pure love. She said, “there he was in my room. He looked with eyes that saw me and loved every part. The good parts, the not-so-good parts, the broken parts – He loved them all.”  Michele was not invisible, she was seen.  She later learned that others were invisible too, and part of her ministry was to see them, to notice them, and to love them.  In Bangledesh, she shared with beggars on the corners who wondered why she was not begging as well.  They told her, “you only have one leg, you should be in your country begging, and you definitely should not be happy.”  So she introduced them to the One who took care of her needs and gave her joy.  She didn’t let her disability stop her.  In fact, Jesus made her thrive, because she completely depended on him.   She loved on her Sudanese community as well, and had many children under her care.  Some of them were fearless and loved three year olds, who knew how to pray with confidence.  Her personal favourite prayer was offered up by such a child.  It was, “Jesus, please bring Mama her leg.  I know it is in heaven.  Bring it here now, Leg grow.”  Michele said, “If I ever had a doubt of my leg being restored, my children’s faith has sure helped to banish it.”  While she still has one leg, Michele continues to be used of the Lord to touch many lives.

Speaking of Christian leaders missing a body part, here is another example.  Bethany Hamilton is a surfer, who often speaks to youth to encourage them.  She even went on a mission trip to Thailand a year or two after the horrible tsunami in 2004. Bethany unfortunately lost one arm to a shark attack.  She struggled with what to do with her life after this event, and eventually re-learned how to surf professionally.  You can see her story in the movie Soul Surfer.

Andrew Murray:  In my last talk, I shared about how Andrew Murray’s strengths or attitudes of self-effort could get in the way.  Eventually he learned that he simply could not minister in his strength, especially when it came to writing.  He had to dictate his writings to his daughter Annie (or another relative).  He was forced to do this because he couldn’t hold a pen for long.  When he was 21, he never completely recovered from malaria and overwork in his early ministry tours in what was the Transvaal).

Andrew shared when he was praying about whether to leave his first pastorate of Bloemfontein for one further north, where there were no pastors. His mother encouraged him that God may speak of his limitation through his health.  He was encouraged to use this as an opportunity to lean on God in ministry, rather than take up another pastorate based on his human strengths and gifts alone. She was concerned that he would burn out and eventually leave the ministry. Unfortunately many pastors do this!  Andrew shared that he had “painful tingles in his arms, hands and back whenever he doesn’t get enough rest.” (Olea Nel – 2nd Andrew Murray novel)

Each of these Christian leader’s stories show that they brought their disabilities to God.  Dawn Gikandi resisted her call due to her disabilities, but then trusted God to make her able to minister his love.  This is in a country where the disabled are  shunned.   My little brother Ron has peace with how God uses him to touch lives, even when he is in daily pain.  His resilience surely is a gift from God. Avis Goodhart was given a chance to turn her life into something beautiful – so the unlikely missionary to Peru poured the love of Jesus into kids.

Henri Nouwen may not have been a missionary, but he took his own brokenness and gave it to God.  He was used to bless many, including the disabled in the L’Arche community.  Andrew White has a difficult life physically, but is ONE of the most joy filled people I’ve ever known.  He shines with the same deep light of the persecuted church, and is given the ability to minister to persecuted Iraqi Christians in the midst of his own pain.

Michele Perry founded Iris South Sudan, although she had to give it up after 13 bouts of serious malaria and other problems. But she endured the bush for seven years, plus ministry in many other slums – with one leg. And still she keeps going, because of her dependence on God.

And lastly Andrew Murray learned to depend on God once again – first he had to give God his strengths.  Now he had to give God his weakness – and he could write through help of dictation.  After all, having a co-writer wasn’t new. The Apostle Paul did this as well.

So, what are your strengths?  Give them to Jesus.  Don’t let them get in the way, so you burn out for God. Don’t live by your strengths.  Give them to God.

What are your weaknesses?  Give them to God as well.  He will make them strengths in a way that seems like a paradox.  Yet it isn’t.  Jesus promises us that we can do all things through him who strengthens us.  But this is really a promise when we rest in him and don’t strive.  Let him work through you.

Also, give him your expectations. Each of these people discovered that ministry and life would look different for them. God has a much better way. Surrender your expectations to God.  Allow him to open your eyes, and widen your horizons.  That way, it’s easier to receive God’s surprises!

Blessings to you all,
Laurie-Ann Copple

Waystogrowingod.org
Coppleswesterncape.ca

Here is a link to an eye opening article on the disabled being ignored within government websites (and other places).