Category Archives: Ways to Grow articles

Growing in God: How give and receive honour (Honour pt 2)

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

During our last article, we learned it’s important to develop a culture of honour.  This means intentionally choosing to honour God, leaders, widows, the vulnerable and everyone we meet.  In earlier teachings we learned about encouragement and blessing. Honour is a BIG part of that.  Honour is choosing to see the potential, the intrinsic value or the hidden gold inside a person. You draw it out of them.  Relationships grow stronger and full of healing when honour is involved.  When we honour and listen to people, it grows your relationship. When we do this with God, it’s very special.   Imagine what would happen if we honour and really listen to our spouse!  No more nagging.  No more need to shut out nagging with half-closed ears. Honour validates.  Dishonour… well, it basically feels like a curse.  That is especially the case with the commandment of honouring your parents.  If you don’t, your life won’t be blessed, or even long-lived.

Tony and I work with children and teens in the townships, as well as some farm children in an area between Worcester and Robertson. Many of these kids don’t understand about honour, and authority.  Some of their parents do, since we’ve often been addressed as tannie and oom.  Our team has been loving on these kids for a year now.  It’s a slow process, since we only see them once a week.  Respect is important and we are earning their respect with being constant.

Yet we also battle a different culture.  How does the Cape Coloured community express honour?  Or the Xhosa?  Or even the Afrikaaners?  We are learning.  Sometimes we have to set aside our Canadian and British sense of honour.  Thankfully there are commonalities.     The language of divine honour is still to hold great value in the people you are with.  Honour actually sustains the human spirit.

We have young teen girls who we have been training to lead Bible studies in Avian Park private homes.  These girls need to honour their hosts, since these venues are opened up for their ministry.  The girls also need to honour the children who are with them.  They would be like big sisters to the children who come to hear stories that will impact their lives.   They need to be consistent in loving them and being there for the younger children.

Years ago, I remember an American prophet who ministered in a Toronto church where I was a parishioner.  His name was Marc Dupont.  He said that just as the medium is the message (a phrase championed by Canadian Marshall McLuhan), so the prophet is the prophecy.  What Marc meant was that whatever you are proclaiming must be shown in your own life.  If you are passionate about spreading the Father God heart of love, then that love must show in your life to others.  If you are to speak about honour, you must model and show honour in your own life. So these girls must show the love of God as big sisters to these kids.  They must also honour the hosts of the house venues where they are ministering.  This is a learning process, and we find that discipling these girls a joy in many ways, yet they need to learn how to honour us as well.    It may take time.  So, we know about establishing a culture of honour. When we honour, it blesses those we honour, but it also blesses us!  This is especially the case of honouring parents, but it also works in honouring everyone.

On the world political scene, the deliberate use of lies and ‘fake news’ to gain political advantage is the very opposite of honouring those who may be standing in the way of a particular objective.  It breaks the rules of classic diplomacy, and it will always in the end worsen the situation.  The attitudes of some leaders have been influenced by the tactics of  thousands of social media users and people attempting to hoodwink as many as possible with urban legends and conspiracy theories.  The whole concept of honour and the value of truth are unknown by such people.

How do we honour?  We start with God.  So how do we honour God?   We honour God with our sincere worship. John records the angels singing in Revelation 4:11, “You are worthy, O Lord our God, to receive glory and honour and power.  For you created all things, and they exist because you created what you pleased.”   We want to worship God in more ways than songs.   It needs to be a lifestyle where we put him first, and honour him above everything else.  We need to pour out what we do every day to God.  I do that in my art, writing and working with children.  I’m still learning to do that in other ways.  God is interested in all we do – not just the things we do in public.  He’s worth it because he is worthy.

We honour God with our tithes and offerings. Proverbs 3:9 asks us to “Honour the Lordwith your wealth and with the best part of everything you produce.”  In the law it was about giving him a tenth, and God would multiply the remaining nine tenths. A tithe is a tenth, and the offerings may be above that, for different reasons.  But whether it’s the first ten percent or an offering, it should be the best we have, not what we’re trying to get rid of.  Why give him garbage when he gave us his best?  The prophet Malachi catches some of this dialogue in Malachi 1: 6-8.  Listen to it in the Message version:

“Isn’t it true that a son honors his father and a worker his master? So if I’m your Father, where’s the honor? If I’m your Master, where’s the respect?” God-of-the-Angel-Armies is calling you on the carpet: “You priests despise me!  “You say, ‘Not so! How do we despise you?’  “By your shoddy, sloppy, defiling worship.  “You ask, ‘What do you mean, “defiling”? What’s defiling about it?’  7-8 “When you say, ‘The altar of God is not important anymore; worship of God is no longer a priority,’ that’s defiling. And when you offer worthless animals for sacrifices in worship, animals that you’re trying to get rid of—blind and sick and crippled animals—isn’t that defiling? Try a trick like that with your banker or your senator—how far do you think it will get you?” God-of-the-Angel-Armies asks you.

Sometimes we defile others when we give hand-me-downs that aren’t in good condition.  Many people in Canada give their garbage clothes away when they are rags.  There’s a reason why certain charities ask for gently used items.  I remember when I came to Kenya for the first time.  I noticed a stall of used clothes in Nairobi and I was interested.  My co-worker Jeff told me, “those clothes came from North America.”  It’s true – so many of our cast-off items do end up in Africa.  Think of how much longer these clothes would last if they were in better condition.  Some are polluted offerings.  And think, how many times we just give our leftover change to God? It’s not like He’s a parking attendant on the street.

We honour God by keeping the truth and speaking it in love. The enemy has always attacked truth, but now, it is more obvious. Currently, truth is twisted about sexual orientation with much confusion over gender identity.  That’s only one area that’s being re-written in many cultures.  There’s also the fight to proclaim life on both ends of the spectrum: conception and natural death.  We have abortion on demand as if it’s birth control.  We have euthanasia for the expendable of any age.  What happened to loving LIFE?  Instead we have a culture of death.  This is a deception to keep us from the word of God.  It’s not honouring.

The Prophet Isaiah warned us in Isaiah 5:20: “What sorrow for those who say that evil is good and good is evil; that dark is light and light is dark, that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter.”  Talk about confusing!   Malachi 2: 1-8 also talks about God’s priests teaching lies to seekers, and the dishonour that comes when that happens.  Patricia King says that when you step into honour, you step into blessing. When you step into dishonour, you step into a curse.  These scriptures are a call for the priesthood to speak righteousness that will align people with blessings and honour.  We need to keep God’s word as part of honouring him, especially in a way that reflects God’s heart.

We honour God through obedience. This is obedience to God, but it can also affect how we honour our leaders. The writer of the book of Hebrews advises in Hebrews 13:17 to “Obey your spiritual leaders, and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they are accountable to God. Give them reason to do this with joy and not with sorrow. That would certainly not be for your benefit.”  Say you’re in a church and the pastor goes into things that are definitely off.  Patricia King has advice on how to handle that.  She says, “If you leave a church due to not feeling comfortable with your decisions, just leave.  Don’t make a fuss. That’s not disobedience. Not making a fuss is actually honouring them. If you do make a fuss, you are cursing your life. It  brings contention, strife and division to that church.

Let’s say that you are in a church and the pastor starts preaching that leaving newborn babies in garbage dumps is fine.  And you’re sitting there, thinking, ‘oh my gosh, that is so not fine.”  In fact, the early church rescued unwanted babies all the time in a stand for life.  So you go and talk with the pastor with respect. You say “pastor, the word says this…  Can you explain to me where you’re getting this from?”  He explains, and you say, “I am so sorry, I love you. But I cannot agree with that. I am not in agreement with it and I cannot support it.  I’m going to be leaving this church. I’m going to be praying for you. I’m not going to be speaking evil against you, but I need to speak the truth in love.”  So you leave, but you do it in honour, not dishonour. God’s going to look after that.  We need to honour God’s truth but in a way that isn’t dishonouring either.

Here’s another example. Say your employer wants you to do something that’s wrong. Nicky Gumbel tells a story on Alpha about Gimbo, a man who refused to lie on the phone for his employer, Harrods. He was asked to tell the caller that his boss was out and Gimbo refused.  When the boss got off the phone, he was angry; but Gimbo replied, “If I can lie for you, I can lie TO you.  And I won’t ever do that.”  From then on, Gimbo became the most trusted employee in that company.  Gimbo honoured his boss.

And now to honour others.  How do we honour them?  Here’s some things that will help you.  Look for the good in each other.  Celebrate each other.  I remember helping people in a divorce recovery workshop back in the 90’s.  Holy Spirit impressed on my heart that these hurting people needed not only to forgive, but they needed to honour their former spouses.  As well as any potential new spouses!  When Tony and I married, we included mutual encouragement in our vows.  We could have included honour as well.  But the core is to look for the good in each other and celebrate that.  Don’t speak bad about them to other people, although sometimes you may have to acknowledge issues to work through in private.

And then there are the people that seem to rub you the wrong way.  It may just be a cultural difference or a personality quirk.  So don’t look at that one thing that drives you crazy.  Look for things that you can honour.  Look for things you can celebrate. You can always find SOMETHING to celebrate in that person.  Look at their intrinsic value – what they have inside.

One way to honour is to celebrate birthdays.  In our Worcester church, they post the names of all the people who have a birthday that week. A leader then shares a word of encouragement to the birthday people.  I celebrated a birthday during Harvest School in northern Mozambique, and I was showered all day with love, songs, cake and more. I think it was my favourite birthday.   Those were acts of honour.  Then there’s mother’s day and father’s day. You come to church and they honour parents on their day.  I’ve received flowers and chocolate and Tony’s received fishing birdies, chocolate and biltong. Those days are an opportunity to honour each other.  It’s one thing I like about Facebook – it reminds you of your friend’s birthdays!  It’s easy to honour on a birthday. Could we choose to honour on the other days of the year?

Last week we talked about honouring our parents. You can also honour your children. If you are a parent, aunt, uncle or children’s worker, you can speak life into these kids. Recognize the unique way that God has created them to be. Allow them to be who they are.  Don’t compare them with their siblings.  Listen to their ideas and tell them that you’re proud of them. Tony and I honour our girls by encouraging them to say what they love about each other.  This is becoming a regular exercise.  They are beginning to respond, and last week, Bella decided that she would say what she loved about us.  The previous week, the girls told me that they loved the way I loved them.  Bella told me that the first time I welcomed her to our home, she felt loved and all warm inside.  She’s come to think of me as a second mother and she told me she loved me.  Then she turned to Tony. She told him that she loved him also, and said that he was kind, full of respect for people and that he is there for them.   Wow, we really felt honoured by Bella, who has such a gift of encouragement and teaching.

We can honour each other by preferring them over ourselves.  One way to do this is to be generous.  There are so many ways to do that.  Sometimes gifts are helpful, other moments need acts of service.

We can honour each other by speaking well of them in public as well as private.  This includes when the person is not even there – it’s not done for effect to impress that person.  But even then, some people can honour publicly but dishonour them in private. Patricia King says that “sometimes we’ll say something nice about a person because it’s right to do. But then we’ll go talk to someone else in negativity about them, and that’s dishonouring.  That cancels out your honour. You want to have honour on every side.”

We can honour someone by giving them a special personal gift, like the Queen of Sheba did to Solomon. Don’t you feel honoured when someone gives you a gift? It’s like wow, they were thinking of me!   This is what I tried to do when I drew some of our kids club children in a drawing with Jesus.  One of the girls was amazed and said with wonder, “Wow, you thought of me??  Jesus was also thinking of me?”  That reaction made it all worthwhile.  She received the love and felt honoured.

We can honour by caring for others – especially widows and the vulnerable.  Sometimes they need a little offering to them to give them hope and a sense of value.  It’s beautiful.

Honour is also something that can be culturally sensitive.  It requires awareness and a gentleness to go carefully when you approach someone.  Honour is something that is easier if we deal with the junk in our hearts.  The junk includes unforgiveness, pride and conflict.  If these things are not dealt with in our lives, they can lead to the very opposite of honour.  They will further fragment broken relationships, cause wounded hearts, inequality, pain and fear.

Forgiveness is something that arose again and again in Rob Packer’s book The Life-Giving Power of Honour, as well as Danny Silk’s book Developing a Culture of Honour.  Forgiveness is powerful. I’ve watched healing happen through the lives of those forgiving and the forgiven.   Anglican pastor Dale Lang publicly forgave the school shooter who killed his son back in 1999.  Dale ministers to other families who have endured similar suffering and he brings forgiveness and love into the equation.  He’s able to honour them, since he knows the pain, and he also knows that bitterness and unforgiveness is a trap.

It’s too easy to not forgive if you feel you have been dishonoured.  This can happen with friends and family who may have become too familiar with you. They may not even recognize they are dishonouring you. Proverbs 18:19 says that “it is harder to make amends with an offended friend than to capture a fortified city.”  I know this truth personally.

Years back, I made a cultural error with a female Japanese pastor I was friends with at the time. When you are in a Japanese home, you must take your shoes off as a sign of respect and honour.  I always did this, except for one time, where I just wasn’t thinking.  I brought over another friend to introduce to this lady, and I was focused on my other friend, rather than my hostess.  I forgot to take off my shoes.  She became extremely upset with me, shooed me out, and never spoke to me again.  While I apologized deeply and sincerely for my momentary lapse, this was not enough.  I grieved the loss of the friendship, and I never forgot this lesson on honour.  When Tony and I took a tour of our South African rental home, the then-current tenants were from South Korea.  They also showed honour by taking off their shoes, but they offered honour to us by offering little sockettes to cover our feet.  So we complied and smiled at them.

So when you honour, remember that honour grows nobility in people.   Honour is humility in action. It’s the very opposite of pride that isolates you into a prison of self.  Kris Valloton says that “for a Christian, honour is a condition of the heart, not just the product of a good environment.”

Today we’ve journeyed on how to honour others.  There’s so much to learn, but along the path, I’ve hinted at times on how we receive honour.  Since honour is relational, it usually is returned back.  On our next broadcast we’ll discover more about how to receive or obtain honour.   Because we are God’s creations, we have special value inside. And when we come to faith, we have Christ in us, the hope of glory.  Look for the gold in each other and choose to honour.

Lord, I ask you to help us learn to honour others.  Help us to honour you and to learn the importance of honour. Open our eyes to see the beauty in others, whether they are family, friends, or complete strangers.  May we be instruments in healing where dishonour has wounded souls, as you are healing us.

In Jesus’ name. Amen.

If you would like to hear an audio version of this article, please follow this link to CopplesWesternCape.ca and scroll down to #37

Blessings and love, Laurie-Ann

PS for any of you who pray – I was diagnosed with stage 3B inflammatory breast cancer here in South Africa.  We will need to go back to Canada after the chemotherapy treatments are done, to continue treatment in Ottawa.  Please keep us in prayer for healing and finances.  We are crowdfunding, since insurance won’t cover this, and we are already missionaries living by faith.

Our medical campaign page is here for financial contribution info, medical story info and prayer points: Copple Medical page.

 

Growing in God through Honour: Part 1 Developing a culture of honour

Image is from Bethel Church, Ottawa, Ontario.

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

During our last article, we journeyed through growing in God in the midst of windstorms.  There is evil in the world, and sometimes that really feels like a damaging firestorm that brings pain, loss, and more.  Jesus warned us that the devil comes to steal, kill and destroy.  But he gives abundant life.  He is our windbreaker to combat evil through the armour of God.  The Holy Spirit is also like a true Cape Doctor, in bringing healing, hope, comfort, truth and refining. Allow yourself to set your face on God, and he’ll bring that sweet wind to lift you up and give you strength for your journey. If the Holy Spirit is the holy wind, we are the sail.

Grace is something that is very prevalent in our faith as we choose to trust God and follow where he leads us.  God is faithful and shows this in many ways. We can even see this faithfulness reflected in others.  Sometimes God’s characteristics like love and faithfulness can be understood as a language that people can understand without words. A wonderful way to see God’s language reflected in you is through developing a culture of honour.  The military have a sense of honour that manifests as a code of conduct. It shows as valour, chivalry, honesty and compassion.  These are good traits.  Honour sometimes is understood how one may look in the eyes of other people – in a positive way, people can see the goodness and compassion inside a person and call them “honourable.”  In a negative way, this may be a mask hiding what really is inside, or perhaps honour could be construed as “face.”  Face is very important in Chinese cultures, as honour of purity is important in Middle Eastern culture.  But true honour is even deeper than that.

Honour is relational.  In the West, it’s not popular to speak well of people until after they die.  You could work for years in a company or NGO and find that many people don’t bother saying nice things about you.  It’s simply assumed that you know that you are well liked.  Yet if you make a mistake, complaints are issued quickly.  We certainly find this attitude online on Facebook and Twitter.  However, when someone dies, people like to share wonderful stories about how you touched their lives in a positive way.  Eulogies and telling stories of people who have blessed you is a good thing!  However, you need not wait until a person dies to say good things about them.  These people really need to hear this when it really matters to them!  The first time I learned about honour as an expression of blessing, was through two Canadians in ministry: Patricia King, and Faytene Grassechi.

Faytene has a heart for change through social justice, prayer and encouragement.  One of the ministries that she developed visits and prays for different people in the Canadian government.  They include young leaders who honour and serving these Canadian politicians. They basically represent the voice of Christian youth to Canadian parliament.  They don’t put down the leaders. But rather, they encourage them for what they are doing well.  They honour them and listen to them.  These leaders are blessed by the encouragement. They feel that they have been honoured, not criticized.  Faytene was encouraged to have honour as an important component to her ministry, as taught by her mentor Patricia King, who is also Canadian.  I was a supporter of Patricia for over ten years, while I was able.  Patricia is a generous, kind and honour-bearing person. She never speaks badly of any who speak badly of her. She chooses to bless her opponents and to honour them.  This goes beyond forgiveness. It’s a lifestyle of choosing to bless and note all the good things her opponent is doing.

Patricia notes that to honour is to hold someone is respect or esteem.  She says that it’s “interesting that the word Hebrew word “kabod,”or glory, means ‘weight.’  This word is often used in scripture to give honour.  It is an interchangeable word for honour, although it also shows splendour, glory and dignity.  It’s really interesting that honour is so tied in with the glory of God and the weight of his presence.  God loves honour and he hates dishonour.”  Patricia has seen over the years, that when there is an individual of honour, (who exercises honour intentionally), doors fly open for them. Promotion comes from the Lord to them, and blessing comes on their lives.  Patricia has also seen the exact opposite when a person is given to dishonour.   When there is dishonour in their lives, they dishonour leaders, and they dishonour their parents, the exact opposite happens. It’s like a curse comes over their lives.  The doors are closed.  She has even seen people with tremendous anointing and ministry callings; but because they are people of such dishonour, their spiritual gifts NEVER break open. They never get established, yet they’ve got so many gifts to release out to people.  One of the biggest secrets to advancement is to honour others.  It’s tied in with humility.  Tony Morgan notes that “if you want to receive honour, you have to give honour.  If you want to experience honour, you have to embrace humility.”

So honour promotes and dishonour demotes. Honour blesses and dishonour curses. Honour builds strong relationships, dishonour destroys relationships.  Honour is pleasant, dishonour is unpleasant.

Rob Packer teaches about honour in his excellent book, The Life Giving Power of Honour.  He says that “Honour is the recognition of a person’s value and the expression appropriate to that value.”  When you are honoured and recognized for who you are, you are valued.  You are also released to BE who you are.  When you honour others, you release them to be who they are to you.  They feel safe to be who they are. Dishonour is just the opposite.  It shuts down the relationship between you and the other person.  You can’t receive what they have to give you, since they aren’t allowed to do so.  It was the same when Jesus wasn’t given honour in his hometown.  He wasn’t allowed to love on his town and people, except in a very limited way.  No wonder he couldn’t do any more than a few healings in Nazareth!

Tony and I are involved with the Iris Global movement as Iris Ministries Canada missionaries. This movement’s slogan says, “love looks like something.” And so it does.  Love is active. Love and honour easily work together; in fact, if you love someone, there must be honour involved.  Our Mama Heidi was shown the importance of honour when she had a problem.  She prayed over bush outreach struggles that were happening in northern Mozambique.  There was resistance. People threw stones, and Heidi was tired of it.  She knew something was missing, so she asked God what it wasThen the Holy Spirit revealed to her that she needed to meet the village leaders, and to honour them. She was instructed to do something different. Before this, she ignored the leaders, and set up competing movies and evangelism that were louder than their own meetings.  Now, she was directed to meet these leaders. She needed to get to know them and to honour them.

She brought the international Harvest School students who were with her, and asked them to bow before the leaders, and introduce themselves to each leader.  The leaders were now in a relationship with Heidi. They felt ready to welcome and invite the students to their villages. Gifts were given to the leaders. Concerns were genuinely addressed.  Since that time, all Harvest School students go into the bush with Heidi or other senior leaders. This is a special time of publicly honouring the village leaders.  The blessing goes both ways. It really does.

Tony and I experienced this honour ceremony in Linde, Mozambique.  We shook hands with the leaders. They were genuinely happy to see us. We experienced a welcome that was truly heart-felt.  Honour truly IS the language of the God’s kingdom. It opens doors.  It blesses hearts.   The Bible has much to say about honour.  Let’s start the honour countdown with eight examples of honour!

Number one: It all starts with honouring God.  Rev. 5:12   gives us a picture of honour in heaven, when all there sing in a mighty chorus:  “Worthy is the Lamb who was slaughtered— to receive power and riches, and wisdom and strength, and honor and glory and blessing.”  Patricia King reminds us that “God is to be honoured, and not just on Sunday mornings! And not just in our songs, but in everything that we do.” This means that we would give him honour in and through our lives.

Number twoHonour your parents.  Exodus 20 says to honour your father and mother.  It’s the first commandment with a promise.  When you honour your folks, “you will live a long and full life in the land.”  Another version says that your days may be prolonged. Jesus even quoted this commandment in Matt 15: 4.

God is very clear about honouring father and mother.  Some of us may have had fathers and mothers that perhaps in your mind don’t deserve to be honoured.  But this commandment is clear despite how imperfect our parents are. Patricia King says that “when you position yourself in honour, it positions you for blessing.  You will live long in the land that the Lord gives you, which is his kingdom. It’s his promises, the land of his goodness, the land of his abundant life.  So when you honour your parents, it positions you in the blessing of the Lord.”

In the case of where parents have abused you,  this honour is not about their wrong deeds and harm they have done. You need to forgive them for that.  But you can’t empower evil. In this case, as a step, at least don’t dishonour them.  It’s not about what they deserve, but rather, to honour that they are your parents.  My mother used to tell me, “Laurie-Ann, if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”  So sometimes it’s better not to say anything.  Sometimes honouring a parent is simply to not dishonour them.

Here’s a Biblical example of not honouring a parent.  We know that in the case of Noah, he had one son who uncovered his nakedness.  Ham and his son Canaan were cursed.  Why?  Ham uncovered his father’s nakedness. He exposed him; when the other sons covered him.   He dishonoured his father’s dignity, rather than honoured him. God wants us to walk in honour, so this goes for your spiritual parents too.  Most of us have had spiritual parents who have nurtured us, but no one is perfect.  There’s been areas where they have been a blessing to you and not been a blessing to you, but we need to honour them as well.

Tony and I saw a beautiful example of honour when we visited Bethel Church in Redding, California. This is the same famous church known for contemporary worship music and great teaching. They have a 14-7 prayer house, healing rooms, outreach, and so much more.  We arrived at the early service on Father’s Day 2017.  Eric Johnson chose to not only honour the fathers, but also the single moms in the house.  These women were trying to fill the place of both mother AND father to their children.  He encouraged the congregation to bless them financially and with a hug.  And so they did, including my own Tony.   This same honour attitude was also extended to those who came to faith that day.  In many churches I’ve been involved with, they have everyone close their eyes and people can slip hands up anonymously.  I understand why they do that, but at the same time, those people can also be frightened from any contact, so it’s good to welcome them in honour.  Eric told them that they acknowledge them in the open, so they can be encouraged, rather than to hide.   They are seen as that important.   Parents also need to honour their children, so that you allow them to be who they truly are. The Apostle Paul warns fathers in Eph. 6:4, don’t exasperate your children by coming down hard on them. Take them by the hand and lead them in the way of the Master. (Message)

Number threeHonour our elders.  Lev. 19:32  says to   “Stand up in the presence of the elderly, and show respect for the aged. Fear your God. I am the Lord.”  Tony and I have noticed there is more of a culture of honour in South Africa towards the tannies and ooms then we have in North America. We celebrate that.    We found the same in Sierra Leone, where their strong culture of honour is helping heal divisions from their civil war. Rob Packer says there is a prevalent mindset in western culture that expects people who are over 60 to retire from work, get their pension, play bowls, move to an old folks home and wait to die.  They say they have done their bit, they have had their day, and now they should move over and let the younger ones do their thing.  That is such a strategy from the enemy!  Older folk have the greatest time availability, greatest life experience, and financial resources.  Many great businesses, inventions, and art is produced by people aged 60 to 90.   Patricia King also encourages seniors to get out there on the front lines of ministry.  She says the second half of life of these people can be greater than their first half was.

Yet in the west, there is the rise of elder abuse.   We see elderly people taken advantage of financially. They are targeted in scams with no conscience against it whatsoever. Some of these seniors are left absolutely bankrupt with no way to care for themselves.  Even some family members, have been abused rather than honoured. They’re just put in a home, and forgotten and never visited.   I’ve been fortunate in my family.  My maternal grandparents were cared by my aunt, uncle and cousins.  I even took three months off from volunteer work to care for my own parents in 2015.  It was an honour to do so.  Right now, we live in a retirement community and are always happy to see family visit our neighbours.  We even plan to visit the most frail of our community. This gives us great joy. I look forward to seeing my folks again on our home visit next year.  We always pray for their health and life.   Our friend and co-worker Maggie loves and ministers in the old-age home in nearby Robertson, as well as many seniors in that community. She is a real representation of honouring the elderly, in a special, loving way.  That love and honour that she shows them pleases God. It touches them and Maggie is blessed in the giving.

Number fourHonour widows. The Apostle Paul mentions honouring real widows in 1 Tim 5:3.   Some of these widows and widowers are just barely getting by. They are lonely and need to be honoured; they need to be loved on. They need to be esteemed, blessed, invited out, and given affirmations.  Sometimes they need finances, so every once and a while, slip them some rand notes when you shake their hand.  Some people call this a Pentecostal handshake, although I can say that Anglicans and Baptists have done this to me when wishing me well on short-term mission trips.  Psalm 68 mentions about God placing the lonely into families.  I’ve always understood this scripture as the long-term singles, since I was one until Tony scooped me up.  However, it also applies to the widowed.  Perhaps there is a lonely widow or widower in your community that you can adopt as your own tannie or oom.  I can think of a few here in Worcester.

Number fiveHonour church leaders.  We need to give special honour to church leaders for their care of preaching and teaching.  Paul encourages us to give double honour in 1 Tim 5:17, as well as the reminder in 1 Thess. 5:13 that we must esteem them, because they are working hard for you.  I know that my Ottawa pastors of John, Shawn, David and Trisha often would endure complaints as well as praise. David and Trisha even stepped down from one of my churches in a painful situation.  They are still in my prayers.  Sometimes a few of my past pastors have made mistakes and hurt my feelings.  But they were not intentional.  Our leaders are human, just like we are.

Sometimes famous Christian leaders are slammed, judged, and criticized openly and behind their backs. There are many Facebook posts of others that are in agreement, who also dishonour them.    Patricia King asked her own parishioners to not do post any posts on their Facebook pages that are negative, critical and cruel.   She asks them to stop negative talk, and to speak positively or not at all.  I personally take that stance.  I also remember Heidi Baker making a joke that she doesn’t  type her name into Google.  Some people have pegged her and other charismatic leaders as outright demonic.  Now THAT is dishonouring. And she’s not the only target.  Unfortunately people who do that create a culture of dishonour.  Even Jesus was pegged as demonic by some of the Pharisees.

Our Afrikaaner pastors,  Johan and Peter-Louis, have treated us with honour. It is easy to love and honour them back.  But even then, they and their families need our prayers. So does your own pastor, and all the leadership that works with them.  Please do pray for them and choose to honour them.  It will bless both you and them.

Number sixHonour other leaders who may not be as visible as those on stage.  1 Corinthians teaches to give more honour to the invisible ones.  In honouring them, scripture doesn’t say to honour them only if they are perfect and flawless. Criticism and judgmental attitudes hurt those leaders. It also hurts those who criticize. It’s dishonouring, so best to pray for the leader. Deal with your own attitude and forgive mistakes.   In the case of dealing with abuse, assault and the like; well, that must be reported. But if we’re talking criticism and complaining over minor issues, it’s time to forgive and move on in a gentle way.  A critical spirit is only going to harm your own walk with God. It will drag down your health and relationships.  Instead, choose to honour. Find kind ways to express disagreement without causing harm.

Number sevenHonour our government leaders; and our employers. Paul wrote in 1 Tim 6:1 to regard your masters as worthy of all honour.  Even if they are nasty, you must honour your employer. This means to not bad mouth them to other employees.  You are to honour them so that God himself won’t be looked upon in a bad way. We are to be absolutely blameless in this sense.  We are to be people of honour.

Even in the political realm, there’s a lot of people – even Christians – that will slam leaders terribly, with a critical attitude.   This isn’t just about US president Trump, but every leader.  These people may need constructive criticism but not curses. They need our prayers for difficult decisions. We pray all the time for Cyril Ramaphosa.

Patricia King loves the example of David and King Saul in 1 Sam 24: 2-13. In this story, David had an actual opportunity to take Saul out.  Patricia says that “Saul was the appointed king.  David was anointed as king, but he wasn’t appointed yet. He wasn’t in position yet, but he was blessed to be king. So he could have flaunted his authority.  But he didn’t.  He actually repented –  even from taking a piece of Saul’s garment. He had still ‘touched’ the anointed of God in a negative way. He did not take his life, he did not harm him in any way.  He said to Saul, “why are you doing this to me? I’ve only honoured you.” Saul made his own choice before God.  Patricia thinks that the reason why David got promoted was because he was a man of honour. Despite his mistakes, he was a man after God’s own heart.

David was greatly honoured, because he sowed honour.  He passed his honour test.  Patricia shares that “you will always be watched by God before you go into promotion. You have to pass your honour test.  Because if you fail an honour test,  you will not be able to properly stand in your next place very well. You will fail in that place. God wants you to always pass the test of honour; and you will be tested.”

You might think, ‘well, that person doesn’t deserve my honour.”  David could have thought this way, but he didn’t!  If he did take that attitude in his heart towards Saul, he would have failed the honour test.  But instead, he passed the honour test. “He held the honour test strong, right to the finish, because even after that, he didn’t become king right away. He had to still walk that out. He chose to be humble and he honoured the king.  It takes time to honour in that way, but it sets up a good foundation for the future.

Number eight: Honour each other!  This includes our spouses, best friends and everyone else. If you thought you were being missed out in this honour-fest, well, you’re in the party!  You’ve not been forgotten.  The Apostle Paul asks us in Phil 2:3 to esteem or honour others. In Rom. 12:10, Paul says to love each other with genuine affection, and to take delight in honouring each other.”   I’ve watched this love and honour in action at Iris gatherings where they all scramble to pay the bill.  I know our Iris leaders have certainly honoured and encouraged us.  We’ve been honoured and loved on by Janis, our Iris Ministries Canada director.  And sure enough, she bought me lunch.  We all need to grow in giving honour.  We could see this as a positive challenge.

If you value something you will take care of it, you will honour it.  For example, if you have a three carat diamond ring, you see the value in that. You’re not going to be careless with that diamond ring. You’re not just going to take it off your finger and forget where you put it; because you value that ring.  In the US, there is a company who markets caramel popcorn and peanuts in a box and call it “Cracker Jack.”  Inside the Cracker Jack box is a ring.  If you pull out the ring from a Cracker Jack box, you may like it, but you’re not going to value it the same as the diamond ring.  It doesn’t have the value of the diamond ring.

Whatever you value, you will honour.  I believe that God wants us to learn to value each other like he values us.  When he looks at each of you as individuals, he values you beyond anything you can understand.  He is willing to give everything to you because you have such great value to him.  When we look at each other, and we can’t see value, just ask the Holy Spirit to reveal it to our hearts.  He will help us honour each other.  He reveals our value.  You might look at the person and think, nah, … they’re losers.  But they are not losers in God’s eyes.  When you look through his eyes, and ask him to reveal his heart for that person, it will change the way that you see them.

If you can change the way that you see them, and see the value in them, you will honour them.   This is the core truth in many Facebook posts about seeing the gold in people, rather than the dirt.  Yes, we all have dirt, but we also have gold.  So it’s easy to honour what you value. I believe that God wants us to see the pure gold in each other. He wants us to see the potential.  He wants us to encourage that potential in each other. One of the BEST things about raising children is to NOT tell them how bad they are. Don’t point out all the bad things that they’re doing, and all their mistakes.   They better fix this, fix that, do this and do that, ‘cause you’re just not making the mark.  If you do that, you’ll destroy your child. They’ll become people-pleasing strivers and not know who they are.

If you’re doing that, you’ll find out that you’re destroying their self-image, you’ll destroy everything about them.  Instead, start speaking into them, who they really are. When you  discipline them, call them up into who they are. This transforms the way that they live and the way that they grow up.  They’ll grow up strong and straight, because they’re being valued. If you feel valued by someone, you’ll live differently, than you will if you feel like you’ve been hated by people.   Have you ever gone into an environment where you’ve felt despised?  It’s just like you want to hide, you fumble, you’re not yourself, you don’t rise up in confidence; but when you go into a place where you know you are valued and loved, it just pulls up in you the fullness of who you are.

Despite our mistakes, if we honour each other, and see potential in each other, we’ll see each other grow.  It will be so beautiful.  So honour is a key in building strong people, community and family.  Honour is a big deal in countries like Sierra Leone, who is still healing from their civil war. And honour is due to the one who eternally loves us.

So we have learned there is so much to establishing a culture of honour.  When we choose to honour, we will in turn be honoured ourselves. It isn’t all one way.  So as we choose to honour God, our parents, our leaders, the widows, the vulnerable and each other, we are also within that honour matrix.  In earlier broadcasts we learned about encouragement and blessing.  To honour is to take that further.  In our next broadcast, we will learn further HOW we can honour.

Lord, I ask you to please teach us deeply in our hearts about honour.  Show us ways that we have been dishonouring to others. Show us how we complain and speak to our hearts about how to stop these habits. Show us your way, the way of honour, the way of love.  Show us what honour looks like.  We thank you for your faithfulness to us and give you all the honour of making our lives beautiful. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

If you would like to hear an audio version of this article, please follow this link to CopplesWesternCape.ca and scroll down to #36

We’ll continue to journey through honour as part of a four-part series.

Blessings and love
Laurie-Ann Copple

Growing in God through Seasons of Wind

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

During our last article, we journeyed through re-writing our story.  While past events don’t change, our perception of them can.  When we learn how to psalm, journal and reframe our memories, we can learn from past mistakes. We can grow very deeply so that in time we will not be swayed by difficult times. We may even thrive through them, since God’s hand is there.  He walks with us through the hard times, and sometimes even carries us.  Think of how the Psalms were written.  Most of those writers endured difficult times, and deep disappointments.  But they were given grace as they chose to trust in God.

Grace is something that is very prevalent in our faith as we choose to trust God and follow where he leads us. Sometimes following can include times were we endure windstorms in our lives.  We’re going to journey through different kinds of wind – both in the natural world and in the spiritual world.  The spiritual windstorms are similar to the desert experience I spoke on in an earlier week, although windstorms can definitely be more intense.

In the natural world, wind is one of the tools that the desert uses to take moisture out of the soil.  You would think it’s the sun, but it’s also the wind.   I’ve encountered wind in certain deserts and semi-deserts, such as New Mexico, Kenya, Argentina’s Patagonia and South Africa’s Little Karoo.  It’s the wind that seems biting in the cold; and bracing in the heat.   Apparently this same process of desiccation, can happen inside a freezer with an ice cube.  Have you noticed that old freezer ice cubes are smaller?

In Canada, the windiest seasons are during transition – March is a windy season, perfect for flying kites… if you are bundled up for the cold.  And November, it’s cool, rainy and windy – as the remaining autumn leaves of colour are blown off the trees.

In Worcester, the Cape Doctor wind is mainly a summer wind from the south, and there’s a winter wind that is mighty chilly. If the wind is strong, usually it signals rain.   There’s also the warm “Berg” wind that is similar to Calgary’s chinooks. Tony recently shared with me something he had been teaching in his science classes, that wind is also essential for the earth: as water evaporates  in one area, such as the sea, and accumulates in clouds, the wind blows the clouds  to other areas that may really need rain.

I recently discovered why the Cape Doctor is given its name.  The Cape Doctor is the local name for the strong, often persistent, dry south-easterly wind that blows on the South African coast from September to March – or spring to late summer in the southern hemisphere.  It’s given its name because of a local belief that it clears Cape Town of pollution and pestilence.  I’ve also been told that Brewelskloof TB hospital here in Worcester keeps its windows open for health reasons, because the wind is thought to clear bad air out of the wards.   How many times have young children been encouraged to get away from the TV, or their video games? They need to go outside and enjoy the fresh air.  So some wind is good.  It’s a matter of how MUCH wind.

Wind has always been an important source of power – for example for ships before the age of steam. Pilots can do the same if they fly along the Jetstream.  This means they can fly further with using less fuel.  We live near a glider airport in Worcester, and in some ways it’s appropriate to have gliders here.  The wind is often strong. Why not harness it?   People still go windsailing, parasailing, and  in sailboats in different waters.

One of the ways wind is harnessed now is with wind turbines.  We’ve seen a few of those in the Eastern Cape.  I’ve seen many more in the UK, Canada and in the American plains.

Wind can also be used to purify and clean.  I remember a scene in an original Star Trek television episode, called “Mudd’s Women.”  The women were used as a bargaining chip on a mining planet.  One of the women, Eve, didn’t like what was going on, and she ran off into the howling dust storm, very upset.  The lead miner rescued her, but they didn’t initially get along.  They bickered.  When the miner said that her cooking wasn’t that great, and that it tasted like his own, Eve said, “Well, you’re tasting some of it now.  I couldn’t scrub off the layers of food.”  He complained back that he had no water to clean with.  She replied, “well, hang up the pots in the wind, and let the sand scour the pots clean.”  Good thinking, Eve.  Wind can be used to purify; although in that case, it included the biting sand.   Sea salt can do the same if you’re on the edge of an ocean wind.

But wind is also destructive in higher velocity.  The wind doesn’t have to be a tornado to cause intense or long-lasting damage.  Strong winds can put plants in survival mode. I’ve seen the fynbos shrubs near Mitchell’s Plain, and near Cape Point.  They are weirdly shaped, as if crawling away from the nearby Atlantic Ocean.  I’ve seen other plants grow away from the wind in other areas, like Yorkshire in England, Patagonia in Argentina.  In the high north of Canada and Russia, there aren’t any trees. The wind is too strong for them to survive.

Gardeners share that wind greatly affects plants throughout their growth. When plants are seedlings, slight breezes help them grow sturdier. If wind is at gale strength,  it can damage or even break and blow down the strongest tree, sometimes crashing into someone’s house or car.  Winter wind is especially damaging because plants can’t replace the water they lose, so they shrink and wither.   So when the winds are destructive, you need a windbreak.  You need a protective shield.

We need to make sure that the plants have protection, and can adapt so that they’re not always directly facing the wind.  To be against the wind, as the Bob Seger anti-establishment song goes, is to act in defiance.  This actually goes against survival unless understood as a short-term endurance test.

Just before we left for South Africa in November 2017, our neighbour gave me a novel about South African history called The Covenant, by James Michener.  While many of the characters were not real, the stories behind them were based on real events and movements.  Michener uses the Van Doorn family as one of the Afrikaaner voices through four hundred years.  Free burgher Willem Van Doorn struggled with the wind damage to his attempts to establish long-lasting wine-producing vines.  His colleagues said, “In their opinion, there could be no spot in this forlorn land where the winds did not howl.” But they showed him how to plant trees to give protection.

Willem’s Malay girlfriend encouraged him to plant differently according to the wind direction. Michener says, “But she was acquainted with growing things and said, “Willem, those vines are dying.”  Willem replied, “Why? Why do they die?”  She said, “The rows run the wrong way. The wind hits them too strong.” And she showed him how, if he planted his vines along the direction from which the winds blew, and not broadside to it, only the lead plants would be affected, which the sun would be free to strike all the vines evenly.”   So if you know the direction of the wind, you can actually grow a stronger root system.

Spiritually, we also endure windstorms.  Some of these are destructive – in the evil that assaults us.  Evil comes in the form of human greed.  It also is a malevolent spiritual force that seeks to harm.  Jesus tells us in John 10 verse 10 The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.  The thief that Jesus describes, is Satan, the father of lies, as well as stealing.  Supernatural evil gives strength and fury to the already awful human evil and rebellion.  Mixed together, it becomes a horrible firestorm.  You definitely need protection from that.   This is where the spiritual windbreak comes in:  the protection against evil.  The Apostle Paul shares that our struggles really reflect what’s going on spiritually – not just face to face in the physical world.  People can be deceived by the onslaught of evil whispers to their minds, and so they fall into all kinds of sin, big and small.

Paul shares about the armour of God in Ephesians 6 verses 10 to 18.  He says, 10 A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on all of God’s armour so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. 12 For we[d] are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

13 Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armour so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. 14 Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. 15 For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared.[e] 16 In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil.[f] 17 Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

18 Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.[g] So a spiritual windbreak, is indeed, known as the armour of God.  You can ask for this in prayer daily.  Let the armour stand against the evil winds.  Take shelter in God, although stand in him, don’t hide. Keep your focus on him in the midst of the storm.  I’ve done this many a time, in encountering evil in different countries, as well as in my own life.   Before I came to faith in Jesus, I actively participated in evil by fortune telling.  I was in complete ignorance that this was evil, and so was right in the midst of the storm.  I’m thankful that I was drawn out by the Holy Spirit speaking to me the year before I came to faith.  I remember sitting at a friend’s kitchen table, wondering what I should do about my struggling art career, and crumbling life.  I told myself that the following year would be the time to change my life.  When I said that out loud to myself, I felt like a waterfall of love flowed over me.  The Holy Spirit whispered to my heart, “Good! Now’s the time to find God.”  I someone knew intuitively that he meant Jesus.  So I began to search.   The Holy Spirit began blowing the winds of God to me, so that I would be carried to Jesus in my search.  I didn’t want to fight.  Why would I want to fight pure love?

So I set my face towards God, and allowed the Holy Spirit to blow me towards Jesus like a sail.  At the time I used a Star Trek metaphor and called it my holy tractor beam.  Paul reminds us that the Holy Spirit provides an escape from temptation and difficulty in 1 Corinthians 10:12-13.  He says, “If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. 13 The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.”  It’s true – he does provide a way out of the storms.   So Holy Spirit can help you set your face towards Jesus in the midst of the storm.

 The Holy Spirit acts in different ways as he lifts you up. Like wind, he purifies –  He also confirms and strengthens your inner conscience when you’re making decisions, and you choose what is right.  He acts as a refining wind, in purifying our desires for good things and not selfish ones.  One of the songs I used to sing in my Vineyard church days was the song “Refiner’s Fire.”  It goes, “Refiner’s fire. My heart’s one desire, is to be holy. Set apart for you Lord, I choose to be, holy. Set apart for you, my master, ready to do your will.” That song is a prayer to be refined by the Spirit. You can through the Spirit, and faith, use life circumstances to grow emotionally and spiritually stronger.

The Holy Spirit also points you to truth, and gives you comfort when you are sad. In John 15, Jesus called the Holy Spirit the Advocate, and the Spirit of Truth. He confirms and points to Jesus and the Father.   He is also a woo-er, as he gently wins our hearts.  He helps us grow in our trust of God. He is our source of strength. He certainly wooed me, and rather than condemn me for the evil I was doing, he just loved me and led me to Jesus.

I eventually came to faith in Jesus at a Holy Spirit conference.  It was held at a Canadian Baptist church, and this was exactly the kind of thing I was looking for during my days as a seeker.  Although I grew up in a church, it was a liberal one, and I did not know the way of salvation.  But now I did.  I let Holy Spirit guide me, like a friend, who became more, because he is God.

So I am thankful for the winds of the Holy Spirit – which can also blow strong. But that wind is pure love.  I was in Toronto during the Toronto Blessing, and remember many times when I would be on the floor for hours. It was like a force greater than myself was causing me to be still, cry, laugh and receive deep healing in my heart.  I remember Pastor John Arnott saying that a touch from God like this could do far more in one evening than months of counselling.  I’m not knocking counselling, for I have a counselling degree.  It’s a good thing.  But the wind of God can change the way you think and feel about past memories, and bring healing.  Forgiveness and love are powerful.  So in  a sense, the Holy Spirit is the REAL Cape Doctor.  I pray that this may be the case in touching the hearts of all who live in the Cape, and well beyond.

So, as you stand in the wind, will you take shelter from the winds of evil, and allow yourself to be transformed by the wind of God?  We need to set our face to seek him.  He’s not far.  He’s just a breath and a prayer away.

Lord, I ask you to open our eyes and our hearts to see and feel your presence.  Still the wind and waves of bad storms like you did with the disciples on the Sea of Galilee.  You told them to be still.  Cause us to be still, and to know you are God.  Thank you that you are there in the times of transition, when it seems what we cling to, is blowing away in the wind.  Surround us with your armour, and comfort us with your wind instead.  Help us to grow in you.

In Jesus’ name. Amen.

If you would like to hear an audio version of this talk, please visit the Ways to Grow in God podcast page on the Coppleswesterncape.ca site, or click here. Then scroll down to #26.

Blessings and love!

Laurie-Ann

 

Growing in God through (re)writing your own story

My name is Laurie-Ann, and I’m a missionary. During my mission travels, I have ministered with people in Northern Ireland, Pakistan, Canada and the USA.  I’ve also ministered in African countries like Kenya, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, South Africa and Botswana. But at this time, we live in the beautiful Western Cape of South Africa (although we are currently on furlough in eastern Ontario, and return in July 2019).

In our last four articles, we learned about the different ways that God guides us. Some of these are very supernatural (dreams, visions, impressions, angels, scripture illumination, circumstantial signs) and others more ‘ordinary’ (wise counsel and common sense).  These directive means help you to look forward in hope.  Yet you also need to remember.  Writing your dreams, goals and aspirations in a journal also helps you to look forward as you pause and reflect on your past challenges.  When you look back, that’s when you can best see how things come into place. You can celebrate having come so far!  When you re-reading your journals, it helps you gain a new perspective of past struggles, and how you came through them.  You are reminded of God’s faithfulness.  However, you do also need to learn to say goodbye to any yet-unfulfilled hopes from earlier seasons, so they don’t hold you back.  Let’s call this the ‘goodbye’ list.

I learned this when I attended my Ottawa Cursillo weekend in March 2001. I was showered with love by the community by many notes and gifts that came in unexpected ways.  But what blessed me most was the counsel of Anglican priest Andrea Thomas.  I had been grieving certain losses from my single life in Toronto, and still hadn’t fully transitioned into my married life in Ottawa.  I was somehow stuck between the two.   I shared my very real feelings with Andrea, and she told me, you need to say goodbye to those things.  You can’t say “hello” before you’ve said “goodbye.”  Andrea was right.  I wrote down the things that I was missing from my single time in Toronto.  Things ranged from the convenience of driving my own car, to University of Toronto’s library, to friends, to Tony’s wish not to have children at our ages. So, some were small losses, others big.   I wrote this list down and shared with my Anglican priest, John Bridges.  We had a funeral for the goodbyes, and during the process, we burned the list in an incense burner.  It was like the burning list of goodbyes and failed hopes were an offering to the Lord.  I finally felt free.  This list is one form of writing as a release.

Another is to journal – as a love letter to God. It’s a good way to pour out your concerns, and your prayer requests in a tangible way.  So you write these concerns down, and then read them a year later. You would be surprised how often these prayers were answered!  I journal in this way, and when I re-read my past journals, I’ve also discern a pattern through the promises that the Holy Spirit assures me with.   God has shown himself faithful – even though there are some areas that I’m still struggling with, he is still there helping transform me.

In an earlier broadcast, I shared about psalming.  Psalming is writing poems to God, similar to the style of the Psalms in the Bible.  These include complaints and praise to God, and they ultimately end with a commitment to trust God. When you write psalms, they become a promise to God that you can stand with.  And, you’ll find that Holy Spirit will answer the cries of your psalms.   Tony has written music to some of the psalms and poems written by Ottawa prison inmates. Some of these songs have become favourites with the men we see in Worcester’s Brandvlei prison.  Tony has offered to write music from their own poems.  We are hopeful for what they will share.

Yet the deepest way to grow in God through writing – is to create your own story.  In a way, writing an autobiography could be part of this process, since it’s important to look back and remember what God has done in your life.  Too often we forget the goodness we have received, and instead complain about the present.  I know it looks shocking that the Israelites forgot about the miracles that happened in Egypt, and their Red Sea crossing.  They complained about many things, and when Moses was away with God, they instead turned to a newly-made idol and worshipped it.  How quickly we forget.

So writing helps you remember the lessons of the past as you go forward into the future.

If you see your life as a developing story, rather than one chapter on continuous repeat, you can see there is a rhythm in it.   If your page at the moment features a thunderstorm, and you feel that the wind and rain are lasting forever, they are NOT.  It just seems that way.  Are you going to be defined by only one chapter or even one page?  No! There is sun in the future forecast, and there are rainbows.  All stories have their crises, nail-biting intense parts, suffering, joys, sunshine and rainstorms. Some include romantic moments, beautiful sunsets, loving families, and joys of friendship.  You can even choose the genre of your life.  You might think that you have a sad dramatic story, but you may have moments of comedy.  And then there are the moments of overcoming.   You just need to see from a different perspective.

Surpresa Sithole is a very special Iris leader.  He is the base leader of the White River base in South Africa. He also is one of the teachers at the Harvest school that we attended three years ago.  He’s a writer and encourager of many, whether Iris missionaries, conference attenders and people he happens to meet.  He’s written two books.  One of them, Voice in the Night, is his story.  It was part of our required reading for Harvest School.  I remember I stayed up all night reading his book, since I just couldn’t put it down.  I remember when I was reading, Tony came downstairs more than once calling for me, but I kept saying, “I just need to finish the chapter.”  But of course, then I would start reading the next one.

When Tony began to read Surpresa’s book, he got so excited that he went and bought five copies of the book to give others.  Eventually he gave away them all, including my original copy.  I’m thankful that I still have my e-copy!   Surpresa has a nail-biting story where he has survived so many war-time incidents in Mozambique, as well as the murder of his witchdoctor family by rival witchdoctors.   Holy Spirit spoke to him that night and commanded him to leave the house, and when he obeyed, it saved his life.  He and his best friend were led through a forest to a home on the edge of Malawi, where they came to faith. And that was just the beginning of his life of miracles that included the gift of being given at least 12 languages supernaturally – one of them being English!  He turns all of his experience to joy in the telling.  He is not one to forget what God has done for him.

So what is Supresa’s secret?  Part of it is he’s a man who worships all the time. He prays, and has a thankful attitude.  He says that every day can be a good day, no matter the circumstances.  He doesn’t let what is happening around him sway or scare him.  He is a master of what I call the “re-frame.”  Re-framing is to look at a situation from a completely different perspective.  It’s to have a different view-point.  If six people were to view an elephant at the same time, would they see the same thing?  No, they wouldn’t – because they all have their unique perspective.  One sees the legs, another, the tail, and still another, see the trunk.  But they’re all the same elephant.   Are any of them wrong?  No, they’re not wrong – they’re just not seeing the whole picture.  So, re-framing, is to see the good in a situation, or something that you can learn from that situation.  It can even provide the way out of being under that perpetual raincloud.  This is a the storyteller’s version of a promise given in 1 Corinthians 10 verse 13: God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.  You need to look beyond your circumstances to the big picture.  That’s what storying is all about.  You write the big stories and fill in details later.

Another way to look at seeing from a higher perspective is through a scene from the movie “Dead Poets Society.”  Robin Williams plays a teacher who wants to inspire his students to see beyond the same-old, same old that they are used to.  Instead, he encourages them to stand on their school desks to see from a new perspective, a higher perspective.  Then they could change their minds and perceptions about truth, since they could see more.  It’s the same with being given God’s perspective, and to see almost prophetically like eagles.  This perspective is above the storms of life.   And this is also another secret of Surpresa’s – having God’s perspective on life.  This gives him constant joy.

Tony and I were fortunate to sit under two teaching sessions with Surpresa, as well as an extra afternoon session where many of the single missionaries begged him to pray over them to find their future spouses.  He doesn’t do that often, but he did then, and sure enough, many of those who asked for prayer are getting married or engaged. We asked him to pray over us for languages, and hoped for Afrikaans.  But sometimes you need to just work at it, right?  We are thankful for encouraging tutors who re-frame our frustration by reminding us of the strides we have made in our learning process.  Surpesa’s master re-frame is never to forget your identity as a child of God. I remember him telling us never to be discouraged. We have so much that the world is looking for. Go as a lion, not a chicken. He knows who he is. There are people who don’t like the fact that Surpresa is always smiling or laughing – but he told us that he is always enjoying God and is worshipping him.   His story is full of joy, since his perspective is always purposed by God.  Just like praise changes the atmosphere when you sing, so seeing through God’s perspective changes the atmosphere of your life.  You begin to see God’s little touches woven through your own life.

Of course, most of us are unfinished masterpieces, but we can in time become so beautiful.   Think of an art form that the Japanese have perfected.  They take broken pieces of a ceramic cup and they glue them together with gold.  When they are finished the process, the result is even more beautiful than the original cup, before it was broken.  All that was broken has been made beautiful.  The cup’s story has been re-storied with gold, and is beautiful, for all to see.

When you are thinking about your life, think of joys, not just sorrows.  You celebrate one, and overcome the second. But there are beautiful gems in those sorrows.  Your life wouldn’t be complete without them.

Think of all the characters in the Bible. Except for Jesus, every one of them was far from perfect.   All of them sinned.  Some were proud, others hesitant and afraid. Some initially said no to God’s call, like Moses and Jonah. Some were fearful, like Gideon; however, the angel called Gideon a “mighty man of God.”  Why?  Because that’s how God was remaking him.  He does the same with us.  He changes our fears to make us fearless, although this again is a process of growing in perfect love.  Love casts out all fear. So go on a search of different biblical characters.  Is there one that resonates with you?  Learn from their story.  How did they begin?  What did God do in their hearts?   God wants to do that in you, too.

You can be a super-hero in him, just like the biblical characters.  Each of these people were great BECAUSE of the Lord.  We can point to him and give him the glory.  He’s the one who has given us gifts and talents, intelligence and creativity.  And he’s especially the one who takes our weaknesses and pours his glory through like a waterfall.

Some people look at me and think I’m a wise woman.  I’ve actually always wanted to be one.  But that wisdom doesn’t all come from me.  It comes from observing from different viewpoints:  my own, others’ stories, scriptures and whispers from God.  I’m being decorated like that cup.  I’m also filled with gold lines, as God is mending broken areas in my life.

Some of the people that Tony interviews on our internet radio show “The Worcester Reports” have overcome so much.  Their stories reflect where they have come from, and the changes and hopes that they now have in Christ.  They are being remolded into unique masterpieces.

It’s important to invite Jesus into any painful memories you may have from your childhood. When you do, he can begin to heal your heart from the inside out.  I remember one such memory that surfaced when I was on a mission trip in northern Kenya.  I had a fear of public speaking, which sounds funny for someone like me who speaks all the time. When I would give presentations during seminary classes, I would be terrified, despite really knowing the topic I shared about – so I would read my talk.

During that mission, I gave a long talk on ministry of lay people in the church.  It was a very long talk – since I didn’t take into account that it would be translated as well.  That makes the talk twice as long, or more. So our mission leader wasn’t too happy with me.  That night, I was to prepare another talk for the following day and I had a struggle.  I was terrified to prepare a talk last minute.  I still like time to prepare but the terror was evil.  I shared with the other leader who was with us, a gentle pastor from Nairobi named Tom.   We prayed about this fear and I was given a sense of where this fear came from.  I had a picture in my mind’s eye of me as a frightened little girl.  I was being scolded by an older man, who was mean.  He had attempted to molest me and told me, “Don’t tell.  Don’t ever tell. Don’t speak.”  While I had long forgiven this man, I still had been held by his curse and decree over me to not tell of the abuse, or to speak.  And what is sharing a story or teaching on the mission field?  What is preaching?  It is SPEAKING.  Thankfully, I shared this impression and memory with Tom and we prayed.  We brought Jesus into the memory.  The man was again forgiven, and the power of his curse was broken.   I was free to speak, although it took time and confidence.  The following day I shared about my emotional and spiritual healing with the audience.  Previously, not many came up for prayer.  But when I shared that I too, had been healed in this very room, from childhood sexual abuse, the women came up in tears, asking for their own healing.   God used my story and his healing to bring healing to others. God showed his glory, like the gold in the Japanese cup.  And my story was transformed from being a fearful mute to an overcoming speaker.

You too can overcome your own struggles and painful memories, just as I did, and am continuing to do.  Just open the door and let him in.

Jesus, I thank you for the journey that you’ve taken me on.  We are still re-writing my story.  You’re continuing to take threads from my past to re-weave me into a beautiful tapestry.  I ask that you do the same for my friends who are reading. Knock gently on their hearts and guide them on their journey.  Bring your healing and give them new eyes to see from a higher perspective.  Give them joy where there has been sorrow, hope where there has been despair. And fill them with your peace as they look to you.  In Jesus’ name. Amen.

If you’d like to hear a similar audio version of this article, please visit my podcast page   and scroll down to #35.

Be blessed, my friends and please visit again.

Blessings and love,
Laurie-Ann Copple

Growing in God: Learning how God guides us part 4

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

During our last three articles, we began to learn how we can seek guidance, and some of the ways that God guides us.  The list isn’t exhaustive, but Nicky Gumbel compiles main groups of the ways under the term CSs.  These include Commanding scripture (like when scriptures come alive to us personally), and Compelling Spirit (which includes some of the many ways the Holy Spirit can speak more directly).  We were caught up in more of the supernatural ways under compelling spirit.  We can hear the still small voice of the Holy Spirit in our hearts as a whisper.  We can be given impressions, full movie-like visions, dreams, and inner knowings, which is similar to intuition.  We can be helped and strengthened by angels, and some people have even had experiences of the audible voice of God.  Some of these people include Jesus, the prophet Samuel and Heidi Baker, upon her conversion when she was 16.  Heidi shared in the Compelled by Love movie that the voice told her that she “was called to be a minister and a missionary, and she was to go to Africa, Asia and England.”

The other three CSs that Nicky Gumbel mentions in the Alpha Course are common sense, counsel of the saints (or wise, praying Christians) and circumstantial signs.  Last time we journeyed through the next two – common sense and counsel of the saints.  These two keep our feet grounded in relationships and thinking things out.  Life experience is important when considering your life’s direction.  It’s important to be naturally supernatural – remembering that we are more than a thinking mind, but also not to ignore the supernatural.  After all, God IS supernatural. We are encouraged to use our minds, although with divine inspired ideas. The Apostle Paul encouraged Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:7 to learn and grow. He told him to “think about what I am saying. The Lord will help you understand all these things.”

Just five months ago, I struggled about whether to help my parents during my mother’s illness. She was in the hospital for over a month, just as my father had been three years before that.  At that time, I left behind my volunteer work in Ottawa, to help my mother care for my dad, but also to help her, because she is frail. She still is, since normally my dad is her caregiver, despite his own health.  I reasoned out whether I should go by considering my options.  Leaving South Africa is a lot more expensive than leaving Ottawa for Toronto.  This was a big factor.  So was leaving Tony behind in the pre-Christmas season, right before school exams, where we are two of the teachers.  I also had remembered a dream that I had where I was promised that God would basically take care of my parents while we were on our mission.  So between the reasons of finances, mission work, our school and the dream, I had to trust God.  And it turned out well in the end.  Strangely enough, I got quite sick myself here in South Africa, but that’s a different matter. What kept me in South Africa, apart from the dream I had been given, came down to two things: common sense and trust in God.

The next CS is Counsel of the saints, where we seek wise mature Christians for prayerful advice.  These people could be mentors, pastors, other family members and people you are drawn to for their godly wisdom.  Proverbs 12 verse 15 reminds us that “A wise man listens to advice.”  However, Nicky Gumbel shares that while seeking advice is very important, we need to remember that ultimately, our decisions are between us and God. They are our responsibility. We cannot shift that responsibility onto others or seek to blame them if things go wrong.”  The counsel of the saints is part of guidance; but it is not the only part. Sometimes it may be right to go ahead in spite of the advice of others, particularly if there is other guidance that leads that way.

Now to the fifth CS of God’s guidance, which is Circumstantial signs.  Some people in church history have made it their ‘mantra’ to seek signs, particularly if they don’t know the other ways that God can guide us.  Signs can be surprise answers to prayer, and other times, they can seem like perfectly ordinary situations that are what you need right now.  Sometimes it’s as simple as a door opening with favour in a job search, and other times, more supernatural, like a manifestation of favour.  Some people are skeptical of obviously supernatural things like the occurrence of gold or crystal dust appearing on people during meetings, as well as gemstones and feathers.  These are signs of God’s glory, giving us a little peak into the wonderful aspects of what heaven is – creative, colourful, and beautiful.

However, signs also can be simply directional.  They point us towards the way we should go, like a signpost on the highway.   If you are driving on the N1 in the Karoo, you need to know where the next town will be.  You may need to stop for petrol and something to eat.  You are looking for a signpost, and direction on where to find what you need, without getting lost.  We need a map, a signpost, and assurance that we’re going in the right direction.  It is the same with our lives.  We plan our route, but sometimes there are a few detours.

God is in ultimate control of events. The writer of Proverbs points out in Proverbs 16:9: “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” Sometimes God opens doors, as the Apostle Paul mentions a door of opportunity 1 Corinthians 16:9. He says, “There is a wide-open door for a great work here, although many oppose me.”  So opposition isn’t a no to a great opportunity, it’s just a challenge.  Sometimes God closes doors.  In Acts 16:7, Luke shares: Then coming to the borders of Mysia, they headed north for the province of Bithynia, but again the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go there. So instead, they went on through Mysia to the seaport of Troas.”

Nicky Gumbel shares in Alpha about two occasions where God firmly closed the door on something he really wanted, and he also believed at those times that it was God’s will for the doors to be open.  He said, “I tried to force the doors open. I prayed and I struggled and I fought, but they would not open.  On both occasions I was bitterly disappointed. But I understand now, years later, why God closed those doors.  Indeed, I am grateful that he did. However, I am not sure we will ever know this side of heaven why God has closed certain doors in our lives.”

I distinctly remember a door closing to me before I came to faith in Jesus Christ.  I was a semi-professional artist and was keen to work in set design and props for theatre, film and television.  After all, I was from Toronto.  Toronto was known as Hollywood North, although that term has expanded to include Vancouver as well.  Even though I had contacts, those doors slammed tighter than ever.  If my art career didn’t come to a struggle, I might not have begun seeking God as I did.

Then later, after my third attempt to start a career ended; this time in radio broadcasting, I was stuck in a hallway with closed doors. I had been told in radio school that you normally get three opportunities as a professional in that industry.  Many people struggle with the first job, which is usually in promotions, or in the studio as a board operator.  I was a board operator.  I wasn’t the best, but I was consistent and loyal, at least until the time that I had to be away while driving my then-housemate to Alberta for a new radio job.  While I was in Alberta, I visited radio stations and creative directors to gain contacts for future jobs.  After I returned, I was let go, because one of my bosses really needed me one weekend.  It didn’t matter that this was an act of kindness to another radio person, and helping another radio station in the same company.  I was devastated.  However, I found a full-time job doing what I trained for – in creative writing, audio production and scheduling of ads.  I moved across the country for this opportunity, and carried as much as I could hold in my little car.  I found a beautiful walk-in basement apartment in Nelson, British Columbia, and commuted to Castlegar, where the creative office was.

My enthusiasm and talent carried me a long way, as well as good nutrition and vitamins.  However, after a time I burned out, simply because I stayed in the station for hours and hours at a time.  The job was more than one person could handle. Although I did have help at times from a creative pool, it really was too much for one person, especially someone who was new. So after four months, I was let go.  By this time I had given up so much to be there in BC, including a bariatric by-pass surgery, since I was now in a different province.  My flat rental lease also meant that I had to stay for nearly two more months.  Then I got some beautiful referrals from a creative director I met earlier that year in Red Deer, Alberta.  He referred me to the creative director in Lloydminster, Alberta, and I applied for a vacant position as a writer.  Two months previously he referred me to another creative director in Medicine Hat in southern Alberta, but I had told this man that I didn’t think it would be fair for me to leave my new job yet.  He accepted that explanation and told me he would ask me again at another time.

Since I had glowing references and some experience, I thought I might have a chance in a job writing ads.  This job didn’t require me to schedule ads or produce; it was one position rather than three.  I could have done this – and he seemed excited about my references. This director must have dug deeply in my past jobs, because he wasn’t happy that I was let go twice within the industry.  Unfortunately, he didn’t give me that third chance that I was hoping for, and I had to move back across the country to rejoin Tony.    Upon my return, there was a job opening as an administrator in the community radio station that I had been a part of since 2001, as a volunteer radio host and audio producer.  I thought I would have a chance at that, due to my years there, over fifteen years in admin, and two years of radio school.  I was on the short list, but I didn’t come in first.  The girl who got the job apparently had more than fifteen years admin experience, although no radio school.  So the door again closed.

I spent some time in prayer and sought wise counsel from a prophetic lady, who is now part of a pastoral team at the Ottawa Vineyard.  I told her that I was still seeking radio work in some way, although I knew I would eventually return to consider full-time ministry.  She prayed and told me, “All I see are closed doors.  It’s useless continuing in this hallway – you need to seek a different direction.  Sure enough, I had further confirmation about that. Three months later, the Medicine Hat employer emailed me again and asked if I would consider working for him.  I did consider, although I had to be honest and tell him that it didn’t work out in BC.  Unfortunately, he never replied to my email, so I expected that door was indeed shut, as my pastoral friend told me.

Sometimes God opens doors in a remarkable way!  The circumstances and the timing point clearly to the hand of God (for example, Genesis 24, where Isaac’s servant was given specific directions to find his master the perfect wife for him).  He brought home Rebecca, who was smart, loving and willing to go).   Nicky Gumbel shares a special story of open doors in an unusual way.

“Michael Bourdeaux is the head of Keston College. (This is) a research unit devoted to helping believers in what were communist lands.  His work and research are respected by governments all over the world. He studied Russian at Oxford. His Russian teacher, Dr. Zernov, sent him a letter that he had received because he thought it would interest him. (This letter showed) how monks were beaten up by the KGB and subjected to inhuman medical examinations. (It showed)  how they were being rounded up in trucks and dumped many hundreds of miles away.  This letter was written very simply, with no adornment. As he read it, Michael Bourdeaux felt he was hearing the true voice of the persecuted church. The letter was signed, “Varavva and Pronina.”

In August 1964, Michael went on a trip to Moscow. On his first evening there, he met up with old friends who shared how the persecutions were getting worse.  In particular, the old church of St Peter and St Paul had been demolished. They suggested that he go and see it for himself.

So Michael took a taxi and arrived to the location at dusk.  He came to the square where he had remembered once housed a very beautiful church. He found nothing except a twelve-foot fence, which hid the rubble where the church had been. Over on the other side of the square, were two women, who were climbing over the fence to try to see what was inside.

He watched them, and when they finally left the square, he followed them for a hundred yards, and eventually caught up with them. They asked, “Who are you?”  He told them, “I am a foreigner. I have come to find out what is happening here in the Soviet Union.”  They took him back to the house of another woman who also asked him why he had come. He said he had received a letter from the Ukraine, via Paris. When she asked who it was from, he replied, “Varavva and Pronina.”  There was silence.  He wondered if he had said something wrong.  A flood of uncontrolled sobbing followed.  The woman pointed and said, “This is Varavva and this is Pronina.”

The population of Russia was over one hundred forty million.  The Ukraine, from where the letter was written, is over eight hundred miles from Moscow.  Michael Bourdeaux had flown from England six months after the letter had been written. He and the women would not have met had either party arrived at the demolished church an hour earlier or an hour later.  That was one of the ways God called him to set up his life’s work.” If you want to learn more about Michael Bourdeaux’s story, read his book “Risen Indeed.”

Sometimes we hear God correctly, but we get the timing wrong.  Don’t be in a hurry when you are seeking direction. Sometimes, God’s guidance seems to come immediately when it is asked for.  Yet often, it takes much longer – sometimes months or even years. One example of this time lapse concerns a calling I had, to go to Sierra Leone.  I was encouraged by a career missionary named Gladys, who prayed for me a year after I returned from my first mission trip in Kenya.  Gladys shared prophetically that I was to return to Africa, and I thought she meant Kenya.  But no, she meant West Africa. She asked me if I had ever heard of Sierra Leone.  This was in 1994, and I prayed into the opportunity and found that there were no current opportunities.  A few years later, Sierra Leone descended into an awful civil war.  So I put that prophetic promise on the shelf.  Later, I discovered that Tony’s spiritual mother was from Sierra Leone, I thought that was interesting, but didn’t figure that would be a future clue.

Then 11 years later, Tony tells me that he was very blessed by his first mission trip in western Kenya.  He had no idea that it would be so fulfilling to help plant the Alpha Course in Migori, Kenya.  He told me, “hey, let’s do this again. We can do this again somewhere.”  It was then that I had a word impression from the Holy Spirit.  His still, small voice told me, “Sierra Leone.”  Sure enough, in 2009, Canadian Alpha people were offered different international opportunities, and Sierra Leone was one of them.  We were to give two Alpha course conferences in the east and west ends of Freetown – the same city where Tony’s spiritual mom, Emma, lived.   A huge door opened up for us – despite circumstances that threatened to cancel our journey.  This was the Iceland volcano eruption that cancelled all flight traffic across the Atlantic for well over a week.  We eventually arrived, but that is a whole other story, where we made it despite adverse circumstances.

So, we may have a sense that God is going to do something in our lives, but have to wait a long time for the fulfillment, as it did for me going to Sierra Leone.  It took sixteen years! On these occasions, we need patience like that of Abraham. The writer of Hebrews says in Hebrews 6:15, that Abraham, “after waiting patiently … received what was promised.”  While he waited, he was tempted at one point to try and fulfill God’s promises by his own means – with disastrous results.  Just read Genesis chapters 16 and 21 and see what I mean.  Ishmael represents doing something in the wrong time and in our own strength.  Ishmael was not the planned promise.

Sometimes we hear God correctly, but we understand the timing completely wrongly.  The Holy Spirit spoke to Joseph in a dream about what would happen to him and his family in the future.  He probably expected immediate fulfillment, but he had to wait years. Instead of being promoted, he was sold into slavery, was dishonoured by his employer’s wife, and he then ended up in prison.

Indeed, while he was in prison, it must have been hard for him to believe that his dreams would ever be fulfilled. It took thirteen years after the original dream, to see God’s fulfillment. The waiting was part of the preparation. If you’re not familiar with Joseph’s story, read Genesis chapters 37 to 50.

In this area of guidance, we all make mistakes.  Waiting is HARD.  Bethel Music has a song about taking courage, where they sing “Take Courage my heart, stay steadfast my soul, He’s in the waiting.  Hold on to your hope as your triumph unfolds, He’s never failing.”  This song has given comfort to many a person trying to figure out how God will fulfill his promises.   They may believe him but are confused as to HOW and WHEN this will happen.  There is a reason why we are reminded in Proverbs 3:5-6 to  “trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.  Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.”  Sometimes, like Abraham, we try to fulfill God’s plans by our own wrong methods.  Or like Joseph, we get the timing wrong. Sometimes we feel that we have made too much of a mess of our lives, by the time we come to Christ, for God to do anything with us. But God is greater than that.

Joel 2:25 reminds us that God is able to “restore to you the years which the swarming locusts have eaten.  He is able to make something good out of whatever is left of our lives – whether it is a short time or a long time, if we will offer what we have to him and then cooperate with his Spirit.  It’s this same verse that gives me comfort for lost time due to my recent illness with boils, which is still ongoing. It curtails my work here in Worcester, but not completely.  God is using the circumstances to show fruit in the lives of the teens we disciple. I’m trusting that God will help us work out the details of what must be done while he’s still healing me.  Thankfully what I am able to do, is still a blessing to those we are serving.

Here’s another example from Nicky Gumbel.  Lord Radstock stayed in a hotel in Norway in the mid-nineteenth century. When he was there, he heard a little girl playing the piano down in the hallway.  She was making a terrible noise: “Plink, plunk, plink, plonk”  It was driving him mad!  Then, a man came and sat beside her at the piano bench. He began playing alongside her, and filled in the gaps.  The result was the most beautiful music!  He later discovered that the man playing alongside was the girl’s father, Alexander Borodin, the composer of the opera Prince Igor.

The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 8:28 that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” As we falteringly play our part, seeking his will for our lives: the Holy Spirit comes alongside us, and helps re-story our lives in the most beautiful way.   While I waited for the Iris Harvest Missions school to accept my first application, I was shown an impression that Jesus was weaving together my three dead careers: art, ministry and radio, into something beautiful.  He was taking these skills, talents as well as other abilities, and weaving them together into something unique.  It was this weaving that helped create my ministry here in South Africa – and he’s not finished the weaving.  He’s creating more and more in me, and in Tony too.  It’s all been a learning curve.

So likewise, when you are seeking guidance from God, you begin to open yourself to the ways that you can be led.  There are many, but the main ones include reading (commanding scripture), listening (compelling spirit), thinking (common sense), talking (counsel of the saints), and finally watching (circumstantial signs and waiting).  While we open our hearts, and explore these ways, God comes and sits alongside us.  Just like the composer came alongside his daughter, he works all things for our good.  He takes our plink, plonk, plink, plonk, and makes something beautiful our of our lives.

So it’s a matter of trusting him and being open to the many ways he guides us. Be still in your heart before him, for he does hear our prayers.

Lord, I ask that you will bless those who are seeking you.  Direct them in the way they should go.  Open the right doors.  Give them dreams, impressions and let them hear your still, small voice guiding them. Let them find encouragers who can give them wise advice, and figure out what they must do through good common sense. Give them confidence, hope and a spring in their step as they sense you walking with them.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

If you missed the first three parts of this message, we have it available as podcasts on our Copples Western Cape website.   You can also take the Alpha Course.  Much of my series on God’s guidance is influenced by the talk on “How does God guide us?  This is my favourite talk on the entire course, no matter which version I’ve viewed.  If you are seeking and need to learn more about the Christian faith, please do attend an Alpha Course. You won’t be sorry.

As for our podcasts, you can visit audio versions of this talk (and many others) at the WTGIG podcast page on Coppleswesterncape.ca.  Scroll down to podcasts 44, 45, 46 and 47.  It’s free, although we gratefully receive any free-will donations through the Iris Ministries Canada Canada Helps portal.  We are missionaries who live entirely by faith, with the exception of my husband’s pension.  God does supply our needs through surprising ways.

I hope that you’ve been blessed by this message and other articles as well.  Please do share with me if this has impacted you.

Blessings,
Laurie-Ann

 

 

Growing in God: Learning how God guides us part 3

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

During our last two articles, we began to learn how we can seek guidance and some of the ways that God guides us.  Nicky Gumbel compiles the main groups under the term CSs.  These include Commanding scripture (like when scriptures come alive to us personally), and Compelling Spirit (which includes some of the many ways the Holy Spirit can speak more directly).  We are caught up in the more supernatural ways under compelling spirit.  We can hear the still small voice of the Holy Spirit in our hearts as a whisper.  We can be given impressions, full movie-like visions, dreams, and inner knowings, which is similar to intuition.  We can be helped and strengthened by angels. Some have had experiences of the audible voice of God, such as Jesus, the prophet Samuel and Heidi Baker, upon her conversion when she was 16.  Heidi shared in the Compelled by Love movie that the voice told her that she “was called to be a minister and a missionary, and she was to go to Africa, Asia and England.”

The Holy Spirit can also touch our hearts through anointed Christian music and prophetic art.  I know that some people are comforted with some of my own prophetic art.  It speaks to their souls and gives them hope.  It makes them feel loved.

The other three C.S’s that Nicky Gumbel mentions in the Alpha Course are common sense, counsel of the saints (or wise, praying Christians) and circumstantial signs.  We’ll journey through the first two.

Some Christians seem to put common sense to the side, but this kind of wisdom is important.  We learn this through life experience, and it’s also important when considering your life’s direction.   It’s important to not get “spooky spiritual” and act like every aspect of our lives is supernatural.  We need to be naturally supernatural.   We may be blessed supernaturally, and include this as a daily part of our lives, but we also live in a physical world.  We also have been given minds to think, learn, meditate and reason out things.    Psalm 32:9 reminds us to “not be like a senseless horse or mule that needs a bit and bridle to keep it under control.” We are encouraged to use our minds, albeit with divinely inspired ideas. The Apostle Paul encouraged Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:7 to learn and grow. He told him to “think about what I am saying. The Lord will help you understand all these things.”

Earlier I mentioned it’s important to be naturally supernatural, and not “spooky spiritual.”  Praying out loud in a weird voice, and being overly religious in routine matters are silly things that abandon common sense.  Nicky shares a story in Alpha about one lady who asked God for guidance on which shoes and socks and other clothing items she should wear.  Some things are left for us to decide.  As long as our clothes are clean and modest, there shouldn’t be a problem!

Nicky says, “It is true to say that God’s promises of guidance were not given so that we could avoid the strain of thinking. Indeed, John Wesley, the father of Methodism, said that God usually guided him by presenting reasons to his mind for acting in a certain way. This is important in every area – especially in the areas of marriage and jobs.”

Some people choose to take a certain course of action that seems to be in line with scripture.  They may pray to be given reasons not to go ahead If it is not His will in that case, and to be given peace if it is is the way they should take.

Back in late November 2018, my mother was in the hospital, after some emergency bowel surgery.  I prayed on whether I should return to Canada, and stay with my parents, as I had done three years previously.  My dad had been in hospital for over a month.  My sister begged me to come and care for them, since she could not.   After my dad was released, I cared for him in dispensing the right kind of medicine at the right time, while Mom and I worked on his meals.  I’m glad that I was there for them during those months.  Coming forward to last November, my initial thought when Mom was so ill was that I would be needed to help my dad care for her.  They do have a personal care support worker, although this isn’t always enough.  So I prayed.  I prayed for wisdom, a dream, an impression, and had nothing.  However, back in August 2016, I was given a dream, where I had died, but my parents continued on and even thrived without my care.  I remember sharing this dream with Marie, one of our Iris Western Cape leaders.  Marie was given the insight to say, “You’re worried about your parents.  Holy Spirit is saying that he will care for them while you are away on mission.”

I did remember this dream, so it did give me comfort, and I did have peace that they would eventually be OK.  My cousin and aunt stepped in, I had people pray, I texted Mom’s care company with a heads up, and I was able to use my iPad to Skype both parents.  I did all I could from a different continent in a different time zone.  Later, when I shared this story, my friend and colleague Maggie was given the insight that it was actually MY choice on whether I should return to Canada to help.  Yet, what kept me in South Africa, apart from the dream I had been given, came down to common sense.

I weighed pros and cons against each other.  The pros were that it would be helpful to my parents and would bless our relationship.  The cons included the cost of airfare, other transport, and food.  It also included the extra load on Tony being alone in ministry here in South Africa.  While he could have managed, there was also our western coast holiday that he would go on alone, not too exciting.  So I chose to stay and pray.  After I made that decision, I had peace.  Two other missionaries gave me comfort.  One of them told me that she had lost both parents while she was away on missions, first in Asia, and second in Africa.  It was not an easy decision.  Thankfully, Mom had good care, and my dad had some help, although he was out of his element.  We look forward to our time with them on our home visit.  We’ll have four days in July.

Common sense is one of the factors that need to be taken into account  when we choose a partner for life.  It is common sense to look at three important areas:  Note, there are exceptions to the rule, but being in line with these helps.

These include spiritual compatibility, personal compatibility, and physical compatibility.  If you are a Christian, it is best to marry a Christian, preferably at a similar level in their journey of faith.  The Apostle Paul advised that your spouse should be of the same faith, so there is no battle on whose world view comes first.  This example is more extreme, but it does state the point that there is a dissonance that happens when there is such a difference.  1 Corinthians 6: 15-17 says,  Don’t you realize that your bodies are actually parts of Christ? Should a man take his body, which is part of Christ, and join it to a prostitute? Never! 16 And don’t you realize that if a man joins himself to a prostitute, he becomes one body with her? For the Scriptures say, “The two are united into one.” 17 But the person who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with him.  That’s the negative aspect.  People of different faiths and world views will likely clash, or one will succumb to the other.  It’s not always a happy story, although there are exceptions.

On the positive side, two Christians with like callings grow closer when praying, ministering, and studying the Bible together.  As a couple, you are drawn together not only by a shared life and sex, but by a strong spiritual bond that deeply blesses both spouses.  Tony and I acknowledged that bond in our wedding theme from Ecclesiastes 4:12:   A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.”  Can you imagine what the third strand of the cord is?  One strand is the husband, the second strand, the wife.  The third strand is Jesus. If God is at the centre of the marriage, the marriage will be strong and held together by him.

Potential spouses also need personal compatibility, such as a strong friendship with shared interests that have nothing to do with sex.  Tony and I are married, but we are also friends.  We share music, faith, humour, stories, shared ministry with children and teens, a love for prison ministry and radio.  We both love many kinds of music, although we aren’t joined at the hip in all we do.  We try to support each other in our different talents and interests.  Tony encourages me in my art, and I support him and ask for his wisdom in many things, including engineering matters (his original discipline).  We enjoy each other’s company, without jealously guarding the other for each waking moment.  We do have other friends.

And we do need physical compatibility – to be attracted to each other.  Nicky Gumbel jokes in an old Alpha video that “God does not expect you to marry someone you’re not attracted to.”  This doesn’t take into account pre-arranged marriages, where couples grow to love each other, but I am thankful that these couples do find happiness that grows in their shared lives together.

Common sense is also needed in finding jobs and careers.  If you are in a specific career when you come to faith, it’s best to stay there unless you are called to something different, for a different season of your life.  When I came to faith, I was an artist, but my income was as a grocery store cashier.  I stayed there for another seven years, before I became an office worker.  But that wasn’t my career, it was my job.  Somewhere between coming to faith and giving up my cashier job, was my call into ministry.  I called it ministry with a Big M.  I didn’t know what that would look like at the time, whether I would be a hospital chaplain, assistant pastor, or a missionary.  However, coming to faith does not mean that you will be a pastor or a missionary.  You could be, but God can use you where you are.   We need godly people in all professions.

The Apostle Paul also encouraged the Corinthians who had become Christian to stay in their profession at least for a season.  Here is what he says in 1 Corinthians 7:17, and 20-24:   17 Each of you should continue to live in whatever situation the Lord has placed you, and remain as you were when God first called you. This is my rule for all the churches.  20 Yes, each of you should remain as you were when God called you.21 Are you a slave? Don’t let that worry you—but if you get a chance to be free, take it. 22 And remember, if you were a slave when the Lord called you, you are now free in the Lord. And if you were free when the Lord called you, you are now a slave of Christ. 23 God paid a high price for you, so don’t be enslaved by the world.[a] 24 Each of you, dear brothers and sisters,[b] should remain as you were when God first called you.”

Yet, if you feel increasingly uncomfortable in your job, then ask yourself,  “Where is this job taking me?”  What is my long-term vision, and does this lead to it?  Or should I go in another direction?    Write out your pros and cons list, but be open to other ways that may confirm the way you go.  Just before I left my cashier position, the company told us that they were giving everyone a pay cut, and for those who would leave, they would get $750 Canadian dollars for every year they had worked for the company.  This was a buy-out.  The pay-cut was over five dollars an hour, and I wasn’t given that many hours as it was.  I was tired from long hours on my feet, and while they originally said no to my request for the buy-out, they eventually relented.  I was given enough of a pay-out to buy a computer and nice office clothes. At the time I was learning word processing and computers in between my first degree and studying for my second.   I remember at the time, that while I chose the route of leaving the job through common sense, this was confirmed by the still small voice of the Holy Spirit telling me that “this was the end of an era.”  And so it was.  I had worked as a cashier for fifteen years.

The next CS is Counsel of the saints, where we seek wise mature Christians for prayerful advice.  These people could be mentors, pastors, older family members and people you are drawn to for their godly wisdom.  When I mention the word saints, perhaps for some of you, you picture paintings or sculptures of heroes and heroines in church history.  Some of these have been canonized in the Catholic church.  I don’t specifically mean these people.  Saints in a generic sense means anyone who has come to faith in Jesus Christ.  Some of these people are very wise and very godly.  Wisdom is regarded as an excellent virtue to live by, and is elevated in the book of Proverbs.  Generally though, we can all agree with Proverbs 12:15, which is “A wise man listens to advice.”  We really don’t know everything.  We need help from each other to not make mistakes that will cause pain.   Proverbs 15:22 also reminds us that “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisors they will succeed.”   Proverbs 20:18 advises that we need to “make plans by seeking advice.”

However, Nicky Gumbel shares that while seeking advice is very important, we need to remember that ultimately, our decisions are between us and God. They are our responsibility. We cannot shift that responsibility onto others or seek to blame them if things go wrong.”  The counsel of the saints is part of guidance; but it is not the only part. Sometimes it may be right to go ahead in spite of the advice of others, particularly if there is other guidance that leads that way.

When Tony and I were preparing to come to South Africa for three years, we were not sure what to do with our condo.  We wanted to rent it out and live there on our return.  We were advised by our financial planner to sell the condo, invest that money, and not worry about the other overhead.  This meant that on our return to Canada, we would have to rent an apartment.  Tony initially seemed OK with this, but I grew uncomfortable and even angry.  It just didn’t seem right.  So I asked my Facebook prayer group to pray into whether we should sell or just rent out our place.  We also made a pro-con list, so we were also using common sense.  Tony told me that if we sold, we would lose our equity line of credit and would not qualify for another one on our return to Canada.  Then the prayerful advice rolled in from many in the group.  Some had words of knowledge “not to sell.”  Others just had an inner knowing that it wouldn’t be right to sell.  One friend telephoned to tell me so, and that to sell would be a major distraction.  It was hard enough renting and clearing out our condo for the couple who eventually did rent.   We would have been moved significantly off our timetable if we sold.  I am thankful now that we have a place to return to when we go back from our South African assignment.

So when we are faced with a decision where we need advice, whom shall we consult?  We need wisdom.  The writer of Proverbs tells us in Proverbs 9:10 that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”  This is especially the case when advice is from those who love and revere the Lord.  Nicky Gumbel says that the best advisors are usually godly Christian people with wisdom and experience whom we respect. It is also wise to seek the advice of parents whom we are to honour, even if we are past the ages of being under their authority.  Even if they are not Christians, they know us very well and can often have important insights into situations.”

Nicky has found it a real help throughout his Christian life to have someone who is a mature Christian, whom he respects and to whom he can go for advice on a whole range of issues.  Often God’s insight has come as they talked through the issues together.

When it comes to bigger decisions, it is helpful to seek a range of advice. When Nicky was facing whether to become an ordained Anglican priest, he sought the advice of his parents, his two closest friends, his pastor, and those who were involved in the official process of selection.  The people whom we ask for advice should not be chosen on the basis that they will agree with what we have already planned to do!  Don’t just choose “yes” people who will rubber stamp your leaning.  We should consult people on the basis of their spiritual authority or their relationship to us, regardless of what we may anticipate their views to be.

Take your time when you are choosing.  You don’t need to be in a rush, unless the decision is time-sensitive, as ours was for selling or renting our condo.

During this article, I’ve shared some of the more practical ways that God guides us, through common sense and counsel of the saints.  Thinking things through logically on what works best in your situation is extremely valuable. Seeking godly advice is scripturally and practically important as a foundation.  Wisdom is a godly virtue that at best points to God.  I also remember an evening in Harvest School where were learning about the prophetic ministry from David Wagner.  He called up people who had either never had a prophetic word given to them, or had never given one to someone else.  Tony went up and David took him under his wing.  By the end of the evening, Tony was prophesying over people, loving them and encouraging them.  His ears just needed to be fine-tuned.  In the midst of this teaching, David stunned everyone by these words, “I want you to know that if any of you are lacking wisdom and want it, ask Tony.  He has the gift of wisdom.”  And David wasn’t just talking about common sense, logic and compassion, which Tony has in abundance.  Now he was given a deposit of godly wisdom, in tune with the heart of the Father.  Yet still, we as a couple still need the love, and guidance of God through our Christian community, and our Iris family. We are not meant to live our faith on our own.  This is all what the counsel of the saints is all about.  We need each other.

I pray that you have been blessed by our journey through some of the ways that God has guided us.  What I’ve shared is only a taste of a much larger menu.  I encourage you to seek the scriptures yourselves.  Ask Holy Spirit to still your heart, fill you with peace and enlighten your common sense as you think through your decisions.  Also listen to his promptings on whom to seek wise advice from.  You’re not alone.

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

If you’d like to hear an audio version of this article, please visit the Ways to Grow in God podcast page on coppleswesterncape.ca and scroll down to #46

Do you have a favourite way that God speaks to you?

Blessings, Laurie-Ann Copple
Worcester, South Africa

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be blessed my friends,
Laurie-Ann

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

 

Growing in God: Learning how God guides us part 1

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings, Laurie-Ann

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ways to Grow in God podcast page

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

Blessings and love,
Laurie-Ann Copple

 

 

Growing in God through God moments at Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love, Laurie-Ann

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