Simplifying my life in the “Year of Joy”

New Mexico between Alamogordo and Cloudcroft

New Mexico between Alamogordo and Cloudcroft

Happy 2016!  Okay, okay, so I’m almost two months late.  My whirlwind season is still going on – but I’ve been growing through it.  I’ve been told by many prophetic people that this year is to be a year of joy.

During the past six months, I’ve spent precious time with my frail parents, sister, 18 month old niece, stepson and his family, and so much more.  The picture above shows the New Mexico desert where we visited family. It was the quiet time within a busy season (sometimes the desert is like that).  During this time, I’ve also been part of huge outreaches where there weren’t enough people doing the administration (the outreaches went well, I’m still tired).  And one of my churches has become a mobile church that moves from place to place (Kingdom Culture meets mostly in Ottawa’s Carleton University, but sometimes in Lansdowne Park (Horticulture Building).

My husband Tony is also retiring from his full time job as a financial planner today.  This was his third career, so he’s been through this transition before.  We also bought a condo in another area of Ottawa, and are slowly moving in things from our very crowded home.  That kind of transition can be scary.  How do you downsize well?  Is it really all about living a simple life?  I believe simplicity is an excellent virtue – and it’s something I’ve been drawn to, despite my life of collecting books and many other resources.

So this is a time to take stock on what is important. What is essential?  Our Faith. Our families and relationships. An ability to express who you are. What can we live without?  That seems to be a process that I’m learning. I’ve been working on downsizing a little bit at a time before we were even given a good condo offer.  Yet now that there is a tight timeframe ahead, it is more and more urgent.  So far I’ve given away boxes of books – many of them excellent – to Love Ottawa/One Way Ministries.  They hold a sale of Christian books every spring as a ministry fundraiser.  Excellent timing – thank you, Love Ottawa.

How do we also simplify our lives in our schedules?  I’ve been challenged by a therapist to consider what to drop from my life so that I have more room to be creative.  Creativity gives me energy, since I was born to be creative. My faith also gives me energy.  These are good things.  So how do we get through massive amounts of work within a short time frame?  A goal.  But is the goal enough? It can be, but personally, I need that time to be creative.  Thankfully, I will be given my own creative cave – studio in the condo.  I’ve not had that for my entire married life.  For that I am incredibly thankful.  I can have a ‘container’ to create space for creativity.  And in that place, I can also envision more that brings me joy.  A place to seek God without interruption (yay!).

I pray that you also receive a quiet place, a sanctuary so to speak, in your own homes, and lives. A place to be uniquely you, with God and yourself.  A place to dream and to grow in quiet joy as you soak in the love of the Holy Spirit.

More to come in the next post – I have an incredible announcement! (I have not forgotten more “Ways to Grow” articles – to write and post in future.  It’s just that sometimes ‘life’ gets in the way).

Much love and blessings to you in Christ

Laurie-Ann

Transition and family shaking

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Hi!

I’ve often talked about life in transition as a time of stretching, surprises, and wondering what is next.  During my transition lately, I’ve taken my mother to Iris Virginia to hear David Hogan (a missionary to some dangerous areas of Mexico), and returned to Canada to see my whole family shaken.  We’ve had an unexpected death, a miracle birth, and illnesses with family members in the hospital.  I’m also part of three churches – two of them in transition.  One is a church plant, the other, a church that had a building but has to go mobile since the building will be torn down to make room for a new Costco. We’re all  hopeful for what is next, no matter what.

While I was praying about this season, I had a picture of my husband and I being strengthened in what looked like an eye of a hurricane.  All around us things and people were being shaken – including our families. And this is indeed what has been happening in our lives. We are being strengthened in the storm and will do more than just persevere.

At the moment, I’m working through helping care for ailing parents, so I don’t have a Ways to Grow in God post for this month.  However, I can encourage us all to persevere in the calling that God has given you. Sometimes it doesn’t seem “nice” or exciting, but believe me, it is needed.  Just remember Galatians 6:9: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

A time is coming when every Christian will have to be onboard to serve… Revival is coming!  It may be messy, but what matters is how God’s love will touch lives… including ours.  Are we willing to work for God (especially God’s way)?  Stand in his strength and love.

Be Blessed,
Love, Laurie-Ann

Growing in Transition:  Learning our Identity and Purpose

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Last time we grew as we discovered the strange connection between suffering and joy; this link shows a very deep trust in God.  This foundational trust is the very same part of faith that carried the Apostle Paul when he was imprisoned for the Gospel. It is also the same strange joy that continues to carry and fill the lives of missionaries like Rolland and Heidi Baker. This vulnerable depth of faith also emits a beautiful fragrance of Jesus. I sensed this “godly perfume” in the lives of the persecuted Christians that I met in Shantinagar, Pakistan and in Belfast, Northern Ireland.  When we are also willing to count the cost of our faith, and push through in very difficult circumstances, we also become much more refined in our character.  We begin to look, sound and even smell like the resurrected Jesus!  It’s his presence in us!

There is another kind of season that can be difficult for people – that of transition.   Desert or wilderness life experiences are one form of transition, but these are often gradual change.  (Link to desert article)  But sometimes circumstances happen quickly – you can be accelerated into the next season of your life before you have a chance to catch up, so you learn to re-orient yourself.  Other times, you may be stuck in a season of hiddenness that seems to go on and on, only because you can’t see the end of what you are going through.  Yet in the midst of this change, there are these constants: the faithfulness and love of God, and that you are deeply loved.  We are not orphans. We are not rejected. This is a time to seek God even more.  He is calling us to our identity as beloved children of God.  We don’t have to work for our inheritance. It is already ours.

I used to be a performance-driven people pleaser.  I got to be very good at gauging people’s moods and anticipating their needs.  But deep down inside there was a deep insecurity.  I needed love and had a huge love deficit.  I gave love, but somehow I expected to earn showers of love towards me.  Even my own love had conditions on it – I wanted those I cared about to feel the same about me.  Yet the love of God is unconditional.  We don’t have to earn it.   I remember a pivotal time in my life happened quietly in a small mobile church in Thornhill, Ontario.  Our pastor handed out small business cards and told us, “here is the highest calling you will ever have.”   What did it say on the card?  It simply said, “Child of God.”  I remember holding this card in my hands.  My mind said, “What is this?  It’s too simple. That’s not enough.  Who am I really?  I’m this, and this, and this…”  But I didn’t have that foundation of love in my heart that showed how secure I was as a daughter, as God’s child. My heart ached and I cried and cried.  I don’t remember receiving ministry, but I must have.  I needed to grow in my identity as a child of God.

Deepest Needs: Significance and Security

Larry Crabb is a Christian counsellor and pastor.  He was one of the writers we  read in my Tyndale Seminary counselling courses in the late 1990’s.  I remember he talked about the two deepest human needs: that of significance and of security.  At that time in my life, I had a security deficit. I  tried to fill it with accomplishments I was achieving on the significance side of life.   After I married my husband Tony, he became a significant part of  healing  my security deficit;  although it was really God who completely filled that huge sinkhole.  God healed me directly by  continually filling me with his love and through the love of my husband and friends.

After my insecurity issues were dealt with, I went through a difficult season when I discovered I also had a significance deficit.  When I was in school, I filled that need with my academic pursuits, even though these were not enough.  Also when I married, I was sidelined away from a ministry career for a time, so the deficit became even more obvious.  I felt like I was stuck in the desert with no way out of it.  God began to refine that area of my life.  In time, I came to lean less on fulfilling tasks as a way to receive  significance.  Again, my deepest significance is ALSO fulfilled in actively being a child of God.  Degrees, mission trips, radio shows and lay ministry experience are all wonderful things, but these roles don’t replace who you are in Christ.  You are, as a son, or as a daughter –  secure in his love for you. You are not a slave that works for a master.  You are a child who inherits. As an inheritor, you also have a role to represent the Father. That is your purpose.  Jesus, through the Holy Spirit,  fills you to do whatever you are to do for him.  When you learn to surrender and fully trust his leading in your life, your significance is confirmed over and over as he works through you.  Your highest significance is as God’s child; and each child has a unique ministry. Proverbs teaches us to “trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways, acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

While you spend time acknowledging God, he gives you your assignment and all necessary grace to accomplish it.  He provides the path that is unique for each of us. He prepares us in advance for whatever work we are called to do. He utilizes all of our skills, talents and gifts to work together in a perfect blend. He makes us “uniquely us,” and he gives us the power and love to jump deeply into more of who we were meant to be. Ephesians 2:10 reminds us that “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  Sometimes these works look different in each season, depending on the assignment that God will give us.  When we do these works, they bring deep satisfaction: whether they are monetized as part of our careers, whether they are part of our natural helping roles, or whether  they are a supernatural ministry gift (see 1 Corinthians 12).

What is God asking you to be?  Unless you know who you really are, you’ll never reach your full potential.  You are called to fullness and success, but it is the Father who imparts your identity and purpose.   Just as it took you time to grow up physically from babyhood to adulthood, so it often takes time to grow up spiritually.  And in this process and season of “there but not yet,”  it really is all about trust.  As you trust God, he will give you tasks to do, and many wonderful surprises along the way.  Open your eyes and look for them.  He will not disappoint.  Take time with him and let him love you. Allow him access into the secret areas of your heart and give him all your plans.  He will reshape all of your life in a way that is infinitely beautiful.

When I was on my first mission trip in Northern Ireland, I discovered the music of Robin Mark.  His song “All for Jesus” was instrumental in the complete surrender that opened up healing of my insecurity.  Sure, I entered into a desert season for a while, but it was necessary to deepen my trust.  The same happened when I surrendered in the all the areas of significance and ministry.  It brought me to another desert, and again, it was essential to take out thorns in my heart.  Again, it was necessary to deepen my trust in another way.  I am not the same person I was when I first journeyed to Northern Ireland in 1995. For this I am very thankful.  Both of these needs are summed up in Robin’s song “All for Jesus“, as well as the Bethel Music song “Good Shepherd.”

Next time, we will continue our journey and learn how to deepen our identity  in seasons of silence and God saying “no.”  As we walk, we’ll sing Amanda Cook’s lyrics (from Good Shepherd).  “In the process, in the waiting, you’re making melodies over me. And your presence is the promise; for I am a pilgrim on a journey…”

Blessings,
Laurie-Ann Copple

pilgrim backpack

Book excerpt: from L-A’s book

first draft

Hi!  It’s been a very busy summer in my admin and pastoral care volunteer work, so I’ve not been able to work on more Ways to Grow in God articles at this time.  However, I’ve not forgotten you.  I promise that they will return.  Meanwhile, another way we can grow in God is by sharing our story – especially when it comes to how we came to faith. It’s called a testimony.

I am continuing my book in little bits between the work.  What is the book about? The book is a compilation of many stories that overlap in a busy life. A lot of it is about my own  journey;  in life, in art, faith, travels, studies, insights and personal history. While I’ve had some difficult times, I’ve also had brilliant times. I cannot complain – there are and have been many blessings in my life and I trust that my story will touch some people’s lives.

At the moment, I’m up to about chapter 10, in my first phase of a “memory dump.”  The book will probably look different than it does now, but since so many of you wanted a glimpse, I’m giving you a sneak peek in the middle of chapter one.

“I entered art school at Three Schools of Art in the Annex neighbourhood of Toronto while I was still attending high school. It was called Three Schools because there were three schools combined into one funky art college.  This community was located above many different stores as interlinking flats. The floor boards creaked; it was always a little cold, and the walls were bare, other than colourful brick or sometimes white drywall.  But it was Bohemian, and promoted creativity. The full time art school, New School of Art, did not give diplomas (in fact, the restrooms had labelled towel dispensers that said, “Diplomas, take one”!) but they instead excelled in avant-garde learning by artists who were active in their profession.  Some of these art teachers were quite unconventional, and many of them were opinionated. One of them, John McGregor, accused me of being on drugs because of my different art styles – I only had two at the time: the bold, expressive printmaking and the tightly detailed drawing.

It’s funny that he didn’t even consider my then-current painting style, which was based on shapes and shades of blue. He couldn’t understand that each style represented a different part of me – like the young adult I was and the little girl inside me. I continued at that school until its closing (it closed because the owners could not afford to re-mortgage their home to keep the school afloat).  So I pursued my learning at different schools after its demise:  Sheridan College, Ontario College of Art and Design, and finally, many different Toronto Art Groups that held their own workshops. Some of these classes included drawing, painting and printmaking. I learned from professional and semi-professional artists and became very serious about a career in fine art, illustration and art film photography.

I had exhibits in local libraries, cafes, doctor’s offices, group and juried shows, and at the time gained a lot of local exposure.  I even had some small commissions. I travelled to the French Riviera with local artists and worked to my heart’s content for the time we visited.  Yet, it wasn’t enough. My art career was floundering and was funded by working as a grocery store cashier, although I did have a short work stint in the art/printing department of Mississauga Library. I also dreamed of designing sets like I did in high school theatre arts productions. After all, Toronto was known as “Hollywood North” – or at least one of the major cities where filming was done in Canada. I also did black and white artistic photography, and photographed models, musicians on stage and portraits.  I was busy but it wasn’t lucrative.

Unfortunately most of the doors that I tried to push through professionally were shut tight.  No amount of banging on doors made a difference. Nothing seemed to open and I grew frustrated. Even my dream of dreams, to be a portrait artist in London, England didn’t seem attainable.

Eventually I began searching spiritually as well as career-wise.  One lady in my church choir took me to fortune tellers, and I didn’t know that these were forbidden in the Bible. This only made me more confused as I searched for answers in many wrong places! Some of these wrong turns included Scientology, befriending pimps and prostitutes when I had no idea who they were, recreational drugs, smoking, occult literature, astrology and eventually my own fortune-telling practices (including tarot cards and ‘reading’ objects). I remember going to one psychic fair looking for answers.  I didn’t find them, and grew more and more frustrated with the occult world – I had conflicting answers (well, they were getting their guidance from lying divination spirits!).  I remember saying to myself (and softly outloud), “I need to find out the answer; where do I go, whom shall I seek?”  At the time I felt like I was briefly overshadowed by evil, an ‘intelligent’ evil, and my ears burned. I had a sense that the wrong source had answered my plea for understanding.

Yet, in all my searching, I may have not drawn solace from my liberal-minded church, but I did always have a heart for Jesus. I remember reading a New Age book, of which I’ve forgotten the title.  The author stated that Christians were wrong, intolerant, narrow-minded and evil. I thought, “How could Christians be evil?”  The real Christians that I knew and met were kind and loving; even if they didn’t do all the things that I did at that time. I remember knowing this statement was not true, and I began to wonder what really was true about Christians and the church.

In the autumn of 1987, I house-sat for a friend, and I was drawing at her kitchen table. I remember saying to myself, “1988 has to be the year to change my life.”  I said that out loud, so it could have been a prayer. Then I felt an incredible wave of love and holiness wash over me. I sensed the words “Good!  Now’s the time to find God.”  While I didn’t know who the Holy Spirit was at the time, I knew somehow this voice was connected to God, and that he meant to seek out Jesus Christ.  I just ‘knew.’  The Holy Spirit was gently convicting me, and drawing me to Jesus; especially since I was searching.  And so, I narrowed my search to focus exclusively on Christianity, but I still didn’t know where to start.  I told my mother about my experience, and I asked where I may begin in reading the Bible.  She suggested I begin in the Psalms and Proverbs.  I read these, and then I skipped to the New Testament, where I read about Jesus for myself. No longer was I reading Bible stories that were taken out of context, but I read the whole thing.

I remember attending a church service during that season, and one of the scripture readings really caught my attention.  It was 1 Corinthians 10:13 (NLT): “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.”

After I heard that word, I was given a vision, or a visual picture in my mind, that I was trapped under an old kitchen floor.  Jesus opened up the trap door above my head, and looked down at me with kindness.  I was tied up and could not move, but Jesus reached out to me.  Then the vision ended.  I didn’t know that I was bound, but somehow I did know that Jesus was there for me.

Another month later, I was led to go to another church, where the pastor had the same name I did. Remember I was still called ‘Laurie’ then!  Laurie listened in a wonderful pastoral way, and encouraged me to attend a conference his church was to host in the near future.  He knew I was searching!  When I did attend this conference, I finally accepted Jesus into my life as saviour.  The speaker was Dennis Bennett, an Episcopalian (Anglican) priest. He was known as ‘the father of the charismatic movement.’  He and his wife Rita, also were active in inner-healing ministry.  This was the exactly the type of thing I was looking for!  This wasn’t the liberal Christianity that I knew, but this was the active kind where the Holy Spirit actually touched people. This wasn’t dry and dusty. This was REAL.  I wanted the real thing!  All the occult things I was involved with before were counterfeit, but I didn’t know that!

The night I accepted Jesus, I heard Dennis proclaim these words:  “You can’t be a Christian and a New Ager too.  Unless you are Jewish, you must give up any other kind of faith in order to be a Christian.” And so, when Dennis led the sinner’s prayer, I prayed it and meant it.  I was full of joy and felt light as air. However, there was a battle to come, since although I was now free of my sin, I was still demonized from my past. I had to allow God to touch those areas of my life one by one. I did however, quit smoking that night.  I figured that since Jesus gave me new life in him, I was going to give him my cigarettes. That day was April 27, 1988.

The following day, Dennis and Rita taught, and I learned that after the fall of human kind, Satan set up the psychic world.  That was a game-changer for me, since I did not realize who was deceiving me the whole time.  I thought I was in neutral spiritual territory, but I was definitely not neutral at all.   Thankfully I had good Christian support in my early Christian years.  Along with my Baptist church family, I had a mentor who was a Christian counsellor, a loving Christian boyfriend (son of a pastor), and in time a second church (in the Vineyard movement) that became my ‘hospital.’  That Vineyard church eventually became “THE” Toronto Airport Vineyard (later TACF and Catch the Fire) of the Toronto Blessing in the 1990s.  What a place for a hospital!  I had them and its offshoot, Thornhill Vineyard, where I grew in leadership… but I am jumping ahead.”

So that’s your little peek at what I’ve been writing, other than this blog. Meanwhile, I encourage you to share your own story.  Remember when you do, that this is only a small part of your story.  CS Lewis writes that our lives are only like the first page of an ongoing story – it’s a wonderful ending to the Narnia Chronicles, but it’s also the beginning to many adventures beyond our lives on earth.  (Read CS Lewis’s The Last Battle to understand what I mean)

Blessings!
Laurie-Ann

L-A’s writing a book

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Hi, It’s Laurie-Ann.  During this season,  I’ve been encouraged to grow in creativity.  While I already am a visual artist, audio producer and radio host, I have been pushed to begin to write my story.  I know some of you have been encouraged by little stories that I include in my Ways to Grow in God articles.  Would you be interested in a sneak peak, or even read the book when it is finished?  Let me know!

Blessings from Laurie-Ann

Growing in God: Suffering and Joy

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Last time we discovered that thankfulness and gratitude are key to managing suffering.  This helps us in natural ways, but also gives opportunity for God to work supernaturally in our lives in the midst of difficulty. Jesus suffered for us (dying on a cross, 39 lashes) so he is no stranger to pain. He endured because of the joy awaiting him (Hebrews 12:2).  Part of that joy was for us to come to know God through him. He didn’t bemoan his situation. When we refuse to practise negativity in the midst of difficulties, our hearts are ready to receive the supernatural help to get through situations that are near impossible. God gives his grace, and in the midst of it, that grace can even bring joy.

When I wrote my earlier article on suffering, I only partly understood what it really means.  My understanding was incomplete, even though I had met Christians who had suffered greatly in northern Kenya, Pakistan, Sierra Leone and Northern Ireland.  I understood key aspects of successfully living through suffering.  My article suggested that most of these keys included attitude, gaining a refined identity as children of God, ministering comfort toward others, humility and realizing that God will somehow make sense out of the suffering.  Through these things the Holy Spirit would develop in us a deep perseverance, as well as character and hope (see Romans 5:4).  All of this is true; scripture implores us over and over again to not give up in the face of difficulty.  However, I still didn’t truly understand the paradox of joy and suffering. I have been pondering the issue of suffering for years.  Many people have, which is why it’s the number one topic in Nicky Gumbel’s book Searching Issues.

I had just returned from my first mission trip to Kenya in 1993.  I attended an evening service in Toronto with a friend who had journeyed with me through some of my own difficulties. My then-pastor Dale, had preached on Hebrews 12:1-3:  “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

Most people would have focused on our cheerleaders in heaven (the great cloud of witnesses), or perhaps the encouragement to not give up (run our race with perseverance, and not losing heart). This again gives us good reason to not give up.  Never, never give up (I’ve given up too early many times in the past). Yet I was drawn to the phrase “for the joy set before him he endured the cross.”  Joy?  In the cross?  In suffering?  I also had heard of persecuted Christians who showed joy at surprising times but I wasn’t yet ready to read the stories.  I was afraid to hear their stories but I needed to read them.  I remember going up for prayer to Dale’s wife, Linda. I asked her that I may understand what joy and suffering meant, and to understand joy in the context of the cross. I don’t think she understood what I really wanted, but she did pray (albeit with a perplexed look on her face).

When I studied in Tyndale Seminary, I took a New Testament course called Prison Epistles (Philippians, Colossians, Ephesians and Philemon).  The Apostle Paul wrote these letters while he was under house arrest in Rome. I remember Paul often writing about joy in the midst of the letter to the Philippians. It’s known as the book of joy. Joy, or rejoicing is mentioned 16 times in this letter! Yet, this is the apostle who endured so much persecution (read 2 Corinthians 1:8, 4:8-12, 6:4-5, and especially 11:16-33).  Paul was no wimp. He suffered out of love to reach as many people as possible. Yet in that time, God gave him the grace of joy.   I remember I had a brief flash of insight when I was writing the final exam in the Prison Epistles course.  It was about the paradox of suffering and joy – and I believed that Paul’s statement of being content in all circumstances was the key.  I still sought the core of that inner contentment – what was it?  What came to me was a very small, but bright intuitive flash – the centre of that joy, that contentment was trust.  Pure and deep trust in God, no matter what. Since I was still working on that part of my life, I didn’t get to expound on my discovery.  Paul’s contentment is made plain in Philippians 4: 10-14 (Message Version):

“I’m glad in God, far happier than you would ever guess—happy that you’re again showing such strong concern for me. Not that you ever quit praying and thinking about me. You just had no chance to show it. Actually, I don’t have a sense of needing anything personally. I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am. I don’t mean that your help didn’t mean a lot to me—it did. It was a beautiful thing that you came alongside me in my troubles.”

That trust is something I saw in the eyes of the people in Shantinagar, Pakistan. I remember seeing them as glowing, shining stars for Christ: humble, loving, full of radiant love.  I saw the same thing through the eyes of missionary Heidi Baker.  She is an apostle of radical love.  She and her husband head up Iris Global, a huge movement of missions, mercy and radical lovers.  She approached me once in a women’s conference and gave me roses. I remember the deep love of Jesus that poured out of her.  Here is one person who so completely loves and trusts God that she never says no to him. She laughs out of joy, simply because she is so filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit.

Heidi’s husband Rolland is just as amazing as his wife. I got to meet Rolland while at an Iris conference hosted by Iris Virginia (Richmond/Williamsburg).  I began my relationship with this community in June 2014, and continue to correspond, visit, pray with and minister with these folks as much as I can. I am awaiting my fourth visit in September. My second visit was for this conference and I was given the opportunity to receive lots of ministry.  Heidi had declared on the first night that some people needed to receive God’s joy in order to be used effectively for the gospel. I didn’t quite walk into that crowd at the altar, but I wasn’t far from them.  I should have been closer.  I was often sad and still grieving the loss of my only full-time job; and I still missed the Nelson, British Columbia community I came to love while I was working there. I had given my loss to God, but I didn’t yet have the joy/trust to overcome my loss. Heidi asked for Rolland to pray for all who were depressed.  Many wept deeply.  Sometime during that evening, someone had prayed for me, and I went down.  I spent a long time on that carpet, weeping almost as much as the poor people on stage.

The next night, I stood between the Iris book table and a pole in the church lobby with my new friend Ryan. Ryan was a philosophy student at Boston University and is brilliant (as Rolland himself is). While Ryan and I discussed and debated, Rolland tried to touch us many times on the arm or shoulder (he was deeply filled by the Holy Spirit, and wanted to share with us).  Rolland giggled and had a mischievous glint in his eye.  Sure enough, Ryan and I laughed and giggled as Rolland prayed for us.  I hugged a supporting pole in the church lobby and didn’t want to fall on the floor.  There was no carpet, this was hard tile!  It was also difficult for me to get up!  It didn’t matter.  Rolland was relentless and we received (although we did not fall down).

The next evening, much of the crowd didn’t return, since Heidi had gone on to another conference, far away from Richmond.  But Rolland and Mel Tari were still there. I was able to actually say hello to Rolland, and when I asked him how he was, he said, “Hi, I’ve come looking for revival, have I come to the right place?”  Surely he must have been joking, but I prayed for him anyway!  What a privilege (I was to get the same honour of praying for Heidi only four months later in Toronto)!  That night, holy laughter broke out in the meeting between the worship time and the sermon.  Rolland didn’t want to wait, and it seemed the right time to change the ‘usual format’ of the service. He invited people up to the front to receive. He jokingly called himself “Doctor tee-hee;” for he really does have a Doctor of Ministry degree (as Heidi has a PhD).  I ran up and stood right in front of him, so I ended up being one of the first “hit.”  Rolland thrust his microphone into my stomach and down I went.  It took me ages to get up later, so I sat at his feet while he talked.  While I was on the floor, the rest of my sadness poured out.  I was at peace.

You would think that Rolland would then speak on the theological nature of joy, or of God’s love.  But, no.  He gave a sermon of pure gold. He spoke on holiness and sin.  He spoke on what we desperately need in the church – repentance; and of all that keeps us from leading a holy life. Perhaps we were able to hear Rolland more clearly because we had already received ministry. Yet through it, I remembered Rolland’s words when he was praying for people earlier,  “That the joy was necessary as God was preparing us to die.”  What did Rolland mean by that?  Death of self?  Perhaps!  Many times our own selfish nature gets in the way. Or maybe he meant about inevitable suffering that comes in ministry and when you’re an outspoken Christian?  I had a sense that was what he meant.    The following day, I asked Mel Tari to pray over me that I would become fearless. He smiled and said, “I’d like to pray for you to come into your destiny instead.”  And so Mel did. By the end of the conference, and weeks afterward, I had a lasting taste of what the ‘Joy of the Lord’ meant (Nehemiah 8:10).  It really is about trust, child-like trust that is intermingled with contentment. It is deeper than a feeling, but includes emotion. It is love, trust, and joy that is not connected to circumstances.  Happiness is connected to circumstances, joy is not. I finally could understand joy.   I guess that meant that I was now prepared for suffering, but rather, what came in the wake was more subtle refining.  Some of this was: preparation for future ministry, learning to live on no income of my own, pouring out many volunteer hours in pastoral care (at Kingdom Culture and other places).

I am praying about attending a future Iris Harvest Mission School, and have been reading their required list for over a year.  I found more teaching on suffering and joy through Surprise Sithole’s biography, Surprise in the Night. As I mentioned in my last article (Growing in Gratitude: Paradox and Ministry), Surprise has an amazing way of seeing all of life through joy, despite the tremendous suffering he has endured. He can still have a “good day” every day. Rolland shares in his doctoral dissertation the five values of Iris: God can be found, dependence on miracles, humility/going to the least of these, being willing to suffer and rejoicing in the Lord.  He ties the last two values together when he says, “the joy of the Lord is not optional, and it far outweighs our suffering. In Jesus, it becomes our motivation, reward and spiritual weapon.  In his presence is fullness of joy, and with Paul we testify that in all our troubles, our joy knows no bounds (2 Cor. 7:4). It is our strength and energy, without which we die.” (Rolland Baker, Toward a Biblical Strategy of Mission. P 112)

That extreme dependence on God puts one in a good place, because then God can give us the grace, and the joy we need as we trust him.  This trust isn’t harmed if you’re deeply suffering, because you’re already rooted into his unshakeable grace. Neither is it harmed if you’re in preparation and want to run ahead but know you cannot.  You’re stuck in the place of trusting and waiting on God – for his hand in provision, direction and ministry.  He is the same God, but through this experience, he changes you and his glory inside you begins to shine out of you.  Why do many persecuted Christians seem to smile in the midst of such torture?  The glory within them leaks out. Their eyes are focused on Jesus, and they become even more filled with grace, and that’s what the persecutors see. How are these people carried?  By deep and sure grace.  Strange joy in the midst of horrible circumstances.  Now that I understand, it’s impossible to ignore.  Lord Jesus, help us to learn from those of us who lead the way in shining for you.  May we shine for you as much as these people shine in persecution and even death.

Rolland’s wife Heidi shares a vision she was given of at least a million needy children.  Her voice clip is included in Jason Lee Jones’ song “Song of the Martyr” (which is on his cd, Face to Face).  The children from Heidi’s vision were from all nations.  Jesus said to Heidi, Go give them something to eat, but Heidi was overwhelmed.  Then Jesus took a piece of his broken body and said to her, “Because I died, there will always be enough.”  I believe it was about more than just enough food and enough gospel message.  Heidi took the piece of flesh and it turned into bread, and the bread multiplied over and over. She was also shown that she would drink the cup of suffering, but she would also drink the cup of joy.  Joy is necessary to overcome; after all it is rooted in deep trust! Below I have posted a video of Jason Lee Jones singing a special song about some of the martyrs.  This is a live version, rather than the version on his cd, Face to Face (which I highly recommend) May you be as impacted as I was.

Next time we will explore growing in our identity in the midst of transition.

Blessings,
Laurie-Ann Copple


Jason Lee Jones “Song of the Martyrs”
Jason’s website is: http://godbreed.org/  He is one of the leaders of the Iris base at Savannah Georgia, USA.

flower-in-sidewalk

Growing in Gratitude: Paradox and Ministry

Chalice

Last time we discovered that it is possible to eliminate negativity and complaining in our lives though a lifestyle of thankfulness and gratitude.  In February (2015), I attempted to go on a negativity fast for Lent, and it was for the most part- successful.  However, there were challenges. After I declared that this was a fast for God, not only were everyday challenges more of an uphill battle, but there were other difficulties that made some days “screaming days.”  Difficulties were exacerbated by: roller-coaster hormones (after all, I am in the menopause stage of my life), financial stretching, an overlapping schedule with different ministries, a lack of sleep, and even more important, I felt like my life was stuck behind a giant pause button.  During that time, I had to lean very heavily on the Lord for extra grace.  I had to believe (along with the Apostle Paul) that God’s grace “is sufficient for [me], for [God’s] power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. (2 Corinthians 9).

Cup of Thanksgiving overflows
Some people could see my initial efforts as wimpy.  Full-time missioners and missionaries often minister no matter how tired they feel.  Many workers in the secular world work very long hours, as I did in the radio broadcasting world. I am not one for encouraging burn-out, for we all need Sabbath times of rest. Yet sometimes we are simply worn out not by work, but by complaining, bitterness and negative attitudes.  So when you give thanks in all things (1 Thess. 5:18), your cup is no longer half empty like the pessimist. Your cup is far more full than the optimist’s half-full glass.  Looking at the glass isn’t just about perspective, although it does include seeing life through different eyes. The eyes of a thankful Christian are opened to what God is doing in us and around us.  This isn’t just a human thing – it’s a supernatural thing.  Your eyes become open to the “more.” This is how the cup turns from being half-full to overflowing. The Psalmist says “You anoint my head with oil. My cup overflows.” (Psalm 23:5)  The overflowing cup is a symbol of being so full of the Holy Spirit that God’s glory and love easily spill out of you.  That’s exactly the time that God works through you, because it is clear that you are more than the “natural you.”

Cup of Suffering and of Joy
Our cup is also a cup of Jesus’ pain and suffering. “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ?” (1 Cor. 10:16) The Apostle Paul talks about sharing the ‘fellowship’ of Christ’s suffering as part of truly knowing him. (Phil 3:10)  How can gratitude and suffering be in the same cup? How can we experience joy in the midst of suffering?  How can we encounter God’s glory in the midst of suffering? Are we even willing to suffer alongside Christ? This cup of suffering is what Jesus drank when he died for us (Matt 26:26-27, Mark 14:22-23, Luke 22:17,19). While we don’t have to go through crucifixion as Jesus did, we do go through suffering and times of difficulty. Sometimes we even go through persecution because of our faith in Jesus Christ and ministry for him. Jesus walks alongside us, and he carries us through these difficulties.  When we thank him in the midst of difficulties, we acknowledge his presence, and allow him to work in our hearts despite the refining fire of challenges. We aren’t suffering alone. Jesus is with us.

Suffering and Gratitude
Suffering can make us bitter or cause us to grow.  If we keep a good attitude of thankfulness, the suffering actually refines us.  It takes us through a process which builds in us perseverance, character and hope (Romans 5:3-4). When you keep thankful in such circumstances, it helps keeps your eyes centred on what God is doing in your life.  The process actually is circular – we start with thankfulness and end up in gratitude.  Thankfulness acknowledges who God is and how he is working in your life, despite the difficulties.  Gratitude is the growing state of your heart as God uses the refining process to create good soil.  This good soil is the same believing, faithful heart that Jesus refers to in the parable of the sower (Mark 4:3-20).

Recently, my husband and I returned from a trip to Williamsburg, Virginia. We spent special time with our dear family-friends in the Iris Virginia church. The visiting worship leader, Jonathan David Pettit,  prophesied over me that I was like “spiritual Miracle Grow” (a plant fertilizer).  He told me that “because I had not allowed my heart to become bitter, despite the ‘crap’ in my life, he was using me overcoming these experiences as fertile soil.” He would use these experiences to help others overcome their difficulties. He would use me as a cheerleader for other’s dreams, because I had ‘been there.’ In the moments Jonathan shared, I had a profound sense of gratitude for God working out the messes in my life in a way that gives God glory.

How do we develop this heart of gratitude?  Perhaps the best way is by disciplining ourselves to stay thankful, no matter what we encounter.  Gratitude becomes a growing response we develop, and God deepens his imprint in our lives. Our eyes and ears become increasingly more open to his love and blessings, and our faith and compassion for others deepen.  We begin to develop a fruit of gratitude as we believe God’s promises and grow more thankful; this is similar to how one develops the fruit of the Spirit.

What is the fruit of the Spirit? These are: “love, joy, peace, forbearance (patience), kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness and self-control (Gal 5:22-23).  We grow in response to what God is doing in our lives, and if we keep a good attitude, we are thankful. Henri Nouwen taught that when we encounter the fruit of the Spirit in others, we experience them as gifts. When we continue to be surprised by new manifestations of life and continue to praise and thank God and our neighbour, routine and boredom cannot take hold. Then all of life becomes a reason for saying thanks. Thus, fruitfulness and gratitude can never be separated.” (Lifesigns 70-71) Thus, “gratitude flows from the recognition that all that is, is a divine gift born of love; it is freely given to us so that we may offer thanks and share it with others.” (Robert Jonas, “Henry Nouwen” P 69).

Paradox of Gratitude, suffering and ministry: “How to have a Good Day”
So gratitude grows despite the paradox, and because of the presence of the Holy Spirit, gratitude can grow deeper alongside the paradox of suffering and joy.  Earlier I mentioned about people working tirelessly despite having difficult circumstances.  Some people could call that having a bad day, but they still press on with what they have to do.  Iris leader Surprise Sithole believes that it is always possible to “have a good day” despite circumstances, and he passed this belief on to missionaries Rolland and Heidi Baker.  Rolland shares, “One day we [Surprise and Rolland] were running a bush outreach meeting in Malawi, and on this day, Surprise delivered what was, for me, his most memorable sermon.  Malawi had been in famine most of the year. The crops had failed. It was extremely hot, almost 50 degrees C. The people hadn’t had any proper food in months. A lot of people were sick, and the bubonic plague had just come to this particular village.  Surprise’s sermon that day was entitled, “How to have a Good Day.”  No matter where we are or how bleak the circumstances, Surprise is always having the best day of his life. Irrepressible joy like this culturally clashes with much of the church.  I didn’t like it myself for a long time.

What I’ve learned, though, is that we minister to others out of the places in our lives where God has ministered to us. God works in us to produce a miracle, and we minister that miracle to others.  God has given Surprise the gift of joy.  When he ministers, the Lord uses this joy, supernaturally, to touch others. Some might think it inappropriate.  Actually, it is entirely inappropriate. He is bringing an authentic expression of joy to those who have none, and Jesus is producing joy in them.  Think about what Jesus has done in your life and how you express it to others, sharing His blessing.”  (Heidi and Rolland Baker, Reckless Devotion. P 23-24)

Gratitude and “Miracle Grow”
Surprise has grown in the paradox of suffering and joy (read his book Voice in the Night) through thankfulness and gratitude to the Lord. It shines out of everything he does in ministry, and Heidi Baker is very similar.  When you hear Heidi share at the end of the Compelled by Love film, she looks over her life and ministry and says that she is so grateful to Jesus for all he has done – in their ministry and generally for his sacrifice and love for all of us.   Earlier Jonathan David said that I was becoming like Miracle Grow.  However, gratitude in the midst of difficulties, gratitude in the midst of outreach and ministry is an important key to growth in these conditions.  It is one of the keys of the persecuted church that connects joy and suffering.

Earlier I mentioned Henri Nouwen.  I had the privilege of meeting him when I was a student at University of Toronto.  He spoke at St Michael’s and talked about putting our brokenness under the blessing of the Lord.  He would heal our wounds, then minister through them to others. Jesus embraces all of our lives, the sorrow, the joy and every moment.  Nothing is separate from God.  “Jesus calls us to recognize the gladness and sadness are never separate, that joy and sorrow really belong together, and that mourning and dancing are part of the same movement.  That is why Jesus calls us to be grateful for every moment that we have lived and to claim our unique journey as God’s way to mould our hearts to greater conformity with God’s own. The cross is the main symbol of our faith, and it invites us to find hope where we see pain and to reaffirm the resurrection where we see death. The call to be grateful is a call to trust that every moment of our life can be claimed as the way of the cross that leads us to new life.   (Henri Nouwen, “All is Grace” 39-40)

So gratitude directs us to where the Father would lead – since it keeps our eyes on God.  He leads us into action, and he leads us into rest; all depending on the season he puts us in.  That is the paradox. Suffering and joy? Gratitude in the midst of difficulties? Can we even figure out thankfulness and gratitude?  Not entirely – but we have spent five posts on this aspect of our faith.  It is one that goes well beyond a feeling of being blessed to being carried into what God has for us.  Gratitude should be unending, because our faith journey does not stop.  Jesus is always leading us somewhere.

Next time we will further explore the cup of suffering and joy. It’s a lesson the persecuted church through the ages can teach all of us.  Until then, be blessed, and grow in God.

Blessings,
Laurie-Ann

Laurie-Ann lives in Ottawa, Canada.  She works for Kingdom Culture Ministries (in Gloucester, Ontario) in social media/pastoral care and administration. She attends that church and St Paul’s Anglican Church in Kanata, Ontario.  She is available to speak to small or large groups on a faith donation basis.

 L-A on KCM social media in Wburg

Laurie-Ann working remotely on social media-pastoral care ministry