Faith is not spelt RISK

The other day I had fun listening to Cn. J John interview Cn. Andrew White (the vicar of Baghdad), Andrew White’s story is remarkable but very simple. It is the story of a man who heard God and followed, then kept on listening and following. It occurs to me that that’s precisely what faith is.
For years I have been duped by Sunday sermons on Hebrews 11v1 telling me that faith is a matter of believing something hard enough, acting as if it’s actually here and true… then it will happen.. God will make it happen. Step out onto the bridge of faith we’re told (Indiana Jones) and God will meet you there, all you have to do is believe! We are told with great earnestness that faith is spelt RISK, so go ahead and jump!!
Really?
I don’t think so.
The verses immediately preceding Hebrew’s 11v1 speak of the promises and revelation of God, of his Kingdom and his return. These are the things of which faith is the substance and evidence. Faith is a response to God’s rule and his Kingdom, to the unfolding of the intentions of his heart as he reveals them. Faith is the way we respond to the good news that Christ, not any man, is King, not only of the Jews, but of the whole world. It comes by hearing the message that Jesus both spoke and lived – that the rule of God had come. Faith is a response to the revelation of God, it is the process of realigning everything to harmonise with that revelation.
It is not simply us deciding how things should be and believing our way there. In fact if God hasn’t spoken or in some way revealed what he sees and what he wants, then it’s not faith. Peter didn’t just jump out of the boat on a whim; when he saw Jesus walking on the water, he waited till Jesus called him, and then he stepped out. That is faith.
You see, the challenge of faith is not belief, the challenge of faith is knowing God and recognising when he speaks, keeping our eyes, ears and hearts set on him and discerning his revelation… so we can respond because he is King, his Kingdom is here and our joy is to be part of it.
And so, faith is not risky at all – God doesn’t make mistakes. Neither is it blind or dumb – it is a response to his revelation. Faith is simply the act of trusting and obeying the ruler and creator of the universe. Faith is simply acknowledging with all our lives that God is who he really is. (and that’s how he is making all things new.)

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Like a kid in a candy store

Recently I have been learning about giving. As someone who, for ten years now, has lived and worked relying entirely on the gifts of others, it’s easy to get a skewed perspective as a receiver. I have to say that since relocating to the UK in January 2012, things haven’t been easy and finances have been a little tight. Earlier in the year, I began to doubt if I was doing the right thing with my life, and I started to doubt God’s faithfulness. Then as you know from previous posts, I spent three weeks with God and friends. I still can’t fully articulate all that took place during that time. However I know that as I encountered God again, my heart opened and I trusted once more. Nothing had changed materially, but I knew (and know) that I trusted God and his faithfulness was beyond doubt.

That place of expansion and trust is like the polar opposite of self-protection and survival. Soon after my three weeks, I went through a time of almost being inundated with resource and provision, it was amazing! Previously I would have agonised in fear and anxiety over my future and what to do with the resource; self-protection and survival being my concern. But something had changed; I listened to my heart, God and the needs around and responded generously; then to my amazement more came in and I was able to respond to other needs. And so it continues.

It’s hard to describe the joy I had in giving. I know there’ll be all sorts of mixed motives in there, but I really did feel like a kid opening her presents on Christmas morning, even if I was the one who had done the giving. I was so excited! It really is way more blessed to give than to receive.

This whole experience has changed my attitudes and approach to praying, receiving and giving! My prayer now is that I will be enriched in every way so that I can always be generous, I don’t want to miss out on this joy of giving generously! I want to be a distributer of God’s unending resource; be it time, skill, a home, finance, food, whatever. I am so grateful for my supporters, as I consider those who have given financially and materially over the years, I no longer feel that twinge of guilt or shame at receiving from them. Rather I know that they are blessed way more in giving than I ever will be in receiving; and I pray that that they will know God’s blessing in every area of their lives, and that they would continue to know God’s generous and increasing provision so that they can continue to be generous distributers of God’s resource… and not just to me!!

As I continue on this journey of being a good steward of the resource that God has given me, I want to put into practice things I am learning about managing, planning and saving so I can be even more effective with the things God has placed in my care. However most of all I want to keep growing and learning how to be a generous, joyful giver.

Thanks to Mike and Cheryl Firth of OSCAR, the guys at Stewardship and Myles Wilson for his superb book ‘Funding the Family Business’.

Narrative, Call and Doing Today

 

Last Saturday I attended the memorial service for my great uncle Oliver Barclay. This was to be yet another encounter with God and my narrative to add to the series I have had over the last couple of months. Everything from the speeches to the obituary in The Times seemed to reach deep within me bringing life, challenge and commissioning. If you care to read about him I’ll set up a couple of links, as for me I will be processing what his life means to me for a while. As I wrote on Saturday night, I have been left challenged, inspired and longing that my life will honour my Uncle Oliver and that like him in some way I would somehow build a platform worthy of the next generation.

It’s interesting because in the last couple of months one of the things that I have been pondering has been a sense that there is a massive job for all who would call ourselves Christ-followers, and it’s about to become urgent. But let me not get ahead of myself! Over the summer I spent more or less three weeks on retreat, I highly recommend it! It was the mark of 10 years since heading into full time ministry and living on gift income. I went to surrender everything back to God, to wipe the slate clean and let him draw the map for the next phase of my life. If you haven’t surrendered everything to God – every work, responsibility, every promise he has made to you – even the fulfilled ones, every gift and skill he has given you, everything you are invested in, everything…. I highly recommend it! The truth is that I am still in the process, each day there are new things to surrender and old things that I have picked up again and need to lay down at the foot of the cross once more. But it’s so freeing! So much easier to see clearly and to hear what he is saying.

Part of the process involved a growing hunger to just be with God, to see his face, to know him better, to wait and see what he has to say. He said many, many things, in many different ways, one thing confirming the other and building up to the next. I came away from my three weeks knowing one thing; whatever God has for me, for us, whatever it is he wants to do with us – in partnership – in our time, I, we, need to get to know him truly. We can’t rely on the revelation, the grace, the anointing that those who have gone before us had, or even our leaders have. Just as David said to his son – we have to get to know our God, truly, we need to worship him with a whole heart and a willing mind. Through the prophet Jeremiah God says to us – the only achievement that means any thing is that you truly know me and understand that I am the LORD and what I am like.

God is a person, three persons, he exists in relationship and he loves to be in relationship with us. He wants to walk with us, he wants to see things through our eyes and for us to see things through his eyes. He knows that when we are with him we become more who he made us to be, and that is for our good and for those around us. He knows that we become very like the things that we love, so he calls us to worship him, for our own good and the benefit of others. It’s as we walk with him, in relationship with him, we want to honour him and he directs our paths… we see his will unfolding and that means his Kingdom is coming.

(more about the massive job next week!)

Fresh Guidance?

Last week I wrote about some of the keys to fruitfulness in life and ministry. Here’s a question I have engaged with a bit recently: ‘if things aren’t going well, does that mean we are doing the wrong thing?’ Good question, hey?! I know that I for one don’t want to be wasting my time flogging a dead horse, trying to make something work if God isn’t in it!

This is the exact journey I have been on over the last few months. This year has been pretty tough, both for myself personally and for us as a ministry. As I came up to mark 10 years of full time ministry my question to God was; ‘look, if you want me to continue in this, you need to speak clearly because from where I stand it’s not really working all too well for me and it’s time for things to change’. My assumption was, things weren’t going well, God had removed his blessing and I was really supposed to be doing something different, somewhere different. Thankfully as I drew this line I also set aside three weeks to spend almost exclusively with God, praying, listening, laying everything down at the foot of the cross and waiting on him.

This side of the summer, I realise that it was me drawing aside to be with God that moved him, not the rather misguided line in the sand that I boldly drew!

I can see from my own journey and as I look through scripture that when fruitfulness dries up or God’s blessing and favour seems to depart, if there is a message from God in it, it is usually that he wants us to draw aside to be with him and seek his face. When we do that he delights to meet with us and speak to us. It’s not so much that we are doing the wrong thing or in the wrong place, the task is not to look for fresh guidance, but rather to come back to our first love. It’s not so much what we do, as it is that we are doing it from a place of genuine friendship with God, authentic fellowship with others where we can abide in his love, and wholehearted obedience to him. From that place we can ask God for anything and he will do it so that we can be fruitful and ‘bring him much glory’.

A friend and I were reflecting the other day on why we often do land ourselves in this particular pickle. I think it’s because often God says ‘A and B’ and we go ahead make it ‘A, B, C, D, E’. Then as my friend described, it’s a little like God smiles lovingly and watches over us, waiting for us to figure out that we may have left him behind. As soon as we realise and come back he is ready to let us in on the next phase. Which brings me onto an aspect of God’s nature that I am finding fascinating at the moment. He really enjoys relating to us! Fruitfulness, blessing, favour, direction, intervention – he brings it all to us, but in the context of friendship and relationship. That seems to be a major priority for him.

The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. I am enjoying getting to know him more.

not yet good….

We are currently in the midst of a mission/training/pilgrimage program called the Fusion UK Summer Experience. As part of this we are following a daily journal that myself and my colleague, Anika put together. The psalm on Friday was the 84th psalm – a classic pilgrim song. I was struck as I read it on Friday night by one of the last verses:

‘No good thing does the Lord withhold from those whose walk is blameless’

I have struggled over the last months, coming to terms with the feeling that God has withheld some pretty important, good, things from me throughout my life and also in recent times. Some of them things which I have felt he had promised. Does this mean that his word and even his promises cannot be trusted? Does it mean that God is not kind and good? These are just a couple of questions I have been living with.

As I read that verse, something stirred within me, the part of me that knows that God is good, he is kind and above all he is God ….. absolutely trustworthy. It occurred to me that things can be blocked and withheld from us in many ways, and for many reasons. But if it is God who is withholding something from us, we can be certain of one thing – the thing withheld is not good, or not YET good. Moreover, its not even a matter of doing and saying the magic, right things, our blamelessness has been taken care of in Jesus – if we trust and receive his gift of redemption.

So as I consider my wrestling and making sense of life’s happenings and non-happenings, I can be sure that in the fullness of God’s purposes, no good thing will he withhold from my life. If I feel something is being withheld by God himself, I can be certain that it wouldn’t be good if it were released in this moment as I would wish. When it’s not God who is withholding and in fact he has given us the promised land, there is often a very real sense of us needing to step in and lay hold of it.

What things has God freely given to you that you need to access and lay hold of? Are there things that he is withholding from you? … perhaps they are not yet good….

Rowing Blind

 

Just over a week ago I was in Leptocorea, a small coastal town just an hour’s drive south of Thessaloniki, Greece. After a day in transit in London enroot from South Africa we had landed in Thessaloniki where we were met by two team mates who had arrived earlier and hired a car. We boldly headed out, Andy driving on the right hand side of the road for the first time, only to find after an hour that we were heading north towards Albania. By this time it was around midnight! Two hours later and after a short break at a road side café where we watched a group of men racing from car to car looking for a working fire extinguisher to deal with the source of smoke that was pouring forth from the back wheels of a large lorry… we arrived in Leptocorea!

About twenty of us all told had gathered for three days. It was the first time in 3 and half years that we had gathered, the majority had not been present at the last meeting. This was to be a very significant time together. We will not know for sure for many years what exactly was set in motion by God’s spirit amongst us during those days but there was one thing that I noticed in particular.

Most of those present were Fusion team and many were staff members, committed to a life of full time ministry on no salary, trusting to God for his direction and provision in our lives. That statement though easy to write in reality describes a daily wrestle, a lifelong training, a constant temptation to look to sources other than God for sustenance and direction. That statement represents adventure and joy, life and deep fulfilment, but it also represents times of anguish, bewilderment and confusion. And so it is when God calls frail human beings to walk together and with him, to live by faith and not by sight.

As leaders in this setting it is easy to become weighed down under the burden of caring for others on this incredible but difficult road, often there is the burden of carrying our spouses and children as well; we become preoccupied and exhausted. This weight can become unbearable at times – mainly because it wasn’t designed to be born by us in the first place (although we give it a jolly good go!) but by God himself as we walk with him.

Here is what I saw beginning to happen over those three days.

Each of us with ears plugged and blind folded, holding an oar and rowing with all our might. It was a struggle and no one felt like they were making much progress; each was getting wetter and wetter, and more exhausted. Then one person decided to unplug their ears, suddenly they could hear all that was happening around them. One by one others did the same. People stopped rowing and struggling and started to listen, taking in the new reality around them. Each became aware of others close by them, one or two even reached out and touched each other. It was these ones who first took off their blind folds, they gasped and then with a laugh of recognition realised what they had been doing. One by one others did the same and eventually everyone had their eyes open and their ears unplugged. They realised that they were all in the same boat, with the same leader, heading for the same destination. Once the laughter had died down, knowing what needed to be done, they quickly arranged themselves and amidst jokes and laughter, keeping their eyes on the cox, they settled into a rhythm of rowing and sliced with ease through the water.

We are not all fully hearing and seeing yet, but with time we will and its going to be exciting what happens from that point on!

Beyond the Ache

This gallery contains 6 photos.

Ahhh my head is full! Four weeks ago I was checking into a flight at Heathrow airport. From there myself and two others, Anika and Leah, were headed to Cape Town South Africa. I have already shared the story of ‘Sallie’ in a previous post but those two weeks were crammed full with connections, meals, […]