“Follow Me”

What does it really mean to follow Jesus?

In the environment that I grew up in, this question was sometimes asked as if there was only one way to follow God, or one method of becoming a disciple. So when my own relationship with Jesus started to unfold as a teenager, I would often treat him like an item on a to-do list rather than someone with whom I was developing a relationship. 

The word ‘develop’ signifies a progressive journey, an unfolding understanding. It takes time, and the beginning point of something that is developing usually looks different from the ending point, which I’m slowly learning is the same with Jesus: following him is a journey of development. Yet somehow, it’s really easy to approach him with a pre-determined expectation of who I think He wants me to be, and skip crucial stages of development altogether! Have you ever found yourself in the situation where you’re reading a really amazing book, and then halfway through, suddenly the temptation arises to skip a few chapters and jump to the last page so you can find out what happens in the end?! The longing to know what happens simply becomes too much. I’ve definitely been there!

Sometimes, I think we can be like that with Jesus. We get too ahead of ourselves and work backwards through the gospels from The Great Commission – Jesus’ last instructions to his followers – in our efforts to ‘become’ disciples. But I think there’s no shame or stigma in being found at the very beginning and progressing honestly and earnestly – no matter how old we are, what sort of position we hold or whether we were brought up in a Christian home or just recently received salvation. Jesus said to Nicodemus – a ‘mature’ expert in religious law in the gospel of John – it is impossible to enter the Kingdom of Heaven unless we choose to be spiritually reborn, to become like small children again, with everything to learn and nothing to hide.

So this question “What does it mean to follow [know] Jesus?” reaches far beyond just myself. I still have so much to learn. But I am learning to embrace every moment of the journey. I personally believe this question is one of the most life-defining questions anyone could ever ask. But, more than asking a question and theorising over answers, my goal in writing this post is to hopefully inspire you to go from a place of just ‘asking a question’ to actually taking a step. In sharing some of the revelations I’ve gained while learning to follow Him, ways in which He has enlarged my perspective and reshaped my approach to being His disciple, I simply hope to contribute a bit of width and depth from my own experience that encourages anyone who might find themselves alongside me on this path, seeking, learning and following too 🙂

I

One interesting fact I came across while doing some research on Jewish rabbi’s and their followers (via this article) was that the most outstanding students of the Torah in ancient Hebrew culture would often request to become the disciple of a respected Rabbi after completing the equivalent of our modern day secondary school. The Rabbi receiving the ‘application’ would then consider the student’s potential to become like him – an intimate, everyday process of watching and learning to respond like the Rabbi did and apply scripture as he did – before accepting the student as a ‘follower’. It was common for many of these students to be turned away if the Teacher deemed them unable to undertake the level of commitment required, because it was high. But with Jesus, this process was turned on its head. (Like so many other countless things he turned upside down.)

Instead of endorsing those who were already devoted students of the Hebrew scriptures (Torah), Jesus chose to focus on ordinary, unschooled fishermen in his search for disciples. Men of the working class. I’ve often wondered why he chose them in particular. Historians have debated over it for years, but they can only ever speculate! I read in one article that maybe it was because the process of fishing perfectly resembled how the Kingdom of God was going to outwork on the earth. And another article proposed that maybe fishermen were chosen because they were used to hard work and long hours, pulling their weight. Whatever the reason – Peter and James had probably been raised anticipating a career on the sea of Galilee. It was normal in ancient culture for sons to learn the trade of their father before them and pass it on to their sons, and so on. Trades were generational. And according to these sources, the fishermen of the gospels were probably quite successful in their endeavours – fishing was a thriving industry in Galilee at the time of Jesus. These men had accepted their position in society and were busy ‘getting on with it’! To be confronted with the possibility of becoming a disciple to a Teacher of the law (a vocation they had no relevant skills for and probably saw as something far beyond their social class) would’ve taken more than a moment to process!

Imagine the scene:

Peter, knee deep in salt water, dutifully performing the routine task of scrubbing nets at the end of a long day on the sea of Galilee. Jesus, pausing to watch on a purposed walk along the shore, suddenly extends a hand. “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!”

Strange application Peter thinks, still focussing on his task. He smiles, as if to politely entertain the joke while dismissing it as ridiculous in his head. I have work to do, so if you don’t mind…

More vigorous scrubbing.

Suddenly, he recalls a rumour he’d heard at the markets the previous day, about a teacher in town whose healing powers and unnerving authority have made quite a stir in the religious circles. The thought briefly flits across his mind that this man could be that very teacher, but he rejects it as quickly as it surfaces. What’s it to me? he asserts, scrubbing with greater resolve. I’m a fisherman, not a teacher of the law. Miracles or not, I still have a family to provide for.  

The shadow of the teacher beside him doesn’t move.

Now his curiosity is piqued. Looking up, Peter squints into the setting sun, shading his eyes to get an actual look at the man’s face. Jesus’ meets his gaze unapologetically, intelligently. There is no shadow of insincerity in his eyes, and his hand is extended as a confirmation of the words He’s just uttered. “I will show you how to fish for people!” he repeats, as if talking about catching some rare specimen of fish. A crippling combination of skepticism and shock prevents Peter from moving. He’s frozen to the spotJesus’ hand doesn’t falter and reality begins to sink in like a stone through water. He is actually serious! Peter’s hands falter now, on their way back down to grasp the soaking nets. What?! A fisherman becoming the student of a Rabbi? Whoever heard of such a thing? This is outrageous!

(Would the equivalent proposition today possibly look like a famous public figure approaching a rural farm hand and offering him/her a PA position?! Think about it.) 

Maybe the realities of accepting the invitation suddenly begin to play through Peter’s mind. A change in vocation of this sort would also mean a new social status… potential opportunities in the political sphere. An education in the Scriptures he had never considered possible. His imagination starts running wild. What Rabbi seeks his own disciples? Usually, it’s the other way around. If he’s asking me… why would he ask ME? I’m not a student of the law, I’m a fisherman!

Who knows what may have gone through his head?!

Regardless, the Bible says in Matthew 4 that Peter and his brother ‘left their nets at once and followed Jesus’ (emphasis mine). Whether the motivation to go immediately stemmed from selfish ambition – i.e. an anticipation of all that the title ‘disciple’ might hold for them – or whether it was because there was something about Jesus which they wanted in themselves – we will never know.

II

So far for me, following Jesus has led to a lot of letting go.

Letting go of answers I was given by well-meaning friends and family as a young person. Not because they were wrong necessarily, but because everyone is on a journey and people will often respond and behave according to what they’ve been taught or how they were treated within the context of their own lives. And sometimes the choice is made not to look beyond this personal experience to what else might be learned, which saddens me. I’m amazed to think of the generations that can be affected by those who grow up repeating what they were told as children without ever investigating or work-shopping it for themselves, and exploring it in greater depth personally. A lot of times, Jesus has taken the blame for hypocritical, judgemental, selfish, escapist, narrow-minded behaviour. But the more I’ve followed after Him myself, the more I’ve realised how different He really is from what popular culture (even Christian culture at times) has portrayed him to be. Every aspect of who he is challenges me on so many levels, and reminds me just how far I have to go to become like him, yet at the same time he invites me to walk with Him. I’m more accepted and more assured than ever that I can get there because He enables me and shows me how. I’ve never felt more free, never more thankful, than I do right now.

I recently finished a devotional by N.T. Wright called ‘Lent for Everyone’ which was really encouraging and gave me a deeper understanding of the challenges the first disciples faced when they decided to follow Jesus. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had occasional moments of confusion and doubt in trying to compare the early disciples’ experiences with my own; especially considering the years of history, technological advancement and cultural evolution that span the gap between the 1st century AD and the year 2017! For ‘modern day’ followers it can be easy to disconnect the stories in the Bible from how they actually apply to our schedule-based, advertisement-fuelled, social media-driven lives. Personally, I’ve learned that if I’m not proactive about ‘working out my salvation’ in the context of my every day, that gap only gets wider and wider, until I might be left grasping at a faith that feels irrelevant and dry. That’s why I’m very thankful for resources like Lent for Everyone, because this particular devotional enabled me to take a new grip on the early disciple’s very real human condition and apply the lessons they learned to my own life in relevant, practical ways. In the process, I was also reminded how a little extra study can go a long, long way!

As I worked my way through Matthew while doing this devotional, I re-realised (if I can put it that way) that it was never so much the disciples’ outward circumstances or dynamics that Jesus needed to address (although that did happen), but their attitudes, receptivity and perspective. Their inner worlds often needed the most attention. And just like them, it’s my mind and heart that also need the most shaping, reworking and renewing when it comes to following Jesus into the places he leads – whether they be mundane, hidden places, or public, visible platforms. The early disciples started out on their journey of getting to know Jesus with a whole list of expectations, preconceptions and ideals that were gently – and sometimes abruptly – smashed and reshaped by Him; He taught them lessons as they went about their daily business and interacted with others; they watched Jesus come into their world and highlight new truths about some of the old traditions they’d been raised with. And they in turn learned to follow him to places they would never have desired or planned to go previously. They learned they had to be flexible with many of the beliefs and habits they’d cultivated by default, and ultimately let a lot of them go. Their maturing process was a journey that didn’t happen overnight. So when I started to see things in this context, I realised that everything is valuable: every time I allow my inner thoughts or attitudes to be realigned, every moment I’m enabled to get out of my comfort zone, every bit of narrow perspective or shallow faith I allow Him to highlight; every moment I spend with Jesus – whether mundane or miraculous – answers the question of what it really means to follow Jesus.

I’m so grateful for those who’ve mentored me from afar, or in person across different chapters of my life, and helped to shape my understanding of discipleship. I would not be the person I am today if it weren’t for such friends and mentors. But, I’m also discovering that there’s a fine line between learning from other peoples’ relationships with Jesus and learning to follow him closely for myself, to recognise His voice intimately. From the moment I made a decision to accept His salvation at age 14, it felt like I entered into a strange balancing act of positioning myself in the crowd (other believers in my world, church community etc) but also regularly extracting myself from the crowd to be alone with God, and immerse myself in his Word. It is sometimes a challenging thing to balance, because both are necessary. I wholeheartedly believe that community is a huge contributor to personal development and maturity, and I’m very thankful for my own amazing church family. But at the same time I’ve learned that it can present a few challenges along with it that need to be navigated with wisdom. Here are a few I’m learning to navigate:

  1. The danger of comparison. Looking for spiritual guidance is a good thing, because the Bible is clear on the fact that we should seek wisdom and counsel constantly. I think we all compare our lives at times with those we look up to – especially our spiritual mentors, if we have them! But too much of this comparison can also turn into a treacherous, slippery slope of doubt: Am I really following Jesus? Shouldn’t my life look like that person’s if I’m truly a disciple? I’ve asked the question myself during times of (probably unnecessary) comparison. The Bible is pretty clear about the fact that there is such a thing as unhealthy comparison, and one place in particular in the gospels has helped me navigate it better. In John 21, Jesus has just given Peter some insight into his future. Peter’s first response is “what about him, Lord?” referring to John – a fellow disciple. He reacts with instant comparison. But Jesus’ response is: “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?” Which basically confirms the fact that Peter’s future will potentially look different to the futures of those standing on his left and right, and he needs to be OK with it. So… I’m learning not to over-compare myself with the many amazing people around me. It is, however, a constant choice! And also, deciding to keep seeking Jesus authentically and consistently while I’m in relationship with others, is just as much a choice. Because our faith is designed to be outworked in community. The goal is not to isolate myself so that I don’t need to worry about comparison being a problem – it’s simply about learning not to compare within community. Keeping my eyes fixed on Him.
  2. The danger of second-hand conviction. The larger the community that might surround you, the more church programs there may be or ministries that might need running; the more tasks that need doing or teams that need building; the more events that could be happening, the easier it is to grow complacent in your walk with Jesus, and ‘borrow’ the convictions and faith of those around you. I feel like I frequently need to be wary of this. Because in an environment of very intentional culture, it can be easy to adopt slogan-based faith and coast along on momentum when there’s always a buzz of activity happening. But when the challenges and pressures of real life come along (because Jesus said that they would), they have greater potential to cripple us if we’ve neglected to tend to the [iron] framework of our own walk with Jesus. Being a disciple is an interactive thing, a relationship. The Holy Spirit doesn’t work on us like stand-alone robots in a factory – He is a living being who works in us as we engage with the Word of God, seeking to understand it and recognise his voice, pay attention to what he’s revealing. He works through our awareness and participation! Second-hand convictions won’t keep you on track if they were never yours to begin with.

I’ve learned that the more I do life in community, and as my world only gets larger, the more I need to be intentional and proactive about my walk with Jesus, about making room to reflect, rest in Him and listen to His voice, daily. To get away with Him. Otherwise, unhealthy comparison and second-hand conviction can become the foundations upon which I build my life, rather than His truth revealed to me personally.

Maybe one of the the challenges us modern, A.D. followers have to grapple with is – now that relationship is based on the enabling of the Holy Spirit and His inner work – rather than a physical person whom we can see – it becomes a lot easier to neglect or ignore.

But such is the abundance of His grace, and the risk he chose to take in making it so available. Just as the first disciples physically followed Jesus and observed His responses to all the colours, interactions, perspectives, customs, political and religious expectations of their day, so I do too, with the guidance and counsel of the Holy Spirit.

III

The reality is, the disciples didn’t choose Him, Jesus chose them. And by doing so, he displayed unreserved confidence in their potential to become like him.

It was just a matter of those chosen saying YES to the invitation!

Though they were probably the ‘unconventional’ choice from a social, cultural and religious perspective, these fishermen had something Jesus saw as pertinent to the Kingdom he was about to establish on earth; the Kingdom of Heaven. He saw potential. Social and religious status apparently had no sway in His decision-making. He was after inner, more hidden-from-view qualities. Jesus wanted teachable followers – those going around spouting spiritual principles with no actual follow through would be of no use in his kingdom. But those whose faith in Him that might start to translate into action, even when outcomes or end goals were unclear to them, and even if they failed continuously at first – those were the kind of followers Jesus sought! People who had capacity to  go wherever he led despite their personal expectations. Those willing to trust him completely, even if it meant pain, even if it meant changing old ways of thinking, or leaving family members and vocations behind, letting go. Those open to learning what it truly meant to love God, objectively.

But of course, only Jesus knew these things at this point. He knew what he was destined for, on earth; that his personal future held great persecution, pain and suffering. His new followers, however, did not. They had just said ‘yes’ to the journey of a lifetime, a journey where most of the initial expectation was going to be reshaped and rewired completely. A journey they could never have imagined in their wildest dreams. Remember development? It’s what we’re all subject to, as followers, no matter who we are.

Here are some things I’m learning about following:

fish  If He called you, He will enable you to become more and more like him.

Being a follower is not as much about our religious efforts or routine as we might believe, but about a desire to learn [and submit] to Jesus’ way of acting and responding in our everyday circumstances. Though we don’t know the particular reasons why the first disciples were chosen, we know that Jesus didn’t exactly choose them because of their scriptural knowledge or religious training. What they already knew was the foundation and platform Jesus chose to work with, and he wanted to take that further. Develop it. He wasn’t going to leave them the same way he found them. So for us, rather than increasing religious activity, or relying on our ideas of what we must do to become more like Him, maybe it is simply in choosing to spend time with Jesus, allowing him to lead and reveal truth to our hearts as we work, interact with others, watch, observe and live life that will most lead us forward into his likeness. True transformation is much more dependent on our relationship with Him – understanding His grace and truth – than it is upon our competency or qualifications! I’m not trying to say that we don’t need to consciously make changes in our lives because ‘it’s all God’s spirit that does the work in us’. But I am saying that when it seems like you fail too frequently, or don’t feel good enough to be called a ‘follower of Jesus’ and find yourself asking ‘how am I ever going to get there?!’ – that is when you need to take heart. Because the truth is, becoming like him is less about what you can do, and more about just ‘sticking with Him’. It’s less about trying not to make mistakes and more about allowing him to hold your heart when you do. Romans 8 puts it this way:

“The law always ended up being used as a Band-Aid on sin instead of a deep healing of it. And now what the law code asked for but we couldn’t deliver is accomplished as we, instead of redoubling our own efforts, simply embrace what the Spirit is doing in us.
Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life. Those who trust God’s action in them find that God’s Spirit is in them—living and breathing God! Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life. Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God. Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God, ends up thinking more about self than God. That person ignores who God is and what he is doing. And God isn’t pleased at being ignored.Romans 8:4-8 MSG (emphasis mine).
fish Being a follower doesn’t insure you against failure
One thing I’m learning in this unfolding revelation of salvation is that my goal as a disciple shouldn’t be to not make mistakes. This can quickly turn into stringent religion – the religion so often criticized by society for its hypocrisy and pretense. We all know full well that no one is perfect, and if someone is appearing to be so, we assume they simply aren’t telling or revealing the whole truth about themselves. For some reason, imperfection is more difficult to accept in ourselves. Religious preoccupation can be a way of numbing ourselves to it, or making us feel like we’re able to earn our way out of it, which really only serves egotistical ends anyway. Jesus came to show us that our ideal of perfection (keeping some sort of moral law) was faulty because it depended entirely on our own merits; and even if we were to achieve perfect law-keeping by all outward standards, this wouldn’t automatically ensure the purity of our inward thoughts and attitudes. He came to help us recognise the evil within our own hearts and understand that our complete trust in His perfection, our faith in who He is, is what allows us to be made perfect in turn and brought to maturity. I’m learning to live in a way that doesn’t try to avoid failure or imperfection at all costs, because that simply doesn’t work and people see right through it. Failure is part of the following – I’m guaranteed to fail at times! What matters is what I do with my failure. Does it push me toward Jesus, or away from him? The first disciples made plenty of mistakes, but Jesus responded with a grace and truth which enabled them to grow and learn from them.

 

fish Willingness is everything.

Even if you fail, and fail again at obedience, when your heart is positioned towards Jesus, He will continue to reveal himself and strengthen you with His grace and patience to keep going, keep changing, keep moving forward. No matter how often you fail, as long as you choose to accept His forgiveness and keep running to him in it all, he will give you the courage, boldness and wisdom to take the next step on the journey when the opportunity again presents itself. I think of Peter yet again here: the one who was so quick to follow Jesus at the beginning is seen only a few chapters further into the story vehemently denying any association with him! And yet, that wasn’t the end of his story. Psalm 52 in The Message version says:

“Going through the motions doesn’t please you, a flawless performance is nothing to you. I learned God-worship when my pride was shattered. Heart-shattered lives ready for love don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.”

 

fish  Following Jesus is not personal comfort or safety insurance.

My natural tendency is to want clear guidelines surrounding what’s expected of me (for most things in life, really). Happiness generally flourishes when life goes the way I want it to. If I’m honest, I hope for my dreams and wishes to be realised more than I hope for the dreams of others to come true. If you’re anything like me, then you can probably identify. The only trouble with this when it comes to Jesus, is that if circumstances suddenly get puzzling, hard to navigate, or unclear, I’ve found myself easily doubting at times. Just like the disciples did in the storm on the lake, or when Jesus informed them of his imminent death and persecution, or when Lazarus wasn’t prevented from dying. It can be really easy to nurture the expectation that: If God is all-powerful and loving, he should want to make everything go my way. But this is more selfishness and immaturity, than anything. And it can cause us to approach discipleship with a ‘career path’ approach, where we think along such lines as: ‘if I do this much and do it all right, I’ll get promoted, I’ll get moved up the ladder, I’ll be blessed.’ I wholeheartedly believe that God desires our protection and favour and blessing, because His word promises these things. But it’s also clear that He is our loving Father, and like any good father, he disciplines those he loves. He allows us to stand on our own two feet at times, and go through things that develop well-formed maturity in us. His goodness exceeds our understanding of ‘good’ (usually it relates to our personal well being and comfort) because he sees the overall picture, and the end result. Being a follower of Jesus is not about keeping a ‘code of conduct’, or set of rules we can eventually retire from, but about learning to think and move and respond as he directs, to reassess thought patterns, attitudes and habits that might be destructive to ourselves and others. To exercise trust and faith in His authority and love. To ‘grow up’ in our salvation, to think beyond just ourselves. And this applies just as much in the midst of pain, suffering and injustice as it does in the midst of success, fame and recognition. Admittedly, it is really hard to outwork when you’re in the middle of something painful! That’s when it’s usually easier to doubt God and ask Why?! Don’t you love me? Don’t you care about me? because we are naturally wired to self-preserve, and self-maintain. But Jesus came to reveal a bigger picture to us, to welcome the whole world home! The truth is: He loves you, and He cares, deeply. More than you’ll ever know. But this doesn’t mean he automatically shelters us from all pain. Sometimes he will, depending on the lesson and the timing. But if he sees it necessary for us to walk through circumstances that are going to mature us and form deeper conviction in us, and enlarge our capacity, he will probably allow that to happen. Like he did with Mary & Martha, allowing their brother Lazarus to pass away before giving an explanation. This doesn’t mean he isn’t with us in it all, that he has no compassion, because he does. He is full of it! And He’s ALWAYS waiting on the other side, with open arms, just like he was for Mary & Martha, comforting them in their sorrow at their brother’s death. Yet the story ended with a man being raised back to life!! So hang in there, if that’s you at the moment – experiencing a few storms and uncertainties. Just keep trusting. He rewards those who trust in him! And he will make it clear.

Following Jesus isn’t always comfortable. It will not always make sense. Heartache and pain are (unfortunately) part of the reality of this life, just as our imperfection is. But – through Jesus, we can trust confidently in the fact that we have an advocate who is constantly interceding on our behalf (how many in our world need this assurance in the midst of great pain and suffering?); we have a friend and comforter who sticks closer than our own family members, as much as we might love each other (loneliness is a reality for thousands of people, every day) and we have a God we can confidently and intimately address as ‘Father’ in every circumstance, a God to whom we can run for comfort and identity (millions around the globe are smarting from wounds unwittingly inflicted by parents who were unable to fulfil their roles as protectors and providers in the home). As those who follow Jesus, we are promised peace in the middle of our struggles. (I think this is what the world is most desperate for). So, rest in the fact that though storms may come, they will not define you, and though challenges may arise, he has already won the victory! Remember that He is with you, he is bigger than any mistake you can make, and if He called you, He is faithful to finish what he started. You belong to him. Nothing can ever separate you from His love! Keep taking one step after the other in your walk, staying close.

My prayer is that you would experience this peace in all its fullness as you continue to abide in Him and follow where he leads.

Peace I leave with you; My [perfect] peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be afraid. [Let My perfect peace calm you in every circumstance and give you courage and strength for every challenge.]” 

John 14:27 [Amplified]

Much Love.

Unqualified Assurance

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Unqualified | adj. Not competent or sufficiently knowledgeable to do something

Assurance | n. Certainty about something

I’ve been thinking a lot about this phrase from Hebrews 10 lately, and how – at first recognition – it doesn’t’ really seem to make sense. It’s a bit of an oxymoron.

Being unqualified or lacking qualification (in worldly terms) is not a great confidence booster. Usually, the word ‘unqualified’ does anything BUT spark assurance in those that hear it. I’m speaking from personal experience when I say this. I wasn’t able to finish high school due to certain family circumstances and that has shaken my confidence on more than one occasion. But, as I’ve wrestled with this insecurity over the years, I think it’s actually allowed me to understand the gospel in greater depth, and truly grasp what Jesus made possible when he endured the cross.

In this world, qualifications mean a lot and are seen as essential ingredients to growth and development – which is true when it comes to particular fields of industry, education, skill and intellect. But if the need for credentials begins to affect my very identity, it will likely be hard to switch out of that mentality when it comes to approaching a holy, sovereign God. How can I possibly have confidence without qualifications? Without endorsements? Without letters of recommendation? Without transcripts listing all the reasons why I am a great candidate for a ‘scholarship’ that admits me into his presence, gives me an audience in his cosmic, majestic throne room? If anything, qualifications should hold the most weight with God, right?!

But this is the amazing truth of the gospel: Through JESUS, I’m freed from the expectation to prove that I’m good enough to know God. Because the truth is, I never will be! And that is exactly why He came, perfect in every way, to give up His life in place of ours. To pay the penalty we owe for sin.

By resting in Jesus and honouring all that He accomplished on the cross, though I’m unqualified, I can have absolute confidence that God accepts me as I am. Confidence to know that my Father in Heaven hears me, knows me, and is working on my behalf. Confidence that he sees me as a dearly beloved child. Confidence that I can draw near to him and enjoy intimacy with him, pouring out my heart to him on a daily basis. I can be honest about my experiences, questions, doubts, fears and passions.
It’s THIS assurance that gives me strength to face whatever comes, and faith to persevere through life’s challenges and trials when they loom. This upside down state of affairs is where everything truly begins, for me.

  1. First and foremost, I am accepted unconditionally through Jesus. His Perfect love casts out all fear.
  2. Secondly, the knowledge that I am invited into friendship with God – creator of heaven and earth – despite the fact that I’m completely unqualified, only heightens my hunger to learn and grow and become all that He says I can become.

In a world where qualification matters so much – to the point where it might be the thing in which we seek our identity – this is some of the most freeing news I’ve ever heard.

So thankful for the good news of the gospel 💛

#unqualifiedassurance

Peace +

idlib-attack-2-blog
This poem is dedicated to anyone experiencing heart-tearing challenges or injustices in our world – whether personal, or in relation to the people and loved ones closest to your heart. Peace is promised, and accessible, even in the midst of great heartache.

Eternal longings burn inside my
earthen body like molten lava,
flickering with hope and pain,
sorrow and joy; the aches of
promises not yet seen.
My heart’s roughshod,
Like a cracked volcano
threatening to explode.

In this porcelain state
I whisper your name–
My safe-harbour God,
all-sufficient One.
You haven’t failed me yet,
and never will!
Oh, I lean on Your name,
cling to Your name!

You’ve said it: “Those who run
to me for safety are never
turned away, never overlooked”
I taste this promise again
with every breath
that fills these aching lungs.
You’re solid rock beneath me,
breathing room for my
gasping soul.

Mercy comes, soothing–
Falling as rain upon
smoking ground.
Soaking through ashy
confusion and spreading
like ink on paper,
It’s a beautiful submersion
of fear, as peace crashes
over chaotic feelings.

Floodwaters rush in,
coursing through me
in wild torrents, like
a river about to burst it’s banks!
Love, cool and clear, quiets
my noise-scratched soul.
You sing your Salvation
over me in climbing crescendos,
A song that reverberates
through the heavens.

I’ve never known
greater love,
never wanted more
for it to be known.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done
On earth, as it is in
Heaven.

“I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have [perfect] peace. In the world you have tribulation and distress and suffering, but be courageous [be confident, be undaunted, be filled with joy]; I have overcome the world.” [My conquest is accomplished, My victory abiding.]”

-JOHN 16:33 AMP-

The picture for this post was taken from the recent chemical tragedy that unfolded in Syria. Preemptive Love Coalition is a certified organisation making a great difference on the ground to bring hope to people who are [understandably] despairing. If you would like to partner with them in making a difference, please visit here

Much Love xo

 

 

First Breath

 

 The pain began like

exploding fireworks:

Fierce, and relentless.

There was no doubt

you’d made up your mind

and our world stood still,

breathless.

What if this was too soon?!

One month before we

expected, one whole month!

Would the struggle of

birth be too much for your

tiny heart to bear?

Questions swelled and surged

like storm-tossed tides

but you were a sailboat,

skimming free over

whitecaps, oblivious

to them all. There was

no stopping you, nothing

we could do but wait

with bated breath.

Such courage! It arrested

us long before we

laid eyes on your precious face.

Worry started to

evaporate as the

joy of holding you

close flooded in…

__________________________________________

First breath sears your lungs with life.

Crying, screaming, blood-rush life!

No more darkness or warm,

watery safety.  Just noise

and motion and light – something

whispering over your skin,

caressing each perfectly

positioned hair follicle: AIR

It’s cool out here, And LOUD!

Limbs untangle, flailing, flexing –

a cacophony of colour blurs

around you. Glowing eyes and a

tender smile loom large in your

vision, like a lighthouse in a storm.

That face! You know it instinctively

without ever having seen it before.

Father.

His strong arms claim you, cradle you,

And your lungs let loose for the very

first time.

Unmuffled by watery walls, voices

float near – voices carrying the

music of home, the sound of belonging.

They are calming–  idling and washing

over you in soothing tones.

Welcome to the world, little one!
mabel-patience
This poem was written for Mabel Patience – the second daughter born to our friends Lucas & Stacey – on 15th November 2016. They were told some months into the pregnancy that Mabel had complications with her heart, which caused great concern when she decided to come into the world 1 month early. But regardless of the complication, by God’s grace she is now doing well and bringing so much joy to her beautiful family xx

The Wordless Chorus

lagoon-nebula-m8
The Lagoon Nebula, or M8 | Photograph via Science by Guff

Like fine jewels strewn over midnight velvet,

Star dust scatters across endless galaxies in glittering array,

A welcome committee for the King of Kings.

He comes with the dawn, light flowing

from his being like the graceful folds of a silk gown,

cascading in pools about Him.

 

Elohim, Eternal One.

 

The train of his robe fills heaven’s sanctuary,

gilt-edged with stars from a billion exploding galaxies,

their colours dancing and fragmenting

like light beaming through a prism.

In this celestial coronation, brilliant ruby reds –

fire-orange,

royal purple,

sapphire blue,

emerald green –

morph in rainbows of glory around him as the heavens sing praise.

Their chorus is wordless, yet deafening;

a love song reverberating through time since the very beginning.

 

-PSALM 8-

“I look up at your macro-skies, dark and enormous, your handmade sky-jewelry, Moon and stars mounted in their settings. Then I look at my micro-self and wonder, Why do you bother with us? Why take a second look our way?

Yet we’ve so narrowly missed being gods, bright with Eden’s dawn light. You put us in charge of your handcrafted world, repeated to us your Genesis-charge, Made us lords of sheep and cattle, even animals out in the wild, Birds flying and fish swimming, whales singing in the ocean deeps.

GOD, brilliant Lord, your name echoes around the world.”

The Message Translation

The Graveyard

Bronte graveyard

The graveyard entrance looms as I approach the top of the street in the steady summer heat.

Silent and immovable, it is like a sentinel that’s seen it all.  A few plant creepers stealthily make their way across its rugged surface, their wiry green vines spreading out like the veins on the back of my hands.

Inhaling slowly, I relax for a moment and savour the air. Wisteria and the fragrance of wild flowers mingle together, tainted with salt and the pungent smell of bare earth. I love that it’s less polluted here.

There are few places in this ambitious city where one can escape to be alone, but the graveyard is one of them – sprawled out over an entire hillside, it extends all the way down to where the land meets the sea – iconic in this area for its historic array of headstones. This is the place I have chosen to seek solitude.

I stare up at the great pillars before me, fascinated by the years they have weathered, years of keeping watch over death; despite the despondency one would associate with such sombre outposts as theirs, I don’t feel depressed standing here. Instead, I somehow feel like I’m stepping on sacred ground, like there are many things to be learned from this place.

Beeeeeep!

A car horn interrupts my reflection, blaring rudely in the distance. Sighing and trying to quench the rush of exasperation that shoots through my brain, I glance back over my shoulder at the skyscrapers puncturing the skyline behind me, so angular and awkward. It’s hard to escape the reach of the city even here on the outskirts! Traffic is like an impatient young steed that champs at the bit on the day of its first race, startled by every sound and sudden movement. You never know when he might just snap and bolt.

Why do people always have to be in a rush? I ask myself, and it dawns on me simultaneously that my biggest pet peeve is literally other people getting irritated. Sighing again, this time in defeat, I remind myself that today is about solitude. Remember?! Just focus on that.

Stepping determinedly  through the entrance, city hubbub thankfully fades behind me and I stop for a moment to look around. It’s so peaceful in here, like another world! But not in an eerie way, just in a still way… the kind of stillness that soothes noise-scratched souls like mine. I can see the ocean sparkling below me, beyond the rows of crosses and headstones gracing the slope, and my irritation melts like fog dispersing at sunrise. After growing up in a seaside town where much of the commerce and export revolved around marine industries, the ocean has always represented ‘home’ for me. It sort of acts like true north. If I can get a glimpse of that wide blue sea, calm and serene beneath the sky, no matter where I am or what’s going on, I am always reassured that everything is going to be ok. And there it is, in all it’s sapphire beauty. Sunshine, ocean, wide open space… this is my happy place! Slowly exhaling all residue of frustration, I inhale rest with the salty air and feel the tension in my neck and shoulders easing. This is going to be a good day. (Despite what it may have been up until this point).

Before I can take any further steps, movement in my peripherals arrests my attention and I turn to see a group of nuns making their way back up one of the winding concrete paths toward me. Outfitted in crisp black-and-white habits, they walk in peaceful camaraderie that begs to be left undisturbed. One of the younger nuns lingers behind the rest of the group, preoccupied with the clouds and the view they are leaving behind. She is casually sporting a pair of Ray Ban sunglasses which, paired with her religious garb, introduce a sort of postmodern edge to her appearance that results in an outfit you’d expect to see featured on the cover of some overpriced style magazine. But apart from this there’s no other indication of the 21st century about them and I feel like I’ve just stepped onto the set of the Sound of Music or something. I consider capturing the scene on camera, already anticipating all the ‘likes’ I would get on instagram before I realise where my mind has gone. Already! It doesn’t take long to rear its head, does it – that bottomless appetite for validation of tastes and approval of opinions by others. It’s never satisfied.

I inhale another lungful of fresh ocean air and realign my priorities. Today, I am going to seek the validation and affection of one who is unseen; one who graciously and patiently allows himself to be discovered by those too often engrossed with the brass shine of cheap popularity to bother, including myself. Yet whenever I decide to lay aside such distraction for even a moment and pursue Him, I find myself reoriented by an acceptance and peace which the world and all her shortcuts to fame cannot offer, an intimacy that only grows with intentionality. Most of the time, I wonder why I didn’t seek Him sooner.

I watch as the nuns draw closer, murmuring amongst themselves now in quiet conversation. They are a strange yet comforting sight here, of all places – surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of graves. Dialogue dwindles to silence as they draw nearer to me and I move sideways on the path to allow room for them to pass, catching the gaze of one young woman as I do so. She smiles warmly at me and I smile back. Her eyes are kind, full of depth. Maybe they came here to seek Him, too, I muse, watching the women disappear from view over the hilltop, leaving me alone.

Turning back to the glittering ocean below me, I wander down between rows of sandstone and marble, slowly pondering worn inscriptions. Words like “beloved father, brother and husband”, “gone too soon, remembered forever” mark headstone after weathered headstone. All around me, engraved words are the only remainder of what were once living, breathing individuals, and I find myself dwelling again on this mystery: the fact that someone can be alive one moment – full of thoughts and ideas and personality and soul, and the next – nothing but an empty, unresponsive shell. It is such a strange thing.

I guess that is the reality of life, though. Just as it has a beginning, it also comes with an end.

Pop’s face floats into my memory once more, his eyes closed, lips set in a serious, thin line. I will never forget seeing him for the first time as he lay in his coffin. He seemed much smaller than I remembered him to be. The struggle with cancer had taken a definite toll. People were paying their respects – some with silent tears, some with regret-laden words, others with fond tales of his dedication and genius. His hair was still mostly black when he passed away – combed back from his intelligent forehead in rippling waves. That serious face, in death, was just one of the many expressions I had become familiar with during his lifetime. My fondest memories of him swim together from childhood, pooling into one big recollection: his bushy eyebrows dancing a jig whenever he laughed – that great, hearty, hooting laugh that no one could really resist, even if they were angry with him; His prickly moustache stabbing my skin whenever he greeted me with a kiss; the customary pat-pat-pat on his grandchildrens’ heads as they said goodbyes after a visit… his renowned stubbornness. All of it, now nothing more than treasured memories. Intangible.

Death is difficult to reckon with.

Here, the daily challenges of life that so easily wear away on my nerves or grind down my patience seem petty and insignificant in the face of its reality. I’m suddenly aware of everything I have to be thankful for: A husband that loves me. A stable job, a home to live in, friends that believe in me and encourage me. A family. But mostly, to be alive – seeing, hearing, feeling and breathing – seems like the richest blessing. It’s crazy how death always puts life in perspective – and really, it only serves to highlight how valuable the simplest of things really are. Yet, there is also an interesting tension here.

While the graveyard reminds me personally that I have much to be thankful for, and that life may really be bright and beautiful for the majority of us, it also reminds me that countless others have only known existence to be dark, broken, painful and filled with hardship. Often because pressures and tragedies have become so heavy they are literally crushing – pressure to earn a living, pursue a career, pay bills, support a family on one income, improve a tarnished criminal record, overcome addiction, trauma, a mental condition, loneliness, poverty, war or illness. The list goes on. For some, death has maybe become more appealing than these pressures, and that breaks my heart. Yet the reality is, life involves challenge, hard work, frustration, pain and tragedy for all of us at times; they were just never meant to define or dominate us.

Sitting here amongst the headstones, I have no idea what decisions these people made while they were alive – whether they were honorable or dishonorable; whether lives were taken tragically or unexpectedly, or whether they lived to a ripe old age before passing on. But what I do know is that every moment we each have on earth holds the same purpose and opportunity for all of us – the opportunity to recognise what we have rather than what we don’t have, to treasure it and steward it and learn from it, and build upon it. There may be more to overcome for some than others, but it can be overcome! Peace is possible, even in the middle of trials and hardships. Rest is possible, even in the midst of intense labouring. In this solitude, I am reminded that there is a refuge available for all of us – just as this graveyard is a refuge for me, from the noise of the city.

His name is Jesus.

I climb up onto one of the large stone platforms that serve as a memorial, savouring a renewed sense of gratitude for life and salvation. Sunlight bathes the skin on my arms, causing each little hair to glisten golden. A few birds flit about nearby, preening themselves and stretching delicate wings whilst eyeing me keenly, inquisitively. Salt air gently cools my face, and I turn toward the ocean once more, sprawling unchallenged below me. There is the horizon – a straight, undeniable line dividing mysterious deep from pastel blue sky… a mirage that keeps disappearing the closer you get to it, I muse; the line that has taunted adventurous souls for centuries past with it’s attainable allure. Just as the horizon disappears when we reach it, I will forever be chasing air unless I am anchored in You.

So many people chase horizons of fame, money, possessions, beauty or influence, only to find that the closer they get to attaining them, peace, purpose and joy recede further and further into the distance. With an obscured view of the wide open sky, I too am so often found guilty of thinking life revolves around me. Spending too long in the city narrows my perspective until my eyes have tunnel vision and life becomes about right here and right now, getting what I want, when I want it. But here in the graveyard, I’m reminded that all the rushing to and fro doesn’t add a second more to the length of our days, or lives! It only acts as an anesthetic, numbing us to the reality that life is fleeting and it can actually end at any moment! That’s a sobering thought, without the hope that Jesus offers, the hope of eternal life.

Some words I learned when I was young suddenly swell to the surface of my mind and echo in my heart:

“So teach us to number our days, that we may get us a heart of wisdom” – Psalm 90:12

There’s a hope that supersedes the things we spend our lives grasping for.

The truth is, all of our searching and striving does not ultimately save us from death, whether we find ourselves living the dream or going through hell. Humanity is in constant need of this hope. Here, the ocean reminds me of it – calm and unchanging – always there no matter what part of the world I find myself in. I can always run to it, I can stake my life on its existence.

This hope is the real treasure of life, the real diamond in the dirt. It will enable you to persevere through trials and hardships with purpose, to find contentment no matter the circumstances, in the simplest and smallest of blessings; to find peace amidst the greatest challenge and heartache. To live wide-eyed with wonder, soft-hearted and receptive, yet resilient, bold and victorious at the same time. To live openly and honestly, truly free.

This hope is a refuge when the world gets too loud, and it is found in the person of Jesus, the only figure in history who’s grave was found to be empty…

“All things have been entrusted and delivered to Me by My Father; and no one fully knows and accurately understands the Son except the Father, and no one fully knows and accurately understands the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son deliberately wills to make Him known.
Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden and overburdened, and I will cause you to rest. [I will ease and relieve and refresh your souls.]
Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am gentle (meek) and humble (lowly) in heart, and you will find rest (relief and ease and refreshment and recreation and blessed quiet) for your souls. 
For My yoke is wholesome (useful, good–not harsh, hard, sharp, or pressing, but comfortable, gracious, and pleasant), and My burden is light and easy to be borne.”  [Matthew 11:27-30]

I close my eyes, heart at peace, thankful for this moment, this day. For Jesus.

Though death comes to all, it will not have the last word.

Grit & Gold – A Poem

Bedroom

“Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame.
Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot sweep it away. If one were to give all the wealth of one’s house for love, it would be utterly scorned.” 

Song of Solomon 6:6-7 

These untrodden paths
Of Love, a maze
Of grit and gold;

Winding upwards,
Crossroads, sign posts…
Do ‘all roads lead to Rome’?

Risking the unknown,
We breathe in deep –
Together, strong.

A dogged climb
For days on end,
Wearied to the bone.

Dizzying summits,
Where stars are a-swirl,
Laughter ebbs and flows.

Valleys appear –
They swallow us;
Fear spills down in tears.

Barbed wire words
rip ragged wounds;
Silence wages war.

“Follow the narrow,
higher path” He
whispers, “I am there”.

In dust and sweat,
We tread the track
in search of treasure, rare.

Aching, hoping,
pendulum desire…
Where will all this lead?

A rose unfurls
in gentle rain,
Each petal pure, perfect.

Beauty arrests
our withered souls,
filling every fibre.

You pull me close –
All tension drains,
rinses off us, clean.

Hope gleams bright
and brighter still;
infusing faded dreams.

Doubt, like mist at dawn
Disperses; Look!
How far we’ve come.

This love – a fight,
an ease, a storm;
It cannot be undone.

With you, my heart
and soul are knit,
in mysteries unknown.

These paths of Love
we choose to tread
have now become our Home.

x