“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 Gate Of Heaven

The air is silent as night dissipates.
Walking worn corridors in dawn stillness, anticipating what is about to take place,
My heart quickens at the thought:
Two worlds set on course for collision
are about to explode in display.
 
This place…
If only walls could speak.
For these ones have seen all manner of muse and music –
entertainment attempting to fill
humanity’s lust for excitement,
and moments outside of the ordinary.
These decorated hallways tell a repetitive story –
Of success, beauty, platinums.
So many trophies lining the walls,
Yet the faces I see are
frozen in their own glory.
We hunger for deepest life as if it must be earned;
Striving to prove our significance,
flashing qualifications for recognition;
The insatiable appetite eats us up.
Yet hunger remains.
“momentary” seems the only meal
we manage to digest, I suppose:
For death is no respector
of persons.
 
I walk onward, past cardboard smiles and glamourous facades,
as the sky outside cracks with light.
The day is awakening!
Voices murmur and footsteps thicken as ordinary faces arrive,
hearts and hands at the ready.
Gathering in expectation,
they move fluidly – harmoniously in rhythm;
People from every tribe and tongue.
This is the Church, in motion.
 
Tonight, these much-traversed hallways shall not echo with emptiness anymore.
They will resound with a weight of praise that no celebrity can contend for,
Praise for a King with unrivalled fame;
a Saviour in who’s name we live and move and have our being.
Walls cannot contain his pure glory;
Nor mortality reduce his reign
to one single era of History.
For He is Spirit and He is Truth,
And His Word hovers ready
to settle within longing hearts.
“Speak Lord, for we are listening”
will be the cry that arises
in every corner of the building.
The cry of those enthralled with His voice,
welcoming communion with Him.
Oh, be attentive, you with bruised and tattered souls – pay attention to his whisper!
For He will repair you with his truth.
 
As I walk, a Kingdom wrought in shadows
is emerging from anonymity to take the center stage.
This museum erected to acclaim the ‘greats’
Shall become the gate of Heaven.
Watch, world! As He inhabits the praises of His Bride –
resurrection life explodes like star-burst galaxies!
Tonight these walls will witness
unenvisioned glory resting upon raw, restless humanity.
Beauty transforming, reviving
the most withered and weary of souls.
He will fill every crack and cavern,
every deficit of identity with His Love, and His passion, for that is who He is.
HE is everything everlasting.
All-sustaining, He is the true bread of Life.
Divine.
Come and see, come eat of His love;
Drink great, deep draughts of His Spirit –
A fountain that never ceases to flow.
O, taste and see! Taste and see that our God is good, and his love endures
For a thousand generations.
 
I pause before a window
As sunlight pierces night’s
lingering clouds, and morning
bursts like molten gold,
Infusing the grey with Hope.
This is a new beginning.
I have come full circle on my
patrol through quiet hallways,
with vision for the coming day
Inscribed upon my heart.
I am reminded that, like rhythm –
day and night;
sunrise, sunset,
tide and season –
summer and autumn,
So is His mercy and faithfulness.
I have nothing without it,
this abundance of life that he supplies:
For it is priceless treasure
placed in jars of clay such as me and you –
that those seeking truth may discover
when through the cracks they glimpse
it’s glorious worth.
 
“Yes, Lord Jesus” my heart whispers.
“May your kingdom come,
on earth, as it is in heaven.”

“Who wants it?”

June.

That was the name of the little old lady in our church by the sea, with its hopeful and humble congregation of thirty or forty believers. We met weekly in a small, modest bowling green at Waihi Beach in New Zealand. According to our bulletin sheets, we were supposed to begin our one Sunday service at 10am but more often than not the religious duties would only begin once everyone had arrived to enjoy a cup of english breakfast tea and a catch up around the pool table in the front room that served as a foyer.

In her 80’s, June would faithfully come on her own every week to our haphazard meetings. She had either lost her husband very early on in life, or had never married – I can’t remember. But she was always there to encourage and welcome everyone with a smile, and pray with such humble, knowing trust. There was a quiet depth and authenticity about her that carried the weight of years of walking with Jesus. Yet she was never intimidating or self righteous. She would sit with her walking stick when she couldn’t stand, but regardless of her stance, she reflected a friendship with Him that shone out through her clear, wrinkle-bordered blue eyes. I had no idea what she’d been through in her life – all I knew was that she possessed something deep within her that was authentic and I was drawn to it, to her. Looking back, I’m only just realising now how much influence she had upon me, as a young girl. (Often we don’t realise the value that the people around us actually add to our lives until they are no longer there).

One Sunday, June did something that I will never forget.

She stood up during a time of personal sharing we were having and slowly and surely shuffled to the front of the church, leaning on her walking stick. Despite her stooped shoulders and less enthusiastic limbs, there was a calm dignity about her. (There is beauty in such dignity that radiates through any physical layers one may possess, whether they be alluring and youthful or wrinkled and worn. True beauty begins on the inside, in the deepest of unseen places.) Clutched in her hand was a small sum of money, and I remember what she did with it next, as clear as day: she held it out, palm up, so that the coins lay in her slightly trembling hand. “I have five dollars here” she said, softly but seriously. June didn’t speak often, but when she did have something to say, we listened. There was an authority in her words that commanded attention.”It’s not much, but if you want it, it’s yours.” And she held her hand out further, slowly turning along the half circle of curious congregation members, inviting.

No one moved.

I think we were trying to assess whether she was trying to teach a principle, or whether she was genuinely offering the money; or maybe both. Either way, we were not used to such forthrightness, especially in church! Why was she doing this?! Whatever the reason, I remember June’s elderly fingers were extended towards us for an unusually long time as we analysed her every move. The silence in the room was loaded. But she didn’t waver. “Who wants it?” She repeated, waiting. You could have heard a pin drop. I was a teenager at the time, and I remember thinking of all the things five dollars could purchase for lunch. After all, my parents were often short of money because they had eight kids that constantly needed feeding (and you’d be surprised at what five dollars could do at the local Fish n’ Chip shop!) But I stayed glued to my seat nevertheless, too self-conscious to put up my hand. A few more seconds ticked by, and it became clear that June’s offer was not going to be withdrawn. Finally, someone stood up and said they would take the coins – I believe more out of pity for the old woman than anything else. In a small church, you eventually get to know everyone’s life stories and genealogies, and I knew the person who accepted her gift certainly didn’t need an extra $5. But June was up to something. She straightened with a knowing smile and leaned on her cane a little heavily, as if the effort of holding out her hand for so long had been more than exhausting. “You see” she said in her quiet, confident way. “You can’t receive… until you’re bold enough to ask. Unless you really want what I’m offering”.

June’s principle helped me to understand a very important truth that day. A truth that I am still learning to outwork in my life now. Receiving can be easier said than done. Receiving from other people, yes: because it takes an honest assessment of your vulnerabilities to put up your hand. But also receiving from the God who loves you more than you could actually grasp. He stands as June did, but instead of a few humble coins, His pierced hands stretch out to humanity offering the greatest gift of all: Salvation. It shines through His healed-wounds, the holes that prove the lengths he went to to be able to extend this Salvation gift to us, at every moment that we draw breath. It contains everything we could ever truly need– healing, wisdom, grace, faith, safety, certainty, hope, restoration, forgiveness, purpose, overwhelming peace and the surest love. Oh, if only we would receive what he offers, without reserve, without analysing and supposing and assessing! If we would simply and honestly just… accept.

–“Who wants it?”–

Thinking back, I’ve often pondered the initial response that June was met with when she offered her coins, including my own. Isn’t it ironic? We are sometimes quicker to be suspicious of someone who is simply being generous, than to accept the gift that is offered without reserve. In our coming-of-age, have we become so accustomed to ulterior motives in our dealings with others, we cannot trust pure generosity for what it is any more, like we did when we were children? All those times I was sternly but lovingly warned by my parents– “Darling, remember not to take lollies from strangers!” as I was innocently skipping out the door to get lost in blissful adventures. Prone to trusting anyone and everyone. Or is it something else altogether that prevents us from openly and honestly receiving? Fear, maybe. A lack of courage to make public a deep personal need. “Children should be seen and not heard” might have been the phrase ringing throughout your upbringing. Or maybe, if we seem too keen to accept things, we would be perceived as lazy or… a bit of a freeloader. No one wants to be that person. Which causes me to wonder why we go to such lengths to cover up our weaknesses in the first place. Why does human nature seem to operate by the unspoken law of self-preservation? Why do we fight to achieve a polished, need-less reputation whatever the cost, even if it means on the surface we’re succeeding but on the inside we’re a crumpled, insecure mess? And why has self-sufficiency been made the human goal anyway? To keep us from getting hurt, or broken? We all know that hurt and pain are a pretty big reality in our world at the moment. Innocent people are taken advantage of, daily. Why is admitting our need such a difficult thing to do? When we all feel the ache of common human frailty surfacing at the most inconvenient of times: Insecurity. Fear. Hopelessness. Doubt. Lack of purpose. Rejection. Addiction. Loneliness. That sense of not being good enough, pretty enough, intelligent enough relevant enough or socially eloquent enough, like the other 95% of the world.

You may think you’re the only one, but I can promise you, you’re not.

On that Sunday I was in need of $5, but I stayed glued to my seat nonetheless. It’s not that I didn’t need the money, I just wasn’t bold or humble enough – or both! – to put my hand up and accept it.

I’ve learned, since witnessing June’s illustration that day, that in order to receive, you must be bold or courageous enough to put up your hand and acknowledge that you are in lack; and to receive, you must be humble enough to accept a gift you may not have asked for, but truly need. Like a child, trusting and dependent upon its parents’ judgement. There will be those who say, “well, because of their innocence, children are also taken advantage of by careless or neglectful parents”. And that is sadly true. But that is also where the Father is different. He does not take advantage of us. And there is a lesson we can learn from a child’s unconditional trust, a lesson we must learn, in order to receive the thing that will save us. Because we cannot save ourselves. And where humanity often fails, this magnificent Father in heaven does not, and never will. He asks us to trust innocently and unconditionally, like a child – not so he can take advantage of us, or neglect us, but because he created us, and longs to reveal to our doubtful and suspicious souls just how good he is, through and through. How faithful, and how utterly trustworthy. There is no shadow or imperfection in Him. And it is only when we do trust him unconditionally that we can receive all that he has for us, and experience the freedom that His truth releases. For he will not force it upon us if we are not willing. One who is trying to win the love of another will patiently and steadily pursue – he will not frighten or force his way in if he wants his love to be recognised as the true and deep love that it is.

Then Jesus called for the children and said to the disciples, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.”

– Luke Chapter 18, verses 16 & 17-

Some of the most profound truths in life will come through the most ordinary, ‘unlikely’ looking people. The God of the Bible has a history of using the least likely individuals to trust with his presence and authority, for in His kingdom the “least shall be the greatest” – those less concerned with perfecting their own image and are more deeply enamoured with allowing their personal imperfections and vulnerabilities to reflect His grace and perfection. In his books, gifts are given according to one’s receptivity – not extensive qualifications. This explains why it can be hard to understand Salvation, and the fact that it is not a reward to earn for the people with the best behaviour, but a gift extended to even those with the worst. Because it is an unconditional gift. I promise you, as soon as you put up your hand to accept, you will find yourself in possession of the greatest treasure there is to discover; the greatest hope, the greatest satisfaction, the most abundant life.

This is the Good News.

So the question remains —

“Who wants it?”