Devotion, Fasting, peace, Prayer, Uncategorized

Day 5: “Peace. Not Problems.”

Photo: izismile.com

We all have the ability to take our minds off what’s bothering us. Unfortunately, the headaches of life are often addressed with unhealthy medication God never prescribed… alcohol, overeating, pornography, drugs, overspending. Anything to escape the reality of the obstacles you face. Retreating into Netflix, shutting others out, worrying incessantly… whether extreme or subtle, your concerns are not meant to be numbed away.

Problems can become crushing if you let them. Their roots can take hold and produce prolific weeds in your life, making the real issues hard to see. They become buried underneath the growth of unwanted tangled vines as they seek to attach themselves to your heart and soul. Strangled by their embrace, your desire to fend off these pests becomes so overwhelming you don’t know where to turn.

You may be praying and fasting around a specific dilemma you’re facing. Over these 21 days, you are rehearsing putting those issues at the foot of the cross, allowing yourself to release your grip on finding a solution and fixing what’s wrong. When you allow Jesus to lead the way, your answers will surely come. But they won’t come by avoidance; and they won’t appear through high blood pressure and angst. The solution isn’t found in self-medicating or avoidance.

Peace isn’t the absence of problems. It’s found in the person of Jesus who meets you in your struggle.

As you allow God to prune and garden your life over this time of prayer and fasting, he may expose some roots you weren’t aware of. Your vulnerability before him may feel uncomfortable or even unwanted. Remember: He comes lovingly and gently to dig down below your pain and pluck out your predicaments. What’s left behind is a tender heart, viable and strong, unmasked and unafraid of the future.

Your Heavenly Father wants to minister to you right in the midst of your quandary. Imagine yourself replacing that which you have forgone in your fast with a greater portion of your God. Be filled with more of Jesus – his presence, his peace, his promises, his problem-solving.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Matthew 11:28-30 (MSG)
Courage, Devotion, peace, Uncategorized

Day 4: “Peace. Not Fear.”

Photo: Evgeniy Stepanets

Fear, keeping your kids awake at night, as they imagine what may be lurking under their beds. The panic of checking the lap belt one last time before the roller coaster drops sending butterflies through your stomach. Distress, when your teenager isn’t home and curfew was an hour ago. Nightmares, panic, anxiety, dread.

Fear can surely rob you of peace.

It can creep in slowly or it can jump on you like a small child in the pool. Beating you over the head, splashing you in the face, blinding you and making you dizzy.

Angst and worry can be a natural response to rattling circumstances. Remember the shepherds keeping watch over the flocks by night who were visited by an angel appearing out of nowhere? They were terrified. The angel told the shepherds not to be afraid for on that very day, the Messiah would be born.

Jesus: the antidote to fear.

Our Saviour didn’t come to earth as a mighty warrior, ready to fend off evil with a sword and shield. That might make more sense if bravery and comfort were the promise. No one is afraid if Sir William Wallace is in charge.

However, God sent down the Saviour of the world in the form of a helpless newborn baby, born in a manger, in less than stable times. Those shepherds, Joseph and Mary, and others in attendance found peace in the person of Jesus. He represented hope, a long-awaited promise fulfilled. This vulnerable baby boy brought peace to a foreboding situation.

Are you facing something unbearably scary? Are you entertaining vain imaginations of times yet to come which cause you to tense up, lose sleep, or lash out? You have the promise of peace in the midst of your fear.

Your days may never be absent of fear; rather, you must acknowledge God’s present help in your time of need. “Fear not” doesn’t mean “never feel fear.” It means, when you’re feeling afraid, look to the one who brings peace.

Allow his presence and promise to meet you in your angst. Picture his endless love washing over you despite what you’ve done. Remember that he owns the cattle on a thousand hills and his provision is endless to meet your needs. Jesus, and his infinite wisdom as the one who knows the beginning from the end, will guide you into perfect peace; your future is secure.

As you pray today, imagine God’s face shining upon you and your situation, reminding you of his ability to fend off the demons which haunt you. His gentle spirit packs a mighty punch and no weapon, whether seen or imagined, has any hold on you. Allow your concerns to be swept away by hands of hope. Breathe slowly. Allow Jesus to pacify you moment by moment.

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6 (NIV)
Contentment, Fasting, Prayer, Series

Day 3: “A Beautiful Exchange”

photo: starfishjourney.tumblr.com

Reciprocity is the law by which most of you live. Give and receive. Sow and reap. Work and be paid. Pray, fast… and, ahem… what’s there to gain? It’s the question on your lips; or at a minimum, in the back of your minds. What’s in it for ME?

Our expectations guide us through life. Treat others well and you’ll be treated well. Karma. We see a good person achieve something great and we say “they deserved that!” A bad one gets his due and we celebrate justice. This is why unmet expectations can throw us for a loop. They can derail us, cause us to lose faith, resent others, become bitter.

You may have entered into this time of prayer and fasting with a list of expectations, maybe even a bit of an ultimatum with God because you’re so desperate to see something shift in your life. Your hope lies in a formula with an acceptable rate of return on your investment over these three weeks.

Can I encourage you to put aside your predictions today and solely seek peace through the PERSON of Jesus? Rest at his feet and to allow yourself to receive his love and mercy as the ultimate gift, not because of anything you’ve deposited into your spiritual bank account but because of who HE is.

We are going to explore, over the coming days, areas of blockage to our peace.

But, it won’t be possible if you don’t first understand that peace isn’t a status quo to be obtained. It’s not a place you’ll suddenly arrive if you do and say mostly all the “right” things. Peace is not obtained if everyone around you cooperates a little more. It’s not even found in answered prayer or miracles.

The Prince of Peace is a person who is with you always. If you look closely at the page of your written words and requests, you’ll find him staring back at you, longing for you to trust him with your heart’s desires. No matter how major your hurdles, your peace guides you directly into your purpose and prosperity. Stop waiting for the stars to align perfectly in order for you to take your next step on the journey with Jesus. He is inviting you to come NOW.

A disciplined spiritual life, an authentic faith walk, isn’t one sans problems or difficulties. It’s not led by a Christian who never stumbles or sins. You can’t add up 2 good deeds plus 1 act of forgiveness minus 2 stuff ups and get 1 perfect life.

Jesus promises you ONE thing: in this life you WILL have trouble but he also promises you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace.

“If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.”

Matthew 6:30-33
Contentment, Friendship, Fun, Inspiration, Kids, Personal Growth, Social problems, Uncategorized

Soul-Trading

mark 8-36If you’re a parent, I would venture to say you spend a lot of time helping your children explore their interests, find their passions, make friends, and grow in their abilities. Outside a typical school day, you cart them to swim and music lessons, sports trainings and games, tutoring.

You make sure they don’t miss the party invite (what if they don’t get invited again or are left out on the playground at school?)! We only have Wednesday afternoons free and the school just opened up a term of Oztag… perfect! Sign us up! Wait… what’s Oztag?

My own daughter tried ballet, hip hop, gymnastics (at two different gyms) before we realised her passion was music and art. She now also plays netball for both her school and club.

How do we, as parents fit it all in? What’s the motivation for all this, (shall I daresay “over-scheduling”)? We tell ourselves we want what’s best for them. Some of us believe our kids are stars and in order to get ahead, they must perfect their trade. We must set them up for success. And… Kids are demanding at times. They tell us what they want to do and we jump through every hoop to make it happen. I mean, how guilty would we feel if right down our very own hallway slept the next Mozart and we didn’t pay for that extra term of piano lessons?

We live in crazy times! All this taxiing our children to and fro. Then, what’s left of us, these devoted, well-intentioned grown-ups?

Soul weary, budget busted, time strapped adults whose sleep patterns are poor and marriages are weak.

In the pursuit of fostering well-rounded, talented, happy children who have friends and self-confidence, we can lose our own souls. What happened to regular date nights? Adult friends who party with us while the children go to bed?

What are MY interests?

Didn’t I have hobbies once upon a time?

Where are friends who make me laugh, those who spur me on towards becoming my best self?

All of our choices come at a cost. This over-scheduling and saying “yes” to the aforementioned litany of options means saying “no” to other things. Unfortunately, those “other things” can be the very ones which sustain our souls. The fun. Spiritual growth. Marriage. Small group at church. Rest.

Let’s don’t mistake “good parenting” for soul-trading.

Kids need parents who love each other and they need to see us taking care of ourselves, embracing a hobby, setting boundaries, living within our means. The lessons WE teach through lives devoted to Jesus, the church, our marriages, and sabbath rest far outweigh any weekly half hour lesson you could pay for with someone else in charge.

“What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for” (Mark 8:36 MSG).

Contentment, Inspiration, Personal Growth, Uncategorized

Notice Me, Please!

At my son’s recent cross-country race, every kid suddenly picked up his pace as he came down the stretch of the course where parents were lined up cheering. Knowing they were being watched and hearing the roar of the crowd, maybe even their own names, provided a catapulting adrenaline boost!

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Me, at the finish of the race!

A few years ago, I ran the Blackmores Half Marathon. It was a dream-come-true for this Texan to cross the Sydney Harbour Bridge afoot and then finish those 21km at the steps of the Opera House. As I was running, I knew my husband, Greg, was somewhere out on the course and as my legs fatigued, I longed for his smiling face to find me amongst the crowd. I needed my adrenaline boost. At about the 10km mark, I turned a corner and spotted his bright red jumper in the distance. My smile quickly faded as I realised, he wasn’t looking my direction…

I kept staring at him as my feet pounded the pavement, music blasting in my ears, willing him to turn around as I approached. I kept thinking, “He knows my pace. He knows I should be at this point in the race about now. I’m doing so well… surely he’s going to clue in and start yelling for me any minute.”

When I was within about 50 metres of him, not only did he not begin cheering for me, but I started yelling out for him!  I’m singing Taylor Swift, “I keep cruising, can’t stop, won’t stop moving. It’s like I’ve got this music in my mind sayin’ it’s gonna be all right,” only,

IT. WASN’T. ALL. RIGHT.

Greg wasn’t the one huffing and puffing. He had the easy job: stand there in his nice bright red, warm jumper, cuppa in hand, and look for me. Yell out; clap; whistle; say, ‘you’ve got this babe!’ You know, catapult me forward. Make me feel like a star!  Show everyone around me how special I am and point out how I’m smashing this race!

IMG_0468 2
Here’s the bright red jumper which can be seen from a great distance!

By the time I was within 10 metres of him, not only was I exerting extra energy to yell out, but now my arms were waving and I almost tripped the guy next to me for looking to my right to get Greg’s attention. Just as I was passing him, he finally saw me. He yelled out a little ‘great job’ (or something) and I was turning the corner, on my own again. Now, instead of feeling an adrenaline rush of energy, I was feeling sad and irritated that my one fan didn’t even notice me.

He didn’t see how great I was going… How strong I looked. How fit! How my determination and discipline had paid off and, perhaps most importantly – how I was rocking my new shoes.

In that moment along the course, I needed him to recognise me. I wanted everyone around me to hear MY MAN cheering me on, to see that I was good at what I was doing.

A lot of us compete throughout our whole lives like we are in a footrace, panting along, hoping someone will notice us. We wear our achievements like a pinned on race number, right across our social media sites, longing for likes and views. We feel defeated when we don’t get invited to the party, as if everyone passed us at the finish line. We give up when the boss doesn’t notice how hard we worked, wounded like the runner in the courtesy shuttle who sprained her ankle.

We pour our blood, sweat and tears into things praying for

SOMEONE to NOTICE.

Looking to others to motivate, encourage, acknowledge, or validate you will, most certainly, lead to disappointment. Your friends might get it right one day, but forget all about you the next. Your kids may say “thank you” today and demand more than you can give tomorrow. Just as quickly as your followers “liked” your last post, they will un-follow you for something more popular.

If your self-worth is tied to what’s temporal, you’ll find yourself striving with an insatiable need to please. Or, you’ll constantly be bitter with the taste of envy, disappointment, and anger on your tongue, a resident victim.

The encouraging news is that there is ONE who is ALWAYS monitoring your progress, cheering you on, noticing your every move and smiling upon you.

His name is Jesus.

He never loses sight of you; as a matter of fact, his eyes are ranging about the earth, ready to strengthen those whose hearts are committed to him. He’s on the lookout for you and you have no other competitors. He goes before you and behind you. Our God never loses step or forgets to turn. You don’t have to yell out or wave him down. He loves you, just the way you are, at whatever pace you’re running your race.

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 (Psalm 51:16-17).

Devotion, Inspiration, Prayer, Uncategorized

Day 21: “Smile at the Future”

she laughs

Laughter – good medicine. Nothing like a big belly laugh when you hear a funny joke or your kids do something hilarious. Have you ever smiled so much your cheeks hurt? Maybe it’s a day at a theme park or a show? Your wedding day?

Can you smile at your future?

Unfortunately, some of you feel dread with your approaching calendar. Unless you’ve got a holiday planned, you’re stressed about work coming up, bills that need to be paid, a problem you have to deal with… you think ahead too much and rather than hilarity, it’s a headache.

What does your future look like after these 21 days of prayer and fasting? How much of it pleases you, knowing your family is prepared to take on its next season? Your mind and heart are in a better place than they were three weeks ago. Your position is strong and secure. Your future is bright.

You know how to put your problems in the proper perspective. You’re secure in your position in your community as part of a larger world. You pray more. You encourage often. You allow vulnerability.

You close your eyes and envision what’s to come and you can’t help but crack a grin.

Now to Him who is able to [carry out His purpose and] do superabundantly more than all that we dare ask or think [infinitely beyond our greatest prayers, hopes, or dreams], according to His power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20).

Contentment, Fasting, freedom, Prayer, Uncategorized

Day 19: “Peace”

peace worldAs you approach the final three days of prayer and fasting, you are more at peace. Yet, learning to walk in peace despite your circumstances is a lifelong practise and takes more than a few days to master. Composure comes when you make it a habit to take negative thoughts captive and submit them to God. You can walk in harmony with others when you learn to separate what someone else might say about you that’s contrary to what God says.

Nothing can steal your peace when you completely trust God no matter what curve balls life might throw your way. No scary diagnosis. No unforeseen accident. You’re embracing the blessing of well-being within your spirit which your mighty God offers you each day.

You can find the “Prince of Peace” right alongside you when you seek him continually. He is longing to embrace you and to care for you. He desires nothing more than to guide you into a quiet place of relaxation amidst any storm you’re facing. The practise you have incorporated into your life over the last three weeks is allowing you to experience more of Jesus.

You know that you’re not alone. You have seen and heard him speak. You can see that dedicating time to your relationship with your Heavenly Father brings contentment and rest. You, as a carrier of God’s peace, can actually set the temperature in your home, your family, your workplace. You make and maintain calmness everywhere you go.

“Finally, believers, rejoice! Be made complete [be what you should be], be comforted, be like-minded, live in peace [enjoy the spiritual well-being experienced by believers who walk closely with God]; and the God of love and peace [the source of loving-kindness] will be with you” (2 Corinthians 13:11 AMP).