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).

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Day 12: “Children of God”

kidsHave you ever been annoyed with little children? Maybe they’re your own, throwing a tantrum in the shops over a lollypop while you’re trying to buy groceries? Or perhaps someone else’s little darling is making noise in church and you just need her to shush so you can concentrate? The chaos of youngsters can be a bit much. Kids definitely bring energy and volume to a room!

Children also carry a faith unlike your own. 

The world hasn’t jaded them. Their tender souls cry out for God’s blessing and presence. Children see the world with wide eyes and wonder. They believe in the miraculous and move in the moment, embracing everything around them without fear or hatred. Kids dream big and hug you hard. They laugh loudly and cry easily.

What reckless abandon!

Jesus loves children:

“The people brought children to Jesus, hoping he might touch them. The disciples shooed them off. But Jesus was irate and let them know it: “Don’t push these children away. Don’t ever get between them and me. These children are at the very center of life in the kingdom. Mark this: Unless you accept God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in.” Then, gathering the children up in his arms, he laid his hands of blessing on them” (Mark 10:13-16).

Parents, you must lead your kids to Christ, for he wants to bless them. Pray for your precious ones today and model a life of surrender so they will chase after God, fully submitted to his lordship too.

If you’re not a parent, don’t get in the way of children having an encounter with Jesus. Look them in the eyes, say something kind, and believe God’s best for them, shining the light of Christ. Lift the young ones in your world up to him in prayer today.

And, pray for yourself… that you can grab hold of a child-like faith, one that embraces its simplicity and allows Jesus to lay hold of you and pour out a blessing.

“What marvellous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it—we’re called children of God! That’s who we really are” (1 John 3:1a MSG).

How Many Pages?

IMG_3213Every night, my 6 year old (who dislikes most things about school and sitting still), reads a book as part of his home reading program. He’s doing well, but every time he opens the book, he gets that disgruntled pout on his face in anticipation of how lengthy it will be. The inevitable moan comes with, “how many pages are in this book?”

Sometimes, there are only one or two sentences on a page, but there might be 40 pages total. This makes him VERY UPSET! So much so, that I can hardly persuade him to keep going. It wouldn’t matter if every word was easy to pronounce and the plot of the story was thrilling.

The mere thought that there are a lot of pages makes him cringe. If there are tons of words on each one but only 15 pages in total, Sam is happy to proceed… even if the words are challenging and he doesn’t quite understand the storyline.

He equates the length of the book with its difficulty level.

Confession: I’m the same in this chapter of my spiritual journey. If a goal seems like it’s a long way off, I tend to lose heart. I get discouraged and I find it arduous to concentrate on the day ahead, even if its pages are filled with fun! I worry more and find myself dreading what’s to come, rather than embracing the “now.”

However, if I must tackle something really difficult but I know it’s tomorrow or the next day, I’m ready to flip the page and bring it on. I don’t shy away. I’m ready for the fight.

Somehow, I, not unlike my 6yo, have fooled myself into thinking the future, that which is out of reach, is more difficult than the “now.” However, the future becomes the now in a few days time. We have to go through it either way.

There are spiritual principles at work as we navigate the stories of our lives, today and everyday. The pages of life keep turning and sometimes our issues stare back at us like the bad 1980s photography in some of Sam’s home readers. We don’t want to look at them!

I’m aiming to be at peace even when the words are unfamiliar.

Our most desperate times, the moments when our worlds are blurry and our endurance is tested, are no different than the more concise, easily simplified issues of today. If we believe God is with sometimes, then we must believe he is with us always.

Full Stop.

Finding rest and peace when our externals seem formidable can be challenging. Trusting a God who exists outside of linear time is hard too. But, if we pause, breathe, take life one page at a time, line by line, not rushing ahead or dreading the future, rather enjoying the present, we will make it to the end.

God doesn’t come and go. God lasts.
He’s Creator of all you can see or imagine.
He doesn’t get tired out, doesn’t pause to catch his breath.
And he knows everything, inside and out.
He energizes those who get tired,
gives fresh strength to dropouts.
For even young people tire and drop out,
young folk in their prime stumble and fall.
But those who wait upon God get fresh strength.
They spread their wings and soar like eagles,
They run and don’t get tired,
they walk and don’t lag behind. (Isaiah 40:28-31 MSG)

Day 18: “Children are God’s Best Gift.”

fearfully-madeToday’s children are bombarded with more information than any previous generation. Just go to a shopping mall you’ll see iPads strapped to prams and realise even two year olds are filtering messages coming at them at breakneck speeds. The pace doesn’t slow as they get older.

The most important data young people need is God’s word which tells them they are precious in his sight. An urgent affirmation of the Lord’s plan for them is due.  Timely reminders that they aren’t in your way nor too naive to make a difference.

Today, focus on praying for the children and youth in your life. Maybe they live with you… Look them in the eyes and say, “God loves and cherishes you. You are SO SPECIAL and worthy of love, perfectly made in his image and fully equipped to change the world.”

If you have grandchildren, nieces and nephews, kids at church over whom you have influence, don’t take your position for granted. The world will tell them everything they aren’t and will reinforce what they lack. As Christian leaders, parents, grandparents, you have a responsibility to speak and pray into the lives of the precious ones in your life.

Don’t you see that children are God’s best gift?
    the fruit of the womb his generous legacy?
Like a warrior’s fistful of arrows
    are the children of a vigorous youth.
Oh, how blessed are you parents,
    with your quivers full of children!
 (Psalm 127:3-4 MSG)

Day 11: “Stop and Notice.”

thank-god-when-i-think-of-youSometimes, the people closest to you are the ones you can unknowingly neglect. You become too familiar, comfortable in your surroundings, busy with your schedules. The obligations right in front of you become nuisances rather than opportunities. Crying children, homework, a wife who needs a listening ear or a hand in the kitchen… The predictability of it all means you go through the motions, numb to the need.

Today, stop and notice your immediate family. Pray for your spouse, your children, your parents. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you any significant needs they might have even if they are unspoken. Your first ministry is in your home. God in you, revealed to those who are close, is authentic faith. They matter most. They watch and learn about the Lord by how you live out your convictions.

Instead of focussing on yourself, why not ask someone in your house how you can serve him?  Thank God for those he has placed in your life. They long for you more than you know.

2015 Fasting Devotion, Day NINETEEN

Read 1 Timothy 4

As parents, we know we have a responsibility to teach and train our kids in certain areas. We train them to eat with cutlery and use a toilet when they are little. We teach them how to obey and respect adults. We make them go to school for their education and often put them in extra-curricular activities like sport and music to develop other skills in their lives.

As Christian parents, we must not forget to invest in and train our kids spiritually. In order to do this effectively, our kids must see us training ourselves. That’s why daily time in the word, prayer, and even disciplines like fasting as a family are invaluable. The Apostle Paul is reminding his young follower, Timothy, that exercise is valuable, but a disciplined life in God makes us fit for today and forever.

Whether we have children under our roof or we are just influencing those around us, it’s our life that speaks volumes – through our words, actions, love, faith and integrity. We must cultivate and immerse ourselves in these matters, placing higher value on them than physical exercise or secular education.

Practically, you can ask your kids to read a scripture with you and discuss it. When you correct and discipline, bring it back to a Godly principle and pray for forgiveness, asking God for help going forward. Have daily times when you thank God for your many blessings and train your kids to have a grateful spirit. Pray with them before school and before big moments in their lives, teaching them to lean on God in every situation.

Dear Lord Jesus, thank you for reminding me of the importance ongoing spiritual education is in my life and the lives of the young ones in my care. Help me to make it a high priority each day. I pray that the fruit of my investment would be plentiful. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

2015 Fasting Devotion, Day SEVENTEEN

Read Colossians 3:18-25 (MSG)

You’ve probably heard the mantra, “God First, Family Second, Job Third.” Although I don’t believe life can be so simple as to compartmentalise our relationships in a linear fashion, I understand this thought speaks to priorities. In any given moment, I’m loving God, my husband, my kids and my work all at the same time! However, the out working of my first love and affection being Christ means my other obligations fall into alignment. I love my husband better. Then, when we are healthy and walking in unity, our kids benefit. As our family prospers, we can invest in other areas with joy and ease.

When our jobs become more important than our kids, people suffer. When our personal expectations and image trump our kid’s feelings and struggles, we risk crushing their spirits. As employees, husband and wives, we must serve and work as though we are serving the Lord. This removes any chance of offence or bitterness when our own expectations aren’t met.

As we continue to focus on our families through prayer and fasting this week, let us commit to doing everything in our power to serve and bless those whom we influence. Keeping our priorities and investment of time, energy, kind words, and service in the right order, we not only bring honour and glory to God, but our families prosper as well.

Heavenly Father, only YOU know what the dynamics of my work and family life are like. Give me strength to do what you have called me to do to love and honour those in my life. On good days when it’s easy, I rejoice! On bad days, when life is hard and I don’t receive the respect and love I so desire, help me to focus on YOU first and honour you anyway. In Jesus’ name, Amen.