Why this is not a self-help blog

 

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I’ve always been a sucker for a self-help book.

If you could peek at my Kindle library you would see the collection of organizing books that I have read in the hope of transforming my scatteredness.  And then there are diet books and fitness plans alongside books that tell me  how to use my time well and get more done or how to simplify my life and slow down.  And, within the pages of these books I have found very practical, good advice that has helped me to make important changes.

But as a follower of Jesus, I must always remember the limitations of self-help books.

First of all, motivational writing is only helpful if it is true.   The pages of a book can tell me that I have within myself all the keys to my own happiness and success.  They can convince me that I can become anything I want to be if I try hard enough.  They can tell me that the sky is the limit if I will just change what I believe about my capabilities.  They can offer me all sorts of beautifully uplifting sentiments that will fill me up and make me smile.  They will sound good and true but they are only partly true which makes them misleading.  And it makes them wholly inadequate to sustain me when life gets really tough.

It only takes one terrible mistake, one devastating piece of bad news or heartbreaking betrayal to show me how little control I really have.  At that moment, what I really need to know is that I belong to a God who is in control, even when I am not, and that nothing can ever separate me from His love or His purposes or His presence.

Another problem with self-help books is that they assume personal happiness is always my goal.  But I’ve tried chasing this elusive quality and it is an impossible and exhausting exercise.  Happiness has a way of always feeling just out of reach.

The Bible tells me that the goal of the Christian life is to know God and to make Him known.  It also promises me that joy is the inevitable, beautiful fruit of my growing relationship with Him.

I don’t ever want to settle for mere happiness.  It is flimsy and precarious and it can be snatched from me with one phone call.

God’s joy is altogether different.  It is a hardy plant.  It can survive, even flourish, in the midst of grief and disappointment, blossoming in impossible places.

You can’t produce it yourself though.  It is the natural byproduct of a life poured out for Jesus and for others.

Another limitation of self-help books, even by Christian authors, is that they can overemphasize life here and now.  Please don’t misunderstand me.  I believe in John 10.10 with my whole heart.  I believe that Jesus wants to give me that abundant life today.  I believe that He wants to heal and deliver me from the things that hold me down and He wants to provide my needs and bless me.  But, I don’t have to race around with a bucket list of experiences in order to live life well.  I don’t have to chase accomplishment or acclaim in the fear of wasting this time I am given. I can enjoy life, with all its ups and downs, its limitations and disappointments, joys and blessings precisely because I know that this isn’t all there is.  And, thank goodness for that!  It takes the pressure off of ‘making life amazing every day’ and just allows me to enjoy the imperfect journey, knowing that there is a day coming when everything will be as it should be.

And finally, although self-help advice is often good and helpful, the ‘why’ can be a bit misguided.  And why we do something really, really matters.

With my whole heart, I want to live life carefully.  I want to use my time well, eliminate distractions and clutter.  I want to change my thinking.  I want to be less lazy and more productive.  I want to expect more from myself and believe more from God.  And I want to encourage others to do the same.  That is why I started this blog a year ago.

But it has never been about reaching my full-potential or realizing personal dreams.  I am not a slave to a Pinterest vision board or Instagram philosophies.  I am running for a different prize.

I want to use my time well because there is need in the world that God wants to meet.  I want to be more oganized so I can make time for what has eternal value.  Decluttering matters because stuff is way less important than people.  Health and fitness matter because there is Kingdom work to do and I need the energy to do it.  I  need to look after my mental health so I can enjoy everything God has given me and so I can love others well.

And I should ask Jesus to work every healing and deliverance in my life that is needed because people who are whole can best lead others into wholeness.

Self-help can be just a poor copy of something much better.  I have a Shepherd who loves me.  He promises to lead me and restore my soul and He says I will want for nothing.  He takes my broken, imperfect life and makes it a Kingdom resource in His powerful hands.  He helps me overcome obstacles so I can walk on my high places.  Not because I am all that amazing, but because He really is.

What a relief that is!

I know my limitations but I know the limitless transforming power of the Creator of the Universe which trumps any weakness I bring to the table.

This girl doesn’t need any self-help.  I just need to help myself to the spiritual treasures that are mine because of Jesus.

And then any good I accomplish will be all for His glory and for the renowned of His wonderful name.

 

 

 

The gift of feeling small

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When my husband suggested we go away for my 50th birthday I didn’t hesitate. ‘Just take me somewhere with proper snow’.

Maybe it is because I was born in the middle of a snow blizzard (my mom had to ride in a police car behind a snow plough to get to the hospital!) or maybe it is because the first seventeen years of my life were lived in places where winter was white.  For whatever reason I love snow.  And although we often get an annual dusting where I live in England, it is rarely enough to satisfy.

So we booked five nights in an apartment in the Austrian Alps.

I had completely forgotten what it feels like to live life at the foot of the mountains.  We just could not stop looking at them, mouths open and cameras clicking wildly.  They were too beautiful, too imposing to ignore.  ‘It is good to feel small sometimes, isn’t it’, my husband commented.  And it really was.  There is a strange, comforting feeling of insignificance at the base of a mountain.

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We were soon reminded of how quickly mountain weather changes.  One moment storm clouds would arrive, dropping the temperature and blocking the sun.  And then, as soon as you had put on another layer it would move away again revealing sun-soaked peaks that we had almost forgotten were there.  They always seemed bigger when they reappeared and we always felt even smaller.

Our apartment was cosy and the views were mesmerizing.  We never got tired of eating bowls of soup in front of the large window where we watched skiers on runs that were carved through pine forests.  They looked like tiny, speedy ants against the dramatic Alpine backdrop.

On three of our days, we had planned winter hikes.  Snow-covered trails were a new experience for us.  They were steep and tiring, even with the help of our new blue walking poles.

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Our second hike was particularly difficult and we were afraid we had bitten off more than we could chew.  So we were ecstatic when we finally spotted the mountain hut, smoke curling out of the chimney and the smell of Austrian goodies that made our mouths water.  This is the Austrian way to climb mountains.  If you plan your trek well, you can recharge with soup and coffee and cake.  And the views take your breath away.

My noodle soup hit the spot.  Still warm from the hike, we sat outside around wooden tables and looked down, amazed at how high we were.  It was exhilarating, like being on top of the world.  Until, of course, the map showed us that a three and a half hour hike had only brought us a small way up this mountain, highlighting that our efforts, although commendable were relatively modest.

When we got back down to the village, with a mixture of careful hiking and less careful slipping and sliding, we looked back at where we had been.  We felt so tired, so happy and so, so small.

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And then, on the last day, in the middle of fun and food, it happened.  My old enemy, anxiety decided to show up.  Like the mountain storms we had watched from our window, it blew in quickly and blocked out the sun.

And so I cried in a Mcdonalds in the middle of Innsbruck.  And I felt smaller perhaps than I ever remembered feeling in my life.

And my problem seemed bigger than it ever had before.  It loomed over me like those mountains we climbed and I knew that I could hike all day and barely make it out of the foothills.  The difficult truth is that anxiety is just too big for me.

But there is another truth, a truer truth.   My God makes an audacious claim in the Bible.

He tells me that He can move mountains.

These are such easy words to read.  They are familiar to anyone who has spent much time in church.  They adorn posters and bookmarks in every Christian bookstore in the world.

It is good to feel small sometimes.  It is comforting to know that I’m just a little speedy ant on this planet but what really matters is how big I believe God is and what I think He is capable of.  

I don’t know what your mountain is today but I know how it makes you feel.  I know that it dominates the landscape of your life and sometimes it blocks out the sun.

And I know that it is probably too big for you but that’s okay.

Goliath was too big for David.  David had youthful passion and bravery but without God, it would have ended very badly.  David took on Goliath because He knew the size of God compared to the size of his enemy.

It is good to square up to our Goliaths, to face up to our mountains.  It is good to be brave and defiant.  It is also good to know how small you really are.

It is a gift from God, even in a dingy fast-food restaurant, to realise how much I need God. And it is beyond wonderful to know that we are children of the God of five-smoothe-stone miracles and mountain-moving power who doesn’t just tell us to lace up our hiking boots and try harder.

Which is a relief because I am small and the mountain is big.

But, I believe with my whole heart that God can move it for me.

And I believe that He will.

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Risky Kingdom Business

 

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I have never been a risk taker.

I like to play it very safe.  I have no desire to gamble with my money and extreme sports do not interest me in the slightest.  I did try a snowmobile once when I was 24 but honestly, I drove like a grandma on a mobility scooter.

I also went white water rafting when I was a teenager.  I can still remember how my life flashed before me with each tiny rapid on the relatively tame river.  Never again.

But, today God spoke to my heart.

As I opened my Bible this morning, underneath my quilt with a warm coffee in my hand, I read Jesus’ parable of the talents in Matthew 25 with fresh eyes.  So often we need fresh eyes for familiar stories or we can overlook the depth of truth that goes beyond Children’s Bible pictures or Veggie Tales cartoons.

One of the servants in this story is also risk-averse.  He always plays it safe and hedges his bets.  And if you think that this cautious planning should be applauded, you are wrong.  The Master’s reaction is harsh.  There is no praise for this carefulness, only disappointment. It is an uncomfortable parable.

And it teaches an uncomfortable truth.  I cannot please God without taking risks.

I am so tempted to soften that sentence, to try and qualify it.  But I can’t.  The bible won’t let me.

Hebrews 11.6 says, ‘Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.’

You see, when I talk about risks I don’t mean bungee jumping or stock market trading. I mean obedient faith.  I mean doing what God says to do, despite the possible dangers.  I mean stepping out and stepping up, opening my mouth or opening my wallet.  I mean saying yes to God when it looks impossible or ridiculous or costly.  

In the parable, the servant who hides his talent does so out of fear that the Master isn’t a good man.  The writer of Hebrews makes a similar point.  In order to please God, we must believe that He exists but also that He is good and that He desires to reward His children.

You see, we will never dare to take risky faith-steps, to lay it all on the line if we aren’t utterly convinced of God’s power, but also His goodness.

And in the Kingdom of God, there is just no alternative. The keep-what-you-got and squirrel-it-away kind of life is not an option Jesus ever presents to His followers.

No, this Kingdom is more of a ‘throw-your-bread-on-the-water’, take-up-your-cross-and-follow-me, lose-your-life-to gain-it kind of following.

It is the kind of life that ‘wastes’ precious perfume on Jesus because everything we have is for His glory, not our own.  It is a Christianity that turns the world upside down and might land you in jail or in the lion’s den, but your worship will always have the victory.  It is a kind of living where the end is certain, but only uncertain faith-steps will get you there.

It is a faith that dares to try again and believe again, despite the fear of failure. It is a faith that steps out of the boat because those few moments with Jesus on the water are always worth it, even if we get wet.

It is a kind of spiritual walk that serves God with no self-consciousness or comparison and never worries about being perfect, just being obedient.

Read Hebrews 11 today if you dare.  Read those names.  Read how they lived and how they died.  Read how those men and women of God held nothing back.  There never considered contingency plans or risk assessments or insurance policies.

They left everything on the field.

Because they were Kingdom people and they served a King.  And that King once dared to leave the comfort of heaven for an audacious plan of redemption.  He chose love and obedience over self-preservation and safety.  He emptied Himself and He humbled Himself and He offered Himself to people who were free to say no.  This is the God we serve and follow.

And the only answer to a God like this is ‘yes’.

The only way to follow Him is wholehearted.

Because the only risk we have to worry about is wasting our lives on things that don’t matter.

And, the only truly safe way to live is to give Jesus everything and follow Him wherever He leads us.

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