Priceless possession

valuable painting

One afternoon in late summer, a soon-to-be university student was packing her things for the new adventure ahead. Alongside her clothing and books, there was a framed picture she had recently inherited from her grandmother that had sentimental value. It depicted a scene of Native Americans on horses in the mountains of the American west and it had hung above her grandmother’s bed for decades.

As this student was placing the picture in a box, she noticed that a mosquito had found its way under the glass so she opened up the frame to clean it. As she lifted up the glass she realized that what she had thought was just a framed print was actually an original painting.

And it was no ordinary painting. Experts on the Antique Roadshow declared it to be the work of a French painter, Henry Francois Farny. This quaint family heirloom was actually worth around $300,000!

Sometimes we have something in our possession and yet have no idea of its value. It may be hanging on the wall or sitting in a drawer or boxed away in the loft. And because we are ignorant of its value, we aren’t particularly careful with it. It can get knocked around, chipped and tarnished as we treat it like it is ordinary and replaceable.

In Proverbs 4.23, we are told that the condition of our own hearts matters more than anything in our possession. Our hearts, the seats of our thoughts, decisions and emotions, are priceless to God. They determine what kind of person we are and where we are going next. We can read tons of great books and listen to powerful speakers but it is the state of our hearts that really affects the direction of our lives.  

And the Bible has a lot to say about my heart.

It tells me that my heart is the soil in which everything is planted. God speaks truth to me; He gives me abilities and callings.  They are perfect gifts from Him but they need good soil to flourish. And my heart is specially created by God to be that good soil.  It just takes some gardening; that’s my part of the deal. If I value what God has entrusted me with I will be careful where I plant it.

The Bible also says that hearing Gods voice and knowing His will for my life can be tricky. It takes a kind of sincerity and sensitivity that can easily spoil. If I value hearing from God I will weed out pride and unbelief, knowing that humility gets God’s attention.

And the Bible tells me that I have to be intentional about whole-hearted love. It is so easy to be content with far less and then little-love becomes cold love. Hearts tend to expand for the things we care for and shrink for the things we neglect.  A heart of love is the result of good investments of time and energy in what matters.

And Bible is clear that my response to those who have hurt or disappointed me really matters. Because unforgiveness is nothing less than captivity for my soul. It kidnaps my joy and freedom and puts a cap on my sensitivity to God’s leading. If I can’t extend forgiveness, I  probably haven’t experienced it fully myself and that gap in my spiritual life is a dangerous one.

You see, my heart has the ability to lead me to God’s deepest desires for my life. 

Or it can lie to me. 

It can be good soil or cement  It can be sensitive to God’s Spirit or it can be dull and hard.  It just depends.

But my heart is a gift from God.

It is the place where He can impart supernatural vision and passion.

It is the place where Godly dreams are imagined and where His still small voice is heard.

It is the place where I can stir up faith; it is where I can forgive and decide to follow.

Value your heart because everything important starts there. Be careful what you plant. Make space for the whisper of God. Believe that no fear or doubt, hurt or disappointment that you find there is beyond His loving reach.

And be a whole-hearted follower of Jesus, the creator and lover of your soul.

 

‘So above all, guard the affections of your heart, for they affect all that you are.
Pay attention to the welfare of your innermost being, for from there flows the wellspring of life.’  Proverbs 4.23 (Passion translation)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Packing for uni

Well, here we go again.

Summer is fading away like the flowers in my garden.  The nights are drawing in and the mornings are full of that exciting, back-to-school chill.  The exam results finally arrived and my youngest is excitedly preparing for his next adventure.

And so once again the dining room is a collection point for items on the university list.  I have gathered together frying pans and towels and cleaning wipes and bottles of vitamin C to compensate for the inevitable junk-food binging.

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And now I feel some last-minute panic as I try to cram in important information like the recipe for my chilli or how to avoid catching fresher flu (the key is to regularly wipe door handles with anti-bacterial wipes).

But I needn’t sweat the small stuff really.  Yes, my son will shrink some sweaters and burn dinners in the first term.   He’ll probably put off doing wash until he has no clean underwear or socks.  He will stay up too late and flunk a test or two, lose important items and spend way too much money on pizza.  But these are minor life lessons, nothing to worry about really.

It’s the bigger stuff that matters.

And the big stuff isn’t really crammable.  These are the things that have to be modelled.  They have to be taught life-to-life, little by little, during dinner conversations and family vacations and school runs.  I can’t just put them on a tick-list or tuck them in his suitcase.

So with my son’s permission, here are the things that I hope he has started to learn but that I want him to keep in mind as he sets out into the foothills of adulthood.  These are the things that really matter.

In a world that highly values image, be the one with character.  Character is a hard-won and often neglected quality and yet it determines so much of the kind of life you will live.  People who keep their word, follow through with commitments and stand up for what is right are hard to find.  Faithfulness doesn’t sell magazines but it will make you a successful spouse and friend.  So do the right thing even when it is hard or costly or unpopular.  Be honest about your failures and aware of your shortcomings.  Decide that before popularity, success or status; goodness is what you will strive for. 

And live generously.  Be generous with your money and your words and your time.  Remember birthdays. Be the first to say sorry and the last to complain.  Think the best of people.  Give second chances even when you have been let down. Treat others kindly when no one is looking.  Tip well.  Include outsiders; notice the lonely.   If help is needed, volunteer. Share what you have.  In every situation that you find yourself, be the solution, not the problem.

And then be brave enough to face your ‘stuff’.  Don’t blame other people when you misbehave; take responsibility and make it right.  Acknowledge your mistakes.  Recognize patterns of behaviour that are destructive and then prayerfully take them to Jesus.  Never, ever be afraid to ask for help or advice or counselling or prayer.   Do whatever it takes to be the best version of yourself. 

And finally, treat your faith like it is the most valuable thing you have.  Don’t ever neglect it or take it for granted.  Work through any questions and doubts.  Hang out with people who love God more than you do.  Decide that being at church on Sunday is non-negotiable; you need your church family and they need you.  Treat the Bible as a treasure.  Pray like God is really listening, because He is.  Don’t ever forget what Jesus has done for you and saved you from and who you would be without Him.

There are things that matter and things that really don’t.  Know which is which.  Know that you are loved by your family and by Jesus and that your life has value beyond exams and degrees and careers.  You are who God says you are, His precious child, and as you pack up for your new adventure that is the most important thing to take with you. 

 

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Lingering Legacy

 

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There is something deep inside human beings that wants to leave something of importance behind after we are gone.

This innate desire has inspired architects and musicians, artists and scientists to create, invent and discover.  Museums and history books are filled with artistic, political, military and scientific legacies that still impact the world today.

My husband is an architectural technician who worked in the town of Windsor for the first years of his career.  I like to walk past the buildings that I know he did the drawings for and sometimes I feel a tinge of jealousy.  It is a wonderful accomplishment to have created something that stands for others to see and admire, something that will keep standing probably long after you are not.

But whether you are a world-famous artist whose creations are appreciated by millions or a stay-at-home mom whose accomplishments are less tangible, we all produce legacies.

We tend to think of legacy as what is left behind after death like keepsakes, photos, heirlooms or trust funds.  But even during our life, we leave things behind all the time.  We just aren’t always aware of it.

Every time I open my mouth, I leave a kind of legacy.  The words I speak are sometimes remembered long after they have been spoken. Words have the power to build up or tear down.  They can restore hope or dash it.  With just a sentence I can encourage a friend to believe again for a miracle or lift the spirits of a tired leader.  Words can reassure someone who is feeling left out and make them feel like they belong.  Or words can cut someone’s legs right out from under them.

And either way, I am leaving a legacy.

I can be known as a woman who thinks the best of people or one who likes to assassinate characters over coffee.  I can build a reputation as someone who welcomes and includes newcomers or as someone who always plays it safe and sticks with my usual gang.

I can give this world one more professional griper, always critiquing others as part of my Sunday lunch, or I can extend gratefulness, grace and understanding of which there is a great shortage.

When I was a little girl I used to visit my grandparents on the East Coast every summer.    I can still remember watching my grandmother get ready to go out for dinner, choosing clothes and jewellery and scent.  She was a quirky lady and loved men’s cologne and the woody, musky scent would linger long after she left the room.

You and I have an essence, a fragrance, and we bring it with us wherever we go, whether we are aware of it or not.  It is who we are and it lingers after we leave a room.

 It is how people are left feeling after they have spent time with us. 

And it is totally within our power to choose what this fragrance is. We choose what we are known for.  We choose our legacy by how we spend our time and energy and how we treat the people in our lives.

We decide each and every day whether we are loyal or flaky, kind or brittle, empathetic or cold, forgiving or offended.  We will be known by our character and our character is being formed by each and every decision and reaction we have.

Let’s decide today that we will choose a legacy that is worthy of the King we follow.

And let’s determine that every time we leave a room, we will leave behind the essence of Jesus and nothing less.

 ‘The memory of the man or woman who is righteous is a legacy to the world.  The name of the wicked just decays.’  Proverbs 10.7

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Who will I be? It depends.

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Recently Paul and I walked again around our favourite lake.  It was a sunny Sunday afternoon and we bumped into very dear friends that we had gone to church with many years before.

They are older than us, around my parent’s age, and yet they hadn’t changed from how we remembered them.  Their circumstances are different, of course, and they are now blessed with about a dozen grandchildren.  But the essence of them hasn’t changed.  They still have the gentle meekness, the same kindness in their words, the same contented outlook on life.  He smiled as he told us how he continues to play the drums in church, more than thirty years since we first met them.   They gushed about the lovely day and the bacon sandwiches they had treated themselves to and their upcoming special anniversary trip.  They generously asked after all our children and we all said how good God is.

As we continued our walk I just couldn’t stop thinking about them.  ‘I want to be like them someday’ I said to Paul and he agreed.

A week later, my husband was walking the dog at the same spot when he bumped into another old friend who was cycling past.  Paul hadn’t spoken to him in probably 15 years.  And, he hadn’t really changed much either.  Still busy and hassled, talking too fast and always in a hurry.  The refrain was familiar.  Life is hectic and busy and stressful.  He, by his own admission, is overextended because his lifestyle is expensive to maintain, in both money and time.  He will have to work until he drops.  He is sorry he can’t make time for church, but his days are already invested and there are none left.  He misses it but not too much.  And he cycled away.

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As I think about those conversations, there is an uncomfortable truth that I am faced with.  And it is this.  The way I am living my life today is more than likely the way I will be living it in 20 years time.  Because habits take only 40 days to form and so after 40 years they are pretty much carved in stone.

It is so easy to think in ‘somedays’.   We tell ourselves that someday we will slow down and enjoy our family.  Or someday we will give our relationship with Jesus the time it deserves.  Someday we will serve others more.  Someday we will go on that mission trip or study a book of the Bible.  Someday we will step out in faith and do something risky for God or finally obey what we know He has been asking us to do.

But change is really hard.

And every day that goes by it gets harder. 

Over decades we dig deep grooves in the soil of our lives that are nearly impossible to ignore.  We have ways of doing things, natural tendencies and preferences.  We also have bad habits and we have well-practised excuses for those bad habits. And we just keep going.

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Nowhere in the Bible is this process better illustrated than Psalm 1.

‘How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the path of sinners,
Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers.’  Psalm 1: 1-3 (NASB)

Here we see a beautiful tree, planted in a stunning location.  It is healthy and vibrant and fruitful.  It is prospering in every possible way.  Each leaf is glossy and green, every root is strong and stable.

And the key to a life like this is in the previous verses.

Decisions. Habits. Priorities. Choices.

There is nothing ‘someday’ here.  It is all about what I do right now.  It is about where I spend my time and who I hang out with.  It is about what gets my undivided attention and what doesn’t.  It is about who I admire and what values I live my life by this week, today, now.

It is all about the place that God has in my life, whether He is just an add-on or whether He is the absolute centre of everything that I think and do.

And, the truth is that it will probably never be easier than today to make hard choices and decisions.  It will never be easier to make God my first love and to make serving and following Him the centre of everything.  There will probably never be fewer demands on my time or distractions in my mind.

There will never be an easier, better day to make changes than today. 

As I sit at my desk, my mind full of worries and frets and to-do lists and diary appointments, I am wondering who I will be in 20 years.  If you were to bump into me walking at the lake (with my fourth labrador!) who would you see?

My deepest desire is that all the good that Jesus has already done in my life will be magnified for His glory and that the good habits I have started, even if I am inconsistent, will have produced fruit in my life.

And I hope that I will have had the courage to keep changing.  I hope that the things that hold me back now will have been overcome and that I will have continued to allow the character of Jesus to be fully formed in me.

And I hope that I will be full of fresh testimonies of the power and grace of God as He continuously moves me from the old into the new until the day I go to be with Him.

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