What I have learned from starting a blog at age 49.

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I have been blogging for over a year now.  It has been scary and challenging and a lot of fun.  And after sixty entries, I have learned a thing or two.

First of all, I have learned that is good to try something new.  Stepping out of my comfort zone has stretched me and caused me to rely on Jesus in new ways.  Because I  can’t really live out my God-given destiny and not take risks, however unnatural that is for my personality.  The parable of the talents (Matthew chapter 25) teaches me that the treasure I am given is not supposed to be buried for safe keeping.  Only investments, even risky ones, yield the returns that will please my Creator.  It just isn’t possible to be full of faith and overly cautious as well.

When I was a little girl, I tried a lot of after-school activities.  My poor mom would buy me all the required gear – ice skates and cute skating dresses,  colourful gymnastic leotards, horse riding boots, etc.  And every time, after a few weeks, I would quit.  And it was always for the same reason.  I quit because there were girls much better than I was and so I lost interest in trying.  If I couldn’t be the best, really quickly, I didn’t want to bother at all.

But the problem is, there is always someone better.  There are writers I love whose command of the English language makes me want to cry.  There are books I have read that are written so beautifully they are like works of art.  It would be easy to compare myself and give up.  But what I have realized over the last year is that there is great satisfaction in trying, learning and growing. It is okay, even enjoyable, to be a beginner at something that you love.  And, it is a whole lot better than not trying at all.

And I have also discovered that the aspects of God’s character that I can learn about, think about and write about are endless.  When I first started this project I had a backlog of writing that had filled journal pages for years.  I was worried that once I had used those ideas I might run out of things to write about.  How silly!  Every time I open the Bible there is something new to see.  Every time I take the time to really think about a passage of scripture I am rewarded with a fresh revelation of God’s beauty.

I have been a Christian for a long time.  As a Sunday school teacher, I have taught most Bible stories several times.  I have a pretty good grasp on basic Christian doctrine and theology.  And yet I am only just scratching the surface of who God is.  He is so above-all, so multi-faceted that I could study His character for my whole life and there still be more to know and experience and love.

Any time we are tempted to think we have heard it all, we are in danger of missing out.    Being a careful follower of Jesus means being a life-long learner.  It means having the humility to know that I don’t know it all and the spiritual hunger to keep digging.

Finally, I have learned that I have something to say.  And so do you.  The Bible calls it the word of our testimony.  It is the things that we know are true because we have experienced them.  It is the lessons learned in dark places and the character formed in adversity.  And our testimony is valuable.  It is our personal, ever-evolving story of His goodness to us.

And, someone needs to hear it.

Our story can be shared with a hurting friend over coffee.  It can be sung or painted or blogged.  It can fill a book or a sermon or a conversation over the fence.  But know this, it will be good news to someone who really needs good news.

Don’t be afraid.

It doesn’t need to be perfectly articulated, just sincere and true.  Nobody can tell your story, only you.

So, take a risk.  Step out in what you know God is calling you to do.  Don’t be afraid to be a beginner.  Start.  Learn.  Develop.  Grow. 

Keep learning about who God is.  Keep digging and seeking and getting to know Him.  Read and listen.  Pray and wait.  Open your heart to His Spirit and open your life to His voice.    

And don’t be afraid to tell your imperfect, unfinished story.  Someone is waiting to hear it.  It is beautiful and it is yours and it can change the world.

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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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Not wasting my waiting

 

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‘But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.’  Isaiah 40.31.

I feel like I have been doing waiting all wrong.

And I have done a lot of waiting.  I’ve waited for many answers to prayers, long after I expected them to be answered.  I’ve waited for God’s direction and for His solutions to problems.  I’ve also waited, through tears, for spiritual understanding after confusing disappointments.

And my waiting has not looked remotely like Isaiah’s description.

Far from renewed strength, waiting has often felt like the life was draining from me.  Rather than running, I barely crawled.  At times I was in danger of completely losing hope.   Instead of eagle-soaring, I curled up on the sofa with a bowl of ice-cream and a box set.

Because waiting is really hard.  The most difficult times in my life have been lived in the space between the promises and the provisions of the Lord.  Those times can feel hard and long and really desperate.

And yet James 1.2-4 says, ‘My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.  But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete lacking nothing.’

There is a better kind of waiting than the one I have experienced.  There is useful patience in trials.   There is a way to wait that reaps spiritual benefits.

So, how can I wait well?

I can make Jesus my focus.  Isaiah is describing those who wait on the Lord‘.  Sometimes I am so fixated on circumstances they are all I think about.  They become my first thought in the morning and my last thought at night.  This is not good for me.  And it will never produce faith or hope.

Turning my attention towards God’s truth and His faithfulness helps me to rest while I wait.  This rest is a source of renewed strength and without it, I will wear out.  Focusing on the goodness of God and His faithfulness to me makes my spirit strong and helps me to handle discouragement and doubt.  By starting the day with worship, whether I feel like it or not, I am choosing to focus on God, not the situations I cannot control.  By filling my thoughts with God’s word throughout the day I am choosing what He says over what my circumstances are telling me.

I can also saturate my waiting with gratefulness.  Otherwise, I will become discontent.  Praying for something that I desperately need from God without thanking Him for what He has already done is dangerous for my soul.  It causes me to lose perspective and turns my waiting into whining.  Gratefulness is a simple habit to learn.  But don’t underestimate it, it is a powerful weapon and it will kill self-pity with one blow.

And finally,  I can be expectant of blessings while I wait.   Look at those verses in James again.  There is a promise that patience during times of difficulty brings complete provision of everything that we need! Read those words and believe they are true.  Then expect abundant provision to be produced when you wait with faith and hope.

When we find ourselves in a painful season of waiting, we can decide to view it as a conduit of blessing.  We can expect to receive something that we are lacking.  It is a promise from God.  Times of waiting, however grueling they feel, are opportunities for supernatural provision.  God uses trials to heal us, mature us, make us more like Jesus and to prepare us for whatever is next.

There a spiritual sweet spot in the gap between what I am believing for and what I have received.  It is the spot where Christian maturity is produced and my readiness to receive blessing is expedited.  If I don’t resist or resent these seasons, they won’t be wasted.

And I really don’t want to waste my waiting.  It is already painful enough.   On this grey Thursday, while I am waiting for God to answer, I want to squeeze out every drop of goodness.   I want to look to Him, worship Him, thank him and expect Him to provide everything that I need.

I want to never waste an ounce of waiting and then by God’s grace, I will be ready for the answer when it comes.