Which way, Toto?

 

I recently applied for some jobs for the first time in twelve years.  Cue (in between much prayer) panic, self doubt and the distinct feeling that I’m really, really not in control.

When making big life decisions, here is a proverb that we might find helpful:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

(As an aside: it seems to me that British Christians are not too hot on the book of Proverbs.  Not sure why that is?  I’ve made a sweeping genrealisation there and I’m not going to delete it! I’ll get back to you if I make any headway on Proverbs.  I bought that Tim Keller book but I think it might be stuck under my bed somewhere.)

In the midst of the job hunting,  I attended a seminar about being a Christian millennial (I don’t consider myself a millennial but was hoping to gain sympathy for them), and one of the things that came up was the struggle with making decisions.  Rachel Jones (she’s written a book – here it is), had a simple list that people could use which would help them to make decisions. I believe that this sort of practical wisdom is needed, especially if the decision you’re making seems like it could change the course of your life.

I believe that, but not everybody does. It seems to me that there are two common ways to look at a big crossroads-type moment in your life.  And I think I can flit between both of these methods:

One is to read the above Proverb and then wait on the Lord for him to show you the straight path.  The Lord knows which job he wants me in.  Therefore I’ll pray a prayer of submission to God’s will (v6) and wait for a strong feeling about one of them.  Or I’ll wait for a clear sign that I should take one and not the other.  I’m not leaning on my own understanding (v5), so that means I need to allow God to show me the right path.

Method number two might be seen as a more practical approach.  This is where we know that God cares about our hearts, and in his grace he’s given us practical wisdom.  So I’m going to focus on loving God with all my heart, submitting to him, and therefore it doesn’t matter which job I choose.  I don’t need to panic, because the job I do day-to-day doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things.  I can stack shelves or sell stocks and shares – what God looks at is my heart.  As long as I’m working for him and his glory, I’m free to choose any job I like.

There is truth in both of these, but my recent job hunt reminded/taught me that there is an important middle ground.  I’m a conservative evangelical Christian, and my church culture would favour method number two.  We don’t sit around waiting for signs from God.  We pray, then we do something.  I think we even read books with titles like that.  But what I was recently reminded of is that God does actually really care what job I do.  And he can intervene.  And he does intervene!  He intervenes more than we conservative, pro/con list-writers like to admit.

It’s easy to think that it doesn’t matter what you do, as long as it’s for the glory of God.  But that’s not quite right!  God’s word says “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31.) It’s not that God doesn’t care what you do, but he does care much more about how you do it.*

Hunting for my job, I prayed and agonised over decisions, but in the end I just had to do what to me seemed best.  I applied for the only job that seemed to be an option.  And God intervened in a ridiculous way.  (It all coincided with a big multi-church weekend away I was on, so those who didn’t see me coming and hide got to hear all about it in real time.) And looking back on it, I’m really encouraged that God does care massively what job I do, and he has good things in store for me, and he does direct the course of events for his own glory.

So as I’m praying for my children – what school they should go to, what activities they should do, what jobs they might do in the future – it’s such a joy to remember that a) God cares much more about their hearts than any of that other stuff, and b) he does care what they do, and he will have them on the path he’s prepared in advance for them to be on.

 

*This reminded me of a very specific bit in The West Wing.  See here if you’re interested!

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Mum(?)

I’m writing this one from glorious Cornwall. That’s me and my son, crabbing.

I recently watched the award-winning British comedy series Mum on BBC iPlayer. Some bits made me cringe and some scenes I didn’t even watch. But it had moments of genius. There’s a magnificent conversation about tolerance in the final episode (“I can’t stand intolerant people”), and the observational humour is at times just really, really clever. I mean, really.

I’m not here to write a review of Mum, but it did get me thinking about our society’s confusion about motherhood. In each half-hour episode, the central character, Mary (Mum) is the steady, gravitational force around which all other characters orbit. She feeds them; she listens to them; she provides them with safe shelter. There are a lot of things going on in the programme, but this is certainly one running theme.

In real life, we all want someone to be that person for us. We all need food, safety and shelter. We all need someone to listen to us. In the church community, we hopefully have several “mums” (and “dads”) who serve us in this way. This is one major way by which The Lord provides for us.

We all want this, but it’s much easier to be on the receiving end of it than to be the one giving it. Jesus said, “It’s more blessed to give than to receive.” He said that “whoever wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” We believe these words, but boy do we need to be reminded of them. How many of us were looking forward to a nice rest this summer? To putting our feet up? How many of us were disgruntled to discover that our summer holiday actually involves more work, more service, more providing-for-others?

Spoiler alert!

It saddened me that in the final episode of Mum, the take-home message seemed to be that Mary needed to put herself first for once. All this time she’d been serving everyone else, and biting her tongue, and putting other people’s feelings before her own. But finally she became enlightened to the truth that she was entering a new season of life – one in which she could walk away from those who needed her and just enjoy herself.

This is where I think our society is confused. We want to celebrate mothers (and other servant-hearted people, or “local heroes”) and the strong communities they gather. We well up at the memories of all the home-cooked meals and steady, reliable sanctuaries we’ve benefitted from. But we also tell each other to look after number one, follow our hearts and make happiness our goal.

Of course, the irony is that Jesus is so right, and as our creator he does actually want to bless us! When we put the needs of others first, we find blessing. When we serve one another, we find real, joyful community. When we look to the needs of others, we find that we’re all provided for.

So I’m not having a go at Mum, as it really is very well done and it is an astonishingly accurate reflection of the culture it’s reflecting. I envy the writer! And I wouldn’t even say not to watch the final episode, because you’d miss the bit about tolerance. But this summer if you’re feeling a bit ragged and sorry for yourself, as we’re all prone to do, let’s repent together and thank Jesus for giving us people to serve and love. What a mind-blowing privilege it is that one day, Lord willing, they might look back and thank Him for the ways we served them.

None the Richer

Happy Mother’s Day, UK friends!

This morning at church a lovely friend (who’s a single mum) gave me a Mother’s Day card. She was really happy because her twin 8 year old boys had bought her a card and small gift. She beamed as she told me how they’d come to her and asked for money so that they could go and buy her something. She was delighted that they’d been so thoughtful.

Mother’s Day is a funny one sometimes because since your young children rely on you for everything, you often need to contribute to your Mother’s Day treats! If you’re hoping for breakfast in bed, you’ll probably have to stock the fridge yourself with the food you fancy. Sometimes we can use this as yet another reason to complain. But I wonder if we could choose instead to be thankful, and to consider what it might teach us about how our Heavenly Father treats us. My friend’s joy over her sons’ gift reminded me of this CS Lewis quote:

“Every faculty you have, your power of thinking or of moving your limbs from moment to moment, is given you by God. If you devoted every moment of your whole life exclusively to His service you could not give Him anything that was not in a sense His own already. So that when we talk of a man doing anything for God or giving anything to God, I will tell you what that is really like.

It is like a small child going to its father and saying, ‘Daddy, give me sixpence to buy you a birthday present.’ Of course, the father does, and he is pleased with the child’s present. It is all very nice and proper, but only an idiot would think that the father is sixpence to the good on the transaction.” (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity.)

When I serve God, by looking after my children or cleaning my flat or leading a bible study or giving someone a lift somewhere or cooking someone a meal or encouraging my sister or any of the other good things God has planned in advance for me to do, I’m using the gifts he’s given me to honour his holy name. I mustn’t ever think that I’ve somehow earned something from God or that he needs me to do these things. He lacks nothing. And without him I am nothing, so I’d be utterly unable to serve him if he hadn’t graciously enabled me to do so. That is in some ways obvious, but nevertheless mind-blowing. It kill pride, and reminds me that it truly is my privilege to be able to serve him. I would do well to remember that the next time I’m sweeping up crumbs or holding a writhing toddler during a quiet moment at church.

When we cheerfully give to our Heavenly Father, knowing that it was with his own gifts that we were able to do so, he is pleased. How amazing! If I delight in my own children, how much more will He, the perfect parent, delight in me?

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:8-10

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Romans 12.1.

Dear Ministry Wife

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Last week someone said to me, “Oh!  You’re the blogger.”  And it occurred to me that if I’m going to claim to be a blogger, I should probably sometimes write on my blog.  So I’m back!

This post is addressed to my Minister’s Wife, my Ministry Wife friends, and any other Ministry Wives that may stumble upon this.  And if you’re not a ministry wife, please read this as it may help you to thank God for any that you know.  You could even share it with them! 🙂

Dear Ministry Wife,

Thank you for giving your husband to your church – or the organisation he works for.  Thank you for all the evenings when he’s spending time with other people, and not you (or your children).  Thank you for not resenting this.  The Lord sees you, and he’s got your reward ready and waiting.

Thank you for giving up the hopes and dreams you may have once had, to own a home, to decorate your home a certain way, to travel to certain parts of the world, or maybe to eat in certain restaurants.  Maybe your husband left a lucrative job to do the job he has now.  Maybe you just know that he could be earning much more doing something else.  Thank you for storing up your treasure in heaven.  Thank you that we benefit from that because he’s invested so much in our lives, and we, in turn, are learning to store up our treasure in heaven, too.

Thank you for all of the times we’ve used your home as our home.  Thank you for the Bible studies, the women’s breakfasts, the men’s breakfasts, the Christmas socials and all the other events that have happened in your living room.  Maybe you’d rather have been curled up with a book on your sofa.  Thank you for your hospitality.

Thank you for giving yourself to the ministry, too.  Thank you for all the prayers, the hugs, the listening, the counselling and the love.  You didn’t have to do that.  Thank you for following in your Master’s footsteps by becoming our servant.  Thank you for all the times you’ve done this without anyone noticing or saying thank you.

There’ll never be an International Ministry Wives Day.  (Actually, anything can happen but I’d be very surprised if that ever did!)  However, I hope you know that you’re loved and appreciated.  And I hope and pray that, above all else, you’ll delight in the Lord.  The Father first gave his One and Only Son for you.  The Son gave up the riches of heaven for you, and was willing to wander, homeless, in this dark and dangerous world for you.  He gave himself up for you, and for me.

We love because he first loved us. 1 John 4:19

Swing it, shake it, move it, make it

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I love CBeebies – which is a British TV channel for young children. I’m always impressed by how talented the presenters and cast members are when they perform their annual ‘CBeebies presents…’ show. This year’s was Thumbelina. Nina-of-neurons fame is obviously terrific and did a lovely job.

I did feel sorry for Thumbelina though, because she spent most of the show telling people she didn’t know who she was. How terrifying for her.

I missed a bit – went off to cook the tea – and then saw the finale, which was a song:

“Thumbs up, you can be what you want to be…
I want to be free, I want to be me,
That’s what I’m gonna be.”

This is the doctrine of the young generation:

I can be whoever I want!
You can’t tell me who I am!
I’ll choose who I am!

And by the way… who am I?

After my children watched Thumbelina, we sat down to read the account of the angel Gabriel visiting Mary in Luke Chapter 1.

Imagine if Mary was a young girl now, and listened to the messages of the iGeneration:

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

“I am nobody’s servant,” Mary answered. “I won’t let anybody push me around.”

And the famous Magnificat, the song of Mary, would have been more like this:

“My soul magnifies me.
And my spirit rejoices in me: I’m awesome.
From now on all generations will hear me roar!”

I know this is very silly, but just imagine it for a moment, because is is the attitude our children are being encouraged to have. If Mary had said this, she’d have missed out so badly! And she’d have been so wrong! She’d have lived and died in obscurity. Nobody would have heard her roar.

Our children shouldn’t expect an angel to visit them and tell them what their life will be all about. Instead we have God’s word, which gives us clear answers to questions about who we are and why we’re here. Praise God for that! None of us has to wander through life, wondering who we are.

The advent devotion we’re using said this:

The serpent’s lie says, “You won’t be happy unless you are in charge of your life.” (Here I added, “Thumbs up you can be what you want to be!”) The truth is, God is in charge and God is good.  Mary did not demand her own way.  She gladly gave herself to God.  True happiness is ours when we give our lives to our good God.

And the following day read:

The truth is that God made us to love him and live for him… You were made for God… Our dreams are too small compared to God’s purpose for our life.

I’m not going to ban CBeebies, but by God’s grace I’ll try not to sell my children short by telling them they can be what they want to be. Praise God! He has given them, and us, an identity and a purpose. “No human mind has conceived – the things God has prepared for those who love him.” 1 Corinthians 2v9.

Happy Christmas, friends. X

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*In case you’re not British, or you’re a young whippersnapper, the title of this post refers to a song by the Spice Girls… ‘Who do you think you are?’

Bah Humble Brag

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I’m sitting amongst some serious Weetabix crumbs here, but I feel the urge to get in touch. The crummage I will always have with me… it can wait half an hour.

I’m reading an advent devotion, Love Came Down at Christmas. I know it’s November, but I started early because a) I wanted to be able to recommend it in time for Advent, and b) it might take me two months to read because I’m a genuine failure.  But it’s OK, because Jesus succeeds where I fail.

Yesterday I read a chapter about the truth that “love does not boast.” And it got me thinking about how Christmas can be a prime opportunity for boasting.  All of the opportunities we have to love people can instead be used to inflate ourselves and say, ‘look how marvellous I am.’ Better still if we can do it in a self-deprecating way – so en vogue. You know how it can go on Social Media/the local toddler group:

“I’m a bit disappointed with my bouche de Noel this year – it’s a little on the dry side.”

“I’m one of those total losers who is ready for Christmas by Black Friday.  Maybe I should use Black Friday for next year’s Christmas shopping…”

“My children are so grateful and happy – they’re content with an orange and a new pair of socks each year.”

“Look how well I directed my family Nativity play – the home made costumes worked much better than I expected this year.”

“I just want to bless you all with the amazing Christmas dinner I’ve cooked from scratch, with no help from Marks and Spencer.”

“Sorry your Christmas gifts are a bit rustic; my two year old and I made them together in a bit of a rush.”

Am I making sense, here? I love Christmas – as you well know.  If I didn’t despise Santa and all he stands for, you’d be making me don a red cape and calling me Mrs Claus.  However, I can easily see how all of these wonderful ways to bless my family and the community can be completely ruined by my own selfish attitude.  In fact, selfishness is my default setting.  So with each of these things, I need to pray and ask God to help me love people well.

Wouldn’t it be terrible, such a travesty, if I were to abuse Christmas by making it a means of boasting?  We’re celebrating (arguably) the most humble act in history.  Christ, the glorious King of the universe, the eternal Son of God, by whom all things were made, came down.  And he was born in a place you or I wouldn’t sit down in. He was laid in a trough you or I wouldn’t let our children touch.  He was welcomed by dirty outcasts on the night of his birth.  It’s truly astonishing.

If I really want to celebrate Christmas by showing people Jesus, then humility must be my soundtrack and my heartbeat this Christmas.

“… love… does not draw attention to itself.  It deliberately seeks to follow the way of humility – and not in order to show how humble it is!” (Love Came Down at Christmas, p. 50)

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. 2 Corinthians 8v9.

All Grace

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I recently read a really good secular parenting book.  It was practical, insightful and loving. And it got me thinking about grace.

I know loads of fantastic parents who wouldn’t consider themselves Christians, so this is in no way a dig at non-Christian parents.  If anything, it’s a dig at myself. 

Advice given in this book included (these aren’t direct quotes):

Start each day with a clean slate – no matter how badly yesterday went.
Don’t beat yourself up when you make mistakes – give yourself a break and look ahead, not behind.
Teach the children to be kind to one another, because in this family that’s how we do things.
Family traditions should be kept, no matter how people have behaved.

These are all really important, in my opinion. Great advice.  But how do you do this without grace? When you’ve been called names and had things thrown at you, how do you put your child to bed with a goodnight kiss and, “I love you” and start the next morning with, “Good to see you, how are you feeling?” How do you forgive?

And how do you forgive yourself when you realise that they’ve learnt their bad anger from you, or when you snap at them again because you were distracted by something else?

When her brother deliberately ruins the craft she’s been working on for three days, how can I tell her to forgive him and love him anyway?

And how can I hand my daughter a Christmas Eve Krispy Kreme when she’s tantrummed all the way there because no, she will not be getting a Segway for Christmas?*

For all of these predicaments and more, I need the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.  When I consider his grace to me, that the Son of God should die for me, an ungrateful sinner, then forgiving others becomes possible.

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32.

When I come to the cross of Christ with my parenting failures, confessing again that I’ve fallen short, again, and that it was completely my own selfish fault, I find sweet forgiveness.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9.

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Hebrews 4:16

And none of this – the forgiving others and the confessing my own sin – would be possible without the Holy Spirit, who changes my heart daily.

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24.

I suppose if you don’t believe in the grace of God and you’re not filled with the Spirit, then you need to summon the strength from within you to forgive your family and yourself.  It can help to believe that your children ‘don’t mean it.’  He didn’t know it would make her sad if he did that; she doesn’t know how expensive Segways are.  It’s only natural they should fight – all children do.  He’s calling me names because he’s upset about something – he doesn’t mean to hurt me.

Sometimes these are the things I tell myself.  But that’s not what the Gospel tells me.

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The Gospel says that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3.23-24.) There is no difference between parent and child.  We’re all sinners in need of mercy.

So if you’re reading this and you’re not a believer, I marvel at your ability to parent well. I marvel partly because you’re doing it without a church family to help you, and without the wisdom that the Bible gives us, but mainly because you’re doing it without the daily supply of grace that I desperately need.

To learn more about this grace, try clicking here. Or you could watch this award-winning Christmas video.

*I should say that the examples I’ve used about things children do are not specific to my own children.  My daughter has never actually had a tantrum over a Segway!  I don’t want to defame them.