Whilst their are many who are joyful in this Christmas season their are also many going through huge personal battles. There were many battles going on when God became flesh in the form of Jesus that first Christmas, the pains of childbirth of Immanuel (God with us) that creation would have felt. The personal battles, worries that Joseph and Mary faced. It’s no wonder that the battles often seem more intense as we celebrate the birth of our saviour – the rumbles of history present in aftershocks.
Facing battles, we can feel lost, isolated and even question where is God when we don’t sense His presence or direction. It doesn’t mean He is not there or that we are not being led out of the battle zone. Fortunately, our faith is not based on our feelings they can rapidly change. Our faith is built on who God is. Our stance is to trust in Him and follow His leading.
All over the Bible we read about heroes of faith people who believed what God said then trusted and followed Him. Could it be that occasionally it slips our mind that there will always be battles dashed across our life span. The heroes of faith had stories of battles and how to pass through difficult times because they had lived it out. If you are in a battle right now its producing a story that will help someone else to navigate that difficult path; it’s producing wisdom in your life.
Abraham was a person of faith. He heard God, spoke to God and listened to what He said. His faith had action. James 2:23 -24 “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,”[e] and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.” Living beyond the battles takes action. Moses was another hero of faith who listened to God and responded positively to Gods voice into his life.
Any battle we encounter God has a perspective on it. We only have to chat to him through prayer and listen to His voice back. If you can’t hear then maybe the battle has overtaken and is shouting too loudly. Get to a place where you can hear Gods wisdom again. I often pray whilst I am driving. I may say something like “right I have a problem now Jesus and I don’t know what to do what’s going on?’ Strangely the ability to hear the still small voice is there. Then I push a bit more to get direction “what shall I do then?” I like to keep it simple and believe in the if I don’t ask I don’t get theory.
Faith is active and God wants to help us through the battles. Time to press in and get wisdom and direction. We are not alone God is always with us and has promised to not leave us alone as orphans. Faith is to be lived out not just a theory.
Joshua 1:9 “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Someone said those few words “look after yourself” and those few words have had me thinking for a few weeks about how we do that and the why we need to do it. I have discovered that when we look after ourselves we are then able to give love to others.
Love comes in many shapes and expressions. It is really up to us how much we access the ability to love from inside our hearts to then propel outward toward others. I think like many other things in life to flow in the ability to love is a choice we daily make. Some days we may have to choose to love ourselves first so that we can then love others.
Loving ourselves requires intentional awareness that the need is there to refuel or as the popular phrase reveals “have some me time.” This can be extremely difficult when under a lot of pressure and have a busy life. It will be the last thing you want or feel like doing but without the “me time” we will spiral and be no good for anything or anyone. It may not be appropriate to book a luxury spa or holiday or even hang out partying with friends in fact those things can produce guilt if you are. I find going for a walk alone down the street for thirty minutes can be amazing or finding a quite space and sit and read a book for ten minutes. I always carry a book with me for that reason.
I remember when my friend was very ill and dying in hospital many years ago at the time I was still in the party scene and thought I would let off steam by going out with a bunch of friends. It was the last thing I needed to be doing. I only ended up feeling ashamed and full of guilt. That wasn’t flowing in the ability to love either myself or anyone else. I learned a lesson that day of what was needed and what wasn’t.
We can have the ability to choose to love or not. The biggest challenge will come when there is a personal cost with it. I am not speaking of a financial cost although sometimes that is required, but rather the cost of time, energy a letting go of our own desires to put someone else first; that kind of cost. Jesus called this “loving your neighbour as yourself.”
Jesus often spoke about giving to those who can’t repay you or say thank you is actually really important. I have come to realise it is through those acts of love and kindness that our hearts are opened, our character is tested and formed and our skill set is developed and we gain strength on the inside. No personal challenge no personal growth. I don’t think there is any course that can teach you how to love. This one comes through opening our hearts to God and others and putting aside our own selfish desires. Then leaning into Christ we begin to understand the meaning of “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul and love your neighbour as yourself’ Mark 12:30-31
Remember to love yourself too in the midst of loving others.
If there is one message I bang on about when I am speaking it is the power of hope. It is a guarantee in life that nothing will remain the same. Change will happen therefore hope plays a big role in how we perceive the change.
I can clearly remember moments in time where I thought I wish I could stop the clock and stand still in this very moment with these very people because I am loving what I am doing right now.
Times I have travelled on teams and loved it, the day I got married, buying our first home together, my three years training for ministry at college and living in community (although some days that did grate), moments spent with my parents, doing crazy things with close friends. We all want to stay in the moment but those moments will change and we can’t recapture them as they are unique times and seasons.
I remember one early morning in a Ugandan village sat on the veranda reading my Bible and watching the world go by as people collected water before the hot sun. I still sense the memory of that moment thinking to myself this is amazing and I love it. I went back to that place a couple of years ago and it didn’t produce the same feeling as the people I shared the experience with were not with me. In fact I now felt sadness at the loss of that time and place. Change had happened and I was in a new season that was still amazing just different.
I was now with different people doing different things. Life is not supposed to be lived on repeat or hope would have no purpose. We can not recapture the past but only hope for the new. If we lived life on repeat it could be seen as strange behaviour because God has so much more for us to see and be part of. He is very much into our personal development.
The old ways and things we do will become worn out and we will need operate in hope to bring the different into being. Scripture communicates that these three remain in life “faith, hope and love.” Hope brings faith to the heart of those who desperately need change from a difficult situation. I have sat on the streets with women in addiction and heard hope in their heart for a different way of life only to sit with them years later in cafe and see that hope had worked it’s wonder and change had come. Such a privilege to watch that happen. God is often active and we don’t even know it.
So hope really is everywhere. I hope I do not stay the same, doing the same things with the same people. Change will come it is inevitable so have hope and walk it out in faith with love as you go. Wisdom states “to everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven” Ecclesiastes 3:1
How do you keep your faith alive is a question I keep getting asked as I travel around speaking at various Churches and events. I have had times when I feel my faith has become weak but part of my personality is to keep pushing through regardless and after a time faith springs up again.
When I sat down to think through the question I recognised that faith can get knocked when we are hurt or when we are out of step with what God has been speaking to us. Suddenly we may feel and act defensively toward Gods people or God. Ultimately our hearts can become shutdown and we are unreachable.
The key to not letting the hurt take root on the inside is to speak to God immediately. Give him the problem to sort out. In this world things are going to happen that we won’t like but maybe there is a silver lining. I was recently sat with a woman who had lost her unborn baby. I was blown away when she said “maybe this is a silver lining for me here. I have to believe that to get me through.” Such a brave perspective through a difficult time. I notice that often God takes brick walls that we hit, difficult situations we face or relationship breakdowns to bring new life.
Three actions you can take to keep faith alive. Firstly hang out with other like-minded people. The Bible advises us “not to give up meeting together” for a reason. Be around people who believe the same things as you. I love hanging out with people who are Jesus focused and love listening to their stories of what he is calling them to do and opportunities they have had to share Gods love; it inspires faith in me. It is apparent that we are likely to become like those we hang out with. If you want to grow your faith then be around people who are living out faith.
Secondly cultivate time with God each day. The Bible advises us “to pray continually.” Prayer is not going to God with a list but it is the vehicle for developing our relationship. It is one of the ways that we “stir ourselves up in our most holy faith.” It would be strange if I only spoke to my husband or family when I wanted something we tend to chat and listen and share our hearts; that’s relationship. I learned to pray by listening to others, reading books, thinking about how Jesus prayed and others in the Bible and then doing it.
Allowing the Bible to lead and direct our thoughts and habits and relationships is vital to keeping our faith alive “all scripture is God breathed and useful.” If God has spoken and its written down that’s amazing I want to read and know Him through what He has said and allow His thoughts and ways permeate my life.
The book of James observes “a person who asks God for something and then doubts is like a wave thrown about on a sea.” They are not sure in their mind what they believe and then confusion can come leading to loss of faith. When we form a deep friendship with God we know whom he is and our eyes are firmly fixed on him. As we relax into God his peace comes in the most difficult of times and we are able to resist the temptation to walk away thereby strengthening our faith.